Sunday, October 27, 2013

HOW TO AUGMENT YOUR ACTIVIST HUSTLE



Because I Care #33

The activist hustle is a glorious hustle. As an activist-turned-presidential aspirant, I know this only too well.
I will tell you something about my former colleagues. The activist works on trying to blow breeze so that the fowl’s bottom will be exposed. And trust me, in Nigeria there is no shortage of fowls whose bottoms reveal the most scandalous things. 

An activist, however, is allergic to both breeze and to the display of bottoms. One would think this would be the opposite; that in every home and office of an activist you will find an industrial fan and a bare, well shaved bottom. But many an activist’s bottom is hairy and hides many things like Ferraris with customised plate numbers.

Many times as an activist fighting government, you have dry spells filled with reheated press releases, impotent ultimatums and ineffective whistle blowing. For all of these white people pay money with the baptismal name ‘grants’. For many activists this grants them comfortable lifestyles in Abuja or Lagos and many a flashy car is secured after a juicy project. The people giving these grants are not entirely stupid. What might look like foolishness is actually patience. They wait for the big stuff. Stuff that will make the activist actually earn his grant- not the sterile conferences, and tea breaks. Something serious like threats to your life or massive protests or police arrest and detention.

Especially arrest. I know one activist, who following arrest by a military junta, became a career activist. And oh, how God has blessed his hustle. He was once overheard, standing by his flashy car talking about his houses in Abuja, Kaduna and London. Yes. London. That is how God has met him at the point of his activist need. So it is in order that he prefaces every conversation with 'when I was arrested by Abacha'.

I will talk about the power embedded in a single arrest in a minute.

Just as there are activists-turned-politicians, there are also politicians-turned-activists. Because they have been politicians before, their work is greeted with skepticism and sometimes even disdain. A lot of the time, it also doesn’t help that they still smell like politicians and haven’t shed the weight that ties them to the spoils of politics. Like having ten cars in your garage. It is hard for real activists to take you seriously when you have that. However it is unfair to judge an activist by how many expensive cars he has. 

One activist who has been treated and talked about unfairly is Dino Melaye. It is rumoured that he has a fleet of cars. I just want to say, I don’t believe rumours. Dino has been fighting this government on Twitter and in the streets, but all people see are his cars with Dino01, Dino02, Dino03, Dino04 bla bla bla. Like I said, I don’t believe until I see. This week however came the ultimate blessing of Dino’s activist hustle. God smiled on him by sending an overzealous policeman to arrest and detain him during a protest against our armoured aviation minister. I am not sure how many introductions to grant proposals that arrest will appear in, but I know that Dino, by that act, has been verified. Because as an activist, even if you don’t like his methods, the arrest of an activist or non-violent protester is something unacceptable and you are forced to lend your voice in the call for his release. I even tweeted about it.

God bless Dino’s hustle.

My only grouse is that I feel marginalised. Only last month, on September 26, I joined one of the teams planning the ‘OurNass’ protests in Abuja. I even addressed the crowd on our rules of engagement. You could say that I was at the forefront. We were at the gates of the National Assembly for hours. No one arrested me. In fact, a Deputy Superintendent of Police engaged me in friendly banter, which scandalised me. He actually smiled at me while we protested. That was capable of destroying my street credibility.

All I want to know is, what makes Dino better than me? And what must one do to get arrested in this country. Because I really need it for my CV as I run for President.

Ps. I was at a dinner with a whole bunch of journalists this week. I learnt a lot from being around people who gossip for a living. One of my biggest discoveries though was that with the exception of one or two people, journalists can’t dance. I don’t know if I can trust a person who can’t dance.



Thursday, October 24, 2013

THE VALUE OF A CONFESSION


Night comes with its own perils and it is not a thing of joy to have someone aggravate your worries with suspense. Abuja is enough to trouble you all night. You are firm in your opinion that suspense is only valuable in fiction and even then, it is not something you are terribly fond of. You would much rather see a story grow organically than have a writer spring a trick on you or torture you with twists and turns. You can see how people like it though, how people are addicted to suspense-  it is everywhere you turn, even shitty game shows make you wait until after an annoying commercial break to tell you if someone has the correct answer or not. 

‘I need to discuss something with you,’ she had said, and added after a short pause, ‘when I come back from Lagos tomorrow.’

You remember telling her not to do this, not to tell you she had something to tell you unless she was ready to say it.

‘It messes me up,’ you told her, ‘I end up tossing and turning and wondering what it is all night.’

This time though you are sure it is something serious. You rack your head to think of anything you might have done wrong secretly. You scroll through your phone, wondering if she has seen a text message from your friend Ruth who calls you ‘my darling before the rest’ or from Pearl your ex-girlfriend whose drunken texts are always preceded by, ‘we were right for each other’.

None of them has texted you recently. 

As you roll over, restless, hearing each tick of the clock like a church bell in your ear, you wonder if anything is worse than suspense.

When she walks in, you tease her about her two bags and handbag and listen as she explains why she needed all the items she took for a one-day trip to Lagos. The smaller bag for toiletries and underwear. The bigger one for clothes shoes and documents. The handbag because, well, she cannot go anywhere without a handbag.

She sighs and talks about how empty-headed the old members of the board of her company are. Especially the Board Chair who wouldn’t stop looking at her cleavage. He has a face like a bean seed, she says. You both laugh. You are waiting for her to settle down, stop talking about her trip and give you an opening. 

She has just finished brushing her teeth when you ask what it is that she needed to talk about. She sits on the bed and asks you to sit. 

‘Are you sure you want to talk about this now?’ she asks.

‘Of course,’ you reply trying not to sound too irritated.

She takes a deep breath.

‘Look, I understand if you react badly to this.’

Just say it goddamnit! you think.

‘Four months ago, two weeks after we had gotten back together again, I saw this guy. We had had a fling before and he was at a networking meeting and we had drinks and…’

Your throat is suddenly dry and it is painful when you try to swallow. You ask the only two questions that matter to you: ‘Are you still seeing the ex-presidents son?’ and ‘Why are you telling me now?’

She tells you she needed to start clean with you and get this off her chest. She says it happened only once and she has even taken him off her Facebook and Blackberry Messenger. 

You sigh. You want to tell her that you really don’t care if she slept with some guy she no longer talks to. You want to ask her what value she thinks this has for you and tell her how selfish this sudden belated act of confession is. She may have gotten this thing off her chest, but she has dumped it on yours. 

You shrug and say, ‘what’s past is past.’

Tears leave her eyes and travel down her face. She looks in your eyes for reservations. You mean it: what is truly past, should be left in the past. She hugs you, squeezing your chest which is now bloated with her sins. 

She falls asleep on your chest, lighter after her confession. It is the confession and not the act - this is why she will lose you.


Sunday, October 20, 2013

FORGIVENESS

Because I Care #32

I just want to take time off to reflect. On how things were before living in this country became like wearing wet underwear to school. This is how wars start: people failing to reflect. Reflection makes forgiveness easier because it transports you to a time before the infraction and that calms your nerves and sends nice messages to your brain which in turn loosens the tense muscles in your body. By now you have figured that there is something for which I seek your forgiveness. Yes. I forgot October 11 as the International Day of the Girl Child. I will make amends for it by dedicating this article to forgiveness and to at least one former girl child that I know. 

Let’s start with forgiveness. I must set an example. I want to forgive Miss Stella Oduah for bullying the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority into paying Coscharis Motors 255 million naira for two of her official armoured BMW’s. This is why I have chosen to forgive her: Reflection. I reflect upon a time before Miss Oduah was Miss Oduah. No, not when she was Mrs. Stella Oduah-Ogiemwonyi. Long before that. When she was just Stella. When she was a chubby little girl child who didn’t know a million naira from a bucket of fried chicken. I see her playing on a swing with a lollipop in her mouth calling out to her sister Grace. Or after that at Zixton Grammar school where she became a slim, soft spoken, kind hearted adolescent. Then I pause. I remember that after leaving Zixton in 1978 she went off to America to continue her schooling. And I blame all this on America. Evil America took a harmless girl child and turned her into something that hurts our country. God will judge America harshly. If all Nigerians can think like this we will not waste our energies insulting the good Princess Oduah. She has had a hard life. She was ruined by capitalist America at an early age and has gone through unsuccessful marriages that have put strain on her name: First she was Stella Oduah then went through a couple of name changes before becoming Stella Oduah- Ogiemwonyi. Now she is back to being Stella Oduah again. How many of us can get our groove back after this turmoil? After my last major breakup I almost had a nervous breakdown. I mean I descended to things like killing wall geckos. (Who sinks to such depths- killing the most harmless of creatures?)

I will be honest with you. It is nothing short of an act of god that Ms Oduah is where she is today. And we all know what an act of god is: something that is beyond human control. For example, an earthquake. Or the size of my head. Or my love for the Irish. Or when an old, faulty plane falls from the sky. She deserves our collective forgiveness. 

I must however commend all the treacherous Nigerians who do things like leak receipts and invoices of fraudulent government transactions and who leak scandalous text messages of government officials. But for the disloyalty of these snitches, stories of corruption would be baseless rumours. We would never know which government official is sleeping with who or which company was used to order the most expensive cars in the world. And more importantly, without their treachery, we would never have the opportunity of extending our forgiveness to them. God bless snitches. 

If you ask me I think my soon-to-be-predecessor is a genius for beginning the process that will culminate in a National Conference. He should be commended for recommended really old people to the committee. It is good that even 85 year olds were nominated by the President because although the majority of Nigerians are below the age of 35, we need persons who will not be distracted by a fully functional body. We cannot have too many sexually-active males and females who will set the tone for the National Conference. We all know how dangerous sexually active men are- they started a civil war in this country. And we must pause and reflect on history so we can learn. 

Ps. Amnesty International released a report describing the horrible conditions that the JTF are keeping suspects in Maiduguri. The reports describe how out of control they are. It quotes a senior military officer as saying that the JTF deposits on the average 5 bodies every day. These bodies are reportedly emaciated, some still having their handcuffs on. Giwa Barracks in Maiduguri, also called Guantanamo, is said to be the main hub of extrajudicial killings in Maiduguri military camps. We will never know how many innocent Nigerians are starved or tortured to death in JTF camps. A battle with terrorists is no excuse to keep death camps like Guantanamo.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

HOW TO DIE IN NIGERIA



A great man once said that a thing that must be done, should be done properly. Ok, I made that up. But it is true. Somehow we all must die. Don’t ask me the cause of that product defect. Even if you cheat death like Mugabe who at 120 is still insisting on ruling Zimbabwe, someday it must all end. This no one can control. But how we die, this is more important than dying itself. Because to die without a ripple, without some stirring in the air, is to never have lived. Death is not a noun or a state. It is an event, the success of which requires proper planning.

This is how to die in Nigeria.

One way to die is to ensure that in life, you did something worth remembering. This action need not be good or exemplary. In Nigeria no one cares if you were good or evil when you die. The only crime is dying without having done anything worthy of note. Like dying so poor no one knows your name. In Nigeria death, especially the death of someone rich or powerful, confers sainthood that cannot be challenged. Coup plotters and government thieves assume the title of elder statesmen and heroes of the nation. It will become forbidden to dig into your wicked past and you will be beatified. You may even get a posthumous national award or have universities and streets named after you. And most importantly, the newspapers will carry ads about your unfortunate exit or ‘Call to Glory’. In this way your death will have a meaning. So, please, if you must die in Nigeria, acquire power and wealth. I don’t care how and if you do, no one will. 

Do not die in the company of important people if you yourself have not attained importance or notoriety. This is crucial. If you go and die in the company of an ex governor or ex militant, the news will say Governor so-and-so has died in a ghastly motor accident. Then the report may add that ‘also among the casualties were two persons traveling in his convoy’. No one will know which of the two unidentified persons you are. Or if you are male or female. You will pass on into oblivion without so much as an ad in the paper. Because in Nigeria, you are a number unless you are important. God forbid that this should happen to you.

The only exception to this is dying in a plane crash. This is the most respectable death for persons without a title to their name. The flight manifest- one of the few records that are consistently available on demand in Nigeria- makes it possible to have a full list of everyone on board. Usually this list is published and somehow the world will receive notice of your untimely death. Your name will appear in full in newspapers and news reports. Your death will matter. 

Do not make the mistake of dying in a luxury bus accident. You do not want to go out with the headline ‘Dozens perish in bus crash’. Because to die is one thing and to perish is another. If you are unfortunate the reporter will say something like ‘25 crushed to death’ with an emphasis on the crushing instead of the dying. All people will see in their heads will be human flesh being crushed. No face. No identity. No names. 

Dying in a flood, a cholera outbreak, a collapsed building, these things are unacceptable. Rather than that, it is even better to die while having carnal knowledge, in which case at least one of the tabloids or gossip blogs will find out your name and carry your story. Your family may not like it, but at least people will know your name.

One of the worst places to die however is in a terrorist attack. Nigeria is not any of those countries where they respectfully identify people by name in a terrorist attack. God will judge them for trying to make us look bad. We cannot afford such luxuries. Here, when a terrorist kills you whether as a student in a school or a traveler on the road, you become a summarized into a number or fraction. An official of the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) was once quoted as saying that when fatalities occur in a conflict situation, they feel duty bound to reduce the figures, so as not to escalate the crises. What wise thinking. So if there are 200 deaths, NEMA may report 60. Or just cancel one zero and say 20. Imagine being summarized. Not even counted as a whole dead figure. So if you run into a terrorist bent on taking your life, beg the man. Tell him you are not opposed to dying for his cause. Plead with him to try something else, maybe make a video or something. Because it would be a tragedy to fade into oblivion, unannounced.

One great way to go is to die on camera. Hundreds, including school children may die or be slaughtered every month in Maiduguri and Nigerians will go about their daily activities. Because in their heads Maiduguri is one faraway North Eastern state that could pass for Chadian or Nigerien territory. In their heads 160 killed in Borno is what it is, a number. But if you have your death captured on tape, perfect. Then you can have  NGO’s calling for legislation to outlaw whatever type of knife they used to stab you. If you are fortunate, your name will trend on Twitter and hashtags will spring up like #MakeSicklesIllegal, #VictorSickleSlaughter, #OutlawSickleStabbingNOW, #Justice4Tolu, #NeverAgain or #R.I.P.Kevin. People will grant interviews and there will be hundreds of badly written blogs about you. And believe me, a hashtag and a badly written blog post with a link to your death video or a photo of you gotten from Facebook is better than dying as a number. The only exception to this is dying as a hated minority. Like a Shiite. Or a Biafra protester. If you die while hated, whether on camera or not, we will spit on your grave. Just don't be a minority. Or if you cannot help it, then try the best you can to avoid dying. May an untimely death not befall you, but if it does, may it be sexy enough for a hashtag.

You cannot leave your death to chance. Because, as they say, to die is human but to die properly is divine. Ok, I made that up too, but you catch my drift, no?

RACISM IS A VERB



At first you ignore the email announcing an event by the Spanish Embassy because really, it doesn’t take much to become like Kaka who is rumoured to know and attend every single event organized by non Nigerians in Abuja. Especially the ones where there will be white people. Longman says she is trying to get a foreign lover. He can’t even decide if she is straight or lesbian or both. You call him Longman because you find him hilariously gangly. You never say it to his face because you do not know another human being that has absolutely no sense of humour. You recall the day Longman almost drove a pair of scissors into your eye because you asked, laughing, but if you see her at every white event, does that not mean you attend every white event too?

You do not want to be like Longman either.

Miriam texts you to ask if you are going for the Jos Repertory Theatre play at the Hilton. The Shoemakers Wonderful Wife originally written by Frederico Garcia Lorca. You say, you do not know about the play. She forwards you an email. The same one you ignored that had ‘Spanish Embassy’ in the subject line. You see now that it was only sponsored by the Embassy as part of the Spanish Cultural Week in Abuja, so you decide, well, this is one compromise you can make. Yes there will be a whole bunch of white people which means god-forbid, Kaka will be there, but at least you can feel superior to her- because you will be attending a play and she, a white-people event. Sometimes you wonder about your distance to that line, the crossing of which will thrust one into that unholy stigmatized land called racism. But you tell yourself racism is not a bloody noun. It is a verb and secret thoughts do not count. If no actions are taken, then there is no racism. Or something like that. 

You walk in a few minutes after the play begins. Almost all the black people are seated behind or standing, while the brown and white people occupy the front seats. The joke about black people having never watched the first five minutes of any film in a cinema because they are always late comes back to you. It is not funny this time. 

The play is about a young woman married to an older shoemaker who before the unfortunate union had lived a peaceful, rewarding life. He peppers his monologues with curses on his sister who is to blame for him picking a wife in his old age. Scene after scene, the sharp, uncouth wife badgers and bullies him and makes him a laughing stock in the community. Soon he gets fed up and disappears. The cantankerous wife is then remorseful and expresses undying affection for him to the strangers who seek her now abandoned hand. He hears of this remorse while disguised as a clown on a road show in the village he abandoned. As soon as he reveals his identity however, she resumes making his life hell. The young wife has as her sole mission in life, tormenting her husband and showing ingratitude. Until the end of the play the women have no redeeming quality. 

If this was a Nigerian or African play, someone would have complained about it being sexist, promoting misogyny and other similar latter-day arguments. But it was written by a Spaniard. And here at least, Europeans do no wrong. 

The wine served afterward washes down the bitterness the play left in your mouth. Maybe it was cool when Lorca wrote it, but you think it was a horrible play, brilliantly produced and performed by this company from Jos. You shake hands with the actors, sincerely meaning the praise you give. 

You see Kaka. Subconsciously you keep moving so you don’t run into her. You would rather be eaten up by a wild pig than compared to her or caught in her company. As she walks toward you, you gulp what is left of the second glass of wine and head for the door. Just in case she would notice you and call out your name, you whip out your phone and pretend to be receiving a call. 

On your way home, you feel bad. You hope Kaka didn’t notice you running away from her. You tell yourself that next time, (preferably not at a goddamn white event) you will walk up to her and say hello. It makes you feel better at least.