Tonye Princewill

August 10, 2012

Edo State: A case of evolution over magic (1)

By Prince Tonye Princewill

The outcome of the gubernatorial elections in Edo State, where more than 70 percent of the voters underwrote a second term in office for Governor Adams Oshiomohle, is both portentous and evocative.

It gives us pause to reflect on and reassess some of our operative assumptions, particularly with regards to what Nigeria ought to be and when.

The operative assumption, it seems to me, is that we should awake one morning and find that Nigeria is a stable, industrialized state, with honest leaders, chosen through a credible electoral process.

But the recent balloting in Edo State serves—or should serve—as a reminder that nations are not built in that manner.

Great nations evolve, rather than pop suddenly out of a vacuum, in a replication of the Casmir Effect in cosmology, where elementary particles arise from “random fluctuations of nothingness”.

“Evolution” means to develop gradually or in stages, as opposed to instantaneous birth or radical transformation.

The latter is what we would normally think of as “magic”—like plucking a rabbit out of a hat or making an attractive woman disappear.

Instant political gratification falls into this category. The idea that we can create, in 52 years, a stable, prosperous state, in which all our wants and needs are met–in which class, tribal, religious, economic and regional interests don’t clash–is an invocation of magic.

But if I were filling out a score card or otherwise judging the exponents of evolution and radical transformation–using logic, reason and honesty as criteria–my vote would go to the magician not the extremist.

I would cast my lot with the prestidigitator on two accounts.

One is that he deceives only his audiences and not himself. No matter how cunning, ingenious and well-executed his tricks are, he never loses sight of the fact that he is doing tricks: That his actions are skilled deception for which he has been trained and is well paid.

The other thing that sets the magician apart from the extremist ideologue, from the armed insurgent who believes in instant transformation through radical action (be it secession, revolution, mass killing or what-have-you) is that his audiences know they are being victimized; and they have acceded to it.

In fact, the better magicians not only refer to their feats as “tricks” or “slight-of-hand” but in the Western world, nowadays, they also take time, after their performances, to explain certain fundamentals—without, of course, giving away secrets that would ruin their trade.

Indeed, the motto of the truly professional magician is “the hand is quicker than the eye”. By this, he means that, when a playing card is taken from behind a volunteer’s ear, or a pigeon plucked from a hat, he has simply distracted you and retrieved these props from elsewhere—with very fast movements.

If only the radical revolutionist, the secessionist or the religious fanatic were as honest: Either with himself or his victims.

Alas, the demagogue who plays on our fears and prejudices, who propagates instant solutions and offers us violence and terror as quick-fixes to complex social and political problems, deceive both his people and himself.

He naturally believes in what he is doing–otherwise the prospect of losing his own life, the possibility of being caught and executed or gunned down while on a mission, would be a deterrent. But it clearly is not.

His motto, it seems, is “the mouth is quicker than the mind”! Incitement is more efficacious than insight or reason.

But instead of pulling bunnies out of a top hat or a turban, or charming snakes, he makes hopes and dreams disappear. He leaves parents and siblings in mourning and mesmerizes law-abiding citizens with the fear and dread that terror can induce. I hope we are listening?