Age of Videots – A Review by Dr.Reuben Abati

It is increasingly the practice among columnists and public affairs commentators in Nigerian newspapers to compile their articles, and essays written over a period and publish then in a book form. This has the advantage of lending permanence, weight and rhythm to the contributions; apart from offering the reader various useful perspective on the Nigerian situation, human circumstances, and a representation of the particular writer’s engagement with his or her society.
It is this growing company which includes Pini Jason, Alhaji Kola Animasaun, Olatunji Dare, Olusegun Adeniyi, Peter Enahoro, Timtiniko Enodien, Tony Momoh, Bola Akinteriawa, Peter C. Chigbo, Tunde Fagbenle… that Udeme Nana, a former Head, Business and Economy Desk of the Pioneer newspapers, now a Senior Special Assistant to the Governor of Akwa Ibom state, has now joined by publishing “a collection of stories” titled Age of Videots.
It is a welcome addition to what is an interesting and growing bibliography. Nigerian public affairs analysts, working through the print media, ought to be encouraged to produce more books, to help grow a needed reading culture in our environment, and to beat the limitation of the newspaper material in our society. Such materials often suffer the sad fate of disappearing without trace overtime due to the absence of a documentation culture, or of surfacing as a piece of brownish, dog-eared paper being used as wrapping sheet by the road-side vendor of roasted corn or boiled groundnuts. This latter fate is what many Nigerian newspaper commentators ha e suffered at one time or the other, some of your well-written commentaries on the Nigerian situation may riot be available in any library within easy reach, but you may stop by the road side to buy roasted corn, and behold, the corn is wrapped with a copy of that old article y u had been labouring to find. In Age of Videots, Udeme Nana has rescued his writings from such obscurity and brought them, more appropriately, into the mainstream where they can be better appreciated.
Age of Videots is a collection of 31 articles on different subjects, written in various newspapers between 1983 and 1997. Apart from the first piece “August 6: Who wins the Presidency?.” which appeared in the Nigerian Chronicle of Wednesday, July 20, 1983, the original place of publication of the remaining 30 articles is not indicated. This is an oversight which ought to be corrected in a future edition; the original place and date of publication would help to contextualize the articles, provide for each material an individual history that may b useful Par reference purposes, and prevent copyright claims. The articles in the book, presented in form of individual chapters convey strong impressions about Udeme Nana’s prolificity, the range of his concerns and thoughts, his erudition, and powers of observation, and his unmistakable e passion for public affairs. His style is consistent, characterized by the use of short, declarative sentences, and the introduction of each commentary with an early point of attack. The author does at delay the reader unnecessarily: he goes straight to the heart of his subject, and for the most part, he is concise.
The content of the book can be classified thematically, although the author himself has not done so (he should have), into three broad categories: political essays, cultural/social essays, and personal essays/tributes. The three categories are linked by style and tone. Whereas most of the chapters will fall under the political commentary category, including “The Trials and tribulations of 1993”, “Babangida’s Apotheosis”, “Memo to New Appointees”: ‘Politicians Do ‘t Learn”; “Thoughts on Rotationalism’; and “Averting the Mistake of 1978”; there are a number of essays in which Udeme Nana looks at society generally as in for example, the title piece “Age of Videots”, “UNN: The Giant in shreds”, “Life at Nsidung Beach”; “In Defence of Youths”, “Encouraging Indigenous Scientists”; “Bad Losers’, “Yam festivals and Community Development”; and “Antics of Conmen”; and then finally, in the third category can be found materials such as “Elegbede — Death at Dusk”, “Nwosu’s Memoirs”, “Mission to Baliassi”; and “The flight to Egypt”.
Although written between 1983 and 1997, the subjects treated in these writings continue to strike a special resonance as reflections of the Nigerian situation. The more political writings indeed convey the impression that not much has changed in Nigeria’s political transition, and that the same mistakes of old are being repeated and certain basic lessons which Nigerian have collectively refused to learn would still have to be learnt. And hence, when he writes about politics, Udeme’s tone is cautionary, and in turns strident. In “August 6: Who wins tie Presidency?” for example, his criticism of the Federal Electoral Commission (FEDEO), and the Nigerian media in the 1983 elections could easily be adapted, and applied to the pre.ent Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) and this would be most fitting.
In “The Trials and Tribulations of 1993”, he reviews the highlights of that year, both locally and internationally; significantly, what he tells is a story of violent demonstrations, deaths on the roads, impeachment of elected officials; abuse of court processes, increase in tariffs and fares and the prices of petroleum products, inflation, mis-governance, the inefficiency of NEPA, arson and communal clashes… twelve years later, the content of the Nigerian story remains precisely the same. If this can be attributed to human experience being in itself a repetitive story, then it may be useful to consider further, Udeme Nana’s account of official insensitivity towards the people’s plight, the crisis of leadership and his declaration that “politicians don’t learn” (p.101).
He says for instance that “Nigerian politicians with all respect tend to fit Jonathan Swift’s portrait of politicians as “the most pernicious race of odious vermin That nature ever suffered to crawl upon the surface of the earth” That eminent English satirist would have cited ‘amending conspiracies, avarice, tactlessness, indiscipline, factionalism, hypocrisy, perfidiousness, ambition”, as recurrent vices of their trade. He would have beer dead right” (p. 102. There is nothing to add here, other than that to many Nigerians, this would sound poignantly familiar. In general, Nana makes a case for genuine democracy and good governance, and rails against the shenanigans of the Nigerian politician and man of power, focusing largely on former President Ibrahim Babangida and his administration’s problematic political transition programme.
In the second category of essays, Udeme’s tone is more relaxed, even if some of his views may be considered conservative and controversial. In “Age of Videots”, the title ph cc, he condemns the spread of the video film, video games and television culture as a vehicle for the corruption of youths, and romanticizes the moonlight, folktale traditions of old. While admitting that change is inevitable, Nana nonetheless commits the error of looking at only one side of the story. The truth is that the video phenomenon has its positive sides as well; it is without any argument, a strong educational tool and when properly used, can help build character, and provide information and entertainment.
In an age of globalization, and in the face of the tyranny of the computer, it is also difficult to see how moonlight tales by the fire-side can be placed at the same pedestal as the video culture. Nana’s coining of the phrase “videots” is to be taken onomatopoeically, with an accent on the sub-textual reference to “ideots”; but the cultural imperialism that is complained of is not really about any idiocy; rather it must be seen as a challenge particularly in developing countries that are suffering from the imbalance in access to global resources and advantages. In “Making WAIC work”, Nana complains about poor work ethic among public servants as well as corruption and indiscipline in society. In “UNN: The giant in Shreds”, he laments the seeming failure of a once beautiful university campus, and in “The Rot in Education”, he reflects on problem with the education sector. In his social commentaries, Udeme Nana is principally concerned about missed opportunities and the general failings of society and particularly’, the men of power, in or out of uniform; he is in the main nostalgic and generous with suggestions.
There are a few self-indulgent pieces. “Life at Nsidung Beach” a plain description of a market; there are a couple of pieces also in which the author celebrates Akwa Ibom State, and when he writes about Bakassi, the reader is bound to get the impression that the author’s agenda is simply to establish that Bakassi belongs to Akwa Ibom state and not Cross River. Then, in “The Flight to Egypt”, he actually takes us on a trip with him to Egypt where he had gone to attend a media conference! And in another piece, he makes a case for the proper recognition of those he calls “yam-titled persons”! (p. 92).He also refers to UNN as “Nigeria’s premier citadel of learning” (p. 44). Is it?
Udeme Nana wrote the various essays in this collection as a journalist; he has since worked in the inner chambers of power, very closely with politicians as Director of Press Affairs, and presently, Senior Special Assistant to the Governor of Akwa Ibom state. The view from outside is often different; recent Nigerian history is littered with examples of radical commentators who later joined government, tasted power and privileges and ended up on the other side. Reading this collection, we may well ask: Is Udeme Nana still angry? Does he still think “politicians don’t learn”? Or has he himself learnt other things since he became Director, Senior Special Assistant and all that? Only he can tell. What is certain is how his Age of Videots provokes argument and discussion and confronts us afresh with many of the problems with the making of the Nigerian state, and the options that need to be considered to ensure quality change and ensure progress in many aspects of Nigerian life.
Age of Videots is certainly a good beginning for its author. Dedicated to Arc. (Obong) Victor Attah to whom Nana pays tribute for as he puts it, “his firm belief in my potentials”, the book is a useful contribution to the Nigerian debate.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *