WHO IS GUILTY?
Iya Oyo was smiling. That was frightening. I knew I was in great trouble.
Iya Oyo never smiled. When she looked like she was smiling, trouble was brewing, and the only one that trouble could brew for that quiet evening was me.
The only way I knew she was smiling was because I turned and looked at her as she tapped her pipe on the arms of the seat on which she reclined with my grandfather, who was still quietly smoking his pipe.
The ko! ko! ko! sound that came from her tapping the pipe on the wooden seat caught my attention and I turned to look at her. She had just finished smoking the pipe and was cleaning it, before refilling it to resume puffing on the tiny dark object.
“The principal will not punish you,” Iya Oyo predicted, as she filled her pipe.
I had stolen away from the boarding house that evening to tell my grandparents that I was in trouble and would most likely get rusticated by the school principal, the Right Reverend J.B.P. Lafinhan.
My story was simple. The food they fed us in the hostel was not enough to quench our hunger. It was barely enough to keep away starvation to death.
As Geraldo Pino and I sat under the Dongoyaro tree on the school campus, we were daydreaming about food. It was his thirteenth birthday. But there was nothing with which to celebrate it.
“When the term ends,” Geraldo said, “and we go home for the holidays, I’m going to eat so much that when we resume for the next term, Ominiwo, you won’t recognize me.”
“Me too,” I said. “At home, we eat chicken and rice after church. My mom serves me extra chicken and tells me not to let the others know.”
“She probably does that with all the others too,” replied Geraldo. “Moms are funny like that.”
I was already salivating.
Then we heard the rustling of leaves above us. Some of the free-range chicken that moved around the school compound dropped some feces, and it landed squat on top of Geraldo’s head.
“Can you believe these blinking fowls,” said Geraldo. “The sheer audacity. Shitting on my head.” He picked a dry leaf and wiped off the poop. Then he picked a stone and threw it at the chicken. It jumped down from the top of the tree and ran off.
“Careful there,” I said, “you don’t want to hurt the poor thing. It might die.”
“Who owns these chickens, anyway?” Geraldo asked me.
“They belong to the principal,” I replied off-handed. “There are hundreds of them. They’ve been here before we were admitted to Olivet, and they will be there well after we graduate.”
“And they just strut around and roost on top of the trees on the schoolyard like they own the place,” said Geraldo.
“They own the place,” I observed.
“Is that why they shit on me?” Geraldo asked me rhetorically.
“We can’t touch them,” I submitted.
“It’s true,” Geraldo agreed. “They know we can’t touch them. That’s why they stroll around the schoolyard like lords.
About three of four of them moved near us, and Geraldo shooed them away.
A devilish thought entered my mind.
“Geraldo Pino,” I said. “Do you think they know the number of the chickens strolling around this place, ranging free?”
“I bet nobody does,” he said.
“You think if we caught one and cooked it, anyone would know?”
Geraldo froze to attention. There was a devilish glint in his eyes too. “I doubt that anybody would know,” he said. “But if they catch you chasing them, you are cooked.”
“We can wait,” I said. “At night, when the chickens roost on top of the trees, you can just pick them like a mango. They would only chuckle a bit and won’t run.”
“What are you trying to say, Ominiwo?”
“We can celebrate your birthday tonight with a chicken meal.”
He smiled. Geraldo was the most handsome guy when he smiled. He got my message.
We agreed to return to the spot at 8 pm. Meanwhile, we found two empty tins of Ovaltine beverage tossed into the refuse dump. We washed them clean in preparation for our plot. We got some salt from Oga Eboh, a senior who always had some salt in his locker.
“Let’s call it Operation Shokor,” I volunteered. “That’s the sound the chicken make at night when you disturb them.”
At 8pm, when all the other students were in bed, we went for Operation Shokor.
We found a chicken on the treetop. I climbed up the tree. There were scores of them on the tree. It made the “shokor” sound as I grabbed it. It did not struggle. I climbed down the tree with it.
Geraldo Pino Pino grabbed it from me and simply yanked off its head with one swift move. It was like he had done it before.
With tree stones, we made a stove. In a matter of minutes, we had hot water boiling, which we used to remove the feathers. We cut the chicken to pieces with a table knife.
“Be careful with the bile, Ominiwo, or the entire thing will be bitter.”
I had watched my mother do that several times. “I know about the bile.” I cut it off and tossed it into the night.
In about one hour, the chicken was ready. And we celebrated Geraldo’s birthday.
We couldn’t finish all the chicken.
The following day, we shared the remainders of our spoils with some close friends. They promised they would tell nobody.
But a few days later, Geraldo and I met again. “Let’s go for operation Shokor,” he said.
And we repeated our escapade.
It later became a regular thing. Other students were also doing it.
One day, as we sat in the hostel, polishing off our chicken, the principal’s son strolled in.
“There, Ominiwo and Geraldo, I’ve caught you eating my mama’s chicken,” he said. He was one of the students, but he lived in the principal’s house. He was not supposed to be in the hostel.
We were scared.
“I’m reporting you right away unless you give me some of it,” he said.
“Of course, you can have as much as you want,” I assured him. He sat down and joined us.
It became a regular event. The principal’s son joined us at appointed times, and we enjoyed the chicken. We were no longer hungry. I observed that Geraldo smiled more regularly.
One day, the principal, the Right Reverend J.B.P. Lafinhan announced in the morning assembly, “Oh you generation of vipers, what am I to do with you!”
Everybody was quiet. We knew there was some trouble.
“Some students have been stealing and eating my chicken,” said, the Right Reverend J.B.P. Lafinhan. “They have finished the entire thing. I will ask the senior prefect to get me the names of the culprits, and I will rusticate all of them from this holy place built with two hundred pounds plus Christ!”
I knew I was in trouble.
That evening I stole home to meet my grandparents and confessed everything to them.
That was when my grandmother smiled, as she cleaned her pipe, and reloaded it.
My grandfather, the pastor, said, “We will go and beg the principal tomorrow. Why did you do that kind of thing? The Bible says….”
Before he completed his sentence, my grandmother interrupted him.
“Nothing is going to happen,” she said, quietly puffing on her pipe.
“Why?” asked my grandfather.
“As an Esu priestess, I assure you that they won’t talk about it again.”
She had caught my attention. I sat up.
“See, you have offered the sacrifice to Esu, and Esu does not complain after you have offered a sacrifice.”
“You have come again,” said my grandfather. “What sacrifice did they offer to Esu?”
“Didn’t he say that the principal’s only son also ate of the stolen chicken?”
I nodded my head.
“It’s over,” said Iya Oyo. “You have offered your sacrifice to Esu. The principal will not talk about it again when they gave him the list of the culprits. Go back to the hostel, Moyo. And stop stealing chickens.”
I returned to the hostel.
The following day, the principal did not mention the chicken palava. He never mentioned it ever again.
This story was what I recalled when I heard about the saga of the singer condemned to die by hanging, for committing the unspeakable offense of singing a song that sounded like blasphemy against the Holy Prophet Mohammad, May Peace and Blessing Be Upon His Holy Name.
The itinerant singer, Yahaya Sharif-Aminu was tried in Kano, under Sharia law, and the death penalty was pronounced on him.
Throughout the trial, he did not have any legal representation, because every attorney in Kano and neighboring states were too scared to defend him, out of fear for their lives.
But the law says you cannot try a man without legal representation.
He was fortunate that Kola Alapinni, an Ibadan-born lawyer, heard of the case, and stepped in to defend Yahaya Sharif-Aminu. He appealed the judgment based on the fact that the accused did not have any legal representation.
On appeal, the trial judge sent the case for retrial.
Barrister Kola Alapinni informed me, “We are in Kano on the 10th of February 2022, Prof. We are challenging the Sharia Penal system. Whether or not it is inconsistent with S 10 and 38 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.”
But my position is that all those who have heard the song are equally guilty of listening to it. Will Barrister Alapinni ask the trial judge to play the song to the court? Has the Attorney General of Kano, who is prosecuting the case, also listened to the song?
Are all those who have listened to the song guilty of the offense, having consumed it, like the son of the Right Reverend J.B.P. Lafinhan, who consumed of the chicken at Olivet?
Iya Oyo, would probably smile and puff on her pipe, with an affirmative nod of her head.
That is the question I pose to all of my friends reading this story.
The picture here shows Attorney Kola Alapinni with Yahaya Sharif-Aminu, in Kano prison.
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