Chidi Amuta displayed so much casuistry in "Running out of Luck" which appeared in his Engagements column of THISDAY of Thursday October 7, 2010. He wrote a whole heap but said precious little that was sensible; he reminded every sensitive reader of his piece that elevated prose can easily become the vessel for a load of hogwash.
In a sentence, Dr. Amuta's thesis was this: in next year's presidential race, ditch President Goodluck Jonathan, pick General Ibrahim Babangida. Because he had no real reason for seeking President Jonathan's failure in the presidential race, and no concrete reason why Nigerians should not sustain their rejection of Babangida he rode his hobbyhorse of hectoring without persuading the unfortunate readers of his diatribe.
I have never met with President Jonathan before, and I am not interested in meeting him personally. But I claim a right to reply to Amuta's vitriol because I am convinced that his vilification of the president stems from the mindset that certain geopolitical zones should not aspire to Nigerian leadership.
Those who do not know Amuta and others who got carried away by the effluvia he posited for argument could mistake him for a patriot, an idealistic academic fired by altruism. But Amuta was only dancing to the tunes of his Pied Piper of Minna. As our people put it, a goat dancing by the roadside has a drummer dishing it the tunes.
Yes, Amuta is a Babangida apologist, which is ironic because the man actually started off as a "Marxist"! He is the author of Towards a Sociology of the African Novel (1986) and The Theory of African Literature (1989). These were the books he used to heap Nigerian intellectuals like Chinweizu, Onwuchekwa Jemie, Ihechukwu Madubuike, Charles Nnolim, Sunday Anozie, Wole Soyinka and others together and bludgeon their craft for being capitalist and right wing in orientation. That was when the man never finished a sentence without mouthing such words as "praxis" and "dialectics".
One day Amuta got hired as the Director of Babangida's DFRRI in the old Imo State. He performed woefully and sooner got fired. But he left Owerri apparently more plenty than he entered. It was farewell to Marxism for Amuta. The next time he went authoring, he came out with a tome entitled Prince of the Niger: The Babangida Years (1992), which celebrated Ibrahim Babangida as the epitome of political engineering! Soon after, he teamed up with a certain Bala Yunus Mohammed to edit IBB: A Heritage of Reform, Vols 1 & 2, another hagiography.
Ensconced nowadays in choice limousines with tinted glasses, he failed to see the outrage that his metamorphosis caused within the ranks of informed Nigerians. Years later, he teamed up with a "retired" professor to produce on Babangida. He has since remained faithful to his Pied Piper of Minna, writing adulatory articles on the man at every turn and in every circumstance. Of course, he could pronounce his Pied piper a god, but he should not claim to do so on the altar of altruism, detachment or patriotism.
That is where this writer takes exception because no literary hireling or mercenary should lay claim to the moral high ground. In “Governor Orji, Chidi Amuta and Abia”, an article that appeared in The Punch of July 19, 2010, Chinyemike Torti, Orji's media assistant, described Amuta in the following vein:
"Dr. Chidi Amuta - contract historian and professional revisionist, notorious for his despicable hagiography on Babangida: Prince of the Niger - a manual that celebrated the decay in the land vide the 'settlement syndrome', vanishing $12.4 Gulf War oil windfall, wholesale corruption, negation of the core values of the land, patronage as a vital qualification for career advancement in the country, debasement and destruction of all institutions, destruction of all dissenting voices, enthronement of a culture of impunity, triumph of sin over morality, struggled in his newspaper column of June 1, 2010 to lampoon Abia State by deploying rhetorics and gimmicks of mass hysteria and scaremongering."
Another writer, Dr. Reuben Abati of the The Guardian wrote in his column of October 27, 2007 that "Following the crisis of the June 12 election, and the tragic aftermath, Dr. Chidi Amuta, author of Prince of the Niger had written a widely circulated piece in which he practically renounced his book, and proceeded on a critical appraisal of Babangida. In fact, he disowned IBB. So what happened? At what point did Amuta disconnect with the past? He owes us an explanation about how he rediscovered his Prince of the Niger."
Of course, the only explanation is that money is the ultimate political aphrodisiac. After all the Babangida on whose behalf Amuta has been dripping so much bile is the same Ibrahim that destroyed the naira with a brainwave he called the Structural Adjustment Programme (SAP). It was the same Babangida that turned out to be a man of straw on account of the June 12, 1993 presidential election, the most credible election in Nigeria's history, which he annulled for selfish reasons.
Professor Omo Omoruyi told us the details of Babangida's treachery in The Tale of June 12, whose blurb deserves to be reproduced here:
"It was only hours to the annulment of the June 12, 1993 presidential election. Once inside office, General Babangida locked the door. He welcomed me with a strong appeal to my loyalty which I assured him was constant. He looked very worried; he removed his shoes and cap and confessed that his wife did not know where he was at the time and that he drove himself from Minna to Abuja to see me. For a few minutes he remained speechless and looked morose. 'I see disaster for myself and my family. Where do I go from here?' The President asked. "Professor, we must find a solution here and now or else I am finished.'"
Nigerians remember clearly what followed. Babangida nullified a properly conducted and violence-free election to save his skin from "disaster", thereby plunging the entire nation into its worst political crisis from which it is still reeling to this day.
It is the same septuagenarian that Amuta says should be president of Nigeria next year. The same military dictator whom Major Gideon Orkar declaimed on radio during the coup attempt of 1990!
Permit me to quote again, this time from Exploitation and Instability in Nigeria, the story of the Orkar coup by Captain Victor Sowaribi Tolofari:
"…I, Major Gideon Gwarzo Orkar, wish to happily inform you of the successful ousting of the dictatorial, sadistic, drug-baronish, inhuman, deceitful, homosexually-centred, oligarchistic and unpatriotic administration of General Ibrahim Babangida. We have equally commenced their trial for unabated corruption, mismanagement of the nation's economy, the murders of Dele Giwa and Major General M. J. Vatsa and other officers…and other human rights violations."
Both books cited above were published by Press Alliance Network Limited. I ask readers to search the bookshops for them, if only to see how Babangida's regime executed about a hundred of our people for the Orkar coup attempt. Yet, they have the temerity to ask for our votes. That is why I say and insist that Amuta and Babangida are the ones that have run out of luck. Nigerians are no fools.
Chidi Amuta, PhD, began his ill-fated piece by accusing President Goodluck Jonathan of "serial missteps, errors, misjudgments, and outright bungling". But the body of his insipid journalistic exercise did not raise, let alone deal with these charges. Instead he laid into the president's wife whom he compared to an "untidy Imelda Marcos or untutored Evita Peron".
This shows a man with a cluttered sense of history or a big overdose of mischief making. In all, Amuta's write-up was extremely rude. He probably forgot that arguments are never won with broadsides and invectives! Of course, there were aspects of Amuta's pointless fault-finding with President Jonathan that were laughable. For instance, he held the president culpable for the FIFA ban on Nigeria, and made the point that the opium of football had been denied our youths! Pray, should governance become a matter of hallucinogens? Elsewhere he proposed that President Jonathan should "wake up every day to watch film clips of what Barrack Obama, Paul Kagame or David Cameron did the day before"! Amuta is here proposing governance by film addiction as the panacea for Nigeria's ills. Wonderment!
There is one more issue to raise. Like Adamu Ciroma, Amuta wants President Jonathan out of Aso Rock because of the bomb blasts of October 1, 2010. He believes the fib told by Henry Okah, a terrorist and fugitive who lied that Abuja wanted him to blame political opponents for the blasts but would not mention who spoke to him. Which court of law or court of public opinion ever took seriously the inchoate testimony of a felon? Besides, Amuta, a victim of selective amnesia, conveniently forgot that bomb blasts were introduced in Nigeria when Dele Giwa was assassinated with a parcel bomb under Babangida's watch.
If Amuta and his ilk must know, President Jonathan was at the cutting edge of the amnesty package that restored peace to the Niger Delta. He saved the country from endless fuel crisis and the extortionate practices of oil marketers. Power supply has improved during his presidency. President Jonathan is a voice of moderation who earned his doctoral degree, not by luck, but by dint of hard work. He commands the respect of fellow Nigerians by his disarming humility and commitment to his bond of presidential responsibilities.
Jonathan's mien during the crisis induced by the late President Umaru Musa Yar'Adua's ill health helped to stabilize the entity. He didn't commit a crime by offering himself to continue to serve as the nation's political helmsman. He has not sought to shoot himself to power as the Pied Piper of Minna did in the last millennium. The Nigeria electorate should be allowed to decide who governs them, unfettered by the cant of untidy and untutored columnists lacking in the rudimentary instruments of judicious articulation and analysis.
•Onome is a Lagos-based political historian.