I subscribe to the view by Ethelbert Thubbard that "the recipe for perpetual ignorance is: be satisfied with your opinions and content with your knowledge."
I found myself in vertigo when I read Odimegwu Onwumere's rejoinder, "Le Clezio: Henry Akubuiro's Controversy", to Henry's feature, "Nobel Prize: Le Clezio Controversy", published in National LIFE newspaper of Sunday October 26. After reading it for the third time, I kept asking myself: What is Odimegwu talking about? Did he actually read Henry, or he was just making a mountain out of moll hole?
Henry had brilliantly x-rayed the discordant tones surrounding the award of recent Nobel Prize for Literature and queried why writers with less credibility in world literature have been recognized ahead of their betters like Chinua Achebe. I was alarmed, therefore, when Odimegwu, rather than commend him for lampooning the modus operandi of the Swedish Academy, attacked him, manifesting his limited education to dissect a sublime write-up in the process.
I wasn't totally surprised, because, as a regular visitor to the Nigerianvillage sqauare.com and Pointblanknews.com sites, where Odimegwu often contributes to, I am used to his penchant for chanting Armageddon on the policies of my state, Rivers, probably to get noticed and settled. Odimegwu is publicity-conscious, and he can get to any level to achieve that. What do you expect from a hack writer vegetating in the backwaters of Oyigbo?
I have known Henry for more than six years. Both of us served at the Faculty of Arts, University of Benin, as corps members. Urbane outlook, devoid of ethnic and racist affiliations, have always been his hallmarks. I wasn't surprised, therefore, that, a couple of years after he joined The Sun newspapers on the literary beat, he suddenly became one of the most-read in Nigeria media. Just as he did in The Sun, his new paper, National LIFE, has become another reference point in literary journalism within a short time. You can only compare him to Obi Nwakamma, Jahman Anikulapo and Nduka Otiono in their heydays. The meat of his writing on the Nobel Prize, characteristically, was critically constructive, but, blinded by pettiness, Odimegwu thought otherwise.
I have also read his response, "Odimegwu Onwumere: the Howlings of Hasty Reader". If you place both works side by side, the difference is clear. In Henry's response, you would hear the voice of a sage telling a tyro where he goofed and the urgency to see reason with him. In Odimegwu's piece, you would see the emptiness of a neophyte yowling at nothing.
Frankly, Odimegwu wrote with bitterness and hatred in his mind. He was writing on a subject his knowledge couldn't carry him too far. He was unaware of the politics at Nobel, where they overlook the gems in African subculture. Henry is better informed than Odimegwu on this matter. Odimegwu hasn't studied the paradigms of contemporary literary discourse. Odimegwu is ignorant of the epistemologies that define modern conversations. Odimegwu haven't learnt about disruptive echoes of imperialistic agendum, as Henry has.
Reading his piece again and again, I have cause to believe in the truism that ignorance is a voluntary misfortune; I have cause to believe what Moliere said in Les Femnes Savantes that "an erudite fool is a greater fool than an ignorant fool". Mediocrity, from all indications, governs Odimegwu's universe and inconsistency underlines his sorry worldview. He first told us that he is addicted to Henry's journalism. Later, he told us he stumbled on his piece on Le Clezio. Haba! By that, he has succeeded in telling us one thing: that there is still a novice in Nigerian letters who is unfazed to celebrate his ignorance in the open.
I totally agree with Henry that Odimegwu read his piece upside down. When I read readers' reaction to the piece in National LIFE of November 10, I was relieved that I wasn't the only person thinking along that line. Fred Owhawha, former editor, The Guardian on Sunday, wrote to Henry: "I enjoyed your stuff on Le Clezio. Very informed. It is surprising sometimes how these prizes are given". In response to the paroxysm of ovation on Henry, Odimegwu replied on the net with another ejaculation, "Henry Akubuiro: The Rancour of Racist Editor," and ridiculed the revered Owhawha and others commentators who stood on the side of truth, calling them "favour seekers" and "myopic". It was, then, that it dawned on me that Odimewu could be due for a lobotomy and also might have a score to settle with humanity – for whatever reason.
My finding reveals I wasn't wrong. I learnt that Odimegwu sent Henry a couple of poems to publish in his paper sometime in July, but after going through them and found them unworthy of publication as doggerels, he abandoned them, which apparently has been rankling with Odimegwu, a poetaster, since he parades himself as a "poet against child abuse."
His being a poet is contentious, too. Odimegwu, as far as I am concerned, is an unpublished writer in the state. My interaction with Minima, who chairs the Association of Nigerian Authors in Rivers State, confirmed my fears. My further interactions with the literary giants in Port Harcourt, Professor Ikonne, Nnolims, Maduka and Okoh, also show that he is a nonentity in literary quarters. What, do you, then, expect from a writer of limited horizon like Odimegwu Onwumere? Backbiting!
With my knowledge of psychology, Odimegwu could have another motive behind his grouse about Akubuiro's opinion, which isn't new in the world of letters. By being eurocentric in his argument, trying to massage the ego of the Swedish Academy, which has become infamous worldwide for denying Achebe, the most accomplished, most translated and studied writer from Africa the Nobel Prize for Literature, he thought that he would get a grant from the academy, but the white world is smatter than that: they would laugh him to scorn, knowing full well the politics they are playing with Nobel Prize for Literature. At home too Odimegwu will become a laughing stock for ridiculing himself and rubbishing Achebe, because we know Achebe deserved the Nobel Prize more than Le Clezio.
I have a feeling, reading Odimegwu's latest schoolboy verbiage, that am watching Gringory Akabogu and Clarus in the now-rested The New Masquerade soap opera on the screen. Comedy governs both enterprises.
If I were Akubuiro, I would keep quite and allow us, his fans, to reply the literary clown rather than dignify a nondescript writer, known only by his family members in Nigeria, with a response. Uninformed, unexposed, half-educated characters like Odimegwu can't be given that privilege by enlightened minds.
It is only a matter of time before Odimegwu erects a planisfero of mockery on all ethos of civility by his unprecedented hootings. I am not aware, however, of anybody who has been arrested and tried for being an ignoramus. Odimegwu can afford to have a field day in fool's paradise.
*Mark Egejuru wrote from 22, Nanka Street, Diobu, Port Harcourt, Rivers State. Email: [email protected]
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