Are Yoruba obas demystified?

When your neighbour’s beard catches fire, start pouring water on your own – a Nigerian adage.

While growing up in the present-day South-west after my elder sister and old man tricked me out of Kumasi, my birthplace in Ghana, Abeokuta was my first destination. The ancient city housed the Baptist Women’s Teachers College where my sister was a student. She had visited Kumasi for a Christmas and end-of-year vacation.

As a kid, I loved anything that was extraordinary. Such things like skyscrapers fascinated me a lot. And my sister knew this. My old man wanted me out of Kumasi because I was devoting too much time to bushmeat hunting. For fear that I might end up as a local hunter, the duo had to paint a picture that would seduce me out of Kumasi.

One evening, they sat me down and fed me with the architectural grandeur of Abeokuta, a city of skyscrapers. I had my jaw on the floor as my sister thrilled me with the fact that I would live in a building so high that if I spat from the last floor in the morning, the saliva would not hit the ground until nightfall.

“Yanme!” I exclaimed in Twi, the dialect spoken in Ashante Region. Yanme means God.

For the rest of the days my sister spent in Kumasi, I made sure she never went out of my sight for fear I might be left behind. The duo must have been laughing behind me as I kept harassing my sister to cut short her vacation so I could get out of the town.

To shorten a long story, I was brought to Abeokuta only to discover that the high-rising buildings in the ancient city did not exceed two or three floors! I was so angry at my cunning sister that if I had access to a handgun, as a kid hunter, I would have committed a fratricide. The house I was quartered in was a bungalow that stood about two metres above the ground because of the topography.

I became paranoid and unfriendly to people around me. The thought of finding my way back to Ghana did not arise because I knew nowhere and had no money. I blamed myself for being too naïve and gullible to believe my sister’s spitting hogwash.

It was in Abeokuta that I learned a lot about all manner of supernatural powers the obas in Yoruba land were believed to possess. A Yoruba oba of yoretime was not just a common monarch. They were said to be so powerful and invincible… next to God. The kabiyesis or unquestionable ones are supposed to be feared and treated with reverence.

While in the ancient city, a story was told of the Orimolusi of Ijebu Igbo who was involved in a plane crash in the 60s while returning from an overseas trip. The monarch was said to have vanished from the aircraft while it nosedived into the sea. The monarch landed not in the comfort of his bedroom but on a high-rising iroko tree in a forest in his domain, from where he climbed down, and lived to tell his story. The charm he used is called “egbe”.

Yoruba obas were also expected to fortify themselves with such charms as “afeeri”, making them invisible in the face of danger.  Charms like “asaki ibon”, gun jammer, “ayeta”, bullet dodger, “okigbe”, anti-machete, etc., are expected to be part of the paraphernalia of a Yoruba oba.

So, how come that the two Yoruba monarchs in Ekiti state, Oba Samuel Olusola, the Onimojo of Imojo and Oba David Ogunsakin, the Elesun of Esun were picked out on the highway and wasted like mere mortals by criminal elements last Monday. The third king, Oba Adebayo Fatoba, the Alara of Ara in lkole Ekiti Local Government Area, escaped the regicide.

The trio were said to be returning to their domains after attending a security meeting only to be waylaid by the marauding criminals. Under normal circumstances, the slain obas were supposed to be armed to the hilt with all kinds of charms so that when the criminals confronted them, they were expected to do the following: vanish from the spot, order the attackers to face one another in a fight, command them to turn the guns against themselves or afflict them with blindness. But they could not do any of the above… except, maybe, Oba Fatuba who must have vanished from their sight.

It seems modern-day obas have lost their sense of protection or they have surrendered their protection to their personal guards or security personnel, who themselves are not spared by the criminals. Instances abound of military and police officers who have been kidnapped across the country and wasted by the ruthless bandits. 

The two monarchs were not the only ones to be wasted by criminal elements. In recent years, traditional rulers across the land have been waylaid and abducted for ransoms or killed by the daring gangsters. I woke up yesterday morning to receive the tragic news of the murder of the monarch of Koroland in Ekiti Local Government Area of Kwara state, Gen. Segun Aremu (retd), the Olukoro of Koro. After mowing down the monarch in cold blood on Thursday night in his palace, the kingslayers went away with his queen and one other woman.

At a time like this, my maternal uncle, Suberu, would have insisted that I returned home from my Abuja base to be fortified against the dangers stalking the entire land. But my caring uncle has since passed on. When he overheard me discussing with my mum who was his elder sister about proceeding to the eastern part of the country during one of my annual leaves in the mid-70s or thereabouts, he insisted he must prepare me for the perilous trip. This was because the region was swarming with all manner of post-civil war criminal activities.

My uncle requested me to delay my departure by three days. I reluctantly agreed. On the third day, he came up with three talismans, namely “ayeta”, “okigbe” and “oyin”. The third one, “oyin”, is a charm that would turn grains of sand into bees after wearing a talisman ring to scoop the sand. You can imagine the millions of bees that would emerge from a handful of sand.

 I set out on my trip wearing “okigbe” made like an armband, the type football captains wear in a match. The last time I wore an armband was when I was appointed as the captain of my primary school XI in Abeokuta. On the front passenger seat was a small carton of sand. I also wore the ring in my right index finger. In the face of danger, I would just scoop the sand and spray it in the direction of my attackers. And they would be stung to death. Simple!

Again to shorten a long story, my trip was a smooth ride to the east and back to Jos, my base. When I was inching my way out of the perceived danger zone with no opportunity of testing Uncle Suberu’s charms, I became angry and frustrated. In fact, I regretted not travelling along with a speaking trumpet with which to announce my presence on the highway, challenging the armed robbers and allied criminals to come out and dare me! Looking back now, I wonder whether the criminal elements had knowledge of the danger that I represented on the highway during my trip, hence they stayed off my way.

Necrohippoflagellation, an instance of flogging a dead horse, has become my pastime ever since I took up the challenge of canvassing for the establishment of state and local government police more than a decade ago. I will not give up in the belief that the dead horse can neigh back from the dead. Miracles do happen these days.

As it is said, we cannot be doing the same thing over and over again and expect a different result. This single patina of police system cannot secure a nation of over 200m people with a vast landmass. I am happy to note that the call for the decentralisation of the Nigeria Police Force is gaining more traction in recent times. I trust the Federal Government and the National Assembly will respond to the calls without any further delay.

As it is today, is there anyone out there who can confidently pound their chests at sunrise and declare they would sight sunset? Such declarants should lift up their fingers… no one!