Sunday, November 6, 2011

Part Four: Dutch Signs

My article on Radio Netherlands Worldwide this week is on Dutch signs. Here:

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Part Three: Dutch Endangered Species

My article on Radio Netherlands Worldwide this week is not on Dutch doctors or lunch. It's about something far more serious. Here.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Part Two: Dutch Lunch

My article this week on Radio Netherlands Worldwide is on Dutch Lunch. Enjoy it here.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Back in Holland

Yes, I am back in Holland. Every Friday, for the next eight weeks or so, Radio Netherlands Worldwide will publish my short articles on their website. I write short pieces on my experiences in the Netherlands. Here is the first:

Monday, June 27, 2011

An Accident in the Waiting

A few days to the General Elections held in April 2011, a miracle happened all over Nigeria: there was remarkable increase in electricity supply everywhere including the villages. Many streets were hurriedly lit and there were lights in Ibadan on roads that end in the bush. Many roads were hurriedly patched. Garbage heaps were cleared regularly in Ibadan for almost one whole week. Elections have gone and life is back to (ab)normal. Darkness has returned to most parts, and many can’t find kerosene to buy. Was any voter by government’s hurried ‘window dressing’? I doubt it. Meanwhile, I spotted this electric pole a few kilometres outside Ibadan yesterday.This is a sure sign that the elections are over. This pole will have to wait till 2015 when another round of elections will hopefully hold. Or—it will get government attention if (I pray not) it electrocutes a few influential people. It's an accident in the waiting! But who cares?

Friday, June 24, 2011

Beer's Tower at Ibadan

If you went to Ibadan, you would know that the City of Brown Roofs is distinguished in many ways: the city spreads on and on and on with neither end nor pattern; the roofs are indeed red-brown with sparkles of other colours here and there. Also, you would notice that there is refuse everywhere you turn--as much refuse as you want. Pace-setter town, Ibadan houses the first Nigerian university, the first TV station in sub-Saharan Africa, a national museum, the national archives and many more.

But few tourists visit these landmark places. Why? Ibadan does not need a tourist centre because the entire town is one big tourist fascination. Many people visit Bower's Tower in Ibadan, a colonial legacy that allows you to see a huge part of Ibadan and then conclude that you haven't seen a quarter of it. My friend and I visited Bower's Tower recently and were unhappy with the sight (especially the stench and the refuse on the way to the Tower). Bent on impressing my friend, I took him to another Tower which I call Beer's Tower--salute to Nigerians' creativity!

How on earth do they get to the top of this?

Sunday, May 1, 2011


The just-concluded Nigeria general elections were described by many local and foreign observers as largely free, fair and credible. In the history of Nigeria, it comes second to the June 12, 1993 election which was annulled. But the April 2011 polls were not perfect. An area that interested me was the buying and selling of votes. Some purchases were made before the day of the election; some right as voters walked to their polling booths; others right on the grounds on the polling centre. Individual votes were sold; block votes were also sold—such monies being offered to community leaders who promise to ‘deliver’ their community. How much really was a vote worth?

A market woman in Saki, Oyo State: "They gave us N500 each (about $2). The first time, we got the money before we voted...and then we did not vote for them. This time, they showed us the money and said 'Go and vote for us first'".

A driver in Oyo, Oyo State: “They gave us N200 and said we must swear that Ogun [fiery god of iron] should kill us if we did not vote for them. I said because of only N200?”

A plumber in Ibadan: "PDP people gave N500 but ACN said they had no money but good plan for our future. We then took PDP money. I voted for ACCORD. My friends, I don't know whose they did, but we did not vote for PDP. But ACN too gave money, maybe N200".

A housewife in Eruwa, Oyo State: "They gave us coal pot [Worth about $3] and matches"

A female librarian in Ibadan, Oyo State: "They gave me gele" [Head tie, worth about $4]

A civil servant in Makurdi, Benue State: "PDP gave a module of rice, three cubes of maggi (seasoning)."

A retired driver in Igboora, Oyo State: “PDP brought 30 Bajaj to Igboora for ward leaders” [A Bajaj is a made-in-China motorcycle, worth about $700]

A university student in Ibadan: “They gave our Hall a flat-screen plasma TV set, a decoder. But people said you want us to fail exams; that’s why you’re bringing these now. Too late. We won’t vote for you

How much was a vote worth? It depended on who was buying the vote. PDP offered the highest in most places. This should not surprise anyone—PDP has unlimited access to state resources. It also depended on whose vote is being bought ... community rulers got much more money than ordinary citizens! Student leaders got more than students. Halls of residence got more than human beings! Well, Nigerians have become different—maybe wiser. They take the money from everyone and vote for the person of their choice. Some turned down the money. A student hall of residence refused the gifts outright.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Victory on the Wings of Hatred

We just had a real blood-pressure-raising election in Oyo State, Nigeria. Mysteries! Everyone wondered how the incumbent governor who was so strongly despised by so many people was so sure he would win. His confidence was extremely intimidating. His loss in that election was greeted with tremendous applause by people from all shades of opinion. I haven't seen such jubilation since the days of Obama's victory. But the victory of the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) rode on the wings of the hatred which most people had for the incumbent governor. The votes were mainly protest votes. In a newspaper article published today, I advised the governor-elect, Mr Abiola Ajimobi to be wise in interpreting his victory. To read the article, click here.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Faces of the Post-Election Murderers

In the last past four days, I have received reports of woes and worries from Northern Nigeria. From family, friends and colleagues, the story is the same: armed youths are burning houses, hacking down Christians, southerners and northerners who did not support or vote for former military dictator, Muhammadu Buhari. In Minna, Niger state, 50 Christian youth corp members were locked up in the Nigerian Christian Corpers Fellowship House and the house was set ablaze! These corp members are just fresh from the university.

But look at the faces of those doing the actual killing and burning ... They are very young teenagers who weren't even old enough to have voted. These are Almajiri beggars who are on Islamic and Arabic training. Without father or mother, without education or skills, without any chance of a meaningful today or hope of a bright future...they feed on leftovers and from garbage. It is thus easy to see why their lives and the lives of others mean nothing to them. You can't reason with them. They know very little, speak only Hausa and understand very little. To put it very charitably, the Almajiri is a creature who has been denied the right to become a real human being.

The Almajiri system of Arabic schooling has been described as deplorable. Yet, it cannot be controlled or abrogated. It provides a ready army of hungry and idle youths to politicians and religious fanatics bent on blood letting.

I hate this thought but it keeps popping up: In 2005, US Sub Saharan Intelligence Analysts and Futurologists predicted the possibility of the collapse of the Nigerian state within 15 years. Click here for the report of the analysts/futurologists. Fifteen years from 2005! Is anyone doing the math? If by 2015, Jonathan clinches a second term, we can only be sure of a worse massacre in the North. Maybe the process by which we may kiss Green-White-Green bye will then begin! Did anyone hear the call for a Sovereign National Conference in the papers? Maybe it's indeed time for Nigerians to sit and talk about Nigeria.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Speaker Dimeji Bankole--a Different Kind of Loser?

Mr Dimeji Bankole was Speaker of the Federal House of Representatives at Abuja for four years beginning from 2007. He thus was the longest serving speaker since Nigeria returned to democracy in 1999. A young man with degrees from Ivy League universities, Bankole was model to many young people. His persecution by the governor of his state who saw his popularity as a threat and by the (former) Behemoth of Nigerian politics, Mr Olusegun Obasanjo only helped boosted his popularity. But Bankole also misbehaved several times and shocked Nigerians. During the Ekiti State re-run, Bankole openly sang a song: ‘We who deployed Mobile Police (MOPOL) to rig the last elections will now deploy soldiers’. This open declaration of war on the electorate was unfortunate. For once, Bankole, darling of many Nigerian young men, forgot what he stood for.

But Dimeji Bankole soon regained his consciousness. In the election that was conducted on Saturday 9 March, 2011, Bankole who contested on the platform of the hitherto invincible People's Democracy Party, was badly defeated. He lost his re-election bid by over 5,000 votes [ACN - William Samuel 28,490; PDP - Oladimeji Bankole 23,103]. Bankole lost the election but won something more important. Within hours of the counting of the votes, Mr Bankole was quoted as saying that "the result showed the wishes of the people". He conceded defeat!

Conceding defeat is extremely strange on the political scene in Nigeria. It is normal for politicians in Nigeria to spill bad blood when they lose. Bankole’s PDP suffered grave losses in the elections and before we wake up, the papers will be filled with cries of blue murder! Is Dimeji Bankole an exception? Maybe. For now, I'd say he lost the elections but recovered something—some of the refinement he brought from Reading and Havard which he had discarded for a long while.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Nigerian Electoral Violence--New Victims on the List

As the 2011 General Elections draw near, the spate of violence has also increased. Lives are lost and property destroyed. But all of that is familiar story. A new dimension is war on billboards and posters. It seems the saying is "if you can't reach the neck of the candidate [to cut it off], reach her/his billboards". [Billboard belonging to Mr Rasheed Ladoja, former governor of Oyo State, allegedly torn down by supporters of his former deputy, current governor and governorship candidate, Mr A. Alao-Akala] In Nigeria, it costs about N250,000 (about $1,650) to erect a billboard. In my state, where pupils in government schools receive lessons sitting on bare floors in the sun or in un-roofed classrooms, that is a lot of money. That will roof a four-room block of classrooms or provide furniture for 250 pulpils. And it is important to note that politicians in power spend government money on their campaigns. There is no difference between a governor's purse and state purse. See more pictures below. [Billboard belonging to Mr. A. Alao-Akala allegedly torched by supporters of one of his opponents, Mr R. Ladoja or Mr A. Ajimobi] [Billboard belonging to a member of the Oyo State House of Assembly, also ripped.] I spoke with a few party loyalists. You can predict their position: "We didn't start it. They first tore our billboard. We merely responded". [Billboard completely ripped.] What do Nigerians think? Nigerians would be much happier if the only things that were ripped, torched or destroyed were billboards, and if heads, limbs, houses and cars are spared! "This is okay", an elderly man told me. "If this is all they cut, it is their problem. Let them stop cutting people's legs or destroying innocent people's car. No one will complain". Yemisi Pedro, an undergraduate student of environmental engineering thought differently. According to her, "if we cost the environmental hazards and depletion caused by this behaviour, we would be very sorry for ourselves and our future. The more you destroy these things, the more manufacturers have to manufacture; the more raw materials are used up and resources are depleted. And when you burn them to destroy them or to dispose of them, you're just burning our fragile ozone layer". I think when we combine the cost of destroyed property and lives with the environmental hazards mentioned by Pedro, we will realise that democracy is indeed very costly in Nigeria.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Are Tunisia and Egypt Headed for Nigeria?

Besides regular change of political leaders, one other commonly held properties of development is that it is accompanied by neoliberal policies--free market. With a long leap of faith, pundits and academics sugggest that a free market policy will attract foreign investors and thereby, promote economic development. Democracy is therefore believed to come with development. These assumptions have been challenged by the growth of Japan and China which are so-called non-democratic countries. But that has been no reason to doubt the desirablity of democracy.

As I listened to the rhetoric of anti- (and pro-)government protesters in Egypt and Tunisia, I heard echoes of our own protests against the military in the decade before 1999. Expressions such as "rented crowd" "pro-democracy groups" "pro-government protests" "militant media" etc remind one of the struggles for democracy in Nigeria. In a sense, we can say Egypt (in spite of itself) and Tunisia are where Nigeria was about two decades ago. And that is true as far as periodic elections are concerned.

Tunisia was ruled by Ben Ali for 23 years and Egypt by Mubarak for 30 years. Nigeria has been a democracy with regular change of leadership for 12 years now. But do Tunisia and Egypt really desire to be where Nigeria is? Acccording to MDG Monitor (An Initiative of the UN), both Tunisia and Egypt are far ahead of Nigeria in terms of development. In terms of Human Development Index, Nigeria ranks 159th of 177 countries but Tunisia ranks 87 and Egypt 111st. Life expectancy at birth in Nigeria is 46.6 years; in Egypt it is 69.8 while in Tunisia it is 73 years. In spite of their lack of democracy, Tunisians still live far longer than Nigerians! Over 70% of Nigerians live below poverty line, that is they live on less than $1.5 daily. In Egypt, such people form only 3.1%; in Tunisia it is 2.0%. About 97% of Egyptian and Tunis children are enrolled in primary schools but in Nigeria only 65% of children are enrolled in schools. In all respects, these non-democratic countries are far better in development terms than Nigeria.

Is democracy anti-development, therefore? Maybe not. However, democracy, in Nigeria at least, has been an extremely expensive venture. One batch of corrupt and selfish leaders is replaced by another just different only in its greater commitment to self-enrichment. Each leader is surrounded by a swarm of assistants, personal assistants, special assistants and a private army. The outcry by the Governor of Central Bank, Sanusi Lamido Sanusi was that 25% of the nation's budget is consumed by the National Assembly. About 500 people share 25% of what is meant for 150million people. Yet this is a democracy where the people are supposed to be on the driver's seat.

Tunisians and Egyptians must have a rethink: if chasing Ben Ali and Mubarak off will turn them into the kind of democratic Paradise for Maggots* that Nigeria has become, is all the fight and bloodshed worth it? And that is the belated question Nigerians are asking: was this the democracy for which we fought and were exiled, jailed and /or shot and killed?
* Title of a recent book by Wale Adebanwi on the indefatigable anti-corruption czar in Nigeria, Nuhu Ribadu