AN EVENING WITH ANGRY OSUNDARE AT 60
With invitations sent all across the world, the literary world abuzz with frenzied expectations, the atmosphere conspiratorial, embellished with the rough caress of Lagos island breeze, the stage was set for a fiesta of words, all in honour of Prof. Niyi Osundare who clocked 60 years recently. Surrounded and submerged in an island of books and books, the precincts of Jazz Hole Ikoyi, Lagos further gave an inkling into what the evening would be: an evening for the lettered mind as well as a celebration of Prof. Osundare’s sixty year-old sojourn in this part of the world that is not beyond our ken.
The roll call was nonetheless heart-thumping and spirit-soaring as it ranged from the genial and sacred Wole Soyinka to passionate Odia Ofeimun, the amiable Ogunbiyis to brotherly Kunle Ajibade and many others renowned for the lethal firepower that juts out from the barrels of their pen. As we settled down to listen to the melody of knowledge, immersed in accentless articulacy, and dance to the rhythms of wisdom vibrating from the talking drum of priceless experience, the shocker came: Our celebrant is angry!
Of course the celebrant is not angry that the organizers dragged him all the way from his teaching assignment in New Orleans to Lagos, rather he is profoundly thankful for the gesture as it afforded an opportunity to regale his friends with his unsavoury experience when Katrina paid him an unwelcome visit in his home in New Orleans. He remains thankful to all those who proved to him that whatever Katrina went away with, friendship could restore even ten times better. He is not angry that he has clocked 60. On the contrary, he considers himself extremely blessed to attain that age and to grace to mark with his folks as he has had two major close shaves with death, an accident in Nigeria and the hurricane Katrina that almost swallowed him and his wife and went away forever, with his prized possessions: books and manuscripts in soft and hard copies.
Prof. Niyi Osundare is angry that he is clocking 60 at a time the health of his beloved Nigeria and that of his fellow countrymen and women keeps migrating from bad to worse, as if on a legendary pilgrimage. He is angry that the plight of his fellow citizens is appallingly worse than it was when he marked his 50th birthday in 1997. He laments the fact that all around the country, sudden deaths have become usual and welcomed occurrences and that it is no longer news that life has become so cheap in Nigeria that even rats now tend to compete with humans in life expectancy. He finds it difficult to comprehend the fact that with exceedingly high-income statistics from oil flaunted by the Government at the centre, hunger still lays its tenacious siege on Nigerians’ bellies, reducing them to the level of scrounging animals with Pensioners hanging on the streets of Abuja, queuing endlessly, and dying in the process of begging for what is their due.
Osundare’s vexation stems from the barefaced reality of human and natural resources that limitlessly abound in the land, the country should have no rendezvous with poverty, needless to mention topping the list of every international index of misery and social underdevelopment. He painfully rues the omniscient complex of our rulers who strut around the country in triumphalist back-slapping and the most insensitive kind of conqueror mentality while he and most Nigerians continually find it difficult and stressful to travel internationally as they are quarantined from other nationals and aggressively interrogated almost to the point of missing connecting flights, all because of their possession of a Nigerian passport!
Coming from an Osundare who spent a substantial part of his life in Ibadan both as a Student and Teacher, his anger is perceptibly justified as the gubernatorial lunacy in Oyo State climbs to a macabre level. Who wouldn’t be angry when the cherished ideals of one’s homeland are being thrown to the dogs with reckless flourish by political urchins nurtured and bankrolled by the State? A more cogent rationale for his anger can be situated in the state of the country’s education sector, a sector he had committed all his working life to. It is with an embarrassing degree of shame that one notes that even with the inputs of Osundare and his ilk, education in Nigeria has become an expensive charade, an empty stultifying ritual for raw or half-baked graduates, inflicted on the Nigerian society for the dissemination of crass ignorance and the perpetuation of gloom. The ‘finished products’ of our educational system cannot serve themselves well, needless to mention the country, they cannot even justify the country’s below 26% investment in their education.
In one of Prof. Osundare’s open letters to President Obasanjo, which as usual, remained largely unreplied, he opined that “ Teachers are being mandated to make bricks without straw and compelled to watch helplessly as cherished academic standards run utterly to seed and the country takes its ‘quantum leap’ into illiteracy and darkness. They are disabled by poverty, low morale; inadequate teaching tools, and they find no joy and satisfaction in the job they do.” These and many other myriad of problems threatening our destined march to greatness dominated the birthday celebration which later metamorphosed into an ideas house for the restoration of Nigeria from the brinks of self-motivated collapse. Just as Odia Ofeimun who compèred the event added, the fact that Osundare still has the nerves to be angry about Nigeria validates his unrepentant patriotic zeal and optimism in the Project Nigeria as most Nigerians have since lost the capacity to be angry about Nigeria. They have simply resigned themselves to fate, awaiting the worst or the best to happen.
This confirms the axiom that Nigerians are the only people on the face of the earth that will find a way of escape through a wall when pushed to the wall. Some jocularly refer to this escapist and defeatist mentality as resilience. But all through world history, resignation to fate and escapist mentality are not recognised as seeds that germinated into free, prosperous and civilised societies. Rather, it is indignation with the present and a capacity to match words with action that guarantees a glorious future. Dissatisfaction with the status quo remains a major key to any process aimed at reforming the present for future security and prosperity.
The beautiful evening ended on a convivial note amidst effusions of nationalistic enthusiasms and an inexplicable yet inextinguishable glimmer of hope that after the darkness of the darkest night which may be today in our country’s history, comes a glorious dawn of prosperity, respect for the sanctity of human lives, responsible leadership, international recognition and total observance of the rule of law and due process.
Bon anniversaire, dear Prof. Osundare!