When you give power to a man who has yet to learn how to use it, you will be among the first casualties of the misuse of that power.
That was the thought running around in my head as I knelt before the crowd, my head placed on a concrete slab, a masked swordman standing over me with his sword glittering in the hot afternoon sun. The young King of Ijaya Land, Oba Adeniyi Olawale was sitting among the other dignitaries at my back; they had all come to witness my execution.
From where I knelt, I could hear the crowd roaring, “Kill him!” “Away with the rebel”, “Down with dissenters”. I sighed, rubbed my nose on the slab to clean off the sweat that was on my nose. I heard another section of the crowd placing bets on whether or not I would beg for my life or urinate on myself when the time to sever my head came. I sighed again.
Two years ago, myself and Oba Adeniyi Olawale were best friends. We had just finished our NYSC in Edo State and were looking for jobs when news came that Olawale’s father, Oba Adeniyi Adewale had gone the way of his ancestors. Being one of Olawale’s best friends, I followed him home to Ibadan. I stayed for the burial of the Oba and helped around the house.
Then the consultations with the priests and the seventy-seven deities of Ijaya Land began. Traditionally, the position of the Oba goes to the first son of the first wife. Olawale was the third son of Oba Adewale’s second wife. The night the consultations started, Olawale came to my room around 11 pm. He woke me and told me to sit up. He confided in me that he wanted to become King.
I was shocked, “Ah! Olawale. What is this you are saying? You, an initiate talking like this; what then should the outsiders say? Do you not know the tradition?”
His face was set. “Olabiyi, why should ancient laws and backward decrees still hold in the 21st century? Do you really think an illiterate palm wine tapper is the best this town can present in this age and time?”
I sighed. “Olawale, what is your plan?”
He smiled and stood up, “Now, you’re talking.”
Over the next one week, we met with priest after priest, promising them lands and riches. We promised to train their children and to send them regularly to the white man’s land. It was no surprise to us two weeks later, when the priests declared before the whole town at a town hall meeting that the seventy-seven deities of Ijaya Land had unanimously picked Olawale to be King.
Olawale put up a show and acted surprised. He broke down crying, saying he was still young and didn’t want the weight of a Kingship stopping him from living his life. The priests too – wonderful actors whose performances that day would give Hollywood actors a run for their money – played their roles well; warning him of the consequences of rejecting the deities’ decree. Eventually, Olawale accepted and preparation towards coronation began.
The days before Olawale’s coronation gave me time to think. Since his selection was announced, he had started displaying arrogance. He would grab the butts of the women coming from the farm and playfully slap their breasts. When they complained, he would tell them, “The King owns the land and all its inhabitants.”
His actions made me remember how he was back in school. I remembered the many times he threw me under so he could curry favour. Olawale was a man who cared about only three people; he, himself and him. In 200 level, he was the class rep; he abused the post. As Faculty President; he misused the position and embezzled faculty dues. As Students’ Union President, he did not only embezzle; he slept with half of the female population in school.
A day to the coronation, I called him and asked if he was ready for the challenges ahead. He laughed and told me he was not going to face challenges, he was going there to enjoy life.
The second day of the coronation, the priests came to greet him and to remind him of his promises. He assured them that there was no problem. He asked the palace cook to serve them food and drinks, after which they left. The priests went to bed but never woke up.
They were Olawale’s first casualties.
Over the next two years, Olawale ruled Ijaya Land with an iron fist. He increased the taxes, mandated every family to bring him food every day, placed his royal legs on the beautiful women of the town and had parents and spouses who protested his actions killed and dumped in the evil forest.
I tried talking to him, but he wouldn’t listen. I had to go on exile in protest of his actions. He begged me to come back, but I refused.
His birthday was coming and I knew I had to go. I couldn’t leave my workplace until the weekend, so I sent my wife and daughter to Ijaya Land to help with the preparations, with a promise to join them by weekend.
On Friday, I hurriedly packed my bag and drove to Ijaya Land. On entering, I began to sense that something was wrong. The looks I got as I got down from the car ranged from sympathy to scorn. I shrugged and entered.
The first sign of trouble was seeing my daughter on the ground, crying with no one to attend to her. The Oba was not in sight. I carried my daughter and went in.
It was then I heard my wife’s voice – screaming. I put my daughter down and ran in the direction of the scream. I saw the palace guards and servants standing around, laughing. I couldn’t see their source of joke until I pushed one of the guards aside. There was my wife, held by four palace guards – naked. Standing over her was Oba Olawale, heaving and humping as he drove forcefully into her. I went mad.
“Olawale!” I shouted.
The laughter from the guards died off. Olawale looked at me, nodded and said calmly, “You don’t call an Oba by his name; it is an abomination.”
“To hell with abominations!” I shouted back. I charged at him, but the guards held me firmly and would not let me go.
“Let me finish here, I will attend to you.” He said calmly, again.
I closed my eyes to avoid seeing the violation of my wife being carried out by a mosnter I helped create. Hot tears rolled down my face.
Finally, he finished and wore a robe. He asked the guards to leave me and take my wife away for cleaning.
“Olawale, what has come over you? Do you realise that it’s my wife you just violated?” I said.
He looked at me with his head cocked, “So?”
He went in and I took my wife and daughter, took them to a car park and sent them home. I came back to the palace, asked for the Oba, and told him, “Olawale, you have been doing this for a long time, playing God, killing who you want and sparing who you will; sleeping with people’s wives and children forcefully, but I assure you, this will be your last. Immediately I leave here, I am writing a letter to the National Human Rights Commission and the ICC; this town will be invaded, the grave sites will be discovered and your atrocities will be exposed to the world. Your execution will be televised to the whole world and you will be remembered forever as yet another monster that this world was bedevilled with.”
Olawale listened carefully, shrugged and said ok.
After about fifteen minutes, I got into my car and left. When I got to the outskirt of the town, my car marched some nails and the tires deflated. I was surrounded by men in masks, forcefully dragged down from the car and taken back to town amidst beatings and insults.
The King summoned a town hall meeting and there declared me a traitor, a dissenter and a rebel who wanted to bring in outsiders to cause commotion. Majority of those in the town were illiterates and it wasn’t difficult to feed them lies and turn them against me.
The King found me guilty and sentenced me to death. My fate was sealed.
As I knelt down, my head on the slab, with the crowd roaring and calling for my execution, I thought of their ignorance and how shocking it was. These people would never understand how close they would be to freedom if I had successfully written those letters. They would never know the utter helplessness that would further descend on the town after my execution. I am their only salvation, and ignorantly, they are calling for my execution.
A thought flashed in my mind. This monster, I helped create him; it is only fitting that I destroy him; even if I will have to pay for it with a swifter and more humilating death.
Oba Olawale stood up and came to me, with four guards following him. “O-la-bi-yiiiii” He called. “I tried to treat you like a brother, but you paid back my good with evil. You want to scatter my kingdom.”
He looked at the crowd and they roared, “Kill him!!!”
Before he could turn his face back, I snatched the sword from the masked man standing over me and drove it into Oba Olawale’s chest. As the sword was entering him, three sets of swords slashed through me. He fell with his mouth opened in pain and shock. The blows from the swords came slashing through me. The last thing I heard before the sword severed my head was the crowd roaring, “Freedom! Freedom!! Freedom!!!”
Life lessons are learnt by all, but when and how, always differ. Some people learn life lessons at a tender age with others’ experiences as teachers. Others live to be hundred and only get to learn life lessons when they have departed the land of the living. And yet others are force-fed life lessons, kicking and screaming, in the school of hard knocks and painful personal experiences.
I was force-fed life lessons late in life in the school of painful personal experiences and I paid for those classes with my own life.