By Yinka Olatunbosun
One of Nigeria’s finest literary exports, Kole Omotosho has demonstrated his unwavering commitment to social change at an evening of conversations with art enthusiasts and the public in commemoration of his 70th birthday last Wednesday at Jazzhole, Ikoyi. The distinguished professor took a grim look at the social reality in Nigeria which formed the basis of his relocation outside the Nigerian shores. In his view, the Nigerian situation can be said to be that of ‘dislocation’ and the alternative was to relocate. That in itself was not an easy decision for the writer.
For a start, Omotosho asked if all Nigerians could stop using power generators. In his view, the general acceptance of use of power generators in place of the power generating sets is indicative of the willingness of Nigerians to make emergency measures a way of life.
“Where there is no electricity, there’s no way I would come back to Nigeria. For me, it just doesn’t make sense. How can a government be budgeting for generators? And we all sit down and accept it. One thing I can live with is when one-night stand becomes recognizable as a wedding. How do you have successful politicians in an unsuccessful country? For me it was not easy to leave this country. I had offers and temptations to stay.”
The Arabic scholar recounted some of his unpleasant experiences as a member of the Nigerian academia and the education authorities challenged his teaching of Arabic language as a non-islamic teacher. He remarked that the move informed his decision to move to University of Ife to teach Dramatic Arts in 1976. He left Ife in 1988.
He expressed concern on the weak-fisted fight against corruption in Nigeria especially where public servants with good record of integrity get involved in the tainted business of governance.
“Okonjo-Iweala’s book, Reforming the Unreformable, she made this submission that the Nigerian civil service is unreformable. It cannot be reformed and it will not allow itself to be reformed. The Port Authority and anything that has to do with import and export cannot be reformed. But Okonjo-Iweala is back as Minister of Finance. Will she be able to reform the wreck that is or just sit back to enjoy the fruit of the gang?
“It is impossible in Nigeria to punish corruption. It has got so powerful that it has become the system. When you look at the issue of dislocation in Nigeria, you have to look at the issue of abandoned projects. How does the government abandon 40,000 projects in a period of 20years? About 6months ago, it was discovered that the federal government has about 500 containers abandoned along with their content. The abandoned projects include schools, bridges, roads”, he said.
Reacting to the sale of the National Theatre in Lagos by the Federal government, the dramatist said that the theatre is not the only legacy of Nigerians that had been mortgaged. He frowned on the complacent attitude of Nigerians to the decayed system.
“This joke is made about South Africa but I think it is more relevant to Nigeria. It is said that South Africa has a great future behind it. We can say that Nigeria has a great future behind it. If you look at some of the unrealistic dreams of Nigeria become one of the leading economies in 2020, you will see that the calendar does not care about what you expect. It keeps on counting. So in a situation where you are not doing anything differently but you are expecting a different result, that means vanity and insanity,” he said.
Speaking on his artistic creations, Omotosho remarked that his recent work ask some of the fundamental questions that Africans need to ask.
“In my novel that would be published soon, there is a driver that is given the task of taking 30 mentally ill patients from a provincial hospital to the state capital. A former minister in the British government had once looked at the possibility of mental illness and political power. That’s one area that we have never bothered to look at.
“One of the things I do with my writing is to link artistic purpose to political purpose. It is on the basis of that that I want to read a short story, The Revolt of the Light Bulbs. Or I may not read it.
“Andrew, a Zimbabwean technician comes to fix any electrical problem in my house. One day, he was working and he said, “Excuse me sir, the bulb won’t come out”. The way we speak English, we speak our language into English. Suddenly, the electric bulb has its own mind and can decide what it wants to do”, he said.
He tasked Nigerians to engage the government on accountability, transparency and integrity in governance.