YES, I WORSHIP ESU, BUT I'M NOT SATANIC
When he mentions his last name, goose pimples promptly break out all over your body. And as he tells you his title, topping the disclosure with the name of the god that he so fervently worships, all you want to do is hurriedly do an about-face and scuttle out of his house through the nearest exit.
Meet Chief Kayode Idowu Esuleke, Baale Esu of Osogbo and head of all Esu and egungun worshippers in the Osun State capital.
Baale, in a Yoruba town, is the traditional ruler and head of the community.
This afternoon, the traditionalist is in a white agbada and blue cap. A green tag on which Baale Esu of Osogbo is boldly inscribed hangs on his neck.
Among Christians and Muslims alike, Esu, the god that this man so dutifully serves, is regarded as Satan, the devil, the vilest of creatures. So why would anyone proudly flaunt a title that announces him as leader of men and women who worship the devil?
But he tells you that there is no correlation between Esu and Satan. And though he's Esu's chief priest, Baale Esu says his wives practise both Christianity and Islam. One of them has even gone to Mecca on pilgrimage on five different occasions, he says.
'Esu is not Satan, neither is he the devil,' the elderly, dark-complexioned man immediately counters in flawless English. 'Esu is a traditional deity in Yorubaland. You have people worshipping Sango, Ogun and others. Only ignorant people see Esu as Satan.'
This man is not done yet. 'The perspective with which we see Esu differs entirely from the reality. Elegbara or Esulaalu Laaroye differs from Satan. Bishop Ajayi Crowther, when he was trying to translate the English version of the Bible to Yoruba, when he came to Lucifer, he didn't know what to call him in Yoruba. This was a man who had been terribly abused by the slave masters. He had been moved around several parts of the world in slave ships. He didn't know what was on ground here. That was why he said Lucifer is Esu.
'The Christians say Esu gave Adam and Eve fruit to eat in the Garden of Eden. After Adam and Eve had eaten the fruit, their eyes were opened and they became civilized. They knew that they were naked and they had to go and find some clothes to wear. So even if that story was the truth, what was wrong with it? What offence did Esu commit by helping people to become civilized? Nobody has been able to answer that question.
'I want to tell you that Esu is the police of the orisas, the deities. He's not second to any god. The other gods respect him because of his honesty and firm decision. Once he has taken a decision, he doesn't change it.'
You had thought that this man would be an unlettered character, but you are obviously wrong. He even informs you that he's regularly invited to deliver papers in American and European universities. 'Very soon, I will be going to the United States to deliver a paper,' he says.
One other good thing about Chief Esuleke is that he doesn't impose his religion on his family. His wives and children, he says, are free to profess whatever faith they like.
'I have three wives,' he tells the reporter. 'My first wife is a Christian, my second wife is a Christian and my third wife is a Muslim. She's even an Alhaja. She has gone to Mecca five times.'
So why does he allow his wives to practise Islam and Christianity when he doesn't believe in those religions 'Why not?' he queries. 'What has that got to do with me? I give them freedom of religion, freedom of association and freedom of constructive criticism. There are a thousand ways of making requests from your God. There are people who will put an animal down and say that is their god. And God still answers their prayers. You can never comprehend God. That is why when I see people saying they are fighting for God, I know they must be mad and in urgent need of a psychiatrist to examine their heads.'
If the king of Esu worshippers is that liberal, you wonder why he didn't embrace Islam or Christianity like many folks in his hometown?
'I've read the Bible inside out,' he begins. 'In 1959, I passed the Quranic exams too. So I know both books.
These people came and bastardized our brain. They took all our culture and our heritage away and gave us some books to read. Those are things that are not very peculiar to us in Africa. After I've gone left and right, I still stay at the centre. All this corruption, nepotism, hatred and other anti-social acts, we don't have them in our own system. If you will be honest, you will be honest to a fault. If you are not they will throw you out. If you look around you, there are a thousand and one mosques all over the place. Churches are springing up everyday. And yet, what do you have? Assassination, armed robbery, just mention it. Go and look at the church and the mosque. Check out the names. You will never see Esuleke, Ifabunmi, Ifadayisi and so on. The names you hear in the church and mosques are the same people stealing public money. That is why I took a decision that me and my entire family will stay where there is transparency and honesty.'
Chief Esuleke has a suggestion to Nigerian leaders: if corruption and other ills ravaging the country must end, then Nigerians should stop swearing by the Bible or the Quran.
'If you are really serious about fighting corruption and other crimes, you have to swear by Ogun, Esu or Sango. These three gods are not forgiving. If you swear by Osun, Osun is a woman. She is forgiving. But if you swear by Esu now, the day you steal one kobo from the office, Esu will strike almost immediately. If you swear by Sango and you steal, as soon as you see lightning in the sky, you become terrified. If you swear by Ogun, once you see a car coming your way, you become jittery. The day you start swearing like that, corruption will end immediately.
'When people swear, what they should say is, if I steal or I kill, God should punish me. Instead, they will even say, so help me God. You want God to help you commit crime? That is the problem. Let people start swearing by Ogun, Esu and Sango. I tell you, corruption will soon be over in the country.'
He cites a ready example. In the mid 1990s, Chief Esuleke says he was a councillor in Osogbo Local Government. At the swearing-in, he refused to take the Bible or the Quran. 'I asked them to bring a blade or something. I delayed the event for about two hours. I told them that nobody would remove one kobo from the office. And that happened. Nobody stole anything from the local government. Just try it. Corruption will be a thing of the past in Nigeria.'