(Tunde Bakare @ 60 birthday lecture, Lagos, November 14, 2014)
“Oriki Ni Ro Ni”, – one’s oriki is an amebo – is not the first title that suggested itself to me as I pondered the daunting task of engaging the phenomenon that is Tunde Bakare. The real Yoruba saying, in fact, is “oruko ni ro ni” (one’s name is an amebo) but I am a writer wielding poetic license. I have changed it to oriki because I can! Titles raced through my mind, some retained for a fleeting consideration, some immediately dismissed, all indications of the mounting dilemma of a speaker looking for an angle, an entry point. Some of you may guess that my dilemma has to do with the larger than life image of my subject and the multi-layered levels of his involvement in that inchoate postcolonial task we call project nationhood in this country.
If this is your thinking, you are only partially right. What bothered me was the dilemma of distinction, of distinguishing, of embracing the philosophy of 7Up: the difference is clear. An inauspicious rainfall, the sort which removes roofs, uproots trees, and tears down walls and fences, may find pigeons, hens, and other birds of different and unequal plumage seeking shelter under the same tree, making it difficult for even the most circumspect and colour-savvy observer to tell the difference. Nigeria, we all agree, makes meaning only when we laugh in the face of tragedy – the sort of tragedy which normalizes mediocrity and absurdity; the sort of mediocrity and absurdity which ensure that one of the surest ways to guarantee entry into the public sphere and public consciousness is for any caterwauler to have stolen a couple of billions in office and thereby acquire the means to offend the sensibilities of the few who still have a conscience in Nigeria.
I am talking about the ease with which the unworthy and the undeserving in our society enact the public ritual of self-celebration that we call lectures and book presentations. I am aware that in this country, there are lectures convened to celebrate career coup plotters and professional treasury looters daily. I am aware that in this country, the practice of writing hagiographies about the uninspiring lives of the most prolific traducers of national destiny has become the sure banker of stomach infrastructure for many of my colleagues in academia. Such is the scale of this banality of the absurd that a prominent political office holder recently invited the public to the launch of his autobiography. That autobiography, of course, is an account of his life written by another person! Biography? Autobiography? The grammar does not matter. Steal enough money from the public till, get a book written about you, call a party, and it is dorobucci and eminado all the way
In a nation-space where celebration of non-exemplary lives has become what a kind Yoruba person would call an “iru wa ogiri wa” affair or what an unkind Yoruba person would call a “t’aja t’eran” affair, or what the English would call an all comers affair, celebrating worthiness where it exists becomes imperative. In this sort of climate, how do you perspectivize the genuine article in order to apprehend its manifold layers of legitimacy? When a legitimate and worthy claimant to this noble ritual of celebration comes along, how do you ensure that the public understands that the difference is 7Up? How do you ensure that a public so used to the banality of this ritual understands that the exception is possible? How do you ensure that Nigerians understand that a ruinous rainfall is no excuse to provide shared accommodation for pigeons and hens? For there are celebrations and there are celebrations. There are book presentations and there are book presentations. This is Pastor Tunde Bakare’s celebration. This is Pastor Tunde Bakare’s book presentation.
The necessity of distinction, of recognizing and naming exception, is what led me to one of the titles I initially considered for this lecture. Although I did not retain the said title, preferring instead one which probes the intermesh between Tunde Bakare’s oriki and the gift of example that he has become to this nation, I will nonetheless mine the semantic recesses of the discarded title for what it offers in terms of how I want you to think about the significance of Tunde Bakare to this nation henceforth. “Hegemony without Dominance: The Example of Tunde Bakare”. That is the title I discarded. I want you all to repeat its operative phrase after me so you don’t forget: “Hegemony without Dominance”.
Anybody conversant with contemporary literary and critical theory would immediately have caught me at a game I just played. I have inverted a phrase that has been bandied around by Leftist and Marxist intellectuals since the time of a famous 20th century Italian thinker known as Antonio Gramsci. That phrase is, “Dominance without Hegemony”. Now, this is not a lecture about Marxism and Literature so I will spare you theoretical tedium by not exploring the career of that phrase in literary and philosophical academia. But I must nack you di tori of what some Southeast Asian thinkers did with it in their monumental contribution to our understanding of the architecture of power under colonialism. The said Southeast thinkers even formed a school of knowledge known as subaltern studies. That Indian school was led by a famous Professor called Ranajit Guha.
Guha it was who, borrowing from Gramsci, famously theorized the nature of power and authority under colonialism as “Dominance without Hegemony”. That formula has since been extended to describe the relationship between a people and her leaders even in postcolonial times and climes. Now, what do Ranajit Guha and his fellow theorists mean by dominance without hegemony? For them, the exercise of power and authority over a people through instruments, mechanisms, and apparatuses of state – such as was the case with colonialism – functions only as dominance and coercion. What changes the complexion of power and authority, what transforms power and authority from dominance to hegemony, is the will of the people. Their recognition of and voluntary submission to power – to authority – is what confers on it the legitimacy referred to as hegemony.
No subject people voluntarily recognised the power and authority of colonialism. This lack of recognition, this lack of wilful submission by the people, is what made dominance the singular attribute of colonialism. It was a relationship of violence which lacked hegemony. Remember, only the conscious and willing submission of the people, only their recognition, confers hegemony and legitimacy on any mechanism of authority. If you have been wondering why all the literature you have ever read about colonialism talks about “colonial masters”, “colonial officers”, or even “colonial lords” and never “colonial leaders”, now you know why. Colonialism produced masters and officers and lords but not leaders. The district officer or the Governor General was a colonial master and not a colonial leader because these representatives of power never had the willful and voluntary submission of the people to their authority. The recognition by and of the people that is so vital in conferring hegemony and legitimacy on power was not there. Without it, the colonial officer had dominance but not hegemony over the people. Dominance, alas, does not leaders produce. Only hegemony does.
Let us leave colonialism and turn to Nigeria after October 1, 1960. Those of you who by now are familiar with my interventions in public discourse in this country through lectures, interviews, and my weekly column have asked me on occasion: why do you always speak of Nigeria’s rulers and not Nigeria’s leaders? It is true that I have always used rulers and rulership and not leaders and leadership in describing those who have been in charge of the apparatuses of state in this nation-space of ours. It is also true that the expressions, “we have no leaders” or “there is a dearth of leadership in the land” are commonplace. What is not commonplace is the difference between leaders and rulers. In a postcolonial contraption, the presence of political parties, elections, and other pretenses to a democratic calendar does not necessarily produce leaders and leadership.
Now, I want you to listen to this carefully. A free and fair election may produce a President, a Governor, a Senator or a Local Government Chairman, it certainly does not produce a leader. Of course, our own familiar diet of do-or-die, rig and roast elections, certainly does not and cannot produce a leader. Let me repeat: a democratic election, free and fair or rigged, does not produce a leader. Winning a free and fair or rigged election is but a first step in a long march to the production of leadership. There is still the business of legitimacy and hegemony which, we have said, can only happen “in the eyes of the people”. Without that validation in the eyes of the people – or let me even say, by the eyes of the people – you may rig an election till thine kingdom come, you will only be a ruler exercising dominance without hegemony because there is no wilful or voluntary submission of the self to the power you wield over the polity. Once the eyes of the people do not confer that legitimacy on you, you are a ruler and not a leader. To become a leader, na beans? No be beans now.
It should be clear to you by now that just as calling anybody a colonial leader was an aberration, calling anybody a leader in the mockery of democracy we have operated since 1999 is also an aberration. In fact, what validates this thesis of dominance without hegemony is the desperation to acquire that loaded and symbolic tag called ‘leader’ by those who know, deep down in their own hearts, that they are rulers – not leaders. That knowledge becomes a deep psychological torment. There is an emptiness in the soul that all the wealth and material possessions in this world cannot heal. You look into the eyes of the people and you do not see the recognition, the validation, the voluntary submission to your authority that is absolutely necessary to confer on you the title of leader. The hollowness of being a ruler and not a leader is what your mirror sends back rudely into your face every time you stand in front of it.
So, you mobilise the resources of the same people to rent and bribe them for symbolic rituals of conferment of that badly sought-after legitimacy. Renting is easy because you have taken the precaution of impoverishing them beforehand. This, of course, does not produce leadership. It produces farce. Suddenly, the people begin to weep and roll on the ground, begging you to rule them forever, donating money to buy forms for you. People whose skin is already so black here in sub-Saharan Africa, you make them acquire a TAN! In one of the funnier and more tragic scenarios, a soldier turned politician even wept! He was moved to tears that his people were so desperate to have him represent them forever that they put together their widow’s mite, their mechanic’s mite, their vulcanizer’s mite, owo oniru owo oniyo, and bought his nomination form. How moving! And David Mark wept! And Jesus wept that David Mark wept!
There is, of course, a totally different path to the acquisition of the tag, leader, than what these jokers and amateur dabblers into the art of ribaldry are doing in broad daylight. The scenarios we have described above are very expensive. Yet, after all the billions stolen from the public till and spent on renting and bribing the people, you remain a ruler and not a leader for leadership is like omoluabi: ko se f’owora – it just cannot be bought. The different way, the different path to the acquisition of the chieftaincy title of leader, is completely free. Free of charge. This raises an obvious question: if there is a free path to the acquisition of the status of leader, why do the rulers of Nigeria prefer the most expensive routes to its negation?
The answer is simple. You may not need money and material aggrandizement to acquire the status of leader, you need to come to the table with an impeccable and unimpeachable moral and ethical capital, built through years of consistency, with the block of the personal example. You will notice that I said block – not blocks. The personal example, so sorely missing in our national life, is the singular route to being a genuine hero, a genuine role model, a genuine leader. When we say that there is a dearth of leadership in Nigeria, when we say that we have produced almost three generations of Nigerians who lack credible role models, when we say that real and genuine heroes of the people are hard to come by in today’s Nigeria, what we are saying is that few are those whose ethical stock and moral capital are sufficient to legitimize them in the eyes of the people.
There is good news though. There is excellent news. It is true that an election, whether fair or rigged, does not necessarily produce leaders and leadership. History avails us of other truths, other verities about the path to legitimate leadership, heroism, and role modelhood. History tells us that whenever the political space presents unworthy vermin who are rulers instead of leaders, the people gravitate towards folk outside of professional politics who satisfy the indispensable criterion of the personal example. They become leaders, recognized and ordained as such by the people.
Their function in society acquires hegemony insofar as the people wilfully and voluntarily submit themselves to the authority of their transcendental personal examples. When people recognize themselves in the unending cavalcade of personal examples that is the life of any such character, that, my friends is the birth, the origin of genuine and legitimate leadership. Such a person becomes a leader because people willingly submit themselves to the authority of the personal example of this unnamed, hypothetical character of ours. The control, the authority that this character comes to exercise over you is earned. It is hegemony without dominance. It cannot be bought. It cannot be TANned. It can only be earned through the ritual of self-rebirth and self-renewal via the singular instrument of the personal example. In other words:
Bibire ko se f’owo ra o ti daju
Bibire ko se f’owo ra o ti daju
Bi a bi ni ko to ka tun ra eni bi
Bi a bi ni ko to ka tun ra eni bi
Ewo Tunde omo Bakare oko Olayide
O ku bibire
Ladies and gentlemen, let us forget Pastor Tunde Bakare for a second. Let us return to our hypothetical character who is so prolific in the production of personal examples. Let us assume that my good friend, Dr Joe Okei-Odumakin, knows this person that we are talking about. Let us assume that every time that she sees this person, she screams, “my leader sir”, to everybody’s hearing and with all the seriousness that such an honest enunciative avowal of followership requires. Now, Joe Okei-Odumakin is no longer in the category of those who can be shoved aside in this country. You cannot see the elephant that is Joe Okei-Odumakin and declare to the world that you caught a brief glimpse of something. If you did that, you would be telling a lie for an elephant is beyond what the eyes may greet with a casual glimpse. Remember, this elephant has hugged Michelle Obama and has shaken hands with John Kerry on the world stage. The Presidency of her country recently declared her a worthy elephant. “Bawo ni tie ti je nile yi” is no longer the portion of Joe Okei-Odumakin. Yet, she screams, “my leader sir”, whenever she is in the presence of this hypothetical character of ours.
If Joe Okei-Odumakin is a giant in her own right, the question must be asked: how did she arrive at that salute, “my leader sir”, that I have heard so often? Did the addressee put a gun to her head? Did the addressee open a Swiss bank account in her name? Did the addressee put her on the receiving roaster of egunje from Siemens and Halliburton? Did the addressee pen her down for an oil bloc? Did the addressee pen her down for a political appointment? Did the addressee award her a juicy contract?
No? I can’t hear you, did you all say no?
If the answer is no, I put it to you all that the only thing that has gone down here is that every utterance of “my leader sir” by Dr Joe Okei-Odumakin is indicative of her conscious, wilful, and voluntary submission to the symbolic authority of the personal example of the life of the person she addresses as her leader. That authority has hegemony and is therefore not dominance. I must not create the impression that Joe Odumakin is alone in this business of recognition of and submission to the authority of somebody’s personal example. Millions of people across this country, who find only rulership in the political and public spaces where they expect leadership, also gravitate towards that singular source of legitimate authority that is always being validated in Odumakin’s utterances.
It is therefore time to examine some of these examples in order to understand why and how they have come to situate the person who authors them as a credible leader in our national spaces of civic sentience. I do not need to identify the role and place of faith and religious creeds in the life of this country. Christianity and Islam are two defining pillars of the identity of this country. And we all know that these faiths are in a period of intense crisis. We know for instance that there is a sense in which Nigerian Christendom appears to be telling the faithful that it was a mistake for Christ to have ridden a donkey or trekked when he was around here with us instead of riding horses and camels – the equivalents of the Hummer in his own time. As a member of Nigerian Christendom, the message I have been getting ever since prosperity Pentecostalism happened to us is that Christ did not claim his portion and possess his possession. He did not reject poverty by sending it back to sender. Whatever it was that Christ rejected, contemporary Nigerian Christianity appears to want to make up for lost time on His behalf through an unbridled scramble for materialism and ostentation. Nigerian Christendom boasts one of the most significant harems of private jets in this country.
Now, let us assume that our hypothetical character is a Pastor who has been condemning the drift towards materialism by the Christian rulership of this country. Let us assume that he even once controversially prescribed time in jail for all General Overseers in this country in his frustration with the scramble for materialism. Then his birthday approaches. And lo and behold, he wakes up one morning to the sight of a gleaming brand new Rolls Royce at his gate: a gift by someone or some people who appreciate him, who mean well. Let us assume that his heart skips a beat. He gasps in surprise and tells the bearers of the said gift that riding a Rolls Royce in the streets of this country would contradict everything he believes in, everything he has preached. Let us assume that he rejects that gift and advises those who offered it to use the money instead for the poor and the needy for owning a Rolls Royce is the immediate younger brother of owning a private jet in the family of materialism and ostentation.
There are more personal examples where this one came from. You know I am not naming names in this part of the lecture. I am not mentioning anybody. We are just gisting, right? Okay, let me nack you another gist. Let us assume that this person that we are not naming once ran for political office because somebody arm-twisted him to be a presidential running mate. Let us assume that the moment he offered himself for that kind of service, he acknowledged the people’s right to know the source of his “toro kobo” and his “atije atimu”. If he had ongoing projects and investments, he felt the people he was aspiring to lead had the right to know. I am not saying that these things happened o but let us assume that this speaker who is right here before you found himself in this man’s church during this period. Let us assume that suddenly, in the middle of his preaching, he calls his banker to the podium and begins to cross-examine her like a lawyer. “Banker, we must all declare the source of our wealth. Let’s tell the truth and shame the devil. There are too many thieves in politics in this country. How much did I borrow last month to finance my ongoing projects? Go ahead, tell them. I authorise you. Did I do wuruwuru and magomago to obtrain that loan? Hasn’t your bank always given me lines of credit to finance my projects? Have I ever defaulted on a loan? On and on went the cross-examination in the presence of this speaker. Poor banker! I felt her discomfort as she went against her professional instinct by divulging the personal business details of her stubborn client on a church podium. No be dem say. I was there!
Ladies and gentlemen, these are just two instances of the personal example. There are thousands of personal examples where these two came from: decade after decade after decade of personal examples set to guide this country right. We are in the presence of a relentless deluge of personal examples. Personal examples rain and pour from Tunde Bakare’s life. And the literature person in me begins to wonder about culture and oral tradition. I begin to think about Tunde Bakare’s oriki. Don’t forget my earlier submission: oriki ni ro ni – one’s oriki is an amebo, doing tatafo about one’s life and character. The first opening line of the first stranza of Tunde Bakare’s oriki describes him as:
The one who causes rain to fall,
Son of the elders, King of Ijeun people
He causes rain to fall! This is no ordinary rain. This is a metaphorical rain. This is the rain of personal examples that has poured out of the life of this man into our public sphere all these decades. Oriki ni ro ni.
A s’oriki ni ro yan ore mi
Mi o mo, ta lo ri
Ta lo ri to d’Ogun lo bere wo ore
A s’oriki ni ro ni ore
Emi o tete mo
P’oriki ni ro ni o.
The second line of the first stanza of Tunde Bakare’s oriki tells me that, apparently, European Marxists and Indian literary theorists were not the first to happen on the notion of dominance and hegemony. It appears that our ancestral forbears also knew a thing or two about the acquisition of legitimacy which confers the status of leader. That line describes him as:
The one who attracts the crowds
Like Muslims on their prayer day
This verse says he attracts the crowds. This oriki verse does not say that he forces the crowds to come to him. He attracts them. They go to him because they are summoned by his moral and ethical capital. They willingly submit to the authority of his personal examples. The man exercise hegemony and not dominance over the crowds. Oriki ni ro ni!
A s’oriki ni ro ni ore
Emi o tete mo
P’oriki ni ro ni o
Why will the crowds not go to him? If you look at the history of great nations, you will discover that a lot of things define nations. We all agree that Nigeria has tragically been unable to forge many of the conventional features nationhood hence the truism that Nigeria is not a nation. She is at best a forced marriage between unwilling ethno-nations. Yet, I speak of nation in the title of this lecture. I speak of Tunde Bakare and this nation. Among the many things which define a nation are the sum total of the personal examples of the leaders they have identified and crowned in their history. When a nation says, this is who we are, she is often talking about the crystallization of the shining examples of her heroes and sheroes into a transcendental national identity.
The transcendent nature of the personal examples of Tunde Bakare is what enables me to speak authoritatively of a nation in this notorious non-nation of ours. Consider these scenarios. If I go to Otuoke today and scream in the public sphere: “stealing is not corruption”. It is highly unlikely that I would find people who would approve of such a statement and the philosophy or example it projects. I may get statements such as “shuo, bros, wish one now? Na wish kain kasala yarns you dey yarn so?”
If I return to the same public space in Otuoke brandishing the example of someone who rejected the gift of a car because it sends the signal of materialism and ostentation in a national context of poverty and hunger, people would identity with that example irrespective of the ethnicity and religion of whoever did something so unheard of. I may get reactions such as, “shuo, bros, you sure say people like dat still dey dis we obodo so?” If I go to Sokoto with same story, I may get: “wallahi, keria ne! Ya che ba ka so Rolls Royce?” If I go to Enugu with the same story, I may get: “Nna men, some people dey try for dis country o.” If I go to Abeokuta with the same story, I may get: “omo wa niyen. A jeri e!”
Though tribe and tongue may differ from Otuoke to Sokoto to Enugu to Abeokuta, a genuine personal example can build a nation. Across differences. Across fratricidal fault lines. Beyond our damning differences, we can all willingly embrace the control and authority of an outstanding personal example when we see it. Example is how Tunde Bakare builds his nation. Example is why he has hegemony without dominance.
A s’oriki ni ro yan ore mi
Mi o mo, ta lo ri
Ta lo ri to d’Ogun lo bere wo ore
A s’oriki ni ro ni ore
Emi o tete mo
P’oriki ni ro ni o.
Oriki ni ro ni! Happy birthday to Pastor Tunde Bakare!
Pius Adesanmi, PhD (UBC, Vancouver)
African Literatures and Cultures
Department of English Language & Literature
1125 Colonel By Drive
Ottawa, ON K1S 5B6, Canada.
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