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Southwest’s forests of a thousand demons

by Our Reporter
Festus Adedayo
From my personal ranking of their tragic imports, three events which occurred in the last week constitute leading narratives of where we are today. They are, one, the siege laid to Southwest Nigeria’s Lagos-Ibadan expressway by kidnappers and the suicidal plunge to death of an operative of Nigeria’s secret police, known as the Department of State Services (DSS), into the Lagos lagoon. The third was a video clip posted by Tolu Ogunlesi, Special Assistant to President Muhammadu Buhari on Digital and New Media, in a Twitter post where details of what Buhari discussed with the British monarch, King Charles III, the aftermath of his visit to Buckingham Palace on Wednesday, were released.
“He asked me whether I have a house here. I said ‘no’. Even in Nigeria, the only houses I have are those I had before I got into government. I’m not very much interested in having assets all over the place. I feel much freer when I have nothing,” Buhari had told King Charles in reply.
The major faux pas of the Nigerian security establishment seems to be that it takes D. O. Fagunwa’s forest on its literal face value. Fagunwa had, through his fabulous tales written in the 1950s, one of which is the classic, Ogboju Ode Ninu Igbo Irunmole, which Professor Wole Soyinka translated into Forest of a Thousand Daemons, represented the forest as the domicile and habitat of innumerable demons. The truth is that, rather than goblins and demons, blood-sucking offspring of demons, many of whom were displaced from Fouta Djallon highland, currently reside inside the forests, especially Southwest Nigerian forests.
That the Southwest, hitherto referred to as one of the safest oases in a violence-ridden desert of Nigeria, is under siege and its forests taken over by bandits, is a culmination of decades of lethargy by the people. Or the people’s willing victimhood of the Fagunwa typecast of the forest as the place where only demons live. Having taken Fagunwa literally over the decades, the forests seem to have been encircled gradually and now totally taken over by men whose original domicility, right from their creation, has been the forest.
Fouta Djallon or Fouta Jallon highland, home to many of the terrorists who are suspected to spearhead attacks hewn in the forests, is a region in the center of Guinea, West Africa. It is a highland that is historically imbued with a high degree of migration. Mainly Fulbe, Fula or Fulani people, these people migrate, short-term, with their animals to where they could find pasture, into countries like Senegal and Sierra Leone. They are a homogeneous people whose language is spoken across African countries like Nigeria, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Cameroon, Senegal, The Gambia, Mali, Niger, Burkina Faso, Ghana, Sudan, Chad, Mauritania, etc.
In a previous piece I did entitled Nigeria’s Cat and Mouse Game With Amnesty International, (September 5, 2021) I cited renowned Global Terrorism Index, (GTI) which, n a 2015 document produced by the Institute for Economics and Peace, gave a comprehensive summary of key global trends and patterns in terrorism of the preceding 15 years. With data from the Global Terrorism Database, (GTD) GTI said terrorism had become highly concentrated, “in just five countries — Iraq, Nigeria, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Syria…. (countries which) accounted for 78 per cent of (global) lives lost.” It said further: “Nigeria has experienced the largest increase in deaths from terrorism… There were 7,512 fatalities from terrorist attacks… an increase of over 300 per cent. The country houses two of the five most deadly terrorist groups (in the world)…Boko Haram and the Fulani militants.”
In the heat of this incursion of terrorists into Nigeria and their menace, we were told by one of the Nigerian ministers that since Fulani were pastoralists who traverse the African region, the Buhari government could not stop their incursion into Nigeria. On countless occasions, the federal government has deodorized the terrorism of Fulani herders, as well as bandits’. It is either during its maniacal strikes on Nigerians or refusing to label them terrorists until it was almost too late for the polity. Today, in a country that brims with hopelessness, many of our sons have learnt the ropes from the rapacious bloodletting of these incursionists and have either become bagmen of the Fula terrorists or have reinvented their own brand of terrorism, especially, kidnapping.
With the recent upsurge in kidnapping, especially in the forests of the Lagos-Ibadan expressway and in Ekiti forests, the task before Nigeria’s security and the governments of the Southwest is to stop seeing the forest as the habitat of demons, flora and fauna alone. They should jointly invade the forests and rid them of the sons of demons from Fouta Jallon and their southern accomplices.
The second issue, which I think is tragic as well, is the self-piety claim of President Buhari at Buckingham Palace. Why I think it is tragic is that this same narration was what Buhari and his minders, in the build-ups to the 2015 elections, used to beguile Nigerians into voting for the man whom fawners have labelled the Mai Gaskiya. Just as Buhari did in the presence of King Charles III, he romanticized his austere outlook on life and anti-materialist disposition over the years and turned it into a campaign gambit. Uncritically, Nigerians voted for him, sucked in by that frightening narrative that Goodluck Jonathan, who unarguably ran a very corrupt government, would kill Nigeria if we didn’t kick him out. Seven and half years-plus after, we are wiser. First is that we later realized that it would have been better for us to elect a president who had ideas than being fixated on electing a president who didn’t steal. While the former would steal, if he indeed had ideas, he would make life better for the teeming populace, democratize wealth, enough for him to steal from. The latter who is bereft of ideas would not even know when people under him have almost stolen the country blind. This was our lot under Buhari.
Almost eight years down the lane, we have realized our folly. If we are lucky to have a combination of a man who doesn’t steal and who has mountainous ideas about how to turn our country around, we should jump at him. Conversely, if we are lucky enough to have a man with empathy for the people but who is an ofon or what my people in Yorubaland would call ajelojuonile – mouse – as a stopgap leadership, it behooves us to jump at him.
The monies stolen under Buhari due to how bereft he is of ideas are far more calamitous to the polity than the money he could have stolen to buy houses in the UK. Nigeria has not benefitted a jot from the so-called Buhari’s Spartan claim. It was even ironic that the president was in the UK for medicals which must have cost the Nigerian purse a whopping amount of foreign exchange. If he had ideas, Buhari would have built counterpoises of his UK infirmary in Nigeria, thereby saving the country huge sums of money. By the way, could King Charles III have been making allusion to how Buhari had literally made the UK his home?
The third tragedy, which is fast becoming a menace in Nigeria, is the death of the lady who jumped into the Lagos Lagoon last Thursday. Identified as Adetutu Adedokun, in her late 30s, she was said to have been a recently engaged unarmed combat instructor of the Service whose death allegedly resulted from an altercation she had with her fiancé who proposed to her a few weeks ago. She thereafter alighted from an Uber taxi car and jumped to her death.
It is easy to sit by and condemn Adedokun’s action as detestable, especially from a theological point of view. However, life’s afflictions are such that when they happen to man, he thinks of so many escapes, one of which is a permanent resolution in favour of abnegation of existence. While not totally taken in by the allegation that Adedokun’s plunge was due to an altercation with a man who she had reposed trust and belief in living the rest of her life with, depending on her view of life, securing a fiancé might have been the only source of joy she constructed around her existence. And once the construct had fallen, the logical consequence was to abridge her existence.
Living life in present times has been a very tough and rough journey. For so many people, living, especially in Nigeria, is almost equal to a pestilence. From afflictions of poverty and lack to terminal ailments, social troubles, and a foggy tomorrow, so many people who live today are prodded by religious frowns at the termination of their lives midstream. However, many argue and which seems to have a strong reality attached to it, that those afflictions are ancient, happened to our forebears too and indeed define life. Proceeding further, they say that life would not be life if it is devoid of the icing of afflictions and sorrow that we go through.
Perhaps taking their cue from biblical exegesis, a Jamaican harmony trio formed in 1969 in Trenchtown, Kingston, Mighty Diamonds, in their very famous track entitled Have Mercy, had doubled down on this throb that existence is. In the track, this Roots Reggae group, with a very strong Rastafarian blend, had besought Jah (God) to “have mercy on a good man, and help him, we pray, Jah man; Have mercy on a good girl, and help her, we pray, Jah man” as “man was made to suffer and women were made to feel the pain.” Unfortunately, the group, comprising lead vocalist, Donald “Tabby” Shaw and harmony vocalists Fitzroy “Bunny” Simpson and Lloyd “Judge” Ferguson later faced their pains. On March 29, 2022, Shaw, their lead singer, was shot dead in a drive-by shooting while, on April 1, 2022, Simpson also died.
As Mighty Diamonds said in that track and which man has grudgingly come to find out, existence is fraught with pains and sorrow. Happiness or joy is so fleeting that nothing in this whole wide world can tame the wild hold that sorrow has on the life of man. It is absolutely impossible to retain joy for more than a fleeting moment without sadness or sorrow sidling in. This is a strong pointer and an affirmation of religious exhortation that life is not constructed to give anyone permanent joy, hence the religious construction of a hereafter where it is imagined that permanent joy resides.
Suicide philosophy is brought in to resolve the deployment of suicide by man as a resolution of the pain of existence. Indeed, the problem posed by suicide is answered in varying forms by different philosophical schools. French Algerian essayist, novelist and playwright, Albert Camus (1913–1960) in his The Myth of Sisyphus began his intervention with his famous line, “There is but one truly serious philosophical problem and that is suicide.”
While cultural beliefs of western societies held/hold that suicide is immoral and unethical, in Africa, suicide was/is a test of a man’s valour. Monarchs, especially Alaafins, in the ancient Oyo Empire, were expected to si’gba, literally, open the calabash but figuratively, commit suicide when they lose the legitimacy of the people they administer or when a less-than-noble occurrence happened in their domain. It was the expectation from Bashorun Ogunmola, Ibadan warlord, of Aare Ogunrinde Aje, one of the war chiefs in his domain who held the title of Aare Ago Balogun of Ibadan. Aje had killed one of his three wives, Fatola, on the allegation that she poisoned to death the twin children of Adepele, his newest wife, out of jealousy.
Based on the philosophy that when they err, noble war chiefs in society were not punished openly like commoners and serfs, Ogunmola’s judgment for this murder by Aje was a pronouncement that he should go home and do the needful by committing suicide, a rather dignified recompense due to his erstwhile war exploits for Ibadanland. Aje left but hours after and no news came of his demise, Bashorun was aghast when told by guards he sent to the Are-Ago’s compound that, rather than get rid of his own life, Aje had fled Ibadan for safety. He was then promptly christened Are-Ago, Arikuyeri – the war chief who fled in the face of death. It was later that it was realised that the murdered Fatola didn’t kill the twins but the first wife, Asiyanbi did, to avenge the public proclamation made by Ogunrinde that Fatola was his favourite due to her dexterous dancing steps. This much was recorded in Lawuyi Ogunniran’s 1977 play with the title Aare Ago Arikuyeri.
Another philosophical school on suicide is called absurdism. Pioneered by Sartre and Camus, this school sees suicide as a negation of human freedom. Rather than commit suicide with the hope that, by so doing, they are fleeing the absurd and meaninglessness of life, anyone who so thinks should rather embrace life passionately, says Camus. This is almost at par with theologians who argue, in one of their most popular sayings, that though there are many reasons why life is miserable and we may want to bail out – like economic hardship, sicknesses and diseases, depression, shame, etc – these are transitory and fleeting. Many have faced them and transited into greater joy. Absurdist school has a common aphorism that summarizes this belief in, “suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem.”
Utilitarianism school of Jeremy Bentham says suicide contradicts the philosophy of the greatest good which man seeks. This is revealed in that, when depressed persons take their own lives to end their sufferings on earth, they unleash incalculable pains on the families and friends they leave behind, a pain which out-weights the release of the depressed from the pains of this life.
Libertarians and idealist schools however contradict all the above. Herodotus was a main proponent of the latter and he argued for suicide. He wrote: “When life is so burdensome, death has become for man a sought-after refuge”. In the same way, Schopenhauer granted man the right to take their own life when threatened by the throbs of existence. He had written in his The World as Will and Representation: “They tell us that suicide is the greatest act of cowardice… that suicide is wrong; when it is quite obvious that there is nothing in the world to which every man has a more unassailable title than to his own life and person.” So to him, suicide was not amoral and compared taking one’s life in the heat of great suffering to waking up from sleep at the height of a nightmare. Libertarianism too holds that a man’s life belongs to him and only he, no one else, has the final say on whether they want to retain or excise it.
When the tripod of calamities of the week is viewed dispassionately, we must soberly sieve through them and find solutions to them. First is that our forests must be relieved of their evil content as we cannot continue to view them as the home of demons alone. Second, the brain must be the decider of who to choose as our leader in 2023, and third, we must choose to live, no matter the inconveniences of life.

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