The Voice of Mutallab, the Hands of the Dead

by Pius Adesanmi

Terrorist Umar Farouk AbdulMutallab is the ill-bred scion of privilege that was perhaps destined to be the instrument through which the dead would visit the comeuppance of sleeplessness on a certain vicious establishment that is responsible for the greatest heap of corpses in Nigeria’s history. Let’s be clear from the onset: I am talking about the same people that Wole Soyinka has addressed in such stellar public lectures as “Project Nationhood: The Chosen against all Others” and “The Precursors of Boko Haram”.

I am talking about a certain Feudo-Caliphal establishment in northern Nigeria whose only investment in the Nigerian project is a lazy and parasitic dependency on other people’s oil in the Niger Delta, buoyed as it were by a psychopathological obsession with illegitimate Federal power on the one hand, and the mass production of poverty in their own necks of the woods on the other hand. I have also previously offered my take on this murderous establishment in the extended essay, “The American South as Warning to the Nigerian North”.

What happened as a near-tragedy for the rest of the world and a clear tragedy for Nigeria and Nigerians on Christmas day – CNN’s Rick Sanchez now talks of a “Nigerian nightmare”- in Detroit may indeed be the voice of the young and stupid Mutallab, the hands of the dead, I argue, are also actively at work in those sinewy ways that they work only in Africa to ensure that endless mytho-cosmic traffic between the worlds of the unborn, the living, and the dead. To understand what I believe is going on here, you must be willing to suspend your subscription to the explanatory authority of all the Euro-philosophical and Americo-modern analyses that have attended this event among Nigerian, African, and other pundits and let the African worldview offer an explanatory grid for these things for once.

The African worldview I have in mind here is Yoruba, my primary tool of analysis. Any Yoruba who is sufficiently familiar with his culture knows not to joke with the concept of “ro’ku”. Where the family of the deceased has good reason to believe that there has been foul play – death from natural causes is rare in Africa – in the demise of their loved one, they perform certain rituals – “won ro’ku” – to ensure that the spirit of the dead finds no permanent rest. Once the “ro’ku” rituals have been performed, the spirit in question quits ghostland frequently to roam earthworld in search of vengeance. Tormented by apparitions and other bizarre happenings that could even involve being flogged by invisible hands, the guilty is pushed deeper and deeper into an abyss of irrational and insane actions that may eventually eventuate in a confession of responsibility for the demise of Lagbaja. The relatives of the deceased who decided to “ro” the “iku” (death) of their beloved may then rest in the comfort that the dead has secured vengeance and is now also resting.

Often – and largely due to the influence of Christianity and Islam – a family may elect not to go the ostensible route of “ro’ku” rituals. But even in such cases, there is often a quiet, subterranean actuation of the belief that “ori oku a ja”, literally, “the head” of the departed will fight and avenge itself. Head is to be understood here in the African sense – something like Chinua Achebe’s chi. Here, we are in the domain of indirect “ro’ku” where no ritualistic actions of facilitation or mediation are required on the part of the living. The wicked people who are directly responsible for a death and the structures or people who bear indirect responsibility for the said death through actions of complicity or criminal inaction are made vulnerable to the vengeful whims of the restless and fighting “head” of the dead.

The Yoruba say of such persons and the people or powers behind them – “won o ni sinmi” – they will not (find) rest. Whether through the enactment of appropriate rituals or through simple belief in its potency, the philosophy of “ro’ku” presupposes an endless roaming of the spirit of the dead in order to occasion irrational actions among the living and the guilty. Thus, at any given point, earthworld is crisscrossed by unappeased angry souls that have not been able to find eternal rest and must deprive the guilty among the living of sleep and rest until the society of the living embraces the path of restitution and punishment.

Unappeased angry souls such as that of Gideon Akaluka, the young Igbo trader, whose restless spirit has roamed and haunted the city of Kano since December 1994, “ro-ing” a death whose gruesomeness is only surpassed by the criminal shortness of Nigeria’s national memory. We have simply forgotten him and moved on. Yet, Mr. Akaluka’s family must still deal with the gory spectre of their son’s head dangling from a spike in broad daylight, as a mob of crazy Islamic militants danced with it through the streets of Kano, chanting Allahu Akbar (another Christian infidel down, some 50 million more to go in Nigeria!). The mob that beheaded Akaluka in Kano had enablers and complicitous political profiteers in the northern elite and leadership. Now Akaluka is “ro-ing” his own death. The scions of the politically complicit are misbehaving. And the chicken is home to roost.

Unappeased angry souls such as that of Christianah Oluwasesin, the young Yoruba school teacher, whose restless spirit has roamed and haunted the town of Gandu in Gombe state since March 2007, “ro-ing” a death whose gruesomeness is only surpassed by the criminality of Nigeria’s national memory. We have simply forgotten her and moved on. Yet Ms Oluwasesin’s family still deals with the gory spectre of their daughter’s lifeless body, clubbed to death in broad daylight by crazed Islamist pupils who accused her of desecrating the Holy Koran even as they chanted Allahu Akbar (another Christian infidel down, some 49 million, nine hundred and ninety-nine more to go in Nigeria). The lynch mob in Gandu had enablers and complicitous political profiteers in the northern elite and leadership. Now Oluwasesin is “ro-ing” her own death. The scions of the politically complicit are misbehaving. And the chicken is home to roost.

Unappeased angry souls such as that of Grace Ushang, the 25 year-old youth corper whose restless spirit has roamed and haunted the city of Maiduguri since September 2009, “ro-ing” a death whose gruesomeness is only surpassed by the criminality of Nigeria’s national memory. We have forgotten her in less than five months and moved on. Yet Ms Ushang’s family still deals with the gory spectre of their daughter’s lifeless body, raped and murdered by irate Islamic militants offended by the sight of her in khaki trousers – given to her by the Federal Government of Nigeria, a state she was serving at the time. She wore trousers in Nigeria’s sharianistan and paid with her life in 2009! (another Christian infidel down, some 40 million, nine hundred and ninety-eight million more to go in Nigeria.) The mob that raped and murdered Grace Ushang has enablers and complicitous political profiteers in the northern elite and leadership. Now Ushang is “ro-ing” her own death. The scions of the politically complicit are misbehaving. And the chicken is home to roost.

Within recent memory, Gideon Akaluka, Christianah Oluwasesin, and Grace Ushang are tragic signposts on a bloody trajectory that has taken us from Maitatsine to Boko Haram, accounting for close to three decades of an annual blood fest in the name of religion in a country that will only be fifty years-old in 2010. There are hundreds of thousands more where the troika of Akaluka,

Oluwasesin, and Ushang came from. Hundreds of thousands of unappeased angry souls hovering over Nigeria in search of restitution and the ascription of responsibility and punishment to the guilty. Yet, in more than thirty years of regular Islamist blood fest in northern Nigeria, the Federal Government has never arrested and tried a single Islamic fundamentalist. As far as the cretinous status quo in Nigeria is concerned, no one was responsible for the deaths of Akaluka, Oluwasesin, and Ushang. No investigations. Nothing beyond the platitudinous expressions of dismay and the promise to leave no stone unturned until the perpetrators are found.

Unknown to the political opportunists in the northern elite who manufacture the onward Moslem armies of hunger, indoctrinate, and deploy them periodically to gory and devastating ends just to maintain the status quo, and who proceed to ignore the imperative of justice for the dead, so long as the victims answer Christian names from the south or so long as they are faceless and nameless expendable Muslim commoners from the north, every death has been a step forward on the road to Umar Farouk AbdulMutallab. Their nonchalance and neglect of the epidemic of religious violence in northern Nigeria have now been taken to new levels. Now, the dead are “ro-ing” years of injustice and criminal complicity by the northern establishment. The restless hands of the dead are at work. The spoilt children of our friends, who live in four-million pound apartments in London, are joining Al Qaeda and ensuring that their corrupt fathers in the Nigerian status quo will neither know peace nor find rest.

It must be said that the complicity and guilt of the northern establishment finds comfort in the attitude of the Nigerian media and intelligentsia. The imperative of naming names and ascribing responsibility for these things to specific people and fragments of Nigerian society – where evidence abounds – has always given way to clever demission and political correctness. We are always enjoined not to hold a particular religion or a particular segment of Nigeria responsible for anything. Such analyses often veer into inane philosophical abstractions on collective responsibility, systemic, and institutional failure, and other academic platitudes. Reuben Abati, for instance, has written an article on the current disgrace in which he somehow manages to comfort everyone – including the Mutallab family – and blame no one in particular.

In his own refreshingly different and heartening submissions in the article, “Nigeria’s Terrorism Notoriety”, Okey Ndibe brilliantly analyzes these issues and ascribes responsibility but he falls just short of specifically naming the northern establishment, preferring such euphemisms as “government”, “the Nigerian state”, and “official nonchalance towards the phenomenon of domestic religious violence”. There is a specific establishment behind “government”, “the Nigerian state”, and “official nonchalance” and we must now name and go after them in our critical reflections. Okey and those of us on the same side in the struggle for meaning within the Nigerian conundrum must now realize that the northern establishment has learnt to count on us for such neo-Enlightenment grand gestures of conceptual liberalism. They have learnt to blackmail us as Islamophobic bigots whenever we move too close to naming them.

We must now call their bluff in our writings and name them. If we can name Helen Ukpabio and hold her responsible for murdering “witch” children in the name of fundamentalist Christianity, if we can name and hold the likes of Enoch Adeboye and Chris Oyakhilome responsible for a brand of fundamentalist Pentecostalism that is too cozy with the corrupt political establishment in Nigeria, we must hold a mirror to the face of the northern oligarchy. We must in fact make a conceptual shift and stop calling the annual carnage that these people condone and refuse to punish in northern Nigeria “religious violence”. They have learnt to live with that designation. It is terrorism pure and simple. We must call it terrorism. We owe the Nigerian people that conceptual shift. For while we are at it, trying to avoid being called bigots, all we get from those who profit politically from Nigeria’s annual ritual of domestic religious terrorism is insufferable arrogance such as we witnessed recently from one of them, Rilwanu Lukman, the irresponsible Minister of Petroleum Resources who abandoned Nigeria to an ongoing fuel crisis to catch up on winter holidays in Vienna in clear defiance of a Vice Presidential order to stay at home and work on the crisis.

We must insist on the fact that it is neither stereotyping nor bigotry to acknowledge and critically engage empirical and provable facts. If it is empirically provable that northern Nigerian has been the locus of virtually every incidence of domestic religious terrorism since independence, if the nonchalance of northern leadership to this gory trajectory of blood is evident and provable (they have never tried anyone for any of the murders), we should go ahead and name them and damn the consequences. Let us harbor no compunction whatsoever in acknowledging the fact that the dead are “ro-ing” their own death and manufacturing Mutallabs. Let us celebrate the fact that those who have denied them justice and their humanity – justice, according to Soyinka, is the first condition of humanity – will now not know sleep and peace. Where Nigerians have been incapable of doing so, the Americans will now guarantee their insomnia and heartening discomfort.

You may also like


Tokunbo December 31, 2009 - 11:54 pm

Pius, While I have always enjoyed your writing I have to respectfully disagree with some of your reasoning in this article. I do not agree that the ghosts of Gideon Akaluka, Christianah Oluwasesin, or Grace Ushang led Umar Farouk AbdulMutallab to bring shame on our dear nation.

I believe that Umar Farouk AbdulMutallab is a product of many things gone wrong, some of these things included his privileged background that afforded him his opulent lifestyle; this also created a lack of desire to be ambitious and have his own defined goals. Another reason is failed parenting as Reuben Abati rightly pointed out in his article in the Guardian, It does not matter how expensive the school rich parents send their kids to, it does not substitute for actually parenting your own kid. The failure of parenting probably led to Umar being easily impressionable and being easily influenced by others probably in the absence of standards pre-defined or pre-set by his father.

While I agree that religious hatred is a perennial problem in Nigeria, The Northern Muslim leaders are not in support of Umar’s action or al qaeda so it would be wrong to put this blame on these Northerners, this problem Pius is a now a Nigeria problem – All Nigerians’ problem, if Nigeria was a stock, her stock would be worthless right now. It is about branding, Nigeria as a brand. What does an average American or Westerner think of when they hear Nigeria? This is now our challenge, to make them have positive thoughts of our nation. This, however, will not be an easy task considering the damages that were already done by fraudulent activities of the so-called Yahoo Boys/4-1-9, military coup-d’états, large- scale corruptions and rigged elections.

David Pam December 30, 2009 - 5:12 pm

The interesting thing is that Isanlu, Kogi State where Pius claims to come from is part and parcel of Northern Nigeria! It was never a part of Western Nigeria. Haba Pius, don’t you know that your fellow Northern Christians have also been affected by these riots?

ndubuisi December 30, 2009 - 5:03 pm

Dr. Adesanmi,

I agree with your points about calling out Islamic fundamentalism and holding its violent perpetrators responsible for the many bloodsheds and problems we have had in Nigeria. Any kind of extremism is bad for a people, and it is high time we halted political correctness so as to deal squarely with the conflict between extremism and liberalism in Nigeria’s socio-political and religious life.

The rapes, violent unrests in the North precipitated the bloody Biafran civil war; more than 30 yrs later we still have radical Islamists trying to incite another civil war. These fools need to be locked out or exiled into some dark continent. Nigeria’s progress and sustainability hinges on our ability to bring unity amidst our much diversity rather than use our diversity as reason to separate us.

Once again, you have written well!

Akinola December 30, 2009 - 3:54 pm

While I am not in full agreement with the letter of your piece, I am certainly in full agreement with its spirit. You wrote “northern Nigerian has been the locus of virtually every incidence of domestic religious terrorism since independence,…”. No one can intellectually disagree with that point. I must add, however, that people of that region demonstrated their intolerance and hatred for anything un/non Islamic when they attempted to “dip the Qur’an in the ocean” even BEFORE our Independence!

We have a major problem in our country. We have had that problem since the so-called country was haphazardly put together for political expediency by foreigners who could care less about the consequences of their action. But if we continue to hide our heads in a dune of self-imposed ignorance, the problem will not solve itself. It will only get worse!

jean anelka December 30, 2009 - 5:41 am

I am disappointed that someone with your educational credentials can harbor such bigoted views of his countrymen who happened to have a different cultural and religious background. We are all dismayed by the action of this young fella, but that does not give you the moral authority to sit in judgement of a whole people. I am sure any savy scholar can write a similar garbage about the yoruba people . It will not be right either.


Leave a Comment