Think Before You Share That Picture By Yemisi Adegoke

You know the kind of picture I’m talking about. The images of the badly injured, maimed or dead people.  Women, men, children, half naked or dishevelled, limbs dismembered or twisted into an impossible angle. Pools of bloods on the ground or on the walls.

Thanks to Whatsapp and the continued explosion of other social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook, these images, or videos are becoming increasingly difficult to avoid.

Scenes of carnage, horror and devastation. I could go on but I’m sure by now you have an idea what I’m talking about. Perhaps you’ve been sent some of these images today or shared some, but it’s time to rethink what you’re doing. Nigerian news outlets, bloggers, the general public at large, you need to stop sharing these videos and images. Just stop.

Every time you click, share or send one of these graphic videos, showing people at their most defenceless at their most vulnerable, you are contributing to the dehumanization of Africans.

Just look at how the African body is portrayed across the world. If it’s not overly sexualized, it’s famine or disease ridden, it’s destitute, it’s dying, it’s dead. Horrific incidents happen the world over, but graphic images are not always used to tell those stories.  Ask yourself how many times you’ve seen the dead or maimed bodies of Europeans published in newspapers or circulated on social media in the aftermath of a terrorist attack? Or any other violent and senseless act?

International media outlets usually take many things into account before publishing a graphic image, namely; whether or not use of the image is justified, is the image necessary for the story or if it’s solely for shock value, among others. Certain procedures are usually followed when it comes to being able to identify the dead, faces are usually blurred to protect victims and their families. How many outlets here take similar caution? And what message does this send out regarding how we value the lives of our own people?

Sharing such images of black bodies is not only dehumanizing, it gives non-Africans the ‘permission’ to classify Africans as “others.” If we are publishing and sharing pictures of ourselves like this, people from other cultures can do the same, under the guise of ‘their culture is different,’ although they wouldn’t normally.  Culture may be different but humanity, decency and respect should apply equally to all.
It could be argued that at times graphic imagery has its place. Take the tragic image of Alan Kurdi, the three-year-old Syrian boy who drowned in the Mediterranean. The distressing image of his dead body on a beach quickly went viral and sparked international outrage about the handling of the migrant crisis.

The same could be said for the image of Omran Daqneesh, the five-year-old Syrian boy who was photographed bloodied and covered head to toe in dust after an airstrike, sitting calmly in the back of an ambulance in Aleppo. He quickly became a symbol of the horrors of the Syrian civil war and was pushed to the top of the international agenda.

In the Nigerian context however, can we argue that the graphic images are published and shared are done so with the same intention? Are they all necessary or for shock value? Pictures of bloodied, maimed and dead Nigerians are now so commonplace now and to what end?

Photos were widely shared of the horrific attack at St Phillips Catholic church in Ozubulu, Anambra in August Graphic images of dead parishioners, were posted everywhere, even by media organizations, the identities barely concealed, if concealed at all. Blood everywhere, and to what end? Was it necessary? Would the church attack be less horrific if these images were not circulated?

Instead these victims; mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters were stripped of their dignity for clickbait, what if those people were your loved ones? If their lasting image in the minds of others was the worst moment of their lives?

We must stop sharing these images, we must challenge our media outlets on whether it is appropriate to publish and shares, we must stop being active participants in our own degradation and dehumanization.

The Lie About Biafra By Frank Aig-Imoukhuede

In an article in the Africa Journal of October 1946 titled Les Portuguaisdans la Baie de Biafra au XViemeSiecle (‘The Portuguese in the Bay of Biafra in the Fifteenth Century’), Monsieur J. Bouchard had stated that the word, Biafra, is not of Portuguese origin as some people think, and does not come from any place or tribe within the region. It is simply a corruption by the cartographers of the sixteenth century of the word Mascha, which was the name of a mountain marked near this region on the map of Africa by Ptolemy.

‘By 1515, Mascha had become Mafra and by some error, Biafra. It is pertinent to note, for example, that Benin’s famous inland port, Gwato (also often written as Gatto), is a corruption of Ughoton, its Edo name. Similarly, although not many people know it, the oldest iron mining centre in Africa, Taruga, lies within the Federal Capital Territory of Abuja and its local name, from which it was corrupted, is Takunshara which Europeans found difficult to pronounce and approximated to ‘Taruga’.

Hearing the news of the success of the Portuguese attracted to the coastline known as the Bight of Biafra by trade, some English and French merchant adventurers came to the Guinea Coast early in the 16th century; but it was not until the later part of that century that the English, French and Dutch came in any number. By that time, following the discovery of the Congo by Diego Cao, the Cape of Good Hope by Bartholomew Dias and India by Vasco da Gama, the West Coast had lost much of its importance to Portugal.

‘The British gradually gained ascendancy in the region and their position became consolidated by their efforts to abolish the slave trade. This position continued after the end of the slave trade, when they became middlemen traders in palm oil and kernels and dominated the markets far inland up the New Calabar, Sombreiro and Orashi rivers.

In the latter river, following a war with the Nembe people, their influence spread as far as to Oguta, north of Owerri Division’. Like the Kalabari who claimed Oba Ama (land of the Oba) as their place of origin, the Oguta people in their oral tradition (see Nzimiro) claim to have also come from Ado n’Oba (their name for Ado or Benin where the Oba lived).

Talbot, in his History of Southern Nigeria, Volume I, in tracing the origin of the name of present-day Calabar-which was also mixed up-states: ‘what in all probability actually happened was that the word was taken from the (New) Calabar river which was so named from the town of the Kalabari who lived on it and seems to have been more important from a trading point of view than the Cross river. Through some error, this name was applied to the Cross-river estuary which was finally called ‘Old’ Calabar to distinguish it from the Kalabari River, which was then named the ‘New Calabar River’.

The map at page 242 of Talbot’s History, described as a ‘New and correct map of Calabar River, shows the New Calabar and Old Calabar rivers as two channels of the same river, again shown West of Bandy (Bonny) and Dony (Andoni), issuing out at the same mouth called the Calabar River or Rio Real’.

After the Benin River and the Sangana outlet and before coming to the Nun, there is a projection of land called Cape Formosa. According to A.R. Mockler – Ferryman in ‘British Nigeria’ published in 1891, ‘The Bight of Biafra extends from this Cape, which is in latitude 40 5’ North longitude 60 East to Cape St. John, in latitude 10 15’ North, longitude 90 3’ East, a distance round the coast line of 400 miles, and in a straight direction, of 280. The Bight of Biafra also includes within it Fernando Po, Principes, Sao Thome and Anno Bon Islands’.

‘Within the Bight are the rivers Nun, Brass (or Bento), St. Nicholas, S. Barbara, St. Bartholomew, Sombrero, New Calabar, Bonny, Andoni, Old Calabar, Rio del Rey, Bimbia, Cameroons, Balimba, Boreah, Campo, Bati, St. Benito and Bassakoo’ some of which feature in both Ptolemy’s map of 1513 and the MERCATOR 1619. In strict sense, these rivers and the land through which they run, mark the boundary of the ‘Bight of Biafra.’

With the rise of British activities and the career of the Royal Niger Company, and British ascendancy in the adjacent coastal regions, which were incorporated in what became the British Protectorate of the Niger between 1884 and 1885, the various rivers of the Bight of Biafra became known as the Oil Rivers.

‘The Oil Rivers-from west to east-were ‘the Benin, Escravos, Warri (Forcados), Brass, St. Nicholas, St. Barbara, St. Bartholomew, Sombrero, New Calabar, Bonny, Andoni (St. Antonio), Opobo, Kwa Ibo, Akpayafe, Kwa, and Cross, the last four of which empty themselves into the Old Calabar before reaching the sea.’

In the neighbourhood of the Benin river, the people who lived in the Bight of Biafra were Bini. To their west were the Ilaje, Ikale, Mahin and the people of Okitipupa; eastward come the Urhobo and between them and the sea, the Jekri or Itsekiri. In the Niger Delta section of the Bight were the Ijo (with several off-shoots), and in their north west the Ibo, who are sub-divided into many minor tribes.

In the eastern division of the Southern Protectorate were a great variety of people mostly allied in language with the Ibo. Among them are the Aro who inhabited fourteen towns which encircled an oracle called the Long Juju, the bam, Edda, Abriba and Ohafia who fought battles for them; and the Ngwa.

In the immediate neighbourhood of Old Calabar, the ‘Biafra’ inhabitants were the Ibibio, Annang and the Efik who are ‘supposed by some to be connected with the Ibo, but by others to be a distinct people;’ while in the country watered by the Upper Cross River and the Cameroon River were the Ekoi and allied semi-Bantus.

Talbot quotes John Barbot as writing in 1699: ‘the territory of Calabar or Calbari, lies on and about the river called by the Portuguese ‘Rio Real,’ by the English ‘Calabar’ and by the Dutch ‘Calbary’ from the town of New Calbari or Calabar situated on that river’.

The Bonny River, which has the same mouth as the New Calabar, was originally called the Rio da Carmo. The Cross River is shown on old Portuguese maps as the Rio da Cruz. (Most of the names given to rivers and islands by the Portuguese were of a religious nature- the Cross river receiving its name not because it was supposed to have ‘crossed over from the Niger’, an erroneous suggestion of the origin of the name which has often been repeated.

The map in Talbot’s History earlier referred to, also states that some leagues north of Calabar Town is Hackbous (Ibo) country. Thus, the boundary of the Bight of Biafra is more clearly defined than it has often been made to look. Issues tagged ‘Biafra’ therefore, are within the competence and jurisdiction of the Bayelsa, Rivers, Cross River, Akwa Ibom and Delta states in which the Bight of Biafra is housed.

‘In the first Portuguese maps after the ‘discovery’ of Nigeria, as well as of their Dutch successors, the whole of the present southern Nigeria, at any rate down to the Bonny River, was shown as the Benin Kingdom.’ (Page 156, Talbot’s Southern Nigeria, Volume 1).

In the MERCATOR 1619 (Redrawn 1925) – (also featured in Talhot’s History) left, next to what was described as Benin Regnum (Kingdom), was Dauma (Dahomey). In the book, the King of Benin is described as ‘the Lord of seven kingdoms’ and ‘Chief King of all that coast.’

According to Dapper (1668), ‘the kingdom of Benin was bordered to the North West by the kingdoms of Ulkami (Olukumi or Oyo), Yaboe (Ijebu), Isago whose army on horseback Benin had fought and defeated, Udobo (Urhobo), and east beyond the Niger, the kingdom of Istamia.

No kingdom or principality by the name of ‘Biafra’ was mentioned in the accounts of visitors to Africa between the 14th and 18th centuries and the 19th century accounts of Baikie, Lander, Crowther, Hutchinson, or other explorers and Claude Macdonald’s assistant, Mockler- Ferryman.

At a time when Europe scrambled for territories and ‘spheres of influence’ in Africa and land was grabbed along the coast to link with land in the hinterland, maps which feature Biafra were not consistent as to the position of ‘Biafra regnum’ or kingdom. A few had it spelt ‘Biafara’ and stretching from Adamawa’s present-day position to the coast next to the kingdom of Benin.

In one of the maps, the Benue River flows from west to east and into Lake Chad! However, one or two maps had on them a ‘River Kebbi’ flowing (correctly) from Yola to a village among the Tuburi swamps in German Cameroon called Bifara. This map had been surveyed by Major Claude Macdonald during his expedition to the Benue River. It was remarked in a footnote of ‘British Nigeria’ by A.F. Mockler-Ferryman where it appeared, that no Frenchman or German had stepped on Bifara soil before 1894.

The foregoing was extracted from the 1935 Intelligence Report on the Kalabari clan by Capt. V.C.M. Kelsey, District Officer and from the publications of Capt. (later Lt. Col. and then Barrister-at-law A.F. Mockler-Ferryman, who was assistant to Major (later Sir) Claude Macdonald, who at one time had served as Commissioner and Consul General of the Bights of Benin and Biafra. Capt. Mockler-Ferryman was the author of the books from which some of these facts were gleaned.

It is clear that the Bight of Biafra refers to the coastal space between the Benin River and the Cameroon River occupied mainly by the Bini, Urhobo, Itsekiri, Kalabari, Okrika, Andoni, Ogoni, Nembe, Brass, Efik, Ibibio and the Ekoi and the inhabitants of the land between Bakassi and the Cameroon mountains. It starts from the Benin River and ends at the Gabon River and is fringed to the northeast by some Ibo groups.

It is clear from the foregoing that matters and issues relating to Biafra are not the exclusive concern or preserve of any single ethnic group but belong to all the entities, territories and peoples within the area tagged the Bight of Biafra – the Bini, Urhobo, Itsekiri, Ijo, Okrika, Ogoni, Efik, Annang, Ibibio, Ododop, Ekoi and some Ibo who at one time were also part of the Oil Rivers; and today are integral parts of Delta, Bayelsa, Rivers, Akwa Ibom and Cross River States.

Unfortunately, as far as the question of self-determination is concerned, secession is being imposed on the indigenous people by elements with fewer claims to indigeneity.

Any matter, especially secession from Nigeria, involving the geographical space known as the ‘Bight of Biafra’, must also include the participation in the ensuing debate, dialogue and negotiation of its constituent elements, entities and all the peoples of the country.

Some people have described Biafra as a metaphor of national growth and development. Our experience of it, however, has proved very costly in the loss of lives; and very costly in its divisiveness and destructiveness what with the energy and resources it requires and has exacted and is required to unravel its conundrums and defuse its time bombs and booby-traps.

In fact, with the origin and antecedence of the word ‘Biafra’ and our bitter experience the last time, the best thing for Nigerians to do – once and for all- is to leave Biafra well alone!

Is The Problem The System Or The People? By Rotimi Fawole

One of the more recurrent national red lines we confront as a people is whether it is the Nigerian people that need fixing or the Nigerian system itself. On one side of the red line is the assertion that the system is comprised of the people and the people cannot produce a system better than they are – that the system is a product of the output of the people. The other side of the red line counters that if you take people out of the Nigerian system and put them into a different one where things work, they generally adapt and excel. As such, the argument goes, is it the system that makes Nigerian people the way we are. Egg and chicken? 

What is the system and how does it work? I’d like to suggest that the system is a theoretical machine handling the interaction between the government and the people, and the people between themselves. Where the system works, its processes are understood by most and the outcomes are largely predictable. In places where the system works, it’s clear when two motorists have a collision, for example, that they are expected to exchange insurance details and let the insurance companies sort out liability.

 

In the Nigerian system, there will be a show of puffery usually degenerating into shouting (or fisticuffs) and liability will either be determined by the inevitable crowd that gathers or an understanding that a slap or punch have negated any obligation to repair. God help the female motorist who is told by the male motorist to get her husband on the phone, that he doesn’t talk to women. In places where the system works, once your documentation is complete and statutory fees for a government application have been paid, the passport/licence/permit is issued without much further ado. In the Nigerian system, you leave the touts appointed by the government agency to apply and oil the gears on your behalf.

If we transplanted civil servants from Canada or Norway to Nigeria, would application times shorten? Would the need for physical contact between them and applicants decrease? Would policemen from Nigeria turn into super sleuths in Sweden and Singapore? What’s likely is that the foreign personnel (like many of the expatriate Operations Managers and MDs that work in Nigeria) will learn the Nigerian way and conform to it, in the same way that Nigerians who do all they can to jump the queue at the airport in Abuja or Ikeja suddenly find orderliness in their blood on getting to JFK or Heathrow.

 

It is not my suggestion that Nigerians are inherently bad and the Canadians, Norwegians and Swedes are inherently good. In fact, reviewing a franchise agreement for the delivery of a foreign public amenity recently, I was struck by the several performance incentives, operational penalties and revenue-protection mechanisms in the contract. If being from the country implicitly made you good, contracts between same-country entities would not need to be so robust.

So, there are good and bad people everywhere. However, given the system of the country in which this public amenity is situated and the contractual obligations on the franchisee, that service has been delivered to the public at a 99.4% efficiency rate over the past three years. The franchisee runs 99.4% of its scheduled services. Imagine a Nigeria where 99.4% of passport applicants get their booklets on time, without the intervention of touts. Or one where water and electricity run 99.4% of the time. Or one where 99.4% of scheduled flights departed on time.

 

These all suggest that the system is what determines the behaviour of individuals within it. The government is the architect of the system and any system revamp must be orchestrated by the government – democratically and constitutionally too, one must quickly add, before Kagameic Rwanda starts sounding like the option being put forward.

 

Is the governing class interested in a system revamp? The evidence does not suggest so. After all, this current system enables them corner the public purse without consequence. Enthroning a system where merit is a greater consideration than local government of origin would put many of them out of a job. What then, is the conclusion of the matter? Well, to change the system, those that govern must design the change and actively push for it. To make sure that it is those that seek change that get to govern, Nigerians will need to get a lot more involved in the selection process, on both the contesting and voting sides of the electoral red line.

Reminiscences Of The War Against A Journalist By Ahmad Salkida

n this day, last year, I was declared wanted by the Nigerian Army. The official release from the Military High Command was publicised in international and local media. The military release  declaring me wanted was in spite of the fact that I was in constant correspondence with security leaders in the country, including the Army. Not once was I ever invited for any reason by the security forces and there was a hesitation on my part.

Surprisingly, I had been considered a useful party by successive governments, on account of the professional access I have with the leadership of Boko Haram insurgents. Arising from this, I had been asked on several occasions to meet with government officials for critical consultations on finding a solution to the myriad of challenges on this.

On each of these occasions the military was involved in all levels of consultations. For instance, a few months before I was declared wanted, I was involved in an operation with the military, which involved having me flown from Abuja to Maiduguri in a C130 for the very first steps in the sensitive negotiations for the release of Chibok girls.

On arrival to Nigeria in September 2016 from the UAE to clear my name (by the way, I was given money for air tickets by the government), I was met by military officials and driven to the Directorate of Military Intelligence office in Abuja. Amazingly, they were asking me of how I built contacts with the leadership of the insurgents and why it seemed to them they had a tremendous trust in me, things I believe I had written about severally and which remain in the public domain. I was released after 17 hours without charge.

The military authorities found no grounds of indictment, but have been tongue tied in declaring this to members of the public. And the local and international media that feasted on the Army signal declaring me wanted have yet to seek information from the Army on why they let me go.

Well, not to forget that several years, specifically seven years before this, while still working as a reporter for the Daily Trust in Maiduguri, the Borno State Government had declared me persona non grata. I was bundled into an aircraft from a detention room and warned never to show face in my home state. What was my offence, you would ask? I saw the activities of this same sect turned insurgents more newsworthy than official press releases. I had been reporting their doctrines and threats and had wondered in my reports why the national intelligence community did not seem to see the unfolding conflagration that was all too evident to me. So, when the military crackdown against the sect came, they considered this also an appropriate time to rid journalism of this reporter. I was marked for elimination without trial. But I was divinely saved. Even then, the Governor wouldn’t bear the pain of living with my reports, even if they were the truth.

These series of state designed war of attrition against my person and family are clearly unprecedented. I realise that the state together with her military machinery does not brook any idea of placing before members of the public a counter narrative of the insurgency and human calamity from which individuals could make comparisons and draw conclusions. Irrespective of the fact that I have a professional cover to do what I do, even institutions and personalities in the media have gravely chosen to sacrifice me in their cowardly bid to sound and act politically correct.

I consider this sad not because I have been betrayed by my chosen profession, rather I feel sad because journalism has betrayed the public and sold her birthright for a mesh of porridge. Journalism that ought to be the watchdog has chosen to be the lap dog. An entire national media would not see the escalating human tragedy unfolding steadily in the North East, Nigeria because they would not wish to be seen as another Ahmad Salkida.

As at date, there is not a single shred of evidence to sustain the ugly narratives that the media in their illicit romance with the government have woven against me.

There has not been one pointer to any professional misconduct against me. Yet officials and the media generally would not publicly admit this because part of the wider agenda is to demonise me into shame and silence.

However, I am glad that I have never lost sight of my philosophy, which is; ‘integrity is the most valuable article of trade in journalism,’ and as a matter of fact, I have improved in my ability to write and report on the human crisis situation in the Lake Chad region despite growing threats to my professional calling.

Long before now, I learned that nothing else other than the truth, fit to stand alone without any support. Everything that officials have said against me have needed further propaganda and even much more misinformation to give it support. On the contrary the things I write about have stood on their feet alone and time has repeatedly vindicated the truth. They may besmear my person and seek to put me out of professional and legitimate source of livelihood, but my position, as long as it is aligned to nothing other than truth shall always be vindicated.

Aregbesola: The idealist as politician By Owei Lakemfa

When I was Acting General Secretary of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) in 2011, we ordered workers’ strikes following disagreements on the implementation of the new Minimum Wage. Ogbeni Rauf Adesoji Aregbesola, Executive Governor of the State of Osun asked me for a discussion in Abuja.
The state was on its knees due to the strike and negotiations with the labour leaders had broken down, how can I assist? I advised him to increase the quantum of the funds his government was offering so that the workers can have a better payment table. In return, I offered to ask the state labour leaders to return to the negotiation table. He protested that the wage bill will be too high and that the workers ought to realise that the all-round development schemes he was implementing would reduce their financial burden.
I told him they realise this, but that the workers first priority is their survival and that of their families; that the primary concern of a bird is to eat, before flying to behold the wonders of the world. He looked disappointed, but I told him that unless he takes my advice he would need to break the workers, or they will break him. I told him I had no doubt who will be broken and that he needs to learn from one of his predecessors, the prudent Chief Bisi Akande who could hardly finish his first term as a result of his wars with workers. Aregbesola felt he had the backing of the populace, and I wished him luck. I could see he was genuinely committed to sustainable development in the state. I could also see an idealist as governor.
I can reveal that in the January 2012 General Strike and street protests over fuel price increase, he was one of two governors I know, who stood by the Nigerian people, and even provided us with much needed information. He also stoutly stood against the Jonathan Government declaring a state of emergency in the country to break the strikes. In contrast, almost all other governors including from the opposition parties, queued behind the government of the day.
This year, when the list of twenty three state governments owing workers salary and pension was published, Osun was listed as owing six months. A state like Enugu owed parastatal workers twelve months, and pensioners, five years. Ogun State had not paid pension for fifty two months while Benue State was a basket case. Despite being one of the least debtors in this roll of dishonour, the focus has been on Aregbesola with a serving judge demanding his impeachment. To some, this could be a way of getting back at Ashiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, to whom he is closely identified. But I believe it might have to do with his antecedents as an activist, and peoples’ expectations.
This focus, tends to overshadow the social engineering, this mechanical engineer is carrying out. Unlike most governors whose sense of governance is to build some roads or kitchenettes, advertise them and impose huge taxes on the populace, Aregbesola, to use a trite, thinks outside the box. He makes a linkage between policy and the peoples’ interests. He does not just conceive projects, but also possible derivatives from the particular project, and how it is linked with other projects. He is like a town planner who ensures that the various development programmes are well situated for the convenience of the populace, and to enhance further development.
In tackling the mass unemployment monster, he began, in 2013, an ambitious Osun Youth Empowerment Scheme (O’YES) under which 20,000 unemployed youths were engaged for two years.
Tailored after Kwame Nkrumah’s Young Pioneers, beneficiaries were orientated to have loyalty to the people and serve them. Then they were taken through skill acquisition. This became a pool of educated, conscientized, skilled and empowered youths from which the state drew thousands of new recruits into its public service. The second group of 20,000 youths in the 2013-2015 batch, are rounding up their programme.
In introducing free education, his goal was not just literacy, but complete education which included membership of the Omoluabi (virtuous) Boys and Girls Club with emphasis on citizenship and physical training. One major innovation is the provision of one balanced meal a day for all children in school. This ensures their wellbeing and encourages parents to send their children to school. As part of the linkage, the food as much as possible, is locally produced thereby ensuring a linkage with the wellbeing of farmers in the locality of the schools. Also, the uniformed cooks and their assistants are taken from the schools’ locality thereby establishing a bond between community and school.
In integrating basic education with modern information technology along the lines of India’s Kerala State, the government provided pupils with Tablets (Opon Imo)
Also in providing school uniforms for pupils in public schools, the Aregbesola administration insisted the textile contractor must establish a factory in the state and train locals to sew the uniforms. The Government also introduced a Rural Enterprise and Agriculture Scheme and put in place an emergency system with ambulances. To check insecurity, it bought armoured personnel carriers and a surveillance helicopter.
In his zeal to frog-leap an essentially agrarian society into a 21st Century industrial one, Aregbesola forgot his Achilles heel; that like other states, Osun is dependent on monthly allocation from the federation account; so when the allocation dropped from N5 Billion in February 2013, to N540 Million this April, he was like a pilot who had overshot the runway.
Aregbesola tends to be programmatic like Obafemi Awolowo, a populist similar to ‘Penkelemesi’ Adelabu Adegoke, an orator in the mold of Samuel Ladoke Akintola, with a Talakawa spirit like Aminu Kano. But in a polity controlled by APC and PDP where all birds congregate; it is difficult to differentiate doves and pigeons from hawks and vultures.
In a sense, he is an idealist, and the problem with this tribe of people which I! belong, is that we do not fully understand our environment. However, while realists perpetuate the status quo, only idealists change society.

Kenyan Youths Are Winning Elections, The Ones In Nigeria Are Daydreaming By ‘Fisayo Soyombo

This is a story of two popular but dissimilar Cynthias. One recently earned her fame, the other has been around for a while. One is a politician, the other a musician. One symbolizes intellect and strength of character, the other is unmistakably a sex symbol. One is Kenyan, the other Nigerian. One is Cynthia Muge, the other Cynthia Morgan. Each name could possibly be mistaken for the other, but surely not their stories.

Cynthia Morgan, 25, burst onto the Nigerian musical scene in 2010, aged just 19, after featuring in Jhybo’s Ejo le fe ro. The daughter of an Edo-based gospel artiste, Morgan’s music is anything but gospel. Her music videos are x-rated, replete with raunchy acts, salacious dancing and nude bathtub scenes, and offering very little for moral, intellectual or societal regeneration. A vain mind like the majority of her music-industry peers, Morgan once boasted of owning a N12million wristwatch.

Unlike Morgan, Cynthia Muge does not have N12million in her bank account much less own a N12million item. But she shot to limelight last week all the same.  The 24-year-old, running as an independent candidate because she lacked the funds to obtain the Jubilee Party’s nomination form, defeated five men to secure the Member of Country Assembly (MCA) seat in Kilibwoni Ward, Nandi County.

Muge’s chances looked so slim that even her own mother advised her against running. Without the funds, the University of Nairobi graduate devised a social media and house-to-house campaign strategy. She polled 8,760 votes, while her closest competitor, Wilson Kiptanui of Jubilee Party, garnered 8,354 votes. She joins five other women in taking six of the 30 assembly seats available in Nandi.

 

If Muge’s story is enthralling, another’s is simply intriguing. John John Paul Mwirigi, 23, ‘broke’, jobless and an orphan, ran without a party against veteran politicians boasting membership of established political parties. He emerged victor, polling 18, 867 against Jubilee Party’s Rufus Miriti, who had 15, 411 votes. Three other seasoned politicians —Mwenda Mzalendo (7,695 votes), Kubai Mutuma (6,331 votes) and Raphael Muriungi, a Deputy Governor, two-tome ex-MP and former Assistant Minister (2,278 votes) — placed nowhere near him.

The sixth child of eight children from his parents, Mwirigi still lives in his family home — a local granary in the community! He printed no campaign posters, and prosecuted his door-to-door campaign on foot until his former colleagues bought him a motorcycle.

 

False hopes in Nigeria

Considering the recent passage of the ‘not too young to run bill’ by the National Assembly, Mwirigi and Morgan have raised hopes, particularly on the social media, that twenty-year-olds could soon be winning elections in Nigeria. Not only is that impossible, even the older youth can only dream of elective public office. For the youth, there is at least one more secondary obstacle and many primary ones.

 

The ‘not too young to run’ bill seeks to give the Nigerian youth the kind of opportunity available to Kenyans; it wants the Constitution to lower the age requirement for occupying the office of the President to 30 years from 40 years, Governor to 30 from 35, Senate to 30 from 35, House of Representatives to 25 from 30 and State House of Assembly to 25 from 30. The bill also seeks to allow independent candidature in the country’s electoral process. For the amendment to become final, 24 state houses of assembly must approve the bill and the President must assent to it.

 

Although the green chamber favored the bill from scratch, the red chamber despised it and indeed threw it out after in November 2016, following opposition from majority of its constitution review committee. Last month’s positive about-turn was triggered only by agitation from a coalition of youth groups, most prominent of which was Samson Itodo’s Youth Initiative for Advocacy Growth and Advancement (YIAGA). That initial resistance of 2016 is likely to be the true position of the legislature and possible indication that the state houses of assembly could pass up the bill. Should this happen, YIAGA and co have a real battle on their hands. One-stop protests at the National Assembly is hard enough, but travelling round a minimum of 24 states on a lobbying/protest mission is surely not the simplest of tasks.

 

Nigeria isn’t Kenya

Mwirigi and Muge didn’t win in Kenya simply because the young could run or because the poor did not necessarily need to join a political party. As confirmed by Fatu Ogwuche, an elections technology consultant who observed the Kenyan polls, both of them had integrated themselves into their communities. They had a deep connection to the grassroots. Mwirigi had particularly been dreaming of a legislative position since Form 3, the Nigerian equivalent of Primary 3. Gradually, for well over a decade, he crept into the minds of Igembe South people by sitting and dining with them, and “helping them whenever” he could. When he rose to contest, they saw him as the product of their struggles, an aggregation of their individual parts. His campaign was as good as theirs; if he won, they did. That’s why they all keyed in.

 

Here in Nigeria, politically conscious youth cannot lay claim to a physical connection to the grassroots. The leading lights are all Twitter superstars and “social-media influencers”. Unfortunately, Twitter superstardom won’t deliver votes. Kenya proved that already with the defeat of its Twitter god, Boniface Mwangi, at the polls. Mwangi, a popular activist, currently has 738,000 followers on Twitter but he had only secured 11,714 votes as of the time he conceded defeat, while a candidate had double his votes and another had almost quadruple. This is not to say Mwangi is not loved both home and abroad. For example, his recent book, Mwangi UnBounded, was endorsed by the biggest names in literature and international politics, from Ngugi wa Thiong’o to Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. Still, he lost.

If we managed to find a Nigerian youth with the grassroots appeal who could contest as a stand-alone candidate to circumvent the huge financial burden of party politicking, he may not be alive to witness the end of his door-to-door campaign. That’s a hyperbole, but Nigeria’s population is nearly four times that of Kenya; any candidate who springs up a door-to-door campaign on foot or with an Mwirigi-like motorcycle is on a suicide mission and will be bogged down in exhaustion.

In all, money will continue to dominate Nigerian politics for the foreseeable future. Youth who are without godfathers, and are not money bags, may run but will predictably lose. If Nigerian youth do not get off the social media and properly set about the process of connecting with the grassroots, the ‘not too young to run’ bill will yield not-too-young-to-lose and still-to-young-to-win results. It would be fantastic for the bill to become law; opening up the political space to youth is great progress but securing victories is distant prospect still.

 

Adekunle Fajuyi: Still In Search Of Conscientious Leadership

The dam of impunity is fast caving in on us and it will not be too long before everything bursts, that is, if we fail to urgently act to salvage this sinking nation of great potentials that are begging to be tapped.  Truth exalts a nation, but lack of wisdom drives it into ignominy.  By our own undoing, we are held captive in exile away from rational approaches to building a working and decent nation. But, for how long will this be?

The sacrificial blood of Lieutenant-Colonel Francis Adekunle Fajuyi – a redemptive blood of July 29, 1967, may soon expire except we act to urgently salvage this nation. The man we all love to remember today had a deep spiritual foresight about Nigeria, through the grace of God upon his life, before he convinced himself to give his all. He saw in Major General Johnson Aguiyi-Ironsi, not just a visiting Head of State or a guest that must be protected, but he saw the spirit of Nigeria in him and a nation waiting to be killed. The shedding of Fajuyi’s precious blood is a fundamental spiritual reason God has been using the Yoruba nation to keep this country alive till today.

The startling level of leadership inertia, recklessness, injustice, wickedness, hatred, divisiveness, ethno-religious crises is weighing heavily on this nation, tearing down the cord of unity and making the different federating units to be having a serious rethink. It is evident all over and we may continue to pretend at our own peril, but the realities are with us. The current agitation over restructuring is the least we can do to redeem a lost nation. The crux of it is that, if we do not know where we are headed with our false federalism, we should know where we are coming from – a regional government that worked. So much lessons to learn from what had worked.

We lack conscientious leaders, and for decades, Nigeria is left to be ravaged by the two most dangerous afflictions that could annihilate a modern state and drive the people into eternal servitude: leadership profligacy and economic repartitioning. As a nation, we have made nonsense of the popular axiom: “once bitten, twice shy.” The historical European scrambling for and partitioning of Africa in which Nigeria became a victim during the December 1884-1885 (January) Berlin Conference, was never enough a lesson. Because we wasted the abundant opportunity to use what we had to develop ourselves, we wallowed in profligacy.   We have now painfully drifted into a new phase of shameful partitioning.

A sincere evaluation of the present day Nigeria will reveal a nation that is economically partitioned by the Chinese, Lebanese, Indians, South Africa and other emerging economies who have come to feast on Nigeria as a large market waiting to be conquered. We are in a state worse than neo-colonialism. The current landlords of our economy are exploiting us in a fashion similar to a nation in exile, lacking purpose and direction. Unfortunately we have outsourced our development to foreigners. Our leadership sense is warped. Every year, we are producing manpower that our government cannot think of how to effectively utilise.  We have failed to learn from the sacrifice put in place by some past eminent leaders and heroes of our nation.

The path of Fajuyi was defined by what is entirely lacking in our leadership system – conscientious and sacrificial leadership. He was reputed to have said: “When our country calls upon us for sacrifice, we shall be worthy to follow those who, in all the ages and countries, have lived and even died for God and freedom.”  This profound statement of courage and nobility had, sadly, been alienated from the thinking of several leaders who have led us since the demise of this great soldier. He fought wars to preserve the peace of the world and gave his all to Nigeria. He understood the need for everyone to live in peace and enjoy stability.

On assuming duty as a Military Governor of Western Nigeria, he brought into his office all the qualities which had distinguished him as a great soldier. ‘It was a call to duty’ according to him, and he further explained in a military fashion – “Quite honestly, I don’t feel like a Governor; I feel more like a soldier – a soldier of peace. Essentially, I am a soldier. This is merely an extra – regimental duty as far as I am concerned. I would be happier in the barracks with my soldiers than in this palatial Government House.”

As we remember Fajuyi, a soldier of soldiers with great attributes: professional in service, dutiful in assignments, affable and warm personality, intensely patriotic, accommodating, broad-minded, frank, devoted and resolute officer; let us also be reflective of the state of our country and how we appreciate the real sacrifice of our past heroes.  A country that ill-treats its true heroes with disdain or lacking in means of recognising them and giving them their entitlement (eternal memorial) is living a farce or a tragedy, or perhaps both. Ultimately, the story of his death is a testimony of courage.

On this particular day in 1967, the place of Lt. Colonel Adekunle Fayuyi as a conscientious leader of immense bravery was etched in the annals of this nation. In the Nigerian pantheon, his place as a great leader and an exceptional military officer who was killed protecting his Commander-in-Chief, Major General Aguyi-Ironsi, makes him fit for yearly remembrance. We will continue to remember him and celebrate his unparalleled virtues.

But as we approach another electoral circus in 2019, the onus is on all of us to commence very early, the noble search for conscientious and God fearing leaders. We are talking of leaders who are more than willing to give their all to this nation through selfless sacrifice; leaders who will not live at the expense of the masses or value foreign goods above locally produced ones; leaders who will drive Nigeria on the path of knowledge revolution; a leader who will not sleep when the life of one Nigerian is endangered.

It is noteworthy that Ariyo-Dare Atoye, a passionate and selfless young Nigerian from Ekiti State, is commencing a Competitive Educational Awards for outstanding pupils at St. Georges Primary School, Ado-Ekiti in honour of Fajuyi, to bring lost pride back to public primary schools.

Gender Inequality Is A Philosophical Problem- Minna Salami

In ancient times, Nigerian women had access to spiritual and political power, and women and men were historically seen as equal in many parts of the nation. But that was in the past. Today, Nigeria is a country which discriminates against its female population in ways that few countries around the world rival. The discrimination may shape-shift depending on ethnicity, region and class, but all women in the country are discriminated against simply by virtue of being women.

It is a contradictory situation if ever there were one. On the one hand, we love talking about strong, matriarchal figures either in our cultural history or in our families. Most Nigerians would testify that they grew up around strong women; their grandmothers, mothers, sisters, aunties, teachers and so on. We are certainly a nation that is interested in womanhood.

From a former president, Obasanjo’s, book on “virtuous” women to D’banj’s “Oliver Twist” to Aisha Buhari’s forthrightness, Nigerians – men and women – absolutely love gossiping and debating the ins and outs of female behaviour. At the same time, there are a multitude of disadvantageous laws directed at women, violence against women is common and sexist public opinion rife. We are a nation where women are second class citizens.

Generally, sexism is blamed for the way women are treated, sexism being the belief that men are superior to women. However, sexism is itself part of an even more towering problem, namely the failure to engage with philosophical matters. I do not mean philosophy in the academic sense alone, rather what we are disengaged from is philosophy in its truest meaning, the love of wisdom.

As it is, ideas about ethical questions to do with freedom, justice and equality are either non-existent or arrived at randomly. Could you tell me what the Nigerian values on freedom, or justice are? Exactly. When we don’t encourage a philosophic discussion about who we are as a nation, why we are who we are, and most importantly, who we want to be, then all we ever do is react. Whether it is to imperialist, militarist or capitalist influences, we need to stop merely reacting and think more deeply about what is best for all citizens of the country.

Societies which are good and just have a sense of shared values. No society can progress if its people are not grappling with topics such as self-knowledge, logic, consciousness, humanism, justice and freedom to name a few. The wiser a society becomes, the clearer it becomes that there is no such thing as a female or male brain, we are socially conditioned to behave in gendered ways. What is biologically different about women and men is our reproductive organs, but to identify with the reproductive organs alone is elemental.

Without inquiry and profound reflection, the Nigerian woman has come to be perceived as a sexual object and/or a maternal object. She is rarely thought of as an individual with an independent will and mind. She is judged either by her desirability or her motherly presence and is to robotically respond to patriarchal demands. Sure, this is not Saudi Arabia. Women dress as they like at least in most parts of the country. They drive, work, socialise and, raise children as they see fit but the Nigerian woman is not free because she is not treated as an equal. Freedom means more than deciding what is right or wrong. When we talk about freedom, we are discussing how we want to live, and what type of virtues we deem worthy in our society.

Philosophical reflection is therefore necessary not only for the sake of women’s development but for all our progress. After all, how can a nation develop if only one-half of it is acknowledged. It is like a bodybuilder training only one side of their body. Of course, they will not be able to lift the heavy weights unless they strengthen both sides.

But, in a country where large numbers are uneducated, how do we encourage philosophical reflection? First of all, let’s be clear that some of the world’s best thinkers come from tough backgrounds. Yet that said, introspection does undeniably tend to be a privilege of those who have enough food on their plates. That is precisely why those of us women and men who are concerned about gender inequality need to centre our struggle on the fight for freedom. The first step to freedom is the realisation that you are not free. As we probe into these mutually elevating discussions, there will be an understanding that gender inequality and elevated social consciousness go hand in hand.

A Senate’s Overreach

Apparently angered by what it perceives as the executive’s dilatoriness over the matter of EFCC Acting Chairman, Ibrahim Magu following his non-confirmation, the Senate has literally been threatening fire and brimstone. Last week, it directed the acting President, Yemi Osinbajo to either sack Magu or risk suspension of further confirmation of any nominations into public offices. It also wants the acting President to withdraw the statement credited to him that the Senate does not have the power to confirm certain nominees.

Senator George Sekibo (PDP, Rivers State) capped the resolution with a threat: “…I don’t want to talk about gross misconduct, but the moment you are playing with the Constitution and laws, it means you are playing down on Nigerians who make the laws”. To this, the Senate President lend his voice: “These resolutions of the Senate must be acted upon by the acting president; otherwise we will take appropriate action.”

If we are not used to costly tantrums by our parliamentarians, we would have treated the threat of unspecified actions against Osinbajo as one of such jokes meant to douse tension in a troubled polity. For a parliament that has ordinarily lost its value, this latest tantrum is least surprising; for while the resort of threat would be in line with the character of a parliament that has long lost its rationale, that the highest lawmaking body in the country would, like some bunch of school children, consider abdicating its functions to fight their turf wars takes parliamentary activism to a new low.

To start with, the acting President has done nothing that can be remotely suggestive of breaking the law on the basis of which the parliament could resort to the threat of sanction. Yes, we are mindful of the fact that the Senate has twice rejected Magu’s confirmation; and the acting President was quoted to have argued that heads of agencies like the EFCC do not have to go to the Senate for confirmation – the plank of his argument being that the EFCC Act is inferior to the Constitution and that the provisions of Section 171 which mandates certain categories of appointments to be confirmed by the Senate is inapplicable to the office of the EFCC chairman. As far as we can see, the issues, as well as the debates that they have spawned, are matters of public interest that Nigerians have voiced diverse opinions.

However, suffice to say that on the first, the Senate, up till now, has not pointed out any law that precludes the President from either re-nominating Magu or any regulation automatically voiding his occupancy of the office on being rejected by the Senate. As for the second, much as the Senate may find that position unsettling, the matter seems to us as one of the constitutional imports that would require the apex court – as against the senators in their chambers – to resolve.

In the circumstance, it seems to us that the Senate will do well to spend quality time on serious issues of governance, against what has become their penchants for endless motions, driven more by ego and nothing else. If they have nothing better to do, the least we expect is that they spare the nation the needless and unhelpful overreach.

 

Thoughts On President Buhari’s Medical Advice To Nigerians By Pius Adesanmi

From what I’ve seen thus far, President Buhari’s return is being framed as a short convalescent respite in Abuja before he returns for “further checks” in London. Until I hear differently, I have to take it that this is the true state of things.

Whatever the case may be, I say welcome to him and I wish him God’s speed in the journey to recovery and full health. I also pray for strength for his immediate family as they continue to take care of him. I was in their shoes for 22 years, from 1985 to 2007.

I know the toll it takes on one to have to take care of one’s loved ones when they are ill. The Yoruba have a proverb that those taking care of the sick are the sick. For the 22 years that my mom, sisters, and I had to take care of my father, we were sick too. The President’s immediate family needs our prayers and support.

That said, there is also a familiar narrative of human callousness and lack of respect for the dignity of the indisposed. No matter how weak and frail the human bodily frame of President Yar’Adua was, some people somewhere needed the political symbolism of his appearance in Abuja for their own selfish purposes. No matter how weak and frail the human bodily frame of Danbaba Suntai was, some desperate people needed the political capital of his return to Jalingo.

The same primitive sentiments by the same forces who lack fundamental human decency and are genetically incapable of thinking Nigeria beyond their pernicious narrow and personal interests are now at work. However, unlike President Yar’Adua and Governor Suntai who were parachuted in barely conscious, President Buhari has agency and is a player in this unfolding scenario. He is responsible for his own decisions.

The trip and prolonged stay were already so badly handled. What is the purpose of a convalescent cameo return at such unbelievable costs to the tax payer? The proper, dignifying thing to do in the circumstances is to allow a full return to health in London before returning or to return to Abuja only when the President’s health has reached a stage where treatment could continue at home.

For me, continuing the management of his health in Abuja – we pay an awful lot annually for that State House Medical Centre – would not reduce the damage done by the fact that he went on a health safari at all or the way the whole thing was managed – deceiving Nigerians initially, dishing out information parsimoniously as if it were a privilege, bullying and blackmailing Nigerians for asking questions – but it will at least not compound the situation with an expensive cameo convalescent return to Abuja.

Premium Times has given an in-depth account of President Buhari’s statements to his cabinet and some governors in the State House upon his return. Premium Times reports that the President weighed in on education and health. I agree with the President on education, albeit with my own amplification. On health, I sincerely hope that Premium Times has either mis-reported the President or quoted him out of context. However, until there is clarification from the Presidency, I will go with Premium Times’s account.

According to Premium Times, the President stated that we must take the education of our children seriously. Says Premium Times:

“Mr. Buhari said the world was fast changing, and more efforts must be made to equip the younger generation with relevant skills to compete in the global economy.”

I agree in toto with the President here. However, in addition to educating our children to be active participants in the global knowledge economy, we have a more urgent task to overhaul the delivery of the humanities and the social sciences in Nigeria. We need an urgent reinvestment in critical thought. We need to make two semesters of philosophy compulsory in every Nigerian tertiary institution.

That way, we will start to produce citizens who are not only capable of feeling insulted in their civic essence by the way that this whole Presidential health saga has been handled but who will be interpellated to ask tough and hard questions and understand such as their right and duty to Nigeria.

If we listen to President Buhari and educate our children properly, the hordes feeling privileged that the President has deigned to bless them with a convalescent return and disturbing the peace all over social media will understand that after the human sentiment of euphoria and relief (I was quite relieved seeing the President), they have an even bigger duty of asking tough questions as his employers. And they have a duty to themselves to completely ignore any bullying by Citizen Abobaku.

Beyond education, Premium Times reports that President Buhari has other advice for Nigerians. He has health advice for them. According to Premium Times:

“President Buhari noted that the government would continue to discourage Nigerians from self-medication, urging those with discomforts to ensure they get proper diagnosis and doctor’s prescription for drugs. He lauded the quality of treatment he got during his medical vacation.”

I don’t know what to say to this if Premium Times reported the President’s statement correctly. All I will say is that people in power and government and Citizen Abobaku who bullies his fellow citizens to support them unquestionably at all times should try from time to time to show that they have human feeling and that they are capable of empathizing with the downtrodden in Nigeria.

President Buhari is not the only person that is sick. Psychologically and emotionally, our citizens are also ill because they have been so badly beaten and battered. We should be mindful of this and be compassionate, not add to their emotional and psychological stress.

A Nigerian has probably not been paid his salary in the last 8 months. He cannot feed. He cannot pay his rent. He cannot pay his children’s school fees. He cannot afford the ramshackle health facilities we have in Nigeria. The doctors are on strike anyway because they are not paid.

In all of this, he has borne your own medical trip to London because you traveled at public expense. Then you return from London to advise him to “get proper diagnosis and doctor’s prescription for drugs”. And you also praised the quality of the medical treatment you got abroad?

Is this a joke? Is this blindness to irony? Is this callousness? Is this lack of empathy? How exactly is a Nigerian supposed to feel about this very strange medical advice from the President? Where exactly is a Nigerian supposed to get this diagnosis and prescription drugs from? London?

A citizen who reads that he or she is being advised to get medical care in crumbled and ramshackle clinics and hospitals by a President just returning from a publicly-funded medical safari in London is also sick because such a citizen has just been emotionally and psychologically violated.

So when we are bullying Nigerians to empathize with the President, let us also remember that the victims of our bullying are human and deserve empathy, much more empathy than the President.

A Nigerian, a Library, and Lawmakers, By Pius Adesanmi

Recently, I narrated the going-through-thick-and-thin phase of life together in Vancouver, Canada, with my brother from the heartland of Ijesha country, Emmanuel Bayo Aregbesola. The focus of that treatise was how Western Union taught us to be more philosophical about our frequent remittances to Nigeria as diasporans.
We were in our prime as graduate students at the University of British Columbia. We graduated. I took my Ph.D. in French Studies and headed south across the border to teach at Penn State University in the United States. Bayo took his Masters in Library and Archival Studies and headed to Europe, landing at The Hague where he was hired as Archivist and Librarian by the World Court.
At the end of his contract with the World Court, Bayo returned to Canada and joined the Federal civil service. In 2006, I left the United States and returned to Canada, to Ottawa. One year later, Bayo phoned me from Vancouver. He had just been transferred to Ottawa. Our joint Canadian Odyssey in one city was going to continue. Just shy of two years into his work in a Federal Ministry in Ottawa, Bayo phoned to announce that there was a job opening in Canada’s Parliament and he was going to apply for it.
As it were, Parliament was looking for a senior librarian and archivist. Bayo was sure that having been a librarian at the World Court, he stood a good chance. He was right. The Canadian parliament jumped at his UN resume. That is how a Nigerian came to preside over the organization and acquisition of knowledge by members of parliament in Canada.
Oh boy, did we celebrate that job! Bayo was now in a position where Canada’s Senators and Reps would be consulting him daily for sources and references. For us, this was a biggie. A few months into the job, I started to notice the first signs of discomfort and restlessness in Bayo. As Nigeria always does to her sons and daughters in the diaspora, the inescapable burden of comparison had caught up with Bayo in his new station in life, leaving a terrible taste in his mouth and making it impossible for him to enjoy his new job.
Bayo’s first problem was the ordinariness of power all around him. He would phone me from work, moaning and groaning that nearly 90% of the Senators and Reps took public transport to parliament. In the summer, many rode bicycles or trekked. No airs. No convoys. No expensive SUV purchases every two years, no useless appurtenances of power. His mind would travel to Abuja and picture Nigeria’s Senators and Reps and that would be the end of his happiness for the day.
Then came his job description as librarian and archivist. Lawmakers and their aides trooped daily to the library. He had to organize a daily deluge of research sources and materials for the Lawmakers and their aides. Before every intervention, every speech on the floor of Parliament, a Lawmaker would read and read and read and dig and dig and dig and research and research and research. Bayo would supply books and files and sources and references, all the while thinking dejectedly about our own indolent and irresponsible Senators and Reps in Nigeria. He would phone me and ruin my day. His agony was always contagious. He would be doing the weeping on Parliament Hill. I would be doing the gnashing of teeth at Carleton University. Two Nigerians united in ibanuje because of the work ethos of Canadian parliamentarians.
The pabambari of it all was when Bayo discovered that every trip to their riding (constituency in Nigeria) was also preceded by a lot of research. Whenever they went back to their ridings to meet and interact with the constituents who voted for them and sent them to Ottawa, they had to be prepared; they had to be armed with research and knowledge for the constituents would expect quality feedback from them. You don’t just jump in your car and go back home to meet with your constituents without being prepared to be grilled in a qualitative manner on your thought, your vision, and your legislative agenda. The people need to know that you are intellectually applied in the manner in which you are representing them.
What Bayo and I were witnessing was a supreme sign of respect for one’s electorate in a democracy. They sent me to Ottawa to work for them in the context of a global knowledge economy, and whenever I return home to meet them, I must be prepared to show evidence of constant personal and intellectual development.
Bayo did not stay long on that job. It was too emotionally draining, too psychologically damaging for he could not escape the constant specter of Nigeria. As I told him, the only way a Nigerian could enjoy such a job was to undergo some form of surgical memory erasure where Nigeria and her politicians and government officials would be forever banished from one’s consciousness. Bayo returned to the civil service and is now a Manager in one of the Ministries – that is what you call Director in Nigeria.
There is, of course, something they call a library at the National Assembly. It even surprisingly has books in it. However, it is a largely useless space because you do not need a qualitative mind constantly fed and replenished by knowledge to represent Nigerians in a political office. The only purpose of the Library in Nigeria’s National Assembly is that it is a vital source of recurrent expenditure in the annual budget. Since 1999, they have been claiming to be buying books and replenishing that Library. It is a source of stomach infrastructure for them.
Can you close your eyes and picture Dino Melaye in a library, reading, because he needs to be accountable in a cerebral way to his constituents? Can you picture Senator Godswill Akpabio reading a book? Exactly which one of them can you picture within a ten-kilometre radius of knowledge? I can think only of my friend, Senator Sola Adeyeye but that is because he is a Professor and was a University lecturer in America for years before returning home to contest for office. Sometimes I pity the cerebral Professor Adeyeye because he has to share that space with the imbecilic Dino and his ilk in the majority.
Even the cosmopolitan commonsense Tweetnator from Bayelsa – can you picture him in an atmosphere of research and knowledge acquisition for the sake of his constituents? I can’t. Yet, he is one of the most urbane and sophisticated minds in NASS, despite his warts. Because he does not need to read and research anything for the sake of his constituents, that explains why he rants about issues on Twitter, only to get to the Senate and keep quiet whenever the floor opens for the same issues he rants about. I’ve hardly ever seen or heard him make a qualitative intervention.
Why are your Senators and Reps able to establish an ethos of cerebral emptiness – which has become the standard identity of NASS since 1999? I’m afraid they are only partly to blame. The bulk of the blame falls on you. You are their principal alibi for the way they do things. You are their principal alibi for doing the things they do. The Canadian Lawmaker spends hours preparing for every trip home to meet his constituents because he expects to be grilled in a certain way.
Today is Christmas Eve. Your Senators and Reps are already at home with you in the countryside. How and what did they have to prepare for this trip back home from Abuja? What did they have to prepare to meet you, their constituents? Sacks of rice. Salt. Ororo. Ajinomoto. Lacasera. And lots of envelopes, each containing about ten thousand naira.
The most painful part for me is that you hardly even get to see them on these trips home. You would have to be especially privileged to even make it to their proper living rooms. The way they construct their mansions, there is always that anteroom where they receive you in cohorts. Their domestic staff will serve you rice and drinks while you watch Arsenal versus Chelsea. Then Madam will come from za oza room in the mansion and greet you all and deliver a little speech on behalf of Chief who is resting upstairs and cannot come and see you. Madam will ask if you need more food and drinks. She will then distribute the envelopes. You will hail and hail and hail and sing and sing and sing. And the next cohort will arrive.
This is the scene that will be enacted ad nauseam in every nook and cranny of Nigeria from today till January 2, 2017. When Madam gives you that envelope and tells you that Chief is sleeping upstairs, do you think it is possible for you as a group to insist on seeing him to ask pertinent questions about his manner of representing you in NASS?
If you see yourself being able to do this and you do it – even if you don’t get the desired answer – then Nigeria has some hope of a mental and paradigm shift in a very distant future.
If all you do is eat rice, take your envelope, hail and leave, then we are doomed.