By Uthman Shodipe
It was a death that came upon you with searing unbelief. The news intruded on the perceiver with a deep lacerating sign, festering the contents of the soul with a gash of despair. There was that initial paralytic suddenness, the prompt arresting air stifling animation, asphyxiating attentiveness with a thousand mystifications. Alas, in this uniform numbness of mind and perception, nothing was real anymore. And yet nothing was impossible. One yet nothing was impossible. One merely roved on bewildering thoughtlessness, plumbing for some relief, hoping on the negation of the callous truth.
But there was no voiding of reality. There was no banishment of the traffic envelopment. In the deepening of the obvious, in the vivid glare of the truth unfolded, there was a sinking into a solitary bereavement. Here, there was an instant chord of personal loss, the acute sense of a private deprivation.
It was this individualized grief that you observed everywhere, haunting every man of conscience, harassing every man of conscience, harassing the spirit with variegated ponderings, veiling the visages with a sackings, veiling the visages with a sack-cloth. It was a grief that needed no promoting. The reality alone provoked a natural mournful arousal that could not be shared or manufactured. One must be genuinely touched to be infected by the lugubrious impulse.
And it was a grief that transcended any ethnic preserve. It was undistorted by the crass preachment of religion or the perverse colouring of partisan prejudice. It was a grief whose spontaneous universality inevitably defined the commonality of the national fray.
Whereas our grief was common, spurred by the unity of our travails, accentuated by the comprehensive totality of our concerns and dreams, heightened by the choric challenges of the Nigerian union – but there was no such unity in our subsequent responses. While some withdrew into rational sobriety of national hugeness, contemplative of the tragedy in a collective sense, others burst out in a collective sense, other burst out in a rage and ruin, scarifying the nation in rapine and brigandage, in the benighted frenzy of hate.
Pain and anguish are valid measurements of the depths of our grief. They are civilized expressions of the magnitude of our grief. They are civilized expressions of the magnitude of our collective loss. They define the tarnishing severity inherent in our judgment on the passage of Moshood Kashimawo Olawale Abiola. Not so the dismembering rigidity of terror. Not so the infantile seeds of bigotry.
The rallying symbolism of Abiola does not inhere in mere parochial gestures. It does not reside in narrow tribal tableau. No. To restrict Abiola to the constrictive orbit of personal claim is to diminish the new truths. To believe in Abiola as a conceptual paradigm is to believe in the renewal and the re-awakening of the Nigerian nation. For Abiola is about the healing of the broken place. He is the continuous attestation of the hope redeemed, of the wrong rectified. The Abiola appeal gains its instinctive magnetism in the general belief and conviction that the nation is better served in the liberal accommodation of all its constituents, that the nation lives forever in the assuaging candour of its expressiveness, that the nation affirms the legitimacy of its existence in the openness of its character, in its free-willing embrace that guarantees everyone a fair hearing amid the ferment of individual actualization.
In this, Abiola is really more than the fruits of democracy. He is more than the traditional values of equity and balance. He is more than the right of free speech. And he is definitely more than the valid clamour for self determination. He ultimately characterizes the Nigerian oneness; the genuine unity of a people. He eclipses the virulent indices of disintegration. He voids the temptings of the excluded because he embraces all. In the flourish of the Abiola apotheosis, our differences are not sharpened in jaundiced bellicose. Because he neutralizes the residential venom of old, we yet stir in the fullness of plural expressions without the philistine withdrawal into bigotry and demonization. Abiola is our collective avatar.
Thus, if Abiola is established in the grand summative register of a Nigeria redeemed, if Abiola conjures the finest moment of the Union now beleaguered by martial abuse – to oppose Abiola is not to oppose a man. To oppose Abiola is to oppose the Athenian twin notion of parrhesia and isegora (freedom and liberty). To oppose Abiola is to oppose all the critical ingredients inherent in democracy. But more. To oppose Abiola is to oppose the Nigerian union.
Therefore, to affirm Abiola in the language of the past is to signify the death of Nigeria.. Abiola is far beyond the enterprising facility of the English grammar. He is now a living philosophy. More than a name. More than a word. He lives in the eternal verities of the ubiquitous oracle. Such a one cannot really die! Do you not hear him now in the protestation of the trampled, in the screaming holler of the aggrieved? Do you not behold his visage in the clamour of Justice, in the infinite reaches of Equity, in the graces of Liberty? To say such a one is dead is to say hope is futile. To say such a one is dead is to say that we cannot laugh again, that we cannot dream in beatific reference. If Abiola is now dead, if all is now lost in nightmarish perpetuality, if nothing can be reclaimed in an instructive healing metaphor, then surely, Nigeria is a fraud that must soon unravel.
First published Tuesday, July 14, 1994.