Rubber stamp bringing guillotine

ON a day myself and a brother sat glued to the TV watching the Intelligence Committee of the US House of Reprentatives putting the microscope on the actions of President Trump, the Nigerian Senate President, Ahmed Lawan (sorry Senator Lawan; lest one is marked for hate speech was making a very lousy declaration: “I want to assure you that any request that comes from Mr President is a request that will make Nigeria a better place in terms of appointments or legislation.”

This was why the Senate ratified with “bow and go” many ministerial nominees who should be answering questions at EFCC within a jiffy and has taken no one step to show it is an independent arm of government. It also explains why of all the problems confronting Nigeria today, it is the “Hate Speech Bill” which the Armed Forces Ruling Council (AFRC) would have been careful to touch that is now so appealing to the only arm of government that differentiates military rule from civil rule.

Those of us who have christened the 9th Assembly a rubber stamp are daily being proved right in a very tragic sense. Perhaps the only miss was that we didn’t warn that they would be this brazen in removing Nigeria from the list of open societies by initiating a bill that will make “hate speech”, a whimsical and capricious charge, an offence punishable by hanging.

A standard definition of “hate speech” would be found in a compilation of the speeches of APC leaders in 2014/15 BC (Before Change). Not one of them was invited by the police as they called the sitting President every available hate word in the dictionary talk less of facing the hangman.

The same people are now bringing a cruel law in  the order of the “National Razor” of France in its crude years.

The word “guillotine” dates  back to the 1790s  and the French Revolution, and it was for beheading and similar execution machines that had been in existence for centuries. There was a beheading device called the “planke” in Germany and Flanders during the Middle Ages, and the English had a sliding axe known as the Halifax Gibbet, which may have been lopping off heads from antiquity. The French guillotine was likely inspired by two earlier machines: “mannaia” from Italy, and the notorious “Scottish Maiden,” which claimed the lives of some 120 people between the 16th and 18th centuries. Evidence also shows that primitive guillotines may have been in use in France long before the days of the French Revolution.

It was Dr Joseph-Ignace Guillotin (we will remember Lawan Senate like him) who proposed that the French government should adopt a gentler method of execution.  Guillotin was of the opinion that decapitation by a lightning-quick machine would be better than sword and axe beheadings, which were often botched. He later helped oversee the development of the first prototype, an imposing machine designed by French doctor Antoine Louis and built by a German harpsichord maker, Tobias Schmidt. The device severed the neck of its official victim in April 1792, and quickly became known as the “guillotine”—much to the horror of its supposed inventor. Guillotin tried to distance himself from the machine during the guillotine hysteria of the 1790s, and his family later unsuccessfully petitioned the French government to change its name in the early 19th century. I am sure those considering the “Hate Speech Bill” would be full of regrets some day.

During the Reign of Terror of the mid-1790s, thousands of “enemies of the French revolution” met their end by the guillotine’s blade. The “Hate Speech” must have a similar target. Some members of the public initially complained that the machine was too quick and clinical, but before long the process had evolved into high entertainment. People came to the place de la Revolution in droves to watch the guillotine do its grisly work, and the machine was honored in countless songs, jokes and poems. Spectators could buy souvenirs, read a programme listing the names of the victims, or even grab a quick bite to eat at a nearby restaurant called “Cabaret de la Guillotine.” Some people attended on a daily basis, most famously the “Tricoteuses,” a group of morbid women who supposedly sat beside the scaffold and knitted in between beheadings. The theater even extended to the condemned. Many people offered sarcastic quips or defiant last words before being executed, and others danced their way up the steps of the scaffold. Fascination with the guillotine waned at the end of the 18th century, but public beheadings continued in France until 1939.

Children often attended guillotine executions, and some may have even played with their own miniature guillotines at home. During the 1790s, a two-foot-tall, replica blade-and-timbers was a popular toy in France. Kids used the fully operational guillotines to decapitate dolls or even small rodents, and some towns eventually banned them out of fear that they were a vicious influence. Novelty guillotines also found their way onto some upper class dinner tables, where they were used as bread and vegetable slicers.

As the fame of the guillotine grew, so too did the reputations of its operators of the head slicer. Executioners won a great deal of notoriety during the French Revolution, when they were graded on how fast and precisely they could orchestrate multiple beheadings. The job was often a family business. Multiple generations of the famed Sanson family served as state executioner from 1792 to 1847, and were responsible for dropping the blade on King Louis XVI among thousands of others.

During the 19th and 20th centuries, the role of chief headsman fell to Louis and Anatole Deibler, a father and son pair whose combined tenure extended from 1879 to 1939. People often chanted the Sansons’ and Deiblers’ names in the streets, and their choice of clothing on the scaffold was known to inspire fashion trends in a society already sold to nothing more than the consciousness of an animal world. Executioners were also a subject of morbid fascination in the criminal underworld in France. According to some accounts, notorious gangsters and other hoods would get tattoos with grim slogans such as, “My Head Goes To Deibler.”

From the moment guillotine came on board, speculation abounded over whether the heads of the guillotined remained conscious after being severd. The debate reached new heights in 1793, when an assistant executioner slapped the face of one of his victims’ heads and spectators claimed to see its cheeks flush in anger in a show of how debauchery takes over a society. Doctors later asked the condemned to try to blink or leave one eye open after their execution to prove they could still move, and others yelled the deceased’s name or exposed their heads to candle flames and ammonia to see if they would react during the festivals of barbarity. In 1880, a doctor named Dassy de Lignieres even had blood pumped into the head of a guillotined child murderer to find out if it would come back to life and speak. The ghastly experiments were put to a stop in the 20th century, but studies on rats have since found that brain activity may continue for around four seconds after decapitation.

Though the guillotine is most famously associated with revolutionary France, but it may have claimed just as many lives in Germany during the Third Reich. Adolf Hitler made the guillotine a state method of execution in the 1930s, and ordered that 20 of the machines be placed in cities across Germany. According to Nazi records, the guillotine was eventually used to execute some 16,500 people between 1933 and 1945, many of them resistance fighters and political dissidents.

The guillotine remained France’s state method of capital punishment well into the late 20th century. Convicted murderer Hamida Djandoubi became the last person to be dispatched  by the “National Razor” after he was executed by the guillotine in 1977. Still, the machine’s 189-year reign only officially came to an end in September 1981, when France abolished capital punishment  completely with oddities of the past still alive.

Why Nigeria is going back to French 1790s which that country can not be proud of today can only be explained by our lack of any sense of history that prompted our country to remove history from school curriculum at a point.

At a time when a leadership with a sense of vision should be engaging the people and giving them succour, the current leadership in Nigeria is behaving like one that is at war with the people. Daily they give the impression that they are tired of the people.

Superior scholarship should have told them that it is better to allow people to express their views rather than that driving dissent underground which may now manifest in more dangerous ways. They should have known that Decree 4 of 1984 was meant to cow the media but it convicted only two journalists before the season expired and the press remained vibrant after the death of the gag law.

Unfortunately for them this will also come to an end. How many people can they hang before it comes to an end? They are the ones that would have the last regret when all these come to pass except they take the advice of Bertolt Brecht:

After the uprising of the 17th June

The Secretary of the Writers Union

Had leaflets distributed in the Stalinallee

Stating that the people

Had forfeited the confidence of the government

And could win it back only

By redoubled efforts. Would it not be easier

In that case for the government

To dissolve the people

And elect another?

We wait for a bill to dissolve the Nigerian people from the Senate!