By Obi Nwakama
What was Sam Omatseye thinking? That he could traduce an entire Igbo, and get resounding applause for his hackery? Everyone knows that Sam Omatseye does a hack job in contemporary Nigerian politics, and since he could not fit in properly at the Denver Post, where he did the last bit of real journalism inside him, he went to the dark side.
He came home to Nigeria to roost, and he became what the ‘Mad Maxim’ – mad only because like his kinsman ‘Jadum’ celebrated in the poetry of Okigbo, he tells prescient truth – called a “Kept Man.” Reckon with that, dear reader: Sam Omatseye as a “Kept Man.” The image is so very apt, if indeed it means that a kept man is one in whom and through whom a pervert patron relieves and performs all kinds of pervert fantasies. I’m still trying to discern some reason inside Omatseye’s death wish – his distinct form of professional self-immolation.
The best thing about Omatseye’s column in the Nation newspaper, which he titled ‘OBI-TUARY’ has been said by the writer and ace columnist, Chuks Iloegbunam, who asked Omatseye to “be careful.” That free advice is clear and needs no iteration. I can only add here, another suggestion for Mr. Omatseye who loves the pedantry of, sometimes off-colour literary quotations, to go hang, if Peter Obi’s presidential ambition upsets him so much that he could reel in the whale of such deep Igbo phobia to make the point.
It is a dangerous mindset and I will come back to it. But let me be clear, by providing a little context for those who may not have read Sam Omatseye’s column for which he has received much deserved bruising: The man publicly wished the presidential candidate of the Labour Party, Mr. Peter Obi, dead by titling his column on Obi’s presidential ambition, “Obi-tuary.” If he stopped there, it might have been a matter between him and Peter Obi. But he did not.
He brought an entire Igbo nation into the Obi campaign. He tried to reduce the Obi movement to a neo-Biafran campaign and an IPOB-project. He went so far, in his bid to falsely reduce the significance of the iconic figures of Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe and General Odumegwu-Ojukwu in Nigerian national politics, as to describe Zik as a “flair” and “Ojukwu” as a “flare.” Fair enough! That is his opinion, and evidence to more discerning and better informed people that Sam Omatseye is not properly educated in the history of modern Nigeria.
His education is that poor if he could describe Dr Azikiwe merely as a “flair” and Ojukwu as “a flare.” I can’t begrudge him his views, informed either by cant or by mediocrity; I would just say he should ask his momma. But for Omatseye to write the following is beyond the pale of sick bigotry: “There is a divide here. He is pushing himself as a southern candidate. His core followers are advancing him as the Igbo candidate. But how do we reconcile the Biafran with an Obi, who even MASSOB, has denied has anything to do with them? Obi is taking a Machiavellian attitude to the matter.
If Biafran impulse will propel him, he will take it. The Biafrans on board believe Obi is their best revenge on the Nigerian state. They can take over the zoo by acting as members of the zoo.” It is sick because it is deeply phobic. It is the Nazi in Sam Omatseye. This is not only irresponsible, it is deeply offensive, disrespectful and culturally insensitive! Mr. Omatseye knew precisely what he was doing, and knows that in African culture, particularly in the culture of the Igbo of Southern Nigeria, you do not piss on the “Chi” of a living man.
That was precisely what he did by announcing Mr. Peter Obi’s death, even if it is metaphorical mockery, while he is still alive and breathing. It was taking partisanship too far. I am sure Sam Omatseye has read Chinua Achebe’s Arrow of God, although I’m not too sure he reads beneath the surface of these literary texts, but he must have come to that point where Akukalia, whose mother was from Okperi, was sent by his people of Umuaro as a war emissary to Okperi.
He arrives Okperi intent on conducting peaceful diplomacy, but because he felt that he was not properly received, and because he felt deep divide of loyalty inside him, one for his father’s people, one for his mother’s people, one thing led to another, and he broke Ebo’s head in a needless fight. He did not stop there, he followed Ebo inside his hut, uprooted his “Ikenga,” smashed it on the ground, and broke it. Ebo could not take that dishonor which violated him by “killing” him ritually while he was still alive.
He summoned his last will and Akukalia did not return alive to Umuaro. Omatseye is like that man of Umuaro who deigns to kill a man before his death. What was he thinking? To commit sacrilege just because of politics? Soon after publishing that piece, he followed very quickly by announcing that he was under a death threat by Peter Obi’s supporters. My first natural reaction was, he who brings in ant-ridden logs into his home must not complain if he is visited by lizards.
But if it is true that Obi’s supporters – the so-called “Obi-dients” – have issued any such threats, I would urge Mr. Peter Obi to publicly make a statement of appeal to his supporters to withdraw such a threat. Even if there is no such threat, I would still appeal to Mr. Obi to ask his supporters never to plan or declare physical harm on any of his political opponents. His campaign must be clear on that, and Mr. Omatseye should never be harmed.
Of course, I can’t help but think that Sam Omatseye’s claim of a death threat is false alarm; what they call in strategic action, a “false flag operation,” or in street lore, “attack-and-follow.” Its game plan is distraction and anticipation. Its intent is to paint Peter Obi’s growing army of supporters as intolerant and militant which is why he conflates Hannah Arendt and her book, The Origins of Totalitarianism. It is an old trick.
What I am saying is: I can bet top Naira that no one has threatened Sam Omatseye. He is seeing shadows and he is haunted by mischief. Worse still, this attempt to demonize and fracture the ranks of the Obi support base might have another dark intention: To kill Peter Obi himself, whose obituary Sam Omatseye has announced. In the same tone of alarm, Nigerians must hold Sam Omatseye and his party responsible should any harm come to Peter Obi. Sam Omatseye hints that the Igbo are marginal Nigerians who do not believe in Nigeria but in Biafra, and that Peter Obi is some kind of Trojan horse.
If the Igbo did not believe in Nigeria, why did they return fully to Nigeria after the Civil War in 1970, which they had the capacity to continue by guerilla means? When Dr. Azikiwe whom he now insolently describes as “flair” and the militant Igbo nationalists took all the body blows from 1937-1957 to liberate Nigeria from colonialism, where was Sam Omatseye’s ancestors? On which side were they in this fight? As crumb-seeking quislings of empire or as Nigerian nationalists seeking Nigerian freedom? Sam Omatseye knows instinctively that on the question of Nigeria, the Igbo have remained on the Calpurnian side of history: the Igbo fought for Nigerian liberty; even Dr. Azikiwe willingly conceded his right to govern as a most noble sacrifice for the foundation of Nigeria. No other Nigerian has made that sacrifice.
Dr Azikiwe for all his groundswell as the star Nigerian of the 20th century did not say “after the British, Emilokan!” When the ship of the modern nation of Nigeria was very clearly headed to the rocks only six years after independence, young patriotic Igbo officers acted to save it.
Of course, their Igbo idealism mistook the toxic alchemy of Nigeria, and millions of the Igbo were killed for this action of no more than twenty-five young Igbo military officers. Their action was called “Igbo coup” just as Sam Omatseye is now trying to ethnicize Peter Obi’s political campaign as an “Igbo” thing. Coups have taken place in Nigeria since then, but none has been called “Hausa coup” or “Yoruba coup” or “Fulani coup” or “Berom coup.” Just as today, the likes of Omatseye are not calling the PDP candidate, Mr. Atiku Abubakar, a “Fulani candidate” fueled by the Fulani jihadist movement or by Boko Haram, or the APC’s Tinubu, a “Yoruba candidate” driven by the Oodua Peoples’ Congress (OPC) or Sunday Igboho’s Yoruba nationalism or Islamic jihadism. It is only Peter Obi that Sam Omatseye and his likes are trying to fix into an ethnic and religious box.
Yes, Peter Obi is Igbo, unquestionably, and among the Igbo, there is IPoB. It is driven by a group of young Igbo who are saying “enough of Nigeria! The Igbo cannot continue to cast her rubies to the sow called Nigeria.” And they want out. But that is just one tendency. There is the other tendency among the Igbo to which Peter Obi belongs: it is one which continues to believe in Nigeria and the Igbo part in its development/salvation.
This tendency believes that Nigeria is worth saving, and are appealing to the separatist tendency to give them one more chance to prove that Nigeria is possible.
That a multinational, multicultural, multilateral, multi-ethnic Nigeria can be built on Azikiwe’s pan-Nigerian, pan-African principles which must unite all parts of Nigeria as equal stakeholders to the Nigerian project. This is the magic of the Peter Obi movement.
It is uniting Nigerians across ethnic and class lines, and leaving behind the nativist tendencies which the likes of Sam Omatseye have long invested in, and continue wrongly to exploit. It is a beautiful thing to watch Nigerians build around the Obi idea – claiming to be “Obi-dient” rather than being Igbo or Yoruba or Fulani or Nupe, or Efik, etc. “Obi-dience” is the new Nigeria sans frontiers and it is driven by the young Nigerians who give not a fiddler’s fart where anybody comes from, for as long as they are Nigerians who have what it takes to rebuild the nation.
It is this movement that is driving Sam Omatseye’s fear. His increasing fear of irrelevance is akin to the threat of death. And it will be the irrelevance and death of all of us who fail to join the wagon of this youth-driven New Nigeria led by Peter Obi.
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