It is a commonplace to blame the problems of Africa on poor leadership. While there is some truth that poor leadership perpetuates problems of corruption, non-transparency and all the rest, it has always struck me as a somewhat simplistic analysis. Good leadership cannot thrive without good followership, that is, people who will pressurise, critique, encourage, reject and so on as appropriate. In Nigeria as elsewhere, a history of poor leadership has its corrolary in a history of poor followership. The elite have been happy to hang on to whatever spoils of oil that have come their way, whereas the poor have been too downtrodden to act or react to the follies of the powerful. The situation hasn't changed in twenty or more years in Nigeria. Even the grief and anger following the recent air tragedies has now dissipated.
As well as pressure to improve governance, a solution to this problem of weak followership also needs to be developed. The problem is that in Nigeria, wisdom and respect is automatically conferred upon the old (or the older), regardless of word or deed. This deferential structure needs to be challenged, for it is clear that the elders have failed miserably (as leaders and as followers) in Nigeria. Most of all, young people need to be shown about the importance of their right to vote, in the run up to 2007.
Friday, December 30, 2005
It is a commonplace to blame the problems of Africa on poor leadership. While there is some truth that poor leadership perpetuates problems of corruption, non-transparency and all the rest, it has always struck me as a somewhat simplistic analysis. Good leadership cannot thrive without good followership, that is, people who will pressurise, critique, encourage, reject and so on as appropriate. In Nigeria as elsewhere, a history of poor leadership has its corrolary in a history of poor followership. The elite have been happy to hang on to whatever spoils of oil that have come their way, whereas the poor have been too downtrodden to act or react to the follies of the powerful. The situation hasn't changed in twenty or more years in Nigeria. Even the grief and anger following the recent air tragedies has now dissipated.
We've been in the frost of the UK since Wednesday morning. The flight from Lagos was terrible - to Bibi's left the smelliest woman in Nigeria (her armpits redolent of rotting onions), to my right, a couple with a baby that loved to shit and scream. Why would anyone want to have children?
We did some chores in London on Wednesday afternoon, then ended up meeting friends at Patara, an excellent Thai restaurant on Greek Street in Soho. Was lovely to be in the intelligent and witty company of M and M, architectural magi residing in Hommerschmidt.
Then up to Staffordshire and the parental bosom on Thursday morning. On the train, luminous landscapes of ice, frost giving the trees a skeletal brilliance, landscape merging into sky. And then home: christmas tree, food piling on food, laughter, mulled wine. Christmas and Saturnalia baked into a pie.
I'm basking in 2meg broadband, bouncing round the blogosphere. Just discovered Google maps which is a site I've long dreamed of existing. What will Google be in 10 years time?
Closer to home is 2006 in Nigeria, 3000 miles south. Its going to be a huge year, with a battle royale for the soul of the country in advance of the 2007 elections. So many things will happen next year, most of them for the good.
Tuesday, December 20, 2005
There is a piece on Nollywood on WorldChanging today, following up on something on Black Looks' site. Its refreshing to hear some critical voices. For all that Nollywood is touted as the third biggest film industry in the world, I've always maintained that on present form, Nollywood does more harm than good. For one, it perpetuates the kind of pre-modern medieval superstitious juju claptrap that swirls around in many people's heads. Dodgy aviation industry plus 419 emails plus Nollywood equals BAD reputation.
But the problem of Nollywood is not one of a lack of creativity or technical know-how; it is rather than it is currently run on the wrong business model. The for-video market distribution system means that the budget often dictates that the film is made in four or five days. With the new multiplex cinemas opening up this year and next, and the classification board enforcing a degree of local content, AND the merged banks looking to offer returns on shareholder investment, the time is ripe for much bigger budget films.
Thanks for all the interesting posts and different views on Christmas. I think we all can yearn for memories of festivities of our childhood. And of course, Christmas is always localised to whatever climate. As one commentor noted, the irritating thing about Christmas in the West nowadays is that it is just a highpoint on the retail sales calendar and can be a cue for intense loneliness for those left out of the action in such an alienated society.
I think I just had an allergic reaction to so many blinging fake christmas trees. When I was growing up, people with fake trees were considered tacky tasteless beings confined to a life of ITV and tinned food (nice bit of class snobbery going on there). So I cannot help looking at plastic trees here and think that we're a long way from Norway or Germany. But perhaps this is just a middle-class/elite phenomenon as someone else noted.
But the larger point is that like all public events, Christmas is highly contested and has multiple meanings around christendom and beyond it. In parts of Europe, the festival of St Nicholas (where "Santa Claus" comes from) is more important than Christmas. What is happening in Europe as christianity's influence continues to wane is that christmas is becoming a secular gathering festival as it was before - the Jesus narrative slowly dropping out in favour of gift-giving and communality. In multi-faith and post-faith societies, what we need I think are more secular rituals that bring us together across our differences. Although as a veggie I dont like the meat aspect, the US Thanksgiving ritual is one such example.
Monday, December 19, 2005
Just heard that Bellview crashlanded in Ghana today. This follows an emergency landing in Kaduna late last week (not sure which airline that involved). Farce follows tragedy follows farce...
In an obituary to the late Pastor Bimbo in the past few days, the author referred to her stand against homosexuality and her campaign for women to be submissive to their man. Anywhere else in the world (for instance, Belfast, celebrating the first gay marriage today) and this would be interpreted as irony or sarcasm. Things are a little different in the topsy turvy world of Ng.
Just as insidious and counter-productive as prosperity doctrine (which ever more christians in Nigeria are turning against thankfully) is submission doctrine. As many know, it comes from this particularly nasty piece of Greek-style patriarchy in Ephesians:
"Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything. Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless." Eph 5:22-27
I suspect there are many women in Nigeria who are torn between fidelity to this text (as part of a broader faith in the word of The Book) and wanting to resist the licence it gives to their man to lord it over them in their relationship. If we are to use the language of submission, in any healthy relationship, submission should surely work both ways - at times the man submitting to the woman as much as the woman submitting to the man. Any theological attempt to endorse the above citation as The Truth will always end up as patriarchy pure and simple: man considered superior (and therefore accorded more power) than woman.
Christians must recognise that 2000 years after the event, much of the world has come to challenge patriarchy - even in places like Iran and India. Over one hundred years of feminist struggle in the West has given women the vote and a huge amount of autonomy (financial and otherwise) from men - although sadly, many Western womenseem not to have heard of Mary Wollstencroft or the Suffragettes. Any stance apart from the progressive deconstruction of patriarchy must surely be seen as an argument in favour of turning back the clock of history. Christianity is compatible with a much more egalitarian approach to relationships.
In an organisational context, subscribing to this passage from Ephesians is at the same time acquiescing to oga-syndrome or bigmanism. Returning to the quote, surely Christ should submit to the Church as much as the Church submits to him? Any other position would involve a deficit of accountability. In business-speak, the MD must submit to the Board, as the Board must submit to the Shareholders. No one has absolute authority over anyone else in an enlightened organisational/institutional context. In the Catholic Church, if priests were never held accountable (submitting to the enquiries of the laiity), how many more children would suffer child abuse to this day?
The more general point is that no text, no matter how sacred, should be taken to be literally true, for literal truth is impossible with the passage of time. The accretions of history meant that something always gets lost in translation (as other things are found in translation) - as we know that the idea that Christ was born in a 'stable' is the result of a mistranslation from the Aramaic (other accounts point Jesus to being born in a house or a cave). A healthy historicism (a la Nietzsche's classic essay "The Uses and Abuses of History for Life") takes texts and uses them for the progressive purposes of the present, discarding what is no longer needed. Submission doctrine should go the way of prosperity doctrine for the sake of the empowerment of Christian women everywhere: to the dustbin of history.
There are some interesting rebuttals of the foundation story of Christianity here. Whether one subscribes to all that is written there, it certainly points to a lot of confusion between differing accounts of the life of Christ in the Gospels.
Christmas is upon us, and I can’t help feeling that it just doesn’t work in the tropics. A Christian takeover of a pagan festival shrouded in history, Christmas is a festival for Northern Europe and Northern Europeans above everywhere else. It is a celebration of light amidst the darkness of winter, and of communion despite the cold. It should involve drinking litres of mulled wine and copious mince pies, as well as the odd trifle, all to the sound of a crackling fire. But here, Christmas is bleached of its meaning by the blinding light of the year. How many Nigerians have a clue about the origin of associating Christmas trees with this festival, or an inkling of where Father Christmas/Santa Claus came in? Instead of the ancestral smell of pine invading the house, Nigerians make do with pathetically tacky plastic trees. Ones that make plinky plonky electronic noises that approximate to “Jingle Bells” and go out of tune seem to be favoured above all else. My advice: drop Christmas and invent a festival that is conducive to the climate – a festival of water in the dry season perhaps? Christmas is about as at home in West Africa (or anywhere else hot in December for that matter) as palm trees in Newcastle.
We spent the weekend with Y, a guy I met through this blog. It was his first time back in Nigeria for some years and his first time in Abuja. His sensitive reflective ways and aesthetic attunement to the world made me consider what an aggressive brute I’ve become; Nigeria turns you this way simply in order to get through the days without being too scarred by the stupid inefficiencies and inefficient stupidities that confront one every day here. I felt like a reptile sick of my scaly skin. My life as an iguanadon. Time to go on retreat, meditate, love the smell of jasmine and wood smoke and all the things between once again.
We had fun talking into the night about Nigeria, the evangelical virus, the philosophical underpinnings of veganism and what it is to be human etc. It was a breath of balmy fresh air to have another intellect ventilating its energies through the house. A new friend perceptively commented recently that Nigeria always extracts energy, without giving anything in return. One has very little to learn from most of the people one meets, their heads being empty or full of superstitious vacuity (the young receiving no valid education these days). Y is interesting because he is an ex-evangelical; he therefore knows the Bible better than most and has thought his way outside of the brainwashed gobbledygook by questioning the very foundation of a literalist interpretation of the Bible: the Bible itself. He did this by studying the historical conditions in which the Bible itself was constructed (the various councils where what was Apocryphal and what not was decided). His analysis of the difference between the Gospels and the Pauline interpretation (the internalised “spirit within” of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) and the externalised “Christ the Saviour” message that follows was particularly interesting. Of course, like myself or I imagine any other ex-Christian (I left the Christianity when I was 10), he has not completely renounced the faith; only the crass Manichean victory/money-obsessed perversion. The marginalised liberal interpretation (the Bible as a repository of useful/poetic narratives) awaits, to those who understand that faith is a journey to the urge within.
We also discovered Usman Dam, which is just 20 mins drive from Abuja. A glittering expanse of water complete with volcanic islands, anywhere else in the world this place would have been exploited for its huge tourist potential; sailing boats, speed boats, water and jet skiers would be zipping around, while more relaxed types would be sipping cocktails from a Niemeyer-esque balcony. Instead, there is silence and the sun shining down. Perhaps this is no bad thing; who wants a Costa del Abuja or a West African Windermere? But some modest development could surely take place here beyond the small, unused looking Julius Berger sailing club? We sat by the lakeside and enjoyed the glistening coolwarm water on our feet and the sound of stones plonking beneath the surface. Then we drove along the lane at the top of the dam, a kite keeping us company soaring the thermals above us, and clambered up rocks. Cigarette butts told us that this place was known by at least some. A skinny lad came walking after us down the track, descending the rocky slope to a tethered wooden canoe. He offered Y and I a trip; we clambered aboard and set out onto the crystalline water for a few minutes. Then we drove back, Y and I sitting on the bonnet, feeling like 10 years olds again. The landscape around the lake could have been Italy (minus the cypress trees). How soothing to be in a landscape, however briefly, after the low-grade concrete ugliness of Abuja.
We then drove to Bwari to the two pottery places in that area, buying some lovely glazed pieces. The spirit of master potter Ladi Kwali lives on in these places. On the road back, we filled the boot with grapefruit, oranges, paw-paw, melons, and bought some lovely local honey (Nigerian honey has a flavour all its own) from some jovial women at the crossroads near Ushafa. Finally, on the way back into town, we stopped off at the Crafts village place on Jabi road and Y bought some masks and battic hangings. I spotted a lovely four foot high Yoruba-style sculpture which Bibi’s sister helped to negotiate down to a decent price.
All of which proves the hugely underdeveloped tourist potential of Federal Capital Territory. Rather than blow all that money on a pointless carnival, the Tourist Ministry should look at places like Usman Dam and Guara Falls and create some eco-tourist projects. But then where are the kick-backs in modest adjustments like these?
On Sunday, I watched The Consequences of Love, the Italian contemporary masterpiece of cinema that came out earlier this year. I was reminded of the powerful message of the film: of love as a sacrifice without return, and of the essence of humanity lying in being able to recognise the humanity of others. If ever you get the chance, watch this film; its stylish, arresting and enigmatic all at once.
Saturday, December 17, 2005
Click here to read a report of the tear gas episode yesterday.
Friday, December 16, 2005
A friend went along to the mother's march against the aviation industry (mentioned in my last post) this morning. Apparently the police were ready in waiting. Mothers from the elite didnt have time to gather before tear gas was being sprayed. Democracy and freedom of association remains a distant mirage in this country..
Thursday, December 15, 2005
We concerned Mothers of Nigeria have had enough of air crashes
In which we lose our children. The sosoliso crash news blackout
And governments apathy is unacceptable! We need reforms NOW.
Join us on Friday 16th Dec at 9am at Opic plaza, Ikeja near Sheraton in a protest march
To1 say Never Again.
Please wear black tops.
Send text 08066501955 to register your support now.
Please forward this message to everyone you know
Wednesday, December 14, 2005
In Lagos yesterday, I saw a billboard at the end of Adeola Odeku which is brilliant - I wish I'd had my camera.
Beside a grinning picture of popular comedian Basket Mouth was the headline "Basket Mouth for President 2007". The name of BM's party: the CICDP (Chop I chop Democratic Party). Underneath, with an injunction to contact BM on his GSM was the strapline, "Enough ghana-must-go for everbody"
It confirms my belief that comedy is the most radically contestive space in Nigeria at the moment. We must look to Basket Mouth & co to drive reform.
Another thing: there is to be a demo/march in Ikeja on Friday demanding change in the Aviation sector - led by some Loyola Jesuit parents (will post more info tomorrow). Let the people rise up!
A street close to the heart of many a Nigerian: a huge collection of the most lurid, fakest flowers. Would look lovely next to chintzy curtains and metal chairs done out in gold near the glass table from Argos.
Tuesday, December 13, 2005
I had a moment of insight yesterday while dwelling (yet again) on the Church in Nigeria. It must be painful for those genuinely committed to a Christian path of love and care for the other to see how those who grab the limelight with delusional Creflo Dollar-esque prosperity doctrine soil the message, while quiet good work is done a thousand times a day by Nigerian Christians in a thousand places. The solution to redeem the spoiled image of evangelical christianity is that crooked pastors must be identified and banished via internal mechanisms, checks and balances. Church books must be open to external auditing, questions must be capable of being asked to those in authority. Then a genuine reformation can take place which could only be very powerful and positive for Nigeria.
I guess my moment of insight was more simply that perversions of christianity (such as TB Joshua's alleged cure for Aids, breast cancer etc etc) are symptoms of a collective survival mode - where thousands of people en masse are pushed every day to the limits of their being - with a nourishing meal perhaps once a week, living in dreadful conditions. Rather than continually ranting on about these symptoms, solutions need to be found to the causes. Being led into a community of love and care (such as the Church) after years of hardship and abuse can be a hugely positive framework for transformation. I would not want to deny this.
Whether its Jesus, the Buddha, Mohammed, Guru Nanak or Rilke, there are a myriad of spiritual avatars who have come amongst us in history, offering pathways of spiritual development ahead of us. In each case, institutions can form around these heavenly beings which mess up the message. Mechanisms for reform are always needed within religious organisations, for the founding being's profundity to be kept intact. In this respect, Christianity is no different from any other organised religion: human beings can fall, as do the institutions they create.
Sunday, December 11, 2005
We're all drunk with sadness at the story of all those children perishing near Port Harcourt. The aviation minister is away in Canada - at some kind of air safety conference. What bitter irony. With Bellview, then Kaduna and now Sosoliso all within just over a month, there must be a wall of pressure from the public mounted to ask why and roar for change.
It is time that the corruption in the air transport industry is blown away: runways must be maintained, aircraft must be checked thoroughly before every flight, electric storms must always be avoided, old planes must not be allowed to fly. From what I read, the last DC-9 was made in 1982, which means that the Sosoliso plane was at least 23 years old. In a country with no maintenance culture, old planes + cost cutting in vital areas is a recipe for tragedy. The world watches Nigeria and waits for the country to get its act together, instead of continually embarrasing itself with the multiple forms of its own inadequacy.
Loyola Jesuit in Abuja is one of the best schools in the country, with bright young minds nurtured in an atmosphere of Jesuit discipline and moral principles. We hear that a mother and a father yesterday lost all three of their children from this place: a future wiped from the face of the planet. What can be said to console them, after such a senseless death? Who will be brought to account as a gesture to nudge them in the direction of atonement (a ten thousand mile journey)?
The bitter pill to swallow is that since Bellview, nothing seems to have changed: no one lost their job or was held to account (Bellview didnt stop flying). No enquiry was made, no black box was found (apparently). Instead, those lives have sunk into the thick mud of history. African lives have no value; faces become contours in the mud and then are trodden over.
The standard of graphic design and creative copywriting in Nigerian advertising is woefully poor - with MTN leading the way with straplines such as "Go where you want to go" and "Life is beautiful". As with Nigerian newspapers, one can easily get depressed.
An island of creativity in a sea of mediocrity is young Lanre Lawal who won a design award from the British Council recently. Check out his graphic design work for Jazzhole, Urban Living etc here (unfortunately its a heavy site so not so easy to browse from your average naija cybercafe). Let's hope the acclaim doesnt go to his head and he keeps on developing his talent.
Thursday, December 08, 2005
On the road to Internet City from Deira, you pass this wall of pomo buildings, like out of a sci-fi set. Even with 7-lane freeways, the traffic can build up. With no mass transit system (no rail, no subway, no DLR) there may be congestion issues in the future, when all those bought-off-plan high-rises are occupied).
Tuesday, December 06, 2005
its been a looong day, but successful. Even though 9 or 10 of our party didnt manage to get out of the airport after 9 or 10 hours of waiting, we decided to start at 5pm. Professor Olofin of the Centre for Econometric and Allied Research gave a 3 hour presentation on the importance of interagency forecast modelling and how it can create a rational macro-economic policy framework which was quite inspiring. Instead of economic adjustments made by whim, the technology platform we are creating (funded by the EU) will enable forecast data to be shared amongst the core Federal Govt agencies. And now that Prof has been brought onto the new Board of the CBN (he was Soludo's teacher), it really looks like things are locking into place for next year. It feels great to be part of a process whereby at the most senior level, competent technocrats are starting to take control of the Nigerian economy.
Our group landed this morning - via two flights - Emirates and Ethiopia. The problems continued when we found out that not everyone had visas approved. Nigerians are on the problem list for UAE officials (along with Somalis and Iraqis). The travel agent people told us that Nigerians came and did a bank robbery a few years ago. This was the first time this had happened in the country. In the past couple of years, travel agents are only allowed to process four Nigerian passports at a time. This made getting all the passports done in one go somewhat problematic. Tempers are rising. Some of the party are in the hotel (a Russian-themed joint with rococco gilded fittings), some are still in the airport, tired and fed up. We will get there.
I'm going to take a rest now. Its nice having broadband internet access again after the crawling and extortionate speeds of Nigeria..
Monday, December 05, 2005
We are taking 30+ civil servants to Dubai for strategy workshops today - the last big thing we do for this year. Some are already there but havent got their visas sorted out and are stuck in immigration (we're frantically burning credit trying to sort this out). Some have to be at Lagos airport by 1pm today to fly Ethiopia - but we are not sure if all are there. Meanwhile, the bulk of people are flying Emirates - but not all the visa are yet sorted out. A complete daymare. But it will all be ok in the end sha.
Meanwhile we had a lovely night out at Terra Kulture with friends and new friends last night - the conversation flowed and was full of wit and laughter. A piano concert was held in the concert space - they played pieces by Ayo Bankole (he wrote the Nigerian national anthem). He died aged 41 and a lot of his compositions went up in smoke. Our friend's piano teacher knew some by heart fortunately and so some of the missing pieces have been transcribed. It was lovely to be beguiled by langorous pianomusik once again.
Saturday, December 03, 2005
A reading culture IS coming back to Nigeria, thanks to the valliant efforts of a few. There are clusters of book clubs emerging. Check this one - which has both adult and childrens groups.
I've loved some of the comments to some of my recent posts - especially Afrofunkycool's short history lesson on alternative sexualities in Nigeria and the wonderful satire on a Levitican theme: whoever wrote that should develop it into an essay or something. It confirms my belief that the best way to shut evangelical bigots up is to quote the Bible back at them. For all the prosperity-doctrine delusionists who pray only for business success and wealth, one can simply quote Matthew 19:24 on camels and needles to swat at their crass materialistic perversion of spirituality. The same can be done for Christian carnivores..
At a friends house recently I was flicking through a glossy brochure for a Camp (religious gathering) they had attended - one of those Ibadan expressway mass gatherings. The Church involved is one of the largest and oldest of the mushroom churches. The brochure's theme was 'breakthrough' (this means success after struggle I think). Not once during the brochure was there any mention of compassion towards others, love of neighbour, tending to the sick or the poor or anything remotely resembling the Christian values I absorbed through my quasi-Methodist upbringing. All there was was memememe and how memememe is going to breakthrough. The brochure could have been written by a computer, randomising a set of the following words: Jesus, breakthrough, faith, success, evil spirits, Holy Ghost, prayerful - with filler words such as and, the etc. I'm never failed to be shocked by the utter lack of meaning and the sheer material superficiality of Evangelical christian discourse in Nigeria.
In a conversation with Bibi a couple of days ago, we were discussing how although irony and satire seems dead and buried in English conversation, Yoruba is replete with double meaning, puns, subtle mockery etc. on a Shakesperean scale.
The question is, why has Nigerian English (particularly as it appears in popular media such as journalism) become so unruly and staid? A journalist friend yesterday suggested that the problem of poor writing is a fundamental one that ordinary writing courses cannot rectify. For Bibi, the problem began when parents and teachers stopped teaching their children first of all in whatever native language: Yoruba/Igbo/Hausa and began with English. To young minds grappling with a second language, it is vital that one is fully grounded in the first. The result of this switch was a confusion between local languages and English, undermining children's ability to distinguish between different grammatical systems. There would seem to be some truth in this, in that many grammatical mistakes in the paper's do seem to be motivated by another language (for instance, confusing him and her for Yoruba speakers - where Yoruba does not have gender difference coded into the language). It will take a lot of time and effort to build up the quality of written English here, and a concerted effort to separate the learning of local language from acquiring linguistic competence in English.
Friday, December 02, 2005
Watching Sorious Samura’s gut-wrenching documentary on Aids in Africa last night, it struck me that apart from access to very cheap or free ARV’s, and apart from prevention issues around the relation to alcohol (the virus is transferred so often by drunk men) and the nihilistic death-wish of those with HIV-AIDS sleeping with others to infect them, and of the evangelical church’s mystification against the effectiveness of condom use in favour of protection from Jesus or by preaching abstinence (funded by our friends in the Whiter than White House) – aside from all these well known contributory factors to the prevalence of the virus – what is less appreciated (perhaps I am wrong – what do I know?) is the importance of nutrition and diet. The reason why poverty threatens the lives of those who are positive in Africa more than elsewhere is surely because the African diet is often poor in the nutrients that will boost the immune system. So many Africans do not eat enough fruit and vegetables (even though they may be surrounded by them), resulting in nutritional intake weak in iron, B12, essential fatty acids and other vital nutrients.
A campaign for a more balanced diet amongst the poor in Aids-stricken areas such as Zambia, Nigeria or Swaziland would mean living with the virus would be less life-threatening. This may not be as daft an idea as it might sound: in most places in the world, there is an abundance of plants and herbs that are immuno-boosters – whether sources of iron, anti-oxidants or otherwise. Here in Nigeria, the variety of spinach called ugwu is a miraculous way to boost the blood level (we drink the juice, which is a bit like wheatgrass). Anti-Retro-Virals are undoubtedly a key part of the fight against the virus (as are the microbicide gel-based vaccines coming onto the market in the next few years), but campaigns for a better diet based on locally-available produce must surely play a role too.
Thursday, December 01, 2005
The Victorian hypocrisy of attitudes towards homosexuality in Nigeria is epic in its tragicomic proportions. From what I have seen and heard, the categories of straight/bi/gay just dont fit the fluidities of Nigerian sexual experience - just as they dont fit many other cultures and times in history (such as pre-Victorian England). Of course, evangelical christianity and stern interpretations of Islam clamp down on this experience being verbalised or part of everyday discourse. It's good with events such as the link below, the lid is being lifted on superabundant reality, and the yawning Nigerian reality-illusion gap is one inch nearer towards being closed.
The reality-illusion gap has a very particular sexual dimension here. I am reminded of going to various Lagos clubs, and seeing people who are (with a Westernised gaydar) obviously queer. And yet, the Nigerians we go with assume that a woman delicately pinching another woman's nipple is them 'just being friends'. Which raises an interesting topic: in an overtly homophobic culture like Nigeria, being gay is so taboo that one can be gay (hold hands, fondle) and no one will notice or bat an eyelid. Of course, many gay men in Nigeria (much more gay than bi, if we have to use the western categories) are married with kids, wife will never know etc. Perhaps the same goes for Nigerian lesbians. As with all struggles against prejudice, challenging homophobia in Nigeria is going to take time, especially with so much bigotry circulating in the mushroom churches.
Wonderful. Two fingers to Peter Akinola. Read here.
On World Aids Day (there's a big conference on here in Abuja), here's an interesting story on Black Looks' blog. Its worth reading to the end, as it speaks of the relations between drugs, health, Africa, personal pressures and pharma companies.
"Our flight for Lagos has been cancelled. The international runway at Lagos is out of action, so KLM have been landing on the domestic runway, but one of their planes was damaged by scrunching over loose tarmac. The Nigerians responded by limiting the weight of incoming aircraft. This means KLM have to refuel elsewhere or carry fewer passengers. They have suspended flights. Oh, the joys of touring..." More
The power in the Ministry keeps tripping on and off every 5 minutes, in this sequence:
a) NEPA goes down
b) Gap of 5 minutes
c) Generator goes on
d) Gap of 5 minutes
e) Nepa comes on
f) Nepa goes down
As our network UPS is dying (we get about 2 seconds back-up power), everything closes down and has to be brought back on again.
We plod on.
Wednesday, November 30, 2005
Spent the morning watching Funmi Iyanda interview Obi Ezekwesili (Minister for Solid Minerals) with Q's from the audience. There is something about her which is compelling: her direct, practical approach, communication skills etc. If ever a woman should follow in the footsteps of Johnson-Sirleaf and be the second African woman President, she should be. She looked and sounded great. "I love being Nigerian" was my favourite quote - she looked resplendent in her Adire/tie-die boubou.
Tuesday, November 29, 2005
This beautiful looking book has just landed on my desk - it looks great:
Some of my posts may indicate that I'm an enlightened progressive chap. I like to think I am, but I have to admit things have slacked on that side (at least domestically) since I've been in Nigeria. We used to have a cook and cleaner (now we have just a cleaner) - so there was no need for me to familiarise myself with the kitchen. Plus I have no culinary talent or imagination (I have lazy default meals and get stuck presented with a limited range of stuff in the fridge and store), whereas Bibi is a talented cook with nutritional creativity aplenty.
So the days when I am to be seen in the kitchen doing stuff are few and far between. I havent washed a plate in ages (apart from once or twice as a guest back in London recently) - so much so that other friends I stayed with in the summer complained bitterly about my laziness around their house. And I have got used to people bringing my food to me (not even bothering to get up and fetch from the kitchen).
All of which might sound like false self-criticism; Jeremy gets to eat his food without contributing to the process, and then affords himself some whistful appraisal; however I do think its problematic when people (especially men) don't contribute to the running of the household. Power structures and forms of expectancy start to coalesce and reproduce themselves. Patriarchy begins with subtle moments of expectation like this. But its difficult to know what to do when there are others who can do kitchen stuff for you. I resolve to spend one day a week doing stuff in the kitchen...
I had this letter from the Head of Global News at the Beeb today (I'd complained about lack of coverage of the change in Nigeria):
Dear Dr Weate
Thank you very much for your E Mail to Helen Boaden of 24 November, which has been passed through to me. I completely agree with you that Nigeria is going through a very interesting stage of development politically and economically at the moment. It is also a very important market for the BBC World Service with over 21 million weekly listeners in Hausa and English.
I am not quite sure which part of the BBC’s coverage your complaint refers to. Our dedicated English output for Africa, particularly Network Africa, Focus on Africa and Africa, Have Your Say cover Nigeria in detail every week. Just to give you a few examples of our coverage on Focus on Africa over the last week – we have reported on Governor Alamieyeseigha’s expulsion from the PDP, the controversial carnival in Abuja and the court finding against the former Head of the Nigerian Police. We have interviewed the Bayelsa Governor himself about his return to Nigeria, the Chairman of the Judicial Committee of the Nigerian House of Representatives and Nuhu Ribadu, Head of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission. We have also talked to Nigeria’s Finance Minister Ngozi Okonjo Iweala and Charles Soludo, Governor of the Central Bank recently on debt forgiveness and the recapitalisation of banks. Africa Have Your Say was presented from Abuja last week.
The Hausa Service of course pays even more detailed attention to Nigeria including economic stories and has covered the privatisation of Nepa and the recapitalisation of Nigerian banks in detail. Last week for example they focussed on the Bank of the North with the outgoing Managing Director insisting they would meet the Central Bank’s deadline to recapitalise.
The Africa/Middle East Region has strong reporting teams in both Lagos and Abuja working to Jamilah Tangaza who is responsible for output in both English and Hausa. Jamilah and her team are in the process of moving to a larger office in Abuja which will enable us to do more live production from Nigeria as well as be co-sited with the BBC World Service Trust which is working on a number of projects focussing on media for development.
As for the wider BBC, a search on the BBC news website on the word Nigeria produces over 200 stories which were filed recently and we have plans for both our Newshour team and our Religious Programmes to go to Nigeria in the next few months to record programmes.
However there is no doubt that our coverage has suffered as we have been without a Lagos correspondent for several months this year. The situation will improve when Alex Last starts early in the New Year with a brief to get stories from Nigeria covered across all BBC news outlets. We are also due to open a new West Africa reporter post in Accra shortly in order to improve our coverage of West Africa as a whole, including of course Nigeria. Nigeria remains one of the minority of countries in the world where the BBC maintains a permanent bureau and this will remain the case.
Once these two key posts are in place, I am confident that our coverage of Nigeria will improve across the whole of our news coverage. If you would like to visit our Abuja office I know our Editor Jamilah Tangaza would be delighted to talk to you about our coverage in more depth.
Director, Global News Division
One of our favourite countries, Morocco has everything: style, design, climate, scenery, lovely markets etc.
Our friends in the UK have just set up a holiday house in the medina in Essaouira. Its nicely done up, inexpensive and the city is a great holiday destination (beaches, Marrakesh nearby, great market etc.)
Click here for more info.
A friend of my parents contacted me today. She is British - her partner is writing a book on corrugate iron's use in architecture. They have found out that a company in Liverpool shipped the roof for King Eyambo's palace in Calabar in 1843 (picture below). Does anyone know if the building is still standing?
I ran out of credit on my phone early this morning and something that happens all too regularly then took place: MTN's network buggered up, stopping me from being able to load more credit onto the phone. So I can't make calls. After 3 years of being in country, MTN (which should be rechristened Made to Trash Nigeria) still cannot get its backbone infrastructure sorted out - even though they have made more money in Nigeria in this short space of time than they have made in South Africa the whole time they have been running.
While the rest of the world (including other African countries) are now enjoying 3G network power, and are able to send video messages etc. Nigeria is many years behind the curve. Most people use a prepaid voucher system (like me) which means your finger nails get dirty with having to scratch the card. Those people I know on post-paid complain of continually getting cut off and having problems (hardly an incentive for switching). Technically, I think some of the networks here have some GPRS capability, but none of them (save Globacom) are making use of it for data services. Or perhaps they are, in which case, the marketing departments of the telcos are doing a terrible job.
All of which is madness - because Nigeria is a place where lots of money could be made out of data: very few people have internet access at home, people would love to send each other picture messages etc. Blackberry would make a killing here.
So quite why the telcos are dragging their feet is a mystery. One of the reasons must be that because there is no coordinated backbone infrastructure strategy from the Government, each company is having to build their own. So exactly analogous to power in Nigeria, where no one shares their generator, meaning that all the generator power in the country easily exceeds national requirements, so too, Nigeria will end up having surplus infrastructure leading paradoxically to connectivity deficits. The country's telecom network suffers from a lack of coordination, strategy and planning - so the buck must stop with the regulator - NCC.
Right now, I can't even make a phone call, let alone send data!
Monday, November 28, 2005
The past few days I’ve become increasingly aware of the need to return to reading literature; to have my being filled with acute observations from elsewhere lives, to nourish the vegetation that populates the landscape of my imagination. If we stop reading literature, we attenuate. I have been attenuating..
So I’m now going through the Somalian writer Nuruddin Farah’s Blood in the Sun trilogy (Maps, Gifts, Secrets). The first text Maps is difficult to begin (as with many of Toni Morrison’s works) – the language is treacle thick, and the time is non-linear, cycling and spiralling back on itself. But something remarkable is unfolding: the story of the geography of conflict (the war between Ethiopia and Somalia) and how it plays out and tears the seams at the most intimate level.
In an effort to get a clear sense of the frame of events, I read the interview with the author at the back of the book. From what he says, what drives him is depicting strong women (in homage to his mother, a well-known Somalian oral-poet). He is the archetype of a male feminist writer. It’s worth quoting a slice of a paragraph of his strikingly refreshing thoughts:
“I’ve said elsewhere that everything I’ve written is a tribute to the strength and wisdom with which my mother inspired me during my young years. Besides I tend to be attracted to strong women who can take the authority of their voice and use it effectively in order to defend their position, if only because I see women as a symbol of the subjugated self in everyone of us. I take it as given: that in every man there is a woman, and that in every woman there is a man, that there is a child in every adult. And that it is necessary to create the space in which everyone is free. I take it as given, too, that the society as a whole cannot be described as “democratic” until every man, woman and child is liberated from the constraints of male-stipulated system of subjugation, especially of women. To achieve this, you need strong women.”
What a beautiful hymn to emancipation..
Went to the Demas Nwoku event at the Sheraton on Sunday. The event is to mark the opening of the new culture centre in Ibadan - in a building designed and built by Nwoku, there will be Nigerian cultural resources and various programmes aimed at a reorientation around differing Nigerian cultural and aesthetic traditions.
The event was billed to start at 12. This being Nigeria, it didn't start until 2.30 - all the dignitaries being ushered in by talking drum and the usual pomp bs. Finally, around 3pm, Demas got up to give the opening address. Unfortunately, the PA system wasn't working properly (nor were the chandelier lights - they kept strobing on and off). Worse still, Demas talked in a whisper. So much so that we left early.
Fortunately, we'd had a look around the exhibits of paintings and sculptures while we were waiting. His paintings are mediocre, but the sculptures are gorgeous. I'll paste some pictures below.
I was struggling with a slow connection writing my last post. I wanted to add that anyone black, white or brown getting into politics now may be tempted into the Tory camp on the basis of 8 years of neo-Labour. Blair's rule has hardly been inspiring for youngsters, and there is always something tempting about underdogs. On some issues, the Tories are now to the left of Labour anyway - witness their resistance to the 90-day detention of suspected terrorists that came up recently. Older folks (mid-30's and above) have all too keen a memory of Thatcher and her many disasters (sinking of the Belgrano, denial of society, privatisation of the railways etc etc), so we could never switch to Blue.
As someone brought up in a politicised, left-wing environment and a Primitive Methodist family background two or three generations ago, it is hard to see Blair's years as anything other than a complete failure, morally and politically. It used to be said that devolution was an achievement, but what, apart from wads of cash burnt on a new building in Scotland, has that achieved? Blair came in on an Education Education Education ticket, but from what teacher friends tell me in London, so many children are wild and out of control. Nothing has been done with A-levels apart from nervous tinkering at the edges - when wholescale reform was clamoured for by those in the know. But the thing that History will damn him for is the Iraqi blood on his hands. We now know that around 500,000 children died during the sanctions (and the sinister oil-for-food programme) - Blair was around when this happened. And Blair's subsequent collusion with the Bush morons and all those dodgy dossiers will sink his reputation for good. Just as Bush is now seen as the worst President in living memory, so too, Blair's premiership will be seen as one of the weakest in modern history - giving in to every last neo-con whim.
The hope is that when Brown comes in, some kind of rapprochement will take place with traditional socialist values: the importance of Unions, limitations on Corporate power (such as a strong definition of Corporate Manslaughter), as well as a build up in the renationalisation movement (making the railways fully nationalised again), as well as a less interventionist foreign policy.
But beyond all this, climate change is surely the biggest issue that faces us all. It looks like the greenhouse effect came too quickly to be mitigated by peak oil. Something drastic needs to be done, and Europe can lead the way. America needs to be isolated by the world in its refusal to sign up even to Kyoto. There needs to be more investment in new solar technologies (especially the new printed sheet tech). On these issues, none of the mainstream parties are facing up to realities.
Sunday, November 27, 2005
Well that is the last time I'm recommending to anyone to read a Murdoch rag for any reason. I was told by someone in the BBC that there would be a big spread so I duly passed it on (even got my folks to buy it, and they gave up buying the ST about a decade ago - after my nagging). But it was worth getting MW to buy it for her forensic examination of the way in which it is subtly (and not-so-subtly) racist. There is an all-pervasive white supremacy in the UK that is incredibly subtle but always there. It is hard to detect because oftentimes it doesn't take place at the level of language or discourse - its more in the way events are framed. While London is one of the most multicultural cities on earth (visually) one should not be fooled into think all is well under the House of Windsor.
Unfortunately, as with feminism, our times have moved away from radical contestive discourses on race. White people think all is well because there are equal-opportunities policies in place. Let me give an example of how crass race can be: a son of a close Nigerian friend in the UK started going to a famous Catholic school (previously attended by the Blair's sons). They have a regulation at this school that boy's hair should not be too short - at the least it should be about 1 and 1/2 inches. Now this might stop white boys looking like skinheads, but it obviously spells disaster for the parents of a black child trying to make their son look all neat and natty. In this example, nothing is said that is racist, however the policy itself does not cater for difference, and is therefore inadvertently racist. Of course, black people could give thousands of similar examples. The sad thing is that unlike the 1980's, there is no radical challenging voice forcing white folks to wake up.
Young Nigerians and the Tories
I've recently met some young (20something) Nigerians in the UK, some of whom are Tories. This is somewhat discombobulating. It's always been hard to swallow that some black people could vote for this smug bunch of Rotary club racists. Of course I'm aware that this is a bit of a problematic attitude. You could also say that there is very little difference between the main parties these days, so what does it matter? But a little bell inside me keeps insisting that if only 24 year olds had experienced Thatcher and her disasterous policies, they would change their mind. Oh well. To each her own.
gets in on the blogging tip. She is a self-confessed contradiction and dramaqueen, so this one is going to be interesting...
Check Aye Toro's new blog - good place to catch up on contemporary afrobeat trends and interesting contemporary African cultural stuff.
Article on Alama in the UK Sunday Times. As I dont have access to the paper, I'm not sure if there's other stuff on Nigeria elsewhere. A contact at the BBC said there was a 'spread'. I continue to push for more positive news on Nigeria from the UK press..
As the year is coming to a close, I was thinking about what will happen in Nigeria next year. Although there is sure to be the usual turbulence, I think Nigeria is going to surprise the world. Here's why:
1. Banking consolidation will stabilise the economy. The new big banks (First Bank merging with Ecobank, UBA-STB, Oceanic-Stanbic etc) will add more ballast to the economy and engender trust. With a much larger shareholder base to satifsy, the banks will turn to internal investment opportunities. Foreign capital should flow in more steadily than before.
2. The reform process will gather pace, in the final push before 2007. Tafa Balogun, Alama etc are just the beginning of the good work the EFCC are doing. This should mean there is less money swilling around to swing elections unfairly, leading to a fairer election in 2007. The focus on State-level reform based on activity-based budgetting should mean more money ends up where it is needed. Of course, none of this is going to be a smooth ride, but it looks like Obj is pushing the boat strongly in the right direction.
3. The telecoms sector should strengthen. I'm not sure about the impacts of the Universal licence regime coming in, but it should be the equivalent of banking consolidation: fewer and stronger telcoms companies, which should lead to better customer service. The eventual privatisation of NITEL and SAT-3 will be a major catalyst for growth and development..
4. Chinese and South African investments in Nigeria will increase apace. The mooted national rail network would dramatically alter the business potential of the country.
So I think as we look to 2006, we should focus on these very positive opportunities for the country. All the negative stuff is just friction along the way..
Saturday, November 26, 2005
There's going to be a big spread on Nigeria in the UK Sunday Times tomorrow - those living in the UK please check out. I hope it doesn’t focus on the negative too much.
Meanwhile, we went to the Abuja craft fair this morning. It was ok, except the only people there were people selling stuff and the odd troupe of people (probably remnants of the march I saw on Thu). It’s a shame - Nigeria has huge tourist potential, but they don't seem to understand the basics here – marketing, publicity, presentation, attention to detail etc. Why not have a heritage day (public holiday) like they do in South Africa? That way, if you are going to have a celebration on a weekday, there'll be people to attend. Perhaps they could do this next year.
Meandering round the craft fair, I realised something else. We Westerners can't help ourselves and the way our desire is constructed - when we want to buy stuff (unless we're tacky people from Essex or equivalent) we want stuff that looks as authentic as possible. We want masks that look fetishistic and old (even if they are not). The trouble is, many Nigerians are in some way embarrassed of too many masks (and spiritual forces that may lurk). So the Western tourist doesn’t get to buy an old-looking mask, and no sale is made. Such a contrast to Ghana, where they know exactly what we want and sell it in droves.
The two other things tourists/Westerners want to buy are ceramics and textiles. There were one or two okayish pieces from the Bwari and Marabara (Kaduna) potteries, but they were way overpriced (its much cheaper to buy pieces at source). The same went for some interesting woven mats from Taraba state – N1500 for a 6ft by 3ft mat (which you could pick up for 1/3 the price in the village. We also picked up a brochure from Bauchi State – it looks like there is some beautiful scenery on the way into the State from Jos, as well as Yankari National Park, loads of elephants etc etc. The States need to employ people who understand the Western mindset in order to pull the tourists in and give them what they want. Nigeria should be able to attract more tourists than the East/South Africa safari crowd. I offer my services as a tourist consultant - but be warned: I'm not cheap..
Friday, November 25, 2005
Abuja is no longer safe. In the past two weeks, I know two people who have had their hands shot (resulting in serious injury) in broad daylight. A house on our street got hit last night, as did some consultants I work with. Someone who works in the ministry lost her car at 2pm in the afternoon last week. Given that I have all these stories, how many armed assaults have happened in Abuja in the past few weeks...
The president is playing a clever game by staying quiet on the Alama/Bayelsa fiasco. The reality is, he doesnt have to say anything. Slowly but surely, Tummy-Tuck is going to be forced out of office (by impeachment, or by appeal to the gross misconduct section of the Constitution).
Once he's turfed out, the EFCC will want to put him on trial. But I imagine the more pressing issue will be extradition back to the UK proceedings. Jumping bail will mean that the chances of another escape will be reduced to zero. He has nowhere to run or hide. I'm sure Nigeria will breathe a collective sigh of relief when he gets extradited. With Tafa doing bird and TT back in the UK, confidence will be restored in the anti-corruption drive..
forget Nicon or the other places. The best place to stay is the Meridian. Its cheaper, less hectic, the rooms are nicer, and they have free wireless internet in the hotel. The management are doing a good job (and no one paid me to say this!)
How hypocritical that some people are shunning the carnival on moral grounds. Why is there such scorn for nudity in certain quarters (not that there is any during the carnival)? What is wrong with the naked body? And why in Africa, where it is mostly warm and many cultures have a tradition of partial or total nudity, is there now such a taboo? Carnival is a time for release of the stresses of life, for wine, women/men and song. But even those who dont desire wine, women/men and song can enjoy the music and the spectacle. Or do we have Taliban-esque elements in our midst?
Thursday, November 24, 2005
Ive got hold of some details about this carnival we're having here. So those in Abj, come along. Those not in Abj or even Ng, try and be envious:
The ABUJA CARNIVAL 2005, the first ever carnival in Abuja and a showcase traditional African Carnival of Music, Dance and Arts has begun (as you may noticed from the road closures) and will continue until the 27th November 2005.
The schedule of events is 24th Thursday: Opening ceremony (carnival will be declared open by President Obasanjo) at 10am at Eagle Square. Children's carnival will be declared open at 3pm at Millennium Park.
25th Friday: Durbar procession from 9am -1pm along the Carnival Route (starting at Carnival Office and proceeding along Shehu Shagari Way, Eagle Square, Ahmadu Bello Way). Durbar at Royal Equestrian Club (opposite IBB Golf Club, Asokoro) at 3pm.
Cultural drama and dance at Zuma Hall, Rockview Hotel at 7pm. 26th Saturday: Masquerade Fiesta at 9am along Carnival Route. Boat Regatta at Lower Usman Dam at 3pm. Children's Carnival at Millenium Park at 3pm (some reports say that this might start at 9am), and cultural drama and dance at Zuma Hall, Rockview Hotel at 3pm. 27th Sunday: Closing ceremony and awards Eagle Square at 9am.
The Craft Village (thatched huts opposite the Sheraton) will be the venue for the craft fair (crafts from around Nigeria including a large selection of pottery at the FCT tent) and food festival from the 24th-27th of November. The Craft Village should be open from 9am-9pm. This info is correct to the best of my knowledge, hope it helps you to enjoy the carnival! For more info contact the Abuja Carnival Office, 173, Kumasi Crescent. Tel 09 6726005.
Things arent exactly going swimmingly with the Western press either - especially when it comes to representations of my adopted country. Why did the vote on the new constitution in Kenya (which failed miserably) get so much airplay, when recent events in Nigeria got none? Nigeria is way more significant geo-politically and continentally than Kenya (what has East Africa got except a few lions and giraffes?)
But rather than just fuming on my blog (my suspicion is there are powers out there who don't want and have never wanted Nigeria to be too powerful), I've tried to do something about this lazy attitude. If it gets anywhere, I'll let you know. My motto is always: if not now then when? If not you, then who?
The carnival started this morning - floats representing each state of the Federation. At 9am in the morning, people in magnficent costumes, face paint etc were singing and dancing. All the sonic complexity of Nigeria was on display - beguiling Northern snake-charmer-esque flute music, the skittering rhythms of fuji etc.
Trouble is, the Ministry of Tourism and Culture has done the usual balls-up on advertising the event. So there was no one watching this morning as the dancers sweated their way along Shehu Shagari way. And no one seems to know what the programme is, or why there is a carnival in the first place (what are we celebrating?)
Some groups are anti-festival: a Northern muslim group who does not want "fetish" practices to be associated with Nigeria (as if hausa culture has no such). Meanwhile, the musicians union is boycotting the event because some anti-copyright govt person was sacked recently.
The Tourism minister defended the event (which has cost many hundreds of millions of naira) by saying that it is the centrepiece of Nigeria's tourist calendar. He boasted that "several families from America" are travelling over. Should we laugh or cry?
Its a real shame because the floats and costumes and music were quite something this morning, as cars whizzed by. The only spectators were okada drivers (pics to follow later)
Wednesday, November 23, 2005
Im beginning to have an inkling about what it must have been like to have lived in Nigeria during the times of Shagari/IBB/Abacha and all the other thieves and fools. On the Monday, a Governor sneaks back into the country dressed as a pregnant woman, evading money laundering charges in the UK. On the Tuesday, the former Inspector General of the Police gets less than 4 months in prison after stealing over 16 billion naira from the people of Nigeria. What a complete indictment of the legal system in this country that criminal activity on this scale gets so lightly rewarded. How can anyone rebuild faith in the system when such travesties take place?
Wave after wave of absurd levels of corruption must have been like 20 rounds against Mohammed Ali in the late 1970s. No wonder the press is so weak here.
I resort to repeating the following phrase, which speaks of the law of Karma:
"There are no gifts. There is no cheating."
Work it out for yourself.
Tuesday, November 22, 2005
Whether its true or not, this is the word: Alama promised N77m to a juju guy to bring him back home. The guy visited the Stomach in London and was promptly given his advance. The witchdoc told him to dress as a woman etc. From the time he arrived at Heathrow he vanished, magically appearing in Port Harcourt the next morning (presumably out of a fog of ectoplasm)..
which dont use insecticide. Read this interesting article published in today's WorldChanging.
Monday, November 21, 2005
A Song for the woman who..
I look for man for up
I look for man for down
I look till I tire for waka
From Naija to Bahia.
We should sing a song for the women who have learnt to say no and how to sing yes.
The women who don't follow the least resistant path.
The women who don't take what comes when it comes as it comes.
We forget as we stride through life that there are so many hidden spaces around us where unknown beings suffer with bold delicacy, saying no, yearning for the day when singing yes will be a song for what will be the right yes.
We forget the value of solitude, and the difficult striving to value solitude, and how solitude can calmly turn its back on us for a thousand nights and leave us with its blunt hollow: loneliness.
Our lives are so full of interfaces and yet so empty of meaning. The glow of the laptop lights up a room full of shadows. Poetry and a poetic existence recede into the corners, tamed by the electric glare.
And yet the woman who says no and yearns for yes continues in her struggle, as others indulge themselves with their lack of meaning, reaching for the fridge or the remote.
We crave the image of being with someone, of following that easy path, and in our craving we miss out on the suffering that is necessary for a life etched into contours with rich emotion. The landscape of our desires flattens in the process, and we are pushed along a familiar narrative like a box on a conveyor belt.
When what we should be doing is stopping, shutting down movement for a second and glancing in wonder at a life which casts a matrix of meaning out into the world like a spider, just as we find it so easy to wonder at the just-born child. We have much to learn from the stillness of this silent way.
We should then always sing a song for the woman who creates life, for life is all we have. But we should also always sing a song for the woman who searches for meaning beyond meaning, for the woman who says no but can sing the most melifluous yes, offering life in an equally wondrous way.
[click here to go to the original post]
Now how did he manage to shift his fat ass to Nigeria? He will surely face the wrath of Ribadu. There is going to be one hell of a powerplay in the next few days. Will Obasanjo allow him to return as Governor?
Went to see Macbeth @ the British Council on Saturday. Out-of-Joint, led by Max Stafford-Clark, is a leading UK theatre company (Stafford-Clark ran the Royal Court theatre for years - London's leading experimental theatre company).
The performance was a site-specific promenade around the British Council's lush gardens, creating a real sense of intimacy between audience and cast. The play was African-themed, with Macbeth and cohorts cross-dressing like Charles Taylor's henchmen, as well as with child soldiers. The sound engineering (sounds of crows, owls etc) blended well with the tropical night sounds of cicadas and other insects making their nachtmusik.
The one mistake was to get the witches speaking in French - everyone waits to hear the Fair is Foul Foul is fair lines. Apart from that, the performance was excellent, with Bibi's old friend Danny Sapani excelling in the lead role.
I was chuffed that the company came to Nigeria (the only African country) as part of their world tour.
Borrowed this image from Black Looks' blog (she in turn borrowed it from the Pilgrimmage to Self blog.) The serious question it raises is this: Ipods cannot become fashionable accessories on this continent unless there is an IT infrastructure in place (no infrastructure = no cheap speedy internet access for all). One of the huge problems in Africa is that most leaders are old men who have no clue about the significance of IT, or even if they appear to, it is empty rhetoric. If there ever was a good use for post-colonial guilt money, it would be in helping to build a trans-continental fibre backbone. That way, this poor chap could have a slim white object in his pocket instead..
Sunday, November 20, 2005
View of the dereliction in front of the mosque on Amino Kano..The FCT minister El-Rufai has been demolishing buildings built illegally in Abuja. The problem for many of the landowners was that they thought they had bought the land legitimately..
That's the thing about Nigeria - it doesnt allow you to be depressed for too long. Minutes after posting my blog, I received an email from the author of this fantastic blog on African architecture.
I woke up this morning and had the familiar sense of lack: missing the UK quality Sunday Papers (I used to read The Independent and The Observer - although the latter has increasingly irritated me, especially on Iraq and Neo Labour). Its not quite the same buying the Sunday This Day or Guardian in Nigeria.
Even if you can cope with the page-by-page spelling mistakes, grammatical errors and disastrous journalism (overlong articles without context or any kind of critical overview, all badly printed), the self-reflexive mentality of the content is depressing.
If we take the world-view of Nigeria as represented by the papers, Nigerians have no conception of the world outside of Nigeria itself, or of its role in the geo-political scheme of things. What we see represented in the papers is the skewed mindset of the elite: the elite at pray, the elite at owambe parties, the elite doing what they do: provide poor leadership and perpetuating class war. As someone said in an earlier comment on this blog, calling them the 'elite' is a misnomer in itself. They are simply a group of people who have access to resources in Nigeria (and abroad) that other Nigerians don't.
This mild depression was compounded when trying to engage with Bibi's younger sisters this morning (both are in their 20's and staying with us at the moment). I find it hard to understand people in their 20's who have less energy than I. I expect 20 somethings to spend Friday night partying, experimenting with drugs, or ideas, or something. Anything! 20-year olds with no curiousity or a desire to challenge the previous generation is a scary prospect for the future.
It is sadly all too common amongst 20 something Nigerian girls to aspire to having four children. As our driver's wife has just had her 5th, and someone in our compound has just had her 4th, I find this attitude completely repulsive and nihilistic. The idea that a woman should define herself by wanting to have a litter of children is some kind of sick misogynistic joke. Apart from being selfish and indulgent (and based on a completely bovine intellectual laziness and an inability to think of one's potential in any other way than biological), it is also a disaster for both Africa and the planet. Let me explain:
We know now that most oil territories are at or approaching peak-oil. We also know that oil was a fantastically cheap source of energy which enabled the population of the planet to multiply in the previous century. It also looks like humans will not find a suitable replacement that will be as cheap for as many. In which case, the mother of all global resource wars will hit the children of 20 somethings today, if it doesnt hit the 20 something generation themselves, unless there are much stronger controls on population increase around the world. In which case, the vapid desire to become a baby-factory is more than just a revellation of the empty, diseducated head of the typical young Nigerian woman: it is also a threat to the future security of Africa and the planet itself.
What we have in most 20 something Nigerian girls (and boys) is a lost generation, succumbing to mythic fantasies, pathetic notions of what it is to be a woman, pseudo religious claptrap and without a direction in life apart from ineluctable mass-procreation. African feminism has a mountain range to climb to challenge this desperate situation!
Saturday, November 19, 2005
Friday, November 18, 2005
The fantastic news that at last Africa has a female president thanks to Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf's resounding victory over the ball-kicker in Liberia should give Nigeria pause to think. What gender are the politicians and public servants who are effecting most positive change in Nigeria at the moment?
Whether its Dora at NAFDAC, Ngozi upstairs from me at the Finance Ministry, Obey at Solid Minerals (formerly at Due Process) etc etc - all are women. So why is the question not being asked: should the next President of Nigeria not also be a woman?
Does anyone else find current blog platforms (Moveable Type, Blogger, WordPress etc) really limited? Apart from Audioblogger (which allows you to upload audio clips to your blog - but only via a US phone number), its difficult/impossible as far as I know to upload audio or video to your blog. Obviously, there is a storage limitation going on here. But then I'm sure quite a few people would pay for the extra storage needed. I guess the various companies will get their act together one day. I look forward to audio-visual blogs - which will begin to threaten tv as the preferred medium of entertainment and news gathering. Or perhaps there is a conspiracy at work which is halting the progress of blog tech?
Thursday, November 17, 2005
Check this out - a nicely designed Jand site. I'm quite sure I know who's behind it. Its interesting to look in on the whole Jand phenomena and how its refiguring UK black culture and identity away from an historically Caribbean bias. Brief jottings on a blog like this can't do justice to the complexity of the topic but never mind:
The combination of second-generation Nigerian get-up-and-go mixed with a form of diasporic enquiry is generating a new form of black identity that does not align itself with the "black-british" mold. A different set of identity-conflicts present themselves based around the following:
1. Relationship with Mothership Nigeria
2. Relationship with historically black-british culture(s)
3. Relationship with white culture which differs from that of the inherited black cultural context.
4. Internal class relationships (often based around differing London postcodes - Peckham or Tottenham vs Hendon or NW London for instance).
5. Internal ethnic conflicts (often at one remove for second-generation Nigerians and therefore at risk of being idealised)
I'd like to hear more from second-generation Janders about the above - I'm sure we'll hear more about it from cultural theorists in the academy in years to come.
I'm also sure that just as British culture since the late 1950's has been immeasurably enriched by caribbean infusions, so too we are witnessing the beginnings of an Africanisation of that wonderful mongrel: British culture.
1. Go to www.google.com
2. Type in "failure"
3. Then click the "I'm feeling lucky" button.
Quite a lot of interesting stuff on the musician Lagbaja's site.
One factor that is seldom looked at in the way Nigeria is represented and branded is the influence of foreign journalists based here. Without naming names, my experience meeting people that work as the Nigeria rep for large well-known media organisations is not a wholesome one:
1. They regard themselves as heroes for coming to a place like Nigeria
2. They only report bad stuff
3. When quizzed about this, they respond by guffing on about how difficult it is to achieve "balance"
4. Once their one or two year stint is over, they go back to the UK and lord it over everyone with their "insights" into Africa, joining organisations such as Chatham House or doing that posh MA at the Institute of War Studies or whatever its called
5. Most of them have lived cossetted lives (from Home Counties upbringing to public school etc). Their idea of going to Africa is on a par with the Karen Blixen ideal
6. The upshot: nothing changes - the image of Africa as a land of helpless victims continues.
Without wishing to tar everyone with the same brush, these people are in general the sink estate of the 4th estate and are to be avoided. If you read their stories in the papers, please sprinkle lots of salt on top. Part of the point of my blog is to counterbalance all the stuff they write.
Wednesday, November 16, 2005
As much as I like to be as optimistic as possible about Nigeria, its hard for this attitude not to take a dent when you hear stories like the one that hit the local press today: Senate President Ken Nnamani ordering a N40million armour plated Lexus. All one can do is hope that the outcry in the press will put pressure on the Legislature to avoid this happening. There is only one word for the kind of mindset of a politician that would opt to spend so much taxpayers' money on a car of that expense when so many people go by from day to day without enough to eat: sick.
I blew quite a bit of dosh on music while in London – partly because I’ve just discovered Sounds of the Universe – the record shop of Soul Jazz records on Broadwick St in Soho – which quite possibly doesn’t sell an album I wouldn’t love to own. So far, I’ve listened to the new Osunlade compilation, Ibara, which is excellent: his trademark syncopated soulful house producing various artist’s tracks. Last night I played the Pharoah Sanders anthology which has also just come out. The first few tracks are majestic – showing the influence of late Coltrane but with that laidback Sanders’ afrolilting cadence.
Meanwhile, Abuja has hit the heat and dust of harmattan, when the Sahel dust rolls in and creates a mazy atmosphere around the city. My projects with the EU have been treading water in my absence – its time to give them all a good kick up the backside before the Christmas shutdown. I’m looking forward to the end of December – we’ll spend Christmas with friends in Lagos, then we’re off to Calabar (for the first time) – to the famed Obudu Cattle Ranch (a piece of Scottish landscape and climate) on the border with Cameroon) and to the Monkey Reserve. Can’t wait..
Monday, November 14, 2005
think I may have ruptured myself again after hulking my suitcases about to the airport yesterday. At the airport, exactly as last time I left Heathrow for Nigeria in the summer, the place was crawling with Plymouth Brethren (a christian sect recognisable by the fact the women wear headscarves). Also, a senior minister was on my flight (she was on my flight last time). Weird, random, meaningless coincidences..
Now my body is getting used to the 35 degrees heat (after 8 degrees average in London the past couple of days). Back to 280 emails and a whole bunch of fires to stamp out. So this will have to be short.
Its good to be back.
Sunday, November 13, 2005
Yesterday was my last full day in the UK in 2005. I schlepped to Islington to see The Constant Gardener - starring Ralph Fiennes and Rachel Wiesz. The film is set in Nairboi, and explores a conspiracy between a big pharmaceutical company and the British Government in testing new drugs on shanty town dwellers. The film has been lauded by the film press and in the papers - the Director Fernando Meirielles' last movie being City of God.
Apart from being overly melodrammatic, the main problem of the film is a common problem in films with white people set in Africa: the black characters are all incidental bit parts. The only major black character's role (a doctor friend of Weisz' character) smacks of being woven into the film to avoid having a completely obvious white-foreground, black-background bifurcation. All we see of African Nairboi is a Kibera-esque slum with corrugated roofs into the distance and thousands of kids everywhere. Ultimately, Kenyans are represented as having no agency or any form of resistance to corporate power. The film is therefore racist, with that subtle brand of racism the British excel at.
This morning I did some last minute errands in Clerkenwell, stopping to admire the beautiful autumnal colours of fallen leaves in a nearby churchyard. I'm glad to be going back to Nigeria, and to warmth and to see Bibi.
Friday, November 11, 2005
Had an interesting conversation with Uncle P last night about African dance and its relations to spirituality. In contrast to Western Dance, which is simply a set of physical forms, African dance tends to be one aspect of a more holistic cosmological schema. In other words, African dance is never just about dance and physical movement. The example of the Yoruba drum ensemble (the beginning of the dance) beginning with the 'mother drum' is a case in point - the mother here referring to the ground of all rhythm being a maternal principle (the mother drum is often mistranslated into being the master drum, losing cosmic relevance). Just as the mother brings the child into the world, the mother drum brings the dance into being.
The two examples Mr P introduced were dances of possession with the Bori (hausa) culture of northern Nigeria and Sango devotees in Yorubaland. In both cases, devotees can fall into a trance-like possession state, where the body is said to be being 'ridden' by the spirit. The ways in which the body moves in these states of possession is not at all random writhing; rather, formal patterns and motifs can be witnessed (eg, the Bori leap into the air and can fall in a sitting pose from a great height). Although we associated spiritual possession with a kind of epileptic movement, in fact possession can be seen as a form of dance, with bodily patterns and techniques involved, stemming from a kind of native or collective genius of movement.
I asked whether there could be any possible rational explanation for these phenomena: perhaps there is a kind of bodily archetype (an incorporated version of Jungian philosophy) that the body can draw upon in deep-consciousness states. Just as there are broadly different forms of movement in different cultures (an emphasis on hip movement in various Latin cultures etc), these different forms could be motivated at a deeper level by primal patterns of rhythm which in certain contexts can also be associated with spiritual manifestations. Peter had little time for my rationalising: "it is a mystery that cannot be explained in western terms."
What remains is this: that African dance reveals how spirit and body were never cleaved apart from each other, as they have been since Descartes in the West. We westerners love to dance, but we have forgotten how our dancing has its roots in the spirit, and how are longing for trance-like possessive states are at the same time a longing to be ridden by the spirit.
Thursday, November 10, 2005
Thrilled to realise that there is a Banksy right near where I am staying in Clerkenwell - this work of art to be precise. The Banksy phenomena cannot fail to fascinate: an anonymous graffiti artist from Bristol (home of graffiti art in the UK) who straddles the art world and radical politics - his piece de resistance being the work earlier this year on the israeli wall. His new book Walls and Piece is in the front windows of many London bookshops.
This is what the company says about Nigeria International:
Nigeria International is a weekly magazine-style television programme to be broadcast around Nigeria, and around the world to Nigerians. It aims to provide a realistic and up-to-date view of Nigerians' fortunes, challenges and opportunities at home and abroad.
You can watch the weekly Nigeria International tv magazine at these places:
Online at Nigerian Village Square
DSTV channel 155 (NTA) Fridays @ 7:30pm
Sky Digital Ch 184 (Ben TV) Fridays @ 9:00pm
We need loads more Internet-based tv from Nigeria. We're planning it for a future phase of www.lagoslive.com Thisspacewatch
Thanks for the book MW - I will surely pass it on to the poet while getting a sneak clean-fingered preview to boot. You spur me on ever further to learning your melifluous language. I'd wanted to go to the RKSW event last night but the South Bank Ticket Office woman told me it was Returns only - a long way to hobble only for the door to close in my face. I hope the event went well..
Public intellectuals: apply within
Thinking of KSW, Nigeria needs new public intellectuals to take over the tireless struggle of Soyinka and crew (they deserve to rest now and drink their palm wine and have their feet rubbed in peace) - perhaps some of the new forces were there last night? My friend Bolaji Risiji may be one of those to emerge onto a wider platform with his work with PRONACO and NNNGO.. but there needs to be many more sharpened tongues to point the way forward to social and ethical transformation in Motherland. With an economic boom coming next year post bank-consolidation, Nigeria doesnt want to go the way of China: economic growth + suppression of democracy - a recipe for disaster in the long term.
A theatrical proposal
Someone should write a morality-tale about the people of Lisa and the Bellview crash - doesnt it remind you of an Attic or Shakespearean tragedy: the fall of the Elder who orchestrated the looting of watches etc from body parts on that night; the way in which the police were alerted (only on account of a fall-out between villagers on who deserved what amount of stolen booty) and now the N1000 each villager has been forced to pay to avoid confrontation with the angry ghosts whose watches and money were pilfered). This is prime source material for dramatisation - reflecting back the moral depravity at work even in a rural Nigerian setting (rural Nigeria, as in Dele Olojede's speech, is often taken to be free of urban moral decay). Its time a dramaturgical mirror was help up on contemporary Nigeria, instead of relying on plays from twenty or so years ago. Only then perhaps will people be shocked into moral transformation and away from religious hypocrisy. Someone start writing now!
More on the constitution: State of Origin
Musing through the Ng constitution again, it strikes me you can argue that the divisive and pernicious State of Origin regulation (whereby legal proof of identity is traced back through the father's line - such that if you ask a Nigerian where they are from, they are conditioned to respond by saying that they are from wherever their father or grandfather is from, regardless of where they grew up) is actually unconstitutional, if you take section 15 in its entirety.
Although only passed into law in the 1970s, the State of Origin rule is now second nature to most Nigerians. It acts as a barrier to a more unified country with intermingling of ethnicities. Surely it must be challenged by PRONACO - it lies underneath all discussion about resource control etc as a key divisive factor. Here's an example to illustrate how it works: When my host Mr Badejo grew up (pre State of Origin) in Kaduna (as a yoruba boy), he had no sense of being different to the other boys he played with: all shared a Northern culture; all spoke Hausa (and other languages). His youthful equivalent today, thanks to State of Origin, would not be permitted to say "I am from Kaduna" - he would have to say "I am from Osogbo" (or wherever the father's line is traced back to). In this way, a common cultural heritage based around a common regionalised background is denied. It is against this legal backdrop that violent clashes between "settlers" and "indigenes" can flare up.