Main Chronicles from the Land of the Happiest People on Earth

Chronicles from the Land of the Happiest People on Earth

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The first Black person to win the Nobel Prize in Literature gives us a tour de force, his first novel in nearly half a century: a savagely satiric, gleefully irreverent, rollicking fictional meditation on how power and greed can corrupt the soul of a nation.
In an imaginary Nigeria, a cunning entrepreneur is selling body parts stolen from Dr. Menka’s hospital for use in ritualistic practices. Dr. Menka shares the grisly news with his oldest college friend, bon viveur, star engineer, and Yoruba royal, Duyole Pitan-Payne. The life of every party, Duyole is about to assume a prestigious post at the United Nations in New York, but it now seems that someone is determined that he not make it there. And neither Dr. Menka nor Duyole knows why, or how close the enemy is, or how powerful.
 
Chronicles from the Land of the Happiest People on Earth is at once a literary hoot, a crafty whodunit, and a scathing indictment of political and social...


Year:
2021
Publisher:
Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Language:
english
ISBN 10:
0593316436
ISBN 13:
9782021006094
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EPUB, 1.13 MB
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Also by Wole Soyinka


			Novels


			Season of Anomy

			The Interpreters





Memoirs


			You Must Set Forth at Dawn

			Ìsarà: A Voyage Around “Essay”

			Ibadan: The Penkelemes Years: A Memoir 1945–1965

			Aké: The Years of Childhood

			The Man Died: Prison Notes





Poetry Collections


			Samarkand and Other Markets I Have Known

			Early Poems

			Ogun Abibiman

			Mandela’s Earth and Other Poems

			A Shuttle in the Crypt

			A Big Airplane Crashed into the Earth

			(original title Poems from Prison)

			Idanre and Other Poems





Plays


			Alápatà Àpáta

			King Baabu

			Document of Identity (radio play)

			 			The Beatification of Area Boy

			A Scourge of Hyacinths (radio play)

			The Detainee (radio play)

			From Zia with Love

			Childe Internationale

			Play of Giants

			Requiem for a Futurologist

			Opera Wonyosi

			Death and the King’s Horseman

			Jero’s Metamorphosis

			Camwood on the Leaves (radio play)

			The Bacchae of Euripides

			Madmen and Specialists

			The Road

			Kongi’s Harvest

			Before the Blackout

			The Strong Breed

			My Father’s Burden (television play)

			A Dance of the Forests

			The Trials of Brother Jero

			The Lion and the Jewel

			The Swamp Dwellers

			The Invention





			 			This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

			Copyright © 2020 by Wole Soyinka

			All rights reserved. Published in the United States by Pantheon Books, a division of Penguin Random House LLC, New York, and distributed in Canada by Penguin Random House Canada Limited, Toronto. Originally published in Nigeria by Bookcraft Limited, Ibadan, in 2020.

			Pantheon Books and colophon are registered trademarks of Penguin Random House LLC.

			Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

			Name: Soyinka, Wole, author.

			Title: Chronicles from the land of the happiest p; eople on earth / Wole Soyinka.

			Description: First edition. New York: Pantheon Books, 2021.

			Identifiers: LCCN 2021006092 (print). LCCN 2021006093 (ebook).

			ISBN 9780593320167 (hardcover). ISBN 9780593320174 (ebook). ISBN 9780593316436 (open-market edition).

			Subjects: LCSH: Sale of organs, tissues, etc.—Nigeria—Fiction. Abuse of administrative power—Nigeria—Fiction. Nigeria—Fiction.

			Classification: LCC PR9387.9.S6 C465 2021 (print) | LCC PR9387.9.S6 (ebook) | DDC 823/.914—dc23

			LC record available at lccn.loc.gov/​2021006092

			LC ebook record available at lccn.loc.gov/​2021006093

			Ebook ISBN 9780593320174

			www.pantheonbooks.com

			Cover design by Linda Huang

			ep_prh_5.7.1_c0_r0





Contents


			 				Cover

				Also by Wole Soyinka

				Title Page

				Copyright

				Dedication



			 				Part I

				 					Chapter 1: Oke Konran-Imoran



				 					Chapter 2: The Gospel According to Happiness



				 					Chapter 3: Pilgrim’s Progress



				 					Chapter 4: Scoffer’s Progress



				 					Chapter 5: Villa Potencia



				 					Chapter 6: Father, Is That You?



				 					Chapter 7: An Intellectual Property Heist



				 					Chapter 8: Jos



				 					Chapter 9: The Rumble of the Humble



				 					Chapter 10: The Audience



				 					Chapter 11: The Hand of God



				 					Chapter 12: Boriga or Bust



				 					Chapter 13: Surgical Transplant



				 					Chapter 14: Badetona



				 					Chapter 15: Badagry



				 					Chapter 16: The Codex Seraphinianus



				 					Chapter 17: A Deadly Rivalry



				 					Chapter 18: A Vigil Too Far





			 				Part II

				 					Chapter 19: The Discreet Funeral of the Bourgeoisie



				 					Chapter 20: Homecoming



				 					Chapter 21: Ziggurat or Death



				 					Chapter 22: The Board of Happiness



				 					Chapter 23: Clash of the Titans





			 				Acknowledgements

				A Note About the Author





			 			To the memory of DELE GIWA, investigative journalist,

			and BOLA IGE, politician sans pareil,

			both cut down by Nigerian assassins.


And to FEMI JOHNSON,

			a thorough rounded human being

			and rare species of the creative joie de vivre





Part I





1.


			Oke Konran-Imoran





Papa Davina, also known as Teribogo, preferred to craft his own words of wisdom. Such, for instance, was his famous “Perspective is all.”

			The early-morning Seeker, his first and only client on that day and a very special, indeed dedicated session, looked up and nodded agreement. Papa D. pointed: “Move to that window. Draw back the curtain and look through.”

			It was somewhat gloomy in the audience chamber, and it took a while for the Seeker to grope her way along the wide folds to find the middle parting. She took the heavy drapes between both hands and waited. Papa Davina signaled to her to complete the motion, continuing in his soothing, near-meditative tone: “When you step into these grounds, it is essential that you forget what you are, who you were. Think of yourself only as the Seeker. I shall be your guide. I do not belong to the vulgar traders in the prophetic mission. The days of the great prophets are gone. I am with you only as Prescience. Only the Almighty God, the Inscrutable Allah, is Presence Itself, and who dares come into the Presence of the One and Only? Impossible! But we can come into His Prescience, such as I. We are few. We are chosen. We labour to read his plans. You are the Seeker. I am the Guide. Our thoughts can only lead to revelation. Please—pull the curtain apart. Completely.”

			 			The Seeker moved along with the other half. Daylight flooded the room. Papa D.’s voice pursued her.

			“Yes, look out and tell me what you see.”

			The Seeker had come up on the opposite incline, which was total, unrelieved squalor. On this face of the hill, however, what leapt instantly to her gaze was a far more eclectic jumble. Far down below were scattered ledges of iron sheets, clay tiles, and rusted corrugated tin rooftops, pocked here and there, however, with some isolated but neat rows of ultramodern high-rise buildings. Threading these zones of contrasts were snarling lines of motor vehicles of every manufacture. And the city was just getting into its morning stride, so there were pulsating beehives of humanity, workers on pillions of the motorcycle taxis meandering between puddles from the night rain and overflowing gutters. A sheet of the lagoon shimmered in the distance. The Seeker turned and described her findings to the apostle.

			“Now I want you to bring your gaze closer up to the level at which we are in this room. Let your gaze rise upwards from that city where it festers, bringing it closer to our level. Between where you stand and that scene of frenzy, what else is there?”

			The Seeker did not hesitate. “Garbage. Piles of waste. Just like the other route—it was an obstacle track, threading my way here. Just mounds of the city’s waste deposit.”

			Davina seemed satisfied. “Yes, a dung heap. You did come through it. But now here you are, and would you say you are standing in a dung heap?”

			The woman shook her head. “Not in the least, Papa D.”

			The apostle nodded, again seemingly satisfied. “Close back the curtains, please.”

			The Seeker obeyed. The room interior should have returned to its earlier gloom and she expected to half grope her way back, but no. Multicoloured arrows, rather like the emergency exit lights on the floor of an aircraft, directed her feet towards a different section of the chamber. She did not require the safety recital of an air hostess to inform her of their purpose—she followed the lights. They stopped at a stool, exquisitely carved. It reminded her of an Ashanti royal stool that she had seen in pictures.

			 			“Sit on that stool. I have to take you on a journey, so make yourself comfortable.”

			Now it was the preacher who stood up. “There are many, including our fellow citizens, who describe this nation as one vast dung heap. But you see, those who do, they mean to be disparaging. I, by contrast, find happiness in that. If the world produces dung, the dung must pile up somewhere. So if our nation is indeed the dung heap of the world, it means we are performing a service to humanity. Now that is…perspective. Shall I point out yet another?”

			The Seeker nodded. “I am listening intently, Papa D.”

			“Good. Even from the moment you spoke to me on the phone, I knew you were no ordinary seeker. Your voice reached out to me as belonging to someone eager to learn. I counsel all kinds. Every strand of humanity passes through those gates. You’d be surprised what contrasting souls have sat on that very stool, if I chose to tell you.”

			The Seeker smiled wryly, gestured away the offer. “Papa Davina, that is why I am here. Your reputation cuts across not just the nation, but the continent.”

			“Ah yes, perhaps.”

			“And even beyond.”

			“Oh? So tell me, what have you heard? Those who directed your feet here, what do they say of Papa Davina?”

			“Where does one begin?” The woman sighed. “Well, let me take the most recent, the candidate from the Seychelles…You prayed over him, and the world knows the results.”

			Davina executed a self-deprecating gesture with his hands, turning them into limp vessels that ended with palms upturned, as one who gave the credit—and glory—somewhere else.

			“For you, I have mounted a…special perspective.”

			As he spoke, Papa D. appeared to dissolve into the peripheral gloom, but the chamber, whose curtain opening she had barely been able to find moments before, became gradually suffused with light, as if in replacement of the daylight she had just effaced. It proved to be just the beginning. Under the Seeker’s gaze, the drab consultation chamber was turning into a fairyland. The woman gasped. Her host, one arm outstretched, appeared to be spinning slowly. In his hand was a little silvery gadget that also moved with the widening arc. Clearly he was standing on a sunken turntable. Papa D. pointed his control to the ceiling, and there was light. Next, another nearly inaudible click, and a gurgle of water interrupted the silence, its source gradually revealed as a cleft in a rock that had risen magically, a spring whose glistening waters cascaded in a lulling caress, then snaked into a grotto and vanished forever. An undulating vista of hills and valleys, plains and plateaus, shimmered into distant horizons, while soft luminous tubes rose from the floor towards the ceiling, bathing the chamber in a psychedelic sheen. Gradually an alcove shimmered into view, then another directly opposite, then a third at ninety degrees, and finally a fourth to complete an emerging three-dimensional installation. The alcoves were evenly spaced, emblematic as housing for the four compass points. On the floor, made of polished wood tiles, a large embedded map of the zodiac embarked on its own progressive illumination. From the ribbon folds that served as capstone for the archway across each alcove, a spiral of smoke billowed downwards, then began to curl all over the signs of the zodiac. The Seeker was enveloped in a medley of incense.

			 			She heard Papa Davina’s voice: “I was speaking of other perspectives. You see, if you inhabit a dung heap, you can still ensure that you are sitting on top of it. That is the other perspective. It is what separates those who are called from the common herd. It sits at the heart of human desire.”

			The Seeker sighed. It had been a long journey to this moment, a journey of startling contrasts and revelations, both physical and mental. Tutored in the mandatory protocols of the prophesite, she had embarked on full compliance, even to the contents of the pink envelope she had brought with her and laid solemnly on a small altar-table that stood by the entrance to the building. What was at stake did not permit any deviation from redemption rites of passage, a number of which she would normally consider degrading to her social status. After all, it had taken a while, nearly a full year, to arrange this audience—it was not the moment to place salvation in jeopardy. On the way she had caught sight of scavengers glancing slyly at her, transferring their gaze from hillside foraging to Papa Davina’s eyrie, as if to say, Ah yes, one of these days we also shall qualify to mount those final paved steps and be admitted into the Prescience. They had heard all about it, heard stories of the magic interior that spelt transformation, belying the exterior of chapped walls and cracked cement. News filtered through and touched lives of longing with intimations of a changed destiny. Some played the football pools religiously, others the annual National Lottery and more, but craved that final touch of the magic wand—Papa Davina’s blessing. They dreamt of the day they themselves would climb the paved approach of twenty-one glistening steps and be ushered into his Prescience. Active or dreaming, they hoarded images of the splendour of the recluse, the magician known as Papa Davina.

			 			The Seeker felt thankful that her sister had faithfully contributed her tithes to Papa Davina’s ministry. One did not earn a private audience with Papa D. until after at least a year of attending the open services that he conducted below for all and sundry, and with an unbroken record of tithing. Her sister had even transferred her “redemption coupons” to her. There were, of course, exceptions for emergencies. To bypass any unplanned constraints, the seeker must first cover the year’s arrears—among other charges—and at double tithing. Emergencies covered vicissitudes such as court trials, where divine intervention was needed to soften the judge’s sadistic soul and pronounce a full acquittal, sometimes even citing the prosecution for abuse of process and contempt.

			Her own predicament was not that drastic, and as some patients are prone on visiting the doctor, she was not without her self-prescription. Hers was simply a case of poor business choices, a spate of ill luck that had persisted for three years, leading to losses. Then there was the bane of customs levy on goods that barely survived the depredations of sea pirates now massively invested in the nation’s eastern creeks. Nothing that could not be offset by the allocation of a single oil block. This was what mandated the recourse to Papa D.

			And now, finally, she was face-to-face with Destiny, a pursuit whose fulfillment nested in the hands of the sole guardian of the prophesite. There the Gardener of Souls—another of Davina’s titles—stood, arm outstretched as one who wielded the staff of Moses, his electronic gadget a wand that could make barren rock yield its most prized, procreative, life-sustaining secret. But that was a primitive era when Moses could produce only water—the staff of modern-day Moses was tuned to oil gushers. The black gold, nestling beneath farmland and ancestral fishing ponds. Perspectives changed with modernity.

			 			As if her thoughts were being read, the visual display was now augmented by the aural, as the sonorous and wheezing pipes of organ music began to dispense an uplifting composition. It transported her to lands yet undreamt of, to visions of the attainable. Papa D.’s voice gathered together the emotions that had sprung up in her troubled, frustrated mind and, at his chosen moment, brought them down to earth.

			“There is a drawer attached to your stool—by the right side. Pull it out. You’ll find a folder and a fountain pen. Old-fashioned fountain pen, not ballpoint. Open the folder and extract one sheet.”

			The Seeker obeyed. Her hand touched the folder, and she needed only that one touch to feel the luxury of the finest vellum. “I import it directly from Jerusalem,” revealed Papa Davina reductively. The Seeker was already persuaded that this was papyrus on which the angels wrote the Book of Life.

			“Write on it what it is you seek,” he invited.

			By the time she had completed the task and looked up, Papa Davina was standing beside her. In one hand he had a small, delicate flask filled with a clear liquid, in the other a midsized shallow dish. The Seeker offered her script to Papa Davina, but the Prescience nodded it away.

			“No. I already know. You have no revelation to make to me. Place the vellum in this dish.”

			Davina poured the liquid over the writing, shook the dish lightly, and the Seeker’s mind journeyed to her childhood, the early days of photography, when the image was captured on treated paper, then developed in just such a shallow tray. One placed the seemingly blank but image-impressed sheet in the tray of chemical fluid, shook it lightly, and gradually the image began to form, all wet like a newborn baby. Perspective was now reversed. The process began with the visible and ended with the invisible. The words wobbled, dissolved, returning the vellum to its pristine state. But the once-clear liquid was now streaky with ink.

			“Drink,” Papa D. ordered.

			 			The Seeker hesitated only briefly, recollecting herself on the instant. To hesitate was to betray a lack of faith and jeopardize her mission. She smiled happily. She had come this far—she drank. She felt light-headed, buoyant. Papa Davina offered her a small perfumed cloth with which to dab her lips. A huge load floated upward from her shoulders. Suddenly the future opened out before her, a gleaming spreadsheet of infinite possibilities. Already she felt fulfilled. She stretched out the serviette to the apostle, but he waved it back.

			“Keep it. Beginning from tonight, keep it under your pillow. For the next two weeks, let no one into your room.”

			The Seeker nodded rapidly, increasingly elated.

			The voice cut into her euphoria. “This year’s approaching festival, do you plan to attend?”

			The woman hesitated. “I had not thought of it, Father Davina.”

			“It is a Festival of Joy—be part of it. It is promised that you shall receive news of interest at that event, and signs in your search for fulfillment.”

			“Of course, Father Davina. Once you command it.”

			Davina placed a hand on the Seeker’s forehead. “Seek, and ye shall find. Be at peace. Across the archway to the coming Festival of Joy, I read your name writ large, in golden letters. Happiness is on the horizon.”

			The Seeker fell on her knees, praise-giving, her eyes shut in rapture. Tutored in the protocols of the Ekumenika audience, she did not prolong her prayers unduly. Lighted arrows—plain this time, not in Technicolour—pointed her way to the exit.

			The Seeker had hardly passed through the gates of Ekumenika and stepped onto the peak known as Oke Konran-Imoran—the Hill of Knowledge and Enlightenment—when Papa Davina, known also as Teribogo, pulled out his mobile, dialed a number. The voice at the other end drawled, “Ye-e-es?”

			Papa Davina responded, “She has just left. You can take it from here, Sir Goddie.”





2.


			The Gospel According to Happiness





That the nation known as the Giant of Africa was credited with harbouring the Happiest People in the World was no longer news. What remained confusing was how such recognition came to be earned and, by universal consent, deserved. Aspiring nations needed to be rescued from their state of envious aspiration, a malaise that induced doomed efforts to snatch the crown from their head. The wisdom of elders counsels that it is more dignifed to acknowledge a champion where indisputable, thereafter take one’s place behind its leadership, than to carp and wriggle in frustration. As the Yoruba are wont to admonish, Ti a ba ri erin igbo k’a gba wipe a ri ajanaku, ka ye so wipe a ri nka nto lo firi. When we encounter an elephant, let us admit that we have seen the lord of the forest, not offhandedly remark that we saw something flash across our sight.

			Not many nations, for instance, could boast a Ministry of Happiness. Yet this was an innovation that came from one of the most impoverished states within that federated nation. Its pioneer minister, known as commissioner, was the spouse of the imaginative governor, while other members of the family and relations filled the various positions generated by the unique cabinet installation. Lest that first family alone be credited with this feat of a unanimous jury decision across the world, however, it must be mentioned that, among other credentials, the love and liberal distribution of titles played their role. Often overlooked was the fact that the celebration of a single title by the people was often sufficient to implement the annual budgetary plans of other nations. There were other, often overlooked, yet monumental credentials. Need one cite, for instance, the constant, exponential distensions of the line of traditional rulers at the stroke of the pens of state governors, across histories and cultures?

			 			An ancient Yoruba city known as Ibadan, a formerly self-sufficing monarchical domain without any visible sign of pregnancy, was delivered of twenty-four new kingdoms one day in an era of rampaging democratic attestation. That feat did not remain uncontested. It was soon matched—or nearly thereafter—from the opposite end of the national axis by the parturition of fourteen emirates from another historic entity, known as Kano. The new kings/emirs were presented with their staffs of office and scrolls of royal enrollment by their presiding governors, generating colourful massed ceremonies amidst popular jubilation. Individual crowns/turbans, evidently tailored and fabricated to suit each royal skull, were set on/wound round the heads and jowls of the new monarchs—formerly mere village heads and petty chiefs. And so on and on; the professional nay-sayers of the world remained incapable of the imaginative feat of projecting the massive cross-country festivities that would naturally inundate such a liberal state of elevations, the guarantee of carnivals almost as a daily event, enabling the growth of tourism and a boom in the complementary industry of kidnapping for ransom.

			Many, many salient contributory factors were often overlooked by competitive nations, largely owing to vested interest and an obsession to wrest the happiness crown from the head of the richly deserving. Unfortunately such partisan, self-interested attitudes merely sowed confusion over even the routine year-round festivals—religious, secular, memorialist, etc.—to which any sovereign nation, with the slightest modicum of traditional respect for the world of the living, the unborn, and the ancestors, was surely entitled.

			Typical of such misunderstandings by fun-seeking tourists—and indeed some careless nationals themselves—was the tendency to confuse political carnivals with people’s fiestas. This was a burden of mistaken identity that was borne most notably by the Festival of the People’s Choice. Admittedly political and cultural fêtes shared a number of similarities. Most notable among these was a habit of occupying nearly the entire year round, year after year, despite being allotted specific dates, clearly delineated even on the national calendar. The two were, however, two distinct entities. Variously known as the Bash of the Year, People’s Concordia, Night of Nights, etc., etc., the Festival of the People’s Choice, a distinct people’s fiesta, under strict compliance would be celebrated annually on the weekend that followed Independence Day. That last named was unambiguously a political event. This proximity created yet another source of confusion, but only a minor one, of no consequence, since hardly anyone still remembered what independence was all about. A military parade, a listless address to the nation, calls for patriotism, recital of an insipid National Honours List, and the nation quickly returned to business, awaiting the real event of the year—and its night of awards—by popular acclaim!

			 			Some cynics and revisionists tended to insinuate that that festival was a creation of the People on the Move Party. That again was far from the truth. Of course that party also preened itself as a model of democratic practice, but there all associative notions ended. POMP—the obvious party acronym—claimed credit only for its liberalism, which enabled such a festive, all-embracing, nonpartisan celebration not only to take root and thrive but to steadily distend on both sides of its advertised dates until it filled out the rest of the year and sometimes spilled over into the next, its events stretching to catch up with the new beginning. No other festival in the world could boast such a constant backlog. It became not just a moving feast but a festivity constantly in event arrears, the residue carried over into subsequent editions.

			What the People’s Choice achieved went beyond burnishing the image of the government or the party in power; it vastly improved the battered profile of the nationals in the eyes of the world. The festival, veteran of numerous editions, proved that despite the contrary testimony of political elections, the citizenry, if only given a chance, could teach the world a thing or two in that political culture so wrongly attributed to the Athenians. If the government was guilty of any form of intervention, it was only that it formally decreed its climaxing Night of Nights Fiesta, with its maximum-intensity Yeomen of the Year Awards, a National Heritage. The government took the unprecedented step of forwarding the enabling resolution to UNESCO—with no less than twenty-five million signatures from across the nation, computer verified, a feat that had yet to be attained by three National Census editions. If we had failed to do so, we would have failed in our duty, and of course stand accused of indifference to patriotism, art, and creativity. Now that we have done what we should, we are pilloried for furthering some sinister government agenda. There is simply no pleasing our people!

			 			The Festival was routinely timed for the weekend that followed Independence Day, that manifest expression of the triumph of a people’s will, a historic day on which the former imperial masters were peacefully voted out of office without the shedding of a drop of blood—independence on a platter of gold, it was trumpeted by a foremost nationalist, later the nation’s president. That the nation proceeded to more than make up for that lapse through a civil war that lasted more than two years could not be laid at the feet of POMP, which did not even exist at the time of independence, much less at the time of the war commonly known as the war of Biafran secession. What mattered for the people was the phoenix of splendour that rose from the ashes of colonization.

			This festival was indeed unique. It ended in a plethora of awards, catapulted into public prominence a new class of citizens known as Yeomen of the Year—YoY—a people’s recognition of public service over and above the call of duty, gain, or praise. And what a contrast it offered to the annual Independence Day Honours List, rather like alternative Oscars. The Independence Day list was administered by a secretive National Commission of Grace whose existence and composition were known to hardly anyone. It had no input from man, woman, or child beyond the behind-doors conspiracies of a secret cabal. YoY, by contrast, established its place as the one genuine, authenticated, open democratic balloting the nation had known since she embarked on her voyage of independence. YoY rose to become the barometer of the public pulse. It stamped the foreheads of its winners with that rare, indelible stigmata of primal humanity before the Fall, moved to paralyze all competition, and became known as the 21st-Century Reality Show. It vanquished even Big Brother Africa and other voyeuristic favourites of virtual audience participation.

			 			For a music-loving people, whose loyalties oscillated largely between the polarities of soccer and song, even the Grammy Awards and Venice Biennale Global Song Contest were eclipsed by YoY. Africa Can Dance developed two lumpen left feet. The famous Cannes Film parade of fashion, glamour, and hopefuls lost its global rainbow spectrum with the disappearance of Nigerian contingents—known with stunning originality as Nollywood—that had once dominated the Mediterranean beachscape with textural exotica. YoY induced a massive haemorrhage and turned the famous film festival scene pale and anaemic. Betting houses alone survived, even proliferated—who would emerge in the various categories of YoY?, variously pronounced “Why oh Why” or simply “Yoy,” as in a lisper’s Joy—with which it was soon nearly totally conflated. Not one aspiring film or video starlet or hip-hop dance athlete could afford to miss the dominant national extravaganza—Yeomen of the Year. An attempt to pander to gender equality and establish a rival Yeowomen of the Year ended in predictable collapse—the women informed such proponents that YoY was gender-inclusive, demanded a straightforward contest on a level playing ground, not a token concession that only degraded the female sex even further. Such was the universality of its acceptance.

			The buildup to the award gala began with calls for nominations at least four months before the Night of Nights. Online platforms changed authorship overnight. They were bought or rented under aliases within the umbrella transnational known as Be the First to Comment, an open-house platform of subscribers of marginalized—some preferred to call it marginal—humanity. Some of these subscribers became overnight semi-millionaires. Image-making companies on the verge of collapse became solvent; many took their profits and branched into allied consultancy operations, specializing mainly in a spinoff that grew in range and enterprise to become celebrated as Fake News. Opinion formulation became synthesized, distilled, and digested in a trice. YoY swallowed Gallup polls and other indicators of human trends and preferences. It was consulted before the opening of the foreign exchange markets, listed on the stock exchange, swapped data with at least two-thirds of the continent’s ministries of finance, culture, and development. It spread its wings beyond the continent and extended its influence over quite a few members within the EU and Asian nations. Yet it all started as no more than a shrewd understanding of social values within just one nation, undoubtedly a unique piece of real estate widely celebrated as the Giant of Africa.

			 			Originator, sponsor, sole organizer, and one-man jury (despite a formal thirteen-member panel which met, was wined and dined, and collected honorariums on the night of awards), Chief Modu Udensi Oromotaya, proprietor of The National Inquest, possessed an astute business mind which accurately assessed the market value of vanity and limelight, single-mindedly invested in them, and ensured their access to all citizens in average financial standing. His given name, Udensi, was adjusted to read Ubenzy, an ingestion of the Benz in Mercedes Benz, the status symbol after independence, before the motorcar was displaced by the private jet. This initiative of the private sector was consecrated in one ritualized but gargantuan event, the Yeomen of the Year Awards, a brilliantly elastic concept. It applied to any human activity, from exposing a paedophile ring to assisting an elderly woman across the road, simply ensuring that the event was captured on camera. Each year the Awards Jury received additional categories—at the latest count, this stood at thirty-seven. It all depended on what new entrant into the public arena had been sighted, targeted, and netted.

			Chief Oromotaya was a man of inventive vision. When the public—the aspiring elite, that is—presumed that they had reached the ultimate in titular desire, he simply upped the ante, thus creating an ever-rising peak of aspiration—not unlike the National Independence Day Awards, another source of confusion! The discerning, however, easily recognized a crucial difference—the latter were set in stone. As for the rare confusion with traditional honorifics, even the most casual observer recognized that the latter were largely slapdash, localized, promiscuous, and horizontal. Chief Ubenzy’s creations were vertical and autogenic. He thus instigated a competitive spirit which sometimes resulted even in returns to new starting blocks for the already honoured. The condition became a cultural feature captured so vividly in the title of a work by—naturally—a son of the soil, Nkem Nwankwo’s My Mercedes Is Bigger Than Yours. It created a condition not too dissimilar to the emotions experienced in that state of rapture undergone by the religiously possessed. However, of the expanding award categories—each of which logically developed concentric circles of subsidiaries of its own—none ever came close to displacing the crème de la crème that rose by common consent—at least at the time of these chronicles—to its destined place as the ultimate crescendo of the annual ceremony: the People’s Award for the Common Touch, PACT. (Predictably: We make a Pact with the Common man—National Inquest.) No one expected that climax to be reached till daylight was seen breaking through the silvered louvres of the main bowl of the events venue, but not one single seat in that packed arena remained vacant for long. The queue in the standing room section swiftly released a waiting occupant, already armed with a numbered tag. They stayed the course, excitation at palpable fever pitch as the moment approached for the ultimate prize. And there was a traditional and international breakfast spread that made the endurance worthwhile—another source of confusion with political carnivals, which ensured the feeding of thousands before, during, and after the electoral contests, after pledge, act, and proof of fulfillment of the voting pledge.

			 			Hardly surprising, because for the professionals of the political trade, the prestige and electoral returns were palpable—possibly exaggerated; but PACT was a coronet to wear—no, a halo, more accurately, a band of sanctification that winners felt could be seen around their brows in no matter what situation, ready to be evoked as character testimony, including, as sometimes happened, when they ended up in a criminal dock for unsaintly practices. To be able to place YoY after one’s name on a calling card—Chief the Dr. Sunmole, M.Sc., Dip. Ed., YoY—was already status enough to open doors, but to be able to add the once-a-year-only PACT tag was to enter the nation’s Hall of Immortals, with a commissioned portrait in the National Gallery, side by side with those of members of the Council of States and a select line of national Founding Fathers. And it entitled any such winner, by public consent, to the right of generous plea bargaining, a pre-sentence mitigation plea, and then, if all else failed, a secured benefice of the exercise of the prerogative of mercy, all sometimes in place even before the passing of a sentence. The right of permanent immunity for life for any crime was still a proposition of public controversy.

			It was only to be expected, therefore, that this category was tensely contested. No endorsement from the public was too small to be courted, none too blotchy to be scorned. Each division equally extracted and maximized its own significance, potential, and recognition zone for its winner, be it in professional, business, or mere extended family circles. There were voiced misgivings about the inbuilt factor of unlimited sub-categories, their escalating tiers of unmerited privilege, most especially the slide towards comprehensive immunity for undeserving categories of winners, but these were easily resolved under the doctrine of popular condonation. Precedents were not lacking, or parallels, among them the reign of paedophiles and extortionists in legislative chambers and governors’ lodges, immunized by religious attributions. Were they not expanding the happiness boom among even minors?

			 			The pattern of conferment also underwent ingenious variations. There were instances where the winner could not attend the awards in person, and the reasons for such absences were myriad. A traditional ruler, business mogul, or governor might feel—rare, but it was not unknown—that it was lèse-majesté to be seen with lower creatures of the entertainment world, trade unionists, common agitators, the notorious and unpatriotic members of the Academic Staff Union, or simply junior local councilors. A finicky judge might feel that the dignity of office was imperiled by the garish ambiance of the gala night, or a bishop or mullah fear a loss in congregational attendance from puritanic elements and thus a reduction of tithes or zakat. The motivation of extending hospitality was also to be conceded and commended. The reasoning was obvious: absence justified a special ceremony in its own right, specifically for the private presentation. Chief Ubenzy Oromotaya had an accommodative temperament. At the event itself, the winner would be represented by a cabinet minister, commissioner, permanent secretary, first lady, or nearest available son or daughter. Afterwards the designee held a special, extra ceremony in his or her domain, dispensing happiness in normally neglected, indeed often hitherto unheard-of corners of the nation.

			The much-craved super-category of the Common Touch Award was of course in a class of its own. It was presented by a farmer, market woman, factory line worker, or street vendor, plucked off the kerbside or market stall for the occasion, washed, clothed, and festooned in costume jewellery for the public presentation. In the case of an absentee winner, the bewildered representative of the people would be invited as guest of honour to the banquet hall or performance grounds of the exalted absentee, a public toast for the next twenty-four hours of happiness. The glory of physically presenting the symbol of popular acclaim, needless to say, belonged exclusively to the media proprietor himself, the effervescent Ubenzy Oromotaya.

			 			Perhaps it is worth remarking that at inception, the in-absentia variation was not permitted—you were either present and honoured or absent and dispossessed—though this did not prevent the right to add a rubric to one’s CV in the tradition of “Two/Three Times a YoY/PACT Nominee.” For the proprietor and organizer, absenteeism also offered the advantage of presenting double awards in the missing category the following year. All that changed, thanks to the somewhat extreme conduct of an unusually temperamental winner, a governor. Later Oromotaya kicked himself, wondering why from the very beginning he had failed to think of the advantages of a distinct in-absentia category—Don’t budge, we’ll bring the award to your doorstep!

			The advantages were delightfully obvious. For a start, this structurally turned YoY into a moving, all-year fiesta, spread all over the nation, as each winner took to celebrating victory in his or her own time, own milieu, own manner, and, if an office-holder, at public or corporate expense. How many could embark on the logistics of dragging a cow, even the odd sheep, ram, goat, or baby camel, to be slaughtered and roasted on a spit at the venue, which was the National Theatre on the semi-outskirts of Lagos? Of course, a number were only too happy to eat their cake and also have it—they basked fully in the glitter and glitz of the gala Night of Nights, then returned home to hold a mini-fiesta of their own—happiness outreach to the less privileged, who could not afford the time or transportation fare to Lagos. However, the defining moment for the formal change of policy—which had in any case evolved on its own into a most extravagant and economically robust mixture of variants—offered no glimpse of such prospects at the time. Indeed, it came rather close to tragedy.

			It so happened that this expectant winner, a governor from north of the River Benue, Usman Bedu, had turned up in a motorcade of thirty “luxury buses” and motorized caravans. These ferried his entire harem of twenty-seven wives, plus extended families totaling three hundred and eighty-five and the State Cultural Troupe, including acrobatic horsemen with glittering lances and attire straight from the Arabian Nights. The last were lined along the final approach to the vast rotunda known as the National Theatre—a Bulgarian Palais de Sports import to the last bolt, knot, and cement blob—to welcome arriving guests. It was a personal contribution—a token of his appreciation, unsolicited. The same award had, however, been sold, democratically auctioned by secret ballot, and not for the first time, to the highest bidder the morning before the ceremony. The governor was not expected. Indeed, the excited young recipient had deliberately suppressed his real intentions. It was all designed to be a surprise, a spectacular, dramatic appearance. The cavalry was sent to stand in, a compensation for his supposed absence. The planned scenario went thus: they would canter to the airport to receive their governor, then lead his Rolls-Royce Silver Cloud in grand formation to the National Theatre. The factor of a notorious Lagos traffic jam was one that never even entered the head of the celebrant, such was the narcotic power of the people’s Night of Nights. Usman Bedu’s arrival was indeed a spectacular feat, never to be forgotten by motorists on that infamous Saturday. The young scion, who regularly spent his summer vacations in London, had seen the Trooping of the Colours at Buckingham Palace and had resolved to celebrate his win in a no less splendiferous manner.

			 			Chief Oromotaya was not aware of his presence in Lagos until the cavalry clattered up the concrete drive of Entrance A of the performance rotunda. Accustomed to “regularizing” such minor blips in his own way afterwards, the sponsor had not expected the unsportsmanlike response that emerged from the celebrant. Among the governor’s people, however, loss of face was not considered a trifle. When Chief Ubenzy tried to explain the “unfortunate mix-up” to His Excellency Usman Bedu in the VIP green room, the convivial atmosphere changed abruptly. The media proprietor saw the governor’s hand disappear into the folds of his babanriga, to emerge with a jewel-encrusted curved dagger the likes of which he had seen only in Bollywood films. Ubenzy let out a scream and his knees buckled. He slumped onto the carpet, clutching his heart. It was the governor’s turn to be horrified, believing that his gregarious host had died of a heart attack or whatever. He fled the National Theatre, headed straight to the safety of his private jet at Ikeja airport, ordering his aides en route to round up his caravan and herd its participants home to safety as best they could across the Niger. Ubenzy, now recovered after first aid administered straight down his throat from a Johnnie Walker bottle, spluttering and badly shaken, was rushed to a private hospital for a checkup. From there he took a decision to be “flown to Dubai” for full examination and recuperation.

			 			That gala Night of Nights did proceed peacefully thereafter, Oromotaya monitoring and overseeing progress from his permanently reserved suite at the Intercontinental Hotel, Victoria Island, while the terrified governor was fed the latest health reports on his stricken host, supposedly in intensive care in Dubai, hanging between life and death by the sheerest thread. Before Ubenzy officially returned to his home base, peace, as always, had been restored. The governor had no choice. Intercessors ensured that he became aware of some sensitive material in the chief’s possession that would be of public interest, ready to go to print in The National Inquest. This illumination enabled the governor to accept that there were limits to blood feud under the Nigerian constitution and that a community of interest had to be the deciding factor of business relations. The dueling pair restored accustomed diplomatic relations and swore eternal friendship. Governor Bedu was rewarded with a special individual edition of YoY where he accepted a newly created, personalized award—the People’s Scimitar. They exchanged chieftaincy conferments, Udenzy in Bedu’s hometown, Bedu in Oromataya’s. Bedu threw a feast that featured, for the first time in Nigerian history, an entire stuffed baby camel—a specialty, it would seem, of Saudi Arabia. In addition, he became the Life Patron of YoY. Oromotaya was famous for his creative application of soothing Vaseline on what many would consider incurable tumours. That, anyway, remained the authenticated version of events, according to Ubenzy Oromotaya himself—but only when secure among his close circle.

			The pursuit of that golden fleece, the YoY Award, was not, it would appear, an affair for the faint-hearted. Acts of sabotage and image neutralization, crude to sophisticated, were commonplace. Fake News expanded a thousandfold, with the ruination of marriages and friendships and the bankrupting of businesses. There were sudden, unexplained deaths. College cults were recruited and let loose on the neighbourhoods of aspirants, both virtual and physical. Nonetheless, many conceded that the contest for the Yeomen Awards, and most especially that of the Common Touch, brought out the creative and egalitarian spirit universally remarked among the Nigerian people. There were videos of a governor eating amala, the gooey Yoruba yam-flour staple, in a peasant’s roadside shack, the okra dripping down his wispy beard while he licked the backs of his fingers with an outsized tongue and belched into the camera—no elitist steel cutlery for him, thank you very much. And he drank only palm wine—from a calabash, not a glass or plastic cup. Another submission featured a senator ushering an aged woman into his BMW Sports Utility, which he drove himself, while his aides loaded her firewood into the rear space, its caption “Lending a Helping Hand.” One notable entry was a photo of yet another governor hoeing a yam patch in unison with his workers, just another lusty voice raised in the traditional work song, in readiness for and stimulating the early arrival of expected rains, caption “Stomach Infrastructure.” The more adventurous politicians were filmed participating in a break-dance contest at the famous Federal Palace Hotel, Victoria Island, caption “Rumble of the Humble.” And so it went, with an enthusiastic followership sending in comments both verbally and in the shorthand literacy of emoticons.

			 			There were critics, not unexpectedly. What happened to governance under a serial, cyclic fiesta hysteria? Such voices were easily silenced. Governance, as attested by flurries of releases from ministries and government agencies, was unaffected. Indeed, business peaked, most especially in what was called the informal sector. A journey normally of ninety minutes between two cities now took four, six, nine, twelve hours and sometimes spilled into the following day, especially in the rainy season, when lakes sprang up in the middle of the expressway, sucking even petrol tankers into their bosom. Such stagnations created instant road markets—more truthfully amphibious—shooting the nation’s informal GNP to astronomical heights. Gridlocks brought reality to economic diversification. Culture itself profited, as there were new entries into the register of Nigerian names, a nation that had justly earned fame for inventiveness—Tonade, Bisona, Bolekaja, Toyota, Aderupoko,* etc., the nomenclatural celebration of infants born in public or private transport when traffic stood completely still and motorists were turned into instant midwives. The hunt after missing billions intensified, headed by the prime minister himself, who personally flew out to consolidate the repatriation of new discoveries of hidden assets, all announced with fanfare—Cayman Islands, Dubai, the United States, and Switzerland. These counters silenced the dissonant voices, kept the nation’s adrenaline high and hope ever-resurgent. A few careless, overbearing party card-bearers were felled to establish the stamp of evenhandedness in the apportionment of justice. This rejuvenating cycle—missing, pursuit, whistleblower, and hyperactive agencies, lawyers, witnesses, no matter if they proved missing in action on their day in court—joined a list of enviable achievements. The breast-beating overwhelmed even the throb of the annual Drum Festival from one of the allegedly happy states.

			 			It therefore came as a rude shock to the executive, legislators, and nationals when news broke that the nation had earned an unexpected—and unmerited—honorific from a former colonial civil servant as the Most Extraordinarily Corrupt Nation in the World! This laudation, which appeared to have been off the cuff, attracted far more prolonged and intense denunciation than the continuum of vanishing chunks of the national treasury. The day’s business was set aside in both lawmaking houses to debate and condemn the utterance. What, the debaters argued, was extraordinary about a cultural norm? It was pure abuse of language—just because the language was theirs, was that a good reason to use it just anyhow? Did they think the Giant of Africa could be intimidated by such big words? The two-tier legislature tabled motions for a complete boycott of British goods, seizure of all British assests, expulsion of all British nationals and then a break in diplomatic relations with such an impertinent foreign power—yes, foreign! Did they think the nation was still under colonial rule to tolerate such insults?

			It was time for a renewed world tour by the prime minister, Sir Godfrey Danfere, this time to dialogue with foreign nations who haboured the same conviction, next to rebuild the image of an abused nation. Accompanied by an entourage that dwarfed the caravan of Usman Bedu, Sir Goddie commenced an unprecedented blitz. The charm offensive ended just in time for nominations for the next edition of YoY. It was a triumphant return. He looked forward to presenting his report first to the president and next to the nation in his State of the Nation address, that the denigrators and professional PhDs (Pull Him/Her Down Syndrome) were mere noisemakers, international nonentities. They were economic saboteurs acting against the diversification of the one-track oil-based economy. Sir Goddie would urge the creation of more Ministries of Happiness by states that had yet to jump on the bandwagon.

			 			“I have been everywhere,” he announced to the waiting media corps, success neon-inscribed all over his impressive frame, which had earned him his favourite nickname, the Presence. “It will be my great pleasure to report to the president when I brief him tomorrow that nowhere did I hear one dissenting voice. The nation is in no danger. We retain our number-one position—the Happiest People on Earth.”

			Seated in the comfort of the stretch limousine on his way to his power base, Villa Potencia, he tapped the shoulder of his chief of staff, seated next to the chauffeur. “Get hold of Teribogo. Tell him to ensure some—happiness—awaiting me at the Villa.”

			The chief of staff was expressionless. “She’s there already, Sir Goddie.”




			Skip Notes

			 				* Landed en Route; Born on the Road; (Born Within a) Passenger Truck; (Born in a) Toyota; Excess Load.





3.


			Pilgrim’s Progress





Harsh were his beginnings, his trials and tribulations, long the journey, albeit interspersed with patches of lucrative relief, of the man whose origins remained a cause for endless speculation. At the time of the issuance of his second passport however, he was registered as Dennis Tibidje. His original document ended in a midnight bonfire in the backyard of his first home liaison, following his hasty return to Home Sweet Home. The multitalented youth had dropped out abruptly from overseas studies. He shook the dust of the United Kingdom off his feet in a fit of righteous indignation. He had received an invitation by his college dean to report and defend his honour against a charge of attempted rape, laid by a fellow student. Not even his closest college buddies knew of his departure, not even his landlady to whom he still owed several months’ rent, plus some emergency borrowings while “awaiting his scholarship remittance.”

			Back home, Tibidje soon found a niche as a bit actor in Callywood—the South-eastern (Calabar) version of the national cinema flagbearer, Nollywood. There was a brand-new film village in the same state, a rustic, water bordered setting called Tinapa, with fully equipped ultra modern studios. It had been established by a film-struck governor with a passion also for Nature and her preservationist imperatives. Tinapa’s technical facilities were utilized, but the practitioners shied away from branding their products with such a backward sounding name as Tinapa. They preferred to be seen as another foundling of the gnarled family tree that was rooted in a distant coastal state of the United States, known as Hollywood.

			 			Tinapa’s new entrant augmented the precarious livelihood of all actors through a position with a publicity and marketing firm. He had also artistic skills that enabled him to keep his head above water in those barren stretches between shooting engagements, which all professional actors undergo much too frequently. Such talents included, in his case, a natural ability to copy the handwriting and signatures of others and thereby provide vital documents in time of need. It was a proficiency, alas, that also led to the brevity of his sojourn with the firm. After failing to produce the promised original of his college diploma, a condition of his provisional engagement, he eventually presented a document whose authenticity was unfortunately suspect—not the artistry itself, which was impeccable, but a computer-generated contradiction on dates. The future, in one instance, seemed to predate the past. A small detail, but it caught the attention of an overzealous personnel clerk and avid computer geek. His employers summoned Tibidje, advised him to change occupation. They admitted being sad to be obliged to dispense with such talent and even provided him the bus fare to his alleged home in Lagos State. His explanation for claims of Lagos origin was that he was sired into a Lagos household. The culprits, however, were pure Deltan, of Itsekiri stock. Tibidje had one all-engrossing yet suppressed ambition, not always openly acknowledged—to reoccupy his preferred roots in Lagos ancestry. Not as a sentimental longing but as the logical facilitator of his desired occupational destiny.

			For a while the venturesome youth remained where he was, in the bustling city of Port Harcourt, contemplating his future moves. A decision was not long in coming. The three months of his employment, as well as forays into the putative cinema community, were more than sufficient to enable more than a few helpful contacts. It was thus one easy step into the virtual world of internet entrepreneurship, focusing on accounts of his erstwhile associates. Barely escaping a police raid on an operational café for the yahoo-yahoo fraternity, as the internet scam artists were known, Tibidje decided that it was time for a change of environment and indeed a change of persona. Interception of an advance payment to his former company for publicity work required no more than a morning’s intensive work, followed by its redirection to the coffers of a travel agency. It was his farewell exploit, dedicated to a return ticket to Houston, USA, via New York City, and a passport that passed immigration scrutiny. It did, however, lack a visa. Confident in his ability to persuade immigration officials that he was a victim of political persecution, he flew out, landed, and was indeed granted admission, but straight into a waiting federal bus that took him, together with a motley of international voyagers, straight to a staging station for illegal immigrants in Newark, New Jersey.

			 			Nine months later, having battled America’s Homeland Security to a losing standstill, he was back on African soil, the interim spent in a holding pen for uninvited visitors. His spell, however, netted quite a few new acquaintances, both within the detention centre and outside, through telephone calls and even correspondence with human rights defenders, charity organizations, and lonely ladies. The most valuable of these were the internal ones—the visiting Christian chaplains of indeterminate denomination but with links to a West African mission in Liberia. For a while the visiting ministry from the Nation of Islam occupied the detainee’s sightlines. Those ministers of Louis Farrakhan’s office for prison affairs were vastly interested in the Nigerian prisoner of conscience, and their chapter generously lavished the mandate of zakat on the martyred guest, over and above the call of scriptures. He strung them along, ensuring the dividends that came with the battle for his soul from two rival camps. The tussle lasted as long as his stay while he weighed his options, deciding in the end that the Christian fellowship came closer to his schemes for personal salvation. When the moment came and the federal bus returned to ferry his group to the airport, it was by no means a noticeably depressed illegal, unlike most of the other deportees, who was returned to his continent of birth.

			He did not return to his precise departure point, however. Tibidje succeeded in persuading his captors to return him not to Nigeria, the land of persecution, but to Liberia, the land of liberty. He had discovered through discourse with fellow inmates and some light reading that Liberia enjoyed a special quasi-colonial status with the United States, and this worked to his advantage. Somewhere along that trajectory, the future minister of souls announced that he had discovered his true calling—evangelism. It had proved a most educative stay, he declared, a sea change in his life. The detention camp at that time was not entirely inhumane. The food was edible and sufficient. There was a small donated clutch of books and journals that passed for a library, mostly of a religious nature. These included, predictably, the scriptures of both the Christian and the Islamic faiths. The small cupboard also boasted Oscar Wilde’s The Ballad of Reading Gaol, John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress, Khalil Gibran’s The Prophet, Thomas Merton’s writings, and other works of the spiritual quest and upliftment.

			 			The presence of the Kama Sutra was intriguing. The favourite story was that it had been donated by one of the inmates, who succeeded in convincing the duty officer that this was the bible of a Hindu sect that was officially recognized by the United Nations. Thus it would amount to a violation of UN laws, to which the United States was a signatory, to exclude it. On leaving, Tibidje relieved the facility of its embarrassing presence. Inmates could also watch television to their heart’s content, and even engage in pro bono legal consultations. His mind was kept busy, and he enjoyed the solidarity of the visiting prelate, whom he even began to assist in his impromptu services in the camp. His eventual arrival in Monrovia was thus straight into the warm embrace of the chaplain’s associates, who again took him under their tutelage.

			It proved a learning period. Among other assets acquired during his Newark internment, Tibidje was now able to assert—and in all truthfulness—that he had been to the USA and had indeed spent several months under the mentorship of a servant of Christ. He had an accent to prove it and could nasalize his syllables as persuasively as any native American—indeed, Dennis Tibidje’s vocal register was no longer recognizable, not even by his former associates, the yahoo-yahoo boys. The wanderer had begun the long odyssey to homeland.

			Misfortune dogged him, though. Hardly had Tibidje landed on Liberian soil than the civil war erupted, courtesy of a certain ex-sergeant major named Sergeant Doe. The accidental immigrant was not a rash youth. He escaped into nearby Gambia, then crossed over into Senegal. It was pure instinct and his strong point. Tibidje always obeyed when inspiration called upon him to move.

			 			Senegal being a French-speaking nation, Tibidje’s stay in that largely Muslim nation, which had a highly cosmopolitan temperament, was thus of the briefest. That made him sad, as he found the ambiance most conducive, surrounded as he was by a minority but socially upscale and accommodating Christian populace. He soon made his way into Sierra Leone, aided by the evangelical network that crisscrossed the West African coastland in a multiplicity of imperial faiths. The itinerant apostle made a decent living out of a career as “visiting” or “substitute” preacher. He even appeared occasionally on televised revivalist marathons as warm-up speaker to the resident star of the religious turf. Home Nigeria remained the ultimate destination, however—be it Delta or Lagos, home beckoned. Home was where he was resolved to cast down his bucket and found his apostolic realm. Each passing day, month, year, was a mere passage of apprenticeship, and Tibidje was a conscientious learner. More importantly, he was a network builder and an impressive preacher. Even in Ivory Coast, where the language was again French, such was the dynamism of his message—and delivery—that interpreters nearly launched a civil war in the contest to serve him.

			Real war appeared to dog his footsteps—it was that era—but such unpleasantness only provided pertinent material for his pilgrim’s progress, contributing to narratives of ordeal by fire. It enabled sermons of miraculous deliverance from the hands of warring factions, virtually at the point of death, horrors piled on horrors, salvation in complementary dosage. He held congregations spellbound, hallelujah-bonded for the preservation of a man clearly destined to propagate the word of God. His lasting regret was a failure to secure a slot in the pulpit of the imitation St. Peter’s Basilica in Yamoussoukro, the grande folie of the erstwhile leader, Houphouët-Boigny. This was due to a sudden conflagration in the politics of Ivory Coast, an escalation of conflict that soon earned her laurels in the internecine bloodletting that now distinguished the once-peaceful West African states. Still, such grim vicissitudes merely provided further stirring material for eleventh-hour deliverance homilies. Who could fail to identify with the itinerant apostle on the very edge of being devoured by the pet crocodiles of the late leader, into whose residential moat the drugged commandants of an embattled faction had thrown him, just for the fun of it. Such reminiscences, alas, were missed by the majority of Ivorian congregations—Apostle Tibidje had already moved on. Next stop the Republic of Ghana.

			 			It was in Ghana, a zone of comparative stability, that he would later declare he had his first epiphany. It happened in the middle of a reverberating delivery in a football arena in Kumasi, a revivalist crush of tens of thousands where he was again a last-minute substitute preacher. Right in the middle of an ecstatic peroration, he stopped suddenly. Something he had just said, something that had just slipped from his throat, compelled an instant sound rewind in his head. It took him back to the beginning of that very utterance, the root of the resonance, a moment that equated a lightning illumination from a clear sky. It left him dazzled and tongue-tied before an audience of equally riveted thousands. Therefore, flock to the site of prophecy wherever you find it, seek out the prophet’s site where dwells the spirit of the Lord…and he stopped, stunned by the clarity of a message that slammed into his standard exhortation with the fist of inspiration—the prophet’s site. Contract into…prophesite!

			He looked nervously around, hoping that no one else had caught that creative slip, or at least that it had not registered with anyone in that audience with apostolic ambitions. The flash momentarily unnerved him, as it inserted profound doubts in his mind—could it be that he was after all the genuine article? That he had indeed responded to an authentic call to prophesy? Prophesite! Why had all his predecessors failed to formulate such an exquisite, indeed mellifluous name for a place of spiritual quest? Could it be that he was, unbeknownst to himself till now, truly…called? It took days of nerve-racking self-doubt before he fully reassured himself that he had not deviated from his true calling—a skillful, creative spiritual trafficker. At the end of that flash of illumination, he packed bag and baggage and hit the road. He was now the proud possessor of a Volkswagen camper, equipped with recording gadgets and a loud-hailer powered from the car engine, always prepared for an impromptu revivalist session. Accompanied by three faithful adherents, one of them a substitute driver, he headed east. It was time!

			Not back to Port Harcourt, however, not immediately, indeed nowhere near the south, where he had made friends and acquaintances of starstruck celebrities. There was need to ensure that sufficient time had passed, that no one remembered him in his earlier home emanation. He returned to the nation of happiness able to count on a trickle of corresponding associates along the west coast, and even southwards in South Africa, some of them notorious for spiritual remedies that included swallowing live snakes and mice for keeping the devil at bay. On the home front, he renewed contact with a voluntary array of scouts, enablers, and enforcers, some of them turned full-time revolving clients of security forces and prison yards.

			 			Men—and increasingly women—of God, even from rivaling faiths, enjoy a remarkable status in the nation of happiness. There appeared to be, at base, a willingness to join hands in solidarity of purpose. Hardly had Tibidje concluded his first sermon in a converted commodity goods warehouse than he found himself sought after in upper-middle-class circles. One should also credit him with success in creating an air of mystery that intrigued men and women of the faith and eased his passage into the middling, then higher echelons of power. Tibidje hardly needed to advertise his debut as a new entrant into the potential arena of spiritual largesse. Before his departure from Ghana, his scouts had fanned out ahead of his triumphal reentry and returned with their findings. The recommendation was the city of Kaduna, its population reputedly divided near evenly between two warring faiths. The now full-fledged apostle arrived with a clean-shaved head, oiled and gleaming. He grew a beard that brought his appearance closer to a black charcoal sketch he had retained of the sage Nostradamus. Each environment had its own needs, the people their special thirsts and hungers. He felt “called” to preach the gospel of peace in Kaduna, a city that was gradually evolving into a microcosm of Liberia, Sierra Leone, or Ivory Coast. Kaduna was, however, none of these. In no way could it be likened even to Maiduguri in the northeast, hotbed of religious fundamentalists, permanently under siege. It was troubled, but it was comparatively peaceful. For a returnee in need of an untroubled profile yet high on spiritual hormones, Kaduna was both secure and promising. It did not take long for him to make contact with the governor, who was young, untested, ready for any prospect of conciliation for a divided city. A senior civil servant paved the way.

			“If only we can in some way restrain these killers,” lamented the governor, receiving Tibidje on a courtesy visit. The visitor did not miss a beat.

			 			“Have you tried making contact and paying them off? Throw money in their midst and leave them to fight over it.”

			His credentials as a veteran of West African wars lent him authority. Within Nigeria itself—Tibidje knew that history—a governor of Kano State, known as the Suave Appeaser, had done exactly that, paid off a sect known as the Maitatsine, the undercredited predecessors of Boko Haram. The Maitatsine warred primarily against orthodox Muslims—these were the real enemies of man and God, who disgraced the black race by genuflecting to false prophets, the slaving apostles of Arab descent! The Maitatsine were incensed by all who rode in any mechanical conveyance. The punishment for all such infidels was strangulation with the bicycle chains of the two-wheelers on which they pedaled to work and worked the market. They waylaid workers, held up trains, captured the males and enslaved their women, fortified enclaves, and set up governance within governance. That governor’s solution had been to dine with the devil, not even with the proverbial long spoon but directly across a festive board, with takeaway packages in tens of millions.

			Indeed, in seven years away from the land, Tibidje found that much had evolved in that part of the nation. The forbidden fruit was no longer motorcars and motorcycles but books. The written word. Now armed soldiers sprang up everywhere, setting roadblocks with zigzag rites of passage for vehicles, passengers compelled to disembark, walk across a cordon sanitaire with bag and baggage while the emptied vehicles proceeded to the other side after a stringent overhaul. Martyrdom had taken on a new meaning, and to add to his horror, martyrdom was no longer content with willing submission to persecution and death or even self-immolation in a cause, but required the immolation of nonconsenting adults and children, anywhere, anytime, in motor parks, marketplaces, schools, and allied institutions, in leisure places and workplaces. Churches presented themselves as the most provocative targets, joined much later by spiritual fence-sitters, considered worse than the real kafri. Prudence counseled Tibidje to establish his contemplated temple on the southern side of the dividing bridge. The theme was visible, palpable, ready-made as if for the first conscious symbolist: the physical bridge was man-made and inevitably a symbol of separation. He would be the spiritual bridge, the messenger of peace and healing. It was convenient that those two problematic virtues, peace and unity, were also embedded in the national anthem. Tibidje co-opted the line, plus the snatch of tune in which it was clothed, into his opening sermon every Sunday and as dispersing doxology. The governor was impressed. Tibidje drew on the Newark internship of nearly a year’s close confinement with the two religious streams. He was a godsend of an intermediary, the governor confided to his advisers, and a natural conveyor belt for appeasement funds. Millions exchanged hands, and perhaps a fair portion remained stuck en route. Suspicions flared. “We paid all that was agreed up front,” wailed the governor. “Here are my witnesses, and I even have the receipts.”

			 			Tibidje smiled complacently. “It is exactly as I predicted. The money has divided them. They cheat one another and there is no more trust between them. Now leave the rest to God—He’ll make them fight one another to the death.”

			Problems of like nature appeared to dog Tibidje. His timing could not have been more untimely. Boko Haram had designated the same period for the activation of its sleepers, pursuing its own unification agenda across the bridge of division. Other, not so religious voices claimed that it was not Boko Haram at all but frustrated protection racketeers who had lost patience awaiting the promised windfall from their elected governor. The consequence was all that mattered. The complacent lines of military buffers were breached one deadly night. Insurgents sneaked through, fanned out, and unleashed their pent-up proselytizing ferocity. Tebidje’s headquarters, only halfway up from foundation but already in weekly service, was consumed in a baptism of fire. The governor hesitated. He was still upset by the funds that had inexplicably gone missing. In the end, however, he decided to leave everything in the hands of Allah and instructed his aide to send a message of sympathy—but don’t overdo it, he ordered.

			This much all conceded to Tibidje. He was endowed with one asset—a loyal following, an inner core, carefully cultivated, perhaps no more than between four and six at a time. He saw generously to their welfare and in turn they looked after his business. His early-warning system and instinct for survival were honed with every adverse situation. With his experiences along the ECOWAS—another unification project—he was not altogether unprepared when his yet unconsecrated church—ritually, that is—was razed to the ground and two of his lieutenants slaughtered. It was a gruesome setback, a violent deterrent. Tibidje was human, he did not pretend to be anything else, and thus he considered abandonment. Indeed, he had begun to contemplate a second incursion into the United States, this time on a one-way ticket. A new name. A new history. A new beginning. A new life. As emotions struggled in the soul of the repatriated son of the land, however, he looked back on the past and encountered a chastening spectre: a mission unfulfilled! A life in limbo. Deep within him, something rebelled. He recalled pledges, pledges of youth, made to himself and his peers.

			 			The preacher’s stoicism in reconciling himself with that adversity was nowhere more brilliantly manifested than when, not long after the violation, he stood in the middle of fallen roofs and tottering supports that had once housed his ministry, feet scuffing ashes and cinders, and preached his valedictory sermon. It was a never-to-be-forgotten spectacle. With a reflective pate bared to the diminishing light of dusk and a quivering beard that seemed to invoke the wrath of earth, he reminded his followers that destruction had shifted from Christian places of worship only and now embraced even mosques. The Muslim fanatics had begun to inflict even worse brutality on their fellow believers. There was only one response: the unity of the assailed. The wand of faith had fallen into diabolical hands and needed to be rescued, cleansed, and restored to men and women of good will, be these Christians or Muslims. That united will must rout the revelers, an undiscriminating plague that made one and all prospective victims, in spiritual mayhem. It was at this moment that Brother Tibidje sought and received his own counsel—out of evil cometh good. The solution, as a structured, sustainable birth, struck him in the face with such dazzle that he gasped for breath. He went down on his knees, even though wearing his best preacher trousers—straight from the Kaduna main street Souls for God Drycleaners Ltd., a black pair, striped dark grey—and rededicated himself to what was now his prime mission: the ecumenical pursuit. It was not quite epiphany, but it came close.

			 			Tibidje’s travails took on new meaning, new urgency. His year sojourn in the Newark detention camp had pointed the way, only he had failed to see it at the time. Until that moment in the scuffed ashes of his truncated evangelism, he had also been seized by Kaduna as the divided city, requiring the pious disposition of patronage. No, this was no longer sufficient. What the world—not just the happy nation—needed was a new, all-embracing religion! In his hands, offered on a platter of piety, he had at his disposal two main contending religions, united in victimology. The call for a religion of peace, genuine peace, not one of mere spiritual rhetoric, no! It strained for material birth. Adumbrations followed swiftly. A unique space for all faiths, a site for revered seers that catered for both religions in their united peer cultures, emerging beyond controversy, neutral and accommodative. Both sides boasted—indeed, marketed—prophets, and in overabundance. When he tried out the new direction on his surviving threesome Council of Elders, it was an instant hit. Inspired, they screamed, You are truly called, Apostle Tibidje.

			One main ingredient the evangelist early seized upon was…bravura! His inward eye flashed to the overflowing amphitheatres where he had stood in for the modern-day stars of television ministry. Were they greater orators, better read, or more world-savvy than he? The trouble with you, he chided his reflection in the bathroom mirror, is diffidence, that illegitimate child of memory. Go for chutzpah! All around him were indicted governors, senators, permanent secretaries, bankers, some of them even returned fugitives, strutting boldly in accustomed splendor, manipulating the judicial system, fêted and fêting as if they owned the world and could not be called to account until the judges retired, were promoted and taken off the case, witnesses had died, or files were forgotten. They milked the courts for bail and adjournments on health grounds, rivals in the performance trade, since they often entered the court gasping for breath, carried on stretchers, leaning on crutches, bandaged head to foot like walking Egyptian mummies, yet the next day were seen cavorting on the beaches of Florida, hale and hearty. Not even with any sense of a decent interval or concern for the accommodating magistrates and judges before showing their faces in public. Several were already recruiting for their next foray into new elections, bribing, openly campaigning for YoY nominations. So? Who still took the trouble to recall a few peccadilloes that had sent him on an odyssey of self-apprenticeship to lesser talent that could not muster even a fraction of his oratorical powers? As for scriptures, he knew the Bible, the Quran, the Upanishads and Bhagavad Gita backwards and forwards—well, snatches. What mattered was to be able to outquote any aspiring prelate with pertinent passages. Or manipulate the narrative to bear on whatever had been retained in the mind from Quran or Bible. He had made good use of the mini-library in Newark, memorized the powerful declarations of originals such as the legendary Father Divine, the black religious leader.

			 			Now that—and again, for perhaps the hundredth time, Tibidje shook his head in awed admiration—that was some dude! Father Divine called down the wrath of the Lord on the judge who had the temerity to sentence him for some arcane crime called “mail fraud.” Yet the whole world knew that Divine’s crime was simply that he mobilized his fellow slave descendants to demand that they be repatriated to their continent of origin and that the government of white slaveowners pay their passage home and even pay compensation for generations of enslavement. No one could obscure that truth. And so, as his sentence was pronounced, Father Divine in turn pronounced his sentence on the judge: “You will not live to see me walk out of those prison gates a free man!”

			Whew! Wow! Caramba! Blood of Jesus! Lo and behold, that judge expired while Divine was at his morning meditations in his prison cell. The journalistic horde pursued him thither, eager to receive his reaction. Divine was learning for the first time of the judge’s departure from mortal realms, but the charismatic son from the land of the blacks did not miss a beat. “I hated to do it,” he said, and resumed his orisons.

			O gbeleticos! That, determined Tibidje, was the alpha and omega of the prophetic enterprise, and that shard of history stuck in his soul like the forked stick of a water diviner. If he came even halfway close to such power of a bull’s-eye, it would be more than sufficient to rank himself among the priestly immortals. Any judge who made the mistake of dusting up old files and annulling the statute of limitations would be guaranteed a like fate—he knew exactly how gloriously he would embrace the trivial martyrdom of a prison record as the price of fulfillment. It was the testamentary moment of Tibidje’s formal rebirth. He felt himself a spiritual son to the son of slaves who were forcibly taken from the very portion of earth that he, Tibidje, had returned, just like Father Divine, to reclaim. The decision was already hovering on the spiritual horizon, but now he formally made the resolution—he would adopt a slightly altered version of his hero’s name. If he ever came to trial for whatever and a misguided judge made a similar misjudgment, he would pronounce on his head a local version of Father Divine’s counterjudgment. The Apostle Davina—yes, Tibidje had finally chosen, settled for the name change—Apostle, Prophet, maybe Papa Davina, would deliver nothing less potent than his adopted father’s terrible pronouncement on the judge. The rest would follow swiftly.

			 			The means? Time enough to cross that bridge when he came to it. Tibidje had no doubt whatsoever that Father Divine had organized a hit on the presumptuous, racist instrument of injustice. Thus he saw his preparatory mission as being no less than to ensure a capability to deliver a like riposte even from within prison walls if the prophecy took too long to fulfill itself. Not for nothing had he kept close contact with the denizens of his modest beginnings—the yahoo-yahoo boys, the Area boys, not forgetting the cultic proliferation of counterministries with outlandish names that straddled cultures as far apart as Scandinavia and the slum warriors of his own happy nation—the Icelanders, some called themselves, others Konudi, Black Axles, Dagunro, and other predators who ran parallel governments from Zamfara to Lagos, Bayelsa to Birnin Kebbi and back. The Apostle Davina felt ready to move. Papa Davina was in town, let all embrace piety.

			In the name of justice, close to eleven full years had passed, after all, since Tibidje’s unfortunate beginnings in Port Harcourt. The national character had become established in the exhortation known as m’enukuo, a contraction of mu enu ku’ro—take your mouth off it! Let sleeping dogs lie, etc., etc. Even those who knew, who recognized him, would simply shake their heads and—m’enukuo. It was time to move on. But in grand style. With bravura. No looking back. In the style of the brazen state governor who beat a twenty-four-count rap of financial finagling, took off for Dubai, and lived happily ever after, almost—an idyll that was truncated only because of an unprecedented clash of ambitions within the ruling heights and the proverbial morality tale of a falling-out among thieves. It was time, the evangelist estimated, to strike out for greater glory. He would move, yes, move further south, for greater safety. This time, however, every move would take place with unprecedented spiritual panache. Strike out. Act frontally. Beard the devil on his, Davina’s, own terms. The coming relocation would reflect the nation’s current dilemma. It was time to annunciate a ministry of tolerance.

			 			Ministry? No, no, no, that would never do. The confusion between the secular and the spiritual would be insurmountable. Who, within the nation, had not heard of a Ministry of Happiness? Was he, the Apostle Tibidje, now Papa Davina, heir to the tradition of the great Father Divine, to let himself be saddled with such banalities? Think different, Davina chided Tibidje. Think novelty. Think grandeur!

			Davina went into seclusion, wrestling with a flurry of projections, each of which contained at least a dozen options. He fasted, banning lunch in entirety. The thread of life was sustained by a breakfast of four akara balls and a bowl of akamu with some local fruits, then nothing till dinnertime, when he tackled a wrap of tuwo and/or fried plantains, with some kilishi on the side. He was, fortunately, abstemious by habit and a teetotaler—in public—his indulgences lay in other directions. At the end of three days there came a flash, to which Tibidje was uncommonly prone. The expressway, Lagos to Ibadan, on which he had not even traveled for over a decade, provided the setting.

			That artery linked the most heavily populated city on the African continent, Ibadan, to the rest of the nation. It was an increasingly rutted dual carriageway of presumably two lanes on either side, sometimes three. Or four. Sometimes five—when last traveled, which was nearly a decade before, it had become impossible to count exactly how many lanes existed on either side. He could recall it only as serial death traps which progressively became home—on both sides!—to competing spiritualities. It seemed as if a starting pistol was fired on some day and a race commenced for the strangulation of traffic on days of religious feasts—Easter, Christmas, Ramadan, Id after Id, birthdays of prophets and avatars, or simply revivalist sessions on the whim or on days dedicated to a National Day of Prayers against drought, floods, diseases, corruption, locust invasion, epidemics, collapsed buildings, fires, exploding tankers, kidnappers, paedophiles, traffic carnage, ritual killers, etc., etc. Tibidje retraced his last ride, which had taken him through the two roundabouts-cum-flyovers which turned the expressway into a ring road skirting the city of Ibadan itself. It was that final section—the second roundabout and its quarter-mile approach from Lagos, a medley of every kind of motorized contraption and disoriented vending—that now preoccupied the calculating mind of Apostle Davina. He had never given it much thought—he was merely an occasional road user—but now it struck him as a transcendental divide: one part headed towards the ancient war and trading city of Oyo, the other to the spiritual fount of the Yoruba, Ile-Ife, home of the orisa.

			 			The notion, he now realized, had been implanted by a long-submerged sighting of a dirt-blue two-storey building with a wide board across the railings of the first-floor balcony. On that board was painted, in lurid colours, four words: The Home of Chrislam. Strategically positioned at the expressway junction, it was as if its originators were pronouncing that spot both as meeting and departure point of spirituality and worldliness. Tibidje now recalled the controversy it had stirred at the time—was it at its launching? Or was it some years later, evoked perhaps by some purity-obsessed religionist? It did not matter in the least. In that single flash, Papa Davina summarized its history in one word: Timidity! Defeatism. A laudable, indeed inspired religious advocacy, but beyond that? Stagnation. Chrislam was a calling, but where was its dwelling? That was the yawning gap, pleading to be filled! But where? Where? A hard-boiled pragmatic soul, Tibidje knew that he was not yet prepared to take on Lagos itself. More research needed to be done and, more critically, accumulation of capital! Miracles were all very well, but even if water must be struck out of stone, the stone must first be procured, and that meant money.

			Papa Davina ordered his lieutenants into action.

			The results confirmed his recollection. Chrislam had remained in its poky little spot in all its decades of existence. Not one extra square foot of expansion, barely a grudging coat of new paint since the building had been raised, becoming increasingly squeezed as its surrounding plots of land were developed. It had been eclipsed by even later arrivals, minor sects and branches of lesser-known spiritual advocacy. It remained uninfluenced even by an inspirational contrast—separated by just two kilometres. That contrast was situated just before the first of the two roundabouts, that is, on the southern outskirts of Ibadan. It was the vast, sprawling, ever-expanding estate of a self-styled Living God, the Guru Mahara Ji. This vast domain took off from the expressway on a manicured grassy incline, on which the guru’s name and divine order had been florally sculpted by inspired horticultural hands and landscape hairdressers. On the plateau that sheered off the rim, the beginnings of an orchard, then the living and meditation spread of buildings, hidden from profane eyes. By contrast, the site of Chrislam was—not to mince words—a slum.

			 			That projection of contrasts, yoked in unity of spirit—yet another flash of inspiration!—decided Tibidje in his search for an overarching structural motif, a two-in-one that would mean something to all—a fairyland located in a slum, feeding off each other, bringing the world of warring faiths together in amity. He directed his scouts to commence an exploration of the suburbs of Mushin, Oshodi, Ajegunle, Alimosho, all within the bustling city of Lagos but not of it. Papa Davina’s mood was uplifted. Already he began to feel restored. The blueprint had begun to fill out. It only awaited fulfillment.

			Render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s…Tibidje ordered his aides into the idle precincts of land registry and company records. Lo and behold, the Spirit was again at work, and all was exactly as he had predicted. Chrislam was indeed registered as a religion, but not as real estate or business. All hesitation ended. Guru Mahara Ji had met his match. No, not as competitor; Tibidje abhorred such crude contests, was content to play his cards in conformity with the unforced dynamics of proselytisation. He applied for registration, patented the name. That choice was no more than Divine Prescience, a custom-made fit that most definitely constituted the Second Epiphany. The world’s first-ever city of ecumenical worship was on its way—Chrislamabad!

			The vision was complete. Now commenced the harder part—the mission.

			His journey through his West African region had toned him. Impetuousness of youth had taken several steps back. Now a solid middle-aged campaigner, he was not rushed, neither was he diffident. Tibidje believed quite simply that while “a step at a time” was a counsel that merited notice, two steps in tandem were even more meritorious. Even the yahoo-yahoo boys knew that, but they lacked any sense of coordination. They worked internet scams, then dabbled in child-snatching on the side. That was a crippling deficiency in finesse. No sense of the big picture. They were creatures of the moment and would always remain cannon fodder. He would commence with a prototype, make it a launchpad while slowly constructing the landing pad—the permanent headquarters in, where else? Lagos, here comes Papa D.!

			 			The rest followed in logical progression. His ministry would depart from Kaduna, move, for now, just a little further south, further away from the lunatic fringe increasingly consolidated by Boko Haram. Chrislamabad was a city whose birth was too long in coming. Only question for now was, where build the prototype? That was the sole dilemma. There had to be that tryout while the foundation of the headquarters took form, shape, and magnificence. Papa Davina brought out his constant companion of a ten-year itinerancy, his most reliable direction finder—the map of West Africa. As he smoothed out the traveled scroll, his eyes roving around the contours of his native land, his instinct-saturated eye, attuned to signs and symbols towards whatever task in hand, settled on the answer. There it lay prone, quivering right before him—Lokoja! The confluence of the nation’s two major rivers!

			The bombshell of sheer light exploded in his innermost soul. Christians, Muslims, as well as animists, had pursued their main occupation—trade—on the banks of the Benue for centuries, in above-average amity. The main city itself nestled snugly in the heart-shaped cusp of the two major rivers, Niger and Benue. Rivers are not known to take much interest in the plans of mere mortals; this, however, was one instance of unbridled favouritism—two historic rivers echoing the careers of two imperious spiritual streams! It was symbolism pleading to be turned into reality—the fugitive from hate came, saw, and committed. His instinct, he quietly pointed out at the first sermonizing opportunity, continued to serve him flawlessly. It meant that it was no instinct at all but direct spiritual coordination of vision and returns. He laid the foundation of his temporary church—bamboo and clapboard, plus planks from discarded canoes and fishermen’s nets—on a quite substantial sandy island in the western armpit of the two rivers, approachable only by canoes. Tibidje was reasonably schooled in his nation’s geography, but he went further than mere Nature’s landscape—the town, Lokoja, enshrined much of the nation’s history. There the explorers Richard Lander and Mungo Park had taken turns to founder in their search for the source of the River Benue, one getting himself taken prisoner or killed, or maybe both of them—he was no longer sure of details; school was already a decades-old basket, shaken and sieved for what it had to offer, the rest discarded. Neither of the two white interlopers pretended to be on any godly mission—it was all trade agreements with illiterate chiefs—so there was nothing in their legendary passage, as individuals, for him to build upon. But the rivers! Now these were different, rich, prostrate, and available.

			 			The River Niger and the Benue! Their robust consummation neatly bifurcated Nigeria north and south before cascading to the coast to spread its veins all over swampland and create the Delta from which all blessings flowed in the form of black gold, the spinal cord of the nation’s economic standing. Papa Davina reasoned that a fair share of that belonged to him. He had a fair mind, was equitable in human dealing, so he conceded the same right to all fellow citizens, but—and his face, whenever his mind was engaged in such thoughts, became irradiated ear to ear—he had resolved not only to have his but to deserve it. He was not that musically inclined, beyond of course the co-option of that powerful medium in the course of his trade. However, he did have one favourite singer and song, and the lyrics of that song floated around his head like a swarm of colourful butterflies at the onset of the rainy season after the long Harmattan drought when cocoons break loose and all manner of airy things came to life:

			 				Manna’s gonna rain, don’t let the sky scare you

				It’s darkness of plenty, ain’t rage before the Flood

				Journey end sometime, ask the children of Zion

				Then harvest come, sweet manna from heaven.

				Manna from heaven, yeah manna from heaven,

				Sweet mamma, yeah mamma, sweet manna from heaven



			The chips were falling in place. He had only one commodity on offer—spirituality. All it required was creative packaging, and that was his forte. Nothing went to waste. His apprenticeship, albeit a short-lived spell, in publicity and marketing moved to answer its long-awaited call.

			 			Such were the foundational stones upon which the launchpad for Chrislamabad was laid. That choice, Lokoja, was a picturesque, unworldly home of simple fishermen and canoe transporters, yet a busy intersection for road travelers. Davina hired a hall while he commenced the building of his own. The banner on the church entrance read, for ease of pronunciation, Ekumenika, whose calligraphy also carried a hint of ancient Greek, adding to the mysteriousness of the sudden inplant. He labelled his departure from Kaduna the First Exodus, hired fleets of canoes to ferry worshippers to his island church. The service began as a free ride, which soon drew worshippers from mainland churches to its island bosom. Papa Davina introduced modest fares. Soon he owned the canoes. The fleet multiplied. Next, they were no longer conveyances for the prophesite of Ekumenika but a commercial transportation system controlled by the site. It ferried market men and women, schoolchildren, workers. Gradually the site raised its own soccer team. The fleet, decorated in all hues of the rainbow, ferried the blessed soccer team from match to match on the mainland. From soccer it moved to festivals—a canoe regatta that turned into a mini-fiesta, with promises of annual sustenance by governors of the river-bordered states. A trickle of tourists began, swelled into a fair-sized stream, then became a torrent. Tibidje had found his niche. He was halfway home, to the national hub of happiness.

			His city of choice was indeed tailor-made. It had centuries-old landmarks, all begging to be co-opted, but through a modern spiritual perspective—the true city of God and Allah, snatched from the unimaginative entrepreneur of the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway. Lagos awaited the Coming. For now, Lokoja was the container vessel for the ecumenical spirit. He moved to expand, consecrating every encroachment on the island real estate, quietly nudging out the shacks of “illegal squatters.” Tibidje made material what till then had been mere spirit. His ministry moved swiftly, nearly miraculously, beyond the merely speculative. Chrislamabad covered all the grounds, spiritual and temporal, squeezing out competition—mostly Lone Ranger prophets with bell and cross—or absorbing it. It enjoyed the patronage of the state, Kogi, of its middle-class and affluent, of government officials, business types, and politicians. In no time the Kaduna scenario was being reenacted but in a vastly improved version, and minus the menace of a universal plague called Boko Haram. It was inevitable that the governor found himself graciously accepting to be guest of honour at a cultural event, a reelection campaign having entered a critical stage. Enthralled by what he saw on stepping out of the site, he scooped up a handful of the Benue-Niger waters, poured it all over his face, and invited his entourage to do the same. Most did not even await orders; they had already stooped to follow his example. As he stepped into his yacht, he announced that a gift of a motorboat—not just a canoe with an outboard motor but a covered eight-seater motorboat—be delivered gratis to Ekumenika.

			 			That official imprimatur was the final propellant. The island became dedicated to the service of “retreats.” Business deals were negotiated under its spiritual aura. Academics and other fevered brains sought its calm before embarking upon or rounding off research. Artists favoured it for its serenity, and many were the painters’ easels that sprang up in the evenings and weekends to blossom with rich images along the banks of the riverine landscape. Politicians knew where to go for discreet meetings, watched over by the eyes of God. The powerful from beyond Kogi borders heard of it and made it their discreet pilgrimage goal, to escape prying eyes for meetings requiring uttermost discretion. This was how, indeed, Sir Goddie, nominally the second most powerful leader of a powerful nation but in fact her most powerful individual, came to hear of it and sent his most trusted aides to check it out. They returned with glowing reports. When Sir Goddie visited, the entire island was cleared, but with professional discretion. No one heard a thing, not even after he had been and gone. The banner was sufficient: space closed for spiritual renovation.

			Lokoja fully consolidated, Papa D. commenced his move on his real destination, the national home of Ekumenika—Lagos. The decided sector was Mushin/Ipaja, on the road to Otta and Abeokuta, the latter being home to the first missionaries to plant the Christian gospel in the hearts of pagan Yoruba but now a melting pot for no matter what religious affirmation, including the marginalized orisa which Papa Davina had long decided was an economic basket case. Something is not quite right about that traditional religion, he once lamented, seated among his board of trustees. It is just like that expressway Chrislam—a calling without a dwelling. They needed to get their act together. Orisa was simply not worth quoting on the stock exchange, not even on a virtual one. Some tourist value for addicts of the exotic—beyond that, he would not invest one kobo in that antiquarian piece. Still, Davina remained open-minded. He invited orisa priests to the Ekumenika cultural fiesta and even lodged them free of charge in one of the prophesite chalets.

			 			In preparation for the final coming, Papa Davina had taken possession of a “distressed” sector of Mushin/Ipaja with an incongruous hilly outcrop that served as an informal garbage dump. Street gangs and political thugs once ruled the space, released their excess energy by setting fires to a number of small businesses. They imposed protection fees on markets, dismantled the stalls of the recalcitrant, and organized accidents for their families. Papa D. infiltrated with his modernized successors, the yahoo-yahoo and cultic assassins, assigned them productive functions. Prophesite and surrounds witnessed unusual sights—a presiding prelate who changed attire from cassock and surplice plus bishop’s crozier for one service, only to follow up with the “Touareg look”—turban, half to three-quarter facial cover, and a dangling jowl loop. He would follow up a week later with the Hare Krishna saffron robes and tinkle bells but interrupt the week every Friday with the plain Muslim kaftan and skullcap, ivory worry beads. Other chambers ministered simultaneously to other deities in different ways, presided over by his assistants. Gods and avatars, saints and demiurges of all lands were united under one roof, in images or simply manifested in song, chant, and incense across open spaces. Was there not, Papa D. struggled to recollect, a boast attributed to the jihadist Uthman dan Fodio that he would march all the way down from the Fouta Djallon hills of Sierra Leone to dip the Quran in the Atlantic? He, Papa Davina, would go one better. He would dip his chequebook in the Lagos lagoon and bring it up dripping with proceeds from the nation’s petroleum flow.

			This account is authoritative—and by none other than the pilgrim himself, pieced together from numerous sermons, confidentialities, and police records. Thus did the man once known as Dennis Tibidje progress from the eastern city of Port Harcourt to Lagos, of the same nation, via Newark, Monrovia, Dakar, Kumasi, Kadu