When you hear the Yoruba say Tantolorun, know that they are putting words into their revulsion at someone playing God. Tantolorun means ‘Who is as big as God’. You all saw how the Osun State governorship election went. Some difficult tasks can be made easy by the enemy or by the forces behind you. The Yoruba people say if a dog has hunters backing it, it would kill a monkey. Dogs don’t climb trees, and monkeys don’t run ground races; but dogs still manage to make games of monkeys. More than 10 APC governors were in Osun State for the election. Billions were spent by all the sides, yet, the election was inconclusive; the PDP had a marginal lead of 353 votes over the powerful ruling party. The APC did not go into that contest as a hapless hound; it entered the ring as a roaring lion. But when a people have become so big they think the enemy would run at the sound of their breathing, expect what happened last Saturday to be their lot.
But should the PDP too have struggled to get that figure given what is on ground? It had to pant because it did not know the value of unity. And it wasn’t that its leaders were not warned. They had enough notice of what was coming. But they spurned the need to learn even from the strategy of the enemy. Would Muhammadu Buhari have defeated Goodluck Jonathan in 2015 if he had stuck to his provincial party, the CPC? Or would Bola Tinubu have become leader of a national party if he had not bent backwards to accommodate a very difficult Buhari or if he had not proceeded to build a formidable army of allied forces to confront PDP’s awesome machine? It took a mass of global forces to take down Adolf Hitler and his Third Reich. The Third Reich was to last a thousand years – it lasted only 12 because those who didn’t want it allied against it. The PDP didn’t say it would leave power in 2015 but a better organized alliance took its fingers off the nation’s pie.
The opposition in Osun didn’t learn that simple logic, the logic of killing the enemy with its own strategy. They did this even when they knew the character of the enemy they were ranged against. The APC has a cream of very faithful, smart commanders who know how to deliver their enemies’ heads for their Passover feasts. But they failed to get a win on Saturday! Why? They failed because of the same reasons Hitler failed in 1945. Nazi Germany lost the Second World War and lost everything thereafter because it was so successful in its initial campaigns that it thought it had conquered the world. Besides, Hermann Goering and Hitler made certain strategic mistakes including taking everyone, including their own troops, for granted.
The Adeleke family is making history with this election. Is there some truth in children reaping what their fathers sowed? Osun state has an interesting narrative of children profiting from their dad’s past efforts. Olagunsoye Oyinlola’s father, Oba Moses Oyinlola, was a key leader in the movement that got Osun Division created in 1954. His son became governor of Osun State years later. There was also Chief Ayoola Adeleke who, in the 1980s, led the movement for the creation of Osun State. He was a senator in the old Oyo State. His first son, Isiaka Adeleke, became the first civilian governor of Osun State and later, a senator; his third son, Ademola, against all odds became senator and now looking forward to becoming governor. Lessons.
While I was writing this, it occurred to me that last week, I called politicians dogs. This election has shown that they are. And what happens when a dog thinks itself the boss of the boss? Or when it won’t heed warnings? It will get lost! And when it gets lost, would its owner not suffer from the loss too? That is what we were taught. And there are very many stories that teach lessons in how to lose battles and how to get lost, but life tells us that losing is never final for those who can learn and change.
Ulli Beier needs very little introduction in Yoruba cultural history. He once told this story of one of his dogs that would not listen to warnings. The event happened in Osogbo of the early 1960s. It is a story of what happens when a dog goes out to court problems. The story, he said, is about his dog, Tantolorun (meaning: Who is as big as God?). The dog’s child was Eefinniwa (character is smoke). You know it is difficult to hide smokes, it will escape no matter how hard you try. The dogs gave themselves and their owner problems because they wouldn’t listen to the flute of the hunter. Eefinniwa, rescued from ritual death, grew to become a terror at night to goats and sheep in Osogbo. But the mother-dog’s story is even more interesting.
Beier tells the story: “Tantolorun was a very sensitive and gentle dog. She had never shown the slightest aggressiveness, not even when she had pups. But there was one person at whom she growled threateningly every time he entered the house. He was an elderly priest of Oya, who seemed to have lost his following, and at whose shrine little or no activity went on. He was, however, a very knowledgeable man and we enjoyed talking to him. He passed our house often and usually dropped in for a few minutes to sit down on our veranda to relax. Tantolorun grew aggressive towards him as time went on. She not only growled, but barked wildly at him and had to be shut up in a room while the man was around. Her behaviour was inexplicable, but it began to irritate the man more and more, and he threatened not to visit us any more unless we could manage to control the dog.
“Some of our friends offered an explanation: they said that the priest liked to eat dog meat, and that because of this he often performed the annual sacrifice for a group of Ogun worshippers in Osogbo. They suggested that the dog sensed his perverse attitude to dogs and that her uncontrollable anger stemmed from that. Whatever the real cause, we could not control her and our friend became more and more annoyed. He finally declared he was not going to enter our house again. At that stage, relationships had become so strained that we hardly felt we had lost a friend. In fact, during the recent weeks his character seemed to have changed. He had lost his charm, at least towards us, and his formerly beautiful face suddenly looked mean. Much as we regretted the situation, there was nothing we could do about it.
Unfortunately, however, the incident was not closed. Tantolorun seemed to hate the old man so much that even when he was passing our house on the street, she would rush out and bark at him, pursuing him a few yards down the street. One day she even started to tug at his long flowing agbada with her teeth. Infuriated, the priest shouted that if the dog did it again, he would have to ‘put medicine’ on her. The very next day the dog rushed out again, and this time the priest turned round, speaking incantations at her. The effect was curious. The dog cringed and withdrew. She tried to bark, but could not. She appeared to have lost her voice. He followed her back to the house and said: This is nothing. It is just to show you that I am serious. If she does it again tomorrow, I will really have to use some strong words. He left angrily.
“Unfortunately, the dog did not understand the warning. She had recovered from her strange state soon after the old man had left. The very next day, she rushed out again barking and trying to grab the priest’s agbada. Angrily, the priest turned and spoke his incantations. The dog fled back to the house. But this time she did not recover. Instead, she behaved in the most frightening manner. She rolled her eyes, snarled at everybody and foam appeared in her mouth. We could not be sure that she had not developed rabies. Even if that weren’t so, it was obvious that in her present mood she would sooner or later attack people. She did not appear to recognize any of us. We quickly evacuated all the people from the house. There were usually a dozen children playing on the ground floor. Then we locked her into the house, and once again I went to our old friend, the Oluode, to ask for help.
“Again, I thought we would have to shoot the dog. She may have rabies, I said, and we cannot take this kind of risk. But the Oluode first wanted to know how it had happened. When he heard the name of the man who had cursed the dog, he simply laughed: ‘What, him? He doesn’t know anything! He is a mere child in these matters. Don’t worry. I’ll know what to do. Come, let’s go to your house.’ When we reached the house, he took the key, asked me to remain outside, and entered. There was not a sound coming from within. After about 10 minutes, the Oluode came out of the house, laughing. The dog followed him, wagging her tail as if nothing had happened.
“Tantolorun had no recurrence of her strange behaviour. For a couple of weeks, the old priest avoided our house, but when he passed by again, Tantolorun had lost interest in him. Again, I have no explanation. The Oluode said he did not give the dog anything to eat, that all he used were incantations.”
That dog’s name ruled its world. No one can play God for long. Power will always escape from the powerful if he misuses it. The party in power in Osun thought it was unbeatable because it was massive. But power that is not harnessed is no power. With the Ulli Beier dog, we see three levels of power: The dog was powerful enough to have seen what is hidden in the priest, but it suffered because it has no respect for the power of the priest and the repeated warnings. The Baba too thought his power over the dog was absolute. He was wrong. There was Oluode who saw the priest as a mere child in such things. Where the power of one ends is where another’s begins. That is how life is structured.
There is not yet a winner in Osun State and there is also no loser yet. But for both sides, lessons should have been learnt. The Yoruba hold that where ‘I will kill you’ stays is also the place where ‘I will deliver you’ lives. That dog triumphed over her challenges because she had a power stronger than the one that cast that spell on her. Lessons have been learnt. The dog learnt its lessons the hard way. The owner learnt his own. The Baba Oloya priest must have learnt one or two lessons too. He inflicted the irritant dog with strange behaviours; a greater power delivered the miserable being from the affliction. The priest was a child in the hands of God. Baba Oloya didn’t have the last say on Tantolorun because he wasn’t its creator. That is the lesson from Saturday’s Osun election. We all get warnings, whether in victory or in defeat. The one who listens and learns is the one that is not doomed to lose the next battle.