There is this story that helped to tame the greed of pre and post-colonial Yoruba society, as well as any tendency within it to play God. Set in an African village, the story is that of a young wretched fisherman (ap’ejalodo) who was ravaged by failure. He was unable to catch enough fish over the years to rescue him from the pangs of lack. One day however, as he thrust his fishing hook into the river, it caught one of the largest fishes he had ever seen. Excited, Ap’ejalodo pulled his awesome catch up to the river bank and proceeded to yank it off the hook. As he attempted to carry it to the basket however, the fish began to speak like a human being. Ap’ejalodo was at first afraid but he eventually pulled himself up and listened to the sermon of the strange fish. Singing, ap’ejalodo, mo de, ja lo lo, ja lo lo… (Fisherman, here I come…) the fish pleaded to be rescued by the fisherman. It promised that if he spared its life, in lieu of this rescue, he should ask for whatever he wanted in life. Excited, Ap’ejalodo let it off the hook and asked for wealth. Truly, by the time he got home, the ragged clothes on him and his wife had become very big damask agbada and aran respectively, with their wretched hut transformed into a big mansion and both now living the life of unimaginable splendour.
After a few years, the couple was however barren and the wife entreated Ap’ejalodo to go fishing again and ask his fish friend to rescue them from the social shame. As he thrust his hook into the river again, it caught the strange fish and the earlier process was repeated. This time, he asked for a child and the strange fish granted it. Over the years, he magisterially summoned the fish through same process and the fish bailed the couple out. Then one day, Ap’ejalodo and wife were just waking up from their magnificent bed when a blinding and intruding ray of the sun meandered into their bedroom. Enraged, Mrs. Ap’ejalodo couldn’t understand the diffidence of the sun. Couldn’t it respect the privacy and majesty of the richest couple in the land? She angrily asked Ap’ejalodo to go meet his fish friend and ask that they be given the power to control the temerity of the Sun and other impertinent celestial forces.
Ap’ejalodo went to the river bank, thrust his fishing hook into the river and again invoked the strange fish. And Ap’ejalodo made his plea. The fish was peeved by the fisherman’s greed and audacity. “You were nobody; I made you somebody and you now have everything at your beck and call. Yet, you want to compete with God in majesty and you will not allow even a common sun to shine and perform the illuminative assignment God brought it to perform on earth!” The fish angrily stormed back into the river and as Ap’ejalodo, downcast, walked back home, his old torn and wretched dress suddenly came back on him, his mansion transformed into the hut of the past and the couple’s latter wretchedness was more striking than the one of yore.
Suchlike stories helped to shape the moral man in Africa. His cosmology was governed by anecdotes, lore and mores which prescribed moral codes. For centuries, these sustained the associational and moral forte of Africa. Anecdotes that restrained a potential emperor from treading the path of ruination were told to children, even in their infancies; same about petty thieves who came to ghastly ends. For instance, the destructive end of greed was foretold in pre-colonial Yoruba society in the emblematic story of Tortoise and the scalding hot porridge on the fire he stole and covertly put on his head, which burnt his scalp. At the end of the story, the story teller will ask the children what moral it teaches.
At first, the cosmos was inexplicable to the pre-historical African man. He could not understand nor explain how the rain fell from the heavens; how fruits sprouted from the tree and how the rivers, when they overfilled their brims, flooded and killed residents by the river bank. For Egyptians living by the Nile, it was explainable as the anger of the river goddess. So the African explained the cosmos using himself. No wonder some atheist philosophers like Soren Kiekergaard the hunchback and Voltaire the sickly said that man created God in his own image.
When I saw the trending video on the social media with the sound bite, Kabiyesi, ee (Osun State) l’owo mi! (Your Majesty, Osun doesn’t have my money!) allegedly made by the Leader of the All Progressives Congress (APC) and former governor of Lagos State, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu at the palace of the Ataoja of Osogbo, during the campaign tour for the candidature of his nephew, Gboyega Oyetola whom he wants to take over from Rauf Aregbesola of Osun State, the first thought that sieved into my mind was the ancient and evergreen Ap’ejalodo story. Why is Asiwaju trying to best Ap’ejalodo in ingratitude to his fish god, avaricious reach for the sky and attempt to play the majesty of God?
I have heard stories from acquaintances who knew the Leader at the Ososami area of Ibadan’s Oke-Ado in the 1970s which are not too dissimilar from the Ap’ejalodo’s. A strange fish thereafter took the Leader’s plea and transmogrified him, through Mobil Producing, becoming the second civilian governor of Lagos State, through the typhoon of impeachment for perjury and certificate forgery that swept away his colleagues of the Class of 1999 like Evan Enwerem and Salisu Buhari, the turbulence of re-election and Olusegun Obasanjo’s opposition to his continuous governorship. The Leader is now a Governor of Governors and Installer of Nigeria’s President. The Leader’s wealth is rumoured to be akin only to that of Ap’ejalodo as some mischievous commentators say he owns almost half of Lagos. Kabiyesi, ee l’owo mi! sounds like the audacious conceit of Ap’ejalodo against the Sun. The questions that come with that palace boast are, how rich is our own Ap’ejalodo? What job has he done since leaving Mobil other than being governor? At what point did he acquire the rumoured humongous wealth, enough to make him richer than a whole state? As Americans ask, yes we have seen the bucks, where is the Leader’s shop? What is the usability of these huge bucks for the Nigerian collective? How many times did anyone hear Bill Gates make similar boasts?
Today, the Yoruba have no identifiable leader because Ap’ejalodo, in the pursuit of his ambition to conquer the galaxy, splintered immortal Obafemi Awolowo’s succession ladder which then had Abraham Adesanya as leader, by sponsoring a divisive group called Afenifere Renewal Group. For the sons of Oduduwa, things fell horribly apart at that intersection and the centre has refused to hold.
Perhaps the story that grossly approximates the Ap’ejalodo example of a mere mortal trying to oust the jurisdiction of the Sun is the Leader’s rumoured attempt to stop Akinwunmi Ambode, the current governor of Lagos State whom he installed, from seeking a second term in office. As it is now, only Ambode’s mother’s head – as the Yoruba would say, drawing largely from their philosophical understanding of the spiritual importance of the head – can save him. Ap’ejalodo is said to have ordered the removal of his Persian rug from the governor’s feet. Already, 57 Local Government chairs and the party structure which he uses for such jobs, have put forward, with his abetment, two sidekicks of his – Jide Sanwo-Olu and Femi Hamzat, two former commissioners, to battle the direct primary slated for about two weeks’ time with Ambode.
But why would the Leader swim against the current of the mood of Lagos and indeed Nigeria as a whole which has seen or been told the massive infrastructural strides of the few-words-but-huge-action governor? Is performance subservient to esophagus in Ap’ejalodo’s dictionary? Many prognoses have been given for the Leader’s wrath. First is that Ambode is allegedly elitist, arrogant, aloof, penny-pinching and refuses to spread the illicit largesse associated with governance to politicians in Lagos. Second is that he allegedly blocked Ap’ejalodo’s conduit of sleaze and dared to be master of his own game in the Cleaner Lagos Initiative. Second is that Ambode dared to run against method in the Land Use Act of Lagos which hurt the Leader and other entrenched land vultures in Lagos. Aregbesola is also alleged to be stoking the fire as Ambode was said to have refused to deploy Lagos cash into the Tinubu nephew election in Osun and vehemently opposed the incongruity of Aregbesola picking a senatorial ticket in Lagos after his lackluster governance. And as everyone knows, the Ap’ejalodo has such a vice grip on Lagos that Alausa, the seat of government, is just a euphemism, as the real power seat is in Bourdillon where the Lion resides. Strangely coincidental is the allegation that the Leader’s own Mrs. Ap’ejalodo owns the patency of Sanwo-Olu’s gubernatorial initiative. Just like in the original Ap’ejalodo story.
Ambode’s predecessor, Babatunde Fashola was a recipient of same deadly and thorny grip of power by Ap’ejalodo. Remember Fashola’s iconic “may our loyalty not be tested” statement at the National Assembly while being screened for his ministerial position, a cursory reference to the dilemma he faced between bowing before the Mammon appetite of Ap’ejalodo and the development of Lagos? Fashola was reputed then to be the best that Nigeria paraded, (until Ambode’s infrastructure works turned Fashola’s into a dwarf). In spite of this, the Leader began the process of throwing spanners into his 2011 re-election bid, allegedly because Fashola dared block the roots to his oesophagus. At his exit in 2015, Fashola was excluded from the Nigerian political calculi of governors whose successors were birthed by them. His attempt at nominating his Attorney General as successor backfired like an old Morris Minor.
With his reported stiff-necked disposition against Ambode’s second term, Asiwaju’s strange fish friend has apparently taken him to a colossal height of earthly conquests where he sees himself as God’s deputy in Lagos. Like Mrs. Ap’ejalodo, on this Ambode issue, Asiwaju cannot understand the diffidence of a mere mortal like Ambode who cannot respect the majesty of a political god who single-handedly enthroned a Nigerian president and whose wealth outweighs that of a Nigerian state. Paraphrasing the words of the strange fish, Asiwaju will not allow Ambode, a man widely seen as the Lagos sun, to shine and do the illuminative assignment God brought him to perform on earth. Right now, the Leader is by the river bank to meet his fish friend and ask that he be given the power to control the temerity of the Sun and other obdurate celestial forces. What will the strange fish tell Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu?