And it came to pass that on the 22nd day of the fourth month in the year 2020 in the midst of COVID-19 pandemic, Governor Dave Umahi of Ebonyi State transformed into an emperor. A full-fledged imperial ruler of the order of King Nebuchadnezzar, the powerful but despicable king of Babylon (circa 605 BC). And he proclaimed himself King of Ebonyi with unlimited power to tame both the rich and the poor. He has ordered mass flogging of the people.
And Emperor Umahi, obviously inebriated with the raw broth of power, beat the gong to make proclamations. He banished journalists from his kingdom. He specifically marked out two journalists, Mr Peter Okutu of Vanguard and Mr. Chijioke Agwu of The Sun. He banished the duo from Government House where he holds court. Their banishment was not temporal. It was for life; forever. Because Emperor Umahi will reign forever. The king was sure his kingship is for life. No one takes the kingdom away from a king cloned in the midst of a viral pandemic.
Umahi is a self-made king. His kingdom is a delusional empire which exists only in his disoriented mind. This is always the fantasy of dictators. They live in an apparition of permanent existence. They think in the long, forever haul. Their mind wobbles in an interminable torrent of ‘I will be here forever.’ But it’s all a figment of their warped imagination. Nebuchadnezzar, Adolf Hitler, Idi Amin, Sani Abacha. These were great dictators, fascists of the first grade. But they all withered like flower, cut to size by the Grand Architect of the Universe who never fails to warn mortal man on the dangers of trying to play God. These men in their prime and at the very peak of their power issued decrees, annexed smaller kingdoms, organized killings and made themselves into gods over men. Yet, they forgot. No man is God. No man lives and reigns forever.
Power is temporal, indeed transient. Use it for the good of humanity: heaven and man record it. Abuse it: not just heaven and man record it, hell joins to document your diary of misdeeds. And this is where I feel for Umahi. He started well as governor but he wants to end as king, an emperor of the despotic hue. He was helped to power by the media. He profited from free press during his campaigns. But the same has turned against the media. He now wants to gag the press. He does not want free press now that he is in power and with power. What a hypocrite! But that is the way of all ingrates. Emperor Umahi is an ingrate. An ingrate uses a ladder to climb but soon kicks away the ladder. He has used the media to ascend his now inglorious throne. He does not need the media anymore. So he thinks in the myopic, parochial aperture of his mind. He’s wrong, very wrong. Soldier will always come and go but the barrack remains. Umahi’s ‘everlasting’ reign will terminate in 2023 and the media will be around to chronicle his deeds and misdeeds.
He promised the two reporters hell should they defy his order. He simply declared them persona non grata in his Ebonyi kingdom. His message was simple and lucid: I, Emperor Umahi, cannot guarantee your security in my kingdom.
It was akin to the ‘worship me or you perish’ charge by King Nebuchadnezzar to the three Hebrew men: Meshack, Shadrack and Abednego. They defied Nebuchadnezzar in a ruthless show of unvarnished faith in their God. And for their defiance, the king dumped them into the fiery furnace. They escaped unsinged, unhurt. Jewish chutzpah and divine protection. The duo of Okutu and Agwu are no Jews of the Judaic order. They belong to the commonwealth of humanity saved by Grace. They need not dare the koboko-wielding emperor of Ebonyi. In this instance and at this moment, wisdom is profitable to direct. The duo should go underground, disappear from the radar of the emperor. Even Baby Jesus, the saviour of the world, had to be hidden in Egypt, away from the mortal rage of King Herod, another dictator cloned in hades who ordered the massacre of the innocent babies. Umahi like all mortals, all despots, will soon fade into the widening umbra of history. His reign as king of Ebonyi will shutter into the bowel of time. Then he would not have the police at his beck and call. His legion of today’s aides may not heed his calls. A time will come when the sound of siren would no longer herald his passage. When even a police corporal would stop him at the gate of the same Government House where he now holds court and issues primeval decrees. He should ask those who have walked this path. Most Nigerian ex-governors cannot enter the same government house where they were once the Lord of the Manor even in cases where they singlehanded installed their successors. Such is the transiency of power and treachery of politics. You can never write a perfect script. Time and interest dictate the script.
It is the duty of the media to bring public officers to account, to set agenda and to bring to the fore an event or episode. The two reporters merely discharged their duties. Reporting military intrusion into a community, a common phenomenon in the South East, and the outbreak of Lassa fever ( a disease that has refused to go away in Nigeria) does not amount to treason or criminal offence in any way. But as is the lot with fascist kings, Umahi believes such should never be reported. Reporting them de-markets him and brings him to public odium. This is the logic of despots. They cannot take criticism no matter how constructive. They are always right, like Napoleon in George Orwell’s Animal Farm.
Umahi, an elected governor said: “If you think you have the pen, we have the koboko. Let’s leave the Court alone. Ebonyi people are very angry with the press and let me warn that I won’t be able to control them or know when they unleash mayhem on you, if you continue to write to create panic in the state.” This is the language of a power-drunk emperor. He wants us to forget the court of law. He is inciting Ebonyi people against the media. It’s the stuff of tyrants. They don’t condone alternative view. They lack the temperament to scrutinise and distil divergent views. I am genuinely worried that an elected governor who at sundry times had used the judiciary to feather his political nest would now ask Ebonyi people to forget the court in relating with and interrogating the media. What has become of yesterday’s gentleman Umahi? Has he been corrupted by power? But no matter, Emperor Umahi should know that he has become a local pandemic in the midst of a global pandemic. This, for the Ebonyi people, is double whammy. And it’s sad. Those who know Emperor Umahi should pray for him. His pastors and priests should intercede intensely. The king sure needs the services of an exorcist. This spell must go away.