This is not about what happens in the kitchen and the magical chemistry that melts the stubborn in the other room. This is not about knowing or not knowing the political party where somebody’s wife worships. This is about the world racing past anyone whose gaze is fixed on the false water on the tarmac. This is about the world rescuing itself from a fumbling, tumbling tribe of impotent men of superstition and power.
This is also about Nigeria and its bewitched presidential palace. A former presidential spokesman, Reuben Abati, was most certain that magic, spells and the principalities of wizardry are firmly in charge of the destiny of the nation. His thesis is that Nigeria is not working because its leaders lose their heads to an infernal curse of certain failure the very first night they lay those heads where presidents sleep. Old and young people die, men and women run mad, middle aged eggheads go senile, lose their manhood (and womanhood) when they work in the Villa. That was the narrative. He was certain that Aso Rock Villa, Abuja, should be pulled down and another built with anointing oil as its foundation spring. There is a whole body of controversy in the land: was he right or was he wrong situating governmental and elite failure at the doorstep of charms and spells? His critics slam him and his thesis, especially against the groundswell of national displeasure over his boss’s handling of the nation’s affairs for six years.
Abati’s successor, Femi Adesina, has also sauntered into the living room of this discourse. He says he works, stays, sleeps and snores peacefully in the villa. He does not see ghosts and fires like the man before him. He, very interestingly, reminded Abati of Shakespeare’s story of Macbeth and Duncan, of Lady Macbeth and her affliction of madness, of betrayal, death and the appearance of ghosts and fear in the palace, etc. Huh!!! If you belong to the Facebook generation, you may start wondering what Shakespeare or Macbeth means. Macbeth is the story of hot ambition and of wives encouraging their men to “dagger” their way to power. It is the story of witches, blood and political power. It is also the story of the consequences of total (and even partial) submission to seen and unseen dark forces, and of subsequent rash actions taken in furtherance of ambitions to rule. It is the tragic story of the hollowness of power and its appurtenances.
Talks about spells and charms in public spaces and places are always boiled in hot passion. Politicians and civil servants know these things exist but they deny that knowledge. They are as talks about office romance and sex — recognised as real, yet publicly denied. Call them locker room actions if you like. Evil men are never far away from government offices. However, they become real threats when the leader makes them part owners of state power. You are elected governor or president and the first thing you do is hiring marabouts, babalawo and priests of unknown temples to take turns sanctifying the Government House. What you pay for your action is much more than the millions they charge. You lose your money, freedom and the happiness of your people. When the leader opens his door for the principalities, they proceed so quickly to exert so much influence on elite actions and behaviour seeking to determine the direction of state policies and programmes. Governments fail when the leader hands over the state to the witches and wizards of power.
These are the kind of stories that come out of our government houses. And it is not exclusive to politicians. I once wrote about a gentleman who quietly entered my office while I was in government and without introducing himself frontally ordered me to give him money. His order failed to work, he then sought to use my toilet. You will also remember that I wrote about another gentleman, a complete stranger, who said I once paid for fuel for his car and, therefore, he wanted to “show appreciation” by giving me a “well sewn” garment. Local government chairmen, governors and presidents receive such Trojan horse garments everyday to their sorrow.
Is it not strange that while the developed world continues to use science and rational thinking to explore uncharted terrains for solutions to the daily problems of existence, we are still stuck in the mire of magic and superstition? Those who have critiqued Abati’s thesis say it is a disclaimer on reason. They say it attempts to use voodooism as explanation for a rot that is empirically systemic. The critics insist on going the way of Max Weber contending that with humanity’s advancement “one needs no longer have recourse to magical means in order to master or implore spirits” and that, in fact, “there are no mysterious incalculable forces” anywhere again to blame for our woes. But Abati wrote on what he claimed he saw. The man said the place we call Aso Rock was a Villa of a million demons while he worked there. Adesina has given his own version of a Villa of peace and sleep in its deepest form. Can we take up the argument from there going back and looking forward for possible explanatory notes on their positions? Is it true that persons who have gone through the Villa were doves who came out of the place as carrion eating vultures? Is the fault in the hardened brick and mortar of the physical space called the Villa? Are we getting our independence from the new occultic colonial masters (and mistresses) once we evict ourselves from the gilded mansion? Or is it not true that even if you build new Villas at the beginning of every term, the spirit of mediocre will endure still because it resides in the body and soul of the leader?
Back to Adesina’s flashlight on Macbeth. If you are of the generation that considers Shakespeare as a mere museum stuff, I suggest you leave the social in the new media for a while, google and read that blood-curdling play of intrigues, of women and ambition, of dreams and death as we continue to interrogate what really ails the palace, the king and the kingdom.