By Banji Ojewale
IN William Shakespeare’s eponymous book, Julius Caesar, the main character is warned of fast-approaching personal danger. First, the caution comes from a soothsayer: “Beware the ides of March.” That’s the exact date Julius Caesar will be assassinated. The Roman dictator ignores the warning. Later, his wife, Calpurnia, also dreams her lord will be killed on the same day the seer mentions. She begs him not to honour a Senate invitation fixed for the ides of March as death awaits him at the hands of the Roman nobles.
So the great Caesar sends for the augurs to look into the future. Will he indeed be mowed down on that day? Ahhh…the entrails of tomorrow are ominous. The military genius is defiant, insisting he will meet the senators. Why would a world-famous conqueror give in to superstitions and fear of death? He declares: “Cowards die many times before their deaths, the valiant never taste of death but once. Of all the wonders that I yet have heard, it seems to me most strange that men should fear; seeing that death, a necessary end, will come when it will come.”
Julius Caesar overlooks the omens and their interpretation by the augurs. He discards the pleas of his wife too. So he goes to the Senate, where he is slain. The augury and omens have not been manufacturing their predictions after all! Nigeria is having her own signs at the moment. And we are not denied the augurs and seers and soothsayers, either. Over the years, we’ve not been short of them, both ominous times and faithful watchers who would not be niggardly with timely interventions and warning. The concern is that we always replay Julius Caesar. And doom foretold crashes on us mercilessly.
This year marks a decade since Boko Haram’s founder Mohammed Yusuf’s was killed extrajudicially while in the custody of security personnel. Scores of his followers were similarly killed. It all happened when the sect was on a funeral procession to bury their dead. They were alleged to have been ambushed by heavily armed state actors who shot dead hundreds of them.
The massacre was captured on video that went viral. Members of the group vowed to revenge. They have fulfilled their oath in thousands of deaths, maiming, disruption of socio-economic order, destruction of prized property and infrastructure including schools, marketplaces, industries and health centres, kidnapping and several more irreparable losses that defy monetary assessment. But at the time the sect was grieving and wanted rectitude for its innocent dead, the authorities rejected concerned citizens’ calls to probe the murders and punish culpable government agents. We didn’t act, bringing us to where we are now. In Nigeria, we don’t believe a stitch in time can save nine.
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The omens are here again on the shaky Shiite showdown with government over the detention of the leader of the Islamic Movement of Nigeria, IMN, Ibrahim Zakzaky and his wife. Periodically, their followers troop out in Abuja and Kaduna to demand that government honours court orders to release their leader and his spouse. Many lives are lost when they protest, accompanied by vandalism of property and shut down of businesses. Government insists it is holding the Shiite cleric in the overriding interest of the public. Its position contradicts a Federal High Court’s ruling that has freed him on bail.
But the central government has often claimed that it will trample on court judgments and people’s fundamental human rights if they stand in the way of ‘national interest’. Both sides have refused to give in over the years since the capture of el-Zakzaky in 2015. Finally, the government wielded the big stick: it proscribed IMN and branded it a ‘terrorist’ group. In Kaduna, home state of the sect, the movement had long been declared an illegal association.
Our augurs gazing into the future are warning that the proscription would drive the martyrdom-seeking Shiites underground to continue their agitation for the release of their leaders in the shadows. Can our fragile security forces, crumbling under the burden of Boko Haram attacks, be further stretched thin to cope with another front of unconventional conflict? Can a beleaguered populace rocked by devastating insecurity at the hands of armed robbers, bandits, kidnappers, religious fanatics, community urchins, unemployed youth resorting to new schemes of criminality stand the entry of a new wave of assaults? Can’t we employ more of the carrot to tame the Shiites instead of spoiling for a fight at a time we need more peace and building of bridges to create an atmosphere of development?
The seers watching what is going on say they have been to the future. They say they have seen only danger, darkness, death, defeat, decay, despair and destruction. They don’t want us to walk into a fatal future waiting to consume us as Julius Caesar did when he ignored the counsel of those with foresight: beware the ides of March.
Recently, ex-head of state, Abdulsalami Abubakar and other nationalists who had peeped into tomorrow said we must move fast to avert its arrival. The former military ruler said: “There is anger in the land and voices of reason are drowning very rapidly. It is clear that the situation requires that we all live up to the expectations of a nation that puts so much value on elders.”
In the 80s, Obafemi Awolowo was one such elder who saw beyond his day. Nigeria was drifting under the ruling National Party of Nigeria, NPN. Sage Awolowo warned President Shehu Shagari that we were heading for a shipwreck, that big icebergs were waiting for us. He didn’t listen and allowed hawks in his administration to run circles round him. Shagari sent emissaries to the UK to declaim the stand of Awolowo before the international media. That didn’t stop the course of the vessel.
A military coup toppled Shagari a few years after Awolowo’s notification of advancing jeopardy.Was that all? The successive military juntas battled with the debris of economic enervation they met on the ground. Thereafter, there were several palace coups and attempted ones, all signs of the indiscipline and avarice of our military.
Finally, one of the martial rulers said he had tried everything in the books with no results. They failed to rescue Nigeria. Bereft of ideas, one of them opted for what he called Structural Adjustment Programme, SAP. It was the future Awolowo foresaw. Nigeria needlessly experienced it because we failed to heed his admonition.
Today, there are congruous conditions some three decades after. The sages are warning again. Government must cease talking and listening to itself so it can hear when someone in the crowd issues the legend, beware the ides of March.
Ojewale, a public affairs analyst, wrote from Lagos