I just finished reading Pat Utomi’s OPED piece in the Punch of Friday, Febraury 3, 2017, titled; They all left town: Deconstructing and reconstructing Nigeria”.
He says he is running out of time. He says he has lived his life past average life expectancy, but that Nigeria which should be built to last has yet to put in place the modalities to ‘achieve Nobel laureate Angus Deaton’s Great Escape.
He says he is anxious. It is an altruistic anxiety. But his anxiety is not so much on the failure of the polity as his discovery that creating and discovering like minds in the salvage of our nation is met with vacuum of those who have left town, mentally and physically. Who would save us now? Utomi asks.
Perhaps to pinpoint the narrative of those who have physically left town, Utomi intimates that of the group of nearly 20 of bright young Nigerians that used to gather at the Nigerian Institute of International Affairs in Victoria Island to debate Nigeria in those days only Femi Aribisala, Olisa Agbakoba and himself still lived in Nigeria. It was these friendly debates, he says, that metarmorphosed into his now rested TV series, Patito’s gang. Please permit at this point a long quote that would best encapsulate Utomi’s piece, more especially for those who may not have seen it.
“The signs were there in the way thought leadership atrophied from the vibrant 1970s and 1980s when public intellectuals dominated the lecture circuit and the OPED pages of the leading newspapers of record. As technology enabled social media and group chats on Whatsapp became pervasive, my fears came home. On several occasions, I have seen highly respected intellectuals and accomplished professionals remark on chat groups that they gave up on Nigeria a long time ago. Some wonder how I manage to find it in me to still care.
The real challenge, it would seem to me, is to cause a return of those who have left town. One way is to put on the front burner the question of why so many have fallen into despair regarding the Nigerian project. It seems to me that initiating public conversation of quality, different from the deeply partisan trading of insults in the social media. To encourage that, Patito’s gang, rested from mainstream television after nearly 15 years, will return shortly. But the academia needs to wake up and politicians have to realize that we have gone past elected positions as passport to self-aggrandisement, either ego or material type. Schools need to teach history and civics again. The young need to know that Nigeria was not always a wasteland of public life and that decent, self-sacrificing men and women motivated majorly by the common Good once dominated public in these times. …Who will save us now? I remember a favourite ballad of mine from Etcetera. After recalling looting in the government’s house, he asks; who will save us now? We must save ourselves. But first we have to return, physically or mentally”
I agree with a lot of what Utomi has said. In fact I agree with all. I am only disappointed that he didn’t stretch it further. Maybe he plans to at a later date.
I agree and relate with Utomi that despair is the most unpalatable cake on the table of life. Where hope is the water, despair stokes the parched throat. In our clime it has been quite easy for despair to bewitch the good. It is the shadow that stalks every laugh that approaches our mouth. Despair is the failure we have lived with as Nigerians since the end of the good years when our currency stood tall amongst giants. The history of the good old days needs no recounting here. It is not necessary. In so many ways such a recount only serves to re-inforce the despair. It becomes the memory of a jilted lover; of pain and the things not done. Or things that could have been done differently.
So his mates left but Utomi, Agbakoba et al stayed. His friends wonder where he still finds his nest of belief in the Nigerian project. I would rather attempt an inquiry into why his staying has yet to generate his envisaged impact. That is not to take anything from the much Utomi and his mates has achieved individually and what they have contributed to our polity and the discourse of what our country’s personality should be.
These men are not intellectual pedestrians. Who doesn’t know Agbakoba and his Civil Liberties Organization,CLO? Or is it Aribisala? And Utomi says he is reviving the rested Patito’s gang television show?
That exactly is my disappointment. There must be a plan of action beyond the mere talking and writing that has occupied the elite in Nigeria from time immemorial. We have been talking for far too long. See where it got us. We must evolve a plan based on the present realities or better still attempt to change our realities with a plan.
If change, real change is what Utomi et al seek, then we must define how we can achieve that change. It would be easier for those who have left to return if there is a plan. If the point is for them to come home so the television shows can go, then we can jolly well kiss our effort goodbye. Do we intend to change or take back Nigeria within the ambits of democracy and the rule of law? If yes, then what better method exists outside mere talking and intellectual chit-chats? What is the short and long term plan? Are we thinking of running for elective offices in the long term? What can we do in the short term to influence direction of operators of government?
We must start thinking outside the box. We keep doing the same thing over and over and expect radical change. Such change is the product of planning and sacrifice. The story of Mahatma Ghandi, Martin Luther, Kokori et al need no recap. How much is Utomi ready to sacrifice?
What should be the focal point of this change? How can we bring the people to our line of thinking where almost every one is tied to the apron strings of religion, ethnicity and /or political bias and affiliation?
I salute Utomi et al for not leaving town. But this is no more time for beautified jaw-jaw without the nuance of salt and pepper. If you want to serve us food then you must wear the kitchen apron. It’s not about talking. It’s about action. Mahatma Ghandi understood this prevalent truth. “It’s the action, not the fruit of the action, that’s important. You have to do the right thing. It may not be in your power, may not be in your time, that there’ll be any fruit. But that doesn’t mean you stop doing the right thing. You may never know what results come from your action. But if you do nothing, there will be no result” he said.
How do we change our country’s narrative on power outside sitting in posh studios and recounting how many trillions we have spent on power? How much more can we take as a people? N2.74 trillion was spent on power in Nigeria over the last 16 years yet we waltz in darkness to hug our dreams nightly. The people responsible live with us in affluence of the kind that afford diesel day in day out. How can we get government to ban importation of generators and its use in government offices and places? It seems to me that because we have artificial power by way of generators that anomaly has become our new reality.
I think its time we focus on the how and not the why. Talk shows and OPED pages have done enough exploits in the area of the why. There are yet so many areas in our country’s diagnosis we can place the ‘how’ tag on. So many. There is no better time than now. I appreciate the complexities of our country and its peoples. That makes it seem difficult. But we must exploit the loopholes that democracy affords us. We must evolve a plan that is people centered even though directed at the system. Because systems are controlled and effected by people, a people centered plan would affect the consciousness than a government targeted plan. The system is run by people who own families and have kids .The system is run by people who suffer the pangs of darkness in a broken society. The system is the people who shop in the same market place like you and I. Like you and I, it is blood they have running in their veins. Yes the government is the system. The system is the people. It is we the people that make institutions work not government. The people have failed to make Nigeria work. The government is but a mere apparatus. They are, because we the people exist. Without us there would be no government. But we remain complicit because without us there would be no system. Someone said somewhere that the politician cannot steal unless in cohort with the system.
So we cannot change the system without reaching the people. We cannot just reach the people from our ivory tower without a planned cause of action. That is what would bring back those who left. Otherwise it would seem like business as usual.
Methinks we have long passed the point of talk without deed. Despair is fast turning to disrepair. Remember what Ghandi said?