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Fubara’s matured jungle and Edan that cannot die


(Published by the Sunday Tribune, May 19, 2024)

Have you noticed that in the last two weeks, Governor Siminalayi Fubara of Rivers State seems to have acquired an inexplicably large dose of boldness and courage? Conversely, you must have equally observed that, in the last couple of days, FCT Minister, the very loquacious Nyesom Wike, has taken an uncharacteristically large overdose of meekness and humility. The thawing of the ice of Wike’s flippancy baffles watchers of the combustive politics of the oil-rich state. To many students of the semiotics of Nigerian power struggle, Fubara’s sudden temerity can be found in a robust wise-saying of the Yoruba. They say, the moment a child is decorated with the costume (agò) of a masquerade, he becomes the Old One (Tí wón bá gbé agò wo omodé, ó ti di baba àgbà). Fubara seems to have suddenly worn the “agò” of a masquerade. He now talks with the boldness of an Old One. What is responsible for this transition? What could have made the coy Fubara of few months ago transit into King Cobra? Known as the most aggressive snake in the world, king cobra is Janus. In one breath, he is shy. In another, his aggression against the enemy is unrivalled as he furiously spits his lethal venom.

Apart from a recently acquired boldness, Fubara’s lingo has transmuted, too. It is either “the jungle has matured” or there is an invasion of rats. Fubara said he had found the rat troubling Rivers State’s sack of gari and promised to kill it with Otapiapia, the local rat poison. While receiving the Ijaw Youth Council, (IYC) which paid him a courtesy visit at Government House, Port-Harcourt, last Thursday, Fubara proclaimed that he had already defeated ‘them’. “I am happy that you’ve told me this morning that when I call on you, you will respond. But there is nothing to call on you for because we have already defeated them,” he said. Defeat “them” with a seemingly bad case in the courts?

Fubara has also started speaking in the language of the forest. Anyone who wanders into the jungle is bound to see spirits. Only those who just returned from the ancestral grove, the “Igbó Ìgbàlè” speak with such Fubara boldness. Igbó Ìgbàlè is where the uninitiated are taken to be sacralized. When a sacral is put on a child, he is sanctified as having acquired the power of the spirit.

It may be worth one’s while to find out the invisible and invincible drummer beating the drum to which the Fubara water bug is dancing on the river. Convinced there is an invisible underwater genie, Yoruba translate this to say, “Ìròmi t’ó ńjó l’ójú omi, onílù rẹ̀ wà nì’sàlẹ̀ odò.” Before now, the meek Fubara apparently didn’t want to see spirits that reside in the ancestral grove. His case was analogous to that of the proverbial man who wanted the head of a tortoise, its legs and arms but didn’t want its full body. The elders counsel that Fubara must purchase the whole tortoise in its entirety. So, if he seeks to find spirits in Rivers, Fubara must go the whole hog. Recently, the governor is beginning to show that he does not desire the half measure of the tortoise. If they are seized by the awesome behemoth powers of the African ruler and want to find spirits, the Fubaras must be prepared to encounter demons.

It was same way Ògbólú, sixteenth century Aláàfin of Ọ̀yọ́, was seized by the awesome powers of his throne and became a ghost-catcher. Toying with the possibility of relocating the capital of Oyo Empire from Ìgbòho back to its initial site of Katunga, the Aláàfin’s proposal met stiff resistance from even his council and palace courtiers. This bred a gang-up by the dissenters who got paid agents to go into Katunga masked as ghosts. So, when Aláàfin Ògbólú sent emissaries to Katunga, they reported back to him that the land was infested with venial ghosts. D. O. Fagunwa called any hunter brave enough to confront such demons Ogboju Ode Ninu Igbo Irunmole. Hunters are regarded in traditional Africa as the third eye that could penetrate opaque scenes to reveal otherwise mysterious beings. The troubled Ògbólú then assembled six of the hunters to reconnoitred this ‘ghost-laden’ Katunga. The hunters unmasked the troublous ‘ghosts’ who were then dragged down to Ìgbòho in chains.

African governments are powerful ghost-catchers. They are Duppy – ghost or spirit – conquerors. ‘Duppy’ is a word with African origin, used commonly in the Caribbean Island among Bahamans, Barbadians and Jamaicans. So, when the trio reggae music singers of Bob Marley, Neville O’Riley Livingston and Winston Hubert McIntosh of the Wailers fame majestically proclaimed themselves ‘Duppy Conqueror’ in their April, 1973 album, they meant that they were ghost-catchers. A huge percentage of Caribbean folklore is built around Duppies. Last week, Fubara, like one who was looking for Duppies, publicly proclaimed that his administration would probe the Nyesom Wike immediate past government as the jungle has matured. But, Ex-Ekiti State governor, Ayo Fayose, in the early days of the Fubara government, warned him against wandering into the Igbó Ìgbàlè because, in that forest of a thousand demons, he would find ghosts. Fayose must have known that governors leave Duppies behind while exiting Government House. At a public forum, Fayose warned Fubara not to attempt to “see more than what you are supposed to see” because the moment he does this, he “will begin to see spirits.”

If you see the recent boldness of Fubara, you will conclude that his hands have firmly gripped the sword (Èèkù Idà). Yoruba say that until the son’s hands have firmly gripped the sword, he must never ask who killed his father. “Any man who cocks a gun, shoots it,” Fubara said last week. If, for one reason or the other, the gun refuses to shoot, the man should know that he is a dead man. “So, if we have a way to bury that person, we will bury them!” he proclaimed with maniacal emphasis.

In an earlier piece I did on this crisis (As Fubara presses the nuclear button, December 17, 2023) I cited Dr Percy Amoury Talbot, an early 20th century British historian and colonial administrator’s unflattering description of Fubara’s stock, the Ijaw. In that highly authoritative 1926 book, Peoples of Southern Nigeria: A Sketch of their History, Ethnology, and Languages, with an Abstract of the 1921 Census, Talbot described the no-nonsense Ijaw race on page 333, as “Up the various creeks and branches, the waters are infested by a wild piratical set who live almost entirely in their canoes, and who subsist by plundering traders while on their way to the markets, often adding murder to their other crimes.” Did Wike not investigate the roots of his erstwhile Accountant General before making him governor? You can connect Talbot’s thesis with the maniacal semiotics of killing and burying in Fubara’s words last week.

Wole Soyinka, in his A dance of the forests, gave an inkling into the composition of spirits who live in Igbó Ìgbàlè. According to the Crier in the play, living in the forest are: “Rock devils, Earth imps, Tree demons, ghomids, dewilds, genie Incubi, succubi, windhorls, bits and halves and such Sons and subjects of Forest Father, and all That dwell in his domain.”

What is however not in doubt in Rivers is that war has begun. What you hear from both sides of wardom is akin to the shrill cry of the pied crow, a bird the Yoruba call Kannakánná. Though it feeds mostly on ants, the Kannakánná’s most cherished meal is the hatchling of a sparrow (eye ègà). The sparrow itself is a social, homely, very small, seed-eating bird with conical bills. It will fight its assailant to a standstill if provoked. That is why when a spat is in the offing between two giants, the Yoruba say that they smell a fight in the proportion of what happens when the crow attempts to beat the hatchling of a sparrow – “Kannakánná na omo ègà…” When you look carefully at the anger on both sides of the Rivers state conflict, you will conclude that the Kannakánná has indeed beaten the sparrow’s hatchling.

In the jungle, the language is deconstruction. Recently, on my favourite Animal Channel, I saw a lion devouring its dead child. That is the nature of the jungle. Not only does a cackle of hyenas eat the zebra’s flesh and bone, big snakes swallow one another and fishes swallow fishes. One artist famously known for using his pen to deconstruct is South African influential political cartoonist, Jonathan Shapiro, who goes by the pen name, Zapiro. Then leader of the African National Congress, (ANC) who was to later become South African president, Jacob Zuma, got deconstructed by Zapiro serially through series of cartoons. With his strokes, Zapiro depicted, humourized and escalated the implications of Zuma’s trials and tribulations. Two of such stood out. The first was a cartoon in the Mail & Guardian edition of June 28, 2012. Employing the satire form, Zapiro drew a Zuma who was presenting a speech, naked. Such leadership nakedness is a taboo in African tradition and also in contemporary ethics. Even in Zuma’s nakedness, he was oblivious. Zapiro says with his strokes that the naked Zuma was presenting untruth to the people. On the head of the Zuma figure drawn by Zapiro, was a shower tap.

To explain the shower tap on Zuma’s head, in my piece (Buhari’s serial abuse of Nigeria’s Lady Justice, March 6, 2022), I made elaborate use of the second of Zapiro’s cartoons where I tried an explanation. Recall that Zuma was, in late 2005, accused of raping an HIV-positive family friend. Swiveling from denial to qualified acceptance when arrested, Zuma later admitted that though he had consensual sex with the lady, he took his bath immediately. In South Africa, it is widely believed that taking bath immediately after a sexual encounter reduces the probability of infection with the virus. So in his Sunday Times cartoon of September 8, 2008, apparently taking his cue from the rape trial, Zapiro triggered a huge ball of fire with his cartoon named “Rape of Lady Justice”. He had Jacob Zuma, loosening his trousers’ zipper for a sexual romp. He had a shower tap placed on his head. An impish but salacious smile lit his face. Before him, flung on the bare floor, was a blindfolded lady and a lapel hung on her chest on which was inscribed, “Justice System”. The scale of justice had fallen down beside the Lady Justice.

Four hefty and menacing-looking men knelt by the Lady Justice’s side, holding down the “wench” whose skirt was half peeled. They were political surrogates of Zuma in the ANC which included Julius Malema, Gwede Mantashe, Blade Nzimande and Zwelinzima Vavi. Mantashe smilingly beckoned on Zuma to rape Justice by saying, “Go for it, boss!” That cartoon shot Zuma into a fit. He immediately sued Zapiro for the sum of £700,000.

Last Tuesday, Governor Fubara, like Zapiro, drew a naked portrait of Wike. Like Zapiro’s second cartoon, too, Wike ran a dictatorial government as Rivers governor that you can compare to the Zuma binge. There, the Lady Justice lay prostrate on the floor, with the Rivers Leviathan attempting to play Zuma. Wike was egged on in the binge by his own Malema, Mantashe, Nzimande and Vavi. He was the biblical Leviathan whose strut and gruff loomed large as the frightening image of the rule of might. In a revelation that amounted to a deconstruction of the image Wike built for himself in eight years, Fubara revealed that his administration inherited a huge debt burden on projects handled by the Wike government. So much for “Mr. Projects”!

To the Wike group, however, Fubara’s dog has eaten the entrails of the Pouch rat – Òkété. The Yoruba believe that the day the hunter’s dog eats the entrails of the Òkété, it will run mad. Many people believe that Wike may have been stung by the deadly venom of Lagos power vipers. Lagos politicians play deadly politics that is blind to kindred, friendship, blood or pleasant past affinity. From 1999, whoever was the Rivers state governor has always been a Big Masquerade in Nigerian political calculus. Even though the Lagos politico tries to dud memories of hurt, as Nawal El Saadawi wrote in her Children of Isis, to the politico, memory, like wine, grows mellow with time. Wike is a rebellious and petulant character who, in the long run, may be unreliable, a trait the Lagos people in the Villa must have factored into their analysis. He is at war with every Rivers leader since 1999. From his abandonment and betrayal of Peter Odili and wife; Rotimi Amaechi; Iyorchia Ayu and Uche Secondus, it should be obvious to any calculating person that Wike will ditch anybody once he has a full dosage of his favourite lovely drink. You don’t use such ants-infested faggot to cook a broth as huge as the 2027 presidential election. Yes, Wike was instrumental to the coming into office of the Lagos Boys but it may be time to begin to build a power base outside of him. The moment the bellicose character no longer has access to the Rivers till, he is like a castrated dog.

Now, in his speeches, Fubara has begun to interweave his government with the Tinubu self-acclaimed Renewed Hope. He refers to Tinubu as “our father” and Rivers’ recent developmental strides similar to Tinubu’s. He has acquired balls of one who has been to the Igbó Ìgbàlè. He is giving ultimatum to local government chairmen and the 27 lost cats of the Rivers parliament. In talking to IYC, Fubara urged the Ijaw to key into the ongoing liberation. “By the special grace of God, what they thought that they would have done to us while we were celebrating our one year in office, they are the ones sleeping with their two eyes open. It shows that we have the Ijaw blood,” he said.

Fubara critics who said he didn’t know how to use power must have found out otherwise. His dog is not alone and the Yoruba say that when a dog has backers, it can kill a troop of monkeys. The Lagos Boys seem to have worn on Fubara, that erstwhile child, the costume of a masquerade. He has become the Old One. It appears as though whoever beats Fubara now will pay with a heavy propitiation of a fat cat to the Olú Igbó, the king of the forest. What Wike does not know is that, even the person who costumed the Egúngún is subject to the masquerade’s whiplashes once the masquerade returns from the grove.

Wike’s silence may also be that he has understood that ancient counsel of my musical idol, Ayinla Omowura. Omowura counseled that it is not every forest that the herbalist forages for herbs, nor is every palm tree a resort for every palmwine tapper. Some forests are reptiles-laden while some palm trees have hung around them poisonous mambas. The Fubara forest and palm tree may, for now, be beyond the Wike herbalist and tapper’s ken. Could it be as a result of Fubara’s quest to seek the spirits inside Wike’s eight-year government or the Lagos Boys’ resolve do “business” with Fubara in the quest for 2027? When asked for comment on Rivers about two days ago, the Wike who, only a few days earlier, vowed to redress his mistakes apparently by sacking Fubara, told the press that he was too busy in Abuja to bother about Rivers politics. A wise elder runs away from the monstrous cow by stealth!

As it is now, Fubara could be the proverbial child of the Gaboon viper (Omo inú oká) whose birth is said to ultimately lead to the death of its mother. For Wike, an Edan may be on its way to dying. The Edan, a ritual tool, signifies deep cultural significance for the Ogboni fraternity. In this Yoruba fraternity, the Edan is a two-metal staff crafted from copper, brass, or bronze. It is believed that whoever sights the Edan will be mesmerized. To reinforce this myth, the Ogboni made the Edan immortal. So, they say that the Edan never dies (a kìí gbó ikú edan). If the suspected furtive romance between Fubara and the Lagos Landlord does not flounder, then it means that the spinal cord of Wike’s Edan may have been broken. But, can the Edan die?

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