By Dele Momodu
Fellow Nigerians, let me start on a personal note today by repeating a story you are probably familiar with. Anyone who has followed my trajectory a bit would have heard this story for the umpteenth time. I moved to Lagos from the ancient city of Ile-Ife in 1988 at the age of 28. I had spent most of my adult life in the historic township but suddenly reached a dead end when I could not even find a job of a teacher, with a Master’s degree in Literature-in-English. All my friends had something to do except me. It wasn’t that I was dull or lazy, but there was embargo on appointments and promotions in higher institutions at the time.
Let’s now fast forward. I started writing articles at the behest of my best friend, Prince Adedamola Aderemi, who was teaching Law at the Obafemi Awolowo University and my pieces soon ignited fire in the Sunday Tribune and The Guardian and I became known here and there. Due to joblessness, I was advised to try my luck elsewhere in Ibadan or Lagos. My preference was to work at The Guardian newspapers, but I couldn’t secure a job at Rutam House. I was then introduced by my late friend, Onukaba Adinoyi-Ojo to the Editor of African Concord magazine, Lewis Obi, who agreed to employ me instantly. But this is not the main story. The meat of it is that I was reluctant to work at Concord Group, which was owned by Chief Moshood Abiola. And my grouse was based totally on unsubstantiated stereotyping and false stories that ignited raw sentiment and foolish emotion in me.
Chief Abiola had been demonised by several powerful forces. His major offence was his opposition to Chief Obafemi Awolowo’s Presidential ambition in 1979, and the role played by the Concord media conglomerate in not supporting a man who was practically deified in Yorubaland. Abiola was thus seen to have committed heresy and had to be nailed to the cross. But by far the most potent and lethal attack came from the one and only irrepressible Fela Anikulapo Kuti, who produced and released a monster hit, International Thief Thief, in which he called Chief Abiola all manner of unprintable names. I still don’t have details of what led to their skirmishes. Of course, as a Fela devotee, we never saw anything good in Abiola thereafter, and we blocked our minds to ever liking a man who we were told was an oppressor, a religious fanatic and a looter of Nigeria’s wealth. We never bothered to crosscheck the facts or fiction but we believed everything hook, line and sinker. Truth was I secretly admired the man and wished I could be like him but hearsay made us dislike him. It was hunger that saved me from hating a man I did not know.
The first lesson I learnt was that hunger does not discriminate. There is a Yoruba saying that “when you are hungry enough, you will accept food from your enemy.” I was too hungry for a job to have a choice, so I accepted the Concord offer most reluctantly but with automatic alacrity. The second lesson came after I resumed work at Concord. Contrary to the rumour that Chief Abiola was a religious bigot, I discovered that he was too liberal to force his faith on anyone or group. He was totally detribalised and gave everyone his due. The closer I got to him, the more I gained insight into one of the greatest Nigerians that ever lived. I became a fan, and later his adopted son. I decided to join hands with others to rescue his battered reputation which were actually firmly rooted on the altar of politics and personal squabbles. It was such an uphill task because negative perception is often most difficult to change. But I thank God for the uncommon opportunity to come close to Chief Abiola, a rare privilege that made it possible for me to purge my mind and soul of acquired and accumulated bile.
Since then, I have remained on the side of caution and tolerance. Journalism has also taught me to mellow down my temperament in dealing with people. I have imbibed the legal aphorisms that you must always listen to the other side and that a man is innocent until proven guilty. Moreover, I have been able to differentiate between my routine job and my personal opinion. I realised that many journalists have failed, and still failing spectacularly, because they could not distinguish between the business of journalism and their personal sentiments. For example, journalists are seen and expected to be the lamb of God who take away the sins of the world while all other professions and careers are at liberty to do business with everyone, including saints and sinners. The fact that Thisday or Punch newspapers report government activities daily or transact business with different governments does not mean they can’t write opinions and editorials against the same government they had promoted or projected, if and when the government is misbehaving. It is the height of illiteracy, and hypocrisy, to treat the people you criticise as enemies and vice versa. The very essence of freedom of speech and democracy is to speak to power as a corrective measure and not as vendetta. Thereafter, you must let the music play on.
My major baptism of fire came after Ovation International agreed to cover the weddings of General Sani Abacha’s daughters, Zainab and Gumsu, in Kano. Many people queried why I would attend the event of a family that nearly ruined my family and many others. I was expected to remain eternally bitter and vengeful and not many realised that I had a job to do, dispassionately, and that vengeance belonged to God. On a lighter and positive note, the Abacha government did me a favour by forcing me out of Nigeria. Ovation would never have been born if I was not in exile. Such is life. Yet someone said Ovation must die for committing such hara-kiri by attending the wedding that was covered by virtually all media organisations in Nigeria. I have great news for you. Despite the blistering attacks, Ovation did not just survive, we sold out completely. Both friends and enemies of the Abacha family wanted to see the content of that special edition that warranted and attracted such fatwa. The ways of God are not the ways of Man.
Later as I came across several books and articles on the life of The Madiba, Nelson Mandela, I could not imagine how a man who spent 27 years in prison could come out of jail, become President and yet display such unprecedented magnanimity by eschewing every act of vindictiveness and vengeance. I was so touched and realised the true worth of a Christian life is that he must forgive his enemies seventy times seven times, according to the instructions of our Lord Jesus Christ. The main lesson I wish to draw our attention to is that being bitter, oftentimes, is a waste of time and energy. Many things can be achieved through passive resistance and gentle persuasion.
The aggression and anger I see all around today is the main reason for this epistle and sermon. Many of our youths have lost it. The only form of expression they love and enjoy is to hide behind computers and smartphones to launch unbelievable attacks on people they see as their enemies. It does not matter if they lack any iota of proof or evidence, everyone, every politician, every successful man, even if he has never served in government or received contract awards, every journalist who cannot practise kill-and-go type of journalism is their enemy. Every interview or report on someone they don’t like, and don’t want to read about, attracts verbal and written assaults. Logic has been thrown to the dogs. Too many incoherent analyses have taken over. Many are experts in every topic or subject. Suddenly, the elders know nothing, but the kids know everything. This development should be worrisome to all right-thinking people. Cyber-thuggery has virtually and finally taken over.
The new trend is that politicians no longer campaign with facts about their performance. Their efficacious strategy is to set the proletariat against the privilegentsia, by telling the poor that the rich is the reason they are impoverished. People have been so brainwashed that many have stopped aspiring to greatness because of this glamorisation of poverty. Gone are the days when leaders promoted prosperity and downplayed penury but today politicians gloat about how they have succeeded in killing the businesses of corrupt people with the attendant collateral damages to millions of dependants and the nation. In branding, whatever you emphasise about yourself repeatedly is what would be remembered about you subsequently. Yet government is not able to provide alternative means of livelihood to those multitude of paupers roaming the streets. Government may win elections using this crude methodology but the country will ultimately lose the battle to terrorism and self-immolating violence.The young men and women who assist government in perpetuating this parody are merely doing themselves a great disservice. The jobs, and the good life they desperately crave will never come when the economy ultimately collapses on all due to unguarded utterances. I’m yet to see any country that deliberately de-markets, and unrepentantly scandalises, itself like Nigeria.
Our youths who have been moaning that they are “not too young to rule” would rather dissipate energy and resources on wars of attrition instead of working hard on how to take power from the ancient leaders they’ve always grumbled about. The enemies of the youths are the youths themselves. The old people have mastered how to keep them manacled and enslaved perpetually. The youths would never support any of their own. When you aspire to the highest office, the same youths would say you are too young and inexperienced. If you plead for donations, they would ask why you want to contest when you have no money of yours or even ask you to pay for their support. If you ask the youths to step down for one of their strongest aspirants, they would refuse even if they already signed a memo of understanding to agree on a consensus candidate. If you ask them to follow a young man who has sufficient experience and exposure to modern ways of running a democratic government, they will tell you he is a rogue and looter (the most abused word in the Nigerian lexicon) and cannot be trusted with power, as if nations are governed by saints and not by performers. When you lose election, the same youths will tease you endlessly about how many votes you got, as if that would improve their lives. There is nothing you can do or try that would please the generality of our youths. It is like we have been completely hypnotised and mesmerised and sentenced to eternal servitude. Or could it be a curse?
Nigeria parades some of the most brilliant youths on earth but we have not been able to propel one to the highest office like America did for a first generation American, who was in his early forties, Barack Obama. From what I foresee, in the near future, Nigerian youths are neither ready nor prepared to grab the mantle of leadership from the geriatric generation they claim to loathe but obviously love and support, blindly or inadvertently.
AT HOME WITH THE GOVERNOR OF NAIROBI MIKE SONKO
I was honoured to be invited to the country home of the Governor of Nairobi, Hon. Mike Sonko. The occasion was the third memorial service for his beloved dad, Mr Gideon Kioko Kivanguli (1949-2015). I was privileged to lay the wreath at a special mausoleum constructed for the great man.
I’ve been in Kenya countless times and have met several politicians, including the Vice President, Mr William Ruto (born December 21, 1966). I’m yet to meet the the two term President, Mr Uhuru Muigai Kenyatta, a businessman, and son of Kenya’s first President, Pa Jomo Kenyatta, who was born on October 26, 1961. I’m older than both of them. No matter my experience or exposure and personal success in my chosen career, it would be difficult, if not near impossible, to attain such spectacular feats in my dear country Nigeria. Kenyans did not vote for them, twice, because they thought they were saints from heaven. Kenyans voted because they represent the future they envisage for their country. As a matter of fact, both leaders attracted so much controversies before attaining power, but they managed to weather the storm. You must salute their wisdom in reaching out to the Opposition and healing their divided nation.
As for the Governor of Nairobi, he was born on February 27, 1975, a year before I wrote my WAEC examination. He was also a businessman before he ventured into politics. He controls the Kenya’s largest city, a megacity like Lagos State in Nigeria. His popularity is unbelievable. He loves Nigeria very dearly and hopes to tap into the boundless energy and the never-say-die spirit of Nigerians. I was touched by his respect and kind and generous words for Nigeria, and Lagos city in particular. He told me he has heard so much about the ongoing beautification in Lagos and he looks forward to linking up with his counterpart, Governor Akinwunmi Ambode, in the near future.
I met several other young politicians in the course of my visit this week, and it was such an eye opener. I’m hoping that our own youths would end their complacency and take the bull by the horns.
It is not impossible…