Thursday, 17 April 2014

The Intellectual in Public Life

I recently came across a quote from Plato to the effect that those who refuse to participate in politics end up being governed by their inferiors, but then I suppose it depends who you imagine your inferiors to be. Dr Pat Utomi, the subject of this piece, once called the federal legislators ‘people of lower intellect,’ which they may well be although he didn’t care to elucidate. We do know, from another interview, that his ‘prime model’ of the ‘intellectual in public life’ was Patrick Moynihan, the four-time US senator who also found the time to write 19 books, one of which was nominated for a National Book Award. As one commentator quipped, this was probably more than many of his colleagues had read. It is almost certainly more than ours have done.
I gather from Wikipedia that Moynihan, who died in 2003, served his country well. Dr Utomi has never had the chance to prove his own mettle in the public arena although not for the want of trying. He made a bid for the presidency in 2007 and again in 2011 but they were always non-starters. Indeed, it seemed more like a publicity stunt, along the lines of Pastor Chris Okotie, whose own equally pointless bid – politically speaking - was more understandable given his showbiz antecedents. On the other hand, we have lately witnessed the rise of the so-called Public Intellectual, of whom Utomi is certainly one. We remember his popular Patito’s Gang (of which Dr Reuben Abati was a member), which reportedly drew two million viewers each week. Perhaps he felt the need for a bigger stage to air his views on the trouble with Nigeria. He has now lowered his sights – although not by much, given the realities on the ground - and is gunning for the Delta State governorship, which he hopes to clinch under the APC banner.
I should admit at once that I am no fan of the so-called mega-opposition party. I don’t understand how anyone can imagine that Tinubu, a byword for greed and nepotism but who Utomi cloaks with ‘the courage of the lion in taking on daunting obstacles,’ somehow represents a radical alternative to the daily revelations of mind-boggling venality. As for Buhari, ‘austere and ascetic’ he may well be, and perhaps even ‘a man of integrity,’ but there are those – and I am one of them – who consider him a stiff-necked tyrant with extremist leanings, having vowed to Islamise the entire country if given the chance.
Well, this is politics – and Nigerian politics at that – so it may be that Utomi believes he is in possession of a sufficiently long spoon. Whether such a spoon exists is as doubtful as whether intellectuals – public or otherwise – make good politicians. Perhaps they do; perhaps not. My own suspicion is not, which is why Patrick Moynihan is such an exception. That aside, what, precisely, is Utomi offering that will somehow be different from that so far offered by our intellectually-challenged legislators?
To be sure, our professor at the expensive Lagos Business School has penned a lot of words - 11 publications, according to his LinkedIn profile – and I’m sure he’s well regarded by his peers, but what I have read of his abundant journalism doesn’t inspire confidence, for instance the following in The Guardian of 3 August 2010, which is to say in the run-up to his last presidential bid:
Politics in Nigeria today lacks principles. We are currently in an era where carefree politicians are running government. They have lost the sense of governance. The politicians of these days lack shame and their conducts are not guided by principles. What makes the whole matter frightening is that at a time the country is facing life and death issues, our politicians are busy parading themselves in a way that can plunge the country into revolution. If we are not careful with the present set of politicians there might be serious anarchy because Nigerians are weary of governance.

Perhaps the good professor was undertaking an exercise in how to say nothing in one hundred words. Or what about this from his interminable Patito’s Blog: ‘Power is so central to modern life, its economy, its pleasures and its social organisation inefficiencies.’ At which point your local vulcanizer, hair dresser or Mama Put might wonder whether you had to go all the way to odobo oyibo – PhD Bloomington, USA – to reach such an obvious conclusion.
Utomi is currently mired in a squalid court case involving yet another bank failure. As one of the directors of Bank PHB, it is said that he benefitted to the tune of N2.7bn to prosecute his 2007 presidential bid while defending the notorious Francis Abuche, the former Managing Director who is accused of looting N25.7bn. Utomi claims that he spent only N30mn on his campaign and perhaps this was so. Jonathan himself blew N85bn on the primaries alone but then Utomi was his own party, as was the fashion in those days, hence our new ‘opposition’.
Utomi is immensely proud of his many degrees, appointments and honours attained at impossibly young ages, a trait he shares with his former gang member, Dr Reuben Abati, who made his own bid for power, with what results we all know. Hazlitt said it well:
Clever men are the tools with which bad men work. The march of sophistry is devious; the march of power is one. Its means, its tools, its pretexts are various and borrowed like the hues of the chameleon from any object that happens to be at hand: its object is ever the same, and deadly as the serpent’s fang.

Whether Utomi thinks he can actually win depends on whether he believes the INEC of 2015 will somehow be different from the INEC of 2011, which he described at the time as already rigged ahead of the counting: ‘It is not possible... The system we have now cannot give room for free and fait election’. This begs the obvious question but perhaps one should be wary of asking it.

©Adewale Maja-Pearce

This piece first appeared in Hallmark, 15 April 2014

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. The House My Father Built, a memoir, will be
published later this year.

Click here to see Maja-Pearce's page:


  1. unrelentingly dour.
    in a good way :)

    thank you for writing this.

  2. Thank you for taking the trouble to read and comment. We have a long way to go...

  3. Your piece only succeeded in raising one vital issue Nigerians dread. CHARACTER! A long way indeed to travel.