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Hope and hopelessness

By Owei Lakemfa
Prince Abubakar Audu stood on the verge of history. He had been twice   governor of Kogi State, and the electoral results showed that he would be elected a third time.

Everything seemed in his favour; poll results, the mood of the electorate, his party   calling the shots at the centre and being in control of state apparatus. An enthusiastic Audu was waiting to be declared winner, instead he was declared dead.

First, disbelief, then shock, despair and anger. People who believe in the inevitability of death would not accept that it   could come calling   a man in whose honour victory feasts were being cooked.

So he must have been murdered. His supporters and some family members concluded that it was either witchcraft or poison. For good measure, they fingered an obviously innocent political leader as the culprit and asked for his arrest and trial.

Despite this, there was still mass disbelief he could be dead. Then in the midst of despair, hope came galloping in the shape   of a prophet and his followers who pronounced that they   could resurrect Audu even as his funeral rites were going on.   The family waved aside this band of obvious jokers.

Late Abubakar Audu
Late Abubakar Audu

But the hysterical crowds took them serious. So when the family prevented the prophet, the believing crowds broke the door to bring in the prophetic band of warriors. They wanted nothing more than Audu brought back to life to claim his mandate and govern. Meanwhile, the unbelievers were out in the compound, digging his grave.

Soon, news filtered out that   he had been resurrected. I got it on the internet, and wondered if there is any precedence in his ancestral lineage. The illusion went on until it was time to bury Audu. The crowd resisted; how do you bury a man that is alive? Hope gave way to hopelessness; illusion to reality. The believing crowds turned on their prophet, attempting to send him to where Audu had gone.

The death has been followed by legal somersault appropriately led by the learned people from the bar. The constitution, Electoral Act, decided cases of the Supreme Court and simple logic dictates the way to follow; conclude the elections and   swear in the   winners.

But   this is not the politics of it. People crushed by anguish need to be pacified, especially where they believe that Audu’s death was designed to deprive them of the prized gubernatorial seat. So they were given   the fiat to democratically produce a new gubernatorial candidate, and leave the rest to history. As for the implications; let tomorrow, take care of itself.

This type of crowd hysteria, control of the mind, hope and hopelessness,   characterised the reaction to the death of populist politician Adelabu Adegoke, alias Penkelemes, on   March 28, 1958.   He had died in a motor accident, perhaps occasioned by over-speeding.

To his fanatical supporters, it was bad enough that their hope of a better future was gone. But what made the death most suspicious was that the accident happened in the Remo Division, near Ikenne. Now, Adegoke’s main political rival, Obafemi Awolowo (Awo), was a Remo man from Ikenne.

The coincidence was too much. The conclusion of the supporters was that Awo must have in some metaphysical way, killed their hero. So they took to the streets in search of Awo’s supporters, burning their property and killing at least 20 of them. Sixty four Adegoke supporters were sentenced to death for those murders.

When I was a teenager on Lagos Island, I heard a commotion. With other neigbours, I rushed out to find the streets clogged. Many were running or walking briskly while  simultaneously looking at the moonlit sky. On enquiry, we were told that Awo, the most popular politician in Western Nigeria, had appeared in the moon! I stood, peered in the moon and saw nothing unfamiliar.   My close friend, Albert Okopie also saw nothing unusual.   We asked some believers what exactly they were seeing.

They explained that the bust of Awo with his traditional cap and glasses was in the moon. All around attested to this and discussed animatedly how their god-like hero had decided to manifest himself   and glory by appearing in the moon. He was their hope. In a moment of   tactlessness, Albert   said the description they were making of the claimed person appearing in the moon also fitted another politician, Aminu Kano. We were set upon; how dare we make   such a blasphemous suggestion? After pleas by some elders around, we were let go.

Such crowds and fanatical supporters as those at Audu’s funeral, reacting to Adegoke’s death or the claimed appearance of Awo in the moon,   are extremely dangerous to reason with. Such moments are times when reason take flight. I recall such moment in the play, Julius Caesar by William Shakespeare. After Mark Anthony had roused the crowds with his oration at Caesar’s funeral, they went after the conspirators who assassinated him.

In the streets, the mob   came across a man who was asked to identify himself. His name was Cinna, which coincidentally was the name of one of the conspirators.   The hapless man explained he was not Cinna the conspirator . He shouted: “ I am Cinna the poet, I am Cinna the poet”,   to which the mob responded: “Tear him for his bad verses, tear him for his bad verses”.

Germany was   one of the best educated and civilized countries. It produced famous intellectual giants like the philosophers: Immanuel Kant and Georg   Wilhelm Hegel, the fathers of world revolution; Karl Marx and Frederick Engels and writers like Walter Benjamin and Bertolt Brecht. Yet in post-First World War   despair, hunger and anger, the German electorate not only voted for Adolf Hitler, but also followed him like a hypnotised herd.

The Hitler administration gave the people food, reversed their economic fortunes, built a car, the Volkswagen, specifically for the lower classes, gave them hope, and pride in their country. With decisive leadership and effective propaganda, Hitler   controlled the minds of the populace so   much that they swore by his name and were ready to die defending him.

With leading countries like Britain, United States and the then Soviet Union – for their strategic national interest – willing to tolerate or accommodate him, Hitler   almost took control of the world. Even when he committed atrocities like carrying out genocide against   Blacks and Jews, the German populace continued to support him.

Those who believed Abubakar Audu would resurrect;   killed in the name of Adegoke Adelabu; believed that Obafemi Awolowo appeared in the moon; followed Adolf Hitler or kill in God’s name, have the same problem: controlled minds. No human being should allow another, control or toy with his mind.

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