THERE is no ‘light’. There is no fuel. There is no water. Workers are on strike because states can’t afford to pay them. So, the workers pretend to work and their governors pretend to pay them. Going to Abuja has become painful trips because the commissioners of finance come back with half empty begging bowls. The governors are exasperated. The leaders are bewildered. The people are frustrated.
How did we get here? How did we, children of a rich father, descendants of wealthy ancestors end up begging by the road side? How did we become the butt of jokes of one clown called Donald Trump? How did we, who once rode on thoroughbred horses, become shoeless?
We took a wrong turn in the road and we have refused or failed to retrace our steps. Our land is still flowing with milk and honey, but we are used to the ones we import from everywhere, from Lebanon to Malaysia. We are still strong men and women but we now deploy our energies in the wrong direction. We want to plant onion and harvest cocoa. We have gone soft in the head. We are speaking English and propounding theories. We have forgotten that we are not allowed to continue doing the same wrong things and expect new things. We are in trouble, more trouble than we had in 2015. We are steadily moving down the slope . the worst part of this journey is that nobody is willing to accept that he is wrong. We are all blaming everybody, everything. But we, you and I and the people we voted for are wrong. We missed the right turn in the road together. That is why we are suffering together. Corporate iniquity, corporate punishment.
I wrote about Agbeko, the village that was once prosperous but because its people, like Nigerians, took too many things for granted. I reproduce it again today to remind us of where we once were and where we are now and what may happen to us if we do not stop this drunken tumbling down the road to nowhere.
The village of Agbeko was once a very prosperous one. It had great farmlands and great farmers. The wildlife made the hunters richer than those in the neighbouring communities. In fact, farmers and hunters from other villages preferred to live and toil in Agbeko because there you were sure you would not labour in vain. A lot of non-indigenes, male and female, old and young flourished in the land. The people worked hard and played hard. There was always one party or the other. If someone was not giving out a daughter in marriage, he was taking a third or fourth wife. If the king was not celebrating the ancestors’ day, he was installing a new chief. The palm wine joints were always full.
The evening market was always full of young men and women stealing moments of love and lust under the cover of the night. There was security. There was no reason to be a thief because everybody was gainfully employed or had inherited more farmland than he knew what to do with. Life was good in Agbeko. However, the greatest attraction to Agbeko was their acres and acres of clay land. There was this part of the village, called Isale Agbeko where all you needed to get clay was scratch the ground. That was Southern Agbeko, was owned by seven families. There they had their ancestral shrines and family compounds. It was a portion close to the river where the great fishermen of Agbeko also made good living. Because of their pre occupation with farming and hunting, the people did not pay much attention to this clay land. Everybody was doing well anyway, so why create extra stress by finding out what the clay could bring. As the years passed, the throne also passed from one king to the other.
Some of the ‘Alagbeko’ ( for that was the title of the traditional ruler)were great men, especially the early ones. Some were weak and many were downright wicked and greedy. And because a snake can only give birth to a long thing, some of the princes were meaner than their fathers. The village had enjoyed prosperity for decades and so the wear and tear of bad kings and thoughtless governance was not noticed on time. The consequences and repercussions of years of squander and lack of foresight steadily crept on this great village.
Because of the reputation of Agbeko as a land flowing with milk and honey, more non-natives flooded the village. Then one day, a group of young men discovered the clay in Isale Agbeko and its great potentials. They told the king. The king told the chiefs and wealth, like nobody had ever seen berthed in Agbeko. Farmers, fishermen, hunters, traders all abandoned their first love and ‘married’ the clay. Everybody went on orgies of digging. Indigenes, non-indigenes, everybody went clay-crazy. The money was too good to be true, too much to be ignored. In no time, Isale Agbeko became a big pit. Ancestral homesteads caved in. Shrines ended up in the clay pits.
The rivers became muddied and unsuitable for anything. The chiefs became rich and power-drunk. They took over the wives of the poor. They behaved like little gods and treated the less privileged like dogs. The people of Isale Agbeko protested the misfortune their clay had brought upon them. They asked that they be allowed to manage the clay and decide who to sell to but because the clay merchants had ‘settled’ the palace chiefs, they were told that ‘the land belonged to the king’. Some family heads were thrown into the palace dungeons. Some were beheaded and sacrificed to Ogun, the god of iron. Some were exiled and their homesteads taken over.
Then came a new king called Daleko. He must be the meanest creature since the biblical King Herod. Oba Daleko was satanically greedy. His children were worse. He surrounded himself with fetish chiefs. The palace guards bullied the villagers. Nobody had access to the king or justice of any kind. This once peaceful and prosperous community became one tension-soaked village. Everybody was unhappy . Suddenly there was a yawning gap between the rulers and the ruled, the haves and have-nots.
One evening as the prince was riding on his horse through the village, seeking a belle to devour, he met this middle-aged man dressed in an all-white outfit. The man greeted the prince and walked on. Abomination! He was supposed to kneel, put his face on the ground until the prince and his guards were gone out of sight. ‘What is your name?’ ‘Who is your father in this village’? ‘Did you want to step on the prince’s toes, you senseless poverty-stricken nonentity?’ A stunned Oronla was kicked and slapped all the way to the palace. He was summarily sentenced to one year in the dungeon. Oronla asked to be allowed to say something before they hauled him to jail. He said he was a messenger of the gods and he had specific instructions to tell Oba Daleko that if he did not return to the path of justice, fairness and good governance, Agbeko would go extinct. The tragedy, Oronla told his incredulous audience, would not happen in one day but unless the king and his men returned to the peaceful way of the ancestors, Agbeko would become just a name in history, part of a folklore on how not to govern a people.
When the Oba and his chiefs eventually recovered from the shock of the audacious message of the bleeding itinerant soothsayer, there was commotion. ‘Our envious neighbours sent him to come and poison us.’ ‘Where did you see our ancestors, did you go to the land of the dead?’ ‘Take him away and let him serve his sentence.’ A few of the chiefs who wanted the message given a second thought were shouted down. Oba Daleko called the house to order and with all the royal anger he could muster sentenced Oronla to death for daring to ‘çurse’ his kingdom. Oronla was beheaded and his blood poured in the Esu pit in the palace. Nobody told the rulers of Agbeko that it is not the day you insult the iroko tree that it punishes you. Oba Daleko and his men forgot that killing the messenger does not destroy the message. The death of Oronla was the beginning of the end of Agbeko. The very following day, the evening market was invaded by armed youths who shot and killed as many people as they could manage before they disappeared into the night. Nobody went to evening market after that day. The people woke up one morning to find out that the daily morning market had been razed in the night. In broad daylight, rampaging youths burnt down every shrine in the village. Then the two sons of the Balogun (Chief of Army Staff kind of position) were kidnapped, killed and dumped in the village square.
The day one of the Oloris (queen) was raped at dusk was the day the king moved his family to a neighbouring town. If the royal family was not safe in the village, who was safe? That was the final beginning of the end. Slowly, but steadily, Agbeko people left in twos and threes, at dawn, at dusk. The chiefs left in the night. Oba Daleko ‘opened the calabash’. That is a Yoruba phrase for suicide. And Agbeko became history. May the ancestors not turn their backs on us.