Queen Mother Nana Yaa Asantewaa was just a mother and farmer who spiced her vocation with being an intellectual, politician, and human rights activist. Living in a confederate Gold Coast, now Ghana, riven by a civil war of 1883 to 1888, the moment the British exiled Asantewaa’s brother and the King of Asante Prempeh 1 to Seychelles in 1896, a fertile ground was laid for a deadly rebellion against British rule in Ashanti land. Frederick Hogston, Governor-General of the Gold Coast, hastened the rebellion. By obstinately demanding for the Golden Stool which was the symbol of the Ashanti nation, Hogston didn’t know that he was, apologies to Fela Anikulapo-Kuti, provoking an uprising, which would “bring out the beast” in the Ashanti people.
The Golden Stool, also called the Sika Dwa Kofi, was the Ashanti Kingdom’s symbol of power since the 17th century. Made of gold, the stool is said to be 18 inches high, 24 inches in length, and 12 inches wide. It never touched the ground and no Asantehene, King of the Kingdom, ever ascended the throne without it. Narratives of oral tradition had it that, Okomfo Anokye, a High Priest who was also one of the two founders of Ashanti land, conjured the stool from heaven. Decorated with golden bells, the myth had it that as the stool descended from the sky, it came to the feet of Osei Tutu I, the first Asantehene. Ashanti believe that inside that stool was the soul of its nation. It was this stool that Hogston impudently wanted; it was this injustice of Britain that was resented by Asantewaa, Regent of the Kumasi Ejisu–Juaben district. She was livid at this British audacity.
Enraged at the pusillanimity of Ashanti men, Asantewaa stormed an all-men meeting where disagreement on whether or not to confront Hogston and his colonial taskmasters was ongoing. There, she made that famous speech that conferred manhood on a woman and effeminacy on men, to wit, “How can a proud and brave people like the Asante sit back and look while Whitemen took away their king and chiefs, and humiliated them with a demand for the Golden Stool? The Golden Stool only means money to the Whitemen; they have searched and dug everywhere for it. I shall not pay one predwan to the governor. If you, the chiefs of Asante, are going to behave like cowards and not fight, you should exchange your loincloths for my undergarments!”
As a mark of her seriousness to go to war against Hogston’s Britain, Asantewaa seized a gun and shot into the sky in front of the men. There and then, she was chosen by Ashanti kings to become Generalissimo in a war dubbed the Yaa Asantewaa War, the Ashanti-British War of the Golden Stool, with her leading an army of 5000 warriors. Asantewaa and her army pummeled the British in the Fort of Kumasi. After months of the fight, Hogston sent a 1,400 forces to quell the rebellion, leading to the capture of Yaa Asantewaa. Fifteen of her close war advisers were equally captured and sent on exile to Seychelles. Asantewaa died in exile on October 17, 1921, but, 36 years after, her dream of an Asante that was free of British temerity became a reality on March 6, 1957, with the independence of the Asante people, making Ghana the first African nation in Sub-Saharan Africa to achieve this feat.
Coming back home to Nigeria, no one needs Nostradamus to predict that, by 2023 when President Muhammadu Buhari would be finishing his presidency, he would be an antihero in the mold of Hogston. An antihero of traumatized, ethnically demonized, internally colonized Nigerians, that is. Sunday Adeyemo, a.k.a. Igboho, may then assume the trope of a rescuer of his people, just like Asantewaa. In Buhari’s unexampled ethnic favouritism, unbridled disdain for any ethnicity other than Fulani and his self-appointed role as Usman Dan Fodiyo-reincarnate, Buhari is gradually pulling off the chains from the hands and feet of Nigeria’s chained ethnic nationality prisoners, something in the mold of Plato’s Allegory of the Cave. In the Allegory, a group of people hitherto chained to the wall of a cave all their lives and a blank wall of shadows as all they saw, suddenly left the prison and their eyes were open. With Buhari’s obsession for haranguing southern “villains” like Igboho and Nnamdi Kanu, unbeknown to him, he is gradually liberating the Yoruba and Igbo people from their imprisoning belief in a collective good from a united Nigeria.
The ding-dong over Igboho has been on in the last few weeks. Arrested in the Benin Republic about a week ago, Buhari has since then been bearing the Dracula teeth of the Almighty Nigerian government, with the aim of sinking them into the naked flesh of the separatist advocate. All things being equal, however, the Nigerian president may soon realize that, as the Yoruba say, you cannot violate the son of the initiate and the uninitiated in similar proportion, without having your hands burnt. Having succeeded in his crude and brash interdiction of Kanu, Buhari took another step forward to similarly Umaru Dikko-lize Igboho. With the situation of things, however, he is likely to discover that this is a barren exercise.
Unfortunately for the Buhari government, it hangs on its own lapel the tar-brushed image of one that thinks only from the lens of ethnicity. The government has thus sent everyone to their tents. Indices that were hitherto opaque have become dominant. Every government move is painted in ethnic ink, no thanks to Buhari’s obsession with his Fulani stock. It is so bad that Nigeria under Buhari has become the most divisive ever in history.
We have shouted ourselves hoarse over Buhari’s inexplicable nepotism and favouritism. He then transformed magisterially from cronyism in appointments to abetting crimes of his ethnic stock. Fulani can do no wrong and the criminal cattle rarer elements among them receive such governmental protection that is not known in the history of inter-ethnic relationships in Nigeria. While herders kill notoriously in the south and the Middle Belt, Buhari looks the other way to lick his plate of fura and nunu.
Bandits who terrorize, kidnap, kill, and who recently downed military aircraft, in his and his Fulani ilk in the government’s estimation, are engaged in normal businesses. In his very before, Sheik Gumi, who obviously has the government’s support, traverses forests to hold tete-a-tete with dare-devil, self-confessed killers and national saboteurs, and Lai Mohammed and others in his government laud him as the cousin of Angel Gabriel. Killer Boko Haram, who massacre hundreds, are said to have undergone rehabilitation and are sent back to the midst of same people they kill like jackals. They are asked to sin no more. Just because they are northerners.
If the south and Governor Samuel Ortom of Benue State were merely raising unnecessary hell over nothing, Emir of Muri, Abbas Tafida, gave the world a different orange to suck last week. Tafida issued a 30-day ultimatum to herdsmen in the state to vacate the forest, stating that they had turned Taraba forests into terror binges. “Our Fulani herdsmen in the forests, you came into this state and we accepted you, why then will you be coming to towns and villages to kidnap residents, even up to the extent of raping our women? We are tired of having sleepless nights and the hunger alone in the land is enormous and we will not allow it to continue. Because of this unending menace, every Fulani herdsman in this state has been given 30 days ultimatum to vacate the forests,” said Tafida. Remove “Taraba” and “Tafida,” you would think the king of Igangan in Oyo State was talking.
What Tafida did is clearly indistinguishable from what Igboho did in Igangan. In that frustrating outburst, the Emir did not just issue a quit notice against these criminal elements who he clearly identified as the same people Buhari has wrapped his hands round in the last six years; he literally signed their death warrants. Irritated by same audacity to plunder and kill of the Fulani, former Chief of Army, General Theophilus Danjuma, on March 24, 2018, at the convocation ceremony of the Taraba State University, Jalingo, had alleged “an act of ethnic cleansing” by the Nigerian Army under Buhari against his Taraba and Nigerian people. Without any equivocation, he alleged that the army was colluding with killer herdsmen, sending unsuspecting persons to the hereafter in the process.
“This ethnic cleansing must stop in Taraba, and it must stop in Nigeria. These killers have been protected by the military; they cover them and you must be watchful to guard and protect yourselves because you have no other place to go. You must rise to protect yourselves from these people; if you depend on the armed forces to protect you, you will all die. I ask all of you to be on the alert and defend your country, defend your state,” Danjuma had said.
Igboho’s sin is that he said same thing about his Yorubaland. Tafida did too last week to articulate the frustrations of his subjects who have become victims of routine kidnapping, rape and murder orchestrated by these nomadic criminals from Fouta Djallon. To confirm the howling of Danjuma, Tafida and Igboho, a few days ago, under the guise of searching for contraband rice, “men of the Nigerian Customs Service” stormed Ibarapa land in what the natives claim was a reprisal attack by Fulani herdsmen they staved off a couple of months ago. Three men, including an Amotekun official, were killed and many sustained injuries. The so-called 8 trailer loads of rice that the “Customs” claimed brought them on their chase to Ibarapa, were not found, save for guns bearing serial numbers of the Nigerian Army and blood and sorrows the intruders, said to be Customs men, left in their trails.
Not only did Igboho do just what Danjuma and Tafida did, he went a step further to say that the future of his Yoruba people could not be guaranteed under a bigoted presidency of Fulani domination that Buhari runs. In reiterating conversations that are daily exchanged on southern Nigerian streets, Igboho told the world that Buhari seems to have declared war against anyone who dares to cry while the Fulani pummel them.
To underscore his brash irreverence for law and lawful agitations, Buhari ordered the DSS to invade Igboho’s house some weeks ago. Two persons were killed and guns claimed to have been retrieved from his house were hoisted as an emblem of the invaders’ victory. And a cache of amulets that were later shown to have been in the news about a year before. In a Nigeria where, a few years ago, robbery evidence that bore the name of then-Senate President, Bukola Saraki, was advertised by the police, which was later discovered to have been planted to criminalize this “enemy” of Buhari’s, what stopped the DSS, which entered Igboho’s house without a warrant, from cloning the Saraki hoax by planting those guns on him?
Now, Buhari has brought every Yoruba to the painful realization that Igboho, no matter his limitations, symbolizes them. He is the Nana Asantewaa of Ashanti kingdom who has offered himself to defend his people against the Hogston at the Aso Rock Villa. Some people are even already pointing at the similarity of Buhari’s harangue of Igboho with same harangue against Chief Obafemi Awolowo by Buhari’s forebears. Tafawa Balewa, in cahoots with Ahmadu Bello, had accused Awolowo of treasonable felony and sent him to jail. True or not, that is the narrative you invoke when you have a leader who is bigoted inside an ethnic cocoon as Nigeria does at the moment.
By Igboho’s suit of last Friday, filed at the Oyo State High Court in Ibadan, where he asked the court to declare that his campaign for self-determination on behalf of his Yoruba people was legal and a fundamental right, Buhari has vicariously made every Yoruba man a plaintiff in that suit, while he and his Fulani people are defendants. Citing Article 20 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples Right (Ratification and Enforcement) Act., Laws of Federation, 2010, and Articles 3, 4, 7, & 18 of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of the Indigenous People made at its 107th Plenary Meeting of Thursday 13th September 2007, let us see how a Buhari, who sees nothing wrong in Fulani herders and bandits’ terrorism of the Northwest, would see criminal culpability in Igboho’s agitation to let his people go. Even Pharaoh, as demonic as he was, merely pleaded with Moses not to allow his people to leave the land of their tribulations. He didn’t jail Moses. To the best of my knowledge, Igboho’s self-determination agitation has not led to the shedding of a single pint of blood. The court will interpret the law and rule on what is illegal in Igboho asking for freedom for his people.
Back to the legal fireworks going on in Benin Republic. Not only did Buhari’s ethnic leaning provoke similar coming together to defend Igboho by his Yoruba kin in the small African country, his peremptory closure of the Nigerian/Benin border, without prior notice to the authorities of Benin, should have a lot to do with where the pendulum swings. While Buhari’s home state’s Nigeria/Niger Republic border was literally a beehive for trans-border activities, Benin that shares some consanguinity with the Yoruba, was under lock and key.
President of Benin Republic, Patrice Talon, had met Buhari on January 19, 2021, to plead with him to relax the closure as it was affecting commerce in his country but Buhari magisterially waved the pleading off. Talon even pleaded that Buhari should install Nigerian customs officers at the Benin port, so as to ensure strict compliance. In anger, Buhari kept on harping on smuggling across the Benin border, as if there were no information filtering out that smuggling never stopped in the Nigerien end of the border.
At the end of the meeting, Talon and his Benin delegation retired to the Benin embassy in Abuja to dialogue with Nigerian authorities, for several hours. They held series of meetings with Nigerian economic actors, which included Aliko Dangote, one of the prime movers of the closure. Though Buhari opened the borders in August 2019, it is said that this has not translated into actual resumption of goods traffic between Nigeria and Benin. Now that Tukur Buratai is seeking to carry Igboho’s head on a platter to Buhari in the Villa, he may be reminded that a pounded yam of 20 years could still be steaming hot.
Right now, Yoruba are no longer looking at Igboho as a person. They see him as symbolizing the Asantehene Golden Stool which Buhari wants to impudently snatch from them. They are rallying round and will continue to rally round him. This advocacy for self-determination may become a fire-spitting dinosaur or a consuming hydra, the many-headed monster of the Greek mythology. This will be due mainly to Buhari’s preference for intransigence, rather than the amity of mutual talks, as well as his disdain for other Nigerian tribes other than Fulani. His government may just be bringing out the beast in a people who share the Ashanti people’s disdain for emperors.
•Dr Adedayo is a lawyer, social critic and columnist.