The Metaphor in Utomi’s Politics



Eleven years ago, Dr. Pat Utomi was the presidential candidate of the African Democratic Congress (ADC). His passion for idea-driven politics was the subject of this column on February 28, 2007.
Among other things he called for attention to be given to all candidates and their respective platforms in the course of electioneering.

In the media, his candidacy and the platform were not considered headline news. Neither, did both Utomi and ADC get much attention from the electorate during the 2007 elections.
That was a decade before Mr. Emmanuel Macron was elected French president on the platform of a party that could not be considered dominant few months before the election. Today, the name of Macron is often invoked in Nigeria by those who see the possibility of another party different from the “dominant” ones presenting a candidate that could disrupt the status quo. Some of the younger presidential candidates have been dubbed the “Macron of Nigerian politics.” And it all sounds like a new idea to many people. Nobody remembers anymore that Utomi and others like him have been trying to break new grounds in politics.

For almost four decades Utomi has been very visible in the public sphere brimming with ideas for development. He has written books and newspaper articles to spread these ideas. He has hosted television programmes for the purpose of harvest of ideas. For the record, this reporter respects Utomi immensely for the rigour of his argument even when he disagrees with him ideologically on the fundaments of some of his neo-liberal prescriptions. You cannot but salute Utomi for his consistency and clarity of purpose. There was a sense of urgency about Nigeria’s development in the tone of Utomi’s even in his younger days. Reading him from the Left since the early 1980s, one could sense that if Utomi had his way he would put Nigeria at the developmental level of Singapore as far back as 1985. Doubtless, Utomi is one Nigerian public intellectual who adores Lee Kuan Yew, the architect of Singapore’s “transition from the third world to the first world in a generation.”

It’s also remarkable that for Utomi, it has not all been theorising about democracy and development. He was in his mid -20s when he was appointed as an aide to President Shehu Shagari in the Second Republic. Subsequently, he became a noted private sector player, social entrepreneur and a teacher, as he sometimes describes himself.
It is against the background of the highly condensed profile in the foregoing that the recent efforts by Utomi should provoke deep reflections on the character and quality of Nigerian politics. Here we are referring to his gallant efforts to be a gubernatorial candidate in his home state of Delta.

In the last few months Utomi has immersed himself in the peculiar politics of Delta waving his broom frantically all over the place. He worked hard to secure the ticket of All Progressives Congress (APC). He is of the Delta North Senatorial District. So the geo-political mathematics would seem to favour him.

However, when confronted with what they call “ the political reality” on ground, Utomi could not secure the ticket.
Surely, Utomi has a story to tell about what happened. Not a few of his followers and sympathisers would eagerly await the story. If he faced so many hurdles at the party primary, you could imagine what could be awaiting him in the elections next year.

For those who may be tempted to be uncharitable to this liberal thinker, Utomi is neither a political desperado nor hustler. It is the passion for translating his ideas into practice that could make him seek to be governor of one of the 36 states 10 years after contesting a presidential election. It is the belief in the efficacy of his theory that drives him to look for the laboratory (however small) to test things out.

The Utomi story has poignantly brought into fore some issues of Nigerian politics.
First is that there is little premium placed on values and ethics in Nigerian politics. Nobody is bothered about quality in matters of leadership recruitment. Increasingly, symptoms of political underdevelopment manifest in the conduct of politicians and management of institutions. It may be argued that even developed liberal democracies now suffer a similar malaise. Eminent political theorist, Francis Fukuyama, treats the problem globally in his magisterial book, “Political Order and Political Decay: From the Industrial Revolution to the Globalisation of Democracy.” By the way, Fukuyama wrote that book before the dark clouds of Trumpism enveloped the American political sky. Incidentally, a chapter is devoted to Nigeria in the book.

Remarkably, the question of values, leadership and elevated discussion of issues has been a pre-occupation of Utomi.
Secondly, there is the asphyxiating effect of money on politics. Whatever oxygen of integrity and suitability left would be taken out of politics by the sickening monetisation of this era. Good men would be disabled by the size of their pockets while the bad guys buy their way to power if the trend is not reversed.

Thirdly, the story of Utomi should also provoke a review of the false dichotomy between politicians and “technocrats.” It is an illusion that “technocrats” can wish democracy and development into existence while not getting involved in politics. Some wait to be given political appointments when some other persons break their limbs in the struggle for power. In any case, some “technocrats” of yesteryear are now playing politics with the roughest tackles against their opponents.

Fourthly, implicit in the Utomi intervention is the need to take another look at how ingrained identity politics has become in the land. Utomi has spent a greater part of his life in Lagos. He is more familiar with Lagos politics than Delta politics with all its characteristics. Why couldn’t an Utomi seek a ticket to contest election in Lagos? Why must every cosmopolitan Nigerian leave Lagos, Kaduna, Enugu, Port Harcourt or Ibadan and go back to his village to contest elections? Some of these politicians have probably not stayed in their villages continuously for three months for many years.

Clearly, the Nigerian polity does not seem ready for the Pat Utomis of this world while the Pat Utomis of this world do not seem to have a good reading of the political landscape.
That is why Utomi’s recent political adventures have become a metaphor for some efforts yet wrongly perceived as the introduction of the impossible into politics.

When Nigerian politics is developed, Utomi would be remembered as one of those who saw early that ideas should first compete for the electorate to make informed choices during elections.
There is a ready solace validated by history for the Pat Utomis of Nigerian politics: the future squarely belongs to the idealists because their dreams and efforts make progress possible.

For Leman, Sharibu and others

The killing of Hauwa Leman two days ago was another chilling reminder that the Boko Haram war is far from being over.
The Islamic State of West Africa Province (ISWAP), an offshoot of Boko Haram, has claimed responsibility for the killing of the 24-year old midwife and a member of staff of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).
The terrorists also claimed responsibility of the killing of Saifura Ahmed, another humanitarian worker last month. While announcing the killing of Leman, the terrorists threatened to turn the Dapchi schoolgirl, Leah Sharibu, and Alice Ngaddah, the third ICRC staff abducted in March, into “our slaves.”

Sharibu has remained in Boko Haram captivity since February 19 when she and her 110 colleagues were abducted from their school. Sharibu is the only Christian among the Dapchi schoolgirls.
While our hearts should go the bereaved and traumatised families, the message in these brutal acts of the terrorist group should be clear to the federal government. The President spoke last Wednesday on the telephone with Leah’s mother, Mrs. Rebecca Sharibu. That was a timely empathy especially because the terrorists had threatened to kill the hostages this month.

The agony of those being held by the terrorists could only be imagined as they appeal to government to rescue their loved ones. There have been official statements of solidarity with the families of the victims.
Beyond that, however, is the urgency of ensuring the release of those in captivity.

Beyond question, there is the need for a rethink of the security strategy. Some experts have suggested re-working the international dimension of the strategy. What has happened is a huge challenge to the defence and security leadership. This is more so in the light of the number of soldiers killed by the terrorists in recent times. There is a lot to interrogate in the conduct of the war.

Hopes were high for all those abducted when the release of about 110 Dapchi schoolgirls were affected. It was perceived as a product of the security strategy.
Since then, not a few perceptive members of the public have asked the question: why has it not been possible to negotiate the release of the remaining hostages or rescue them in the light of the strategy?

For the terrorists, the tragic news of the killings of Leman, Ahmed and other victims constitute an effective “propaganda by the deed,” as the age-long anarchist theory goes. They have shocked the public as they draw attention to their brutality. For them, they are making “examples” of their victims in the criminal enterprise of terrorism.

However, for the government that has responsibility for security, the killings and the continued hostage taking by the terrorists is a setback to the war against terrorism.
With the killings, a question mark has been severely put over the progress so far made in degrading Boko Haram in the northeast.
That’s why the government should step up efforts to secure the release of Leah Sharibu, Alice Ngaddah, and others including the Chibok girls still being held by Boko Haram.