Jonathan Nebuchadnezzar? I beg to disagree -By Felix Abugu

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Jonathan Nebuchadnezzar? I beg to disagree -By Felix Abugu


As a literary icon, Professor Wole Soyinka is revered the world over as a man whose words and or opinions are weighty and indubitable. So, when Africa’s first Nobel Laureate pronounces a verdict on something or somebody, well, too bad for such a thing or somebody if the verdict is a harsh one because the world will almost always go with Soyinka. Too bad, therefore, for President Jonathan that he has found himself on the wrong side of fastidious Soyinka’s sharp tongue as to earn the Nobel Laureate’s harsh characterization of him as the biblical Nebuchadnezzar, the ancient Babylonian king who was most famous for the destruction of Judah and Jerusalem in 586 BC.

If a lesser mortal had likened Jonathan to Nebuchadnezzar, the President’s camp would probably not have minded. For, much of the biblical account of Nebuchadnezzar’s life and times is actually benign as it is largely about how he was used by God as an ‘instrument of judgment on Judah for its idolatry, unfaithfulness and disobedience’ (Jeremiah 25:9) and as an example of His incontestable sovereignty over all men. But, coming from Soyinka, it was, to be sure, a big issue, especially with virtually every newspaper in the land screaming: ‘You are worse than Nebuchadnezzar, Soyinka tells Jonathan.’

The point, really, is that King Nebuchadnezzar was not altogether as repulsive and loathsome a character as any portrait of a modern leader in the image of the ancient Babylonian king would seem to convey. In Daniel 2: 47, for instance, it is recorded that after Prophet Daniel, through a miracle from God, interpreted his dream for which he had earlier killed his astrologers and wise men because they couldn’t interpret it, Nebuchadnezzar, a worshiper and custodian of Babylonian gods, declared: “Truly, your God is God of gods and Lord of kings, and a revealer of mysteries, for you have been able to reveal this mystery.”

Similarly, in Daniel 3: 28-29, after Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego who refused to worship Nebuchadnezzar’s golden statue as ordered by the king, were thrown into a blazing furnace but were miraculously recued by God, the king declared: “Blessed be the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, who has sent his angel and delivered his servants, who trusted in him, and set aside the king’s command, and yielded up their bodies rather than serve and worship any god except their own God. Therefore I make a decree: Any people, nation, or language that speaks anything against the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego shall be torn limb from limb, and their houses laid in ruins, for there is no other god who is able to rescue in this way.”

Again, after God restored Nebuchadnezzar’s sanity, seven years after he was rendered insane by God for disobeying His warning, conveyed in a dream interpreted by Daniel, that he should show more humility in his conducts and recognize that his power, wealth, and influence were from God, not of his own making, an effusive Nebuchadnezzar declared in: “How great are his signs, how mighty his wonders! His kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and his dominion endures from generation to generation” (Daniel 4:3), adding in Daniel 4: 34-37: “For his dominion is an everlasting dominion, and his kingdom endures from generation to generation; all the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, and he does according to his will among the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay his hand or say to him, ‘What have you done?’ … “Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise and extol and honor the King of heaven, for all his works are right and his ways are just; and those who walk in pride he is able to humble.”

This was the essential, spiritual Nebuchadnezzar. Much of secular interpretation of Nebuchadnezzar’s role in biblical history, however, is that he was brutal, powerful, arrogant and ambitious (emphasis, mine). As one blogger put it, “tired of the rebellions, and seeing that Judah had not learned its lesson when he invaded, conquered and deported Judah in 597, Nebuchadnezzar and his general, Nebuzaradan proceeded to completely destroy the temple and most of Jerusalem, deporting most of the remaining residents to Babylon.”

Remember how he mercilessly killed his ‘astrologers and wise men’ simply because they could not interpret his dream, which Prophet Daniel eventually did and gained so much favour in the eyes of the king. My guess is that it’s from this secular history that Soyinka drew his inspiration for his hash remarks about Jonathan in the press conference the Nobel Laureate held on Tuesday last week.

But, just what, you would ask, must have irked the intellectual giant so much about the man for whom he had, barely a week earlier at Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka, called for support over the fight against Boko Haram and other security challenges that he would descend so heavily on the shoeless child that became president? It is this: Aminu Tambuwal’s political travails over his defection from PDP to the opposition APC.

On November 19, some three weeks back, a combined detachment of police and SSS detectives was reported to have barricaded the entrance to the National Assembly complex in Abuja and insisted on frisking each member of the national legislature before allowing them in. But, believing that such security measure was only a ploy to prevent Speaker Tambuwal from entering the House Chambers to preside over the day’s session, Honourable Members of the House of Representatives began scaling the fence to gain entry into the National Assembly.

The Speaker himself scaled the fence to gain entry into the House Chambers. The footage on national television and front page photographs the following day of men in long, flowing gowns jumping the fence to enter the National Assembly Complex triggered national fury at what many termed ‘a show of shame’ by the nation’s legislative elite. Soyinka takes umbrage at what happened that day and blames Jonathan and the IGP Suleiman Abba for what he calls “unambiguous declaration of war against the people.” Most rational commentators on national issues have condemned that event of November 20 as needless, peacedisrupting muscle-flexing between the ruling PDP and opposition APC over Aminu Tambuwal (as a matter of fact, Soyinka is weighing in a shade too late; he seemed to have waited for the crystallization of a dominant opinion on the matter before taking a position in line with that dominant opinion).

One has said elsewhere that if, indeed, Tambuwal was the target of the “security measures” at the National Assembly on November 20, a more strategically thinking party would have handled the issue much better. But, to liken the barricade of the National Assembly Gate and police insistence on frisking House Members before allowing them in to a BRUTAL action only a Jonathan acting like Nebuchadnezzar could have taken is, with all due respect, a very inappropriate comparison.

I do not even see how that unfortunate episode coheres with Jonathan, like Emperor Nero of Rome, fiddling while Rome (Nigeria) burned. To successfully qualify Jonathan’s responses to the activities of the opposition as highhanded or, if you will, Nebuchadnezzaran (pardon the coinage), the Nobel Laureate should have obliged us with a series of similar actions taken by Jonathan in the past to undermine democracy or, as the savant literary giant put it, to do “nothing… more unworthy of leadership than to degrade a system by which one attains fulfillment…(which is)… what the nation has witnessed time and time again in various parts of the nation, the recent affront against the legislative chamber being only the most blatant and unconscionable…”

But, the only other example the prof gave us about the ‘reign of impunity’ in the country under Jonathan is the Governors’ Forum election fiasco which he referred to as Jonathan’s “own personalised example where he set the law of arithmetic on its head… (through) his ‘formal’ recognition of the minority will in a straightforward, peer election (an act by which) democracy has been rendered meaningless where it should be most fervently exemplified.” While we may decry the above two examples the shenanigans of the political elite which we can do without, none of them qualifies as a brutal assault on democracy or human persons, the type that Nebuchadnezzar would have taken if he found anyone opposed to his will.

With the politics of Rivers and Tambuwal’s acrimonious defection to advise us, one wonders if the PDP should still be blamed for taking certain actions, as unwholesome as they may seem, to defend its own turf against the forceful march of the opposition. My view is that shorn of the Soyinkasque complexity of language and imagery, the Nobel Laureate’s recent comments on President Jonathan could well have been made by either the wily Lai Mohammed or the combative Joe Igbokwe, both APC spokespersons in their own rights.

In other words, the comments were decidedly partisan! I insist that Prof. Soyinka’s characterization of President Jonathan as Nebuchadnezzar is inappropriate. Why are our soldiers in Borno, Yobe and Adamawa being killed by Boko Haram insurgents? Because this President, in a bid to protect the civilian population, insists on civilized rules of engagement with the insurgents who blend with the population and constantly emerge from among the people to attack and kill our troops.

An Obasanjo (now, that is the brutal leader) would since have leveled Sambisa Forest (Chibok Girls watts et al), Mubi, Gamboru and any other town the insurgents may have dared to infiltrate, in order to get at them and the vocal Lagos press would simply have hailed him as a strong President. But, a President Jonathan sent a hard-fighting General Ihejirika against the insurgents and the army chief succeeded in confining the terrorists to an insignificant part of Borno but we all joined in chorusing phantom genocide and demanded that Ihejirika be removed. In the spirit of democracy, the President obliged us and we now turn around to say he is fiddling while Nigeria burns.

Can a people have their cake and eat it? I am surprised that even a Soyinka could stake his reputation to defend Aminu Tambuwal. This man is no symbol of the democracy that Africa’s literary Numero uno has spent most of his life preaching and fighting for in Nigeria. A man who has changed party affiliation five times in a 16-year political career as Tambuwal has done cannot be the ideal democrat we must split hairs over.

And, by the way, why was Tambuwal working so menacingly into the National Assembly with a motley crowd of people as if he was going to war, as the police claimed? Would it not have served our collective sense of decency better if Tambuwal and Co had submitted themselves to the police to be searched before being allowed into the National Assembly Complex? After all, according to reports, Senate President David Mark was also delayed before being allowed in.

At a time of security emergency as police intelligence report suggested there was at that time, everybody must abide by measures put in place to secure lives and property, including the Speaker of the House of Representatives. It’s time we dispensed with this idea that the opposition is always right and the government wrong.

If the APC (the symbol of the opposition) whose chieftain Audu Ogbe has told us is responsible for the undue politicization of the anti-insurgency war is always right, then I wonder who is ever wrong.