(Published by the Sunday Tribune, May 21, 2023)
Turbulent anger of Obidients landed on Lamidi Apapa last week. By the time their anger petered out, Apapa had lost his cap to a God-knows-who. Esu Elegbara, the trickster deity of the Yoruba people, it will seem, lives in caps. Though most of the exploits of Esu exist in myths, Yoruba constructed a pantheon of beliefs that implicate the Esu as divisive and full of tricks. One of such, sauced in mythology, was translated into a very sobering track by ace Yoruba Awurebe musician, Alhaji Dauda Akanmu Adeeyo, popularly known as Dauda Epo Akara. Famous for his anecdotal offerings affixed to virtually all his songs, Adeeyo got this sobriquet, for which he was more known by than his actual name, while he was a pupil in primary school. His uniforms were always soaked in bean cake oil called Epo Akara.
The Ibadan maestro entitled the track under reference Itan Ore Meji – the tale of two friends – in a parent album he called My Mother. Like Epo Akara, in 1987, Donald Cosentino, a lecturer in the Folklore and Mythology Programme of the University of California, Los Angeles, wrote an article for The Journal of American Folklore which he entitled Who Is That Fellow in the Many-Colored Cap? Transformations of Eshu in Old and New World Mythologies (Vol. 100, No. 397. Jul. – Sep., 1987). In it, he also situated the Esu as author of dissent, “an exponent of ceaseless rearrangements” and a dissembler. Esu, said Cosentino, is a counterpart to Ifa, who the Yoruba see as the Lord of Divination and through whom sacrifices and propitiations are made to God for peace in the world.
Epo Akara and Cosentino’s narratives are not dissimilar. The two of them began this folklore thus: There existed two friends who were so fond of each other and inseparable. They were objects of discussions by the whole village. In fact, sang Epo Akara, won ki ja, won kii ta – they never had a word of disagreement since they began their friendship from their infancy. So, one day, Esu swore to cause irreparable discord between them. The object he cast for that dissention was a cap. So the Esu sowed a multicolored cap, something in the mould of Dolly Parton’s coat of many colours. The colours, says Cosentino, have been “variously described as red and white; red, white and blue; or red, white, green, and black.”
Epo Akara, however, put the colours of the cap as white and black. So the Esu transformed himself into an irresistibly dressed, handsome young man in dainty Aso Oke and Sanyan cap. As the two friends sat in a foyer chattering, Esu walked between them and in the words of Cosentino, “put his pipe at the nape of his neck and hung his staff over his back.” As Esu walked past the two friends, in the rendering of the Awurebe musician, the first friend called the attention of his pal to the cap, which he said was black. Once he had money, the friend remarked, it would be his delight to buy it – bi mo ri’ru e, ma ra’kan, Balarabi, Wali Muhanmonda. The friend fired back, insisting that the cap was white and insulted the other friend by asking if he was blind – ab’oju re o ri’ran? Then, a very deadly brawl ensued between the duo as they came to blows.
While Epo Akara insisted that, having achieved his dissembling aim, Esu transformed himself into who he was and settled the quarrel, Consentino argued that the tiff came to a halt when the disputants were brought to court. In court, the scholar said, Esu confessed to his trick, boasting that “sowing dissension is my great delight.” In the rendering of the Folklore and Mythology scholar, Esu then fled. As he fled, Esu lit fire along the way, mixing up all the possessions of fleeing townsfolk. He also tested and exposed friendships along the way, thereby creating and destroying wealth. He then laughed at the ignorance of the people about his innate destructive nature.
Nigeria’s Labour Party, (LP) it will seem, is where Esu Elegbara has made his temporary home now. Last week, the party’s internal tiff reached a cancerous level at the Presidential Election Petition Court in Abuja. In the glare of the whole world, the timely intervention of police officers prevented miffed supporters of Peter Obi from skewering the flesh of the party’s Acting National Chairman, Apapa. Apapa and Julius Abure, hitherto suspended national chairman of the party, were embroiled in a leadership tussle. This led to blood-baiting hounds, suspected to be sympathetic to the Abure faction of the party, pouncing on Apapa. The wolves had prevented Apapa from addressing the press and shoved him dangerously off television cameras. In the process, one of them took off Apapa’s cap. He later took possession of it.
Speaking at a press conference after the attack, the 73-year old Apapa rained curses on the person who removed his cap. He had said: “My cap is here as you can see it. It was not burnt, and the boy who removed my cap will suffer it in his life. I saw him, he’s a young chap. He’ll never grow old by God’s grace. He deserves it, you know why? I didn’t use cutlass on him.”
Were Apapa’s curses of Janus colour and texture as that of Adedara Arunralojaoba, Ijesaland’s – domiciled in Osun State – most evocative musician who sang Adamo music during his lifetime? Janus, you know, is the Egyptian binary god with two faces. Some installments away, I narrated this Adamo musician’s encounter with another musician, Ayinla Omowura, in Ilesa in the 1970s. Omowura’s drums began to get torn in subsequence as he set out to sing at a live gig where he and Adedara had been invited. In the words of Arunralojaoba, on arriving the bandstand to take over the evening belt of entertainment of invited audience, Omowura had been drunk to stupor with his assumed musical superiority. Speaking to Dele Adeyanju, a renowned broadcaster, in an interview, the Adamo musician had attributed the torn drums to God fighting his battle for him and not any traditional African spiritual attack. Adedara was known to have at one time been a member of the Ogboni fraternity. So, were the torn drums God’s own way of fighting for Adedara against his adversary, or the scenario was a product of metaphysical invocation?
The removal of Apapa’s cap reminds me of the same violence and indignity suffered by Chief Bola Ige, ex-governor of old Oyo State, in the hands of sponsored miscreants like those hooligans in the LP. It was at the height of the intra-party sabre-rattling of the Alliance for Democracy (AD). At a ceremony held on Saturday December 15, 2001 where Olusegun Obasanjo’s late wife, Stella, was conferred with a chieftaincy title by the Ooni of Ife, wolves suspected to be in the herd of Iyiola Omisore, erstwhile Deputy Governor of Osun State, pounced on Ige in similar cavalier but blood-baiting manner Apapa was to witness almost 22 years after. They seized the cap of the man, known as Arole Awolowo – Chief Obafemi Awolowo’s heir – caps which, unlike Apapa’s, he was never to set eyes upon again.
Five days before this, an attempt to impeach Omisore was held at the Osun State House of Assembly. Odunayo Olagbaju, believed to be one of Omisore’s Rottweilers, was at the forefront of the disruption of the impeachment proceedings. Allegations were rife that Olagbaju was also the coordinator of the violent seizure of Ige’s cap. Four days after the attack on Ige, Olagbaju was mysteriously assassinated in Ile-Ife. Exactly four days after Olagbaju’s assassination, Ige was also taken out in what appeared like cult-like revenge killings. Today, Omisore is Southwest progressives’ highest-ranking national official, representing the Yorubaland which venerated Ige as an avatar.
Beyond their ethno-cultural implications as significant aspect of dressing and fashion, caps also have mythic qualities among the Yoruba especially. Aside caps’ aesthetic and symbolic elaboration of the body, they are also seen as weapon in the hands of Esu. The cap perhaps gained that relevance due to the renowned place that the head has in African epistemology. The head receives special aesthetic attention as a result of its spiritual and biological importance. Among the Yoruba, the head, called Ori, is a site of spiritual intuition and destiny. It is as well a harbinger of a man’s reflective spark of human consciousness. It is an Orisa, or god, of its own and is not only venerated but worshipped. To acquire a balanced character – iwa-pele – the Yoruba believe that the individual, working in tandem with this Orisa, can achieve this desirable personality. When he does, the individual then receives an alignment with his Ori, the divine self. People whose destinies are skewed are advised to worship their Ori whose variant among the Igbo is chi. So, when a cap, the decorative ornament of the head, is rudely removed as was done to Ige and Apapa, Yoruba see it as bad omen, symbolizing a rude yank-off of the human person.
Immediately after the seizure of Ige’s cap, some knowledgeable elders in sorcery and witchcraft opined that there existed causality between the cap’s removal and his eventual killing. For a people who use metaphysics as human agency to explain what the common eyes cannot penetrate, when Ige eventually died, the narrative of the connect between the removed cap and his death took front burner. So, in the seizure of Apapa’s cap, was Esu Elegbara on the usual roller-coaster of his famous trickster prowess, or does the act just symbolize a fatality to either Apapa, the Labour Party or the boy who bit the bullet by removing the cap?
The chief accusation against Apapa is that he is the Esu Elegbara in the Labour Party who this destructive god lent his heart for a fee. As Epo Akara and Cosentino narrated in their works, could Apapa be the modern or Nigeria’s political party version of the trickster deity, who is sowing dissention in the party? Ask those who are ranged against him to explain why, they will tell you that Apapa has received humongous bribe from the All Progressives Congress (APC) to act as the Judas within the party. On an Arise television interview last week, Apapa asked those who leveled such allegations to provide evidence. Again, in his insular trickery, I saw Esu Elegbara laughing rambunctiously. Do those who give bribes leave traces? Should those who also leveled such allegation against this old man sincerely do this without providing evidence? Are they themselves the Esu, being on the payroll of Abure, to ensure that Apapa is fought to a standstill?
Precedent is however on the side of those who accuse Apapa of acting the script of the APC. Nigerian politics is so enmeshed in indignity and amorality that virtually all those who engage in it possess scarred souls like the devil’s. They even tell you that politics and morality are in perpetual enmity. If you observe, the highest fusillade of attacks, both judicial and verbal, from the APC to any party, is towards the Labour Party. The Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and its commissars receive scant attention of that party. It must believe that that party is already mortally wounded. APC, peopled by a commune of scavengers, vultures and deadly hit-men, will logically rent an Apapa for a dissembling assignment. It is because the If I must hanker a guess, it must be because the LP poses the greatest social threat to the legitimacy that APC needs, not necessarily during the current judicial process but after it. Thus, employing an Esu Elegbara within the fold of the LP for this dirty job is a politically wise decision for a party whose men, in the name of politics, will kill their mother and rope their father for the murder without batting an eyelid.
Esu Elegbara seems to be on the trail of the Labour Party and is not relenting yet. At the tail end of last week, until the clarification given by the court, the Federal High Court in Kano was reported to have declared the votes polled by the Abia State governor-elect, Alex Otti, Labour Party’s only state governor in the last general election, as wasted. It however reportedly refrained from nullifying the certificate of return issued by INEC to the governor-elect. A newspaper later on published the clarification of the court, stating that it denied annulling the election of the governor-elect.
If you think it is only in LP that Esu Elegbara wrecks its havocs, you are mistaken. In the PDP, he began his life-sworn disruption and destruction, as they say, as a pre-election cancer. By the time Atiku Abubakar and his party realized that Esu was in cahoots with the party, Elegbara had destroyed all the cells within the body of the party, finally and permanently retiring the Adamawa-born politician from his serial quest for the Nigerian presidency.
Elegbara, it will seem, is on his way to the APC as we speak. From reports, the party is on its way to a political liaison with Musa Rabiu Kwankwaso, New Nigerian People’s Party (NPP’s) presidential candidate. President-elect, Bola Tinubu, was reported to have met the NPP boss for political talks in Paris last Monday. There is the need for enough senators to complete the circus of a pliable National Assembly. I imagine the mind of Abdullahi Umar Ganduje, Kano State governor, at the moment. The Nigerian politician, in pursuing his persuasion that politics and morality are not friends, devised what is labeled a “no permanent friends, no permanent foes” lexicographic feature of politics. But, must politicians be indistinguishable from serial adulterers? Esu Elegbara must be somewhere now, devising his next trickery. Will he wear Ganduje like an apparel?
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