Three days later, the committee members gathered in the church for their inauguration. They were five altogether. Baba Ijesa was the chairman, Mrs. Anike Quadri, the vice-chairman was the leader of the Women for Christ Association, the largest group in the church. Ojo, the primary school teacher was the secretary. Others were Brother James Nduku, Chairman of the Christian Youth Movement, and Pastor Ojoge.
Pastor Job said the opening prayer. He called on God the Holy Spirit to take absolute control of the committee and grant it the Wisdom of Solomon. Afterwards, he explained to them that they had not been set up to witch-hunt anybody. He admonished them to eschew all bitterness in the conduct of their work. They should also remember that Christ said that Christians should correct in love and not out of malice or with an intention to condemn.
"That makes it highly imperative for each and every one of you to be honest in discharging your responsibility. You must be firm, fair, but loving in your attitude toward our brothers who may be brought before you. The essence of Christian correction is to change for the better and not to condemn for life. It is a way to show erring brothers their un-Christianly way, and not to stigmatise for the sake of punishment. Please bear this in mind at every stage of your assignment."
At this point, Pastor Ojoge stood up to defend his "client". He pointed out that the credibility of the committee might be in serious jeopardy with the selection of Brother Ojo as the secretary.
"I will like to point out to the pastor and other honourable members of this honourable committee that Brother Akilapa is one of those likely to be probed by this committee. And it is a well-known fact that Brother Ojo has a serious grudge with Brother Akilapa. So, his selection as secretary of this committee may mar the credibility of our final recommendations."
"Pastor!" cried Brother Ojo, jumping to his feet. "In the interest of justice and fair play I hereby resign from this committee!"
"No!" said Pastor Job, restraining him from leaving. "I'm sure Pastor Ojoge does not want you to resign. You were chosen by me on your personal merit as a faithful and diligent worker in the church. So, you qualify to be here as any other member. "However, I will not like to dismiss Pastor Ojoge's misgivings with a wave of the hand. Indeed, the committee's recommendations may be marred by accusations of personal involvement between members and the brethren to be probed. I call for suggestions on this issue."
"Excuse me, pastor," began Brother Ojo. "I have been aware of this... this problem since you appointed me. 1 have also come to what I regard as a fair solution which may be acceptable to all. I hereby resign my appointment as secretary to this committee but not my membership."
The others clapped in appreciation of his wise solution. Pastor Job thanked him for his sacrifice and subsequently appointed Brother James Nduku as secretary to the committee.
"One down," thought Pastor Ojoge with glee. Next he attacked the integrity of the chairman of the committee.
"I think the same allegation against Brother Ojo can be levelled against our honourable chairman, too. It is a well-known fact that the chairman and Brother Akilapa contested for the Seriki title, but chief Akilapa got it. Since then, a cold war situation has existed between the two of them. I fear that any recommendation made by this committee under the chairmanship of Baba Ijesa cannot escape the charge of personal vendetta!"
"I don't agree with you. Pastor Ojoge," said the new secretary, Brother Nduku." As tar as I know, Baha Ijesa is a honest, man. not given to trifles. And as chairman, he has only one vole like the rest of us. He can't impose his will on all of us."
''But people may say we are partial because he is chairman,'' persisted Pastor Ojoge.”
"Not in the least. In any case, Brother Seriki's conducts speak for themselves and call for no controversy. Does Pastor Ojoge want this committee to believe that he was not aware of the front page advertisement Brother Seriki placed in The Examiner inviting the whole world to his installation as Seriki of Ogboni Fraternity Worldwide?"
Pastor Ojoge knew that he had hit a brick wall and quickly back pedalled. Pastor Job therefore ruled that Baba Ijesa should continue to chair the committee. He added that as a first step, only elders should be the first to be probed.
"To whom much is given, much is also expected. There had been several allegations of misconducts levelled against the three newly appointed chiefs in the church. I suggest that they should be called upon to explain themselves. And because we want to be fair, we shall not take unsubstantiated allegations. Anyone having anything against any of them should be bold enough to face them with his allegations. There should be no hearsay evidence."
It was resolved that the committee should call for memoranda from the brethren listing specific allegations against the chiefs. Afterward, the committee would meet the accused in the church premises one by one. A tentative "Charge list" was drawn up, indicating the un-Christianly conducts committed by the new chiefs.
CHIEF AKILAPA, SERIKI. ALLEGATIONS: Snatching a brother's wife, involvement in cull activities and unexplained pregnancy of his daughter.
CHIEF ANDONI, BABAEWE. ALLEGATION: Impregnating two blood sisters, members of the church.
CHIEF (MRS) ABDULLAHI, IYALODE. ALLEGATION: Embezzlement of funds.
The committee was given two weeks to complete its assignment and submit its recommendations to Pastor Job.
* * *
Chairman paced his office like a caged animal. He was restless. He had been on tenterhooks since Sunday when Pastor Job announced the formation of the committee. He knew that the committee comprised at least two people who were totally antagonistic to him. The inclusion of his "eye" Pastor Ojoge, in the committee relieved his anxiety somewhat. Still he could neither sit still nor concentrate, knowing full well that the committee to decide his fate was being inaugurated a mere five kilometres from his office.
Chairman dreaded being disgraced. He would rather die than have the title of Seriki of Christ Torch Cathedral yanked from him. He knew how much prestige the title had brought him in the eyes of his powerful friends. In fact, the title paved the way for his Ogboni title. If revoked, he also stood the chance of losing the Ogboni title. Chairman shivered as he contemplated the dire consequences of losing the Ogboni title. The most appalling would be his loss of face among the powerful cultists. Loss of face is a fatal blow to all politicians. Members of the Ogboni cult included ministers, lawyers, judges, market women and men, governors and past heads of state. Loss of face among such a constellation would undoubtedly affect his political career. Chairman would not have that.
"No! Death is more honourable than disgrace!" he thought. The intercom rang. Chairman snatched the handset from its cradle.
"Didn't I tell you not to disturb..." he began angrily. Then he simmered down. "Good, let him in."
The door opened and Pastor Qjoge entered.
"Welcome, pastor," greeted Chairman, motioning Pastor Ojoge to a chair.
"So, how was the inauguration?"
"Fine. Things did not go exactly as we planned, Chief. It was one leg up, one leg down." "Meaning what, pastor?"
"Ojo is no longer the secretary!"
"Praise God! What about the old rascal, Baba Ijesa?"
"That's the unfortunate bit, Chairman. He is still the chairman of the committee. All my efforts to relieve him of his post failed."
"Damn it!" snapped Chairman, punching his palm. Quickly, Pastor Ojoge narrated all that had happened. He pointed out that all was not lost yet. He advised Seriki to try and "fix" other members of the committee individually to ensure their co-operation. He also advised Chairman to send his daughter, Victoria away for some time until the heat was over. Finally, Chairman was to invite the committee to see him at home, instead of meeting them in the church as planned.
"You will host them like kings, pestering them with excellent foods and wines before answering their questions. After such a lavish reception, even your worst enemy will be reluctant to indict you. As the saying goes: Choice meats and excellent wines always dissolve a heart of stone!"
Chairman laughed aloud. For the first time in four days, he was tension-free. He playfully punched the pastor in the back and said:
"Pastor! You're a real serpent!"
"Thank you, Chief!" beamed Pastor Ojoge, accepting the five thousand naira that Chairman gave him with his other hand. "Christianity is not synonymous with stupidity, Chairman. Christ himself advises us to be as gentle as a dove but as wise as a serpent! So a man of God too stupid to defend his interest can't enter the Kingdom of God!"
They both laughed aloud. Pastor Ojoge slipped the money in his briefcase as Chairman saw him to the door.
Chairman swung into action that very night. He paid surprise visits to all the members of the committee in their homes. At the end of each short visit, he offered subtle inducements. Mrs. Quadri was a widow with three grown up children, all of them unemployed graduates. Chairman told Mrs. Quadri that the "spirit" moved him to give all her children immediate employment as Administrative officers in the local government council. He gave Mrs. Quadri the letters of appointment back dated by a month. Their salaries were three times what their counterparts were earning. Mrs. Quadri thanked him effusively and escorted him to the door. Chairman left her house with a sweet feeling of success. As advised by Pastor Ojoge, he carefully avoided attaching any conditions to his "spirit-motivated" gesture.
Mrs. Quadri watched him drive off and laughed aloud.
"Does he think I'm a fool?" she asked herself. She resolved not to tell her children about their "windfall".
Brother Nduku was an accountant in a finance house. He had just had his dinner when Chairman arrived. After exchanging pleasantries, Chairman told him that his council was considering putting some fifty million naira in a finance house. He asked Brother Nduku's advice on the most reliable finance house to lodge the money for about a year.
Fireworks exploded in Brother Nduku' s brain. Fifty million naira would fetch him not less than one million naira as commission for bringing such a huge sum. With one million naira, he would be able to complete his building project in Nnewi. Praise God!
"My company is the best in the country today, Chairman. We have a reputation for honesty and hard work. Also, we meet our obligations to our customers without fail. If you put your money in our finance house, I will personally supervise it for you. I will also ensure that you can collect it as at and when due without any fuss."
Chairman was elated to see the hook sink into Brother Nduku. But he pretended to be indecisive, forcing the accountant to beg him earnestly. Chairman eventually "allowed" himself to be persuaded reluctantly. He asked Brother Nduku to come round to his office the following Monday to pick up the cheque. Brother Nduku was most profuse in his thanks, more so, when Chairman gave his little lad a dash of one thousand naira. Chairman left the accountant's house with a feeling of total victory.
He would not have been so certain if he had heard the comments of Brother Nduku's wife after his departure.
"You no find am strange that Chief Seriki wey no fit greet you before your appointment as secretary to the committee to probe him now come offer you mouth-watering inducements? You better be careful, dear!"
The balloon of Brother Nduku's enthusiasm was rudely deflated. He vowed to nail chairman for tempting him with money.
Chairman did not bother to go to Brother Ojo's house. He knows no amount of money or favour would ever soothe the hurt of a man whose wife had been snatched by another. He feared that ()jo would throw pepper water in his face if he dared to enter his house.
But to make assurance doubly sure, he headed for the house of his arch-enemy, Baba Ijesa. Chairman was well prepared for the encounter and was confident of victory. Before leaving his house, he licked his charm and chanted an incantation.
"Everyone favours a new born baby
No one spits on a precious gift
I have become a new born baby tonight, Baba Ijesa!
You will favour me whether you like it or not!”
He popped some grains of atare into his mouth as instructed by his babalawo and ground them with his teeth. He spit the ground alligator pepper in the air and collected the falling spray on his head. Thus fortified, he headed for the house of Baba Ijesa.
Baba Ijesa was dumb-founded to see Chairman at his doorstep. In a daze, he invited his arch-enemy into his sitting-room. Chairman sat down, putting a big suitcase on his laps. He seized the initiative before Baba Ijesa could recover from his shock.
"I know that you're surprised to see me here. But I have come as a friend and not as an enemy. I know that we have had some quarrels in the past. Like a good Christian, I freely confess my fault and ask for your forgiveness."
Chairman put the suitcase on the ground and prostrated full length on the floor. Baba Ijesa was shocked with embarrassment. He could not believe his eyes. Was it a vision or a nightmare? Quickly, he helped Chairman to his feel, assuring him that their quarrel was over. He was too embarrassed to say anything to the contrary.
Chairman was not done yet. He told Baba Ijesa that as a gesture of his change of heart, he had instructed the accounts department to pay all the money owed Baba Ijesa by the council. He then brought out the accounts forms and asked Baba Ijesa to sign them. The latter did so like an automaton. Then Chairman threw the clincher.
"To save you the problem of running to the bank I have brought you the money in cash. Inside this bag is three million naira, the total value of the contracts you have executed for the council. Take!" Baba Ijesa's composure shattered. He grabbed the bag, opened it and began to count avidly. Chairman watched him count with a smile of victory. He excused himself and left. Baba Ijesa did not see him to the door as courtesy demands. He was too busy counting the bales of naira notes. Afterwards, he returned the money into the bag and danced round and round, praising God. His wife and son came running in to find out what was amiss. Baba Ijesa laughed like a maniac and pointed to the bag
"The man came to give me the knife I need to slaughter him. Haw! Ho! Ha!"
John and his mother were bemused. All their entreaties for more explanations fell on deaf ears. Baba Ijesa phoned his bank manager, instructing him to meet him in the bank premises within the hour. He then put the suitcase in his car and drove off, still laughing.
The meeting between John and Victoria earlier that night had ended stormily. In the past, John usually left his lover in very joyful moods. He could never spend enough time with her. Just a look at her beautiful face was enough to melt his heart. Just one touch of her hand was enough to dispel the cloud of guilt or ill feeling he might have been surrounded with. And the time spent in between each visit always dragged with boredom and irritation. To John, he truly lived only during those brief hours spent holding his lover in his arms. They had always parted with love and kisses.
But that night, the lovers had parted on a note of acrimony, no thanks to the activities of their fathers. When John learnt that his father's committee would probe his lover's pregnancy, he was very angry. He told his father point blank that he was against the committee. He then warned his father not to probe Victoria's pregnancy too deeply.
"Or else, you may find maggots inside salt!"
His father had been mystified by John's vehement defence of Victoria. He had pressed his son to speak more plainly. Instead of doing so, John had stormed out of the house. Baba Ijesa then turned to his wife, seeking her support. Instead, she pretended to be struck with a sudden fit of coughing. She later advised him to tread softly on the Victoria issue. She did not confess to him that she knew all that was going on between John and Victoria. John had headed for Ikoyi, resolved to put an end to the "corner-corner" love affair. He walked up to Chairman's house to make a clean breast of it all.
"Tell the truth and let the devil be ashamed," he muttered under his breath.
As he was about to knock on the pedestrian gate, somebody called his name from behind. It was Victoria. Both headed for their hideout by the fence.
“I’m fed up. I'm going to see your father and tell him the truth."
"You will do no such thing!"
"Watch me, then," John stepped forward but Victoria held him back.
"Please, John, be patient. It's only two more months."
"Enough is enough! Do you know that my daddy's committee is to probe you? And the ignorant man is happy about it!"
"Don't talk like that about your dad! Anyway, he doesn't know you're responsible for my pregnancy. So you can't blame him."
"All the more reason for us to own up now. I'm going to see your father." He tore himself away and headed for Chairman's house.
"If you tell him, I'll deny you!"
John stopped short.
"What did you say?"
"I will deny you," repeated Victoria quietly. "I'll tell daddy you're not responsible for the pregnancy."
"You're crazy!" shouted John in anger and frustration. An argument ensued, their first since their secret love affair began over a year ago. Victoria tried to make John see reason. She explained that her father had decided to send her to London for three weeks until the committee had completed its assignment. She, therefore, begged John to be patient. But John had been adamant. Victoria had become angry too and asked him to go to hell. John departed without their traditional kiss of love. He did not even say goodbye. He was, therefore, astonished to find Chairman in their sitting-room on his arrival. His father's strange behaviour after Chairman left convinced him that the feuding fathers had hatched another plan guaranteed to hurt Victoria and him. He wondered what it could be.
He did not have too long to wait. When his father returned home from the bank, the old man called John and his mother to a family meeting. There, Baba Ijesa begged his son not to disgrace him the way Victoria has disgraced Chairman.
"My son, you are now twenty-four. You are old enough to marry. I know you don't have a job now, but thank God I'm not poor. So look for any girl you like in this town and bring her to me. And as God lives, I will marry her for you and set you up in business to be able to support her. So I order you to look for any girl you like and bring her here!"
"Any girl?" asked John, tempted to mention Victoria's name.
"Yees... except one! Victoria! Thank God, she is already pregnant for somebody. So, she is out of the question."
"I see," murmured John. "What if somebody told you I was responsible for Victoria's pregnancy?"
"Shut up!" shouted his father. "I hate these nasty jokes of yours. How can you be responsible for a serpent's pregnancy? Are you mad?"
"1 only asked you what you would do, Daddy. It was just a hypothetical question."
"And a dangerous question it is! If you should do such a thing, John, God will receive two unexpected visitors very quickly, you and I!"
John smiled bitterly. "There is no need for threats, Papa. I thank you for your kind order. As for me, I have made up my mind never to marry. I'm going to join the Catholic Seminary and be a reverend father!"
''Are you crazy!" shouted his father." You're our only child. Do you want to deny us the joy of having grand children? Who has ever done such a thing? Who has ever been a father in our family?"
"There's always a first time, Papa. I'm going to be a reverend father and no one can stop me!" "That's a big lie! It's an absolute lie O. You were born and must also give birth to children. I order you to give birth right now! Mama John! You better talk to your son. Talk to him now before 1 place the last curse in my mouth on his head!"
Baba Ijesa got up and stormed out of the house. John and his mother burst into laughter. John later narrated his earlier encounter with Victoria. His mother blamed him for being too rash and advised him to be patient.
"I don't know why you should fall in love with Victoria of all the girls in this town. But God knows best."
Two days later, the committee swung into action. Brother Andoni was the first to be carpeted by the committee. Mama Ibeji, a church member, accused him to his face of impregnating her twin daughters simultaneously. The daughters also testified that Baba Ewe, Youth Leader, lured first one, then the other into bed with him. At this point, Baba Ijesa asked them how Baba Ewe could have “lured" two beautiful, intelligent and well-educated young ladies to bed. The twins kept silent, but their mother said Brother Andoni used "juju" on them.
"It's a lie" shouted the culprit, not wanting the charge of "juju" added to his list of offences. "Your daughters ran after my money and I grabbed their succulent bodies! It's money, not juju!"
The committee laughed for a long time to the chagrin of Mama Ibeji and her pregnant daughters. "So, you're not denying that you impregnated the twins?" asked Brother Nduku.
"No. I willingly confess it and ask God's forgiveness. It is the work of the devil!"
"Which devil?" shouted the elder daughter. "The devil in hell or the one in your lecherous mind?"
She was the first to be impregnated and had thought she had grabbed the rich bachelor. When her sister confessed to her that she was pregnant for Baba Ewe, she nearly committed suicide.
Having heard from both sides, the committee dismissed them. Mama Ibeji was interested in the verdict. She wanted Baba Ewe to be forced to marry at least one of the girls, but the committee told her that the final decision would be announced later.
Next, the committee deliberated on the charge of embezzlement levelled against lyalode. A member of the Single Ladies Association had accused her of embezzling one hundred thousand naira belonging to the association. Madam Abdullahi was the patron of the association. At a function a few months back, a philanthropist had given her a cheque of one hundred thousand naira for the association. She had allegedly embezzled the money. But on closer investigation, the charges were soon proved baseless.
lyalode explained that the cheque given her by the philanthropist bounced and all her attempts to get him to honour his promise had so far failed. To buttress her point, she submitted the bounced cheque to the committee. The committee thanked her for honouring its invitation. The chairman also apologised for any embarrassment caused her. She was praised for her honesty and integrity while her accusers were warned to be more careful next time. Mrs. Abdullahi left the church with head held high.
After much pressure from Pastor Ojoge, the committee met with Chairman at his Ikoyi residence. Following Pastor Qjoge's advice, he had prepared a sumptuous feast for his interrogators. He knew that Baba Ijesa had a predilection for pounded yam and bush meat. So he hired an expert pounder to pound the yam. The human pounder was paid two hundred naira. The pounder was so astonished at this generosity that he almost over pounded the yam. Fried rice and salad was also prepared in case some members of the committee preferred it. Different types of meat were cooked, fried, or barbecued. There was beef, goal meat, chicken, snail as well as fresh fish and crabs. Also plenteous were different types of wines.
As soon as the members of the committee entered Chairman asked them to be served. But they resolutely refused to be entertained until they had completed their assignment. Pastor Ojoge's eloquence failed him this time around. In the end, it was resolved that the feast be put in abeyance until the committee had done its primary work. Thereafter, they withdrew into Chairman's private sitting-room.
There the charges against him were read to the Seriki. He denied being a cult member, but when confronted with his advertisement, he fell silent. Next, he was accused of snatching a brother's wife. Again, he denied the allegation, but when Brother Ojo pointed out that his wife only divorced him legally three months after packing into Chairman's house, he did not argue. On the third count against his daughter, he said he was not competent to answer and would be happy to find the man responsible.
The committee chairman asked Seriki to send for his daughter. Chairman replied that she has travelled to London for a short holiday. He, then, pleaded for clemency "in case I'm found guilty of any of the crimes". He reminded the committee that it was Satan, the cunny devil that lured him into such un-Christianly behaviour.
He subtly reminded them of his generous donations to the church, adding that if pardoned, he would redouble his efforts in that direction. He said he was ready to do anything to convince the committee of his genuine repentance. Asked if he was ready to renounce his Ogboni title and divorce his second wife, Chairman lapsed into silence again.
The committee realised it had come to a dead end. So, Baba Ijesa thanked the chairman for "answering all questions to the best of your ability". He assured Chairman that his case would be treated with Christian love and fairness. "We have not been empowered to pass judgement on anybody, but to help every member to come back to the straight and narrow road of salvation".
And turning to his members, he enjoined them not to abuse Chairman's hospitality by refusing to partake of the feast he had prepared for them. Thereafter, the committee went to the feast, all except Brother Ojo who excused himself. No one attempted to dissuade him.
"After all, only a born fool eats in the house of his wife snatcher," whispered Brother Nduku to Mrs. Quadri. Both smiled briefly, and then sank their teeth into well-fried chicken thighs.