THURSDAY Column with Mohammed Adamu
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The fate of Kano Emirate’s deposed Emir, Sanusi Lamido Sanusi evokes literary memory of the misfortunate lot of King John in one of Shakespeare’s history plays –also titled ‘King John’. Literary criticism traced its origin to an earlier old-fashioned two-part play also titled ‘The Troublesome Reign Of King John’, which, they said, Shakespeare reworked. Or should we say embellished? ‘King John’ is the story of royal prerogative biting more than its imperial mandibles can chew. The King, all at once, embroils himself in three unending debacles –each virtually self-inflicted. Abroad, at the peak of Papal power, King John is in fierce altercation with the Pope insisting that he, the King, and not the Papacy, is the bona fide defender of a newly Reformed Protestant England; and on account of which insubordination Rome is asking him to surrender the throne to his nephew, Arthur who, it is alleged, ab initio had a superior claim to the throne. Reason at home also, King John battles the royal ambition of this nephew of his, Arthur, which by now (and especially with the support of the Pope) festers into a nagging internal rebellion.
King John, like all other European kings, needs only have acknowledged Papal authority over his crown to consolidate his fickle hold on it. Yet even as he is hemmed by kindred rebellion at home and Papal grievance abroad, King John still has the royal want of tact also, to declare war with a Rome-friendly, Pope-backed King Phillip of France, -and who is only too happy to oblige King John a fight not only for the reason that he feels gratified helping Rome to assert its Papal authority, but most importantly because he has, in King John’s rebellious nephew, an internal ally and a veritable fault line to make a war with England a piece of cake.
And although the King’s nephew, Arthur dies at the battlefield, yet a war-weary English throne (bleeding from both internal and external wounds) soon cheaply falls under the Pope’s control from Rome, and King John himself is excommunicated by the Papacy; so that the nobles of the domain of a now humbled throne, while accusing the excommunicated King of murdering his nephew, Arthur, also announce switching their allegiance to the French King, Phillip, at last nailing the coffin of an unheeding, foolishly self-harming English potentate, King John. Now he King who could do no wrong has to pay the price of insubordination. And while in self-banished seclusion, they say, at a lonely monastic Swinstead Abbey, a browbeaten King John is poisoned by a monk and left to die a painful death.
At the end of the play (which by the way is a poignant depiction of true history), we see Prince Henry, soon to be the successor-son of his dying father, return from the Swinstead Abbey and narrating to the Earl of Pembroke how he has just left the dying King mumbling in the delirium of his poisoned fantasy. He reports his poor father as one who, in his words “chants a doleful hymn to his own death, and from the organ-pipe of frailty sings his soul and body to their lasting rest”. And after his father’s death, Prince Henry again is the one who philosophizes the inevitability of death (even to kings and mighty potentates), as he looks at his father’s body and mutters: “this was now a king, and now a clay”.
And it was this that inspired the title of my piece: ‘Now a King, Now A Commoner’. By the way, thank God Sanusi has only gravitated from a ‘king’ to a ‘commoner’ –and not, like King John, from a king to a ‘clay’. And when I looked up the meaning of ‘gravitate’ (in contradistinction to ‘gravitas’ which resonates the ‘solemn’ or the ‘serious’), my ‘Encarta Dictionary’ revealed quite an interesting nuance. To ‘gravitate’ is to move “steadily toward something” it says, “as if drawn by some force of attraction” -or gravity, if you will. And who will deny the fact that Sanusi, since he assumed office as Emir of Kano, had been captive of some inexplicable gravitational force, and which had pulled him ‘steadily’ but determinedly, ‘toward something’ –yes, ‘something’ which we are only now coming to know to be ‘dethronement’ and ‘banishment’. Every discerning observer of the tendentious loquacity of Emir Sanusi, right in the face of his agonizing political principals, and even as he bestrode a stool which is revered more for its dignified taciturnity than for the quality of the garrulous truth that comes out of it, knew that the man was an accident only waiting to happen. Because it is not only monarchic majesty that cannot endure the moody frontiers of its servant’s brow. Even elected political potentates, provided they are invested with the power to ‘hire and fire’, are unlikely to tolerate the moody frontiers of their appointee’s brow.
Let’s face it, Emir Sanusi was the quintessential antithesis of every royal conduct except that he was a connoisseur royal regalia and the habiliments of royal outings. In fact in that you must admit Emir Sanusi was more peacock than the peacock. But in the commonization of his royal appearances and in the banality of his royal interlocution, Emir Sanusi had taken the majesty and the awe-inspiration out of the character of kings. Royals deliver not their words by ‘numbers’; but they are known in every clime to do so by ‘weight’. They seldom talk; and even when they do, royals speak only with measured tongues. So that even the very little words that they vouchsafe come down with the weight of the Ten Commandments, descending as if from Mount Sinai unto the Rock of Gibraltar. The words of kings should bear both the stealthy and the sober imprimatur of a code of law, and not fly weightlessly every second like the words of a court jester. Sanusi had done great disservice to the institution, especially of Northern royalty. And yes he did tell ‘truth’ to power. Even though those who have malevolent reasons to praise that now, condemned it when the truth he told was against their thieving heroes. And yes, he did tell truth to ‘power’. Even though considering his high taste for the exorbitantly exotic, he too approximated the very ‘power’ that many a commoner, if they had had the privilege of meeting him, would’ve loved to tell their little bitter truths to.
He who is down, they say, fears no fall. But it has taken Emir Sanusi to shred that adage on the altar of his daily royal daredevilry. Because now we know, thanks to Sanusi, that it does not take only those who are down to fear no fall. That a few men of courage too, like Sanusi, who stay high up above the clouds may also fear no fall. In fact Sanusi alone had added hair-raising, adrenaline-pumping stunts to the game of daring the elements while hanging precariously at the precipice of the political Grand Canyon. ‘Pity not my father’, Sanusi’s daughter was said to have said. She probably should have added: ‘he was as eminently daredevil as he was aware of the imminence of a sudden fall’. Sanusi’s self-harming daredevilry perfectly defined the Socratic courage –as being steadfast in the face of obvious danger. Socrates was gaoled and made to take the hemlocked allegedly for corrupting the youth of his days –with knowledge. And although he had an opportunity to escape his punishment, Socrates remained steadfast even in the face of the imminence of the danger of dying. Nor was his place of incarceration as lavish as Sanusi’s Loko. Or is it Awe?
Socrates’ knowledge was so ahead of his Grecian civilization, they said that he had come ahead of his time. And so from his low station as a ‘vagrant’, Socrates calmly accepted to return to his maker as ‘clay’. He was still worse than King John; who, from ‘King’ became ‘clay’. And since pro-Sanusis are now suggesting that he too may have come ahead of his time –considering his Socratic depth which the North unripe for- it should make sense to suggest that Sanusi too should bear his fate with Socratic resignation –and from ‘King’, stay as ‘commoner’, in the company of those he seeks to liberate.