….Lessons from Niccolo Machiavelli’s The Prince
By Osa Mbonu-Amadi
The year 2019 is at hand. In Nigeria, it’s not going to be just a New Year; it’s going to be a year of general election; a year that will once again test whether Nigerians have learned enough lessons, not only from their history, but also from the political history of the world. Already, all manner of criminals are bidding to come to power or get re-elected and they will, because the modern society encourages them. In African traditional society, people with crime records were forever blacklisted from holding public offices. Today, all that has changed. Those who murdered or collaborated with others to murder innocent people with the aim of hijacking power or sustaining themselves therein have been elected to rule by people who see nothing wrong in the atrocities they committed in the past.
In his famous book, The Prince, Niccolo Machiavelli tells the story of Oliverotto of Fermo, a coup plotter who ought to repulse society and men of good conscience. Years before the pontificate of Alexander VI, Oliverotto had been left fatherless as a small boy and was brought up by a maternal uncle, Giovanni Fogliani.In his early youth, he was sent to serve as a soldier under Paulo Vitelli so that he could win high command after being trained by him.When Paulo died, Oliverotto soldiered under Vitellozzo, his brother; in a very short time, as he was intelligent, courageous and audacious. He became Vitellozzo’s chief commander.But Oliverotto thought it was servile to take orders from others and so he determined that, with the help of some citizens of Fermo to whom the enslavement of their native city was more attractive than its liberty, and with the favour and help of the Vitellozzo, he would sieze Fermo for himself.
He wrote to Giovanni Fogliani saying that, having been many years away from home he wanted to come and see him and his city and to make some investigation into his own estate. He had worked for nothing else except honour, he went on, and in order that his fellow citizens might see that he had not spent his time in vain, he wanted to come honourably, with a mounted escort of a hundred companions and servants.He begged Giovanni to arrange a reception which would bring honour to Giovanni as well as to himself, as he was Giovanni’s foster child.Giovanni failed in no duty of hospitality towards his nephew. He had him honourably welcomed by the citizens of Fermo and lodged him in his own mansion.There, after a few days had passed during which he waited in order to complete the secret arrangements for his crime, Oliverotto prepared a formal banquet to which he invited Giovanni Fogliani and leaders of Fermo.
After they finished eating and all the other entertainment usual at such banquets was done with, Oliverotto artfully started to touch on subjects of grave importance, talking of the greatness of Pope Alexander VI and of Cesare his son and of their enterprises. When Giovanni and others began to discuss these subjects in turn, he got to his feet all of a sudden, saying that these were things to be spoken of somewhere more private and he withdrew to another room, followed by Giovanni and all other citizens.No sooner were they seated than soldiers appeared from hidden recesses and killed Giovanni and all the others.
After this slaughter, Oliverotto mounted his horse, rode through the town and laid siege to the palace of the governing council. Consequently, they were frightened into obeying him and into setting up a government of which he made himself the prince.Much Later, Oliverotto was equally tricked by Cesare Borgia and trapped at Sinigaglia along with Vitellozzo and was strangled to death!What a way the cooky crumbles but Machiavelli praised and justified Oliverotto and his action.
Those who support a coup plotter or anyone who had such record, whether his coup was bloody or not, certainly belong to the camp and school of Olivertto and Machiavelli. That is the camp and school of the world which believes that the end justifies the means. It’s the same world which legalised gay marriage and appoints gays as pastors and ministers. “A little leaven,” says the Bible, leaveneth the whole lump.” If the occasion had demanded it, the man who planned and executed a bloodless coup would have done the same thing Oliverotto did.
A system that rewards coup plotters with higher responsibilities and roles in the political life of a nation is unconsciously setting a dangerous precedent for that country and the world. It’s the praises and acceptance of characters like Oliverotto in the social and political life of human society that encouraged the breeding of ISIS, Al Qaeda and Boko Haram. It was the failure of society to effectively and clearly sanction and ostracize characters like Oliverotto and those in whom that character is latent that embolden some people to take up arms against society, believing that they will garner support, especially when they are succeeding and truly, people are supporting them and willingly giving them votes to rule legitimately.So, in the end, Machiavelli is right. The end justifies the means in the world… especially in Nigeria.