By Pat Utomi
Servitude: WHY write a book? Having written a few, could this just be a habit? Each time I think book I think of the motive of the author, his view of the nature of man in society and the force of idea and explanation of nature or society.
When you are the author, thinking about motive involves peculiar psycho-exploration in introspection. For me, the purpose of the excursion captured in this book derives from early embrace of a Pan Africanist view of the world.
Those pan-African credentials took form with a sense for a Nigerian purpose that has the redemption of the dignity of black and African people, as the central essence. This was manifested early when as a 19-year-old student leader at the University of Nigeria I caused a major debate on how Nigeria, as a ‘frontline state’ was driving the liberation of still colonised and apartheid parts of Africa in 1975. That conversation led by then Foreign Minister Joseph Nanven Garba in a time of crisis during which plotters of an abortive coup d’etat which claimed the head of state, Gen. Murtala Muhammed, were still at large, signposts the golden era of Students Unions at UNN after the civil war. A book on SUG at UNN which gave me more than due prominence seems to highlight that.
And Nigeria rose to the occasion during those liberation struggle moments. CBS star reporter, Mike Wallace, would recall in a telephone conversation with me in 1996 when I challenged his report on Nigeria and interview with Louis Farrakhan, where he cited Nigeria as the most corrupt country in the world, that he had interviewed General Gowon 25 years earlier and hailed Nigeria as the first Black power. But he regretted that in those 25 years Nigeria had disappointed incredibly.
So, as I enter the autumn of my time of being, nearly 25 years after the Wallace encounter, and 45 years after I pulled off the impossible by getting Joe Garba to honour my invitation at that crisis moment, I am pained as Nigeria stutters and fumbles, wondering whether Kaplan’s Coming Anarchy had come true or we had entered the Road to Somalia. It is hard for a true patriot to play dumb in such times.
Has Nigeria shirked its historic raison d’etre by becoming the source of shame to the Black man rather than the fountain of a redemptive essence of the Negro race? My personal fear is that Nigeria’s failure to live its promise may actually result in 1,100 years of servitude for the Black man. If that is not good enough reason to write a book I don’t know what will be. So, how did we get here? Having experienced Nigeria as a student activist, technocrat in the Federal Government, executive in industry, entrepreneur, public intellectual and academic, journalist, civil society champion, and politician, it seemed an imperative of being engaged, to offer reflections on how and where things went wrong, for the benefit of the future.
It is clear to me that the southward journey of our ship of state and walk of progress can be domiciled at the doorsteps of a collapse of culture which is largely the effect of challenged citizenship behaviour, state capture, creeping fascism and a criminal hijack of politics. It is not so clear what a patriot’s call should be, in this kind of circumstance, when the nature of the process assures prolonged servitude. In a time when the triumph of politics means that the day after one election the struggles for the next elections begin, whether they be democratic, legitimate or plain criminal in nature, the key question must be Quo Vadis Nigeria. Surely the politics is toxic and progress hard to imagine.
As one former chief economic adviser to the Federal Government said to me in a phone call last week, how do you explain that the central challenge facing a country in grave economic crisis producing unemployment, poverty, and insecurity and you name a cabinet in which not one person can seriously claim to understand how economics work? My response was simple: the triumph of politics. Can politics continue to triumph over service to the people and the will of citizens; even the common good?
In such times a patriot who has lived a life of struggle pushing for the common good and shared prosperity can make several choices. If you have risked so much, including a few assassination attempts, like me, you may say I have done my best, so let me find peace and comfort in the suburbia of a foreign land. You may decide not to see your life dream come unraveling, and like Paul Kagame, exchange ties for fatigues and start the next liberation Bush War. Or you can travel the world speaking up and calling for international sanctions against the country as the new NADECO trying to liberate the country from the mess made by the NADECO wannabes of old who claimed the prize of democracy won by the patriots of yesteryears. But the patriot can immerse himself in the challenged system and use stealth to locate well and disrupt from within.
When is a good time to say I have done my bit? It may not have been good enough but I have done my bit, its time for another track. These days I think a lot like this. But I watched the paradox of the youth of Hong Kong fighting for the vision of the future they want, pouring out to the street in protest. And I watch the youth of Nigeria whose future is all but sacrificed already by the politics of Nigeria, and I see those who can, head for Canada, those who really cannot, head for Libya and the dreaded Mediterranean drowning, or is it crossing? But those not sure whether they can or cannot either wait for Wole Soyinka to march in protest on their behalf, or go to work on Twitter and Facebook warring in words against real and imagined enemies.
I feel my bones and they are more brittle, and my heart is much weaker and my soul wearied of a life of struggle that has brought exhaustion to those close by who know that it has cost them emotionally and materially to live with one whose nature is struggling for the good of all, and the good of neighbour, sometimes with not enough attention to the cost on self and those close enough, and I wonder if personal peace means surrender. There comes a moment when you ask yourself whether it is wise to continue down a track that is not bringing the desired results. At that time what matters for a person who has a sense, of and for, history, is to document experience for future generations so they do not repeat the same mistakes.
This is what I begin, with this three and half volume series of which Why Not is the first. I shall say little about the writing of this volume which is already significantly in the public domain. If anything I will share just a little of the emotions it has set off which for me in recent weeks has involved regular conversations with two men who have gone to be with the ages; Chinua Achebe and Nelson Mandela. These conversations have been largely triggered by my fear that the failure of our politics and our times have grave implications for the future of the black race. I have even dared to begin writing early drafts the fourth volume 1,100 Years of Servitude, on the many years of slavery for the Negro race because Nigeria failed to claim its promise. The conversations with the departed heroes past started in Singapore.
Singapore, my old development observation post from the 1980s and 90s has a way of affecting my mood. I was there again less than two months ago, in June. I found that I was not sleeping too well, and would wake up and find myself in conversation. Two of the men I found I was spending the most time talking with were Chinua and Nelson Mandela. A little peculiar because even I would expect that if in Singapore my mind was to play games of being linked in chats with men long departed, it would be Lee Kuan Yew, perhaps a throwback from my being there the day he stepped down as Prime Minister in 1990, caught between his speech to parliament and Cameroon’s great run at the World Cup in Italy.
The conversations with Achebe were strange. I recalled to him his last visit to Nigeria to give what was evidently his farewell reflection and how I enjoyed him listening to the lecture I gave on him before he gave his lecture. Ugonabo, I asked of him, “what did the ancestors say to you when you arrived the village square in the sky. Did they frown at the fact your last breath as a mortal was offered up in a foreign land? I ask, Ugonabo because I worry for myself. For a generation, I have warned that anarchy was on the way if we do not do more building a just society. Now its possibilities look us in the face everywhere. Long stretches of territory from Kaduna and Niger states to Zamfara and Sokoto are outside the control of constituted Authority. The North East has been hardly part of Nigeria from when you still were on this side. With killings the norm in most parts of the country you can see why I fear I could breath my last too in a strange land and the maggots of the land of our people not get the duty of being the ones that hasten the return of my body to dust.
I hope I can reduce those conversations to a book of faction in the future. A flavour for the kind of conversations I have been having at the moments of “sleepingmulanya”, the twilight zone between dreaming and positive hallucination can spice understanding. That first night in Singapore, I was just walking that hazy maze between fantasy and reality and found Chinua Achebe getting out of the same Mercury Monarch he used to drive in my freshman year at UNN, shortly after the Civil War. “Uganabo”, I hailed him. I have been meaning to ask light of you. Light of truth about the ancestors. Since there does not seem to be as big a chasm between you who have embraced the ages, and us who still breath and feel pain; a divide still, but not as Father Abraham said to the Rich man about where he was and the distance that is not bridgeable to the Bossom of the Father of many Nations, permit me to ask this question.
“When you took your last breath and rushed into the embrace of the ancestors, did they quarrel that your last exhale was in a foreign land? Pardon my impudence, Ugonabo. You recall I told you in that lecture I gave of you as you listened, just before you gave your valedictory, that Ahajaku lecture in Owerri that would be your last homecoming, that there had been a collapse of culture in Nigeria. You will recall I got laughs and chuckles and even some applause when I turned to you and illustrated this collapse of culture with what I called the tyranny of drivers who make you listen to the music they prefer when you get into your own car. And then their favourite Radio Station serves you this collapse of culture with the intrusion of music that sums up a society lost in lust for money when your ride to work is assaulted with the music that says “Osi na nwata bulu ogalanya”.
“You may think it is the mangled values of the times that make me ask whether the ancestors rebuked you for the location where your pulse ceased, so far away from where their spirits and masquerades knew well enough to escort you through the many rivers and mountains of the road to eternity. Ugonabo, I ask because the fact that there was a country makes it possible that we may shut our eyes, forever, in stranger lands than the place from which you passed on. And we need to know how angry the ancients may be with us so we can make ready to pour libation of the strength of a waterfall so we can appease them. There is no shortage of local gin that we may go down to Hades without due appeasement.”
Achebe said nothing to me. Or my eardrums had suffered enough from the music of collapse of culture that could I not hear, even though deafness does not run in my line. Then I turned to Madiba. And I reminded him of the banter at Obasanjo’s farm in Otta when he just got out of prison. How when the General who nearly recommended witches for the Army of liberaton and witchcraft as worthy Artillery introduced me as an executive from Volkswagen of Nigeria you chimed ‘Ah Winnie drives a Gulf, and Winne smiled, talking about how good a drive that car gets in. But you would become, so angry about what so-called leaders in Nigeria are doing instead of serving their people that your blazed into a rage when you met Dr. Baba Ahmed. Madiba, the matter is more serious than that. I fear that Nigeria’s failure to lead may send down the Negro race to 1,100 years of servitude, a new slavery worse than what Willam Wilberforce combated so doggedly several generations ago. The Madiba wore an unfamiliar scowl. And I heard no answer. But his gait spoke to the urgency of now, saving Nigeria from Nigerian politicians.
Let us leave the conversations between the dead and the living for now and finish with why this volume is only a forerunner of a three and half or four-volume effort. This volume, written literally as the events were occurring is an incomplete account. A part two of volume one of Why Not will be more complete. The third book is designed to be more academic and focused on locating phenomena here in economic development and comparative politics theories. The fourth volume speaks to fixes that can help avert 1,100 years of servitudes.
I believe that the thoughts in these books will help our democracy grow. Political parties are important for modern democracies to thrive. As Roberto Michels pointed out in that 1911 treatise on political parties which gives the young political science student the chant: ‘He who says organization says oligarchy’ the so-called iron law of oligarchy. In our experience, political parties have become cults preventing even an internal conversation about direction of travel for the country. The complicit middle, the educated, younger, middle-class people must develop a new consciousness that sees future ruin the conduct of now, just like I think the men of commerce ought to see beyond regulatory capture as means for managing uncertainty.
Combing the state capture we are living with, regularity capture, and political parties as cults, may provide momentary or instant gratification, to the temporarily advantaged, but these constitute a compass to the Road to Serfdom, apologies to Friedrich Von Hayek. Ironically, this Road to Serfdom is not proved by a collectivist vision of man in society but rather by a narcissistic view of the world ruled by obsessive self-love and desire to completely dominate others by a group of politicians as citizen wannabes act like a conquered and captured people.
Maybe this is good enough reason for me to seek to be chairman of the APC. Much good can be done for shaping a party to have an ideology, internal democracy, and platforms for internal discussions, disagreements, and consensus. The black man can ill afford 1,100 years of servitude.