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.