Saturday, November 21, 2015


There is never a shortage of tragedies. The race to annihilation, anarchy and terror draws contestants from countless groups from around the world; from the less acknowledged white terrorists – who hate everything from foreigners to Mondays – to jihadist terrorists who have, exploiting the mess the world powers have created in the middle east, carved out a state for themselves where they get to make fantasies come true. Consequently, there are daily reports of mass shootings in schools and communities, suicide blasts and insurgent attacks. There has never been a greater need for empathy. However, empathy is a thing that one needs to be very careful about.

Often you will hear – closely following a tragedy in a foreign country – people chastising those who cry too loudly about the bereavement of a foreign people. So, for example, there will be people right after say, the Paris shootings, who will be so moved by sadness and shock in this otherwise peaceful capital of the Western world that they will put up the French flag on their very Nigerian profiles. Then there are people who will notice this shamefulness and write whole articles denouncing them and telling them how horrible they are for daring to share a very French pain. These later group of people are the subject of this article. Let us call them the empathy militia.

I will open by being unequivocal about the fact that we need the empathy militia. We need them to scour the internet from those in breach of the empathy code, especially when they are Africans. And the empathy code is very simple. Let me summarize it:

1.    To qualify for any sort of non-African public empathy, an African must first promptly show extreme public grief in writing as soon as an African tragedy occurs, especially taking care not to let foreigners and non-Africans show empathy first. This includes but is not limited to using hashtags on Twitter (eg. #NeverAgain #PrayforYola #BornoLivesMatter #IStandWithKano #HowCan), changing your profile picture to the flag of the country involved, or doing a long series of numbered tweets to show more nuanced empathy. You can never go wrong with numbered tweets.
2.    An African who has previously not shed tears and blood and other bodily fluids in mourning when an African tragedy occurs shall not shed tears when a non-African faces a tragedy, no matter how extreme that tragedy may be.
3.    An African who has shown local empathy as and when due shall be entitled to denounce other Africans who show foreign empathy too loudly, accusing them of not doing the same for local tragedies. This doesn’t have to be accurate. You have the right to accuse and you should use it.
4.    An African who has the right level of local empathy is also allowed to denounce foreigners who speak of their own tragedies, reminding them that every week, you also face similar, if not worse tragedies.

At the heart of all of this is the principle: s/he who does not wail for my brothers and I does not deserve to wail at all. Prepare to attack with tweets like:  “Did you put up the Nigerian flag when scores of boys where slaughtered in Borno? Why put up the French flag?” It will not matter that in Maiduguri, the frequency of attacks in the ongoing war makes it practically impossible to be shocked every single time there is an attack. That is not your business. The faithful member of the empathy militia doesn’t care about complicated arguments, like why an ongoing, protracted and bloody war is different from an unexpected attack in an otherwise peaceful city. Complicated arguments are for traitors.

We need the empathy militia to regulate mourning. If you allow Africans they will show unnecessary humanity. And being concerned about humans who share physical and genetic characteristics is far more superior than showing empathy to everyone who faces tragedy. Who needs humanism when you have patriotism and nationalism. Humans should not spread themselves thin by being capable of feeling empathy for everyone. One must suspend empathy until one has ascertained the victim in a tragedy. This works in many scenarios. For example, if you have reserved empathy for say the abducted Chibok girls in Borno, you are not allowed to be too excited and create hashtags for rescued girls who turn out not to be from Chibok. You are only allowed to be briefly happy and resume hoping for the real subject of your empathy to be free. Just one tweet. Strategic empathy is what I call it. Life is too short to empathize equally.

My point is, we must all encourage the empathy militia. Retweet their tweets when they denounce those who show unnecessary empathy. Tell them they are right. Be disappointed with them at those who are at once capable of mourning for Paris and for Palestine, for Raqqa and for Maiduguri, for American school kids shot by someone who hates Mondays and for dead school boys in Borno, for Chibok girls as well as the thousands of other kidnapped women and boys. No one should empathise that widely. Because a moment of empathy, is a terrible thing to waste.

Sunday, November 1, 2015


Mansir was 16 when he first got seriously in trouble for wearing a dress. Mansir was 16 when he first sat behind an army truck and posed, against his will for a picture that would go viral in Nigeria and beyond, in spaces he did not inhabit, spaces he probably would never inhabit. Mansir was 16 when he first became a terrorist disguised as, in the words of the Nigerian army, a she-man.

In my head I have conversations with him, in a virtual space far from his home in Mando, Kaduna where he has his home, his family, and his dresses. I ask him why, in my head, not because I want to know why but because I know this is the question people asked when they were told that he was no terrorist, that he planted no bomb, that what he had was no disguise when he went out to see what was happening in the chaos that followed the blast in Kaduna. I know it is a stupid question, just like I know it is stupid when people ask me why I like a certain color or why sometimes, I like to paint my nails. When people ask, I just say, life is too short not to paint your nails at least once.

Zubeida however, has ideas, even though she may not be sure. She has ideas about spirits, bad spirits inhabiting her son’s body, whispering terrible gender non-conformist ideas – veils and dresses and eyeliner. She has tried to heal him, rid his body of spirits. Spirits who could not protect him when he was stripped almost completely naked and beaten and wounded and paraded before the world as the face of the most hated group in Nigeria – a group that delights in taking lives and planting fear in the hearts of people. Spirits who could not whisper into the ears of the soldiers that took him away to their barracks and tell them that Mansir was just a boy, curious and afraid. Spirits that could not stop the army from tweeting his photo to a mob baying for blood. Spirits who could not make the army apologize when, after months of interrogation, they let him out through the back door.

I do not even know if Mansir has any ideas of his own, just like I do not know if he knew what was happening to him as they tore his clothes and slashed his back and dragged him away. I would show him his photo in that tweet from the Nigerian army and tease him about not knowing how to apply the eye pencil on his brows, but he might not find it funny. I would not find it funny.

Mansir is 17 now. Mansir is back home now, with his mother. He dropped out of school after the school fees were hiked and Zubeida could no longer afford it. Not many people read that he was released. People read the scandal but hardly ever read the resolution of that scandal because there are always new exciting scandals to read about. And reading that a scandal is not true is not so sexy.

I read someone call Mansir a homosexual in a newspaper article. This is not one of the questions that I would ask him, because like the question of why he likes wearing dresses, I think it is stupid to be concerned about his sexuality. Our rigid gender roles and rules make people unable to understand how a male who likes women could also like wearing dresses. From the moment we are born we are told that boys should wear blue and want to be doctors and engineers and strong and masculine. We are told that boys don’t cry. That boys who cry act like girls. That boys don’t play with toys or speak a certain way. We are told that men who don’t conform must be homosexuals and that homosexuals are bad, bad people. Perhaps Mansir likes dresses as well as girls. I do not know. I do not care.

But if I could I would want to hear his own questions. I imagine he would want to know why the people who claim to fight for human rights said nothing about his plight. I imagine he would wonder: is it because I like wearing dresses? Does wearing dresses make me less human? And if he does ask, I am not sure I can answer. I will not be able to explain why people showed no empathy even when it was established that he was not the bomber; why some people tweeted that if he was not being silly and wearing dresses, he would not have been mistaken for the bomber in the first place. I only know what I think: that Mansir deserves an apology from the Nigerian army. I only know what I hope: that Mansir will be able to afford to return to school soon; that Zubeida is able to afford to change the life of her son through education. I hope that Mansir someday is able to find a community that will not treat him like an animal for wanting to wear a piece of clothing that humans have decided only women should wear. I hope that his 18th birthday will be better than his 17th.

Saturday, October 24, 2015


I really like dogs. I don’t get cats. It would be difficult for me to live with an animal that has as much drama as I do. I am thinking of a breed of puppy that will grow into a large dog. Because I love dogs so much I decided to write a whole story about dogs this week. The title of my story is Black and White.

Once upon a time in a country far, far away, there was a large farm run and owned by dogs. Plenty of them. In fact, in just one section of the farm there were over a hundred dogs. A hundred and nine to be precise. This section was slightly elevated in the farm and so they called it Top House. Top House pretty much controlled everything: who came into the farm, who ate what and how much food everyone had. Top House was an exclusive area and only those invited could go in there.  Everyone came to them for favors, even the new owner of the farm, an old wolf called White. They called him White because of how clean his fur was. But Top House was far from clean. There was filth and gambling and stealing and weekly acts of perversion. The farm used to have cattle but Top House stole and ate them all. White had a huge task in rebuilding this farm that had been run down by it’s previous owner.

White reached an agreement with Top House to share control of the farm just so there would be peace. There were too many of them for him to kick them out. One of the agreements they reached was that any new worker the White would hire would have to be approved by Top House. There was this very energetic Wolf that White knew called Black. Black earned his name from being able to blend in the night when he went to eat up people’s cows. The previous owner had expelled Black out of malice. Black then helped White buy the farm so he could return; without Black’s money, White would not have been able to afford the farm. Black used to have friends in Top House, some of whom he would share his stolen cows with. But some of them hated him. Top House kept postponing the dates for Black to appear before them and White was getting frustrated. He could not just tell Black that he was sorry and could not offer him a job: Black’s money was part of the reason he owned the farm in the first place. So White kept putting pressure on Top House.

On a certain Monday morning, Top House finally agreed to assess Black’s suitability for employment as White’s trusted assistant who would protect the cows that he was planning to buy.

A senior member of Top House who had been accused several times of eating up stolen cows, and still had blood stains from the last cow he ate on his paws, stood up to begin.

“Black!” he shouted. “We in Top House have received some worrying news about your days of stealing and eating cows. Many dogs have brought reports to us alleging that you rounded up cows that did not belong to you, ate most of them and sold the rest to enable White buy this farm. Now you are here before us seeking employment to protect the cows that White is about to buy. How do we know that you will not just eat them up? Can you assure this Top House that you will not eat cows?”

“I don’t even know how to eat meat,” Black replied, staring at the dried blood on the paws of the dog that had just finished speaking – blood of cows.

“I have never ever eaten cow meat in my life, stolen or otherwise,” Black continued. “As a vegan, I do not even know the difference between cow meat and other meat. Perhaps the good member of Top House can share his expertise with me.”

The crowd in Top House burst into laughter. An argument ensued between those who wanted Black in and those who did not. Anxiety about being rejected by Top House made Black lose weight and have sunken eyes.

In the end however, they sorted out all their issues with Black and in fact went into long friendly banter about the scourge of cow theft and consumption. Dog after dog in Top House made Black promise that he would do everything in his power as assistant to White, to end cow theft.

“Under my watch,” Black said, “no one will steal cows. Those days are gone. Change has come to this farm!”

Thereafter there was a thunderous applause and barking from Top House. They approved Black as an assistant to White and told him to howl and go.

Outside, Top House supporters of Black asked him how it felt to have crossed that hurdle.

“I thank God,” Black said, “none of them were able to find blood stains on my paws or fur. And it is not that they didn’t want to. It is just that they are too covered in cow blood to see mine clearly.”

White was ecstatic about this and expressed his enthusiasm about beginning the serious work of raising cattle on the farm, bringing cows back to a place where they were once endangered. Everyone on the farm hoped that Black would not go back to his cow eating ways and splash blood on White’s pretty fur.

This is the end of my story. I hope you enjoyed it. Two things though:
1.    This is fiction. Any resemblance to real persons dead or alive is purely coincidental.
2.    No animals were harmed in the production of this story. Because I care.

Friday, October 23, 2015


The Abuja Writing Workshop, run by Nigerian writer Elnathan John has been running since 2013 as a one-day short prose workshop for twenty participants mostly resident in Abuja. In 2014, 60 persons applied to be part of this workshop in Abuja. The workshop is also proud to have participants who have gone on to publish books of their own. Co-facilitators have included award winning Nigerian author and journalist Abubakar Adam Ibrahim.  

In 2015 the Abuja Writing Workshop is expanding to accept participants from all across the country. This year the focus is on SATIRE as a form of writing and political and social commentary that has seen renewed interest especially online. Globally, satire has come into public debate especially with the killing of staff at the French satirical publication Charlie Hebdo. Perhaps more than ever before, people are beginning to have a global conversation about the role of satire in public affairs. More and more satirists are pushing the boundaries and taking on entities like corporations, governments and even the so-called Islamic State. In Nigeria, there certainly is an appetite for deep sarcasm online in discussing politics. Many who do this are not even aware that what they do can be called satire and be sharpened and channeled to achieve thoughtful, hard-hitting critique of politics in Nigeria. It is this inadvertent interest in satire that this workshop seeks to exploit and possibly hone. 

If you are interested in writing SATIRE, there will be a two-day workshop from Friday November 27, 2015 to Saturday November 28, 2015 for ten selected participants. The focus of this workshop will include:
1.     Understanding the news and the issues that become material for satire
2.     Understanding the building blocks of effective satire
3.     Learning the different possible forms of satire
4.     Becoming acquainted with other satire traditions around the world
5.     Understanding the power of satire and channeling that power for effect
6.     Identifying and connecting with other satirists in Nigeria and Africa

The workshop will be held in Abuja, Nigeria. The workshop is free. All selected participants will have their travel and accommodation costs covered for the duration of the workshop. Participants will be expected to commit to staying for the entire program. Arrival will be on Friday, November 27. THIS WORKSHOP IS NOT OPEN TO PERSONS BELOW THE AGE OF 18 AT THE TIME OF APPLICATION. 

To apply, send an original sample of satire and an application letter, each not exceeding ONE-PAGE to with the subject, "Workshop Application" no later than 10th November, 2015. The shorter, the better. As there are only 10 slots and selection will be based on the writing sample, send in what you think best represents your work. Only selected participants will be contacted. 

The workshop will feature a guest facilitator and award winning journalist, writer and satirist Tolu Ogunlesi as well as award winning writer and US based creative writing teacher Chinelo Okparanta.