By Malachy Ugwummadu
I have read, followed and interacted with Prof. Pat Utomi in the public space, at several fora particularly at the University of Nigeria Alumni Association (UNAA). None of those encounters approximated a bare confession, regrets, classical cases of self-pity and self-inflicted frustration as his last article titled ‘Back to the street” which was published on page 25 of October 24th 2018 edition of the Punch Newspaper.
As I understood it, the erudite professor of political economy metaphorically used the word “street” in reference to the centres of agitation and struggles of the Nigeria people for freedom and dignity. The article argues that there are now compelling and over-riding needs to return to the trenches and barricades with as much determination and traction as secured the victories we recorded at critical turns and curves in our chequred political history. Apparently however, the versatile professor did not communicate this all-important message with the requisite force of conviction and clarity of purpose required to guarantee similar successes that he fantasized about. Early indicators to this conclusion are the numerous resort to obtuse and ecclesiastical illustrations of otherwise practical political situations which are neither amenable to conjectures nor susceptible to spiritual speculations. He is also not convinced that, in the twilight of his life, he ought to be conscripted into this permanent struggle which alienated him from the luxuries and comforts which his contemporaries are presently enjoying once they elected, in their youths, to “leave town; teaching or in corporate America assured of health care even as geriatric infirmities closed up on health”. Clearly, Prof was ambivalent when he described his entire experience with his creator as a dream in the following words. “I was draped in the image of a buffalo soldier when I had a recent conversation with God; otherwise known as prayer”. Yet, it was convenient to appropriate this feat of trance as the basis of serious national discourse or analysis.
The opening statement of Prof’s article emphatically sought to project him as a child of protests and struggles, a claim he made with several illustrations spanning decades and commencing from his teenage and early adult years at the University of Nigeria NSUKKA; publicly documented intellectual engagements of society towards human progress, achievement and fulfilment; numerous television interactions including the famous Pattos’ Gang, Centre for Leadership Values, Crusading formations like the Concern Professionals etc. He even proclaimed that the struggle and become his life at 18 a phrase easily associated with the inimitable Nelson Mandela and in the same feat of trance wondered whether he would end up like Stephen Biko of the same Southern Africa.
Albeit Prof. argued that he is an apostle and agent of contemporary Nigeria struggle, but the very account that he presented as the basis of that assumption is deeply conflicted with several layers of contradictions that are unable to resolve themselves in favour of a clearer comprehension of the message he sought to pass on. On these scores and obviously in the feat of his trance, he sounded like Messrs Chris Okolie and Tunde Bakare in their unquenching desire to govern Nigeria identifying God as the provenance of their “legitimate” aspiration.
At the very heart of Prof’s discourse was his misadventure into the murky waters of Delta State politics where he legitimately sought to clinch the ticket of the All Progress Congress (APC) for the 2019 gubernatorial elections and I dare say, with equal desperation. In no mistaken terms, Prof. reported that he was contented retiring into a quiet private life concerned only with just writing and sharing with the next generation the objective conditions that any society desirous of human progress must engage. Yet, Prof admired God’s idea of granting Mahathir Mohammed the opportunity to reorder and restore Malaysia at the advanced age of 92 years. In another breath, the distinguish Prof remarked that he was lucky and grateful that he did not fall into the category of activists whose entire life was defined by permanent struggles and detested the idea of resuming a life of struggle and barricades.
From the stand point of conception, the narrative revealed that Prof. Utomi was talked into the idea of contesting the position of Governor of Delta State in a manner that disrupted the peace of his self-induced retirement from partisan politics by friends and associates. It was his further account that he got very fascinated about the idea when a delegation of some old boys of Government College Ugheli visited urging him to run. Thus ab initio, the idea to run wasn’t his and therefore lacked the steam, momentum and legitimacy of ownership; the zeal and enthusiasm to drive such a critical idea and of course, the force of conviction required to attract like minds and supporters to the project. Thus, when one of the earliest callers and friends of Prof betrayed him and became an aspirant in the same race and for the same position that he had persuaded him to run, it was simply naïve Prof. was taken aback when he ought reasonably to know that it was intrinsically inherent in the character of Nigerian politics to contemplate such. He was no less bitter that this incredulous friend of his equally sold out to “forces of obnoxious domination”. But within the context of the liberal party politics that our dear Prof submitted to, it was our dear Prof. who utterly misconceived and misinterpreted the situation and swallowed hook, line and sinker all the postulations, of the nay sayers in a manner that deconstructed him and segregated his long held political views from the realities on ground.
What is more? Prof confessed that he consulted with his friends in the party including the Jagaban of contemporary Nigerian politics – Ahmed Bola Tinubu and the General Overseer of the ruling party, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole under whose brief watch the APC is disintegrating before the general elections.
He did not approach them to provide the technical strategies or roadmap towards getting the ticket but perfunctorily sought an alibi with which he hoped to confront his traducer to back off having heard, this time, from the political oracles and not his creator in the earlier trance. That was a deeply conflicted position lacking in any standard of faith enough to attract reliable loyalists and faithfuls. That didn’t happen. Rather than give effect to his initial instincts which indicated that this wasn’t a viable enterprise, our Prof chose to be nudged on towards the Asaba Primaries that he later describes as a “total farce” and a “High Treason”. He was certain that it was a travesty of democracy for which he invited the State to prosecute all those involved.
This was both misplaced and opportunistic. In the first place, Prof. did nothing to alter the preceding and prevailing circumstances, as well as the rules of engagements that resulted in a fiasco that he described as a farce. A perfect explanation of this was that Prof. cued behind and beside the same people he now wants prosecuted to purchase mere APC nomination and expression of interest forms for N22.5m as against the original N5.5m. My firm was briefed a few days before the primaries by one of the gubernatorial aspirants to challenge the exorbitant and probative increase. As we filed the suit at the Registry of the High Court of the Federal Capital Territory Abuja, I ran into our Prof authenticating his purchased forms in the same Registry. Hello Prof. even you purchased this exorbitant and exclusionary forms and now rushing to submit them, I asked. His response was – what can we do? At that point, I knew Prof. Utomi was already caught in the conspiracy of silence that established his guilt of complicity as a principal participant. Consequently, he lost the moral strength to contest any or all of the malfeasance that arose from the exercise thereafter. Please pause a moment, flip the coin around and imagine for a moment, that Prof was declared the flag bearer of the party in Delta State, do you think we would have read from his stable all of what he has now committed to writing in his efforts to discredit the process? To be sure, I am aware, being a fellow Deltan myself with keen interest in the politics of this country, that APC in Delta State is seriously challenged. Their outing at the national convention in which Adams Oshiomhole was elected was a fiasco of bizarre proportion for Delta State APC delegates who could not manage their affairs. Yet, Prof. is actually not a stronger to these processes. He was a political adviser to President Shehu Shagari at a relatively young age. He had contested elections, and like he stated, devoted enormous energy perusing his presidential ambition eight years ago when his friends advised him to go for the governorship of Delta State. Even the National Assembly, the Senate in particular would’ve been most ideal in the circumstance that Prof. enlisted in the race. Having acquiesced to all the terms and compromises of the process, it is very much doubted that he would have behaved like Nigerian former President, Late Umaru Yar’ Adua who, though benefited from a flawed electoral process, rose to the occasion to sanitize that system by commissioning profound reforms in that system.
At the moment, there is a serious drawback with Prof’s proposition. He acknowledges that the system has been bastardized. It is a flipside he does not know exactly how it can be fixed but reasoned that history may be beckoning at him, once again, to go back to the streets to protest and march and do something before Nigeria decent into anarchy. Fair assessment, no doubt! His thought is a further presupposition that the highways and streets of democracy were now abandoned and yielded to rampaging buccaneers who occupied the space created by the logic of their intervention in bourgeois politics. The sad news which Prof must hear is that the proverbial street is literary empty of the quality occupants who guaranteed that they remained the centers of resistance and bastion for barricades.
It became empty when you and the tribe of your elite club, experts and professionals ignored every known rules of sustainable engagements and depleted the ranks of committed comrades who could set the right agenda and keep germane issues on the front burner. The streets became empty when you abandoned the street and gloated in the fact that you did not fall into the “existence of permanent struggle”. The street became empty when you perfunctorily returned to the street at your convenient times but devoted greater energy, attention and expertise providing technical, professional and expert resources and supports to the same governments and institutions including all previous governments of Delta State from 1999 in a manner that justified and consolidated their official transgressions and malfeasance. All of those collaborations and expertise undermined our collective control of the street to which you wish to return but now empty and captured by your beneficiaries.