From the Past


By Uthman Shodipe

SINCE the chaotic provenance of the human society which necessitated the blunt, actualizing fervour of a solitary arbiter, there has been a continuous appraisal of the moulding of the great one. There has been a probing dissection of the arbitrational temper, the scrutiny of the heart of the king. What nudges a murderous temper? What informs a callous detachment? How to explain the con¬cession of mercy, the kindling of magnanimity? Alas, there is no uniform resolution here. The arbiter is defined in vadational license, susceptible to the tenor of his clime and the unique signature of the soul.

But the arbiter is not necessarily a captive of his realm. He is not detained in reactive thoughtlessness by the promptings of the moment. While he may not be absolutely distant from the affective logic of the age, he is not consumed by the riotous whirl¬pool of the subject tribe. He is still the sovereign guide, reposing in Solomonic magistracy. He affirms a representative liberty, determining the attributional identity of the society, reinforcing the propitious values, heralding a rectifying largeness, shepherding in illustrative reference.

In this universal articulation we see the king in a vast summative presence. His will can be discerned in the normative bearing of the cycle of commerce. He determines the creative fount of entrepreneurial purity or the slothful withdrawal of slumbering wretchedness where everyone scorns the fruits of industry. He influences the growth of academia, the rigour of learning, the unyielding questing infinitude tasking the young and the old, regaling the realm, in enlightening challenge. And he may sink in abruptive ignorance of the terminally blind, wandering in the dark recesses, with¬out consciousness, without debate.

Again, we behold the king in paradigmatic moral arbitration, counselling in the perches of justice, affirm¬ing right and disowning wrong, sanctifying the just, tarring the reprobate in firm, persuasive deterrence. And he may be moulded in iniquitous scowl, unknown to equity, vaunting in hide¬ous, capricious sway, mowing down everyone in indiscriminate rampage.

The king is, therefore, in arbitrational majesty, inducing the good or the ill. Either way, he is saddled with solitary burden, stripped of any extenuating judgment. Alone, he must con¬front the implications of his own discernments. It is true that the good king, though woven in the hallowed graces of heaven, though embroidered in seraphic filigree, shining in the justness of the light, beatific, without equivocating prejudice — he can still be matched against an unruly race where men are steeped in dark imaginings; venal and murderous, plot¬ting riots and the swell of evil, manoeuvering in treacherous instinctiveness.

In this confrontation, does the good king descend in equal anarchical venom, distorted by the tool of the age, romping with the tarnished tribe? Not true. The good king is inherently salient in arbitrational sanctity. He is fastened to the corrective challenge. His distinction is not obvious in a predetermined, blissful order. He glows in the impartial cleansing of the rot, distinguished in the rapid cultivation of justice, ap¬parent in the liberal, tempering crusade, dissuading bigotry, frowning on crime, stressing communal advantages.

Here there is the salvaging cadence, the pious refrain of messianic retrieval, the calm, sobered suasion, neutralizing venom, pacifying the storm in gradual insistence. There is a meekness here which is untainted by condemnatory terminus, which is undetained by vengeful ardour. It is a reformatory innocence, the belief that the lost can be rescued, that the prodigal can be redeemed.

But the reformist liberalism of the good king cannot be equated with the enfeebled preachment of the weak. When necessary, the liberal openness is entwined with stern strictures. There is no sadist scourging here. It is merely a puritanical lash, forcing the obdurate to amenable civility.

From the restless Ulysses to the wise Augustus, from the inimitable Nazarene to the sparse, monarchical pantheon of contemporaneous brethren, the good king is unknown to savaging distastefulness. There is always about him a uniform tempering, the willingness to enlighten the benighted, the re¬solve to relieve the burdened of their weighted crucibles, the forebearance to contain the cudgel, to ignore the furies of the unkind in a grand, becalming majesty.There was this testimony in the Tennysonian Ulysses, the adventurous monarch of Ithaca who was borne upon a relentless plumbing of the deepest arcana of nature’s eternal light.

Though of redemptive discernments, kind at heart, spurred by a progressive kindling of the soul, he was yet freighted with barbarian subject. But he would not dismiss his people in retributive scything. Said Ulysses: “I mete and dole unequal laws unto a savage race that hoard, and sleep, and feed, and know not me”. Here was Ulysses residing in the sternness of a good king, forgiving, chastening, resolved “to make mild a rugged people, and thro’ soft degrees subdue them to the useful and the good”.

This is the refrain of seraphic majesty; the liberal accommodating largeness, prodding, counselling, shaping the errant people with the enlightened subtlety of the remoulding armour. It is true: the good king does not ravage in blind justification. He cannot be hardened in Luciferian viciousness. He must forgive even the temptings of the unjust. Like the great Nazarene, that ultimate king who was ensnared by the web of animadversion, trampled and betrayed by a trusted acolyte, the good king must be touched by the graces of heaven. His heart must absorb mercy. For vengeance is an unpredictable ogre. It does not stop in finite fury. It always reverberates in haunting pursuit of the conjurer. To propel angrily beyond the first cause is to be trapped in a self-consuming circle.

First published Tuesday, 13 January, 1998.

About the author

Uthman Shodipe

Uthman Ademilade Shodipe, a descendant of King Ado, the first King of Lagos, is from the Dosunmu Royal House. A student of Classical Antiquity and History of Political Thought, he studied Comparative Literature and Intellectual History of Europe 18th Century at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA).