Sunday, April 02, 2006

cora on its highlife party for pat utomi

Toyin Akinosho (right) of the Committee for Relevant Art (CORA) gave the statement below at the 54th Great Highlife Party (Elders' Forum) on Sunday March 26 at Ojez Restaurants, National Stadium, Lagos.

Why A Highlife Party For Pat Utomi?

Pat Utomi, professor of the environment of business at the Pan African University, is one of those people who worry about Nigeria all the time.

He is one of those concerned enough to want to dosomething about it, urgently. And he belongs to a few who believe that you don’t have to be in "official" politics to engage in statecraft.

A lot of us live with the nagging feeling that this society is stuck in a rut. But most of us are like the inhabitants of the sunshine estate in Sefi Atta’s novel: Everything Good Will Come. We complain in the innards of our bedrooms, use up our savings to acquire jeeps so we can navigate the huge, crater- sized potholes on the way home and ignore the mountain of trash in our neighbourhood.

Early on, Utomi had realized that you need to be a person of some worth to change society. So he carefully started to erect a platform for himself. He first showed up on the national scene with the arrival of the Guardian in February 1983.

As most of us know here, the major discussants in the national conversation through the Guardian in those heady days of the 80s, were intellectuals from the Ibadan/Ife axis : Femi Osofisan, Biodun Jeyifo, Kole Omotosho, Sonala Olumhense and a few, including Chinweizu and Edwin Madunagwu. Most of these intellectuals were left of centre, canvassing for theheavy hand of the state in providing education, in directing business, in running utilities. Utomi, a graduate of Nsukka and out and out Lagosian, had emerged from the far right of the discourse. He argued that free education at all levels was unsustainable, that Nigeria couldn’t afford the welfare state, thatthe state was inefficient in running utilities, that Civil servants should pay "market rates" for the houses they occupied on Victoria Island etc.Today, much of what has become the national consensus is in favour of the argument he has canvassed.Utomi has always been innovative in positioning himself in the national dialogue. Years ago, illiterates like myself described any vocal contributor to the national debate as a social critic. Thus you’d say, Tai Solarin, social critic, Odia Ofeimun, social critic, etc.

Utomi came on board describing himself as a Public Policy Analyst. It was the first time that phrase showed up in the op-ed pages of the Nigerian newspaper.Then we learnt that the bearer of that epithet was a PhD holding returnee from the U.S of A. We exclaimed: Ah Baba! Jokes apart; he has applied himself very tirelessly toresolving issues.

Utomi was on the foundation floor of the building ofthe Nigerian Economic Summit Group, which has facilitated the annual brainstorm on the state of theeconomy since 1993.

In the 80s, part of the prevailing discussion was that the nation lacked capable managers in the key sectors. The Lagos Business School, the establishment of which he was pivotal, is a result of the consensus thatthere must be a training ground for business managers.Later, change agents like him, especially Fola Adeola, decided that to reduce employment you need to convert substantial part of the army of graduates into employers themselves. That it is you don’t only haveto build managers, you must also upgrade the business acumen of those whose nature it is to create businesses. The Lagos Business School has met the Fate Foundation idea halfway by introducing cheaper, subject specific seminars.

Utomi continues to seek a clearer, more broad-based medium to educate the Nigerian elite about the depthof our collective woes. That is the way I see PATITO’s GANG. To quote Odia Ofeimum, the truth of the matter is that the newspaper medium is too narrow for a man who read journalismwith the hope that he would become a media mogul. PATITO’s GANG brought out the issues vividly week in week out.

But as Utomi pontificates, he also does things. He talked about management of the economy, he helped will Lagos Business School into being. He talked about lackof space for debate in democracy, he came up with Association of Concerned Professionals and Patitos’ Gang. He talked about the elite not willing to take charge of their destiny; he set up a leadership Centre whose members go out to clear drains and refuse. He serves by showing examples.

But what has school and upbringing got to do with it? A lot. We spoke about this issue here last month when we celebrated Ahmed Yerima, who started out as presidentof the literary debating society at Baptist Academy, became the school’s senior prefect and has, 30 yearsafterwards, become the joint head of the NationalTroupe and National Theatre. We all know that Femi Osofisan, the nation’s major playright, was in Government College Ibadan under the famous D. J.Bullock. Funso Alabi , the actor, met DJ Bullock at the Federal Government College in Sokoto and the rest is history. We know that the masked musician, Lagbaja went to GCI many years after Soyinka and Osofisan.

Ladies and Gentlemen, Utomi went to Loyola college.And a recent article on him indicated that he would have transferred to St Gregory’s. Imagine, he did; he and Ben Murray Bruce would have gone to the same school. Some of us know what St Gregory’s was like when Murray Bruce was schooling there. That was when the art teacher Bruce Onobrakpeya was adding a lot of value by ensuring that his art students took excursions to galleries and the National Museum. Yes, schooling has a lot to do with leadership. Ben Murray Bruce was senior prefect of St Gregory’s in 1975. That was when Melvin Ukachi and co, in the same school, released the generation defining album Ofege.

Yes, school matters. Utomi grew up in Surulere, the social capital of Lagos of the sixties and schooled in Loyola. When we were deciding who to salute at today’s gathering and Utomi’s name came up, the CORA Collective: Deji Toye, Jahman Anikulapo, Folu Agoi, George Onyi, Uche Nwosu, Ropo Ewenla, Ayo Arigbabu, Chris Ehindero, Shaibu Hussein was looking for how torelate this to his contribution to the arts. I recalled to the collective that I was in his house in 1992 when we were to choose the best of the cast for Nigerian International Theatre Extravaganza, a season of plays by Chuck Mike and the Collective Artistes. Julia Oku, himself, Chuck Mike and I were the members of that committee which met in his house. Shaibu Hussein reminded us that Utomi was always the most prompt at meetings of the NANTAP Board of Trustees until his tenure ran out. Then someone reminded us allof the Pat Utomi Prize For Literature that he set up the last year.

In the event we all agreed that this is one candidate whose involvement in the arts doesn’t matter if youwant to fete him. He is a valid candidate for the national merit award, so why do you want to search for something to tie him to. Personally, I want to grow up to be Pat Utomi, but I can’t disclose my age otherwise, someone would say: You are so old and you haven’t even started.

Uncle Steve Rhodes sir, Ambassador Olusola Sir, Pa Femi Asekun sir; elders of the elders’ forum; I beg toinvite you, sirs, to pray for Pat Utomi and his family and that God should continue making him an instrument for the promotion of civic virtues in Nigeria. May we have more like him who do not need to be commissioners or ministers before they seek to make a difference. May there be more people who think seriously about their contributions to our collective well being and seek to change society by tackling their circle of influence. Before you come sirs, I plead that we all raise our glasses and give seven thunderous Gbosas to this worthy son of our land.

Toyin Akinosho
For and on behalf of the Committee For Relevant Art


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Is J.D Bullock and American? is he still alive?

7:12 pm, July 17, 2006  

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