Vanguard (Lagos)

Nigeria: Tortoise Folklore As Metaphor of National Leadership

Pius Adesanmi, a budding literary icon was the guest speaker at the "Second State of the Nation" lecture organized recently by the Pastor Tunde Bakare-led Save Nigeria Group. Adesanmi, an Assistant Professor 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 humorously skillfully adopted the personified traits of the Tortoise (Ijapa) in Yoruba folklore as primary motifs to embellish his canvass on the Nigerian predicament.

The defining character traits of the tortoise in these stories are of greed, selfishness and such other odious, antisocial behavior. Adesanmi narrated three such 'tales by moonlight' Ijapa (tortoise) stories to tickle the memories of his matured audience.

Adesanmi defines Ijapa's ingrained ingratitude, greed and selfishness, in three stories. However, constraint of space will allow for only a brief narration of the story in which tortoise set out to cheat the bird family, who had been 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; however, Ijapa insisted on taking the new name of "All of you" before the trip to heaven. Consequently, the tortoise mischievously cornered to himself all the refreshments provided for the guests since every presentation was usually prefixed with 'this is for all of you'.

Of course, the hungry birds were very displeased with this fraudulent arrangement, and, therefore, took back the feathers they had happily lent to Mr. Tortoise. Consequently, Ijapa tumbled from heaven in a near fatal fall to earth with broken bones and a badly fractured shell as his ultimate reward!

The common denominator in all the stories is the tortoise's immutable ethos to cheat and corner the common weal or muddy the waters for others in the community after having his fill. The inevitable opprobrium of shame or even severe personal injury was never a deterrent.

Adesanmi argues that the simplistic nature of the tortoise's stories was not only for entertainment of our children before bedtime, but also served as easily comprehensible symbolic markers for moral rectitude and the reinforcement of positive communal values.

Our current experience as a people is mirrored with great fidelity by such tortoise folklore, as 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, in 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% (capital budget) is devoted to service and projects, which directly caters for health (10.7%), education (27.8%), prosperity and general welfare of our people (5.4% 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, together 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 therefore still remain meaningful today.

In consternation, Prof.Adesanmi reminds us of the Patriarch's 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".

For example, 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 once again become our brothers' keepers, and urgently enthrone the ethos of the greater good for the community as our abiding mantra!

SAVE THE NAIRA, SAVE NIGERIANS!!

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