LATELY, there has been some furore in Lagos. It is over the matter of the official celebration of Lagos State at 50, and the Soyinka connection.
For those who have not followed the matter, the following is the gist. Officials of Lagos State in their wisdom thought it proper to celebrate the landmark coming to age of the state. After all, making it to half a century is not a particularly easy cake. So, there is everything to eat and celebrate.
Then the state officials led by the governor, decided to select an illustrious team to co-ordinate the celebration. And somehow Professor Wole Soyinka and Rasheed Gbadamosi were chosen to be head and deputy head, respectively. Perhaps, it is instructive or merely a coincidence, that both Soyinka and Gbadamosi are literati, indeed dramatists.
And even before the appointments were taken in by the public, a distinguished NGO, the Eko Foundation, threw some spanner in the works. They questioned the propriety of preferring a Soyinka, a non-indigene of Lagos to chair the piloting committee of such a rare jubilee. And they put it out that there are several equally illustrious Lagos indigenes who could just do as well, if not better.
Well, since the matter concerned Soyinka, a world renowned Professor of drama, Nobel Prize winner and fallible moral conscience of sorts, the matter took a life of its own. And rather than remain a storm in the teacup, it flushed over and became the storm by the lagoon.
Generally, it may now be said that the Eko indigenes are like orphans, almost. This is as no ‘independent’ parties seem to be in their support, or to offer them sympathies in the matter. But to be fair to them, we think many commentators seem to miss the point.
Quite frankly, they, like all indigenous peoples, have a right to be heard and not ridiculed. Whether it is the indigenous peoples of Biafra, the aborigines of Australia, the right thing is to understand and then explain. It is futile to come with moral highhandedness in a matter the ‘victims’ feel hurt and you the moraliser, have nothing at risk, save your moral philosophy. So, those who are accusing the indigenous peoples of Lagos of sulking, are misguided. So, in all matter our sympathies go to the indigenous peoples of Lagos, Australia and Biafra. At the appropriate time and schedule we shall return to and reopen the Biafra front. For now let us concentrate on the matter of Lagos.
For us the point is that rather than badmouth the indigenous peoples of Lagos, we should proffer our own finer logic, if any, why Soyinka should chair the committee. That is what we shall attempt here.
Well, let us begin with an anecdote. It so happened we were once told that a certain German, Humboldt, went over a famous French mathematician, Laplace. Humboldt asked the eminent French man, who was the greatest German mathematician. And Laplace replied it was Professor Pfaff. Dazed, Humboldt asked, what of Gauss? And Laplace replied, Gauss is the greatest mathematician in the world.
All the French man was trying to say, and correctly at that, is that Gauss by his superlative achievement is no longer German. Gauss has become a citizen of the world. And it, therefore, follows that he has rights and privileges to all municipalities and countries and cities. Well, if the tale of the mathematicians sound too otherworldly, then this quip about Messi will help bring things to the ground. According to reports, the greatest footballer of all time, Messi, was described in the following terms, by another football great, Gerard Pique. ‘‘Lionel Messi isn’t human, Cristiano Ronaldo is best of the humans’’ – Gerard Pique.
Properly then, it may be said that Soyinka is a literary Gauss, or Messi, if you like. Thus Soyinka is not Egba, is not Lagosian, is not even a Nigerian. Soyinka is a citizen of the world. Soyinka belongs to the world. And this makes sense. This is because the blessings he has given the world as a creator, of non-rivalrous values, is much more than that he has or can give Nigeria.
Therefore, to accuse Soyinka of being an Ogun State interloper, who is now being imposed by fiat to chair Lagos affairs is to misunderstand the nature of superhuman achievements. These men by giving the world so much are granted citizenship of any of its quarters. So, Soyinka is also Lagosian and this, by virtue of being of the world. In fact, it is our duty to beg of him to belong to and with us.
Immediately that much is granted, then the following makes the choice of Soyinka on target. Number one, Lagos has the ambition of becoming a world-class, global megacity. Number two, the Yoruba have a cultural and sociological institution of oriki. Oriki is sometimes misinterpreted as a culture of praise names. But if one listened well it is much more than that.
Over the millennia, the Yoruba have honed their oriki culture to also be a promotional prayer and not just a praise name. The following examples will guide us. Typically on a molue ride, you will experience the Yoruba motorman addressing just about any lady who carries a baby bump, iya beji, which means mother of twins. Meanwhile the lady in question carries a baby bump that does not necessarily suggest twin or multiple children. And the conductor never knew her from Eve.
Again, if the commuter, perchance, is wearing a Muslim themed cap, the conductor or motorman, will call on him as Alfa, that is a revered Muslim priest. And if you are old enough to have danced to Ebenezer Obey, one of his hits was Board Members.
Let us start with Obey’s song. We can say, that on discreet inquiries, it was discovered that of all those who were praise sang as board members, not any two of them were board members of anything. And the man being addressed as Alfa might for all you know be a born again Christian, only that he chose to be muslim themed with his clothes. Of the iya beji, that is mother of twins praise name, let us not miss on this chance. Television Continental, TVC, runs a great programme, It is Your View, Let it Count. It is hosted by Ms. Brown and her co-anchors, one of whom is Tope. Apparently, Ms. Brown is American-trained, she says so, but is an omoluabi, ‘daughter of the soil’. Lately, she has been addressing Tope, who carries a baby bump as iya beji, that is mother of twins. The iya beji praise name does not in any way suggest that Ms. Tope has a pregnancy scan, pointing to twin birth. Ms. Brown is just being Yoruba. So, it is their way of life, which is excellent in the eyes of the Lord.
All these examples taken together suggest that they are praise-naming the personages, but there is also the important element of giving them promotional prayers. That was Obey was praying that his clients, who were not presently board members of any boards become one, and the motorman was praising the Muslim themed dude as a Muslim, and was praying he becomes Alfa, the highest honorific and state of grace for a Muslim. The iya beji is a praise for being pregnant, and also a promotional prayer that you bear twins. So, the Yoruba oriki is a praise name plus prayer. And I am told that this in part accounts for how and why the Yoruba bear the greatest number of twins per capita in the world. So, prayer works or so the preacher man tells or sells.
Well, all these might not be spectacular to the Yoruba themselves, since it is something they live with. But we can assure that no matter how mighty or bursting out your wife’s baby bump is in Onitsha, nobody will humour her with nne ejima, the igbo equivalent of iya beji. It is only when she has delivered that she may be praise-named nne ejima, and without any promotional prayers as such.
Now, Lagos wants to be a world class megalopolis. She needs all the prayers she can get, not excluding even those the devil may offer. And as we write, there is in Nigeria no greater world citizen than Soyinka. So, the Lagos world-class megacity ambition cross-matches with what Soyinka already is. And just as the Yoruba make the most twins by the grace of god and the powers of and in oriki, it is indicated that the Lagos ambitions of being world-class might learn from this. And what to do? Nothing better than hitchhiking off the Soyinka global brand name and reality. That is by making Soyinka a Lagos oriki, in blood and in flesh.
It is plain certain, for instance, that Soyinka with his international connections can easily make the celebration a hit as no other Nigerian alive can do. There is, we guess, no invitation signed by Soyinka that won’t be given serious consideration in London, and in any of the world’s cultural capitals and beyond.
So, while a Soyinka is to play the worldwide game for Lagos at 50, a Gbadamosi, who is as great as they come, can coordinate things at the national and indigenous levels, Biafra, the gypsies, the Australians and all that jazz. In all these the point must be made clear that the indigenous peoples of Lagos must be spoken to with due care and deference. After all, their fathers own the lagoon and if we are not careful, they can invoke its waves to drown interlopers and strangers, who won’t be Eyo-compliant, whether they are world citizens or not. And lest we forget, when next the indigenous peoples of Onitsha will celebrate Onitsha’s 150th birthday as a modern trading city, Soyinka is as qualified as the princes of Umuaroli to head the jubilee. Ahiazuwa.