Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Kole Omotoso: A writer’s moral and the moral future of a country, By Adeolu Ademoyo


“Self thrives best, when we strengthen the collective and make it work.”

“If they make it work well for us even if minimally, it will work best for them”

As we collectively prepare for the New Year with some apprehension of what are locked in and what lurk ahead, my moral introspection this week takes me back to Cape Town, South Africa 2000. Then, I was on a fellowship of the Cape Town Democracy and Diversity Institute of the New School University, New York.  In company of other Nigerian Fellows, I had a chance but instructive meeting with Mr. Kole Omotoso, my former teacher, a former professor of Drama at the Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile Ife, and who was then a professor of literature at the University of Stellenbosch, South Africa.

During our fellowship, Mr. Kole Omotoso showed great kindness and generosity to the Nigerian delegation. Given the depth of his selflessness, I am sure he must have forgotten about his kindness not to mention the hours of lively and informed conversations between us. So, I take full responsibility for the truth in this recollection, which I am using to explore the moral options before us and our moral future as a nation.

Recalling Kole Omotoso’s moral tale about Nigeria in 2000; of the decaying social situation in our country, let me paraphrase it thus: “I am surprised why members of our ruling elite cannot see the balance  between their interests and the collective interests of the people. They are already rich and privileged.  So they already have an edge. So I am still unable to see why they cannot see that if things work minimally for all of us, it will work best for them”. It was a genteel piece of moral pragmatism.

In recent times, a close look at the avoidable deaths of Messers Daba, Sowole, Azazi, Yakowa, Tsoho and Kama in a Nigerian Navy helicopter crash during the burial of the father of Mr. Oronto Douglas in Ogbia Local government in Bayelsa State, Nigeria shed light on  this moral truth. To put it simply, members of Nigerian ruling elites and political class  fail miserably, even on humanitarian and moral grounds, to draw a just balance between their personal interests and the interests of the working people.

That moral failure in the case of Mr. Douglas, and the passage of the Ogbia Six, leads to this question: How is the involvement of the use of the public facilities of the Nigerian state justified in the private burial of Mr. Douglas’ father?  This question is not unkind, it is  legitimate and morally just even when sad deaths are involved. Members of the Nigerian ruling elites and political class must take moral responsibility for those deaths, and they must not be allowed to pass the moral buck and get away with their serial moral failure that leads to the sad serial deaths of  their own and ours. This is because  if Nigerian ruling elites made Nigerian roads -which Nigerian working people use mostly- motorable, it is thinkable that we would have avoided the sad Ogbia deaths during the burial of Pa Douglas. So if it works minimally for us if they build motorable roads for us, it will work best for them because they will still have their helicopters, planes and other toys to play and toy with.

This moral paradox is applicable to our health and educational facilities. If Nigerian hospitals work minimally for Nigerian working people, it will work best for the elites, and Nigerian elites will not have to die in foreign hospitals, and  Nigerian doctors will not have to  perform  the role of middle men “baranda” –errand boys- to Indian doctors (some of who may be less qualified than Nigerian doctors) by recommending Nigerian patients to Indian hospitals for some cheap and demeaning pay.

Sadly, the simplicity of this moral truth is also applicable to our history, the stories our elites tell our children about our histories. It is applicable to our failure to build consensus. The elites cannot see that if we do not mediate the Nigerian story with our own personal ethnic and religious stories, it will be best for them and okay for all. Self-story thrives best when the Nigerian story is strong. The ethnic self-story is impoverished morally when the Nigerian story is
deliberately weakened for personal ethnic and religious reasons.

Unfortunately, at every historical juncture, members of Nigerian ruling elites and “leaders”  have displayed a moral failure when they make their personal interests triumph over the collective interests of our nation.  My case study is applicable to other parts of our country. So let us take some cases. Twice in 1979 and in 1993 elections, General Olusegun Obasanjo exhibited that triumph of the moral wretchedness of the “strong” self and personal interest over
collective national interests of our country. Of Mr. Obafemi Awolowo’s expressed desire to serve Nigerians in the 1979 elections, General Obasanjo said: The best candidate needed not win. Coming from a sitting head of state, it was morally scary. Of Mr. Abiola electoral mandate, same General Obasanjo said: Mr. Abiola is not the messiah we are looking for.

In other words, these two cases show that General Olusegun Obasanjo,  with the benefit of a sitting and past head of state and the knowledge of the challenges of good governance in a modern era thought and felt twice(either correctly or wrongly) in 1979 and 1993 that he knew the best candidate for leadership and governance of our country. And suppose he was right, it means he knew the morally correct act, but failed to act in a morally right and just manner for the country. It means General Obasanjo knew but he was ready to live with making and supporting the wrong moral choices for our nation. Such moral decisions from a head of state are   morally chilling and scary. Today, we continue to pay badly for those tragic and morally questionable  decisions. We are enveloped with darkness-both moral and physical.

Also, in the 2011 elections we again witnessed that moral failure when General Mohammed Buhari of the CPC and Mr. Bola Tinubu of the ACN put their personal interests over and above the nation’s interests in their moral failure to unite and pick a credible candidate to challenge the PDP rampaging mediocrity. In that moral failure, they failed(when they could have done the right thing)  to unite to offer a credible opposition based on alternative policies and programs for our nation in opposition to the mediocrity in governance called PDP. Thus, in 2012 we were enveloped with darkness and savage politics as a result of the moral failure of General Mohammed Buhari (CPC) and Mr. Bola Tinubu (ACN) to unite and help Nigeria our country. The moral failure of these two gentlemen whereby they put personal interests above the interests of our nation has helped perpetuate the mediocrity in the land.

Look around Nigeria, North, South, East, West, you will find numerous similar examples of this moral failure of members of the ruling  elites to draw the correct and just  balance between personal interests and national interests; the failure to make national interests triumph over personal interests. It is a
moral failure of our ruling elites to build consensus, it is moral failure that continues to perpetuate mediocrity in the governance of our nation today.

Thus, the questions are: why is it difficult to see that we become morally poor when we allow the so-called “strong” self and personal interests  to dominate the
collective interests of our country? Why is it difficult to see that that the  “self” is weaker at the end of the day when that  personal “self” fails to make the collective thrive? Why is it difficult to see that if we moderate the stories we tell our children about Nigeria with our own private ethnic and religious stories, the society becomes morally impoverished and poorer? In other words, why is it so difficult to balance the collective with the private as an ethical issue? Why is it difficult to see that our own personal, ethnic and religious stories, which are equally important, thrive best if the collective stories thrive –even if they
thrive  minimally?  Why is healthy ethics of inclusion so elusive in our nation?

I think the moral in Mr. Kole Omotoso Cape Town morals for us in 2013 and beyond is simple. And this should not be difficult to see. If members of the ruling elites make things work minimally for all of us, things will work best for them because they and their families already have a social and economic edge over the Nigerian working people. This is a form of pragmatism, which provides a starting point even if it is limited.

And at the level of followership and citizenry, we need to engage the truth in the moral paradox that the individual and personal stories of  members of the elites work best if at least they tell the stories in ways that make our nation’s collective stories thrive even if minimally. I do hope members Nigerian ruling elites and political class and individual fellow Nigerians will take the disarming and simple truth in Mr. Kole Omotoso’s  Cape Town   moral paradox to heart as we move into 2013 and beyond.

May God in His Infinite Mercies Bless Our Dear Country Nigeria in the New Year. Happy New Year.

Adeolu Ademoyo (aaa54@cornell.edu) is of Africana Studies and Research Center, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY.

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