Metaphors for a troubled nation
THURSDAY Column with Mohammed Adamu
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I said when I wrote ‘Now that Yar’adua is back’ (02/26/10) that “Nigeria has become one huge Elizabethan theatre where clowns, harlequins and pantomimes now prowl the stage in an unending melodrama –sometimes more comic than Shakespeare’s ‘Comedy of Errors‘. And in this unfortunate milieu it seems we are no longer divided over issues. We are rather titillated by personalities.
We are so extreme in the way we canvass opinion nowadays that there is hardly any middle ground left –neither one as giddy height for the fence sitter, nor any as sanctuary for the non-aligned. We are either protagonistic about personalities or we are antagonistic about them. And either way, we are just simply unapologetic”.
This obsession with the cult of personality, did once bring us to a very ugly episode: namely that terribly divisive Yar’dua health debacle -from an innocuous case of mortal indisposition (which every human is subject to), but which was raised by agent provocateurs to the height of apocalypse.
We were hyped up to a needless hysteria about a ‘national emergency’ with the contrived prognosis of the most imminent danger, and in our characteristic flight of extremism we all took sides on either of the divides of ‘pro-Yar’adua’ or ‘pro-Jonathan’. The North was set against the South; Islam was pitched against Christianity.
It’s been over six years since our nasty experience with the Yar’adua health challenge; and it seems we have not learnt any lesson at all. On the contrary, it appears we have even succeeded in upping the ante in this dangerous game of ethno-religious politics.
In fact we have now added a new industry, namely ‘rumor-mongering’ to an old profession of ‘hate-mongering’. Rumor ‘mills’ now abound like mushrooms on virtually every national issue, whereas the effort to establish genuine mills to grow the national domestic product, is still in fits and starts.
‘Metaphor for a troubled kingdom’ is both a pun and a parody of two of Shakespeare’s great plays: ‘The Second Part of King Henry The Fourth’ and ‘Measure for Measure.’ But it is also a ‘serious’ laugh on two societal ills: ‘rumor mongering’ and ‘corruption of state’. Happy reading.
William Shakespeare unleashes a character named ‘Rumor’, who plays the role of a ‘curtain raiser’ in one of his great ‘history’ plays ‘The Second Part of King Henry The Fourth’. And in addition to personifying the ‘vice’ (rumor) by humanizing and characterizing it, the Playwright also lends existential imagery to the ‘slanderous’ attribute of this malady –rumor- by costuming the character in ‘painted ‘tongues’.
And so we see a multi-tongued character, ‘Rumor’ mount the stage to set the tone of a play in which ‘false reports’ and ‘dis-information’ are in the detail of a design to discredit a supposedly cowardly-Prince as a ‘chink in the armor’ of a kingdom on the brink of defeat by internal rebellion. Happily though, Prince Hall manages to rise gallantly from the ashes of dis-reputation to defeat his father’s enemies in battle and thereafter to assume the throne as King Henry the Fifth.
It is, in fact, to the character ‘Rumor’ that the opening lines of this great play belongs, as we see him prowl the stage in grandiloquent self-praise: “Open your ears; for which of you will stop the vent of hearing when loud Rumor speaks? I,” he says “from the orient to the drooping west, makes the wind my post-horse…, upon my tongues continual slanders ride, the which in every language I pronounce, stuffing the ears of men with false reports. I speak of peace, while covert enmity under the smile of safety wounds the world.”
The personification of ‘vice’ as living ‘character’ in a play, was one of the many genius of Shakespeare; and in this play the wordsmith reveals, with uncanny poignance, all the ‘multiplying villainy’ of ‘rumor’ in barely the opening words of a single character:
‘rumor’ is irresistibly sweet (“which of you will stop the vent of hearing when loud Rumor speaks?”); it is multi-lingual (“ the which in every language I pronounce”); it is persistent and un-abating (“upon my tongues continual slanders ride”); it is forceful and invasive (“stuffing the ears of men with false reports”) and it is guilefully injurious (speaking “of peace, while covert enmity under the smile of safety wounds the world”).
And in fact from bombastic self-praise, we even hear the character (Rumor) drift into sophistic self-definition; for as he says: “Rumor is a pipe blown by surmises, jealousies (and) conjectures”; and that the vice is “of so easy and so plain a stop that (even) the blunt monster with uncounted heads (and) the still-discordant wavering multitude, can (always) play upon it”.
Thus ‘Surmises’, ‘jealousies’ and ‘conjectures’ are the veritable attributes of a nation that thrives on ‘rumor mongers’ -to ‘surmise’ meaning to ‘admit issues on the basis of limited evidence; to be ‘jealous’ meaning to be ‘bitter and unhappy about another’s advantages’; and to fall into ‘conjectures’ meaning to judge on the basis of guesswork, incomplete or inconclusive information, all habits that are patently Nigerian!
And because the vice of rumor –as Shakespeare wrote- is “of so easy and so plain a stop”, virtually every Tom, Dick and Harry (or as he says the “wavering multitude”) is always able to play upon it. But it is also from the fact that the “wavering multitude” plays upon it, that the vice derives its reputation as a ‘multiplying villainy’ .
For, unlike the fate of a circle in the water that enlarges itself until it disperses to nothing, ‘rumor’ is a villainy that is born anew by contact with every new malevolent carrier of it. And thus says the Earl of Warwick, another character, that “Rumor doth double, like the voice and echo”.
But we also see in the play that as with the “wavering multitude” which has irretrievably fallen prey to the vice of ‘rumor-mongering’, so have nobles of the land and even men of God become advocates of the ‘Fallen angel’, preaching war when they should speak of peace.
And so perhaps even more poignant is the sanctimonious bashing by the Earl of Westmoreland in rebuke of the conniving antics of the Lord Archbishop who is exposed as discreetly supporting the rebellion against his kingdom.
The Lord Archbishop we are told, is a man “whose learning and good letters (even) peace hath tutored”; and “whose white vestments (everyone believes) figure innocence”. And it is on account of this reputation that the Earl of Westmorland angrily wonders why “you, (the Lord Archbishop) will so ill-translate yourself out of the speech of peace that bears such grace, into the harsh and boisterous tongue of war…. Turning” he says “your books to graves, your ink to blood, your pens to lances and your tongue-divine to a loud trumpet and a point of war?”.
Or as another Prince, John of Lancaster puts it “Turning the word to sword, and life to death”!
‘The Second Part of King Henry The Fourth’ is one of the plays in which Shakespeare’s empathy with the fate of leaders is captured in the truism: “Uneasy lies the head that wears the crown”. Just as in his tragi-comic play, ‘Measure For Measure’, he makes ‘public corruption’ the onus of judges, in the truism “Thieves for their robbery have authority when judges steal themselves”.
‘Measure For Measure’, set in a degenerate city, Vienna, is a fitting parody of Nigeria in which a wicked irony prevails where bad guys ‘rise by sin’ and good people even ‘by virtue’ fall. In it Shakespeare weaves a spaghetti tangle of ‘lenity’ and ‘license’ in one breath and ‘holiness’ and ‘vice’ in another.
In the play the Duke of Vienna, worried by the degenerate moral and spiritual state of affairs in his domain, feigns an urgent mission abroad, thereby temporarily transferring power to Angelo, a deputy reputed as “A man of stricture and firm abstinence” -even in the midst of degeneracy.
And without much ado Angelo set to work warning that no longer will Vienna “make a scarecrow of the law, setting it up to fear the birds of prey, and let it keep one shape till custom make it their perch, and not their terror”. In this Angelo appears to re-echo the philosophy that although the true ruler or judge needs not be the most holy or zealous of men, his reason and moderation should exalt him above mere pity and passion!
According to the pair of Harold Brooks and Harold Jenkins in their critique of the play, “Vienna is shown as a city much like the decadent London (of old) with her idle gallants and cynical underworld”, where “in the absence of strict control, the appetite for lechery had grown beyond accustomed bounds”. And it became, with Vienna -as with Nigeria- “a ruler’s duty to repress the unbridled lust of man’s corruption” by switching policy, they said “from overindulgent laxity to a new severity”.
We have the coarsest metaphors from the Duke’s poetic lament about the terrible state of affairs in Vienna; said he: “We have strict statutes and most biting laws… which for these fourteen years we have let slip; even like an overgrown lion in a cave that goes not out to prey;… so our decrees, dead to affliction, to themselves are dead, and liberty plucks justice by the nose, the baby beats the nurse, and quite athwart goes all decorum”.
Fitting metaphors for your troubled nation.
RE-ON JUSTICE ONNOGHEN
+2348171314331 :- The spate of killings recorded on members of IPOB shows us that Buhari has already declared war against the Igbos, and we can’t fold our arms for too long.
+2348171314331:- Adamu please Nigerians are not asking for much. Let rice go back to 9000 per bag, fuel 85 per litre, kerosene 50 per liter, Dollar one to 197 naira before his (Bhuari’s) coming. Please help me tell Buhari to return Nigeria back the way he met it, nothing else.
+2348038669498:- Thanks for your write up ‘On Justice Onnoghen’. I am glad Nigeria is still blessed with people like you. may God continue to bless you and your pen against the wish of the devil’s advocates. Franklin CA Okechukwu, PH.
+2349068143222:- Adamu, for God’s sake stop quoting law profusely. You are not a lawyer but a journalist. Read Ozekhome on page 42 of today’s Vanguard and be educated please.
+2348033557107:- Mohammed Adamu, you are the head of compromised and ethnically biased journalists in Nigeria today. Must take three months for PMB to forward Onnoghen’s name to the Senate. If PMB had done the needful before now this uproar would have been avoided.
+2348139420580:-Good day sir, I am a regular reader of Vanguard newspaper and your column too, but one thing I have come to know is that you are tribalistic, always supporting wrong. You are spreading hate. Please change sir.