Nigeria's Public Space And Reason Embattled

Nigeria's Public Space And Reason Embattled
- Pat Utomi

That, ideas, just as values, are at the heart of human progress, I have never been in doubt. Why ideas have been in short supply to drive our troubled nation-building effort has become clearer to me as I have matured. Some of those reasons have chased people of ideas rushing for safety away from Nigeria's public square. While I disagree with their retreat and often lament it by reminding them of Dante's inferno and the hottest part of hell being reserved for those who take refuge in neutrality in the face of a moral crisis, I recognize their dilemma. Nigeria's public space has a character of the simplistic, devoid of capacity to deal with nuanced engagement, and very often leaving reason embattled.

Whether it be the reporter not being deep enough to see beyond black and white, or the Diaspora based internet warrior raining down vituperations from the comfort of American suburbia, or beer parlor pundit calling everybody a thief just as he is pocketing that which belongs to his neighbor, the need to elevate the public space for Nigeria to make progress has never been greater.

This enthronement of unreason while enough to encourage flight from the public space must be the very reason for patriots to enter that space and reclaim it in the interest of progress lest it be one more excuse for Nigeria to remain a great potential 200 years hence. As I say, for example, had Olatunji Dare abandoned the public space because of abuses he received from people who shared his views but could not understand his satirical writings, imagine our loss. Even though Dare would return to the United States, the profit to us all from continuing to hear his mature voice continues to be value. This is why I have reacted to some of the issues in the public domain from comments I am supposed to have made regarding looking forward and looking backward with the disposition of what can be learnt from the spate of commentary rather than the desire to correct the uncharitable comment or ensure that my voice comes out the loudest even though I have the possibilities to so project my point of view.

What was the trigger of my return to this subject of continuing interest? When the spate of probes into our recent past broke out I was hardly focused on it. From time to time I ran into tales of massive graft in the IPP initiative from those following the power probes. Serious interest in the matter really came to me from visiting with the Lagos State Governor the evening after his meeting with the House Power Probe committee. His view on the power sector challenge which suggested more fundamental reasons than outright graft, for policy failure, got me thinking. The outcome of my reflection on the subject was that we may be getting caught in the drama of probes and fail to hold those responsible today, accountable for tomorrow being better than the current mess.

I made the point in one or two interviews including a lengthy one with the Nigerian Tribune before I heard of the probe into the Central Banks role in setting up the AFC. The simple point was accountability is important but let serious quiet work go on there while we face the emergencies of the moment and tomorrow instead of the theatre of probes inoculating a public so angry it has, understandably, developed an appetite for the shaming of yesterdays tyrants. It should not be so angry that it cuts off its nose to spite its face. Imagine the CBN issue and the damage the approach of the government has already done to the terrible reputation Nigeria already has for sanctity of contracts. If someone who was one of the few associated with the banking industry who has taken a position critical of CBN several times in recent history would say something is wrong here, in the broader national interest, if we want to get away from this recursive economy syndrome you would think remotely intelligent people will see the point. This is especially curious as it is fairly obvious that the central truth of my public life is that democracy is about accountability, not just in terms of financial propriety, but also in terms of stewardship for responsilibility.

I have since been vindicated in the Speaker of the House, Dimeji Bankole berating the House for having underperformed last year by as much as only 11 bills being passed into law this year as against 35 for the same period last year. This validates my point about the need for a legislative agenda as against jumping on every thing that looks good for television. Besides, I have now seen a rash of reports questioning some the motives behind the work of probe committees. But that is not what bothers me. What gets to me is that the power sector performance has been getting much worse but we seem to be more anxious to find out who did what yesterday before we stop the hemorrhage from becoming total collapse. To imagine that anyone can translate that to mean we should not look at yesterday speaks volumes for the quality of our public space. This is more so the case when the central truth of my public involvement, consistent since 1977, is put in perspective.

The more irritating part is that anybody who is familiar with my views will know I have always worried about obsession with yesterday to the detriment of tomorrow. As a business teacher I have almost made a cult thing of the idea of Bourbon organizations. Taken from British business learning and leadership consultant Bob Garratt who uses the concept of a popped bottle of champagne, bourbon, to describe how top team leaders are looking over the shoulders of those who succeeded them in prior positions, and no one is looking forward, with ominous consequences for strategy, I have agonized over the possibility of our sliding into the bourbon state. The probes, their benefit for accountability, which I find desirable, notwithstanding, seemed to me, when the emphasis is on theatre, might accelerate the ascent of the Bourbon State.

In earlier times I would probably have responded, as many people called to urge of me, with angry dismissal of such commentators in borrowed words from Spiro Agnew, as ‘nattering nabobs of negativism'. Maturing has left me the humility that all contribute something of value and must be carefully listened to. Considering that I can be wrong and have been wrong many times, I find the contradicting view worthy of reflecting on. So I am more patient with these views but I still remain keen on establishing the reason for such rush to lack of charity that is so debilitating of the quality of Nigeria's public space, especially when they come from Diaspora types who live in societies where the public space is robust yet civil and better able to cope with nuanced inputs.

Aggravating and demeaning of the public square as the conduct of some of these players may be it is still not enough for it to be the reason many who can elevate the arena withdraw.

Citizenship requires that they engage. The market place of ideas that will allow ideas of progress to prevail has their participation as one of its imperatives. It is also important that no matter how wrong headed some of these comments are, they have value in that at the least, they make us reflect. They can therefore not be good reason for abandoning the public square to those who offer less. I believe that all talent given to man must be used to serve community. To shrink from such citizen duty because you fear being disparaged by people who have not understood you or lack the discipline to understand is to die while you still breathe and to provide history evidence for judging you harshly. So, contest that public space.


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Re: Nigeria's Public Space And Reason Embattled
Olusola posted on 05-19-2008, 15:11:45 PM
Nigeria's Public Space And Reason Embattled


- Pat Utomi




That, ideas, just as values, are at the heart of human progress, I have never been in doubt. Why ideas have been in short supply to drive our troubled nation-building effort has become clearer to me as I have matured. Some of those reasons have chased people of ideas rushing for safety away from Nigeria's public square. While I disagree with their retreat and often lament it by reminding them of Dante's inferno and the hottest part of hell being reserved for those who take refuge in neutrality in the face of a moral crisis, I recognize their dilemma. Nigeria's public space has a character of the simplistic, devoid of capacity to deal with nuanced engagement, and very often leaving reason embattled.



Whether it be the reporter not being deep enough to see beyond black and white, or the Diaspora based internet warrior raining down vituperations from the comfort of American suburbia, or beer parlor pundit calling everybody a thief just as he is pocketing that which belongs to his neighbor, the need to elevate the public space for Nigeria to make progress has never been greater.




This enthronement of unreason while enough to encourage flight from the public space must be the very reason for patriots to enter that space and reclaim it in the interest of progress lest it be one more excuse for Nigeria to remain a great potential 200 years hence. As I say, for example, had Olatunji Dare abandoned the public space because of abuses he received from people who shared his views but could not understand his satirical writings, imagine our loss. Even though Dare would return to the United States, the profit to us all from continuing to hear his mature voice continues to be value. This is why I have reacted to some of the issues in the public domain from comments I am supposed to have made regarding looking forward and looking backward with the disposition of what can be learnt from the spate of commentary rather than the desire to correct the uncharitable comment or ensure that my voice comes out the loudest even though I have the possibilities to so project my
point of view.



What was the trigger of my return to this subject of continuing interest? When the spate of probes into our recent past broke out I was hardly focused on it. From time to time I ran into tales of massive graft in the IPP initiative from those following the power probes. Serious interest in the matter really came to me from visiting with the Lagos State Governor the evening after his meeting with the House Power Probe committee. His view on the power sector challenge which suggested more fundamental reasons than outright graft, for policy failure, got me thinking. The outcome of my reflection on the subject was that we may be getting caught in the drama of probes and fail to hold those responsible today, accountable for tomorrow being better than the current mess.



I made the point in one or two interviews including a lengthy one with the Nigerian Tribune before I heard of the probe into the Central Banks role in setting up the AFC. The simple point was accountability is important but let serious quiet work go on there while we face the emergencies of the moment and tomorrow instead of the theatre of probes inoculating a public so angry it has, understandably, developed an appetite for the shaming of yesterdays tyrants. It should not be so angry that it cuts off its nose to spite its face. Imagine the CBN issue and the damage the approach of the government has already done to the terrible reputation Nigeria already has for sanctity of contracts. If someone who was one of the few associated with the banking industry who has taken a position critical of CBN several times in recent history would say something is wrong here, in the broader national interest, if we want to get away from this recursive economy syndrome you would think remotely intelligent people will see the point. This is especially curious as it is fairly obvious that the central truth of my public life is that democracy is about accountability, not just in terms of financial propriety, but also in terms of stewardship for responsilibility.



I have since been vindicated in the Speaker of the House, Dimeji Bankole berating the House for having underperformed last year by as much as only 11 bills being passed into law this year as against 35 for the same period last year. This validates my point about the need for a legislative agenda as against jumping on every thing that looks good for television. Besides, I have now seen a rash of reports questioning some the motives behind the work of probe committees. But that is not what bothers me. What gets to me is that the power sector performance has been getting much worse but we seem to be more anxious to find out who did what yesterday before we stop the hemorrhage from becoming total collapse. To imagine that anyone can translate that to mean we should not look at yesterday speaks volumes for the quality of our public space. This is more so the case when the central truth of my public involvement, consistent since 1977, is put in perspective.



The more irritating part is that anybody who is familiar with my views will know I have always worried about obsession with yesterday to the detriment of tomorrow. As a business teacher I have almost made a cult thing of the idea of Bourbon organizations. Taken from British business learning and leadership consultant Bob Garratt who uses the concept of a popped bottle of champagne, bourbon, to describe how top team leaders are looking over the shoulders of those who succeeded them in prior positions, and no one is looking forward, with ominous consequences for strategy, I have agonized over the possibility of our sliding into the bourbon state. The probes, their benefit for accountability, which I find desirable, notwithstanding, seemed to me, when the emphasis is on theatre, might accelerate the ascent of the Bourbon State.



In earlier times I would probably have responded, as many people called to urge of me, with angry dismissal of such commentators in borrowed words from Spiro Agnew, as ‘nattering nabobs of negativism'. Maturing has left me the humility that all contribute something of value and must be carefully listened to. Considering that I can be wrong and have been wrong many times, I find the contradicting view worthy of reflecting on. So I am more patient with these views but I still remain keen on establishing the reason for such rush to lack of charity that is so debilitating of the quality of Nigeria's public space, especially when they come from Diaspora types who live in societies where the public space is robust yet civil and better able to cope with nuanced inputs.



Aggravating and demeaning of the public square as the conduct of some of these players may be it is still not enough for it to be the reason many who can elevate the arena withdraw.



Citizenship requires that they engage. The market place of ideas that will allow ideas of progress to prevail has their participation as one of its imperatives. It is also important that no matter how wrong headed some of these comments are, they have value in that at the least, they make us reflect. They can therefore not be good reason for abandoning the public square to those who offer less. I believe that all talent given to man must be used to serve community. To shrink from such citizen duty because you fear being disparaged by people who have not understood you or lack the discipline to understand is to die while you still breathe and to provide history evidence for judging you harshly. So, contest that public space.

..Read the full article
Re: Nigeria's Public Space And Reason Embattled
Foxcatcher posted on 05-19-2008, 15:16:55 PM
QUOTE:
Nigeria's Public Space And Reason Embattled

- Pat Utomi

Whether it be the reporter not being deep enough to see beyond black and white, or the Diaspora based internet warrior raining down vituperations from the comfort of American suburbia, or beer parlor pundit calling everybody a thief just as he is pocketing that which belongs to his neighbor, the need to elevate the public space for Nigeria to make progress has never been greater.

That, i...[URL=http://www.nigeriavillagesquare.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=9240/55]Read the full article.[/URL]


Touché Prof.... Your article is a masterpiece in understated repartee. I salute your intelligence and concede your logic. I do hope this is an indication that your recent reticence has given way to a determination to 'contest that public space'? If so... una welcome back sir.

Some of us are listening; we only reserve the right to sometimes question the premises or conclusions thrown into the public space. Unfortunately some lack the finesse to adequately communicate their ideas without descending to the gutter or 'beer parlour'.

So make una no mind the 'beer parlour' contenders Dem Dem get role wey dem play 4 public square: sometimes just comic relief and sometmes plain aggravated yabbis.

Ciao
Re: Nigeria's Public Space And Reason Embattled
Katampe posted on 05-19-2008, 15:36:18 PM
I agree that simplistic arguments, the stripes of the tribe of commentators that see issues only in black and white continue to torture elevated reason. I know it has made the promotion of civilized discuss extremely hard. We have all manner of charlatans invading the public square, a reason why most discriminating authors and insightful writers have departed it, and most critics of these articles are leaving their articles alone.

Yet , Prof the level of discuss as some of us are now realising has never been deep, even in the past.I have gone back to read some revered authors and journalists and browsing through their ideas, it showed we were duped and none of what many produced was well thought through.I think that is the bane of Nigeria.Many being worshiped lack substance.

I remember raising the issue of evaluation of of Dimeji Bankole's term on the thread that had his video interview using the method he has used to bamboozle people. Nigeria lacks many critical minds that what sells better now is emotion not reason.
Re: Nigeria's Public Space And Reason Embattled
Tonsoyo posted on 05-19-2008, 16:00:12 PM
Who is fooling who?

It is only self-serving for Dr. Utomi to notice that the public square is being "aggravated and demeaned...." now that he is being taken up on his dissappointing statement.

What he said on the power probe as posted by Olusola above is in direct conflict with his statement made in connection with Soludo's AFCGATE. He wants the power probe to be more aggressive than that and for pertinent questions to be asked, he even thought that he could do better if put on the probe panel, but want the AFC probe to be jettisoned or relegated "because we-we are involved"

I will take those "beer parlor pundits" position before this voyage into crisis management and attempt at defending against the obvious. The genie is already out of the bottle Prof.
Re: Nigeria's Public Space And Reason Embattled
Bejim posted on 05-19-2008, 16:05:41 PM
Thanks A Million Prof. You're Part Of The Reason I Still Have Hope In The Future Of My Country.
Re: Nigeria's Public Space And Reason Embattled
Bejim posted on 05-19-2008, 16:11:53 PM
[QUOTE=olusola;4295044408]Absolute trash! No amount of talks can change the chameleonic image. Are you saying what the FG did to Jimoh Ibrahim and NICON could not have had adverse effect on the economy? Where were you then? Why the noise when it came to the turn of CBN and Soludo? And for records here is what you said earlier on power probe:


Olusola, you appear to have another agenda that is neither good for this square nor for our country.
Re: Nigeria's Public Space And Reason Embattled
Dele26 posted on 05-19-2008, 17:11:50 PM
The daughter of Nigeria's former leader Olusegun Obasanjo has been jailed after handing herself in to a court looking into health ministry graft charges.

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/africa/7408486.stm
Re: Nigeria's Public Space And Reason Embattled
Ebe posted on 05-19-2008, 17:43:02 PM
Dr. Utomi makes some good points. But his defence would have been a lot more persuasive without the combative and overly defensive tone, and certainly without the snide remarks about his critics. I have always stated that sometimes--not always--your critics are your best friends. You should listen to them more seriously than you listen to your unquestioning followers.

I would be wary of an admirer or supporter who never finds anything to disagree with me on. If Utomi would like to know, I supported him publicly and privately when he ran for president last year. He has been an inspiration to many Nigerians of my generation. But being such an inspiring tower of public intellectualism also means that when you falter, or are perceived to have faltered, the public disappointment, especially that of your supporters, is bigger. Utomi should simply have taken the widespread criticisms that greeted his recent comments as the natural disappointment of admirers who feel betrayed. He should not have regarded them as personal assaults or as reflective of a malicious desire to pollute or devalue the public space. Whether this sense of betrayal on the part of his admirers is founded on truthful and accurate media reporting of his comments is another matter and deserves its own debate.

Personally, I empathize with Utomi's argument that the journalists who interviewed him stripped his comments of their contextual underpinnings in order to fulfil their own need for controversy and sensationalism, or because they lacked the ability to comprehend his nuanced postulations. The Nigerian media's track record lends credibility to this claim. I agree with him that many media practitioners in Nigeria are not intellectually savvy enough to understand nuanced, complex contentions, nor do they possess the capacity to render them in accessible journalistic prose. I will give Utomi the benefit of the doubt here.

That said, I think Utomi's haughty dismissal of his critics as beer parlor pundits and Diaspora internet warriors, and the intellectual narcissism that this attitude represents, is a greater danger to the public space than the vitroil of critics. It illustrates the intimidation and arrogance of expertise that I critiqued in my last article. This attitude of dismissing critics as intellectual inferiors intimidates people into accepting mediocre ideas and performance, and from questioning the conducts of those they perceive, rightly or wrongly, as intellectually snobbish and intolerant of criticism. In one breath Utomi says he doesn't want to disparage his critics, and in another he declares them irrelevant to the public discursive space. It's like saying "I don't want to call you a fool, but you are a fool."

The problem with this write-up is that, although it containts nuggets of invaluable wisdom on its substance, much of it is devoted to a petty preoccupation with proving that Utomi is above and beyond reproach or error. Anyone can make a mistake or be misrepresented in the press. You apologize or clarify your point as necessary and move on.

Much as the write-up's substance is vintage Utomi, I don't agree with some things he said. We are all entitled to change our view regarding an issue as we become more enlightened or gather more information. The evolution of Utomi's view from uncompromising, strident advocacy of probe in the power sector (as evidenced by the story posted above) to a less than enthusiatic support for probes now is indicative of that sort of evolution.

Utomi's explanation that he was made aware of the "fundamental" problems of the power sector and that this tempered his enthusiasm for probes and refocused his gaze on the challenges of the present and the future is understandable. But it does not supplant the need for stock taking, for determining how $16 billion was spent without result or signs that there was a strategic vision to justify that expenditure. Only a probe can determine this and satisfy the public's right to know how their commonwealth was corruptly squandered with nothing to show for it. In this light, then, I prefer Utomi's earlier position (as reflected in the posted story) to his newly evolved position, although I agree with him that the motive and theatre of the probes deserve to be scrutinized. In fact let me say that I like his marriage of his old and new positions in the brief press statement he released last week, saying that probes of past misbehaviors should go on but should not become a diversion from or an alibi for non-performance in the present. That's a nuanced and elegantly progressive position. No reasonable Nigeria will disagree with it.

This is why I do not agree with his position that the AFC probe (or other probes for that matter) will damage Nigeria's investment climate in foreign eyes and discourage foreign investors. This is a euphemism for saying that the AFC probe is a bad idea. As I argued in response to his press release, probes can cut both ways. They can indeed create a perception of instability and inconsistency, which can be bad for investment. But they can also restore some confidence and reassure some investors that unbridled corruption, extortion, and other anti-business, anti-investment practices are not officially tolerated. This perception may be naive or misleading, but it may in fact attract some foreign investors who prefer to play by the rules and do not want to get in trouble with a future government or their own home governments.

Finally, I hope Utomi is not looking for groupies and people who are infatuated with his brilliance, people who respect him out of awe and amazement rather than out of a critical, serious, and principled engagement with his pronouncements and ideas. Those of us who criticize politicians for looking for and surrounding themselves with clueless yes-men should not replicate that vice. Criticism, as Utomi himself posits, causes you to reflect and think your ideas through.
Re: Nigeria's Public Space And Reason Embattled
PAPIG posted on 05-19-2008, 19:19:22 PM
WHOSE REASON IS REALLY EMBATTLED?

'anybody who is familiar with my views will know i have always worried about obsession with yesterday to the detriment of tomorrow..' says Pat Utomi.

Very well said. Have you once wondered whether what may appear to you as 'obsession' may be what another reasoned mind would call ensuring accountability? Obsession or rather accountability of yesterday may be the habinger of good governance today or tomorrow. The lack of 'obsession' with ensuring transparency and accountability, unencumbered by time, is a major factor why unsavoury figures like Obasanjo and Babangida keep recurring as credible leaders in our embattled polity. Not holding these men to account in the past is exactly what emboldens one of them to say 'i dey kampe' and the other wanting another stint at the helms of our affairs. It is also the lack of obsession for accountability that has enabled a convicted thief to land the job of chief executive of the richest state in Nigeria with two terms to boot.

Doggedly pursuing the killers of Dele Giwa through treacherous terrain and unhindered by time could be classed as an Obsession by Gani Fawehinmi. This is what healthy obsession is all about and it has the potential to usher accountability, serve the cause of justice and enhance good governance. This 'obsession' has also not stopped Gani from engaging in other activities to ensure his people have access to a better life. My humble submission is that we can pursue transparency and accountability through properly set up independent judicial panels whilst other aspect of governance continues. It does not necessarily have to be detrimental to tomorrow as your brilliant mind suggests.

We cannot simply pack up shop and close courts charged with the trials of armed robbers simply because they have multiplied, become more brazen and appear to be winning their fight against innocent Nigerians. Ditto for the pen robbers and not to offend the sensibilities of some, let me quickly correct this to 'alleged pen robbers' before i am added to the list of beer parlor pundits. I personally prefer ODEKU thank you very much.
Re: Nigeria's Public Space And Reason Embattled
Ebe posted on 05-19-2008, 19:57:37 PM
Papig, good points. I think that I am inclined to empathise with Utomi's position on the choreographed, theatrical, and distracting nature of these probes, and I agree that Nigerian probes often yield little punitive and restorative action; indicted people are rarely prosecuted and stolen monies are rarely refunded. In fact, findings of probes are rarely publicized, implemented or used to plug holes in the system. So, I understand where some of Utomi's argument is coming from. But my two refutations of that argument are:

1. Whether they end in judicial redress and loot recovery or not, the probes satisfy the public's right to know about the (mis)use of state money and provides information that enriches the archive of public knowledge on bad governance and corruption. Some people are yearning for a revolution. Revolutions don't happen in the absence of public anger and frustration. Public anger and frustration often happen from the accummulation of unpalatable and infuriating information on bad governance and abuse of power.

2. The solution to this problem of dead-end probes is not to start railing against probes, reduce our commitment to investigating graft, or to start stressing the importance of today and tomorrow's challenges above the crimes and damages of the past. The solution is to refocus the probes and pressure government to implement their findings, punish the indicted, and recover stolen funds.
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