By Pius Adesanmi
LET me quickly get a few things out of the way before I proceed with my reflections.
If you are one of those abusing, insulting, rubbishing, ridiculing, and mocking Oby Ezekwesili, take a piece of paper, jot down these five points, and frame them for future reference: 1) there will never be a history of Nigeria written in which Oby Ezekwesili will not feature as a heroine; 2) there will never be a posterity of Nigeria evaluated in which Oby Ezekwesili will not feature as a patriot; 3) the harshest that history will be to her is to classify her as a great Nigerian; 4) the kindest that history will be to her is to classify her as one of the greatest Nigerians of our generation and one of Africa’s best contributions to the world stage in our generation; 5) should fate ever settle on a female president for Nigeria in our lifetime, you’d rule out Oby Ezekwesili only if your mind was puny.
Two factors necessitate this intervention, and both are products of the tragic collapse of Nigeria’s education ecosystem and its repercussions evident in the remaking of the social character of our body politic. That remaking is, sadly, completely negative. The first factor in the remaking of the social character of our body politic is hostility to excellence and all matters cerebral. This manifests mostly in the fetishization of mediocrity and illiteracy. Excellence is refashioned and re-imagined as that which is alien to us and our culture, a foreign imposition. A language of derision and sarcastic put-down is even fashioned for it – “saner clime”. The apostles of this new culture fan out across social media, asking – who saner clime epp?
What they are really doing is creating a culture in which MC Oluomo is “more grounded”, “more relatable”, “closer to the people’s heartbeat”. MC Oluomo thus becomes a role model in a culture ready to dismiss and excoriate Wole Soyinka or Chimamanda Adichie as alienated intellects disconnected from the people. Yet, what they are hostile to is excellence. What they are normalizing as “our culture” is mediocrity. What they are fetishizing are ignorance and mediocrity. Sometimes, the dumbing down of national culture can be a deliberate political move to normalize absurdity. I have seen self-abnegating PhD holders snigger at the value of a PhD just to create a room to normalize and rationalize President Buhari’s absurdities.
The second factor in the remaking of the social character of our body politic is the language in which this circumambient hostility to excellence is delivered. For more than a decade now, my research and scholarship have focused on new Nigerian/African socialities and cultures produced in such novel spaces of meaning and phatic communion as social media. I have researched and lectured widely on the cultures, attitudes, and innovative spirit of the millennial generation and youths who inhabit and animate these new spaces. So, I know that the dominant idiom and mode of expression in these new spaces are rooted in irreverence.
Irreverence is a major culture shift and I have always argued that whoever puts himself or herself out there must be prepared to be at the receiving end of it. However, as is the case with everything Nigerian, we have extended the meaning of irreverence beyond every conceivable boundary. Our public space is littered with some of the most potty-mouthed, execrable worshippers of mediocrity whose hostility to excellence can only be delivered with scatological registers.
Because of the national culture of celebrating mediocrity and attacking excellence that we have created, whoever comes to represent excellence and cerebral brio in the collective imagination of these children of anger (apologies to Reuben Abati) becomes a target, subject to their boundless scatological vocabulary. This is the interweaving loop of factors and contexts informing the bazaar of insults and ad hominems that have been poured on Oby Ezekwesili since she quit the presidential race last week. Undeserved insults have always trailed her post-service public career through the various movements she has led in the service of motherland, from BBOG to the Red Card movement and many more. However, it reached a crescendo last week.
Oby Ezekwesili bears the burden of excellence in an environment that is very unforgiving of excellence. It is a testament to the character of our brave new Nigerian world that somebody could hail and tuale pictures of MC Oluomo being ferried overseas in business class for medical treatment and at public expense in one tweet and, in the very next tweet, descend on a two-time Federal Minister, former World Bank Vice President, board member of major global intellectual foundations and think tanks, abuse her in the crudest possible manner, and accuse her of running for office because she is scheming for a ministerial appointment!
I do not know any measure of assessment in which Oby Ezekwesili does not tower above a Muhammadu Buhari or an Atiku Abubakar. The CVs are just not comparable. It is day and night. I almost feel that I owe her an apology for mentioning her CV in the same breath as those of these two men. Yet, it is a testament to the character of our brave new world that somebody will get off from tweets praising these two morally and ethically-challenged men and begin to rain invectives on someone who outshines them in every way imaginable. Who among these men can hold a candle to Oby Ezekwesili? From where did you get the idea that, as a supporter of the corrupt status quo, you have an Archimedean standpoint from which to insult a compatriot who has so much more to offer Nigeria than the decrepit men you are hoisting on a pedestal?
Rotimi Amaechi it is who says in a leaked tape that he has encountered only one true Nigerian – Olusegun Obasanjo. And he anchors his definition on what he says is his subject’s selfless pan-Nigerian soul. If that is how to define a true Nigerian, it means that Rotimi Amaechi has never met or listened to Oby Ezekwesili. I laugh or chuckle when I encounter ignorant attributions of uncatholic motifs and intentions to Oby’s service and actions by the children of anger.
She is just simply not cut from the same cloth as the despoilers of Nigeria that so many of you worship. There is an unquenchable pan-Nigerian fire burning in Oby Ezekwesili’s soul. I have listened to it in candid conversations, have felt it. It is love, selfless love for all of Nigeria and every Nigerian for which she has paid a huge price without complaining. What then is the basis of these insults?
I have deliberately borrowed Buchi Emecheta’s ironic titling of her most famous novel, The Joys of Motherhood. We know that motherhood brings Nnu Ego pains and tears. Yet, it does not dampen her enthusiasm for the fundamental essence of motherhood. Offering to serve Nigeria has attracted her so much scorn, insults, and derision but I know that nothing will ever dampen Citizen Ezekwesili’s love and zeal for her country.
As for the insults. They will continue to come her way. I will get my own measure of insults for this op-ed but it is ok. Social media insults are water off the back of a duck for me – completely inconsequential. Continue to insult Citizen Oby. The Yoruba have a proverb which perfectly captures her situation: egan o pe k’oyin ma dun. Insults and ill-will are powerless against the sweet taste of honey.