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



Sunday, October 26, 2014

MY DECLARATION FOR PRESIDENCY, 2015


Fellow Nigerians, my supporters and the currently frustrated masses,

It is with great pleasure that I formally announce my intention to join the race for Aso Rock, come 2015. Time is not on my side, and since my biggest rival Goodluck Ebele Jonathan declared a few days ago, my secretariat has been a beehive of activity. It is not that I am afraid of Ebele. It is just that Nigerians need to have both declaration speeches side by side so they can see for themselves that, as the Hausas will say, in ba ni ba, sai rijiya. Rough translation: I am the only one capable of carrying out God’s will for this country.

Although I intend to take over from Ebele in 2015, I do not doubt that he has changed the face of Nigeria forever. Because I also care about him, I will mention some of his achievements, in spite of which you really should vote for me.

Mr Jonathan was the first person, who, in spite of the loud chatter of his enemies in 2012, refused to be lured into declaring his assets. This shows confidence. Only a strong leader would have said the following:
“The issue of asset declaration is a matter of principle. I don’t give a damn about it, if you want to criticise me from heaven. The issue of public declaration I think is playing to the gallery. You don’t need to publicly declare any assets.”

However, while I admire Jonathan’s courage, we are a bit different in this regard. Please find below a brief declaration of my assets:
Cash in banks (naira): 200,000
Cash in banks (euros): 3,000
Cash in hand: 17, 650
Books: 100,000
Standing fan (2): 12,000
Clothes+ shoes: No secondhand value
Refrigerator: 21,000
Laptop: 55,000
Microwave: Almost broken down. No economic value
Flat screen TV: Borrowed. Owner will recover anytime soon
Chinese phone: No second hand value
Total: N393,650 + €3,000

My supporters may wonder where I will get the money for nationwide campaigns from. I know the banks will not give me any loans the way they gave Buhari to purchase his APC nomination forms. I have quarreled with all my banker friends. The money will come from friends and well-wishers. All I need is to organize a fund raiser and people will be falling over themselves to donate. Of course all the donors will have to sign a waiver freeing me from any obligation to pay back in cash or in favors when I become president. This is important. In fact there will be a clause where they will swear never to mention to anyone that they donated money to my cause. We do not want anyone to start bragging when I am sworn in that they financed my election.

As president I promise to dance better than Jonathan danced. I was thoroughly embarrassed when he danced in Kano right after the FCT bomb blast that killed almost 100 people, on the same day as the kidnapping of the Chibok girls. Don’t get me wrong, I am not criticizing him for dancing. But they say if you have to eat a frog, eat a fat one. If you have to dance at a political rally after a national tragedy, then for goodness sake, have some good dance moves. I assure my supporters that I have been practicing and will not embarrass this great country on national television. To show my seriousness I have stopped associating with people who can’t dance. Especially white people. Too much hanging out with them and I may just disgrace 170 million Nigerians at a public function. My white friends will understand. The rest don’t matter.

As president I promise to wear fitted clothes. For too long our leaders have used too much cloth to sew their clothes. That is wasteful, especially in a country where many children cannot afford new clothes because of poverty. I am also working hard on my beer belly and assure Nigerians that come May 29, 2015, my belly will not even be visible. Mr Jonathan wears high quality fabrics but, I don’t know if it is the tailor who makes it too big or if he is hiding something about his body. Nigerian taxpayers deserve to see the body they are nourishing with hundreds of millions each year. I promise to show my body with fitted clothes.

I will concede however, that one area where it may be hard for me to beat Mr Jonathan is his forgiving spirit. That is where Jonathan beat most Nigerian presidents. No president in our history has been as kind and forgiving to as many indicted and convicted persons. It must be his Christian spirit. He takes his faith very seriously. For the second time as President, he is in Israel on a pilgrimage. No wonder he is able to not only pardon former ex-convicts like Alamieyeseigha, but re-integrate them into decision making processes. Only a man with a big Christian heart can do this. What I can promise Nigerians is that I will try.

I will start by trying to forgive someone like Asari Dokubo. Not for all the fierce proclamations of war with which he has threatened all opponents of Jonathan. But for refusing to lose weight and sending wrong signals to impressionable children all around the country – that it is ok to allow your neck disappear when millions are starving.

My only prayer is that Jonathan does not turn out to be like Obasanjo after he hands over to me in 2015. Because I do not like long letters or public quarrels. If he has anything to discuss, the villa will be open to him during normal working hours. Obasanjo is a case though. He never lets go. He is like herpes. You think it is gone, but it shows up when you least expect, again and again. I do not want herpes when I am president.

To prevent an Obasanjo-herpes situation I promise to push for Mr Jonathan’s nomination to one of those UN jobs that will make sure he is mostly out of the country settling foreign quarrels in countries more rotten than Nigeria. Because I care.

Voting for me is voting for change, for a president who looks good in fitted clothes, for a leader who isn’t afraid to go most days without wearing a cap, for an unmarried, unencumbered president, for a president with better dance moves. My candidacy is an idea whose time has come. Vote wisely!




Friday, October 17, 2014

LETTER FROM A STUDENT TO HER HISTORY TEACHER*


Dear Sir,
I don’t know if you knew sir, but we called you ‘Amalgamation’. You stumbled over the word many times that first day you came to replace Mr. John-Paul as History teacher. When we laughed, you made us say the word over and over again. We stumbled over it too and you said, ‘You see, you think it is easy to say the word?’ Most people can’t remember your name but we all remember the amalgamation of the northern and southern protectorate of Nigeria. It was the first time we paid attention in History class. Mr John-Paul spoke to himself and looked up at the ceiling like he was shy of us. Some days he would just walk in and start writing with chalk on the black board for us to copy and then walk out when he finished. (Many boys used to skip his class.)
You came in without an exercise book or even chalk. I think you wanted to impress us. Believe me sir, after that first class and maybe for the rest of the term, we all wanted to be history teachers when we finished school.
I don’t know if you remember my first question. You told us about the last Sultan of Sokoto who stood up to the British and who was shot dead by I think Lord Lugard’s men. I asked who was there to know all the things the Sultan did in hiding before he died since you said that everyone was killed. That day you beat Mr. Bulus the English teacher to become my best teacher. You told me that you did not know everything and that you would try to find out, but you explained all the sources of history and how history is passed on from generation to generation. No teacher has ever agreed that there is something he doesn’t know.
I always wondered how you memorised those names and dates and stories. It is so hard for me to do at the court where the Judicial Panel of Inquiry is, when they want me to tell them exact names and dates and exactly how everything happened over and over again. Every time, a new lawyer wants to ask me the same questions and I am tired of describing you and calling your name, swearing that it was you, my history teacher who did those things and that I saw you and you saw me. I wish you would just appear so they can ask you the questions by themselves. How should I know who sent you and where you are now? After all it is all about what YOU did. Honestly sir I am tired.
There is an Igbo man at the Panel of Inquiry whose wife and children were killed on the other side of Kaduna, when the fighting began. I don’t know his name. The other day I heard him (there were tears in his eyes) saying to another man that he doesn’t know why north and south are one country, that things would be better if they didn’t force us to live together. I thought of what he said for a long time. But if the north was different from the south, you would still be in the north, because Zonkwa is in Kaduna and Kaduna is in the north and we would still be in the same country. Even if we were not living in Zonkwa, we would even be in the same state because Zaria where my grandfather is from and where my grandmother still lives is also in Kaduna. So I don’t agree with him.
The white woman at the camp where we now live, (she comes from France but she speaks English like someone from America) she told us that we should talk about what happened to us. She said it will help us get better.  She told us not to hate the people who did this to us but to understand them because hate only causes more pain. She made us say, ‘Hate begets more hate’ many times until we all memorised it. Her hair is long and her eyes are blue. She has a black tattoo on her back of her two hands and she told me it means peace in Chinese. (When I asked her, she said she didn’t understand Chinese). The tattoos look like the lalle we use to decorate our hands and legs during weddings. But the tattoo won’t wash off after some weeks. (Sorry I don’t know lalle in English). 

I don’t like talking. Too many people come to interview us at the camp. When the women talk about how their Christian neighbours killed their husbands, some of the people asking the questions have tears in the eyes and some just shake their heads. It is easier for me to write it, that way I think, I don’t have to keep saying it. My mother can’t read, so she doesn’t know what I write. She doesn’t know I am writing you this letter.

It has been six months and my mother still cries when she talks about it. I used to cry too, but now I am just tired of living with so many people in one small space and all the flies and mosquitoes. I am tired of the open toilets where somebody can easily see you. I want a bed and I want to know WHY it happened because I do not understand it. Sir, you used to say a good historian is not just concerned with the what, the where or the when but also with the WHY.
I know the WHAT. I know that my father’s head was broken. I know his neck was cut and that he only shouted twice. The WHAT is that he is dead or should I say, he was killed.
I know the WHERE. It was at the back of our mud house in the village where the grass was cleared and our two rams were tied. It started from the maize farm where he ran from but it happened when he reached the house, on the dusty ground. I was in the house trying to get a little kerosene from the lamp because the firewood fire that I was using to cook had died out and my arms were hurting from trying to fan the smoke into flames. My mother hates it when I do that. It is wasteful she says and shows that I am lazy. But why inhale all that smoke when I can just use a little kerosene to start the flame? So I waited for her to go to collect some spinach from our cousins’ mother in the next house.  I dropped the lantern when I heard the footsteps and shouting and ran out to see what was happening.
I know the WHEN. It was past six, not yet seven in the evening on Sunday after the Presidential elections. It was not too long before the time for the evening prayer. I remember what I was thinking before I dropped the lantern. I didn’t like the long break from school and I missed chatting behind the class with all my friends during break time. There are two reasons I love school. English and History. I like English because of comprehension exercises and because Mr Bulus speaks the best English I have ever heard from a black person. I like history because of the stories. Sometimes I think that you add some things to it to make it interesting and lively. It is like you were there when everything happened so you are able to tell us why everything happened and what everyone was thinking.
This is the part that I don’t know. The WHY? I stood right there. I saw you hold him to the ground with your friends. You used the machete on his head and I ran to you and held your hand. You looked at me and I told you that it was me, Hajara from your SS1 history class. Hajara who got 70 in the last history exam. I told you that this man was my father, but you continued and you used the knife on his neck. I was there but I don’t know why. Why you didn’t stop even though you knew he was my father, what did he do to you?

It is not easy writing this letter. I am writing just in case one day I see you again. My mother says we will never go back to that village again, but I will carry this letter around just in case. Maybe you will change your mind and come to the Panel of Inquiry one day. I will like to know, like the men in the wars that you taught us, what was going through your mind when you decided to kill a man you did not know. Why you didn’t stop when I begged you and why you said sorry to me after you had killed him. What will sorry do for me?
This is all I want to know. Maybe if I know, I will be able to sleep without my father’s face waking me up and coming to me whenever I am in the dark.
Mr. Bulus will hate this letter because there is no introduction, body and conclusion, only a salutation and body and since you are not a friend or close family member he will say it should have been a formal letter. But I am sure Mr Bulus will understand. Sorry if my letter is too long. I hope you will reply.

Yours faithfully,

Hajara Musa (your former SS1 student, whose father you killed)

*based loosely on true events

Monday, October 13, 2014

THE BRASSIERE*

You never lock your wardrobe door. One of the hinges is coming loose so there is now a method to closing the door -- lift gently, swing slowly from right to left, wait for the click, release -- but this is not why you won’t close it. You want to see what dangles from the yellow plastic hanger in the corner when you lie on the bed; which has hung limply there since September 16, five years ago. You never forget the date you hung it there; you remember it, mark it more religiously than your birthday or the day your now run-away husband almost died in his own vomit. The rumours don’t bother you -- that his many drinks were poisoned by the women from a certain Madam Kosoko’s brothel in Lagos to teach men who like to fuck and run a lesson. He was supposed to be on a business trip. You have not seen him since he left the hospital. Though you would never say it, you thought it was a brilliant thing those women did, because you did not know how much more you could take -- the sermons from your mother and his mother on how a good Christian woman never brings shame by leaving.
You look at it when you lie and think of the first one you remember actually buying. You shake your head when you recall how you still got the size wrong after all those lectures by the tall girl with massive breasts in your JSS3 class. The girl who had come from South Africa in JSS 2. The girl whose breasts knew the hands of every bad boy in school. It intrigued you as she told you the steps which you still so clearly remember in an accent which she you now know from having many South African friends was Xhosa:
 “Breathe in and hold your breath as you run the tape measure round just underneath your boobs. For even numbers add four, for odd numbers, add five. Save that number. Call it 2. That’s your boob size. But for your cup size run the tape measure round the fullest part of your boobs…”
You can still smell the garlic from the pores of the Indian doctor who cut your breasts to save your life on September 16. You remember your thoughts as you battled depression right after the operation: How you thought that at least no man will ever grapple you again to get a rise, like your husband, Yinka did mostly when he was drunk. Like Obiora the younger man you let touch you only to get back at Yinka. You stopped with Obiora after the first few times because you felt no freedom in doing it. Only attachment to another weighty thing. So you told him never to see you again.
This nightly ritual of staring at the last bra you wore before the operation is what soothes you at night. Mercy never stops telling you: shebi you know you can get an implant abi? You know you can, Bimbo got it in the UK where she had her own surgery. Some days you think about it, but your breast prosthesis has grown on you in a way that Bimbo cannot understand. She assures you that some days she even forgets she has an implant. And she has made you feel it twice to see that it is as real as it gets
This year you passed the five-year mark since the mastectomy and your doctor has told you it is unlikely for the cancer to return. Bimbo and Mercy want to throw a small cancer survival party for you but you plead with them not to. Some days you feel like people might compare you to Bimbo who had the same procedure as you had but has bounced back, doing charity work and appearing on TV. You are tired. It used to bother you but these days you say to yourself, I am not Bimbo, as you curl up in bed, switch off your phones and watch back to back episodes of the reality show, Cheaters
You call it the last man standing; you have stared at it so long, it appears in your dreams -- elastic straps, half satin, half lace cups, hard plastic about the edges, three hooks, milk colour. Bimbo does not know you call it that, or she would have given you a long feminist lecture about the philosophy of language and maleness of language and encoding of male worldview. You agree, but you do not have the energy to think up a more feminist-appropriate term. 
The therapist your doctor referred you to, before and after the mastectomy, told you to take it one day at a time. She still calls you to just check up on you but you know it is Bimbo who makes her do it. Yesterday when she called you wanted to tell her, I don't really feel depressed, just lethargic, but you said everything was alright. You still turn down Bimbo's subtle invitations to do cancer awareness walks and talks. But you love her because although she is different she seems to understand.
Mercy is dragging you to the cinema this weekend to watch Idris Elba's new movie, No Good Deed. You will go, if only to watch her gush like a teenage girl over Elba. She has even told her husband in jest, if Idris Elba ever says hello to me this marriage is over. Her husband has learnt to share her with the actor. 
You are mentally preparing what dress to wear. You close your eyes and travel five years back. You are wearing an off-white dress, black stilettos. And the bra. As you smile, you feel tears roll out of the side of your eyes. 

 *written to mark Breast Cancer Awareness Month