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Mid-morning inside a big forest. A large Iroko tree stood beside a narrow footpath. Its large, leafy branches cast variegated shadows onto the ground. Silence, graveyard silence. A brilliantly colored parrot perched on a branch of the Iroko tree. It sat there, chattering: "Tio! Tio! Tio! Tio!.

Finiku, a madman, slept at the fool of the Iroko tree. As usual, he was over-dressed in several stolen clothes. He had on a singlet, two vests, three short-sleeved shirts, two long sleeved shirts, one waist-coat, two coats, an agbada and a babariga. He also wore three knickers, two trousers and a sooro. On his head were three different caps crammed into one another: a Hausa tajia, a Yoruba abetiaja and a bowler hat. All the caps were held in place by a heavy turban, knotted in several places by a long tie. Both dresses and caps were in various stages of tatter.

Finiku had been sleeping at the foot of the Iroko tree for about an hour. He just had a good meal of half-cooked chicken and rotten yam. The chicken had been run over by a tipper. Finiku announced to whoever cared to listen that he was removing the carcass of the chicken from public glare in the spirit of WAIC, the War Against Indiscipline and Corruption. He headed for his "palace" in Igbo Nia. On his way, he passed Akeran dump. There he "liberated" the rotten yam.

At his palace, he put the chicken and yam inside a large tin. He did not bother to pluck the chicken feathers or peel the yam. In fact, the entrails were still dangling from the chicken's flattened stomach. He added salt, pepper and water and placed the "feast" on fire. He danced round and round the cooking pot, clapping and singing. After about thirty minutes, Finiku put

down the pot and consumed the content, entrails and all. Afterwards, he lay at the foot of the Iroko tree, picking his teeth with the hard core of the chicken's feather and belching regally. He fell asleep in the process.

The chattering of the parrot woke up Finiku. He was livid with rage at this rude disturbance of his beauty sleep. He raved at the bird:

"Insult upon injury. I, Finiku, the Lion of lgbo Nia dev sleep my gentle sleep and you stupid jagbajantis bird, you sagacious konkobility witchcraft bird, you dey cry 'tio tio!' You no know say you no get sense! How you be so mannerless sef? If dem no tell you before, your big-for-nothing eyes no tell you say na inside palace you dey? You wan tell me say you no see dis big sign wey say: “NO NOISE! NO HORN! NO WHISTLE! COURT IN PROGRESS!' Nonsense and jagbajantis! Dis na de kin corruption and indiscipline wey dey spoil dis country o. I, Finiku, the Lion of Igbo Nia dey sleep and you democracy witchcraft bird dey sing Fuji reggae. Idiot! Now listen o, mister Wizard Bird. Two kings no dey dey inside one forest o. So, 1 don close my eyes. If I open am and you never carry your weeping and lamentation go elsewhere, de punishment wey Judas chop remain, na you go chop am. Wallah! If I lie, make tipper kill me!”

 

Finiku shut his eyes and counted up to ten. The parrot continued to chatter, unmindful of Finiku's threats. Finiku opened his eyes and saw the parrot still chattering away blissfully. He snorted in anger, grabbed a stone and lobbed it at the parrot. His aim was very wide, but the parrot took off, chattering in protest as it flew away. Finiku was overjoyed. He laughed like a jackal. He howled with pleasure and danced round and round the tree, singing:

"Winner o o o, winner!

Winner o o o, winner!

Finiku you don win o, winner!

Patapata you go win for ever, winner!”

Finiku danced round and round the tree, bubbling with joy like a man who had just killed an elephant single-handed. Or a man who captured a lion and tethered it like a guard dog in front of his house. As he danced, he interspersed his songs with many praise names: Finiku the Lion! Finiku the Great Python! Finiku the Mighty Iroko Tree! Finiku the Man-mountain!

Pastor Job walked down the foot-path towards Finiku. He was dressed in his full pastoral robes In his hand was a big Bible. He was already close to Finiku’s palace before the madman saw him. Finiku halted angrily. He resented Pastor Job's unwarranted intrusion into his private celebration. So, he stood defiantly in the middle of the footpath, blocking the pastor's way.

Pastor Job saw the madman blocking his way but did not falter. He moved towards Finiku whose legs bestrode the footpath. A few paces away from the madman, Pastor Job pointed his Bible at him and shouted:

"Be gone, in the name of Jesus!"

Finiku burst into laughter and danced round the pastor, singing:

"Pastor o, a o yo o o

Pastor o, a o yo o o

A f’omo ti o o nba sun

Pastor o a o yo o."

(Pastor, we shall remove you

We gave you a ward

And you slept with her

Pastor, we shall expel you).

Finiku laughed at his bawdy song. He clapped round and round the pastor, singing at the top of his voice.

"Shut up!" the pastor suddenly yelled at him. Finiku was taken aback and before he could recover the pastor leapt at him and dealt him a heavy blow with his Bible. Finiku panicked and ran inside the bush, shouting:

"Madman! Madman! Were tutu!"

He disappeared from view and the pastor continued his journey. Like a Christian soldier, he marched onward neither looking to the left nor to the right. Finiku re-emerged from the bush behind the pastor. In his hands were two freshly cut canes. He tip-toed after Pastor Job and dealt him several blows from the back. As he caned him, Finiku shouted:

"Were! Madman!"

Pastor Job was shocked and scared. He took to his heels. Finiku pursued, screaming. Pastor Job pelted down the footpath. He held the hem of his billowing cassock to enable him run faster, his Bible he clasped under his left armpit. The path ended abruptly beside the Atlantic Ocean. No boats insight. The ferry had just departed. The current was very rapid and murderous.

Pastor Job could not swim across the foamy, turbulent water. He was caught between the rampaging madman and a ravenous ocean. He decided to grapple with the madman and faced Finiku squarely. However, his courage soon melted into fear. Finiku's canes had turned to a wicked-looking sword. Finiku advanced with measured menace, howling like a wolf.

Pastor Job retreated until the ocean lapped at his heels. He turned sharply, deciding to take a chance in the ocean. As he bent down to dive, seven hippopotami emerged from the ocean depths, their mouths wide-open to swallow Pastor Job alive. His blood ran cold and terror froze his limbs. A sudden commotion behind rocked him back to his senses. He swung back to find Finiku standing over him with the sword raised high.

With a maniacal scream, Finiku brought down the sword. It whistled through the air, sliced through Pastor Job's upraised Bible and pierced his left cheek. Pastor Job screamed ... Pastor Job screamed again as he sat up on his bed, his left palm rubbing his left cheek where a mosquito had bitten him. He was sweating profusely, his eyes still wild with fear. Shade, too, jumped up.

"What's the matter, darling?" she enquired, looking at pastor Job's left cheek. "Something bit you? Look how wet you are. Were you having a nightmare?"

"Give me some water, darling."

A pitcher of water was on Shade's dressing table. She poured a cup for her husband. He drank it at a gulp.

"Are you okay now, dear?"

"Yes, I'm fine now. Thank you, dear."

"So, why did you scream like that?"

"I was having a nightmare," began the pastor. He explained how a madman was chasing him in his dream and how he was caught between the murderous madman and the Atlantic Ocean. "It was when the sword pierced my cheek that I screamed.”

"Jesus Christ! What a horrible nightmare! Did you quarrel with anyone before leaving America?"

"No. I was friendly with all the other students."

“And you never had any nightmare in America?"

"None. I used to sleep like a log."

"Hm, you need to be extra careful then. You arrived Lagos yester night after six months and already you're wrestling with madmen in your dreams. You need to be very, very careful, dear." "Come on, dear, don't be superstitious. What's the link between my trip to America and the nightmare0 You women are fond of fanning the embers of superstition and dread!"

Shade was annoyed at her husband's apparent lack of seriousness. She said:

"It's no women talk, darling. All lizards lie on their bellies, but nobody knows which of them is having a stomach ache. We know those we love, but can we ever be sure of those who love us? You think it is everybody that is happy to see you back safe and sound and successful?"

“Relax, dear. I'm a man of God and I've absolute confidence in him. Let anybody plan whatever evil he can, I will not be moved. For the Bible tells me that many are the afflictions of a good man, but the Lord will not allow him to be defeated. The Bible adds that a righteous man may fall seven times, but God will always lift him up. He will not allow his bones to be broken. So let the heathens rage, I will not abandon God, I'm not one of those pastors who preach Christ by day and patronize Satan by night'"

"1 am not asking you to consult any herbalist. Just be careful."

"Okay, let's pray." Both knelt down. Pastor Job opened his Bible to Psalm 35, praying: "Oppose those who oppose me. Lord, and fight those who fight against me…’’

* * *

A big Araba tree stood beside a well-macadamized road in Ikoyi. It was early Sunday morning and the traffic was rather light; the usual Sunday service rush had not started yet. A small bush stood behind the Araba tree and a large sacrifice in a potshard had been left at the foot of the tree. Two lovers, John, the son of Baba Ijesa and Victoria Ebun the daughter of Chairman, were discussing behind the tree. John had not seen Vic for about a week. He had come very early from Obalende, bribed one of the servants to wake up Victoria and both had come for a short meeting behind the tree. After embracing and kissing, they began to talk. Their voices could be heard by whoever moved near the Araba tree, but they were completely hidden from view by the large tree.

"How are you feeling, my love,” asked John, rubbing his palm over Victoria's protruding belly.

"I'm fine, now, although I felt a little ill two days ago. Why didn't 1 see you?"

"My father engaged me most of the time. There was no way 1 could have slipped out without being noticed. How about your own daddy? Has he stopped pestering you?"

“No, darling. Every day, he begs me to tell him the person responsible for my pregnancy. As usual, I insist it is Angel Gabriel and that the name of the child is Immanuel!”

"And Daddy believed that fairy tale?" asked John through sniggers.

"Of course, not! In fact, he called a family meeting over the issue the day before yesterday. Uncles and aunts, granddaddies and grand-mummies from far and near converged on our house. They mounted pressure on me to reveal the name of the person responsible for my pregnancy, but I stuck to my earlier story. I insisted that Angel Gabriel did it in my dream. Some laughed uncontrollably while others shook with rage. After several useless hours, they all left in frustration."

"Good God! So it's that serious now?"

“Yes, it is. The family meeting was not funny at all. Until that day, 1 did not know that we have so many useless old people in our family. Can you believe that one old papa with toothless gums even threatened to kill me with a charm unless 1 confessed?"

"Really?"

"Of course!"

"Why?"

"He said there were no bastards in our family and that he would rather kill me than allow me to spoil the family name!"

"And what was your daddy's reaction?"

"Don't you trust him? You know I'm his only child. He snatched the charm out of the hand of that useless old papa, telling him he had enough grand-children at home if he wanted to commit murder!”

John laughed gleefully. Shade joined him, holding her belly as she laughed.

"Mummy told me later that the first daughter of that useless old papa had four children for four different fathers. In fact, two of them are still bearing our family name because their mother cannot trace their fathers. That useless old papa did not see any bastards among those ones!"

The lovers laughed again and John added fuel to the fire by calling the old man a Pharisee who had a log of Iroko in his eyes, but chose to persecute another man with a speck of broom stick in his own. Both became sober later.

"Darling, 1 don't like the turn of events. I'm coming to see your dad. He can't kill me."

"Don’t be stupid! You're still jobless and if you should show your face at my house, Daddy will throw you out. Moreover, you know the blood feud between your Daddy and mine. If Daddy knows you impregnated me, he will abort the pregnancy with punches and damn the consequences. But if we patiently proceed according to plan until the pregnancy is about eight months old, there is nothing Daddy can do even if he discovers that you're responsible."

"You're right. But if things get too sticky, I'll own up. How's Mummy treating you?''

"Fine. You know she's my ally.”

A vehicle stopped by the Araba tree. It was driven by Chairman, Victoria's father. He stepped out of the vehicle to ease himself at the root of the Araba tree. He had already zippered down when he heard the whispering emanating from behind the tree. Thinking? it was the spirit of Araba protesting against his contemplated action, Chairman panicked. He ran into his car and zoomed off.

John and Victoria came out to see what had happened. Recognizing her father’s car, Victoria kissed John goodbye and hurried home. John, too, headed for Obalende to prepare for the morning service.

* * *

An air of celebration pervaded Christ Torch Cathedral that Sunday morning. The congregation turned out in large numbers to welcome its pastor who had just returned from America after six months. They came in their Christmas best, rich clothes in sparkling colours. The choir, the greeters and the ushers wore their black and red uniforms, adding a celestial formality to the gay atmosphere.

Many members of the church were habitual latecomers. But this Sunday morning, most arrived in church before nine o'clock, the official service time. Instead of going into the church, however, every one congregated outside, conversing and laughing and being joyously expectant. They were waiting to give Pastor Job a royal welcome.

Pastor Ojoge was there. For the past six months, he had been deputising for Pastor Job. He had been transferred from the village of Oke-Awo to hold the fort for Pastor Job. Pastor Ojoge had fallen in love with the new parish and was scheming to stay put in town. He had banked on perfecting his scheme before the end of the year when Pastor Job was billed to return. He had hoped to do a palace coup against Pastor Job before the latter returned. He was, therefore, rudely shocked to see the man come back the previous day, barely six months after he left. As he circulated among the congregation, only a part of him exchanged pleasantries with people. His inner man was in high gear, sifting through layers of possibilities and solutions.

Chairman was the Seriki of Christ Torch Cathedral, Campos Square, Lagos. He and two other "benefactors" were honoured with the traditional titles bv Pastor Ojoge. When Pastor Job got the news in America, he was shocked at the poor judgement of his deputy. But he had no choice, being so far away. This morning, Chairman dressed as befit the Seriki of the church. He had on an expensive Jacquard Lace which had cost him about one hundred thousand naira.

He told Pastor Ojoge, his "man," that the tailor who sew the material got ten thousand naira. He wore crocodile skin shoes specially imported for him at a cost of twenty-five thousand naira. He also had special beads made for him in Calabar at a cost of ten thousand naira. Pastor Ojoge dutifully murmured his appreciation of Chairman's power dressing, not bothering to think how a man - whose salary was about one hundred thousand naira per annum could afford to wear a one-hundred-thousand naira dress to an occasion. To Pastor Ojoge, a benefactor of Christ like Chairman must be forgiven certain whims condemnable in ordinary church members. Moreover, Chairman's "gifts" had enabled Pastor Ojoge and his family to live in some affluence.

"By the way, pastor, why is your oga back so early? I thought he was to spend a year m America."

"I don't know, chief. In fact, I 'm as surprised as you are to see him. The post-graduate degree he went for ordinarily takes one whole year to obtain. So, I don't know what's happening." "Perhaps your Oga has failed and has voluntarily abandoned the course to avoid being kicked out!"

"I don't think so. What I suspect is that they are on mid-session break and he has come to check his family. As you know, a man who leaves wife and children at home and goes to America cannot just vanish like stone from a catapult!"

"I hope you're right. Otherwise, our plans may be in serious problems, right?"

"You're right, chief. Our plans will derail if he comes back now. But don't worry, chief. God is behind us. The Bible tells us when two or more people are gathered together in his name, he is there with them. It adds that whatever we bind on earth is bound in heaven, and whatever we loose on earth is loosed in heaven. So there’s no cause for alarm. God is with us, who can be

against us?"

"No one. Once we don't kill another man or prevent him from making it, God is surely behind us."

Baba Ijesa came over. He greeted Pastor Ojoge warmly, shaking his hand. He also greeted Chairman, but deliberately held his hands behind his back. Baba Ijesa, John's father, behaved as if Chairman was a leper whose disease may be contagious. Chairman noted the gesture but shrugged it off. The whole world knew that Baba Ijesa was his arch-enemy.

Brother Ojo, the teacher, also came over to greet Pastor Ojoge. He ignored Chairman, but the latter called him back.

"Haba! Brother Ojo, must you carry our quarrel into the house of God? You want me to believe that you did not see me, eh? Or have I become an ant now?"

Ojo looked at him with scorn and responded with a long hiss.

"A man who should be sold for the price of a lamp now carries himself like an article worthy of illumination. I don't blame you. It is the fault of God who is too patient with your type!"

Chairman was stung to the quick. He flared up and would have slapped Brother Ojo had Pastor Ojoge not restrained him. "Cool down, chief. He's only a boy!"

"A boy, indeed! If he hopes to live long, he better put a padlock on his reckless mouth. I'm not his rank o. I'm too much for him. The head of an elephant is too heavy for a child o. And nobody picks his nose with the fangs of a life cobra!"

"That's alright, chief. I'll talk to him"

Pastor Ojoge signalled Brother Ojo to leave the vicinity and the latter complied. He, too, did not want to cause any commotion in church. What really irked him was Chairman’s effrontery. How could a man who snatched his wife expect to be greeted by him?

“Next, he would demand that I come and prostrate in his house every morning! Shameless old man!"

Baba Ijesa had watched the whole drama from a distance. He smiled in satisfaction and mentally pencilled down Ojo's name as a possible ally in his life-long feud with Chairman.

Pastor Job's imported Mercedes 200 came into view and the whole church surged towards it. A shout of joy emanated from the crowd as Pastor Job and his family alighted. For the next ten minutes. Pastor Job greeted different people, shaking and hugging them in joy. Judging by the warm reception accorded him, one would have thought that Pastor Job had no single enemy in the cathedral. Pastor Job was finally led into the church with songs and dance.

But not everyone could disguise their annoyance or disappointment at Pastor Job's sudden return. At the back of the church, Deaconess Jane, Pastor Ojoge's wife, was beside herself with rage and hurt.

“There's no justice in this world at all. Only God can repay one's efforts. My husband had worked like a donkey for this parish, but no one gives him the kind of honour they bestow on Pastor Job. Nobody said 'thank you' for the great and mighty things he had done for the church in the past six months. The children's chapel that Pastor Job could not complete had been completed by my husband. Before Pastor Job left, the church had only a small, old fashioned organ. My husband has bought a mighty pipe-organ for the church. He has bought a coaster bus for the church; and many other things to give the church a modern look. My husband has a gift for raising funds which Pastor Job lacks. He has transformed this church from a big-for-nothing one to a modern, jet-age church complete with modern equipment and gadgets. Nobody commended my husband's efforts. Yet, Pastor Job is being welcomed like a king. Old and young alike cherish him like a new born baby. They sing and holler with joy like primary school pupils given some honey to lick. Ha! God is above, sha! My husband who has almost torn himself to pieces to uplift this church has been put in the back seat. Ha! There is no justice in this world o. No justice at all!"

Deaconess Jane could not contain her emotions and burst into tears. Baba Ijesa was going to the toilet when he saw the weeping deaconess.

"What is the matter, deaconess? Are you alright?"

Sister Jane was embarrassed and wiped away her tears. "I'm fine, Baba Ijesa. I'm very fine."

"But 1 met you crying?" persisted the cantankerous old man.

"It's happiness, Baba Ijesa. You know when one is overjoyed, one sometimes shed tears. I'm just too happy to see our beloved pastor come back safe and sound from America. I couldn't hold back my tears, tears of joy, Baba Ijesa."

"I hear you o, Deaconess," said Baba Ijesa with heavy sarcasm.

"I'm coming from the toilet. I'm going in now."

"Okay o."

Deaconess Jane hurried into the church, while Baba Ijesa watched her go. He shook his head, saying: "All lizards crawl on their bellies, but only God knows which one of them suffers from stomach ache!"

The service that Sunday morning was a joyous one. There was much singing and dancing. Exhortation time and Pastor Job mounted the pulpit. He spent the first few minutes thanking everybody for remaining steadfast to the faith in his absence. He poured much encomium on his deputy, Pastor Ojoge, for the "great and mighty transformation" he had wrought in the church in his absence. He prayed that God would repay him and all those who contributed financially and morally to the work.

"I'm sure many of you may be wondering why I'm back so soon. Normally, the course I went for should have lasted a whole year. I have only spent six months. I'm sure some of you have concluded that I had failed and had been kicked out of America!"

A gale of laughter greeted his imagery.

"This is not so. Even though 1 was supposed to spend a year, but with God's mercy and your prayers, I was awarded my diploma after only six months!"

The congregation shouted with joy and clapped and danced. It took Pastor Job almost ten minutes to restore some order. His sermon afterwards was short but very sharp. He ended with a promise to clean up the corruption that has eaten deeply into the spiritual fabric of the church.

"I am happy to see the wonderful transformation in this church, but I'm very sad that we have not paid the same attention to our spiritual life. Mathew 23 verse 27 blames the Pharisees for their hypocrisy. They dress the tomb of the prophets but their inside is full of corruption and decay. They pretended to be holy but were filled with all sorts of evil. It is my sad lot to announce to you all that there are many Pharisees in this church today. News reaching me in America about some of our members saddened me a lot. It is common knowledge that some of our brothers and sisters now belong to secret cults."

A hush fell over the church. Baba Ijesa, his wife and son shared the same pew with Chairman, his two wives and daughter. When Pastor Job alleged that some brethren belonged to secret cults, Baba Ijesa jumped up and shouted:

"You are right o, pastor. The Alukoro of Sango is in this church! The Apena of Obatala is in this church! In fact, the Seriki of Oghoni Fraternity is also here!"

A great shout followed his outburst. Chairman was enraged and got up to challenge Baba Ijesa, but his family held him down. Everybody knew that Baba Ijesa was referring to Chairman who celebrated his installation as Seriki of Ogboni Fraternity Worldwide a few days after celebrating his installation as Seriki of Christ Torch Cathedral. People laughed at him and Chairman fell like crying. Pastor Job continued with his exhortation.

"Furthermore, it is saddening to hear that some church elders have taken other wives contrary to our regulations…"

Baba Ijesa jumped up again, shouting: "That's true o, Pastor. There is a big chief in this church who is an expert at snatching members' wives!"

The church erupted into laughter. Hubbub broke out, with many pointing sneaky fingers at Chairman. Chairman felt humiliated and prayed that the ground would open up and swallow him alive there and then. His family advised him to ignore Baba Ijesa.

"As I was saying," continued Pastor Job, "the cankerworm of corruption has eaten very deep into our spiritual life. Both old and young have been accused of sexual immorality. The immoral alliances between young men and women in this church have resulted in many unwanted pregnancies."

Once again, Baba Ijesa jumped up and said:

"A lady here is expecting Angel Gabriel's baby!"

This remark sparked off a prolonged gale of laughter. Chairman and his family were drenched in shame. Chairman's visage was that of a wounded lion. He felt like tearing into Baba Ijesa but was restrained by his family. After all, it was his loose-bottomed daughter that brought such an open insult to him. He, however, resolved to get even with Baba Ijesa.

Pastor Job ended his message with a call for moral rejuvenation of all brethren as befits born-again Christians He also announced his plans to set up a committee to probe allegations of moral turpitude against some individuals. He said those found guilty would have to vacate whatever office they held in the church. That Sunday, many left the church in a happy mood. But Chairman and his family left in great anger and shame.

 

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Abiodun Adeniji

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