“We the people” ………………………
She sat quietly in front of her dilapidated house, with legs crossed and a face as expressionless as an envelope with no address on it. As we drove past her house, I couldn’t but help stop to say hello to a woman we fondly call “Mama Sunday”. As I got down from the car, I bellowed, “Good afternoon, Mama”, as I walked towards her, but quickly stopped once I noticed that She neither responded to my greeting, nor acknowledged my presence. There was something eerie about her: Her gaze was painfully blank; her eyes as transfixed as that of a High Priest that has seen a raped goddess. The silence between us was so deafening, that all I could hear was the sound of my heartbeat. However, this silence was broken by the still but small voice of a teenage boy who informed me that “Mama” is deaf and partially blind. “Who are you”, I asked, as I reached deep into my pocket for money, which I handed over to him. “Junior is my name, Sir. Sunday Jr.”. After exchange of banters, I asked about his once famous uncle, Sunday. He pointed to a heap of stones not far from where we stood: the final resting place of the once infamous police constable Sunday, aka “Sunday Onyeoshi”. Like it was yesterday, I recoil as I remember my first encounter with Sunday “Onyeoshi” issue about 40 years ago.
Summer 1982: I just got back from school for the long vacation holidays, and this was no ordinary holiday, but my last at Secondary school. I was looking forward to my JAMB result, and the prospect of being a University student. My holiday was mainly pre-occupied with daydreaming of University life: lectures, new clothing, babes and endless parties. That daydreaming was on this Saturday morning, painfully interrupted when my father ordered me to go wash his car, and prepare to take him to the village for an emergency Stakeholders meeting. Reluctantly, I walked to where his car was parked, vowing to reassigned such menial task to my younger brother, once I became a University student. In my universe then, a university student should be flexing with babes, not washing cars, but nonetheless, I washed the car just avoid any ringing in the ear, related to hot slaps from my dad.
The drive to the village was short and uneventful, but for the occasional admonitions for speeding or driving so close to a trailer. When we got to the village Hall, the venue of the meeting, I was shocked at the sheer number of the people that turned up for this meeting. Every adult (Male & female) was summoned to this meeting; what could be this important to summon the whole village to this emergency meeting, I asked my father. With his eye glass dangling dangerously on the bridge of his nose, he said in clear and distinct voice: “Sunday Onyeoshi”. He went further to give a little background which I can only surmise thus:
Sunday enlisted in the Nigerian Police Force, courtesy of my uncle that was a serving senior police officer. After few years of serving in Jos- Plateau State in Nigeria, he was transferred back to the village, as he once said, “to be closer to his ailing mother”. At first, Constable Sunday was a pride and joy of the community; he was not just part of the law enforcement, but was our own. This celebration was short-lived, as constable Sunday became a terror to the villagers, as he devised so many schemes aimed at extorting money from the villages, especial at every Afor market day, the busiest of all the market days. Constable Sunday led his colleagues in mounting illegal check points, as well as raiding homes and market stalls under the slightest excuse. He began a terror unto himself. Matters came to heels when Ogbuefi, a prominent businessman was robbed, and he openly complained that Constable Sunday was the brain behind his ordeal.
All peace overtures to Constable Sunday and/or to his mother fell on deaf eye; it was alleged that most of his ill-gotten wealth were used to set a food product business for his mother, an allegation that further infuriated fellow market women. Thus, when Ogbuefi went to the village Chief to complain about his misfortune, he was followed by all the market women in solidarity. The then village head: Chief Malo had no choice than call for this emergency meeting of all adult indigenes from our village.
The emergency meeting was nothing but a rendition of all the ills of Constable Sunday, whom most of the villagers nicknamed, “Sunday Onyeoshi” (Sunday the thief). Chief Malo stated that Constable Sunday and his family, were invited to the meeting to defend themselves, but choose not to, in a show of contempt and disdain for the village. The meeting resolved amongst other things, that Constable Sunday within seven days should leave the village, and nobody should have anything to do with his immediate family, including trading with his mother. By this action, the family was effectively ostracized.
The ostractization is the worst form of punishment that a village can impose on its own. Constable Sunday became widely known as Sunday Onyeoshi, and with this stigma and the attendant humiliation, he left the village, and spent the rest of his career in ignominy at Calabar. Sunday “Onyeoshi” was so despised, that his name became a taboo that many parents avoided naming their children. At some point his mother appealed to the entire village for leniency, and in a show of magnimity, the village reconvened and lifted the sanction against the entire family, but the stigma and humiliation persisted.
The saga of ‘Sunday Onyeoshi’ exemplified the intersection between cultural ethos and law, in a traditional setting. The village exacted its fang when a reneged wanted to run riot against A people. With the ostractization, though severe, it effectively excluded the family from the community, forcing a rethink of the malfeasance complained of. The ostractization left a scarlet letter on the foreheads of each member of his family, and made it impossible for Sunday Onyeoshi to marry from within the community, and neither did his two younger sisters. Though the village as community forgave his family, they never forgot; his village house is known throughout the village, not for its proximity to the main road, rather as testament that “good name is golden”. In life, Sunday was despised, and in death, his name still serves as a sad reminder of the proverbial bird (Nwa nza) that after a full meal, challenged the gods to a wrestling match.