Deaths in My Neighborhood
By: Deji Yesufu
A little over a decade ago, while living as a single man in a neighborhood here in Ibadan, I was woken up by a loud bang on my door. It was a Saturday morning and I had hoped to sleep a little longer before waking up to tidy up my house. But the knock on my door had now ruined everything. After two or more banging on the door and this “assailant” appearing to be so sure I was at home, I opened the door to see a neighbor in the same rented compound we shared staring at me.
“Mr. Yesufu, we are required to be at the landlord’s meeting.”
“But I am not a landlord and you know I don’t attend these meetings.”
“Ah, this one is compulsory o. They say anyone that does not come would be arrested by the police.”
Reluctantly, I put on a shirt and followed him. It must have been around 7am. We marched on through some houses in the area where we lived and arrived at a gathering of men; there must have been about a hundred of them standing there. I was a bit taken aback. Then I began to follow the discussion because the lead discussant was just opening his remarks when we arrived.
There had been a robbery in the neighborhood and a number of people were killed, including, if my memory serves me right, a pregnant woman. Therefore all men in the area had been called out this early morning, when they were sure most people would not have left their homes, to come and swear to Ogun or one of these other Yoruba gods. We were to swear that we had no clues to the robbery and did not harbor thieves in our houses. The process of swearing would include putting a dagger in our mouths, eating kola-nut and jumping over a mysterious object. The native doctor performing the whole ritual was seated and watching, as if trying to discern who the thief was among us.
My mind began to race. Wetin concern me and Ogun, abi na Sango ni?! I am not a thief, I do not harbor thieves in my home – I lived alone – and I do not swear by small gods. I do not even swear by God the Father of my Lord Jesus Christ, whom I am and whom I serve. But I understood better than to protest. All these men were looking for was for just one person to protest the ritual and they would come down hard on such a person. The memory of the dead persons was still fresh and emotions were frail. I did a silent prayer in my heart and by a strange act of God, I had peace on what I was going to do next.
When it was my turn to do the ritual, I stood before the native doctor, collected the kola-nut, ate it; put the dagger to my tongue and jumped over the strange object. I said to myself: shey it has finished abi? I went home. I do not know whether or not the persons harboring thieves in their homes were eventually found. I however knew that I was living in a very backward part of Ibadan and I needed to leave the place as soon as it was financially possible. I believe that was my last year in that house.
A little less than six months ago, now a family man, I arrived home with my folks and found the road to my house littered with dead goats. Goats of varying sizes, male and female. The sorry part of it all was that some of these goats were pregnant. There were no less than ten goats dead that evening. It was an obvious case of poisoning. I walked to the house of the secretary of the landlord association and told him about what I saw. He apparently had seen it too but he chose to be quiet about it: it appeared to be a case of “see no evil, hear no evil.” So I left it at that. By the following morning, all the goats had been evacuated. I was told that the owners of the goats had taken their animals to bury. Besides the high number of goats that were dead, something else bothered me. I discovered that no less than three families lost their animals that day and no one said anything about it. No one let out a cry; no one swore; there was just this death silence. A few weeks after this incidence, I still saw another goat dead. Still no one said anything. That goat was also evacuated and buried.
I am not the type to be quiet about a thing like that, so I asked questions. I was told that one Mr. A (not real name) had arrived from the United States many years ago to settle down in Nigeria. His family still lived abroad, from what I gathered. Mr. A built a small four bedroom flat in my neighborhood and was living out his retirement in this house. He lived alone, except for a young boy that must be his house help who lived with him. Mr. A is a pleasant man. When I am returning from watching football matches, I would often meet Mr. A at the entrance of his house and we would spend time discussing football. Mr. A was however unhappy with people’s goats coming around his veranda and littering them with poo. Mr. A complained about the matter to the people who owned the goats. When they would not do anything about it, he took the matter to court. The courts ruled in his favor and some of the neighbors withdrew their goats. But with the passage of time, the goats were back to littering the area.
Mr. A, now at his wits concerning what to do, confided in people living around that he was going to poison those animals. With his American bravado, I was told that he even warned the owners of the animals that if they did not keep their goats well, they would regret having them. A little over a year after Mr. A gave those warnings was when I arrived my house to find the roads littered with dead goats. So, everyone knew Mr. A may have killed those goats. And Mr. A did not deny it; neither did he say anything about it anymore. Again there was just this dead silence.
Yesterday, as I got ready to go to work, my wife told me: Mr. A is dead! What?! I exclaimed, what killed him? She said the boy living with Mr. A said that one day his boss woke up in the middle of the night complaining of pain in the neck and head. He was rushed to the hospital at midnight but gave up the ghost by 2am the same day. I am about the last person in the neighborhood to learn that Mr. A had died. He had died two week ago. When I shared the story with colleagues in the office, no one appeared surprised. They all said Mr. A had met with powers greater than him.
When I ate kola-nut and jumped over fetish matters over a decade ago, I did not give much thought to what was happening. But after Mr. A’s death, I began to realize that African people have more control of powers of darkness than many of us could give them credit for. I could only wish that they would channel those powers to constructive means and not towards destructive ends.
This article was first published on mouthpiece.com.ng in June 2019. It is reproduced here for your reading pleasure.