Sermon on the Mud

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Literary Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic
This epistolary fiction is based on the environmental challenges of the people of the Niger Delta area of Nigeria,in the Western region of Sub-Saharan Africa,where oil is drilled and gas flared without commensurate duty of care.This story images the delta lands as body in physical and psychic pain.

Submitted: December 08, 2009

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Submitted: December 08, 2009

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“Sermon on the Mud” ( Adapted from Crude Waves of the Delta)
By Chris Onyema
Ekine, crude flares have lit up everywhere in Nembe. Nembe is burning.
Oil has been discovered in every backyard, and the Federal crude team has come to interact with the boiling natives and rub in oily plans. Crude, sweet crude, has suddenly lighted up Nembe’s beauty and Federal, impatient like a deranged rapist, has come to ravish her in crude manners, just the same way Oloibiri began to bleed, just the same way Ibeocha began to bleed.The Federal team has come on crude mission, on fault finding mission. Convinced that the ruler’s caprices are the public opinion for the people to echo, the team stuck to its terms of reference. The first assignment was to wipe out militants from Okirika. The second was to visit Nembe.
First, at Okirika, the Crude Adviser, my brother, emerged like a drunken dolphin king with the swagger of a rapper and dangerously regarded the Okirika waterside like the atomic trunk of a low-tide whale. The eerie breeze sent from the palace of the Ocean Queen mingled with the oozing stench of waterside decay and shit like bad beans burst. Then he smiled softly like silk on skin, carrying deceit like a banquet of velvet flung by ominous after-sun soft glow, forerunning the riddle of darkness.
He struggled to steady himself with sobriety feet, making intricate patterns in the wave of global disaffection that oil built, instilling crude embrace amidst fireflies of flares muttering hellish inferno to gluttonous gods of oil. Then he regarded the saltwater that harboured the shank and shanties, meandering this way, that way, spiraling, churning, and disappearing in distant twine like Kolo creek. Wadding through the maze of vertigoes in his mind’s eye, he shaped the fate of the waterside dwellers: “This is an abode for militants”. And the destruction of man, the destruction of property, the destruction of air, the destruction of every thing, began in rabid earnest.
Everywhere, the after- raze scorched mud and wattle shanties that were defenseless delta homes begged the gods of flare to accept victory and go home. And the crude waves writhing in a dying course carried their travails from shore to shore.
The second task was to face the delta challenges. So, the team challenged the first group of petitioners. They came from Ogoniland, where every homestead is inoculated with pipelines of pressure and poverty; with mega testicles of flare scorching the land and caroling flare sooth sailing a farrago of botched hopes, inspecting a people without food, without water, without schools, without hospitals, without roads,without power, without air,……without life. They sought to control the noxious fumes of death emitted by an oil company living up to its name, shelling them with acidic flares as killing as poverty in the land. Their problem was to be told why oil had become the most tasty mushroom that carried the bitterest of poisons, why they were met with humiliation, hunger and death for being cheated, a decent chance to live and die like normal human beings…why government does not test the strength of the delta eggshell on the teeth before dashing in on the rock of federal myth, for government to forgive them their mineral sins….
But the crude team, remembering their terms of reference, shut them up with a challenge:
“Are you Ogoni Four or Ogoni Nine? For all are dead and none qualifies to speak for them except a dibia .And if you are dibias, then you are not Christians, and if you are not Christians, how do we know you are speaking the truth? And if you are none of these you are in the minority as what you said does not agree with founded federal facts, facts in our records ……
Remember, this is a high powered Federal delegation”.
In the funeral tense atmosphere, they spoke without emotion. And the crude waves writhing in a dying course also carried their trauma this way, that way, from shore to shore.
Then, the well-oiled tongue of the crude adviser my brother, overhauled a deranged circus, for piping paraffin and petrol:
“The wet Delta terrain can only take the military jackboots, armored tanks, and crude souls. Military posts are the most befitting allocation for the delta crude terrain, which forbids good roads, schools, hospitals, and electricity. Water projects would be needless in the wetlands already blessed with water……”
His aids prompted three happy cheers to God for creating the Delta wet. Then they bowed to my brother, the crude expert, for noticing God's marvellous creation first, for saying it first. And the Crude Adviser grinned vacuously with an air of misguided importance like Mongo Park who came all the way from Europe to beat the Asaba ancients hollow in the race to discover the River Niger, quite like Rambo and Bond, his triplets in weird and crude claims.
Then my crude brother, the Adviser from Nembe, announceda multibillion Naira contract to Mallam Sule, a Katsina-born retired false star General , and general expert on crude, and his kinsman, Major Emetuma, who majors in oil. He warned that he would hold the Delta responsible for any disruption in their operations.
In crude matters Ekine, we have swollen in rank. When anything goes wrong, we are very responsible. Government is irresponsible. The Crude Adviser said so.
Amanyinabo, the mouth through which we are spoken, who represented himself, moved a vote thanks and prayed that the pilot of the Federal helicopter found his way safely out of marshy Nembe. The representative of WHO was there too representing nobody. He headed first for the helicopter that was already screeching, heating up, gathering gas and violently fanning rain drops off the nearby canopy.
The other white non-WHO man spitted thick crude phlegm of tobacco, inoculating a black stain of contempt on the national flag, spotting greed-white-greed, bordering white brutality and crude deceit. He represented the association of multinationals that explore oil by crude means. His crude boots tortured the red carpet overlying the slippery drums of clay soil, watery marbles of Nembe civic centre. He was carrying an office flat file suffocating from loads of assorted documents meant for ten. The file bulged disproportionately like Ikpoku’s groin, dismembered by elephantiasis of the scrotum he had suddenly developed a swamp ago, after falling off an oilrig.
You know, these days; every white oil man is prepared to face the warring natives and their crazy resource control claims steel to steel. So as successful members of the oil scout, they heed to the motto with unfaltering devotion: 'Be Prepared'.They have come to hate the natives and their easy propensity to violence like the Kiama Declaration and now deride them like the Ogoni Bill of Rights. Where else can these oil night markets of incalculable gains boom as much as in the delta doom? So, like the Crude Adviser my brother, they are totally committed to oily plans shelled to totally agip the land and chevron it to mobilled ashland. Leaving the land was and will remain out of the question.
Also covering the pistol and paper piled file and trailing the seven- man crude team bumper- to- bumper were seven out of the ten delta maidens that had ushered them in on arrival. The girls, Ekine, were harvests of delta beauty, bam banquets like balm taken to the place beyond the place beyond, to provide further services and grease the crude team machine, polluting like the mega testicles of gas flare, aiding the spread of forbidden unmentionables. As they swayed behind the white non- WHO man oil mogul, you would think that they were seven stranded mermaids, only that they moved two legs instead of a tail. As they swayed to their crude assignments, the three used and abandoned girls sulked by the side and felt soiled in degradation and abandonment like Oloibiri oil wells.
Before I could ask any question, the oil-glazed chopper was ready, already reclaiming the numerous agbada-clad clowning guests, wringing them swollen and airborne as they clutched their Hausa hats in hand and downed delta dons, acting sullen-smile scripts that only sycophants know. Everybody wore make-believe smiles of plastic, the kind that was retrieved from opulent bins in Forces Avenue (where Sani Abacha and his friend Saro Wiwa had lived, remember?) and forced on Patani peasants that grimed from molar to molar to appease a visiting Head of State. Left with nothing else to do, I rushed home to attend to mother.
You know, Ekine, that oil found by my father’s grave has devastated my mother, as she watches her husband’s bones being drilled to pieces to suit the texture of crude. Since the tomb was taken over by the enabling decree that quickens us to death, my mother grieves ceaselessly for the grave offence. I wanted to find out the value of this boiling tomb in the crude compensation matrix, Ekine. Then that I was still kind of sane, I wanted to know the right pipeline where the delta plans were buried, and when they would start to flow life and restore our devastated everything. But, before I could ask any question, the crude team had left dripping with oil, smelling crude.
The Crude Adviser already knew all the Delta problems, himself a Delta. The Crude Minister, His Excellency, as a false star General, also knew everything generally about the delta and beyond, even things about the Delta that Deltas did not know. The crude expert said so too.
In the federal oil circus, crude management does not require professional tactics. Crude tactics is native sense worn like jerks of leaves Egbesu warriors tie around their forehead to ward against evil spirits. So that was how the Crude Adviser came with the crude team and with own questions and gave own answers.
He answered the questions he set for himself and got them right, all right. There was no time for Delta questions because the crude expert was always busy, always very busy. That day, he was also busy. He had other crude assignments to do for His Excellency. So before I could ask questions, before anyone could ask any question, he had provided answers and left, airborne, leaving delta questions behind, flaring up, higher and higher, rising, and gliding this way, that way, like preying birds chasing flare sooth.
The pilot was also good. He avoided the nearby flare, glided this way and that way, like kites and vultures savoring sacrifices of flare. And the helicopter chopped off, leaving my delta questions behind, knowing they were delta questions. The hawk wings of steel excited the dry leaves and they swayed, they rattled to the dirge of flare, this way, that way, in flaming ecstasy. The crude chopper spited smoke, spitted gas and increased the Delta crude quota.
The Crude Adviser had to hurry out. He was staging a national election. He was busy. He was very very busy. And the crude waves writhing in a dying course still carried these travails from shore to shore.
I know you will be surprised at this, My Brother, but, that election we thought would change our fate did not hold. Federal has sealed our fate again like an enchanting outcast whose beauty had been bargained out to some ravenous gods. Ekine, the election did not take place, but there was a change of baton from them to them. They expediently met behind closed doors and shut out reason on that selection day.
They staged us in selection stages. First, they burnt Degema for crude to raise money for billboards and bullets. Second, they killed hungry youths from Buguma for crude to take pictures for billboards and pay the gunmen. Third, they sacked Sagbama for crude, to campaign on radio. Fourth, they crushed Otueke, for spill to allow the President present them to the survivors, including the last virgin that he drilled. Fifth, they flared Forcados, for harlot boxes open to every member of the selected political party, containing broken promises. Sixth, they drowned Jesse for harlot papers meant for the harlot boxes. Seventh, they bullied Buguma to pay surveillances, monitors of the false facade and police accomplices to accompany the stolen boxes…..Then they forced us away to queue, to queue outside, Ekine, molested by the sun and their soldiers and drenched by the rain, so that the selection process could be concluded inside.
Ekine ,they selected without us. For these nothings, they set us on fire, just for their crude gains. And, the violent wakes in Warri waves also carried the trauma of burnt delta offerings crudely garnishd in oily sauce from shore to shore.
Over here, iron billboards still spot smiling undertakers relishing the gains of delta death drilled for campaign-wads of naira sprayed in jerks, like belts of ammunition crisscrossing the unbuttoned chest of an Amasoma militant. Over there, the selected officials swore to continue as their predecessors, to out do their predecessors. And here, we the pauperized and petrified perched by dry-cell transistors in an electricless scape, listening to our requiem sung on oath by undertakers hired by coffin makers. We scampered in vain like palm fronds of Forcados on top broomed by boding weaver birds. As they read their crude programmed policies on the oil glazed state podium, we realized that we are on sale again, man with woman is on sale, mother with fetus is on auction, crude by crude, block by block, barrel by barrel, occluding a sense sublime of majority insatiable desire to rape minority products with crude abandon.
Ekine, Federal might has maimed my mind by taking the soul of my land. The same might that exiled you to post Saro-Wiwa Canada has killed our everywhere and taken our everything. Further and further, Federal thirsts for crude power like oil- hungry America, fights elections down gun barrels, giving a veneer of legitimacy to crude gang engineered by interests that politics built; engendering city-paralyzing violence that crude cult mayhem built. Ekine, can’t you still hear as the delta shores writhing in a dying course carry these agonies from shore to shore?
And there, to and fro an unyielding farm, Delta man-bone still labours, paddling pirogues of survival, set against oily tides of crude curse, flowing mournfully, belaboured with freights of devastating pollution from military manned majority rape, who like hired undertakers wear death smiles. Hungry and angry youths hack through pipelines of death explosion, searching morbidly for the plans in the pipeline that government has talked so much about.
Ekine, we are ruled by those harlot boxes, ripped in crude manners and brim- stuffed with stolen ballots on that selection day. Now the gods of the numerous raffia calm palms they fell freely during crude prospecting have intoxicated them to power-drunk calamity call. And at our expense they see drunken doubles like Sapele youths rounded up by local gin. Just like a swamp ago, they are laying suction pipes of paraffin and petrol to the place beyond the place beyond. Just like a swamp ago, they are shouting again “our problem is how to spend this crude loot”. And there, to and fro an unyielding farm, Delta man-bone still labours, paddling pirogues of survival, set against oily tides on course a crude curse, from shore to shore..
“In this federal and delta osmotic communion, my brother, the stronger majority solution has always drained the weaker minority solution through a semi unitary membrane.”
That was how the Biology teacher from Buguma described Oleh, his home town, where oil wells are as numerous as poverty in the land. But we had ignored him then, Ekine, thinking that they were crude thoughts of a teacher whose salaries had not been paid for five months. I think he will do well in the new church he has opened recently, as teaching could not put food on his table. He is a prophet.
As pollution and spill have denied him of land to farm and water to fish, he has become a fisher of men in his Church of Hope Inc. Not that he has really incorporated it or that he plans to, anyway, at least judging from what I have seen recently. I guess he just liked the sound and clout Inc.conferred on businesses. Ikpoku is one of the faithful. My mother, also a convert, said he normally arrived early because he normally set off from home early. He needed enough time to drag his multiple legs to the holy place. The reed and mud casement, that is church of God, also serves as home to the increasing Nembe angry, hungry, and mental rejects, who litter the walls with pastiches of sermon and graffiti of delta devastation and mental anguish, all, as their spirits move them.
Last time, I was at the Church of Hope Inc. That day I had planned to beat Ikpoku legs down as I did not want to miss any part of the action. I also wanted to have time to remind our Biology teacher, the Pastor, about me and let him see what had become of that overall best student, who had gone ahead to get a degree in microbiology andgraduated ten years ago. I kept on imagining how he would react over my joblessness. But that was not to be. Some other things, other delta creations beat me to it.
Somewhere by the raised pulpit of mud, a shell-shocked, delta man-bone denied the flesh of life had mounted the crude lectern of bamboo reeds. He was rattling the language of skeletons, etched from painful portals of pen. He seemed to be fighting his human wrongs in a denied scape having no more rights to fight for. He was pointing at a graffiti etched from a mixture of oil and blood, in poetry and prose and signs all at once.
Because we are sep rated from us,
Because we are cu t off from us,
Because we are de nied ours,
We allstoop to bu nker ours,
We allstoop to ste al ours.
We all hack thro’ h o
l e
sof crude captivity,
Seeking oily plans buried in crude catacomb,
urned in crude catacomb,
ruined in crude catacomb
interredin crude catacomb
entombedin crude catacomb,
denied in crude catacomb.
In the crisscrossing crude pipelines of spillage,
Brewing vinegar of curses in shorelines of pillage,
And, here we lay hanging on to shreds of hope,
Strung by every thin thing and hopeless r-o-p-e-s -of -s-a-n-d.
He read it over and over. Over and over again, oblivious of my presence. He contemplated on each letter, on each line, on each space, for as long as I stood there. It must have been up to an hour, that kind of duration multiplied thirty and three by anxiety, bewilderment and pity all at once. Worse still, both the pastor and all the faithful, including Ikpoku refused to come early on that day, as if in some form of conspiracy. Although I was anxious for the service to commence proper, I was not sure I wanted the creature to end his sermon on the mud. I wasn’t sure I wanted anybody to interrupt the special reading taken from the message written in oil and blood. ..
I remembered my grieving mother, why hasn’t she come too? Then my father’s boiling tomb, that grave offence… may be my mother is weeping over it again, as she normally does these days Then no body else came. Just me and the creature, thinking aloud? Teaching? Preaching? Dying? Mad? Still nobody came….
And, here we lay hanging on to shreds of hope,
Strung by every thin thing and hopeless r-o-p-e-s -of -s-a-n-d.
I had wished to change ropes of sand to ropes of mud. But I wasn’t… Oh no!, why hasn’t anybody, somebody come? And out there, a nearby giant testicle of flare continued to spit fire, muttering to some incomprehensible gods.
And still no faithful came.
“Brother”, the creature said,balging into my thoughts, jolting me out of my reverie. “I don’t do counseling on Wednesdays. You can come from 11am to 8pm every Thursday and Friday. You are also welcome to our healing service every Sunday, at 9am”. The only thing the creature and my Biology teacher had in common was the educated emphasis on healing. “Oh my teacher, my pastor, my healer. This creature, what creation?”
He thought I still had a place to go to. He thought I could go. I guess I just stayed there, as the testicle of flare rose to meet me, and then it entered me, unleashing violent thrusts of fire, drawing pains. Then I was with the boiling tomb, but I didn’t want to go near it.But I think I fell into it still. I kept on holding onto nothing, begging to change the ropes of sand, but I also lost the word like the world. I and the hopeless rope of sand quarreled, battled. It spilled oil and blood on me. I kept on clutching, holding on to the passing cloud for a shred of hope. I became vertigoes of pain. Then I became crude that needed cleaning up. I think I also died and became something that is nothing else. I guess the Kolo creek twining like an infinite cobra writhing in a dying course also carried me from shore to shore.
Ekine, can you still read me?


© Copyright 2017 chris onyema. All rights reserved.

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