Monday, January 13, 2020 1:00 am
Hope O’Rukevbe Eghagha
The title of this essay could easily have been ‘One war, many stories’ to faithfully capture the tumultuous days we live in, we strive in and we hope in, even when it invariably amounts to hoping against hope, wishing that things were different, knowing that a mere wish is simply vapour in the wide wild world. In a sense, a nation, our nation inclusive, is the sum of its stories, private and public, good and/or bad. Technically, we are at war. An unending war. A war for the soul of what was Nigeria. In a war situation, all the people do not witness the same spectacle of violence. Not at the same time anyway. Not in the same place. But their stories are often told and re-told. And so, though their stories differ in fact, they are not different in material substance.
Apart from the Boko Haram insurgency in the north east, the nation is at war with itself. Rapacious elements masquerading as messiahs hold a sword over our tired heads and palpitating hearts. The devil and the deep blue sea are real. Very real. But Abuja promotes a different narrative. The people are in awe. In fear. Confusion. Confusion of epic proportions. There are loud whispers across the land about how we arrived at this impasse, how we were misled, how we have been cowed. Almost, that is. We gave birth to and nurtured a monstrous democracy. Now, those who rode on the back of the tiger are gradually being swallowed by a raging tiger! We did not wish for nor work for a democratic dictatorship. Or did we?
Perhaps it is more appropriate to say that the nation is at war with leaders or the rulers are at war with the people. Leaders at war with the people? The people who elected them? And the people ask rhetorically: did we elect them? Yes, we elected them. Perhaps by default. But they are rulers of the land. Power is in their hands. Money is in their pockets. Anger in our hearts. There is a high degree of impunity, an imperial and impetuous disregard for the codes of mutual co-existence which the nation had stood on, had negotiated. The dissonance between the rulers and the ruled is gapingly wide. It is dangerous to the continued existence of the ethnic groups which make up Nigeria. Broadly speaking, there are two narratives emanating from the country- the narrative of the dispossessed and the narrative of the dispossessor! However, the dispossessed people have different strands of the same narrative, depending on their geographical and religious disposition. Which is sad!
Indeed, the ‘one nation’ expression in the title of this essay ought to bear a question mark. Our notion of the nation is in a noisome flux. It oscillates around doubts and pessimism. Is that why there is pussyfooting over permanent issues? We are driven into our regional or ethnic enclaves by acts that make us feel lesser beings on the national stage. Refuge therefore is in the comfort of primordial zones. A nation harmonises, ought to harmonise its dreams. They then become shared dreams. Through acts of cohesion, the divisive or potentially implosive forces and experiences are mediated by the leaders, if leaders they are. Rulers invariably work towards dispersal or alienation by acts of commission or/and omission.
The stories which we tell are not comforting. The stories we hear too – in the market, club houses, group meetings, the ubiquitous social media – are not meant to be passed on. They are stories that make man seek another home. But we are constricted. Restricted. Yet we live them, live in them, we live with them daily ever so closely. Social media is under threat. Hate speech we are told by our rulers should carry the death penalty. Which is more dangerous? Hate speech or hate policies? I remember George Orwell: two plus two can be four, five or anything the party says. And the Party is always right. Filled with men and women of impeccable character!
The leaders are gods. They have become gods. Are they leaders if they are gods? No. They are rulers. That is why they are gods. Leaders are not gods. Even if we deify them, they would like Julius Caesar reject the crown. That crown is a Greek gift. It leads to a fall. Men who become gods, whether by their scheming calculations or the peoples’ folly, are often carried away by insane pride and the self-delusion of messiahship. And we do not need a messiah. We need a leader to inspire us to give the best. Chinua Achebe says that when the people of Aninta were no longer satisfied with their god, they did away with him. They created another. Even gods can be replaced. The migrant Jews in the exodus tried to create another god. When they could not see their visible leader on account of being away for too long. But their God was there. They forgot him. He did not forget them. When Moses returned, they ran back to their God.
But the worshippers of Baal were disappointed by their god. I am sure they discarded him after the contest. A non-performing god enters the ashbin of history. Which is didactically instructive. Both for now and for eternity. The people therefore are the ultimate gods in their land. Abacha learnt the lesson as he slipped into the abyss of human post-existence. IBB leant the arcane lesson too as he shed tears while stepping aside from the reins of power. The people may be extremely patient when a god is dancing naked in the town square. But once they come to the conclusion that the god has taken enough for them to notice, the light which hit Paul on the way to Damascus comes hitting them with blinding anger and ferocity!
In Sophocles’ play Antigone, a play which interrogates the power of the state and the rights of the citizenry, Antigone tells Creon the king when the latter asks her why she defied his law. She answers: your edict, king, was strong, but all your strength is weakness itself against the immortal unrecorded laws of God’. She ends up in the pit of death but Creon does not survive the day as predicted by the blind Teiresias.
One nation, many stories! Cultural stories! Religious stories! Political stories! Stories of exploitation, of corruption, and of impunity! There is the story of Jeroboam in the land. There is the story of King Ahab and Naboth in the land – dispossession. There is the narrative of the weeping statue in the land, blood flowing from its eyes and we have nothing to gnash but infant gums! There is the story of a blockade of free speech which the spirit of the land laments against. Let not your good be evil spoken of, the good book says. Prophet Mohammed says: ‘O my Servants, I have prohibited injustice for Myself and have made oppression unlawful for you, so do not oppress one another’.
Stories which bear the aches of oppression are not to be created or told. If the horse can still alter course, let the rider take note! A river that swells before our eyes does not, should not drown us.