The Isle of the Living Dead

The Isle of the Living Dead

Wole Soyinka, that brave and brilliant Nigerian of unassailable integrity, wrote himself into immortality.

In sequence of words upon brilliants words spanning reams upon veritable reams of paper, this Iroko stamped his impress upon our firmament like only creators of universes would and could.

He wrote for all ages those eternal words of timeless relevance, that:

“In him who keeps silent in the of tyranny, the man dies”

No better words have been articulated, like a poetry of the gods, to eviscerate the cowardice which seduces one to sit on the fence when rogue power is running rampage. No better litany has ever been advanced to affront our timidity in the face of tyranny as it cries havoc and lets loose the dogs of war. No better antiphon has ever preceded the psalmody to freedom.

Wole Soyinka is genius.

Soyinka’s kindred spirit, Chinua Achebe, approximated the same oracles and articulated it in his own peculiar way. Achebe, like Soyinka, realised that nothing insults the quiddity of the human person and rips his psyche asunder like tyranny does.

In explaining why he pitched his tent with the resistance against tyranny at that time in history, he contended that;

“No one arrogates to himself the right to order the lives of a whole people unless he takes for granted his own superiority over those people”

He contextualized the fact that when power creates fault-lines to scaffold her tyranny and her appurtenances, that taking minor jokes at our minimal expense could be a sign of our self-confidence. To that end, we can take jokes when power pees on itself. But whenever power crosses the rubicon of acceptable conduct, whoever then “takes the comforting view” that keeping silent would buy him life and felicity is an accessory to the rape perpetrated by power. The man in such a person not only expired eons ago, but has compromised his self respect. For Achebe, “to sneak through life swallowing (such)real insults is to compromise one’s self respect”

From age to age, Justice gathers a people to herself. So that from east to west, from sea to shining sea, civilization would never lack voices raised in defense of all that is good; all that is true; all that is just; all that is fair; and all that is beautiful.

In every age, every genius whose moral antenna was not compromised by fear, cowardice, sordid love for lucre, or tangling acquaintance with unethical concessions, has taken up the gauntlet whenever fate called upon him to rise and fight the manifestation of tyranny in his generation.

Many heeded that call. But the methods have varied.

Christopher Okigbo took up arms in defence of the land housing his most intimate acquaintances.

The debate is still raging on why and what made Okigbo take up arms. The Puritans in the house of literature and their hyper-orthodox adherents felt betrayed that one of the charismatic chief priests of that oracle which canonized the pen as being mightier than the sword was seduced by a competing metaphysic into abandoning their most sacred dogma.

Sympathizers have leapt in Okigbo’s defense, clutching the rhetoric that “Ihe tagburu nkita na aru, na ata ajo aru”- meaning that “whatever could best a dog in a biting competition packs quite a bite”. This is to say that whatever force or narrative that seduced Okigbo into dropping the pen to embrace the gun must have been quite a force.

For these people, such a force can only be the persistent feeling that one has been a victim of an injustice that has persisted in its devastation of her victim.

For these connoisseurs pleading Okigbo’s rehabilitation, whatever inspired him to the conclusion that taking up the sword was mightier than the prose and poetry oozing from his inkwell is a consideration that was not to be toyed with. It is like what would compel a man to abjure the central tenets of his being by committing suicide.

That decision was never one taken lightly.

Or taken over plates of Nkwobi and Ngwongwo!

Or over a feast of “Nni Ji na Ofe Nsala”

It was a decision in temporality that was going to have ripples of eternal consequence.

What has forever arrested my attention has been the question of why one generation is deluged with morally-sensitive geniuses, while others are sprinkled with a few in an ocean of intolerable mediocrity.

What knack of fate, or treacheries of the gods, shuffled the cards to the point that one
moment in time, or one incident of injustice could raise an armada of geniuses lending the whole arsenals of endowments at their disposal to the resistance?

wole soyinka
Soyinka image: Public Domain via Flickr

Since geniuses are most times profoundly allergic to and repelled by violence, most of them command no armies or armadas. Their contributions are most times in itself, insufficient to win over the turbulent psychopathology of brute force advertised by tyranny. But their contributions and their “unsilence” has been that Lighthouse guiding freedom’s weary wayfarers safely to shore.

They did not die. Neither did the men in them.

In Nigeria’s history, which has been a festival of missed opportunities, Biafra was such a moment that brought our geniuses together on the side of the resistance. They rose, resisting the lethargy, which cowardice recommends, and self-preservation approves.

They knew the consequences. In this battle, losers die, either metaphorically or actually; or both. They are not men from the suicidal tribe. They loved their lives as much as every other person. But when fate called, and cowardice dissuaded, they asked cowardice to take a hike to the island of no return.

They stuck out their necks.

Soyinka penned those ageless words cited above while imprisoned for his recognition of the injustice done against Biafrans and his urge to seek peace.

Achebe wrote his while pleading his decision to be on the side of Biafra.

And Okigbo took up arms when he felt that the sermonizing theories were notoriously inadequate to prevent the rape of his home, Biafra, by the forces of a terrorizing tyranny armed for their detail by the vultures of capitalism.

Two thirds of these geniuses are lost to us today. And a neo-Biafran agitation today has unveiled the rotten injustice at the core of this federation called Nigeria. But most of our geniuses of today have married cowardice. They have kept silent in the face of tyranny. Only a few have spoken out.

Many of our geniuses of today abandoned their vocations and slept in silence in the face of Buhari’s tyranny. They kept quiet when Buhari ordered his dogs into civilian spaces against every tenet of democracy, to hunt and kill Mr. Nnamdi Kanu.

In the face of that, the men in them not only died; they condemned Nigeria and caused her to become the Isle of the living dead. These men are dead while alive. The men in them have departed.

And may anyone who keeps silent in the face of tyranny never rest in peace.

Gwazia ndi yard unu

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