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.)