Martin Luther King’s ‘MIGHTY STREAM OF RIGHTEOUSNESS’ By Wole Soyinka

On Friday, February 28th, our kinfolk in the United States, standing shoulder to shoulder with their white compatriots of conscience who have repudiated, or are laboring to discard the privileged mores of a culture of racist disdain, will re-enact the great march on Washington that was once led by Martin Luther King. They will re-awaken the convictions that gave birth to the world acclaimed oration of the twentieth century, delivered by the militant preacher and advocate of non-violence. 

Coming in the wake of movements inspired by the horrifying last utterance of one black victim after another – “I Cannot Breathe” –  now known and shared across the world as BLACK LIVES MATTER,  one’s mind compulsively wanders over certain portions of that speech. This is hardly surprising in my case, since – I here reveal – I once declaimed portions of that speech – and in French to boot! – in 1989, in Paris. That national event took place under the 200th Anniversary Monument to the ‘Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen’, a product of the French Revolution – a word I suppose we should use only with government permission these days! 



Again, like millions of others on this continent, but most immediately within the Nigerian borders, I have mulled over that watershed episode over and over again. Within the past few days however, like millions of others, I have been compelled to re-phrase that earlier mentioned global litany to read: DO NIGERIAN LIVES MATTER? DO FARMERS’ LIVES MATTER? DO IPOD LIVES MATTER?  DO INNOCENT LIVES MATTER? And most disturbingly: DO FUTURE LIVES MATTER?

One passage in Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” has leapt to the forefront as a warning that relates to that final interrogatory – DO FUTURE LIVES MATTER? And it does so in a most literal manner, one that MLK could never have envisioned!  It persists in echoing through the mind, reinforced by the recent killings of innocent humanity – mostly youths – in Enugu, by state forces,  under the pretext – shall we presume? – of preventing secessionist agitations?  More of that in the fullness of mandatory and transparent investigation before the entire nation. For now, we must return to the MLK proclamation, one that is fortuitously pertinent to a structural provocation that is poised to rip apart the remaining shreds of pretense that continue to hold this nation together as one. The passage under reference goes thus:

“No, no, we are not satisfied and we will not be satisfied until justice rolls down like waters, and righteousness like a mighty stream.” 

Sometimes, and in some unintended circumstances, words descend from their heights of rhetorical flourish to hit us right in the guts of daily survival and anxieties for future existence. From metaphor, they turn literal! Such are the implications embedded in those words:

“…until justice rolls down like waters, and righteousness like a mighty stream”

Nothing mysterious. Let me remind you of the ongoing diabolical scenario that justifies the evocation of that warning, near literally!

A roundly condemned project, blasted out of sight by public outrage one or two years ago, is being exhumed and sneaked back into service by none other than a failed government, and with the consent of a body of people, supposedly elected  to serve as custodians of the rights, freedoms and existential exigencies of millions. This bill – BILL ON NATIONAL WATER RESOURCES 2020 is designed to hand Aso Rock ABSOLUTE CONTROL over the nation’s entire water resources, both over and underground.  

The basic facilitator of human existence, water  – forget for now all about streams of righteousness! – is to become exclusive to one centralized authority. It will be doled out, allocated through power directives from a desensitized rockery that cannot even boast of the water divining wand of the prophet Moses. If the current presiding genius – and this applies equally to ALL his predecessors without exception – had a structured vision of Nigerian basic entitlements, Nigerians would by now, be able to boast the means of fulfilling even that minimalist item of CORVID 19 protocols that call for washing one’s hands under running water! As for potable water, for drinking and cooking, let us not even begin to address such extra-terrestrial undertaking!

What next for the exclusive list? The rains? I declare myself in full agreement with virtually every pronouncement of alarm, outrage, opprobrium, and repudiation that have been heaped upon this bill and its parentage, both at its first outing and since this recent re-emergence. It is time to move beyond denunciations however and embark on practical responses for its formal deactivation and permanent internment. Let all retain in their minds that, from the same source that preached the  “streams of righteousness” is encountered the promise of “no more floods, the fire next time.” In any case, let the promulgators of this obscenity, high and low, understand that the placid waters they think to control unjustly and grotesquely, will turn to be Martin Luther King’s “ mighty stream of righteousness” that will overwhelm and sweep them off their complacent, and increasingly loathsome sectarian, conspiratorial heights. 

One polluted stream of human existence compounds the next. A violation here joins forces with its tributary of resentment there yonder, all seemingly unconnected. Martin Luther King’s streams of righteousness turn into a mighty torrent of repulse that overwhelms the perpetrators but, alas, takes down much else as collateral, irreparable damage. That is the only cause for regret and – restraint. Hence our duty to position that anguished question frontally, and call the world to witness our open propagation of that challenge:  DO FUTURE LIVES MATTER?  

Let Buhari and his myrmidons ponder that question in the deepest recesses of their hearts and minds. They should not bequeath to future generations the harvest of the grapes of wrath!  

 

Wole SOYINKA

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