By Busuyi Mekusi
Growing up, I interacted with the jocular socialisation that one has to endure death, as the passage to heaven would offer some respites. It was not out of place for critical-minded individuals to also query the assertion, with the argument that the passage to heaven could be as tortuous and hectic as those one travels on in this side of the divide. With religious spirituality used to explain this phenomenon and others, as pre-western Africans deployed myths to explain the ordinarily inexplicable, post-living transitional engagements after the exhaustion of terrestrial mileage and expectancy are substantially open to propositions and extrapolations, with fluidity confronting rigidity in the matter of life and death.
The conversation the persona in Christopher Okigbo’s ‘Heavensgate’ has with mother Idoto does not just imply that heaven is a gated community, but the gods or goddesses do effectively secure this space. Notwithstanding the haziness involved in the details of life after death, your fidelity to the tiny inner voice in you would lighten your path and widen your horizon. Meanwhile, how healthily do you furrow the ‘heart of darkness’ that has made so many cannibals of Homo sapiens? Without emphasising the deceptive personality you have used to fool few, cheat some and gain undeserving mileages, you must cure your ‘heart of darkness’ and tame your masked cannibalism.
I got caught again in the complexity of taking a decision about what would attract the reflection for the week, given the gamut of events that dotted the news scape. As I was considering a title like ‘Seun Kuti’s assorted assault’, the question asked sarcastically on a Whatsapp group platform about whether the slap Seun Kuti landed the embattled Police Officer was a form of greeting, stirred my overcrowded mind to consider another possible topic like ‘Seun Kuti’s semiotics of slapping’. These were coming after being rattled by the ‘heaven’ a self-style pastor precipitated in one Kenya village forest, by asking his adherents to fast to death “to meet Jesus”. Not too long after, news broke that four US Embassy staff were killed in Anambra, south-eastern Nigeria. This was as one had struggled to unpack the intentions of the endless shootings of civilians ravaging different states in the United States and the use of ballistic missiles in Ukraine by Russia. Sudan also continues to respond to imperatives of internal contradictions and external manipulations.
Joseph Conrad’s semiautobiographical novella, Heart of Darkness, presages into the future, as it evidently reflects the horrific effects of the interference of western colonialism on both the colonisers and the colonies, particularly the dehumanisation of the colonised. The opinion of a major character in the text, Charlie Marlow, about the setting he calls ‘sepulchral city’, the reference of a colonial agent, Kurtz, his travailing and eventual death are instructive in a world where human quests violate the sanctity of others’ life, and when horror becomes a recurring decimal as found in the repetition of ‘horror’ in the conversation Kurtz has with Marlow in the text. One provocative reading given to Conrad’s Heart of Darkness is the designation of Africans as ‘cannibals’ with the psychological penetration of both the humans and space in Africa contrasting the psychical journey into western civilisation.
African continent, notwithstanding the renunciation of the animalistic bestiality and cannibalism label Eurocentric narratives impute on it, remains the butt of the world, with little efforts made to advance socio-politico-economically, and several automatic attempts deployed to retrogressive movements. Bad leaders in the continent have variously looted the commonwealth of their nations, and trafficking their booties to nations in Europe. One of the immediate negative consequences is that the people are pauperised, as poverty would easily precipitate starvation. Given the almost absence of governments in most Africa nations, poor infrastructure, insecurity, unemployment, hunger and insecure future have made the people to shift their attention from their political leaders to the supreme God. Therefore, citizens that should ordinarily insist that their leaders should live up to the expectations of their constitutional roles and responsibilities would resort to praying and fasting. Religion has, therefore, continued to remain an instrument of manipulation.
One of the murderous religious merchants operating on the African continent is the leader of a Kenya cult, Paul Nthenge Mackenzie, a purported taxi-driver-turned-preacher, who was alleged to have instructed his followers to starve to death “to meet Jesus”. As at the last count, 201 people were said to have died in a forest close to the Indian Ocean town of Malindi, with several others declared missing. The evil preacher was said to have appointed enforcers who ensured that no one left the forest where he laughably metaphorically speaking constructed a pathway to heaven. There was also the argument that starvation might not have been the only cause of deaths, as there were claims that some of the victims were beaten, strangulated, and suffocated. Unconfirmed reports also suggested that body parts of the dead were harvested. The heaven Mackenzie criminally sought for his followers in this forest is not uncommon in postmodern Nigeria where ritual sacrifices for money negates the established principles of economic growth and development.
The Kenya evil forest of death, like most religious sites in Africa, particularly Nigeria, was a haven to lazy citizens who would expect supernatural interventions in things that could be sorted by human knowledge or scientific interrogation and application. Religion, being the opium of the masses, has created gullible and malleable individuals that are roundly violated by self-acclaimed man of God but who are devil incarnates. Embarking on religious fasts in African countries like Nigeria is very easy, as the denial of oneself of food is easy to practice, due to the fact that the people have little or nothing to eat. Contextualising such a religious obligations in Europe or America where foods are neither scarce nor above the reach of the poor would explain why most African nations import virtually everything to stay afloat, in a shameless posturing of unhealthy consumerism.
As the cannibalistic horror in the Kenya forest assaulted the sensibilities of concerned global citizens, ‘the heart of darkness’ in Nigeria manifested in the assorted assault of a policeman by Seun Kuti, the son of the avant-garde belligerent Afro-beat singer, Fela Anikulapo. Even though there is almost unanimity about the provocative attitudes of most personnel of the Nigeria Police, the audaciousness of Seun Kuti in the amateur video that aired the cannibalism left so much to be desired. Some of the saddening manifestations in this tangle are; the impunity that has been licensed in the country, the total disregard for human personality, the accidental corrosiveness of celebrity and debased national institutions. The brutish dispositions of Nigeria Police personnel towards ordinary Nigerians and beggarly condescending patronisation of flirtatious givers found in self-constructed ‘street guys’ have not only raised the issue of contradicting citizenship, but what Akin Osuntokun recently called ‘master of ambiguity’.
Not very unusual of the comedy of error found in Nigeria polity, similar to the one Lamidi Apapa and other members of the ‘Fuji House of Commotion’ of the Labour Party are staging at the precinct of the Supreme Court, the Nigeria Police further wove the narrative of victimhood around the policeman assaulted by Seun Kuti to the effect that he was in comma, in order to secure legal permission to keep the accused for 21 days. Even though this tragic-comedy of the police fell flat, the strategy of falsehood raised issues about institutional trust and reliability of claim. It appears lies have been promoted to a pass for assessing the kind of heavenly gate found in the evil forest of Kenya.
The gun wars ravaging states in America spilled to the theatre of killings in south-eastern Nigeria as four officials of the United States Embassy on humanitarian assignment of medical outreach were ‘gunned down’ in Anambra State. It is not just a contradiction that these people could procure death in trying to prevent others from dying, but inexplicably tormenting that the assailants are not apes, even though they are monsters clothed in human skin.
Viewing the various cannibalism playing out in our ‘heart of darkness’ as a sincere global citizen, one could aver that the transitional gap between life and death is manned by insincere human agents that have mastered malleability, and who have weaponised poverty to exploit the ignorant poor, and deceive the knowledgeable rich. We are also confronted with the stack reality of how we could be blamably docile in cultivating the natural environment nature bestows on us to cure our hunger, rather than promoting starvation as the visa to ‘heaven’.
Religion remains a dangerous instrument in the hands of devilish people who claim to be exorcising their prey of Satan, and taking them in a roll-call to heaven. We have a duty to master our earthly space, heal our heart of darkness, and secure the world, than prematurely increasing the traffic to heaven. May Olodumare not find you guilty at the passage, when you will at the end stand naked before Him, like the persona in Okigbo’s ‘Heavensgate’.
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