Welcome home, son of Isanlu.
That was not the voice of one person. That was not the greeting of one voice. That was the voice of hundreds of Isanlu sons and daughters who had sniffed my presence the very moment our tires kissed the earth of our source. The mob… the throngs…the sea of faces.
Akanbi Eyitayo Micheal had tried to prepare me for all this. He had warned me that it was beyond foolish to think I could enter Isanlu and exit incognito when people were recognizing me and forming a mob around me in Ilorin. He said I was grossly underestimating what my work does for Isanlu. He had said: “You place us on the national map. Everywhere an Isanlu person goes in this country and mentions Kogi and Isanlu, we get anxiously asked if it is Pius Adesanmi’s Isanlu. You have no idea what that means to our people at home.”
No, I had no idea. Until the throngs started to come. Until the throngs started to follow us everywhere. Everybody insisting on shaking hands, on saying thank you Prof. Until poor Mama Adesanmi had to wait till the very last hour of our very last day in Isanlu before she could get an audience with her only son.
The real purpose of the trip was not for me to receive a Thai ego massage for two days. Last weekend was the New Yam Festival in Isanlu. I last celebrated New Yam Festival in Isanlu in 1987. Tayo said there was no chance he was going to let me miss it this year given that I am in Nigeria. I concurred.
My friend, my brother, my faithful person, Adedayo Kayode, alias Benbela, had also sent word that he would be joining us in Isanlu for the feast. Dayo is a very big man. He is a senior Accountant in the Presidency. Often I pity him when I am fighting the Presidency. The day I delivered my valedictory lecture at the end of my sabbatical year at the University of Ghana in 2014, Dayo walked through the doors of the lecture auditorium in Accra as I was about to start. He had seen the announcement by accident on this Wall, booked an Arik flight from Abuja to Accra without telling me, and showed up for the lecture. I asked why. “Because it shall not be said that you delivered your valedictory lecture without home support from Isanlu. Because of all you do for us.” May we have people in our lives who can move mountains because of us and without thinking about the cost.
Dayo is also the Bashorun of Itedo Oba, a fledgling ward in Isanlu. Itedo Oba had elected to hold Itedo Day on the day of the New Yam Festival and Dayo insisted that Tayo and I join him to the festival. It was also an occasion for me to reunite with Uncle Kunle Kayode, Dayo’s elder brother, who was my teacher at Titcombe College. Uncle KK was our library master and I was his choice for library prefect when our set “took over” in Form Four.
The photos you see of me here are all from Itedo Day. I danced and danced and took in the poesy and verbal arts of Isanlu land. But I also witnessed other dramas at Itedo Day and everywhere I went. Dayo and Tayo had warned me about the extreme poverty and suffering in the land. The last time the word, salary, featured in the life of anybody in the land was some 17 months ago. Dayo, Tayo, and I entered Isanlu with about N200,000 each. That is N600,000 just for two nights in town. By the end of day one, all three of us were talking to the manager of the local branch of First Bank for emergency bailout. We barely had enough on us for gas out of town. I refunded my own N60,000 bailout loan only when I got to Lagos yesterday.
How did three members of Isanlu elite burn N600,000 in 24 hours in the interior? Emergency poverty alleviation. Handouts of N100, N200, N500, N1000 and all the money is gone. I do not have the vocabulary in English to describe what governance is doing to my people. What can N500 possibly do in the life of this receiver who is in tears, thanking you as if you just gave him N5 million? Well, the average picture all over town: husband and wife, both civil servants, have not been paid in 17 months. Pensioners are too busy dying to remember that they have not been paid.
Three years ago, I was in Isanlu. The person I gave N20,000 to, with lots of pleading that I knew he was worth much more than that, was accepting N1000 last weekend with tears of joy and effusive prayers. Every where Tayo, Dayo, and I went in town to celebrate and mingle with our people, we were mindful of the immense tragedy that governance has become in the lives of our people.
Yet, the state government was going to be heavily present at Itedo Day. I looked forward to what was going to happen. The Governor was represented by the Commissioner of Finance. There was a second commissioner as there were Special Advisers and other top civil servants present. The Government crew were very surprised to see me. My brother, Evangelist Kingsley Fanwo, Director-General, Media and Publicity, in the Governor’s office, gasped in surprise when he saw me. The Commissioner of Finance gasped in surprise. “Prof, how can you not tell us that you are coming to town so we can welcome you properly? Does Petra know you are in town? Evangelist Fanwo asked.
I laughed. Evangelist Fanwo already knew the answer to his own question. How can I let you welcome me properly when you and I know, as sons of Isanlu, that there will be koboko issues involved? That everything I will write about this trip, my testimony, my eye witness account, my ear witness account, will be the exact opposite of the messaging from your end. Even Petra knows that there is no way I will go to Isanlu and there won’t be koboko issues that she must pass on to her boss. Isanlu people had been trooping to me by the hundreds and in tears, saying, Prof, carry our tears to these people. Help us open their eyes to our naked poverty and suffering. Help them see beyond the rosiness of official messaging.
As the Finance Commissioner and speaker after speaker delivered the official lines from Lokoja, I was transported into the magical world of Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude. The official speakers sought to present a narrative of milk and honey to hungry and impoverished people who nearly began to suspect that they were not really hungry and impoverished. The man who has not been paid in 17 months began to suspect that he has been paid all those months and just did not know it. The speeches were mesmerizing, arresting, beautiful. Pius Adesanmi even became convinced that Mama Adesanmi’s pension has been paid regularly in the last two years. The only problem is that he and Mama Adesanmi have lost the sentience to understand that she has been paid.
Ken Saro-Wiwa, via Bassey and Company in the 1980s, had famously taught Nigerians that to be a millionaire, you got to think like a millionaire. You got to believe you are a millionaire. I began to feel an eerie sense of Bassey and company as the foundation of the indignity of my people in the hands of governance. To be a salary earner, think like one, close your eyes and believe that nobody is owing you 17 months. You have always been paid. Just believe it. I went home and told Mama Adesanmi to believe that she has been paid. Why, she asked. Well, that is my takeaway from all the speeches I heard from Lokoja people at Itedo Day today.
But the people were not mesmerized for long. Nothing immunizes you against the sedative speeches of government officials like the pangs of hunger and the vibrant memory of your poverty and indignity. Where I sat, not very far from the government officials, I began to hear hisses. I began to hear “shior”. I began to “Prof, you see what we are facing now?” I reassured people: don’t worry. They are all on my Wall. They will hear from me.”
I saw the hunger.
I saw the poverty.
I visited bereaved families who have lost people on the roads to screening.
I stopped over in neighbouring towns: Mopa, Ejiba, Odo Ere, Egbe: the same cries of a people on the brink of extinction. The seething anger induced by government insouciance.
To the Kogi state officials on this wall: there is anger in the land that you people are neither seeing nor hearing because you are blindsided by official messaging. Take this message from a friend who wants you to succeed to your boss. Take it to him unvarnished. Tell him there is fire on the mountain. Do not sugar coat this message. If I get a sense that it has not been presented to him, I will bypass you and get it to him via other channels.
The people are hungry, tired, and unpaid. The screenings, a great idea initially, have been emptied of meaning and have become a source of hatred and anger against you people. I have personally warned Mama Adesanmi not to respond to any further yeye screening summons from Lokoja. Ko pidi yeye?
Pay these people. Pay these people. Pay these people.
Stop trying to convince them that they have been paid.
– Professor Pius Adesanmi writes in his piece, “Aspects of a trip to my homeland (2)”