My first contact with the homogenous culture of Ekiti people was in the barracks as a Policeman’s son (Omo Olopa). Due to my dad’s incessant transfer, I grew up in different barracks across Nigeria, but did not fail to observe the bonding among the Ekiti people residing in those different barracks. Everywhere we went, Ekiti people would welcome us first. There was this spirit of camaraderie among them that is better experienced than explained. In every barrack there was the rotational hosting of the meeting of Omo Ekiti, with Iyan as the food of unity.
The rhythm of the pestle hitting the mortar was a Sunday-Sunday affair. The cooked yam would soon give way to a succulently formidable Iyan after series of pounding at a regular frequency. Nobody cared about what part of Ekiti the other came from. We shared everything together. To us, Ekiti was one community, bonded, not bounded, just like the chopped yams that eventually transformed into one inseparable Iyan.
Ekitis are indeed people of culture. In those barrack days, every Ekiti man or woman was an omiye. And whenever an omiye had a visitor from home, he/she would take such visitor round all the blocks where other Ekiti folk reside for a warm welcome. Nobody dared to ask from what part of Ekiti such an omiye had come. After all, Omiye has no boundary in Ekitiland.
To be genuinely Ekiti, one cannot afford to be parochial, which is the value of conservative people. The latter would rather prefer to operate from their enclave, timid, unadventurous, and unenterprising or set in their ways. It is a trust issue. Political heterogeneity was unheard of among the Ekiti people until recently. They were predominantly progressive.
Since the beginning of the second republic, Nigeria’s political scene has been saddled with several intolerances, most especially ethnic and tribal intolerances. This, understandably, is due to the inherent heterogeneous nature of our society, and this has further led to the idea of political zoning of offices, which originally was planned out to be an arrangement in which political offices are rotated to ensure that no part of any political configuration is short-changed. However, few years down the line, the zoning system is looking like it has done the country little or no good. Recent happenings in the lower and upper chambers of the national assembly lay credence to the fact that some individuals would want to satisfy a zoning formula, all in a bid to satisfy personal interests.
The United States, whose presidential system of government was adopted by Nigeria is able to achieve great milestones in its chequered history because of the belief in the rule of law, as well as a trust that every individual, no matter the race or religious affiliation, is capable of contributing towards the nation’s common good. Racial, ethnic or religious beliefs are consciously downplayed, while the country’s ideals and universal values of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness through a free market economy are pursued. In this condition, one’s state of origin or religious ideology is neither sacrificed nor elevated to an extent that it conflicts with one’s love and obligation to one’s people. While speaking to the people of Kenya, Barrack Obama said “a politics that’s based solely on tribe and ethnicity is a politics that’s doomed to tear a county apart. It is a failure of imagination.” This is the fundamentals of successful political structures and has reflected so far in the politics of the U.S.A, yielding positive results.
Quite unfortunately, Ekiti people also began to tap from such political haemorrhage. Disgruntled people introduced politics of dissension, and an anti-Awo movement sprang up. That, to me, was the beginning of political adventurism, which has cost us our values. As if this was not bad enough, even the ones who retained their progressive identity are now joining forces with the strayed conservatives in trying to embrace the hybrid culture called zoning.
Zoning, we must know, is not a constitutional requirement and, to a large extent, is undemocratic. It kills the spirit of amity and is non-progressive in nature. While it seems to fit into the heterogeneous and federal nature of the Nigerian state, injecting it into a homogenous culture like that of Ekitis would create an unnecessary dismemberment of the culture of oneness, which has existed from time immemorial. After dealing with the “zones,” people would start dealing with the Local Governments, then the wards and perhaps every household would also fight to be at the helm of affairs.
The principle of zoning no doubt would erode meritocracy on which political development is hinged. The constitution prescribes the qualification and conditions that must be met by any Nigerian aspiring to the office of president. Zoning seeks to abridge cultural differences and waive the inalienable right of any Nigerian who meets the conditions listed in section 131 of the 1999 constitution from contesting election to the office of president. Political leaders who pose as god-fathers or kingmakers and ethnic chauvinist easily feast on zoning, as they would install such candidates who can easily be manipulated. While it can lead to a short term gain, zoning will soon become an Archilles Heels in no distant future.
Back to Ekiti, Fayose has toed the line of zoning to plant his surrogate that would elongate his reign of terror as well as cover up his tracks. The progressives should not fall prey to such antics, it is a banana peel that must be avoided towards 2018. It is divisive and would weaken the power of progressive struggle. Progressives on the other hand must aim at bringing forth their best to face the Fayose-sponsored candidate. Ekiti people surely yearn for the brightest and best of the progressives to rescue them from wily Fayose, but definitely not a person thrown up by puppetry or zonal conspiracy.
-Segun Dipe, a journalist and Political Analyst, writes from Ado Ekiti.