By Suyi Ayodele
Those who used Oro to win elections on March 18 are already back in the churches and mosques for thanksgiving. The pastors and the imams did not chase them away. Their thanksgiving offering and sadaqah were well received and ‘blessed’. The Muslims among them will start the 30-day Ramadan fast later this week. Their Christian counterparts are observing Lent, already. I am also putting my pastorate on notice. Nobody should doubt my spirituality after this outing.
Thankfully enough, I have another two weeks to do penitence before the next Holy Communion service in April. I would have been in the “State of Grace” to partake in the spiritual meal. God, forgive your son all his shortcomings (Amen). Let somebody shout Hallelujah! My people say a man lives according to the epoch he finds himself in. Let us do Oro today.
First, my tribute to the owners of this world (iba awon to n’ile aye). Oro is not common. It is not a daylight affair. It is a deity that speaks to the deep of the night. The whirring sound by Oro sends fears into the spines of the non-initiates.
Oyi rerere! – The whirlwind!
Ori firi – You see it in a flash!
Oku firi – You die in a flash!
There is a town called Ikole-Ekiti; it is the headquarters of Ikole Local Government, my local government area. Ikole salutes itself as one who knows not to do with children and sacrifices one to the gods (Ikole ri hun m’omo se, han modidi omo s’ebo). There is a short story behind the oriki (praise name). In those days when humans were humans, there reigned an Elekole, who had many wives and children.
Among his numerous children was a particularly beautiful one, a girl, known as Eyinjuewa (the eyeball of beauty), his favourite. Being the king’s favourite, the princess became a spoilt brat, rude and arrogant. Ikole also has an Oro festival, Isemole (complete restriction), that is celebrated till date. During the festival, no woman is allowed to come out. We grew up to know that tradition.
One day, during the Isemole festival, Eyinjuewa got into an argument with one of the oloris. Being her brat self, the princess told the olori that she, being a wife to the king, had no right to talk down on a princess, especially the king’s favourite. The two women were in the kitchen, with Eyinjuewa stirring amala delicacy. Isemole was at its peak, with the Oro at its most whirring sound. Peeved by Eyinjuewa’s arrogance, the olori challenged her thus: “If indeed you are the daughter of Elekole, go out there and see Isemole like a true child of the oba”. Game! Eyinjuewa’s pride was challenged. She forgot tradition.
In her madness to prove that she was full blue-blooded, she did the unthinkable. Eyinjuewa opened the kitchen door, holding the stirring stick in her hand and ventured out. Instantly, the legend states, she dried up on the spot! Oro did not spare her. It is axiomatic: that “bi obirin ba fi oju kan Oro, Oro a gbé” (when a woman sees Oro, Oro must swallow her)! After the incident, Ikole people composed a warning song to register Eyinjuwewa’s recalcitrance; a princess born into a cult but fails to observe the tenets of the group. That is the real Oro. It is a cult that women have no role in; they are forbidden to be initiated into the Oro cult.
What is the place of Oro in Yoruba religion? Yoruba traditional system is controlled by three levellers of authority. Sitting on top of the hierarchy is the Oba and his council of chiefs. That is the only segment of the ladder that is open for all to see. The second layer is the Awos, which is made of cult members (Oro) and the ogbonis (the real Osugbo and not the modern day Reformed Ogboni Fraternity (ROF), that accommodates all Tom, Dick and Harry. The third, which incidentally is the most powerful, are the real owners of the night; our mothers, the “eye buruku abi’ga winiwini” (the bad bird with beautifully arranged feathers), the witches, and to an extent, wizards.
Oro plays important roles whenever a member of a Yoruba community is to be excommunicated. If for instance, a man commits an offence which punishment is banishment, the Oro cult is called in to escort the culprit out of the town. Such a man is never to return to the community. It is a deity that was used in the days before civilisation, to execute criminals. In 2019, Yoruba popular Fuji star, Wasiu Ayinde Marshall, KWAM 1, at the height of the Governor Akinwunmi Ambode must go campaign, hinted that Ambode would be chased away from the Alausa Government House with Oro. Ambode, we all can recall today, lost the APC governorship primaries to the incumbent Babajide Sanwo-Olu. That was four years ago. Why has Ambode not been able to return to the Tinubu political family ever since? That is what an Oro does when it is employed in the case of any adversary.
The All Progressive Congress, APC, in Lagos last Saturday called out Oro cultists during the gubernatorial and house of assembly elections. The ‘initiates’ came out in their numbers and were on the street, performing ‘rituals’. I saw some of the videos. I listen to the voices of the Oros. I laughed heartily. An acada man, who was watching the videos with me, wondered why I laughed. I told him what he saw on the streets of Lagos were comedians. He did not believe me.
The acada pointed out the all-white dresses and the white tattoos on the bodies of the Oro devotees and I asked him not to pay attention to the costumes or the marks on their bodies. My argument was that if the real Oro comes out, those Babajide Sanwo-Olu arinjo dramatists would flee in different directions. I mean it. My mind raced back home. I remembered Orangun (my family deity), whose cognomen is: “umole ko pa aaro re hi ku finrin finrin ke si gbohun ebeora (the deity that ‘kills’ its chief priest completely for him to hear what the gods have to say). How will Orangun be out, and some mere mortals will video it? How will Ajale be at its elements and women will be by their window blinds, recording it? Who will dare do that?
Truly, Eko gba ole, o gba ole (The thief and the lazy are accommodated in Lagos). What you saw on the streets of Lagos on Saturday are not Oros. The pots and the hyssop and the concoction are not the Yoruba traditional “sesere and agbo”. But they achieved the purpose for which they were deployed. The victims of the hyssop dipped into the pots are the Igbo non-native of Lagos and others who got scared and stayed off the polling centres, leaving MC Oluomo and his goons to have a field day.
Bola Ahmed Tinubu, the president-elect, was clear in the build up to the February 25 presidential election that it would not be business as usual. On more than three occasions, especially when he was in his Yoruba enclave, he called for Ayajo (invocations) on his enemies. I have a faint idea of the capabilities of Ayajo. I equally know that a man who openly asked for Ayajo has more than enough in his traditional kitty. It is therefore not a surprise that on Saturday, March 18, Tinubu’s APC called in the Oro Cult to save the lord of Lagos from a second humiliation.
This is why I find the Oro cults the Tinubu political family employed last Saturday in its quest to secure for Sanwo-Olu, a much desired second term in office, despicable and condemnable in all ramifications. The act is a total desecration of the Yoruba tradition. Ironically, those who deployed that infamy said that they were preserving Yoruba from the domination of the Igbo. The whole exercise showed how desperate the political class are. Sanwo-Olu, I understand, is of the Christian faith. I have been searching the internet to see where and when he professed his faith by denouncing the activities of the various Oro cults called to scare away potential voters from the Saturday election, especially those whose ancestry are not Yoruba.
An elder, who I tried to sound out on the matter, told me: “Iwakuwa laa wa òhun to ba so nu, lo difa fun eni ti obe re so nu to lo la Inu pepeye” (we search for whatever is lost in odd places is the diviner who consulted for a man who lost his knife and then opened the bowel of a duck to look for it). This is the level that Professor Yakubu Mamood’s INEC has taken our electoral system. Expectedly, winners and losers were declared at the end of the charade!
The implications of the Lagos Oros are grave for our democracy. As much as I do not by any iota of imagination believe that the various Oro cults that were on display in Lagos last Saturday had any potency, my Yoruba background tells me that whether a gun has a barrel or not, no one should allow anybody to point it at him. The non-Yoruba residents in Lagos who stayed off the polling centres because of the Oro are justified.
So, for the non-Yoruba residents of Lagos, who got scared and stayed off the voting centres because of the Oro cults, one cannot really blame them. Who could have said categorically if those jokers in white apparels and the equally theatrical ones slaughtering one unfortunate black goat had the capacity to harm people! While the acts were being perpetrated, where were the security agents? A system that allowed the Lagos scaremongers to perpetrate their shenanigan without repercussions, has set the pace for future anarchy. Very soon, a simple dispute between an indigene and non-indigene will lead to deities walking our streets naked. And I envisage that a day will come in Lagos, when the real ‘Lagosians’ will call out their Oros and non-indigenes will follow with canes. The days are numbered when Oro will turn to humans. Then, whatever is left of the vestige of Yoruba culture will be lost.
It was the Oro cult in Lagos. We had something else in other parts of the country. In many of the voting centres in Benin City, for instance, Igbo voters were completely shut out. This is what one of the respondents told me at the Ologbosere Primary School, Upper Sokponba, where there were 61 polling units and one could count the number of non-Benin voters by the fingertips: “You no be Yoruba, no be your people say make Igbo no come vote for Lagos”? I could not ask him further questions. His argument was that if the Yoruba could chase away the Igbo from voting in Lagos, why should the case be different in Edo? Sad, but valid. That is one of the negative implications of Lagos Oro on election day.
This democracy is 24 years old. Not even in the days of General Olusegun Obasanjo’s “do or die” did we witness this type of perfidy. In one of the centres in Lagos, voters had to engage the services of ferocious dogs to protect themselves from thugs, who were moving about freely on a day that there was supposed to be restriction of movement.
My summation of the March 18 elections is that humanity is lost in us all. Before you contest this, ponder on what Bayo Onanuga, one of Tinubu’s media aides said, after the Lagos charade: “Let 2023 be the last time of Igbo interference in Lagos politics. Lagos is like Anambra, Imo, any Nigeria state. It is not a no man’s land, not Federal Capital Territory. It is Yoruba land. Mind your business”. If these words came from the Onanugas of this world, what else do we expect from the MC Oluomos! We are back in the woods of perfidy!