Bamidele Upfront: Nigeria’s Herods, Herodias and Salomes, By Bamidele Olateju
I write to you today as a people who are rejecters of truth. Truth is bitter, truth is constant, truth is dangerous, especially when spoken to power.
Not everybody is waiting to hear the truth we proclaim on civic leadership, follower-ship and duty. There will always be rejection of the truth and of the messengers who proclaim it especially in Nigeria – a country of shameful wickedness.
A people whose only claim to religion is simulated religiosity. A country of Herods, Herodias and Salomes.
I’m going to draw heavily from the Bible for this piece. I think it is fitting to draw a parallel on the reign of impunity and terror in Nigeria with that of Herod, his wife Herodias, his stepdaughter Salome and Herod’s choice in beheading John The Baptist. For every evil act committed against Nigeria and its people, we are getting the heads of the innocent ably represented by John on a platter.
Herod Antipas, with his family, the Herodians, ruled Palestine from 4 B.C.E. to 29 C.E. They had a reputation for being ruthless, abusive and corrupt. His father was Herod the Great who sent the wise men to look for the baby who was the “King of the Jews” (Mt 2:8) and arranged for the death of the infants (Mt 2:16-18). Even though, Herod Antipas wasn’t his father’s top choice. He ended up as heir because most of his half-brothers have either been executed or imprisoned. Despite the dreams of Herod the Great to have his son as “The king of Jews”, Herod Antipas didn’t get all of Palestine upon his death. The Romans divided it between him, Herod Archelaus and Herod Philip. With this background, it is understandable why he had to prove that he could be a ruler that people would fear, obey and respect.
In 29 C.E. Herod Antipas visited his brother Herod Philip and fell in love with his wife Herodias, who happened to be his niece. Herodias agreed to marry him on condition that he divorces his wife Phasaelis. He did! His marriage to Herodias, spelled the beginning of doom for John the Baptist. St. John publicly criticized the marriage as incestuous on the objection that Mosaic Covenant did not allow for a man to marry his brother’s wife except in the case of Levirate marriage. He berated Herod publicly in his preachings and Herodias took great offense at his effrontery.
When the day came for Herod Antipas to celebrate his birthday, he threw a banquet and invited his courtiers, soldiers, and leaders of Galilee. The daughter of Herodias (Salome); his stepdaughter was asked to dance before them. He knew her nubile beauty would stimulate and impress his courtiers. It did! She danced very seductively and the courtiers salivated over her. The dance of Salome had the desired and expected effect upon Herod Antipas. He was stirred by the dance. The applause after her performance was thunderous! His judgment went rosy with excessive wine and as a reward, he offered to give Salome the moon. “Ask me for whatever you wish, and I will give it to you.” He vowed: “Whatever you ask me, I will give you, up to half of my kingdom.” Yes, Up to half his kingdom as a reward for her titillating performance. His rash offer turned out to be a bad mix for John the Baptist. At the behest of her mother – Herodias, Salome said, “Give me John the Baptist’s head here on a platter.” Herod was caught off guard; nevertheless, because of the oaths and because of those court officials, the nobles, military commanders and the leading men from Galilee who sat with him, he sent for John to be beheaded in prison. And his head was brought on a platter and handed to Salome, who took it to her mother.
Herod in that instance was at the summit of hypocrisy, one of those who would suffer appearances before men instead of doing what is right. He was like our man who drank himself to stupor and he couldn’t address the African Union. He is an exemplar for illustrating the corrupt influence of unbridled power and the link to faith in appearances and those who seek the praise of men. Because the show of power for its own sake is often a convenient opportunity for manipulation; Herodias seized the opportunity via her daughter to manipulate the situation to her benefit. Herod, in front of his guests, is trapped by the need to maintain appearances. He will not go back on his unthinking promise. Having been trapped under the exigencies of power, he had John beheaded.
The parallel runs with Nigerians because like Herod, we are unthinking, rash and given to irrational impulses. Like Herodias, we seek revenge, we enjoy the humiliation of innocence and the subjugation of the truth. Like Salome! We understand the macabre nature of our actions and the bloodied price our actions exacts. To reduce our exposure, so we ask that the heads we hack come on a platter. We often don’t want our hands soiled so we seek the barrier a platter provides – to collect the blood. We cooperate in the death and suffering of others but want our bloodied price – without the blood.
Shamefully, our past is drenched in blood, our present is blood stained, our future is perilous because the road to it is littered with battles. We face the threat of self-immolation. Human existence had always been marked by the choice between good and evil. Any choice for evil is wrong under any circumstance and that is what is lost on Nigerians. When people commit crimes against ourselves, it seems to affect their outlook on everyone else. When they do wrong, because they have done it, they consider themselves normal and they believe all normal people would have done the same. Evil is now the new normal. Butchers are everywhere. From the butchers of the Northeast, to the slaughter houses of Ibadan, the gory shrines of Okija and the orchestrated human sacrifices in the Nigerian Immigration Service. We applaud and protect our Herods, our Herodias and our Salomes as long as they are of our ethnic stock. That is why a woman will spend N10billion on maintaining private jet while poor Nigerians are getting sacrificed daily on our bad roads.
Do you think you are not a member of the “platter party” hacking of the neck of others and having them presented on a platter? It is not only the the Jonathan’s, Diezanis, Abba Moros that are hacking heads on the platter. The truth is there are hundreds of ways to hack the necks of those we lead, live and work with.
When $20billion disappeared under your nose – that’s a hack to the neck.
When you divert public funds into private used – that’s a hack to the neck.
When you are not playing your civic role in the society – that’ a hack to the neck.
When you buy body parts and whole humans for rituals to secure political power, money or position – that’ a hack to the neck.
When you are not a good parent, sibling and a bad example – that’s a hack to the neck.
When you attack someone’s work, reputation and their person — that’s a hack to the neck.
When you oppressive others and or aid oppression – that’s a hack to the neck.
When you cut familial bonds under any guise – that’ a hack to the neck.
When you usurp anything belonging to orphans – that’ a hack to the neck.
When you embezzle trust – that’s a hack to the neck.
When you drink and drive – that’ a hack to the neck.
When you take credit for something that rightfully or more fully belongs to someone else – that’s a hack to the neck.
When you misuse position of trust – that’ a hack to the neck.
When you use religion to advance your own interest and exploit the gullibility of others — that’s a hack to the neck.
When you run roughshod over the small and the weak for you to advance — that’s a hack to the neck e.t.c..
How many heads have you on your platter?