Thursday, 13 February 2014

Hidden histories

If I didn’t know better I might have thought that Dr Pat Utomi had been hired as a megaphone by our new mega-party, perhaps hoping to provide much the same service that Dr Reuben Abati has been doing so well for a PDP now in comical disarray. In a recent article in The Guardian (10 February), he rubbished the ‘cliché’ that ‘there is no difference between the major parties’, and that APC ‘will be ideologically left of centre, and very peoples oriented, a kind of people sensitive and responsive enterprise economy that is justice focused’.  He based his terrible grammar on the lessons of history, which apparently show us that ‘the kind of groaning and travails that currently mark the system have had a way of giving birth to something new and more desirable’. The history he has in mind is the American Civil War, which we may be ‘shocked’ to discover was fought under a Republican and not a Democratic president. He is also keen on one Roberto Michels, who apparently published a book in 1911 about ‘the important place of political parties structure in evolution’.
History invariably proves what you want it to prove, which is why it has to be endlessly re-written, but even so his example seems somewhat esoteric given that he doesn’t actually relate the one to the other. But perhaps he is obliquely suggesting that Nigeria is also on the verge of a civil war that will accommodate strange bedfellows, which is in the nature of civil wars, as we should know, having already fought one but for our obeisance to foreign narratives, being a foreign creation to begin with. Moreover, quoting an obscure scholar without interrogating his conclusion – at least for our own edification - seems to be in keeping with the ‘methodology’ of our self-styled public intellectuals whose want of rigour is encouraged by badly-edited newspapers which evince no interest in, for instance, unearthing the historical document we continue to labour under even as we get up conferences designed to evade the historical question posed by it.
Dr Utomi’s intellectual sloppiness encompasses his assessment of our ‘people sensitive’ would-be saviours. Tinubu, of whom he ‘can speak with some fair amount of authority’ on account of the fact that he ‘spent a fair amount of time’ retreating with him both before and after he became governor, impressed him with his ‘passion for competence and his comfort level with having the best around him’. He also quotes the then US ambassador (who else?) who ‘wished the Federal cabinet were half as good as the Lagos State Cabinet’, and concludes by saluting ‘the courage of the lion in taking on daunting obstacles’, which he sees ‘clearly affecting the course of the APC’. He is less fulsome of the other two that make up his triumvirate but not by much. The ‘austere and ascetic’ Buhari is proved by those ‘at the bottom of the pyramid’ looking for a man of ‘integrity with a monomaniacal focus on the needs of the downtrodden’. Chief Bisi Akande is ‘someone who had been in government and who had shown uncommon touch for the common good while living integrity.’
I’m surprised that an intellectual – even of the public variety – should want me to believe what they say merely because they say it. I don’t personally know Tinubu but even his supporters concede that he is no Awolowo (which is perhaps why he needs intellectuals around him), and we all hear the roadside rumours – and read some of the evidence - about his greed and nepotism. As for Buhari, it seems surprising that he should feel comfortable endorsing a former military dictator and now a born-again democrat who not only executed three men with a retroactive decree in his previous incarnation but has insisted he will do the same again in his present one. With Chief Bisi Akande, we can hardly do better than let the ‘people sensitive’, ‘left of centre’ national chairman of our impending deliverance speak on his own behalf: ‘If election in our party is what you are trying to describe as internal democracy then we reject such idea... This is because it is the leadership of the party that understand the manifestoes of the party and know what the people really want.’
Once upon a time, Dr Utomi dug it out with Chris Okotie, the pop star-turned-pastor, in vying for the presidency of Nigeria, but is now content it seems to settle for his ‘main role’, which is ‘to pull together a formidable opposition and help build a value platform on which it could rest’ given his interest ‘in principles, systems, values and institutions that shape human progress’. Nor is he shy about burnishing his credentials. We are told, for instance, that he was once ‘matched in the top traunch of the Presidential debates with candidates Umaru Yar’Adua and Muhammadu Buhari’, that he ‘worked with General Buhari, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar and others’ to expose the flaws in the 2007 elections, and that he also ‘worked...with the late Chief Anthony Enahoro and Chief Olu Falae’ on something or other.
As CVs go, the absence of concrete detail might work with those who are themselves so bloated with their self-importance as to anticipate the desires of the great unwashed they would represent, but then this is Nigeria, where his brother philosopher earlier referred to – also widely published in the same ‘flagship’ newspaper before he opted for the trappings of power – has been defending the indefensible with similarly abstruse allusions. It is perhaps instructive that neither of them ever fails to remind us of their precocious doctorates while the rest of us were frittering away our time in extra-curricular pursuits.
If indeed he is applying for a job in the upper echelons, a word of advice: refrain from referring to members of the national assembly as ‘people of lower intellect’. They may well be so but will not take kindly to the description, irrational as this may seem to loftier minds.
© Adewale Maja-Pearce
Adewale Maja-Pearce is the author of several books, including Loyalties
and Other Stories, In My Father's Country, How many miles to Babylon?, A
Mask Dancing, Who's Afraid of Wole Soyinka?, From Khaki to Agbada,
Remembering Ken Saro-Wiwa and Other Essays, A Peculiar Tragedy, and
Counting the Cost, as well as the 1998 and 1999 annual reports on human
rights violations in Nigeria. He also edited The Heinemann Book of African
Poetry in English, Wole Soyinka: An Appraisal, Christopher Okigbo:
Collected Poems, The New Gong Book of New Nigerian Short Stories,
and Dream Chasers.

Click here to see Maja-Pearce's page:


  1. Another audacious brew of controversy by Wale. Hmmmm!