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Tortoise folklore and national leadership

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(A tribute to Pius Adesanmi)

By Henry Boyo

THE article “Tortoise Folklore as Metaphor of National Leadership” is published again, this week, as a humble tribute to Pius Adesanmi, a celebrated African Intellectual beacon who regrettably eclipsed much, much too early, in the fatal crash of Ethiopian Airlines Boeing 737 MAX in March 2019. Please read on:

Pius Adesanmi

Pius Adesanmi

AKWA IBOM: ‘How we’ll defeat Akpabio in his district’

“Prof. Pius Adesanmi, a budding literary icon was guest speaker at the “Second State of the Nation” lecture organized in November 2012 by Pastor Tunde Bakare-led Save Nigeria Group.  Adesanmi, who was a Director of African Studies at Carlton University, Canada, chose the title “Reparations: What Nigerians Owe the Tortoise” as his theme. I invite you to share in an experience that turned out to be an insightful and sobering verbal interactive satire.”

“Adesanmi skillfully humorously, personified the traits of the Tortoise (Ijapa, in Yoruba folklore) as primary motifs to embellish his canvass on the Nigerian predicament.”

“The defining character traits of tortoise in the narratives, are those of greed, selfishness and such other odious, antisocial behavior.  Adesanmi tickled the memories of his clearly matured audience with three such ‘tales by moonlight’ tortoise stories.  The menu included the popular story in which Ijapa (tortoise), against strict instruction, succumbed to temptation to taste the sumptuous meal, which the ‘babalawo’ (native doctor) had specially prepared to facilitate the pregnancy of tortoise’s wife, Yanibo. “

“The punishment for Ijapa’s greed was a steadily bloating stomach; the tortoise’s consequent desperate lamentation for pardon (babalawo mowa bebe) and the chorus, (alugbin rin) have remained resonant over the years, and the audience did not require any invitation before they chorused the full melody and lyrics of that song, in step with the storyteller!”

“The second telltale of Ijapa’s antisocial culture and greed was his contrivance to corner for himself all the fruits from the only tree that remained productive in Ijapa’s famine-ravaged village.  Instead of strictly intoning the usual melody that would release his individual ration of one coconut meal a day to drop on his back, the selfish tortoise’s contrived deviant refrain demanded that all the potential output of the coconut tree which should serve the whole community should drop on him in one fell swoop, so that he would corner the market and make substantial profit from selling his surplus to the starving community!”

“Adesanmi also defines Ijapa’s ingrained ingratitude and selfishness, in another story in which tortoise sets out to cheat the bird family, who were invited for a feast in heaven.  In a show of comradeship, all the birds donated some of their feathers, so Mr. Tortoise could fly with them to the party in heaven; nonetheless, Ijapa insisted on taking the new name of “All of you” before the trip to heaven; however, since all offerings at the party were was usually prefixed with ‘this is for all of you’, the tortoise consequently, mischievously cornered to himself all the refreshments and gifts provided to the terrestrial guests.”

“Of course, the hungry birds were very displeased with this fraudulent arrangement, and so, before the return journey back home, each bird took back the feathers they had earlier happily lent to Mr. Tortoise; Ijapa therefore, inevitably, tumbled from heaven in a near fatal fall to earth with broken bones and a badly fractured shell as his ultimate reward for his greed!”

“The common denominator in the above stories is Tortoise’s immutable ethos to cheat and corner the common wealth or muddy the waters for other citizens after having his fill.  The attendant opprobrium of shame or even severe personal injury was never a deterrent.”

“Adesanmi argues that the simplistic nature of tortoise stories was not only bedtime entertainment for our children, but also served as easily comprehensible symbolic markers for moral rectitude and the reinforcement of positive communal values.  In this process, our children would become ingrained with socially supportive behavior rather than succumb to the temptation of selfish and unbridled treasury looting at the expense of other members of society.”

“Our current experience as a people mirrors with great fidelity tortoise’s ‘me only’ culture, as the communally forbidden fruit of antisocial behavior encapsulated in the tortoise’s DNA has regrettably become the main menu on the table of our leaders.  The fear of repercussion either in terms of shame or personal injury has since been erased by the ineffective or non-existent sanctions that accompany such antisocial behaviour.  Thus, our leaders have completely hijacked the intellectual property of Mr. Tortoise, and have become impervious to shame as they wallow in antisocial behaviour with such impunity that would make the tortoise ethos seem as mere rascality!”

“Consequently, Adesanmi argues that we owe a debt to make reparation payments to Ijapa in the same manner that plagiarized intellectual property attracts sanctions, which may include compensations!!”

On the other hand, our erudite storyteller admonishes that the converse of tortoise’s antisocial ethos is the adoption of socially supportive and inclusive behaviour, where leadership is primarily dedicated to the service and satisfaction of the common good.  Such ‘pro-people first’ ethos is discernible, according to Adesanmi, from   the example of the tall themes of Chief Awolowo’s 1955 budget speech, part of which reads as follows:

“Of our total expenditure of £12.45 million, not less than 82.6 per cent (capital budget) is devoted to service and projects, which directly caters for prosperity and general welfare of our people i.e. health (10.7%), education (27.8%), (5.4 per cent agriculture).”

“Nigerians may contrast such a people friendly budget with the current arrangement, where consumption accounts for about 70% of the federal budget, while education, health and agriculture, cummulatively account for less than 15% of total expenditure.”

“Obviously, the giant educational and social welfare strides of Awo’s ‘life more abundant’ philosophy were no accidents and the socioeconomic benefits derived therefrom still remain meaningful today.”

“In consternation, Prof. Adesanmi reminds us of the Patriarch’s philosophical song, which loosely translated, means “the same rain falls on sugarcane and bitter-leaf; the sugarcane takes its own rain and travels the path of sweetness, while bitter-leaf takes its own share of the same rain and travels the path of bitterness”.  Similarly, the rain of oil falls on Dubai and falls on Nigeria; the rulers of Dubai use their own share to create a path of sweetness, while their Nigerian counterparts condemn their own people to the path of bitterness, lack and hunger.  Every week, “the Federal Executive Council chambers in Aso Rock becomes the meeting point of tortoise ‘wannabes’, as hundreds of billions are shared out of the national cake to friends and cronies, while 99% of Nigerians still go to bed hungry”.

“Ultimately, Prof. Adesanmi pleads that we should once again become our brothers’ keepers, and urgently enthrone the ethos of the greater good for the community as our abiding mantra!”

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