Friday, August 5, 2022 12:02 am
By Chris Anyokwu
Reading George Orwell’s 1984 gives me the jitters anytime I read it. This is the same feeling I have reading the Book of Revelation. For the purpose of this short piece, let us take a quick dip into the mucky waters of the dystopian novelistic allegory, 1984. Winston Smith is a low-ranking member of the ruling party in London, in the nation of Oceania. Everywhere Winston goes, even his own home, the party watches him through telescreens; everywhere he looks he sees the face of the party’s seemingly omniscient leader, a figure known as Big Brother. The party controls everything in Oceania, even the people’s history and language. Currently, the party is forcing the implementation of an invented language called Newspeak, which attempts to prevent political rebellion by eliminating all words related to it. Even thinking rebellious thoughts is illegal. Such thoughtcrime is, in effect, the worst of all crimes. What is worse, the omniscient and omnipotent Party prohibits free thought; prohibits sex, and also prohibits any expression of individuality. The entire social world crawls and creeps with informants, snitches, moles and spies. Indeed, Orwell inimitably captures this universality of mutual back-stabbing and equal-opportunity Mutually-Assured Destruction (MAD) practice thus: “Under the spreading chestnut tree, you sold me and I sold you.”
For its own part, the Book of Revelation reads in many parts like an Orwellian Dystopia. Combining the epistolary, the apocalyptic and the prophetic styles, the Revelation of John the Beloved teems with hair-raising, if not downright Gothic themes. Reading through it is analogous to wandering, lost, in haunted mazes or a spooky preternatural echo-chamber. Apocalyptic hydra-headed beasts, half-human/half-animal creatures, definition-defying monstrosities, weirdoes, and blood-curdling emanations roam freely on the infernal landscape, which, in turn, is riven with earthquakes, blood moons and falling suns, volcanoes and burning mountains. The language of war and conflict is the default-mode of conversation here as forces of good join battle with those of evil led, predictably, by Satan, the fallen son of the Morning Star. You are brought also before the Great White Throne Judgement where ALL your unprintable atrocities are laid bare before a voyeuristic global audience. To be sure, whilst you are being practically skinned alive for your earthly stewardship of shame and disgrace, you are mocked by the grimly terminal song “I Dreamed That The Great Judgment Morning” written and composed by Hank Williams. Finding yourself under this chilling ministry of frost, you are partly catapulted to Graham Greene’s The Ministry of Fear. Written in 1943, this novel explores psychological fear people have of losing the things they have and how that fear constrains them.
The foregoing scenarios, without a doubt, capture life and living in present-day Nigeria. The blood-curdling activities of the Boko Haram, ISWAP and their splinter groups are a prime example. The abductions of Chibok Girls and Dapchi Girls, little school-children are still fresh on our minds. The routine midnight and pre-dawn marauding raids and sacking of hamlets, communities, villages and towns in Southern Kaduna, Plateau State, Benue, Niger and other states in the north make the skin creep with fear and trembling. You are reminded of the infamous Ku Klux Klan (KKK) lynchings carried out mainly in Black communities in Jim Crow USA. Who can ever forget the grisly and gruesome beheading of a Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) chairman some time ago in the north? (see YouTube for details). the abductees of the Abuja-Kaduna Train saga are still in the captivity of the ransom-seeking ghouls. Thank goodness, few of the victims have regained their freedom, courtesy of their families and friends. As if this Abuja-Kaduna incident (which reminds you of the Indian Film “Burning Train”) is not horrible enough, bandit-terrorists have also carried out their nefarious activities in formerly redoubtable fortresses of state security such as the Kaduna-based Nigeria Defense Academy (NDA), at airports, roads and everywhere. Now, they have added planes and helicopters to their arsenal, such that they can come at you at once from the ground using motorcycles and vehicles and air using aircraft.
The impression is created that those criminals are better armed, motivated and more powerful than our security agencies. Suddenly the whole nation is naked; empty-handed in the face of enemy nationals, foreign mercenaries otherwise known as soldiers of fortune intent on laying our land waste and leaving in their wake sorrow, tears and blood. Once upon a time, the safest sanctuary of peace and quiet was a church. The very sight of a chapel, cathedral or church filled the heart of the wandering soul, the shelter-less or homeless with infinite relief. You’d feel you have come home. The church’s architecture and design, the abstract paintings of angels on the stained-glass windows, the massive doors carved with beautifully-realised celestial imagery that prompts the pilgrim-seeker to a Higher Consciousness, to an Afterlife of supernal bliss in God’s presence; the soul-stirring organ music and the general atmosphere of Heaven-on-Earth. These and other insubstantial etherealities for which God’s temple was/is known have been desecrated and shattered both literally and more tragically, in our collective imaginary. The Owo Massacre has put paid to all that. People either skip church service or attend with unspeakable fear and trepidation. You are now routinely frisked by security before you set foot into the sanctuary and worshippers eye one another with suspicion and mistrust. While the service lasts, the congregants, each of them ask silently: “What if …?” This is the reality now. Recently we were treated yet again to the viral image of a former Bayelsa State commissioner in a watery grave, his life hanging practically in the balance. He was crying desperately for his family and for government to pay his captors ransom so that they would not make good their threat to bury him alive! What better metaphor captures our perilous and parlous state of affairs as a people in today’s Nigeria? A day hardly passes by without you hearing on social media of the bone-chilling and tear-jerking testimonies of deliverance given by freed or escaped victims of kidnappers. For instance, the Prelate of the Methodist Church of Nigeria was fortunate enough to be released from the Valley of the Shadow of Death, but not without his church parting with one Hundred Million naira ransom paid cash to the dare-devil kidnappers.
The Auchi Catholic priest, the 41-year-old man of God was not so lucky. He was murdered in cold-blood by his abductors. It is fair to imagine countless other butchered compatriots whose remains litter our forests without the closure final burial rites give. It is not hard to also imagine that the irenic and raging spirits of these violated dead now stalk the land, insisting on retributive and remedial justice. These things cannot be glossed over or wished away. Both Wole Soyinka in A Dance of the Forests and Obotunde Ijimere in The Imprisonment of Obatala remind us this much. The present is always the comeuppance of a wronged past. And if the accumulated debt of the past is not paid in full, the future is aborted. As simple as that. If care is not taken, as JP Clark forewarns Nigeria in his Inaugural Lecture, the nation is likely to witness barrenness and atrophy, both of land and human. This phenomenon could spawn more imprecations, more violence; both the people and their nation would grope in the dark as unanswered prayers become their lot. As it is, the economy is in a tailspin, prices of goods and services absolutely hitting the roof, unleashing Biblical hunger and misery in the land. Our national currency, the Naira has become almost completely valueless; so much of it can only get so little food and other basic necessities. Parents cannot support their families any longer and as a result the country is now experiencing as never before youth rebellion, violent crime, including house-to-house burglaries, traffic robberies, vandalism of public property, rape, ritual killings, Yahoo-Yahoo internet scamming, inter alia. Sadly, the individual now experiences an unsettling feeling of encirclement and entrapment amid the virtual disappearance of all signs and symbols of security and there is absolutely nowhere to run to for protection. Nowhere is safe any longer. If bandit-terrorists could dare ambush and attack the advance security team of PMB in his home state of Katsina, then where else is safe?
Our national currency, the Naira has become almost completely valueless; so much of it can only get so little food and other basic necessities. Parents cannot support their families any longer and as a result the country is now experiencing as never before youth rebellion, violent crime, including house-to-house burglaries, traffic robberies, vandalism of public property, rape, ritual killings, Yahoo-Yahoo internet scamming, inter alia.
As 2023 approaches, fear grips the heart and concentrates the mind with a myriad of frightening imaginings. Evidently, there will be more abductions and kidnappings for ransom. Those who cannot pay ransom will be killed. Political thuggery and general insecurity shall also increase, perhaps, exponentially. Even your bedroom might not be safe as it used to be. People might likely experience increasing incidences and cases of high blood pressure, including young people and minors. Also people shall have eating disorders, mental health issues including vertigo, stress, insomnia, aphasia, apoplexy and, of course, suicide. The current toxic cell-pool called the workplace, school, and streets shall witness increasing mutual mistrust owing largely to the worsening ancient fault-lines criss-crossing the tremulous land. Even food and music, etc. will lose their appeal as folk will seek solace and succor in drugs, illicit sex, workaholism, alcoholism, prayer-holism and compulsive constitutionals. And the JAPA Movement shall gather pace as both old and young Nigerians will head for the borders… As the saying goes: “Anywhere else but Nigeria!” When French philosopher, Michel Foucault was writing about the modern European culture and society, you would think he had Nigeria of today in mind. Foucault uses the term “power/knowledge” to signify that power is constituted through accepted forms of knowledge, scientific understanding and truth: “Truth”, accordingly, is a thing of this world; it is produced only by virtue of multiple forms of constraints. And it induces regular effects of power (“power is everywhere”, he says). He further explores the transition from what he terms a “culture of spectacle” to a “carceral culture”. Whereas in the former punishment was effected on the body in public displays of torture, dismemberment and obliteration, in the latter punishment and discipline become internalized and directed to the constitution and, when necessary, rehabilitation of social subjects (see Google.com). Your movement and behavior are tracked (cf: Orwell’s 1984), just as your activities on the internet, telephones, cell phones, social security numbers, the census, ATMs, credit cards, and the ever increasing number of surveillance cameras in urban spaces monitor your whole existence. This panoptic model of surveillance is deployed as a principle of social herding. You can as well go to the dump-site to look for the moribund and decomposing scroll of the so-called theory of social contract. In this increasingly encircling world of Orwellian Dystopia, of apocalyptic hopelessness and despair, it is urgently necessary for those constitutionally charged with our collective safety and security to rouse themselves from their sleep and slumber and do their duty by us. We cannot continue like this for much longer and playing the ostrich will not do. We have got to save and salvage whatever is left of us.
*Chris Anyokwu writes from University of Lagos.