By Tochukwu Ezukanma
If you look into the mirror and see dirt on your face, you clean your face and leave the mirror alone. Even, if you choose to ignore the dirt on your face, as revealed by the mirror, you still do not bother the mirror. For, in revealing the smear on your face, the mirror only did its work. To pick a quarrel with the mirror for showing dirt on your face and to proceed to break it will smack of lunacy. In politics and public life, the opposition and critics are our mirrors. Like the mirror, they reveal to us things about ourselves that we may never get to know on our own. In doing so, they are doing their jobs, which are of immeasurable importance to the public good. To persecute the opposition and critics is tantamount to fighting and breaking the mirror.
In his book, “Remembering America”, a onetime aide to President John F. Kennedy, Richard Goodwin, wrote that: straight out of law school, he worked for a Supreme Court judge, Felix Frankfurter. Frequently, Frankfurter told him about his opinions on the different legal issues he debated with the other judges of the Supreme Court.
And, for the most part, he agreed with Frankfurter’s positions on the legal debates. Frankfurter demurred, saying, “I did not get one of the best graduating students of the Harvard Law School to agree with me on every issue. I want you to disagree with me. I want you to argue with me.”
Frankfurter was one of the greatest legal minds of the 20th Century and, like most great minds, he appreciated the immense good a mirror – criticism or dissenting view – does for a man. For his own good, he needed to see his reflection through the fecund mind of a distinctly brilliant and youthfully idealistic, fresh law school graduate. Mahatma Gandhi made a similar point when he wrote: “Through such dialogues, systems of knowledge are both challenged and enriched.” Dialogues come from contending views and systems of knowledge include ideas, beliefs, institutions etc.
The most successful countries of the world are the Western democracies, where respect and tolerance for divergent views made possible the continuous challenging and enriching of human ideas, ideals and standards. On the other hand, history has furnished the instructive precedence that those that fight the mirror tend to always bring trouble on themselves and their peoples. One of the most barbaric fighters of the mirror in history was Adolf Hitler. He was in Warsaw to celebrate a military victory. On that day at Warsaw, he ranted and raved, as he trumpeted his achievements. At a point he bellowed, “I am indispensable. I will, therefore, tolerate no opposition. I will, therefore, spare no effort in liquidating any opposition.” He was indispensable, and will therefore tolerate no mirror, and will therefore fight the mirror and break it. Less than six years after his Warsaw swash, millions of Germans laid dead, the whole Germany laid in ruins and Hitler took his own life.
With military intrusion into Nigerian politics, a prodigy – a sensation with a streak of oddity – emerged at Enugu. The Oxford-educated son of a multi-millionaire personified the Igbo’s concept of success – knowledge and wealth – but paradoxically, was a soldier, a profession that, as of then, commanded little respect amongst the Igbo. He was reputedly a dashing, sybaritic playboy but the aura about him revealed nothing self-indulgent or frolicsome. He looked subdued, solemn and even melancholic.
His melancholic bearded face made him look as though he was sorrowing, may be sorrowing for the recent death of his father and the thousands of Igbo and the other peoples of Eastern Nigeria mass-murdered in Northern Nigeria. The canard that trailed him was that of a swank, arrogant narcissist but his calm demeanor, reflective mien and two arms clasped behind the back, gave him the look of a broody, selfless crusader acutely conscious of the enormous responsibility thrust upon him by the unfurling political events of the time.
With his words hesitant and his cadence measured, he was seemingly reticent but could soar into electrifying oratory. His spellbinding oratory inspired his people to sacrifice, selflessness and self-reliance. They built air strips and refineries (and refined their own petrol), and manufactured their own guns, rockets, bombs and land mines. His intoxicating blend of centrifugal nationalism and determined optimism got them believing they could achieve extraordinary, if not, impossible feats. They believed that their ill-fed, ill-clad and ill-equipped army could traverse three hundred miles of tortuous and treacherous terrains and capture Lagos. Although outgunned, cornered and ravaged by hunger, they still believed that their victory over Nigeria was not only possible but imminent.
Chukwuemeka Ojukwu was a great leader but he had a serious problem, he fought the mirror. He suppressed alternate, opposing and dissenting views. He refused to see himself and his stance reflected through the circumspect minds of the elderly, knowledgeable and experienced. He discouraged his father’s visits to the State House because his father had alternate views, he counseled restraint. He punished and discredited the Igbo political elite, most notably, Nnamdi Azikiwe, because they opposed or criticized his positions and methods. Finally, Ojukwu went into exile, while, the erstwhile Biafra land, overwhelmed by death, devastation, pains and sorrow, laid powerless and helpless at the mercy of Yakubu Gowon.
The secessionist activist, Nnamdi Kanu, believes that he is the Chukwuemeka Ojukwu of the time. Unfortunately for him, he lacks the essentials of Ojukwu: knowledge, powerful ego, oratorical grace and riveting presence. But, terrifyingly, like Ojukwu, he fights the mirror. He tolerates no criticism and countenances no opposing view. He is heedless of the advice, and ridicules the views, of Igbo traditional and political leaders. He insults Igbo kings, disrespects Igbo governors and threatens fire and brimstone on anyone that disagrees with his objectives and methods.
Ezukanma writes from Lagos