Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Tale of the Siamese twins: the North and Religious crisis

If one takes the tedious time to research the numerous religious cum ethnic blow ups in the country, one will invariably arrive at the sad conclusion that more than ninety percent of these occur in the geographic north of Nigeria. Looking at a map marked with incidents of that nature in the last twenty years will reveal a gloomy picture of rage that turns this beautiful landscape red with innocent blood periodically.

Yes, the south has its own blowups but the frequency and scale of those of the north gives one constant goose bumps. Also, reason tells us that many in the south are offshoots of quakes in the north, where brothers seek out perceived tribesmen of the northern perpetrators in blood-lust induced violence that can only hurt the innocent.

My family lived through the horrors of the Matasine riots of the 1980’s (though one was then too young to understand the real story), the 1987 riots that claimed a big ECWA church opposite our house in Dutse Close Kaduna, the zango kataf crisis that spilled into Kaduna and other towns, with reprisal killings that felled not just southern Kaduna indigenes but also those of ethnic nationalities that were presumed alien; and during the sharia riots of 2000, We witnessed killings and mass muggings that forever tainted our minds -- the gruesomeness of butchered bodies, which became feasts for pigs and dogs for days following the incidents, and the helplessness of those that lost not just loved ones, but everything..

It was only later, at an older age that I came to understand the psychological impact of those gruesome early life sightings and the agony of having to live with constant fear. It took me years to relearn the humane act of flinching away from corpses, though an instinctive fear that warns caution still abides with me, especially when I am sojourning in the North.

Why the North?

I still seek answers to the same nagging question, WHY THE NORTH?

Yes, why do these crises always occur in one part of Northern Nigeria or the other? Why not in the southeast or southwest? Why must residents of Kaduna, Zaria, Katsina, Kano, Maiduguri, Jos etc submit to periodic carnages that alter lives forever? Why do they have to live in constant fear?

The answers to the questions above eluded me as a child and still elude me now. Some argue that it is in the genetic makeup of the Northerner to be violent; others still swear that it is within the tenets of the Islamic religion. I personally don’t agree with both as I have had close personal ties with Hausa Muslims who are as upright in their dealings with their fellow man as any Christian southerner can ever hope to be. More so, when I know that the average Hausa can stand at par with any tribe, anywhere in the world, when trustworthiness is called for – think that is why they are in great demand as security men in the southern part of Nigeria.
If blames are needed, I think a better scapegoat should be the poverty and disinformation by a minority of the otherwise well informed Northerners. I place my reasons solidly on the door of things I have seen and infallible facts.

On the other hand, if you would rather doubt the strength of my submission and deny that poverty plays the stronger role in these recurring crises, consider the fact that always, without fail, the Goverment Reserved Areas (GRAs) and other zones where the rich abode are spared the carnages. They usually don’t know that anything is happening, until they see in the News or, perchance, bump into the seething mobs in the streets.

Strange patterns

During the riots of 2000, I noticed a peculiar pattern that if looked into will check the damages to life and property that occur during these crises. If not for the swift nature of the crisis, my family would have gotten the usual advance warning from our Hausa neighbours. In this case the warning still came, too late for us to escape to the barracks but early enough for us to shelter in the homes of our Hausa neighbours until the tension cooled several days later.

These neighbours fed my family and several other families and even on occasion, physically prevented the mob from embarking on a room to room search for non-indigenes. Later on, my family moved – having lost the medicine store that feed us – into the home of an Hausa police man, a friend of my father’s, in the police barracks, where again they stayed for days.

It was during these trying times that I made a strange discovery that further strengthened my belief in the inherent good in humankind. Of the mob that was bent on taking our blood, not one face was even faintly recognizable. Later when those of us that survived the horrors met to trade survival stories, a pattern emerged. Apparently, even the mob found it difficult to attack those they know, be them Igbo, Yoruba or Igala, they instead moved to a part of town where the incident of them having to carry the death of a childhood friend on their conscience would be minimal. For example, those that attacked our area were Rumoured to have marched down from Badrawa and Angwan Sariki – both towns some kilometres removed – while those within our area either moved towards Abakpa or further on to Kurmi marshi.

It should not surprise the reader that some of the individuals that constitute these so-called savage mobs have one or two Christian families hidden in their bedrooms, away from danger.

This brings me to the government’s failings in times of these recurrent attacks. As a starter, I believe the government has never handled these crises with the kind of decisive force that will make them a thing of a very dark past that one should only read about in the history books. Granted, this does not happen only in Nigeria but one thinks it’s time we move into the league of enlightened nations that know the worth of an individual life, or must we be as savage as our fore fathers to prove our manhood to the women of our age. I think the greatest problem the government has is its seemingly disregard for the importance of localized information and usage of the available human and natural resources for a common good.

The carnage in Kaduna in 2000 lasted about three days, with mobs moving from one presumed Christian or Muslim (as the case may be) enclave largely unmolested by the unavailable police force. The major reason that particular crisis claimed more life and property than those presiding it is mainly because those who used to run when trouble calls, leaving their property to the mercy of merciless looters who usually burn what they cannot carry away, decided that enough is enough and stood their ground to fight for their possession, in the process destroying the heart of a town that had survived several blowups in the past. We thought it was all over, but like the calm within the storm, two years passed and in 2002, the hosting of a miss world beauty pageant gave reason for another fracas in Kaduna. One should not forget the Danish cartoon incident or the Maiduguri crisis and more recently that of Bauchi, Jos and Jos again.

Strange, I say, especially when the panel(s) of inquiry that is(are) looking into the Jos crisis are/is yet to sum-up their report, when we still hear of people seeking their missing loved one, when bodies, left in dark nooks, are still being brought to light. It gives room for bitter thought; it gives reasons to grieve for our generation. Then anger pushes one to ask a question whose reply is steeped in mild treason, should the North be left alone, to the Northerners?

Old history serves to point out the worrisome continuity of these mass killings which made a former governor warn that revenge killings may be the only solution to it.

Instead of deploying law enforcement officers as soon as the first blow is struck, the government usually plays a game of ‘let’s wait and see how far it will spread’ while angry and hungry Nigerians range the landscape on the lookout for anybody with a different tribal marking, religious affiliation or accent to maim.
The popular belief amongst the so-called non-indigenes in Kaduna is that the government and traditional rulers usually have a hand in most crises that occurs, pointing out the seeming disregard for prompt action by either.

A way out

If anything concrete can be done to check the occurrence and spread of these blowups, the law enforcement agents must be on hand in all the little Angwas that make up the towns in the North especially in those areas noted as trouble spots. It doesn't serve anybody’s purpose to keep soldiers in front of houses already looted and burnt for months following a crisis when such weren’t sent to nip the crisis in the bud and save the homes and lives of thousands.

In Kaduna, the division of the town into two sections of Muslim north and Christian south, bordered by the Kaduna river, seemed to serve a dual purpose, a ‘Berlin wall’ for safety and a line of fear that tells you, you are entering enemy territory and should be cautious. Though the government might go beyond denying any division and try to explain the benefits of it – if any exists -- the influx of Christian settlers from areas north of the river into this steadily overpopulating area and movement of Muslims northwards tells a bitter tale of intolerability.

If the bitter truth be told, no one really gains from these carnages. For example, the riots in Kaduna have forever changed the face of that once beloved city and I am sure those who grew up in Jos, Maiduguri, Katsina, Kano etc will agree that these cities lost much more than years can ever replace to the crises that rocked them to their bedrocks.

I know every war has its heroes and its villains but the villains in this tale are not really those who lift their hands to kill, and loot but the veiled faces behind them who put the perpetrators into bloody motion.
Words of caution

To those southerners who must visit the cities of the north, and they are all worth seeing; if for nothing, for the beauty that generations of town planners bestowed on them and for the historical buildings and architecture that abound therein, stay away from things that might cause friction like:

Religion – no matter who you are with don’t discuss religious dogma with a Muslim unless you know what you are talking about, and can keep within the safe bounds (most southerners in the north know this).
Alcohol – drink only at places designated as alcohol areas like army barracks and Christian quarters.
Religious books – do not rough handle a Muslim book in any indecent way as this might be construed as desecration -- most free spirited Christian fall into this trap and become victims of the fanatics that are always around the corner. Recall the young lady that lost her life to her students a few years in Yobe state for allegedly desecrating the Holy Quran.

Above all, try to make friends with an educated indigenous Muslim who can and usually will tell you of things to avoid, warn you away from trouble and explain your mistakes to any ill tempered person out to fight God’s battle – this is another major difference, most Christians tend to see religion as a personal business with the creator while many Muslim tend to see it as general movement that involves not just the individual but those around him, they are willing always to stand up to what they see as God’s right. Killing and dying for these ideals are not far-fetched for the willing.

Finally, the average northerner is friendly and easy to get along with. The towns are accessible and easier to live in than most cities in the south and housing is generally affordable (I pay 70 thousand for a one-room apartment in Oshodi while a friend pays 50 thousand for a two bedroom flat in Kaduna – he still says it’s exorbitant).

I wrote this piece two years ago, at the height of another the intermittent clashe in the North. It was not my desire to end the year on a sour note, but one finds it hard to turn away from the carnage that have become synonymous with Northern Nigeria. With my first hand experience, I know the solution, but would the government be able to implement this? That the question most Nigerians ask, without hope for an answer. May the souls of those that died find rest.

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Monday, December 13, 2010

Behind the Painted Faces

Lead Image

I had been in her room for 30 minutes, inhaling the sweet, lavender flavoured scent that intermittently wafted out from the electronically operated air freshener on the far wall.

Having spent that long holding back a need to empty my Gordon Sparks distended bladder, I requested to use her bathroom. As she pointed towards the door, a glint of something, perhaps unease, flittered past her eyes; more intent on answering nature’s call, I didn’t dwell on that.

It was only when I entered the well appointed, pink tiled bathroom that I began to understand that brief look of hers. Arranged in an order that I, the cosmetic novice, would never understand, were rows of bottles, tubes and palates—enough cosmetics to keep a little corner shop in business for long while.

Through with my nature call, I moved a little closer and my awed eyes flowed past a hundred names. Now, they were not in singles, as each brand name found expression in powders – cakes and conventional, lipsticks, lip-glosses, eye shadows, hair relaxers, hair treatment creams, conditioners, hair sprays, deodorants, perfumes and hair removal creams. Some I could understand; even explain, but the ones that lined a lower, somewhat hidden shelf, defied grasp. Prominent among them was a L’Oreal breast lifting gel, two brands of tummy tightening creams, a buttocks firming cream, a face lift cream.

There were more, tucked further back in the shelves and peeking from the corners of bags hanging from hooks, by the side of the same overstocked shelf. Wow! I was really impressed.

I went back to the room, now knowing the look I had received earlier, to meet a stoic faced friend, who couldn’t help but act like I had caught her stealing meat from a pot of egusi. I knew deep within me that the low-keyed conversation that followed had a lot to do with what I had seen and this got me pondering on the battle she endures to look better everyday

What is it about today’s women and the need to coat up everything with layers of cosmetics?
What happened to the conventional dab of power and touch of lipstick?

Clear answers elude me, but I can sniff hints from the women I see on the streets every day, looking like art pieces on an abstract canvas. What with the way they match up colours and re-invent the natural lines of the face. Geniuses, I called them, but that was before I stumbled into every woman’s secret in my uptown lady friend’s bathroom. Artists they might be, but their art is fakery, superimposed upon a canvas – their faces – better appreciated in its natural state.

I admit to being unapologetically old school, especially where it concerns female beauty. I do not believe that letting my woman experiment with any new fad and accompanying her to salons, spas and whatnot identifies me with women’s’ lib; there are better ways to cut that, I think. Perhaps if women really knew what men want, they would save themselves the stress and money it takes to look like the modern woman.

We, even those modern-thinking brothers my female friends are wont to compare me with, like those lipsticks sparse. Why, because it saves us those embarrassing smudges that tell tales we’d rather keep to ourselves. I am yet to meet a man that understands the need for those coloured eye shadows that women tend to wear, sometimes matching shoes, wristwatches, clothes and even the colour of their cars.

Consider the mini supermarket in my friend’s bathroom. One might understand the need for some, less physically endowed persons, to maximise their looks through application of cosmetics, but that is hardly the case with our babes, as use cuts across all strata.

I have seen the ridiculous, the humorous and the downright stupid; facial paints that can easily compete with the greatest works by Da Vinci and others that remind one of the worst of Hammer House of Horror – those ones that make you want to run and hide when you encounter their bearer at night. What about those fillers – they call them foundation – used to patch up every foreseeable smudge. Walahi, a well-heeled modern woman carries around, on her body, more chemicals than NNPC can readily identify.

I know our ladies will never agree to toe this line, I mean, give up on this drive to cosmetologise (na my gift to oyinbo language, leave am dia) their existence – well, that’s how I explain the craze – but the plea is for them to simmer it down, at least.

As I remarked to my uptown lady friend, you mustn’t all be artists and panel beaters to look good, joo.

Published in 234next.com on December 12, 2010

Friday, December 10, 2010

Georgia’s Land Gift To White Farmers, What Implication For South Africa?

Recently, South Africa's 41,000 white farmers (approx. 150 thousand people), mainly Boers – descendants of Dutch settlers, unhappy with the South African government’s land reform program, said they are moving to Georgia, which offered land to them at giveaway rates.
Boers were shown on Georgian TV in late August 2010 signing a memorandum of cooperation between the Georgian government and the Transvaal Agriculture Union (TAU).
The main point of the memorandum is the offer from Georgia for Transvaal farmers to move and transfer their agricultural businesses to Georgia.
Georgia’s State Minister for Diaspora Affairs, Papuna Davitaya, says that Georgia is ready to receive all the white farmers of South Africa, give them free land and simplify obtaining all the necessary documents.
The Boers are to reciprocate by engaging – like at home – in wine production and animal husbandry.
On the surface, the Boers relocation to Georgia might be seen as nothing short of an economic decision, that of business men going where the profits is, but the reasons are more fundamental than that.
Since the end of apartheid, South African whites, previously privileged, have had to live under what is now been referred to as ‘reversed discrimination’, which they say is driven mostly by the country's Black Economic Empowerment scheme or BEE designed to encourage employers to hire blacks workers over more qualified whites.
The BEE is a form of affirmative action designed to balance out economic empowerment in the former apartheid nation by creating equal opportunities between blacks and whites. Whites say BEE is discriminatory and takes jobs away from qualified white youths, but the ANC government argues that the whites benefited unjustly from the educational system of the apartheid era, which was greatly lopsided in favour of whites.
The contentious land reform program – a part of the BEE program – aims to redistribute lands to landless blacks under a land reform process, which, the government hopes, would eventually correct a land ownership imbalance that concentrates over 85 percent of arable land in the hands of about 41, 000 Boer farmers.
Currently the South African government operates a ‘willing-seller-willing-buyer arrangement’, but a growing number of black elites – most vocal of which is Julius Malema, the controversial leader of the Youth wing of the ruling African national Congress – the ANCYL – and liberal whites, are advocating a land redistribution scheme similar to that of Zimbabwe.
White South Africans point to Malema’s kind as reasons why they feel unsafe in South Africa. Many believe attacks on white farmers stem from statements from hardliners like Malema.
They say their lives are getting harder every month, citing fears of crime, violence, labour costs and land reform. They are living in fear, enough to willingly give up the sunshine of South Africa for Georgia's bitterly cold winters.
"Land is available in Georgia, but the Government knows that it only has small scale farmers who don't have the skills to be commercial farmers," said Bennie Van Zyl, head of the TAU, "It realised that in SA we have a lot of skilled, capable workers but a government that is no good for us. The biggest problem we face is rural safety - farmers are being killed in their beds and that is not something we are proud of," He added.
However, beyond the racio-political undercurrents that had likely triggered the move, the rainbow nation’s economy will definitely be the worst for it. The white farmers dominate the commercial agricultural sector of the economy. It is estimated that more than 8 000 commercial maize producers, mostly whites, are responsible for the major part of the South African crop, while thousands of small-scale producers produce the rest.
The migration of these farmers may further worsen the declining food production in South Africa. Although the country has the ability to be self-sufficient in virtually all major agricultural products, the rate of growth in exports has been slower than that of imports. The only increase in agricultural export volumes occurred during the period of exchange-rate depreciation in 2002 and came to about nine million tons (mt).
The fears for the South African economy in the wake of an exodus of Boer farmers seem to count for something to the TAU.
Mr Van Zyl says, "We've been asking the Government what will happen to the economy if commercial farmers leave for a long time - 10 years, in fact - and they don't want to listen. They make it into a racial issue - black against white. But it's nothing to do with that. In South Africa, we don't get any subsidies from the Government. In Georgia, it's different. If you need running water on your farm, it's the Government's responsibility to provide it."
There is also, what many Boers see as a lack of willingness on the part of the black farmers to do much with the land they get from the redistribution process. There are several cases of repossessed farms falling into ruin as the farmer concentrates more on subsistent agriculture, neglecting commercial farming, which has for decades being one of the mainstays of the South African economy – a point the Boer farmers are wont to stress. It is however hoped that instances like this will get rarer as farm hands that successfully worked with Boers get access to arable lands.
Already, a Boer farmer, William De Klerk has received Georgian citizenship – the first of a probable 150,000.
“The idea of the Georgian government to bring the farmers here is very good. They can contribute a lot to Georgia. The situation in South Africa is getting worse every day. If Georgia will guarantee the personal safety of Boer farmers and their property, then this initiative will have great success “- says De Klerk.
Van Zyl, seem to agree: “Every farmer must decide whether or not he will go to Georgia. Here (in South Africa) our main problem is the security. Since the black majority came to the government, more than 3000 farmers have been murdered. Often even the police take part in the attacks. We do not know if we will have any land left. We have great experience and we are well known on the international market. ” he said.
Speaking on Georgian TV, Van Zyl said that the South African government is forcing white farmers give away 30% of their land to the blacks, but black farmers do not produce anything and do not want to produce.
The South African government disagrees with the claims of gradual genocide by the Boers. However, white South Africans insist their claims are not far-fetched and official records agree that close to 3000 whites have been killed since the end of apartheid. It may be instructive to note that South Africa is renowned for its violent crimes – Alana Bailey from the white advocacy group AfriForum, says crime is the main reason whites are leaving. On average, about fifty people, black mostly, are killed every day in South Africa – and the history of racial discrimination is still too fresh in the minds of adult South Africans for clashes to be surprising.
Still, most whites believe they are more prone to attacks than blacks because of their skin colour, countering the position of analysts who believe most of the attacks, on people of both races, were motivated by extreme poverty among black South Africans, many of who believe the whites are responsible for their plight.
Eugene Terreblanche
Georgia seems not to care much for the politics involved in the move.  As he welcomed the delegation from South Africa Mr Davitaya said, "We are looking for investors in our agricultural sphere, because Georgia historically always used to be an agricultural country but in Soviet times we lost these traditions."
"Boers are some of the best farmers in the world," Davitaya added.
Georgia hopes that importing farming expertise will boost the country's agricultural and wine sectors. Political dispute with Russia – where Georgian wines had a ready market – led to banning of all imports from Georgia. A success of the current scheme would benefit Georgia, which is hoping to reap from the success of South African wines.
Another Boer farmer, Piet Kemp, who is keen to emigrate, said, "We will start with 10 or 20 farmers, but I think there could be more than 1,000 farmers who could make a good life in Georgia."
However, the move is not without its critics.
The Georgian opposition politicians are already complaining that the new arrivals will get the best lands at knockdown prices while Georgian farmers are ignored. In South Africa, there is unease at the economic impact of the possible relocation of some the country's best farmers and what this portend for the future of Africa’s biggest economy.
Analysts argue that though Boers farmers do not hold any rightful deeds to lands obtained under a flawed Apartheid era law that prevented Blacks from owning land (The Native Lands Act of 1913 prohibited the establishment of new farming operations, sharecropping or cash rentals by blacks outside of the reserves), the government should operate a gradual repossession policy that will not alienate the white farmer.
More subtly expressed is the belief that the Boers are not really going anywhere, at least the majority of them, but are just making political statements, to shock the government into easing off on the controversial land reforms. Mr. Van Zyl said he hopes news of Georgia's offer will make President Zuma sit up and listen to the needs of white (Afrikaner) farmers.
"We want to stay here, this is our country ... but to stay is not possible for us anymore unless something changes - and soon." He said.
A position that some analysts believe will not make much headway, as most South Africans believe Zuma to be not just a populist, but also a statist, Hence there is a great temptation to redistribute some white-owned farmland.
Though strong reasons abound to fear the aftermath of the relocation of some of South Africa’s more experienced farmer to other lands, there is however hope of a reversal. Bridgette Lightfoot of Homecoming Revolution, who lived abroad for many years, returned to last year and believes South Africa has plenty to offer whites and is encouraging them to follow her example and return home.
She says, “I myself have lived overseas for six years and I've been back for eight months and we really don't feel that there is this racial prejudice against white people. We think it's a wonderful country, we there's a lot of opportunity for people of all colours, and we encourage those people who want to make a difference and return home to do so.”

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Of trusty old-timer-writers, Celebrities reading Africa and the question of writers camaraderie

His abode was Spartan, though not overly so. The low, old styled chairs – some wood, others possibly wrought Iron – and the ancient shelves teeming with sheets of paper, made it needless for me to wait to see him scribble – something he did intermittently throughout the hour I spent with him – before identifying him to be scholar.

He was old, possibly way into his 60’s or early 70’s, but his voice still retained a solid timbre that I wondered at but fully understood when he smiled boldly at my proud “I am a writer” retort to his question about my vocation.

“Aha!” He had happily exclaimed, “A colleague of the pen, I should have known you from your inquiring eyes, not to mention that jotter you are grasping and the pen poking out of your shirt pocket.”

I smiled back at him, holding his still very sharp eyes that brimmed with not just intelligence but also a knowledge fountain that I would not mind drinking from. “You write sir?” I asked foolishly, for want of something better to say in the face of an enigma.

Understandably, he screwed up his face at my awe. “Yes I do, was with Daily Times in its hay day, still dabble as you can see.” He held up a sheet of paper on the table, turning both sides to show it was covered with scribbling, “Yes, I still dabble, you know how it is, once a writer always a writer.”

I nodded my head, agreeing while praying silently he does not ask me to demonstrate my meagre skill. He didn’t. He turned, still smiling, to the lady that accompanied us to see him. No problem, he said, a writer, I can trust.

Simple words, yet they touched me deeply, enough that I felt the beginning of a tear. Here was a man still holding fast to a camaraderie I am only beginning to understand. Just like an old soldier warming to a young serviceman, this old timer was willing to overlook every other aspect of my person because of a shared passion.

We had actually gone to view a vacant room in an ancient storey building somewhere in Surulere. The agent had informed us after we agreed to other terms – exploitative, as usual – that the only remaining hurdle was the owner, renowned for his selectiveness. We were given a 50-50 chance of getting the room, even with the help – paid– of a woman said to be his favourite tenant.

Now, there was I, to the surprise of every one, with barely a few words, receiving the old timers good will and declaration of trust.

Anyway, we left the old man to his Spartan home and lifestyle a few minutes later, but not after I had agreed to return often (the room was for a friend) and talk about the “art” with him. His handshake, when he bid me goodbye, was surprising firm and warm. I am sure you know we got the room, so no need to dwell on that.

My tale about the old timer is digressive. I was actually on my way to a HIV and AIDS themed edition of my recently found craving, the Celebrity Read Africa project and only branched to Sulurere at the behest of a house-seeking friend, who was counting on using my persuasive skills, as she calls it, to her advantage in the house negotiations.

As I once again resumed my journey to the Island, I pondered my encounter with the old journalist, I wondered if we, the writers of today, have not lost that sense of belonging readily seen in our fore runners.

It was not the first time I have had cause to ponder on the issue. I also had cause to do so while sitting as part of a panel discussing futuristic writing at the recently held Lagos Book Fair. I had looked down on the audience, made up mostly of writers in their twilight years, from the national theatre stage and wondered if we have not actually demarked ourselves into age grades. I mean, why is it that at certain literary events young writer abound, while in others, the old timers hold sway? Are we, young writers, not losing too much by this lack of interaction? Are they, the old timers, by not associating with the young writers, not leaving life changing stories untold?

It would be rascally of me not to excuse the elder writers here, because in our society the young seek out the old not the other way round. If we, young writers, do not seriously seek out and pay the necessary homage to our forerunners, learn from their experience and tell the stories they could not finish, we are doomed to get serious knocks from posterity.

Meanwhile, I arrived late to the event I was headed to, on account of my ‘branching’. I entered the Terra Kulture library just as Tosin Jegede was rounding off her reading. Looking around quickly, I could see that most of the headlined celebrities showed face, a great improvement from previous events. I think the organisers have finally found their mojo and are using it right.

It was about 4:30 pm and the event was already in top gear, no sign African timing, the usual suspect – aside from me sha, but I have already explained myself.

A brief look to the front of the room showed Essence, Modele – of the Makeba style headgear, Chude Jideonwo and Myne Witheman – who I was looking forward to meeting (doesn’t her colour become her?) – completing the headliners list. Missing in action were Tosyn Bucknor, Segun Odegami and Tosin Otitoju.

The sight of school kids in their colourful uniforms sitting prominently in the packed hall was heart warming. Finally, the core ideal of Celebrity Read Africa was being met, I thought as I sought for an elusive seat to rest my sweaty frame on.

After some serious looking, with help from a friendly usher, I spotted an empty seat and made my way towards it. I was just settling down when I noticed Nze Efedigbo, a fellow writer, seated two rows in front of me, finally, a known face in a sea of faces. A brief look around revealed several other known faces – people I had met at previous literary events and others, not so well known to me, but possessing faces I had come across online in writers' circles. Suddenly it dawned on me that by virtue of my inclination, if not talent, I have come to know those who are arguably the future of Nigerian literature, only not well enough to do more than smile when our paths cross. There and then, I made up my mind to fight against my shy nature which usually keeps me from going over to introduce myself to people I have had cause to exchange ideas with online. I will, I decided, greet as many people as I can today.

My decision played out well, as I easily shrugged away my habitual shyness around strangers and moved around the room like someone on a mission greeting those whose paths has crossed mine before and the odd stranger, but that was after the event closed.

Before then Chude read a Tolu Ogunlesi short story that was consistent with the day’s theme of HIV/AIDS. After him came Christine, winner of Nokia first chance reality show, who I have heard a lot about but yet to hear sing. The beautifully petit lady did more than sing, she spoke eloquently about the personal experience of her friend who was infected with HIV by her fiancé. It was so touching how she told of the fiancé committing suicide out of regret, while the lady in question later died, but not from HIV. She, for me, brought the message home, after which she went on to sing so sweetly. I for one will buy her album the very day it drops, even if she toes Tuface’s 1500 Naira per copy line.

However, Christine’s performance brings me to the question of Nigerians and acquired accents that have no regional base, but that will be talk for another day. For now, she can sing for me any day, no leles.

Chiedu Efeozu, whose reading I have not heard for a long time, delivered another of his usually well thought out poems right after Christine. Then another musician, Jodie, of the West African Idols fame gifted the gathering a soul stirring song “up above my head” that got most people nodding along.

Finally a young poet, Noble, wrapped up the days performance with a poem about the state of Nigeria and the way forward. Like I said before, I got to the event very late and as such missed most of the readings.

Unlike the last edition, I did not feel the pulse of the interactive session that followed, though a witty and sound minded Essence did much to liven it up, while inputs by Myne Whiteman, Modele, Chude, Tosin Jegede and members of the audience were quite interesting. Me I was already beat, and a little pissed at the young ladies serving energy drinks for missing my row.

High point for me was meeting Myne Whiteman and getting her to sign a copy of her book for me, was sad though as I didn’t get to ask her how it feels to be a published writer and getting the recognition she has obviously worked for. Still, I did what I promised myself to do, mix with fellow writers.

It was quite early, but my phone kept ringing, another busy bodied friend wanted me to grace another of our blue moon dates. I left the venue like always, on a boxer motorcycle, grateful for the old-timer that gave me further reasons to remain on this path. Yes, a writer I can trust.

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Sunday, November 7, 2010

The Celebrities Read Africa

The event was the third instalment of celebrity Read Africa at Terra Kulture and I was bent on beating the stigma of African Time. By bypassing the BRT buses and danfos, I arrived the event venue at exactly 3 pm atop an okada piloted by a happy-faced Fulani youth not long past his teenage years.

Thinking the event would already be in full swing at about that time, I hurried into the Terra Kulture library and was shocked to find it sparsely occupied. I looked towards the large wall clock on the far wall of the room to ascertain that I had not somehow arrived earlier than I thought I did. I didn’t.

Understanding then dawned; I had given up on African time, but most of the continent still hangs on to that mentality. Not to worry, I looked around the room, discovered Onyeka Nwelue among the early birds, and spent the next hour with him and another young Nigerian talking about the golly in Ghollywood.

My interesting discourse with Mr Nwelue set the tone for a very exciting evening that finally kicked off at about four with commendable poetry readings and music by upcoming acts.

Onyeka Nwelue opened the reading floor, rendering a thought invoking reading from his debut novel ‘Abyssinian boy’.

The organisers, who thoughtfully replaced absent advertised celebrities Kaffy and  Modele with TV and radio presenter Kachi Nochiri and actor David Nnaji, averted a potential low point.

The duo went ahead to give very impressive renditions of the respective texts they chose to read from. For Kachi, it was a narrative poem from Ayo Arigbabu’s short story collection ‘A fist full of tales’. While David read from Chimamanda Adichie’s ‘Half of a yellow sun’.

Their well-received renditions paved way for another high point of the evening, the reading by the only advertised ‘celebrity’ present, Tosin Martins, who wowed everybody with not just his dramatic reading of Dapo Adeleke’s novel ‘Thrills and trials’ but also the intellectual nature of his interpretation of it.

Tosin Martins was the revelation of the evening as his exhibition of a sound, very intellectual mind, caused many who previously thought Nigerian musicians are hardly intellectual to rethink their position.

After him came Harrysong, who performed, to the admiration of everyone, what he called an impromptu song he began working on just a few minutes prior. Adewale Orishade, a poet, read from his new poetry collection ‘Sad Nectar’. The poet Olulu performed to spoken word poems, then Chinelo ended the day’s performances with a Martin Luther King styled rendition of her poem ‘Utopia’.  

Another high point of the evening was the engaging discussion session between the celebrities and the audience. This discussion session brought out sides of the celebrities that the audience obviously knew little about as patriotism was exhibited in diverse ways. By the time the third instalment of celebrity read Africa came to a reluctant close at about 6:30 pm, I was feeling very elated for having being a part of this. Yes, the celebrities came and this time, they read Africa, so very well.  

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Time to bite back harder

Weeks ago, while seeking creative stimulus on television, I chanced upon an American programme, one of those life-of-a-very-rich-brat formats that are becoming very popular these days.

This one centred on an eighteen year old girl who came home to receive what she termed the worst news of her life - a forced visit to Africa (it was actually Kenya) as a birthday present.

My grouse is not with the programme title (though ‘Exiled’, is a rather harsh name for a holiday to the Kenyan Savannah) but with the way, the producers conveniently skipped most of modern Kenya - minus a beat up Land Rover and a khaki wearing guide. The editor cut off all references to modern Kenya, leaving just a sparsely populated Masai village, whose natives paint their round earthen huts with cow dung - a point the teenager made sure to stress when her rich dad called her via satellite phone.

Another sore point is with the subtitles. The native guide in the programme, a tall, beautiful Masai girl inappropriately named Josephine, who spoke clear, just slightly accented English, had her words subtitled, while the nasal sounding American teenager, whose words seem to drawl forever, made do without subtitles.

Anyway, I took solace in the thought that the use of subtitles probably meant Americans cannot understand clear, well-spoken English. Perhaps I am propagating a stereotype here but what else does the constant use of subtitles when African speakers are concerned denote?

However, as we all know, double standards are hallmarks of the great western experience.

One would have expected Josephine to be invited to partake, even if briefly, in the ‘good life’ when her American guest went back home, but, expectedly, nothing of such occurred. The American girl went back home to tell about the horrors she faced during her five-day stay, further subjecting an already badly informed society to more miss-education .

Time and time again, I have come across condescending stereotypical opinions about Africa and Africans in the western media. I used to excuse these statements, believing, erroneously, that the writers did not know enough about Africa to form an opinion about the topic they chose to spotlight, when in truth, these writers were following a cultural script that sends every negative image about Africa to the top of the list without recourse to factuality.

I was so set in my belief that human nature makes it imperative for people to seek knowledge about the unknown, that a thirst for knowledge inherent in man makes discovery possible.

Well, I believed wrong. For the West, knowledge about Africa, when not linked to profit making, is generally constrained to stories about despotic leaders, child soldiers, wars, epidemics and recently, mass rapes. Even knowledge about economic potential exploited from Africa is usually left to the annual reports of western multinationals involved in the exploitation.

Sometime ago a friend pondered on his Facebook status about the common perception by westerners that Africa is one country. The answer, which I am sure you would have grasped, points to an institutionalised apathy to knowledge outside the western sphere of influence.

Thankfully, I was not one of those that bought into the Obamamania that swept this planet a few years ago.
Africans, even more than the African Americans, saw in that man’s ascension a sign of the acceptance of the African into the scheme of things.

They forgot that Obama, raised within the safety of his white mother’s family, would naturally feel more affinity to that race, hence, the little impact of his government on the perception of Africa on the global stage.

The battle to get Africa more respect in the western media should be an all-inclusive one. Let us shout to the high heavens when we feel aggrieved, let the African American media spare Africa more coverage; let their celebrities visit more, and not just our game reserves, let their writers counter the negative images that the west seem to feed off. Only by doing such can they find relevance in a society that begrudges them their blackness. An African American posting a picture of starving children in Somalia beside that of poor welfare African American kids in a quest to explain why she is proud of her ‘good fortune’ for being born American smacks too much of self loathing and the culture of ignorance we are talking about.

We in Africa should also do more to sell ourselves. We have to start believing again, to look beyond the toga of bad leadership and embrace a more positive outlook to life, if for nothing, then for the fact that the western world needs us more than we need them.

There is really nothing to be ashamed of in being an African, we may be poor by Dollar and Pound standards, but as Eric Donaldson said, ‘‘the progress you make is not about how rich you are’’.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Before we dismiss EFCC’S list

Economic and Financial Crimes CommissionImage via Wikipedia

I read with interest, not just the list of ‘corrupt’ politicians recently released to political parties by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), but also the comments posted to the web by others who read the list before me and felt like venting.

For most of the commentators, the grouse is not the amount of money – staggering by the way – that those who made the illustrious list are alleged to have pilfered from our collective pocket, but with the EFCC, for having the temerity to conceive of such ill-thought-out-list in the first place. They barraged the commission for allowing itself be a tool in the hands of politicians who want to keep perceived opponents from challenging them in the polls.

The leaning of most of the commentators did not come as much of a surprise, for I have come to associate my countrymen with that unequalled ability to look but see very little, an ability that stems from an uncanny compulsion to defend those who common knowledge depicts as the chain holding our collective will in perpetual enslavement.

While it is not my intention to hold brief for EFCC, I however find something fundamentally wrong with Nigerians who allow themselves be constantly beclouded by politicians and their antics. A say this because the EFCC rightly called the list and ‘advisory’ one. As such, the list as presently constituted, is supposed to provide information about individuals who have cases to answer in court, to political parties that may want to field them in the 2011 general elections.

True, these individuals remain innocent until proven guilty. However, one thinks it is in the interest of the political parties and the electorate to know the status of people who might be interested in public office. On the other hand, if we all pander to the argument that asks that they remain unnamed, if elected, wouldn’t some guilty ones (again) enjoy the immunity that comes with political office, thereby defeating the aims and objectives of the EFCC.  

I don’t know, but it seems we as a country have become so used to corrupt leaders that thoughts of not having them in power elicits in some a mild kind of madness.
I believe the EFCC is bent on preventing the situation highlighted above and should be commended for having the will to draw up the list as it is.

As for those on the list, I doubt if they have any reasons to worry, if they are innocent, for the innocent have no reason to fear the law. However, something of import should be said here, cases against some of the accused that would have been concluded a long time ago, continue to drag as they (the accused) continue to use every available legal loopholes to prolong it. It is instructive to note that, had they allowed the cases to run at a natural phase, they probably would be free men now.

I do not really know any of these people on a personal basis, perhaps with the exemption of Ndudi Elemulu, who I was opportune to meet while serving as a NYSC member in his home town and Chimaroke Nnamani who held sway over my home State Enugu for eight, perhaps, not very productive years, so I will not presume to know the strength of their moral character. That said, I gladly leave decisions about their guilt to the law courts. However, I dare to state that anyone with a sense of decency would have fought tooth and nail to clear a good name, not fight to postpone the outcome of a case that seeks to clarify just that.

Nigerian politicians seem to lack positive ambition, not that they are not ambitious in other ways, as they seem very interested momentary gains. Most are willing to grab what they can without recourse to posterity. I usually cringe, when I recall the euphoria that greeted the emergence of Chimaroke Nnamani as governor of Enugu state in 1999. I was among those who saw the young medical doctor as a breath of fresh air. I believed, with his charisma and education, that he would ascend to the national pinnacle after serving Enugu state, but I believed in a dream that probably did not believe in itself as Chimaroke, the EFCC claims, went on to steal N5.3 Billion from Enugu state’s coffers and effectively constrained  himself to the dregs of Nigerian politics. I am yet to hear of a bill the supposed senator sponsored in the years he has so far spent in the that not-very-much hallowed chambers.

As for Elumelu, I really cannot say. For a young man whom I recall, as chairman of the House Committee on Power, seemed to embody the new Nigerian spirit, especially during the public hearings for his power probe, a EFCC indictment for corruption does all kind of harm to his image. Like I said before, I know him too sparingly to be a better judge of his character, but I still feel the disappointment of believing in his star too. I hope the allegations against him turn out to be false, so we don’t get to ask of him, “where is our money?”

Let all those in the list have their day in court. They should stop running away and clear their names as Fani-Kayode is trying to do, and if they cannot, they can always swallow their collective pride and follow the Lucky Igbinedion, and recently, Ibru example – Plea-bargaining, that great gift the law provided for criminals everywhere.

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