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The handwriting on the wall

The handwriting on the wall

By Hassan Gimba

I sniff anarchy on the horizon. And to the discerning mind, the handwriting is bold on the wall. “The handwriting on the wall” is an English expression used whenever an inevitable result or imminent danger has become, or is becoming, apparent, a presentiment of disaster, in our case, anarchy. It is also expressed as “mene mene”, a shortened form of the Aramaic phrase “mene mene tekel upharsin”.

It originated from the story of Belshazzar’s feast (Daniel 5) in the Old Testament. The Muslims call the Old Testament al-Injil (Injila). Though some scholars recognise it as a work of historical fiction, we are more concerned with moral teaching.

According to exegeses, and to cut the story short, Belshazzar was indulging in drunken revelry and debasing sacred temple vessels by using them as wine goblets when a disembodied hand wrote ‘mene mene tekel upharsin’ on the palace wall.

Literally, the expression seemed to mean ‘two minas, a shekel and two parts’ or ‘numbered, weighed, divided’. None of this meant much to Belshazzar, who decided that he needed further interpretation and sent for the Jewish exile, Daniel. Daniel’s interpretation, as recorded in the first understood English version of the Bible, the King James Version, 1611, was:

MENE: God hath numbered thy kingdom and finished it.

TEKEL: Thou art weighed in the balances, and art found wanting.

PERES: Thy kingdom is divided, and given to the Medes and Persians.

Daniel told Belshazzar that the message was a sign of his downfall. Later that night Belshazzar was killed and Darius of Persia took over his kingdom. Some put his death at 539 BCE when Babylon fell to the Persians

The kernel of the tale was that Belshazzar couldn’t understand the warning that was apparent to others because he was steeped in his sinful ways.

What is playing out in Nigeria now is “writing on the wall” for the onset of anarchy. We are witnessing the rise of non-state actors doing what the state should do, depicting a failure of intelligence agencies and the lackadaisical attitude of the government. I am here not talking of mass terrorism like Boko Haram, OPC, MEND or the Niger Delta militants at one time. Neither am I alluding to the unmitigated rise in banditry or the runaway menace of kidnapping. No, because these are cases of law and order, seen the world over, to be dealt with by the security agencies.

But what is most worrisome now is how the government looks like it is on sabbatical while brigands run the show. The South West, a region not too long ago held by the jugular by one Gani Adams, who it has crowned its official Warlord, is now about to be in the pincer-like grip of an original political thug, Sunday Igboho. He now runs the show, giving communities ultimatum and letting loose his goons on others while the government lets him.

I watched a video clip in which his boys “arrested” two soldiers and two civilians, labelling them as spies for the government even though some irresponsible blogs said they came to attack him. The South West, with all its eggheads, sophistication and political sagacity is falling in line behind him and, like Adams, sees him as a hero.

Guerrilla method of attack is now rearing its head in the South East with the formation of the Eastern Security Network by Nnamdi Kanu, another non-state actor. Recently, “unknown gunmen” have been attacking police stations, burning police and military vehicles and killing operatives, including prison warders.

When Kanu formed the ESN just after the #EndSARS protests, the government did not view it with the seriousness it deserved. Security agents should have viewed that as a threat because it is on record that he wanted to take over and turn the protests into something bloody. He called on his people to kill police officers anywhere they found them. With his rambling cry of “mad people everywhere” swallowed as an anthem by his shallow-minded followers, Kanu’s diatribe, though, helped in dousing the flames of the protests.

However, that was in Lagos. Now in the East, with thousands of frustrated youths who have lost hope in any good life the way the country is being run, it will be a walk-in for anarchy. Thousands have been drilled in the ways of the army, from videos made available on social media, and when unleashed on the nation, our overstretched army may not cope. Therefore the isolated cases of attacks on our security agents should not be seen as normal or swept under the carpet. That was how Boko Haram started. Anarchy lurks on the horizon.

Or do we wait, arms akimbo, eyes wide open yet afflicted with the twin diseases of myopia and hyperopia until they make the South East a hell for recognised authorities? Do we realise the region is a candidate for anarchy, and the turmoil to be witnessed may dwarf what happened in the North East, the effects of which still ail us?

We must fear Nigeria’s gradual descent into anarchy. Anarchy, from Greek, meaning “without a leader”, is a word that has over one meaning. But one of its meanings is: When there is no leader, or when nobody has power over everyone; when there is no political order, and there is confusion.” Jim Dodge, a contemporary American novelist and poet, thought that anarchy doesn’t mean out of control; it means out of their (government’s) control.

Anarchy sets in when a government is insensitive to the yearnings of the people, when a few appropriate everything to their benefits, when a majority lose hope in having a good life or confidence in the leaders and those at the top appear to be above the law. It is an added catalyst when a government appears to be unfocused, losing grip of situations, especially security and economy.

George Washington, America’s first president, once said that “if the laws are to be so trampled upon with impunity, and a minority is to dictate to the majority, there is an end put at one stroke to republican government, and nothing but anarchy and confusion is to be expected thereafter.”

The writing on the wall is ominous. Yet there is still hope.

Every government elected on a party’s platform is to be guided by the party’s manifesto, because that was what made the people vote for it. In the early part of President Muhammadu Buhari’s government, a lot of mileage and goodwill was squandered because of the lack of focus of his party. Infighting, ego peddling and the rat race for self-service turned the All Progressives Congress into a rudderless ship in a roaring sea.

However, with the party’s executive council dissolved and with the appointment of a provisional executive committee under the management of Mai Mala Buni, the Yobe State governor, the party has stabilised and recovered its mettle, developing into a sort of beautiful bride being solicited by politicians of every hue.

We can understand that there are many things from the government that have happened for the benefit of Nigerians that would not have been so if not for the focus the party now has and its interface with the government and its various arms.

This is one reason that a growing number of political observers think many of the security challenges Nigeria is experiencing would have faded away with a character like Buni in the core business of governance.

The way the APC, without intimidation, now talks with one voice from ward levels up to the national stage is an accomplishment, no doubt. It shows a unifying, consolidating and focused leader at work.

But not so for the government, which can be likened to a meeting of individuals on a tower with each speaking in tongues. There is no synergy between the security agencies; backstabbing one another was a pastime. Ministries counteracted each other and government representatives speak to deny later. It is a scenario where each man is to himself and God for all of us. The citizens as a result have become suspicious of government, trust broken. And unfortunately the country and the poor citizens suffer more than should be the case.

Officials conduct government business as if there is no clearinghouse, philosophy or direction. Daily we face problems of governance staring at us starkly, the good intentions of the president not getting fulfilled. We should not continue to bury our heads in the sand like the ostrich; we should have people who can right the ship of state in the day-to-day running of national affairs at the helm.

Otherwise, a thousand writings on the wall would be unrecognized, with no value attached even if looked at.

Hassan Gimba

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