Olomu's Bush Rat: A Yoruba Folktale on the Abuse of Power and Justice #ENDSARS

There was a chief. His name was Olomu. In memory of him there is a saying:

“The smell of the bush rat

Is stronger than words.”

It is said that once Olomu was travelling from one town to another. He was hungry, because in the night hyenas had come and eaten his food. Olomu’s friends and servants went into the bush to find game. While he waited, he moved this way and that, and he came upon a trap in which a bush rat had been caught. He took the bush rat from the trap, thinking how good it would taste. He did not notice a poor country man, the owner of the trap, standing nearby. Olomu returned to his camp. He heard his servants and his friends coming back. He was ashamed to be seen with game taken from a trap belonging to another man, and he quickly hiD the bush rat under his camp. The servants brought meat. They prepared it for the chief. He ate. Olomu continued his journey. The poor man from whose trap the bush that had been taken came also. He walked behind Olomu’s party singing this song:

“Life is hard

Poverty oppresses me.

Now a new disaster comes.

I found one cowry.

I spent it to buy a trap

My trap caught a bush rat.

Olomu came and removed my bush rat.

Olomu is a thief.”

Olomu’s servants and followers were surprised. They became angry. They threatened the country man. But he would not remain quiet. Olomu did not look to the left or to the right. He was ashamed. The country man followed him, singing the song over and over again. When they passed people on the road, he sang more loudly so that they would hear. Olomu, his servants, and his followers arrived at the town. The countryman was still singing. When he was scolded by Olomu’s soldiers he paid no attention. When they threatened to beat him, he paid no attention. He went on singing. The town was in an uproar. Everyone was talking about the matter. The underchiefs came together. They said: “This country fellow is trying to ruin the chief’s reputation. He should be punished.” Others said: “It is so. But he has made an accusation. It must be looked into.” So they went to the country man, saying: “We have heard what you are saying. Remain quiet now. We will look into it. There will be justice. If what you say is true it shall fall on Olomu. If it is false it shall fall on you. The words you have said a grave. If you lie, you shall be beaten and thrown into the bush. So at last the countryman was silent. He waited. But in the town other people began to sing the song he had composed. The underchiefs ordered guards to watch Olomu wherever he went, so that the bush rat might be found. When Olomu entered his house to sleep, the guards came with him. He did not know what to do with the bush rat. He left it where it was, on his head and he slept with his cap on. In the morning he arose and went out. He felt the meat grow warm. Soon he could even smell it. He could not even take a breath without smelling the bush rat. Seven days went by. The underchiefs called a council and they sent for Olomu. He came. He sat down in his place. They questioned him. He said: “I am Olomu, the chief. Who dares say that I am a thief? Whoever says it, he is a scoundrel. Perhaps he is mad. Whenever has a paramount chief stolen? And whenever has he taken such a thing as a bush rat? As he talked the smell of decaying meat spread through the council. The underchiefs stopped asking questions. They stopped listening to Olomu. At last they ordered the guards to search him. One of the guards removed Olomu’s cap. There, on top of Olomu’s bald head, was the dead bush rat.

Olomu was ashamed. He got up; he walked away into the bush. He did not return, for the disgrace was too great. The countryman was sent for. When he arrived, they paid him for what was in Olomu’s house for the loss of his bush rat. They selected a new Paramount chief. What happened was not forgotten, for people everywhere knew the song the countryman had sung. And there came to be a saying:

“The smell of the bush rat

Is stronger than words.”