Security, what does this word mean in relation to life as we know it today in Nigeria? For the most part, it means safety and freedom from worry. It is said to be the end that all men strive for, but is security a utopian goal or is it another word for rut? All over the whole world, security has become an issue of great concern, ranging from kidnapping, serial killing to terrorism. Wanton kidnapping emerged in Nigeria, and has become a herculean task to curb. Like a wild fire, it has spread too fast to many places in Nigerian cities and villages. Hence night life and moonlight folk tales are now turning history in our society because no one wants to be a victim of kidnap.
In an attempt to weaken this menace, the Oba of Benin, Ereduawa Omonoba of Edo State, marshalled out the traditional priests/priestesses of the African cultures and traditions in his dukedom who gathered together at Urhokpota Hall in Benin to invoke curses on all those who either kidnap or aid kidnappers as well as armed robbers and their abetters. The Chief Priest of Benin Kingdom, Chief Nosakhare Isekhure, said, “The exercise is to protect our people’s lives and property as well as the government. For us, the traditionalists, we know when crimes are going to the extreme; the police and security agents cannot do anything. We have the power to invoke the gods of the land and that is what we are doing right now. It is always the last resort.” Priests from Sango, Olokun, Aiyelala, Ashigidi, etcetera, were all dressed in their ceremonial regalia. Sculptors, amulets, talismans, gong, etcetera was taken round the city and some were buried. The land of Benin was cursed orally against the men of the underworld on the 10th to 12th of June 2010. This act, however, raised eyebrows. Different opinions ensued among Nigerians: from the traditional and the religious perspectives. From East, West, North and South of Nigeria, people were either in support of the act or were against.
This writer investigated the different opinions of people on the saga and anonymously or unanimously chronicled the opinions of the debaters. Those that were against this practice were of the opinion that it was illogical to be glamorizing myths and oral tradition in the 21st Century, as opposed to written records. They said that Africans should keep out from idol worshipping, even the moon, as a god in the name of culture and tradition, whereas other developed worlds were busy exploring scientific ways that would better the lots of the human race. The documented fact that civilization began in medieval Egypt has provoked questions among scholars on when did Africa start retrogressing.
But in a twist reaction, some reminded those opposed to African beliefs to note that even the Emperor of Japan worships the Sun; and if that is the case, is Japan not far more developed than Africa? It was argued from the supporters of the Oba’s ordinance that those calling Africans backward people are doing so, because their knowledge has done no single input to better Africa, except in condemnation. They added that such people are a big tragedy to Africa. Furthermore, they enthused that as a matter of exigency, there is great need for those who believe in Africa to unite formidably, without those who condemn African heritage. (“To hide under any form of education or civilisation and criticise the customs and traditions of a people that have passed the test of time is hypocritical.").
It was a shocker that the Nigerian authorities pride in giving her citizens freedom of worship, but only recognized and boast with Christianity and Islam as the ‘chosen’ ones, to the detriment of the African traditional beliefs. Against that backdrop, the Nigerian authorities perhaps forgot that the two religions mentioned above are alien. However, Oba’s supporters saw his act as the only way out of the cesspit Nigeria has fallen into in moral decadence, describing Christians who go to church on Sundays and are hell bent in seeing that all Nigerians become Christians with their preachment that they force down one’s throat even when the person was not ready to listen (without many of them exhibiting what they preached) as learning the ‘truth’ only on Sundays. Otherwise christened, “Sunday-truths.”
Does it mean that without the teachings of the two alien cultures – Christianity and Islam – that Africans had no cultural values? Many Nigerians saw the beliefs and principles of the adherents of the two religions as people who learn in awe, eschewing the cosmic ways of life that are deep-rooted in the African cultures and traditions. Criticisms had trailed the Oba’s action from the unbelievers of the Oba’s action. They attributed his action to the axiom: "With Faith, you can move mountains".
However, they do not believe that the curse would have any effect on those it was intended for. They gave their examples thus: “Everybody will sagely nod their head in agreement when you utter that sentiment. But, does anyone really believe it? If Mountain Everest has to be moved or levelled, will faith be the chosen tool? When Aso Rock (Nigeria’s citadel of power) was carved out from a small mountain, was faith deployed? Of course, not! Bombs and excavation tools were the chosen tools, so the theory that faith can move mountains is just feel-good Sunday-truth to be professed in awe, but never acted upon. Similarly, the theory that swearing on the Holy Bible or placing a curse will deter criminal and kidnapping activity is no different”.
While many gave their explications that hammer could be supplemented with a heavy metal in nailing things down the wood, meaning that the Oba’s curse was divine, some felt that Nigerians didn’t know the bottom-line. “Here is the bottom line: A hammer is the right tool for nailing things down, but it is not the correct tool for laundry. Similarly, curses and vigils are not at all the way to stop criminal and kidnapping activity.”
It wasn’t too long this curse was placed in Benin than the ‘insurgents’ wrecked havoc in Abia State, some kilometres from Edo State, and some traditional rulers and police officers were arrested for their alleged involvement in abetting the kidnappers to carry-out their nefarious activities. Before this arrest, it was awash on the media among Nigerians that they knew who the criminals were. “We know the criminals. We know where they hide. Where kidnapping is worse, we know who provides logistic cover – the Police. We know above all the social conditions that ferment this predictable decadence of community values. So, all these prayers and vigils and Babalawo curse-sessions are just beating around the bush. They are creating useless hope while the problem gets worse. We are wasting our own time. When we get serious about solving the problem, we will take the battle to the enemy.”
Following the contribution above, many Nigerians were in contemplative opinions of the efficacy of the curse with reference to government officials taking oath of office with the Holy Bible and Quran and yet deep their necks down the depth of corruption, what the tendency that Oba’s curse would act magic. “You hit the nail on the head! When Nigerian politicians swear with the Bible or Quran and hear the thunderous preaching of the pastor on Sunday and Imam on Friday, do they deter them from crime and corruption?”
Some of the people were of the opinion that even the clerics in the alien religions were not free and left out from corruption and it could be the reason the oath of office the politicians take doesn’t have adverse effect on them when they do the contrary. “Criminals and looters, even the ones in religion-infested Nigeria, are no fools. They know Amadioha will not strike anybody down. They know that the Babalawo curses don't work. They don't expect to spend an eternity in hell for looting the money that was budgeted for the maternity ward or for murdering one million Biafran infants.”
To a large extent, questions and questions were brewing over the curses individuals rain on the alleged thieving politicians, kidnappers and criminals. “The important question is whether these paranormal measures, whether Christian, Islamic or Voodoo really work.” The argument splat Nigerians in the public parliament; a Nigerian threw in his hat in questioning the supremacy of the analyst above on the things of Africans traditional matters and their culture, describing him as one of those who still believe in the myth that Satan is a Black man while Angel, a White man.
“There you go again, writing about things you're not qualified to write about. How many Babalawos have you consulted? You guys tend to believe anything Western scientists say even without proof. For example, you believe everything they say about their encounters on the moon but you have no empirical proof that they are telling you the truth. You are educated in Western ways but can't use the Western ways to achieve anything because the deeper secrets about certain Western things are hidden from the ‘third-worlders’ as you.”
He went further to cite his proof using the chemistry behind the nuclear bomb mechanization as an example of the truths the West hide from the ‘third-worlders’. “You may have PhD in physics, chemistry and whatnot, but the secrets to some of their deepest research will never be revealed to you. What then can you do with your Western education? For certain, it has confused you enough to speak on matters such as Babalawos that you have never experienced. I however supposed that the empiricism of the Western culture which I assume you have imbibed would have led you to seeking the truth about Babalawos before you claimed their curses don't work. Several Europeans have written on their experiences with so called "voodoo or juju". Stephen Farrow, a 1926 missionary to Abeokuta was one of them. Believe me; you don't want to be on the receiving end of a spiritual attack from a Babalawo. And, that is a fact. Denounce it at your own peril.”
They admonished Nigerians that they will realize that the progress made in contemporary civilization, the advances in science and technology and the progress in human and societal developments are all associated with the OPENNESS of knowledge promoted by Oyibo. “There are ways to retain proprietary rights to knowledge and its application, and societal laws have addressed most of these; however, the time-tested truism about knowledge is that the BEST APPROACH to derive the optimum benefits from knowledge is to OPEN IT UP and make it available to all persons, cultures and perspectives. Such an approach will likely further refine the knowledge and extend its application beyond the wildest imagination of the originators.”
Does the African traditional knowledge still lies in secrecy and myths? “One can’t speak of it. People are afraid of abuses; people don’t trust themselves and each other. Consequently, Africa suffers in all sectors, considered to be contributing little beyond arts to contemporary civilization, and reduced to a dumping ground for stale technologies and vague knowledge the people can’t apply to their daily lives. Thus, Africa continues to lag behind and suffer... You and I are the Africans you are talking about. The ball is in our court now; let us play the game. What are we waiting for before we handle knowledge to make progress? Don't we think that we have what it takes to achieve these objectives? Or, do we think that our Western ways of education we received are not enough to do something now?”
While it was said that Africa continued to lag behind and suffer, Africans have been admonished to take care and must do a re-think about how they handle knowledge so that they could make progress. “What we are waiting for to utilize African knowledge and traditional practices to advance Africa? I just said that a fundamental element in the use and application of knowledge is THE OPENNESS and ACCESS to the traditional knowledge by scientists or others, who then apply contemporary analytical and production methods to translate the knowledge into societal benefit/use...”
For instance, the formula (knowledge) of Egbe was asked, invisibility, gun-proof. Somebody said that all sorts of supernatural stories are associated with the knowledge about why it cannot be available to everybody and familiar tales about the spiritual consequences of mishandling the knowledge; and on the end, Africans will go nowhere. “That is our main problem. One solution to this problem is to write a book on the formulary of African traditional knowledge. That way, the knowledge and the cautionary statements or warnings will be there for people to experiment and verify the claims independently. That is how empiricism is built with knowledge, how knowledge is better translated and applied and how knowledge wins regards and respect for its merit and for the originator.”
The people argued that the world people do a lot of heinous things to humankind for economic want. They ascribe that even as dangerous as radioactivity is, people have published volumes to keep the knowledge of it for posterity. “The knowledge is out there. People have even published the contents of the 7 Books of Moses and the Tora that are thought to contain magical formulary used by early Jews, from Moses in the Exodus, to Joshua, Elijah, King David and King Solomon. People (Africans) are free to follow suit and acquire the knowledge and verify their claims, if they so wished. So, why are African knowledge and traditional practices still shrouded in myths, mysteries and superstitions?”
Adherents and adept believers in the African knowledge and traditional practices were admonished to publish a book on them and that African scientists will take it from there. “Mind you, the formula associated with these African knowledge and traditional practices should not require something out of the ordinary (e.g., human body parts, toxic wastes, etc), that will give us problems. Take care... On the contrary, we can't have the knowledge free. We have to pay the prize in money and time to learn the science behind the traditional medicine, Ho! Ha!
To have access to European knowledge you and I paid. Why shouldn't we be willing to respect whatever is our own?”
From the opinions, it was gathered that the bane of African history was the dearth in the art of chronicling events, because according to the people, the European knowledge is available in schools, training centres and vocational institutions, but an opinion said that Africans are not gluttons who sell knowledge for money. The question is: where is the African traditional knowledge? Is there any authentic published works? “Why do you say show you authentic published works. Have you any authentic work in any library in Nigeria I can lay my hands on right now on anything about African you have written to promote African ways of life? Have you gone to Oba's kingdom to register for a course in their science? Have you shown any interest to learn the ways of your fathers, which is free? I don't think so from your actions toward anything Africa.”
One man commented, rebuffing an attack on him by a member, saying that he had not shown himself as an adept of African traditional knowledge. He said that he was using the medium to ask whether there are published works on African beliefs to educate him because, according to him, most of what he had heard were shrouded in secrecy, myths and superstitions, similar to what people know about the traditional knowledge of the Arthurian era of Britain. To him, contemporary civilization is going past that era. Therefore, those who are frequently taking refuge in the demagoguery of “African This, African That”, should lead the way in showing to people the meat that is inherent in African knowledge, without resorting to secrecy, myths and superstitions of course. Thus, he asked, “Where is the beef?”
While he argued that he needed to see books with formulary on African traditional knowledge which he said would challenge people to experiment with them independently and Africans will know they got something and not keep swimming in the benefits/use of the Open and Available Knowledge of other people, riding fancy cars, flying planes, living in comfortable air-conditioned homes, using the Internet, telephones etcetera, one other person said: “...I have seen a book on workplace Voodoo. The problem in Nigeria is with thieves, kidnapping, etc. You can write a book on how to make a band of thieves dance around in someone's compound in confusion until the morning when the owner of the house wakes up to hand the thieves over to the authorities. Am I day dreaming? African tradition works!!! Tell us how to solve the problems in society.”
Odimegwu Onwumere, Poet/Author and Media Consultant, is the Founder of Poet Against Child Abuse (PACA), Rivers State.