Those who have travelled to our homeland, Okunland, recently will agree that a reflection on the condition of things is necessary at this time, especially as we approach another electioneering season.
In what ways has democracy changed the image of Okunland? It is important that we consider how we are doing as a people and perhaps, what sort of future the current trajectory holds for our nationhood.
To start with, to which image should we compare ourselves as a people? To answer this question, it is best to first consider some relevant information to provide some context to this discussion. The maxim, that says; if you don’t know where you are going, you should know where you are coming from is apt justification for looking back into the history of Okunland. What was the economic, social, and environmental situation of Okunland, and how does it compare to what we see now? Are our local economies actively contributing to the internally generated revenue for Kogi state and Nigeria, and by what index do we measure this? Where and who holds the balance of power in Okunland land and the wider power relations dynamic in kogi state? These are some thoughts we should give consideration to as stakeholders. Can we say, that if we cannot compare ourselves by the aspirations of our progenitors, we might consider the aspirations we have for our homeland and our children.
Historically, Okunland is an extension of the Yoruba hegemony; we are the descendants of Oduduwa from ILE-IFE in Osun State Nigeria. Our forefathers were adventurous. They sought out lands to expand, venturing great distance and fought many battles to be where we now know as our homeland. So for a start, we have the genes of warriors, explorers, conquerors of lands, people with great resilience, and desire for more in life. This explains the current disposition of our people to self-help, always ready to mobilize the necessary requirement to attract government support in our land. This is how the first schools and hospitals came about, and other laudable social infrastructure in Okunland. Our people also
have a very rich cultural belief system that is favorably disposed to working hard and innovativeness. I will share some personal experience in lieu of digging into historical events.
On my trips to Okunland, I always look forward to two images; the first is a fort. It is up in the mountains just coming away from Kabba, driving towards Iyamoye. It is said to be where our people hid themselves when their communities were invaded. It is also reported that they
used the elevated grounds to gain tactical advantage to spot their enemies and repel their advances. The images of settlements made from red clay soil on the mountain tells a lot about the people. Only ingenious and hardworking minds could have conceived such, and the logistic demands of transporting materials up a mountain to build settlements, some of which were still visible in the late 1990s. Also, only a determined mind with absolute devotion to protecting the family will go this length to protect women and children from the danger of war and kidnapping by slave traders. Today, the images of the huts are fading from lack of preservation, weather, and maybe tampering. The only visible evidence is the obvious red clay on top of those mountains.
The second image I always look forward to is that of the United Primary School. It is where my dad first attended school, but he had to walk many kilometers to get there as a boy. But the boy did not allow such beginnings stop him from going all the way to attending University in the United States of America, where he obtained his Bachelor’s and Masters’ degrees. As I drive from the school to our town; Ekinrin-Adde, I always wonder as I measure the time it takes to drive down, compared with walking. I wonder what motivation and determination meant in those days and in our time today. Such determination to get the necessary education is what has made Okunland known for a high concentration of professors, military top brass, legal luminaries, and captains of industry that have distinguished themselves internationally. These two images underscore the historical evidence proving our people were industrious, brave, innovative, skilled, go-getters, and valued the preservation and protection of family. I hope by now you can envision the image of Okunland from the endeavors of our progenitors, the values they stood for, their accomplishments and sacrifices.
As the first settlers established themselves into communities across Okunland, the need for social amenities became more apparent. Not waiting for the government, many communities self-organized leading to the rise of community development movements. These movements took giants strides in paving the way for the birth of a “modern” Okunland. Historiographical narrative of the people of Okunland must continue to guide all political communications, to retain the focus of our founding fathers and improve on them.
In recent times, my personal and shared experiences of Okunland shows we are struggling with deprivation, marginalization, and low economic activities, indicating we are heading towards an undesirous direction developmentally. A reflection on recent events with the state of our roads shows that some communities in Okunland have become islands and many still remain inaccessible and disconnected from the nation through poor roads. Travel time from Lagos has quadrupled with many travellers turning back due to bad roads and the unpredictable security situation. Although security challenges are now a national challenge in Nigeria, in Okunland, we have not had it this bad. It is a scary reflection in the mirror of development if we have to retrace the path to making our homes in the mountain to survive the onslaught of kidnappers.
The local government is believed to be the closest government to the people. Today, the local government is simply a dusty building without any real commitment to supporting our communities and or addressing issues pertaining to wellbeing and development. I am not blaming any government at this time, but surely we did not arrive here in a day. What we now see in the reflection in the mirror is the aggregation of the cumulative incompetence and neglect of Okunland over the years. Clearly this is not a sustainable direction of travel. We need more investment in the economic potentials of Okunland, applying deliberate strategic development goals to the focus of our budgeting and spending. This is how nations develop overtime. What were the development goals of the local authorities across Okunland 10 years ago; what are these goals today; how integrated are the economies of the communities across the local government areas in Okunland?
Educationally, the reflection of Okunland has never been this poor. Since formal education arrived our shores, it has never been this low. Teachers are poorly motivated and in an entire school, only three government teachers are present, and this includes the principal. The rot in
our educational sector should bother us. It has implication on making Okunland functionally excluded from the world. Even if we attract industries, we may not have the required skill set to participate in these industries.
The current reflection of Okunland bears no resemblance to the historiographical background of our heritage and belief system. A major part of the reason why we can no longer identify the Okun nation in the mirror is because of the decades of organised marginalisation and disunity of purpose and ideas in Okunland. Okun nationalism must become the focus of our power relations in Kogi state. Furthermore, there is a functional disconnection between political arrangements and community wellbeing, a situation that has made all our platforms for political representation arenas for selfish enrichment and projection. We need to re-order our mandate to enforce a system in which Okunland has a well-defined strategic development plan, a 5-year plan that will become the sole focus of all political representations and permutations. This is the fastest means to repair the unrecognisable image of our Okunland in the mirror. There is a teleological unfolding of a political system that does not serve the interest of Okunland, one whose purpose and intent we do not know. We have become mere spectators in a game that will shape our homeland and collective destiny as people. Our heritage should serve as a political asset that must be deployed to our highest good since
generations unborn will not be preserved from the impending doom if sustainable actions are not taken today.
Kevin Lynch (1960) in the Image of a City, provided the first real explanation to the underpinning dimensions to the formation of a city, and showed that people are intricately linked to the places they call home. Similarly, the image of Okunland is intricately linked to the people, how we treat our collective values and heritage. By carefully curating the meaning of our collective good, assembling a team to pursue it (both politically and otherwise), we will be in the driving seat of the destiny of our nation. This current image is not the Okunland of our past or our dreams. Without engaging with the issues facing Okunland currently, we will never understand our mission as a nation and will continue to receive the shorter end of the bargains of political settlement.
Written by: Tokunbo Alaga Olorundami