A slide back into our dark past

January 23, 2012


I tried several titles so that I can avoid the word “dark” because of its connotation but each of what I’ve come up with would not do justice to the theme of this essay.   It’s a bit like that perennial Primary Six Examination question of my era:  “Why did Africa remain a Dark Continent for so long?”  I used to hate it; not the question which an average pupil then could answer if waken from sleep, but the connotation!  But ‘dark’ is the only word that would best describe ritual killing, and ‘dark’ is what I could not run away from in the title.

Considering the various treaties and agreements entered into by various segments of our society by the colonial masters who tried to save us from ourselves, so to say, it is amazing the tales of horror coming out of this country in the Twenty-First Century.  I will quote part of such typical treaty from the Revd. Johnson’s History of the Yorubas.

“Enactment for the Abolition of Human Sacrifice in the X Countries

“Whereas the practice of immolating human beings is cruel barbarous, futile and unjust in the eyes of all civilized nations and right-minded persons …the Governor of Lagos desires no other proof of gratitude of the X for what he has done for them than that they should abolish the abominable practice; …

  1. The practice of immolating human beings, whether at the festival of any deity or before, at, or after the funeral of any king or subject, or on any other public or private occasion, shall be and hereby is abolished for ever. …”
  2. … anyone in X country or for any subject of any X king to perform or participate in or aid or abet others in performing or participating in any human sacrifice. …”

And these treaties were really needed.  For instance, in 1898, 333 (three hundred and thirty-three) pots were discovered by one Captain Kneel and Mr. T.A.J. Ogunbiyi at the site of a church I will not name. Suffice to say that unnamed (probably one for each) number of twins saw their deaths in these vessels of death.  This fact is from an old Anglican Church almanac.

These are just two of the items in the various agreements entered into by the British with various segments of what today is known as Nigeria during the last decade of the 19th Century.  In the past couple of years, ritual killings have been on the rise and this rise coincides with increase in criminal offences of the “advance fee fraud” category.  We are trying out everything; we are going at “making it” with full court press, to use basketball language: may be I should try a new church; or, I think I should go to my regular church twice a month and twice to a miracle-giving church.  I can go to the mosque on Fridays and the church on Sundays; my friend has discovered a new Alfaat Ilorin and even though we are both Christians resident in Lagos, I will like to try him, who knows! Ona kan o wo ‘ja – many roads lead to a market!

I believe it’s in the attempts to try anything, except old-fashioned and simple ‘hard work’, if you’ll pardon the oxymoron, to achieve our goals that many become murderers without planning to.  Luckily for them, we live in a corrupt society where policemen probably expend more of its resources on checking vehicle documents than on apprehending criminals.  Meanwhile, there are two or three other agencies checking these same documents on city streets and highways for you-know-why – make money for these robbers in police, ‘yellow fever’, VIO, etcetera. uniforms.

Suicidal drivers abound on the roads and could drive recklessly right in front of these “law-enforcement” officers but nobody stops them.  An armed robber who has just shot a car owner dead and snatched the vehicle would pass through the dozens of “check points” between Ibadan and Lagos once they carry cash to disburse to their counterparts in police uniforms.  A “big man” or “big woman” (judgement based on car, dressing and such accoutrements) could be a ritualist carrying the head of a murdered citizen in the trunk of the car but would not get more than a wave from the police.

There have been reports in many states, including Ondo, of politicians kidnapping and killing people so that their babalawos can use these to guarantee them reelections!  Several months ago, I read in a tabloid how a top Kaduna politician was supposedly involved in the disappearance of female students who are supposedly used for ritual purposes. There was a bizarre one that was widely reported in the papers of a man who was reported missing but was later found dead and buried in an upright position at Ikorodu, a long distance from the Lagos Bar Beach that he had gone with his pastor who was found to have taken possession of the dead man’s car.  In various newspapers, the incidences of murders for ritual purposes are reported often and it is worrisome.

If, over a hundred years ago, our uneducated ancestors agreed that human sacrifice was abominable “because it was unjust, barbaric and futile,” why would or could we, educated and living in a world dominated by countries whose war dead are the closest to “human sacrifice” continue to pursue such futile practices?  How could having a murdered person work to any politician’s advantage at polls?  Who, now, would convince us of the futility, at least, since we seem unbothered by the barbaric nature of this slide into the past? The British colonizers had leverage that they used: helping end all the 19th Century fratricidal wars and asking for nothing (so the treaties claimed!) in return more than that we ended all human sacrifices, etcetera.  Who will save us from ourselves?

Education has not helped.  In fact, most illiterates who take to either of the two major religions here – Christianity and Islam – probably stick more to the teachings of their faiths than the educated.  Many drug couriers are languishing in jails overseas because they believed in the concoctions which would supposedly enable them walk through arrival halls in New York, London, Chicago, etc. unseen.  It’s like the proverbial “native” medicine for people going to war by babalawo:  if the man dies at war, no problem, and if he returns, no problem, either.  The babalawo wins either way!

Newspapers and television which in countries like this should pursue an active work of educating, have failed and are failing the people daily.  I get my local news from newspapers and do not watch television but I understand that in television plays, so-called home videos, the same theme that reinforces these futile practices runs through various production, while in the press especially the tabloids, people cannot escape it.  When a newspaper, tabloid or regular journalist – writes that “a lot of men have signed away their fortunes” due to what some women have purportedly used on them, they not only reinforce what many believe but may also be winning converts to these crude and bizarre trips which know no end.  A young woman who goes thebabalawo route today in search of acceptance by a man is a prime candidate for deeper involvements which may lead to more serious undertakings tomorrow.

What we need are ways to disabuse our children’s minds (because that’s where it starts) of all these futile and strange beliefs which are right at the center of the continuation of ways we promised to bury before the turn of the last century.  I know that what I am going to say will be met with laughter at my “naivety” because I’ve gotten it many times but an old man long dead once said that the supposed “money medicine” (ogun owo) that babalawos give is merely to harden one because if one is not a criminal, one would not kill somebody to become rich.  A person who has killed, he said, can do anything for money.  This, therefore, merely serves as baptism of fire for desperate people.  Even on his death bed, the old man would not be sold a dud!  On being told by a relation that his serious illness was a result of ata, (a much-dreaded Yoruba super evil medicine) he mustered enough strength to leave behind his strong Christian faith: “why didn’t ‘they’ do it when I was training my kids?  I have a successful 68-year old as well as many other

children …”

Wouldn’t it be great if only we can live, leaving all our worries in God’s hands afterhaving put in our very best efforts in all that comes our way in life instead of resorting to means that would deprive others of their lives!

The Comet on Sunday, October 2002



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