By Godwin Okpene
Usually for me, the surest way to avoid reading a sad piece of writing or watch a poor quality film is to not start because then, I carry on reading or watching, hoping to find something at some point to justify the initial investment in time and mental resources. Most times, I am unlucky, but a few times, I chance upon pay dirt, and these rarities produce the incentives to try my luck the next time. It turns out that my latest experience belonged to the first category of totally worthless efforts, and my tormentor this time was Dele Momodu’s very depressing piece of fiction on Sanusi Lamido Sanusi on the back page of the September 22nd edition of ThisDay newspapers. But, in this case, the sense of worthlessness went even more depressingly beyond the value of my time and efforts in reading a piece, to the pain that I felt from the gratuitous insults Momodu heaped on hapless Nigerians like me, whose only sin at the time of Sanusi’s reforms was that we were honestly praising God for intervening in the banking sector to secure the assets of those who toil day and night to have enough to put something away for when we would really need the inevitable shield against the rain.
For feeling the way I did, Mr Momodu practically diagnosed people like me of suffering from a disease called dementia. But he also had more degrading characterisation: He called us “frogs”, that we are “confused” about our choices, and that Nigerians are all products of “acute psychological impairment”. Except Dele Momodu. I will surely come back to this, but I must first finish what I was saying about the quality of Momodu’s article.
It wasn’t just that it was so glaringly beneath the quality he is known for, so transparently shambolic – almost like a piece rushed to press for no other reason than to achieve a deadline imposed by the usual pressure for dialogical currency. It was more than the glaring and totally avoidable literary errors. It was entirely lacking in essence and meaningful content. The article was one half a history of presidential succession in Nigeria, and another half from Wikipedia. By the end of the article, it was a surprise that there was a nonfictional reference to current issues and the Central Bank governor. Even where he managed to extricate the topic from its multiple tangents, his account of the most recent history was way, way off the mark: That Sanusi took advantage of a purported “weakness of the Jonathan administration”? I was confused because he had also mentioned in the article that he “warned many Nigerians jumping up like frogs” about Sanusi in August 2009. Is he talking about the same president before August 2009? And, was the insult to Nigerians necessary?
Now, I do not have to speak for Sanusi, as I believe that the CBN governor can find enough reason, if he has the time, to respond to the writer. But the logical inconsistencies, such as the one I pointed out above, ran all through so much of the ‘analysis’ that it would be totally uncharitable to not let him see how much work he still needs to do. Besides, if you need to hang a man, should you rather not hang him fairly?
As it is, Dele Momodu did not seem to be able to make up his mind about the character of the man he claimed that he knew so well to have warned all of us about back in 2009. Was (is) Mr Sanusi a man who “lacked the tolerance to persuade others” and “bullied everybody into submission” or is he a “charming man” who “attracts attention effortlessly”? Which one is it, Mr Momodu? According to the columnist, Sanusi “could almost raise the dead” but then, according to Momodu again, that “was his major weakness”. He left me even more confused about the character of Mr Sanusi’s ‘enemies’. To be sure, are they the same people he referred to as “rogue bankers” and “a few rats” or are they his beloved “brilliant bankers” and “innocent people”? I am also wondering how Dele Momodu determined the ideal character profile of a profession he probably never tried to sign up to; where he borrowed the line that the banking profession “was traditionally reserved for taciturn and conservative characters”. The result of whose research? Wikipedia’s, again? So what character trait might Dele Momodu prescribe for bankers in Nigeria and everywhere else? That of reckless individuals who think nothing of the potential disaster their risky behaviour was preparing for all of us? Those who gave practical expression to Schuermann’s point about the privatisation of bankers’ profits but the socialisation of their losses? That we should all be sitting ducks, watching these people engage in practices that would inevitably bring the roof down on all of us?
I know I started out complaining about the quality of Mr Momodu’s article, but then I must stick to the issues and their underlying logic, even if the columnist would not do the same. He would have done more to explain Sanusi’s “vengeful mission” against his “enemies”. Yes, because the implication here is that these are people who had caused him grave personal injury before he became governor. If not this, then what was Mr Sanusi’s “real intentions”?
He also made reference to Sanusi’s “unbridled radicalism” side by side with “his academic brilliance”. While, again, I believe that Sanusi’s has the intellectual capacity (as admitted by Momodu himself) to constructively address such charge, and while I believe that the man has his faults (who doesn’t?) I think I would pitch for a radical with a mind to challenge the old order than a wimp who people like Momodu would not hesitate to turn into an object of eternal ridicule.
I am temped however, to excuse Dele Momodu’s ‘treatise’ as little more than a hasty piece of literature which, inevitably, cannot stand the test of literary scrutiny. For instance (and this is purely a matter between Momodu and Wikipedia), he observed that “bullies always have their terminal dates because, according to Wikipedia, a bully is” a bully. (i.e., “constant harasser of the weak”). Since I failed to see the logic in the inference, I decided to consult the source, from where the columnist lifted his assertions. I traced the definition (in parenthesis) to the only paragraph of the article, which simply established the etymology of the term. There was no such inference, “according to Wikipedia”, in the online article. So, it turns out, Mr Momodu’s inference is neither consistent with the structure of commonsensical validity nor of attributional regularity. It is obvious therefore that this was just a model in the literature desperately seeking personification in Momodu’s real world.
And, alas, such desperation shone even brighter, when Momodu attempted fruitlessly to make capital out of what I considered at the time, no more than a light-hearted reference by Sanusi to former President Obansanjo’s position on the CBN’s currency restructuring proposal. Pray, when did Dele Momodu develop any kind of respect for Baba? And when he unnecessarily brought up a certain presidential ambition of Sanusi (I hear this for the first time, but believe nevertheless that a banker has as much right to such aspirations as a columnist), I was left to wonder what was the point of this in the bully story? To entertain? To further “mesmerise” the same Nigerians he described as “hypnotised”?
Frankly, for all my frustration with having to endure the article, it would have been reasonably rewarding for me to isolate a single topical issue to reflect on, and maybe use as an object of my humble contribution – like the subject of central bank autonomy. Yes, it was mentioned, but again, the author chose to personalise the issues rather than elevate the discourse. It would have been interesting, for instance to hear what the writer thinks about the fact that, over the last two decades, more and more countries in the developed and developing world have created more autonomous central bank; I would have loved to read his perspective on research results which have shown that foreign investment has tended towards jurisdictions with institutionally guaranteed price stability; that autonomous central banks serve as a veritable insurance against the negative incentives of ‘the political business cycle’. But, no, the former presidential aspirant would rather reproduce what Wikipedia says about bullies than address economic policy.
If he reflects more seriously on it, even Mr Momodu himself would agree that he would have made his point more constructively by sticking to the issues and avoiding the insults. Describing us as “a neurotic society and vindictive population”? For me, it was demeaning, and a brazen show of ingratitude to the same Nigerians who religiously ‘file into the gallery’ every week to ‘listen’ to him abuse, harass and terrorise people who cannot afford the time, forum or are too scared to abuse him back.
If the columnist has any regard for the millions of Nigerians in his article, if he is not the bully he so self-righteously see in others, he would use his next column to apologise to everybody, including the 26,000 or so that lined up in the sun (rain) to vote for him last year.
• Mr. Godwin Okpene writes from Sussex, England