South African poet, Mazisi Raymond Fakazi Mngoni Kunene (1930-2006) and his Nigerian counterpart, Gabriel Imomotime Okara, in their respective works, have demonstrated how difficult it is for an African – no matter his embrace of modernity and religious values of the west and east – to divorce himself from the hubris of occultism, black magic and blood oath which form the template of centuries of African existence.
Kunene was particularly bothered by the rupture that modernity has caused on African traditions, culture and ways of life. In Piano and Drums, Okara evocatively brings out the effects of clashes between Western and African cultures, while in The soldier hero, Kunene invokes the departed spirits of Ancestors and begs the dead not to abandon the living, basing this on the African cosmological belief that there is a permanent matrimony between life and death.
Peter Morton-Williams’ anthropological study of Ogboni, the dreaded ancient Yoruba secret cult, entitled The Yoruba Ogboni cult in Oyo, which outlines the potency of blood in sacrifices and oath, helps to interface with how politicians go to pastors, Alfas and babalawos to secure their political future. Written way back in 1960, Morton-Williams’ is a study in what probably drives interests in black magic and why the elite take unqualified voyage into it, in spite of Christianity and Islam and why the Ogboni still has controlling importance in Yoruba religious organization, centuries after it was established.
Morton-Williams said blood oaths, which are administered to safeguard secrets and ensure they do not leak, as well as to secure loyalty of one to another, are as ancient as humanity. Oaths seek to carve a brotherhood where none exists. The Norwegian warrior, Orvar-Odd and the renowned Swedish warrior, Hjalmar’s blood oath, is a case in point. Having fought for two days with no clear victor, both decided to be sworn brothers by allowing their blood flow under a strand of turf raised by their spears. They subsequently licked the blood amid incantations and oath.
The anthropologist also examined Lydia, an Iron Age kingdom of Western Asia Minor, located east of ancient Ionia in the modern Turkish provinces of Manisa and inland İzmir. He said, on their own, they initiate ceremonies where their arms are nicked with a sharp object and thereafter licked the dripping blood. The Scyths, ancient Iranian people of horse-riding nomadic pastoralists, who dominated the Pontic-Caspian steppe throughout Classical Antiquity, too allow their blood to drip into a glass cup which is later mixed with wine and drunk by the oath-takers. Mongols and Chinese, as well as Balkans in the Peninsula, also did it during the Ottoman era.
The anthropologist also found out a plethora of powers that initiates of blood, especially in fraternities and cults like Ogboni, wield. Believing in the potent power of the Earth as a binding force, Ogboni use the edan (a twin object of a man and woman pegged on a cylindrical brass spare) in their lledi (shrine house) and sprinkles of blood to subtly encode obedience to rules and secrets. Not only does Ogboni ensure secrecy among its initiates, an espirit de corps is got through blood oaths, thus suborning potential squealers from revealing Ogboni secrets.
Christianity and Islam have sought to wipe out blood oath. The Ogboni itself was a recipient of this rout in 1948 in Oyo by Alaafin Aderemi, a pious Muslim who sought to delink the palace from the ancient voodoo practice. Hitherto, the palace was a great link to and derived its existence from the immense powers of the Ogboni fraternity. Indeed, the Oyo Mesi doubled as initiates and Alaafin’s advisers. Even though a great attempt is made by the present cyber age to delink secret cults from the operations of society, cults flourish greatly among African elite, especially among politicians, who run to them for shields at moments of political travails. Indeed, judges, politicians, lawyers and leaders of society are said to belong to these fraternal cults, all in the stampede for power and protection against inclement weathers of life. You would be alarmed if Ogboni registers are ever opened for public scrutiny. Pastors, Imams and many society leaders are card-carrying members of the cult.
And fraternities come with a great price. Fathers are reputed to sleep with daughters as one of the conditions for fraternal powers, while metaphysical offerings of beloved ones at cultic ovens are widespread. At the death of lords of these cults, their corpses are requested by living initiates, allegedly with the brief to sever the hearts off their limp cavities. This was the lot of Yoruba music impresario, Dauda Akanmu, alias Epo Akara, an anecdotist and folklorist. Epo had died February, 2005 of a kidney-related ailment. At his interment in Ibadan, at a spot opposite Guru Maharaj Ji’s shrine, Islamic clerics on hand for the interment had, in amazement and helplessness, watched as Epo’s body was hijacked off them by advancing Ogboni. One thing led to the other and the body of great Awurebe music exponent, whose music this writer had been addicted to since the late 70’s, was hurriedly thrown on the Lagos-Ibadan expressway.
Nigerian politics is the theatre where this wedlock of modern religions and traditional African existence is dramatized. The trio of pastors, Islamic clerics and babalawos wreck great havocs on the Nigerian socio-political environment through their claims of ability to see tomorrow. Less than a year into the 2019 elections, this attempt to explain the future for Nigerian politicians is on the upswing. Desperate politicians, seeking foothold onto power, have mounted a huge traffic towards the homes of these “men who see tomorrow.” They swear oath of allegiance sleeping inside coffins and make human sacrifices. Worse still is that these ‘diviners’ heat up the polity by assuring even mere charlatans that they will be in office in 2019 when physical political realities belie this. This trio has ruined homes, sent many to their early graves and is part of the political calamities that befall Nigeria today.
Buhari, I am not evil-minded
President Muhammadu Buhari leapt into a major argumentative pitfall on Thursday last week while playing host to Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) members from the 19 Northern states who visited him. CAN had ostensibly stormed the Villa to entreat his presidency to “do something” about the orgy of killings in Nigeria, a chunk of which is generally attributed to Buhari’s Fulani herdsmen kinsmen.
“When some (people), for clearly political purposes, attempt to suggest that this government is doing nothing about the killings, and that I, being Fulani, must be encouraging these satanic acts, it seems to me that there is no limit to the evil in the minds of men,” he had said in part.
The pitfall is what philosophers call argumentum ad hominem, otherwise known as appeal to person. It is a fallacious argumentative strategy where genuine argument is avoided and rather, character, motive are attacked. The interlocutor attacks the other person as shield to justify his argument. My argument is that, to say that anyone who says that the President is condoning the carnage of Fulani herdsmen does that for political reason, is evil-minded, or even both is not only off the radar, but smells of mischief. Many Nigerians who logically believe that the President is vicariously condoning the carnage have no iota of political coloration nor are they satanic but are driven by patriotism. I am one of them.
We can scientifically prove Buhari’s Satanic silence on these killings. First, until he was dragged by fire-spitting public opinion to visit Benue after almost three months of the bloodshed, Buhari sat comfortably inside the fortress of the Villa while those who later became the dead buried their dead. When Benue elders ultimately cried to him, all he asked was for them to accommodate the killer herdsmen. When he was equally dragged to Taraba, all he did was compare the cadavers of his killed Fulani kinsmen in the state with those of Benue and Zamfara, prompting his derisive labeling as Mortician Statistician of Nigeria. Even in Plateau, there were allegations that the killers of over 200 people in the state recently had a free reign for over 24 hours and Buhari’s security was not in sight. So who is Satanic in their conclusions between Nigerians and the President?
Fare thee well, Justice Umezulike
For a twinkle of an eye, we all could behold history that evening. It was January, 2015 and the glitz of Christmas still hung like nostalgia on the faces of everyone. The two-storey edifice, the courtyard of which we were all gathered, smelled of the aroma of history. You almost could see General Odumegwu Ojukwu, Head of State of the breakaway Biafran Republic, with his recalcitrant beard and deep baritone, breathing down orders to loyal troops like the fire from a dinosaur; feel the acclaimed temperament of Akanu Ibiam, with a stethoscope hanging from his neck; experience the gruff of Ukpabi Asika, administrator of post-Biafra Eastern States, who all lived inside this edifice they call Lion Building, the Lodge of the Governor of Enugu State.
The Enugu cultural troupe, dancers’ feet waltzing out rhythms of rich Igbo culture, performed to the delight of the visiting foreign ambassadors. Ferdinand Anikwe, head of the troupe, with his rich mastery of Igbo culture and history, waxed lyrical in explaining the symbolism of the camwood painted on the troupe’s faces and the ululating rhythm of flutes.
From the high table, a tall, fair-skinned man walked up to me. He had enquired and was told I was whom he sought. We were almost shouting on top of our voices as the jangling metals on the dancers’ feet drowned our discussion. He had heard of me, he said and read a piece entitled The Dilemma of a Snake I had just authored in The Guardian about an accident my family, returning from a Christmas holiday in Ibadan and heading towards Enugu, our abode, three days to the new year, had had close to Agbor in Delta State. While driving, I had attempted to crush a snake meandering across my path. My 504 saloon car veered into the bush, the crash nearly fatal, as my then pregnant wife, bleeding and children injured, were all helped out by rescuers. In the piece, I had stated that the snake, which led to the accident, wasn’t same as the benevolent snake in D. H. Lawrence’s poem. Lawrence, son of a coalminer who hailed from the coalfields of Nottinghamshire, had explored the relationship between human beings and one of the most dreaded venomous reptiles on earth. I drew a fatalistic connect between the malevolent Agbor snake and the accident that nearly consumed my family and me.
The man who sought me out in the crowd was the Chief Judge of Enugu State, Justice Innocent Umezulike. That night, we struck a chord which lasted ever since. His official quarters on Independence Layout became my frequent point of call where we both sat to discuss intellectual matters. I learnt that he had once taught at the University of Ibadan and was a professor of Property Law, an acclaimed legal luminary in Conveyancing and Adverse Possession, who single-handedly authored and published about 23 books. At some point, he linked me up with my ex-teacher at the University of Lagos, Professor Campbell Shittu Momoh, with whom he authored a festschrift. He was the longest-serving CJ in the history of Enugu.
When people ask how I, as Odewale soliloquized in The Gods are not to blame, who walked past many rivers to the land of people whom my people pejoratively call yanminrin and who, retaliating, call my people ofe nmanu, survived for four years, Umezulike’s detribalized person and that of my boss, as well as a sprinkle of others, was responsible for the survival. So also the Igbo cuisine, especially the delectable lunch at Nwanyi Onitsha on Owerri Road, Enugu where then member of the House of Representatives, Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi and me thrust our plates out in the crowd for ofe nsala or ofe onugbu with ndi oka.
It was this same man they say is dead, this news hitting me like a thunderbolt. A couple of years ago, Umezulike got embroiled in a bribery scandal for which he was removed from office. Believing that he had been set up, he sought to retaliate, authoring petitions to Abuja against his nemesis, a top parliamentarian with epaulettes of a DSP. Umeziluke alleged that his nemesis, the DSP, who, before coming to the government of Enugu in early 2000 and later catapulted to the federal parliament by the magnanimity of Chimaroke Ogbonnia Nnamani, and whose emblem is a curious swagger, owns posh estates in virtually all the continents of the world.
How do I mourn Umezulike, who prefaced references to me with ore mi, (my friend) a man who apparently died a humiliated man, believing he was set up by the DSP?