Nigeria, like Caesar, must beware of the Ides of March. We have been witnessing politically inspired violence by Boko Haram…
Anthony Cardinal Olubunmi Okogie
“Beware the Ides of March,” said the soothsayer to Julius Caesar in William Shakespeare’s famous play Julius Caesar. In those words, Caesar was given an alert about his imminent assassination in the hands of Roman politicians, among whom was his friend Brutus.
Approaching another year of elections, this admonition has become frightfully pertinent. For what is being witnessed looks like a reenactment of the Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar. In this reenactment, Julius Caesar would represent Nigeria, the Roman politicians who plotted his assassination would represent the average Nigerian politician, with Brutus, the politician pretending to be Caesar’s friend, representing politicians who, in their diabolically deadly intrigues, pretend to love Nigeria, but are actually plotting her descent into bloody disintegration.
While we have a spiritual obligation to pray the good Lord, whose mighty arm scatters the proud-hearted, to scatter those with wicked intentions towards Nigeria, we Nigerians have an ineluctable intellectual and moral obligation to interrogate both the politician who is decamping and the one who is not: who among our politicians truly loves Nigeria? Who, among them, is like Brutus? Who among them can truly say he or she, unlike Brutus, is not merely pretending to love Nigeria?
Prior to Julius Caesar, the Ides of March, the 15th day of March, was not notoriously significant. It was a day of religious observances, a day of settling all debts. Next year’s elections will be like a day when all debts owed Nigerians by politicians will have to be settled. All the promises made in 2015, all the posturing by politicians on both sides of the political aisle must be verified as kept or broken. Nigerians must vote according to their conscience. If there are politicians who have not kept their promise, if there are politicians leading our beloved country into perdition, Nigerians must consider if it would be in our interest, and in the interest of Nigerians yet unborn, to leave governance in the hands of such people.
Nigeria, like Caesar, must beware of the Ides of March. We have been witnessing politically inspired violence by Boko Haram. We have also seen how Nigerians in the states of the middle belt are slaughtered by armed herdsmen. While the issues of Boko Haram and murderous herdsmen are yet to be given the attention they deserve, making refugees of some Nigerians on their homeland, we continue to read disturbing news of importation of arms to Nigeria. Previous importations have come and gone without any conviction or sanction. We ask, as we have been doing: who are those importing arms into Nigeria? Are they ghosts? What is government doing about them? Why is it that some Nigerians kill other Nigerians with impunity? Why is it that those who masterminded the highly treasonable act of armed invasion of the National Assembly are yet to be identified, apprehended and arraigned before the courts? The build-up to the 2019 elections gives the impression that some people are out to destroy Nigeria.
It is said that while all lizards lie on their bellies we know not which one is experiencing stomach ache. Similarly, all our politicians claim to be acting in the interest of Nigeria and even accuse their opponents of serving only their selfish interests. But do we really know who among our politicians is not acting against the interests of Nigeria? Across party lines, some politicians want to remain in power at all costs, while some others want to get them out of power at all costs. They do not mind what will happen to Nigeria, provided their ego is satisfied, their hunger for power assuaged. They want power so that they and their friends and allies will gain access to Nigeria’s wealth to the detriment of Nigerians. Like the proverbial mouse who, unable to eat the nuts would scatter them, our politicians would waste innocent blood to remain in power or to get into power. With this in mind, are we still asking about the identity of clandestine importers of arms into Nigeria?
No true lover of Nigeria would want to drag this country into bloodshed. Yet, we have a frightening situation in our hands. Politicians form and arm their militia every election season. Is it then a coincidence that, whenever an election season approaches, many of our unemployed youths are armed, dressed in funny uniforms, and sent to the highways and byways of this country to extort money from motorists at gunpoint all in the name of collecting money for sundry car stickers? Are we not looking at a situation where campaign funds are being raised from extortion by state and local governments that hire and arm touts to terrorize Nigerians in the immoral act of multiple taxations? Not only SARS, these touts too must be disbanded.
Almost all our politicians profess belief in God. But, just as they pretend to love Nigeria, they pretend to love God, treating God with contempt by treating Nigerians with contempt. They have no regard for morality. Like Brutus, who pretended to love Caesar, they pretend to love each other. But in their consistency with Machiavellian tactic, they have neither permanent friends nor permanent enemies but permanent interests. Their membership of political parties is contingent on their selfish interests. That is why, whether or not they decamp does not affect the price of garri in the market. They would not blink before killing each other, before acting in ways that are inimical to the security of the average Nigerian.
Our politicians forget that, one day, we will all stand before God’s throne of judgement to give an account of our stewardship here on earth. They forget there will be a dies irae die illa — day of anger, day of wrath—when all will be summoned by the Judge of unimpeachable verdict. It will be their Ides of March, when grandstanding and insolence of presidential and gubernatorial media spokespersons will be utterly unhelpful. For while propaganda may grant access to power, it grants no access to the kingdom of heaven.
Beyond the deceitful and murderous pseudo-statesmen, Nigeria deserves the best. So, we must discard the stubborn myth that any politician is indispensable. This country, richly blessed, has competent and wise persons who can navigate her out of the embarrassingly dubious distinction of the poorest rich nation on earth.
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We must hold every political office holder and contender to an uncompromisingly rigorous standard. This is not the time to vote on ethnic, religious or regional lines. This is the time to vote on past records of public service. Let us not cast our votes for those who have ruined, are ruining and will ruin this country. Nigerians must beware of the Ides of March. We are still watching!
Cardinal Okogie is emeritus Archbishop of Catholic Archdiocese of Lagos