By Promise Adiele
Opinion, I have taken the title of this week’s essay from a response by one of my final year students during the ongoing COVID-19 induced online lectures.
I had asked the students to give me an honest but critical opinion about Okonkwo, the lead character in Chinua Achebe’s globally acclaimed novel Things Fall Apart. The students’ responses were varied and compelling.
However, a response from a student, who always takes a different view from popular sentiments, resonated in my subconscious mind.
In a subdued but assured voice, one that betrayed sadness and disappointment about dictatorship, he said: “Sir, I think Okonkwo was a dictator, he was too harsh, mean, wicked, and above all, he died a shameful death, the end of all dictators”.
One of the benefits of teaching literary criticism at the university level is the opportunity to engage students and hear them interpret existential, political, and economic aspects of society in relation to a literary text.
It gives them a voice. Sometimes, these students completely steer the precinct of the immediate discourse to different perspectives.
In all my years of study and critical interpretation of Achebe’s pioneer text, I never thought about Okonkwo as a dictator or even considered him close to one.
This is because Okonkwo didn’t hold any political office.
He was not even a village head. Again, due to the republican Igbo society presented by Achebe in the novel, power was not vested on any single authority.
But I remember clearly that according to the novel “Okonkwo ruled his household with a heavy hand.”
However, the student presented another dimension to the entire argument and in literary criticism, every opinion has merit therefore, deserves to be considered. Was Okonkwo a dictator in the novel?
To the extent that he didn’t hold any political office, he was not a dictator but to the extent that he manifested dictatorial tendencies in his household, he was a dictator.
However, that he died a shameful death, which according to the student is the inevitable end of all dictators, had me thinking long after the class.
It is due to Okonkwo’s manner of death at the end of the novel that many critics have dressed him in heroic garments.
But here comes this young student saying that his death was shameful like all dictators. When you think of dictatorship, the first names that come to your mind are Adolf Hitler of Nazi Germany, Joseph Stalin of Communist Russia, and Benito Mussolini of Fascist Italy.
In different ways, these men manifested attributes of demons from the incinerate furnace of hell-fire. Some critics think that these were not humans and their names should not be mentioned where the names of humans are mentioned.
The existence of these men gives credence to the belief that reincarnation is real because they acted as incarnates of the devil, destroying lives, and violating every rule that governs human order.
To these men, human lives meant nothing. They showed a determination to exterminate various races of human beings, doing it with gusto and relish.
Adolf Hitler revelled in racial ideology and was responsible for the genocide of about six million Jews whom he considered as subhuman beings.
Hitler eventually died by suicide and his body was cremated in a shameful way to the joy of the whole world.
Although Joseph Stalin killed about 1.2 million people by direct execution, many more millions died of famine, disease, and war due to his brutal, dictatorial policies.
Eventually, the almighty Stalin died of cerebral haemorrhage and was spoon-fed before his shameful death.
Benito Mussolini’s Fascist policies accounted for the death of many people including those he executed secretly for opposing his authority.
He was executed while trying to escape to Spain and his corpse was dumped in an open space where people spat on it. Later, the corpse was hung upside down and people stoned it.
There are many other dictators in history across the world but for lack of space, I will not be able to recall the manner of their shameful deaths.
In Africa, the first names to confront you when dictatorship is mentioned are Idi Amin of Uganda, Arap Moi of Kenya, and of course, Sanni Abacha of Nigeria.
These men, in different ways, plundered human existence and rivalled the devil in sadism, killing, stealing, and various antipeople policies.
Idi Amin died of kidney failure in a hospital in Saudi Arabia. Before his death, he defecated on his body, cried like a baby, writhing in pain, and asking for forgiveness from the people of Uganda.
Arap Moi died of gastrointestinal haemorrhage which led to organ failure. He wept like a baby before he was placed on life-support. He died afterwards.
The Nigerian demi-god, Sanni Abacha died in circumstances shrouded in mystery. While some people believe that he was killed through electro-magnetic poisoning by international conspiracy carried out through a handshake with Yasser Arafat, many people believe he died of a heart attack after eating apples from Indian prostitutes.
Either way, Abacha died suddenly and shamefully at the height of his inglorious despotic regime.
At the turn of the 20th Century, more dictators emerged in Africa than in any part of the world. Gradually, dictatorship became synonymous with Africa.
Many African countries witnessed military coups which summarily sacked democratically elected governments.
When these military officers assumed office, they transmuted to civilians and manipulated the constitution to perpetuate themselves in power.
Therefore, wherever dictatorship is located in Africa, it usually has a military background. Dictators are primitively inclined to sectionalism.
They are divisive, vindictive, and unforgiving. Many of them are hardly educated, therefore they lack the requisite intellect to positively steer their countries to great heights.
Some observers have remarked that once a dictator will always be a dictator whether in a military or civilian robe. Like madness, dictatorship is never completely cured.
No matter how a dictator pretends to have changed and imbibed democratic principles, he will always unconsciously manifest dictatorial neurosis.
A critical look at most dictators shows that they have no respect or consideration for divine authority and posterity.
In their ignorance, they arrogate supreme powers to themselves forgetting that nothing lasts forever. Dictators carry on as if they are supreme beings.
They reject advice, jettison wise counsel, transmuting into self-styled potentates. Many dictators pursue religious, ethnic, and nepotistic agenda.
Their appointments are always skewed to favour their friends, ethnicity, religion, and cronies to the total exclusion of other parts of the country.
Most dictators can protect killers and criminals as long as they come from their ethnicity.
They can even unleash these scoundrels on other ethnicities with a clear intention to occupy, destroy, and kill. Some dictators reward terrorists more than citizens who have distinguished themselves in different endeavour. Very sad.
Some dictators are self-pleasuring idlers blindly lounging in the corridors of power with a determination to flourish their disorderly existence.
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This they do without any idea of how to orchestrate life-changing policies for the populace.
Countries under dictatorship are consoled about certain uniformity in the way they die – shamefully.
Surely it appears that the definite comeuppance of all dictators is a shameful death and in this, God proves his omnipotence.
For now, let the dictators carry the day but let God carry their lives through a shameful death.