Petals of blood and the vampire society
“Let is be noted/For posterity/ That when the demons of night/ Walked the streets of our land/ In broad day light/ I did not acquiesce/ I did not sit on the fence / I did not recede/ Into guilty silence/ I did not surrender/ To apathy and despondency/ I did not renounce my calling/ No, not for one moment/ I vehemently opposed/ The death wish/ That ruled our motherland/ I consistently rejected/ The dance of death/ That was in vogue/ I solidly resisted/ The attraction/ Of the sordid pleasure/ Offered by the gladiators/ With all the resources at my disposal/ I cried out from the pulpit/ I groaned from the classroom/ I lamented in newspaper articles/ I agonized in friendly letters/ And I protested in casual conversations/ I did not keep silent.”
George Ehusani, ‘Protestation (V)’ in Petals of Truth, 1998.
At the height of the ravages and rampages of military rule in Nigeria, there arose a powerful social prophet, a Catholic priest of fiery spirit, Rev. Fr. George Ehusani, who bestrode our climes, creatively using his imagination and originality of ideas, and combining the facilities of trenchant prosaic and poetic penmanship to help us make sense of our national predicaments. From his poetic trilogy, Fragments of Truth, Petals of Truth, and Flames of Truth, to his prosaic collection of riveting newspaper articles and essays, Nigeria: Years Eaten by the Locusts, and his robust critique of the silent acquiescence and sometimes willing collaboration of the religious establishment in the corruption and moral decay in the land, A Prophetic Church, Fr. George aroused the conscience of a nation and contributed immensely in setting her on the path of eventual redemption.
Whenever I am overwhelmed, cast down and broken in spirit on account of the barrage of critical human and moral challenges facing us as a nation, it is usually to his over a dozen books that I turn to draw strength, courage, and inspiration. Anyone who picks up any of Fr. George’s works written over a decade ago and reads them today will be amazed by his sheer wit and prescience. To use the language of clairvoyance, he epitomises in himself the biblical oracle of the man with far seeing eyes. He had the foresight to know what would befall us if we failed to pull our country back from the precipice, from the brink of disaster. Sadly today, it does appear that we have crossed the Rubicon of catastrophe.
After 17 years since the end of military rule and the inauguration of democratic self-governance, we seem not to have really moved forward as a nation. The more things change the more they tend to remain the same. Daily orgies of violence, bloodbath, savage brutality and barbarous inhumanity have become our lot as a nation. Respect for the sacredness and inviolability of human life has reached its lowest ebb. From rampaging squads of “kill and go” herdsmen who sack, pillage and burn down entire villages, restive and bloodthirsty youth-turned-religious-zealots who harp on a distorted monotheism to claim a divine warrant for murder by hacking to death anyone suspected of blaspheming their faith, roving armies of armed-to-the-teeth kidnappers and robbers who systematically liquidate human life in broad daylight, irate mob who preside over the dispensation of jungle justice with a petrol-soaked tyre jammed round the neck of an alleged thief, to insurgents who continue to amuse themselves with the blood of hapless citizens, Nigeria remains an expansive theatre of anarchy, blood, and death.
On a daily basis on social media, we are constantly inundated per second with harrowing images and heart-wrenching videos of violent brutality taking place in different parts of our nation. These orgies of human barbarity and savagery, which defy every rational explanation, have facilitated the speedy descent of our country in the league of the top 10 Africa’s most dangerous trouble spots. The impression is fast spreading today that Nigeria is a country where human life, like in the Hobbesian state of nature, is solitary, poor, brutal, nasty, and short. Even by globally accepted standards of healthcare, Nigeria is a mortal state where multiple deaths, on account of diseases and sicknesses that the rest of the world defeated many decades ago, still hold sway with infinite pride and inchoate randomness. We now struggle to wriggle ourselves out of the hands of competing forces of life and death. With the monumental loss of human lives in instalments, it would appear that we are already on the battlefield of a second quiet civil war.
What is it about the psyche of a people that can make them descend to such an abysmal level of bestiality? Modern psychology has discovered that when a person loses the sense of the meaning or purpose of his life, he is susceptible to the infection of thinking that the lives of other people do not matter too. Sadly, on account of the collapse of values and the broken state of our society, an epidemic of hopelessness, helplessness and meaninglessness continues to blight the lives of millions of young people, making them willing tools and combustible materials for social explosion. When the children of our nation are planning their funerals instead of their future, it is a sure sign that as a society we have missed our way.
Besides, as a nation we have had a long history of being a violent society. The pattern of violence is all too clear from the crisis that plagued the immediate post-independence era of our nation: the bloody military coups and counter-coups, and the daredevil daylight robberies of the 1980s and 1990s that met with the superior firepower of police might. Condemned criminals were executed by firing squads in brutal ways that were regularly beamed from the bar beach to the heart of our living rooms. All of these made us susceptible and exposed to the psychopathologies of a violent society that made a plaything out of human lives. Does anyone wonder why the first generation of Nollywood movies focused on this violent characterisation of our life?
Ojeifo is a Catholic priest of the Archdiocese of Abuja.