Rejoinder To Mr. Femi Olawole

by Sonala Olumhense

First of all, congratulations on the publication of your book, ‘THE PRICE OF A RECKLESS PAST.’ In my lifetime, hopefully, talented Nigerian writers will be able to publish and make a decent living in Nigeria without having to seek the succour of New York or Wilmington. Your comments on my article, “Patriotism, Dead or Alive,” came to my attention only yesterday. Installing me in a group, you accuse me of “a chronic pessimism as to become pathetically blind to the emerging new Nigeria,” and of not bothering to “proffer alternative leadership or management strategies.”

I am in agreement with you, and have never held otherwise, that the problems of Nigeria “did not start in 1999,” (by which you mean, with Obasanjo); and that Nigeria “no longer operates a unitary system of government,” (by which you mean there are other organs to be held responsible for Nigeria’s problems, and presumably, I do not do so).

In my article, you also point out: “not even once did Olumhense found (sic) it necessary to demand (sic) for an account of stewardship from the governor of Edo, his home Sate.” Is it possible that you unwittingly unveiled your motive in this paragraph? I am of a small ethnic group, and have absolutely nothing to gain by engaging the gears of ethnicity in my work. What does a state Governor have to with President Obasanjo? And how would questioning my local government councillors, as you suggest, have affected my thesis that the N600 million being spent by the Obasanjo government on laundering Nigeria’s image is money wasted?

Even then, I criticise the Edo State Governor more frequently than any other. Last year, in my BACKPAGE MONDAY column in NEW AGE, I offered him undivided critical attention.

I am sorry I am unable to offer you, Mr. Olawole, what qualifies for you as “constructive criticism,” adding my State Governor to my evaluation of a public policy with Presisent Obasanjo’s name on it, or proposing approaches, solutions, alternatives so as to make myself sound fair. If you cared, and took the trouble to research my work, you would find more than enough of those. But I guess it does not matter: if I had a Ph.D, I would he qualified to join the category you once referred to as “bolekaja” critics.

You say some of us “latch on to the moribund dusk of the past with no hope for a glorious dawn.” Is this assessment on the basis of this one article, or can you really demonstrate this from my earlier work? As one proud of his Nigeria-ness and the author of the poem, “BECAUSE I LOVE YOU,” which ends, “Because I love you, Nigeria, I’ll just love you,” I challenge you so to demonstrate.

I am hard on President Obasanjo, but that is not out of hatred for a Yoruba man, but out of love (and pity) for Nigeria, in which I fully believe. I have addressed equally harsh terms at Ibrahim Babangida, Sani Abacha, the Senate, Ibrahim Mantu, Mrs. Okereke-Onyuike, Muhammadu Buhari, Emeka Ojukwu, Augustus Aikhomu, even Nasir El-Rufai (yes, the same hero!). I am hard on Obasanjo because he knows the answers (as you would if you availed yourself of documents of the African Leadership Forum, of Transparency International, and of his own ealier speeches), and because he is throwing away a historic opportunity. I have called him uncultured, which he is, but only when he advertised himself as such by the use of his own mouth. It has nothing to do with the white man’s standards, as you allege. Calling names is not really my style, but I do not confer respect where it is not deserved.

I wonder where you are when I praise Obasanjo for strong policies? Is it a crime to point out wrong policies, or to call upon him to implement, or to point out how failure to implement is keeping us down?

Mr. Olawole points to my “rabid nay sayings that are borne out of personal failures, frustrations and furies.” Although he and I partly share the same Yaba/Ebute Metta background, I do not think he knows me that well, or has read my work that faitfhfully. While we are all products of our history, I urge him to be a little more conscious that not all of us are preoccupied with an ethnic agenda, which seems to be one of his two critical themes as a commentator.

The other, crystallized during a ride given him in Lagos by a Nigerian Big Man one generation back, is cynicism about columnists. According to Mr. Oluwole’s own account, his automobile and philosophical benefactor cautioned him that the “easiest contribution” anyone could make to a nation’s development was criticisms. “Many of these so-called columnists are like predator birds that are only interested in festering their nests. Only very few of them are sincere and selfless. Now, you take note of all their present stands on issues and try to match them with their stands on the same issues in say, 10 years time. I’m sure you will see a lot of changes.”

Adds Mr. Olawole, who obviously swallowed this disparagement, “The Chief had since been proved right.” This is no big surprise, because it seems to have governed Mr. Olawole’s world view ever since. A Nigerian writer feels Nigeria could be doing so much better, and bitterly criticizes the President for it, and he is looking for something for himself.

I have only one point to add, for myself. The first pieces I ever published appeared in NEWBREED and Lagos Weekend two years after Mr. Olawole took that ride into Lagos Island. Rather than evaluate and hang me on the basis of one July 2004 article in The Guardian, I invite him to audit me from that point on, in every medium in which I have ever been published, in order to have a fair, emm, statement of account. If he can point out even ONE inconsistency in my views, or establish malice of ethnic bias on my part, I permit him to humiliate me on this website, or in any medium of his choosing.

If he cannot, or will not, he owes me an apology as the least of the price of a reckless past.

*This article is being e-mailed directly to Mr. Olawole, to avoid his failing to see my response for many


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Anonymous April 15, 2006 - 7:34 am

He is such a genuine person. Bravo!!!

Anonymous August 5, 2005 - 3:09 pm

The author gave a detailed account to defend his work.


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