Utomi’s ill-advised pursuit of his imagined old enemies made a yawning reading. His tendentious polemics, pedagogically titled, “Public Space and the Discipline of Honest Engagement” published in NVS on 28 December, 2008 was a recklessly dropped sortie aimed at annihilating his fabled Nsukka mafia, cult of the intellectuals, ethnic solidarity and self-styled beer parlour pundits who hounded him out of the public space. Our galloping hero is not only back on the public saddle but he comes enragingly prepared to rattle and ruffle intellectual feathers of his old bête noire.
There is a sense of forlorn astonishment and shock that our own leader-gangster of the Patito’s gang could re-open old wound at the close of a year that has given hope to all progressive intellectuals, through the monstrous coup of political realignment that translates into Obama triumph. There is no harm if his fanciful academic pursuit in that piece is to reinvent public discourse on his own terms, but sorry, what we have from his end of year exercise was a combative, holier than thou, self-justificatory, not to say, a yah-boo glad cry of triumphalism. His old prideful antic of nuanced engagement disappeared from his belligerent orbit, or shall we say, this new translation.
My dear Okedinachi, if you reread your piece, barring mental fogginess, you were effusively in full flow cataloguing your hard-earned advanced moral mileage, through possibly, I guess, your Tai Solarinesque or Gani Fawenhimistic hand-to-hand combat with any government in power. Hear Utomi’s brainwave: “I have earned the moral right to TALK DOWN (caps mine) at such people, with documented evidence of the number of times I have been target of state terror and the powerful line up against the common good”. This is self-coronation on an odious scale. There is never a time I know you to be a member of any dedicated cadre force of the people’s revolutionary in Nigeria. Permit my carelessness; your political activism does not go beyond the tentative but giant step as a failed presidential candidate in 2007!
I still could not recollect any time in memory that you were garrisoned as inmate of either Ikoyi or Kirikiri prison. In unleashing the burden of your tale bearing antics, you have emitted a regrettable poison. A public persona who exudes enviable scholarly chutzpah like you must understand that truth must be part of the woof and warp of your credential for sustaining public credibility and respect.
The Soludo Affair may now be regrettable to all the warring contenders in view of the new morsel of information you belatedly supplied. The public space may fallibly descends into a crude, reckless and intolerant social climate when you factor in the glibly obvious fact that commentators are men and women with highly cultivated brawling instincts who could be feral at the sight of a professor who desires to control and contain what goes into our public space.
There are neither saints nor sinners in this game and imperfection is still part of the ingredient that gives the thrill and adrenal rush and which, ultimately, conveys our hopes, aspirations and frustrations about Nigeria and her people.
As Utomi observes, intellectual collision with people “in self-righteous purity pontificating on matters which nothing in their personal history suggest they are able to live up to the standards with which they judge others”, calls to question our moral authority to muddy the clear water of his profound, intellectual ideas and output. There is still a bizarre and somewhat fading illusion, which is becoming typically Utomi to expect moral astringency from his intellectual crucifiers. I am a beer parlour pundit and I have a right, shorn of any pretence to moral custodianship, to embarrass any public figure to an embarrassing silence when there is confusing intellectual blinkers.
Many other commentators who are proud to inhabit an imperfect world of imperfect mortals could still carpet-bomb Utomi, Umaru Yar’Adua, State Governors, Ministers, Advisers, Imam, General Overseers and other public huggers with carping, hurting articles, ideas and commentaries. This is the life-affirming, life-defining moment for many for us to untangle our leaders from the intellectual complication of the bemoaning paradox of everyday existence. Thankfully, Utomi met this vexing challenge halfway, and to reconcile fray nerves, concedes that, “This is not to say people of lower moral authority (can you name them, please?) base cannot challenge for a better order than they can live up to. It is only to make the point that beyond hypocritical posturing the rush to being sanctimonious often leads to comments displaced in the facts and context of the issue”.
His syntactical hoopla aside, it is easy for Utomi to mock hare-brained, devastatingly illiterate, senescent people of lower moral authority who crabbed all the time about moral probity. Is Nigeria no longer a wasteland where a cretinous, pithecanthropoid idiot like Umaru Yar’Adua reigns? Is there any moral traction in a government that recently confers sacred national honour on a sex monster like Prophet TBJ? Our elites, if this must be said for the umpteenth time, are the cancerous, posturing hypocrites with false sanctimonious air of holiness who befuddles facts, context and national issues for personal testimony.
Going further, I found Utomi preening about his credential as a corruption buster, fighter and gladiator essentially triumphant. This is part of the progressive self-imposing cavalier attitude which, in conceit, almost Pan African University in its breadth. When are we going to refashion progressive political arrogance to shift away from personal accolades to promoting social and economic renaissance for the people?
What really could convulse one into epileptic seizures than Utomi’s feign humility when it is clear that crusty, intellectual arrogance has forever remained his albatross both in public and private? Haughtiness is Utomi’s existential weakness and the Nigerian BBC journalist was lucky not be ‘shocked and awed into greater care in the future’. On his corruption fighting resume, he had this to say: “With due humility I think it would be hard for any informed person discussing corruption in Nigeria in the last two decades to name five people who in words, spoken and written, and in personal conduct have fought the monster in Nigeria and not have my name up there”. So, in a brace of decades and with the warm gloves of academe removed, Utomi has been nocturnally fighting the monster of corruption? He has been living several lives without the knowledge of his cheering public? Glorifying in this devilish idea of first among equals and as a corruption tsar only goes to create a poor form of civic patriotism. Self-flattery may get you somewhere but not the peoples vote.
Also, this affirmative view of his exploit as a corruption crusader may engender a new universe of discourse on this platform that may yet again awaken the internet warriors of the suburbia of Houston and of course my other beer mates in London. We need a new, resurgent sodality to confront Utomism which keeps faffing around with sweeping generalities that have no sound basis. He is not in my reckoning a dogged fighter of corrupt practises in Nigeria. I am yet to see a bourgeois, nay, capitalist apologist fighting the monster of corruption in Nigeria. Their job is to divvy up the spoils of office while promoting disingenuous propaganda as champions of the proletariat.
In ending, I must say that “Public Space And The Discipline of Honest Engagement” provides neither any disciplined nor honest narrative of the intellectual comatose Utomi found himself when he was unplugged from the light of public space. His attempt to re-plug into public relevance flounders through a laboured pedantry and contrived acidity which invites old enemies to come out fighting of which I remain a proud beer parlour combatant.