I think about God. When and why do we need him? Are we sometimes better left alone without him? I didn’t have these heretic thoughts until recently.
I was at the State Criminal Investigation Department, Panti, Yaba, Lagos. I had become a regular fixture here since my property was stolen. The suspects were there. I was sitting with my company’s Head of Security. Moments ago, the power was restored, the ceiling fan picked up speed and spun hot air then cool air around us. In a few minutes, the curtain and its aluminum holder came crashing on us. Obviously, the breeze from the fan was too much for the curtain holder. It missed my head by inches. I picked it up and placed it at a corner of the wall.
The faces at the D15 Unit are now familiar to me. I can almost call them family. My favourite is Lawrence, he’s like John Githongo in Michela Wrong’s ‘It’s Our Turn to Eat’. He has the dour, oily face of one that lives for the law. His poker face always says ‘I will fuck a nigga up’. My prognosis was not far from the truth as on my second visit to Panti, one of his colleagues brought a document for him to sign. The content of the document stated that he was going ahead to charge the suspects in a case he was investigating to court. Knowing the Nigerian justice system well, cases hardly get to court. Even his colleague’s remarks said as much, ‘L, since you said they must go to court, you have to sign here’.
L took the document and spent moments reading it thoroughly. It was the first time I saw emotion on his face, a mix between pride and contentment. He read the document four times over and then appended his signature in the Investigating Officer section.
The man from the insurance company was speaking. They were about to make a ridiculously low offer and he was making the usual buttering up comments.
‘So it has happened, it has happened. God has a reason for everything…’
Oga, let us not bring God into this. Don’t just mention God’. It was Rahman, my company’s Head of Security.
‘Ah, ah. Are you not a believer?’
‘Oga, I said God did not steal my friend’s property. Just tell us what you want to pay. Don’t mention God’.
True, this stuffy room with crashing curtain holders and dour faced Policemen didn’t look like a place God would want to be.
I was in the Jakande market, this is located after the Lekki Fourth Roundabout and popular for the Art Market close to it. I had bought tomatoes, pepper, onions and ginger. I felt guilty for not buying tatase. Mummy the Mama said tatase is what makes stew red but the first thing I did after I moved into my apartment was to start cooking stew without tatase. I honestly feel tatase is a waste. Who buys a thing for just its colour? I was at the grinding section where rows of blue grinding mills stood side by side and customers ground various item from beans and millet to tomatoes. As I handed my stew items to the mill lady to grind, an argument ensued in the next grinding machine.
‘Ei! You don pour my pepper. You go buy am o. Go buy my pepper!’
Apparently, the lady in the next shed had mistakenly spilled a customer’s already ground tomato paste and now the damp earth was filled with red tomato paste which quickly sunk into the earth and all that was left was tomato flecks and a foamy paste.
‘Madam, make we leave am for God’
‘Which God? Comot God from this matter o. You want make them sack me?’
My tomato seller was actually watching this drama so much that my ground items were now balanced at a precarious angle. I quickly instructed her on the folly of pouring my pepper.
This was the second time in a week that an aggrieved party was denying the Divine’s participation in the settlement of an issue. It makes me wonder when we want God and it took me to a story I heard miles away in the cradle of Yoruba civilization, Ile Ife.
In the Ooni’s palace in the sleepy town of Ile-Ife, there is a place where cameras are not allowed, entrants must walk in barefooted and prayers are believed to be heard. It is called Ile-Awe (House of Prayer) and certain times in a year, people from all parts of the world come here to pray after offering palm oil and salt to the deity here. It is a fenced off square ground with an elevated ceramic floor. Footwear is left outside the gate and inside, there is a square of cement that surrounds a mound of earth. Within this mound of earth are rock formations with salt and palm oil splattered over them. A waist high fence surrounds this place and in the distance, you can see the imposing mountains that are a staple sight of Southwest, Nigeria.
In this sleepy grounds lie a story, of love, revenge, hustle, royalty, mutiny, betrayal, uber betrayal, greed, death, cowardice, mysticism and things that were not left for God.
In this exact patch of earth, many years ago, a man used to ascend from the sky using a chain tied around his waist, we will call him Skyman. He would stay here, construct some farm tools (hoes and the like) and go on expeditions. He was a mysterious figure who came, had no contact with people and made very good wares. Whenever he came, he would sell some farm tools to the people. He would put them at the front of his dwelling with stones that corresponded to the value he wanted for these tools. This was in a time before common greed and people would pick the tools they want and drop the monetary equivalent. His tools which were forged from iron were good and led to farming success in Ife. His fame spread wide. The Ooni of Ife heard about this mysterious visitor to a section of his palace and sent for him. Skyman responded that he was from the sky and his orbit on earth was restricted hence he could not leave the area he stayed. Now, if you know what I know, you know the Ooni is not to be fucked with like this. The Ooni received Skyman’s response, pondered on it and at night, he went to meet Skyman. He walked around and surveyed the works of Skyman’s hands. Iron work and smelting was non-existent in Ife at that time.
The Ooni was impressed with this technology and told Skyman that he would like him to live permanently in the palace.
Skyman said No.
The Ooni then said he would like Skyman to teach the inhabitants so they could make stuff from iron and become even more prosperous.
Skyman said No.
The Ooni then made the latter request again and this time, he begged Skyman with the crown.
The Ooni’s crown is a big deal (and I will write about it some other day) so Skyman had to agree.
To show his appreciation, the Ooni gave Skyman a woman, Aji, as a gift. (I will like to believe she was beautiful and a good cook.)
The apprentices were brought and Skyman trained them on the art of iron smelting and in no time, they knew how to make farm tools out of iron.
A normal story should end here but this isn’t a normal story.
His apprentices set up their own iron smelting business and started selling farm tools but people continued to patronize Skyman and with time, envy set in.
I know at a point in this story, I said this was a time before common greed. I was wrong. These former apprentices called Aji, Skyman’s wife, and told her they wanted to know Skyman’s secret so they could kill him. They promised her endless wealth for this service.
Aji was a greedy woman so she acquiesced to this demand. Whenever Skyman came from the sky, she would ask him endlessly about the source of his power but he was a real nigga and he didn’t let on. Finally, he told her that the chain around his waist which connected him to the sky was the source of his power. Aji quickly told his former apprentices and they prepared for Skyman’s next visit.
On his next visit, he went about his business and when he returned, he met his favourite meal: yam, palm oil mixed with salt and palmwine. Aji told him customers who were happy with his services brought these gifts and he was immensely pleased. He settled down to the feast and after eating, settled into a deep sleep. Aji gave the signal to his former apprentices and they came in. In one swift strike, they cut the chain that connected his waist to the sky. The bit of the chain that was connected to the sky went back up without Skyman while Skyman was left lying with a bit of chain loosely tied around his waist that connected to nowhere. Skyman woke up to this great betrayal.
He told his apprentices to look at their palms and notice the intricate lines on them. ‘I am like the lines on your palm and before you, I was’.
He made some incantations and they became blind and started crawling all over the courtyard. He then commanded the earth to cover him and he disappeared into the ground. When his former apprentices regained their consciousness, they realized (or thought) that Aji had tricked them by not telling them of the full length of Skyman’s powers. They dragged her to the gate of the palace and beheaded her. The former apprentices returned to the courtyard and saw that Skyman was nowhere to be found. Also, the tools of his trade were no longer there. However, in the courtyard were rock formations that resembled him and his possessions: a dome shaped rock like the head of a man, a fish shaped rock, an iron smelting place shaped rock and a bellows shaped rock. They were angry about this. Skyman has disappeared with the tools of his trade and now all that was left were rock formations that resembled them.
‘Dying should be private, like humming a little song only you can hear’ – Brit Bennett
They had failed in their quest and they were angry. They shot at the rock formation that looked like the head of a man.
Till this day, the rock formations shaped like a fish, iron smelting place, bellows and head of a man remain in the courtyard. Bullet shaped holes can also be seen around the edges of the rock formation shaped like the head of a man. A courtyard has been erected around this place. This is Ile-Awe where people come every last Saturday of the month to pray to Skyman for forgiveness, for wisdom, for strength, for more faith, for less temptation, to ease a pain that cuts deep and for things that can’t be left to God.
There are no pictures of Ile-Awe for reasons stated above. However, you can visit it in the Ooni’s palace all year round.