Wednesday, September 12, 2007

The cook, the feather, the photo, the truth..

A few years ago, we were living in VGC in Lagos and had a Beninoise cook named Jo. Over time, we suspected that he’d been surreptitiously ‘taxing’ us during his shopping trips. Of course, Jo protested his innocence, with an insulted wounded-puppy look on his face. We wanted to know if he was telling the truth. In the past, when we’d tried to shake out some honesty from our driver at the time (this time about charging us going-to-the-garage-and-refilling-the-tank-tax), Godwin, we made him swear on a metaphorical bible – as you do - only to find out later the dawg had been lying. When Bibi told her mother, she was exasperated. “What do you expect – swearing on a bible that isn’t even there!” was the gist of her response. At this point, we realised that you cannot import truth-pressure tactics from the still Christian yet unpraying West to Nigeria. I suspect the orality of the culture reduces the capitulating bite of a holy book brought virtually into the conversation…

We told a friend about our predicament. His suggestion was that we got a feather, dipped it in some red paint, and forced Jo to touch the feather and repeat his story. We got the picture. Not wanting the faff of procuring both feather and paint, Bibi came up with a free adaptation. She told Jo, in slow and sombre tones, that she’d given his passport photo to a woman in Lagos, and that if he didn’t tell the truth once and for all, the woman had told her that bad things might start to happen to him. If he told the truth however, all would be well.

The results of the ruse were dramatic. All barriers to the truth crumbled like the levees of New Orleans against the force of a juju version of Katrina. Jo explained to us that it was only 300 or 400 naira at a time, and not really stealing…

Now, how do we find out if our driver in Abuja is sneaking a bit of taxi-driving in between dropping me off and picking Bibi up?


Waffarian 11:27 am  

I would get someone to follow him and see what he is up to.

darkelcee 12:53 pm  

very easy, get a bowl and put water (colour it up a bit with either brown or black) ask the guy to put his palm over the bowl and talk.... make it a bit dramtic ok. but really no need for all that stress, the poor guy probably needs the money( don't support lying oo just tell him to stop lying )

ijebuman 5:56 pm  

I've always argued that traditional methods are the best way to combat crime/reduce corruption in our society.
The truth is, our people are more scared of our traditional gods, even our politicians prefer swearing at a shrine to ensure loyalty.

here's my post from last year as regards to adopting 'extreme measures' to combat corruption : - )

Wordsbody 12:59 pm  

Sorry, can't help with the latest dilemma.

But I found Jo's reaction to the feather and blood-substitute-paint very interesting indeed. And it shows that great underbelly of traditional religion (which I never scoff at, btw) whilst everyone in Naija at least 'professes' in the open to being Christian or Muslem. At least those in the Benin Republic are more upfront about it. I would be willing to wager however that you'd have had similar reaction if Jo had been Nigerian. Although then he/she might have played the clever card of refusing to swear on the red feather altogether, on the pretence of being Xtian or Muslim; still doesn't mean he/she didn't 'tax' you.

Sha, someone once suggested - and correctly in my view - that the reason there's so much embezzlement by our politicians is because they swear on the Bible/Koran when they take office. Make someone step over a machete and swear by Ogun to not touch a kobo from the public purse, and see how incorruptible our officials will become. The Christian God says you can pray and 'repent' (a hundred times over) and all will be forgiven. But if you break an oath to Ogun, he will come and get you.

Gbemi's Piece 2:39 pm  

Interesting story.

A Beninoise is typically a woman. Jo is a man, no? In that case, he should be referred to as Benionois for fear of incurring the wrath of your francophone readers.

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