Make you no go anywhere/Jus’ e wait dere make I tell you sometiiiin/Fela you don come again… – Fela (Unknown Soldier)
Once upon a time in a faraway country – a country so faraway from law, order and good governance that her name had become a byword for fraud and grand corruption, a country which though afloat on a sea of black gold still suffered the ignominy of seeing her populace flee her shores like rats from a sinking ship – there lived a man called The Patriot.
The Patriot was born to a mother who had single-handedly deposed a king. He was the son of a father who was so sure of his own power that he one day took the whip to the slave driver. He was the last of three brothers, the oldest of whom could read through a book the size of five stacked bibles and recite from memory its contents without missing out a single word. This brother went on to become a famous healer of men. The second brother was a hard-drinking, womanizing fellow, the despair of his clerical father, but the apple of his mother’s eye. He later became a prophet, and his fame spread from one end of the globe to the other.
The youngest brother, The Patriot, grew up in the shadow of these two giants. He loved his brothers dearly. He loved his oldest brother, The Healer, well enough to emulate him, but he loved The Prophet so much he venerated him. He became a healer of men, but spent all of his spare time at the shrine of The Prophet.
Then one day, out of the green white and green, The Tyrant appeared on the scene. The Prophet, in his ancillary role as ‘exorcist of evil juntas’, immediately took him on. At first, he fought The Tyrant by only exposing his excesses, and exhorting him to a greater sense of obligation and respect for public coffers, but The Tyrant, weaned on a military diet of frog-jumps and barracks obedience, and egged on by a larcenous coterie of advisors, replied The Prophet’s good offices with the proverbial boot in the face. Thus, The Prophet was arrested whenever he made a prophecy. He was arrested whenever one of his prophecies came true. He was arrested whenever he coughed or sneezed in a way that struck a responsive chord in The Tyrant’s conscience. But he was released every single time because the groundswell of popular emotion that always followed his incarceration was the only threat that The Tyrant’s ears were not deafened to.
The Patriot kept a safe distance from the political issues that led to the clashes between The Prophet and The Tyrant. But he was his brother’s brother. In his own small way, and in a stubborn but non-confrontational manner peculiar to him, he was all this while contributing his bit towards the emancipation of the common man. He had chosen public healthcare and health workers’ rights as his area of specialization, and slowly, without his brother’s razzle-dazzle but even more effectively, he began to accomplish real changes.
That chapter of his life was however brought to an abrupt end on the day when The Tyrant, after a particularly sumptuous repast on the megalomania of his own concoction, decided to exercise his god-given right to murder and pillage. Once decided on this course of action, he saw it through with a diabolical zeal. At the end of the military operation that was consequent upon this whim, after the last shot had been fired and the only house burnt to the ground, after the last item of value had been carted into army trucks and the only septuagenarian mother flung from a second-floor window – after the dust had settled, what was left behind were two bruised and bleeding brothers, their legs crippled from the beating they had received at the hands of Unknown Soldiers. But, even worse, the mother of all mothers, deposer of kings and champion of female suffrage, was dead.
*The Patriot was born, and he died. Whatever occurred in between these two extremes of the mortal condition, the forces and events that forged his character, the experiences that molded him, the society that burdened this mild and retiring individual with the onus of heroism, in other words, his Life – these lie beyond the pale of any tale that can be told. However, as certain details of his Life impinge directly on the Actions that made him a hero, and, since no man is so radically altered in his ways except by factors that come from without… It is inarguable: The Patriot became a changed man upon the death of his mother.
The Patriot, upon recovery from his injuries, strode shoulder-to-shoulder beside The Prophet to lay their mother’s casket upon the steps of the Citadel of Power. And then this mild-mannered and reclusive man, a healer of men and tireless campaigner for the reformation of public healthcare, decided to take The People’s fight to The Tyrant. With this focus in mind, he threw himself wholeheartedly into the vicissitudes and imperilments of grassroots activism. He fought those deputies of The Tyrant, Poverty and Injustice, with every beat of his heart. He became a fixture at every rally that ever haunted The Tyrant’s rule. He could be found in the vanguard of every protest march that was held after his eclosion, with his only condition for attendance hinged upon the organisers’ respect for the principles of Satyagraha. He was shoved and pummeled, booted and gun-butted, tear-gassed and taunted, but he stood his ground, resolute in his suffering. He sweated alongside bus conductors, bled in the arms of watch-peddlers, and raised his voice in solidarity with civil servants and university students. In his interchangeable safari suits, his ancient reading glasses on a cord round his neck, his sandals with the soles scuffed flat from the endless marching of an unending fight, he became a familiar figure across the nation’s political terrain, a figure caricatured even by those to whom he was an embodiment of their hopes and dreams.
Though the face of The Tyrant was ever changing, his disposition, and thus his deeds and actions, was unchanging. The Patriot fought him in all guises over the years: at first he fought him from the cover of The Prophet’s shadow, then he stepped out into a niche that was solely his own. He fought him by all and any means: he trudged seven kilometers in pouring rain just to tell him to go; he led a workers’ strike that lasted three whole months just to tell him no. He fought him with every instrument he had at his disposal – except for that boomerang that went by the name of violence. That he refused to touch, not because he thought it the exclusive right of The Tyrant, nor because he was in any way uncertain as to the only possible outcome of a war of attrition between The State and The People. The sole reason for his aversion to violence was encapsulated by the quote he was reputed to give whenever the topic was raised:
‘The only certainty of an internecine conflict is the grief, and ultimately the death, of the mother-nation.’
The Patriot underwent his first spell of detention in the year of the Big Brother. The charges on which he was arrested were so ridiculous that, after The Tyrant had a change of face a year later, The Patriot was quietly given his freedom. Over the years that followed, as The Tyrant again began to show his true colour, The Patriot brought to the battle an ever wider and more sophisticated arsenal. He had by this time become a member of several international civil rights bodies, this better to aid him in a national conflict whose darkest years were yet over the horizon.
In the same year that perestroika was bringing hope to an oppressed people at the other end of the world, The Patriot, as the only healer of men amongst a group of defenders of men, was instrumental in the birth of an organization known as the Right of Humanity Defence Committee. This was a body whose acronyms were to be later made famous across the land when it was able to achieve in just six months what The Tyrant, with all his edicts and decrees and endlessly proliferating parastatals, could not deliver in over twenty years of TV promises. The RHDC, in its first six months of existence, was able to rid a resigned nation of the perennial problem of overcrowded prisons. As it had undertaken this assignment on a challenge from The Tyrant, and thus ostensibly had the support of the organs of state, the RHDC decided to prove to The Tyrant what could be achieved by the simple expedient of doing the right thing. The plan of action adopted by this body was thus as unorthodox as it was effective: the man was set free who has been in detention for years without even the ghost of a case to answer; the man was set free who had been jailed for longer than he would have served had he been tried and convicted; the man was set free who had been forgotten by The State after he had served the full term of his sentence; and the man was represented pro bono who was too poor to have recourse to legal counsel.
The Tyrant, smiling gap-toothed in the face of a moonstruck nation, was less than ecstatic about such achievements. They showed civilians in a light that no true soldier wanted to see – as masters of their own destiny. Thus, The Tyrant hatched a plan. He would set up a dummy election, and set civilian against civilian, and under the cover of the uproar that must ensue when men starved of power are let within snapping distance of it, he would dump the khaki of oppression for the agbada of the oppressed, and thus disguised, rule on uninterrupted. It was a plan that could only have been dreamt up by a mind on the last legs of derangement. And, but for the efforts of The Patriot, it would have succeeded.
The Patriot jumped into this fight for the very life of the nation with the vigor of a hundred men. Perhaps it was on account of this superhuman effort that The Tyrant wasted no time in ordering his arrest – and sent two hundred soldiers to effect the order. But, as no prison walls have yet been built that can contain the aspirations of an entire people, the fight was carried unto completion, and The Tyrant was forced to again change his face.
More from a lack of choice than a change of heart, The Patriot was once again given his freedom. Upon his release, he immediately forged into the thickest part of the new battle that had been born from the ashes of The Tyrant’s first ever defeat.
*The Tyrant, running out of masks to hide behind, had finally shown his real face. It was a face that reflected the very heart of despotism: it was twisted with an all- consuming hate and perversion. No man looking upon that face was allowed the luxury of self-delusion – in it was written The Tyrant’s every intention. I will subjugate the very heart of this nation, the face declared. I will crush any and every one who dares challenge my divine right to rule. I will run affairs of state like my personal harem. I will dispense ministerial appointments like bananas to a tribe of monkeys. I will hold as much respect for the national treasury as I do for my hip pockets. I will rule for all eternity, and then, when eternity ends, I will hand over to my children the remains of this broken country. And to make certain that nobody misunderstands my intentions, I will pass it into law. I shall call it, decree 101.
The Tyrant, aware that his face had been seen, did not again bother himself with such niceties of political skullduggery as had before been his stock-in-trade. He ruled with an iron fist that smashed through all opposition. Assassinations became so rampant that political activists began to flee the country en masse. Murders were staged for which kangaroo military tribunals were only too happy to convict whosoever was presented to them. Bomb blasts began to rock different parts of the country on a regular basis, and under the guise of protecting the nation’s integrity, martial law was declared. Death squads roamed the streets of the cities, looking for work.
The Patriot however did not join the exodus of opposition forces that slowly bled the country of its resolve. He stood his ground. Against the headwind of a cowed population, and unprovoked attacks from the security forces on all public gatherings, and the burden of standing solus, The Patriot continued the fight, never flagging, never retreating. But one day The Tyrant decided to once and for all be rid of his oldest and most pertinacious enemy. To show the extent of his power and also his blatant disregard for law and appearances, he had The Patriot condemned to a double life sentence on the charge of ‘trying to manage an unmanageable society’.
The Patriot was however destined to have the last laugh. The Tyrant, unchecked in his excesses now that the last of his adversaries had been consigned to the ‘out’ tray of presidential worries, barricaded himself in the Citadel of Power with a plentiful supply of beautiful women and good wine, and there roistered himself to death. Thus, the evil reign of that ‘Vagabond in Power’ was brought to an inglorious end.
As the nation stepped out from under the shadow of The Tyrant, its celebrations were briefly interrupted by several unhappy events. The president-elect of a still-born republic breathed his last while still wreathed in the chains of his stolen mandate. And The Prophet, his health degraded by the conditions of his detention, made his peace on his deathbed with Man and God, and quietly slipped all earthly bounds. Thus The Patriot was released not to the adulation of the people as was unquestionably his due, but to the explosion of grief with which the entire nation greeted the news of the death of his brother. It was for him the greater gift.
Upon the demise of The Healer several years after The Prophet’s exit, The Patriot, to a large extent, shouldered alone the burden of his family’s long and distinguished record of selfless service and activism in the public arena. In his final years, even after he had been diagnosed with the ‘canker of the chest’ that later went on to take his life, he did not relent in what he considered a duty to The People. He remained a familiar figure at the head of protest rallies, frightfully frail in his interchangeable safari suits, with his ancient reading glasses on a cord round his neck, and his sandals with the sole scuffed flat – forever a beacon of hope, forever a leader by example.
Dedicated To The Memory of Dr. Beko Ransome-Kuti (1941-2006)