Sunday, October 3, 2021 9:00 am
By Festus Adedayo
I find a symbolic similarity between the travails of Dr. Chike Akunyili and Reverend Richard Henry Stone, (1837–1915) the latter’s which I picked from his memoir that contained his missionary activities in Nigeria entitled, In Africa’s Forest And Jungles. Stone was an American missionary who came to Africa during the nineteenth century to represent the Southern Baptist Convention and who spent years among the Yoruba-speaking people of Western Nigeria. He lived in Ijaye, Abeokuta, and Lagos and traveled to “Ibadan, Lahlookpon, Ewo, Ogbomishaw, and Oyo” in his own words.
For both Stone and Akunyili, I struggled, with scant success, to reconstruct the horror of the grisly movie in which they starred. Akunyili had been shot and killed at Nkpor, Ideimili Local Government of Anambra State by yet unidentified gunmen. About eight other people were said to have been shot dead or beheaded in that melee. Save for the video circulating on the social media of his huge frame lying on the bare floor, writhing in unimaginable pain, his face a huge mask and gash of ripped flesh and blood, Akunyili didn’t live to recount the gory horror of his waylay by that band of bloodthirsty hounds in the last minutes of his life. Nor could he tell anyone how these messengers of death fired rude, hot leads at his cerebrum. What transpired between Akunyili and those beasts between that moment of his ambush and his eventual gruesome killing? Did he plead with them to spare his life? Did he identify himself? Did they know he was the widower of Dora, that ecumenical spirit, the angelic Amazon who saved many Nigerian lives from drug fakers? Were the killers that impervious to recognizing Angelic spirits that they did not identify one in Chike? Questions. Questions. No answer.
For want of a picture to fill that void, I fled into the experience of Reverend Stone who had been subjected to a scene of similar waylay, over a century ago. Again, while Akunyili was said to have been driven in a car, Stone was riding a war horse, which he named Bucephalus, sold to him by the legendary warrior of Yoruba, Ijaye kingdom, Kurunmi who Stone had the opportunity of meeting with, a man he, in the memoir, called a despot. The Ifa oracle had earlier counseled Kurunmi to dispose of his horse and subsequently ride only white horses. After selling the horse to Stone, Kurunmi then purchased a beautiful Arabian white horse as replacement.
Kurunmi, translated to mean “death has ruined me,” had a legendary fame of a warlord of the empire of Ijaye, which is just 20km distance from present day Mokola in Abeokuta. From the account of respected Yoruba history authority, Samuel Johnson, Kurunmi was the “greatest soldier of his age” who possessed huge mystical powers and was highly dreaded. An ally of the Oyo Prince Atiba who later became Alaafin, Atiba later installed him as the Aare Ona Kakanfo of Yorubaland.
Now, Egba supported the British in its war against King Kosoko and his Portuguese allies in ending the slave trade. This riled “Ogumulla, the military leader of Ebaddan” – according to Stone’s memoir – the friend of, again from the memoir, “the king of Yoruba” – I suppose the Alaafin of Oyo. Ogunmola was an enemy of Kurunmi who began to be referred to as Aare after his installation by Alaafin Atiba. Ogunmola, in alliance with the Dahomeyans – now Benin Republic – enemy of the Egba, conspired to wage war against the Egba and the English for their opposition to slavery. Their plan was to destroy Ijaye and Abeokuta and recapture Lagos but Balogun Ibikunle, “Ebekoonleh” to Stone, the civilian governor of Ibadan, being friend to Kurunmi, was opposed to this plan. Upon receipt of a message from Kurunmi that one of the missionaries stationed in Oyo might be in danger, Stone set out on a journey from Ijaye on his Bucephalus.
Unfortunately for Stone on that journey, like Akunyili, he was ambushed “and quickly surrounded by a body of men armed with guns and cimeters” at “Eedoh,” most likely Ido, a suburb of Ibadan; men he later found out were “Tarkpar (Tapa) and Foolah (Fulani) adventurers under the command of Ebaddan (Ibadan) officers.” Conversely, we never found out, except suspicion that they were execrable IPOB murderers or their blood-baiting sympathizers, who attacked Akunyili. According to Stone, “The eyes of some of them were greyish and had the cold, merciless gleam of the steel in their hands. They stared up into my face and pressed closer and closer to me like beasts of prey ready to spring upon their victim.” They made to kill the white missionary, with war soldiers gathering round to feast on his flesh. Stone was eventually taken to Ibadan, to Ibikunle who he called “a remarkably handsome man” and charged with a capital crime of riding in the horse of the Ibadan enemy, Kurunmi. He was later imprisoned and escaped to meet the Alaafin of Oyo.
Unsuccessful in my bid to reconstruct the horror of the grisly movie wherein Dr. Akunyili starred in the last minutes of his life, I began to look at the symbolism of Nkpor, where he chose to breathe his last; or where his destiny chose his extinguishing. Descendants of a hunter named Okoli Oti, Oti’s sons, Omaliko, Oji and Dimudeke played ancestral roles to Oji people of Umuoji and Dimudeke. Nkpor people, otherwise named Umudim, were relocated to where they are due to incessant wars with their neighbours. Nkpor people, from time immemorial, are known to be warriors, which got them the moniker obodo dike (land of the brave). They are also known to be peace-loving and accommodating. Why then would a peace-loving Akunyili, on a peace-loving soil, be killed by people whose skewed sense of peace is killing their brightest?
I went into this long history to conjure the comparatively agonizing travails Akunyili went through in the hands of his own killers. Stone, a man of peace, intent on rescuing a fellow man opposed to slavery, escaped being killed but comparatively, Akunyili, who friends and acquaintances in Enugu State told me was a man of peace who lived his life saving others as a medical doctor, was killed by men who stood for everything but peace. While Stone’s crime was riding a war horse associated with Aare Kurunmi, enemy of Bashorun Ogunmola and his slavery-disposed allies, Akunyili’s sin was allegedly being found with accoutrements of the enemies of Biafra – a gleaming car suggestive of “Nigerian beasts” and a police orderly that is the metaphor of the injustice his people suffer.
President Muhammadu Buhari came on national television, a few days after the murder of Akunyili, with his ritualistic homilies which he yearly places at the groove of an almost dead god of One Nigeria. In his October 1 Independence speech, the Hobbesian life that is nasty, brutish and short that Nigerians live under the Buhari presidency merely received an euphemistic treat from him. No remorse from the president on the fact that when Nigerians leave their homes in the morning, there is no guarantee that they will come back in one piece. Even during the Nigerian civil war, life did not regress into this frighteningly Hobbesian cul-de-sac.
Buhari has not been able to answer the question of why and how Nnamdi Kanu and Sunday Adeyemo, a.k.a. Igboho, who terrifyingly shrink the president’s balls today, were disregarded and inconsequential entities in 2015 when he came into power. Who canonized, deified and catapulted them to this level of renown and worth? It was Buhari and his hostility against equity and good governance.
Buhari, in the said speech, in his time-worn characteristic, found the Nigerian media most convenient group to scapegoat. “Our media houses and commentators must move away from just reporting irresponsible remarks to investigating the truth behind all statements and presenting the facts to readers…The seeds of violence are planted in people’s heads through words. Reckless utterances of a few have led to losses of many innocent lives and destruction of properties,” he said.
The president was however dead wrong. What has led us to where we are today is Buhari and nobody or nothing else. All other growths from this are mere offshoots. This platitude of imploring us to “take this opportunity, on this special day that symbolizes the unity and oneness of our great nation… to embrace peace and dialogue, whatever your grievances,” is mere cant and hypocritical. President Buhari has this conquest and ethnically-driven mentality that is unrivalled in the history of Nigerian leadership. He is unforgiving, self-righteous and persuaded in his own understanding, at the expense of others’.
Added to his skewed understanding of justice and equity and administration of Nigeria, the stage was set for implosion of people who seek other loops to equity and fairness, no matter how foul. This is the logic that makes IPOB’s animalism in the Southeast to fester and why characters like the duo, in Buhari’s own narrow admittance, would be funded by a National Assembly member. This government’s disregard for equity has led to the growth of people who carved out allegiance to anything but Nigeria. Buhari is the sole reason why otherwise inconsequential characters like Igboho and Kanu are holding Nigeria to ransom and why Chike Akunyili and so many others have been killed by men who foolishly think killing their kith and kin and burning structures in their locality will remedy this government’s arrogant and inequitable governance.
This administration still harbours a narrow conception of what the media represents. Nigeria is not an Iron Curtain with its barrier. All shades of opinions, including the so-called “irresponsible remarks” that Buhari so much abhors, in the spirit of free speech, must be accommodated and reported to the world. When he, as presidential candidate of the Congress for Progressive Change (CPC), in May 2012, made the generally considered irresponsible remarks that if the alleged rigging of 2011, when he was voted out, happened again in 2015, “by the grace of God, the dog and the baboon would all be soaked in blood,” in the name of free speech, the press gave him a voice, even though the statement was divisive, outlandish and dripping with Osama bin Laden-kind terror temperament.
Buhari seems to perceive a thin divide between his despotic decrees of 1984 and legislations and policies in a democracy. He thus cannot stomach free speech and its appurtenances. Banning Twitter, a major ventilating window of free speech and seeking to formulate, directly or through legislative proxies, stringent regulations, legislations and policies aimed at muzzling the press and controlling the traditional and social media space seem right to him. Rottweilers and Alsatian dogs like the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) are used to enforce this rout of free speech. In the abhorrent October 1 speech under reference, the president felt compelled to mention an unnamed legislator as the financier of Kanu and Igboho but the administration he leads has been tongue-tied and feels not compelled to reveal the sponsors of banditry in Nigeria. What manner of Janus-faced sense of justice is that? Aghast at this double-faced justice, a motion was moved last week by his northern kinsmen in the National Assembly to get bandits declared as terrorists.
I feel compelled to bring into this argument the last days on earth of Obadiah Mailafia, ex-Deputy Governor of the Central Bank, who died a few weeks ago. Till date, the Buhari government’s unforgiving disposition to contrary opinion and whatever it feels was wrong with Mailafia’s interrogation of the state of the Nigerian state has impeded it from commiserating with the family he left behind. Yes, the government has the freedom to choose who it showers its obsequies on, but the optics of this synchronize with the near-fabulous story of a military Head of State who allegedly divorced and never forgave his first wife till her unfortunate death, her crime being that she sought his freedom from the shackles of his prisoners.
Mailafia’s last days on earth, from accounts published in the media, where he dictated hospitals to be taken to, dreadfully imploring his family against taking him to government hospitals, speak to the apprehension among people opposed to this government that it can speed up the death of those who hold contrary opinions to it. Even Papa and Baby Doc of Haiti were not known by this heinous intolerance.
As we pray for the repose of the souls of Akunyili and Mailafia, it is evident that only Buhari holds the key to Nigeria’s peace and progress. The moment he chooses to administer this country as a national and not Fulani leader; a peace-loving leader and not one who delights in attacking violence with violence, the likes of Akunyili will not die in vain, for, we would have succeeded in steering our beloved nation away from the precipice of hatred, bigotry, divisiveness and despotism.
*Dr Festus Adedayo, journalist, lawyer and public affairs analyst, writes from Ibadan