By Sunny Awhefeada
A profound and even inveterate lack of humaneness has characterized our nation’s history. It can be argued, and plausibly so, that that a seminal lack or absence of that which is humane has been at the very core of our collective tragedy as a nation in the last sixty years. That lack of the milk of human kindness which betrays the acute shortage of fellow feeling often yields disastrous consequences which themselves beget tragic ends. William Shakespeare, the bard of Avon, in his eponymous tragedy, Julius Caesar, dramatizes the carnage that befell Rome after the political assassination of Caesar described by Mark Anthony as “the noblest man/That ever lived in the tide of times”. Caesar was a military general who won many victories for Rome and set her on the path of ascendancy.
Despite his great victories for his country, some men feared that he would grow into a dictator which Rome abhorred. These men led by Caesar’s adopted son and benefactor, Brutus, killed him on the ides of March. Caesar was stabbed twenty three times and the last and deepest of the stabs came from Brutus. Caesar could have fought his assailants and survived. But when he turned and saw Brutus stabbing him, he lost the will to resist. He uttered, “etu Brute” meaning “even you Brutus” and fell.
After Caesar’s death, his protégé, Mark Anthony, left alone with him did inveigh what became a famous, but frightening passage thus: “Woe to the hands that shed this costly blood/Over thy wounds now do I prophesy/…./A curse shall light upon the limbs of men/Domestic fury and fierce civil strife/Shall cumber all the parts of Italy/ Blood and destruction shall be so in use/and dreadful objects so familiar/That mothers shall but smile when they behold/ Their infants quartered with the hands of war”. What followed was a civil war during which the spirit of Caesar was avenged.
Nigeria has her many Caesars! Our history has been bloody and defined by tragedies. Abubakar Tafawa-Balewa, Ahmadu Bello, Samuel Ladoke Akintola, Festus Okotie-Eboh, Zakariya Maimalari, Samuel Ademulegun, Ralph Sodeinde, were among Nigeria’s early Caesars.
They were all murdered in January 1966. Seven months later in July, Johnson Thomas Umunakwe Aguiyi-Ironsi also suffered Caesar’s fate. A year after this, the first gunshot that signaled the commencement of the Nigerian Civil War was fired at Gakem. The “fierce civil strife” that ensued raged for thirty months. The Nigerian soil was wet with the blood of her citizens and we are yet to mend the psychological fracture of that gory experience and the national discomfiture that followed. The battle ended fifty-one years ago, but the war rages on.
Post-Civil War Nigeria has many more Caesars. Murtala Mohammed who made Caesar of Aguiyi-Ironsi became the first casualty of political skullduggery after the civil war. His fellow conspirators of July 1966 were the Butuses that assassinated him in February 1976. The failure of the putsch meant firing squad for the conspirators led by B. S. Dimka. It was blood and blood and blood. Other Caesars followed. The many soldiers that were done to death during coups and counter-coups number among them. They were motivated, or so they claimed, by patriotism. Gideon Orkar was one. There are many Caesars outside the barracks. M. K.O. Abiola and his wife, Kudirat were two of such. No matter their antecedents, they died for Nigeria. Before Abiola’s martyrdom, there was the judicial murder of Ken Saro-Wiwa and his eight compatriots. Nigeria killed them all. Nigeria killed many that our collective memory cannot fully account for.
An evaluation of Mark Anthony’s prophecy speaks volume to our present predicament as a nation. Nigeria has become like the Rome envisioned in Anthony’s words. Law and order has broken down almost irretrievably. The nation has become a vast killing field. Criminals, be they bandits, kidnappers or terrorists, are on the loose. Death has also become very cheap. Every day, we are confronted with the tragic news of those killed by terrorists and bandits. Education has collapsed in many parts of the North due to brazen attacks by marauders who have sworn to bring Nigeria down. Every day, families are thrown into mourning arising from the dastardly killing of one person or the other. There is no longer any doubt about the inability of the security forces to contain the situation. There have been stories of how vigilante members rescued abducted policemen and how soldiers wished people bearing ransom money good luck instead of going after the kidnappers waiting to receive the dough. The nation has simply gone mad.
Every sector is assailed and crumbling. Teachers at all levels, health workers, and other labour unions go on strike every now and then and government makes joke out of the appalling situation. As I write, resident doctors are on strike while President Buhari is in London taking care of his health. Buhari’s handlers have told us that he didn’t need to hand over to the Vice President as he would run Nigeria from his hospital bed in London. The nation has been run down and there is apparently no need for a government anymore.
The citizens are angry and disillusioned. They have lost faith in the essence of Nigeria. Many groups and individuals are springing up with agitations that point towards the unbundling of Nigeria. The reality is that those who brought Nigeria to this ugly situation are beginning to feel the heat. When a section of the country rolled out its diabolically hegemonic ambition, it never reckoned that it would backfire. As I write, apart from the crises consuming the whole North, there are resistance movements in the West and the East arrayed against Northern hegemony. Things are really no longer at ease for anybody. The West and the East have put up machinery to protect their land and people. A recent development has been the targeting of security personnel in the East as well as attacks on prisons and police stations. Sometime ago, the former Inspector General of Police, Mohammed Adamu, went round the country after the ENDSARS protests, directing policemen to shoot at Nigerians. Such an unfortunate statement infuriated an already angry populace and the outcome is probably what is playing out in the South-East and South-South. The people have turned against the police making them soft target. Our failed state status manifests the most through insecurity.
A new Rome emerged after the plague pronounced on her by Mark Anthony ran its course. A new Nigeria shall be born from the ruins of today. But that new Nigeria will not be born if the people stand by and do nothing. Let the people call out one another and engage those who perpetually want to hold down our beloved country. The people must evolve a new credo and align themselves with the ideals of rebirth. And then all those undone by the present order would not have died in vain and the present generation would bequeath a great nation to the next. It is doable.