by Emeka Nwankwo
Ikhide Ikheloa (popularly called Pa Ikhide) is a University of Benin trained Biochemist turned literary critic and social commentator.
Ikhide, who describes himself as highly opinionated, is based in the United States, where he has lived since 1982, and from where he shares his thoughts on books, social issues and politics.
Pa Ikhide has been part of the Nigerian struggle for democracy and has established himself as an authoritative voice.
He also utilises social media channels, where he has successfully attracted a wide following from young Nigerians –and the not so young- who are enthralled by his in-depth criticisms (coated with wit, sarcasm and humor) and commentaries on literature, politics and social happenings in Nigeria.
In this interview with YNaija, Pa Ikhide shares his opinion on the Muhammadu Buhari-led administration, literature in Nigeria and the Nigerian youth.
Sir, you’ve been vocal in your criticism of Rotimi Amaechi, former governor of Rivers state, now minister of Transport, over the N82 million dinner he threw for the Nobel laureate Professor Wole Soyinka. You have loudly called on the Presidency to relieve Amaechi of his place in the federal Executive council. Why?
The allegations against Amaechi are so numerous and serious, it says a lot about the moral core of Aso rock that Amaechi is still a minister. It certainly makes a mockery of the president’s vow to fight corruption. The APC and Buhari are getting away with murder because their acts of impunity are sanctioned by Nigeria’s thinkers. Two issues have occurred recently that have shown a brilliant light on the hypocrisy of Nigerian intellectuals and writers when it comes to the ongoing farce that passes for governance in Nigeria. One, the silence over the open admission that Amaechi spent the ungodly sum of $500,000 on a dinner that lasted just three hours, speaks volumes for the culpability of our intellectuals and writers in the rot eating away at Nigeria.
This outrageous pilfering of public funds is the least of Amaechi’s crimes. There are outstanding petitions against him with the EFCC listing several outrageous acts of corruption by him, and it is common knowledge, accusations that he emptied the treasury of Rivers State into the APC’s coffers to fund General Muhammadu Buhari’s campaign. These are weighty and alarming allegations. The question should be: Why is Amaechi a minister? The man should be defending himself before the EFCC just like his counterpart Sambo Dasuki.
The second issue is the questionable insertion in Nigeria’s 2016 budget of $1 million as payment to the Pan African Writers Association, PAWA, a little known literary organization that has done zilch for contemporary African writing except hand out self-serving accolades to aging literary icons and friends of Professor Atukwei Okai, its executive director for life, Professor. Apparently a few influential writers with connections found a way to insert what I am openly calling loot into the budget. And they are getting away with it. I have asked several questions and I have been roundly ignored by those who should know. In addition, most writers and intellectuals have elected to look the other way. I asked Denja Abdullahi, the president of the Association of Nigerian Authors (ANA) twice and each time I was met with rude silence.
Meanwhile every day on social media we are inundated with schemes by young writers looking for pennies to fund their literary dreams. How can we be giving $1 million to a moribund organization when we have a literary community in Nigeria that needs robust financial help? Why is ANA quiet when they cannot come up with funds to build a writer’s village on the land that they have had for almost thirty years? The silence is maddening. Our writers and intellectuals have become the problem. They are exactly the same as the criminals posing as our leaders, no difference, absolutely none.
There are three principles undergirding my advocacy: Equity, transparency and accountability. What is going on in Buhari’s administration is not a war on corruption, it is a witch hunt, thieves fighting with thieves. Our writers and intellectuals have pitched tents with one set of criminals and they are bent on forcing us to accept the illogic of their utterances. Nigeria is thus George Orwell’s Animal Farm.
You have also criticised Professor Wole Soyinka over his reaction to the Rotimi Amaechi dinner scandal. What would you do, Sir, if you were in Soyinka’s shoes? How else did you expect the Nobel laureate to react?
I am actually agnostic about Professor Soyinka’s role in that sordid mess. The way I understand it, Professor Soyinka was invited to a dinner and he dutifully attended, it is reasonable to assume that he had no way of knowing that it would cost that much. He is a global icon and I have no problem with states honoring him, however, it shouldn’t have to cost $500,000, what did they eat? It is an outrage to use public funds in such a manner, when there is so much suffering in the land and in an era when the literary community is running all over the place seeking funds to execute dreams. It reeks of atrocious judgment. More importantly, Professor Soyinka and all of us in the literary community must express our outrage by demanding accountability: What was this money spent on? There has to be a complete accounting, using discrete numbers, who got what, and for what? Is this part of a pattern of using the literary community to loot public funds? How much did Amaechi and co spend on each of the annual Port Harcourt book festivals? Until we ask these simple questions of our friends, we have no moral right to yell at Dasuki for using funds meant for the military to buy luxury vehicles for Buhari, etc. In any case, I am simply making noise, the press is not doing anything about these scandals, most of them are paid lackeys of criminal politicians.
Do you think the election of President Muhammadu Buhari is a good thing for Nigeria and Nigerians?
Clearly not, what do you think? Goodluck Jonathan in my view was incompetent, unfit for the presidency, but Buhari is now making him look like a suave statesman. Buhari is the gift that keeps giving and giving to the opposition; things that are mostly embarrassing. To be fair however, it would appear that since 1999, beginning with Olusegun Obasanjo, democracy has burdened us with incompetents, kleptomaniacs and buffoons as leaders. The conversation that we need to have is whether democracy as is currently practiced is sustainable. In my view, this democracy is a cancer that must be excised in the interest of Nigeria. We clearly cannot afford this style of democracy.
With respect to the current farcical dispensation pretending to be a government, I have been consistent in insisting that the APC is the PDP with a different acronym; it is just as corrupt and immoral as the PDP, if not more. The myth that electing the APC into power would signal positive change for Nigerians is just that – a myth. And her leaders have added lying and Photoshop tricks to their bag of odious tricks.
Reacting to a comment credited to Barack Obama on why the US must continue to help Africa, you posted on Facebook, and I quote: “I am tired of African intellectuals lecturing Westerners with fine prose after sleeping and eating with crooks all nights.” What necessitated this statement and how is it justified?
Soyinka’s words ring in my ears every day: “The man dies in all who keep silent in the face of tyranny.” Well, I say to our intellectuals and writers, when you remain silent about the many crimes of Buhari, including the violation of individual rights in the name of fighting corruption, when you are quiet about the allegations of malfeasance of virtually all leaders of the APC simply because they are your friends and allies, when you cannot ask a simple question about why anyone would even think of spending $500,000 on a dinner, when you cannot ask why $1 million appears in Nigeria’s budget to fund the narcissism of members of a literary country club, and then you turn around to lecture the West about its bigoted attitude to Africa and Africans, then you are a hypocrite. We don’t respect ourselves, why should anyone respect us? That was what I was saying.
You have also been critical of African writers for telling a single story of Africa. Why do you say so and how should this be combated?
I have argued forcefully in the past that many African writers in writing about the single story of misery in Africa have made a profit from poverty porn. It bears repeating: Whites are not the only ones that climax to the beat of stereotypical African stories. With all due respects, until recently, the bulk of contemporary African writing is all about the single story that the white world loves. Indeed, several African writers have over the years focused on the single story for profit. There is good news, there is so much innovation in the works of young African writers, and much of it is free on the Internet. I am passionate about supporting and promoting their works, I couldn’t care less what the gatekeepers of the West determine is African literature.
Even though you were born and raised in Nigeria, you’ve spent most of your adult life in the USA, and lead what you describe as a Bipolar life, how has that affected your life and your thinking to Nigerian affairs? Do you think it is fair to criticise Nigeria considering that your loyalty is divided between two different countries?
I don’t criticise Nigeria. I am extremely proud and protective of our country Nigeria. That country has however been held hostage by a greedy cabal of incompetents and criminals and the least I can do is to speak out against what they are doing. Achebe said what is happening in Nigeria is a failure of leadership, and I agree one hundred percent. My views and advocacy have nothing to do with loyalty or the lack of it. It is the right thing to do. I am not hung up on my geographic location, I am simply passionate about saying and doing the right thing. In any case, even as I am unhappy with Nigeria’s leadership, I also take time out to offer practical ideas for moving our nation forward. We should all be worried, as this 1984 New York Times article shows, Buhari’s second coming seems to be a sad case of déjà vu. Hear the New York Times, in May 1984:
“Critics of the military Government point out that it has yet to present its budget. Loan negotiations with the International Monetary Fund continue but Western economists say that Nigeria and the I.M.F. appear to be further apart now than during the final days of the Shagari administration.
Early indications that General Buhari would agree to devalue Nigeria’s currency, liberalize trade and reduce domestic petroleum subsidies have so far not materialized. Prices Have Climbed
In addition, prices for food and other essential commodities, which fell in the first weeks after the coup largely because of the presence of soldiers in the marketplaces, have now returned to or exceeded their levels before the coup. Unemployment has been rising, and many of the imported raw materials and spare parts needed to keep factories running have been lacking.
Critics note further that political activity and even debate have been banned and some students organizations have been outlawed. There has been a clampdown on Nigeria’s press, and the country’s traditionally independent judiciary has also seen its role sharply diminished.”
It is so eerily, reminiscent of today, the New York Times might as well, delete the word “coup” and change the date to today. Everything is the same; the presidency has had to acknowledge its incompetence by withdrawing a poorly drafted 2016 budget, and arrogance and are a sense of invincibility is being showcased by ministers like Abdulrahman Dambazau, imperially making a civil servant polish his shoes in full view of the Nigerian people. This man is a Harvard graduate, for heavens’ sakes. These are sad times for Nigeria.
What is your view of Nigerian youths? Do you believe, sir, that the youths are ready and capable of leading this country? You’ve also been able to successfully interact and relate with Nigerian youths on social media, something most people of your generation have been unable to do, how do you pull it off?
Nigeria’s abiding tragedy is the wilful refusal of ancient Nigerians to give up the reins of power and hand over the keys to Nigeria’s future to young folks. These men (and a few women) live in the 19th century and are bent on keeping Nigeria in that era. The time is now for young people to demand that their badly misbehaving elders hand over power to the young generation. Our youths will never be ready and capable of leading Nigeria if they are not given the opportunity. I believe in them; they certainly cannot make our situation worse than it currently is. A nation that is down needs fear no fall, lol.
As for my alleged relationship with our youth, you would have to ask Nigerian youths why they relate to me. You make it sound as if I am ancient. I am 32 years old, not even near middle age yet, SMH.
Sir, what do you think is the future of Nigerian literature?
My views on contemporary Nigerian literature are well documented here, here, here, and all over the Internet. The future of Nigerian literature is here and it is exciting. Our young writers are using the Internet, that canvas in the sky to spin us wondrous tales filled with innovation and wonder. We have to support them, indeed I have proposed that the $1 million attempted gift to PAWA should be immediately redirected to initiatives that directly aid our young writers and publishers. They make it difficult for grateful readers like me to read books. I am reading. I am happy. I am grateful to all of these young writers. #RESPECT.
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