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 bizinafrica.biz and dailytimes.com.ng