The Usage and Abusage of Power

by Isidore Emeka Uzoatu
power illusion

The story is often told of a man from the blessed town of Akokwa in one of the Ideato LGAs of Imo State. Blessed, yes; because, long ago, they set an insurmountable record of holiness. One that has subsisted for close to a century now. O yes, for thus far, they remain the only composil in the Southeast of Nigeria to have baptised their local deity into Christian sainthood. How many gbozaas to them?

Though this remains unacknowledged in the Guinness, International or Nigerian Breweries book of records, the achievement remains verifiable. But whether the judges at the Presidential Election Tribunal will agree, is yet in doubt. After all, it’s one thing to mix herbal brews for a mad man and another to have him drink it down. That it’s for his own good mattered less.

Anyway, let it be known to you that this man from this back of the woods town – let’s call him Gideon for the avoidance of coincidence – set a different record altogether in our defunct First Republic. Lucky to be in the shortlist of those selected for an interview appointment for recruitment into the then colonial police, he became a local hero overnight. In no time news of his spectacular achievement had reached the four corners of the town – and even beyond it.

As the interview date dawned, he was said to have set off in a flourish of goodwill. In fact, he was escorted up to the boundary by youths chanting war songs. Notwithstanding that a village belle had been set aside for betrothal to him on his return, he was also nominated for local knighthood sans conditionalities. Indeed, a bright future awaited him.

His return, in turn, was fuelled with expectation the whole town wide. But for that his return was bound to be impromptu because of the lack of telephony in rural towns back then, a heavier delegation would have welcomed him than had seen him off. What with the epaulettes and decorations his people imagined would adorn his shoulders. Like the ones on those of the only other policeman they have ever beheld from a more prosperous town next door.

However, no sooner did their son touchdown from the gwongworo lorry that brought him back from the inconclusive interview than he started arresting everyone in the market square in earnest. Sans decorative epaulettes and the like, for he had only just been interviewed, he progressed to arrest as many people as would regain their freedom with enough seed yams to plant a hectare of land.

For the records, it marked the first time an otherwise sane, grownup male abused power yet (un)vested on him by the state in the old Eastern Region. More of its like were to follow in the town and environs, but none has ever mattered more. Not even when another guy from the selfsame town had the temerity to change his surname to his mother’s family name. And this before the entire men in the town lined up in their hundreds with their denguns to fire at a rivulet of water overflowing into their farmlands.

Ab initio, usage and abusage used to be restricted to ‘picking the right (English) words, (and avoiding the wrong ones). That’s after Eric Partridge, the New Zealand-British lexicographer, wrote Usage and Abusage: A Guide to Good English. Since revised by a certain Janet Whitcut, it has since lost some of its early eclat since many considered ‘so therefore’ less a tautology than ‘bending corner ‘ and ‘extreme end’.

And so presently the pendulum has swung more to power(s). This has seen lords – both spiritual and temporal – using their inherited powers positively and negatively. Like the police intern above, most of them now flaunt their strength as though it were bestowed for the committing of evil deeds. As in seeing its proper use as reserved for the weak and effeminate. ‘Whoever doesn’t abuse power when it’s given to him’ one of them boasted recently, ‘is not worthy to live.’

Instances of this abound.

Like the still ascendent locking up of activists against the rule of law by even wives of political office holders. In the recent past, one activist gained the unique honour for pointing out the weight gain obtained by the then president’s wife upon his husband’s assumption of office. And this in spite of the fact that he posted the twin photographs of the slim and rotund First Lady before and after. After all, picture no de lie!

Those that dare to fight for the self-determination of enclaves in countries are even worse off. They are immediately locked up in underground cells where even their lawyers cannot talk to, let alone visit, them. Like the apartheid regime in South Africa haunted black activists, they are subsequently painted in horrible colours. Till they are ultimately either eliminated like Stephen Biko, or apotheosised like Nelson Mandela. Aluta Continua!

In fact, when attention turns to today’s African heads of government, the tale turns bizzare by half. Upon riding to power by any means whatsoever, they immediately start flouting the tenets of their nation’s constitution flagrantly. As if that is not enough, at the end of their two-term tenures they double up to bully the Constitutional Court into granting them the onus to run for a third term.

Of course, the continental assembly keeps looking the other way. Till another abuse sees some equally ambitious soldiers organising a coup d’etre to deodorise the fragrant ordure they excrete on the heads of their people. Then even the West where they train their children steps in, calling for an invasion of any guilty country of their choice. Turning blind eyes to the earlier incidents whose perpetrators must have signed away their nation’s hegemonies to them.

Somehow this special prerogative has been transferred to our lower courts. Knowing that they have ‘the yam as well as the knife’, they are further emboldened by the implied determination of who to cut its pieces to it perforce heaps on them. Especially in the election season. Electoral processes are turned on their heads to see that power is handed to another serial abuser whose only claim to office is tribal inheritance.

The latest development in Nigeria stands out for both its absurdity and stupidity. According to legend, every properly trained jurist can swing a judgement any which way. And this intelligently enough to bamboozle even the side ruled against. But in this case the conclusions arrived appeared so incongruent that eyebrows are being raised in consternation.

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