Friday, May 20, 2016 3:59 pm
By Kunle Ajibade
Sam Omatseye’s A Chronicle Foretold is an illuminating collection of 77 pieces of his columns for The Nation newspaper. In this book, Omatseye is less of a prophet and more of an irate, lyrical and powerful describer and interpreter of political and social realities of our country. Like Roger Resenblatt of Time magazine, one of his role models in journalism, Omatseye believes that History and Literature are important ingredients of excellent writing. So his head is an archive of so many quotes from hundreds of fascinating books he has read. Give it to him: Omatseye has a good mind. His constant bellicosity, his unfailing punditry, even his moral righteousness may offend some delicate sensibilities but he says in ‘‘Feeding the Monster’’, one of the pieces in this book, that he will continue to state his point as his conscience propels him.
Combining passion with anger, Omatseye wrote eloquently of the locust years in which Dr. Goodluck Ebele Jonathan was Nigeria’s president. Although he does not tell us whether it was General Muhammadu Buhari or Nuhu Ribadu that he voted for during the 2011 presidential election cycle, Omatseye certainly did not vote for Jonathan because he wanted a president of executive gallantry, a man of vision, a man of competence, a true transformational leader and someone who would sow the seeds for the wise men and women of the future. Jonathan, in his reckoning, possessed none of those virtues. When he was declared the winner of that election, Omatseye observed that Nigeria had voted in an instalmental killer of Nigeria. He predicted that the value of the naira would depreciate in a few years, that the country would be more divided along ethnic, religious and class lines than ever before. As time unfolded those predictions came to pass.
This book is called A Chronicle Foretold because of the accuracy of his predictions. As he said in ‘‘Northern Mob, Southern Bias’’, it did not take extraordinary perception to see this coming. The consequence is a nation gasping for breath. If Nigeria is a living dead, it is largely because of the shameless looting of its kitty by Jonathan and all the thieves around him. The author railed against these people. He went after Diezanni Alison- Madueke and Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala whom he described as dames of subsidy. He punctured their arguments on subsidy removal with facts and stinging words. He took us through the ways and means of fuel importation and how the country was ripped off by Jonathan, Alison-Madueke and their thieving gang. He observed that if forensic auditors had done their job properly, they would have discovered fake bank receipts, fake bills of lading for products.
Since the NNPC had become a cesspool of corruption, why should it not be dissolved as Mallam Nasir El-Rufai one suggested? In a debate with El-Rudai which is one of the side comments in one of the essays in this book, Omatseye contended that the problem was not NNPC but us. If we scrapped the NNPC and formed another corporation, he said, we ran the risk of reincarnating the scam. His words: ‘‘NNPC did not materialize out of MARS. The leeches in its entrails are Nigerians. We need to purge Nigerians of our greed and impunity and set a standard for transparency before deciding on what step to take on NNPC’’. In other words, great institutions make a great country.
Which is why Omatseye argued for the need to have an independent and virile judiciary, an army free of the manipulation of the politicians, a police force imbued with respectability, massive investments in human capital through high-ranking schools. The debasement of judiciary under General Olusegun Obasanjo and Dr. Jonathan could only happen in a sick country, he said. Using the open fight between the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Aloysius Katsina-Alu and Justice Ayo Salami, President of the Court of Appeal, as a good example, Omatseye observed that a hallowed chamber of law should always have dignity. He quoted William Shakespeare to support himself: ‘‘If correction lies in the hand that committed wrong to whom shall we complain?’’
You cannot have a good society when judges are hands in glove with looters, election riggers and other criminals. Under Jonathan, the Army and the Police became tools of tyranny. Omatseye, after his reportage of the shabby treatments of the opposition figures like Governors Rotimi Amaechi, Adams Oshiomhole, Lai Mahammed etc by the Army and the Police, then asked: ‘‘ The question for us to ponder is whether we have an army with a state or a state with an army? An Army with a state is one where the soldiers are in charge but could not act as though they run a civil society. A state without an army refers to a system where civilians are in charge with soldiers as tools. In a society where soldiers have been part of our lives for over a generation, we find it difficult to distinguish between the civilian politicians with martial virtues or a soldier with civilian bona fides. So, we have the modern day version of indirect rule. Jonathan is taking full advantage, and capsizing our democratic virtues. The civilians are in power but they allow the police and soldiers to take charge on their behalf’’.
The debasement of judiciary under General Olusegun Obasanjo and Dr. Jonathan could only happen in a sick country, he said. Using the open fight between the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Aloysius Katsina-Alu and Justice Ayo Salami, President of the Court of Appeal, as a good example, Omatseye observed that a hallowed chamber of law should always have dignity. He quoted William Shakespeare to support himself: ‘‘If correction lies in the hand that committed wrong to whom shall we complain?’’
The soldiers and the police took charge on behalf of many politicians in PDP who were described by Sam Omatseye in intemperate language. He condemned Jonathan’s Azonto dancing at a time that the country was lamenting the kidnapping of the Chibok girls. He called Chief Tony Anenih an impostor, Governor Olusegun Mimiko he described as witlow of the West, Chief Segun Oni as the apostate with the phony Awo cap. Chief Edwin Kiagbodo Clark, Sambo Dasuki, and Doyin Okupe he labeled as three unwise men. Ayo Oritsejafor, Gbenga Daniel, D.S.P Alamieyeseigha, Bukola Saraki, Godsday Orubebe, Patience Jonathan, E.N. Wike, Sullivan Chime and a few others did not escape his barbs.
Any time Sam Omatseye was in his partisan, abusive mode, and this was quite often, he poured on his political enemies acidic comments. His best descriptions, his loud praise – songs were of Chief Obafemi Awolowo, M.K.O. Abiola, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola, Kayode Fayemi, Adams Oshiomhole, Babatunde Raji Fashola, Kashim Shettima, Aminu Tambuwa, Rotimi Amaechi, Godwill Akpabio, Emmanuel Uduaghan, Abraham Lincoln, Nelson Mandela, Winston Churchill, Wole Soyinka, Chinua Achebe and, of course, many other writers whose works he quoted from approvingly.
The book is not only about Nigeria. It is also about the author – there are stories here of his life and career. It is about other places too. I’ve just mentioned Nelson Mandela among the notable people he wrote about. Indeed, he treated Mandela unfairly in one of the two essays on him as he found him guilty of divorcing his unfaithful wife: Winnie.Omatseye’s logic astounds me in the light of Mandela’s story of the incident in his enchanting memoir, Long Walk to Freedom.
He celebrated the Arab Spring which swept dictators like Ben Ali, Hosni Mubarak and Muammar Gaddafi out of power. He then observed: ‘‘I looked at our firmament and our immediate future and I did not see the crowd in Tahrir Square in Tafawa Balewa Square, or in Eagle Square. Rather, I see a nation full of dreamers who prefer dream to change. Nigeria is not Egypt, and we cannot have any such ferment, any such civil rage in the near future. Revolutions are good, but the people must want it first’’.
Sam Omatseye’s concern for the masses of our people was well articulated in his essays. He was an advocate of the poor in our schools. He was sympathetic to the weak and the vulnerable in the hospital where they were too wretched to pay. He wrote feelingly about helpless Zaharau Babangida whose father turned into an enemy because of poverty. He wrote sympathetically about Fahat Fahat, one of the soldiers fighting the Boko Haram insurgents without weapons. He wrote passionately about villagers who were displaced from their homes. He wrote with sadness about victims of bomb blast. By and large, Sam Omatseye’s higher purpose in his essays was to fight for an egalitarian society. It is in this fight that part of the integrity of his writing lies. The necessity for creative, ennobling imagination, in the way we run our economy, the way we run our politics, to build a great future is at the heart of A Chronicle Foretold.
— This review was presented by Mr. Kunle Ajibade, Executive Editor of TheNEWS/P.M. NEWS on 19 May 2016 at the Nigerian Institute of International Affairs, Lagos.