Special Story: BISIRIYU APALARA: The Islamic cleric killed by cultists

On January 3, 1953, a very popular Islamic cleric, Alfa Bisiriyu Apalara, was killed in cold blood in Oko-Baba area of Ebute-Metta, Lagos. His killers dumped his body in the lagoon to avoid detection. However, the long arms of the law eventually caught up with them and eleven (11) of them including two brothers were tried and sentenced to death in a sensational trial.

Alfa Bisiriyu Apalara, who was also fondly called Omobeshi or de-Bashua, was born to Egba (Abeokuta) parents in 1918, at Itoko, in Abeokuta, now capital of Ogun State, southwest Nigeria. His father was simply called Apalara and his mother’s name was Moriamo. He was the son of poor parents and had encountered many difficulties in his early life.

Apalara was tall, muscular and strong in stature. He was a fluent and cautious speaker as well as a firm believer in religious piety and very dogged in the pursuit of his Islamic crusading efforts. In his search for purity before his creator, he divorced his two wives and confessed neutrality to sex after that.

In fact, he rejected all his past partners, friends and acquaintances to concentrate fully on his call to spread the Islamic message. His traducers thought he had gone crazy for divorcing his wives. It was later in his crusading years that people realised he was not crazy but that he had a mission which he didn’t want derailed.

The name Apalara in Yoruba denotes dignity and pleasantness to people – leaving no distaste or displeasure whatsoever.

Alfa Bisiriyu Apalara finished the first segment of the Holy Quran before he was sent to primary school, an indication that he did not start at a younger age. Thereafter, he was sent to Lagos to learn carpentry. No reason was given for his abandoning Western education to learn a trade. But it should be borne in mind that in the pre-independence years, it was not easy for poor parents to access higher education for their children, because of religious and class discrimination in the few missionary schools. That notwithstanding, it was noted that Alfa Apalara spoke English fluently, maybe because of his early exposure to life in a cosmopolitan city like Lagos. He also had high intelligence and strong retentive memory.

Alfa Apalara’s divine call and inspiration started with prayers and fasting for holiness and culminated in his divorce of his two wives, as stated earlier – which he considered could be obstacles to his religious crusade. He also rejected all his old friends and everything material around him. According to him, he was emulating Prophet Muhammed who said: Al Wahdadaniyat khairu min jomaati sui – which means secluding of a man is better than a bad or evil alliance. On these stance, his kith and kin advised him against divorcing his wives and living a puritan life, but he stuck to his decision and pleaded to be left alone.

His resolve to live a celibate life aroused curiousity among his friends and foes alike, who were watching whether he would renounce his decision and start having sex mates or live an adulterous life. But they were proved wrong and decided to wait and see. In fact, many believed he was mentally sick and therefore shunned him for divorcing his wives and shunning material things.

He concentrated on his call and was always seen with his Holy Quran. He purified himself with 90 days fasting and prayers, submitting to the call of the Almighty Allah. Times without number, he related how he was spoken to in dreams and in trances on his mission and how to mount a crusade of preaching and conversion of souls to Islam. Alfa Apalara was forewarned that he will die in the crusade.

On the 90th day of one of his fasting and prayer sessions, three strange persons appeared to him in a trance. They affirmed that he was a repentant young man whose prayers had been accepted and free to seek from Allah anything he wished. Alfa Apalara asked for forgiveness of his sins for previous foolies and protection from all evils,  visible and invisible, during his crusade and to ensure a successful end. The three strange persons chorused “Amin” three times before they disappeared into thin air.

If there was anything bad in Alfa Apalara’s youthful days, it was wiped off by his acceptance of the life of a Muslim crusader and by renouncing all earthly pleasures to serve Allah – to the envy of his enemies.

For the Holy Quran says in Surat Al-Imrah (Chapter 3 Verse 89), that “Those who had abstained totally from sin had been forgiven and have been taken back as those who have never committed any sin before, because Allah is forgiving and most merciful.”

Apalara began his crusade in 1950 and his first disciple was Alhaji Gafari Mustapha, who was also the first to publicly appear with him. He was often seen arranging chairs on the rostrum and lighting the gas lamp to illuminate the preaching venues. Some detractors alluded that it was because Alfa Apalara was his father’s tenant. Nevertheless, Abdul Mustapha never wavered. The house was at 12, Anu-Oluwapo Street, Odi-Olowo, Mushin.

The late Alhaji Imam Odetoki also joined him on Wednesday, February 8, 1950 as a foundation member. By mid-1951, the impact of Apalara’s crusade was felt far and wide. A great number of people gathered every time he was preaching. This made his enemies and detractors to be more agitated and resolute on their evil plans against him.

They felt Alfa Apalara was ridiculing and shaming them in his sermons and making a mockery of their indigenous religious beliefs.

The prominent members of the various cults then very rampant in Lagos felt Alfa Apalara was ridiculing their ancient beliefs and making the general public to look down on them. They realised that their castles of falsehood and idolatry were cracking and they were in fact losing members.

The cult groups organised spy groups and hatched devilish strategies to attack and destroy Alfa Apalara permanently.

Realising that their religious beliefs and cultist activities were being exposed and ridiculed, they resorted to open assault of suspected and known members of Alfa Apalara’s crusade.They mobilised their members and stationed some on the Mainland and others on Lagos Island to be spying on Alfa Apalara and his associates and devising strategies to eliminate them.

Alfa Apalara and his associates also took steps to safeguard themselves. They advised their members to redouble their efforts and dismiss false rumours and to endure the assaults being perpetuated by the evil cult groups.

Alfa Apalara had not wanted to expose the modus operandi of the cult groups, but when they could not contain the increasing attacks on innocent Moslem audience who came to listen to his lectures and sermons, the Alfa resolved to call a dog by its name.

In the home base of the cultists at Mushin and Odi-Olowo, their attacking forces were put in the hands of their oracle men and masquerades, who they felt were needed and could respond at the shortest notice, to do havoc at Apalara’s preaching venues. Ironically, some unfaithful Muslims, which shame and misery had tied to the cult’s control and influence, aided the cultists’ moves to disorganise the crusades.

They were traitors who the Apalara group didn’t know were planted in their midst by the cultists and who passed information on Apalara to the cultists. Providentially, they were detected and fished out and ran helter skelter when they faced doom.

Alfa Apalara’s first public preaching was done alone — without any escort or assistants and without fear of any threat. Not long after, however, more people started to join him to share in the messages and blessings of the preaching crusade in harmony. He had the uncanny ability to sift sand from grains and to know genuine adherents from fake and dubious ones.

Alfa Apalara usually began his lectures by exclaiming “Allahu Akbar! Allahu Akbar!! Ashiadu an lailaha ila Allahu wahdau la sharika lahu wa ash’adu ana Muhammoda Rosulu Lahi.”

That was the norm when he was alone or when he had disciples and became shepherd of men. He also had several choice prayers like “Ayat Al’Qursiyu, Al’Bakarat (Chapter 2 Verse 255) and Ayat Amona Rosulu (Chapter 2 Verse 285 to 286). All these distinguished him from other Islamic preachers.

Alfa Apalara’s main interest was to rescue drifting Muslims and restore them and renew their interest and knowledge. It was the restoration of backsliding Muslims that angered the cult members who started threatening to pull the heavens down, because they were losing their members to the Apalara Crusade.

The crusade for which he sacrificed his life yielded immense results across Lagos and beyond. His name became house-hold. Affiliations and support for him flowed in massively, signifying that the foundation of falsified Islam religion was breaking down. Speculations were rife within the cult groups that the crusade might have been financed by some religious agencies and societies as they perceived that no individual had ever been known to have taken the bull by the horns.

Not knowing what to do, they started to malign him by saying he was suffering from dimensional madness. Some sinister moves were made to silence Alfa Apalara and his followers in many outings.

When the unwarranted attacks of the cultsmen on Alfa Apalara and his men became unbearable, he resolved to mount a more serious campaign of destroying established and open mysteries of the cultsmen by exposing their instruments of deceit and initiation.

These moves further angered the devilish groups, creating restless agitations and they formed lethal groups to ward off the impact of the crusade. They failed to realise their aim because truth and honesty prevailed in the midst of devilish schemes and vague powers.

Apalara was reputed to be generous to the needy. He was very humble but strong in disposition. He learnt fast and appreciated honest and truthful people.

Alfa Apalara didn’t hesitate to narrate publicly the account of his youthful rascal years before the coming of his missionary crusades. He did these to deflate the ego of his detractors who couldn’t believe the radical changes he had gone through to become the serious missionary.

He did not disclose his past to bully his followers to accept him, but rather to disabuse the minds of people who revisited his past in order to discredit him and his new calling. He showcased the dissimilarity of a repentant Adam to an adamant Pharaoh. He was accepted out of his demonstration of love, sanctity and sacredness to Allah.

It could also be illustrated by the life of Saidna Umar, a die-hard antagonist of Prophet Muhammad in Mecca, who later qualified to be the second Khalifat after the death of the Prophet. When Apalara’s crusade was gathering momentum, the cultsmen had arranged some gangs to label him with all sorts of misnomers as was done to the Holy Prophet of Allah in his lifetime. His detractors never reckoned that Alfa Apalara had a large heart to absorb all negative things thrown at him. Most of the detractors were make-shift Muslims and who were also members of various secret cults and who had guilty consciences to hide and were disturbed by the searching sermons of the Alfa.

On Saturday, November 25, 1951, at the junction of Ojo/Braimo streets, Odi-Olowo, Mushin, during a preaching outing, a terrible masquerade, Layewu,   accompanied by his guides, some of who were senior members of the Ogboni secret cults, with their robes on and wielding various charms and followed by hooligans who were armed with cudgels, jack-knives and broken bottles, encountered Alfa Aparala’s group. The masquerade and its followers were coming from Araromi Market through Braimo Street to pass through Apalara’s audience. Alfa Apalara had gotten information that the masquerade and its followers would attack them.

He told his followers to close ranks and not leave any space for the cultists to pass through. He declared that everybody would see who had power — God or Satan. He told them to shout “Allahu Akbar” seven times and said anybody who cleaves to God cannot be harmed by the charms of the masquerades. After that, he moved to face the masquerades and warned them to back-pedal.

The masquerades’ talking drummers drummed incitingly for the masqueraders not to heed Apalara’s warning. The whole atmosphere was charged and tense, because the enemies were poised to strike. Instigated by the furious drumming: “Layewu, the one you boasted you wanted to kill, has he been killed?” His followers also chorused: “Anybody that is killed by the inhabitants of heaven, dies for nothing. Anybody slain by Layewu, dies in vain!”

The masquerade was not intimidated but sensed what could happen if the freedom of the crowd was disturbed. He wittingly called some senior followers and had a brief discussion with them.

He abruptly turned back and raced away through Amodu Street towards Alakija and Agege Motor roads. The onlookers, who were gripped with fear instantly heaved sighs of relief and shouted “Allahu Akbar!” They praised the bravery of Alfa Apalara, and to the glory of Almighty Allah.

This episode further strengthened Alfa Apalara and his men, not minding the continual conspiracies of the cultsmen.

Incessant attacks on the Cleric’s crusade started with massive lawlessness anywhere an open sermon was being conducted to incite violence. They wanted to stop the crusades at all cost and also to eliminate Alfa Apalara. But their plans were often uncovered by friendly informants and sympathisers.

In the face of these challenges, all their devilish plans were reported and incidented at the local police stations.

On a Sunday evening of December 30, 1951, a daring herbalist, said to possess evil powers and his gang, barricaded the house where Alfa Apalara was living — No 8, Awoyejo Street, Odi-Olowo, Mushin. He was accompanied by a herbalist, Jimoh Olosanyin (a Muslim by name only, but a pagan at heart) and their gang.

They called Alfa Apalara out of the house and started calling on their evil gods to curse him. The gang chorused “Ase o! Ase!” — meaning “so be it, so be it.”

A third person dealt a poisoned cane on Alfa Apalara, who responded with a heavy blow and his attacker fell. They then pounced on the cleric and beat him to a state of coma and a pot of herbal concoctions broken over his head to fulfill all that they wished to happen to him physically. He was stripped of his Ankara garment, while he was lying down helplessly. They then fled from the house. It was the son of his landlord, Abdul Gafari Mustafa, who painstakingly conveyed him to Igbobi Hospital, now called National Orthopedic Hospital, Igbobi, where Gafari was a staff. He was treated and in the middle of the night, he took the doctors, nurses and patients through an incisive revelation of the modus operandi of the deceitful and false powers given to an ordinary piece of wood called “Oro”, which he flung wide to a roaring sound. After assuring the doctors that he was well, he asked to be discharged by midnight.

He arrived home stronger than before to the chagrin of the cultists, who were disappointed at not inflicting fatal wounds on him. Their strong men who had been selected to finish Apalara were laughed at to scorn, because they failed to deliver on their boasts.

After the attack on him which led to his being hospitalised, the cultists, yet again on January 13, 1952, which was the third Sunday to the first attempt on the life of Alfa Apalara, sent some rag-tagged masquerades to parade the streets of Mushin and Odi-Olowo carrying pots of herbal concoctions called sacrificial medicines from morning to night proclaiming that: “Apalara had died!” “Apalara had gone!” “Apalara had perished!”

Perceptive persons viewed these as a ploy to hide their shame and disappointment for their inability to achieve their devilish aim of eliminating Alfa Bisiriyu Apalara.

Apalara did not show any emotion, rather, he admonished his enemies to change and be saved or disbelieve and perish. He added: “Chains, yokes and blazing fire had been prepared for the murderous unbelievers!”

Alfa Apalara was honoured by the Mainland Muslim Community on Saturday, April 26, 1952, by being turbaned as the head of Muslim Preachers. The ceremony was performed at the frontage of Owode Mosque now known as Ori-Odi Odi-Olowo Central Mosque. The occasion was grand and full of festivities.

The story of the turbaning and chieftaincy titles conferred on Alfa Apalara could not be complete without mentioning some Muslim elders who made the day a reality and successful. Special mention must be made of Pa Ajalaruru, Pa Ahmed Tijani Arolaun and Pa Adamu Animashaun. Others were Pa Abdul Azeez Amodu, who even gave Alfa Apalara a Holy Quran for the crusade usage; Mr. Tijani Shonibare, Mr. Lasisi Lawal (alias Baba Musili) and Mr. Sanusi Adeyi (alias Baba Elegun).

These notable Muslim elders were all present at the occasion, an indication that the Apalara missionary crusade had been acknowledged, recognised and accepted as a movement to reclaim the lost grounds and glory of Islam and also to reinstate those who had been swept aside by laziness and deceit. In their address, the elders advised the audience “to follow this leader with good faith and true spirit of Allah, because he is a good preacher who deserved leadership because he was not an illusionist.” They also cautioned the youths in general to do away with anything that can cause confusion and prayed for long life and Allah’s protection.

The Muslim elders also advised Alfa Apalara to continue with his programme of bringing people from darkness to the light of Islam. He was also enjoined to deal with everybody with patience, tolerance and generosity — although all these have been known to be part of his attributes. Finally, they prayed for him for long life, victory over his antagonists and Allah’s assistance to lead the crusade to the glory of Almighty Allah.

Alfa Apalara’s turbaning day was full of festivities. Over 500 people paraded the streets of Odi-Olowo and Mushin singing and dancing in festive mood. He rode on a white horse during the parade with every male donning white cap and the women tying white scarves.

Following the successful turbaning of Alfa Apalara, it was mooted on that day that the Muslim faithful should form an association, which eventually came to be on May 4, 1952, with the acceptance and blessing of Alfa Apalara. It was initially called “The Conquest of Muslim Youth Association.” The name, however, was changed to Zumuratu Mubaligudeen Islamiyat of Nigeria after the death of Alfa Apalara. The name change was to make it all embracing and Islamic.

The following were the foundation members of the association: Mr. T. A. Shonibare, Mr. L. A Lawal, Pa Sanusi Adeyi (Baba Elegun), Mr. Gafari Mustapha and Mr. Surajudeen Odetoki. Others were Mr. Lasisi Bello, Mr. Raji Animashawun, Mr. Lamidi Akinyemi, Mr. Surakatu Shodipo, Mr. Alimi Ogunbona, Mr. Rasheed Seriki, Mr. Kareem Seriki and Mr. Gazali Adeshina. The rest were Mr. Alabi Labayiwa, Mr. Raheem Olohunlogbon and Mr. Fasasi Abdul Olohunnisomo.

On Saturday, May 24, 1952, there was a confrontation master-minded by an Ado-Ekiti masquerade, which was feared for his magical spells and incantations.

Their belief in this satanic cult allowed to display reckless and harmful acts during their outings. Even other masquerades feared to face them and there was always a buffer line between them at their gatherings.

The masquerade was coming from Agege Motor Road through Ojo Street to Braimo Street, where one Ojo, their patron lived. He was popularly called Ojo Elegun Ado. For the sake of maintaining peace, the masquerade could have passed through an alternative route through Akala and Imoru streets to his destination, thus avoiding Alfa Apalara and his audience. As characteristic of the masquerade, he led his followers to break the line causing disorder. Realising the situation might lead to a bloody confrontation, Alfa Apalara stepped out of his audience to warn the masquerade to change direction.

But the masquerade was defiant and wanted to pass through the audience.

Apalara could not tolerate the tense situation, hence he got hold of the masquerade and a scuffle ensued between them which resulted in the loss of some bunch of coloured feathers on the masquerade masks and head-dress. The masquerade was ruffled and fearing of being totally disgraced, escaped from the wrestling grip of Apalara and ran into the house of Ojo Elegun Ado, their patron, leaving his followers confused and bemused.

From that day, Alfa Apalara was nicknamed ‘’Alfa ti kogba gbere Awoyejo lo n gbe’’ meaning: ‘’the Alfa who does not tolerate nonsense lives at Awoyejo Street.’’

This was another manifestation of the success of Alfa Apalara’s crusade that no devil or his agents could stand in the way of Allah, the Almighty.

In the evening of January 3, 1953, Alfa Apalara, started his Muslim lecture as scheduled at Oko-Baba, despite the fact that most of his supporters had not arrived the venue as planned. Not long after, one of the conspirators, an old man called Baba Alado, asked him if he believed the Ifa oracle had power to bring a child to life. The question was intended to charge the atmosphere for them to attack Apalara.

The Islamic cleric reiterated that he had unshaken belief in Allah’s power and potency with a song that portrayed Ifa oracle as mere palm-kernels, lifeless and a pack of lies – ‘’Ekuro ki isoro, ekuro ki isoro, eyin onifa,  elo yero pa, ekuro ki isoro.” Meaning that “palm kernels can’t talk, so you priests of Ifa oracle, should stop telling lies.”

At this juncture, one of the conspirators, Joseph Ogundipe, who was enraged, shouted that Allah’s divine power to create and give children was an illusion. He then gave a signal for the cultists to strike. He shouted: “Ooloogberi mo gbe ri so oo!” Then the other members responded and chorused: “Ooloogberi mo gberi so oo!” Meaning: “Those who are in possession of ignorant persons, should tie them up!!

This was the signal the cultists were waiting for. Most of the audience started to flee on hearing the signal, then the cultists who were hiding in the dark, came out with their weapons — cutlasses, cudgels, axes, daggers and native charms and began to attack Alfa Apalara and his supporters.

Alfa Apalara was axed on the head and fell into a gutter and as he was getting up, he was struck again and he fell saying ‘’Lailah ila Allahu”, while he laid flat and died.

The cultists, in the dark took the body of the slain Alfa to the lagoon’s shore where it was placed in a canoe and disappeared into the darkness. Despite all steps they took to avoid detection and arrest, they were all apprehended and taken to the Lagos Assizes on September 10, 1953. The trial was concluded on October 14, 1953.

Mr. Charles Olu Madarikan (later Justice Madarikan) was the Senior Crown Counsel who prosecuted the case, while the presiding judge was Justice Henry De Commamond, assisted by an 11-man jury (originally 12). The accused were found guilty and sentenced to be hanged by the neck until they died. Barristers Coker, Tejuosho, Balogun and Emejulu  were the defence counsels.

The condemned men appealed at the West African Court of Appeal (WACA), which sat from March 17 to 25, 1953. Their appeal was, however,  dismissed.

They then wrote a letter of clemency to the Privy Council, which was headed by the colonial governor as the representative of the Queen — with some other members.

The plea for clemency was rejected and barely 24 hours later on May 27, 1954, the condemned murderers of Alfa Bisiriyu Apalara were hanged at dusk. They were buried in a mass grave at Atan Cemetery, Ebute-Metta, Lagos.

And so ended the saga of the notorious cultists who thought they could take the law into their own hands and kill a soul with impunity and go scot free.

The Apalara murder shook the whole nation and beyond.

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