Osun's Sallah scuffles and Abuja’s dog meat —Festus Adedayo
Two issues engage this piece today. Each of them is reflected in animal imagery. The first has a dog as the totem of its analysis. The second too is better explained by the bestial engagement of rams. Let us begin with the latter.
Last Wednesday, Osun state witnessed a bestial ram fight. Children in, especially northern and western parts of Nigeria, grew up to see the perennial rituals of ram – called agbo in Yoruba – fight. By the way, ram flaunting during Id-el Kabir celebrations is more than part of the potpourri of a religious festival. They are a celebration of financial muzzles, a display of how well-off and wealthy the Islamic adherent is. The Quran makes it mandatory for adherents able to afford it to offer a ram for the sacrifice.
Here in Nigeria, however, rams at Eid are a signification of wealth. Now, it has transcended wealth to a blood sport organised between large-horned male sheep known as rams. The venue of the animal duel is always an open field. Ram owners, especially during this festival, as a way of reinforcing the sport, preparatory to the festival, make large investments in training the rams from their infancy, in readiness for these ram competitions. Grand prizes are even given for the most animalistic of the rams. During this Islamic festivity, young people gather at open fields to watch the fights as they exhibit brawns and animal superiority. It is a sport that is looked up to as an exciting feature of the festival. Pool betters rake money off the bestiality.
In Osun last Wednesday, two Moslems in high places – a senator of the 9th national assembly and indeed, former senate spokesperson – Bashiru Ajibola and governor of the state, Ademola Adeleke, chose to make a sport of their scuffle. Like rams preparatory to Eid-el-Kabir. The drama occurred at the Osogbo central prayer ground as the governor’s aides engaged in a clash with Senator Bashiru in a contest for space and I daresay political relevance. A rumpus ensued which ultimately prevented Governor Adeleke from observing the prayer rites as he stormed out of the place. Media reports said Bashiru sat at the front seat usually reserved for the governor. In the bid to ask the ex-senator to vacate the space, he flared up. The governor’s media team thereafter issued a release insinuating that Adeleke escaped assassination, with back-and-forth allegations flying about from the two parties.
By the way, for several years, I had sought to put the face of reality to a particular flesh-singeing track from Yoruba Apala music great, Ayinla Omowura. In the track, while attacking a traducer, Omowura had said that anyone he was older than their mother could not look down on him. In an interview on Rave FM in Osogbo, Alhaji Muniru Adebayo Raji, who had been at the centre of the Id-El-Kabir ruckus, explained his role in the crisis, connecting the dot of this song with Senator Bashiru. I enjoyed the physical unravelling of Omowura’s song in the ruckus.
For the first time in its entire bigotry pursuit, the Muslim Rights Concern (MURIC) made sense in its intervention in the Osun Eid crisis. That was before MURIC then descended into its usual gutter of bigotry. In its call after the clash, its Executive Director, Prof Ishaq Akintola, pointedly told the two warring politicians to desist from desecrating a consecrated Muslim prayer ground. This was a necessary and profound call because in turning the praying ground into a tiff party, both leaders of the warmongers, themselves Muslims, behaved like rams in a blood fight. For them to turn an event as significant and sobering as an Eid prayer into an avenue to score cheap political point, to the extent of desecrating the holy ground, was an affront on its holiness.
Islam enjoins Muslims not to offer Allah a blemished ram. If in the process of using an Id-El-Kabir ram for a fight, its horns get broken or the ram sustains an injury, it is not worthy of being offered as a sacrifice. So, it stands to reason that the two “rams” fighting at the holy praying ground have injured their horns and as such, their sacrifice on that day was haram. These two political agbo “o wo’leya” as the lingo of Eid-El-Kabir says. Their blood fight vitiates whatever sacrifices they made.
Now, to the second issue. Ancient, non-science perception of the dog is that it is a very fatty animal. Even medicine confirms this. For a gourmet, a dog’s fatty drippings while being prepared for roast may be a put-off. A roasted dog meat meal called the ayangbe aja is a pain in the neck for a grillardin chef. This is because it requires a painstaking wait for the chef to get rid of its surplus fat. Like the proverbial patient ones who alone can extract milk from the mammary of a lioness, the wait for the fire to divest the dog meat of its fat could be very unsettling. It is similar to making an interminable walk through a long tunnel whose end is nowhere in sight. So, Yoruba elders pose a query to the chef who demands patience for the laborious process of grilling the dog meat of its fat to come to maturation. Yes, of a truth – gourmands angrily tell the chef – we are aware that if we are patient enough for you to defrost the dog meat of its fat, dog meat is a fascinating delicacy; but what if we starve to death between the long walk through roasting the dog and eventually getting fat off the meat?
The grilled dog meat anecdote is usually thrown up, not as a measure of the people’s unbelief in patience. It is usually a riposte to taskmasters who give their servants laborious tasks, declaring the times austere but cavorting in plenty.
The ayangbe aja anecdote may be an explainer of the painful time that Nigerians are passing through today. The Nigerian grillardin chef is in the kitchen, no doubt. His cap and apron speak to the tiresome process he is embroiled in. The smoke even oozes out of the rafters, heralding the reality of the meat we salivate for being on the hot gauze grill. But as the chef performs his culinary magic, the people’s palates are dry. These times are certainly not the best for the Nigerian.
Since the month of May, hardship has walked leisurely into homes like an unwelcomed rapist. It is as if the biblical King Rehoboam had been sworn in to the throne of his forefathers. Nigerians’ yokes have proved heavier, even more than in the days of Muhammadu Buhari. In the subsidy removal, Nigerians are not only loaded with a heavy yoke, like whips and scorpions, but poverty-inducing policies of the last four weeks have also chastised Nigerians daily like whips and scorpions. Fewer cars are on the road, no thanks to the outrageous cost of fuel. We are told it is the tip of the iceberg. We will soon buy fuel at N700. The cost of living has risen agonisingly. If we were statistical people, we would have seen sharp rises on the curve of suicides, bludgeoning crime and violence rates as a result of the hopelessness in the land.
But, not to worry. The World Bank has asked Nigerians to lift up their cymbals and rejoice. The World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) have lauded President Bola Tinubu’s decision to effect key economic reforms as “bold choices”. The two key reforms of foreign exchange unification and fuel subsidy removal to reset the economy were commended as bold moves that would jerk up the economy.
Nigerians are one of the most resilient people on earth, global statistics have said. They can walk through the thorns and briers of today, with blood dripping from their feet, in anticipation of a great tomorrow. They even do not care if they die in the process, once there is an assurance that their children won’t go through the deprivation that is their lot. A couple of weeks ago, I wrote on a thrust almost similar to today’s, invoking the spirit and song of late Yoruba Sakara music great, Yusuff Olatunji and his song, O ye ka ni’fura – we should be watchful. I called for us to adopt the strategic adultery attentiveness that Olatunji adumbrated in that song, using an adulterous man seeing off his married woman liaison as a motif.
My counsel was that, even in our infantile excitedness about the “new dawn” which we have opened our curtains to see, we should reserve a space in our hearts for critical thinking and dispassionate evaluation of the unfolding drama. We have trodden this road of titivating excitedness about a “new dawn” before, beginning from the military hijack of power in 1966. On each occasion, from Yakubu Gowon, Murtala Muhammed, Olusegun Obasanjo, Shehu Shagari, Muhammadu Buhari, Ibrahim Babangida, Sani Abacha to the present moment, we have always shown exhilaration and hope of “a new dawn” whenever there is a regime change. Yet, we are where we are, constantly struggling with, in the words of Prof Francis Egbokhare of the University of Ibadan, an exponential decay of bad and unreflective leadership whose cancerous afflictions ruin us from top to bottom. Only a foolish woman falls prey a second time to the wiles of a man who had earlier lured her to bed, the elders counsel. Some people said my counsel was borne out of a foundational disdain for the new men in power. My response is, the rainmaker who invokes downpour would himself go home drenched. The babalawo who proclaims famine in the town will partake of the drought too. It is in our interest that this “new dawn” brings purity and succour or we are all done for.
Even if times are harder than this, getting as hard as – God forbid – the biblical Samarian famine scenario where father and mother, in a consensus, agreed on which of their children to slaughter for dinner, the level of our fascination for this “new dawn” is such that we believe it cannot transform into thick darkness. Don’t the Yoruba say that eni aye nfe o l’arun kan lara – the one beloved of the world is beyond reproach? Great optimism. All I ask for is strategic thinking and not sheepish following.
While Nigerians are ready to be patient and starve, if possible, to see the interminable process of grilling this dog meat for dinner, they disdain the optics of the chef tossing huge chunks of meat into his mouth within the period of the long wait. Last week’s optics of the president in a convoy of hundreds of cars from the airport, even if most of the cars belonged to his well-wisher power apparatchiks as it is claimed, was nauseating and sickening. In a country where a peremptory decree of subsidy removal was made, off-the-cuff jerking prices of fuel to an all-time high of over N500, with threats that prices would soon hit N700, it was very absurd and inappropriate to see the president and his cabal junketing in such sickening flaunt of wealth and worth. Retiring service chiefs will coast home to billions of perks and officials of the exited government will smile home with trillions of Naira. But Nigerian people are to endure pain.
It is good that the president is embracing neo-liberalism as an economic policy. Neo-liberalism connotes market-oriented reform policies, such as eliminating price controls, deregulating capital markets, lowering trade barriers and reducing, especially through privatisation and austerity, state influence in the economy. To date, this “new dawn” is yet to pay the tiniest attention to the lowest rung of the ladder of society. What is in this for the poor? Or, don’t they matter? It will seem like putting the cart before the horse to remove fuel subsidy when no attempt is made to cater for the welfare of the people yet. In four weeks, Nigeria is said to have saved N400 billion from subsidy removal. Great news. Do we trust the new men in power enough to believe that the dividends will be invested in the lives of the people? Do their antecedents speak to the probability of doing so? Again, we must listen to the wise counsel of Baba Yusuff Olatunji.
In this “new dawn,” do we sincerely envisage a Nigeria of our dream coming out of this ensemble? My pessimism takes the best of me. I wish you good luck if your optimism is as fertile as to expect “a new dawn”. There are already allegations of political office seekers paying multiple of millions and even billions to surrogates of “new dawn” to clinch top ministerial positions. And these are the midwives of our optimism. Again, we should not throw Olatunji’s counsel on how to deal with an adulterous relationship like this out of the window. We will need it.