Saturday, December 31, 2011

What's in a name?

First off, I stole this title from an article by writer, blogger and radio presenter Tosyn Bucknor. In said article, published in Guardian some years back, Miss Bucknor explored the strength of names, and how those endowed with instantly recognisable names, especially when said names carry a mark of fame or the fragrance of serious money, find locked doors opening with the ease obtainable from well-oiled hinges.
It wasn’t that Miss Bucknor put it in the way I just did, that is just my perculiar summary.

Anyway, I stole the title. I did so because it addresses very much an issue that bothered me for a long—the fact that I did not pay the right kind of attention to my identity and how the name I bear  takes away from who I am.

I was born Igbo, in a village health centre in the very small town of Nkwe, which nestles proudly atop a flat-topped hill in Anike, Awgu LGA, Enugu state, South Eastern Nigeria. My parents professed Christianity and as such saddled me with what they and the priests called “English Name”.

Here, English names have for long been regarded as of utmost importance if you are to be accepted into the fellowship of the brethren—something that is supposed to be the highest rank one can attain, and a mark of possessing the Christian faith. Therefore, to gain acceptance as a follower of Christ, as a baby I was christened with the German name Fredrick. Don’t ask me how a medieval German name became an English or Christian name—ask the church people instead. I am sure my mother did not know what the name meant and my father insisted for years that Alfred was what he asked the Catchiest to christen me with. This however, wasn’t an issue as my family, like many from these parts, cared little for the name after the church ceremony and called me by my native name Chiagozie—a richer, more endearing name than that German one.

I remember forgetting that my name was Fredrick until I began primary school (Kindergarten was a long dream only the very rich dreamt about in those days) and was asked to bring my baptismal card for age verification.

Suddenly I found myself answering to Fredrick in School and my native birth name—mostly its abbreviates, Agozie or Ago—at home. I must confess that as a child, I rather liked my “English” name and smiled at the prospect of being addressed thus whenever a friend visited me at home. I dreamt of dumping the native sounding Agozie entirely and adopting Fredrick, surnamed with a funkier anglicised version of my surname, for both school communal usage.

Thank the gods for getting older and finding emancipation. Now I see the folly of cleaving to a name that does not define me in any way. Yes, I found out in secondary school that Fredrick means peacefully ruler. I agree that I am naturally peaceful, but I do not rule over any kingdom, so go figure.

For a name, I believe one should cleave to that which best identifies his demography. Why should I, an Igbo man, contend with a German name. What has Germany done for my motherland or me. I do agree that in the future, if I meet a Fredrick that seriously impacts my life, I wouldn’t mind naming a son or grandson after him, but for now I can only Answer that question, WHAT’S IS IN A NAME?


That said, let’s bid farewell to Fredrick Chiagozie Nwonwu and welcome from obscurity Mazi Chiagozie Nwonwu. All former documents remain valid, general public note.
This is I getting real!
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Wednesday, December 21, 2011

The Worth of a Nigerian Life and a Nation Lacking Compassion

A few weeks ago, shamed by the inaction of the police after I had reported the presence of a rotting corpse in a gutter not far away from a police post in Ikeja, I wrote an article entitled “the worth of a Nigerian life”. Some of those who read that piece criticized it; perhaps because of the rather critical tone, while others; who felt I had a right to be critical of government failings, praised it.

Despite the article—which I endeavoured to post to several national and international group pages on facebook, published in my blog and two leading Nigerian online media—it took about three weeks to move the body, then thoroughly decayed, from the gutter where it lay. It was a painful episode for me, for overcame with self-doubt, I constantly tried to reassure myself that by reporting to the police, I did enough.
Though it is surprising that a corpse would occupy a busy road with people walking and driving by with only a shake of their head, but even the police, who I presumed were mandated to handle matters like that, were culpable in the general apathy that pervades the Nigerian sphere.

I know it might sound absurd to anyone who does not live in Nigeria or has not spent considerable time in the country, but in truth, seeing dead bodies by the roadside is common enough to elicit the earlier mentioned reaction from the populace. Proof that this statement is factual can be inferred from the fact that on 15 December 2011, a few weeks after publication of “The Worth of a Nigerian Life”, I was again at a police post reporting another corpse lying in the middle of a busy road, this time in Agege.

The intention of again writing about this issue is to bring to light my attempt to find answers to why our society have gotten so thick skinned about death and even kids are allowed to look at death and think of it as commonplace. The issue on discuss here is not the fact that many of the police officers at the station were baffled at my taking the time to report the incident even though the dead man was not an acquaintance, a friend or a relative. The issue I intend to address is the extreme laxity with which everyone—yes everyone—handles issues of corpses on the streets on Nigeria.

Unlike what I did during the other incident, this time I reported to an established police station and went as far as seeing the DPO and getting him to instruct that the DCO go to the scene and investigate. It does not bother me much that it took the police about one hour to get ready to go investigate something that is a short walking distance from their station. It also was not much of a bother that I was asked to write my name, address and phone number or that the tone many of the officers used when addressing me sounded more like an interrogation than conversation. However, it bothers me that there appears to be no laid down procedural guide for police officers to follow on matters such as this, or if there is, many do not know it or choose to ignore it.

Yes, many of the police officers sounded and acted sorrowful about the apparent demise of a fellow citizen, but they were not willing to put off their personal plans to do anything about it. Therefore, after explaining why I was at the station repeatedly, I got remarks like, “why not go and report at the general hospital? They have ambulances for things like this”; “you should have gone to the local government or Alausa”. Baffled, I had thought to myself then, these guys are the law keepers, how come they are sounding like I should be doing their job?

However, some police officers felt I did the right thing and it was with two of them, The DCO, a female plainclothes officer and a female photographer (most probably a civilian) that I finally went back to the place where the corpse was.

The DCO who gave his name simply as Mr Thomas inspected the body and declared that there was no visible injury and judging from the emaciated nature of the corpse was probably a case of “sudden and unexplained death”. As we walked back to the station I inquired from Mr Thomas about something that has been bugging me for years, “who exactly has responsibility of removing corpses from the streets of Nigeria?”
While I was expecting the usual shifting of responsibility, Mr Thomas agreed that the police have a lot to do with it but that much of the responsibility lies with the local councils who have a unit for that. My intention was to stay with the police and make sure something was done, but Mr Thomas promised to contact the council and make sure the body was moved immediately.

The lady in pink is a police officer and Mr Thomas's hand is to the right of the picture

I continued onwards to my office, feeling elated, that I had put the wheels in motion and left the right designated drivers with the steering wheel. As with most things Nigerian, it was not surprising that my elation turned out to be premature, for heading back home later that evening I passed the body, laying there, on the same spot. After a not very happy night I woke up with a determination to give the day over to finding out exactly why corpses are left to rot on the streets of Lagos even though a law was passed not so long ago to curb situations like that.
The Ojokoro LCDA office is located in street-ward facing flat on the first floor of this building. the sign post is the green one with white lettering

My first port of call was the Area Development Council office at Ojokoro where an attentive staff told me they were not aware of the situation and immediately put a call through to what he said was the phone number of the person in charge of matters of that nature in their LGA headquarters at Ifako/Ijaiye. With the person at Ifako/Ijaiye admitting that he was aware of the situation, having being informed by the police the day before, I asked what was holding them back from removing the body and was told that they were waiting for a police report before they can act.

Baffled by the dilly-dallying when hundreds of schoolchildren must have been exposed to the unflattering scene on their way to school and back, I thanked the helpful LGA officer and decided to check back with the police station. There, a visibly annoyed Mr Thomas expressed sadness that the body had not been removed even after he had expended his personal phone credits to get in touch with the person responsible in the Local Government office. 

My decision to go to the seat of the State Government in Alausa Ikeja after talking to Mr Thomas, stemmed from a sense of helplessness and a determination to find answers about the actual arm of government responsible for cases like this and the right procedure when confronted with such. One tricycle and bus ride later, I was in Alausa proper and was immediately conscious of the aura of importance that perpetually hung around the place. Quick questions, deft responses and pointed fingers led me after several false self-starts to the office of the Lagos State Environmental Health Monitoring Unit (SEHMO). Before then, someone had given me an emergency number (767) that was to my surprise answered at first ring by a female staffer that courteously took details of the incident and promised to dispatch someone to go pick the body. At the SEHMO proper, one Mrs Oyewumi who attended to me informed me that I was actually at the right place and that they had just received information about the body from a dispatcher. To reassure me that they were on top of the situation, she took me to their head driver who was at that moment arranging to go pick up the body, apparently the lady from the emergency office called them with the information I gave her.

I left Alausa happy, envying the bags of Christmas rice that could be spied here and there, knowing that the chances of the body being moved was this time more closer than before.

Not that this justifies laxity, but as I left Alausa, I wondered at the crisp environment and the professional manner of the Lagos State Secretariat workers compared to the grimy, dilapidated nature of the police station and the local government office I went to before. I took one thing away; the working condition must surely play a role in how workers perform. The people at the SEHMO lived up to their promise as the body had already been removed by the time I passed that route on my way home later that evening.

The well groomed environment of the Lagos State Secretariat, Alausa

The promptness of the people from Alausa was a breath of fresh air, and a reaffirmation of the mantra that Lagos, even if only at the state government level, is working.  However, one prays that something drastic is done about the way the citizens of Nigeria and the Government treat the dead. This is not just a call to heed the health implications of leaving animal and human corpses to rot on the streets, but also that we remember our culture and what should be human nature—respect for the dead, who, lacking the ability to HELP themselves, depend on us. 

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Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Book N Gauge: Filling a Literary Niche

It would not be farfetched to declare that the literary scene in Nigeria is on fire. There might not have been any corresponding reverse in the reading culture of Nigerians as it is – yet. However, the prevailing atmosphere within literary circles is one of itchy expectation, with an endless line of aspiring writers itching to find some form of relevance. Here, the internet, of course, has become a ready tool for the willing.

Years past, aspiring writers sent their works to the few newspapers and magazines that published works of that nature. This is usually done without recourse to any form of peer review and more often than not, the works are rejected, with the attendant knocks on the ego of the writers.

These days, things have changed, and drastically for the better too. The coming of the internet has provided avenues for savvy youths to meet, interact and coalesce into groups that are now driving Nigerian literary industry—yes, it is time we start calling it that and run it as such. These groups are revolutionising the way literary events and discussions are handled, causing even semi-retired old timers to crawl out of the woodwork and take notice.

While there are several groups with similar purpose, this article intends to highlight one of them, Book N Gauge.
Continue reading here

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Amnesty Program: Kudos to President Jonathan

I am not one of President Goodluck Jonathan’s biggest fans. However, I now have reason to sing the man’s praise; albeit grudgingly.

The cause for which I must now sing GEJ’s praise is the amnesty program, or more significantly, that part of program that saw thousands of rustic Niger Delta youths (ex-militants if you like) attending human capacity development training programs in Nigeria and overseas.

Despite the negative news reports in the media about some unruly participants who found it hard to let go of their “jungle” ways even though they have literary been removed from the jungle, the facts from Amnesty Program insiders indicate that the youths in general conducted themselves exceptionally and were outstanding in training.

While some might suggest that I should have awaited the return of the “boys”, seen their effectiveness in the field, before calling their trip a success; I will humbly beg to disagree on the pretext that the echo of a big storm cannot be mistaken for a light shower; at least that was what I made of facts available to me and the comments of a staff of Trumps Consulting – one of the companies handling the Malaysian arm of the training program. The staff member said, “The only problem we had with the boys in our group is how fast they were learning. We had to add more to their curriculum as they exhausted the standardised training that was recommended for them.”

Now, that caught me off guard, especially as I have for long associated bloodletting, Indian hemp smoking and generally unruly behaviour to the “boys”.
Continue reading here

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Nigerians Brace for Tougher times

Back in May 2011 when President Goodluck Jonathan of Nigeria was being sworn in as president of Nigeria there was a palpable sense of anticipation that the Nigerian nation was back on the track of its much truncated quest for greatness, at least those who swore by the divine mandate of the president saw it thus.

Now, six months after that momentous day, the feeling of euphoria and hope for a new dawn has been replaced by something more ominous; the feeling of coming doom and failure to once again keep to the right track. This feeling is shared by both those who happily bought into the yarn about GEJ’s (as President Jonathan is referred to in Nigeria growing online media) heaven sent mandate and those who always believed the man is either too weak to lead a complex country like Nigeria, or too beholden to the corrupt puppet masters to do any good.

Much of the lack of confidence for the President and his team on the streets, homes and offices across Nigeria steams not from ill will over the election that brought the president to power or the usual ethnic and regional ill feelings that is synonymous with West Africa’s biggest economy, but as a direct result of what the President say is geared to advance the country, his economic blueprint.

Starting from January 2011, Nigerians have been told by the President and his economic team, led by World Bank top shot Ngozi Okonji-Iweala, that the all important subsidy on petroleum products would be removed, the toll gates across the nation’s highways – removed a few years ago during the presidency of Olusegun Obasanjo – will return, electricity tariffs will be increased and the Naira devalued (that has already happened, at least to an extent).

Aside from a bill to extend the presidential term by an additional 3 years, the foregoing is the sum of GEJ’s policy so far.

Looking at the main thrust of the economic team’s policy, which many Nigerians see as anti people, it is clear GEJ has fallen out of favour. Aside from the call for a single tenure of seven years, much of the policy statements by the GEJ administration are geared more towards reducing government spending and increasing inputs from the masses. While this is not in itself a bad thing, especially as Nigerian government spending is astronomically bloated by corrupt politicians and civil servants looking to enrich themselves, Nigerians say GEJ’s economic team is putting the cart before the horse.

Endless removal of oil subsidy

This is not the first time the issue of oil subsidy and its removal has brimmed at the surface of Nigerian national discuss and, like before, many Nigerians expect it to follow the path trod by its previous incarnations – into the “could have been” bag of politicians. The grouse is not with the oil subsidy removal, but with the lack of willingness by the government to tackle the issues that make removing it very controversial: the descript, non functional nature of much of the indigenous refineries that consigns Nigeria, Africa biggest petroleum exporter, to importing petroleum products, and the activities of the much vaunted cabal, with government connections, that inflate the subsidy and divert the massive overflow into their pockets and Swiss banks.

Reintroducing toll gates and the questions therein

“Why was the toll gates removed in the first place?” Nigerians ask.

The government reply, “Because the money being generated from them was not finding its way into government coffers and from there back to the roads where they would facilitate repairs and maintenance, but into the pockets of individuals.”

“But why not repair the roads first before tolling them?” Nigerians again ask. This time, they get no response, or as still waiting for response.

Paying more for even less electricity

The issue of power has for long been a key demand by the citizens to successive Nigerian governments; however, despite several promises and mega-millions sunk into making the industry viable, Nigerians still have to make do with power outages and blackouts. They are used to it, so much so that most households have generating sets that are the difference between staying in the dark or not, a situation that caused a Nigerian social commentator to quip “we have 160 million independent power producers”, a not so funny play at the country’s 160 million people.

The government says the increased tariff will encourage private entrepreneurs to invest in the sector; Nigerians say, improve the power supply before increasing tariffs.

In all, Nigerians say the government is missing the point, and that is, everything is tied together in Nigeria.

“If you increase the price of petroleum products, the price of every other goods and service will follow suit. Same thing goes for the increase in electricity tariff,” a Nigerian woman lamented.
While the government is insisting that the increments would be beneficial to Nigerians on the long run, the men on the street dread them, especially the hard times that they would usher in. The government is insisting on going forward, and if it gets its way, as many are predicting it will this time, Nigerians are sure to face serious tough times ahead.
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Thursday, December 8, 2011

Dear God, If I Told You I was a Lesbian, would You still Love Me?

Nigerian blogger Belinda Otas wrote a very powerful article that clearly expresses the African mindset in the whole LGBT debate. Please read it here and keep an open mind.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Re: The Worth of a Nigerian Life

Update on story initially posted here.

The corpse is still at that same spot. The rot is now advanced and all evidence that the young man was ever there may well disappear with the first heavy rain that occurs.
Further investigation by me revealed that the young man was not unknown. Many Okada men "commercial motorcyclists" are certain that the body is that of a homeless or mad man that made a leafy area by the golf course fence his home.
I intend to visit the Local Council boss on Monday and find out if they are aware of the rotting corpse and if they have jurisdiction to remove it.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Marriage longevity: Are Nigerian youths losing grip?

As borrowed mores come, the increasing craze for divorce among young Nigerian professionals and entertainers ranks among the worst kind. Propped up by examples set by Hollywood celebrities--whose penchant for divorce and separation have made marriage out to be a comedy of the absurd--young professionals are throwing marriage and relationship longevity to the whims of selfishness.

Marriage, like language, is a universally constant amongst humanity’s myriad cultures. Though marriage structure vary across cultures, it is basically the joining together of individuals for the purpose of procreation and companionship, and is generally expected to last for life.

However, with the berthing of globalisation and the cultural interchanges that it facilitates, marriage as we know it is undergoing changes. In the past, people mate for life, and when divorce is allowed, it is usually as a last resort, and only when all other recourses have been tried and proven to not be viable.

In much of Africa, marriage used to be a scared thing that youths aspire to with all their heart and even when they chose to not partake in marriage -- as is sometimes the case when some ladies stay back home to procreate for a late brother, a father with a male hire, or as a result of religious dictate -- the high honour ascribed to them is primarily to ease whatever unease they may feel at missing out of what was considered a sacred union.

Nigerian music star 9ice’s marriage to his onetime sweetheart Toni payne was a bitter example of how trivial the marriage institution is becoming in Nigeria

The traditional societies were well structured -- unlike the haphazard arrangement that is modernity’s gift to the African -- with everyone conscious of his or her place. The women knew their duties and did it to the best of their abilities, the men did theirs too. This is not to say that everything was perfect and there were not conflicts in homes. Far from it, there were in fact conflicts, as is expected in all things that involve people co-habiting, but the society expected conflicts and made laws to check and address them if and when they occur.

Perhaps it is here that our youths miss the mark. Instead of treading the path their ancestors walked, by seeking solutions to quarrels within the family, they resort to modern courts, where they give strangers the power to settle intimate disputes or, as is becoming increasingly popular, dissolve their union.

The recourse to movie star style adjudications is now the norm amongst city-breed youths who turn up their nose at the thought of turning to older relatives for advice when the oil that allows the wheels of their relationship to move smoothly dry up. They instead turn to like-minded friends, who point them in what should normally be a last resort direction -- the exit door. However, relatives have been known to be the harbingers of many marriage woes, with ill-advised interferences that divide instead of heal.

While the blame for the current disregard of marriage as an enduring institution in Nigeria is not restricted to parents/sibling interference or the expected battle of the sexes, which globalisation have granted an expression that is far from being consonant with African norms, the fact that a growing number of them are choosing to back out instead of working things out should be a major cause of concern.

In truth, it would not do to compel unwilling bedfellows to continue habiting together if they find that they cannot in all righteousness cohabit. However, it is prudent to at this stage, begin re-educating our youths about the joy of marriage and teaching them the wisdom of talking to the elders, who have seen it all, no matter what we are wont to believe.

Also, our youths have to begin relearning restraint and resort less to ego trips that serves only to destroy any hope of resolving issues amicably. By so doing, they will once again gain the ability to enjoy marriage as they rightly should, despite the inevitable conflicts that are normal in human relationships.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

The Worth of a Nigerian Life

I was taught early in life that life is sacred and has always viewed it as thus -- something only the gods, or perhaps legal governments, have dominion over. I know death usually does not tell of its coming and even when its visit is inevitable, men are known to do all they can to at worst, delay the inexplicable.

Living in a country like Nigeria affords one the unfortunate experience of seeing death at close range when one would have wanted to be at arm’s length. Here, the society does not grant those who are not involved with dealing death the luxury of not knowing its face.

Death, when it is not natural and is brought about by the premeditated actions of someone, is termed murder. Murder and its less dreadful brother man slaughter are frowned upon by people the world over and the society has laws to punish those who are found culpable of such crimes. Death, illegally and knowingly brought unto another, carries the death penalty in certain countries, Nigeria inclusive.

Though we all seem to agree that death ranks amongst the greater crimes and would do everything within our power to ensure that a relation, no matter the circumstances surrounding his/her death, gets the ultimate respect – a decent burial – many here are not usually moved at the sight of a stranger’s corpse.

I do not know for sure if this apathy to death not within one’s family or social group has any cultural expression, however, the Igbo people summed it in the adage: "ozu onye ozo na’adi ka nku."  The corpse of a stranger is like firewood.

The adage quoted above is old, from the days of our fathers, and if what they say held true then, I am really disappointed to say that it still does today -- even though it should not in a modern society like ours. With sayings like this, it would appear our elders knew the worth of a stranger’s corpse, but even they made sure there were provisions to handle the disposal of such bodies, or to inform those with more stake in the person to

With the foregoing in mind, anyone with a sense of decency can guess my reaction, when returning home from work last week; I beheld, in a dry gutter beside the golf course fence along Works Road in Ikeja GRA, Lagos, the very still form of young man, probably in his mid-twenties. Shocked and moved by a sense of charity, I moved closer. Leaning over the body, I sought for signs of life.  Not noticing the usual up and down movement of a breathing man and judging by the tell tale signs of withered leaves on and around him and the faint smell of decay in the air around him, I assumed that the feller was gone and not recently either.

I stood there for a moment, overcame. This was a Youngman in the prime of life, someone who could have been anybody: a brother, a father, an uncle, a cousin, a friend, a lover, somebody’s best friend, anybody.

Okadas and cars zipped past and other pedestrians paused to see what it was that had held my attention with such intensity before hurrying away at the sight of apparent death. I did not blame them for not lingering to share in my pity for the young man, I am sure they too felt pity, but not enough to risk remaining at what perhaps is a crime scene, or too averse to death to stay long. I did not need to ponder at their actions; we are all Nigerians and know well enough that it is advisable not to linger close to crime scenes, not to talk of reporting such.

Forced back to the moment by the cry of JESUS from the lips of a young school boy also then passing through and the sight of a police van speeding by, I recalled that just down the road, at a junction not too far away, a police team is wont to be found. Always constant, controlling the traffic gridlock on that stretch of road. I speedily walked down the road to the junction where I reported what I had seen to the police officers chatting away in their van.

In truth, the police officers acted shocked and concerned, different from what I had expected, and even appeared curious as to what would have caused the man’s death and asked about the state of the body. I allowed them speculate about “all these wicked hit and run drivers” before asking them what was to be done. The sergeant in charge told me they were going to check on the body and report to their office. As I went on my way, they were reversing their car to go check.

I felt somewhat accomplished as I headed home, feeling that the dead man would at least be taken
Police officers "busy" with an "arrested" van. Surely they do not care about the story behind the rotting corpse a few metres away. Since they do not care about how an adult male came to be dead, surely they won't be much bothered about the harzard the rotting corpse presents to the living. Naija ! Where are we headed?
off the street and some sort of investigation begun to identify him and, hopefully, what killed him.

I did not pass through that route on my way to work the next day, but as I walked down that road by closing time, I found the body still there. Infuriated, I went to see the officers I had spoken to the day before but met a different team in their stead. My anger further boiled when they admitted that they knew about the body, and that it had been reported to them by someone two days before.

What then is keeping you guys from doing something about the body? I asked

We are not the problem oga. It is the council (Local government authorities) that is supposed to remove the body. They said

But that is not right, I say. What about investigation?

Oga, no vex, you know how this work bi. I promise you it will be gone by tomorrow morning.

I walked away as the corporal I was talking to brought out his phone – to call the council people, he said.

The next day... you guessed right, the body was still there. This time I did not bother wasting my breath on the police but sent a photo of the dead guy and the location of the body to facebook and twitter, hoping that someone with the right authority would see it and compel the police to do something about it.

The body as it was the second day I saw it
I saw the body on Wednesday 23rd Nov 2011, the police officer I spoke to the second day said the body was first seen two days before, on the 21st. By 28th Nov when I last checked, the body was still there, in an advanced state of decay.

On 28 Nov. My photo caption on facebook was "Despite several attempts by me to get the police to remove this rotting corpse of a Nigerian man from the gutter along Works Road Ikeja GRA, or even look into his death, the body still lies there. Nature is already working its thing and maggots and the weather will surely remove all sign. However, this is the true worth of a Nigerian. Death without question. I do not have the means to do anything physical about this body, but hope that someone with the right authority can compel the police to do its duty."

This is the worth of a Nigerian life. Except you are the child of the rich, the ones with the means to search for you, your death might not mean much to the Nigerian security apparatus. What is more, our society has so degenerated that the decency that should be the right of those who can no longer help themselves, is no longer assured. The maggots get the dead here, no questions asked.
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Sunday, November 27, 2011

Ikemba is dead!

Another hero transcends to the land of the ancestors. Rest In Peace Col. Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu. Biafra lives on in our hearts.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Defending Gay Rights in Africa

I wrote and article on the same sex marriage debate in Africa published in Daily Times Nigeria. It did not generate the kind of comments that a similar post would have drawn in the west -- largely because Africans are still very uncomfortable talking about homosexuality; the much you may get out of us is a diatribe about the act being against culture, nature, God, and what have you.
Anyway, a facebook friend, who felt an argument he had with me over the debate was the source of the article, felt it right to respond. I liked what he has to say -- No, he wasn't the"friend" in question -- and felt I had to post it here for posterity. Something for the Gay Rights people to be happy about.


Comment from  Akpomuvi Dafi

I found your essay on same-sex marriages an intellectual tonic. You said things that you needed to say without cant. I was also somewhat proud that you wrote the essay, in an influential newspaper like the Daily Times, largely with the conversation we both had in mind. I was struck, however, that you misrepresented some of my arguments in our facebook exchanges.

First, I never said that the gay rights issue is the 'most important' advocacy issue in the world. I only pointed out that it is a fast rising issue that deserves careful, thoughtful and honest consideration. Needless to say, I don't consider the gay rights issue to be more important than any other sensible advocacy matter-like the fight for improving workplace conditions, or the fight against hunger. It is not my job to begin to compare different advocacy issues on the basis of their comparative importance.

You wrote:

 "That friend.....made sure to tell me that, for not joining the vociferous advocates of same sex love and marriage, I would be sidetracked by history."

 I have to say that I never sought to enlist you into some sort of organized gay rights campaign. I have never been a part of one myself. I only opined that given the growing trend of people wanting to fight for the rights to pursue their measure of happiness by loving, and living with who they want, and the desire of many in the world to respect that right, those who still stand in opposition to that basic human desire would be confined to the wrong side of history.

Like I pointed out in our exchanges on your facebook wall, the light of science has been shed on the gay issue. Fearless African intellectuals-like Wole Soyinka and many others earlier in the year signed a statement condemning the unnecessary bashing of gay people. The widely-respected South African arch-bishop, Desmond Tutu in a thought-provoking interview on the BBC reaffirmed his belief that it is unfair to treat homosexuality as a sin or disorder, or a choice that people make. These are 'straight' Africans, aren't they? Does it mean they want to be gays themselves? I wonder why some people think that defending the rights of gay people means being in love with the gay lifestyle.

 One doesn't need to be a gay rights activist. But when he takes it upon himself to pontificate about the rightness or wrongness of sexual acts, while gloating about his heterosexuality and seeking to rein in on others simply on the basis of their difference, and because they are in the minority, there is a part of me that feels he is getting the issue of morality quite wrong.

 And, do you think, Fred that you were being sincere when you said I claim to be an ‘activist of all kinds of rights? I hate to say a friend is lying.

I respect your position on the gay rights debate. Part of me even admires your stoic stance when you said "give us the chance of getting over our inhibitions”, as it shows that, unlike other glib gay bashers, you admit of the possibility of changing your mind over the gay rights matter.

I feel that as human beings, there are definitely things beyond our understanding. I, like you, find it awkward to look at the behaviour of some people. I find it awkward to see two women cuddling each other or having sex. I find it awkward to look at a man that has overt feminine attributes. But I don't feel the need to view them as sinners or 'mad people', like a friend of yours said on facebook,-a statement on which you clicked the 'like' button-,or engage in the playground bullying tactics that has echoes of fundamentalism and ignorant cock sureness .

 I should perhaps be quick to add that being gay could be devoid of stereotypes-like a man with painted lips, or soft feminine voice. There are many gay people you would swear are not if they don't tell you.

You also referred to me as one of those thousands (of friends) that the friendship button on facebook allows you have. As a Linguistics graduate, I can immediately understand the subtext of that sentence. I can only add that my definition of friendship does not include 'one who agrees with me on all issues.'

To paraphrase the philosopher, Cecil O' Poole: I can think of many points of view I am in disagreement with, but that does not mean my neighbour cannot live beside me, nor that we may not exist side by side. Even though he holds beliefs with which I disagree, we can both be a part of society, and we will both contribute to that society by being considerate and tolerant of each other's point of view.

Nigeria Music Conquers Africa: Eyes The World

The first tweet, posted at 3:17 am on June 9 by Nigerian Musician D’banj of Mo’ Hits records, reads, “Thanks for ur love and prayers always. Now we can hear IDJA from the world’s finest Stars. Thanks again its Naija.”

Same day, at 3:22 am, Don Jazzy, Mo’ Hits CEO, tweeted, “Just like yesterday myself and my brother did Tongolo, 7yrs later Mo’ Hits signs with Good Music. Best birthday gift ever, God thank u.”

Two tweets, simple ones, at par with what is obtainable in the micro-messaging site twitter, but the fact that it came from D’Banj, one of Nigeria’s biggest artist and his producer cum record label owner, coupled with a lot of speculations about the groups rising profile in the United States, made it of import to entertainment industry buffs. In a very short while, that singular tweet had social media abuzz, with many airing their disbelief that the tweet was anywhere close to being real, others said it was nothing short of a prank -- a tasteless one at that. However, as the hours passed and more speculations flowed across Nigeria’s impressive social media community, and other African countries got into the debate, a clear-cut fact began to emerge: Don Jazzy and D’ Banj have actually been signed on to G.O.O.D Music, a record label owned by American recording artist Kanye West.

Continue reading here
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Thursday, November 3, 2011

Reach out to the past, and begin to get respect

Among Nigerian youths, there is a growing disconnect from cultural affiliations and ancestral roots. This disconnect, worn like a symbol of status and modernity by many, is more clearly defined when conversations swing towards cultural practices that held sway in the past and the relevance of such practices to the present.
While some of today’s youth opt to carry on like strangers from planets where such practices are unheard of, others turn up their noses up at it, consigning the discourse to the same plane they place things that conflict with the new religions, the dregs of the mind.
To them, those who advocate a reversion to ways that worked well enough in the past, are the rare breeds that hang on to notions that there is something good in a past  better consigned to the fate of the Godless people that lived then.
But my friends, many of who fall into the above category and who I try to dissuade from running away from our cultural history, are simply enigmatic, they hang on to my words, not really hearing the truth in them, but listening anyway.
What can one do but keep trying to open their eyes to the truth, to show them that there were more to our forbearers, that the rules they held sacred were for a reason, and that this reason still hold.
Being of a class of the so-called fortunate in a society of want -- a society where little work -- I have as friends, very educated individuals -- at least by western standards. These friends are likely to pander to western ideals; as such they do not buy my arguments. They only smile and call me “traditional ruler” or one who worships the Christian devil -- to whom the glorious days of our fathers are now ascribed.
For ages now, our people have been programmed by the largely misinterpreted teachings of the Christian Christ and his Semitic brother prophet, making it imperative that I keep my peace and desist from continually telling them that religion is just one aspect of culture, and is far from being wholesome.
It is not that I fear being likened to an incarnate of an entity that does not exist in the religion of my forefathers; I am however moved to silence by the realisation of the extent of the collective brainwashing that makes sure we remain second class citizens, even to our own eyes.
I find my hands tied and my tongue stopped by the sheer blindness with which our people continue to lean towards imported values. Our fathers, those ones that sold our souls for strips of coloured clothe and bits of shinny mirror, felt inadequate before the men from across the seas, that they equated them to gods.
Now, years after they proved that first observation wrong, I smile at the fact that we, their progeny, still deem it proper to worship at the feet of the white man and take his every word as proper and factual.
Years after the fall of the colonialism that made sure we gave without question -- that same one that held us hostage for years -- our youths and their blind parents still cling to the vestiges of white supremacy and turn their nose up at the laws our fathers laid to guide our doings.
Ask me again why we don’t get respect.
You watch Hollywood movies set in anywhere but Africa and you see the almost worship like reverence of local cultures. Here, the reverse is the norm, made more manifest by the stupid acquiescence of our brothers.
As I say to my friends, “we have to look back, we have to ask our ancestors, we have to look for that which worked for them, and apply this to our age and time”. Only then can we hope to truly touch the sky when we reach out.

Article originally published by and

Friday, October 28, 2011

Gaddafi, seen through the eyes of an African

I recall the first time I encountered Muammar Gaddafi. I cannot recall exactly when in the late 80s it was, but I know for sure that I was a pre-teen, still much in awe of the world outside and on the lookout for heroes. That first encounter was in print, in a copy of Reader’s Digest. I also cannot recall if he was on the cover or not, but I remember the title of the article about him vividly as if I am looking at it now, with the bold print that states “Gaddafi, son of a tailor!” looking up at me from the compact print size that is Reader’s Digest’s renown.  Though subsequent encounters were also via the media, new and old, I feel I know the man the west is wont to call “mad”
That particular copy of Readers Digest was old even then; a memento from my dad’s magazine collection days in the 70s, saved with several others in a large box that he made everyone understand is precious.
That article, unlike the present bile spewing ones that you will find in most western magazines, was written in a voice whose worship-like tone I still hear, more than twenty years on, and talked at length about the famed leader’s freedom fighter attributes – Guevara-like freedom fighting ideals and how much he was loved by his people.
With this first impression and later insights about what Gaddafi was doing in Libya, I grew up to admire the Brother Leader greatly. His eccentric streak aside, and judging by the fact on ground, no matter how devilish the western world paints Gaddafi, even they, grudgingly, admits that the man was first a patriot and improved the life of his people greatly.
I say this with all sense of decency and forthrightness, for Libyans, even the rebels -- when they stop to think about it -- will greatly admit that their erstwhile envious place in Africa and the world, was on account of the doggedness of the man Gaddafi. That he was a dictator is not a thing that anyone would argue about, but that he was the best of the lot in a region that until this year knew only that form of governance, should also not be in doubt.
It is with this sense of benevolence that much of Africa remembers Gaddafi. True, our opinion does not count for much in the world at present, but within our hearts and our words would the other side of Gaddafi’s story be saved – that story of a great man that looked out for his people and made them the envy of all of Africa.
A lot have been said about Gaddafi not having a choice in the face of enormous oil wealth but to give something, even if just a living wage to his subjects, but a clear truth should not be overshadowed by prevailing fact. Libya is not the only oil or resource rich country in Africa, but Libya is the only one where the citizens led a relative good life. It is common knowledge in Africa that Libyans were so well taken care of that economic migrants, from Sub-Saharan Africa, Asia, Europe and elsewhere, did much of their manual labour and household chores.
A lot is also being said about Gaddafi’s subjugation of the Libyan people's freedom. People make a lot of noise about freedom, but forget that freedom is relative. Westerners, with their welfare systems and whatnot are prone to grandstand and expect the rest of the world to toe their democratic principles, but forget that their brand of democracy is not a one-size-fit-all and that their leaders have and are still supporting some of the world’s most repressive states. Do Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Bahrain and lately Egypt and Tunisia ring a bell?
Some others call him a sponsor of terrorism, but when we consider that Gaddafi backed the IRA, ANC, Liberian rebels who fought against Samuel Doe, and factions in the Sierra Lone conflict, all revolutionaries who like him fought against an establishment that was oppressing them one wy or the other. In this guise, Gaddafi is essentially the freedom fighter that old Reader’s Digest article made him out to be.
Gaddafi was killed on October 20 2011 in his hometown Sirte in the final hours of an 8 month, NATO inspired civil war. While many are questioning the sort of death a man that lived for his country died, I feel that that was the only exit option available to the Brother Leader who had a life or death bounty on his head.
While we may hear reverse statements from the western leaders, who were quick to celebrate the death of a man whose hand they clasped happily in the past, as more people frown at the manner of his death, their complicity in his death and the destruction of his country should not be forgotten.
As an emancipated African, I pride myself with the fact that much of Africa mourned the death of the great man and many wished a leader of his ilk would happen to their nation in their lifetime. While the western press and governments take pride in their ability to get away with murder and nation wrecking, Africans are wising-up to their antics and hopefully would not allow them the freehand to run shod around the continent for long.
Sleep well Lion of Tripoli, you did not live in vain, and Libyans, when the fog clears from their eyes will recall this and rue your death.

Friday, October 21, 2011

RIP Lion of Libya

In the memory of Muammar Gaddafi...

...we should be wary of the west's sudden extra interest in Africa.
What have they given us, I ask, but bullets, smart bombs and thieving despots. Yes Gaddafi stayed too long, but only fools believe he did wrong by his country. Rest In Peace Lion Of Libya.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Call for entries: Commonwealth Book Prize and Commonwealth Short Story Prize

Commonwealth Writers – a world of new fiction

Today the Commonwealth Foundation made the call for entries for the new Commonwealth Book Prize and Commonwealth Short Story Prize.  The prizes are part of a new initiative, Commonwealth Writers, an online hub to inspire, inform and create a community of writers from all over the world. Together with the prizes, Commonwealth Writers unearths, develops and promotes the best new fiction from across the Commonwealth.

Awarded for best first book, the Commonwealth Book Prize is open to writers who have had their first novel (full length work of fiction) published between 1 January and 31 December 2011. Regional winners receive £2,500 and the overall winner receives £10,000. The Commonwealth Short Story Prize is awarded for the best piece of unpublished short fiction (2000-5000 words). Regional winners receive £1,000 and the overall winner receives £5,000. The winners will be announced in June 2012.

Chair of the Commonwealth Book Prize, Margaret Busby said “The significance of a prize such as this becomes greater with each year.  It is vital to encourage and celebrate the talent of newly emerging novelists whose words have the potential to inspire and enrich the entire literary world.  Searching out and promoting the best first books of fiction internationally is a serious task, a great honour and a wonderful challenge.”

Chair of the Commonwealth Short Story Prize, Bernardine Evaristo said “This wonderful prize will turn the spotlight on the increasingly popular short story form and aims to support and encourage short story writers worldwide.”

As one of the Commonwealth Foundation’s culture programmes, Commonwealth Writers works in partnership with international literary organisations, the wider cultural industries and civil society to help writers develop their craft. Commonwealth Writers is a forum where members can debate the future of publishing, get advice from established authors and ask questions of our writer in residence.

Commonwealth Foundation Director, Danny Sriskandarajah said “As one of the Commonwealth Foundation’s flagship projects, I’m delighted that we’re putting the prizes firmly on the contemporary map of new writing and launching a dedicated Commonwealth Writers website to extend our global reach.”

Full rules and entry and eligibility information is available @ 

Closing date for entries:

Commonwealth Book Prize is Friday 9 December 2011 (5pm GMT)
Commonwealth Short Story Prize is Wednesday 30 November 2011 (5pm GMT)

Oya, get cracking!!!
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Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Me and writing

Someone asked me to write about me and writing sometime ago. I sent this to her. Think she wouldn't mind me sharing on my ill-used blog.
I grew up reading a variety of books, but started thinking about writing seriously as a teenager when I read “Beautiful ones are not born” and “Fragments” by Ghanaian writer Ayi Kwei Amah. Drawing loads of analogy with what was happening in Nigeria at that time (the mid 90s); I wrote a review of both books and attempted to show how we could learn from the experiences of the characters and country depicted. I remember showing it to my dad’s journalist friend, who said he found it quite interesting, but returned it with more than a third crossed out with red ink. 

I was not deterred by his editing and rewrote it following his grammar advise but keeping all my arguments and postulations intact. I sent it back to him, and he returned it with only a few red marks and an encouragement to write more.

I have been writing since then and have experimented with many literary genres, but find that I can only satisfy my urge for description and scenery with prose. Since I have strong attachment to my culture -- which by the way is steadily being eroded by a combination of western culture and Christianity, wonder if they are not one and same -- I see writing as a way to save it, at least that way, it can endure forever.

I have great respect for the achievements of writers like Wole Soyinka,  Chinua Achebe and Cyprian Ekwensi – who I consider the greatest of these legends, on account of his body of work, which covered many genres. However, I would be very unfair to Chim Newton, Toni Kan, Helon Habila and a host of writers who inspired my generation while working for a teenage romance magazine that I have also had the privilege of briefly working with as a contributor. These writers, more than the old masters, helped propel my quest to be a writer. I wanted so much to write like these guys; to play with words like Toni Kan did and to convey with such few words, the seriousness of an event, like Chim Newton did. I was also influenced by western writers such as Anne Rice, Stephen King, Frank Herbert, Frederick Pohl, Philip Jose Farmer, J.R.R Tolkien, and a host of others.

From my list above, you would have, if you are familiar with the works of the writers mentioned, noticed that I have a thing for Science fiction, fantasy and horror. I fell in love with science fiction and fantasy in senior secondary school and have since never looked back. Science fiction and fantasy books currently make up about 70% of my extensive paperback collection. As for Anne Rice and Stephen King, let’s say my love for them transcends their genre as I consider them among the greatest writers alive.

It was very easy for me to decide I wanted to be a writer, but translating that into fact took years. Yes, I started writing in my late teens, but I only recently began having enough confidence in my work to put them out there, and say “I am a writer” without feeling like a fraud. I approach writing with a feeling of inadequacy, even when a story appears to be struggling within me to be written, I still struggle to find which voice or genre best suites it; would it be better told as piece of poetry, drama or prose. It is my belief that the strength of a story lies more on the choice of point of view than on how dramatic its telling is. I really don’t know how true this assumption of mine is, but in my writing I tend to experiment with point of view a lot, and rarely begin a story with particular a point of view in mind.

Unlike some writers who find it easy to write in all situations, I am one of those who must be inspired to write. I find I write very well under deadline, even then, I only write well at certain times of the day and must “feel” the story for it to be acceptable to me.

As for length, I only decide on a specific length when I am writing under restriction, like for a competition, and even in such situation I find it a struggle keeping to, let say, 600 word limits. This of course does not constitute much of a hindrance, as I easily edit the story to bring it down to the maximum, killing lots of “favoured” lines along the way.

I have never seen myself as much of a poet and started writing poetry in the university as a way to express my heart when my habitual shyness made it difficult to chat up the girls and it grew from there to encompass my frustrations with the economy, my dying culture and a nation ill at ease with itself.

I said before that I have read a lot of African writers, but some stayed in my mind more than others. I can still recall scenes from Peter Abrahams “Mine boy” as if I read it yesterday, just like I can still visualise the hills that were so central to Ngugi wa Thiong’o’s “The River Between”. These writers, through their use of imagery, left imprints of their lands in my heart and my greatest wish in life is to someday through my work, leave such imprints in people’s heart.

My writing is me, it is something I loath to give out or lose. I know I can do this and nothing else, and would die a happy man if I have books out there that people appreciate.  For me heaven on earth is not too farfetched from a house with a window overlooking a lush green valley, a table, chair and lots or writing materials with which to paint pictures with words forever.
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Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Wikileaks and Treasonable Nigerian Politicians

Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan recently described revelations contained in the Wikileaks cables as nothing short of “Beer parlour gossip”, missing the whole point when common sense indicates that he should have treated the cables with the sort of seriousness it deserves.

Just like many other Nigerian politicians, the president appear to see nothing wrong with the cables, other than mere reports of the statements of “gossips” out to rundown his name and that of other political office holders.

However, for Nigerians on the street, the real owners of the land if I may say, the revelations of Wikileaks confirmed old rumours and granted fuel to others that were just beginning to shimmer.   

No, it is not that the revelations were too surprising, because much of the stories contained therein, no matter how outlandish, have at one time or the other has filtered through the ears of the national consciousness.  That these issues, or gossips, are weighty is stating the obvious, but beyond the issues raised by the report and the condescending side comments of the then US ambassador, the attitude of the Nigerian political class –who the cable was all about in the first place – to national affairs, raises some serious stink.  
Of all the nations covered by the US diplomatic spying cables, Nigeria is probably the only country where those who deemed it wise to report the affairs of their country’s government to the US ambassador did it with a sense of righteous bravado, as if they, the snitches, have a higher moral ground than those they were snitching on.

Nigeria, also appear to be the only country where the snitching was done with a sense of duty – no, not to the Nigerian nation, but to the US authorities, on whom the snitches availed a reverence akin to worship.
This need to explain Nigerian affairs to the US is the most embarrassing aspect of the whole episode. By acting like kids elucidating to a domineering parent, how a school uniform was stained with palm oil, the Nigerian political class have sorely disgraced any form of pride Nigeria should have as a sovereign nation. They sold not just themselves cheap, but did too the integrity of Nigeria as a nation. Their actions, whether self-serving or done with intent for a greater good, is appalling and qualifies as reason enough for indictment for high treason anywhere else.

Every Nigerian old enough for constructive reasoning knows that corruption is the country’s bane, so people talking about it to anybody is not a big deal, but presuming that the United States, a foreign government, has a higher jurisdiction over Nigeria than the Nigerian government is taking an insult too far.

While many Nigerians would readily agree that those who bore tales to US diplomats erred in one way or the other, there are those who would never see anything wrong with that kind of attitude, and that, I dare say, is one of the fundamental things that is wrong with the largest black nation on earth; lack of moral ethics.
In the US of A, a country with very dubious “friendship” record anywhere in the world, acts such as those perpetuated by blabber-mouthed Nigerian government insiders would carry nothing less than a dismissal from government service and a blacklist from any sensitive position for life. Here, in a country where much of the graft that for years has kept the society effectively underdeveloped gets swept under the carpet, nothing much can be expected from the Wikileaks scandal; nobody will be out of a job, none will be indicted and one cannot readily expect the reporting to the US ambassador to cease.

That is the crux of the Nigerian problem. When those who have the constitutional authority to protect a country’s sovereignty, see nothing wrong with another country’s spying, who then will bail the cat? When the only comment a country’s president have for those who effectively revealed internal workings of a country to a foreign government is; “they are nothing more than beer parlour gossips”, then Nigerians had better begin looking for another way to salvation.

Wikileaks, by revealing these odious documents, have done more than enough to show how self-serving the foreign policy of the United States is, but beyond this, it has also shown citizens of the nations covered by the reports how their countries are perceived by the United States, through the eyes of their political class. As such, the ball has left the Wiki court and now resides with citizens of the affected nations and posterity demands that they re-evaluate relationships with the US accordingly.

One believes that the major reason Jullian Assange and his colleagues at Wikileaks released the US diplomatic cables is to serve mankind in general and the third world nations, who are continually being short-changed in the general scheme of things, in particular. By showing the conveniently blind citizens of these countries, what the US is up to, and disabusing the minds of those who think the US makes the world go round, Wikileaks granted the world a powerful tool. How well this tool is used is up to the people, though as a Nigerian I do not expect to be surprised much, not by this government anyway.

A version of this post was published @
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