By Wole Olujobi
Professor Adebayo Williams will never cease to inspire me. The urbane grandmaster of elegant prose was a literature mogul and polished “curator” at Ife comparative literary arts gallery who once in our Literature class while dissecting Chinua Achebe’s Okonkwo in “Things Fall Apart” drew our attention to the truism that every Rome has its own moment of madness as a compulsory side-effect of its moments of sanity, surmising that in every society’s psychology of madness, there is always a method to the malady and a logic to that insanity.
In history, Roman Empire was an all-powerful fiefdom that drew the awe and respect of the world. Abroad, her citizens called the shots in the powerhouse of decision-making in world’s affairs. That period was the most glorious moment in Roman history with its military and economic might, as her citizens revelled and regaled in the imperial essence of the unipolar governance process that the entire world accepted as a fate and without challenge until the moment of malady crept in when some Roman potentates imported a method of tyranny to ruffle the masses that were the powerhouse of the Roman authority.
William Shakespeare, an English writer, poet and playwright in his epic play, ‘Julius Caesar’, drew our attention to the blossoming Roman history and how human foibles overwhelmed the ruling elite who turned their cudgels on the masses through whom they drew authority, prompting rank rebellions that ranckled the once robust amity that hitherto defined the cause and course of the successes of Roman Empire.
In that dramatic masterpiece, Shakespeare paints an animating simulation of struggle for power and its monopoly in the characterisation of the Roman Army General, Julius Caesar, who, according to history, declared himself dictator for life in 44 B.C, which didn’t go well with many top Roman politicians, including Gnaeus Pompeius Magnus (Pompey the Great) and wealthy Marcus Crassus. It was that struggle for power that claimed Pompey’s life in Caesar-contrived exile in Egypt.
Fearing that Caesar would become king and a tyrant to boot, a group of senators conspired to end his life. And so on the Ides of March (March 15, 44 B.C.), the senators and Pompey’s disciples, led by Gaius Cassius Longinus, Decimus Junius Brutus Albinus and Marcus Junius Brutus and all other remnants of vital elements in Pompey’s garrison command with revenge of Pompey’s death burning in their heads, drew their daggers and stabbed Caesar 23 times at the Capitol, ending both his reign and life as he fell bleeding onto the Senate floor at the feet of the statue of Pompey.
Caesar had earlier pursued Pompey to Egypt for the latter to meet a disgraceful death by beheading in the hands of Egyptian Prince Ptolemy after earlier severing relationship with Crassus, the Rome’s richest man and one of the tripod in Rome’s first Triumvirate of Caesar, Crassus and Pompey.
In that true life story, Caesar had appropriated the hangover from the hostilities between him and his competitors (Pompey and Crassus) for power over whom he triumphed.
Of course Caesar had his own hubris known to himself. He traced his bloodline to the origins of Rome and claimed to be a descendant of the goddess Venus through the Trojan prince Aeneas. That arrogance and excessive pride turned him to a hell kite, plotting to liquidate whoever stood on his path to greatness. Caesar himself had once admitted: “If I fail, it is only because I have too much pride and ambition.”
In that play also, Caesar shows his pride and contempt for human dignity when he refuses the petition to pardon Publius Cimber who is spending time in a forced exile orchestrated by Caesar. Turning down contemptuously the entreaties by fellow Roman noblemen pleading clemence for Cimber, Caesar says: “I spurn thee like a cur (dog) out of my way.” That was part of his undoing.
And in pursuit of absolutist agenda, Caesar and his armies pursued Pompey to Spain, Greece and, finally, Egypt where Caesar received Pompey’s severed head after he was killed by Egypt’s Ptolemy in fear of Caesar’s invasion of Egypt in pursuit of Pompey under Egypt’s protection. Ptolemy had reasoned that harbouring Pompey being pursued by Caesar to Egypt might create hostility between Rome and Egypt. Pompey was therefore killed by Ptolemy to please the invading Caesar’s army and his body was taken back to Rome and buried at the foot of the Capitol.
Caesar later led his army back to cross the Rubicon River into Italy, triggering a chain of civil wars between his supporters and those whose blood of Pompey lived in them back in Rome.
In the chain of coups and counter-coups led by factional groups aftermath of the excesses of Caesar, Roman Empire, owing to the excesses of her noblemen, collapsed progressively until other power blocs emerged to whittle down the Roman authority and influence on the entire world, and thus emerged the fall of the Roman Empire.
The collapse of the Roman Empire is a living testimony to the tragedy of human history as the falcons could no longer hear the falconers in the theatre of wars fuelled by enlightened self-interest and unbridled ambition to enjoy monopoly on the levers of power.
Back home here in Nigeria, the spirit that drove Roman malady has since seized the nation’s political soul, which has now become the sauce of Nigeria’s madness. In a country that stands on a shaky foundation as a nation and is always constantly setting up traps of disunity by her leaders over scramble for power, a stage is being set for a cameo that can make or mar what remains of a fragile federating configuration that harbours untrusting and distrusting confederates. And the method to that malady is through political terrorism fuelled by ambition’s unbridled ladder to lord it over the rest of the equally ambitious sections of the country.
In retrospect, Nigeria’s moment of sanity was the euphoria that greeted the nation’s independence in 1960. Shortly afterwards, the Julius Caesars of Nigerian politics emerged in rebellious competition and accoutrements as a method to mark the beginning of malady that would rankle the essence of the liberty. June 12 brouhaha marked the climax of the Nigerian elite’s struggle for power as the nation boiled over MKO Abiola’s death in controversial circumstances before General Olusegun Obasanjo from the South was manicured to give Nigeria a semblance of confederation between 1999 and 2003, after which a power sharing time-table schemes were fashioned out for peace to reign among the power elite.
But a few years down the line, the power merchants have started rolling the clock back, devising a monopolistic scheme that will throw up Caesar, Crassus and Pompey in a war of attrition that will topple the very foundation of the nation’s unity, all arising from the same existential hubris that places the importance of one man or region above the others.
The hubris is already drawing the riveting cholers of Rivers Governor Nyesom Wike and fellow governors down South, who are now fuming, alleging conspiracy and contempt for the South by PDP’s northern power elite led by Atiku Abubakar.
Already rallying support for Wike are Southern power elite while Northern leaders, who hold all the strategic positions in PDP, bear the flags in their column of solidarity in aid of their brother Atiku, the trend that is fast threatening the fragile unity of the country, so much so that today, there are Southern People’s Democratic Party and Northern People’s Democratic Party (apologies to Chief Bode George), all arising from the combustion over which section of the country should produce the President, which the power rotation scheme by both APC and PDP had sought to address at conception.
Possibly having the premonitions of the present harakiri, and to address the national distrust for enhanced amity, the two main political parties, APC and PDP, had devised stabilising means to maintain sanity in power sharing scheme by adopting power rotation and “allocation” between the North and South. By that arrangement, both parties will produce their presidential candidates from the same region during an election year, and wherever the victory goes between the parties, one region is pacified until power rotates to another region in the subsequent election.
But by a stroke of self-interest fuelled by crass rebellion against the spirit of nationhood in breach of a cardinal principle of political stability in the polity, that arrangement came under threat when one of the political parties (PDP) went against its own rule of power rotation scheme between the North and South in picking its presidential candidate.
What is more, in the party’s primary election to select its presidential candidate, an aspirant from northern part of the country, Aminu Tambuwal, in contrived capitulation, stepped down for his tribesman Atiku to brighten victory chances for his kinsman when it appeared that the opponent from the Southern region (Wike) was on the verge of picking the ticket, according to the party’s constitution on power rotation.
That singular act of treating a Southerner (Wike) like a cur marked the method to the disunity malady that has plagued the nation over the years. Everyday, the fire rages, and the nation seems set for the tenterhooks. Here is the real fear and conundrum of crossing the Nigerian Rubicon with the prospect of stoking the cauldron of war.
Conversely, APC, led by all its Northern governors, opted to remain the conscience of the nation in the dialectics of history of power rotation by picking its presidential candidate from the South to maintain stability and cohesion in driving its development agenda. Ever since, APC’s candidate, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, leading top APC politicians across the nation, has spent more time meeting top national leaders across board and religious groups to forge amity and tolerance in the run up to the February 25, 2023 presidential polls while PDP leaders are throwing darts at one another, belching fire and brimstone and stoking the fire of disunity to set the nation on the path of collapse.
Now that the PDP’s leadership conspiracy in one moment of losing common sense threatens to blight the peace and unity of the nation, it will only take sheer grit and common sense among common, innocent Nigerians to rebuke the elite’s conspiracy and rebellion by reversing the malady to prop the nation’s sanity for growth and development.
The peace wand to that chaos and the alchemic assay to tame that malady is the 2023 presidential poll, to move power down South to wake a consciousness already established by the likes of the visionary Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu for a pan-Nigerian spirit that holds promise for peaceful cohabitation, to take Nigeria to the Promised Land. This Rome metaphor must be tamed to ensure that Nigeria does not collapse.
* Olujobi writes from Ado-Ekiti, Ekiti State