Dr. Wumi AkintideTuesday, March 9, 2010
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New York, NY, USA


A cabal of extortionists masquerading as hosts or masters of ceremonies at Yoruba traditional engagements or weddings

he avalanche of reactions and responses to my reflections on my last visit to Nigeria have held me back in issuing this follow-up within a week of my first in the series which scored a home run with most of you. I have so far received 76 very positive reactions and comments on that article from Nigerians all over the world. I am amazed but pleased. I have had cause to reply to many of them including a very negative one from a nameless writer whose E-mail address starts with “Toneiles” He or she was probably too embarrassed to identify himself by name.

The reactions tell me loud and clear that a good many of us still feel enough concern for our country despite our frustration and disappointment with how the country is being undermined, pilloried and bastardized by many of our leaders and Governments due to too much greed and deep rooted corruption or just due to sheer ignorance because they knew no better. Professor Akintoye, who received a standing ovation for his keynote address on Awo in New York, last Saturday, drew a big laughter or self-pity from the audience when he recalled that some of his fellow senators from the North once told him. “We all know that Papa Awo is good for Nigeria. we just don’t want him, because he is rocking the boat far too much for our comfort even if it serves the best interest of the common man and the silent majority. “Allah Yakau Chi ke Na”. Awolowo was moving too fast to change the old order and replaced it with new. The North is not going to stand for that”. Can you believe that? I am not making it up.

Nigeria could conceivably have been ranked among the best in Africa if not the world as envisaged by leaders like Obafemi Awolowo whose birthday of March 6 is now being celebrated all over the globe this weekend. “Awe, the best President Nigeria never had” would have been 100 years old on March 6, 2010, and he is still remembered and celebrated everywhere. Olusegun Obasanjo in his euphoric moments used to view himself as better than Awo because he claimed he got, three times, on a platter of gold what Awo could not achieve in a life time of awesome achievements and unforgettable legacies in the History of Nigeria. I wonder how many Nigerians are going to remember Obasanjo aka as Baba Mero, 10 years from now or after he is defrocked from his Olympian height as Chairman for life of the PDP Board of Trustees and a party that has done more damage to our collective interest as a nation. In comparison Awo is going to for ever live in our hearts for his service to mankind like all the avatars of life like the great Mahatma Gandhi, Winston Churchill, Nelson Mandela, Le Kuan Yu to mention just a few.

I was honored and privileged to serve as the guest speaker at the Egbe OmoYoruba celebrations marking Awo’s birthday at the La Guardia Airport Marriott Hotel in New York last Saturday. Professor Emeritus Banji Akintoye as keynote speaker addressed the colorful ceremony attended by the cream of the Nigerian society in North America. Among other participants include an array of Nigerian intellectuals, topnotch journalists including Omoyele Sowore of the Sahara fame, historians and custodians of Yoruba culture like Moses Mabayoje of the Bronx who speaks Yoruba with the flawlessness of a Samuel Ladoke Akintola and the philosophical depth and intellectualism of a D.O. Fagunwa. I was specially blessed to be one of the participants.

Among dignitaries and celebrities sending goodwill messages to the symposium preceding the celebrations were the Yeye Oodua herself, Erelu Hannah Dideolu Awolowo and the great and dynamic Governor of Lagos State, Raji Fashola represented by a Reverend gentleman, one of his personal assistants. It was one day to remember in New York because Awolowo has come to symbolize the best in Nigerian leadership and one leader who could easily have made Nigeria the envy of Africa, if not the whole world, just like he transformed the old Western Region into a power house and a showpiece for progress and dynamism never before seen in our own neck of the woods in Africa.

The consensus in that gathering was that Nigeria was faced with far too many problems and many even wondered aloud if the time has not really come for the Yorubas to start having a rethinking on whether or not Nigeria has to wily Nelly remain one country with all the self-inflicted problems she faced today. Kidnapping, hired killers, political assassinations and the rape and desecration of the Constitution for political expediency, have risen to an alarming level that Awolowo, if he were still alive today, would have resisted with the last drop of his blood.

Professor Acetone, a member of the Think Tank that Awolowo had used to create such a formidable machine for progress in the old West eloquently spoke to that in his keynote address. Governor Raji Fashola spoke very much in the same vein citing Awolowo’s legacy and Asiwaju Tinubu’s exemplary leadership in Lagos State as his principal motivation for action to pursue for Lagosians liberty and freedom for all and life more abundant as defined and envisioned byAwo in his best seller titled “Path to Nigerian Freedom” and the Tactics and the Strategies of the third Republic written several years before his death. Going side by side with those powerful statements was the recently released blockbuster CD titled “Aye Oselu” in which the country music idol, Chief Elejoka of Ikole, the one and only Elemure Ogunyemi eloquently captured the state of Nigerian Politics today and why it has got to change.

Elemure choreographed in that album the failure of our current generation of leaders, their failed promises, hypocrisy and sheer political vendetta. He concluded that Nigeria would be going nowhere but down unless Nigerians rise to the occasion and fight to take our country back from a bunch of looters and charlatans masquerading as legislators and leaders. My readers would be well served to buy themselves a copy of that CD to hear for themselves in beautiful music and rhythm what the great Elemure was telling the nation in that powerful album. That was precisely my rational for opening my speech at the occasion with by letting my audience listen to that CD because I figured it out I could not make the case better than Chief Elemure.

Kidnap victims are no longer politicians alone but traditional rulers as well. Kabiyesi the Attah of Aiyede was one of their latest victims. I personally interviewed attorney Gabriel Falowo of Akure who represented the late Oba’s family in the criminal litigation initiated by them to bring the Oba’s killers to justice. The attorney was good enough to give me a quick rundown on the case without violating his attorney/client privilege.

There is a new wave of armed robbery widely reported in Nigerian newspapers with no retraction by any body till now. Armed robbers recently waylaid a luxury bus traveling on the Lagos/Ore/Benin Express and all the passengers robbed to their pants in a daredevil operation. The few of them who had nothing to surrender to the armed robbers were ordered at gunpoint to lie down while the bus driver was ordered, at gun point, to roll over them, crushing all of them to death. That kind of horror in any civilized world would have elicited immediate action from the Government and the Legislature with the Minister of Transportation or and the Road Safety Commissioner appearing before the appropriate committee in Parliament to get to the bottom of the report and to preempt a reoccurrence. Nigerian shock absorbers have now reached a point where news like that only appears on the headlines for a day or two before it is completely swept under the carpet and forgotten.

I personally had a close call with armed robbery during my last trip. I was traveling to Lagos on the same Ore to Lagos Express. I nearly got killed a few miles to Ogbere because the new Mercedes Benz saloon I was traveling in, nearly somersaulted as my driver tried to avoid a piece of iron thrown to the Highway by some armed robbers bent on forcing the car to stop abruptly. The incident happened so quickly and the driver had no other choice than to run over the piece of iron instead of slamming the brakes and taking a somersault. I was at the back seat taking a nap because I trusted the driver well enough to allow myself a little nap All I heard was the sound of the crash as the piece of iron hit the bottom tray and the radiator of the Benz. The car was immediately crippled as the radiator got shattered and the engine oil sump was cracked open by the piece of iron. It was the end of the journey for the driver and myself. I nearly had a heart attack.

Our saving grace, however, was the fact that a Police vehicle traveling on the other side of the Express miraculously appeared within minutes of the incident. The armed robbers took off in a waiting car heading towards Benin and my driver and I were left there looking for a way out until a towing vehicle came by 20 minutes later. I had to pay 35,000.00 Naira to have the car towed to Lagos before it got too dark for safety.

I have a lot of stories to tell about my last trip to Nigeria, but the one I want to focus in this write-up is what I like to call my one-man crusade against a cabal that many of you may not have paid any attention to, because you have not been personally touched like I was... Two of my major missions in Nigeria was to go bury my mother-in-law and the second was to go give my daughter away in marriage in a traditional wedding arranged to take place at a very expensive event center at Agidingbi, Ikeja opposite Fela Anikulapo’s African Shrine. We paid close to half a million Naira for the space alone. My family had to spend close to 50,000.00 to decorate the place. Lagos is not only becoming the most expensive city in the world, it is the most hostile commercial center where you could be held up in traffic for hours eating up the time allotted to you at the event center, and totally preoccupied with how not to exceed your time, because if you do, you face a surcharge of 30,000.00 per hour.

The most lucrative investment in Nigeria today is building an event center or ballroom and renting out every weekend. There is no price control. It is the landlord’s market. You either take it or leave it. I can imagine newly wedded couples starting their life in total penury because they have to spend their life fortune just because they want to follow the only vogue in town. If you thought that was bad enough, wait till you hear my story on a new cabal of extortionists otherwise known as “Alaga Iduro” and “Alaga Ijoko”.

Once your time is over at the event center, you face the rude shock of managers switching of their generators and creating a blackout that would force you scrambling to get your guests out of the place before night fall which must not catch you and your guests there because armed robbers acting under cover of darkness are not too far away and you could be bombarded in a heartbeat for all you know. I felt like a fish out of water as I reflect on what any of us living abroad have to go thru in trying to make the adjustment to our homeland...

It was a nightmare but the point that really got to me on this trip was the role of the cabal now described as “Alaga Ijoko” and “Alaga Iduro” I am fully aware that this crusade may not achieve much beyond creating an awareness for others who may fall a victim like myself as father of the bride, who for some silly protocol or rationalization is now required to be the one to pick up most of the tabs for my daughter’s wedding just because I am the father of the bride. You are lucky if you have just one or two children or if most of your children are males.

In my own case and as an only child of my mother. I was indulged by my illiterate mother and father in my youth to go for as many ladies I could find and to have as many children, because my father who was an unrepentant polygamist, being a natural ruler or village head, nearly had a heart attack the day I came to announce I was going for a Church wedding with my bride to be. He said I could only do that on his dead body because as a prince and as an only child, I was supposed to have many wives and many children because the gods and tradition would not forgive me if I take only one.

I ended up taking one wife but with an array of girl friends willing to be number 2 or 3 as the case may be. All they cared about was having children for me. It was a lot of fun when it first started, but not any more is my confession. I ended up having and raising 8 children 4 adorable boys and 4 beautiful girls because my mother wanted my wife and I to breed like a pig. Since I was an only child, she made herself available to help with raising those children, while creating a rivalry between herself and my wife that you would think that my mother was my first wife. I can now see on hindsight that what my wife went thru was not a joke but I did not see it at the time until long after the fact.

Now my mom and father are gone and I lost my wife 6 years ago leaving me with seven children because I lost my first daughter, Febisola Aderonke Elemide nee Akintide due to an avoidable auto accident I could never forget till I die. The car in which my daughter met her death had no insurance cover or no fault liability insurance in the event of death or serious injury. My daughter died in an accident involving two of her colleagues who were sent on an official duty on a job related assignment as the Accountant in a National Orientation Office, a Federal Unit based in Azure. She went to the assignment in the private vehicle of one of her colleagues. On their way back from their assignment at Ifon close to Owo their front tire busted on high speed on the Owo/Akure Express.

The car somersaulted several times killing two of them on the spot, but my daughter lived long enough to be rushed to the Owo Federal Medical Center where she died because there were no doctors on duty and no functioning ambulance to drive her to Obafemi Awolowo Teaching Hospital. A little part of my wife and me died with our daughter. Close to one year later, my wife had a cardiac rest around 2 AM in the morning in Nigeria and she could not get needed help because her doctor could not possibly come out to attend to her because if she did, forget it, armed robbers could waylay her. Thai is my story.

I ended up with 4 boys now and 3 girls. The oldest two are now married and the third, a final year in Medical School is already telling me she plans to get married soon. That was to be music to my ears, but it is not in large part because of what I have just witnessed at her sister’s wedding in Lagos where I was face-to-face with how an” Alaga Ijoko” and “Alaga Iduro” an aberration never before heard in Yoruba tradition have now become the order of the day spreading like bush fire in the Harmattan among soon-to-be-wedded couples who are nearly always subjected to avoidable exploitation and manipulation by these double edge extortionists claiming to be marriage counselors and hosts. Their strongest suit is their gift of the garb. They are usually very eloquent but very manipulative. They come to the floor accompanied by two or three “gangan” drummers as partners in crime, as they are busy cajoling anyone including guests that are fancifully dressed for the occasion to give them tips for their short entertainment.

In the meantime their bosses, the Alaga Ijoko and Alaga Iduro are busy talking jazz and extolling money from the celebrants and their guests. There is always one for the bride and another one for the groom. They both compete to exploit whichever side they represent. They take or order collections to be taken away by them in addition to whatever fees they are charging which could range from 40,000.00 Naira to 50 or more depending on the deep pocket of the celebrants and their parents or family.

They completely dominate or take over the ceremony and sideline the two families and parents on their special day of joy. They waste precious time which should have been devoted to helping the couple to fully understand what they are getting themselves into and how to navigate matrimonial waters and conflicts which daily face newly married couples. Because their goal is to go home with as much money as they are able to collect quite apart from their hiring fee, they sometimes forget or skip important items on the program carefully drawn up for the occasion.

In my own case our Alaga Ijoko totally forgot to present the dowry items brought by the family of the groom. She even forgot to let my daughter pick the Bible from the laundry list of items brought by the family of the groom. I specially had to beg for time to be allowed to speak in my own daughter’s wedding because the Alaga Ijoko has taken up all the time raising collections she is going to take home. She wasted so much time that we exceeded our time by two hours and had to pay a surcharge of 60,000.00 extra. If you add that to the 40,000.00 we paid her, you are talking of 100,000.00 thrown down the drain for a cabal that had no formal training, certification or license to do what they are doing, and on which they are paying no tax to anybody. They are feeding fat on the ignorance of the couple and their families.

My point is that the Alaga Ijoko and Alaga Iduro should be stopped in their tracks for their excesses. It is all nonsense. Perhaps a return to the status quo would be more helpful. The way it used to be in Yoruba tradition and culture as we knew it was to select one of the more experienced house wives to perform the role If couples still want to retain Alaga Ijoko and Alaga Iduro I see a compelling reason to put them in their place and to curb their excesses and extortionist tendencies which are fast becoming a major distraction and annoying.

If I had a choice the next time my last daughter is getting married, I am going to go back to the way it was done in Yoruba tradition before this cabal came on board. I am just going to have one of the experienced housewives in my family take the lead in welcoming the guests and running the show as dictated by me and the families of the groom-to-be. Under no condition should the Alaga Ijoko or the Alaga Iduro be allowed to play a role more than a good master of ceremony would be required to play in a formal setting and you don’t need two Alagas to do that, if you are thinking like me. We could, in fact, still name a chairman to formally preside over the occasion instead of allowing some charlatans to completely take over the ceremony doing what they please.

This idea of having the groom’s friends and family members prostrate time and again in the name of tradition or culture is silly and totally uncalled for in my opinion. “E kale Ma, E kale Sir, E kale gbogbo Ebi” is totally overdone making the two parties involved look stupid or naïve. There could be more civilized way to do what this Alagas are doing and it doesn't’t have to cost as much as they are now charging. Before we know it this cabal is going to be unionized against our better judgment turning their illegality into legalized extortion. The society must unite to stop them in their tracks by not using them at their own terms. Somebody has got to call their bluff before their illegal practice is accepted as the real norm in Yoruba society. My first son is married to an Ibo lady from Umuagwu village in Orlu Division in Imo State. Thank God, I was not subjected to this kind of experience when I accompanied my son there to go pay the dowry for our wife. I am surprised to find that the practice has spread overseas. The same cabal is reenacting in the UK, America and Canada what they have been doing with nobody challenging them at home. It is time to stop them or curb their excesses is my point.

If you my readers trust me that much to begin this crusade, sign me up, baby, Alaga Ijoko and Alaga Iduro contraption is not promoting Yoruba culture, it is making a mockery of it, the way they operate now.

I rest my case.