Utomi’s spirited effort to extricate himself from the ‘Soludo Affair’ falls into the genre of belligerent mendacity. His nihilistic, not to say audacity, to round up on his Diaspora based critics through the flagship, The Guardian, Tuesday May 20, 2008 in a piece titled “Nigeria Public Space and Reason Embattled” and the Village Square amount to a long drivel of whinging waffle of self-indulgent rubbish. It is a waste of time and a pointless pursuit of imagined enemies which borders on paranoia. At a time when a little capsule of calm was descending on the ‘Soludo Affair’, then bang, warrior Utomi took to the sky with his B52 bomber to rain insults on those dangerous detractors who are targeting his intellectual jugular.
His mawkish exercise of self-flagellation was too much to bear. He succumbed to moral correctness which had been the bane of our so called intellectual class. Utomi who should have rather endured the ‘scandalous abuse’, so it seemed, from the ‘Diaspora based internet warriors’, re-armed his muse for battle and behaved like a one-man PR squad, or to put it brutally, like an arrogant pioneer in the study of public propaganda, his prime instrument since 1977 for waging endless battles of hearts and minds of gullible middle class Nigerians.
An intellectual who is worthy of the name should, as collateral for invading our public space, so frequently, be ready to be a target of obloquy and vilification when concern is raised about his professed moral astringency. In the post-modern milieu in which we all live, work and die, when there is clearer articulation of animating visions, we recognise, respect and pay homage to the articulators. However, when a hiccup occurred in the life and impressive curriculum vitae of a supposed public commentator as happened in the now famous ‘Soludo Affair’, it is needless to now prettify or justify clear mental and moral somersault.
The piece is fastidiously studded with dozen of Utomi’s contentions; if anything, more than are required to prove that he is still the king of the manipulative polemic which had been his instrument of public coercion since 1977 when he entered into our public universe. He recognises how the ability of writers to offend could take prisoners of whom he is now a hapless, famous convict.
He trenchantly delivers a disturbingly unpersuasive indictment of shortcomings that have corroded the ‘Nigeria’s public space’ which has now fallen to such dangerous level that ‘nuanced engagement’ is about to be neutered by London based ‘beer parlour pundits’ and the other band of ‘nattering nabobs of negativism’ who inhabit the suburbs of America.
The Nigeria public space is still imposing, welcoming, unsparing and has at its heart a divine agenda setting for the Nigerian state in its search for emerging alternatives, stable democratic governance and social freedoms.
It is people like Pat Utomi, a self-proclaimed defender of the moral realm who obfuscates and demeans the public domain, that market place of sacred ideas, through his offensive Solomonic appropriation of wisdom. The picture he paints is of an arrogant, grasping and malevolent public-seducer gifted with an uncanny ability to hoodwink many of those who are still over-awed and overpowered by his overrated intellectual omnipotence.
Dissent over his views by ‘beer parlour pundits’ of which clearly I am a torch bearer, as I could not do without a cold bottle of ‘Baba Dudu’ is seen as treason. And again, what is blatantly noticeable is that desire to intimidate the ‘internet warriors’ into obsequious worshippers of his glittering generalities about rational public discourse, the responsibility of public intellectuals and his vision of the Nigerian Project.
Utomi admitted that his consuming passion or what animates his genius is anchored on the time tested sagacity of his belief that ‘democracy is about accountability, not just in terms of financial propriety, but also in terms of stewardship for responsibility’.
This belief is poxed with myth when you weigh in the Soludo Affair. Much as I would prefer to dismiss this as fawning shibboleths that have been tossed about like a deflated football from time to time by uppity and ambitious huggers of our public space, it does not require special talent to know that virtually all our publicly disrobed thieves have used the same manipulative rhetoric to hoodwink the masses.
In another vein, Utomi pre-empted and shot himself in the foot when he reasoned that, “The enthronement of unreason while enough to encourage flight from the public space must be the very reason for patriots to enter that space and reclaim it in the interest of progress lest it be one more excuse for Nigeria to remain great potential 200 years hence”. We have to garland the neck of our virtual writers, beer parlour pundits or Diaspora based internet warriors with roses for rescuing Nigeria public space from the hand of doctors and professors of semantic gibberish.
Assuredly, and this must be said, the new mandate is to hijack our vandalised and abused public domain through methodical and restorative renaissance and ensure that a rearguard is in place against future abuse and despoliation. A kind of Jihadist approach to refocus and re-conceptualise nuanced discourse on our terms.
The momentum that brought about Internet journalism was anchored on the need to offer genuine and robust alternative ideas and most possibly, dredge out the cobwebs of public corruption, fight medieval privileges and ruffle the feathers of few fiends who regarded themselves as colossus and untouchables in the nascent Nigeria’s public space. The internet has heralded a new dawn for trenchant advocacy and if any of the old hacks now suffers from polemical concussions, we offer no apologies.
What has come to distinguish the fervour of Utomi’s yawning political dream could be seen in his vaulting illusion to enthrone a ‘business state’ in which businessmen and women would rule the Nigerian realm to the exclusion of all else. His nation building programme is anchored on the assemblage of VGC, Lekki and Victoria Island errand boys whose material and cultural idiosyncrasies are atrociously opposite the aspiration of the common man on our streets.
Perhaps in ending I must return to a nagging thought which needs proper conceptualisation. By the way who is an intellectual? Are intellectuals that motley crew of gobsmackingly good writers who delight us with the fecundity of their genius? On his part, Edward Said posited that an intellectual must have an ethical commitment to relentlessly and unflinchingly speak out, against all odds, against all grains and against all hegemonies—real, imagined and self-proclaimed. Can we give this honour to all holders of Ph. Ds who could string words together in the public domain? Are university teachers intellectuals?
When we flatter writers and called them intellectuals, we give them a blank cheque to behave like a matador, an arrogant ass hole and before we all know it, they morph into narrow-minded, know-it-all, on your face charlatans, and not to say, roaming cultural vagabonds who could not contest our public space with a beer parlour pundit.
Warning! This piece was written from the trenches of war zone in Harrow and under the influence of a cocktail of ‘bolugi’, ‘paraga’ and of course, chilled Guinness.