In The Furnace of King Nebu, By Wole Soyinka
One could argue, even more convincingly for the figure of Balthazar, his successor, or indeed, Emperor Nero as reference point — you all remember him — the emperor who took to fiddling while Rome was burning.
However, you should easily recall why I opted for King Nebu — the figure that currently sits on the top of our political pile himself evoked it, albeit in a context that virtuously disclaimed any similarities, even tendencies. Perhaps, he meant it at the time when he claimed: ‘I am no Nebuchadnezzar’. Perhaps, not!
One judges leaders on acts however, not pronouncements, which are often as reliable as electoral promises. King Nebu remains relevant — and not only for leadership. We, the citizens, are beginning to feel the heat.
Without any claims to prophecy — unlike Shadrach and company, we wake up each morning to a sensation that we have been cast in the furnace together with those who at least committed the crime of dissent or criticism. No divine miracle appears to be at hand for a last-minute rescue.
In desperation, one is reduced to hoping that the evocation of his own biblical reference point will resonate somewhere in the mind of one who is so ostentatiously humble and pious, kneels at the feet of a priest who could easily be mistaken for an office worker, and cultivates the high and holy company of acknowledged spokesmen of God.
So, here goes. Gentlemen of the Press, let’s not beat around the bush: the line has been drawn. The people must decide — whether to submit or resist. We may be no-count plebians in the sight of the new-born patricians of Aso Rock and their apologists but — must we revert to the Abacharian status of glorified slaves? Of course, it is up to any people to decide.
The praetorian guards have been let loose — to teach the rabble their place. The recent choice of a new leader for the Guard was clearly no accident, and this hitherto unknown enforcer, one Suleiman Abba, has wasted no time in inaugurating a season of brutish power.
When a people’s elected emissaries are disenfranchised, cast out like vagrants and resort to scaling fences to engage in their designated functions, the people get the message. However, the choice is always there, and each choice comes at a cost. It is either we pay now, or pay later.
The latest action of the supposed guardians of the law against the nation’s lawgivers is an unambiguous declaration of war against the people. I am glad that a commentator has referred to it as an attempted coup-de-tat. And it nearly worked.
Legislators are not elected for their athletic prowess, and such endeavours should not be demanded of them. There are even presidents and prime ministers who were elected despite physical handicaps. The brain is where it matters, the vision and commitment to service. Our legislators however have been made to perform over and beyond the call of the Olympics.
I don’t understand why some media have described their action as a show of shame — this is a very careless, easily misapplied designation. The act of scaling gates and walls to fulfill their duty by the people must be set down as their finest hour. They must be applauded, not derided.
If shame belongs anywhere, it belongs to the Inspector-General of Police and his slavish adherence to conspiratorial, illegal, and unconstitutional instructions — to undermine a democratic structure, and one — to make matters worse — convoked in response to an emergency of dire public concern.
What sticks to this policeman is worse than shame; it is infamy. Such a public servant deserves to be publicly pilloried, tried and meted a punishment that is appropriate to treasonable acts, if only to serve as a deterrent to others in positions of responsibility under the law. To demand less is to reduce ourselves below the status free citizens of a free nation.
It means we endorse violence against our representatives, that we are content to submit ourselves to the jackboots of naked force. It is to annunciate the era of the brute, as the current fundamental modality of governance.
For this latest outrage, one in an escalating series of impunity, the buck stops yet again at the presidency, and that incumbent, Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, continues to surprise us in ways that very few could have conjectured.
Peaking at his own personalised example where he set the law of simple arithmetic on its head — I refer to the split in the Governors’ Forum, and his ‘formal’ recognition of the minority will in a straightforward, peer election — democracy has been rendered meaningless where it should be most fervently exemplified.
Nothing is more unworthy of leadership than to degrade a system by which one attains fulfillment, and this is what the nation has witnessed time and time again in various parts of the nation, the recent affront against the legislative chamber being only the most blatant and unconscionable.
We know, of course, that this is not the first of its kind in the nation’s history, but precedents are not binding. Each leader selects his or her own model for emulation or avoidance, and that choice is certain indication of the true nature of such a leader, and a clue to the kind of conduct that a people can expect of him.
It is a warning. His choices for the occupancy of crucial public positions — such as the protective arm of the nation — constitutes an even more immediate and constant public alert. The signals are ominous — for and beyond 2015.
These, to state the obvious, are not ordinary times. The menace of Boko Haram hangs over the corporate entity called a nation and over every individual, citizen or mere bird of passage.
The cliché ‘heating up the polity’ may grate the eardrums with its banality but I think that we have a right to demand of a leader not to stoke up the furnace in which events have cast its citizens.
Every day records a new violation of our humanity. The atrocious targeting of the great mosque of Kano has rendered any lingering doubt of impending national imposition an invitation for collective suicide, preferably through piecemeal dismemberment.
The theories of cause and effect can wait, or continue — it does not matter — the omniscient in such matters continue to pontificate, some of them blithely forgetting that they indeed contributed to policies that landed us in this brutal cleft.
What does matter is an awareness that the nation is only part of a global eruption of fundamentalist delusions whose staple diet consists of destabilisation and dehumanisation — all summed up as an ideology of Hate for the different. For the defiant.
This should form the basis of understanding by which an implacable enemy is confronted. And it should form the basis of leadership awareness. It should have led, by now, to national mobilisation on an unprecedented scale, one that may even impinge, however temporarily, on those liberties that you and I consider non-negotiable in our rights as citizens.
However, imagine, just imagine that today’s leadership were of such a cast of mind, one that makes demands of sacrifice from the citizens. The response would be outright rejection. And deservedly so, because any such motion would be distrusted. It would be seen as an act of insincerity, an opportunity to acquire even more powers for citizen enslavement.
This is the price you pay for encroaching on the precincts and entitlements of others with whom you share a structure of authority. You lose the trust of the other legs of — in this case — a governance tripod.
Every act, especially in abnormal circumstances, would be viewed with extreme suspicion, and the gates open wide, without any strenuous effort on its part, to the triumphal progression of the enemy. That is the collateral damage that the abuse of power attracts to whatever should be a collaborative undertaking.
Where governance has degenerated to such a level that any individual, on account of his uniform, can stop an elected representative of a people, in this case a governor, from going about his legitimate duties or exercising his basic, elementary right as a citizen — as happened during the recent Ekiti elections — we do not need to guess what happens in a situation that calls for general mobilisation, on which, needless to say, the good will and trust of all arms of governance depend in a crisis. This, of course, requires the capacity for forward-thinking.
The shambles that punctuated a presidential campaign visit at the Obafemi Awolowo University a few days ago merely underline the total alienation of President Jonathan from the reality that has engulfed the nation.
Yes, political campaigns are part and parcel of the bloodline of the democratic process. We know that they never stop. However, that a national leader should go campaigning on the platform of ethnic support at a time when priorities dictate a united national engagement for survival, is a grotesque undertaking that was tragically rebuked in the massacre of worshippers and desecration of the Kano mosques, almost simultaneously with the alienated gathering of selected crowned heads and journeymen at the OAU campus, a macabre echo of Balthazar’s feast.
Long before Nyanya, long before Chibok, long before the mildest of the now innumerable violations of our basic right to exist as free citizens, the march of a nation towards implosion has dominated the landscape, but an obsession with the pettiness of power has obscured remedial vision and thus, the creative options constantly open to any prescient leadership.
If Somalia was too far away as instruction, then surely Mali remains sufficiently close warning. With the invasion of Mali by al Qaeda and its clones and surrogates, we moved from mere portents, from mere distant rumblings, to the wake-up knock right against our gates — and yet leadership slumber remained unbroken.
Mali was retrieved, a breathing space created, but it would appear that this was when complacency took over and snoring attained its highest pitch. The few waking moments have been spent on sterile, tawdry intrigues and consolidation on the marshes and quicksands of power. That failure in the aggressive destabilisation of the enemy is the cross that the nation bears today — but we must concede that this gross dereliction applies not only to Nigeria but to her neighbours — indeed to ECOWAS — and the collective failure for concerted action.
Leadership counts however, and it was Nigeria that took the lead in that critical and timely mission that was spearheaded by France.
The lesson of Mali was completely lost on complacent leadership however, leaving time and space for alien invaders to make common cause with the internal, unleashing destruction at will and dancing around a nation whose armed forces have acquitted themselves creditably on foreign missions.
The architect of that initial policy of containment was the recently deceased Gbenga Ashiru, then Foreign Minister, unceremoniously removed for the ends of premature politicking, before the logical development of that initiative.
Now, of course, the very manipulators of Ashiru’s removal are falling over one another to heap praises on the quality of his achievements in office, skirting — who can blame them! — the tawdry reasons for his removal from office. Petty, retaliatory calculations that placed the interests of the nation, the very security of its people in acute jeopardy from unfinished business. Ashiru’s presence in that position had become a fly in the palm wine of Balthasar’s Feast.
Caution: no one dares predict that the plight of Nigerians would be any rosier had his ideas been pursued till the very end. The point is simply this — a process was interrupted, truncated without thought, petty politicking being made to override substance. I wrote Ashiru to commiserate with him and to bolster his morale. He replied in only two words: USE AND DUMP!
Defend yourselves! This is what the perceptive have preached and groups like the so-called Junior Task Force translated into action, the real heroes of the defence of the tattered ‘Nigerian sovereignty’.
Among them, a hitherto unknown, a woman, has become one of the symbols of resistance, an ordinary woman turned extraordinary, one of the hunters who routed the diabolical hordes who appear to rout our military even before their appearance.
Does it sound today as whimsical as it may have sounded to some when I urged the organisation of willing survivors of Boko Haram into local defence corps, their women especially, proposed that they be kitted out fully, and formally inducted as auxiliaries.
Ladi, it would appear, needed no such urging from any direction. It was obvious to her, and others like her that it was futile to await salvation from a centre that is so self-obsessed with power that it no longer sees even the danger to its very existence.
A people must defend itself. These are no ordinary times, and we have moved beyond orthodox solutions. “Where two or three are gathered together…” — I shall complete those words my own way: “They must anticipate, organise, obtaining or improvising the wherewithal as circumstances dictate. Fascism is the eternal enemy of freedom, and it comes both in internal and external forms.”
Today, it would be premature to claim that Suleiman Abba and the many incarnations of Shekau are cut from the same mould but remember, we have been here before. Who can forget Sunday Adewusi, the original Robo-Cop!
And so, consider this; the ripples from the fascistic eruption of a Suleiman Abba may actually result in far greater casualties and inhuman degradation of society than those so far recorded even at the hands of Shekau and his cohorts. That is the real and present danger.
This is why the call for vigilance is real and urgent, and a need to clip the wings of a predatory bird before it devours society, becomes paramount.
Beset by external and internal threats to liberty and dignity, abandoned internally by a do-it-yourself government on the one hand, and externally by (claimed) impediments from cynical allies — as we are made to believe in the media — let no one cry Anarchy when the people respond to that historic cry of liberation, to which one leader after another — the most recent being the Emir of Kano and the Ulama leader, Yahaha Jingir — have felt moved to urge upon their people: “Citizens, Defend yourselves!”