By Wole Soyinka
Once, the word featured prominently in the repertory of Nigerian shorthand diction. Indeed, I grew up thinking that it was only one word, not two, and assumed also that it was English, not Latin: infra dignitatem! I joined others in applying the shorthand to any situation where I felt that my dignity was assailed, that a chore was beneath my status, an individual beneath notice or a statement unworthy of response. Sometimes of course, it came useful when one could not think of an adequate response. Then, carrying myself as I had seen others do, I hissed, shook my head in disdain, and walked away as I spat out the ultimate sanction: Infradig!
That, to come to the present, constituted General Buhari’s response to the National Assembly’s invitation to drop in for a chat. He did not consider it infradig at the beginning.. He responded to the polite invitation to rub minds urgently over a people’s security anxieties as one who still struggled to preserve the tattered remains of his ‘Born-Again’ democratic camouflage. However, his reversal of consent raised yet again the frightening situation report I have fervently posed: Buhari is not in charge. Whoever is, that segment of the cabalistic control obviously cornered him on the way to the lawmakers’ chambers and urged: Don’t! Their invitation is infradig! He succumbed.
Beneath the dignity of a Commander-in-Chief! Well. The opportunistic homicidal respondents – Bandits/Boko Haram or whoever – thereupon picked up the gauntlet and provided a response in their own language: abduction once again of the nation’s children. They handed him a slap across the face, on his home terrain, taunting: See if that is more suited to your dignity.
If only this latest outrage were a personal contest of slights between insurgency and power – alas, its resonance is felt far beyond! It is merely the latest in the serial stinging slaps across the face of the nation, and it draws blood from every sensing citizen. Over five years since Chibok, we have yet to anticipate, and to guard against a repeat. We continue to hand over innocent wards cheaply, en masse, to the agents of darkness and despair. A government refuses to accept that, as indicated several times over, the nation is at war. At war within itself, and that it requires drastic measures, away from spasmodic responses after the dread deed, if there is any will left over to salvage what is left of nationhood.
The appropriate expression here is “thinking outside the box”. When others do, they deserve better than to be rewarded with banalities such as: The government will not be stampeded. The presidency will not be blackmailed. Stop politicizing the issue. The president is committed to preserving the integrity of the nation. We will not be bullied into abandoning our commitment to national unity. The sovereignty of the nation is non-negotiable…. and so on and on, ad nauseam.
Has anyone been detected marching to a contrary tune? Sure, we are assailed with such minority rhetoric from time to time but, is “unity” what is profoundly at stake? Does such predictable rhetoric remotely touch upon the existential anxiety of millions of humanity? Or are we confronted, at its most primary level, with a growing question of the ability of the nation to even feed herself? When defenceless farmers are set upon – what does it matter if it is fifty or a hundred? – are butchered in one fell swoop, harvesting their crop, does the sheer suggestion that they met their deaths because they did not seek military cover not speak to the parlous state of a nation, and her need to urgently “think outside the box”? What is tragically demonstrated daily in all departments of citizen survival is the need to overhaul the nation’s structural existence – beginning, obviously, with the imperative of guaranteeing that very existence. The rest is waffle. Vaseline massage on malignant tumour. Naional Infradig! Again, the nation laments – and waits.
•Soyinka is Africa’s first Nobel Laureate for Literature
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