From football to jollof rice, and other sundry striving like music and acting, I love the healthy rivalry between Nigeria and Ghana. But truly, Ghanaians know which is the giant of the two countries just as Nigerians know that the tattered singlet of Musa at the gate is worthier that the starched khaki of the brain-lazy, woebegone retired Major-General.
Though farther than Benin Republic, Togo, Niger and Cameroon in terms of geography, Ghana is closer to Nigeria in terms of shared experience and colonial language.
“Imagination is better than knowledge,” I agree with this wisdom of Einstein, who expatiates that, “Knowledge is limited to what we know and understand, while imagination embraces the entire world, and all there will ever be to know and understand.”
Through the trickery of the Tortoise, Nigerian folklore imagines connectivity between the dead and the living, weaving together a world of equality, freedom and dignity, where intelligence trumps force.
Similarly, Ghanaian mythology imagines the world through the labyrinth of the silk-spinning Spider, whose squishy body contrasts with the carapace of the Tortoise but both creatures’ legends secure a place for the weak in the society.
However, comeuppance awaits the Tortoise or the Spider whenever either wishes to take advantage of the vulnerable through wit and cunning.
In the worldview of African forebears, before things fell apart, intelligence always triumphs whenever brute force runs naked, making the Yoruba say, “Ogbon ju agbara lo,” wisdom is greater than power.”
The story of former President Muhammadu Buhari and incumbent President Bola Tinubu is similar to the Ghanaian myth about Nyame and Anansi.
Anansi is a spider who wants to be the owner of all the stories known in the world, but all stories belong to Nyame, the sky god. Anansi tells Nyame of his wish to buy all the stories from him but Nyame tells the spider the price is unaffordable.
When Anansi insists, Nyame attempts to outfox him, saying Anansi could have all the stories of the world if he could capture the four most dangerous creatures in the world. An excited Anansi assures Nyame that he would capture all the four creatures, and even offers his own mother, Ya Nsia, to boot!
The four creatures include Onini, the python; Osebo, the leopard; Mmoatia, the Fairy; and a hive of Mmoboro Hornets.
Anansi has a beautiful wife, Aso, who is super cunning, and whom he listens to. With his wife’s advice, Anansi beguiles all four creatures, one after the other.
To capture Onini, his wife devices a plan, and they both set out for the brook where Onini lives. There, they began to argue loudly about Onini’s length. Onini comes out and Anansi tells him about their argument.
Onini brooks no contest with the majesty of its length, it quickly stretches out beside the branch which Anansi brought with him. To get an accurate measurement of Onini, Anansi advises that one end of the python be tied to the palm tree branch while the other end should be tied against the other end of the tree branch.
After tying the head of the snake to the branch, it was easy to persuade the snake to have its tail tied to the other end of the stick. And the python became more vulnerable than a sitting duck.
To capture the leopard, Anansi digs a hole in the ground along the path which Osebo treads, covering it up with brushwood. Returning home after dark, Osebo falls into the pit. Anansi, the Good Samaritan, offers to get Osebo out of the hole through his web. But when the leopard got out of the hole, he remained a prisoner in Anansi’s web and was subsequently carried to Nyame’s palace.
The spider entraps the Mmoatia Fairy by making a doll covered in glue and placing it in the prairie where the fairy plays. She sees the doll and got attracted to it, touches it with both hands and becomes glued.
Anansi lures the Mmoboro hornets into his gourd by pouring water on himself and telling the hornets that a dangerous rain that had beaten him in another community, was fast approaching. He advises them to get into his gourd for safety. They obliged and became Anansi’s victims.
The Spider goes to Ya Nsia, his mother, and reminds her about the promise he made to the Sky god. Ya Nsia agrees to go with Anansi to Nyame.
Boxed in by the Spider’s achievements, Nyame summons the elders and his army, tells them about Anansi’s conquests, which no one else or kingdom could do, and thus pledges all stories to Anansi, the Spider. So, every story became known as a Spider story.
I’m almost sure scaling the hurdles wouldn’t have been smooth sailing for Anansi. There might have been moments of despair and frustration when he angrily shouted, “E gbe awon stories yi wa, EMI LOKAN!”
Unlike the world of Buhari and Tinubu, the world of Anansi was a law-abiding world, where crime was punished, and virtue rewarded.
It was a world, where the elephant, though mighty, couldn’t usurp the rights of the ant, and the lion, despite being the king of the jungle, dared not take what didn’t belong to him.
It was a world that would ‘open the calabash’ of death to a brainless, callous and nepotistic king who recently plundered the land for eight years of misgovernance – just like they ‘opened the calabash’ for wicked kings in the old Oyo Empire.
In the olden days when the Tortoise and the Spider counted among the wise men, people voted without let or hindrance, and their votes counted. The electoral umpire, even if it was the glasses-wearing YAK, dared not fail to upload the results of the presidential election as ARTICUlated in the electoral law.
During the days of the fabled Tortoise and the Spider, Umpire YAK dared not cause disaffection within the polity, as he did yesterday, without being summoned to the king’s palace, and bagging an outright banishment to the Evil Forest or the severance of his head from his neck at Imogun, the Place of Skulls.
If Yak followed the electoral process through, the Articulate and the Obidients would probably not go to the Court of Judges to lay their grievances over why the Bat was crowned the king without announcing his victory through the Kakaaki, as required by the law of the land.
Things have turned upside down today. Thorns have grown on the throne in Ife, and the king can no longer sit on the stool of his forebears but go about looking for plastic chairs in Owambe parties, allowing Pete, Tom, Dick and Harry to hug him.
In those days of the Tortoise and the Spider, when the blind Baba Fakunle predicted in Ola Rotimi’s ‘The gods are not to blame’, that King Odewale would marry his mother and kill his father, it came to pass.
Today, Christian and Muslim clerics have turned the church and the mosque into casinos, where forecasts are churned out like locusts in flight, with none coming to pass.
A cleric predicted that he was the incoming President Number 16 and that Buhari would hand over to him. Another one warned witches and wizards not to come to Abuja – as if witches and wizards ever amounted to anything or as if they are the problems of Nigeria.
Many Nigerian pastors and imams are fake men of God who brag about power over all infirmities but none has ever cured either a cough or a headache, not to talk of HIV/AIDS or COVID-19.
The removal of petroleum subsidy is a step in the right direction but the President must not behave like the Tortoise who got all the wisdom of the world in a gourd, which he tied to his neck, without knowing how to get the gourd to the top if a tree. Tinubu must exhibit cleverness and be be prepared to go to war against the oil cabal.
Online reactions trailed the presence of President Tinubu’s wife, Remi, for being present at an official meeting the president held with some officials on Wednesday.
Did Aso, the wife of Anansi, not help her Spider husband solve his riddles? If you don’t know the meaning of presidential monarchy, go to court.