Ofeimun: Poet that didn’t lie
If there is a man that is taking Nigeria seriously, it is Odia Ofeimun. If you like, Go Tell The Generals, but the man is not like ‘the Poet that Lied’, so even when he does not know when a civil war ends, he does not pull punches: Odia is ever ready to ask questions with stones. But he has disclosed his ability to throw other kinds of stones.
Just recently Odia joined stone throwers in Edo State. And to know that after the next four years the young man would turn 70 years of age brings the message home, that it is indeed no longer a laughing matter.
Those who are very close to Odia are not pretentious and they do not lie. If not, a close friend of his would not have dared describe Odia Ofeimun as a troublemaker number one. That is not the kind of words or recommendation you give to a friend, unless it happens to be the man from Iruekpen-Ekpoma in Edo State.
The man drinks, eats and dreams books. Odia is on record as the only author in Nigeria to present 40 of his works on the same day. That Odia is a man of literature is well known. That he is a social crusader could be gleaned from his many books, ranging from poetry, cultural politics and politics.
When therefore the book-bag decided to throw his hat in the ring for the Edo State governorship election, it was practically to demonstrate that he could walk the talk of helping to achieve a change in the way Nigerians live. The wordsmith has made himself clear on the manner of change he intends to deliver in Edo as governor: “Not in terms of slogans, but actual physics of behaviour, and actual chemistry of performance.”
Having spent some years writing books that fight battles he likes, Odia wishes to delve into politics, to fight battles against money, subterfuge and intrigues. In Odia’s candidacy, Edo people would have to show whether they want life more abundant or encourage the chicanery that characterise politics.
As the prolific author and culturalist gets set to campaign through the nooks and crannies of his native Edo State, it would be seen whether his ambition would turn as an impossible dream of an African author.
What is more, it would also be seen whether, having been a journalist, factory worker and civil servant, would provide the ready thread to reconnect him to the holloi polloi, that have all the years been abused and mistreated by politicians.
Can the masses be mobilised to take political power out of the hands of those who oppress them? Odia stands as that man around whom the masses could rally to dethrone the potentates. But that depends on whether the voters do not end up thinking that too much learning may have Odia mad with lofty ideas.
Though a man of learning and great intellectual accomplishments, Odia could be rightly said to have undergone political tutelage when he served as private political secretary to the late sage and architect of modern Oduduwa, Chief Obafemi Awolowo. In terms of laying the beneficial foundational structures for statecraft, no leader has so far come close to Awo.
Being neither a wastrel nor licentious, the pan Africanist offers hope that men of ideas could champion social rebirth. The plans he has already outlined for his governorship are neither elitist nor utopian.
He told the people that he was not coming to confuse or bamboozle with container loads of manifestoes. So what could an Odia governorship mean to Edo people? He has shown by his humanism that he is one with the people. These are some of the plans he has for the people: “What I offer is not a mere promise, but a challenge to mobilise the human and material resources of our state in pursuit of a truly grand and marvelous future.” And the one that may not easily gel with market women and artisans is that part where Odia says that the best way to develop the state, is to transform it into one gigantic school, where everybody aged five to sixty years will have a right and duty to education armed with an electronic tablet, and the teacher as king, in a determined fight to wipe out Western illiteracy.
But before you would ask whether all those could be achieved in a space of four years, Mr. Book declares that within eighteen months in office, he would build five processing plants and twenty factories, ten of which shall be agro-allied, as part of the collective determination to tackle mass unemployment.
On top of that, he promises to have a speed train that runs from the Oba Square to other parts of the country, even as he insists on the development of indigenous languages to link indigenous and modern technology.
Knowing that an Odia governorship would be bereft of the distracting influence of the bogus office of first lady and that his wants are limited, gives the impression that the bookman would be sold on his job. But the snag would not only come from how far he is able to convince the people that those ideas are worth pursuing.
In 2007, Edo people wanted a change from the class of pestilential politicians to a fresh hand and they lined behind a former Labour leader. Eight years after another outsider, whose lip and life could be gleaned from his numerous dispatches, has come. And in a state that parades the likes of Patrick Obahiagbon, it would be seen whether Odia’s words are meant to entertain or show the way for a true practice of democracy as the government of the people by the people for the good of the people.
Above all, in Odia’s latest pastime, it would be seen whether he has come to adumbrate further on messianism as a political platform. Would the governorship serve him as a handle for the flautist? The point is that in politics, Odia’s ideas and social outlook as captured in his many books would be in for greater interrogation.
Not having money but grammar, to induce voters or buy over electoral officials, a victory for Odia in the Edo governorship poll would be the triumph of people’s power. What he does or does not do with that political capital would affect not just him, but other men of letters that may decide to take a plunge into the murky waters of Nigeria politics.
The testimony of many admirers of Odia Ofeimun is that he is a good man. But in politics, what is standard fare does not revolve around goodness. So the question that Odia’s governorship race would throw up is whether the people, long used to handouts and glib talks; would take him serious.
Selecting men and women with kindred spirit to deliver on the mandate would also bring up the greatest challenge to a Governor Odia Ofeimun. There are few celibates that could line behind the governor to spend and be spent for the people.
Yet, if he emerges from the boiling Caracas of governorship electioneering, Odia would find that governance is no poetry, as he tries to put his dreams to work. However the ambition of Ofeimun to be governor may be evaluated, his presence on the podium has already added a refreshing difference to the drumbeats that gubernatorial contests in Nigeria have become.
In the final analysis, whether he breasts the tape victoriously or not, Ofeimun would serve as a source of encouragement for other public intellectuals to take active part in politics to reshape the game. After all, the race is not for one who had long arrived.
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