By Rudolf Ogoo Okonkwo
In 2006, I had what became my last interview with Gani Fawehinmi. In that interview, he said that what Nigeria needed was a “shock therapy.” I have been trying to interpret that to Nigerians ever since, without success. And I have been trying to integrate that into my commentary, with little success.
Nigerians are the only people I know who love their comfort zone even when the zone provides them anything but comfort.
So if there is any political party that I want to join, it is the one that will administer a shock therapy on Nigeria and get the nation out of its comfort zone. It is under this premise that I am coming out in defense of Sam Omatseye.
For some reason, our paths never crossed. Even though we were in the same media industry for sometime, I do not recall reading his works.
He obviously got my attention and the attention of many others when he wrote, “Awo Family without an Awo.”
Many people have joined issues with him, including HID Awolowo, Ebenezer Babatope, Dipo Jimilehin, and others. His own Itsekiri people came out to publicly disown him. Everyone said that Omatseye had the right to express his opinion. Then, they all went ahead to admonish him for doing that. Fair game, I say.
Omatseye was accused of insulting the Awos. The real insult is the one thrown at Omatseye by those who think the opinion he expressed was bigger than him. In what could only be an act of desperation, these people believed that Omatseye was just expressing the opinion of his paymaster, Bola Tinubu.
I want to believe that Omatseye was expressing his own opinion. I say so because from what I have since read about him, I am confident that he is not afraid to express views that are out of the mainstream. He once wrote that Achebe’s Things Fall Apart was not all that. While I disagree with him, I know that it takes a lot of guts to express uncommon opinion in a society like ours.
It would have been a bit understandable to say that Omatseye took a bite out of the Awos just to sell his three new books than to make it look as if he is incapable of an independent thought.
I am for everyman’s right to be ignorant. I am for everyman’s right to be informed. What I do not support is anyone’s right to be indifferent. There are too many Nigerians who are indifferent. The large masses of Nigerians who are indifferent are the reason it is hard to find the critical mass needed to take effective action.
I subscribe to Oscar Wilde’s argument about books when I assess commentaries. There is no good commentary or bad commentary. A commentary is either well written or badly written. Sam Omatseye’s commentary on Awo’s legacy without an Awo is a badly written commentary.
We, the commentators, do that every day. We fail to give depth to our commentary. We fail to present a sociological base for our analysis. We even censor what is important in our contributions. I happen to know many commentators. And I can tell you that if they write half of what they know, they will ‘shock the nation.’
But they won’t. And that stifles their arguments.
Nigerians love their commentators to chastise those characters perceived to be corrupt or lacking integrity, or those adjudged to be disrespecting values Nigerians hold dear – whatever those values are. Commentators who hit the hardest are hailed the most, until the commentator touches one of our own. That is when we wonder what the commentator has been smoking and demand that he provides concrete proof. If the commentator dares touch any of our infallible, like Awolowo, Ojukwu, Zik or Ahmadu Bello, then we impose a fatwa and declare his or her writing career over.
It is legitimate to wonder what happened to the children of Awo, Zik and Balewa, M.I. Okpala, Ahmadu Bello, Akintola, Orizu, Okotie-Eboh, and Akanu Ibiam. It is legitimate to believe that they are not carrying their weight or that they lost their ways- in comparison to their fathers.
To do that properly, one has to look at it from the other angles. After all, it isn’t really a bad thing. In a country like Nigeria where the playing field is not level, it may be good that these privileged children “failed.” Their ‘failure’ opened the Nigerian space for others. Otherwise, Nigerian space will be dominated by the Belewas, the Aguyi-Ironsis, the Gowons, the Muhammeds, the Obasanjos, the Shagaris, the Buharis, the Babangidas, the Abachas, the Shonekans, and the Abubakars.
Another way of looking at it is that most of these ‘successful’ parents spent their time ‘being successful’ that they forgot to raise their children. And those who squeezed the time to do so, often find that their children are overwhelmed by their parents’ success that they lost any drive to strive. Omatseye touched on that a little bit.
As far as I’m concerned, these children are free to blend with whatever crowd they want. They are free to define their own destinies. We do not have the right to impose our expectations on them. It is not a debt that they owe us. That they chose not to join politics does not mean that they are not contributing.
This larger context is what is missing in Sam Omatseye’s piece. I used to think that lack of space in the newspaper is what stops our columnists from giving this kind of context in their analyses. But David Brooks of the New York Times does it in less than 700 words.
When Omatseye wrote that Obafemi Awolowo would have divorced HID Awolowo, it touched some nerves. Though Omotseye failed to tell us why, other than her hobnobbing with the likes of Alao-Akala, I do not see his suggestion as an imagination gone wild. It all depends on what HID Awolowo has been doing. After all, Nelson Mandela divorced Winnie Mandela. Nobody saw that coming during those 27 years that Mandela was in prison and Winnie was leading the fight against apartheid.
Personally, at 96, I felt that HID Awolowo shouldn’t be blamed for whatever is wrong in the Awolowo family. I have a 100 year-old grandmother. I cannot imagine her being blamed for whatever is wrong in Ezeobidi family. But then again, my grandmother does not appear on T.V. She does not run a newspaper. She does not meet with local and national politicians. She does not run the Ezeobidi family.
On May 25, 2010, 84-year-old Queen Elizabeth II was caught picking her nose while riding in a carriage and wearing the British crown. It was not a difficult decision for the British media. They splashed the picture on their front pages.
And that, my friends, is why the head that wears the crown lies uneasy. To the media, the head that wears the crown is never innocent. And it is always a target for public scorn.
Even The Queen Mother at age 102 was not spared by the British media. They still counted the number of bottles of alcoholic beverages she drank in a week. Neither was Mother Teresa. Her critics followed her around even as she served the poor people of Calcutta. Those who cannot stand the heat have only one place to go- Greenland.
Note to Babatope et al: Admonishing old people perceived to have done wrong does not preclude anyone from attaining old age. Those who want to attain old age should simply start exercising, stop smoking, stop drinking and stop having unprotected sex. Chikena!
A version of this was first published by Nigerianewsday.com