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The Limits Of Iconoclasm


IconoclasmTHERE is a sense in which the purveyor or seeker after truth gets destroyed by the truth that he seeks. Icarius, whose father, Deadalus, made him wings of feathers and wax so they could both escape from Crete, disobeyed instructions not to fly too near the sun. The wax melted and he was drowned. Daedalus buried his body on the island afterwards called Icaria and part of the Aegian round it was known as the Icarian sea. The story of Icarius has been interpreted in many ways, but always with the symbol or metaphor of soaring aspirations. For Phillipe Destouches, the 18th century French poet, Icarius was “en spirit glorieux”.

The charm and allure of old are always or often taken for granted by the hero. The public perception of his honour, sense of self-lessness or self-immolation in which garb he has been adorned fades with time or inexorably. He is however dismissive of matters or issues that potentially imperil his sterling qualities or abort his continuing heroic or epic exploits. A defiant sense of déjà vu eggs him on. “Iku odo ni np’omuwe”.

Caught in the throes of his tracks, our hero mumbles in staccato giddiness. His logic fails him even as he amateurishly employs the lingo of powerful, bare-faced looters just to re-position his squeaky clean image. He waxes in argumentum ad hominem: “Come and arrest me, if you dare.” We, the hapless on-lookers, are now confronted with a grim irony; the otherwise easy recognition of a reality different from the masking appearance is now made difficult. The ironic imprint of a saint among rascals stares us glumly in the face. “Se ooto ni?”, we query in utter disbelief. The characters in this play of up-turned wits speak or use words which mean one thing to them but have foreboding meaning to those of us who understandably are the victims – we, the poor tax payers or burden bearers of their inanities.

Our hero needs no rehabilitation nor does he require to seek relevance. He is properly steadied in our psyche or lexicon. His civic appropriateness as a disquieting spirit or as a disturbing presence among us particularly in moments of state infringement of personal liberty, of the restriction of fundamental human rights or of the abeyance of the rule of law is writ large. He has no need of hobnobbing or ingratiating with “nattering nabobs of negativity” for relevance.

It is this moral dilemma that we attempt to explore here. Even as justice is canvassed to be the first condition of humanity and the right to associate with all manner of men and women a canon of our grundnorm, noblesse oblige will continue to interpret as a desirable social virtue particularly in a situation of palpable social and economic in-equalities and of objective tension. More poignantly, we are enjoined or encouraged not to be equally yoked with them whose aim or purpose regarding our state-society relations is at dismal variance with our own deep-seated avowal of propriety, normative patterns or the centrality of justice in the affairs of men.

Our expertise, our skill, or our honed hands-on experience may be deployed but not for the benefit of temporary power wielders but to the redeeming fortune of a society that ignorantly despises her 1st Eleven but seeks refuge in or is content with shifting compromises and in inept performance by self-appointed managers.

Even as politicians may lie or be capricious, or mindlessly exaggerate their claim; or as documents in dockets or vouchers may mis-state the obvious or be long or short in elective details, we as ordinary folks are to be wary or conscious of the objective of their respective intendment.

Their common object is not to present their material as it is to the objective observer but as it is seen or felt to be by themselves. Their object is to befuddle the fact; and to that extent all verities are side-lined – anyone, even the iconic, could be compromised.

The artist, the social critic, the scholar (all of them endangered species) must be acutely aware of their primus position in society which position renders them open to be courted, used and discarded by state power. They are not loved but merely endured. Little wonder that in times of giddy change of the reins of government, they and their art are bludgeoned or whipped into the gulag or driven into the cold or icy hands of exile – even as creeping evil at home continues to threaten collective or individual liberty.

A sumptuous dinner even in the manner of a royal reception the magnitude that allegedly gulped a whopping N82.2 million in the books is the locus classicus or an unflattering addition to our catalogue of hogwash by which the nation has been buffeted on all sides in recent times. Our own private worry or concern is the facile connection or linkage of the name of our icon with the dis-reputable public reception or what amounts in the main to an unmitigated lie or hocus – pocus.
Rotimi-John, a lawyer and commentator on public affairs, contributed this piece from Abuja via

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