- What is more? The significant thing about the wealth of those days was that it was indigenous. The farmers made their money here in their villages and towns. They spent the money right there and then – to develop their villages and towns. They didn’t think of spiriting the money abroad to develop other people’s countries.
One thing is very common to most Southwest towns – storey buildings made of mud and later cement – usually with wooden decks. They can be found in most villages indeed. Today, they have started falling apart and collapsing, perhaps having served their useful life. Some of them looked very beautiful indeed and were the hallmarks of great achievement between 40 to 80 years ago. Some have been preserved in some areas, as tourist attractions, but most are now abandoned, their owners having died and their children and grandchildren relocated elsewhere. Building technology has also advanced greatly and no one will as much as give it a thought to erect such types of buildings in this modern age.
I see those buildings – called ‘ile petesi’ as a symbol of an era of enlightenment for Yoruba people. From Ibadan to Osun State, to Ondo, Akure, Akoko, Okunland, the entire Ekiti State, they once stood proudly – symbols of an economic emergence, powered by commodity business. It must have been a great feat putting them up those days – just as putting ultramodern mansions today. The capital outlays must have relatively been quite substantial I mean. Usually, these houses don’t come with in-built toilets and bathrooms. You have to go to the outbacks for that. The windows are covered with planks. But the rooms were usually well-dimensioned and each house is built to accommodate extended families – usually with a courtyard behind. At least I can remember my Uncle Sekiteri Fasua’s house at Isikan Akure, where we used to throng with my cousins, Doctor, Ezekiel, Sunday and others, in the early 1980s. I am not sure that in spite of our subscription to capitalism these days, we have been able to reenact a fraction of the success that our fathers had.
What is more? The significant thing about the wealth of those days was that it was indigenous. The farmers made their money here in their villages and towns. They spent the money right there and then – to develop their villages and towns. They didn’t think of spiriting the money abroad to develop other people’s countries. They didn’t look down on their villages, towns, or even their country, as ‘woke’ millennials now do. Even my generation still had some sort of connection with our land. But in southwest of Nigeria, we were the first to start bailing out, many never to return, but most return briefly from time to time. a fraction of us have found the largeness of heart to contribute to the regeneration of our land by having some real estate footprint, but for the southwest, it is not nearly enough. We having a rapid expansion of slums, ghettos and badly-planned developments, in response to expanding populations instead. Of late, some of our states, cities and towns have had to start relying on illegal money made by those we call ‘yahoo-boys’. No one cares how they make their money, so long as they are able to spend lavishly. How sad that some mothers and fathers now openly pray that their children go down this route. I learnt that some even enroll their young lads with yahoo (fraud) schools. .
I trace that era of great economic resurgence – which is usually attributed to the administrative capabilities to the great Obafemi Awolowo – to the presence in southwest Nigeria of commodity boards. I still recall that one existed in our farmstead in Ita Oniyan, off Ondo Road in the early 1980s, when I and my brother were sent home to Akure ahead of the rest of the family for about a year, and we could roam around with my cousins earlier mentioned. Their Dad, Aba Sekiteri – who was my dad’s elder brother – was a strong man, a chief and a boss in his own rights especially when it comes to cocoa farming. Since people like that passed and the rest of us have our sights set elsewhere in the white man’s economy, the commodity economy has become less democratized. We don’t even know who makes the money anymore. Whoever does, probably sends 90% of the money abroad, or to Lagos and elsewhere. No one is also replanting many of the commodities that made the region proud. The Punch newspaper did a series some years back, narrating how the few young men that remained in the villages have realized that it is more profitable to use the land for farming weed (Indian hemp) which they could harvest four times a year with an endless market begging for the products, rather than wait for five years for cocoa to gestate.
I think it is important for us to conduct this type of analysis using very empirical facts. Perhaps someone should undertake a more in-depth study at an academic level. But first would we agree that the development of southwest Nigeria has been arrested for some of the reasons mentioned above and even others not captured here? Will we get past our pride in that regard? My own conclusion is that we have an arrested development scenario. In all of the southwest states save for Ogun and Oyo to some extent, nothing happens outside the government house at the capital. Ogun is lucky for being so close to Lagos and reaping off the industrial necessities. I am reading a report in the Guardian on how Ogun and Lagos contributes perhaps 80% of Nigeria’s industrial capacity. Even in Oyo, Ibadan is the only city seeing some sort of slow regeneration. The vast Oke-Ogun region is in a serious struggle with development. As usual, the Yorubas don’t like going home unlike say the Igbos. The Igbos build first in their ‘villages’ before building elsewhere. I believe we could learn a few things from that.
A few weekends ago, I went for a wedding at Ita-Ogbolu, a village outside Akure, that should have become a town today if the development of the region had not been arrested. I used to pass Igoba, Ita-Ogbolu, Iju, through Ikere Ekiti to my university from 1987 to 1991. The villages looked idyllic back then. The road is of course a disaster today – the same road with which Governor Wike taunted Governor Fayemi when he paid a visit to apprise the former of his presidential ambition. Let’s just say there is no road connecting the two capitals anymore, but I understand the federal government has a new plan. Ita-Ogbolu has only regressed into the past. The want and poverty are glaring for all to see. A certain sadness enveloped me when I visited for that wedding. What could be done to bring vibrancy to these places, I asked myself? Where did all the economic growth that has happened in Nigeria disappear to? Recall that Nigeria’s GDP in 1960 was $4 billion and today, it inches towards $500 billion. But Ita Ogbolu is stuck with the little development that Cocoa farming could have brought, say up to the early 1980s. Indeed, we could conclude that Ita-Ogbolu is stuck in the 1960s Nigeria. And this goes for perhaps 90% of small towns in southwest Nigeria. I may have reported my experience going to Ile-Ife the other day, when we had to go through the small town of Ikeji-Arakeji in Osun State. Ikeji is better than Ita-Ogbolu, but the poverty is still glaring, for a university town that had achieved fame since the time of Joseph Ayo Babalola, one of the greatest Yoruba missionaries that ever lived! On the day I passed there, the youths of the community blocked and destroyed the main expressway because a traveling car had hit and killed a student. You need to see how vicious those youths were. We are talking about Area boys here.
As I put this article together in my head, I had some suggestions from sundry Facebook friends about what could have gone wrong. At least they agreed with me that something is wrong. Two young friends from southeast Nigeria offered insights. One of them said that perhaps what is undoing the southwest may be the fact that the Yoruba culture allows their dead to be buried anywhere but that the Igbo culture insists that the dead be brought back home for burial. Therefore, while alive, most Igbos try to ensure they will not be shamed at death. This gave me cause for pause, as it is true. Tradition and culture have their ways of being aggressively and unapologetically proactive! Another said that perhaps if Nigeria could allow for diaspora voting, many yorubas who have remained abroad with no investment at home will feel the pull. However, I think they should start copying the Igbos already. When we talk of nation-building, we are not dealing with a strictly abstract idea. Building has to do with brick and mortar, and erecting buildings and roads and civic centres and whatnot, one at a time. The government cannot do it all. We all need to contribute our quotas. It is also unfortunate that the southwest has not been able to pull together the kind of economic firepower that we had in the Awolowo days. Awo was not just a political leader, most of his work dwelt on the firmament of economics – macroeconomics and applied economics. He thought not only for his people but for the whole country. Most of those who wear his cap around and claim to have inherited him are basically selfish while many are Aluta people – great at opposing and fighting real and imaginary wars whether against government or other tribes. We need economic leadership.
Of course, Babangida’s 1986 Structural Adjustment Program (SAP) dealt the fatal blow from which we may yet rise. It was that fine dude, IBB, that came up with the idea of ultra-capitalism. If indeed we would have had no choice but to go down that route in time – as the bipolar balance of power collapsed in 1989, we did not think about the consequences, and there was nobody to shout when things were retrogressing rapidly. Eerily enough, Awo died in 1987 – perhaps paving way for IBB and friends to make mincemeat of the economy. For one, capital disappeared from southwest Nigeria and got split up everywhere in a globalized world. The capitalism being pursued came with a huge infusion of selfishness. Everybody minded their own businesses. If that hadn’t been so, we would have seen the sheer disaster coming when IBB’s friends at the IMF and World Bank suggested that we abolish the Cocoa Boards (and by extension other commodity boards). Somehow, Ghana and Cote D’Ivoire kept theirs and on cocoa alone, those countries have been able to grow their production to three and ten times Nigeria’s production respectively. Just last year, their board(COCOBOD), extended a hand to Nigeria and Cameroun. It was a pathetic situation for Nigeria in my view. See https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2022/10/12/update-1-cameroon-nigeria-request-to-join-ivory-ghana-cocoa-initiative. Luckily, the incoming administration of Bola Ahmed Tinubu has promised to bring back the boards and also empower commodity exchanges. Perhaps we could claw back some of the disappeared wealth and dignity.
But some folks are arguing against the idea. Just as SAP promised in the IBB era to allow our farmers to connect directly to international markets, these folks insist that it is better to leave every farmer to find their way in the global markets. Of course, the reality is that without the commodity boards, each farmer became a lone wolf, vulnerable to the bears. Other recommendations of SAP which sounded the death knell for our economy as a whole included their order for interest rates to go up, for the civil service to be shrunk alongside government expenditure, and for taxes to be raised. Also the IBB government (with great assistance and encouragement from Bretton Woods insiders like Olu Falae, Chu S.P. Okongwu and Kalu Idika Kalu among others) was asked to divest from the few companies it controlled. Whereas these sounded like good advice, but taken together it was a very toxic cancer chemotherapy and radiotherapy for a patient that presented with a mere headache. The IMF/World Bank would later subtly apologize for these kinds of wrong-headed advices. But can we not think for ourselves? It must be noted that in 2011 when the global economy went into recession, the western superpowers implemented the EXACT OPPOSITE of what they recommended for us in the 1980s. Rather than lay off workers, they kept them on, they reduced taxes and interest rates went to zero. They even put money into failing banks and car manufacturers – and those monies are still sitting with those companies till today. Why did they not allow those companies to die the way they advised us? Also rather than devalue their currencies, they did everything to uphold values. But our currencies all over Africa went to shit on the back of their advices! They also did the exact opposite in the covid-19 era. They applied countercyclical policies but advised us to be procyclical, deepening our wounds when we needed healing. Again today, we are beating ourselves up already for covid-era extra-monetary expansions, and they are egging us on, while saying nothing about their own monetary expansions.
When I mauled this article on social media, I found out we have a big problem. How do we intend to solve our problems without the benefit of history? What sort of superficial intelligence and knowledge will the youths who are haranguing the old folks out of government use? How will they not be even more bamboozled than their parents and grandparents? Many seem uninterested in the historical facts but the few who are, are amazed and bewildered by what they hear about the past. I am doing my level best, but I hope others who also have the knowledge would mainstream what they know. The prospects are scary.
As per the southwest of Nigeria – the Yoruba People – please look around you and see if what I have posited is true. Let us encourage ourselves to love our land back and reinvest at home. Life is short indeed, but the love of country and heritage is a worthwhile ambition with which to spend one’s time here. All that talk of witches and wizards in our villages is bunkum. We need to levitate beyond that and stop the descent into the dark ages, and the increasing ridicule that we now face in the hands of our African peers. Granted that we don’t want to get into any rat race with anyone, but it is also irresponsible to watch our abode disintegrate the way it is now. Our ambitions must ramp up. We must think of and do great things. We must also let our offspring know where they are from. Most of us are guilty to varying degrees. We need to ask ourselves, how come the tallest building in the southwest of Nigeria – sans Lagos – is still the 105 metres tall Cocoa House, commissioned in 1965! Cocoa House I said! Can we now see all the connections? Christ! Where did our ambitions go to? How come no one has challenged the status quo? Why have we lent all of our brains to foreign lands and abandoned our history and heritage which is one of the richest in the world? For how long will we continue to japa to anywhere in the world because we are constantly running away from our real and imagined problems, and from ourselves, our families, our brothers and sisters? This is a sequel to my letter to Yoruba which can be found here https://www.premiumtimesng.com/opinion/591263-2023-elections-and-a-memo-to-the-yorubas-by-tope-fasua.html.
May Nigeria thrive. May the southwest of Nigeria also find her missing mojo.