Together we can restore hope
While Dr Martins Luther King's dream to see his children judged by the content of their character, rather than the colour of their skin has been fulfilled with the election of Barack Obama as the president of the United States of America, in Nigeria, Dr Pat Utomi, a former presidential candidate, a social critic, a successful businessman and renown scholar is hopeful that his dream would come to pass when still alive. In this interview with Segun Adeleye, he speaks about the implication of the Obama victory to Africa, the tragedy of illegitimate government in Nigeria. He believes that Africans would have to fight to keep hope alive. His dream: ‘I have a clear dream of a prosperous society where human freedom is exercised to its finest in pursuing market opportunity... a liberal economy that emphasis the freedom of a human person, but the work ethics is so strong and the community spirit is so strong, but no one is deliberately left behind.
There seems to be a new order in the world with Obama, an African as the president of United States of America. How do you see it?
The Obama phenomenal, as I will like to describe it, is really a wake up call for us about the possibilities that are available to man. I always like to quote Nelson Mandela that said, 'It's always seems to be impossible until it happens to man.' In a world which is very steeped in ethnic consciousness, you talk of somebody whose population group constitutes only 11 per cent of the population, that seems impossible, but to those who believe, to those who dare to say why not, those who say nothing is impossible comes the coincidence of factors of history that make them change the world. I've always have that view of the world, that to think that anything is impossible is to completely obviate the very essence of creation and the power of cooperating with God to move creation towards perfection and from time to time we get someone who reminds us of that reality and Barack Obama did remind us of that in his run for the presidency of the United States of America, and that is the first thing it teaches. The second thing that it teaches, for African particularly, is that we can't give excuses anymore, you know American presidents, leaders of powerful countries in the world have always approached African leaders from the guilt perspective, how they plundered Africa, colonised Africa, and all of that make them sensitive, so that they would be somehow politically correct when African leaders misbehaved, yes of course, they do things when it affects their interest, but they are conscious not to be perceived to be racists or bullying, yes African leaders won't get that excuse. There is a Luo in the White House, period. This is an African tribe, this is from the Luo tribe and if you misbehave, the Luo will tell you, get the hell out of this place, you are messing your people's life, because he has the credibility. He is an African himself, so you can't accuse him of racism. On that, it's good for Africa, because it's time we start telling off African leaders, these years, how can we hold our people in bondage without progress for so long because of selfishness? If you are not able, say you are not able, lets other people try and see if progress can take place, if you are not able, work together with people who are able so that progress would take place. There are African leaders who are afraid of their shadows, overcome by the quest for power over purpose, service to the people and the outcome is that we have what we have in Africa, like example, the resource rich African countries like Nigeria that have not managed to claim their place in history. So, Obama in that sense is a God sent for us to do a spell check on our grammar and rethink how we are serving our people in the continent.
How long do you think Africa will have to wait for something like Obama to happen here?
If you believe that it can happen now, it can happen this week, it can happen next week. It's a matter of people saying to themselves, enough, this can't go on. That is the tragic of African condition, in my view, the so called successful Africans, people like myself, yourselves, so called middle class people, not to talk of the so called the rich people. We are so used to our comfort zones, you don't want to make effort to change things, lets not roughen the feathers of the power that be and we lose, or the threat or possibility of losing “that comfort zones”. So Nigerians in their bedrooms, they would cruel, grumble, anytime they come together, they would analyse and complain about everything with Nigeria. Call them tomorrow; you, come and run for an office. They will say, don't even start that discussion, politics is for some kind of people. Okay, support somebody who can, they will say, if they hear that I contributed to funding that Pat Utomi’s campaign, they would take my contract away. So we get caught in this viscous circle. So, we think we are making a little money, we send our children to Harvard or wherever and they become social misfit, they don't fit to America, they don't fit here, they cant come home here. So, we really are unable to estimate our own best self interest, and if we can only begin to say to ourselves, not just yes we can, but yes I can, because it's a very personal thing, we must make this individual commitment. Until we can do that, I am afraid, salvation would be a long time coming. But, I believe, as difficult as this moment are, this is the moment of our liberation, we must seize upon it, because, if we don't, the coming generation will hold us as the source of their damnation.
Are you not concerned about how dirty and corrupt the political landscape is, particularly the electoral process?
But, nothing good has ever come easy. The world has changed through the centuries, through the millennial because people decided to risk it all, if not, the world would have remained in the stone age. The first guys who said the earth was not flat were hung, they were considered heretic, they were considered all kind of things, but today we all take it for granted that not only is the earth not flat, it is not even round, it is spherical. Man would not have made such progress if people were not ready to pay the price, even the ultimate price. So, somebody say, look at how dirty it is, and that is why I won't try, is not a person of history. People should recongnise that it always come with the possibility of a price, but sometimes, we over exaggerate the possibility of the price.
Since you threw your hart into the ring, what are the lessons that you've learnt?
One of the amazing things I've learnt is that most people are the same, whether they live in Bauchi or Ogbomoso, or Oloibiri, or in Benin City for that matter. The man in Enugu, the man in Kanfansha have a lot in common. They just want to be able to raise their children in a good environment, in a peaceful world and for their children to be better than themselves and for progress to take place. But the petty fear that man has about what he does not know are exploited by the politicians, and so they are made to understand that the biggest problem they have is ethnicity, they are made to understand that the biggest problem they have are all these non- problems. So, I learnt that about human nature. The pain that the human in Bauchi suffers is the same that the human in Epe suffers. I learnt also with that engagement that there are a number of bad people in the system, but that we exaggerate the number of the bad people. In fact many of these people in the National Assembly, in the Federal Government, the State Government, even Local Government - where we say all they do is share the money - many of them are actually good people, but they don't know what to do. If they find the right kind of leadership, they would do the right thing. Right now the only thing they know is that, it is a scramble for what you can get, because nobody has shown them that their position can be used for a greater good than just scrambling to get something for your own pocket. So, the real challenge, I say this in particular because I am one of the biggest critics of the National Assembly as an institution, because I think it consumes a lot of our resources and it contributes very little by way of the role it supposes to play to make for progress. I believe that we don't need a full time National Assembly. I've always called for a citizen legislature, a part time assembly. But each time I talked with many of these young men in the National Assembly, I find that many of them are very bright, people who will like the best to happen to their country. So, it strikes me that the real problem is not that the people are bad, it's that they don't have the leadership to focus their energy in the right direction, so they do what is best for the moment, and they end up doing something that hurts all of us.
Getting to the top in the system requires that you belong to a big political party that has a structure, so it's almost impossible for somebody that does not fit into the system to get things done.
In Nigeria, the system has a way of selling lies to the people and the people accept these lies, and the most culprit are journalists. They accept these lies, and they begin to reproduce it and replicate it and everybody believes that it's true, that the only way you can win an election in the country is to be in the PDP. It is a lie. In Benin Republic, our next door neighbour, they went into an election, there was a ruling party, there was everything, and one guy who worked at the World Bank decided to run as an independent candidate, and he is the President of Benin right now. Go and see how Benin has changed in the last two years, because he is the president. Let me give you another lie that Nigeria continues to propagate for journalists here to carry on unconsciously, part of the political class started it. Nigeria has become an anti intellectual country, a country that does not think, this can explain why Nigeria is stalked where it is, because all progress is about thinking, how you use people who think, or what people think and how people think lead the way. That is why the American election is about a contest of the mind on issues and all that. But Nigerian politicians say to you, that man is theory. They reduce thinking to being deterred in an ivory tower, which is absolute nonsense, and we have accepted that as part of Nigerian condition, that ha ha, no, that man talks theory. Another lie that has been sold to Nigerian people which they keep recycling unfortunately hurting them, is to say, those people are critics, these people are politicians. Gani Fawehinmi, we need him, he is a great critic, but, that Gani Fawehinmi cannot govern. That is a great lie. Most people who have changed the world have become critical of something in the society, that has driven them and eventually in some turns, they get to positions to have to work their talk, and the way they work their talk changes society. But Nigerian politics has managed to create that image of a critic as someone that is unfit to rule, but useful for noise making, which is a demented way of thinking. But the Nigerian press has accepted this from the politicians, and it is repeating it and propagating it as part of Nigerian culture. It is not surprise that Nigerian culture is one that is not making progress and Nigeria is stalked, not going anywhere. So, these are part of the myths you need to shatter, because, they are myths that are hurting Nigeria.
With your new experience, what is your next strategy?
Well, there are many things we are doing, it is not a convenient thing to talk about without giving an impression. You know, what Obama did, if you go back four or five years, you will find out that those were exactly the same things I said I was going to do, but it turned out that he had done them most successfully, because of so many factors, obviously, for such a society that is more differently wired, he had appropriate timing and all of that, but, beyond anything, it is an idea we have contemplated, and can still adapt through our circumstances. You will recollect that I have said, I don't need godfather, big man, that I wanted to run based on the N50 contributed by Nigerian market women, and the idea was considered ridiculous when I said it four or five years ago. We have now seen that it is possible with the American experience. I am now getting letters everyday from Nigerian students, young Nigerian students around the world, saying they want to do it, some said they want to mobilise two million people, that they would forgo their lunch and that and that, and lets do it in Nigeria. So, those possibilities exist, but what we must do beyond the need to win an election, what we must do to safe this country, because you cannot have policies that change things if people don't own those policies, if people don't realise their real condition. Nigerians don't know how bad things are in this country, in spite they live in it. So far they don't know the difference, they think that is the way the world is. If we can get the average Nigerian to know that he is worse off than the average Beninian, that he is worse off than the average Ghanaian, he is worse off than the average Senegalese, even though these are poorer countries, maybe we can wake them to certain new consciousness that would make us have progress. Right now, people just think, oh, things are tough, things are rough, that is the way the world is. It is not the way the world is. Other which you should be much better than are much better than you. That needs to be communicated to the Nigerian people as a way of waking them up.
Beyond communication and carrying the people along, how do we stop election rigging, because without that we are still wasting our time?
We have to form a very strong coalition between citizens across the board who realise that they are being taken for a ride, civil society as an organising base and even the international community. Nigerian government are illegitimate. Whether we like it or not, in business of how nations relate to one another, you can talk about de facto and de jure sovereignty, many people accept government from Nigeria because we have to deal with somebody, they are de facto sovereigns, but most people in the world do not consider government legitimate because they were not elected and that factor of illegitimacy is already playing through. Today who is speaking for Africa? Nobody take Nigeria seriously because they don't think the government of Nigeria is legitimate, and the government of Nigeria itself, because it does not think it is legitimate, it is not throwing its weight. Look at the other day, we tried to criticise Mugabe. Mugabe said, who are those people to talk? Do you have an election in your country? So, it's that kind of things. So, it's important that we build a coalition of decent human beings around the world along with the civil society in Nigeria to change things. I've also argued that we need to have a submit of politicians, leaders with everybody coming together and say to ourselves, look, we are making a mess of our country and agree so some basic ground rules among which must be, lets have an election. Right now, the basic mindset of the average person going into politics is that you don't win an election, you take an election. So, from the first day, all the preparation is to prevent an election from taking place rather than how to get more people voting for you. That, we must all commit to change for the sake of our children and their children.
Talking about our children, a lot of people have actually lost hope in the system. How do you inspire the children that are coming up?
You are right, many people have lost hope, but that does not help. Once hope is dead, we are dead, so, we must not lose hope, but what we must do is to fight, to bring hope alive. My own theme, my own slogan in the next couple of years is 'together, we can restore hope to Nigeria, together we can'. No one person will be able to do it, we are going to do it together, and we will restore hope to Nigeria, then we can reclaim the future, which is today, paradise descend. Nigeria is a paradise that God made but unfortunately, as victims of what we are, have descend that hope.
What are the things that actually inspire you to do all what you have been doing?
Several ones, my children, and their future; two, the fact that everyman has a purpose, there is a reason why I am here, I am trying to find my purpose and live it, because I believe that judgement will come to all of us, and I hope I am on the right side on the judgement day, and thirdly, because it would be good to achieve the immortality of the generations after, remembering that some guy called Pat Utomi once lived and sacrificed himself, so that it might be better for others.
At what stage in life did you get to discover yourself?
For me, it came very early in life. It came, I was an undergraduate already. I remind many young people who come to me, complaining about not being help, needing godfather, that I first made contact with the second most powerful position in the country. When I said made contact, I didn't mean ran into, a relationship, build up a relationship at the age of 19 as a student leader in this country. I wasn't even the president of the student union, but I was able to come to Lagos as a student leader because of the way I was carrying myself, then, first established a relationship with the then foreign minister which they thought it was impossible, brought him to the campus to speak to us, then with the then chief of staff, I mean the late Yar'Adua, and since then, I've always almost been considered as a bridge between my generation and the older generation, because I was always relating to the people almost 30, 40 years my senior from age 19, so I guess, that was when it came.
Who are your role models?
It depends on what the issue is, but I have them, couple of studying role models. I like sometime to say that I am a combination of Abraham Lincoln, Henry Ford, Julius Nyerere on the one hand in terms of how I see my personality. Julius Nyerere, simple man, a teacher with the great heart for his country, and that is the way I will like to see myself. Abraham Lincoln, a transforming leader who self sacrificed because he saw the future very clearly, then Henry Ford, the entrepreneur mindset who just powered his way to changing the way people produce. But I have as role models very powerful role models, Nelson Mandela, Mahatma Gandhi. I have looked up to these people, what they represent throughout my adult life.
Like Nyerere saw the future, do you see any future for Africa?
Oh yes. I still see a very clear future from where I am standing, I see that in spite of what we have today, we are going to build a generation that finally discovers itself and makes Africa truly a shining light for the world. Of people who still believe in the values of yesterday, but are strong enough to face a future that focuses on the dignity of human person advancing the cause of the society.
Do you have a kind of African dream or Nigerian dream and how it can be achieved?
Ho, I have a clear dream of a prosperous society where human freedom is exercised to its finest in pursuing market opportunity, that is, you have a liberal economy that emphasis the freedom of a human person, but the work ethics is so strong and the community spirit is so strong, but no one is deliberately left behind. That is the kind of dream I have. A society that is fair to all and prosperity shared by all, not that some people are so rich and everybody else is poor. It should be something that we achieve together.
Any parting words?
My parting words is indeed, we can, yes we can, together, we must work to realise that future....more