The green here is not the green you see in the city. There is grass green and there is grass green. This one is dark and rich and glossy and screams vitality. It has just rained and even the dust that once was on the roads has been washed off. They should excite you, these new roads that still gleam with tarmac in this far-flung corner of the FCT. But you know it, as the roads slither through formerly quiet, bushy farmland that it is only a matter of years for the city to eat this place up like a virus and replace its vitality with vulgar concrete mansions. You know, especially as corruption becomes more deregulated, more people will need to own their own slice of the cake that never finishes.
Military checkpoints are so common a fixture in this part of the
country that you do not wonder why there is a whole, mini fortress right
on the wide road with sandbag walls and two soldiers with fat
bulletproof vests facing either side of the road, fore and middle
fingers on the trigger of their rifles.
As you walk past the checkpoint alongside people who have to get down
from their motorcycles and push until they are well past the soldiers,
you stare. You know you shouldn’t. But apart from the brown and green
camouflage which you find weirdly attractive, it is the smooth, very
young face under the almost oversize helmet that catches your eye.
Looking closer you realize it is a woman.
She is not glowering like the rest. Not staring down, hard. Just
looking straight, fingers on the trigger, expressionless. In your head,
you imagine all possible faces this soldier could have when in combat,
when squeezing the trigger of her rifle to release the cylinder shaped,
conical tipped bullet into the chest or head of another human being.
You think of Benedict Keily’s 'Bluebell Meadow' set in Northern Ireland
where a Protestant boy, as a joke, gave a gift of six bullets to a
Catholic girl he loved. And how she played with them on a table,
examining them and thinking ‘it just wasn’t possible that such harmless
mute pieces of metal could be used to kill people.’
You think of the Apo killings. You imagine her barging into the
unfinished building with a few other soldiers, waking dozens of
petrified squatters. You imagine her screaming, pointing her rifle,
aiming, or not aiming at all, the squatters all scampering for safety,
also screaming, some calling for their loved ones. You imagine her
riding in whatever vehicle brought them in the wee hours of the morning
to that house-- now bullet ridden and littered with dead and dying
bodies-- having done a duty she probably didn’t understand.
Someone at a desk gave the order activating soldiers who know only to
obey and sent them out with loaded rifles and a lethal mission. Someone
who will likely never be known and whose motivation may never be
understood. Someone with death at his or her disposal emboldened by a
country where death sits easy as an integral part of our conversations
and arguments; a country where wearing a uniform is a license to kill.
The air is fresh and cool. One day you will climb one of these grass
covered hills. As you walk past, you turn and take one last look at the
soldier’s blank face. And you think, it just isn’t possible that such
harmless looking, mute human beings could be used to kill people.
Sunday, September 22, 2013
Because I Care #28
It is important to dress appropriately to an event or for an activity. Failure to do this may result in awkwardness or even accidents. Consider a carpenter wearing a flowing agbada to his workshop. Chances are that his saw will get stuck in his apparel or he will drive a nail into his finger by mistake. Also think of a lawyer wearing a bathing suit to court. Yes it may look better than that ridiculous colonial wig and gown that lawyers wear in our heat, but you will agree with me that a swim suit in court will be awkward. That is why I think our president should stop dressing like he is going for a village party all the time. Perhaps that is why our country is a huge disorganized dance floor.
My thoughts about appropriate dressing would also apply to our National Assembly. If they are going to fight and throw punches like they did this week when Old and New PDP members attacked each other. A man in a cap and traditional dress will look really stupid falling over and throwing punches, like a woman attacking in her big gele and wrapper. I think that legislators should wear t-shirts and shorts until such a time as they disagree without fighting.
As President I will choose my work clothes carefully. I will not wear a funny cap. It affects thinking. I will wear a body fitting t-shirt and jeans or loose cotton trousers to work daily. I will only wear a proper shirt when attending meetings.
Americans baffle me. Their love affair with guns leaves me discombobulated. Every month someone goes out and kills someone in the street or in a school or home. Yet they fight so hard to keep the laws that make sure that people of doubtful sanity can buy guns easier just like buying a book on the internet. I will start an NGO when I become president for these Americans. I will call it ‘Hope for Former Gun Loving Americans’ or ‘The Open Society for treatment of American Gun Lust’. Americans will be able to come to Nigeria and spend a few months in a program that will use therapy to restore common sense to victims of Gun Lust. I will fund it from the Stolen Assets account. In case you are wondering I also plan to seize the assets of corrupt politicians, including their trinkets and the trinkets of their wives. The money will then be domiciled in a fund for foreign aid and for the treatment of depression that follows the loss of power among other ailments.
I hear that some of the Governors opposing my soon-to-be-predecessor have demanded for Ngozi Okonjo Iweala’s resignation. I join them in asking that she leave her post as Minister for Finance. That, or she finds another scarf to wear. Or at least tie the damn thing properly. I get distracted looking at her because it always looks to me like it is about to fall. This can damage investor confidence. No Minister should be the cause of so much distraction. It doesn’t take too much to tie a head tie properly. That is why I like Oby Ezekwesili. She knows what she can and cannot do. She does not pretend to know how to tie a scarf. Mrs. Okonjo Iweala can just find a nice hair cut and lose the scarf. It will help our economy and boost investor confidence.
Ps. This week in Abuja, in the wee hours of Friday, men in military uniforms shot and killed Nigerians in the unfinished house of an Army General. Very quickly information released to the BBC showed that security forces engaged in a shootout with Boko Haram members. Conflicting reports however say that the men killed by the uniformed men, were only squatters who didn’t respond to a demand to leave the house of the Army General. Which version of the story is true remains unclear. What is clear though is that we live in a country where it is very easy to shoot a person and call him an armed robber or a Boko Haram member. Journalists have the important task of not just accepting press releases from the Army or the Police but investigating these claims to see if they are true. So far, they seem to be asking the right questions.
Ps 2. So this mobile herbal medicine vendor has taken up space near my house. Every time I go out, the speaker from his car greets me: “No let ya penis disgrace you. For stiff penis, for long penis. If your penis no strong as you like. If your penis no long as you like. I get de merecin. Five five hundred. No let ya penis disgrace you…” I do not know how to feel about this. First I thought he would go away. Then I thought I would get used to it. I was wrong on both counts. *sigh*
Friday, September 13, 2013
The story is not one that is amenable to being recounted with a straight face without instantly making the teller look like a bumbling cretin. Especially when you do not live in a colony of Buddhist monks, like the one who saved an ant you were about to instinctively crush beneath your flat shoes by dramatically picking it up with a piece of paper and laying it against the edge of the table. Especially not in Nigeria where human life is sometimes cheaper than an empty wallet stolen in a market place. You cannot tell anyone here how you feel now that the wall gecko you lived with for many months is dead.
It isn’t the ant-saving Tibetan Buddhist monk that messed with you- the gecko was there long before you met him. You cannot remember exactly when the gecko became a fixture in your life. You just know that one day you realized- both of you- that you were going to have to share the space that was your house. It stopped running away from you. You stopped thinking, what am I going to do about this gecko?
It wasn’t like you were friends or anything. Even you know that is taking it a bit too far. That kind of thing is for white people on Discovery Channel. White people are forgiven everything. It is like the world sat at a conference and assigned them the task of trying everything crazy for the general education of the civilized world. You would come home, open the door. It would see you, regard you with the interest of a distant but respectful co-tenant and walk coolly out of your space. The unspoken agreement. Like saying, in return for not freaking out and killing me I will not lay upon you the wild expectation to pretend this is normal- I will be content with the cracks and crevices, while you are around.
You had watched it grow fatter and fatter and it has seen you through a couple of lovers. It would have looked hideous if it had not grown on you, if you had not watched its almost transparent, spindly legs slowly become these fat miniature-crocodile legs. In the beginning, you can’t quite say exactly when this was, but in the beginning, it never left the house. There was no proof for this- you just knew from looking at it when you walked in. Eventually as trust grew it would crawl out through a tiny crack in the door and enjoy the breeze under the mango tree. You would see it crawling back into the house whenever you came back.
You are thinking now that it is dead, of the quickly forgotten killings in Kaduna. Of the ease with which Nigerians kill each other. Of the fat dark complexioned man, accused of stealing something at the bus stop recently, who was being beaten to within an inch of his life by people whose faces you were used to seeing- taxi drivers, hawkers, bus drivers, people who sold handkerchiefs and recharge cards. It does not take an animal to kill another human being. All it takes is losing your killing-virginity. All it takes is that first time.
You cannot say what it took for you to kill it. It had stayed out too long and was on the wall by the front door when you walked in. You cannot say how suddenly you felt your blood start coursing faster, your eyes widen, your heart beating to the rhythm of a hunting dance. You crouched and approached slowly, picking up the right leg of the blue slippers in front of your door. Trust. That was what made it remain still as you approached. You struck. You missed. And then quickly you picked the left leg and as it dragged its mass away slowly you struck again. And this time it fell to the ground, dead as the Nigerian healthcare system.
The initial smile of success was quickly replaced with the kind of feeling you had when you first touched a girl and all the Bible verses about fornication came flooding to your head- a dizzy, filthy feeling. You walked into the room and felt a weight. Of deep, overwhelming sadness. Of shocking, unimaginable guilt. It had been possible to cohabit. But no, you had to go and kill it.
You are thinking- now that it is dead, now that you cannot write because all you think of is this gecko that had been your house mate, now dead by your hand- this is not a story you can tell anyone, not even your white friends.
You are thinking now that it is dead, thank god I didn’t give it a name.
Monday, September 9, 2013
Change sometimes strangles us in our sleep. It creeps up on us slowly, imperceptibly until we are like the frog that sits still, not noticing that the water has been brought to a boil. You know this, because of how you now feel—like waking and finding that your own strangulation is well under way, waking up to choking breathlessness, to a big hand around your neck. You felt the same when suddenly after a tin of milk you became terribly sick, not because the tin of milk was bad—the same thing happened with another tin the following day— but because lactose intolerance had just showed up on your doorstep without a warning. This is how Abuja now makes you feel.
This city once made you drive around in wide-eyed excitement. The calm, the paved streets, the relative security and order. It was different from Kaduna which had started growing again after the many riots. Peace had made people come back and those who worked but couldn’t afford a home in Abuja came to Kaduna to keep their families. And so Kaduna swelled with people and especially in the South where you lived, the population was dense. There seemed to be one church and one drinking spot for every two houses. Both churches and drinking spots had loudspeakers and loud raucous prayers competed with dancehall music in residential areas. This change was liberating.
Six years on, Kaduna is a blur in your mind. You have just noticed that you now say ‘I am going to Kaduna’ and not ‘I am going home’ when you have to travel. Abuja has grown on you and become your city. You can now complain in an entitled way when the FCT administration does things you find unacceptable, like when they harassed single women walking alone at night.
The night is pierced by many street lights, security lights and car headlamps as you walk toward the restaurant on Adetokunbo Ademola to have dinner. The traffic here is crazy especially since two major checkpoints were introduced on either side of the road. Sometimes you wonder what the use of this flashing torch lights into cars is; if any sensible person had a gun or bomb, they surely would not leave it lying on the seat or in the trunk.
Right in front of the restaurant which is adjacent to a large pharmacy, you wake up to the strangulation. Your eyes widen as you feel the squeeze of big hands around your neck. There are more touts than cars, struggling to control traffic. Only they are not really controlling traffic. Right across the road is a police car with at least one policeman reclining in the front seat. Two boys dangle a chain of used recharge cards in your face. ‘Charge cat. Charge cat,’ they chant. Then two touts take over. ‘Ya, SK bros. You want SK? Or Big stuff?’
From the restaurant you look out onto the street. There are at least twenty boys milling about asking people if they want ‘SK’ or other hard drugs, right in front of police men. You see people make their way through the sea of people asking for alms or asking if they want pirated DVD’s, banana’s, recharge cards, cigarettes, chewing gum, condoms, marijuana or other ‘big stuff’. Some have their kids with them.
You do not remember this changing slowly, the numbers of touts increasing or the boldness with which drugs are sold on the streets increasing. Then the recent stories flood your mind: of people whose cars were stolen at gunpoint in Jabi, of men killed during robberies in suburbs like Lugbe, of your own experience with robbers armed with AK-47’s, and you suddenly feel unsafe. The hands grip tighter around your neck and it becomes harder to swallow the prawns you are eating.
Sunday, September 8, 2013
*Because I Care #26
I am a blessed presidential aspirant. I am convinced about this after what has happened this week. First let me tell you a little Jewish story.
Jehoshaphat was the King of Judah. Some guys with a large large army taunted him and laid siege to his city. And then miraculously, they woke up one day and found the confused enemies killing one another. Just like that. The only job Jehoshaphat’s guys had to do was plunder the spoil on the dead bodies. End of cool Jewish story.
I am like Jehoshaphat. And the PDP is like those guys with a large large army. I was just sitting in my room complaining about how the PDP convention last week made movement difficult in the city. I did admit that it boosted certain aspects of our local ‘hospitality’ industry, but I found it oppressive that this large party opposing my candidacy made it hard for me to move around in my own town. And what happened? Confusion entered among the camp of my opponents and they started attacking each other. I didn’t even have to do anything. Right there on the convention ground seven Governors walked out with Atiku Abubakar to form a new faction of the PDP. Even Amaechi who has been playing Police and Thief with my soon-to-be predecessor was there in all the confusion. Even the certificate of registration of the largest party (in opposition to progress) in Africa went missing. Vanished into not-so-thin air. God be praised. You do not need T.B. Joshua to tell you I am destined to rule this country. Me, the Nigerian Jehoshaphat on whose behalf confusion is thrown into the enemy’s camp.
Nigerians, be my Judah, and let me be your Jehoshaphat.
When I become president I know what to do with the many offices of the PDP. I will start a nationwide NGO for men suffering from erectile dysfunction. I hear it is a nationwide problem and I will bring therapists from Egypt, where I hear all the men are as virile as young goats, to man these offices. I think it is the fact that the Arabs don’t drink much. Alcohol does a lot to one’s virility.
Just one thing though. Farouk Lawan tweeted on Tuesday that “the New PDP is committed to rescuing our dear country from rape and restore political values.” I do not doubt his sincerity. I admire his political autism which makes him unable to feel any shame or other emotion. Anyone who will last long in this corrupt political climate needs political autism. It is just that Farouk Lawan accusing other PDP members of raping Nigeria and destroying political values is like owner of the brothel near my house complaining that her sex workers like men too much. I do not understand it. But then again, I have not yet gotten political autism. I will take classes when I get into power.
This week my bearded friend Asari Dokubo was in the news. Again. God grant him a life of full hair. He berated Jonathan his ‘poor response’ to the crises in the party of my opponents. While doing this he gave us a crash course in Ijaw sayings. “Ama doko doko biokpo”- “small small towns but they are courageous and keep hope alive.” This is what he reminded Jonathan the Ijaw people are. Small, but mighty. He called the breakaway PDP, “dissidents” and said that Jonathan should stop disgracing the Ijaw people by negotiating with them. What I cannot understand is why an ex-dissident will deny others the opportunity of becoming ex-dissidents and enjoying the type of largesse he is currently enjoying. There is enough oil-money to go round Asari. At least allow them repent. Who knows, Jonathan might just extend amnesty to them and as a senior ex-militant, he will be several ranks above them. Patience. That is all Asari needs.
So, Obama has finally insisted on going into Syria. As a soon-to-be world leader my advice is that now that he is set to soil his Nobel Peace Prize, he should hand over that prize together with the money he got to Vladimir Putin. The reason is simple. Who is the world leader currently defending the peace and freedoms of the civilized world? Obama is chasing Snowden for telling us things we need to know, for releasing crucial information about the way America runs the world. Obama wants to jail him for telling truth. And who came to Snowden’s rescue? Putin. Obama wants to throw bombs on Syria and join Assad in killing Syrians. Who is trying to separate the fight and begging for reason or at least proof beyond doubt? You are right again. Putin. I do not need to say more.
Ps. As president, I think I will ban expatriates from writing their numbers behind their phones and using cello tape to cover it. It makes them look lost and makes our country look bad and dangerous.
Sunday, September 1, 2013
Elected Governor of Taraba state Danbaba Suntai came back this week. I saw it myself. I watched him leave the plane and enter his car. Ok, I watched them help him enter the car. But really, who cares? What is important is that, somehow he made it to Government House sitting upright in a car and not in an ambulance.
After Suntai’s broadcast to the people of Taraba State, all I can say is, God bless the miracle-working West. For taking what was a near dead man who would have been assigned to a morgue in Nigeria after his plane crash and bringing him back to life. God bless the West. Imagine if there were no German, American or British hospitals that could treat the fevers, injuries and ‘untucked’ tummies of our leaders and their families. Imagine if they could no longer give birth to their children in nice sane countries. There would be chaos and depression in the land.
As president I will send bags of fresh kolanuts, onions, moringa, and zobo leaves as gratitude for every important Nigerian life Germany, the UK and the US has saved.
Listening to Suntai, I totally agree that he is fit for work and that his capacity to resume duties as Governor is not in doubt. The law does not say that a Governor must recognize the legislators in his state. Hell I don’t even recognize all my relatives. What has recognizing lawmakers have to do with governing a state? Again, the law does not say he has to be audible when making broadcasts. That is what a microphone is for. As long as he can sit upright, wear a decent suit and read from a paper, he can govern a state. After all we had a president that once governed from, erm, the holy land, Saudi Arabia.
People should stop inviting him to prove his recovery to them. They should allow him to govern from his, erm, recovery bed.
I hear people from one of the opposition parties shut down the city for their mini convention this weekend. Yes, I call the PDP the opposition party because they stand in opposition to my candidacy and to progress in Nigeria. My sources tell me there was hardly a hotel in town that wasn’t fully booked and that Abuja saw an unusually high number of new sex workers in the streets on Friday and Saturday nights. I am not completely sure if this has anything to do with the convention, but if it does, then the foreign construction workers must have gotten a run for their money. Looking at the bright side, I appreciate how much they have boosted the local economy this weekend.
So someone went and used chemical weapons in Syria. And Obama is mad at Assad and wants to spank him. He has been gathering his friends on his way to deal with the Syrian Government. Sadly his best friend Cameron has abandoned him. The British parliament said a resounding no to Cameron authorizing military intervention. I don’t like friends like Cameron. They are the type who will encourage you to fight in secret and just when you are in the centre of the football field with your shirt off and your enemy in your face, will sent a text message saying ‘oops, sorry I can’t make it’. What kind of friend leaves you stranded like that? If I was Obama I would de-friend Cameron. What you need are friends like Tony Blair, who will support you even when you are doing something stupid.
I am glad that the recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize is going to war. Because when a man of peace conducts a war, it has to be different. It is holy war.
Ps. Isn’t it amazing how the whole country is carrying on as if our universities have not been closed for months? This state of affairs is not only shameful, it is immoral. It has become increasingly clear how numb this government and the Nigerian people are to strikes. ASUU must devise new means of bettering the university system and dealing with a government that does not respect agreements or the importance of education.
Ps. 2. I watched Yerima give an interview on Channels TV. Although the interviewer was clearly ill prepared to take Yerima on the issue of child marriage, he still managed to say some shocking things. One was that the age of a woman does not matter because according to him ‘if you look for maturity’ in a woman you may never marry. His reason being that “even a 50 year old woman” can act like a “25 year old man”. So, for Yerima, women really have no relevant maturity apart from sexual maturity, this being indicated by the beginning of menstruation and the development of breasts. It is instructive to note what a Senator of the Federal Republic thinks about women. I wouldn’t want to be a woman in this part of the world.