Akure. Akun re; the bead necklace snapped – two Yoruba words compressed into one for the ease of calling. There is this popular story – from our oral tradition – about the way our town got its name; and it had to do with someone’s treasured bead necklace snapping after a long journey got a few travellers thinking of settling.
I know there is a world beyond the things we can see with our physical eyes. I knew that; even before my days in secondary school when I had to look through the microscope during our biology class, to see some rope-like, disc-like things. I know many real things you would not even see under microscopes. Only a half-baked Yoruba son or daughter would deny the reality of charms, myths and spirits.
I was born and raised in a place that got its name from the snapping of a bead necklace. So I will gladly tell you about some men who visited me last night. These men parked a white van near my gate just when I switched on the streetlights beside the fence.
Two men with chubby cheeks that would easily remind one of well-fed bulldogs – their stomachs like a pregnant woman’s – came out from the pick-up van and walked up to me. I had been waiting near the gate as soon as I sensed that they were looking for a way to get in. I had thought they were lost and wanted to get their directions right, so I opened the gate to attend to them, ready to help.
The tallest of them, who was also bald, said his greeting and offered me a hand. Did I mention the brown envelope with one of them? Yes, one of them had a brown envelope. They were nice, but I could also see that they had expected a good reception. They must have done it before; they must have been doing it.
I wanted to know who they were and where they had come from. Governor’s office or government house; I couldn’t be sure, but they mentioned it imperiously. The bald one mentioned it with the confidence of one dangling a bone before a hungry dog.
Apparently, my political views as expressed in the newspapers, on the radio, and on the television, have been making some so-called political heavyweights uncomfortable.
His Excellency Chief Jide Oshokomole would contest in the next governorship election, so it had been his plan to flag off his campaign this week in Akure. My visitors were of the opinion that I am not favourably disposed to governor’s second term bid.
I am not against anybody’s candidature, I made that clear to them and got nods and smiles. If the police and the anticorruption agencies feel the chief is qualified for a second term, then I have no problem with that. What has my disposition got to do with his campaign?
What I won’t do is keep quiet about the fact that the 2 billion naira meant for the dualisation of Akure ring road had been so poorly spent that the money seemed to have made that vital long stretch far more deplorable than it had been. I will talk about it every opportunity I have! I can’t say that enough.
After three years of shitty government and the remaining few months of not much to hope for, why take your luck too far by asking me to keep quiet when I have the power to speak the truth? Do these people know the economic cost of bad governance? That road messes up people’s cars!
The visitors bored me for about twenty minutes with their attempts to market their rotten meat. I must have stifled yawns like a dozen times, so I had to wipe my eyes again and again. After so much words that seemed like an effort to brighten the prospects of a terminally ill girl for years of happy marriage, one of the visitors offered me the brown envelope and told me – with a curious twinkle in his eyes – of the bags of rice and four live turkeys in the van outside. All for me.
I had to tell them – as nicely as I could under the circumstances – to leave my compound before I lose my temper; and if I do I would gladly let the dog loose on them.
I didn’t even have a dog. There was no dog in the compound; the ones I see around would rather find something to eat in the refuse dumps than bark or bite. I am not afraid of dogs; I just fear being bitten by a rabid dog. I had no dogs to set loose on these men even though it sounded good to my own ears, even though saying it made me feel good.
What would I do with two bags of rice? I’m talking about those large jute bags used for cocoa exports. Their white Toyota van – without a plate number and without any government labels – had sagged under the weight of the unexpected gifts.
I have been using my Peugeot 504 for twelve years. Can you imagine a car I didn’t even get as new on these pothole-riddled roads for twelve years? Twice in the past three days, I have had to push it to move. I would have loved to change it, instead of spending money that would not be enough for any long-term solution.
The car is too old. Newness. That is the solution. My need for money is obvious. However, it is not a desperate need I would surrender my dignity to. It would never lead me to the pathetic end of reducing me to an impotent voice in my own town. It was my village when it was a village, and it would keep growing in influence. Very soon, this place will be called a city without hesitation. Would I not be a fool to sell my voice and my vote for money in this city?
How far would I go with Chief’s bribe? If his Excellency wants to bribe me why did he not come here himself? Why send those well-fed clowns? There are multinationals, shady politicians, and entrepreneurs that would easily beat me in the money thing. The power of money is easy to get; but the power of a good reputation, a good name, you can never get that without paying a price greater than money. You can’t get a good name suddenly. It is built over time.
I was the one who convinced people in my neighbourhood to vote for the gubernatorial candidate endorsed by the former governor. I didn’t do that by giving them one thousand naira notes and Paraga and canned fish.
My father was not a chief in his days. He was just an honest man in Arakale. His Arakale was the Arakale of the years before Akure became the state capital. He had a cocoa farm in Oba Ile, he worked hard with his wives – about a dozen of them – and he was known as a man of truth. He was once booked for a chieftaincy title by the Akure Royal Family; he rejected it because he saw himself as a leader among farmers, even without the title. He didn’t need it. My father handed over a good name to me. I intend to keep it that way.
I am not a politician. Why would I oppose Chief Oshokomole’s second term bid if he had been a superb governor? Our people say Ko sewu legberun eko, afi aidun obe. There is no danger in a thousand eko, except a bland soup.
When you mention Akure as a lover of language – I’m talking about the language of the people of this ancient town – you would be tempted to follow it up with the slogan the indigenes love: Akure, ‘The son that puts down the sword and wins with the war of words.’
These guys – the long dead founding fathers – came up with this slogan long before the era of Twitter and Facebook and blogs and all the 21st century machinery of blackmail.
I was born here. I don’t have to tell you the precise date; that is personal. Let’s just say I was born around that time when Nigerian politicians were proudly showing themselves as terrible governors and shamelessly rolling from one failure to the other until a military man with a face like the sculpture of an ever-frowning man took over with a promise to fight corruption.
This town was boiling when I was born. Riots, burning cars, burning houses, black smoke rising, charred bodies on the streets as if some cruel grand being above humanity had decided to make the city his barbecue stand. That had to do with politicians with their ‘do or die’ politics.
I know how desperate our governor is to win another term. Not because of his desire for selfless service; not because of a realistic plan to salvage the crumbling economy of the state; definitely not because of a fresh vision to do things differently; he wants to continue the same process of corrupt enrichment that had seen two billion meant for road rehabilitation gone down the drain!
When I woke up this morning, I said my prayers, did a hundred push-ups, and opened the front door of my flat to go out for some fresh air. That was when I saw this black pot beside the gate; a sight that got my heart beating like a criminal facing a dozen well-armed police officers. Whoever had brought the pot must have jumped over the fence. It was a pot of eko, and chicken head, and sprinkles of palm oil, and three boiled eggs. When you take the contents of the pot as a whole, it is what the Yorubas called ebo. I have seen something like this a hundred times in this town. Those who believe in this sort of thing would place them at junctions and roundabouts.
If you have lived in Yorubaland for long enough, you will know about charms; you would be aware of potent incantations. I am not a child that would see a babalawo fetish and call it vegetable.
Whenever the Deji – that is the title of our king – issues a stay-at-home advisory, – more like an order but those who think too much of their years of schooling would take it as an advisory – I would stay at home, I would avoid the places that should be avoided. The bible says to give unto Caesar what is Caesar’s.
I’ve always taken the Deji as my Caesar, so I’ve never had any reason to be scared of rituals and fetishes. Our wise king has not said anything about the governor’s desperate push for a second term, which is a sagacious approach to things. The gods of the land would always stand on the side of the bitter truth, even though some well-dressed rascals and thugs in agbada seem to have elevated money to the status of a god.
One thing is clear as far as I am concerned: even if I wake up daily to the sight of ebo, even if the pot of sacrifice becomes a daily sight beside my gate, I will never give up my right to freedom of speech.
I can never fear ebo in Akure Oloyemekun.
Our people say the mouth is Olubobotiribo, the king of ebos. The main reason for the title is the fact that we offer daily sacrifices to the mouth through which we feed the body, which is the house of the soul and the habitation of the human spirit. My sacrifice to the king of ebos – the Olubobotiribo – would never be from the filthy hands of Chief Oshokomole. Even if his men come with truckloads of food that could sustain me for a hundred years, I would still tell him to his face that his ways are far from acceptable among Omoluabis.
My mouth will not cause my death in this town. I know of sacrifices greater than the manipulative efforts of dodgy men. The words from my mouth will not be my death sentence in Akure, because I speak the truth in the land where the bead necklace snapped in the beginning.