Sunday, April 13, 2014

THE KING'S SPEECH


Our current, soon to be deposed King, Mr Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, is a powerful man. As the only viable opposition candidate, I can barely get my 8,000 followers on twitter talk about my tweets for a full day. But my soon-to-be predecessor has been able to get almost 500 people talk about his 28-page national conference inaugural speech for close to three weeks. At 3 minutes per delegate, the delegates were allocated the total talking time of 24 hours and 36 minutes in all to talk about what the President had already talked about. Growing up there was a reason why I didn’t like Indian movies. I enjoyed the dancing and singing and crying; but I almost always fell asleep during what seemed to me like six hours. Granted, nobody was paying me 12 million to sit through those Indian movies. But it shows how compelling Jonathan is as a leader and speaker. I may be smart and the strongest contender for the office of the president come 2015; but if 500 people between the ages of 30 and 100 are talking about a thing, then I might as well talk about it. Let us take a moment to consider the King’s speech. I will talk mostly about the parts of the speech I agree with.
(…) we set up the Presidential Advisory Committee (PAC) on the National Conference in October last year and charged its members with the responsibility of designing the framework and modalities for a productive National Conference. – King Ebele
And what better way to begin a productive National Conference than spending three weeks discussing the president’s opening speech, especially seeing that they have only three months.
The Committee which submitted its Report in December, 2013, was able to reach out to all Nigerians and various interest groups, socio-political groupings, regional and religious elements, professionals, civil society, the organised private sector, labour, youth, women and others to ascertain their views on the initiative. – King Ebele
I agree that they indeed reached out to all Nigerians. In fact, like I said before, they were even going to nominate me, an opposition leader, to be a member. But of course I proactively turned down that invitation, a decision I wonder about daily. The only people I know they didn’t reach out to, are Ifa worshippers and Okija shrine members, and we all know that Ifa and Okija know how to sort out their internal issues. So it’s not like they really need this conference anyway.
The National Conference is therefore being convened to engage in intense introspection about the political and socio-economic challenges confronting our nation and to chart the best and most acceptable way for the resolution of such challenges in the collective interest of all the constituent parts of our fatherland. – King Ebele
I know I said I will only talk about the parts of the speech I agree with. But being a feminist, I cannot sit back and let this pass. Why fatherland and not motherland when we refer to Nigeria – even in the national anthem and pledge – as a she and not a he? What if, after dressing up in his baggy male clothing and bowler hat, a foreign journalist refers to him as Her Excellency? Would he be pleased and nod in response? If he is not sure about the sex of Nigeria, he should ask. After all, the Hausa say that the one who has questions never gets lost. Or is this a case of the one who is lost never asking questions?
(…) in the truly democratic nation we are striving to build, we must never ignore the loudly expressed views of the majority of ordinary Nigerians. – King Ebele
Aha! And here was I thinking that he was insensitive to public opinion about my suitability to lead Nigeria in 2015 and his inability to tackle the problems that now exist. I respect what he is doing, because he knows the value of democracy.
In the 60s, our country was ranked along with some developing countries including India, Malaysia and South Korea. Today, those countries have moved far ahead of us in several areas. – King Ebele
Again I want to make a slight variation, using Nollywood, which was recently added to our GDP calculations and contributed to making us the largest economy in Africa. I would say that only India has surpassed us. I mean, Malaysia can’t even find a plane that got missing, whereas we are churning out hundreds of movies every week. That has got to count for something. And really, have you tried watching a South Korean movie? Pfff, please!
We must seize this opportunity to cement the cleavages and fault lines that tend to separate us. – King Ebele
Cement the cleavages? That sounds painful. This is why I will write my speeches myself. Before some frustrated civil servant will write nonsense like this and make me look like a pervert. Our King may be clueless. But he is not a pervert.
(…) there must be only one winner, and there can only be one winner if we do everything right, and that winner must be Nigeria. I urge you therefore to focus strictly on the Nigerian Agenda. – King Ebele
I agree with this wholeheartedly. But I must say that the leadership of the national conference is doing its best to truncate Jonathan’s hustle. Imagine, it took the former Deputy Governor of Anambra State to personally raise the issue of the absence of tissue paper in the toilets on Wednesday. I know it is in my favour for Jonathan to look bad; but I like to fight fair. In a case where people trying to move the country forward cannot conveniently empty their bowels, the only loser will be Nigeria.
I do not possess Ebele's power to keep you glued for 28 pages so I will stop here for now. 
Ps. Can our government amend our laws to include "kidnap and disappearance" as a legal method of law enforcement? Otherwise, can they stop making people disappear in 2014?

Friday, April 11, 2014

FOR THE LOVE OF ABUJA

Abuja is that young, rambunctious lover with an inordinate self-awareness, demanding that anyone who seeks its favours forsakes old ties and loves. While at its best, it can make one delirious with joy; it drives the keen observer to madness with its sheer amount of contradictions. 
 
This is why you love it, cautiously, from a distance. You nag constantly about its deplorable features. Especially about its airport, which has gulped millions of dollars but is hardly more functional than airports in poor countries wallowing in sanctions like Zimbabwe.
In fact, you have made a note not to write about this again, before someone asks if you have nothing else to write about.
Abuja is that flagrant rascal that mocks you while revelling in scandals of unimaginable proportions. Scandals that make you ashamed when foreigners ask about it.
It is in this state that you check in to the hotel in the Bvumba Mountains of the Eastern Highlands of Zimbabwe. You have since come to the conclusion that patriotism does not lie in putting up desperate defences for Abuja’s contradictions; you are not a patriot if you justify the absence of electricity in a country that exports electricity, or the poverty rate of close to 70 per cent in Africa’s biggest oil-producing country. You simply sigh when any of these issues are raised.
Abuja is that lover that makes you hot and sweaty on the inside, but angry on the outside. You imagine that the Zimbabweans you meet must feel the same about their country, about a land so blessed and beautiful, yet having its development truncated in so many ways.
You start to make jokes about the near centenarian Mugabe whose 90th birthday billboards you saw in Harare. You talk about his most recent speech, reciting the words in an accent as close to his as you can. You watch the Zimbabweans around you cringe. Not ordinary Zimbabweans; Zimbabwean writers.
People in these parts speak about Robert Gabriel Mugabe in whispers, one writer tells you. Agents of the secret service are everywhere. At first you laugh, thinking it is a joke that in 2014 writers speak in undertones about their 90 year old president who is rumoured to have crocodile farms where people disappear.
You think of the many columns you have written about your president, of whom you are often ashamed, and his ministers whose propensity for making vast sums of money disappear is unlimited. You think of the many cartoons in the national dailies that depict your president as clueless or make fun of his wife.
You think of how often you have accused the government of complicity in deaths and violence. Reading of a people trapped in fear of its leader is a different animal from seeing enlightened adults look over their shoulders before they whisper what they really think about their president.
‘The walls have ears here – anyone can just disappear,’ another Zimbabwean tells you. Not long after, you hear of friends of yours who have organised a protest in Abuja and of their eventual arrest and release.
While you sent out frenzied tweets condemning their arrest and brief detention, you cannot help but wonder what would have happened to them if they were in Harare. The freedom of speech you often take for granted suddenly takes on new significance.
You return to Abuja after spending two weeks in Zimbabwe. You can still see the inefficiency of the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport through all the cosmetic makeovers and shiny columns. But at least you can complain aloud without thinking of a crocodile farm.
Abuja may be an insensitive, abusive lover. But at least she lets you complain.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

PREJUDICE IN 140 CHARACTERS OR LESS


 “How was your trip?” Ibrahim your Fulani guide asks, taking your right hand in both his hands, avoiding your eyes as he welcomes you. He has waited for close to an hour under the bridge after the SDP junction in Gwagwalada. There are no creases of impatience on his face when you see him from afar. No complaints. Only gratitude that you are interested in his story and an eagerness to guide you into the lives of pastoralists.
You steal a look at your phone. You have tweeted about your visit to a model grazing reserve which promotes sedentariness of pastoralists and teaches modern methods of livestock breeding and dairy production. People tweet the questions they want answers to: do the Fulani prefer a nomadic way of life to staying in one place? What is the conflict between farmers and herders about? Do they have arms?
People tweet their conclusions and prejudices: the Fulani are a murderous tribe. The Fulani are bloodthirsty. The Fulani are evil. The Fulani should be driven out of our lands. The Fulani should be killed.
Twitter is the sum of all our fears.
Someone tweets at you to be careful with the Fulani. You want to tweet back and say, you have lived all your life around Fulani people and that not all Fulani are the same. But you can see it is not a question. It is a statement, driven on the wheels of its assuredness. Only facts can respond to this. Only stories of persons suffering from the same tragedies that we blame them for can douse the wild flames of propaganda and hate.
Twitter is the sum of our self-assured ignorance.
You used to think that herders had an attachment to a nomadic way of life, that it might be hard to convince pastoralists to become sedentary. Aliyu Ghana, a herder who used to live in Ghana travelled with his family to the model grazing reserve in Paiko-Kore when he heard that the reserve had facilities that would keep his family in one place: pasture, a nomadic school for his children, a vet clinic and water.
‘I will bring my father and his family here if everything goes ok,’ he tells you.
You can see in his eyes that he is disappointed. In the lack of adequate pasture. In the lack of facilities. But he is thankful there is at least a school he can send his children to.
Herder after herder demolishes your theory about the nomadic way of life. They move in search of pasture and water, to escape conflict and to escape disease. Movement is not so much cultural as it is borne out of necessity. All Aliyu wants is pasture for his cattle and a school for his children. He himself has completed basic Quranic education and attended the same primary school his children now attend.
Blessed are those who tweet for they will be rewarded now-now.
‘They are just terrorists,’ someone tweets at you as you explain why there are clashes between farmers and pastoralists. You check to see which of your tweets he has responded to direct him to the explanations you have just made. You see that he was responding to your explanations and that a few people have favorite and retweeted his tweet. Some have responded to register their agreement with him. You imagine him, in Lagos with his iPad, far away from the area of conflict and from reason, nodding as he counts his mentions. Soon he moves on to tweeting about sports. He has spread the hate and he has forgotten.
Blessed are those who hate in 140 characters or less.
A herder from Kaura tells you, in response to the question about the Fulani arming themselves, that a herder has implements for herding and occasional hunting- daggers, machetes, perhaps a dane gun. The Fulani man is used to herding with these basic weapons because of the nature of his existence, he tells you.
‘But if you see someone with a pistol, an AK-47, or other bigger guns that is not herding. Such a person has other motives.’
You tweet the answers that you get, about the other sides of the conflict, the stories of farmers encroaching and cultivating crops on known cattle grazing paths or routes; about negligence of some herders that leads to destruction of farmland; about the pastoralist children who get killed by cattle thieves; about the proaction of many pastoralist communities in dealing with and settling conflict with farming communities.
On your way back after many hours conducting interviews, your guide tells you he can’t take you all the way because he is receiving visitors. His brother, who lost wife and child in an accident, is still in the hospital. You are sorry that you kept him away from grieving. There is no problem, he says.
You take a bus back into the city, thinking of prejudice and fallacies and half-truths in 140 characters or less.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

MY NATIONAL CONFERENCE DIARY




You can say I failed. I will not be offended. Unlike most of our past and present leaders I know when to admit failure. I was unable to meet Robert Mugabe during my two week stay in Zimbabwe. But I tried. I looked everywhere from the Eastern Highlands to the capital Harare and the closest I came to meeting Robert was billboards celebrating his being an almost-centenarian, people who said his name in whispers and rumours of crocodile farms which ensured internal stability. However, I finally discovered the secrets to his smooth skin and full hair. In less than 14 days my skin glowed and my hair improved in quality. Sadly in all my time there, I did not find a single person who liked Morgan Tsvangirai. It is a hard life if you are opposition leader in a dictatorship and people still don’t like you. Morgan should quit politics and start a golf club for former white farmers.

Since returning to Abuja, it has been interesting keeping up with the National Conference, the proposed invitation to which I turned down. I began a little confab diary to keep up with events. Enjoy.

March 25: Delegate demands cold water for aged delegates or have dead old delegates on nation’s conscience. I admire the courage it took for Kunle Olajide to speak up and demand water. In the Africa of my parents, a guest does not ask for food or water. In fact that is considered rude, but only because every host is by custom required to provide food and water for guests. Thus any further request would be viewed as wicked gluttony. However, I agree that if cold water is what this country needs to benefit from the wisdom of men in their 100s, let us supply truckloads of it. I hope my soon-to-be-predecessor Jonathan will not grumble about already paying them 4 million a month and save our country from potential ruin. 

April 2: Delegates clash over religion. Christian leaders demand ecclesiastical courts to balance sharia courts in constitution. All you need to produce brilliant ideas is throw a few religious people in a room and the holiness begins to act like an enzyme on their brains leading to genius. Joseph Bagobiri makes me want to become a clergyman. I would never have imagined such a thing as ecclesiastical courts where people will be judged by the rules of Jesus. I have a few questions however: Would there be different courts for Catholics and Protestants? And another for Pentecostals? Will people be able to sue for things like delayed miracles, failed miracles or wrongly performed miracles (like healing the wrong person or destroying the wrong person by holy ghost fire)? Will victims of crime be asked to turn the other cheek? Will the Bible be used as rules of court? If so, what of that verse that says that women are not permitted to speak in public? Will women have to speak through their husbands? If so, what of women without husbands? Will they have to hire husbands? Also, I know Mormons are technically not Christians, but will there be a separate court for Mormons? What of Eckankar? And people associated with the mystical Rosicrucian Order like Prince Tony Momoh? But then I am sure the genius catholic bishop must have figured out all of that. I look forward to reading his proposals when I become president.

April 4: Delegates bicker over food. Some want it monetized. Another claims food has improved. Food is life. We cannot expect delegates to debate the future of Nigeria on an empty stomach. I am glad that J.I. Ebinum moved a motion to stop the secretariat from the provision of lunch for the delegates since many delegates were not getting the nourishment they deserved. However the response of Josephine Anenih also makes sense. Claiming that the feeding had improved, she went ahead to explain the real issue: “For the past two days we have been eating Chinese food, that was why they are all very happy. Delegates are complaining that the food has not been enough because other staffers of the National Judicial Institute, venue of the confab, have been joining in sharing the food meant for only 492 delegates.” Being one who enjoys Chinese food, I cannot thank the leadership of the National Conference enough for introducing this into the diet of the delegates. That thing which makes China a force to be reckoned with in global politics and economics and gives them a rock solid army, must be in their food. There is no better way of learning from a people than understanding their food. All that palm oil and salt must have affected our brain cells over the decades. It is time for a food revolution. God bless Josephine. It is things like this Chinese food business that makes me wonder if it was the right decision to turn down the proposed invitation to the National Conference. 

Ps. Can the state governments who have herdsmen in their states work with the federal government to show real commitment to the issue of clashes between communities and Fulani pastoralists? Or will we wait for it to become another war within our borders?