Our present national predicament reminds me of the last days of Socrates, the Greek wise man. After an ignorant mob condemned him to death, for urging the people to be rational in their beliefs and in their approach to life, his triumphant detractors gloatingly asked him to plead for his life, so that they might have mercy on him. Socrates burst out laughing, instead. This was certainly not what they expected from a man staring death in the face. He did not do any of the usual things a condemned person in Athens of those days would do; like weeping, inviting relatives to weep on his behalf, or pleading outstanding family duties. No, he simply informed his surprised audience that they were spectacularly ignorant, in cheerfully assuming that the living were better off than the dead. He laughed at their presumption, pointing out that none of them really knew for sure whether they were, in fact, even doing him a favour by executing him. Of course the courtroom was quiet for a while, before renewed howling for his head resumed. But the man had made his point about the human tendency to make claims we cannot substantiate, based only on our thoughts and feelings of the moment.
The last sentence in the above paragraph speaks to our situation, some four years ago, when almost everyone sang the “Anything but Jonathan” mantra. President Olusegun Obasanjo was one of the callers. His (often justified) criticisms of the former president were strident, pointed, relentless, unequivocal, upfront and personal. He, alongside others, raked up the man’s faults for everyone to see. He publicised same and sought by all means to show that Jonathan had not performed very well in office and should not be reelected. Soon the wind caught the rave and many church leaders begin to rant uncontrollably. It was all largely in secret, of course, as they were also simultaneously fleecing Jonathan and his deluded bunch in public. Even then, fake prayers and laughable assurances rose from many who were knee deep in the anti-Jonathan plot.
Shortly before the said elections, Jonathan was roundly humiliated in Obasanjo’s Ota Farm. Buhari, on the other hand, was later given an endorsement reception in the same Ota Farm. Group photographs, with some uniform-wearing party people, were taken. The media was awash with the big event. But that was then. Not anymore. The fanfare that heralded that endorsement reception has been replaced by a worried, angry, confounded and irritated mien among the former enthusiasts today. The “solution” they tendered for our collective benefit four years ago has scandalised most of them. Anon, they are now almost inebriated with consternation, as they watch the zigzag drunken path of the nation under a Buhari presidency.
Jonathan’s lousy handling of his promise to northern politicians, the international projection of him as ‘tolerating’ corruption, and his weak control of the state fuelled the quasi-consensus about the need to remove the Bayelsa-born president. But there was a misstep. Our would-be saviours moved rather hastily from the assertion (correct in my view) that Jonathan performed very badly as president, to the claim that anyone else, or even anything else for that matter, would make a better president and leader. While they correctly noted that the former president offered well-made spades to those who dug his political grave, they did not notice that the grave diggers were also digging too close to where they were standing. That they have all now caved in with the surrounding soil and pile of red earth they dug out of the ground is, therefore, not entirely surprising. They forgot that whoever does not look for the toots of a problem, but seeks to find progress and improvement in constant change “stands on the precarious ground of an adventurer.”
The Nigerian state is where it is today because many “prominent” Nigerians have consistently shown a cheerful disregard for the fallibility of human opinion and the finitude of their own knowledge and certainties. While propagating and projecting the “anything but Jonathan” mantra, many did not envisage our reality of today. Are they all happy now? Are they faring well? Do we have a better president, a better, stronger and more united nation? Do we stand our full height, and are more respected, in the comity of nations today? Are we more secure and better structured to withstand the vagaries of a 21st Century world? I think not!
And yet…. Yet the many nationalist enthusiasts who have helped create one form of “anything but this and that…”, or the other, over the years are still either unwilling, or unable, to see that they are part of the major problems of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. They are still making speeches, including “anything but Buhari” speeches and threatening to replace him for us. “They” are to decide, yet again, without first realising that they are failed doctors who are writing new prescriptions for patients who were made worse by their earlier prescriptions. Should a real doctor not have the decency, dignity, or sense of responsibility to opt out of practice, or at least keep quiet in neighbourhoods worsted by his previous interventions?
Mr Akin Oyebode, unlike former president Olusegun Obasanjo, Messers Wole Soyinka, Tunde Bakare, Enoch Adeboye and many others who shouted themselves hoarse in the processes leading up to the enthronement of Buhari in 2015 has acted like a man. Only Oyebode has apologised publicly for his error of judgment. Listen to Adeboye, whose church member is the Vice President, and you will see that we are still grandstanding as insightful activists, in order to keep hugging the headlines as saviours of the nation and lovers of the Nigeria. I am no admirer of the Jonathan presidency, or of the current barely-conscious presidency, either. Both are products of a consumption-driven religious, political and economic elite.
As some once-enthusiastic anti-Jonathan campaigners will not step forth and take responsibility, even as they quiver in discomfort and embarrassment today, their reputation as people who make wrong prescriptions and who lack the dignity to stand forth and admit errors grows. They are not willing to say that the limited space within which they now crawl about, and to which they are confined, is the handiwork of the very talisman they procured and celebrated four years ago. They will not admit that, as politicians, they are in trouble because of their own errors of judgment, rather than the evil machinations of their enemies and competitors. That is why many of them are still standing and wailing in public, maintaining their imagined messiah image and reputation, while their people are suffused with bruises.
And the bruises are inflicted on them by the very masquerade they dressed up and brought to the village square. Yes, their own, or their family’s, Egungun is using the very Opambata, or cane, they gave it to whip the daylight out of them all. They are now suffering because their act of invocation (known as “Alapi” in the Yoruba Egungun tradition) duly performed by several Chief priests and their acolytes brought trouble along with it. An Egungun that was ushered in so that the worshippers could dance, drum and be possessed by benign ancestral spirits, has turned out to be something else. Mr Bola Tinubu who performed this ceremony, as Chief Priest of APC, was the first victim. He had barely finished the “political Alapi rituals” before the Egungun tried to kill him politically. Now that the masquerade has completely shredded its leash, we are living with a repeatedly reinforced drowsy and ethnocentric presidency.
It therefore bears repetition to state here that any person who wants to get himself a talisman for self-protection must remember that a talisman procured to protect him from his enemies cannot protect him from himself, especially from folly, or wrong choices. Ndi Igbo will forever tell you that whoever goes to a heap of birds and brings home a vulture has allowed his greed to mislead him into focusing on the presumed quantity of meat, instead of the species of bird he was carrying home as booty. They will also tell you that an intelligent rainmakers never falls victim to the very elements he invoked. They will say, further, that the first steps towards the art, and mastery, of invocations is to know the meaning and full implications of the incantations you wish to mumble. He who unwittingly invokes the wrong entities after locking the doors and windows has made his own escape impossible. A high priest who dresses for a banquatte without knowing he is heading to a funeral is already in trouble. In sum, the “talisman” in Aso Rock now has a life of its own.
That is why those who took their time to diligently dress up this masquerade and bring it to the village square are watching the masquerade as it dances to its own music. It ignores them and their suggestions on how it should dance. And, wait for this, it even flogs any of its presumed owners who steps out of line. The Igbo saying: “A masquerade that flogs its followers and drummers walks alone and ceases to dance” loses relevance here, because those who first uttered the proverb did foresee a situation where a masquerade would enter the village square with its own drums, or disperse the original drummers for new ones. In any case, there are solitary, cheerless masquerades, which do not dance, or play, with anyone. Apparently that is the type of masquerade our “anyone but Jonathan” enthusiasts pranced after.
A church just celebrated the release of five pastors kidnapped last week. Catholic priests ingloriously protested in Enugu over insecurity. So-called socio-cultural organisations are still making empty threats. But because too many would-be saviours are complicit in what we are facing today, there are really no messiahs out there. Watch out for the bad stretch ahead, as we face the fruits of presumption.