PROFESSOR Pat Okedinachi Utomi has a problem. It is a huge and intractable problem. And if our guesses are right not even the gods may save him. He is damned almost literally. Pat Utomi writes and we guess, speaks superbly well, so pithily he is a candidate for quotable quotes. That he is so quotable and prominent, makes him a candidate for news headlines. And because he is so quotable, on the law of averages he will be misquoted almost as often, both in substance and in context. All the guys who come minting memorable lines, suffer their words and wisdom being ‘domesticated’ by users. Whether it is Achebe, Soyinka, Shakespeare or Utomi, the iron holds mercilessly. In other words misattributions are common fares for the wordsmiths.
So what is Utomi to do? Absolutely nothing, because nothing he does can save the situation, save silence. But of the latest matter he had with the media, the fault is really his. He himself confessed as much, even if reflexively. And then in the same incurable or terrible baggage, he wrote his jeremiad so lovingly. As we read, we had a rollicking joy, not on the subject matter but on the sweet flow of his prose, even if not logic.
The details as he asserted them are that he dismissed a reporter who was groping on his time with the quip that Buhari can appoint all his advisers from one village and it never matters. According to Utomi who never denied the authorship of the quote, he thought it was the best way of treating the journalist like a flea irritant, who was on his back. In other words, according to Utomi he was telling the poor journalist to get out of his way. Apparently Utomi had more serious matter to so attend.
And the journalist went to town and quoted Utomi accurately in substance, even if not nuance. And the matter went viral. We also think why it went viral was not just the subject matter and or the author. It did so because like the Utomi trademark it sounded so well couched, even poetic. Perhaps, it is that Utomi does not suspect that speaking and writing memorably constitute their own onerous burdens. At the least, journalists will flock to you, eat off your time, space, and if you let them your very soul.
Now Utomi claims that the journalist would have suspected he was dismissive, wanted him, a fly on his wall, to get away and let him, Utomi, be. But there is no way one would have blamed the journalist. He is not a mind reader. And more, from what Utomi conceded he was a journalist who was not a regular on the Utomi beat. Apparently they never knew one another till then.
And Utomi worsened his logic by claiming of good ole journalism and dropping names. He apparently included his. It might as well be. It all reminded me of the sins of aging. As we all age, we reflect that time has betrayed us, sired us with heirs not worthy of their fathers. As we age we become Proustian, suspecting that all paradises are forged in the past. And the debits on our ancient souls accumulate. Suddenly, it is not just other people, it is the present that is hell. Well, I am not even a journalist, but I can sense a certain weakness of perspective, of sighting the present by a rear view mirror.
But facts are facts. And we will illustrate. There is a budget guy named David Stockman in America of the Reagan years. Over cocktails or similar environments he confided to a journalist that all the figures they bandied were mysteries even to themselves. That was to imply that Reaganomics was all gung ho, magical economics, based on criminal fiction. Stockman later, as matter took a life of their own, claimed that he spoke to the reporter in confidence, as Njakiri or spoof, and did not expect to be quoted.
It became a moral issue in the United States of those days. What was the debt of the correspondent to his sources in context and in content, and what are his indebtedness to his readers? And could an important, publicly important fellow, be so glib with words, words upon which the fate of others, say the United States, are billed on and demand it is a ‘pillow talk’? Perhaps the matter ended not resolved, but nobody blamed the journalist.
The moral is that immediately you are a public figure, and Utomi is, you will be judged by what you say and not what is in your mind. All what is in your mind we will leave to your pastor and even creditor-bankers or such like mind conjecturers and readers. It is not a part of a journalist’s schedule of duties to be a mind discerner even if his subject is as brilliant as Einstein.
And Utomi made the mistake of almost re-affirming the old quote by reference to the nepotism of President J. F. Kennedy. And this is really where we come in. To confess immediately we read the quote from Utomi we believed it. We did because as Utomi knows or should, there are no party intellectuals. Parties have rooms for only thugs, cheer leaders, vote gatherers and canvassers. Additionally, the pursuit of power is anti-cognitive. So a man in power or in pursuit of power is not only prone to illogicality, he is more interested in being powerful than in being wise or correct. Any other claim is PR and illusion. And Utomi can’t be an exception. That is, on a good day, an Utomi or just anybody in pursuit of power can speak utter nonsense. Imagine how Chief Awolowo, apparently a Christian and an alleged sage, justified the death by starvation of millions of innocents, under the guise of pursuing victory, power and war. And this is something the Athenians banned even before Thucydides. So there is a certain insanity. if we are to believe Nietzsche, that comes with groups and epochs and dramatis personae in pursuit of power. Will Utomi be an exception? Well he might be, but that is not the way to bet or hit the jackpot.
It is in this sense that the Utomi commission that we should have read his earlier essays to track a trend, the bent of his mind, is too patronizing. Out there, there are so much to read for anyone man to require we track him. No individual constitutes a full curriculum save we so choose. So, excerpts of his minds and or words are adequate every now and then. It is only his pupils, who are interested in Utomi as a philosopher and or phenomenon, who are expected to bother themselves with the long history and development of his thoughts.
Anyway why are we writing this? To confess, it is because Utomi writes so well and we can be caught often reading him. That was why we read the attributions and his rebuttal. But next time Utomi can help save the world by being less and less a Nigerian, a Nigerian big man. It is only in Nigeria that the man of means and or power is never wrong, that his innocence and perfection is vouchsafed. So, he never admits to his errors or his complicities in those. Out there in the West, their leaders are prolific with apologies when they are in the wrong. Obama does and so have many others including Gordon Brown the former British leader.
Yet down here, from the mass murder of innocents to shoot at sight insanities of our leaders and thugs no Nigerian intellectual, leader, coup maker and or thug has ever admitted to any errors. Now, all Utomi needed was not an essay but a clarification of the intent of the quip, its context and acceptance of his complicity in the error. It is human to err and un-Nigerian, un-Nigerian elite to admit. But Utomi could begin to be an exception, yet he missed it.
And now the verbal incontinence that cost him so much, perhaps an arm and a leg, has led him into a new debit. Utomi has lost his cool. Actually this is the first time we are reading Utomi sound so distraught, so improbably shaken, almost like a cornered bull. And he was ready to charge, to do harm. So un-Utomi like. And he was forced to give it to his enemies, unnamed enemies, some yabis, harsh and hard-hitting yabis. Ahiazuwa.
And Buhari was in America
THERE was the issue of Buhari going to America. And a part of the visiting delegation was one of his children. And there was discussion if it was proper. And there were explanations that Obama does it and Clinton too did and therefore, Buhari could do it. That misses all the points. The point is simple and symptomatic of all that ails us. Society is not built on examples. Society is built on logic.
The logic of who the president of America travels with is imbedded in their society. No American president can travel with his son who is an adult at tax payer’s expense. So, the question is really what is the age of the Buhari son? If he is adult enough to cast votes then he should never be his father’s official consort at Nigerian voters’ expense. If he wants to travel to America, he might as well, but not as a stowaway, under his father’s wings. If he is adult enough, he should fly on his own weight or be grounded. Chikena. In America, if a president wants a travelling companion, he did rather go with his dog not his adult child. And that is the lore in the West generally. Ahiazuwa.