By Lasisi Olagunju
Vulture means Igún in Yoruba. At the very beginning of time, he was the priest of the earth. The priest was also earth’s doctor. It happened that Olófin, the king in Ile-Ife that time, had his life in total disarray – a life broken like calabash and rent like cloth (ayé e rè fó bí igbá/ó fàya gbaragada bí aso). The town was dry; the hungry were hungrier; the sad, sadder. Birds were no longer chirping like birds; rats lost their vocal cords. The town boiled; the king’s world was in turmoil. Nothing worked for the palace – and for the people. Then, the king remembered the old priest and hurried to the house of Vulture. He begged the priest to be present in Ile-Ife. There, the king’s broken life was mended; the rent town was sutured. Olófin was happy; his people danced to the beats of healing and victory. They were all whole again.
But the priest was not a one-station man, he had to move. Vulture travelled to the house of Olodumare and overstayed there. Six years in the house of God, he came back to Ile-Ife. He arrived hungry and tired. He knocked at the first door, what he got was a big knock on his head. Shocked. He knocked at the second door, he got the same treatment on his aching head. Could it be because it was dusk that his beneficiaries could not recognize him? He flew into the night waiting for the break of a new day. Morning came and Vulture went straight to the palace. If the people were dumb, the king won’t be crazy. But the king saw him and shouted at his guards to push him out and lock the gate. The king forgot the days of fear and tears. He refused to recognize his benefactor.
Why would the king refuse to recognise and honour his benefactor? My people have the answer: They say Oore pé, asiwèrè gbàgbé (favour is long done, the insane forgets). Palace guards did more than their lord commanded them; they gave Vulture hard knocks repeatedly on the head, then pushed him out. The assaulted stood shocked for six days outside, in rain and in sunshine, waiting and wailing. The seventh day broke and the priest, broken and sad, went back home, bald headed. He arrived in his room and murmured to himself: Olófin lóun ò tún mo Igún mó…Oore pé, asiwèrè gbàgbé (The king says he no longer recognizes Vulture! So, it is true that favour long done gets forgotten by madmen).
But did it end there? Olófin soon contracted a terminal disease and all around him had neither cure nor succour. Only one medicine stood between him and the grave – and the patent was held by the old, powerful Igún. The king learnt this and summoned Vulture to the palace. Vulture, the priest, heard the palace messenger, touched his bald head and silently thanked his creator (eleda) for the grace of wisdom. His head told him: You do not say no to the king but you may also not say yes. Vulture sent words that he would soon be by the king’s bedside. He never went back to Ile-Ife to save the one who must die. Oore pé/Asiwèrè gbàgbé.
The above is not just about Father Mbaka, the Catholic priest with a million tongues. If Vulture had done any violation to truth, as Mbaka did serially for politicians, he wouldn’t have had a chance for his pound of flesh. But there is nothing the Buhari regime has said or done to Mbaka that it has not said or done to the hundreds who were maimed, killed and displaced in Katsina, Zamfara, Niger and Kaduna, and who all voted to make the “perpetually unelectable” man our president in 2015. He has done it to the hundreds who were abducted across the Middle Belt and to the murdered in the south. Or did you not hear the slam-shut sound of presidential gates when and where empathy was needed? You heard government fuming that killings were being reported as if murder had never happened before. They said mass murder had been in existence since forever and their god was simply the target of weeping victims and their wailing sympathisers.
Leadership is not a pleasure cruise; it is a rescue mission. When a leader asks the afflicted to shut up, that leader is lost. While our president and his presidency major in minor things, kissing Father Mbaka and telling the world without shame, the real enemy is out there taking down the country. Are they aware that the country no longer has a roof over its head? And it is raining acid! A great misfortune it is when a besieged town is headless. It is pouring. A recent statistics released by the Katsina State Emergency Management Agency (SEMA), revealed that over 33,000 people are internally displaced in the state. These are persons forced out of their homes by free-reigning bandits. They are displaced and taking shelter across major towns and cities in the state. Out of this number, 20,868 are children; 8,886 are adult females; the remaining 3,376 are adult males. The president is from Katsina State. What has he done to help and rescue these people, his own kin, who carried his destiny on their heads and forgot their own at the polling booths in 2015 and 2019?
The dictionary meaning of ingratitude is “a discreditable lack of gratitude.” Disgraceful is the direct meaning of discreditable. If you do not know how to appreciate small and big favours, you lack character and grace. You cannot preen in cassocks of piety and integrity – you lack both. There is no culture in Africa, even in the sinks of Fouta Jalon, that celebrates anyone who takes favours as rights and views everyone as his debtor. That is why the Fulani order their birds to “sing the praise of where they spend their hot seasons.” The Arabian tale of King Jafar of Roum is another strong story of a king who thanked his helper with imprisonment. He ended badly.
President Buhari’s people in Daura have a very beautiful story on the imperative of keeping promises and showing gratitude. Less than a month after Buhari became president in 2015, the Emir of Daura pronounced him as Bayajidda II. He got a gold plated sword and a horse as totems of that office. But what did that mean? The title is rooted in the legend of Bayajidda, the founder of the Hausa states. A historian tells the story this straight way: Bayajidda slayed a snake that lived in a well in Kusugu, a place in modern-day Daura. The snake had terrorized the people and deprived them of water. It only allowed water to be drawn from the well on Fridays. In spite of the warnings, Bayajidda went to fetch water at the well on a Thursday. When the snake attacked him, he cut off its head with his sword. As a reward for killing the snake, the Queen of Daura, Daurama, promised him half of her kingdom. But Bayajidda cleverly refused and instead asked for her hand in marriage. This was unheard of, since all previous queens there had practised celibacy. However, Daurama felt indebted to him and agreed. This legend is reenacted every year in Daura as a reminder to the community’s ancestral fidelity to gratitude. So, why is Bayajjida II, Muhammadu Buhari, not helping his people to kill the Kusugu bandits after he was kitted with the long-sought sword of Nigeria? Why has his government surrendered its monopoly of violence to bandits and kidnappers? The Alaafin of Oyo asked the same question at the weekend. Nigeria is waiting for the answer.
So, Mbaka’s misfortune is just a metaphor for all who have lost their investments to the Buhari-must-be-in-Abuja project. The Olófin/Vulture story above is a consolation to all victims of ingratitude. The story is also for all Nigerians, home and abroad, whose toil and sweat still feed this government of tooth pickers. It is a warning too to the regime that has thrown all, including those who had no hand in the affliction, out of comfort and safety. More importantly, the story is an assurance that redress is a red card in the hands of God – even at injury time. Enough.