Foundations of Misrule in Nigeria
– Dr Emmanuel Franklyn Ogbunwezeh, heads the Africa desk in Human Rights Watch, Frankfurt Am Main, Germany.
History has shown that almost all the voices that ever “cried in the wilderness”, calling for change to a rotten status quo, ended up having their decapitated heads offered as gifts of tyranny to adultery. To this end, every John the Baptist must lose his head to the daughter of an adulteress.
Tyranny knew that by making peaceful evolution impossible, it constructs breweries of discontent across the land; which grows to make violent revolution inevitable. In spite of this, tyranny seeks every opportunity not only to humiliate rightness or eviscerate the rights of man; but to advertise its abhorrence of decency and legitimate exercise of power at every turn. Its consultation of illogics baffles right reason. It actions and otherwise remains incomprehensible, and affronts common sense; giving birth to legions of malcontents. Even at that, tyranny never bothers about its reputation. It has none to bother about. Instead, it makes a vocation out of hunting down every opposition. It visits grotesque and graphic violence on the neck of every dissent that it can strangle. It spends its life not dialoguing with opponents, but murdering them. Tyranny’s being or deeds are not the only creators of its enemies. Its fevered imagination cultivates both real and imagined ones.
To that end, the major furniture of tyranny’s architecture remains its advertisement and celebration of its destruction of its opponents. But the most perverted and hideous dimension to this is its choice of setting or theatre, where it celebrates its brutal inanities. The point here is not that tyranny kills. Death we know is the way of all the earth. But what shocks the mind, is the methods with which it achieves this end. It is the obscene pomp and idolatrous pageantry with which it visits violence on its opponents. Tyranny loves colossal simulations and spectacles redolent of megalomanic impulses. This explains for instance, why only tyrants and Emperors could create stupendous spectacles of might, like that constructed by Albert Speer in the Nuremberg Rallies; to appease the megalomania of a deranged Adolf Hitler; or pieces of architecture like that of ancient Rome; the Pyramids and Sphinxes of Egypt, and many other architectural wonders of the ancient world. Hitler’s itch to create a Third Reich out of the ashes of German discontent has every impress of this obscene pageantry. This deployment of pagan impulses residents in the primitive quarters of the human mind is the major furniture of every tyranny.
However, whenever tyranny wants to destroy an outspoken critic of its madness, or any source of legitimate discontent and concern, it simply does not just take out this source of concern, and secretly have him executed. No! That does not cater or suffice for its neurotic thirst for spectacle. Tyranny must advertise its brutality and power, to remain in control; since human beings cannot brook such indiscretions forever, when not inoculated with a culture of fear, or constant instances and reminders of the terror to which tyranny without qualms is capable. That explains the gladiatorial shows of ancient Rome, where wild beasts are empowered to mangle Christian saints, slaves and other characters deemed undesirable by a decaying empire. The idols of tyranny must forever drink the blood of its opponents. To this end, it erects an altar of lust; an atrocity spangled- funeral pyre, where its opponents are immolated. In these accursed spaces of terror, divergence or the courage to differ is barbecued out of existence with all the inquisitorial odium of state terror.
This pyre could be a venue of public execution or an occasion where the wickedness of raw might is canonized. It could be the torture chambers of Idi-Amin’s State Research Bureau; Soviet Lubyanka or Gulag Archipelago; Chinese labour camps; Pinochet’s instruments of politicide; Hitler’s Concentration Camps; Sadaam’s underground jails; or Abu Graihb or CIA secret prisons. No matter where this funeral pyre is erected; one trend runs through all of them.
And that is the fact that:
Tyranny has an inglorious habit of convoking bacchanalian orgies; where implied or overt sexual themes mingle with mindless brutality, in a seamless union, meant to mock, shock, and violate with supreme indignity, whenever it wants to terminate an opposing voice. These orgies create the background for State murder. With a conscience deadened by debauched pleasure, decapitating opponents is rendered an easy task. Tyranny needs these bloody spectacles to convince observers of its lack of scruple. Such setting sends the right message. It is like a letter, which even the blind can read and the deaf understand. It has one simple message. Power on its way to roguery, brooks no frown to its authority.
I am at loss at what the subliminal eroticism, actively simulated in most of these brutal contexts is meant to achieve. Is tyranny tied to some primeval phallic-oriented sado-masochism, which seeks to assert itself by ravishing and raping the dignities of those it considers inferior to its bearings? I wouldn’t know whether brutality ontologically services an orgasmic need in tyrants. That remains a province for psychoanalysts. But be that as it may, such contexts with all its simulations are the usual platforms upon which tyranny always convokes or sanctions the death of its critic.
That was the case on that day of infamy, that John the Baptiser was destined to lose his head. John’s case testifies not only to what megalomania can do with critics, once it attains power. It is a classic example of the extreme crudeness and unparalleled brutality it consults in that regard.
A word about John! Or rather, a portrait!
Every reformer is crazy. Aristotle was right. There is no great genius without a tincture of madness. John the Baptiser was an ascetic, itinerant preacher, who transversed the rugged hills of first century Galilee. He was armed with a message. A message of renewal! “All crooked paths must be made straight”, and the mountains and hills must be made low’, he bellowed in a thunderous voice that made iniquitous hearts tremble. John appeared virtually from nowhere. He was destined for prime time. Clothed in garbs, which rebelled against the canons and conventions of his day, the desert became his stage. He fed on nature’s canteen; a stark contrast to the plangent wines and royal delicacies of palaces and privilege. Like every such reformer, he was impatient with mediocrity. He abhorred sepulchral hypocrisy, a cottage industry of the Pharisees and their kindred spirits. He knew no reticence in telling the Churchmen of his day and their establishment, that they were nothing but a brood of vipers. He stared down the power centres of his day and told those ringing truths that ripped off their masks; and exposed the pernicious temples of filth and complexes they carry about as souls. And like every reformer before and after him, he was on a collision course with the establishment and the power epicentres of his day. He had a message that was anathema to the ears of power. Undeterred, his convictions harassed hearts that had chunks of skeletons in their basements. His righteous indignations at Herod’s incestuous mismanagement of his adulteries, gave the Tetrarch a perpetual insomnia that could only be cured by murder. John’s head was a tempting prize not only for the insulted power mongers of the establishment, but also for the wily hearts of a seductive adulteress, and her privilege-inured daughter.
That John’s head would be brutally detached from the rest of his body; handed over on a plate, to the daughter of an adulteress is the ultimate proof that tyranny is madness in borrowed political robes. And that there was no popular uprising on that occasion is proof that the only thing that underwrites tyranny anywhere is the consolidated timidity of the people. Plato is forever right. The only thing it takes for evil to triumph is the silence of good men. On that day, every good man kept quiet. And Herod got away with murder. To that end, the ontological foundation of mis-governance or misrule anywhere is the timidity, or postural inaction of the people. Here, we would forever agree with Shakespeare: Every bondsman in his hands lies the keys to cancel his captivity. Tyranny will only endure, where the people endure it.
In spite of the harm that can come to those fighting for justice and right, mis-governance can only exist where the people tolerate it. It ends on the day the oppele are angered enough to put it to an end. History is replete with examples. The 1789 French revolution is testament to this, likewise the 1776 American declaration of independence from the unfeeling exploitations of an imperial absentee landlord. That the Ukrainians rose in a Rose revolution or the Georgians in an Orange revolution, to sack the mongoloid vestiges of dictatorial communism are pursuance to this regard. The Yorubas of Africa had an instrument of governance which compels a rogue Oba to commit suicide, whenever tyrannical tendencies are manifest in his exercise of power. All these attest to that ancient Igbo nugget of wisdom, that no king or ruler would ever surmount the meal cooked by his subjects. But his subjects can finish a meal that a king cooks. The destiny and the subsistence of every king rest on the patience and tolerance of the people.
On the flip side of this coin: That Hitler led the Germans into a destructive war; that Stalin murdered over 20 million of his fellow citizens; that Pol Pot advertised his murderous perversities in Cambodia; that Mobutu Sesse Seko celebrated petty thievery and polymorphous kleptocracy in Zaire; that Babangida and Abacha stole Nigeria blind; that Obasanjo mismanaged Nigeria to his heart’s content; that Yar Adua is televising a sickly version of Shagari’s puerility in the Nigeria of today, are all thanks to the civic timidity of the people. That Nigeria is a paradise of recycled bandits in power, very busy making mincemeat of Nigeria’s heritage and posterity is because the Nigerian people are ensconced in postural apathy enjoying their rape.
Every tyrant is a megalomaniac. Tyranny is nothing but a political manifestation of psychosis. That is a fact that remains indisputable. I have never known a tyrant, stripped of the paraphernalia of power clothing his madness, who has not acquitted himself as a grovelling coward; a drooling neurotic, suffering from an incurable bout of god-complex. Their attempts at converting their caprices into ultimate and absolute laws, is simply an over-compensation for the gnawing emptiness at the core of their souls. Wherever the excessive love of power manifests itself; be it in the impious neurosis of medieval inquisitors, the imperial debaucheries of ancient Rome; the theocratic dissimulations of medieval papacy; the rapacious brutalities of the conquistadors; the avaricious proselytizing of the colonial masters; the banalities of Nazi evil; the kleptocratic potentates of post-independent Africa; the absolutisms and mental instabilities of a religious fanatic; murderous terrorist, or even in the classroom bully, the story is all the same: evil is afoot; ready to storm the gates and thresholds of social tolerance. And it can only succeed at our collective acquiescence.
If the assault on this fortress succeeds, or is allowed to succeed; evil will reign over us and over all the values that we cherish, until we all become its unwilling collaborators; unable to extricate ourselves from its tentacles. It would possess our clime and us, until we are thoroughly possessed by it, like the swine herd on that rough Galilean hillside rushing into the sea of national perdition. In fact, our silence in the face of evil would rise in time to spite our collective faces. In time, we would become the evil we tolerate. The more a people tolerate tyranny, the more it imprisons their land and psyche; colouring and tainting all aspects of their collective existence. At this instance, the Hobbessian state of nature will make its grand entrance into the society, where all would be co-opted by a totalitarian system according to Arendt, into becoming wolves to their kind; underwriting the emergence of a dysfunctional society, where life is bound to be nasty, brutish and short.
Nazi Germany provides us here not only with an example, but also a psycho-history of a society that slumbered while a dangerous mediocrity captured power, and deployed it towards the actualization of its sick understanding of global power equations. The Germans were thoroughly immunized by their mundane problems; occasioned by so many factors some of which include a lost war (1914-1918); a global economic crisis (The 1929 Great Depression); a massive economic crisis on the domestic front (with over 4 million Germans unemployed in the wake of the Great depression) that they allowed the consolidated mediocrities of a Hitler to slip through those gaps left open by their angst. He was supported initially by those on the fringe and later by the majority, to ride their democracy roughshod, like one would a donkey, to power.
Proof of the fact that the Germans totally slept on their charges as the rogue dreams of a petty dreamer, took dangerous dimensions of engendering a global conflagration, was the fact that Hitler, unlike most historical scoundrels, articulated almost all his evils in print before he went ahead to actualize them. The Mein Kampf, published in 1924-nine years before he became the Chancellor of Germany-was not only a blueprint for the industrialization of murder, but also a eugenic manifesto unparalleled in the history of human prejudice. But the world paid him no heed. The Germans were blinded by his oratorical brilliance. Instead of standing up to his diabolical brinkmanship, Chamberlain went to curry favour with an ogre bent on world dominion. The world simply looked on, as Hitler bluffed his way into seizing countries and carving up dominions at will. The world was frightened into compromising even justice to curry the favours of Hitler in the name of peace. Peace my foot!, was Hitler’s refrain, as the timorous Chamberlain left Munich for London.
What about the Germans themselves, one of the great races of intellectual giants? This is a nation, which has time and again inaugurated so many revolutionary epochs in history of science and thought. From the reformation engineered by Martin Luther in the 15th century, which freed the human mind from the puerile absolutisms of the Church; to Immanuel Kant’s mediation between empiricism’s attempt to construct a metaphysics and rationalism attempt to descend into tangibility; this race’s impress has been radically manifest. This is a race that gave the world giants in almost all fields of human endeavour. But it slept in silence at a critical moment in history, when the world would have been saved a Second World War, had the people raised their voices against this dangerous scoundrel. The question would always remain: why was it that those that questioned this dangerous mad man, were only an insignificant minority? What conspiracy of forces blinded the Germans into allowing a clique of renegades hijack power in the country of Goethe and Kant?
Such dangerous mediocrities could be seen in various scales across a variety of historical eras and circumstances. Not many of them attained the kind of cosmic notoriety, with which Hitler baptised his enterprise; the senseless brutality of a Pol Pot; the confounding stupidities of a Mobutu Sesse Seko as well as his consolidated kleptocracy; the arrant buffoonery of a Sani Abacha; the Machiavellian somersaults of Babangida; the garrulous inconsequence of Olusegun Obasanjo; the rank incompetence of a Yar Adua; the rugged thuggery of an Adedibu, or the audacious impunities of the Ubah dynasty. But all of them left an earth-scorched by their incompetence and insecurities in their countries and upon their charges. In a reverse obedience to the Longfellownian exhortation, they always succeeded in stamping their inglorious footsteps on the sands of time.
But the facts cannot be denied. Africa is being ceaselessly raped by the political class, because “We-The People” are all sleeping on our responsibilities of conscientiously disobeying these tyrants and rising to repossess our land and heritage. Our pettiness empowered the rise of midget tyrants across our continent. That is to say that whenever a society is governed by the ‘organized irresponsibility’ of a clique of renegades, the timid acquiescence of the majority gave it its legitimacy. And when this becomes the case, such a society becomes an unwitting witness to the inauguration of its own decay. It consumes itself, a la Ola Rotimi, in the heat of its own unwisdom. And the fish here does not only rot at the head. It only begins there. The rottenness would eventually eat into, and destroy every rational canon of conduct, upon which the life of his society is organized. Pius Adesanmi’s agreement with; and citation of Obi Nwakamma’s lamentation of the death of the ‘university idea’ in Nigeria, for instance, is from my perspective, a provincial pointer to the death of reason in the Nigerian social consciousness. This is consequent on the ease with which organized irresponsibility consulted and advertised by political bandits, was allowed to overwhelm and push the majority into the hiatus of organized timidity. Provincial here is never intended in the derogative sense; it is used here to mean “perspectival”. In that regard, my submissions here are equally provincial because it comes from my perspective; which is a distillation of my background, education, orientations, ethics, and so on. And if every Nigerian comes in from his province of existence and hammer away at the chains of tyranny, Nigeria would be liberated in a second, from the shackles of elitist greed, political corruption and the incompetence that has made our nation a monumental shipwreck.
History has equally shown that whenever or wherever bandits rule, organized irresponsibility rules. That is not the unsettling dimension of it all. The fearful thing here is not only the extent to which this irresponsibility is organized, but the ease with which it co-opts and conscripts the majority into a mode of default timidity; where they remain frozen; immobile, clueless, and disorganized, while reckless power rips their commonwealth asunder. One cannot but marvel at the skill with which Herod’s henchmen detached John the Baptist’s head from his neck; or the complex organization that underwrote Hitler’s murder and extermination of the Jews, with Germans becoming his willing executioners. The crematoria of Auschwitz, Treblinka and Bergen Belsen all ran with an industrial efficiency unparalleled in the history of capitalist production. Karl Marx would not have envisaged that kind of efficiency dedicated not to the gods of profit, but to the golden calf of racist supremacy. Which explanations could we ever adduce in defence of the “earnestly debauched youths”, who were bought to go bleat like castrated West-African dwarf goats for an Abacha life presidency in Nigeria? What about the songs of eternal sycophants like Ojo Maduekwe, who told the world that Abacha was the best thing to happen to Nigeria, and abandoned ship when it hit the rocks, only to surface in Obasanjo’s cabinet, remaining there ever since? How could Nigerians ever abide political harlots Kingibe, who defaced and insulted democracy; selling it for thirty pieces of silver, when it mattered most; abandoning a mandate we conferred on Abiola and himself? I cannot but be very disenchanted with Nigerians who legitimized PDP’s 2007 electoral heist with their silence, only to scream when President Yar Adua abandoned the nation to cater to his health issues.
One continues to wonder whether Nigerians are yet to learn from the Lockean assertion that the power of the minority over the majority is simply underwritten by opinion. Once the majority withdraws their opinion, every epicentre of power caves in. Why have Nigerians not actively withdrawn their opinion from the rapists that administer our country like drunken sailors; nay pirates? Why are we still underwriting our rape with our timid acquiescence? Why are we still divided along primeval fault-lines like tribe, tongue and religion, instead of letting our collective frustrations banish it to a furnace of united action, where our anger could turn to a positive repossession of our country? What have we made of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s assertion that the level of oppression does not depend on the oppressor, but on the oppressed themselves? Or the Shakespearean assertion that every bondsman has in his hands the key to cancel his captivity?
Instead of coming together to attack the citadels of corrupt politics holding Nigeria hostage, Nigerians have flown into the patronage of many dysfunctional evasions. The elite have since eternity adopted the if-you-can’t-beat-them-you-join-them” default mode. The intellectuals are hibernating in the wintry conditions of official disregard and the search for recognition. The middle class are scrambling for meagre symptoms of decadent privilege. To that end, the cult of charlatanism has taken over every aspect of social life in our land. Many have embraced a philosophy of religion that makes Karl Marx a giant. The Christians and pseudo-Christians have flown into the refuge of programmed illusion. The psychological narcotic here is supplied by prosperity-preaching charlatans. They brow-beat the people to pray for their daily bread, and donate to the church coffers, in exchange for the hope of anon-existing prosperity brainwashed into them in Jesus’ name. The adherents here are imprisoned like the prisoners of Plato’s cave, dangerously busy playing lotteries and impossible probability games with their future, while haemorrhaging their money into the coffers of smart dupes, clad in ecclesiastical robes. This is on the Christian section of the Nigerian population. No political action of liberation is ever to be expected from such a bunch of day-dreamers.
The Nigerian Muslims are equally not to be outdone in this foolishness. Many of them have foolishly abandoned the great Islamic intellectual tradition, which saved the world from the intellectual ravages of the dark ages. Most of them have allowed themselves to be configured by our thieving political elite, into viewing Sharia as the only solution to every social malaise in Nigeria. Some others in this mould are embracing ignorance with both hands, with a gusto from which even Orangutangs would recuse themselves. Their litany is “Boko Haram.” (Education is a sin). And with this situation, this section of Nigerians would become a cottage industry for the fabrication of morons.
When we are not doing this, Igbos are busy badmouthing Yorubas and vice versa, Hausa are fighting Middle belters; a war of tribe against tribe is the favourite past time of Nigerian pseudo-intellectuals in the Diaspora, in a cyber war redolent of infantile neurosis and neotonic regress. Nigerian Machiavellis couldn’t have designed a better sport to keep our intellectuals busy doing what they do best- i.e. Nothing!-while they are busy auctioning off our commonwealth to the various estates of their avarice.
Like everything Nigerian, our evils are parcelled out along tribal lines. As the South-South is churning out “pseudo-freedom fighters; the North is hell bent on presenting Nigeria with a generation of morons. As the South-east is busy producing shopkeepers and kidnappers, the South-west is granting us eminent street urchins. That Nigerians cannot seem to get their acts together to forge a front against their common enemy is really exasperating. On the morning of January 15th 1966, when a young idealistic Nigerian army Major; Chukwuma Nzeogwu listed those he summarized as their enemy: the profiteers, the ten per-centers, and all other rascals, who were bent on destroying the promise of this young independent nation, Nigerians were bamboozled into viewing this radical idealism from the narrow perspectives of tribal supremacy. Due to the mistakes of that attempted surgery, the enemies of the people have forever regrouped before their statues of tribal liberty, whenever anyone is courageous enough to nominate them for the prizes of their corruption. To that end, an Urohobo thief would forever go scot-free if he succeeds in moving the trial from Kaduna to Asaba. The Yoruba are bound to come in defence of their own scoundrel, who would appeal to primeval fault-lines to advance his narrow interests. The Igbos would fight not to be left out in defending their own, even if he mismanaged the economy in spite of his academic brilliance. This is the boiling pot we call Nigeria. The only people that gain from this situation are the enemies of the people, who would sack our treasuries to fly abroad to buy Paracetamol, instead of building and maintaining a functional hospital in Nigeria.
History continues to teach us. But who reads history these days? No one! History has never made any society evade the mistakes of other civilizations before it, which were drowned by the same errors in which the present one luxuriates. History has taught us never to abide tyrants lightly or they would paint our clime with abominable atrocities. But who learns from such lessons?
Certainly not Nigerians!
They are in the thraldom of their fight to fulfil their elementary needs. This explains why the only qualification needed to become president in Nigeria is the ability to advertise reckless impunity; a supreme propensity to be criminally irresponsible; and an incomprehensible puerility, which is a mask for superlative avarice and fraudulence.
Dr Emmanuel Franklyn Onyemaechi Ogbunwezeh, a graduate of law from the University of Nigeria Enugu Campus, Masters in Economics and Philosophy and a Doctorate in Philosophy from the University of Frankfurt-Germany. He is a contributing Editor, African Heritage Magazine