Exciting the Hysterical Dark Places in the Heart, By Hussaina Ishaya Audu
On August 5 2013, two Canadian brothers, Noah and Connor Barthe, aged 4 and 6 respectively, were spending the night with a friend whose father owned an exotic pet store. Housed in a large glass enclosure in the same apartment was the father’s pet of 10 years: an African rock python. While Noah and Connor slept peacefully, the pet python slithered its way out of its cage into the ceiling and moved through the ventilation system which collapsed under the weight of the 45kg reptile, landing in the living room where the brothers were sound asleep.
When the pet owner went into the living room the following morning he discovered the lifeless bodies of the two brothers.
How awfully tragic!
Jean Claud Savoie, the pet owner, told a news station: ‘I can’t believe this is real.’
What I find hard to believe is his shock. What is so surprising about being natural, performing those acts which are intrinsic to one’s nature? According to a herpetologist at the Florida Museum of Natural History: ‘Africa‘s largest snake, the … African rock python can’t be easily tamed like other snakes… They’re so ill-tempered that “they come out of the egg striking.” (http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2013/08/130806-african-rock-python-snakes-canada-killed-boys-world/).
‘Like all pythons, the African rock python is non-venomous and kills its prey by constriction. After gripping the prey, the snake coils around it, tightening its coils every time the victim breathes out.’ (http://www.arkive.org/african-rock-python/python-sebae/).
Why should it be a surprise that any snake, and most especially this one, would, given an opportunity (a whole in the ceiling), squeeze its way out of an enclosure and sneak off in search of adventure?
What should surprise us rather is man’s tendency to trivialise logical outcomes which are potentially lethal for personal satisfaction or gain – whether it is keeping a killer pet or stoking the fervour of an already impassioned mob in order to score points in an election campaign.
In his book, An Ordinary Man: The True Story behind Hotel Rwanda, Paul Rusesabagina spoke about evil words that fanned ‘the old resentments, exciting the hysterical dark places in the heart.’ It occurred to me as I read that, caged within the hidden recesses of the human heart lies a lethal creature, dormant and passive. What is required to awaken this creature is simple: words. Skillfully crafted words, spoken at opportune moments, slide through the labyrinths of the heart to locate and rouse The Dormant Killer and provoke him to strike.
Paul Rusesabagina writes: ‘Those commands that weren’t direct were phrased in code language that everybody understood: “Cut the tall trees. Clean your neighborhood. Do your duty.”’
Crush the cockroaches.
I have watched Governor Shema’s call to his followers to ‘crush’ political opponents. I have read his claim that his words were taken out of context. If that is so, Shema should supply a video footage of the same event which supports his claim. Otherwise, we are justified to view his claims and counter accusations as lies. In which case we can safely assume that like the simple pet owner, he underestimated the possible consequence of his behaviour, or, that he fully intended for his speech to provoke undesirable consequences. To me, his denials suggest the latter.
What ever the case, both INEC and PDP should thoroughly investigate this episode. It must not be swept under the rug and allowed to die a natural death. We have seen the consequences from such inflammatory calls in other places and politicians cannot be allowed to stir up hordes of followers to violence and not be held accountable.
A friend from Katsina State suggested to me that Shema’s was not a call to violence. It was a call to crush the opposition at the polls. Doublethink.
Ms. Ishaya Audu, a lawyer, school administrator, and member of the Premium Times editorial board maintains a weekend column on politics, policy, culture, and the Nigerian life. She writes from Abuja.