Adeniyi, Peterside – When Carelessness Begets Recklessness

by Banjo Odutola

A study of more than 65 countries published in the United Kingdom New Scientist magazine suggested that the happiest people in the world live in Nigeria. Without knowledge of the survey techniques and objectives of the research: was carelessness which begets recklessness, an ordinary human behaviour trait which saddens others but amuses us, quantified, to determine our euphoria?

The drama in Lagos during the week of the national strike over removal of subsidy for Premium Motor Spirit (PMS) is gradually developing into a genre of Art imitating Life. The revelations in Alan Bennett’s Habits of Art are impaled in contrast.

For some of the sensations, there were no scripts; indecorous acts took over at the theatre of ignominy; falsehood competed with documented facts to be crowned as truth; people who did not understand the issues became arm-chair experts on television; tweets and mentions of removal of subsidy was a trend on social media websites; finger-pointing obscured why soldiers were deployed on the streets of Lagos State; hypocrisy granted failed politicians carte blanche to re-emerge wearing different garbs by being the loudest in a leaderless movement of genuine protesters. These were amongst what made inuredness of misery laughable, not joyous.

Peculiar, amongst the protesters were the Hermes, Louis Vuitton and Ankara fashionista tribes of Ikoyi, Victoria Island and Lekki, the upscale areas, largely residential, picnicking at Falomo to protest removal of subsidy. Their personal adornments, unconscionably were valued at hundreds of thousands of Naira – even, when out on a protest. Few, if any of them can boast of paying minimum wages to their servants; they benefit mostly from fuel subsidy to the detriment of protesters in Ojota, a densely populated area.

Those of that neighbourhood, arguably, came to Lagos because the former group benefit from subsidies to which they are entitled. It was such a laughable irony that the index of happiest people could not have captured. Queen Marie Antoinette would have wished she was born a Nigerian at a time like now: “Qu’ils mangent de la brioche” would not have been very much less offensive. As a pertinent joke, we would have circulated it through, Twitter, Facebook and Blackberry, like the message of the boy growing up without shoes in the company of a prince, princess and daughter of an academician.

Central to this treatise is the drama on the pages of ThisDay Newspaper publication between Mr. Olusegun Adeniyi, Chairman of the newspaper Editorial Board; author of recently released book: Power, Politics & Death – A Front Row Account of Nigeria Under the Late President Yar’Adua and Mr. & Mrs. Atedo Peterside. The husband is the Chairman of Stanbic-IBTC Bank; member of the National Economic Management Team; supporter of the incumbent president, Mr. Goodluck Jonathan.

For the sake of full disclosure, the couple are people that I met several years ago before they became very successful. In my estimate, they are very fine people; I do not know them well enough to write on their behalf. This treatise is based on available facts provided by Mr. Adeniyi.

It can be said of Mr. Peterside that he exudes such veneer that he cared not whose ox is gored when in pursuit of rightfulness of an argument. His fierce intelligence equates his short shrifts; both of which can be intimidating to the unwary. These estimates are views from the days of yore, when youthfulness made such intimidation, unfettered – old age may not have tempered the same.

The Quakers’ principle of: “give me a child and I shall show you the adult” informs this estimate of the Banker. Beneath what may come across as his aloofness is his frustration that what is right and seemingly simple to him appears complex to others. He demonstrated the same at his television interview. His pulchritudinous wife is more accommodating and a calmer effect on him: quite a reasonable person. The reason for this introduction shall be evident below.

So, reading the text ascribed to them was out of expectation.

The Chairman of ThisDay Editorial Board is an acquaintance only through what he writes. Admittedly, there is a personal passing interest in the salacious expose in his column. Accusation of his disregard of private space in his publics and name dropping in his articles are inadequate to warrant indignation of readers. That is unfair to him.

Followership of an opinion-shaper, mostly the forte of journalists, provides for attachment of levels of seriousness to what is written. The Verdict according to Olusegun Adeniyi, ThisDay Newspaper for me is equivalent to: Private Eye HP Sauce or Evening Standard London Diary column. It lacks serious analysis of any topic dealt with. The journalist is conversant with his readership and copies of their newspaper sell by millions.

There is nothing wrong in dropping names of acquaintances. It often underlies insecurity, of sorts – so what? Would most of us not do the same, if opportune? The journalist hobnobs with saints and sinners. Such name dropping is unimpressive to a certain class of readers; so is his pomposity. Natheless, these do not vitiate that he is equally a fine gentleman.

From reading his column, he does not suffer fools, gladly – my homeboy. He wields his pen readily when he senses undue molestation – ask Mr. Dele Sobowale of Vanguard Newspaper; now, Mr. & Mrs. Peterside.

The summation of what occurred between the couple and the journalist is a drama of carelessness begets recklessness.

In that ThisDay newspaper article, titled: “Their Son, Our President”; according to the journalist, the Banker and his wife had sent him what he regarded was an invective and caustic short message services (SMS) text because of a perceived membership of a cabal when he was a spokesperson to Mr. Yar’adua, former president of Nigeria. Unfortunately, no strict evidence was provided that the text was actually composed and originated from the couple. For his sake and that of ThisDay newspaper, it is hoped he charged at the real culprits from whom came the text. If the text is properly attributed, the couple were careless to forget a Yoruba axiom: Iyawo to na omo obakan, Oro lo fe gbo – translated roughly: the wife who punishes her step-child invites personal ridicule. One principle of power is never to upset a man with the might of the pen.

Taking the information provided by the journalist at face value, interpretation of the couple’s mens rea was imported by him. Agreed, he felt insulted; the Petersides, like most Nigerians were rightly frustrated at the brazen disregard for the Constitution – not because of a desire for Mr. Jonathan, their kith, to become the president. That, though, is no excuse for bad behaviour.

It appears that the journalist’s disapproval of the couple was slated for maximum effect. A fight measured for another day; for effect, it was to be public. It may well be that the journalist bided his time for an appropriate time to serve the Banker and his wife, a just desert.

From the facts, the journalist was a non-issue in the debate of subsidy removal. When the couple sent out the purported text, to them, he was no longer an issue – irrelevant, actually. So, on receipt of a private text not intended for the journalist, carpe diem, the journalist must

have thought. An innocuous message, at best, the Banker’s personal opinion, presented Mr. Adeniyi an awaited opportunity to use his column to vituperate the man and his wife, to boot. His resentment of the couple was palpable. Their carelessness birthed the journalist’s reaction. Regrettably, the journalist’s powerful and intelligent points on removal of subsidy, a kindred with the Banker, lost their potency in the midst of what he could have ignored. He allowed resentment to overpower an impressive and strong argument. What a shame?

Was it not Malachy Mcourt who said: “Resentment is like taking poison and waiting for the other person to die”? Mark Twain rightly captured the same in: “Anger is an acid that can do more harm to the vessel in which it is stored than to anything on which it is poured.” This verdict is ruinous to the Christian piety that the journalist has written about, and of his heritage. In all of this drama, he is possibly wrenched by his recklessness; the couple by their carelessness.

There is no need to be less charitable against them, all. Their foible is understandable, though, pitiable.

In this event, there are two matters of instruction: Firstly, common to the Banker and the journalist, both have behaved without restraint; used their privilege to misbehave jejunely. As both of them are recognisable leaders in the country, their insouciance for proper public conduct paves no good example to the next generation. The quality of a society is reflected in its elders. If these are representative of our elders, our value system is wrong. No society succeeds with unacceptable norms such like this. The concept of: “Rank does not confer privilege or give power. It imposes responsibility” attributed to Peter Drucker, the American writer on Business Management is applicable to all parties in this fracas.

Secondly, other contributors have now enlarged the script of what transpired. This is the aftermath which is easily taken for granted by those in leadership of our country. Both the journalist and the couple are in this class, and crass. Facts and fiction are now interdigitated; a national debate is reduced to the carelessness of the couple and recklessness of the journalist; ethnic jingoism is becoming rhapsodised. Such spectacle is often repeated.

The dignity and respectability of all concerned which mere mortals like us cherish is at a crescendo of doubting if they are not as awkwardly irresponsible as the rest of us.

This theatre must end, now.

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