At first sight, you would think you had seen Mammy Water, that fish-god image created by Victor Uwaifo, famous Joromi singer, Nigerian musician, sculptor and university lecturer.
Should you run or obey Uwaifo? In Guitar Boy, Uwaifo sang: “If you see Mami water ohh,/If you see Mami Water ohh,/Never Never you run away,/Ehh, Ehh,/Never run away with your wife ohh.”
Or better still, you could think you were watching a dramatized version of Wole Soyinka’s The Trials of Brother Jero. Jero is a satiric comedy that parodies Nigerian religionists’ hypocrisy and cunning, which they garnish with seasonings of fraud and charlatanism. First produced at the Mellanby Hall of the then University College of Ibadan’s dining room in April 1960, Jero was cast at the Lagos Bar Beach, with a self-labeled prophet protagonist named Jero, a master deceptor and manipulator. He deployed the beach church, without the usual brick and mortar, as an avenue to eat other men’s wives’ marital cuisine, among other fleshly advantages. To Jero, prophethood was commerce, even as he exploited the cravings for power, social status, and wealth of his client congregants.
A viral video, with almost the same dosage as Jero’s, colonized the social media recently. From afar, it smelled of the same scent of the Jero hypocrisy and charlatanism. It had its own Soyinka play’s Chume and Amope, although with a different flavor. A protagonist cast self in the image of Jero, this time a woman. She sat inside the river, most likely the Lagos bar beach too, holding hands with four other men. The most identifiable of the lot was the voluble, stormy petrel of southwest politics and former governor of Ekiti State, Ayodele Fayose. These bar beach enchanters were chanting in Yoruba, “Ayodele Peter Fayose, waa ri ogo re lo (you will recover and make use of your glory…).” What glory were they talking about? At a point, the woman Jero commanded the beach church congregants to hold their heads and chant, still, in Yoruba, “my head, you will not goad me into calamity…” How can anyone reconcile a Fayose, embroiled in all those allegations of theft by the state and another allegation of acting as a mole for the Lagos godfather, even while in the Peoples Democratic Party, (PDP) being in a place of sobriety like the church?
If you didn’t know, such level of spiritual enchantment, whether from sorcerers, babalawo, dibia, marabouts, or occult prophets, brought to limelight, either by default or willingly by the Fayose beach prayers, is a miniature variant of what your high and mighty engage in. It is the regular broth that feeds Nigerian politics and government, a factor which, if a student of politics’ research methodology does not capture appropriately, they will only be pursuing a fatal academic mirage. How can you reconcile seeing a man who administered a Nigerian state for good eight years, a statesman by ascription – though not likely in conduct – descending into such abyss of what you may think is the province of the unlettered and bus conductors? While many ‘big men’ engage in similar rituals as Fayose did by the beach in that video, what could have propelled him into releasing it for the world to watch? Is watching the video part of the requirements of the ritual, to ensure that the world is conscripted into his spiritual agenda?
What is the place of occultism, black magic, Christianity, Islam, and syncretism, in Nigerian politics, government, and governance? In the first place, the received Western and Arabian religions predominant in Nigeria today met Africa with its full religions and practices. Chief among these are animism and the deification of ancestors. In animistic beliefs, objects, creatures and places possessed distinct spiritual essences. Plants, rivers, animals, human handiworks like wood carvings, weather, astrology, etc, were personified, made to possess the animated existence and life of a living being. In other words, Africans created their gods in their own image and worshipped, most times, their own creations. Thus, when the west invaded Africa, armed with Quran and Bible in one hand and commerce in another, they met people who had centuries-old religious practices that had meandered into their bloodstreams and DNA. Over a century after this attempt to wipe away the culture and religion of Africa however, Africans still go back to their animism to explain their existence, their politics, economy, and sundry life issues. It is why a pastor will be found burying a human being or other fetish things in the periphery of his church.
African politics is replete with this. At a conservative estimate, ninety per cent of people who go into political offices wangle their ways through by exploring the wands of the metaphysics of African religion.
During the draconian rule of General Sani Abacha, marabouts were allegedly imported from Senegal and other North African countries to garnish the fortresses of Aso Rock with a pot-pourri of Arabian and traditional African sacrifices. Hundreds of cows were said to have been buried, not only on the peripheral outposts of Abuja, the Federal Capital, but in the surroundings of the Villa. That practice is said to subsist, even till today. No wonder ace columnist, Reuben Abati, claimed that there exist demons patrolling the outposts of the presidential Villa.
If Nigerians know the mounds of rituals and sacraments that go into pre-election processes, they will wonder whether they or African gods and goddesses indeed elect their so-called representatives into offices. Many of the governors dare not remove their dresses in public, lest the multifarious incisions and occult scarifications etched on their skins become public knowledge. A First Lady was alleged to have disappeared into the sea for two weeks to ensure the re-election of her husband while a live cow was once alleged to have been brought into the living room of an aspirant, preparatory to the election. He later became governor.
In Yorubaland, roads that lead to political aspirants’ houses are decorated with corns and millets sacrifices called awo’ro (drawer of crowds). Awo’ro rituals are meant to invite a multitude of electors to the homes of these politicians. An ex-governor, during the period of electioneering, was alleged to have contracted some major sachet water companies to help him mix potions inside the water consumed by the underclass of his state. The aim was to trap electors to fall in love with him. At election time, fetish sacrifices adorned in palm oil litter road intersections where three footpaths meet, called oritameta. Seasons of politics are moments when dibia, babalawo and marabouts make their fortunes from these politicians. Christian and Moslem syncretists – Pastors and Imams – who use an admixture of western and Arabian liturgies and traditional African prescriptions also compete for space, most times with rehearsed fraudulent prescriptions for these aspirants.
I was in the studio of Ibadan-based Splash FM last week, under the intellectual broadcasting direction of ace broadcaster, Edmund Obilo, and this topic engaged interventions. This selfsame garrulous Fayose, in another viral video clip, alleged that governors come under the spell of some persons who hold them captive. Does metaphysics occupy space in Nigerian politics?
To be fair, recourse to extra-empirical indices as a buoy for political offices and its sustenance isn’t strictly African. Chief of Staff to President Ronald Reagan of America, Donald Regan, in a 1988 book he authored, revealed secrets of his presidency and his wife, Nancy’s penchant to travel the Fayose unempirical road. Regan had been ousted from office during the Iran-Contra scandal. In the book, entitled For The Record, which he called “the most closely guarded domestic secret of the Reagan White House,” Regan said: “Virtually every major move and decision the Reagans made during my time as White House Chief of Staff was cleared in advance with a woman in San Francisco who drew up horoscopes to make certain that the planets were in a favorable alignment for the enterprise.” This astrologer, who was later discovered to be Joan Quigley, decided the major decisions of Reagan and his wife Nancy, throughout their presidency. Quegley, in her 1990 book entitled What Does Joan Say?:My Seven Years As White House Astrologer to Nancy and Ronald Reagan, confirmed this, stating that: “I was responsible for timing all press conferences, most speeches, the State of the Union addresses, the takeoffs and landings of Air Force One. I picked the time of Ronald Reagan’s debate with (Jimmy) Carter and the two debates with Walter Mondale; all extended trips abroad as well as the shorter trips and one-day excursions.” The effectiveness of astrology in controlled studies has not been ascertained. This has prompted submissions that astrology possesses no scientific validity, thus falling under the same purview with pseudoscience like the engagements of marabouts, babalawo, Fayose’s Jero parody by the beachside and their allies. However, many critical decisions of state in Nigeria are said to be taken at the prodding and behest of spiritual godfathers, be they theologians, occult leaders, and others. Those who seek favours from governors and key government officials are also said to approach officers of state robed in amulets and phials.
Is religious syncretism in Nigeria’s public space, especially by politicians, the manifestation of the greed of worship, unbelief in western and Arabian religions, or going back to the roots? Do Nigerians indeed vote in their politicians or are aided to do so by juju? If elected or appointed public officials do not own decisions they take wholesale and are forced to do so by juju, why then do we hold them responsible for their failures? Should we then hold jazz (sorcerers, babalawo, dibia, marabouts or occultic prophets) responsible for the infiltration of ‘religious’ characters like Fayose as leaders of Nigeria, judging by how they bring low-mindedness into the office and thus drag all of us, plus the fine art of governance, back to the first century AD?
Dr. Festus Adedayo is a popular Ibadan-based columnist