Embattled pro-democracy campaigner and founder of online news agency Sahara Reporters, Omoyele Sowore, is many things to many people. Until today however, it would have been inconceivable to think of him as a champion of African spirituality.
Pictures from court proceedings today, in his ongoing trial on charges of treasonable felony brought forward by the Attorney-General of the Federation office, show him beside his “spiritual adviser.” A man fully decked in the regalia of an religious priest, popularly known to Nigerians as Babalawo.
The image, no doubt a jarring sight to many good Christians and Muslims, has garnered uproar on social media platforms, thankfully not of a bad kind.
Sowore is known for his larger than life personality and wile. Two traits that have kept him thriving in Nigeria’s volatile political space. For many, the act of coming to court with his own Babalawo, is simply a very Sowore thing to do. An outlandish display of individuality to match or even trump the outlandish cruelty of a Nigerian state that is fixated on citizen suppression. After all, as far as they know, Sowore is a believing Christian.
That the two – African spirituality and Christianity, can co-exist is inconceivable to many Nigerians. Never mind that it is far from a secret that millions in Yorubaland maintain a respect for the spiritual traditions of their ancestors even while being believing and practicing Christians and Muslims.
Ifa spirituality is as old as Yoruba land. The spiritual system, believed by its practitioners to be a birthright of every Yoruba person wherever on the globe they are, is based on belief in 3 components: Olodumare (the creator of heavens and earth,) Orisa (nature spirits) and revered ancestors.
That birthright, as popular Ifa Priest Oluwo Jogbodo said in an interview with Chude Jideonwo in 2020, doesn’t go away because a Yoruba person chooses to be a tongue-speaking born again Christian.
Perhaps Sowore understands this truth and has chosen to tap into it.
Sowore himself has said the Ifa Priest is simply a supporter of the movement that got him into trouble with the Nigerian State – Revolution Now. A supporter with as much right to partake as anyone.
The explanation, though needless, is helpful in a country that is largely hostile to such practices.
That reason notwithstanding, the mere fact of the display is powerful enough. It is a reminder of our history in plain sight, it is also a reminder of what we love to keep out of sight and out of mind – that many of us still seek the stability of our dependable history as we desperately hold on to the religious import of our colonisers for certainty.
As this piece noted, a generation of young Nigerians is increasingly seeking that dependable stability, and perhaps our future as a country will be one in which the spirituality of our ancestors isn’t one we keep in wraps because it is considered a fetish.
Sowore may just be an accidental champion of traditional African spirituality who doesn’t even know that he is one.