Thursday, February 24, 2005

Ridiculous, subliminal

More gossip and rumours about the conference and background moves add to the sense of depression. Some of what is coming out is scandalous - or would be anywhere else. Its too dodgy to mention any of it here. Nigeria could be one of the richest countries in the world, but the old men dont want it that way..

To keep myself from the funk I think about some of our most recent compound 'gist' - we hear from our cook (who hears from the gate men) that the white people across the road have a dog with its own tv. It was the dog's birthday earlier this week so they sent one of their staff out with 5000 naira to buy the dog a ball as birthday present. The person spent 200 naira on a plastic ball and returned them the 4800 change. They shouted at him, took the plastic ball and the money then went out and bought him a 'proper' leather football. What Nigerians must think of Westerners I don't know. A dog with its own tv!!

Then there is the story of our ex-driver Godspower (we sacked him this week). Its not really a funny story (he stole 40,000 naira from us) however so I wont go into it.

Meanwhile, the Minister for the Federal Capital Territory has in his wisdom ordered the bulldozering of the two main markets in Abuja. Now no one knows quite where to shop. He wants to clear the city of poor people (there is also a plan to ban motorbike taxis).

Off to Lagos this weekend to teach a course on effective journalism to a local newspaper and to take more shots for our new - - an online everything you need to know if you're visiting or living in lagos online guide. The full site will be launching in the next couple of weeks (exciting).


Tuesday, February 22, 2005


Today I felt profoundly sad for Nigeria and its prospects. The pseudo ‘National Dialogue’ taking place here in Abuja is illegal, undemocratic and a complete waste of public money. The Federal and State Government chose who would be attending. The average age of the delegates is 64.5 years old. The constituted legislative body – the National Assembly – refused to ratify the conference, so ‘Baba’ found the money (over a billion naira) from elsewhere. As no agenda or objectives were set in advance, there will be no way of measuring success. What is guaranteed is that the real issues facing Nigeria will not be discussed:
1. Massive economic over-reliance on oil
2. State of origin (a profoundly anti-democratic and senseless constitutional arrangement whereby a person’s State of Origin is defined through patrilineage: one cannot vote where one lives, if one lives elsewhere to where one’s fathers fathers father lived).
3. A Nigerian bill of rights – defining what citizens are entitled to under the constitution

I guess my depression is borne of the realisation that Nigeria is a long way away from progression, when the old men who have spent the past 40 years messing things up are still at the centre, wearing their agbadas.


Tuesday, February 15, 2005

the bloody conference

Looks like 900+ million naira will get blown next week on the "National Dialogue" a.k.a the National Conference (you are not allowed to say Sovereign cos its unconstitutional). The thing that completely mystifies me is that nowhere has anyone stated the objectives of the conference. There is some vague sense that the Constitution needs to be amended, but no one seems to have tabled any amendments, or, if these proposed amendments exist, have they been printed in the press. All the noise in the 4th Estate has been about who gets to go (out of hundreds of Nigerians, I believe there is about 3 women allowed to go).

So: a huge amount of public funds is going to be blown on a conference with no clearly stated objectives, with 50% of the electorate (ie women) massively disproportionately under-represented. What a joke. The Nigerian media fails its people yet again for not taking a more critical stance. And the chances that the structures of governance will be changed for the better are slim (eg ditching the immunity from prosecution of State Governors - virtually a licence for Governors to exercise extreme forms of corruption and rent-seeking). Even if all the inadequacies of the constitution were dealt with, the issue of who would actually follow the rules remains.


The failure of public space in Nigeria

I reminded myself of the work of Richard Sennett yesterday and began to apply his thinking of the importance of public space to Nigeria. The lack of a sense of pride in being a citizen of Nigeria or a citizen of one of its cities is reflected, supported and exacerbated by the lack of public space that enables a celebration of being Nigerian. In Abuja, the only central square/plaza that is the equivalent of Trafalgar Square in London or the Trocadero in Paris is Eagles Square. Costing 4 billion naira to build, Eagles Square is a parade ground used for ceremonious pompery. It consists of a football pitch size expanse of concrete surrounded by small spectator stands. It is not a place to go and sit or take photos (you would most probably get arrested). It is not a place where being-Nigerian can be celebrated in the most casual way.

In the complete absence of squares, piazza, plazas for casual civic use (reading the newspaper, meeting friends, playing chess), Nigeria refuses its citizens any opportunity to receive an offer of belonging from the State. No wonder that so few people act to transform the country, and why complicity and collusion with the corrupt practices of yesterday's military dictatorships continue into the present..


Friday, February 11, 2005

The reality of Nigeria..

Came home from a crazybusy week at work dizzy and fell into a funk. I spent an hour with a consultant in one of the Ministries this afternoon. After all my bright enthusiasm for my two projects in the past few months (moving the Office of Statistics HQ from Lagos to Abuja and an inter-governmental IT project) his commentary on the many specific forms of corruption within Federal Government was profoundly depressing. Basically, the accounting standards at the Federal Govt level are extremely shoddy and riven with holes, ambiguous practices and get-out clauses. Humankind can only take so much reality. Nigeria must be one of the most sinful places on the planet (can’t think of any other for it). Here is a country with so much wealth of natural resources, yet where 70% live in near absolute poverty, without clean water, access to effective healthcare or a decent education. And so few are prepared to risk their lives to transform the place. With religious zealots North and South of one form of monotheism or another, the brains of the masses are filled with the sedatives of soteriology and eschatology. Tomorrow will bring a brighter day if only one is ‘prayerful’ enough. And yet the country suffers from a complete lack of collective ethics and a civic ethos. Religion in Nigeria is a form of inoculation against actually doing anything, as well as a breeding ground for the hatred of difference. From today’s vantage point, I fear for Nigeria and whether the 2007 election will be anything other than a complete sham. Meanwhile, the powers that be have the hutzpah to complain about this week’s coup in Togo.

Staring the reality of Nigeria in the face for more than few seconds is a bit like staring at the sun – one will be blinded by the scorching degradation – how low humanity has managed to lower itself. And still the West lauds the criminals and avoids concrete actions which would lead to positive change, while commissions are set up and hands are wrung and asinine songs are sung (‘Do they know its Christmas?’). Its not Auschwitz or Rwanda, but the sheer misery of millions of lives here, a direct result of the greed and immorality of others, can only be seen as a crime against humanity, if not a form of spiritual genocide.


Tuesday, February 08, 2005

Is this better than Google?

Just discovered Clusty - it keeps delivering better search results than Google. Its based on combining search engine results and sorting them into folders. Check it out.


Thoughts that rumble

So, the genie is out of the lamp - the first licence for human cloning has been granted, appropriately enough at the Roslin Institute (home of Dolly). So: only the poor will be ugly and diseased by 2100..

Meanwhile, I'm busy at work at the moment and the internet connection is down (typing this at a cybercafe). There was an Invest-in-Nigeria type conference last week attended by Baroness Chalker and the Minister for Africa Chris Mullin. It was all very upbeat-but-realistic stuff. In the Telecoms forum, I got up and asked my usual question about connecting Nigeria to the global IP backbone. And as usual it was over most people's heads. The issue is that Nigeria has to rely on Satellite connections (VSAT as it is known here) for Internet and TV access. This means that a decent broadband connection will set you back US$1000 per month minimum. Meanwhile, the SAT3 connection that links Sub-Saharan Africa (including Nigeria) via submarine cable to Spain, India and Malaysia is hardly being used (except by Haliburton for 'petrol data' and some other companies that have a cosy relationship with the National Telecoms company NITEL). Because of political and commercial wrangling, it looks like SAT 3 is still a loooong way (ie years) from being unbundled from NITEL and set up as a separate commercial bandwith wholesaler. The 'second national carrier' Globacom plans to lay a cable linking Nigeria to the UK. However, I think there is room for more cables (perhaps a trans-atlantic one?)

It's a simple and potentially powerful idea - connecting Nigeria to the global Internet will solve the digital divide issue in one fell swoop. Internet, international calls, more competition in international tv options, cheap voip - all would be solved by two or more functioning cables. Would be good if Blair's Commission for Africa focused on this specific and achievable goal..

Anyone reading this blog who has influence, please pass the idea on in the spirit of open source and transforming Africa.


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