Sunday, 4th June 2023

A bright moment in history

By Uthman Shodipe
16 June 2016   |   3:10 am
June 8, 1998. It was the day the tyrant fell, cut down by the great leveler; humbled by the eternal satirical truth that cannot be hindered by the flourish of the bayonet or dissuaded by the bristling sentinel ...


June 8, 1998. It was the day the tyrant fell, cut down by the great leveler; humbled by the eternal satirical truth that cannot be hindered by the flourish of the bayonet or dissuaded by the bristling sentinel of a million praetorian guards. It will not yield to the appeal of fortune nor submit to the entreaties of the pious. It overwhelms both the rich and the poor, the mighty and the lowly with equal abruptive terminal sanction.

And so the tyrant fell like all mortals, validating the transient stretch of all human passages, affirming the unchangeable cordon of human limitations. But unlike every other normal passage that must provoke a passion of woe, that must prompt the tempering of mournful piety, that must force  the shuddering of misery and the sobering contemplative reverence of the fallen symbol – alas there  was no such nudging of grief anywhere. There was no halted instance in brooding withdrawal. There was no poignant air of the least sympathetic bearing. There was no murmur of some painful loss. There was no despair. There were no tears. Here the tyrant’s tumble and fall into the abject grave was heralded with derisive cymbals and drums.

Everywhere, the land broke out in sweeping relief and in huge moral triumph. From the most distant hamlet in the famished expanses of the Sahelian savannah to the furthest reaches of the urban centers, there was that raucous release of immediate hurrah, the fervent outpouring of unrehearsed celebration, the uniform tumult of gaiety signposting a national liberation from the grim lock of a despotic captivity. It may appear cruel and unholy that a man’s death should be greeted with joy and the mustering venom of vivid excoriation.

A normal transition is often about a subdued reflection of the human journey, a chastening reminder of the inevitability of our common terminus. It is often about the sobering instructive moral of the human course upon this ephemeral frame. It is never about the contempt for the fallen. It is never about the vile dismissive ill-treatment of the subject of the grave.

But despots fall justifiably into the exception of the norm. They invariably occupy a dark and terrible hiatus in the continuity of the human stretch. They are the hideous cordon hobbling the normative pattern, souring our spectacle with all the monstrous enormities far beyond enlightened comprehension. In destroying civilised standards and in the savaging of progressive concepts, despots deny themselves the tempering engagement of the rule of law, thereby distorting the tolerance of the people, instilling a toxic resentment and the desperate grasping for retaliatory recourse at any given opportunity.

We witnessed this at the lynching of Benito Mussolini when the Italian underground rose in vengeance and fury and hurled the Duce and his consort into a public execution in Mezzegra on the distant outpost of northern Italy. With his nation in ruin and plunged into chaotic forfeiture by decades of fascist iron-rule which subverted the rule of law and enthroned the murderous malice of the goon-squad, the savaged and weary Italians broke out in gleeful orgy and bacchanalian dance, lashing out in relief and anger at the strung out remains of a mutilated tyrant upon a Milanese lamppost.

There was no regret about this passage. None recoiled in sympathetic emblem. The condemnatory consensus rang in every heart, coalescing in a national applause, saluting the dispatch of a ruinous arbiter. While the local despot escaped the lash of public annihilation, he could not avoid the resultant opprobrium and the poisonous denunciation that graced his end.

The outpouring of relief and salutary inclination were swift and fast. The pronounced gaiety that followed the tyrant’s passage was instinctive and thorough, stripped of any artificial prodding. It was as natural as an eructating volcano, gushing out from the pent up helplessness and misery, the long vitiated spirit, trampled into enfeebled cowering by the assault of the wicked.

It was a passage that gave life to the bedraggled and the defeated. It woke up a certain renewal of purpose and the rousing quest for new possibilities.

In this extinction, in this forfeiture and disgrace, others perceive the brightness of a new dawn; the resuscitative kindling of another attempt to rebuild the broken places, to heal the shattered lives and move forward with revamped vision and clarity.

In this, the natural mockery of any tyrant’s fall is not latched to some remote satisfaction of an alien philosophy of existence. No. It is as personal as the pangs and bruises of common sufferings and mutual fears. It is as intimate as the inflicted horrors of absolute powers which could sanction complete destruction or the hapless savagery of endless detention in some forbidden hole beneath the shadows of civility. Thus, in rising in fury and storm against the memory of a dead tormentor, there is a sincere personal triumph, the guiltless yielding to self-satisfaction, the resolute scream that the ordeal is over, the chest-beating attestation that the evil is finally conquered.

Indeed, there is nothing more natural and more valid than the rioting outburst upon the grave of the hideous. To withdraw into indifferent silence and dormancy is to accentuate personal defeat and unwittingly prolong and give life to an already vanquished tenure. It is to occupy an uncertain middle ground of blurred, undefined horizon. It is as if one is freighted with neither victory nor defeat, eclipsed in a benumbing twilight zone of infinite shadows.

The sanctioning gesture must be heard far beyond the grave. The rattle of relief and the severance drama from captivity must be pronounced not only to effectuate a victory but to announce a defeat, to enforce the ancient wisdom that no lie can live forever. The local tyrant was a grim lie woven in brutal, unforgiven attestations. He was wrapped in an aberrant ghoulish largeness that stamped out all dissent in murderous immediacy.

A short, taciturn figure who ruled behind a dark-goggled veil, he glowered upon the world with inscrutable venom and a confounding toxic fixity. He was enveloped in dark, unlovable, scarifying presence. His visage rankled with primitive hideousness, a barely eclipsed terrifying resolve that endured no oppositional platform that banished all dissenting articulations with the bayonet.

He wielded the truncheon and the sword with brute unfeeling, hovering everywhere with haunting perversity. From state sponsored terror bombings to sanctioned assassinations, he reduced the nation to a hellish gulag where fundamental rights were unknown, where rampant detentions and unsolved murders defined the tenure of power. The tyrant was far above the courts, far above any legal codifications. He reposed alone in solitary verminous largeness, destructive of everything without hindrance.

It is with this perspective of gore and unhindered violence that his eventual mortal exit invariably signified a victory over an aberrant rule, a triumph of the just over the rampage of evil, a bright moment in a vitiated history.