2007 And The Elephant’s Dance

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Friday, September 16, 2016 11.19AM / By Prof. Biodun Ogunyemi (originally published in 2007) 

Nothing in recent media analyses captures the mood of the nation more than a popular Yoruba moonlight story. It is the story of a crafty tortoise and the ambitious elephant. A kingdom is plagued with an avalanche of woes. Communities are at each other's throat. Youths are restive. Robbers kill, maim, steal and destroy in broad daylight. Children and women are brutalised with reckless abandon. Kidnappers have field days. Poverty is pervasive and people literally scavenge for food. Everyone - young and old - lives in perpetual agony, grief and fear.

Overwhelmed by the enormity of their situation, elders confer. They commission leading Ifa priests to seek ways out of the sundry afflictions. What is the outcome? The Ifa divinity calls for an unusual animal for sacrifice to appease the gods - the elephant. The next question on everyone's lip is: who will tame the strongest of all strong animals? The tortoise steps forward: he can do the delicate job for a fee. He will need some preparations, though. What does elephant like most? What are his endearments? And what ambition has he always nursed?

Mr. Tortoise finds that the elephant is weakest at his strongest point - beyond the facade of fearsomeness he dissolves at sweeteners and revels in perpetual royalty. The tortoise puts his acts together and approaches the great dreamer: "Oh, elephant, you are the greatest of all animals. No animal, dead or living, has matched your accomplishments and none will ever. Even foolish humans have now discovered their folly: that they are incapable of managing their affairs without you atop; that only you can give them the happiness and permanent relief they earnestly desire. So, I have been sent to invite you to kindly accept the rulership of their kingdom so that normalcy may be restored". To demonstrate his seriousness, Mr. Tortoise presents 'King' Elephant with royal gifts from the Kingdom. In no time, the elephant gets swollen-headed and accepts to be crowned at a later date. But other animals, particularly the lion, must be kept out of the way. The game of deception and self-delusion has started.

A stage is prepared at the community centre for the coronation ceremony. But it is one with deep pit underneath. A beautiful Royal Stool is carefully placed right on top of the pit. The surrounding is beautifully decorated and betrays no suspicion whatsoever. On this day, the tortoise and his team are to usher the 'king' to his throne amidst music and dance. As they emerged from the forest, Mr. Tortoise serves the elephant with his sweeteners - specially baked cake, honey, wine and, of course, flattery. "Erin wa re'le ko wa j'oba..." (Elephant the throne awaits you at home...) is the lead song. Mr. Elephant dances his heart out as tortoise sings melodiously in honour of a phantom royalty. Occasionally, however, elephant would develop cold feet. Can this be true? Will he really become the people's king for life?

What of those lyrics of the tortoise's song which make reference to "whirling flies and blood flow by tomorrow?" Could that have something to do with him? Each time Mr. Tortoise observes such hesitation, he will sing the elephant's endless praises and supply the elixir. And, so, 'king' elephant finally arrives at the coronation arena to a sarcastic welcome. He is ushered to the king's stool... and the rest is history! 

Shall we be wrong to liken the third term schemer to Mr. Tortoise? Can we not see this macabre dance of Mr. Elephant around our own Aso Rock? What else is foisting a constitutional coup if not a grave for somebody or a group come 2007? Questions, questions and more questions come to mind each time one thinks of how deep we have sunk into the abyss just because some self-seeking tortoises and political harlots have imposed themselves on our psyche. It is mind-boggling; it puts reasonable humans down in the dumps.

We have experienced a calamity of serious proportion these past months when the blathering about third term metamorphosed from inner-room whispers to road-side gossip and finally a national cul-de-sac. Some of us had thought no one in his or her right elements would contemplate it at all in the first instance. We had reasoned that Nigeria was too sophisticated to be turned into another haven for sit-tightism as in Zimbabwe, Uganda or Egypt. But we were wrong. That is not the way of political hawks, economic parasites and professional sycophants. They fear for what change in leadership may do to their unhindered access to power and privileges; they are out to preserve the status quo against the fact of history that the only constant index is change.

So, they chorus: it is only this man with a king's prefix to his name that can fix the nation's problems, without him we perish. Come to think of it: have we not heard this illogical blabbing in those days of dark goggles at the Villa? Is this game called 'million-million' match in March not a stale joke? The sad thing really is that the man at the centre of it all, the elephant himself, has kept an uncharacteristic silence. He seems to enjoy this dirge enveloping the nation! Shall we be wrong to say his silence means consent?

All facts considered these tortoises and touts are right in every sense outside altruism. They reassure us of their hold on this elephant and advertise an unequal capacity to deliver on political contracts. It does not matter what becomes of sundry agitation across the land. It counts neither if the elephant ends up compounding those problems he sets out to solve. They have a deal: this animal must be delivered to cure our land of all afflictions. The animal, they remind us, is brave, detribalised, visionary, incomparable ... And the rest of us look foolish, helpless and hapless.

It is too risky to take a nation of over 130 million people for a ride. These power mongers had better watch it not to stretch their luck too far. It would be a gamble of their life to take the silence of the suffering majority for cowardice. By now, the signals from the Niger Delta should be sufficiently loud and clear. The Yoruba say even the meekly sheep bites deep when pushed to the wall. The handwriting is on the wall and bold enough. Those concerned had better read them correctly before year 2007. This, perhaps is the greatest lesson in the elephant's dance.

• Prof. Biodun Ogunyemi is the immediate past Vice-President of ASUU and lecturer at the Department of Curriculum Studies and Instructional Technology, Olabisi Onabanjo University (OOU), Ago Iwoye. He wrote this piece in 2007. He was elected as the President of ASUU at the National Delegates’ Conference of the Union in May 2016, which held at the University of Uyo, Akwa-Ibom State. He took  over from Dr. Nasir Isa Fagge of the Bayero University, Kano.

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