When I wrote “The Nigerian Image Project” over 2 months ago, my main objective was simply to show that ours was not a hopeless nation. Although many commentaries on the issue could have inspired the article, I specifically referred to two in The Guardian-online of July 25, 2004. They were “Encounter with the Information Minister” by Dr. Reuben Abati and “Patriotism, Dead or Alive” by Mr. Sonala Olumhense. I picked these two because they were written by those I called “ogbologbo” columnists.
One thing that never ceases to amaze me is the gross inability of the most chronically cynical of Nigerian critics to tolerate the slightest form of criticism when, for once, it’s directed at them. Most of the time, one has to remind them of the adage, “Do unto others as you would like them do unto you.”
This was precisely the issue with Mr. Olumhense in his “Rejoinder To Femi Olawole” as published on the Nigerians-in-america web site on October 6, 2004. Although he wanted to come across as protesting against just one article, he actually ended up writing his rejoinder against 3 of my previous articles. While one portion of the piece was aimed at my “The Nigerian Image Project”, another portion attacked “The Columnist as an Autocrat” and the concluding portion went for my jugular for “Obasanjo And The Bolekaja Critics” (the last two were written some years ago). I really have no quarrel with anyone reacting to an old article more so where the individual feels his or her ox is gored. I was only surprised that the respected columnist chose to take the issues raised in those articles so personal.
Contrary to his strong claims, nowhere in my article, “The Nigerian Image Project” did I accuse him of ethnic bias. Rather, here is what I stated in the article:
While Dr. Abati was graceful enough to make a public revelation of his redemption from the abyss of cynicism, the same thing cannot be said of another group of Nigerians who thrive on incorrigible cynicism. In this group is Sonala Olumhense whose article titled “Patriotism, Dead or Alive” appeared on the same page as that of Abati’s.
That article was nothing more than an exercise in literary platitudes. It was filled with the same old litany of woes, teeth gnashing and pent-up fury. Nowhere did the columnist see anything good to write home about his country. And, even though he felt the president and the other public officials were not steering the ship of State properly, he never bothered to proffer alternative leadership or management strategies. It was vintage arm chair criticism.
Prowling the pages of national newspapers and the internet are the likes of Olumhense with a mission to rally the rest of us with their rabid nay sayings that are borne out of personal failures, frustrations and furies. They latch on to the moribund dusk of the past with no hope for a glorious dawn. And they are so consumed with such a chronic pessimism as to become pathetically blind to the emerging new Nigeria. To them, our nation is eternally doomed.
It’s noteworthy that 3 major issues emerged from Mr. Olumhense’s 3-in-one rejoinder:
(1) He claimed to agree with me that the problems of Nigeria did not start in 1999 (i.e. with Obasanjo’s election as president).
Yet, this same columnist has practically made a career out of blaming Obasanjo for every one of the nation’s political, economic and social problems. In fact, in his latest piece in The Guardian-online (“Implementing 1960” October 5, 2004), he wrote among other things that “Sani Abacha years were better than what we have now”. Nothing could be more hyperbolic, emotional and cynical than this statement. One could only wonder where the columnist was all through the infamous Abacha years..in a New York safe haven?
(2). He also stated his agreement with me that “Nigeria no longer operates a unitary system of government” (i.e. the Executive (at Federal, State and local govt levels), the Legislature (at Fed, State and Local govt levels) and even the Judiciary, all have separate but joint responsibilities for the ship of our nation state).
However, Mr. Olumhense, in his latest Guardian column, would want the president to be personally held responsible for road traffic jams, shylock landlords and other mundane things (can you believe that?). Whatever happens to the inputs of local government chairmen and State governors along with their respective legislators in the provision of social amenities? It appears Mr. Olumhense will just not let go of the old unitary system of government. Or is he just obsessed with Obasanjo, the man as opposed to the president named Obasanjo?
And (3), Mr. Olumhense stated that I accused him of not bothering to proffer alternative leadership or management strategies. That was absolutely true. For instance, in his article, “Patriotism, Dead or Alive”, nowhere did he offer alternative avenues by which the nation’s image could be salvaged.
In spite of its many smokescreens, Mr. Olumhense’s piece was specifically designed to portray me as an ethnic jingoist whose writing objective is to defend his “kinsman” (Obasanjo). In other words, both the president (who doesn’t even know of my existence) and I are guilty of being Yoruba. And it does not matter that I’m a great fan of Dr (Mrs) Akunyili, Mallam El Rufai, Emeka Chikelu, Mallam Ribadu and several other non-Yoruba but wonderful guys who are busy salvaging our nation from the shackles of a piled-up, 44-year-old rot.
An identified cardinal rule of engagement in Mr. Olumhense’s world as a cynical critic is that a person automatically forfeits all rights to free expression of positive opinions simply because the subjects of that person’s commentaries are “unfortunate” to come from the same ethnic group as him or her. This therefore means that the Igbo commentators stand condemned for having the temerity to pay glowing tributes to Dr. (Mrs.) Akunyili of NAFDAC. And the same condemnation goes to every Hausa/Fulani writer who dares sees anything good in Mallam El Rufai of FCT. For God’s sake, cynicism shouldn’t have to be carried so far!
It was quite obvious that Mr. Olumhense was very much bitter with my views in the much “older” article “The Columnist as an Autocrat”. It’s a pity, but I have no apology to offer him.
Many years ago and while wading through life with “undue radicalism”, I was so blinded by the revolutionary rhetoric of some well-known Nigerian “radicals” that I came to despise all those in positions of authority. It was fashionable in those days to dream of the day when all members of the “corrupt” political class would be rounded up and shot.
I soon grew older, wiser and began to assume higher positions of responsibilities both professionally and as a family man. I then began to realize the dynamics of leadership, the enormity of power and the vast difference between those involved in people/resource management and those who merely shout silly slogans on the sidelines.
And there was the advent of the IBB government in 1985. This was an era that marked the grand unmasking of several opportunists who used to masquerade as “activists”, “ombudsmen”, “social critics”, “Marxist”, “champions of the masses” etc. etc. These were individuals whose “righteous” stance on issues of national importance were not only the toasts of our economically impoverished people but also influenced some unfortunate peers to become so disgruntled as to engage in acts of commission for which they had to pay the supreme price. Alas! The “gold fish has no hiding place” (apology to James Hardley Chase).
Suddenly, we all began to witness the shameful transformation of these cynics as they took up public offices or (and) benefited from government patronage under the IBB administration. Indeed, from the IBB era to that of Abacha, the hitherto ragged, unshaven and hungry “activists” in the ivory tower, legal profession, the media and other areas of life soon began to swim in a pool of ill-gotten wealth, wear pants made of “wonyosi” lace material and paint the town red in exotic cars. And to compound the problem, these ex-cynics did not only flaunt their new-found wealth but also became such horrible tyrants in their little “empires” that even Abacha was green with envy. This therefore explains my disdain for all arm-chair critics, naysayers and the “all-knowing” public commentators who never see or expect anything good in their country and leaders.
The third article, “Obasanjo and the Bolekaja Critics” in a nutshell, was a plea for reasoning and decency in the growing cynicism industry. Here was my conclusion in the said article:
There are in fact, several other individuals from all the segments of the country who are joining hands with the president to improve the lot of our nation. We all can’t be in the government. And as stakeholders, we owe it a duty to keep those public officers on their toes by way of constructive criticisms and encouragement. Criticism is not however synonymous with the throwing of childish tantrums.
A good criticism can be made without the writer boring the readers with personal anger and frustrations. And neither is the employment of gutter language necessary before a point is made. Moreover, a critic does not have to transform him/herself into king cobra that has only hateful venom to dispense. Sometimes, he or she needs to look at the positive side with due acknowledgement. Finally, it does not matter if the president, a governor or any other public official is ugly, arrogant or unpolished in the way of the White man. Educated, matured readers are interested only in well-articulated issues, not personality.
Many Nigerians, especially among the younger generation, have been worried about the preponderance of ex-military men in the current political dispensation. The bitter fact of the matter is that the impatience of cynics and naysayers of old has been largely responsible for the stunted growth of democracy as a system of government in our nation right from independence till date. Consequently, member of the political class have not really been allowed enough time to master their art.
The “military boys” as “saviors”, had always been inspired to scuttle previous democratic dispensations by the professional cynics. Ironically, the military guys also became victims of the same impatient cynics who wanted our young nation to walk without first learning to crawl. Unlike the hapless politicians however, the “military boys” merely kept replacing each other in the “political musical chair” that power offered. And by the turn of the 21st century therefore, there has been a case of “Boys to Men” metamorphosis in the military barracks. Unfortunately (or is it fortunately?), most ex-military men have since become so politically nurtured and sophisticated as to even become “instructors” to the new class of politicians in the art of politics.
I must acknowledge Mr. Olumhense’s high intellect, brilliance and considerable experience in the journalism profession. He is one of those guys whose views I usually take seriously in view of their considerably high exposure to the practice of journalism. And I’m stating this fact in spite of his choice to be at the other side of the fence which, to me, is his penchant for arm-chair criticism. If only he would take a pause from his perpetual sermon of pessimism and sweeping condemnations to see that not all politicians are bad, corrupt and selfish. Our nation now has a new crop of young, brilliant and selfless individuals who are giving some of us the hope that there is light at the end of the dark tunnel. All we need do, for now, is give them a chance.
And as I stated in “The Nigerian Image Project”…the message of the minister of information to all the armchair critics out there can be summarized thus: They do not have a monopoly of concern for the current state of our nation. Hear the minister: “I am as concerned as you are. We are all in this together…..If we are all cynical, nothing is ever going to change. If we want to change this country, then all of us must make a contribution…”