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.”