Feb 15, 2018 – JAMB Money Swallowing Snake Drama: Injustice As Snakes Become The Subject Of Offensive Joke
By Gbenga Omotosho
The incident remains fresh in my memory. It was an early harmattan morning in 1974, my first year in secondary school. I had finished the morning duties – fetching water for my college father and sweeping the Form Three classroom before braving the biting cold to shower near the school dam. It was time to dress up and get set for the assembly.
My uniform of a green pair of shorts and a white shirt was lying there, neatly arranged behind my seat in the classroom. I pulled off the dirty shirt with which I did the early morning chores, pulled out the white shirt, put it on and buttoned up. I was already running late. Chief Guy Gargiulo (GG), a born teacher and humanist of the finest kind, never tolerated late coming to the assembly- one of those dreaded routines at Ajuwa Grammar School, Okeagbe – Akoko, Ondo State.
It was for prayers, Bible reading and singing of soul-lifting hymns. But it could all turn sour if GG got angry and needed to use the cane. He would be screaming and swearing, “Bloody hell.” Ah. What a terrifying experience for us the junior boys who had to strain our ears to make out why theoyinbo was angry. He would be talking so fast, fuming and vibrating like a huge boom box working at full capacity.
I grabbed my shorts and jumped into them. Then, I noticed that the right pocket was unusually heavy. I pushed my right hand into it to find out why. The object in there was soft and slimy, like a nylon bag. As I pulled it, I discovered that it was long. I looked down to find out what it was. I saw the tail of what looked like a long snake and began to scream. I couldn’t pull off my shorts. Neither could I grab the snake and fling it out of my pocket. What if it decided to bite me? My mates were laughing. To them, it was fun. To me, it was hell. I was yelling. One of the boys displayed some courage, moved close, a stick in his hand, and flogged out the snake. It fell gently on the floor, immobile. It was a dead snake with which somebody had decided to pull a fast one on me.
My subsequent encounters with snakes at Ajuwa were full of fun. GG ensured that none of us feared snakes- the only thing he said he ever feared. The day he got bitten by one was the end of the fear, he told us. We had in the school library several books on snakes. GG kept some as pets, but he warned us never to go near a cobra. “It is deadly. If it bites you, you’re finished; o pa ri,” he would advise us. The green snake we went after and caught alive any time.
I felt good recently with one of GG’s snakes playing on my neck when I visited his The Plaedi home on a massive rock in Okeagbe.
You can therefore imagine my disgust and anger with what is fast becoming a grand design to demonise snakes, following the confession of an official of the Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board (JAMB) that a mysterious snake swallowed N35m cash belonging to the agency. JAMB has suddenly become a testimony to the claim that the anti-corruption war is on, with Prof Isha-q Oloyede leading the battle.
Where are our animal rights activists? Here is another crude attempt to blackmail an innocent animal and nobody seems to be raising a finger in anger over these attacks. When President Muhammadu Buhari returned from his medical trip, he could not resume work in his office. We were told that rats had seized the place. Construction giant Julius Berger was called in to flush them out.
Even before the President’s return, his wife Aisha had been talking about hyenas and jackals who would be kicked off the corridors of power upon the arrival of the lion.
“Some criminals have also blackmailed cows, using the poor beasts of burden to destroy farmlands that represent many years of sweating and toiling. Should the landowners complain, they pounce on them with AK-47 rifles, killing, maiming and burning. Everything is blamed on the poor cows for whom the marauders claim they are fighting.”
In the heat of Nnamdi Kanu ‘s Independent People of Biafra (IPOB) whirlwind of protests, the military launched Operation Python Dance I to fight criminals in the Southeast. Many wondered how a python was going to dance. Before the early sounds of the drums that would herald the dancing python, Kanu had engaged his feet. He fled. To date, his whereabouts remain a subject of serious contestation.
That was when I suspected that a grand conspiracy against snakes was in the offing. Monkeys seem to be lucky. They are accused of causing monkey pox. Ebola is associated with some animals, none in particular but those that are of special delicacy, popularly called bushmeat. There are also chicken pox, bird flu and others associated with animals.
Never in the history of ethology has it been proven that snakes could devour cash. Now, a court is set to hear how this happened. Many zoology giants and renowned criminologists are said to be on their way to Nigeria to witness the landmark case; Federal Government versus Philomina Chieshe, who claimed that a snake swallowed N36m she kept in her office.
I am told by sources who claim to have seen the charges, that Chieshe will tell the court the denomination of the cash – was it in N1,000 or N500 notes? Or N200 or N10 or N50? How long did it take the snake to swallow the cash – one hour? One day? Three days? Are there witnesses? Why did Chieshe not raise the alarm? Was the snake induced to do it?
What kind of snake was involved in this mysterious venture? Python? Corn snake? Viper? Cobra? Rattlesnake? Carpet Viper? Male or female?
JAMB has meanwhile suspended Chieshe – apparently to enable her assemble her legal team. Lawyers, by the trainload, I gather, are said to be warming up to join her defence. They will, according to sources, submit that the court has no jurisdiction to hear the matter as it borders on mysticism. If the court refuses to listen, they will ask that the snake be subpoenaed.
As the court clerk searches for the snake to serve the summons, the legal giants will counter-sue JAMB, claiming N1b damages for making public a piece of information Chieshe gave its officials in strict confidence, thereby trampling on her right to hold and protect such esoteric confidentialities.
Should the court insist on the trial, Chieshe will simply be advised to check into a hospital, live well and return home when the dust must have settled and the term would have been served out doing the case. Everybody will go in peace; justice is served.
Snakes have now become an-endangered species. Fortune-hunters are killing them in a desperate bid to extract the N36m. Yet, our animal rights activists are sleeping. A politician was saying the other day that if the incident had happened in Ekiti State, Governor Ayo Fayose would have assembled all the master hunters –dane guns, headlamps, amulets, charms and all – to retrieve the cash up to the last kobo. Anyway, can we force anybody to emulate Ekiti?
Besides, snakes have become the subject of offensive jokes. I chanced upon a video yesterday. A woman comes out of the bathroom to find his son on all fours in the living room. Crawling, like a baby. Shocked, she screams: “Blood of Nebuchadnezzar. Dami, what are you doing?”
“I’m practising for my new job to be a snake.” The woman grabs a bottle of holy oil and cries: “Blood of Jesus. You’ll never be a snake. I anoint you in the name of the father.”
Unyielding, the boy replies: “Mummy, that’s the new hot job in Nigeria o. Snakes are swallowing things all over the place and they say you keep whatever you swallow. One has just swallowed N36m. That’s $100,000. Let me do my snake o.”
The mum screams, “N36m!” She drops the bottle of holy oil and begins to crawl. “Mummy what are you doing?” the bewildered boy asks his mum. She replies excitedly: “We are a snake family.”
And this, just in from a friend: “I’m just leaving the bank now. I went to drop bitter kola around the premises because of snakes. I no wan hear say anything do my money.”
The situation is not without a redeeming feature, however, nevertheless, Senator Shehu Sani (APC Kaduna …) was reported to have led some snake charmers from his constituency to the JAMB office in Abuja to help should there be more snakes trying to swallow what does not belong to them.
Now snake charmers can no longer complain that there is no work.
Many unemployed youths are now training to become snake charmers. Some pubic-spirited lawyers are encouraging them to incorporate an association so that untrained hands do not hijack the trade in this age of quackery.
The rich are said to be thinking of how to get some snakes as pests. The bright idea is that if they keep their cash in the bellies of snakes, Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) detectives will never get them.