Kingdom of Fools
By Lasisi Olagunju
(Published in the Nigerian Tribune on Monday, 15 February, 2021)
Wole Soyinka, last week, wrote about mad cows and madder narratives. Where else do cows, what they eat, how they eat, and where they eat dominate discourses in the 21st century if not in a kingdom of fools? And, again, last week in Ibadan, Nigeria, rotten tomatoes and how they were disposed of claimed lives and properties in horrendous proportions. You also read of Bala Mohammed, Bauchi State governor who herds his cows and shepherds his goats with well-loaded AK-47 rifles. Things that rule Nigeria’s nights and our days are incredible. They occur daily, and they are many. They sound unbelievably dark – like the sad tales from D.O. Fagunwa’s Irinkerindo.
Foolishness and idiocy are synonyms. Idiocy and madness are relatives – they are first cousins. Psychiatrists, in fact, say one is a form of the other. Fools are dangerous people; they are the more dangerous when they are made king over a people. As king, they can be as life-threatening and as unpredictable as death. The elements you find in avarice, thirst for impossible power, excessive self-love, nepotism and irascibility all cohere in the foolish king. When their kingdom is in turmoil, they throw a feast and pronounce themselves the best thing to have happened to their land. I go with John Locke’s position that idiots are ‘worse’ than madmen; they are people ‘deprived of reason’ – incapable of rational thinking and decisions.
The world is a big book on fools who ruined their nations, wrecked their people – and destroyed themselves too. The personal ability of the leader, more than anything else, determines the direction of a nation. What happens to a kingdom when the king lacks mental capacity? Read the story of Charles VI of France and that of Henry VI of England. John Blacman gives a sketch of Henry VI’s unstable state of mind: He was “remote and self-absorbed;” he did not “converse easily with his entourage or readily share their mundane concerns.” Charles VI’s father, in his deathbed, warned that his son was “of an unsteady temper.” Yet, he was made king soon after his father’s death. And what were the results of having these men as kings? R. Vaughan’s Valois Burgundy (1975 at page 7) bares it all for those who have sense: “Between 1380 and 1422, in the reign of the mad king Charles VI, France suffered rebellion and the civil wars of Armagnacs and Burgundians, quite apart from the disastrous depredations of the English from 1415 onwards. After 1422, England had a mad king too, Henry VI, founder of Eton College; She (England) experienced her own civil wars, the Wars of the Roses, in the middle years of the fifteenth century.” What does this tell you about your country and the ongoing high and low intensity cow wars everywhere?
Where fools – or people without presence of mind – rule, peace takes a flight; right is always wrong; truth told in naked verse is dangerous to the teller; paranoid is the king’s and his minister’s companion; their guide book hunts the plain talker, they seek to jail truth. But where do they always end? There is a folktale on fools recorded by the poet, A. K. Ramanujan in his ‘Folk Tales from India.’ I bring it here as summarized by a commentator, with my own intrusive words injected here and there:There was a kingdom of fools. In this kingdom, both the king and his minister were idiots. They reversed everything and denied justice to their people. They changed day into night and night into day. They ordered their people to sleep during the day and work only after dark. Anyone who disobeyed this order would be put to death. The people did accordingly for fear of being sentenced to death.
One day, two men, a priest and his assistant, visited the kingdom and found everything in reverse order. They were surprised to see all the people sleep in broad daylight. And when darkness fell, everyone became active. Their surprise doubled when they went to the market and found that everything cost the same. The priest and his servant were happy because the system allowed them to buy all the food they wanted for a pence. But the priest was a wise person. He told his assistant that it would not be safe for them to stay in the kingdom of fools. “This is no place for us; let us leave,” the priest told his assistant who, however, said he was not ready to leave that place of good and cheap food. “These people here are all fools. This thing you enjoy won’t last. Fools are dangerous people. Soon they will visit their idiocy on you,” the priest, again, warned his assistant who had plugged his ears with his index fingers. The priest left the kingdom and the assistant stayed on. Being a great lover of food, he ate his fill every day and became fat in a few days.
One day, a thief broke into a rich merchant’s house by making a big hole in the wall. But as he was going out with his loot, the wall of the old house collapsed on his head and killed him on the spot. The brother of the thief was mad, he came running to the king and pleaded with him to punish the merchant for not building a good and strong wall. The merchant was brought before the king. The king heard the case and found the merchant guilty of the thief’s death. The merchant, in his allocutus, put the blame on the bricklayer who built the wall. The bricklayer pleaded with the king to punish a dancing girl who distracted him when he was building the wall by going up and down that street all day with her anklets jingling. The dancing girl, now an old woman, was brought to the court. She put the blame on the goldsmith. She told the king that she had given some gold to the goldsmith to make some jewelry for her but he delayed the work and made her walk up and down to his house several times. The goldsmith was produced before the king. After hearing the accusation against him, he said he should not be blamed for the lady’s up and down behaviour. He explained that on that day, he had to attend to a rich merchant’s orders first as there was a wedding ceremony in his family. That was the reason he made the dancing girl come to his door many times. The king asked the name of the merchant. He was none other than the merchant whose wall had fallen. The merchant said it was his father who ordered the jewelry. But the father was dead, so it was decided to punish the merchant in his place – after all, he inherited the building from the guilty father.
A new stake was ordered to be ready for the execution of the merchant. But it turned out that the merchant was too thin to fit the stake. So, the king ordered that a fat man be searched for. The king’s eyes fell on the priest’s assistant who had fattened himself for months on cheap food. He pleaded with the king that he was innocent. But his pleadings were of no use. While he was waiting for death, he remembered his boss, the priest -and communed with him in spirit. The priest arrived at once to save his aide. He whispered something in his disciple’s ears. Then the priest did the unthinkable, he requested the king to execute him first. When the servant heard this, he said that he was brought there before his master, so he should be put to death first. The king was surprised to see the fight between the boss and his boy over who should be executed first. When the king asked them the reason, the priest hesitatingly told him that whoever died on the stake first would be reborn as the king of that country. The one who died next would be the minister of the country.
The king was puzzled – and alarmed. He did not want to lose the kingdom to someone else in the next life. So, he discussed the matter with his minister. You know greed and inordinate love of power are manifest symptoms of foolishness. Like African life presidents, this foolish king and his minister arrived at the conclusion that they should go on the stake, be executed, be reborn as king and minister and live happily thereafter in power and glory. They went secretly to the prison and freed the priest and his disciple. Then they disguised themselves as the two and got themselves executed. At the point of burial, the people were astonished to see the bodies as those of their king and the minister. The veil of idiocy fell off the people’s eyes. What shall they do going forward? They begged the priest to be their king. He said no, except they agreed to do things the way they should be done. The sober people agreed. The wise priest was crowned king and his assistant became the minister. The kingdom, from that point, began to lead a normal life. A people are as sane as the class ruling their affairs. End of story.
‘Intellectual disability’ (idiocy) and ‘mental illness’ have binary relationship – and it is self evident. That is the position of Murray Simpson in his ‘Idiocy and the conceptual economy of madness.’ Simpson speaks too about the “dispersal of madness across all branches of disease and illness.” Nigeria cannot be well with idiots, madmen and madder specialists running the show. Our constitution says people with mental illness should stay away from our leadership. We don’t want madmen as leaders but we elect idiots who drool over the sight and sound of disaster; people who invert reason and logic; people who fete deadly terrorists in Borno and Zamfara and terrorize peaceful protesters in Lagos. People who ask rape victims to accommodate the rapist – in their beds!
A nation at peace with disability cannot be well. Foolishness has fruits – and consequences. ‘Smart’ ministers may worm themselves into the living room of power; they may take advantage of foolish kings, but if you exploit the retard to fatten yourself, just know that every benefit you get from the fool is for a while; his next move you cannot tell. The safest thing to do, going forward, is, stay away from fools – do not set them on your throne, do not elect them as your leaders; they lack capacity, they cannot rule; they ruin.