Publication of a letter to an individual in our national newspapers, more often than not is a pejorative attempt to reason privately in a public space. Oftentimes, such letters offend and serve no purpose. They are useless ventures for neither game nor gain. Where they are to focus the mind of the person to whom they are addressed, the objective for publishing them are lost before attracting the right attention.
If grievances in public letters are for the advancement of a community: gentle diplomacy can no longer assist and neither are favours easily gained. When these letters are addressed to individuals – they are confrontational and provide a dialogue between the deaf and the dumb. They are peevish attempts at antagonising rather than reconciling. They breach sacred confidences and display an arrogance that betrays the writers’ as monopolists of wisdom or maniacs puling disgracefully. So, what is the essence of these public letters?
Let us consider a couple of them that may have started out with good intentions but ended damaging the writers. The defence or arguments marshalled, unfortunately betrayed what they are perceived to stand for. This is simply because their letters allowed us to form judgements about them, rather than the issues brought to our attention. These public letters are about the writers; people soon forget the issues.
The purpose of the published letters is lost in the unworthy damage with which the writers have visited themselves. In the two instances exemplified herein; and which characterise many of these letters, I asked myself what usefulness could making such letters public have done to bring peace between the writers and their antagonists.
First of such letters is the exchange between Professors Muyiwa Awe and Wole Soyinka. I am willing to place a bet that the charge upon Mr. Awe to win “lost souls” and convert them to his faith may not be achieved, if he were to attempt winning Mr. Soyinka for Christ. He conveniently wrote himself off as a failure to reach his “Eleke Ebu” friend. It is only for the purpose of the point that I strive to make that Mr Soyinka is considered a so-called: “lost soul”. If he has no need for the religion his friend is so passionate about, he is within his rights: whether his speech was directed to Mr. Awe or Mr. Idi-Iroko.
Is Mr. Soyinka still wrong to hold on to his suspicion of the Christian message? You bet. After all, his friend could not adhere to its tenements. Even, if Mr Awe were so vilified or berated – was it not required of him to turn the other cheek? Could he not have approached his friend privately and in love? Could he not have taken the same route as was done at Calvary? If Mr. Soyinka ever suggests that when Christians are not burdened by the obligations of their faith, their religion becomes less attractive; could he be blamed?
What about Mr. Soyinka’s letters? Would I dare make a comment? I make the point in Mr. Awe’s because from all inquiries, it appears the last exercise is uncharacteristic. To comment on the insolence in Mr. Soyinka’s letters is to waste precious space, which I do not intend. That is not to say that I do not respect the man for what he stands for. In fact, I do. On this occasion, Mr. Awe is likely to give a matured and measured reaction. Whereas, if the antecedent of his friend is the benchmark of how he is likely to react, he is going to engage his mouth before his head. An example is his recent exchange with Mohammed Haruna. As honourable as most of his intentions are – he never stops to dismay.
Mr Awe in his rebuke of his friend made reference to the expectations of others, when a man is in the twilight years of life. It is the “old age” and “public letter writing” that are the two intertwining strands in my subject matter. Consider the public letter to Chief (Mrs) Stella Olubukola Odesanya from Hon. Otunba T.O.S. Benson CFR, SAN – Baba Oba of Lagos, Asiwaju of Ikorodu, Aare of Ife, Sobaloju of Egba Land, Etc, First Republic Minister of Information, Broadcasting and Culture – these are the accolades that Mr. Benson wishes are not lost on the reader and perhaps appropriately too. Any reaction must take into account, all these paraphernalia that we must know about. Thank you sir! Well, I grant to him, that in the Nigerian space, the man is very important. But why has he invited a public debate to debase himself? Is this what old age is all about? Could old age not be kinder to this eminent man? Or, could this man not be kind to old age?
It may well be that minions like me, are not meant to react to the way this Octogenarian has chosen to blight the achievements built on sweat of many years. May be, it is expected of the reader to applaud his self confessed bad behaviour. In my view, his letter is deceitful contextually, intentionally vile and beneath contempt. For those willing to read it, try “City People” publication. Nonetheless, I shall attempt references in parts, in the hope that the grand old man may see the truth underlying his awkwardness. He seeks sympathy from the reader. That is a commodity that he and Mr. Awe should have afforded their preys. To grant Mr. Benson any sympathies will be wrong.
My principal intention is premised on his emotional blackmail that he is “waiting in the boarding lounge for my flight to be called to the other planet.” If Mr. Benson could perpetrate such an embarrassing and heinous display of contemptuous non-chalance against someone with whom he is clearly still in love with: waiting in a boarding lounge to go to another planet may be an inappropriate description of his spiritual well being. Mrs Solanke and new sympathisers that the octogenarian has accorded her may believe the eminent lawyer already lives in another planet.
His public letter is a parody. I am tempted on this occasion to believe “whenever God prepares evil for a man, He first damages his mind, with which he deliberates (Scholastic annotation to Sophocles’s Antigone 1)”. Mr. Benson must reconcile that maturity demands hopes of years gone by, must be allowed to decay and consigned to the bin of history.
The creator of the Rompole of the Old Bailey – a television series in England – John Mortimer, an eminent Octogenarian and a successful Barrister, before he retired, in his serialisation of Lies, Lust and Laziness. My legacy of advice for a happy Life opines ” Too many of us rabbit on incessantly about ourselves, repeating what we know already, and fail entirely to discover anything about the curious lives and the unopened histories of the people around us.” My description of Mr. Benson’s letter could not have been better described. Did he stop to consider the injury his letter would cause many people?
The irritation of his prosecution at the Old Bailey is understandable. The Old Bailey is an intimidating Criminal Court of Law, where several landmark cases have been heard. It is a place where criminality and history co-join to advance the essence of Law and Society. Often, it is from there the advancement of administration of justice evolves; sentences quashed; and Judges interpreting statutes, in a way that Parliament could not have intended: All in the name of protecting society and justice.
The crux of Mr. Benson’s public letter is a display of his fury against the older sister of a woman he still desires for a wife, even at old age. I have no doubt that Chief Mrs Folake Solanke SAN and her sister are well equipped to lacerate this cyst that may be considered malignant. I do not hold briefs for either one or both sisters. Even though, I have met one of them, once before: when her daughter was my University Housemate. I am motivated by nothing but a striking characterisation of the letter that concisely is a depiction of an elderly man behaving badly. If we learn to confront the truth in our society; if we strive to eyeball evil; and speak out notwithstanding the perils, our gains will be the legacy of a decent society for those behind us.
To those that may question my rights to comment on this matter – remember Mr. Benson introduced it into the Court of pubic opinion and as a juror, I see no way to absolve him.
If half a century is inadequate to let go of his desire for a woman that has no interest in him, eternity, also may not be enough. The issue of the dowry of fifty pounds is a red herring. His computation of the present day equivalence of the dowry paid for Mrs Solanke is a sweet 419 that would not work. I doubt, if Mr. Benson’s money were refunded, he would go away quietly. Anyway, as a lawyer, he ought to realise that his contract was with Pa Odulate, who collected the dowry. Therefore, the octogenarian’s gripe should be against the executors or administrators of the estate. It is ingenious and dubious to claim that the dowry money is a legitimate debt. How could an eminent lawyer attempt to pull this 419 publicly? What he considers a legitimate debt that he “cannot afford to underwrite” is over forty years old!
Mr Benson ought to conduct a legal research to find out the life span of a debt. This so called legitimate debt stopped being a debt long ago. He knows he cannot enforce it in any court of law.
He inferred that he does not love the wife he married. Consider this: demonstratively, no one is able to fill the void of his affection for Mrs Solanke. This is not complimentary to his wife or the mother of any of his children. If that aspect was never considered before he published the letter – that is revelatory.
In closing, I sympathise with the man. The pains of being with someone else, other than where his heart is, must be excruciating. On a man-to-man level, I volunteer the advice that he must take heart and appreciate divine intervention of grace in his life. That intervention has been kind to him. He ought not repay the divine generosity with causing pains to others. This is not a good way to be remembered. Neither, would Mrs Solanke throw in the towel and lay beside him, till death separates them. What may have been achieved by default is to confirm Mrs Odesanya’s fears, that T.O.S is a brilliant man and perhaps a good one too. But, he is unfit to be loved by her sister. This public letter does not depreciate that assertion. It serves to injure a great man and several other decent families – all to what end? Vanity.
The writer is a solicitor of the Supreme Court, England and Wales and a Lawyer at a Firm of Solicitors in London, England.