It should not surprise us
That a snake would swallow
Cash in a country so rich
It sought use for money.
Even animals in a zoo
Know the use of money.
That it builds and keeps their cages,
And feeds their beastly souls.
And the snake is the one
They send to hunt for cash.
– Ikeogu Oke, “The Cash Snake”
The snake that recently swallowed N36 million kept in the offices of the Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board (JAMB) in Markudi was not the first of its kind to interfere that remarkably in the affair of humans.
In the Garden of Eden, one of its ancestors, a snake that could speak and was full of guile, played the key role in The Fall of Man. As stated in the book of Genesis, it managed to convince Eve, Adam’s wife, to eat the fruit of the knowledge of good and evil in disobedience to God, even after God had warned the first couple that they would die any day they ate the fruit. Think of a snake so cunning and mischievous that it could convince the matriarch of humanity to eat what would then amount to the fruit of suicide!
The encounter between Eve and the snake took place in Adam’s absence. And as soon as she reunited with Adam she offered him the forbidden fruit and managed to convince him to eat it. And both, having eaten it, realized that they were naked, to God’s chagrin.
And for foiling what seemed to have been God’s plan to keep humanity in an ideal place, a garden, a pristine bower of innocence where humans would roam naked like other animals, the snake, you might say, got its comeuppance. God cursed it, together with man and woman. God declared that it would thenceforth live without limbs.
“Cursed are you more than all cattle, And more than every beast of the field;” God fumed. “On your belly you will go, And dust you will eat All the days of your life.”
God also ruled that the snake’s offspring and those of humans would always be at loggerheads. And that the snake’s descendants would bite those of humans whenever the opportunity presents itself, and the descendants of humans crush the heads of the snake’s offspring underfoot as often as possible.
Over the intervening millennia millions of casualties, dead or injured, have piled up on both sides of this endless confrontation between humans and snakes. And not a few snakes have strangled humans and swallowed them whole like the JAMB cash, even though there is no record, to my knowledge, of any human having swallowed a whole snake, dead or alive.
So, between snakes and humans, we should know who is winning the war, especially in terms of enacting the bizarre, even without any snake having taken it to the point of swallowing millions of cash belonging to one of our government agencies, and by implication humans, and disappearing without trace.
In passing, it must be said that the snake that deceived Eve has been rightly condemned for its role in the Fall of Man, by which is meant God’s expulsion of man and woman from the Garden of Eden for the sin of disobedience.
However, I think it would be wrong not to acknowledge the silver lining in the cloud of that deceit, especially with regard to how things evolved in the post-Eden world. For, since the first couple realized that they were naked and needed to wear “clothes” after eating the fruit whose consumption the snake introduced to them through Eve, resulting in God producing “clothes” for them, it then follows that the world owes the origin of its highly lucrative textile and fashion industries to that snake, which crept limbless out of Eden and into improved versatility, possibly flicking its tongue in contempt of the curse placed on it by God.
And as a proof of the improved versatility, it has since evolved from a mere fruit-plucking reptile into the only creature that can swallow its own kind whole. And what’s the use of limbs when, without them, a snake can run faster than most limbed creatures; and can climb to the top of the tallest trees faster than most limbed creatures, for fun or in search of prey; and its menu is comprised mainly of limbed creatures including man, its sworn adversary on account of the divine curse? And when the lack of limbs has not prevented it from reaching the farthest ends of the earth? And when one of its type has evolved – a development that even Darwin should find intriguing – into the cash snake, to which I would ascribe the genus Pythonidae Moneytarius, able to swallow N36 million of public funds without distress, it becomes indisputable that its species has scored the ultimate triumph in adaptability. Which other creature can do this?
Even God must be amazed that the same creature that thwarted Him in Eden has also subverted His curse by contriving to become not the eater of dust He wanted but one of earth’s most successful predatory carnivores.
But there are more reasons why the cash snake should be for us an object of appreciation, besides wonder. Its feat reinforces our Central Bank’s case for a cashless economy. The snake wouldn’t have bothered about an ATM card because it would know that it would need the owner’s PIN to access the cash, and given the almost non-existent probability of its discovering the PIN let alone cashing N36 million from an ATM with the N100,000 seal on daily withdrawals. So our Central Bank can draft the snake into its campaign for a cashless economy. Imagine how effective it would be to persuade our citizens to accept a cashless economy with the message “BEWARE OF THE CASH SNAKE! GO CASHLESS!” laid beside the image of a snake swallowing wads of Naira notes.
And for those who may be wondering why a snake would swallow N36 million of public funds – even in a country so rich it sought use for money – it is to show us Nigerians that animals know the use of money unlike us, especially those living in zoos and game reserves. They know that money is useful for their feeding and for building and maintaining their cages and other facilities. So, like I said in the above epigraph, the cash snake is the one they send to hunt for cash (to fund their welfare). And we should appreciate its risking its life in the service of the animal world and what its mission says of the type of organization that exists in that world compared to our country. Also, we should be appreciative that, as it did recently by being the first country to appoint dead people to public office, ours has made history again as the country where the cash snake was first identified.
*Oke, a poet, is the winner of the 2017 Nigeria Prize for Literature.