Sunday, December 14, 2014

QUESTIONS FOR BUHARI


I have never been as excited about any political opponent as I am about General Buhari, who has just won the APC Presidential primaries. I want to congratulate him from the bottom of my heart. Of course as with all my other opponents for 2015, I would love to engage him on the way forward for our country. Since his victory I have been trying Buhari’s number to arrange for a presidential debate between him, Goodluck Jonathan and my humble self. I have since given up on Goodluck because he has never even once responded to my calls, texts or WhatsApp messages. But Buhari, I didn’t expect him not to pick. I will give him the benefit of the doubt and assume he was tired from the marathon national convention in Lagos.
In lieu of a phone conversation however, I will be reaching out to Buhari here. I will be raising salient issues which I think should form the core of any attempt to move Nigeria forward as aggregated from my research and my discussions with Nigerians from all walks of life – from newspaper vendors to technocrats.
1.      FIRST LADIES
I know Buhari has one wife, but there was at least one contestant at the level of the APC primaries who is known to have more than one wife. At the level of gubernatorial primaries across the country also, there are many candidates who have multiple wives. We have also seen at least one case in our country’s history where in a certain state there was a quarrel over which of the governor’s wives would be first lady. It is unfair for Nigerians to have to experience this. It is important for those who are running for executive positions to decide which of their partners would follow them on their political journey. In fact, in this limited instance I will propose a two-pronged solution. First, I think that where there is more than one wife, citizens should be able to choose which of the wives should occupy the position of first lady. This can be done at an event called the First Spouses primaries. Second, after every candidate has just one spouse involved, I think that all candidates for the gubernatorial and presidential elections should have their spouses on the ballot in addition to themselves or risk having the office of the first lady scraped if they win. This will foster transparency and accountability. And I say this because we have known First Ladies in the past who virtually took over governance. If this happens, it is only fair that we know that we voted for her.
2.      GALA.
Nigerians should not laugh. This may look like a joke, but unless you have been in traffic or in public transport at the close of work, you will not understand how crucial this is to national life. Sometimes, Gala sold in hold-ups is the only thing stopping some people from fighting on the bus out of the irritation and frustration that extreme hunger causes. Not every worker has the endurance to wait until they reach home before they eat. Now, I do not eat Gala but I am reliably informed that first, the price has kept going up from its original 50 naira. This creates two problems. First, if Gala is 70 or 80 naira, there will always be the problem of change and it is not like people have all the time in the world to look for change when they are in a hold-up. Next, this makes it inaccessible to persons who have only 50 naira. Apart from this, I am also reliably informed that the sausage within is not what it used to be. So my question to Buhari at this crucial time: if elected, what will you do about Gala?
3.      SARDINES
Growing up, I used to know that four of us children shared one tin of sardines. Because each tin contained four fish. Over the years, manufacturers have betrayed the trust of Nigerians who have been going to the shops to buy opaque tins in the hope that when the tins are finally opened there will be four fish. Again, I am reliably informed that contrary to this hope, there are now in most tins, two pieces of fish. Sometimes young masses have nothing else to add to their small pieces of bread but these tinned sardines. To reduce the number without a negotiation with the Nigerian populace is very wrong. No leader should allow this. If elected, what will Buhari do about sardines?

There are a lot of other issues of national importance but I do not want to inundate the General. A few at a time, so that we can discuss them exhaustively. I hope he replies. 

Sunday, December 7, 2014

The gods of Nigerian politics


It has been interesting watching the primaries of all my political opponents. Sometimes when your opponents put on a good show, it is ok to just lean back and enjoy. The easiest way to understand the way political parties in Nigeria operate is to compare them to religious systems.
I will start with the PDP. The ruling party of Nigeria is not like a monotheistic religion, like Christianity or Islam. There is no single all-powerful god. In fact, those who made the mistake of believing that there is, have paid very dearly with their political lives. The PDP is like Greek mythology. So many gods. Some hate each other, some love each other. Some of the gods die and new ones emerge. But there is always a clash of gods. That is why the gods in the Obasanjo years gave way to the gods in the Yaradua years. And people like El-Rufai were chased out because they didn’t understand how to play with the new gods. As a PDP loyalist you have to be loyal to many gods at once, because gods die as easily as they are born. Some people understand this and they are able to serve, or at least be friends with, every government in power. Look at people like Professor Jerry Gana or Ojo Madueke. Have you ever heard them condemn a government? They understand political polytheism and thus are able to eat at the table of every god that rises to prominence. They will live long.
The APC on the other hand, especially in the South West is very monotheistic. The APC god, based somewhere in Lagos, is a very jealous god. It will not share its glory, not even with good governors. There were some top APC officials who foolishly thought that it was enough to excel at their job or reform governance. Every member of a monotheistic religion knows that it is just not enough to be a good person. You also have to profess faith in that god and perform rituals prescribed by that god. There is nothing strange about this. A monotheist cannot make heaven by good works alone. Same with the APC. You cannot retain your seat or appoint your own successor by good works alone. Those who understand this have been rewarded with party tickets. And those who don’t have lost elections.
Personally, I think having to worship many gods is stressful. You end up spreading yourself too thin and having no certainty to go with that. You do not want to be like our Vice President, who in spite of all his loyalty cannot be absolutely certain that he will spend the next four years in Aso Rock. That is a very stressful kind of loyalty. Political monotheism makes it easier to determine if one will be successful or not. For example, hours before the end of the Lagos State APC gubernatorial primaries, many online news and gossip sites already had headlines that read ‘Ambode wins Lagos APC primaries’. At the time, many people online protested that the primaries were not yet over and thus no winner could be declared yet. But everyone who knew what the god of the APC wanted had no doubt about the outcome. I like the APC god. He is not only predictable and reliable; you can be sure that once you have obeyed his commandments you will make political heaven. A reliable god is a faithful god.
Political monotheism is a bit like watching reruns of your favourite football game that you have missed. Your blood pressure will not be unduly high and you can watch the game in peace, enjoying all the highlights. That is how watching the Lagos APC primaries was. It was clear that Ambode would win. But it was nice to watch anyway.
I do not envy the people who will take part in the Lagos State PDP gubernatorial primaries. There will be no superior god in charge. And no one knows if it will end in chaos or the child of which god will emerge victorious. Whatever the case, I wish them all the best.

On 10 December, the APC will be holding its presidential primaries. Only god knows who will emerge. 

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

POLITICS. A story


The fair lithe man in the lime green shirt, does he know the gap toothed woman with cowries around her slim neck is attracted to him but hates his shirt? Does the woman know there is a leaf stuck in her hair? Will the man use it as an excuse to talk to her? Does she know it is an excuse? As they end up walking from the crowded wedding reception to the bar inside the hotel because the noise from the live band in the hotel garden makes it impossible to talk without shouting, does she care if it was an excuse?
Does the bar man wonder why they are ordering the same drinks available for free at the wedding? Is the bar man irritated about missing the game on the flat screen TV because the woman is taking too much time wondering whether to have a Gordon’s Spark or Smirnoff Ice? Does she think of the bar man at all as she takes her time? Is the man irritated as he taps his fingers on the table? Is he nervous? Does he think of the bar man? Would he have ordered Smirnoff Ice if he were alone, or does he do it because she too is having one? Is the gesture appreciated? Will the bar man think the woman is crazy if she asks for a straw instead of a glass? Does the bar man curse under his breath because after he has gone back to his cubicle, she has decided to have the glass instead of the straws? Does he take little sips from the slim neck of the bottle or is the bottle half gone after two long gulps? Does she wonder if he is a heavy drinker because of this? Is he a heavy drinker? Does she have anything against heavy drinkers or does she consider it masculine? Is she laughing too much? Too often? Is she laughing, finding his stories funny because her bottle of Smirnoff Ice is almost finished? Are his stories funny and interesting? Is he flirty? Does she like that he is flirty?
Is the bar man carried away? Does he realise he has been increasing the TV volume a little bit every ten minutes or so? The volume, is it now too loud? Does the bar man realise the man and woman have stopped talking and are looking at him? Will the bar man turn down the volume, apologise and say to himself they had better leave a good tip for all the trouble? When they resume talking, will they remember what they had been saying, or just change the subject?
Does the woman feel comfortable talking about her family? Is it easy for her to say she is the seventh of eleven children? Does that make her insignificant, ordinary? Would she have preferred it if she was the first born, or last born- a position with a title? Is she intimidated that he is the firstborn? What does she think of firstborns? Does she think they are bullies, authoritarian? Is he rather sweet for a firstborn, funny like a lastborn? Are lastborns funny? Are all his siblings funny like him, sweet like him? Is he putting on a show for her? Does she mind that it is a show?
Should the woman ask for another drink? Should she pretend one bottle is enough? Was it bad for her to ask for alcohol on a first date? Is it a first date? Can she tell her friends she followed a man to a bar, one hour after they met? Did she follow him? Or did he follow her? Was her smile technically a first move? Did it embolden him to tell her about the leaf in her hair?
Now that the bar man’s game is over, does he take quick glances at the couple, wondering if they are a couple, comparing them with the other couples he sees in the hotel- the white men and skinny, barely dressed black women, the old black men and juvenile black girls? Does it matter that they seem to be about the same age and are really both into whatever it is they are talking about? Will the bar man gossip about them to the hotel cook? Is there anything to gossip about, apart from the fact that the woman has had more Smirnoff’s than the man? Does the bar man wish he could one day afford the drinks they are having? Does the bar man think it is a waste to have drinks at five times the normal rate, even though he works there?
The cook with whom the bar man gossips, does she think of him in any way apart from a bar man, and does this matter to him, to make him think of her in some way apart from a cook? Is it an affair, what they have, even if they do not say words to each other before or after he touches her? Does the bar man like touching the cook, is it something that crosses his mind when he steals glances at the couple drinking plenty Smirnoff’s? Is the cook someone the bar man can call his girlfriend or take to his mother in Otukpo? Is the cook’s seven year old out-of-wedlock son a problem? Does that mean the cook is promiscuous?
Is the bar man worried the woman at the table with the gap teeth might have had too many Smirnoff’s or will he still ask if they want to replace the empty bottles with full sweating ones? Is the man tired of having sugary drinks? Will he ask for beer instead? A Star? A Gulder? Will he ask for a Guinness Stout, will he drink it straight or mix it with the Smirnoff? Has the woman ever had a Stout? Is it because she has heard how bitter it is? Will the woman ask how it tastes, when it is mixed? Will she mix it?
Has any of them checked the time? Do they realise the wedding is over and the bride and groom have since driven off? Do they care? 
The constant vibration on the table that she ignores because she is laughing so hard, even before the punch line of his story, is it her phone? Does it ring again, does she get a message? Will she check it or excuse herself to go to the bathroom and call or text back? The heaviness in her legs as she walks to the bathroom, clutching her blackberry and purse, does she pretend it’s from sitting for so long and not from having a lot to drink? Will she say to her friend that she met this really cool guy and is feeling kinda slutty being so free with him the first time? Will she count the hours she has been sitting, laughing, drinking, hitting him playfully? Three hours? Or four?
When he prepares the bill, does the bar man decide to inflate it a bit? By the price of one bottle? Or two? Have the couple been counting or does the man just pay without asking and even ask him to keep the one hundred and eighty naira change? Does the woman insist on splitting the bill? How much is half of five thousand three hundred and twenty? Is her math very bad especially now that her stomach is full of Smirnoff’s? Does the man ignore her and simply pay the bar man? Does the woman take out two thousand from her bag regardless and force it into his pocket as they walk out together? Does he succumb or does it result in a play-fight with plenty of touching and tickling?
Is the bar man excited or does he feel guilty inflating the bill especially as the man was kind enough to leave a tip? Does the cook know the bar man inflates the bills? Does the bar man share it with the cook and is that why the cook lets the bar man touch her? Do they do it in one of the stores hardly used or do they do it at home in his little room on the outskirts of town? Will they do it today?
Does the man have a car? Does the woman have one too? Will he take her number and wish her a safe trip home? Will he think she has had many drinks and insist on taking her home and then coming back for his car? Will he say it nicely and make her agree or will he make her get defensive and swear she isn’t drunk? The silence in the car- the first time there has been silence since they met this afternoon- is it awkwardness, is she reflecting or does she really have a headache?
Will he come in to her two-bedroom flat for a bit when he parks her car? What will she need? Coffee or an energy drink? Will he take one? While she rushes into the bathroom for a second will she ask herself what the hell she is doing with a stranger in her house or just settle down to a warm shower and brush her teeth?
Will she put on the TV, sit in her t-shirt and shorts sipping on Power Horse, close to him? Too close to him? Will they laugh on the couch until their bodies are too close to concentrate on the closing moments of Piers Morgan Tonight? When he perceives her fresh mint breath, will he become uncomfortable about his Smirnoff and Stout breath? Will she care when she kisses him? Is it him who kisses her? Do they care? Do they care? Does he have a condom? Does she? Should a lady have condoms in her apartment? Does that mean she is a bad girl? Is there one in his wallet? Does she not trust a condom that has been sat on for God knows how long? Will they use her studded, flavoured condoms? Strawberry? Apple?
Does she feel the need to say to him, I don’t want you to think I am easy or anything, this doesn’t happen often, just before he takes off his pants, or will she just drive the thoughts from her head and take off hers?
Will he finish too quickly and rush out in shame to go get his car or will it be too late to leave when they finish? Does she offer to drop him in the morning? Does he sleep off, knackered and snore, or will they go at it again? And again? Will she sleep off?

Will she panic when she wakes or will she think he is even better looking in the morning without his clothes? Does the man disappear or do they become inseparable? And is that why she excuses herself when the women in her office begin talking about what not to do on first dates? Does she wonder if men sit around tables talking about what not to do on first dates? Does she think they are fair, these one-sided rules? Are they, one-sided?

Sunday, November 30, 2014

IF I WAS JONATHAN - An Official Response To #Ferguson

While I admit quite a lot is going on the home front, a strong leader of the largest black nation on earth must be interested in international affairs. Especially where black people are involved.
This past week in America, events have occurred that have made me wish it was already 2015 and I was already president. In Ferguson, Missouri, the white killer of an unarmed black teenager was told by a grand jury that he did nothing wrong and was not going to be charged for any offence. (Also, in another city, police shot and killed a 12 year old black male who was holding a toy gun). Of course there were violent protests, which resulted in some arson and looting. As video evidence and documents emerge to emphasize the injustice (in both situations), protests have spread across the civilized world. But Goodluck Jonathan, the leader of the black world has said nothing in response to the killing of African Americans, who could be of Nigerian origin if traced, by American law enforcement officers.  I just want to make it clear that Jonathan does not speak for me in this issue. In fact, I have written a speech that I would have read out at an international press conference immediately after the protests broke out, if I was President Jonathan. Ok, I admit I poached most of the words from Obama’s 2011 Arab spring speech, but the words apply so perfectly. Please find below:

Dear fellow world leaders, Africans and black people trapped around the world,
For a few hours now we have witnessed extraordinary change taking place in America, a nation founded on the blood of innocent indigenous American Indians. In city after city people are rising up to demand basic human rights in a nation that takes pride in being the human rights watch dog of the world. To God be the glory.

Today I want to talk about this change, the forces that are driving it and how we can respond in a way that is both practical and sensible.

The events of the past few months in Ferguson and the violent outbursts that have justifiably followed, show us that strategies of repression and strategies of diversion will not work anymore. Camera phones, CCTV footages, a biased CNN, Don Lemon, bald thin-lipped Rudy Giuliani, Twitter and the internet as a whole now provide a window into a racially divided America – a world of astonishing contradictions where standards for global human rights are set but broken in the most brazen way. Social media and DSTV have allowed us to connect with our black brothers all over the world like never before. God bless DSTV. We know that the young black men being shot in the streets of America every day by white law enforcement officers could have been descendants of Nigerian slaves. (You can tell from the nose when someone is a Nigerian.)

The story of this attempt at a revolution, and the protests and arson that have followed should not come as a surprise. The slaves of America won their freedom a long time ago but in too many places, their descendants still get treated like slaves. In too many black cities, power has been concentrated in the hands of a few white policemen and politicians. A citizen like Michael Brown had no independent judiciary to hear his case, no independent media to challenge CNN and give him voice; no credible political party to represent his views and even though he may have elected a mixed-race leader, he had no equality.

And this lack of self-determination – the chance to live, unarmed, without being shot dead by policemen – has applied to America’s educational system and economy as well. Yet America is blessed with oil and gas and many mineral resources and military might.

Darren Wilson who shot this young unarmed teenager is no hero. He is simply a man who killed a black man whose descendants could have been Nigerian slaves. And that is unfortunate.

A new generation has emerged o! And their voices tell us that change cannot be denied. In Ferguson and all around America, shouts of human dignity are being heard for the first time, sometimes expressed through placards, other times by saying, Hands up, Don’t Shoot, other times by looting liquor stores and burning police vehicles.

The big question before us is what role Nigeria will play as this story unfolds. For decades, Nigerian leaders have foolishly refused to pursue any set of core interests in America and have simply relied on it to consume our crude oil. We will continue to try to sell oil to them but while standing up for the interests of its oppressed minorities. We will continue to remind them that Thanksgiving should be mourned and not celebrated, because it marked the death of many American Indian communities and people as well as the senseless slaughtering of turkeys.

Nigeria opposes the use of violence and repression against the people of Ferguson. Even our police officers who are notorious for extrajudicial killings are not that bad. American police cannot be more brutal than Nigerian police. God forbid. We will not allow that.

We look forward to working with all who embrace genuine and inclusive democracy – one that includes descendants of former slaves in addition to descendants of former slave owners as well as descendants of criminals exiled from Europe.

Now ultimately, it is for the blacks to take action. No peace can be imposed upon them. There is no straight line to progress, but however crooked, we will stand with all those who are reaching out for their rights. We promise to look for that white officer even harder than we are looking for our kidnapped schoolgirls and women, wherever he may be, and bring him to justice.

Like I have said, this doesn’t mean America should stop buying our oil. All I am saying is that black people have a right to defend themselves. Either that, or you return our black people to us.

Thank you and God bless. 

Saturday, November 22, 2014

HOW TO BE A NIGERIAN POLITICIAN

The biggest mistake any person interested in politics can make is to apply rules generally applicable to regular human beings to Nigeria. Often, Nigerians in the diaspora wishing to return home to enter politics assume that just because they are black or have a second green passport, they can fit right in. This is a manual for persons hoping to avoid embarrassment as they enter politics in Nigeria.
GOD
This is the first and most important thing. A Nigerian politician must understand how to tap into and use God, both in times of peace and times of trouble, because with God all things are possible – from the relocation of funds from public coffers into your private accounts to making sure that you sometimes get more votes from a polling unit than the number of human beings who are registered to vote. The latter is not strange. Do not let anyone make you feel bad about it. Did Jesus not take 5 loaves of bread and two fish and multiply it until it could feed five thousand people in Bethsaida? Was that rigging?
A good Nigerian politician knows how to use God for protection. So, for example when you want the people not to revolt against you, remind people that you were sent by God. Declare that you could never have entered office without God leading you by the hand and personally giving you the seat. Those who voted – including those who adjusted figures and thumb-printed on ballots – are nothing but biros in the hand of God. They should know that no one gets power unless by God’s permission. This will make anyone afraid of questioning the authority of God.
God is also important when you have just won an election and you need to emotionally blackmail the out-rigged opponent. Give an acceptance speech saying that you thank God for giving you the victory; say that you cannot question God who decided that you were the only person fit for that office. Your opponent will feel bad and let it go. God is great.
However, you need to know when not to use God. If you have a task that you doubt you will be able to perform, say, “I will do everything humanly possible”, to remind them that although God is personally involved in giving you power, they should not be disappointed if you fail. Because you are only human.
NAMES
You need at least three names. Why? Well, try forming an acronym with just two letters. Awkward. You want to have three letters that can represent all your glory. Look at all the popular people in Nigeria today. They have those three letters: GEJ. BRF. DAM. NOI. GMB. SAS. That is why I suspect the vice president Namadi Sambo isn’t as respected as he should be. In fact many Nigerians cannot even correctly spell his first name – it is not uncommon for people to write Nnamdi Sambo. The Vice President does not have a nice, three-letter acronym. I mean, who would know what you referring to if you wrote NS? Namadi needs a nice name between his two names that can result in an easy-to-remember acronym. It does not matter where the name is from. I will suggest a nice Edo name like Osiorunameh, which means I think, “God did it for me”. I am positive that as Namadi Osiorunameh Sambo or NOS, God will do it for him in 2015.
BRANDING
Your hustle as a politician involves a lot of branding. Forget the elitist social media people who make fun of politicians who brand bags of rice. Those people do not vote. They sit in Abuja, Lagos and Port Harcourt with their iPads and expensive smartphones, making noise. Some of them do not even live in Nigeria. The real Nigerians who vote, not only do not mind, they expect it. They expect to receive items like mint sweets, coffee mugs, t-shirts, small bags of rice, beans, flour, sugar or salt, exercise books, pens, phones, bottled water (or sachet water depending on how poor your constituents are) and rechargeable lanterns branded with your name and/or photo.
THE GODFATHER
Unless you ARE the godfather, you always NEED to have a godfather. If you do not realize this then you are standing on slippery ground. The identification of an appropriate godfather is the beginning of political wisdom. Show your loyalty by donating money at events organized by your godfather or his children and close relatives. So if your godfather’s child is getting married, you must make sure your large donation is seen and acknowledged. If your godfather is running for office you must sponsor billboards with his large photo and your small one in the corner where it says “Courtesy:”
If you ever meet your godfather’s wife or child at a shop, whether in Nigeria or abroad, make sure you pay for whatever they buy. Even if they say no, insist. Beg if you must. Tell them if they do not let you pay, you will kill yourself.
Pay for full page color ads in newspapers on their birthdays and call them a blessing to all of mankind.
A godfather can be the blessing to your hustle or the tool of your downfall. Never ever allow anyone to print your photo in the same size as that of your godfather on the same billboard or newspaper ad. Your photo must always be smaller and beneath that of the godfather.
SOCIAL MEDIA
Now I know I have said those people on social media are good-for-nothing. I insist that in real voting terms, they are useless. But it is important to have people who fight for you in the media. In Nigeria there is no good or evil. There is only for and against. An evil person is one that has no one fighting for them. There is poverty and unemployment in the land, so getting people to post tweets and Facebook posts for you is not very expensive. Many will even do it for free. Avoid those hustlers who call themselves social media consultants. They just know how to blow grammar. All you need are motivated guys who have internet connection and the hope that when their oga’s hustle is blessed, it will reach them. It is these ones who will identify any bad thing said about you and attack appropriately.
SCANDALS
When a real scandal happens, like say, foreign police caught you with stolen money, or people identify you as a sponsor of terrorism, the best thing to do is nothing. It does not matter how bad it is. Those who support you do not need your explanation, and those who demand an explanation will never support you. Plus, Nigerians have the shortest memories among human beings worldwide. Just be patient, and they will forget everything. It is more important to forget than to forgive. Of what good is forgiveness is people can remember the wrong that was done? That is why Nigeria is such a great place for politics. Yesterday’s murderer can become tomorrow’s statesman.
CATCH PHRASES
There are phrases that every Nigerian politician must use. I will give you a list which is by no means exhaustive:
Dastardly act
Campaign of calumny
Nascent democracy
Gratitude to God Almighty
All hands on deck
I have set up a committee
I remain committed
God (As in God-sent, God-willing, God’s grace etc)

SHAME
Do you sometimes feel shame when you are caught doing something wrong? If the answer is yes, then you are not ready for Nigerian politics. Can you look at a crowd when you are caught with your fingers in a pot of soup, and tell them, while licking your fingers, that in fact, you have never entered a kitchen in your life, talk less of a pot of soup? No? Then you are not ready for Nigerian politics. A good Nigerian politician who is caught on camera stuffing wads of dollar notes into his cap, knows how to say ‘it wasn’t me’ without blinking. Nigerian supporters, especially those of your tribe or religion, do not need evidence of your innocence. Once they support you, they themselves will come up with reasons why you cannot be guilty.
RELIGION
Do you have doubts about the existence of God? Keep it to yourself. If you have a Christian background, find a few churches and start attending. Go to Jerusalem. Take a photo there and hang them in your office. If you have a Muslim background, then make sure you are visible at least once a week at Friday prayers. Go for the Hajj. It does not matter that when you are on holiday in London or America you enjoy bacon and lots of alcohol. Appearance is everything. Nigerians would rather a fornicating, lying, thieving Christian or Muslim, than a clean atheist. Keep your other beliefs to yourself, but claim one of the two foreign religions.
It is important to always have a good friend of the other acceptable religion. That friend will come in handy when people accuse you of favoring only people of your own religion or of being a fanatic. If you can’t find a friend, then have employees of the other religion, like a cook or driver. Otherwise, sleep with women of the other religion. That way, if someone says you are a fanatic, just say, if I hated the other religion, would I have slept with their women?
CAPS/HATS
You may take this for granted, but close your eyes for a minute and think of a successful Nigerian politician who doesn’t wear a cap? When was the last time you saw the bare head of a Nigerian president? I don’t know what it is about a cap, but it cannot be a coincidence that everyone, from our founding fathers to the current destructive fathers, wears a cap/hat. Better to be safe than sorry. Find a cap or hat and wear it often.
FITNESS
Especially if you plan to be a legislator at the state of federal level, it is important to be fit and strong for the occasional fights that will break out. You don’t want to be the one who ends up in hospital after a fight in a House of Assembly. Everyone has a phone with a camera these days and it would be a tragedy if you were caught on camera unable to fight back. Sometimes also our democracy means that you may need to break maces or climb over parliamentary gates. If you are currently unfit, register in a gym or start doing yoga.

Follow these tips and I assure you, you will be properly positioned for God to bless your political hustle.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

SNAPSHOTS. A story



I have always been a critic of award ceremonies. It is easy to become a critic of everything joyful if like me you are a journalist who has seen all the hues of hypocrisy and shamelessness. Or if perhaps you need to work three jobs to pay for a single room in Kubwa and spend at least an hour commuting to work daily. You will wonder if truly there is a reason for people to be all smiley when you enter a hall with two heavy bags of equipment to take pictures and video all the lies that their faces tell. You will give your editor the pictures and footage and not think about it when you sleep. You will only give it a second thought if you have not met a deadline.
            Now I feel every inch a hypocrite. I have spent many years denigrating the same people who today honour me and smile those smiles that once I could not stomach. And I am smiling as people shake my hand vigorously in congratulations. As they shake and praise me for taking the photo of the year, I say under my breath, big deal! To them it’s just a picture, another excuse to leave their boring, overpaying day jobs and pretend that the world is all about conferences and awards; another excuse to revel in that pretentious world of bliss away from the starkness that is reality.
            Mine is a twenty-four hour job. I’m always with a camera, just in case I need to take a photo. It’s those unplanned photos that earn you the most credit. Those surprise shots of slip ups with unsuspecting people in shameless poses. Sometimes I take pictures not knowing if I would ever use them. I keep them all and many times someone without enough material to fill up his newspaper page would call me up for a photo. They know I always have the right photo. I see a dog running with guilty eyes and a dead chicken its mouth, I click. I see a madman rummaging in a refuse dump, I click. I see two men (now that’s a rare one) holding hands in a corner, close to the unofficial gay joint, I click. I click, most times without that bright flash that would betray me, for I need to get the picture without getting caught. Taking photos can be risky business. Sullivan, a former colleague of mine died from gunshot wounds while trying to take pictures in front of a night club in Warri. I remember my old uncle who offered to ‘cook’ me in the village, a simple ritual that would make bullets or knives bounce off my body. Politely I told him that I was a Christian and he laughed at me and called me foolish, adding that my father and two other uncles, all deacons in the church, had done the same ritual. This was many years ago when I was still in the university, before I started this dangerous business of taking pictures. My old uncle is dead, and I think I now agree with him, that I was foolish. I should ask my father before he too passes on.
            Mostly though, taking pictures is ok. You go to press conferences, product launches, high-class weddings and funerals and award ceremonies. They call you. They want you to take their picture and they want it to make front page. You tell them you will try even though you know that it is possible for your editor to throw it out. They give you a small something to facilitate this and a take-away pack with snacks and drinks or if you are not so fortunate, burnt jollof rice. Sometimes you get souvenirs- conference bags, pens, mugs and even t-shirts. Sometimes you may even be able to sneak a bottle of cheap non-alcoholic wine into your bag. I have learnt to share my Small Something with my editor so I almost always get those pictures in and because of this reputation for delivery I am assured of a continuous flow of Small Something’s.
            The children where I live always want me to take their picture. Most of them have lost one or more teeth to growing up, but they insist on a full smile when I tell them to say cheese. Most times I don’t actually take their picture but I put on the flash to make them think that I do. So the bright light sustains their hope. They run away after the flash, contented. Often I see them play in the mud and around the many heaps of refuse in the area, unperturbed and each time I wish that I could be a child again. This is not Maitama, but Kubwa village where I am constantly reminded of how Nigerians actually live and of the wide gap between reality and the big fat lie called Abuja.
            I am sitting in a big hall in Sheraton Hotel, wearing an uncomfortable, over-starched caftan, feeling silly, and thinking how I must look like the clowns whose pictures I take for a living. I feel like holding my camera but my colleague tells me today is my day and I shouldn’t be holding a camera. “You be bush man!” he retorts when I tell him to pass me my camera as I see a popular man staring at one young usher’s breasts. He says I should look dignified because the whole world is watching me. I am sad because I missed a great photo opportunity.
            I still cannot afford the rent in the city but because of my award I will become popular. This is Africa’s biggest award for journalists. Tomorrow will be better, for I will have offers from the BBC or maybe Aljazeera. I will be invited for talk shows and I will be paid to give ridiculous speeches at irrelevant seminars in big hotels. And I will become more popular and have more money.
            The guy in the rented tuxedo anchoring the program just told me that I will be asked to tell the story behind my picture and I wonder if they truly want to know. I should create a crowd-friendly version so I don’t upset the balance of things. Too much reality is bad for business. So I will not tell them what really happened or how I happened to be in Maiduguri when the Joint Task Force began their onslaught on the town that harboured the man they say blew up police stations and prisons.
            I will tell them a fancy story and Kasim my friend will smile because he knows the truth. I will not tell them how I went to the University of Maiduguri to see Yesmin, the svelte Shuwa Arab, who once showed me pleasures that earthly words cannot describe. They will not hear that it was through screams of passion that I heard the first explosions or that because she begged me not to leave I stayed back until Sunday when the military onslaught began; that I switched off my phone because I knew my editor would call and worked on creating a family emergency to explain my absence that weekend. They will only see my high resolution picture that captured a boy at 45 degrees falling backwards from the power of an AK-47, his dry mouth wide open and at least three bullet holes in his once-white jallabiya. They will see the work of my powerful zoom lens in the clarity of a picture taken many meters away from the window behind which I crouched. Only I will hear the shouting and screaming, see the blood and the punctured flesh, feel the naked fear and vibration of angry tanks, experience the death of children and taste the dust in the air on that sunny Sunday afternoon. It is a heavy load to bear, but isn’t my life one of bearing unwanted burdens?
Yesmin has semester exams this week and could not travel to sit with me. I know she could not have come anyway. I do not expect the twenty year old daughter of a devoutly Muslim Maiduguri businessman- who is expected not to know the anatomy of a man- to flaunt a secret affair in front of cameras.
I sit in the lobby bar of Sheraton Hotel after the ceremony, on one of the seats near the bar that give me a good vantage, sipping on a bloody mary. A spare old man walks past. His suit is old fashioned, but I can tell that whenever it was bought it was very expensive. Old money. Three boys follow closely, chatting loudly, jeans halfway down their buttocks, huge shiny chain wristwatches, belts like Wrestling title belts, their blackberry’s and iPhones like appendages to their bodies.  A few seats away from me in the non-smoking area, a man not younger than his mid-fifties, holds the waist of a girl, breasts threatening to jump out, bright red lipstick, aquamarine eye shadow, whose long wild weave seems to be dripping with grease. A man in the corner, gestures dramatically as he speaks to a Chinese-looking man who seems unimpressed with the effort. As my tongue slowly gets used to what seems to be too much sauce in my drink, I see clearly a portrait of our vanity. I start feeling detached from it all until some bearded Welsh journalist comes to share my table- he recognises my face from the award ceremony. I catch myself trying to speak in my best British accent. The dying boy of my picture has left my mind. And slowly, I think- as I wink at the pretty young lady singing and get lost in chitchat- I am becoming a part of it all.


Friday, November 7, 2014

HOW YOU EXPLAIN NIGERIA


You saw the suspicion in his darting eyes fade over a few visits, enough for him to recline in his tattered, once golden-brown cushion, speaking of how unkind your mother is, how nasty your grandfather – his father – was. You knew it was gone because he didn’t ask you a third time if your mother did not warn you against coming to visit him. Your most senior uncle told you how, decades before, your grandfather communicated in spitting, kicks and slaps; how the eighty-year-old man accepted a new, 'strange' religion and created a permanent rift in the family.

You were twenty when you realized you knew next to nothing about most of your relatives. Deep religious differences made social interaction between your immediate family and the uncles and aunts impossible: each side was convinced the other was going to hell or at least not going to heaven or paradise. But you had non-religious questions.

Being in a new city for university made it easier to start a relationship with your uncle and his wife who lived only one motorcycle ride away from your campus. One accusation at a time – against everyone but himself – and through equal periods of sobriety and inebriation, your uncle weaved a tale of multiple dysfunctions, across generations. However exaggerated, you got to hear another side of your quiet, stern-faced grandfather who always looked at you curiously like he was trying to make out if you were human or not. The summary is clear: your uncle blames everything but his childlessness on your grandfather and his new religion.
***
These days, when someone asks whether you believe in juju or black magic, you say you prefer not to express strong views about things you cannot explain. It is for the same reason you think declaring yourself to be an atheist requires too much certainty, too much faith and perhaps more emotional energy than it takes to believe that there is some God at the helm of affairs.

Your youngest uncle’s wife, a soft-spoken, religious Christian, lost some money she had kept locked in her office drawer. When all her colleagues swore they didn’t know who took the money, she phoned her mother over 200 kilometers away for advice. That same day, her mother called back, providing the name of the young man who had taken the money. A few creative hours of police interrogation later, the named man confessed and took the policemen to where he had hidden the money. One hundred thousand naira, still wrapped as it was in her drawer.

As you stared, puzzled, she explained a mystical procedure called “turning-key” which could accurately reveal the identity of a thief. It involved spinning a key on a table. You were too stunned to ask questions. Turning-key had recovered her money. Or maybe it was the zealous interrogation of the police that did. Or both.
***
A third uncle, the one in the middle, who himself had found a new prophet and become increasingly devout, started inquiring into his fortunes and misfortunes. His prophet looked into his past and gave him a divine revelation: the reason that, as a man in his 50s, his hustle was yet to make him wealthy and successful, was that his father had a wife before his mother, and this woman, in a moment of jealous rage after being dumped, cursed all the children of the new woman. This made him pack a bag and travel to confront your grandfather regarding the identity of this mystery woman so that she could be found and begged or otherwise prevailed upon to lift the curse. Your grandfather, irritated – you think understandably so – but admitting to a previous marriage, refused to engage in a conversation about a purported 50-year-old curse. Over his dead body, he said. While your uncle was frustrated with this response, he could at least provide an explanation to why he wasn’t rich and famous.

Your grandfather died with all his secrets and, as far as this uncle is concerned, the key to his hustle.
***
It is easy, you find, for one to fall into the trap of explaining Nigeria in terms extraneous to oneself and one’s family; too easy to find examples far removed from oneself to illustrate theories of why this country is like this. And always when people complain, it is impossible to identify that Nigerian – the one who gives us all a bad name by jumping queues, giving bribes, using witchcraft or superstitiously blaming all their problems on phantom enemies. Except perhaps in Nollywood movies.

You find the answers to Nigerian mysteries around you in things and people you can feel and touch. The answers are sometimes as plain to see as simple cause and effect. Other times they raise more questions. Nigeria is in your family, both hell and heaven-bound, in turning-key, in Lagos prophets who can trace where your ball dropped 50 years ago, in your grandfather and his secrets; it is in you.


Sunday, November 2, 2014

WHY FASHOLA NEEDS JESUS


I try to stay out of religion. Partly because people are so sensitive about history and invisible things and miracles. But mostly because I don’t understand it. However, it is impossible to discuss Nigeria without discussing the things and prophets they believe in and how this contributes to national development.
For a long time now my political opponents in the APC have been foaming at the mouth over the reaction to the purported Muslim-Muslim ticket. While I see their point, I also understand those who find a Buhari-Tinubu or Buhari-Fashola pairing preposterous. For one thing, we don’t want to attract the wrath of the Christian God who would be underrepresented in the Presidential Villa. We don’t know which of the Gods will bless the hustle of our country through the presidency, so it is best to have both of them present.
In theory however, it would be awesome for me to run against Buhari and Fashola. The reason is that first, I like a tough fight because it brings out the best in me and Nigerians will appreciate me more if I defeat a formidable pairing like Buhari-Fashola. Beating Jonathan will be easy. If that is all I do, it will feel like bullying the handicapped kid in the playground. There is nothing gratifying about that.
But just for the sake of argument, say I don’t win. Who do I see winning if they are allowed to run? Buhari-Fashola. Yes. That is how awesome my sportsmanship is: I am even willing to entertain the thought of another candidate winning.
So, how do we get Buhari and Fashola to run without offending the sensibilities of almost half of Nigerians who call themselves Christians? I have a simple solution. Let one of them convert to Christianity before the elections.
Buhari is an old man in his 70's. One should not ask a man who has almost reached the Biblical lifespan of a human being to change his religion. The shock of change might not be good for his blood pressure, especially with all the singing and dancing involved in Christianity. Buhari is not just ready for that kind of big change. Also Buhari is known for his austerity. It will be hard for him to suddenly start giving tithes and “first fruits” to any pastor. This will truncate whatever Christian blessing that should have accrued to him and would defeat the whole purpose of having the favor of two different Gods in the Presidential Villa. We don’t want that. Also, what would Buhari do with his Muslim wife if he converts? We don’t want that awkward situation.
Fashola on the other hand is a younger Lagosian. Let me provide a list of reasons why it would be easier for Fashola to convert to Christianity.
1.      Lagosians love their parties. Parties at which there is usually loud music and dancing. Fashola can bring his dancing experience to a new, preferably Pentecostal, Christian experience.
2.     In Lagos parties there is always money being sprayed. So Fashola is used to giving out money. It will thus be easier for him to do church things like tithing, sowing seed and giving firstfruits.
3.     Fashola is married to a Christian woman. Finally, his family will be united in religion. No one will be happier than his wife who will finally be able to take him along to crusades, bazaars, dedications, and miracle services. They will be able to commit all their family affairs to the office of the same God. It must be awkward now for one family to have their files scattered between two Gods. Think of the problems that can result from Fashola and his Christian wife praying separately for their children. The different Gods may have different answers for the same children. The last thing we want is a clash of Gods. That is one of the reasons we don’t have world peace.
4.     Fashola does not keep a beard or wear Muslim clothing. What is the physical difference between a Fashola and say Pastor David Oyedepo? Nothing. They are both clean shaven and wear suits. Fashola could even pass for a pastor. He will not need to get a new wardrobe.
5.     Fashola has no Muslim names. No need to pick a new name. If it was Buhari, he would have had to consider changing or tweaking his names.
6.     Fashola’s wife Bimbo Fashola is a recipient of a papal medal award from His Holiness Pope Benedict the XVI. The pope himself blessed her hustle. Think of what that would mean if as the Vice President’s wife she moves that award from her Lagos home to the Villa, filling the whole place with holiness, cleansing it from all the infidelity, corruption and ritual sacrifices. She might just be the key to saving this nation!

Because of these reasons and because it would be a shame to lose a powerful pairing of hardworking, conscientious politicians, I urge Babatunde Fashola to join his wife, accept Jesus and save the APC from possible disaster. And in the unlikely case that I don’t win the elections, Fashola would also be saving Nigeria from imminent collapse. I hope he listens to the voice of reason and does the needful. I am only giving this advice because, I care.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

HOW TO DEFINE A CITY

You are thinking of the concept of cities and if, by any definition other than a demographic one, any place in Nigeria apart from Lagos qualifies to be a city. Especially the much touted Federal Capital Territory, whose residents often refer to it as a city. Instead of merely considering population size, population density and social heterogeneity, you prefer a more functional definition of a city. It is by this definition that you think Abuja falls short.

Every time you attempt to walk you notice how many traffic lights either don’t work at all or give confusing signals. Or how, with the exception of a few streets, most of the residential part of the city is filthy-- perhaps not in comparison to smaller towns but definitely filthy by any objective standard. Apart from the street lights on selected major streets and vulgar gargantuan mansions bereft of vegetation, you cannot name one urban experience that makes Abuja a city.

Perhaps, you think, its relatively safe night life which is one of the only reasons you prefer it to places like Lagos. You can go out in search of food or drinks at almost midnight. Tonight you are with Safiyanu and Mike, trying to find a garden that sells food in addition to alcoholic drinks.

After trying a couple of places, you end up in a large garden in Jabi, probably one of the liveliest in Abuja. At two in the morning when you are all strolling out, with new harmonized positions on previous arguments, and a few vulgar jokes befitting that time of the night, there are still sex workers standing under the bright yellow street lights.

As ubiquitous as sex workers are in Abuja, you still manage to notice them individually, especially after you interviewed a few of them for your story. With a little insight into their often risky, hard lives it is not hard for you to challenge anyone who dismisses them as being lazy or looking for easy money.
‘You see these guys who come out around two in the morning to pick prostitutes eh,’ you begin, ‘they understand the game. They are the pros. They know that around this time when the streets are getting empty and all the construction workers have picked up theirs, the girls remaining are desperate to find someone who will take them home and they are not in the best position to insist on high prices.’

It does not take you too long to see how this unsolicited but detailed piece of wisdom makes you look a commercial sex connoisseur. They both stare at you and you find yourself suddenly rambling to explain how you only know this because you have interacted a lot with sex workers. For work. You stress ‘for work’, whereupon they burst into uproarious laughter. You abandon the explanation before you shoot yourself further.
The four girls close by to your right stare at you for a minute, scanning your faces and bodies for any sign that you might want some action. One of them calls out: ‘brother how now?’ They turn away when a red wagon with two men slows to a halt. All three of you take an interest in the bargaining process.
The men in the wagon seem sure of their bargaining power and feign impatience. They begin to drive off and one of the girls chases after them shouting: ‘Oya I go suck am, wait now.’  The car drives around to the other side of the road where two other women are standing. After a few minutes, two relieved girls jump into the back seat.
None of you say it but you are all stretching your necks, curious for details, something to say who those men are who know exactly what time to get the best commercial sex bargain. All you see is an Abuja plate number and a large DUNAMIS sticker. Even though the driver clearly identifies as the member of a church, here out in the middle of nowhere it is just another car with a sticker.
Finally you get it. Perhaps the most important quality of Abuja which loosely qualifies it to be a city is an anonymity unaffected by things like specific church stickers or bright lights.
As your conversation moves to how dysfunctional Abuja has become, you conclude loudly ‘Abuja is a big fat lie jor.’
Nigeria is a big fat lie,’ Mike corrects you.

Touché, you think.

Monday, October 27, 2014

THE GOSPEL OF AID


CHAPTER 1: In the Beginning
  1. In the beginning was the word about change and the change was with aid, and the change was aid.
  2. All things were made by aid; and without aid there was nothing made.
CHAPTER 2: Sufficiency
  1. Therefore do not be anxious for tomorrow, for tomorrow will have its own government.
  2. Sufficient for each day is its own DFID grants.
CHAPTER 3: Love and Trust
  1. For foreign donors loved the third world so much that they gave their only begotten aid, that whosoever accepts it and takes some loans by the side will not perish but have everlasting help.
  2. Trust in the donor with all your heart and do not lean upon your own understanding, but in all your ways take notice of his aid.
CHAPTER 4: The Evil Chinese
  1. The Chinese only comes to steal kill and destroy. I have come that you may have aid and have it to the full.
  2. Avoid the yuan from the Chinese and reject their investments.
CHAPTER 5: The Way
  1. And the friends of foreign donors asked, how may we come to be your friends and they answered: Aid is the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to development, except through aid.
  2. By this all will know that you are my disciples, if you share my aid among yourselves.
CHAPTER 6: Man Power/ Human Capacity Development
  1. Show me a Nigerian thinker or academic and I will show you the kind of NGO/INGO where s/he spends his/her productive hours.
CHAPTER 7: The Beatitudes
  1. Blessed are the doctors who refuse to do a residency and choose an NGO, for theirs is the kingdom of per diems, foreign travels and stable salaries.
  2. Blessed are the lecturers who become NGO consultants, for they will drive better cars than their colleagues.
  3. Blessed are those who hustle to create NGOs, for they will be filled with foreign grants.
  4. Blessed are those who are persecuted for being activists, for they will be granted residency in foreign countries.
CHAPTER 8: Permanence
  1. Do not think that I have come to abolish dependence on foreign countries. I have come not to abolish it but to strengthen it.
  2. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest aid, not the least stoke of grants will by any means disappear from your hospitals and governments until everything is accomplished. Whatever that is.
CHAPTER 9: The Aid Prayer
  1. You must pray then this way: Our donors, who art abroad, hallowed be thy purse. Thy aid come in dollars and pounds.
  2. Thy will be done in our countries, as promoted by Bono
  3. Give us this day, our yearly funding
  4. And lead us not into self-reliance
  5. But deliver us from our selves
  6. For thine are dollars, the pounds and the euros, forever and ever. Amen