Homecoming for Dr. Patrick Wilmot’s Demons

With words dripping with unbridled condescension and know-it-all arrogance Wilmot systematically cuts down to size virtually every Nigerian that he comes across, save for Murtala Muhammed. It is all about him and there are few human beings alive or dead that measure up to His Eminence. Hear him on General Olusegun Obasanjo:

“[General Obasanjo] lacked the intelligence, compassion and common touch of Mandela, whom prison had transformed from a dashing liberation fighter into a world statesman… Obasanjo does not know that I was consulted when he was being considered for the job [with Transparency International], or that I endorsed him as alright by Nigerian standards. At the same time his principal backers were among the people who corrupted the nation, who had created the crisis afflicting it, and who sought a palliative rather than a cure.” (p 147)

Obasanjo is honest by Nigerian standards! Gratuitous insults like this (not aimed at Obasanjo but at Nigerians infect the pages of this book. Where is the outrage? Wilmot seems to be afflicted with a Messianic complex. Almost a decade after his former friends in the military ejected him from their space, he returns to Nigeria still seething with rage at their ingratitude. Not to worry, he returns to a massive hero’s welcome (if not in truth, at least in his dreams). It is now 2006 and Wilmot returns to find that he has adoring and apparently subservient former students everywhere he goes in Nigeria; at petrol stations, airports, bathrooms of the rich and infamous (he is always stopping to check if the bathrooms have water; nope, you got it right, there is never water!). They are so honored to be in his great presence they do favors for him (which he willingly accepts); he jumps queues for any and every inconvenience, he is parked in VIP lounges at airports and he gets upgraded to first class cabins and accommodations and they chauffeur him around as he hunts for his favorite Nigerian delicacy – suya. And he gets a 24-hour security detail presumably with a shrieking convoy to take him from worshipful masses to worshipful masses. For a reformer preaching justice, egalitarianism, order, blah, blah, blah, he is gleefully blind to the ethics of enjoying that which he rails against.

The greatest injustice that Wilmot’s book inflicts on Nigeria’s history is its revisionist history on the late General Murtala Muhammed. Murtala Muhammed’s crimes against Nigerians during the Nigerian Civil war are well documented and in today’s world, he would probably have been hauled before an international court of justice like Liberia’s Charles Tailor. They include ethnic cleansing in Asaba when he personally supervised the slaughter of hundreds of Asaba males, and bank robbery from emptying the vaults of banks of their cash. He was also a disaster in the war front; a Don Quixote so deadly in his poor judgment, the Biafran army made sure to eliminate hundreds of his solders. He was so bad he had to be recalled from the war front. It is true that when he became Head of State he loudly returned his ill-gotten properties and initiated a controversial war against corruption. It was long on drama and short on organization; to this day there are those who blame the state of today’s civil service on General Murtala Muhammed’s short reign. It is this man that Wilmot and apparently millions of a-historic Nigerians worship daily. I think it is unconscionable that an academic of Wilmot’s alleged stature would boldly erase this part of Nigeria’s history from the books. Instead we are treated to a most insincere hagiography of Murtala’s short life. Wilmot even has a most horrid poem that was “published worldwide” (an easily verifiable untruth) in Murtala Muhammed’s honor titled – Bloody Friday: Requiem for Muhammed. As a consequence, the reader is forced to endure outlandish predictions like: “If Murtala had not being murdered, it is my personal opinion that the continent would have been freed by now.” (p 85)

A quick digression: The Interventions series is the brainchild of Soyinka who provides the foreword to Wilmot’s book which is the sixth in the series. As Soyinka explains it, the rationale behind the series is laudable and one suspects that Soyinka is not going to be short of enthusiastic participants in what appears to have promise as an enterprising series. The good professor will however need to be more discerning and more discriminating in his choice of authors. Wilmot’s book has to be one of the most condescending, most patronizing, most disrespectful books ever written on Nigeria and Nigerians.

This reader oscillates between revulsion at Wilmot’s treatment by Babangida and revulsion at Wilmot’s delusion of grandeur as he compares himself to Che Guevera, Patrice Lumumba and Mandela (!). This book is a self-portrait of an enthusiastic self-promoter as he reminds the reader at every turn that he attended Yale and was school mates with George Bush, John Kerry, etc, etc. (p 13)

“I was an internationally known academic and author, the product of probably the most expensive education in the world, the winner of very expensive scholarships and fellowships. Yet here I was being treated worse than an animal by a corrupt third-rate military officer, a brutal semi-literate ‘intelligence’ chief and an obscure academic without a serious work to his name.”

Wilmot’s little red book hearkens to a time when poets and brutes in uniform cavorted around pepper-soup joints and plotted coups in the name of the masses and cavalierly rode Nigeria as if it was their okada motorcycle. Today, it seems lost on Wilmot that societies that thrive rely on sustainable structures, not individuals. You might even enjoy this book if you are prepared to endure gossipy crap like this:

“Abacha’s myth of infallibility was ended by a scandalous death, in the arms of foreign harlots, because most African women refused him anal sex to which he was addicted.” (p 140)

Otherwise, there is precious little that is remotely edifying about the book; instead what you will find instructive is the depths to which Nigeria has sunk.

There are occasional gems if you stick with the book long enough and you are not turned off by the relentless self-promotion. There are a couple of good essays. Wilmot is no fool. When he focuses on issues and strays from self-absorption, he can be almost impressive. His most disciplined work in the book is the essay, The Role of the African Intellectual. (p 100) It is focused and disciplined and worth the reader’s time. I would also recommend Politics for the 21st Century: How to Remake Nigeria. (p 90) However, even the best of the essays describe feverishly the situation; there are only half-baked attempts to dig deeper into the structural causes of the mess that Nigeria finds itself. Solutions proffered are sophomoric, dated and in some instances quixotic. An avowed socialist, Wilmot’s solutions to Nigeria’s dilemma are straight out of a peppersoup bowl of inchoate economic policies – a farcical mixture of socialist and capitalist tripe held together by angry riffs – a dated albeit quaint throw-back to the sixties:

“Anti-people programs pushed by neo-liberal forces in the IMF and World Bank could not work because they promoted mass poverty and prevented economic take off by constricting effective demand: people would have no money to purchase the consumer goods produced by budding industries.” (p 61)

One learns from Wilmot’s book that there are there are two sets of tyrants currently taking turns to traumatize Nigerians – the intellectuals who practice the tyranny of the pen, and men and women in uniform and agbada who bludgeon the populace into submission with their guns and their lies. Wilmot represents the worst of Nigerian intellectuals who are trained to lecture, not to listen to their audience. They stand on the stage like regal bullies and hector the dispossessed with boorish lectures on what is wrong with their world. One refreshing thing about reading this tired self-serving book is Soyinka’s quiet vision. Almost lost in the unnecessary opacity of Soyinka’s discourse (in the foreword and an introduction to the Interventions series) is his road map for sustaining living breathing ideas. At the back of the book is an essay by Soyinka that serves as an introduction to the “Interventions” series. That essay is a good basis for dialogue on ideas for attracting, recruiting and sustaining a national discourse on the way forward for Nigeria. I think that Soyinka should reconsider the role of the Internet in actualizing this vision; he seems ambivalent about the use of emerging technologies and tools on the Internet to propagate his ideas. He may well prove to be wrong. But first things first: Bookcraft and Farafina publishers must hurry and fin a really good editor with enough gumption and stature to stare Kongi down and chop his sentences into short, readable sentences. An onion doesn’t sting until it is chopped.

Wilmot’s enemies, and they are legion, are right; he is abusive, arrogant and extreme. His book is patronizing, condescending and innocent of rigorous scholarship – a long irritating baying at his moon. Heckling, petulant, aggrieved, too pissed off to engage in serious self-reflection Wilmot’s book finally succumbs to his lunatic rage and crumbles into wretched incoherence. Wilmot should retire to his council flat in London and never ever return to Nigeria unless he pays for an attitude adjustment. Nigeria is not a mute okada motorcycle that he can ride willfully. The good news is that Wilmot is not planning to retire to Nigeria anytime soon. In 2006 when he was asked if he will return he flicked off the idea, thoughtfully observing that Nigeria has not made any progress: “If you had good public transport, good health and education systems, maybe I will be back. But I can’t spend the rest of my life here.” If in the unlikely event, he returns with the same silly attitude, all of Nigeria should join the dictator du jour to deport him – this time, straight to Jamaica. For now, Wilmot should count his lucky stars: Winston Churchill once famously said: “History will be kind to me for I intend to write it.” History will be kind to Dr. Patrick Wilmot for he has written it.

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