From the Past



By Uthman Shodipe

There was a poignant memorability in the  encounter. There was an imperishable dis­tinction constituting itself in the remarkable etchings of history, firmly achieving a moralistic ref­erence. In the passion of the con­test, in the mutual determined will, in the dignity of the weak, in the venom of the strong, there was a surrealistic largeness; the swamping of the soul by a profu­sion of grace and candour, the im­mediate sweep of righteous hero­ism, the unyielding, unbending af­firmations of those who will not be consumed by the harsh glare of the human crucibles.

It was a spectacle of uncon­cealed power. It was of innocence maintaining an uncorrupt bearing. It was of terror heightening in primitive ardour, uncontrollable, rampaging with subliminal de-structiveness. There was a vivid martial unevenness in the whole grapple. Here were the agents of the state in vivid, terrifying awe-someness. There was a truculent energy about these men who came in combative flourishes, radiating intimidatory licence in their loose, commandist frenzy, in the swag­ger of their weaponry, in the irra­tionality of their intrusive car­riage.

Here, there was no restraint. No binding cord of civility. No emo­tional ferment tempering the will of power. There was no equivoca­tion in the ruthless fixity. A uni­tary, behemothic zeal prevailed, raring in savaging totality, taunt­ing, posturing in the bizarre vehe­mence of unaccountable adventur­ers.

There was a licentious inevitabil­ity about the whole drama. There was that reckless compulsion of the errant power which defied all natural inhibitions, bristling with the regal assertiveness of omnipo­tent salience. The men with the guns believed they were gods. There was this betrayal in their settled assurance, in their brazen ferocity, in their quick, involun­tary purpose to harass, to impose an instant authoritarian arbitration, contemptuous of alternative hear­ing, insistent on bludgeoning the conscience.

In this importance, they violated the repose of public peace, in­truded upon a neighbourhood with the bold certitude of conquest. They imposed an arbitrary cordon. All activities were ceased. Every movement was frozen by the raw indices of violence. The neigh­bourhood watched and waited in a benumbing helplessness. Protest was almost absent, feeble without representative animation.

And what would you do in the trample of the jack-boot, in the stern vastness of weaponry, in the frightening, debilitating order? There were the tongues that were muted, unheard before the bayo­net. There were the limbs that were hindered, halted in incoher­ent wobble before the truncheon. There was the stoic inanimity of the bowed, the silence amid the parade of the mongolian usurpa­tion.

But even here, despite the emas­culating glare of armoury, despite the total despotic muster, there was still an orbit of defiance; the serene repose of heroic hugeness, the eminence of courage glowing even in that squalid compass of tyranny. The gate was hammered down in ceaseless, violent clatter. The locks were shattered in disin­tegrating clamour.

Terror flaunted its will, brandished its tools in hid­eous bluster. Peaceful men were rudely elbowed, shoved against the wall. The women were heck­led by a monstrous, throaty bold­ness. The speech was torn, the mi­crophone seized in startling crudi­ty.

And yet the assembly remained in unflustered resolve, persistent in a rare nobility of spirit which stares down the cudgel with inner grace. There was no protective re­flex. No withdrawal into a cring­ing refuge. There was no gradua­tion into extenuating rescue. All were borne upon a firm control of thought and reflex, elaborate in captive orderliness. There was ab­solutely no betrayal of panic, no desperate nudges of uncertainties. You could feel the transcendental marvel of a purpose that would not yield to the fetters of iron. You could feel the instinctive righteousness; the reflex of truth standing tall, the contempt for fraud in vivid, heroic ferment. You could see the determined valour, the elegant equipoise still radiating charm and believability amid the savage tumult.

Here, alas, you could see the ri­otous power in desperate devotions; awkward, uncertain, fever­ish in self-induced tourbillion, without clarity, without a redeem­ing visionary calculation. There was a loose artificiality about it all. There was that unthinking mechanical prodding, the un­gainly response of the blind riot­ing in a darkling fury. Here, you could not fathom the purpose of power. For even destruction must have a tact. Evil must present a coherence, the missionary appro­priateness with which it beguiles the world.

But here, nothing was feigned. No manipulative counseling intimating a greater good. No deceitful dazzle in the pretentious canvas of selfless endeavour.  There was nothing to elevate save a crass, destructive fixity. It was the absence of majesty which ennobled the more the oppositional portrait, painting that quiet, manful assertions in the potent, enigmatic imagery of strength and candour, diminishing power in beclouded permanence: a constituent of an unyielding muddle, deepens still in some bizarre, aimless malignity.

In the tumult of the survivalist stampede, in the quaking of the broken locks, in the quick cordon of fury, the coward manufactures his safety in a muted anonymity. He is unseen, unheard, eclipsed in a quavering silence. He is locked in a neutral, indifferent tableau unspoken in the savaging of truth.

There is a tenuous inevitability in the coward’s recourse. His refuge does not endure. It is soon betrayed in the wandering ubiquity of the cudgel of power, obvious in the insatiable, consuming venom of tyranny’s intemperate madness.

It is true: Those who would plead a noncommittal innocence amid the riot of power are not really immune from the thronging uncertainties. In the end, terror turns on everyone.

First published Tuesday, 30 September, 1997