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Just Look At The Time! … Thirty Years After … Just Look At Nigeria Today! By Bayo Oluwasanmi

May 6, 2013

Just look at the time! … thirty years after … just look at Nigeria today!

Just look at the time! … thirty years after … just look at Nigeria today!

Sonala Olumhense’s last column for The Guardian appeared in SaharaReporters on April 28. Arguably, Olumhense is the only star columnist left after the exodus of his colleagues at the Guardian. The entire Guardian franchise rests on his shoulders.

My first contact with Olumhense was on the pages of Punch. That was more than thirty years ago.  His articles traveled a range of great variety of social problems that continue to haunt our great country till today.

I became a disciple of his column because of his lucidity, style, insight, and content. Though occasionally vilified by his critics – mainly by the politicians he wrote extensively about – he refused to recant his open views.

A typical Olumhense’s column addresses three flavors of the foolish: simpletons, fools, and mockers. Simpletons the naïve, fools the morally numb and mindless, and mockers the aggressively defiant and cynical.

Again, typical of Olumhense, he’ll quickly remind his readers that all the three are all alike in one way: they pay no attention to wisdom and suffer the consequences.

His writings represent a timeless treasure from aggrieved mind to his subjects – the government and the governed.

 In clinically distilled nuggets of venom, Olumhense would warn us against absolute power, corruption, and other vices that have become the signature emblem of the tyrannical operators of the Nigerian brand of democracy.

His pen is no respecter of any person. He touches on many personalities from different walks of life: the rich and the poor, false witnesses and friends, the lazy and the diligent, the deceitful and the dependable.

His column is a treasure chest of insight that you’ll want to read more than once.

If a carpenter can take a block of wood and turn it into a beautiful piece of furniture, we say that person is a gifted craftsman.

If a conductor can shape the myriad skills of an entire orchestra to produce the sounds of symphony, we say that person is a musical genius.

Olumhense is a multi-gifted mind, a man gifted with ability to make politicians laugh – at themselves. His imagination and determination were fueled by personal unhappiness about the way Nigeria is, and with the zeal of a social reformer he thought he would be able to change things.

He has a boundless confidence in the power of his pen and never for once spared the group of desensitized and gloating mob called politicians.

A wordsmith of extraordinary order, his delicately chiseled elegant prose deals with the maxims of life: folly and wisdom, pride and humility, vengeance and justice, laziness and initiative, poverty and wealth, enemies and friends, lust and love, anger and anxiety, masters and servants.

Olumhense has a reverential respect and a personal burden for the poor and the powerless. He pays careful attention to the moral and ethical principles that govern the social contract between the government and the governed.

Many times his character is smeared and his motive questioned by incorrigible propagandists and shameless political jobbers. Nevertheless, he maintained a fearless stand at all times.

One might say that there are three Sonala Olumhenses: (1) the experimental investigator, (2) the social critic, and (3) the Voltairian satirist. Many times Olumhense keep these three selves in unison.

But more often than not, he allowed the satirist to tune his strings in a triumphant chord of protest against the follies and absurdities of the ruling gangsters. His warnings and advice were ignored by some and burned by others.

He is an inspired thinker who used a swift and sharp wit to express and expose the evil passions of the ruling class. The reader can literally hear his strident tone in his writings.

Olumhense’s last piece for the Guardian “Just Look At The Time!” was a synthesis of the genesis of the struggle between good and evil in Nigerian politics.

His writings bring his readers face to face with all that is wrong in Nigeria. His motive is transforming the lives of our people and even the fabric of our society.

Olumhense’s writings capture the emotions and heartbeat of Nigerians. And his expository writing is a catechism of his repeated passionate attempts to call the native oppressors back to civilization they abandoned long time ago.

His exit column narrates his full rage of his emotions, experiences, and his disappointment – the heartaches, the laments, the hopes, and the fears of our people – throughout the 30 years he wrote for the Guardian – just look at the time! … thirty years after … just look at Nigeria!

The article reads like the screenplay from a disaster movie: locust swarms, drought, famine, raging brush fire, invading armies, astronomical catastrophes.

The piece succinctly deals with big questions, big answers: (1) what exists? (2) how did we get there? (3) did it have a beginning? (4) who was/were responsible? The answers have been graciously supplied by Olumhense.

His article paints a vivid picture of him putting our tears in a bottle and keeping track of them in a narrative. Just look at the time! … thirty years after … just look at Nigeria today!

Stoic sensitivity is nothing to be proud of. A man or woman with a large heart for people can’t help but get emotionally involved. Olumhense’s big heart for Nigeria is ripped apart by frustration and disappointment in the article. He cries over Nigeria.

His article describes the funeral of a nation. It is a tear-stained portrait of once-proud Nigeria now reduced to a pile of rubble by the invading marauders. Just look at the time! … thirty years later… just look at Nigeria today!

In his 22-paragraph dirge for Nigeria, Olumhense strips Nigeria naked. In the midst of this terrible holocaust, Olumhense cries out:

“Take a look at such unfolding international scandals as Halliburton and at the drama productions as the elections these men presented or prevented…”

In the face of death and destruction, with life seeming to come apart at the seams, Olumhense explains the tragedy:

“Nonetheless, 30 years ago, we had fairly decent and safe roads, along with two kinds of highway robbers: the regular kind, and the police.”

Just look at the time! ... thirty years later … just look at Nigeria today!

“In 1983, you knew what hope was. The NPN had assaulted our national aspirations and desires, but your life and your prospects lay largely in your own hands. If you worked at night, or wished to travel, you had no mortal fear of setting out.  If you worked hard, and did not fear Nigeria, you had no reason to fear you would not succeed in Nigeria.”  

Sometimes through symbolic object lessons, sometimes through old plain in-your-face diatribe, Olumhense confronts the shoeless idiot and his co-travelers with the deadly consequences of their action and/or inaction.

“But we then perfected our kleptocracy, which is the combination of military bravado in milking Nigeria, and civilian pretense for the same objective. The result is increasing underdevelopment of Nigeria, in colours of shame and perpetual embarrassment.”

Just look at the time! … thirty years after … just look at Nigeria today!

These are dark days for Nigerians. When health is frail, when financial prospects are bleak, when families and friends are far away, when jobs are uncertain, when tomorrow look no brighter than today, it’s easy to be overwhelmed by the darkness.

Olumhense’s smelting furnace of despair about violence, insecurity, corruption, and inept leadership is always dramatized in his writings:

“… you woke up and you are in a country where wealth is counted but not character, a country where mediocrity is rewarded with National Honours and lucrative contracts.”

“Fifty years ago, at independence, we had hope. Now, we have this triumphant kleptocracy so successful and transcendent that the national ruler can dismiss questions about his integrity with the infernal words, “I don’t give a damn!”

Compare the headlines of today’s news with the thread of Olumhense’s essays in the past 30 years; the similarity between the two is clear: that we are still stuck in the same mess. The nation has been wasted by unchecked corruption.

Just look at the time! … thirty years after…just look at Nigeria today!

Once a fruitful vine, Nigeria now lies spiritually barren and fruitless. Like the pounding of a hammer, Olumhense’s indictment of the prodigal sons and daughters is hard hitting and damming.

“Thirty years later, we are a nation in fear. Our youth have no jobs, and many are learning to employ themselves as robbers and kidnappers and thugs and militants. In place of hope and inspiration, one ruler after another inflicts on them despair and cynicism.”

“Thirty years later, we fear whether we will survive. We fear whether we will survive as one. Whether we will survive to tell the tale. Whether we will even have water to drink or electricity by which to see our children smile, or safety from “unknown” gunmen, known militants, and indiscriminating agencies.”

Just look at the time… thirty years later… just look at Nigeria today!

In his characteristic candor, he harshly condemns the flaws and failures of a government that is in every aspect and respect is anti-poor.

“Thirty years after I first wrote here, it is almost impossible to provide younger Nigerians with any inspiration they can grow and compete with the best of other nations.”

“That is why 30 years after I first wrote on this page, and hundreds of billions of Nigeria’s oil dollars later, just a few Nigerians have unimaginable wealth that is paralleled only by the astonishing poverty of most of our people.”

Once upon a time, times were good in Nigeria. The nation basked in peace, prosperity, strength, and security. Then came the vagabonds and the prodigals.

They imposed on us the rotten core of immorality, corruption, poverty, injustice, fear, insecurity, false optimism, and shallow piety. They have grown soft and lax in luxurious living.

The locusts have come. Everything has been eaten up by the swarm.

Think through the thoughts that flow from Olumhense’s pen. Great truths in tiny capsules. What great truths we have been taught by Olumhense!

In a well ordered society, Olumhense will not just fade into the madding crowd, but rewarded with a professorial chair in journalism to teach the next generation of writers and muckrakers. But, this is Nigeria…

Olumhense deserves honor, not because he foresees the coming events, but because he sees the meaning within the current event. His heart is torn within him, and his compassion overflows for Nigeria. We wishing him well.

Just look at the time! ... thirty years after… just look at Nigeria today!

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The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of SaharaReporters

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