As bizarre as it may appear, the story I am about to tell is real. This is far from fiction.
A friend of mine told me the story and I have no reason to doubt him. Here is it:
A Lagos landlord woke up one morning, went for a sharp machete and started cutting down all the coconut and sundry trees in his expansive compound.
My friend told me he was traumatised by this annihilation of nature and could not hold challenging his landlord. “Why, why, Mr Landlord, are you cutting down these beautiful trees?, the bewildered tenant asked his landlord who was acting rather weird. The man, he said, told him he will not understand. With further pressure, Mr Landlord informed my friend that investigation had revealed to him that witches, wizards, men and women of dark powers in the terrestrial and celestial firmaments congregate on those trees at ungodly hours of the night to hold meetings and perpetrate evil.
My friend, a cynical empiricist, could not believe his ears. He pursued his inquisition further. “Mr landlord, what havoc, in recent times, has these ‘dark powers’ wrecked?”, he asked. The man, wanting to have him off his back and eager to conclude his task, tried to explain.
“Young man, every evening, on my way from work, I fill up the tank of my car. In the morning, when going out, I find out the petrol in the car has been exhausted. I put this before my Oluso (his pastor) and he asked me to go cut down the trees and by so doing, I would have scattered the gathering of the evil forces that siphon fuel from my car in the night”.
My friend could not believe his ears. “Sir, you mean these evil spirits need petrol in the night and devise a means to siphon it from your car?", he asked in wonderment.
“Yes!”, he retorted. “But, young man, you can’t and you won’t understand.”
My friend who lived on the ground floor decided to study what could be the problem with his landlord, his car and his fuel.
In no long time, he found out that, at night, his landlord's three young sons, having watched him go to bed, would push out the car from the compound, start the engine and off they go for the night, visiting all the fun places in Lagos until the early hours of the morning.
Having observed this over a period of time, he, one morning, called the attention of his landlord to this but the man refused to believe him. He asked him to feel the heat on his car bonnet, an indication that the car was taken back into the compound not long before that time.
My friend advised the landlord to try and catch his sons in the act by pretending to go to bed on a Friday night and watch his children play their usual peekaboo game.
Baba did. Lo and behold, red-handed, he caught his children sneaking out of his apartment, going downstairs to push the car out of the compound for their normal night spree.
It was too late. Those trees were gone and the landlord had contributed his quota to depleting the ozone layer.
Simple reasoning, logic, due diligence and investigation could reveal the why of things to us. But, no, we are not interested. We seek understanding of a phenomenon, situation and that of happenings around us from our pastors, babalawos, Alfas. We equip ourselves with holy water, amure, anointing oil, tira, hantu, otumokpor, songbe, sangbeto, kurube, ifunpa, ayelala, igbadi, juju, and all sorts.
This reminds me of a story I once read in one of the many sci fi (science fiction) books published by Isaac Asimov. I can't remember exactly which of the titles now. In an introduction to the book, he wrote about the son of a friend of his who is enrolled in a crèche. Each time he returns home from school, he comes with drawings done in black colour. His parents get worried and conclude that their son is afflicted by a dark and evil spirit. Interestingly, black colour or blackness was and continues to be seen as akin to evil.
Many seers, spiritualists, religious personalities are consulted and the conclusion is that this young lad needs to go through exorcism.
Asimov says his friend and wife are so traumatised as if their world is collapsing. It is in the midst of the ‘trouble‘ that he visits his friend to whom he narrates his family’s agony.
Asimov says he demands to know the school the lad attends and he requests he be allowed to follow him to the school, the following day.
On arriving at the school, they narrate their ordeal to the teacher and Asimov starts a process of questioning and investigation. He demands to know how the colour pencils used by school pupils are placed. He is told all are placed in a bowl in front of the class. Where does the troubled lad sit, he asks. It is revealed, at the back of the class. How does the pupils pick their pencils? The picking starts from the pupils in the front row, extending to the last lad at the back.
Asimov takes a deep breath and requests the teacher to change the sitting position of the troubled lad to the front so that they can observe what the problem is.
Incidentally, the day after the child’s sitting position is changed from the back to the front, he starts to return home with bright coloured drawing books.
Asimov notes that what has happened that has so agonised his friend and his wife has been that because that lad sits at the back of the class, all of the bright and beautiful crayons must have been taken before it is his turn. He is left with the dark ones with which he is compelled to draw, which is what makes his parents conclude he is bewitched.
Without exercising our mind, questioning, investigating, experimenting, exploring, working hard and smart, preparing and consistently working hard to succeed, we shall continually come to the hasty and lazy conclusion that some supernatural and metaphysical powers are responsible for our misfortune in life. We soon give up on ourselves only to be exploited by some folks who are smarter and doggy than us.
This reminds me of my experience in my year three in high school. My school, Ado Grammar School, Ado-Ekiti, was billed to play a football game against our perpetual rival, Christ School. It was a big deal in those days. Our school prefects decided that all the students must contribute money to consult a ‘powerful‘ juju man in town. Every night, the prefects went round the dormitories to collect the contributions, while taking a roll call.
I made up my mind I wasn’t going to pay. Somehow, as young as I was then, I knew it was a ruse. It was the rebel in me then that began to emerge though. The team hardly trained. Worse still, many of the team members were hemp smokers. One could say that the smoke emanating from their mouths and nostrils, daily, could rival that of a chimney.
At the dead of a certain night, the prefects came to my Akinyede Hall and brought out a few of us who refused to pay. We, the naysayers, were stripped of our clothes and given some strokes of cane on our naked butts.
Looking lachrymose, some non-conformists took their portion of the cane, while I took mine with philosophical calmness and went back to bed to sleep.
There came the matchday, and we all trouped to the township stadium to cheer our team to victory, having injected ourselves with the confidence provided by the fetish powers of Mr Elele, an Ebira juju man in town.
Within a few minutes of the commencement of the match, three goals were slotted into our net. At the end of 90 minutes, the match was 7-1 against us. On our way back to school, I watched my school mates stop at the juju man’s house, destroying his windows, doors and everything, at sight. On sighting the students, our 'adahunse' had a dialogue with his feet and fled for his life. He, really, had to. Perhaps he would have been lynched by the irate students.
The golden lesson here is that nothing succeeds like working hard and working smart. An unthinking mind is an unproductive mind. Don’t enslave yourself to somebody’s prejudice or thought process.
We are what we are today in Africa because we have allowed our mind tied to a tree like a goat.
The river , the hill in our neighborhood or community is not explored because we are made to believe they are inhabited by spirits. That grand old woman in our community who suffers dementia is thrown on the street because a deranged pastor claims she is witch. The young girl who suffers hallucination rather than get our sympathy is cast out as emere or ogbanje. The precocious boy is tagged bewitched. A wife struggling to feed her children is blamed for the lack of promotion of her husband in his work place. Should the man suddenly die , that becomes double jeopardy. She must have been responsible , through a remote control, for the death of her husband. Public officials are seeking spiritual solutions to societal problems. Office seekers are traveling as far as Senegal, Sudan and Morocco for the power spiritualists to make their dream office real. I read somewhere the other day that even our military is hiring prayer warriors to assist in the battle against Boko Haram in the North East of Nigeria.
All of this unreasoning today put Africa at the bottom of the world’s development index.
Reason, think, ask questions, doubt received knowledge, query , train, practice, work hard, work smart, study, research, enquire, collaborate, be adventurous, take risks, exchange knowledge , eschew corruption and seek rational solutions to problems.
Let us untether our imagination. The solutions to our problems may not be as difficult as it seems; not as far away or as mysterious as we unthinkingly assume.
- Ojudu is Special Adviser to the President On Political Matters.