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.
This piece was originally published in several media on January 27, 2019, before Prof Adesanmi, renowned Nigerian scholar and columnist, died in the Ethiopian Airlines flight that crashed on its way to Nairobi, Kenya, on Sunday, March 10, 2019.
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