It was not a building alone that crumbled to the floor in Ilorin. The Kwara State government’s Christmas act brought to mind a passage in scriptures that tells us that the birth of Jesus was for the rising and falling of many. The night of his birth was a night of prophesy. As Apostle Paul himself warned, we should not “despise prophesying.” As we can see, the prophecy echoed through centuries and over seas and mountains to a house designated as Ile Arugbo – the house of the aged. For irony, it was an old and dying man known as Simeon, who uttered his last prophesy of the birth of Jesus as a sign for the rising and falling of many. “Let thy servant depart in peace,” his hoary voice crooned before he faded. “For my eyes have seen thine salvation.” His aftermath was not that sanguine as we saw in Ilorin in the Yuletide season.
A lot of dramatics has lingered with the tale of the land. Son who dueled father is fighting for father in the grave. Sister who duels brother is on the side of brother with no hint of embrace or even innuendoes between the siblings. Blood siblings in bloodied mud fights just yesterday are on the same stage, if not the same page.
A chapter of sympathy runs through it. An old people’s home, a matter of the weak and fragile, pumps a narrative as to whether we should put the law over love. Is the old above the law? Shall they live so impunity may abound? Kwara State and Governor AbdulRahman AbulRazaq say the ‘law forbid.’
A matter of investment, too. The owner of the land, according to Bukola Saraki, aka Eleyinmi, is a company called Asa Investments Ltd. For those who understand a little of Yoruba like this writer from Itsekiriland, Asa is double barrel. It can mean tradition or custom. Which is interesting because if the Oloye and the Sarakis are known for anything, it is for being a mainstay of power for a generation or two. That is a tradition of power grabbing, of prebendal arrogance, of determining who got what post, who didn’t, who lost and won a poll, canned what contract, who cried on the streets and whose daughter glided to the pricy wedding.
That was the asa, the tradition, the power sovereignty that Oloye – which means the title owner or bearer – foisted over the people of Kwara. But asa is also a bird, the hawk, the sort that Ted Hughes wrote about in his famous poem. Haughty in the sky and a portent in the tree before pouncing. So, if the the Sarakis were an asa, which was it, the tradition or the hawk? Or shall we say they were a tradition of the hawk. So, the Kwara State government brought down the hawk at Christmas. The rising and falling…
Or was it an open show of the Otoge act. A public replay of the swansong of the 2019 poll when Eleyinmi fell not only as senator or senate president but as a power force. He was eying the president of the Federal Government, but for now he cannot even see an electoral chair. How art the Eleyinmi fallen. Well, asa-a can also mean, with a stretch, let’s gather the crumbs. Maybe that is what is going on with the Eleyinmi. He is both Lazarus and rich man, losing and puffing simultaneously. An oedipal tragic flaw. Kwara State is taking a property here, the EFCC is not letting go there. We can remember when he was senate president, Eleyinmi was so powerful that he became a prophet of his own landed prosperity, who owned a land in his assets declaration before he owned it.
We cannot forget the women. At Christ’s birth, two groups kept watch, those who wanted the birth and those who wanted the baby’s death. Each will claim to be the good party. The women of Saraki, some of who had the passion of the Oloye, who remembered his many acts of glad-hand and generosity, kept watch. Many too, for all the critics know, enjoyed berths from Eleyinmi. They wanted the land for him, for all of them. The governor’s men also kept watch, looking for the right time to strike. The women would say, men love darkness more than light. The men, the bulldozers, would say they were the women of the night. In the end, Christ would claim neither: “I never knew you…”
It was here that Gbemisola Saraki hit the bulls’eye. Why did the security fire teargas at the women? That is where she turned livid and fittingly righteous. The women had lost, why did the government have to fire at the women? Thank God, at the time of writing, no tragedy reported. They can’t lose to lose. They lost the old people’s home. They should not lose their lives. Even impunity has its rights, like the right to protest.
Gbemi and Eleyinmi fit the proposition that the enemy of my enemy is my enemy, like the battles in today’s Syria and the United States and Iran’s battle against ISIL. The Saraki story is self-destruct like the Buendia family in Marquez’s Nobel Prize-winning novel, One Hundred Years of Solitude or the self-whittling Buddenbrooks clan of German novelist Thomas Mann. But it is the sin of the father that has now been visited upon the children. As Prophet Jeremiah put it, “the parents have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge.”
In the day of real estate demolition, what we don’t want to come down is the law. Any building can fall if the law stands. So, the Ile Arugbo theatre is the saga of law and custom. In our history, law and custom have always cohered, one propping the other. But we have had individuals appropriate custom in this era of the strong man in our democracy. Customs worked for feudal strongholds. But democracy applauds law without necessarily upholding custom. That is why the rule of law is the cornerstone of our system. The late Professor Claude Ake lamented the intrusion of strong men in what he described as the “privatisation of the public sphere.” That is what Kwara State governor is lamenting.
One could easily say, if Eleyinmi and AbdulRazaq were in the same party, no bulldozers will creak around Ile Arugbo. Perhaps. But it is beside the point. It is the law, as Shakespeare points out in Merchants of Venice.
– Omatseye is a respected columnist with The Nation