Insecurity

Where Are Yoruba’s Soldier Ants?

By Suyi Ayodele 

THERE was a man called Ofinaboorun. That is a deep Ekiti name. Meanings are lost in interpretations. So, you may not get the real meaning of the name here. But this interpretation should be enough. Ofinaboorun simply means he who spreads across the road like soldier ants. The legend surrounding the old man indicates that Ofinaboorun was not his real name. It was an appellation, which he got because of what he did to protect his community from bandits from a neighbouring community. Here is what he did. Information filtered in that the warring community was about to attack Ofinaboorun’s town. The elders were tired of the ceaseless attacks from their neighbour. They decided to take action this time around. All elders in the town were summoned to a meeting held in the deep of the night. The discussion was in hushed tones. Ofinaboorun volunteered to help out. He told the elders in attendance to tell their quarters not to venture out on the day of the attack; no alarm should also be raised. That was strange; but the council, nevertheless, agreed. The elders knew that elders speak more in their silence than with their mouths.

The day came. The attacking soldiers came in their huge number. They entered Ofinaboorun’s town without any resistance. The ‘wise’ ones among the bandits knew something was waiting for them. Still water runs deep. A few of them retreated. The foolish ones surged forward; happy that they were not resisted. Then something happened. At a particular spot, there were giant soldier ants across the footpath. The invading soldiers started jumping over the ants. That was exactly what Ofinaboorun needed. As many men that jumped over the giant ants had their spinal cords broken. The pain was excruciating. By the time the bandits realised what was happening, it was too late. Those who were yet to be affected turned back. But they discovered that the ants had also crossed the road behind them. The party scattered. Many entered the bush in different directions. Those who survived went home with tales of woes. It was the last time in history that any attempt was made to attack Ofinaboorun’s town. At the end of the expedition, corpses of the invading bandits were picked in their scores. Another council of elders meeting was summoned. Ofinaboorun was asked why he waited that long before he responded with his supernatural power. He replied to the elders that a child is never scolded for spilling palm oil from the pot, but he is severely beaten the day he mistakenly pours water away. Do we still have such supernatural powers in Yorubaland? I will answer with yet another story.

A man was once employed as a security guard years ago, in a business premises. He was a hunter; one of the best of his era. Beyond his reputation in the game hunting business, he was equally reputed to be one of the most dexterous Ijala (hunters’ poetry) chanters of his epoch. He was both respected and feared. Now, he had a peculiar way of securing the facilities he was employed to guard. He would come while the business was about to close. When everyone had left the premises, he would secure the place the way he understood, and thereafter would depart to handle his hunting business. Before daybreak, he would have returned to his place of assignment and left when the workers resumed. There was no incident of theft, burglary or armed robbery. Not even the sawdust was stolen. That should satisfy the owner of the business. But that was not to be. The owner was told that his night guard was not sleeping on the premises. He confronted the hunter-guard on this. The hunter’s response was not just haughty, it was a challenge. A gentleman, he simply asked his employer thus: “Why are you bothered about if I sleep here or not? Is anything missing? Or, you want to find out for yourself?”. He thereafter climbed his bicycle and rode off. He did not wait for a response. ‘Rude man’!

Miffed by the audacity of the hunter, the big man decided to find out for himself. So, one night, the big man left his house and headed for the premises. On getting to the guard house, he only saw a lantern with a dim widget. “So, it is true that this man does not sleep here”, he must have told himself. He decided to have evidence. He went for the lantern, picked it, and turned to leave. That was the last he remembered. He wandered in the premises throughout the night. And it was not a friendly night. The rain from mother earth sent for its sibling in heaven. The big man was beaten silly by the torrents. He was in this position till daybreak. The first set of workers who arrived saw him and knew that something was wrong. They looked around for the guard and they couldn’t find him. An elderly man among them knew what had happened. Emissaries were sent to the hunter’s house. They were told that the man had returned from his guard duty and had gone to his farm. To the farm the emissaries headed. After much pleading, the hunter agreed to follow them. On arrival at the business premises, he simply collected his lantern from the big man, who instantly came back to his senses. He was in a pitiable situation. He begged and doubled the salary of the guard. The hunter would have nothing to do with the job anymore. End of story. Needless to say, here that after the hunter quit that job, thieves made the place their second home! Do we still have such powers?

The Ooni of Ife, Oba Adeyeye Ogunwusi, is the spiritual head of the Yoruba race. He sits on the throne of Oduduwa, where he oversees the spiritual affairs of the entire Kaaro Oojire. If nobody else should know, the Ooni should know that there is a siege on the entire Yoruba race. He is worried like everyone else. I am particularly worried, too. Nowhere appears safe in the land. The safest haven should be the palaces in the land, with the occupants of the various thrones the most secured and protected. However, recent developments have shown that even obas are as endangered as an average commoner, if not more. As a matter of fact, most commoners are more fortified than their obas. Obas are kidnapped like commoners and many of them have been felled by the bullets from the smoking guns of bandits and killer-herdsmen. Ooni became worried. Like Ofinaboorun, the Yoruba foremost oba decided that something must be done. Oba Ogunwusi (may the king live long), knows that a day will come when he will meet his predecessors. He knows that those before him would ask him what he did when the race committed into his hands was being depleted by felons. He acted last Friday, March 1, 2024. He called for a meeting, tagged “Yoruba Security Summit”.

Ooni was unmistakable in his speech at the summit. Looking straight into the eyes of the other obas present, the one whose praise name is Jigbinni bi ate akun; (he who is set like the wares of beads) told the traditional rulers to protect their territories with supernatural powers. Olewa ‘lowo (he who is handsome and rich), did not stop there. Matter-of-factly, he asked that: “Any Oba who is disinterested in Yoruba culture and custom should abdicate his throne for anyone who is deeply versed and interested in Yoruba traditions.” The biggest Yoruba obas were in attendance. The Deji of Akure, Oba Aladetoyinbo Ogunlade Aladelusi, was in attendance. Akarigbo of Remo, Oba Babatunde Adewale Ajayi, and the Ajero of Ijero, Oba Joseph Adewole, were also seated. Ooni’s message was too direct to be ignored. What the Arole Oduduwa did not say is that it is a shame that a Yoruba oba would be slaughtered like a chicken by bandits. I cannot agree less with the Ooni on this matter. The Summit issued a communique after the meeting to wit: “…The Yoruba, especially traditional rulers, should make recourse to their natural resources, including natural powers, to combat banditry and kidnapping… That Yoruba Obas should not jettison traditional values. The security summit calls on Yoruba traditional rulers to return to the pristine Yoruba traditional, spiritual and cultural values. At all times, the traditional rulers should recognize that, in spite of whatever nature of religion they practice, they must recognize that the stool they preside over is traditional.”

For me, the issue of religion is at the crux of the matter. No matter how one feels about it, there is no correlation between our African Traditional Religion (ATR), which is the foundation of every throne, and the new religions (Christianity and Islam). Obas don’t have any business being a pastor or an Imam. No oba is installed in a mosque or a church. There is no place for anointing oil, or Quranic verses in traditional matters. It is a grave abnormality to wear the crown over the cassock. They are two different things. Obas pour libations; pastors and Imams don’t. Obas consult Ifa which is forbidden for church goers. It is either you are an oba in the real sense of it or you are a fire-spitting pastor. The combination of the two strange bedfellows is at the base of the problems. Ogunda ‘Fu (Ogunda Ofun), is one of the principal Odu Ifa (Ifa Corpus). It speaks to what is called: Ogbe m’ohun fo lo’hun (give unto the owner what belongs to him). The Holy Book, speaks of: “Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s; and unto God the things that are God’s” (Matthew 22:21). Traditional thrones belong to African tradition. The western world which brought Christianity to Africa recognises this. The British crown their kings, using the ancient throne kept in Edinburgh. They perform rituals; they pour libations. It is an abomination for an oba to remove his cap in any church service. In courts, kings are allowed to wear their caps. It is wrong for any oba, no matter how small his community is, to kneel down before a pastor, priest or imam! The alales are provoked whenever obas gather in a crusade to deride Opele, and call orisas impotent. There is nothing like ‘modernity’ in traditional matters. Ogun will not substitute the blood of a dog for a bottle of anointing oil in the name of Christianity. That would amount to feeding the deity with the forbidden meal, the same way it is wrong to ask a pastor to eat the ram sacrificed to Sango!

If you ask me, I would say that Ooni’s message should go beyond asking “Any Oba who is disinterested in Yoruba culture and custom should abdicate his throne for anyone who is deeply versed and interested in Yoruba traditions.” No! It should include asking obas who fail to sustain the dignity and sacredness of the thrones and palaces handed over to them to quit! The communities involved should devise the traditional means of getting those ‘modern-day’ obas off the thrones. Each community should find a way of ensuring that nobody ascends the throne without passing through the rigours of traditions. Our case has gotten to that level. Enough of this disgrace! When an Oba is slaughtered like a ram, it is a collective shame on his subjects. The idea of a born-again-oba is an anathema to our culture. This is why it is possible for bullets to penetrate the bodies of our Odidimodes. How do we tell our children the scandalous story of Oloris divorcing our obas? When an Olori packs her bag and baggage and leaves the palace, who marries her thereafter? Who has the audacity to climb such an esoteric woman? How did Orunmila respond when his wife, Oro, engaged in adulterous relationships with Ondararo, Ongoosun and Oluukoolo? Did they live to tell the story? This is our culture; this is our tradition. Enough of bleaching, efulefu obas on the thrones of Oduduwa. We must not only secure our communities, using supernatural powers, our first duty is to preserve the sacredness of our thrones and palaces so that rats can squeak like rats, and birds can warble like birds. When the palace becomes porous, the town is in danger. The “supernatural powers” are there; let us use them!

(Published in the Nigerian Tribune on Tuesday, March 5, 2024)

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