Power intoxicates men- those who exercise the coercive power of the state,
force others to serve their will through threats and domination, and who proclaim themselves as giants, centaurs, emperors, Leviathans, divinities and Dominus homines- men who play God.
We are minions in their eyes- lesser men and women, mortals who must bow and worship at their feet.
Power isn’t Paraga, nor is it Sepe- herbal concoctions brewed with ogogoro in the backyards of our streets, in the hideous joint of Iya Mushin, in the riotous precincts of motor parks, in bustling cities and towns, and in brothels where bodies succumb to seductive impulses the same way they succumb to the intoxicating effects of Paraga and Sepe- but it has the same intoxicating power as the herbal concoctions.
I exaggerate the intoxicating effects a little here.
Though the intoxicating effects of power, Paraga and Sepe are similar, they are also different. The intoxication of power doesn’t result in PUSH-ME-I-PUSH-YOU moments for the power drunk.
A drunk fella is powerless when Paraga or Sepe takes hold. In his moment of powerlessness, he alone makes faint sense of the push and the shove of what takes hold of him, he alone knows the song of the lonely road that leads home, and he alone knows how to befriend sidewalks, piazzas, gutters and the wicked stares of passersby- in his own way- his way of knowing- in his state of powerlessness. Our drunk fella will invariably recover from the Paraga or Sepe that takes hold of him.
A drunk fella is a threat to himself. He has no power to deploy in his drunken state. He exercises no authority while he remains the canvas upon which Paraga or Sepe imprints its horrors.
Not so for those holders of power, power drunk, presumptuous and self-conceited,
for whom power is a sadistic tool, for whom power is the choicest weapon of vendetta.
The holders of power, enamored by the trappings of power, enchanted by its glory, conscious of the paradise of happiness power secures for them, don’t need to cavort the streets, they own them. The streets are named after them. Their faces are imprinted on every sidewalk. They possess power in their state of drunkenness. They seldom recover from the intoxication of power. They issue orders and impose their will on men, times and places. They don’t take any sass from lesser men and women. They don’t befriend them- they simply draw from the absolute setting of power to trample on, hurt and maim poor folks until they are helped out of their miseries.
Yet their philosophy totalizes power.
Power holders who exercise coercive power are threats to mankind.
In their moments of “total sinking into a conceited individuality, the blind engagement in a gross narcissistic theatre”, as Uthman Shodipe brilliantly puts it, they imperil society by foisting an artificial order on abused humanity in pursuit of happiness.
Our times have seen power holders who corner the communal commons for their grand palaces, and who siren commuters out of the way into the hard shoulders of highways and into their painful death.
Festus Iyayi wasn’t lucky. He died “where power decrees life and death, voiding hope, instituting fear, swelling in all the arbitrary complements of existence”.
Certainly our times have seen and still see sadistic holders of power, those who have unrestricted passion for evil, who measure life, time and space by their own values, who seek the destruction of the human will, and who ensure that citizens are driven hither and thither by fear and unrestrained power.
Who would forget that governor who allegedly slapped his deputy? Or that other governor who told a poor widow to go and die?
Here, and in this era, absolute power presents itself as two sad metaphors of corruption. First, as a metaphor of absolutism, of power which promotes the holders above and beyond the people, which makes the holders what they are: emperors who subvert the collective will of the people.
Second, as a metaphor of the end justifies the means and of that ultimate purpose of power, achieved only by sacrificing lives.
Think: what ultimate purpose (s) were lives sacrificed during the Rivers state rerun?
The deaths in Rivers weren’t strange. Of a truth our towns and cities are besieged by merchants of death, grim reapers who turn the streets into torture chambers, homes into the antechambers of grief. Take a look.
“Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men, even when they exercise influence and not authority; still more when you superadd the tendency or certainty of corruption by authority”, Lord Acton of Aldenham wrote in his letter to Archbishop Creighton. Lord Acton is right.
When holders of power exercise the absolute power of power, poor folks become vulnerable to coercion and undue influence. Their relentless spirits are suppressed, supplanted by fear, by violence, and by silence. The spirits become docile.
Absolute power suppresses healthy and natural things- artistic endeavors, enterprise and industry- and amplifies the worst in humanity.
It is for this reason that Nero fiddled while Rome burned. It is for this reason that humanity experienced the atrocities of Sani Abacha, Pol Pot, Papa Doc Duvalier, Ferdinard Marcus, Kamuzu Banda, Mobutu Sese Seko and George Pullman.
It is certainly for this reason that activist-politicians who yesterday were eager to change the course of history are today flawed characters, hypocritical bitches inside governments.
The trappings of power, the enchanting glory of power, the absolute power of power, make our yesterday’s heroes bad men when they are in positions of power.
Professor Peter Schraeder provides greater clarity to the points I have advanced here. In his book, ‘African Politics and Society’, he provides four fundamental reasons for the corruption of power, the chief of which are: one, the destruction of the constitutional basis of government through the removal of tenure limits ( See ‘Africa’s Democratic Recession is Here’ published in this column on Friday 4th March, 2016) and the erosion of the accountability framework of governance. Two, the harassment, intimidation and imprisonment of critics and opposition figures. There are two purposes that suffice for the second reason. First, the desire to silence critics and second, to personalize power, in order to consolidate the hold on power.
Schraeder captures the personalization of power this way: “The system is based on a series of concentric circles of patron-client relationships in which the leader at the centre of the system… is exalted in this system through a delicate combination of charisma and the provision of economic and political patronage”. Need I say more?
Charisma and patronage are never enough to command loyalty to the leader or to exalt power holders above their stations. Often times, the army, police and other repressive apparatuses of the state are mobilized to command loyalty and to compel exaltation.
Does anyone wonder why a cadet deployed her power on a helpless citizen who merely complimented her beauty? Does anyone wonder why the army is implicated in the electioneering process? Why private citizens mobilize soldiers to defend what clearly does not constitute the territorial integrity of the state?
A brief remark here on the Rivers rerun.
For anything, the violence unleashed during the Rivers rerun points to the wrong road our country is traveling. My worry is the way the electoral umpire is consistently ambushed and exposed by absolute power of power that seeks to subvert the electoral order to secure Pyrrhic victories. In Kogi, Bayelsa and Rivers states, absolute and totalizing power made the heavy work of Professor Mahmud Yakubu, Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) heavier, thus throwing spanner in the works of a man who has shown the desire to deliver free, fair and peaceful elections to a conflicted country.
Power intoxicates those who serve themselves, who command loyalty through threat and coercion. Power is transient. Power doesn’t last forever, certainly not that which corrupts the power drunk, not the intoxicating effects, and not the Paraga or Sepe!
When absolute power corrupts and the people break their chains, loosen their tongues, to confront naked power in the streets, “we must hear the distant roar of battle”, Foucault suggests.
I don’t know if he is right. What do you think?
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