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A narrative on Philistine leadership


Niyi Osundare

Curtains fell, last Saturday, on 19th Lagos Book and Art Festival (LABAF) 2017. But the memory of the one-week culture and arts festival will continue to linger. One of the highlights that sold LABAF 2017 out was ‘Narrations of Collapse’ dedicated to Prof. Niyi Osundare, who clocked 70 early in the year. He came all the way from his base in the United States of America (USA) to deliver the keynote address based on the LABAF 2017 theme ‘Eruptions: Global Fractures and Our Common Humanity.’
The celebrated writer, poet, dramatist and literary critic began his presentation on a satirical note, saying, “the world is in a season of omens” and called the Nigerian leadership “a group of philistines,” who show little or no interest in matters of culture and intellect, the kind that constitute the focus of LABAF activities, adding that Nigerian rulers have never hidden their disdain for matters of the mind. Going further, Osundare said, “Nigeria is hostile to positive deployment of ideas; we are ruled by people, who proudly beat their chests in public and declare ‘keep on counting your books; we shall keep on counting money!’
Osundare commended Toyin Akinosho for Artsville, his weekly column in The Guardian and then went on to praise him and Jahman Anikulapo for their enhancement of culture and enlightenment in the country.
“There is a lot to be gained when we have vision and power of uncommon energy,” Osundare said. And, referring to the venue of the festival, Freedom Park, which used to be a prison, he commented “Where we are today is a sacred ground because it is a parable of possibilities; it is fascinating seeing all these activities happening here. It shows there is hope for Nigeria. I am saying all this to let us know that, CORA, which is now blooming in practical terms actually began as a thought, a theory, as one little dream by young men, who were not satisfied with the way things were going with our culture, especially our literature, and decided to do something about it. What we have now is an advocacy of the highest, stupendous nature, the kind our country has never seen before; and I am old enough to know.”
According to the poet, who once survived Hurricane Katrina, it would seem as if the world has come under the spell of the bad policies of the President of the United States of America, who since assuming the presidency of that great nation has caused a lot of turbulence, both in the U.S. and countries around the globe.
“There is something frightening in his physiognomy, something frightening about his gestures, something simply alarming in his words and actions,” he asserted. “The day Mr. Trump boasted on a campaign trail that he could stroll down the street and shoot somebody there and just walk away unchallenged, and his screaming supporters cheered and hailed while the rest of the world was thrown into shock and consternation, I smelt from a very close distance the germs of egotistical fascism. I knew how close indeed the Barbarians were to the gate of the Empire.
“The Make America Great Again slogan that was popularly chanted during his electoral campaign, together with his ideology of ‘America First,’ which has remained the driving force of his policies, does not augur well for the rest of the world. These policies have made America seemingly selfish to the rest of the world.”
According to Osundare, America, as a country cannot thrive alone, adding, “The irony is that the bigger people like Mr. Trump propose to make their country, the smaller that country actually becomes. When Mr. Trump declares ‘Make America Great Again,’ he shows how so very little he knows about history, geography, and the culture of a country that is huge enough to be a continent all on its own. A country whose possibilities and achievements are admired by many other countries in the world, a country that can only bruise and break if tossed into ‘a small, ugly ghetto’ utterly circumscribed by his  ‘beautiful walls.’”
Osundare said going by the curious logic of Trumpism to “make America great again” is literally tantamount to making America selfish, mean, militaristic, and unconscionably affluent, adding, “In pursuance of the ‘me-only’ philosophy, Mr. Trump has, right from his first day in office, been busy withdrawing the United States from international organisations like North America Trade Agreement (NAFTA), Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), The Paris Accord on Climate Change, UNESCO and so on and so forth, where her contributions are vital and almost indispensable in the struggle for global peace, security and the survival of our planet.
“Former American presidents worked to make America great by shouldering leadership responsibilities in global affairs. The present disposition wants to make the country great by abandoning such responsibilities, withdrawing into its great, little corner and damning the rest of the world in supercilious arrogance.”
Concluding his thoughts on Trumpism, the poet of the Marketplace fame sounded a note of warning concerning the possibility of another World War, “This is the time for Global Humanity to throw in their lot with the forces of life; time to speak out loud and clear against shallow narcissistic, pseudo-nationalism, which dreams up walls of severance and convert ethnic, cultural difference into costly disadvantage, and mindless despots, who dismiss fidelity to truth and rule of law as mere political correctness. Our fate and the fate of our children are too precious to leave in the hands of politicians. Their overriding interest always is in the next election, never in our common interest.”
IN his comments after the lecture regarding the dilemma of the Nigerian state and the world at large, human rights activist and lawyer, Mr. Femi Falana, said, “All over the country, we are talking about restructuring, but there is only one part of the country that does not want restructuring and most people are not even ready to say it that the Fulani, with the Hausa, are the only ethnic group, which does not want restructuring. Why? Because it favours them! So, we are living in a world in which it is better to be in the tribe than to be in the main, and I can only come to the main, when you give me everything I want in my tribe.
“We are in a stage where democracy has to be seen for what it is – democracy! I was happy with what happened in Virginia and New Jersey in the U.S., when, in spite of the appeal to Trumpism, level-headedness prevailed.” 
Poet and polemicist, Mr. Odia Ofiemun, warned that there was need to be careful so things don’t degenerate to what they were in Afghanistan, saying, “Our focus, as Nigerians, should be more on the state of our country and not America. We must situate what we are talking about locally and not be involved in the hypocrisy of the West. Let us come home. We need not go to America or Europe. Botswana here, an Africa country, with a population of 1.6 million people, with the population of cows there being 2.8 million – what have they done? That is the largest producer and exporter of meat in Africa. They have ranches and abattoirs.
“Let us take advantage of the internet to start raising serious issues about our future. The black man is in trouble; we are talking about Trump; let them have many Trumps, but there are certain things that are already taken for granted in America.” 
Osundare, who finally responded to the thoughts and reactions of the audience, said no group has been as dehumanised as black people, adding, “I don’t mean afflictions such as poverty, marginalization, and oppression. Our very humanity was once a subject for debate, when racially prejudiced people asked: ‘Are they up to 50 per cent human, or three-fifths human? This is part of the fuel for contemporary racism, because it is still very much alive in some racist minds.”
Osundare also explained that he didn’t forget the local, when he was writing his keynote, saying, “We have bad politicians in Nigeria, but they cannot declare a World War. Their fingers are not close to the nuclear button. The ‘global is local and the local is also global.’ This is extremely important. When I warn all of us about the possibility of a nuclear war, this is what I mean. We all share one sky like one big umbrella above our heads. The same oceans wash our shores.

This, actually, is the over-riding theme of my new book of poems, If Only the Road Could Talk, which is about my travels round the world; how very closely connected we all are; the fact that we human beings are much more similar than we are different; more similar than ultra-nationalist politicians would want us to believe. What happens in America is our business in Africa. What happens in Australia is our business and what happens in the whole world is our business. And what happens in Africa should be their business too because the local and the global are intricately connected. It is my firm belief that Global Humanity is bound by one umbilical cord!”


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