Abdul Ningi and the “Apapin” fraternity

Senator Abdul Ningi

Festus Adedayo

Talented filmmaker, Tunde Kelani, recalibrated a popular Yoruba folklore in his famous Agogo Ewo (the forbidden gong) movie. A supremacy battle ensued between Eledumare – God, and Land. The two earthly ancient principalities had gone hunting and jointly killed an Emo rat. When it was time for sharing of the game, both got locked in a duel on who was the eldest and thus should take the chunkiest part of the animal. Armistice could not be found. In unspeakable display of greed, Land eloped with the totality of the ground game. Furious at this despicable treatment, Eledumare relocated from the earth to the firmament. From then onwards, like the proverbial bitter yam whose excesses made it a pariah and ineligible for a pounded yam meal, Land’s excesses led to its total rejection. In sympathetic protest against Land, all that Eledumare created withdrew their bestowals upon the earth. Rain, for instance, sheathed its downpour and plants adamantly refused to sprout, leading to massive hunger in the land. Weeping and wailing sundered the earth, so much that the mammary glands in maidens’ breasts withered unceremoniously. Abiodun, wife of highly respected and one of the best known, critically acclaimed Yoruba dramatists to have emerged from postcolonial Africa, Duro Ladipo, also known as Moremi or Oya, was the narrator of the folklore. She leads the chorus of the Yoruba incantatory song, Olunrete and her children listeners spice it with the backup, Aja nrete ja. Then, Duro-Ladipo delves into an epic poem of the evil machination of a selfish combine of leaders in an imaginary country named Jogbo. These leaders, she narrates, are locked in a conspiratorial gang-up to castrate the land.

It is important to quote the epic poem verbatim for its relevance in today’s Nigeria: “You form yourselves into parties to selfishly deceive us that you would reform Jogbo. In utter contravention of the spirit of your advertised intention, our collective game which we jointly killed has become the booty you share among yourselves. You are embezzlers (egbe apapin) who shave and beautify one part of the head, wickedly leaving the other half unattended. You indulge in splendor but forget the masses of our country.” The epic ends with the narrator enjoining the masses of Jogbo country to be watchful and vigilant.

Last Tuesday, a roiling crisis struck the Nigerian senate like lightning. When it subsided, it revealed the Nigerian parliament’s sinkhole appetite for filthy lucre. Storm petrel and unapologetic northern Nigerian senator, Abdul Ningi, representing Bauchi Central Senatorial District, had stirred his usual hornet’s nest. The recently passed Nigeria’s 2024 budget had undergone serious disparaging from Ningi who claimed it was padded with the sum of N3.7 trillion. As usual, he also attempted to weaponize and whip up Nigeria’s fragile ethnicity sentiment

What Ningi did was to pelt the naked parliament with reeking faeces. The whitewash crew of Senators Solomon Adeola (Chairman, Senate Committee on Appropriation, representing Ogun West) Michael Opeyemi Bamidele of Ekiti Central and Jimoh Ibrahim (Ondo South) immediately sprung up to rescue their pot of soup. As they attempted to dress the parliament in borrowed robes of righteousness, it boomeranged. All that the people saw was naked sanctimony. Unfortunately, their glib talks could not remove the stench from the senate. Rather, they succeeded in making a hero of Ningi, a staunch member of the Apapin Jogbo leaders who, for 17 years, had been part of the rot.

Adeola mellifluously defended the budget. Bamidele delivered one of the most self-serving speeches ever. He went on a binge of ethnicizing a fraternal, group sharing of Nigeria’s budget. He cited the history of gang-ups in the National Assembly and how the senators had been collaborating to undermine the Nigerian people. He then, metaphorically, concluded that it was time for the south under Akpabio to take ownership of the buccaneer sharing of national patrimony that has been going on in the parliament since 1999. Senator Jimoh Ibrahim wanted the police IG to arrest Ningi. He sounded like one suddenly seized by an undertaker mentality. Revelations after the stormy session have shown that, rather than Ningi alone, all the senators who authored that leaflet’s padding should be in the slammer. The deodorants were either too little or too late.

You would imagine that you were listening to Shakespeare’s Mark Antony. Suave, sweet but poisoned chalice.  The senators’ speeches were another “friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears; I come to bury Caesar, not to praise him.” Like a whirlwind, they aimed to blurry the vision of Nigerians from seeing the maggots wriggling inside the 2024 Appropriation Act. Adeola was at his glibbest best. Bamidele descended into the primordial. Jimoh Ibrahim spoke like a butcher in the abattoir, seeking companionship in the cadences of disorder and violence. Ningi must be arrested for treason, he sermonized ad-nauseam. The senators later came across as shrouds deliberately spread to cover the over-two-decades pastime of huge sleazes that have become the way of Nigeria’s parliament. You could compare them to well-fed maggots wriggling out of carrion; maggots whitish in colour but enveloped by dark rots. Senate President Godswill Akpabio was also at hand to wield the gavel. That gavel has given vent to vultures’ feast on Nigeria’s resources in the last 24 years of the Fourth Republic.

After suspending Ningi, the triumvirate must have clinked glasses of celebration. They had succeeded in stoning Ningi, the bird which alerted a flock of vultures to their chunky game. The initiate of the fraternity who betrayed the cult by his unholy disclosure on BBC Hausa Service radio had been handed his just recompense. The senators had hardly dropped their wine glasses when, in the manner of a broken water tap, revelations began to burst out with the fury of Anthony Joshua’s punches. Nigerians began to push back with revelations from the budget. Today, Ningi’s allegation of N3.7 trillion padding is proving to be icing on the cake of a massive heist gone burst. As such, the analogy of Jogbo is proving to be the most fitting explanation of the shameful revelations.

The Apapin concept, whose explanation can be found in a hunter’s forest, I explain underleaf: Apapin is a Yoruba hunters’ lingo. It speaks to the earlier Duro-Ladipo narrative of theft and embezzlement. I once espoused, in Hunting buffalo in presidential jet, (October 15, 2023) that dialogues in the forest can explain the unequal nature of our human society, especially between those who are in government, their families and the governed. It can also explain the inequality in the economic systems of the world, capitalism and socialism and the divide between leaders and their followers. In hunting expeditions, the first thing hunters do is to identify what particular forest to go. When they have done this, judging by prior knowledge of the forest or tales told about them, they then identify the particular game that makes that forest its habitat. This could range from antelopes, porcupines, buffalo, fox, to leopards, etc. When a hunting crew embarks on this journey, it divides itself into two. The first set of hunters is one that holds dane guns; they are often about two or three persons. The other crew, usually many, as many as ten, is called the “forest encircling hunting group.” The job of this group is to envelope the identified forest. With sticks, stones and any other objects, they make sufficient noise and discomforting howls to unsettle the animals from their holes. The aim is to get the animals suddenly fleeing and scampering to other parts of the forest. In the process, the animals run into the crew of about three whose guns are readied to fire. Then the escaping animal gets pounded by a fiery volley of bullets which immobilizes it and prepares it as a fitting gourmet for dinner.

Game successfully hunted, with blood dripping from it, the hunters then heave the animal, depending on its weight, on their shoulders, on a journey back to the village. It is time for sharing of the meat, the spoil of the hunting expedition; what is called Apapin – literally, kill and share. The crew that encircles the forest, which disrupts the animal from its hole, is decidedly and actually, the one that does the most herculean of the task. It is comparatively less armed and harm could easily come its way on the expedition. It also exerts the greatest energy, having to walk inside thorns, briers and thistles to get the animal scramble off its comfort zone. The other crew merely holds the gun and shoots when the animal attempts to escape. But, in the sharing of the now dismembered animal, the formula does not follow this pattern of contribution to the hunting. The shooting crew gets the meatiest part, ranging from the thighs, the neck to even the torso while the “encircling crew” is given less.

What has been happening in Nigeria’s parliament – Senate and House of Representatives – in the last 24 years can be easily explained by the above long narrative of hunters and apapin. Nigerians and the parliamentarians jointly hunted game. Nigerians were the bush encircling crew. The parliamentarians held the gun, the Appropriation Act. At each budget cycle, when it is time for sharing of our collective game, the parliament deploys licit and illicit tricks to swindle Nigerians. It then goes home with the chunkiest meat of the game, leaving miserable bones behind. One top senator in the 8th Assembly was reputed to always send his foot soldiers to “nondescript” federal commissions, agencies and parastatals to solicit their DGs to ask senate to vote funds for their infrastructural projects. The senator would then fight for the projects’ inclusion in the budget. Immediately after budget is passed, he would send his contractors to execute them. Many of the senators have become stupendously wealthy through this trickster gambit. Yet, the game is our collective patrimony. We are hungry, even lean as skeletons, while Nigerian parliamentarians grow rotund cheeks.

Make no mistake about it: Nigeria’s parliament is a fraternity. A coven of witches. Since the revelations of gross trickery in this year’s budget, how many senators of Peter Obi’s Labour Party, PDP of APGA has resigned their positions, or spoken against the padding menace? None. This is because, in fraternities, it is about group interest and nothing else. While the coven/fraternity is cobbled together by secrecy and blood oaths, the Nigerian parliament may, in reality, not be ruled by blood oaths. However, its own oath is mutual sucking of the blood of Nigeria’s collective heritage. For instance, just as it is done in Nigeria’s parliament, a significant portion of Ogboni fraternity operations are deliberately shielded off non-members. Like it, too, the yearly federal budget rituals are deliberately hidden from ordinary eyes. At the death of Ogboni lords, their corpses are (allegedly) requested by living initiates, allegedly with the brief to sever the hearts off the cavity. Such, many times, brings the dead initiates’ families in conflict with the Ogboni elders, most of whom are always in the dark about the card-carrying membership of their departed ones.

In 1960, Peter Morton-Williams did a locus-classicus on the opacity of Yoruba fraternity and cult organizations in his The Yoruba Ogboni Cult, published in Africa: Journal of the International African Institute, Vol. 30, No. 4, pp. 362-374. An earlier work on this cult which Yoruba call “secret society” was carried out in 1910 by self-taught German ethnologist and archaeologist, Leo Frobenius, whose works influenced Aime Cesaire and Leopold Sedar Senghor’s Negritude. Frobenius discovered the controlling importance of cults in Yoruba religious organizations and promptly became initiated into the Ibadan Ogboni cult. Subsequent similar scholarly works emerged dwelling on what actually interested the Yoruba in esotericism. One of such was Babatunde Lawal’s A Ya gbo, A Ya To: New Perspective on Edan Ogboni, published in African Arts, vol. 28, no. 1, 1995, pp. 36-49, 98-100, Lawal B.’s Ejiwapo: The dialectics of Twoness in Yoruba Art and CultureAfrican Arts, Spring, 2008, and Hans Witte’s Earth and the Ancestors: Ogboni Iconography. The books written by Susanne Wenger, a longstanding German devotee of classical Yoruba spirituality and art, known as Adunni Olorisa, who publicly claimed to have been a member of the Ogboni society, are also strong indicators of this. Wenger’s works, like A Life with the Gods and The Return of the Gods:The Sacred Art of Susanne Wenger, where a picture of hers with Ogboni elders is attached, most likely after her initiation rituals, made direct reference to the inaccessible operations of Ogboni cult, its beliefs and symbolism.

When a group of people are united by a common goal, common purpose and mutual financial aspiration, especially when such aspiration is illegal, they become a fraternity. They then sacrifice everything, anything within their powers for the sustenance of that common purpose. King Sunny Ade, famous Juju maestro, dwelled tangentially on the nocturnal minds of fraternities and witchcrafts in one of his albums in the 1970s. He sang that the witch who got drenched by a previous night rainfall will suffer the tyranny of non-disclosure. Where does she tell neigbours she was coming from when the downpour occurred? On an Arise television programme last week, when confronted with details of the opaque nature of Senator Ningi’s suspension from the parliament, Enyinaya Abaribe latched on to an Igbo aphorism for explanation. The palmwine tapper does not say everything he sees on top of the tree. The palmwine tapper’s non-disclosure is against the spirit of a democratic open society. It is regrettably the code of operation in the Nigerian parliament.

As antithetical to modernity as it may sound, the logic of fraternities can be grounded in and corroborated by the history of blood oaths in Africa. Our forefathers’ scamper to seek existential explanations from Ogboni, witches, wizards’ cults and fraternities are poignant reminders of the existence of the sustenance of group interests. This is done through the Aboriginal Ogboni Fraternity or the Reformed Ogboni Fraternity, with their esoteric orders. In this same vein, the Nigerian parliament has proven to be a reincarnate of those sacred groves of fraternities. It holds the executive by the jugular as the constitution empowers it to do. It can castrate and relieve the executive of its office. Since the executive too has dinosaur-sized skeletons in its cupboard, it easily becomes a marionette in the hands of this fraternity. What transpired before, during and after the Tuesday stormy session leading to the suspension of Senator Ningi is a testament to this.

Abdul Ningi violated one of the sacred codes of fraternities and he had to be disciplined by the chief priests of the fraternity. In covens, public disclosure of sacred tenets is equal to treason. Where we copied this democratic system from, Akpabio and all the dramatis personae of this evil attempt to filch Nigeria’s collective wealth would tender their letters of resignation. And walk out of the Three Arms Zone, shamefaced and straight to a jailhouse. Those who scooped maggots into the 2024 Appropriation Act should face the music. The wind has blown. And we have seen the rump of self-centered buccaneers.

-Dr Adedayo, a journalist, lawyer and public affairs analyst, writes from Ibadan