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On money rituals, logic and life

By Tunji Olaopa
13 December 2021   |   3:41 am
On Thursday, December 2, 2021—and in her Punch column and article titled “The logic of what Nigerians call ‘money rituals’,” Abimbola Adelakun in her usual incisive manner attempts to pierce through the conceptual and existential...

Five hundred Naira notes. PHOTO: Getty Images

On Thursday, December 2, 2021—and in her Punch column and article titled “The logic of what Nigerians call ‘money rituals’,” Abimbola Adelakun in her usual incisive manner attempts to pierce through the conceptual and existential fog that suffuse the idea of money rituals that has captured the imagination of Nigerians. Any violent death becomes all the more sensational because, in the people’s imagination, it could only have been due to the senselessness of those who violate the sacredness of human life in search of the charm or portion that will make them stupendously rich. And in the Nigerian post-independence context of extreme poverty and unrelenting underdevelopment and infrastructural deficit, such killings and the hype that surrounds them become all the more pronounced. Nigeria has become the poverty capital of the world. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic and its global economic implications, so many Nigerians—about 11 million from the last statistical update—have now been further pushed below the poverty line.

The “logic” in Adelakun’s article refers to the rationality of trying to piece together the relationship between the ascendancy of the money ritual phenomenon and the depth of existential crisis in the lives of Nigerians that makes the appeal to money ritual meaningful for them. Abimbola connects the logic of the belief to the possibility of becoming rich through ritual killing to the parlous state of governance in Nigeria. For her, “there is nothing like money rituals. By that, I mean there is nowhere in the history of humankind where anybody has made cash appear through magic means.” What is the case, however, is that the sensational nature of the violent ritual killing generates what she calls “an economy of belief” that instigates a trade in human parts.

Thus, the more violent ritual killing is hyped, the more people belief that others participate in it because it is efficacious, and the more those who benefits in the trading in human parts oil the demand and supply chain. This logic seems unassailable. In other words, Nigeria’s precarious situation creates all manner of terrible beliefs and practices that are, to say the least, incredulous. I am too much of a political scientist, and not too taken by my Christianity, not to notice, for instance, the role that Pentecostalism has played in accentuating Nigerians’ belief in the spiritual, and the spin that this provides for all endeavors in life. In deep poverty, the miraculous seems like the way out of the terrible grip of ill-fortune and bad luck—or an economic situation that has remained unfavorable for many years without relenting. And this is made all the more poignant by the power of the media and its unrelenting projections of possibilities, either through prophesies, miracles, prosperity theology, betting, lottery and the possibility of being instant billionaires. Thus, if government has not been able to undermine the infrastructural deficit that undergird the bad governance that has trapped Nigerians in impoverishment, then heavens help those who help themselves. The tragedy of this slogan is that in helping oneself, one is forced to lay waste the lives of others in the belief in the capacity of magic to conjure money out of the body parts of those brutally murdered.

While saying “there is nothing like money rituals” assumes logic, and the logic of economic calculation, it is to assume too much about the capacity of logic to explain the whole of life and its many mysterious and dark crevices. These dark crevices are then wrapped differently in cultural knowledge and practices that people turn to for a coping mechanism that makes life meaningful in the midst of the vicissitudes of human existence. Professor Toyin Falola’s response would be for anyone not to disregard the strength and tenacity of what he calls cultural cognition.

Cultural worldviews make people amenable to different beliefs and practices that do not need logic or reason to flourish. In simple terms: what people believe is what people believe. And what people chose to believe cannot be undermined by the disruptive strength of abstract and cold logic, like the one deployed by Abimbola Adelakun. That article, read by millions of people will not stop ritual killings, or the belief in it. What would rather happen is that those who read it would likely shake their heads in consternation: how could anyone say there are no money rituals? And a possible answer from them would likely be: well, only someone who is well-to-do and lives in oyinbo land.

Can logic encapsulate the whole of life? That is by itself a logical impossibility. And this is why the line of discourse Adelakun has started is not something she is equipped to carry sufficiently by far, by the logic of her logical explanation. And this is because that logic obviates the possibilities of those realms that different faiths and religions gesture at, the realms that occultic practices take for granted, and the realms that even philosophy dares not disregard. One foundation for the intellectual and perceptive fame of Karl Marx is the argument that religion is the opium of the people. Religions and their liturgical practices, for him, perpetuate the oppressive dynamics of capitalism. However, religions all across the world also give tremendous hope and courage to billions of people across the world. And that hope is hinged on the eschatological possibility—a realm that no one can ever logically affirm or disaffirm. Many have been able to live and bear the utmost Sisyphean burden with that singular hope in the hereafter.

To say “there is nothing like money rituals” is to say there is nothing like mysticism and occultism. Indeed, to stretch the logic of that denial, it is to say there is nothing like “God.” And the idea of God is central to many occultic and mystical explanations about life and the deeper underbelly of life and reality. Many believe that there is a mystical side to the nature of God. There are Christians who believe in what philosophers call the transubstantiation of substances—the transformation, for instance, of the water and the wine into the body and the blood of Jesus Christ once they are consumed in the Holy Communion. What about the mystical explanation of the Trinity that sustains the existence of the belief of many Christians? How about the account in the gospel of St. Matthew chapter 17: 24-27 and the mystery of Christ conjuring a four-drachma coin from the mouth of a fish at the lake of Galilee so he could pay his tax? Indeed, the very evolution of Christianity itself and its theologies of the existence of God are founded on mystical events and incidences. We come to the knowledge of God through a mystical experience of knowing him. Here, science and reason fall far short of what is possible.

Many others, like Lobsang Rampa, believe in mystical transformations. Cyril Henry Hoskins— popularly known as Lobsang Rampa, was the world’s most famous mediator of Tibetan mysticism. But his mediation began with his belief that his body was taken over by the Tibetan mystic, Rampa. Thus, what others saw as identity confusion, and a possible psychotic disorder, he saw as a mystical event. And on the basis of that belief, Lobsang Rampa produced series of insights and lessons about spiritual consciousness, and the relationship of the self with others, that makes Tibetan mysticism a form of non-violent religion that could heal the world of its violent anxieties. Lobsang Rampa’s elucidation of the idea of the “third eye” points at the possibility of an insightful perception that transcends normal sight—the gateway to deeper enlightenment.

Outside of the arrogance of scientific explanation, the universe is suffused in mysteries. Philosophy, with its inherent skeptical orientation, is open-minded sufficiently to allow for alternatives to logical and scientific explanation—like a mystical or intuitive knowledge of the universe. Philosophical open-mindedness demands that science, logic and reason must be aware of their limitations in the understanding of the mysteries of life. Within the Nigerian context of bad governance, the irrational often trumps the rational. And the irrational possesses its own logic that is not just explainable by the rational.

Violent ritual killing is bad business. It totally violates the sacredness of human lives and the sacred order of the human society. There is no society that can make any progress in terms of decency as a marker of cultural enlightenment if the killing of others is a means to wealth-making (rather than an entrepreneurial and innovative spirit). And the logic behind Abimbola Adelakun article is to undermine such a tragic phenomenon by appealing to reason, by pointing out how illogical such a belief is. This is admirable, as it goes. The point however is that both logic and the law (to the extent that the latter is also founded on logic) are powerless to serve as the basis of dissuading those who would not be dissuaded from their culturally cognized perception of the world and their place in it. Of course, the law has the power to nip in the bud any attempt at senseless killing in the name of making money. Maybe that is all that is needed to stop ritual killing in its track. And this is because people will keep believing what they want to believe.

Olaopa is retired Federal Permanent Secretary and Professor of Public Administration National Institute for Policy & Strategic Studies (NIPSS), Kuru, Jos.