Sam Omatseye, Everyone’s Obituary Is Inevitable
By Chuks Iloegbunam
Some have called you foolish, dear Sam Omatseye. Others insist that you are plain stupid. There are those who hold you to be beneath contempt. Their howls of execration upon you are in reaction to your August 1, 2022 article entitled Obi-tuary.
For me, however, you are a dear friend. Our friendship started in the 1980s at Newswatch magazine where both of us practiced journalism before you travelled to the United States for further studies. It continued upon your return and strengthened to the point that, sometimes, you get the producers of your TV Continental programme to connect me to field questions live.
Besides, living in different states, we often chat by telephone. I demonstrated our amity again last May when I was in Nigeria’s commercial capital for the Lagos International Book Fair. I phoned you and, within the hour, you were at my stand where we spent quality time reminiscing about the good old days and prognosticating on the future of our dear fatherland.
Armed with this handle of friendship, I have just the one advice for you: Be careful. It is in elaboration of this counsel that I write all that you read hereon. Please look back to the time of the Nigeria-Biafra war of 1967 to 1970. You will find that, military or civilian, none of the political actors of that era is still in a position to fight elections today. The final curtain long fell for most of them. Of the lot that remains, some have become vegetables, or are propped up with a suffusion of drugs or would not find their way to the loo unless hired attendants or swearing relatives point it out. Together with the handful that is still blessed with something close to robust health, they have one thing in common. They are seated, restless or restive, in various existential departure halls, clutching fitfully at their boarding passes and waiting for that inevitable voice that cannot be disobeyed, to announce their flights into past tense.
In a broad sense, the departed leave their legacies, good, bad or ugly, for those standing in line and waiting their turns to also check out. What legacies, dear Sam, are you and I feverishly working day and night to leave for those coming in our wake? When you write an article that denigrates the Igbo nation of over 50 million people, and make nonsense of some of those things that mean the most to them, do you really believe that your disposition is justified by the pay and perquisites that accrue to you at Ahmed Bola Tinubu’s The Nation newspapers?
This is you: “The Biafran babblers are alive and well. They just swapped icons, rechristened the shrines and rewrote the rites. They left the prophet for a secular priest. They have had a switch of battle gear.” This clearly is a perfidious way of sentencing Ndigbo to the status of the bat that is neither bird nor mammal. Their fight for Biafra five decades ago was stopped. Their fight now for democratic integration impels you to call them babblers, i.e., people who are no more than endless talkers of nonsense. One would think that the bat sobriquet aptly becomes your Bola Ahmed Tinubu whose initials provide the BAT acrostic that he wears like a badge. I will sooner return to the BAT.
This, again, is your characterisation of the Igbo: “They can say they have a legitimate tribe and rhetoric. They may pretend to love Nigeria. They may claim to embrace INEC, cling to a political party no one in the police or DSS will harangue.”
Isn’t this the height of Igbophobia? We may go back in history. Before Tinubu, there were other Yoruba presidential candidates, including Chief Obafemi Awolowo, Chief M. K. O. Abiola, General Olusegun Obasanjo, Chief Gani Fawehinmi and Chief Olu Falae. None of these personages indexed their presidential ambition on stoking inter-tribal animosity between the Yoruba and the Igbo. As a matter of fact, Chief Philip Ezebuilo Umeadi, Igbo and one of the oldest Senior Advocates of Nigeria, was Papa Awolowo’s running mate in the 1979 presidential election.
Why does it make sense to you and to your principal that the only route to his vaulting presidential ambition must be one that sunders two ethnic groups that have since before the amalgamation been living together in amity, harmony and peace, two peoples that have always, in peace or in peril, lent each other a helping hand?
At the height of the Western Nigeria political crisis of the mid 1960s that pitted Chief Awolowo against Chief Samuel Ladoke Akintola, the former’s Action Group (AG) and Dr. M. I. Okpara’s National Convention of Nigerian Citizens (NCNC) entered into a coalition that birthed the United Progressives Grand Alliance (UPGA). We have it on Wole Soyinka’s authority – see page 73 of his autobiographical “You Must Set Forth At Dawn” (Bookcraft, Ibadan 2006) that Dr. Okpara lent the then incarcerated Awo a voice by dispatching Mazi Anyogu Elekwachi Ukonu and a complement of seasoned broadcasters that installed a transmitter right inside Awolowo’s Ibadan home.
Ndigbo were not a part of Awolowo’s treason trial and his imprisonment for ten years. Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe even said that he was the one that insisted on Awolowo being imprisoned in Calabar, rather than in Northern Nigeria where the chief feared that poisoning could end his life.
It was not the Igbo that nullified Chief Abiola’s victory in the 1993 presidential election. Rather, Ndigbo were in the forefront of the NADECO (National Democratic Coalition) struggle against the gross injustice. At least a third of those that formed the NADECO were Igbo, according to a list in Battlelines: Adventures in Journalism and Politics, Chief Segun Osoba’s autobiography published in 2020 by Diamond Publications Limited, Lagos. They included Commodore Ebitu Ukiwe, the late Admiral Ndubuisi Kanu, Okwadike (Dr.) Chukwuemeka Ezeife, Prof Anya O. Anya, Chief Ralph Obioha, Chief Empire Kanu, Chief Michael Anyiam, Chief E. Duru, Chief Vincent Nwizugbo and Dr. Uma Eleazu.
NADECO had an international arm. In the United Kingdom, its meetings were held in the late Raph Uwechue’s Africa Books Limited offices in Hammersmith London. Chief Uwechue was Igbo. Dear Sam, I do not know exactly where you were at the time, and I concede that, among Nigerian politicians, there is something known as selective amnesia. If, therefore, your Tinubu, who lived in London for a portion of his exile, does not remember Uwechue’s role in NADECO, I am sure that none of General Alani Akinrinade, Professor Bolaji Akinyemi and Professor Sylvester Monye will ever forget.
All the Igbo fighters for June 12 were not dissuaded by the fact that their struggle was to actualise the electoral mandate of Chief Abiola, a Yoruba politician. Apart from incarceration, harassment by security operatives and the alienation of exile, some of these men paid heavily in other ways for their commitment to cause of justice. Chief Bobo Nwosisi died in exile in London. Chief Obioha lost his bank, the First African Trust Bank Limited.
In the light of the above, readers would have to judge for themselves whether or not it is right for you, Sam, to say the following of Ndigbo: “They have transferred the temperament of their former master into the new. And they have not spared any incoherence, any lack of finesse, and threats and tantrums, any show of rabid, primitive cants, or any ululations. They have abused, cursed, thrown imprecations. They have hugged lies about their candidate. They have pelted lies about others. They have distorted material. Obi has turned out to be an excuse for even closet Biafrans to betray open emotions about Biafra without being accused of it.”
To be sure, your writing is not an aberrant occurrence. On July 17, 2022, an Adedamola Adetayo posted on the Internet an anti-Igbo diatribe in which he said, among other things that “They have a POLITICAL ZIONISM already in play. It is in the thing they deceptively call Obidients. That Movement is going to RALLY the Igbos of Lagos in a way that they haven’t ever been rallied. THEY ARE SET TO DETERMINE THE LEADERSHIP OF LAGOS. The priority is to remove Tinubu first. In future they will call the shot. This is what Peter Obi is all about. He has no plans for any Presidency. I can imagine that the ZIONISTS already have their IPOB/UGM all over the places in Lagos, in the Garrisons called Markets, under cover, masquerading as Igbo traders.”
Years before this ranting Adedamola Adetayo, John Femi Kusa, who had been a script editor at The Guardian in Lagos, also showed his claws. In March 2019, he published an article on the Internet with this sentence of a title: Okota: The Igbo Question, Jimi Agbaje, Afenifere And The Rest Of Us. In it, he claimed that, “The major problem, in my opinion, is the Igbo penchant to wish to take over another person’s land…Lagos was either a colony or a part of Western Nigeria. But because of the generosity of Yorubas and the foresight of their forefathers which made this region the star region in West Africa, the Igbos would like the Yorubaman to believe that LAGOS IS NO MAN’S LAND. Can anyone say that of Benin without eating his pounded yam as raw yam?”
Dear Sam, your Obi-tuary piece is as incendiary as the hateful views of Kusa and Adetayo. Kusa, now well into his 70s will not physically go feeding the Igbo raw yam. But all the vitriol you guys have been pushing against the Igbo is the stuff that leads the M. C. Oluomos into mindless violence and murder and arson and brigandage. You pen pushers of evil are the ones that egg on the rabble into wielding guns and cudgels and massacring innocent people for transient political offices. Is it right to promote this permittivity simply so that Tinubu will attain his wild goose chase of the presidential crown?
Kusa schooled at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, earning a degree in Mass Communication. All through his years in the Igbo country, not once was he molested or denied his citizenship on account of his origin. Did his welcome at Nsukka lead him into believing that the town was a part of the Yoruba country? According to Facebook, the acerbic Adetayo guy schooled at the Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka, and earned a degree there without abuse, let or hindrance. Maybe it got fixed inside his brain that Awka is an extension of Lagos, or that Azikiwe after whom the institution was named was his progenitor.
If there are Ndigbo who say that Lagos is a no man’s land, can one Igbo person be put up who simply seized a piece of land in the metropolis and converted it to his use? If Nigerians, including Tinubu’s daughters, who have been buying up choice properties in New England, United States, can own houses in Europe, North America, the Middle East and elsewhere, why must it rankle that Ndigbo own property in Lagos? Why must ownership of landed property in one’s own country lead to calumniation and physical harm? Is it not too steep a price to pay in order that Tinubu should become Nigeria’s president?
The Igbo were not responsible for the recent bloody massacre of congregants inside the St Francis Catholic Church in Owo, Ondo State. The Igbo are not among those sentenced to death by hanging for the murder of Afenifere leader Chief Reuben Fasanranti’s daughter. The herdsmen marauding, pillaging and plundering Yoruba land, looting, raping women, destroying farmlands and spreading death and destruction are not Igbo. The Igbo man did not kill a soul. He did not contest the governorship of Lagos. He hasn’t ever claimed ownership of Iga Idungaran. The Igbo always lived in peace with the Yoruba – until Tinubu surfaced with his divisive politics. Are the vociferous Igbo supporters of Tinubu no longer of the ethnic group because of their partisan predilection?
Sam, informed readers of your articles are aware that your allusions to classical Anglo-Saxon, Greek and Roman mythologies and literary divergences are no more than an egregious attempt at appropriating the intellectual centre circle. Otherwise, you would appreciate the importance of adding depth to your fulminations.
Any owner of a book of quotable quotes or a glossary of literary terms can fill their verbiage with citations. But that is no scholarship, my friend. Look at you: “Obi is like Zik, Kanu like Ojukwu. One is a flair, the other a flare.” Yet, it doesn’t strike you as reasonable to accord some of Zik’s aptitude to Peter Obi, a man who earned an honours degree in Philosophy from Nigeria’s premier indigenous university that was built by the great Zik of Africa.
And Ojukwu is no more than a flare. By impugning him with combustibility, you forget that in January 1967, Ojukwu went to Aburi, Ghana, not with an incendiary device, but with the sole purpose of putting out the smoldering fire that was threatening to become a national conflagration. You forget that it was not Ojukwu but those that reneged on the Aburi Accord that tossed a lit match in an ocean of gasoline.
I agree with those that have invested you with the coronet of a seasoned journalist. Except that your coronation disdains the fact that your brand of perceptive journalism is only seasonal. That explains why it bothers you that “Obi hops from church to church,” but means absolutely nothing to you that as Dele Sobowale reported in the Sunday Vanguard of July 10, 2022 “…Bola Tinubu has charged the Supreme Council for Sharia in the country to create a department of political affairs to create political awareness among the faithful towards producing a Muslim President in 2023.” Neither do you care a hoot that, as Dr. Sobowale added in the same article “Tinubu has followed up that injunction to the Supreme Council for Sharia, by making secret pledges to expand the reach of Sharia to more Southern States if elected.”
Rather, you call Peter Obi a hypocrite. But Mr. Obi gave his date of birth, the name of his parents, the town he hails from, the schools he attended and the businesses he is into. All were found to be correct. Not being at all interested in the truth, you threw Mr. Obi’s data out of the window because you must be seen to be frantically propagating a character of disputed age, of unknown pedigree, unascertained genealogy, unsubstantiated name, uncorroborated curriculum vitae, and unverified academic diplomas. You shout from the rooftops that Peter Obi is not fit to govern. But you posit as fit for the presidential palace a specimen of incontinence, tremulous lower extremities, slurred speech, unsteady gait and memory lapses. You cannot be serious, my friend.
Of course, it is your entitlement to advertise even ordure if that captures your fancy, but you may not carry on as though your readers are imbecilic. By raising the Biafran bogey, your intention was clearly to create doubt and apprehension. But your gambit only registered a calamitous failure. Jonathan was President of this country. It didn’t obliterate Niger Delta agitation. Buhari is president of this country; those of his people campaigning for the Islamic State haven’t thrust their swords in their scabbards. You have a fondness for excoriating Nnamdi Kanu. Excellent! Except that your seasonal flair for journalism has never prompted you into examining the Sunday Igboho phenomenon. You make yourself a laughing stock by encapsulating in ethnic strictures the pan-Nigerian Peter Obi Movement that is youth led. You reckon not one bit that the youths that are sick and tired of the sanguinary dreariness and aridity of your principal’s vanishing epoch.
Nonetheless, you cannot contest the truism that, in the last analysis, everything goes and turns round. All metals are bound for the anvil. We are here today – those, like Peter Obi and his equally competent and credible running mate, Yusuf Datti Baba-Ahmed, that wish to place a new heart in the Nigerian nation; and others like your principal and his paid battalions of blinkered acolytes that, as Pa Ayo Adebanjo finely put it, are only interested in continuing and escalating the rot they inflicted on hapless Nigerians in 2015. Whatever tomorrow brings, you must continue to ruminate over the legacy you will leave for coming generations. Every one of us will have their entrance and their exit, it being a settled fact that obituary’s certitude rings true for all comers, not just for Peter Obi as you wantonly asserted.
— Chuks Iloegbunam is the author of the upcoming book on Mr. Peter Obi entitled The Promise of a New Era.