Forest of a thousand cabals
THERE is this queer way in which what ordinarily should elicit joy in Nigeria draws tears of sorrow. The disband order on all highway road blocks in the country by the new police leadership attracted a loud applause from Nigerians who knew the danger policemen on road blocks posed to the citizenry. But as they rejoiced, the thoughtful among them knew that they were not the only one happy about the development. Armed robbers and other criminals also clinked glasses. They knew what MD Abubakar did was plain deregulation of security on the highways. They could now operate day and night, without the nuisance of the dark-dressed, ill armed policemen.
It is the tragedy of Nigeria that the side effects of every prescription for its ailments always threaten its systemic stability. Remember the promise to re-engage Ajantala as we navigate the mash of rational moral re-armament. Remember the birth of Ajantala to the hard pressed parents but who soon realised that this was not what they prayed for? I once read the story of an abandoned child rescued into an orphanage and later put up for adoption. The foster mum was to shortly sum up her fate in the hands of the problem child: "With just this boy, things seem to have gone wrong." Two weeks ago when Ajantala's finger prints on almost all things Nigerian were pointed out, one of my very "bad-mouthed" friends tried to identify certain political characters as the intended immanence of the evil one. I disagreed then, and even now, I say everyone who loathes order is a re-invent of this evil that seems certain of sinking the collective ship.
Fagunwa's Ajantala not only deals with men and, at least, one super-man, the Babalawo, he extends his hatred for order to the animal kingdom. And is Nigeria not even an animal Kingdom where jungle kings and terrors: lion, elephant, wolf, leopard and the hapless goat forget lineage issues so long they are the cabal who, in their coven, decide who, in the forest, eats and who goes to bed empty stomached? Ours is the only forest where these elements do not quarrel to others' attention because they know they are the lone inheritors of the lush of the forest.
Every good intentioned step in Nigeria soon takes ambiguous strides towards the negative. And when the people are persuaded to accommodate the unpleasant, it soon takes over all the space edging out the considerate ordinary Nigerian. Have you heard the latest on the oil subsidy promises? Where does that put the poor and the hungry? Fagunwa tells us that Ajantala, after he was marooned by his terrified mother in the forest, finds a peaceful gathering of strange bed-fellow animals of five. He not only displays his disarming ingenuity and propensity for evil, he destroys their oneness with his uncanny understanding of the selfish ways of man infused into animals who rule. So, soon after he warms his way into this forest cabal, he goes to farm with goat who thinks a servant has arrived only to be thoroughly beaten by the enfante terrible. Goat comes back bloodied but must not talk:
"Next day, it was the wolf’s turn to go hunting for food, and Ajantala went along with him. And when Wolf came home in the evening, his face was also swollen and his body covered with sores.
“What on earth did this to you?” Lion again sought to know.
“The same thing that happened to Goat yesterday also happened to me, and I think it shall certainly happen to all of us,” Wolf said with a bitter laugh. Wolf’s eyes met with Goat’s and both sadly shook their heads, but Ajantala whistled nonchalantly.
So did Ajantala beat all the animals until it became Lion’s turn to go hunting for food. After being beaten nearly to death, Lion gathered the rest to a secret meeting that night.
“Let us run away and leave the evil creature behind” Goat desperately advised.
“Yes, let us run away before dawn and before he wakes up” Wolf agreed; and so did the rest.
It is the story of Nigeria. In the beasts’ very scheme of escape, however, is wrapped the evil one who outsmarts them. Because he knows the power of information, he is always ahead of them. Ajantala has ensured that he is in the load of food they take turns to carry. And because treachery and greed go together with cabals of all climes, attempts by each of them to stay back and steal from the collective patrimony expose the greedy traitor to severe beating from this little bundle of unimaginable trouble. As each gets his beating, Ajantala asks him to repack the load and hurry up to meet others and transfer the load to another. Instructively, like the Nigerian, the same cheating spirit makes all the five fall, one after another, into his hand. Lion gets the last beating after which the animals decide to run away once again.
And they do just that, but exactly like Nigerian politicians, their nemesis is wiser once again than them. The animals run only to discover at the point of their supposed deliverance that their tormentor is right there ahead of them. In the commotion that ensues, the bond of fate and brotherhood that has been the strength of the group of five snaps. The story teller says: "And that day, Goat fled to live with man, Elephant to the land of the blackman and to India; Leopard and Wolf fled into the jungle, and Lion into the grasslands." This is where Nigeria comes in.
Another mischievous colleague of mine cried out during the week asking me to re-tell the story but I told her that D.O. Fagunwa,the original creator of the character had his goal which he carefully, artistically packed into the head of Ajantala. The creator is a prophet, and in that character, our today is fore-told. Listen to him as he tells us that the child-man is born to upturn all that is held sacred and noble and good in this clan. He is not always the evil one. He represents the duality in the nature of man- (good and bad inhabiting the same earthly frame.) This is one character you cannot wish away.
He is always there to shut up the boastful and yank off the mask of invincibility from the face of the cabal's masquerade. But he is also the quintessential kill joy. Just when Nigeria thought it had stopped sipping kainkain (or is it Sapele water) by the precipice, this creation comes on stage to refill the tumbler. He is also the whip lashing out at the high and the mighty, men and women who take themselves the only voice that must be heard in this forest of a thousand demons.
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