Saturday, December 25, 2010

This Dart Hits Me III: Not a Merry Xmas

Christmas Eve saw evil descend on Jos and Maiduguri. On Friday 24, three bombs exploded in Jos--two in busy Jos markets and one in a Catholic church. Over thirty people were killed in Jos; several more wounded. In Maiduguri, a church was burnt and a pastor and two others were killed.

My friend, John Galadima, lives in Jos with his family. John teaches Mass Communication in University of Jos, Nigeria. But he was in Ibadan this season to get ready for the final defence of his PhD thesis coming up soon. When John got the news that his hometown was in flames, he was totally crestfallen. He spent nearly all on him making calls to his wife and relatives. In the evening, John had to take a shot of local gin to douse his rising restlessness. Thank God, his family members were not harmed. Contrary to tradition, I decided not to send any SMS this year wishing anyone merry Xmas. It was not a merry Xmas.

What is sad about all of this is that there had been clear signals that there would be attacks during Christmas in Jos. Five days before dropping the bombs in Abuja on October 1, militants warned government; days before Boko Haram invaded the Bauchi prison and set their bloodhounds free, government got wind of it. All of the recent blasts, attacks, massacres were preceded by what is more than rumours of the atttacks. And don't think that the Nigerian security agents are dumb asses. They are simply overstretched protecting the rich political class. Merry Xmas?

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

This Dart Hits Me--Part II (Darkness Covers the Land)

The promise of the Federal Government was to increase electricity supply to 6,000 megawatts by December last year (2009). Well, like many other promises from government, that failed woefully. Right now, the 120million people in Nigeria survive on less than 2,000 megawatts. I wrote on this in an earlier post on this blog: Home Sweat Home. Most Nigerians have adjusted to the darkness and frustration created by the absence of electricity--as well as to the hellish noise created by generators used by neighbours. For six weeks, there was no electricity supply to the building that houses my faculty. That did not bother me too much. What recently hit me was this: university students having to write exams with candles. It was an evening paper and by 6pm it was dark already. The lecturer in charge had to provide candles so that the exam could continue! See pictures following--if you can see anything! Tomorrow, the government will complain Nigerian students aren't performing as good as their counterparts elsewhere. They will lament that Nigerian universities aren't among the top 1,000 in the world. And they always blame lecturers for that.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

This Dart Hits Me: Part I--Yomi Fashina is Dead

In April this year when I returned from a three-month fellowship at the African Studies Centre, Leiden, the Netherlands, I took a decision: I would be totally indifferent to any of the problems which have come to define Nigeria. I had met the electric power supply worse than it was three months earlier, the roads were worse... in short everything had gone worse including the health of the then president. I had always carried with me the burden called Nigeria. I was given to staying up at night worrying about Nigeria; soliloquizing during the day about the problems of Nigeria, and often giving vent to my frustrations about Nigeria at seminars and during lectures. Now, I decided ‘No More’. Nigeria was not my property or business. I constructed a mental and emotional cocoon, an iron shell into which I often withdraw, far away from Nigeria. But Nigeria is a good marksman and its dart keeps perforating my cocoon and hitting me. This One Hits me Sore!

The worst dart Nigeria has thrown at me since I withdrew into my cocoon was thrown on Tuesday November 9. My student, research assistant and friend, Oluyomi Dipo Fashina (DF) was returning from Lagos on the notorious Lagos-Ibadan Expressway. The bus in which he was travelling was involved in an accident. Yomi had several compound fractures in different parts of his body. Gallantly, Yomi fought the pains for five long days. In between spells of comas, Yomi was able to speak once. All he said was that everyone should relax; he would be fine. In the evening of Sunday 14 November, DF died. The Lagos-Ibadan Expressway had its way!

If anyone came close to being a perfect gentleman, Yomi was that person. A great team player, an ever-smiling workaholic, a leader and a true servant of men. Yomi, with like-minded classmates like Chuks Egbunike, John Ibanga and Folake Ogunleye, did a comprehensive fieldwork for me on mobile phone deception in Nigeria. And together we explored the Communication Infrastructure Theory and its possible applications in Nigeria. Several times he was my extra pair of eyes which picked my un-dotted i’s and uncrossed t's. He was there for me literally at the snap of a finger!

Since Yomi’s death, everywhere I turn, I encounter him: his MA thesis is on my shelf and on my table; his writings are in my files; his documents are on my laptops. Where do I turn from you, Oluyomi? My colleagues and students meet me and console me as you do one who lost an only child.

If the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway was good, if Vehicle Inspection Officers did their job, in short, if this was not Nigeria, Yomi would be alive today. In the last ten months, the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway (on which Yomi had the accident) has claimed about two hundred lives through accidents. The accidents included several occurrences of fuel-carrying tankers which lost control and ran into many passenger vehicles burning everyone to ashes. Women, men, children, newlyweds on their way to their honeymoon—all dreams are being cut short. We moan and groan and keep quiet. The dead become mere statistics. The road is bad, the vehicles are bad, drivers are unlicensed, policemen are busy with N20 bribes and the government is busy with elections and rigging, while Nigerians are dying in their prime!

Nigeria, it’s hard not to be hard hit.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Special Journal Edition: Media, Politics and Democratic culture in Nigeria and Zimbabwe

The International Journal of Social and Management Sciences (IJOSAMS) devoted its latest edition (Volume 3, No 1, 2010) to Media, Politics and Democratic culture in Nigeria and Zimbabwe. Contributions were made from the two countries and the United States. Click here for the table of contents and list of contributors. Click here for abstracts of the papers. The Volume was edited by Anthony Olorunnisola, PhD, Department of Film/Video and Media Studies, College of Communications, The Pennsylvania State University, US.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

‘Now that everyone is a photographer, we starve’

Recently at a wedding reception in Lagos, Nigeria, I was attracted to the plight of most of the ‘professional’ photographers present. In Nigeria, ‘professional’ photographers do not wait to be invited to an event especially weddings, funerals and college convocations. They besiege such events and take photographs of especially well-dressed ladies and dash to the nearest studio to print the pictures. Before the event is over, they return with printed photographs, seek out the photographed persons and sell the photos to them. Each 5” by 7” costs N100 (about 70 US cents).
But things are changing. At that wedding reception, I noticed that many people prevented ‘professional’ photographers from taking their pictures. Rather they used their own digital cameras. At a point, I counted 12 guests poised to take shots of the dancing couple.
Many Nigerians have personal digital cameras or mobile phones with camera. Mass produced from the Asian Tigers, camera phones are cheap. A mobile phone set with a camera costs about US$50. With these in many people’s hands, they no longer want to pay for the professional’s shots. As a result, “when you bend down in from of them to take their picture, they scream ‘No, No!’ And if you take them, they won’t pay”, said one of such photographers whom I chatted with in Lagos.
Another told me that five to six years ago, before cheap Chinese phones put cameras in everyone’s hands, he earned up to N10,000 (about US $80) from covering an event (uninvited). In fact, from such monies, he paid his way through the university. Now he hardly earns up to half of that. In his words, “now that everyone is a photographer, we starve. It is frustrating. If it was now, I wouldn’t have been able to pay my fees in the university”.
Researchers assessing the impact of new media technologies have often focused on the positive side. Assessing the full impact of new media technologies must go beyond what the technologies do to users in terms of liberating access and bridging socio-economic and cultural distances. It must encompass the threat which such technologies pose to those whose basic survival depends on the old order.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Corruption in Nigeria: is Jordan Smith Right?

In the premises of a clinic in Ibadan, I overheard three women (Picture to your left) discussing a wide range of issues. Sitting under a huge tree, they lamented the recklessness with which politicians steal and lavish government money in Nigeria. One of them, a terribly aggrieved woman, told the other two of a politician she ‘helped’ during the 2007 elections. According to her, as a result of her help, the politician won and was now earning lots of money.

She did not specify the nature of the ‘help’ she rendered this politician. What she emphasised was the grievous disappointment she had encountered in the hands of ‘that ingrate’.

Her son was on admission and needed surgery. She had no money but had assurance of getting money from the politician. She went to him but all the man gave her was ten thousand naira (about $70). The surgery was to cost thrice that amount. She felt greatly let down because, according to her, even those who did not ‘help’ this politician had received substantial financial help from him.

She and her friends acknowledged the fact that politicians steal government money but wonder why this particular ‘ingrate’ would not share with those who ‘helped’ him. “We are not saying they should not eat money [embezzle money]. But when they eat at least they should remember us who put them in position of power”, they concluded.

I have serious problems with Jordan Smith’s studies of corruption in Nigeria but my anger is made worse each time I see his assertions played out in conversations and conduct of so-called ordinary Nigerians. One of Smith’s (2007)* conclusions is that among Nigerians, embezzlement of public funds and other forms of corruption attract anger and bitter condemnation only when the discussants are not direct or indirect beneficiaries of the loot. If the loot gets to the average Nigerian, they shut their eyes to its sources and the dirt surrounding it. Maybe on this one, Smith was right.

*Smith, J. D. (2007). A culture of corruption: everyday deception and popular discontent in Nigeria. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press

Saturday, May 15, 2010

HOME SWEAT HOME: ‘It’s Our Day of Electricity’

I returned to Nigeria few weeks ago and discovered a most ingenious thing that PHCN has done. PHCN is the agency in charge of electricity in Nigeria. PHCN has developed a remarkably intelligent power rationing scheme in the city of Ibadan where I live. In my section of town, we get electricity every other day. The week of my arrival, we "had it" on Sunday, Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. Those were our days of electricity, days to really look forward to. But I was soon made to understand what ‘our day of electricity’ means. It means the day that you have the right to hope for electricity—not the right to have it! On such a day, you hope that there will be electricity. That is all you do the whole day--hoping.

In fairness to PHCN, we do have some electricity on those days: sometimes for just a few minutes during the whole day, other times—when we are really lucky—for up to three hours on such wonderful days.

But complete woe betide your section of town if you were careless enough, on your day of electricity, to allow rain to fall or strong winds to blow. Once any of these two evils is allowed, PHCN switches off electricity and you no longer can hope for even a ‘flash’ until your next day of electricity.

I also discovered that my neighbour has bought a mighty electricity generating set. He has also positioned it so strategically that the noise drones right into my bedroom thereby keeping me alert all night. Thanks, dear neighbour. It sure is great to be home, home SWEAT home.

Friday, May 7, 2010

‘My Daughter is not for Sale!’: Is Bride Price Getting less Popular in Nigeria?

My daughter is not for sale! All I want is for you to take good care of her’. That was the verdict of Chief Agedo as he gave out his daughter in a traditional wedding to the family of Ter Ikeseh (Ter and Joy are in the pic left). (This was at a traditional wedding I attended in Minna, Northern Nigeria on Saturday May 1, 2010)

Chief Agedo announced that he did not want any dowry (that is, bride price or bride wealth). We who were there to support the groom and his family were overwhelmed by this show of kindness.

In Nigeria, bride price and the cost of wedding have been the reasons that many young men cannot marry and many young women remain spinsters. The cost of wedding and bride price is said to be the highest among the Igbo people of South East Nigeria. Bride price, which is paid by the groom and his family to the bride’s family, comes in the forms of cash, food items, live animals, and clothes. All of these can amount to as much as 2 million naira (about $14,300) or even more—if the groom appears to be rich. To get out of this, many have eloped and many have called off their courtships with ladies from families whose bride price demands were too high.
In the pre-colonial times, among the Tiv people of Nigeria, men avoided bride price by engaging in exchange marriage. In this case, a man gave his sister to another man in exchange for that man’s sister—a very smart practice that was destroyed by ‘civilisation’ and Britain.
Extremely relieved were we when Chief Agedo did not ask for a bride price. Ter, the groom, was so happy that he needed no instructions before lying prostrate in traditional homage to his in-laws. [Picture below]
But some friends told us not to rejoice too much over the demand for no bride price. According to one of them, in his culture, bride prices are not demanded, not out of kindness but because the culture believes that a man cannot (should not be allowed to) pay bride price once but should continue to pay it as long as he lives. Therefore, the bride’s family continue to make financial and other requests for as long as the marriage lasts—as reminder that the man wasn’t asked to pay any bride price.
Others felt the demand for no bride price was actually rising because bride prices have been a way of cheapening the worth of the lady: how can you put a price tag on a human being? A third group felt the growing trend of ‘no’ bride price was a response to the economic difficulties facing young men. In that case, culture is responding to the economy.
I strongly support the dynamic definition of culture suggested by the third group. Culture is not fossilised. I think also that many young ladies today find it hard to get a young man whom they love and count to be a ‘husband material’. When they get one, they will fight tooth and nail to ensure that only few cultural huddles are placed in the way of their wedding. Many of such ladies will kick hard if the family do not quickly announce an affordable bride price—or no bride price at all. In such cases, saying ‘my daughter is not for sale’ may simply be a face-saving effort.
Is bride price payment becoming unpopular? It seems so. The reasons though may be many. Whatever the reason, Ter and his family are grateful to the Agedo family of Fuga, Edo State, Nigeria.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Bye to Holland

I have been here in the Netherlands three months and it is time to return home—home sweat home. I shut my eyes and decided what I want to remember about this beautiful little country and its people. Here is a short list:
Bicycles...bloemen(flowers)...canals...clogs...dogs...dikes...A great people!

Following is an expanded list, a dictionary of sorts:

  • Beer means Heineken and Amstel—that’s all
  • Bicycle means a Dutch national identity which must be triple-chained or else it is stolen! (The same way a bicycle was treated in Achebe’s Things Fall Apart.) (You've heard of 'stolen identity'?)
  • Coffee shops: These are places where ‘coffee’ is served rolled in paper and smoked! Coffeejuana. (See 'drugs' below)
  • Dogs: These are full-blown citizens with national passports and citizen rights and political party! Dogs take their owners out for a walk. (See 'walkway' below)
  • Drugs: Something you should see with your eyes tightly open and discuss with your mouth widely shut.
  • Dutch bargain: Something expensively cheap. For example: ‘Rejoice: I saved two Euros comparing prices across 32 shops!’ Alle moet weg!
  • Dutch language: A language that is easy to speak—just pretend to be suppressing a bad cough—Wageningen; vereniging
  • Dutch national flag: A controversial piece of cloth: Did the French copy the Dutch or the Dutch copy the French?
  • Dutch woman: Someone that’s ever smiling--Wonder why she’s called vrouw when she hardly frowns. Could it be because she sneezes very loud? Atchoooooo!
  • Energy: Something you spend all your energy saving. For example, it’s better to be sick saving resources than to be warm spending them.
  • Flowers (Bloemen): What your host spends three hours showing you and you can’t see it because it is yet to sprout!
  • Space: Something small but enough for everyone—except now that Geert Wilders is fuming.
  • Space: Something you must economise by writing several words as one: Oldenbarneveltweg!
  • The Dutch: very friendly, so very friendly people
  • Walkway: Dogs’ lavatory—watch out!
  • ASC, Leiden: a great place of wonderful people...

I enjoyed my stay in Holland. I hope to be back someday.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Anne Frank and the Jos babies: the crime that isn’t theirs

My friends, Daan and Thomas, and I passed by the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam. (Picture left). In this house, Anne Frank, her sister and her Jewish parents, hid from Hitler’s men and machinery during the World War II. (Their offence was that they were Jewish. Hitler was reaching for the jugular of every Jew). Here, Anne and her family hid for two years. Here she recorded her feelings and fears in a diary. Anne and her family were betrayed by a neighbour. They were arrested and taken to one of Hitler’s concentration camps. There Anne and her sister, Margot, died of typhus in 1945. Otto, her dad, was the only one who survived the war. From Anne’s surviving diary, movies have been produced and books written. Anne Frank House is a tourist centre today — see the long queue (picture below).

Anne’s case reminded me of the babies in Jos that were butchered in the dead of the night by herdsmen, earlier that week. The offence of the babies was that they were Berom and Christian just as Anne was Jew—an offence that wasn’t theirs.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Somali Pirates: Robin Hoods or Criminals?

I found on the website of Radio Netherlands Worldwide (Africa) an article that represents the counter-dominant view of the 'piracy' war in Somalia. It's a brief and interesting article. Click here to read.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Dutch National ‘Identity’: Bicycles!

Fietsen! At 18 months, the average Dutch child is already riding a bicycle (two-wheel) proudly and effortlessly. This continues for as long as she lives. It is part of the national heritage. The use of the bicycle (fiets) (plural fietsen) tells me that the Dutch are good at making a virtue of necessity. In old cities like Leiden, it is by bike that you can reach most places.

But fietsen to the Dutch are more than a means of individual transport: a bicycle is a mass transit device also. A woman can carry three kids on one bicycle (picture below); a lover and his girlfriend joyfully share a bicycle. A rich family has bicycles for everyone—you need to see the graceful convoy on their way to a park or church! Well, this one is truly amazing: in Amsterdam, there are bicycles for commercial transport—like Nigeria’s Okada or Kenya’s Boda-boda!
In Nigeria, bicycles are ridden by the poor (especially women in the South South and South East) and by the nonconformist—like my elderly friend, Pius Stephen Omole, a grand hippie. Yet, bicycles are cheaper and healthier for the environment. I enjoyed cycling around in Leiden. But you cannot try bicycling in Nigeria—you should not. There are no bicycle paths. To cycle, you must struggle on the same road with suicidal okada (motorcycle) riders, daredevil taxi drivers; ever-angry bus drivers and murderous truck (trailers) drivers. To that list of dangers you must add the spoilt brats of politicians and government contractors cruising around in dad’s four-wheel-drive jeeps. They too do not suffer fools on bicycles gladly.

When he was Minister for Transport, Mr Ojo Maduekwe, speaking for the government, told Nigerians: “Buy bicycles, all of you. Ride them and live long etc. etc”. To show that he meant it, he got a bicycle—costlier than the average Nigerian could afford. Surrounding himself with an ambulance, several security men and cameramen, he cycled for a few short metres in Abuja before he was knocked down by a bus driver. The ambulance rescued him. Which should have come first: decreeing that Nigerians should ride bicycles or providing safe bike paths for them? Anyway, that was the end of Maduekwe’s bicycle campaign in Nigeria. He has since moved on to other ideas which he peddles to keep his position in government as minister. Such ideas/acts include leading a team of ministers to Saudi to thank the King for tolerating the presence of our sick and invisible president, or arguing with the US over the precise content of the infernal diapers worn on Christmas by Abdul Muttalib—Nigerian-born al-Qaeda boy. Ah, may God save Nigeria. To the Dutch: long live fietsen! (And thanks Edith and Hans for lending me your bike.)

Friday, April 2, 2010

This Dutchman Sells Gods

I visited my friends, Daan Beekers and Thomas van der Molen in Amsterdam. Bristling with Dutch pride, Daan and Thomas tried to take me round Amsterdam and show me the beauty of their country Capital. We passed by the Queen’s palace which was under renovation: she was on holiday in Austria. We went to the roadside open market somewhere in central Amsterdam. Many things were on sale in the market. I was attracted by a man who sold gods and goddesses of other lands—especially Africa.
He has idols of deities from different parts of Africa and Asia (See pictures left and right) to your left. He has Buddha for sale. He allowed me to take his picture and those of the gods but he wasn’t willing to tell me how these things got to Europe or to his shop. He was busy attending to ‘customers’. The gods and goddesses looked starved: they have not received any sacrifices for ages. I could not help feeling this was travesty, and sacrilege. It brought to my mind the old allegations of shrine robbery repeatedly levelled against pioneer anthropologists, missionaries and colonialists.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

This Igbo Man Wants to Rule Holland

His name is Thaddeus A. Osuji. [And his title is ‘Chief’. Trust Nigerians: he must have a title. He’s even modest: back home he would be Chief (Dr) Honourable, Comrade (Engineer) Pastor Thaddeus A. Osuji. Osuji is from Amaoji Ogbe Mbaise, Imo state]. He’s lived and worked in Den Haag, the Netherlands since 1988

During the March 2010 elections, Chief Osuji contested under Unie van Democraten (Union of Democrats). He wanted to be a representative in the municipal council. He did not win but came close to it. He was number eight on the list of his party and it had fewer than eight wins.

The most important thing is not that Osuji lost. What matters is that he contested and came close to winning. Osuji travelled 5,000 kilometres from Nigeria to be able to take part in fair elections. Would Osuji have been allowed to contest if he simply travelled 500 kilometres from his village—and found himself in Zamfara or Oyo State? Or even in Anambra State next-door? Would he not have been shown the way back to his village? The Nigerian constitution allows non-indigenes who have lived in a place to contest in that place. The constitution allows it but the politicians don’t. Democracy is a journey. But when will Nigeria reach a commendable bus stop?

Better luck next time, Chief Osuji.

Dutch Extreme Right: Muslims, Foreigners Not Wanted

There is an interesting political party here in the Netherlands known as Freedom Party (Dutch: Partij voor de Vrijheid). It is led by the most controversial politician in the Netherlands, Geert Wilders (Picture to your left). Geert is as blunt as the back of a knife. His party wants a stop to the spread of Islam in Holland (he calls it Islamic Tsunami). It also wants an amendment to the immigration policy of the Netherlands to make it more difficult for foreigners to become full citizens of Holland and contest elections or vote.

The cause of Wilders’ fears is visible: many leading politicians in the country are Muslim descendants of Muslim immigrants—Moroccans especially. An example is the current Mayor of Rotterdam, Ahmed Aboutaleb. Wilders is afraid that in his lifetime, Muslims would take over the Netherlands and institute the Sharia Law.

But Wilders’ ideas are not popular—though his party is growing. A recent poll shows that even Christian leaders in the country are not happy with Wilders — talk of democracy based on principles. And, Muslims have not spoken against him loud enough for anyone to hear.

Wilders’ ideas (if adopted) will hurt many more people than Arab Muslims in the Netherlands. Dutch people born abroad will not be able to take part in Dutch politics. A young friend of mine, Meta, a nine-year old girl, born in Botswana by Dutch parents, is afraid Gildeers’ proposals would hurt her. She wrote the poem below on her fears:

Look at what the politicians are doing, it is not good.
I am allochton [state language used to describe people born outside of Holland and foreigners who have settled in Holland]
But nobody knows anything about this,
Geert Wilders wants to banish me.
I am a child
I am not a small thing.
I have a right to freedom.
If Wilders wins, I will only be a small breath of wind.
The Koran is a holy book, and Wilders covers up the bible.
Later I want to emigrate, because here we are shut up in safes.
The rights are of nearly no importance,
That is what the politicians are singing in unison.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

AGIP Oil Scholarhips for Nigerian Undergraduates

Are you from Nigerian Agip Oil Company Limited (NAOC) host communities in Bayelsa, Delta, Imo and Rivers State, Nigeria, or are you a 100-Level student in Engineering or Medicine in Nigeria? Then you may want to try the Agip Oil scholarship awards. Click here for details.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Nigeria at 50 Conference

Click here for the Call for Paper and other pieces of information.

Friday, March 19, 2010


In Holland, political posts are held by ‘small’ girls and boys who would have been errand kids or political thugs in Nigeria. When I read that Wouter Bos was retiring from politics at 46 and Camiel Eulings was retiring at 36, I thought, ‘Come on, they weren’t even supposed to have started active politics yet’. Wouter Bos was leader of Dutch Labour Party and Camiel was a leader in the Christian Democratic Party (CDA). Camiel was Minister of Transport; Member of the European Parliament and Vice-President of the continental European People’s Party—all within 36 years of existence on this planet. In Holland, they start (too) early. Consider this:
* 26-year old Herriët Brinkman is CDA councillor in Staphorst.
* 25-year old Evelien van Roemburg is a councillor for the green GroenLinks in Amsterdam
* 24-year old Mohammed Mohandis is Labour councillor in Gouda.
* 22-year old Rob Jetten is the leader of left-wing liberal D66 in the city of Nijmegen
* 22-year old Pieter van Ojen is an SGP councillor in Zeist
* 22-year old Farshad Bashir is two-year member of parliament for the Socialist Party
If you don’t believe this last one, I wouldn’t blame you:
* 18-year old Lidewij Bergsma is a VVD councillor in the Frisian town of Tytsjerksteradiel, and she is still in high school.

But when did these people start? When did they develop an ideology which led them to identify ‘their’ party? How did they start? When did they serve their time out as errand runners in the parties? I knew the Dutch baby starts to ride a bicycle shortly before it starts walking; I didn’t know politicking starts just about the same age. Care must then be taken in addressing people: that teenager riding his bike across the street may be the councillor of this ward! Councillors where I come from are old and powerful: they carry themselves as big men and women with some having their own bodyguards and personal assistants. They earn more than university professors earn.

In gerontocratic Nigeria, party leaders and political godfathers will not think you are fit for any office if you are in your twenties. Do you think politics is learnt in the University that you attended? What do you know? Who do you know? Who is your father? How many party thugs can you muster? AND—How much money do you even have? Small boy like you! How many years have you spent pasting party posters all over town?

Nigerian politicians are old people. Rilwan Lukman was made minister at age 70-something. But in Nigerian you cannot even be sure of anything. Age is shrouded in secrecy. Well, you must begin by asking ‘which age?’ Most Nigerian politicians have several ages: the official age (that is the age stated in official documents—which is altered as and when necessary); the marital age (the age they declared to their wives); the age-grade age (the one known by their age-grade members in the village) and the true age (the one known by God, the All-Knowing!).

Now that the Action President is shopping for a new set of ministers, will he choose old and expired politicians? And they are not in short supply in Nigeria. Or will he look for Nigerian Camiels and Boses? They too are not in short supply.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Nigerian Guerrilla Pressmen Ten Years after the Struggle

I am about concluding my stay at the Afrika-StudieCentrum (ASC), University of Leiden. I will be giving a seminar on my work here on Tuesday March 23. In the last few weeks, I have tried to do a paper on the current conditions and perceptions of the guerrilla journalists in Nigeria. By this term I mean those journalists who confronted the military and were brutalised and driven underground. I have sought to know what their take is on the current democratic dispensation. I had interviewed some of them and examined some of their writings. The result is a thirty-page paper which I reduced to two pages for this blog. You can read that two-page summary here.

Media Muzzling in Uganda--Prelude to Darkness

The Ugandan government is about perfecting all plans to muzzle the media in that country as a preparation for Mr Muzeveni's smooth re-election next year. A new law is being passed to that effect. Called the Press and Journalists Amendment Bill 2010, the law empowers the Media Council (appointees of Museveni) to promptly shut down a media house if it is deemed to have published any content that endangers national stability, security and unity. All media houses will also be required to apply for licences to be renewed annually. This is pretty much like the Kenyan Amended Communication Act which empowers the Minister of Internal Security to raid media houses and seize and confiscate whatever is found incriminating before, during or after publication or broadcasting. (I wrote about this on this blog last year. Click here)

These new Ugandan and Kenyan laws seem to be photocopies of the decrees issued during the infamous military regimes in Nigeria. An example WAS Decree 4 (promulgated by General Buhari) which would punish any journalist who published anything capable of bringing a public official into disrepute even if what was published was true. Another WAS Decree 29 (by General Babangida) which prescribed death for anyone who spoke or wrote anything capable of disrupting the society. I must also add Decree 48 (by Babangida also) which proscribed 17 publications owned by five anti-military newspaper organisations. Others were Decree 23 which proscribed The Reporter, and Decree 35 which conferred on the president the power to confiscate or ban any publication (like Kenya’s new law), and Decree 43 which (like the new Ugandan law) set up regulations for registration of newspapers. In Nigeria, we regard these laws as the painful sores of our past sufferings. They have been repealed long ago. They, in fact, sound so ancient and retrogressive we sometimes wonder if they truly existed. But they did. We have locked them up in the Pain Section of our mental National Archives and won't remember them again. They are the past.

Why are Museveni and Kibaki driving their countries backwards into darkness? Backwards towards the pain and misery that Nigeria left ten years ago? Ugandan media have been pliant for many years. Now that they are coming up, Yoweri is uncomfortable. On September 10, 2009, he shut down CBS FM and has refused to open it. Now he's reaching out for the rest of the independent media. Ugandan journalists and East African Journalists Association (EAJA) must rise up against this law! If they need help, they could talk to Nigerian former guerrilla journalists at The News, Tell, Insider Weekly, and The The Guardian. Twenty-four years as president and yet Yoweri Kaguta Museveni is not tired of ruling Uganda. This act is certainly a prelude to darkness.

Friday, March 12, 2010

In this land, Animals have their own political party!

I thought my friends, Maaike, Gitty and J-B, were joking when they told me of the Party for the Animals. But they were serious. In this land, animals have their own political party with representatives right up to Senate! Yes! Founded in 2002, the aim of Party for the Animals (in Dutch Partij voor de Dieren, PvdD) is to defend the rights of all animals in the Netherlands. Led by a lady, Marianne Thieme, it is said to be the fastest growing party in the Netherlands. This Party thinks humans have enough advocates and are being sufficiently protected but not animals. [To your left is the logo of PvdD].

PvdD is not a joke—and you are not reading Orwell, please. In 2006 PvdD gained two parliamentary seats, a feat loudly proclaimed as ‘Victory for the Animals!”. It also won a seat in the senate! Niko Koffeman, the Senator from PvdD was proudly called Animals’ Senator. Last week, the party took part in the municipal elections and won seats in Amsterdam, The Hague, Leiden, Groningen, Apeldoorn and Buren. Each of these municipalities now has a councilor whose entire energy will be devoted to protecting the interests of animals through legislations and other political means. On its international website, the Party counts its blessings in these words:

The Party for the Animals now has a total of 26 people's representatives. We already had two members in the Lower House, one member in the Upper House, nine Members of the Provincial Council in eight provinces, eight District Water Board Directors in six District Water Boards and, as of last week, six municipal councillors in six municipalities

I remember an argument we had as graduate students in 1996. It was about animals, language and communication. At a point, we decided to suspend the argument until such a time when animals would be able to come into classrooms and speak for themselves! Now it is happening somewhat. Only that members of the Party for the Animals in Holland are humans. But how truly are they sure they know what animals want? And are they protecting animal interests or fighting against the discomfort they suffer when they see animals maltreated? In which case, they really are protecting their own interests?

Democracy is indeed a journey, and Nigerians will actually think that on this journey, Holland is moving a bit too fast. In Nigeria, we do not have a Party to protect human beings yet—not to talk of animals. Early this morning, Elisabeth Yaoudam, my colleague here at ASC forwarded to me a mail on the Jos Massacre. The mail contained over twenty gory pictures of babies, children and women slashed and mutilated by rampaging herdsmen—rearers of animals. That was the fourth mail I got on Jos and each came with a string of unspeakably gory photographs. Once, I puked. For three consecutive nights now, these pictures have haunted me and robbed me of sleep. I have never seen such horrors before and cannot display it on my blog. These Fulani herdsmen did to Nigerians—human beings—what no one dare to do to animals in the Netherlands. Nigerians...animals! Certainly, Nigeria needs a Party for Human Beings. Good luck to Marianne Thieme and PvdD. And to the animals in the Netherlands...Lucky You!

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Jos, Oh Jos!

Too sad to speak.

Election malpractices in Rotterdam: a journey backwards

Nine days ago, the municipal elections in the Netherlands were held. I reported my impressions of the elections on this blog and have received many comments on that report. Shortly after the elections, there were complaints about some sharp practices in Rotterdam. The papers report/allege that:

  • One polling station was left unstaffed for several minutes. Voters were required to take their own ballots. Some voters took several.
  • Some polling stations had the flag of a political party on display.
  • Party members or supporters were present at some polling stations to persuade voters to cast their vote for a certain party.
  • Two or more people were found in polling booths simultaneously dozens of times. The law only allows handicapped people to receive assistance.
  • 2.500 voters received two or three ballots at home.
  • Some votes were counted double.
  • One ballot box turned out to be empty at the end of Election Day.
  • It has been reported that staff of some polling stations offered explanations to voters in Turkish or Moroccan, perhaps even doling out advice on who to vote for.

The Mayor of Rotterdam, Ahmed Aboutaleb, may order a recount of the whole votes. A preliminary recount of about one-fifth of the votes show that some 100 votes were not counted in the first count. These 100 votes belonged to Leefbaar Rotterdam, a new party that lost to Labour by a few hundred votes. It is speculated that a recount may not alter the overall results (It did not alter it against Bush in Florida) but it certainly will put speculations to rest. Some in fact are calling for a return to the polls for fresh election.

These incidents are a child's play compared to what happened in Nigeria but it is certainly not a good example coming from the Dutch. Several hundred years of democracy and the Dutch still have issues with elections and voting. Democracy is indeed a journey but this one is a journey backwards. I trust the Dutch government to learn lessons from these incidents and to block the loopholes against future elections, the same way it stopped computer voting when that raised questions of confidentiality and trust. No perfect democracy exists. Which is why Nigeria must get serious with amending the electoral act.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

The Netherlands’ municipal election... democracy as a journey

I accompanied Maaike Westra and Gitty Petit (Picture below), my colleagues at the African Studies Centre, University of Leiden, to Stemdistrict 100 where they cast their votes in the municipal elections that held all through the Netherlands, yesterday, March 3, 2010. This was the equivalent of what, in Nigeria, we call the local government elections. But there is not much else that this election shares with Nigeria’s. Not with the orderly campaigns that preceded the elections, the courteous distribution of handbills, careful pasting of posters only in designated spots, the order that accompanied the voting, the speed of voting—and most importantly, the complete absence of tension and the atmosphere of safety under which voting was done. All of these set up what we experience in Nigeria as antithesis.

The electoral officers were friendly and relaxed (Picture right). They allowed me right into the polling booth (Stemdistrict 100) and gladly allowed me to take pictures including theirs! There was not a single policeman within the vicinity. And party agents? None! Voting without party agents and armed party thugs arm-twisting voters or screaming blue murder! And without armed policemen! The queues were short; in fact, there were no queues. Voter verification took about a minute per voter (Picture below). Maaike and Gitty finished voting within six minutes.
Voting had begun at 12 midnight in The Hague, Rotterdam and Groningen. At Groningen, about 1,200 people had voted by 1 am. People actually went out in the night to vote: they weren’t afraid that the ballot boxes would be snatched or they would be mugged. In Groningen and The Hague, festivals were organised to draw out young people to vote. A colleague at the University of Leiden, Erik Bäher told me that young people were apathetic about voting: as it was in the US (until Obama) and as it is increasingly becoming in Nigeria! Hans Baijens (former deputy Mayor of Leiden) told me that the frequency of elections might be responsible for voter fatigue.
Dutch people are very practical: they go for what is practical and useful, not what is fashionable and prestigious. Yesterday’s voting was manual, not computerised. Computers had been used in the past and they had raised issues of confidentiality and reliability. Yesterday, red pencils were used. (Nigeria is planning on electronic voting by 2011: is anyone thinking of electricity for the voting machines?) (Maaike casts vote: picture below).

In the Netherlands, you could vote on behalf someone else. Such is the level of trust. When I accused Erik of not going to vote, he said his wife would be voting for both of them! Jans-Bart, another colleague of mine, is away from the country—but someone would vote for him. All you need is an attestation from the person on behalf of whom you are voting; but you could not vote for more than two others. Erik told me that in the past, young people had gone to old people’s homes and collected several attestations. They then voted on behalf of scores old people but not necessarily for the parties of the old people’s choice (Young people! You can always trust them to do things like that. But it also shows me something: democracy is about learning to improve. That loophole by young people has been identified and blocked. Now you can vote on behalf of only two people and that’s all! The Dutch keep learning, adapting and adopting. Nigerians...also keep learning, I want to hope!)
There were elections into 394 councils in the Netherlands; 8,700 council seats were up for the grabs. These excluded the position of City Mayors: Mayors aren’t elected, they are appointed by Her Majesty, the Queen. Some of the people I spoke with thought the local elections had some critical link with the national elections coming up in June this year. The government of the Netherlands had “collapsed” on Saturday, 20 February, over intention to extend the stay of the Dutch Army in Afghanistan. By ‘collapse’ is meant nothing as disastrous as what we are going through in Nigeria over our sick and kidnapped president. Dutch government is run on coalition because no party is ever able to win enough votes to form a government (Talk of deliberately built checks and balances). The leading party, the Christian Democratic Party (imagine such a name in Nigeria) wanted to extend Dutch stay in Iraq but Labour Party kicked and protested. Led by Woulter Bos, the Party pulled out of the coalition: those left could no longer form the needed quorum—‘Things fell apart’ but the Centre still holds! The country still marches on as if nothing happened. Her Majesty, the Queen is sorting all that out. (Again, democracy must not wear the same colour everywhere. The Queen ultimately holds things together here. She even single-handedly appoints the mayors. No one performs such a role in the US or in Nigeria?).
Finally, less than 12 hours after the elections, the results were out. The ‘ruling’ Christian Democratic Party lost several seats: most Dutch people are tired of that Afghan misadventure. But the Prime Minister, Mr Peter Balkinende, doesn’t think so. Through this voting, the Dutch people may be voicing their objection loud enough for him to hear: the Dutch word for voice is stem, the same word vote.

Importantly, since the results were announced, I haven’t heard of threats of litigations. Nor have I heard of women marching naked in protest against vote theft. Edith and Hans, two people whom I knew, were electoral officers yesterday; they are both home—neither is wearing a bandage or carrying POP.

My uncle and friend, Anthony Olorunnisola, likes to say: “democracy is a journey, not a destination”. Democracy is about identifying new possibilities in the system and exploring them; it is about identifying loopholes and blocking them quickly; it is about making a positive use of defeat by actively including seeming losers in coalition and governance; it is about sensitivity to aspects of a culture that work rather than swallowing foreign concepts hook, line and fisherman! It is about people submitting to the letter and spirit of the constitution even when that hurts! I’m just hoping that Nigeria is on that journey.

(Some coincidence: I was an unofficial observer also at the Obama elections in the US in November 2008. My report of that unusual election here.)

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Carlijn and the promises of dance therapy

Recently, my friend Daan Beekers and his friend, Carlijn, visited me. (See picture to your left). They were my first guests in the Netherlands. During the introductions, Carlijn told me that she was training to be a dance therapist. I was intrigued. Carlijn told me the numerous ways in which dance therapy can heal our hurting world. Dance therapy can be used to help people who have been traumatised and those having different forms of psychiatric disorders including fear and depression. Her mention of disorders reminded me of the observation by Mrs Farida Waziri, the current boss of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Nigeria. Mrs Waziri had observed that many political office holders in Nigeria had psychiatric disorders, madness. In her words: “... we have observed people amassing public wealth to a point suggesting madness or some form of obsessive-compulsive psychiatric disorder”. Then she recommended “that public office holders should be subjected to some form of psychiatric evaluation to determine their suitability for public office” (See Daily Trust, October 8, 2009; page 64). Nigerians need people with the training and passion of Carlijn. This is because of the growing list of traumatised people (Jos, Maiduguri, Bauchi religous riots; kidnappers everywhere), and also because of the growing list of politicians who, according to Farida, steal as if (or because) they are deranged). I did an article on this which may be published in a Nigerian newspaper soon.

Farida on Corruption

"Having dealt with many corruption cases, I am inclined to suggest that public officers (in Nigeria) should be subjected to some form of psychiatric evaluation to determine their suitability for public office. The extent of aggrandizement and gluttonious accumulation of wealth that I have observed suggests to me that some people are mentally and psychologically unsuitable for public office. We have observed people amassing public wealth to a point suggesting 'madness' or some form of obsessive compulsion" (Daily Trust, Oct 8, 2009; pg 64)

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

A scientific meeting and my anger

I just returned from a 90-minute scientific brainstorming session of my host centre, the Afrikan-StudieCentrum (ASC), Universiteit Leiden. The fulcrum of the discussion was an invited presentation by Professor Arie Rip, a philospher of science. I will skip the details--they are mostly in-house issues of research focus, team sizes and so on. One of the most contentious issues discussed was the tendency for politics and policies to want to interfere with research content and focus. Those at the meeting--we were just about ten--were passionately opposed to this kind of interference and decry the growing tendency. Rather than cooperate with research centres, they allege, ministries are trying to influence the focus of these centres and even the content of their research. They spoke with amazing vehemence and passion, with the kind of concern of someone whose territory, nay, life, is being encroached. For a while, I mentally left the venue and took a (mental) trip to Nigeria. Each time we hold meetings in my Department back home, we are preoccupied with a set of concerns completely different from those of these scientists at ASC. We talk about funding, electricity, salaries, a sick student, approaching strikes and ASUU meetings, deadlines, deadlines and more deadlines from the office of the Vice Chancellor--deadlines about results, deadlines about a report going to the NUC, deadlines about admission meetings, deadlines about a list to be sent to the NYSC, deadlines that you heard of only after they had expired. Deadlines often require typsetting and printing and you have to do all of that without electricity. I cannot remember that we ever discussed research focus or agenda inmy Department! The mundane matters of mere existence consume all our passion and energy. ASC scientists--do they know they are lucky that policy makers and politicians are trying to influence them? In Nigeria, policy makers and politicians don't even know we exist. We don't count. They don't need us. Our research counts for nothing. And that is why no professor of communication has been invited by the National Assembly (NA) to enlighten it about the Freedom of Information bill; no professor of law has been invited to the NA to help it out of the quagmire created by Yar'Adua's situation. Before the 2007 elections, no professor of medicine was asked to render his/her opinion on whether or not Yar'Adua's condition could prevent him from ruling. No wonder, even we do our research in Nigeria just to lengthen our list of publications and get promoted as and when (un)due. Nigeria--the most annoying thing is not that we are not there; it is that we aint even moving forward.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Nigeria: what do you write?

I was asked by the Prince Claus Fund and the Mondriaan Foundation to give a 30-minute presentation on Nigeria: people, politics and culture. The talk comes up on February 3, 2010. For a long while, I was confused. What do you say about a country that you love so intensely but whose leaders let you down so much? How can you be fair about Nigeria without lying? The paradoxes of Nigeria became my heartache! A country so rich yet so poor; so big yet so small that Abacha kept her in his chest pockets for years... I was delighted when I later received a phone call from the organisers asking me to limit my presentation to Lagos. Ah! Lagos. Click here for the presentation and please leave your comments.


Thursday, January 14, 2010

Leiden: Here are the keys but where is Peter?

‘... And I am back!’
I am in Leiden, an ancient small city in the Netherlands. I will be here for three months, a visiting research fellow at the Afrika-Studiecentrum, Universiteit Leiden. During the three months that I am out of Nigeria, I hope to blog regularly. Welcome to Leiden!
Leiden is truly an ancient city. It is said to have been a small cluster of huts during the Roman occupation about 150 AD. Then it was known as Leithon. About 1050 AD, it became “villa Leyden” and its fortifications were first built. Stone buildings were erected as from about 1450 AD—and some of these buildings are still standing. In fact, Pieterskerk (Peter’s Church) was built in 1473 and is still standing—an awesomely magnificent edifice. The people still treasure their old bicycles. In fact, it’s as if the older is the better among the Leidenaars.
What interests me most is the Leiden coat of arms. Yes, this little city has its own coat of arms complete with its own flag and public holidays. (The Nigerian government promised immediate arrest, detention and worse to anyone found with the old Biafran flag or currency!). The Leiden coat of arms is a red lion holding a rampart on which there are two crossed red keys. The books say the lion stands for strength and defiance—as demonstrated in the refusal of the people to surrender to Spanish siege in 1573-74 in spite of severe starvation. The siege was lifted—as the Spanish army left on October 3, 1574. These days, that day of relief is celebrated annually with utmost pomp in Leiden. The two crossed keys, the books say, symbolise the keys of Heaven handed over to Peter by Jesus Christ with the words, in Matthew 18:19, “I will give you the keys of heaven...”
Everywhere you turn in the city, you see the two crossed red keys: on the entrances of bars; on public dust bins etc. Peter’s keys are everywhere but where is Peter? Beyond the keys, there is nothing in the present to show that the Bible and Christianity were once so central in the Leidenaars’ scheme of things, so central that Peter’s keys became Leidernaars’ identity and symbol of faith and hope. The few Leidenaars I’ve talked with are proud to say that they have no religion. They are also happy to say that few subjects are taboo here, that same-sex marriage is okay and that they were raised by permissive parents etc. Not only this, my colleague tried all he could but was not able to find a church last Sunday: the maps suggest that there are only two churches in this city of about 120,000 residents. Pieterskerk is now more of a tourist centre, a museum than a worship centre. Well, many Leidenaars go in there once a year for the October 3 Thanksgiving.
How does one interpret this metamorphosis? Leidenaars are known for the pride they take in the history of Leiden and their unshaken commitment to preserving their cultural practices: about 20 museums that dot this little land, bicycles, flowers, gin and art works, all confirm this. Somehow, religion seems to have slipped away within the fingers of the custodians of Leiden culture. Cultural preservation is indeed a collective but subjective and selective process.

Or maybe it was that Christianity did not really take firm roots at Leiden in the first instance; not as much as it did in, say, equally ancient Oxford (UK) or even in the US. The Calvinists drove away the Catholics from Leiden in the summer of 1566 and replaced them with what and whom? And what of this old popular saying among the Dutch (Leidenaars inclusive): “God made the world, but the Dutch made the Netherlands”. That saying isn’t heading in the same direction as ‘In God we trust’, is it? Leidenaars appear to have been very practical rather than religious—even in their far past. When the siege of 1574 was on, they printed emergency money and on the notes they wrote “Haec libertatis ergo” meaning “These, then liberty”. God had no place in it. Those words have been part of the Leiden coat of arms since after World War II. (Nigerians appear to be more religious than practical. Maybe the truth is in the combination: practical, socially relevant religion).
Tot zien!