Tinubu’s bragging right and his 200 needles | Festus Adedayo

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In Africa, when a man loses his virility, he is subject of scorn, ridicule and disdain. Male impotence or infertility is not only disdained but tabooed. In a continent where child-making is almost an obsession, Africa couched a number of hurtful epithets for one who loses his virile member. Failure to get this critical member standing up leaves sour overtones of frustration, pain, social ostracism, stigma, marital instability, discomfiture and even sometimes, suicide. Among the Yoruba, virility victims are named Okobo. The rural Shona tribe in Mhondoro-Ngezi area of Zimbabwe could not stand the virility challenge. To ward off this evil spirit from their tribe, they deployed socio-cultural intervention strategies to ward it off. To do this, they devised indigenous systems of monitoring signs of impotence at infancy, puberty and even after marriage.

Moyo Stanzia of the University of Zimbabwe, Harare, in her “Indigenous knowledge systems and attitudes towards male infertility in Mhondoro-Ngezi, Zimbabwe” (Culture, Health & Sexuality, 2013 Vol. 15, No. 6, 667–679) attempted a study of the Okobo in this Zimbabwean village. One of her informant interviewees, 69-year old Ruzvidzo, volunteered his experience thus: “Traditionally, our uncles and grandfathers would take us away from home to a river with clear water. We were forced to masturbate and ejaculate our sperms in the clear water, one after the other. This was done in order to test the quality of sperms. It was understood that fertile sperms would sink in the water. However, if the sperms floated, it meant that the individual was weak and could be infertile – a problem regarded as requiring strategic intervention.”

Ousmane Sembene’s XALA (1975) film, considered one of the most successful films by the Senegalese writer and filmmaker, also explored the thematic preoccupation with the Okobo. Sembene uses sexual zero virility as metaphor. Situated among Black Africa’s growing middle class of Senegal, Sembene weaves their challenge into the projection that they are doomed to lose their power unless they delink the Western world and identify with Africa and its masses. The film’s protagonist, El Hadji Abdoukader Beye, a successful middle-aged polygamous businessman, is preparing to take a third wife. On his wedding night, he suddenly discovers he cannot get his member up. Attributing this to a spell cast on him, he consults witch doctors. El Hadji’s Senegalese society ties social prestige to status symbol, which collectively speaks to ability to show manhood. This means satisfying one’s wives sexually and economically. Zero virility leads to El-Hadji being expelled from the Chamber of Commerce and confiscation of his most-prized possessions. He finds out that a Dakar beggar he cheated on several years back laced him with the spell. The beggar agrees to remove the spell only if he strips naked and he (the beggar) and his friends spit on him.

In a piece I wrote which tangentially discussed male virility, (Atiku Abubakar and the sexual history of the Nigerian presidency, February 6, 2022) I related how rumours once had it that Zimbabwean former Prime Minister and presidential candidate, Morgan Tsvangirai, suffered “a nasty blow from below,” euphemism for zero virility. The news spread like bushfire. At about the same time, the virility-restoring prowess of Emmanuel Makandiwa, a ‘miracle-working’ Pentecostal prophet, froze the stratosphere like snowflakes in winter. Estranged wife of Tsvangirai, Elizabeth Macheka, had lit the fire. In an interview she granted The Herald, entitled, Why I ditched Tsvangirai: Wife, Macheka said she separated from Tsvangirai due to ‘sensitive personal issues’ and that this was known to her and Tsvangirai alone and only the two of them could resolve it.

For a Zimbabwean public that salivated riveting gossips and rumours in high and low places, Macheka’s statement was the confirmation it needed for a high-quality rumour. In whooshing whispers and mouth-to-ear transmission, the former prime minister was said to have been afflicted by an “under-neath,” below-the-trousers problem of ‘erectile dysfunctional disorder.’ The Herald did not also help matters. It immediately tagged what Macheka dubbed ‘sensitive personal issues’ as ‘a medical one.’ Thereafter, Fungai Machirori, Zimbabwean journalist and blogger, did a salacious piece on the issue which she entitled, Of Penises, Politics and Pentecostalism in Zimbabwe, an essay which she called an “exposé of trouble in the un-paradise that is Tsvangirai’s love life’’

Among the Yoruba, the Okobo is the butt of crude jokes. He is also called the Akura, one whose member had died. One of Akura’s characteristics is hyperactivity. If a man, like one on steroids, does the job of ten people at a go, Yoruba wonder if he is an Akura. When there is trust deficit between two people, and every action becomes suspicious, my people find a way to drag the Okobo into the conversation. So, they say, what we demanded of the sexually sterile is to penetrate but he boasts that, in a twinkle of an eye, he could make a thread penetrate 200 needles in the dark. In its rawest form, they render this as, “nkan ti won ni ki Okobo bo, ko bo; igba abere l’olohun le bo l’okun.” In a chapter I wrote in the book, Indigenous African Popular Music, Vol 1 edited by Biodun Salawu and Israel Fadipe, (Palgrave Macmillan, 2022) which I entitled, “Corpus of prophecy, philosophy and crusading in Ayinla Omowura’s music,” I explored the Okobo theme in the music of the late Yoruba Apala musician. In one of his vinyl, while trying to denounce charges of piracy of songs leveled against him by his colleague musicians, Ayinla magisterially replied that the mockery of a man afflicted by the venereal disease, gonorrhea does not lie in the mouth of the sexually sterile. Only a virile man can contract gonorrhea. He sang, “abosi alatosi ko si l’owo okobo…”

Last Wednesday, the rumour became real. President Bola Tinubu signed into law the bill to revert Nigeria to its old national anthem. By the way, even Tinubu’s supporters literally clothed themselves in sackcloth and ashes last week. They were probably reinventing the old Jewish response to devastating news concerning their race. It is the Jewish practice of showing intense grief and distress. The Tinubu supporters’ valiant war hero, who they boasted that, at each of his dancing steps while returning from a war of conquest as eight-year governor of Lagos State, he the crowd dashed him slaves (ajogb’eru), to their chagrin, now dances and all he gets is miserable cornmeal (ajogb’eko). As our elders say that, to find out how melodious or sour the rhythm of the Bata drum is, we should ask the Sango deity devotee whose god is the totem of the Bata drum. So, opinion samplers, recognizing that Nigerians are the Sango devotee and Tinubu, the Bata drummer, approached the common people to rate the melody of Tinubu’s one year drumming. The opinion moulders didn’t go to IMF. Nor to the Nigerian elite who, like bedbugs, drain quality blood from the Nigerian body.

One of such opinion samplers was Africa Polling Institute (API). It did a Citizens Assessment Report of Tinubu’s one year as president. Its report was that, there was stark reality of hunger, poverty and mass dissatisfaction. 84% of people overwhelmingly expressed profound sadness with the Tinubu presidency, 81% felt Nigeria under him is headed in the wrong direction, 36% identified hunger, 28% inability to meet basic needs, 13% riled against unemployment, 9% insecurity and 5% poor electricity as the bane of his government. All in all, they were agreed that the last one year has been one of misery, pain, lies and grandstanding. In earlier pieces I did, I alerted Nigerians that some qualities were exclusive preserves of the typical Lagos Boy. He is bold and brash, rather than being courageous; he is dismissive of others’ feelings and believes he can wangle his way through the toughest of all calamities by deploying subterfuge.

In the midst of a plethora of Nigerian people’s agony, last Sunday, the Lagos Boy flew into Lagos. It was the flag-off ceremony of the highly demonized Lagos-Calabar coastal highway. Many commentators have concluded that, in the N15trillion road construction, you do not have to drill too deep down to see an army of maggots wriggling their milk-coloured bodies to the Bata drum being beaten by Tinubu and his Gilbert Chagoury business associate contractor. Rather than join the Nigerians in this sackcloth and ashes week, that Sunday, Tinubu dismissively looked into the eye of the camera and pronounced, “Today is my day to boast. My bragging day. Today, I hold the bragging right.” Now, I pray thee – apologies to students of biblical Old Testament – which leader brags when his people go to bed hungry?

The president then capped this contempt for the longsuffering people of Nigeria with the signing of the National Anthem Bill. To the people, ipso facto, he instantly became that proverbial Okobo who boasted that he could insert thread into 200 needles in the dark. On the streets of Nigeria, the people’s disgust with Tinubu’s hyperactivity and the supersonic speed with which he signed the bill made him that sterile man. Against the general wish that he should consummate the relationship with Nigerians, President Okobo boasted that he could get thread penetrate the eye of the needle.

Let’s be clear, national anthems are a people’s property. They keep the goals of heroes alive. this is done by transmitting culture and history to new generations, as well as establishing a close connection with the people’s ancestors. Anthems espouse passion, look into the people’s past and rally them into the future. It is a people’s identity symbol unique to them, specifies their way of life, their culture and worldview. Anthems also create bonds, and for citizens, they reinforce national goals. To some scholars, anthems even do more. They serve to embody collective memories of heroes who died to have a nation and the values they left behind. The wordings of anthems are carefully and emotionally constructed in such a way as to ensure that they can boost collective identification of a country’s self-identity, national history, values, bloody memory of war, heroism and victory. It could be memories of colonization or (de)coloniality but they clearly distinguish one nation from another.

You can know what makes a people thick by looking at the lyrics, rhythms and themes of their anthems. Anthems define the core values and convictions of a people. Adopted at independence in 1960, Nigeria’s first anthem, which Tinubu just legislated back to recognition, has become a subject of high national rage. Written by Lillian Jean Williams in 1959 and composed by Frances Berda, the anthem, which began with “Nigeria, we hail thee,” was replaced in 1978 by another that was themed around patriotism. Having its verse begun with “Arise, O Compatriots,” this 1978 anthem’s music was said to have been composed by Benedict Elide Odiase, director of music of the Nigerian Police Band.

Historically, national anthems began in 14th century Britain. Netherlands is reputed with the oldest anthem composed in 1568. Its music was from a popular French tune. Those who composed Britain’s “God Save the Queen/King” and Russia’s “God saves the Czar” in 1744 and 1745 respectively were not known because those compositions were regarded as sacred.

While the Nigerian independence was a collective fight against Britain for freedom so that the people’s customs, rituals and the like could survive, alongside their diverse tribes, cultures, languages, and religious groups, “Nigeria we hail thee” anthem reflects this. Many people have however deplored the derogative reference to Nigerians as “natives” in that anthem. They claim that, in the year 2024, what Nigeria needs most is the patriotism of the “Arise o compatriots” and not tribe and tongues that differ. This, in the people’s submission, has, in 64 years of independence, become a given. While both anthems are important bonding icons, one mirrors political sovereignty than the other. The 1958 anthem, written by a Briton, does not rally citizens for the task of showing loyalty to the state. This is a trait that has disappeared among Nigerians. The anthem however underscores servile abidance. All over the world, governments devise means through which citizens can show loyalty and patriotism to the state. Methinks, if patriotism is what the Tinubu government demands of Nigerians, there was no need to do away with “Arise o compatriots.”

The stark reality that confronts Nigerians is that, successive leaders have made the country such that, rather than hail Nigeria, the country is wailed, according to a poet, “for (Nigeria’s) fallen fences eaten by termites and (her) lifeblood sucked dry” by politicians and soldiers. It is a country in the hands of embezzlers of national patrimony, corrupt officials and a post-independent Nigerian state where endemic poverty, starvation, fear of disintegration, false and feigned freedom from colonialists, reign.

In the words of famous Oyo state broadcaster, Edmund Obilo, it is not the national anthem that makes a nation great. It is the integrity, vision and selflessness of its leadership. A corrupt, wicked and uninspiring leadership cannot conjure patriotism, no matter how eloquent the lyrics of its anthem. Let Tinubu and his economic henchmen not continue on this path of the Okobo by leaving leprosy and seeking to cure eczema. Let them make life livable for the people; embody the values of transparency, accountability and justice, in the words of the inimitable broadcaster. Nigerians cannot see these values of leadership anywhere in Aso Rock. They see a bizarre anthem reversal as the usual antic of a fiddling Nero in a burning Nigeria.