you know when you have a moment of insight, then when you verbalise it back to yourself it sounds a bit lame? Then you struggle to dignify the thought, embellish it with posh words etc. Well, I had something like that earlier today about Ng - but I still think there's something to it:
at the moment, Nigeria's sheer diversity (the most diverse country linguistically and ethnically on the continent) is its weakness. But if you think from a systems perspective, or a genetic perspective, or an ecological perspective, diversity is usually a marker of strength. We all know what happens when the gene pool is restricted..
So many different patterns of thought suggest that one of the qualities of the necessary fiction that is Nigeria is not being revealed as such. The question is: what stands in the way of Nigeria prospering from its diversity?
A major part of the answer to this must come from the extractive curse of oil. Ethnic conflict is a deliberate foil to hide a simple appropriative dynamic: only a small few have access to rent from oil. In order to maintain this exclusivity, various ethnic groups are set against each other - historically with support from the oil companies (with various well known intelligence agencies also probably playing a role).
So moving the economy away from an over-reliance on oil is crucial. It is positive to note that the economy should start to do this with a consolidated banking sector sometime next year (lots of enterprising unemployed bankers, banks needing to invest in new businesses to satisfy their increased shareholder base etc etc). Larger more stable banks will also attract fdi.
But there's a narrative level which needs to be addressed outside of fiscal/monetary transformation. At the moment, the tedious hausa-igbo-yoruba tittle tattle is usually constructed from a negative or cynical perspective. Just imagine if these triadic yoyo stories were told from a positive perspective: celebrating Fela when talking about the yoruba (or celebrating some of the fabulous yoruba pantheon stories); celebrating the creative industriousness of igbo culture (and its intellectual traditions); celebrating the links hausa culture has across many thousands of miles of West Africa all the way to Senegal...
Change comes when we begin to change our perceptions of the world. Its easy to say Abuja is a boring place full of wannabee contractors, corrupt civil servants and politicians on the make. But that's a cynical perspective. There are many progressive civil servants moving in; there are many politicians who are increasingly demanding change; and its harder and harder to avoid due process. And Abuja is beautiful: Aso Rock is an inspiration - everyday it shows a different face. The landscape around FCT is gorgeous - primeval igneous lumps dotting the landscape, beautiful birdsong; pre-modern people living alongside post-modern people.
So, without sounding like a dopehead, I think its time to start embracing the beauties hidden inside this land, and embracing difference outside of the stupid stories that circulate..
Saturday, October 29, 2005
you know when you have a moment of insight, then when you verbalise it back to yourself it sounds a bit lame? Then you struggle to dignify the thought, embellish it with posh words etc. Well, I had something like that earlier today about Ng - but I still think there's something to it:
One of things I love about living in Africa are the markets. I hardly ever actually shop there (for fear of inflated Oyinbo pricing), but often drive Bibi or one of her sister's there. I park and watch the goings on as they go to haggle. It's all so much more of a sensous and haptic experience than going to Asda on a Saturday morning.
This morning, I sat in front a young guy with a wide brimmed straw hat tended to his guava (they've just come in season). He sprayed them then carefully mounted them into pyramids. Their light green lustre reflected in the sunlight. Then he sliced one in two and lay it open to attract customers.
Meanwhile, women shoppers sauntered about - both maids and young professional women. A woman that caught my eye wore an ankara trouser suit with one shoulder strap styllishly pulled off her shoulder, gliding before me. She glanced at the guava and put on the usual discerning yet graceful scowl and mini-pout - which is always only a millimeter away from a smile. A silent interchange followed (I remained inside the car with the engine and ac on). She made to leave and then paused, as he lowered his prices and lured her back for the transaction. In a thousand places, the same ritual was occuring all over the continent at that time. Then a young girl tapped on the window and offered up a plate of spinach leaves. I declined. Then she leant against the bonnet and laid her arm to rest, thoroughly at home in the space. As its 37 degrees in Abuja today, I dont know how all the traders can stand the heat all day long.
Friday, October 28, 2005
Just found out that next week everyone's taking wed-fri off for Sallah - Christians and Muslims alike. How neighbourly! The good Christians of Abuja also support their Muslim brethren by taking off Friday afternoons for 'mosque'. What a noble sacrifice of one's working time. Givers never lack, as a thousand car stickers boldly proclaim. By the way, talking of car insignia, I saw a fish with "darwin" written inside on the back of a Beamer the other day. I stupidly got all excited: a bold atheist existeth in FCT I jubiliated. But then I realised it was probably on the tokunbo contraption before it left whatever American port, and the blockhead driver hadn't sussed the anti-creationist message.
Back to hols. I'm all for the relaxed life with a healthy work-life balance n all, but this news from nowhere does kinda mess with my projects, right when they have no time left to be messed with...
On the subject of holidays, why can't Nigeria celebrate some of its heroes? Why not have a Fela day or an Achebe day? And why not a day to remember those who died in the Civil War? Its time the collective amnesia at work in Nigeria was challenged with public affirmations like these.
Thursday, October 27, 2005
Her body has only just gone cold and yet the 19 boys have got busy (if only this creativity could be redirected):
"I am Barrister Iyeke Nicholas, private attorney to the Late Mrs Stella
Obasanjo, wife of the Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo,Who died
yestertday Sunday the 23 of Octber 2005 at a hospital in Spain. she had
traveled to Spain to undergo surgery and died from complications resulting
from that surgery. As the personal attorney to the deceased, i handle everyof her affairs, mostly properties and funds both demostic and in
overseas's. In this case my clients who left huge amount of million GB
Pounds Sterling and so many investment with my signatures abroad. very soon
my client`s family will call me to account for my client`s properties and
At this jucture, i seek your consent to present you as the benefector to my
client`s fund deposited in Europe which i will desclose to you, since i
have all the documents regarding the depositing of the funds.I will procure
legal documentation that can be used to back up any claim we might make.
require is your honest co-operation to enable us seeing this Deal through.I
guarantee that this will be executed under a legitimate arrangement that
will protect you from any breach of the law, I promise that you and I can
Share the money 50/50%. Also call me if it's possible for you to call
I believed my letter recieved a favourable consideration from you as i
await your respond as soon as able possible. On your reply i will attacha
copy of my International Passport for proper proof of my indentity.
Bar. Iyeke Nicholas(Esq.)
Iyeke Nicholas & Associate
221Adetokunbo Ademola Crescent,
check out www.alakija.com for some interesting images - a geez called Jide finishing his phd @ Imperial in London.
Wednesday, October 26, 2005
Incredibly enough, I listened to a wonderfully articulate speech by a member of the House of Reps yesterday evening. It is so rare in Nigeria to have all the thoughts that one has on a subject being verbalised: in this instance, on the plane crash. He wondered why tokunbo aircraft should being used in a country which is not used to maintenance; he wondered whether any heads would roll, or whether there would be any accountability; he wondered why people are praying about loss when hard questions should be being asked.
Of course, it being NTA, his name wasnt mentioned. But his speech gives hope that its not all just sycophants and powerplays in the lower chamber.
As people who grew up in Lagos in the 1960's and 1970's continually tell me, experiencing Nigeria now is to experience the country at its weakest moment.
Meanwhile, can you believe Bellview appear not to have halted any of their services after the crash. Only in Nigeria..
More thoughts to write down here but my health is not great at present..
Tuesday, October 25, 2005
This is hugely long (sorry), but its worth printing and reading. Dele (who I had the pleasure to meet last weekend) gave an excoriating account of the degeneration of moral values at a literary prize event a couple of weeks ago. The speech has spun round the web quite a few times, so I thought it'd be good to post it in full. He looks the Nigerian elite squarely in the face, and punches. Hard:
ASK NOTHING OF GOD:
THE GOOD SOCIETY AND ITS DISCONTENTS
Keynote Speech by Dele Olojede at the NLNG Grand Award Night, Lagos, Oct. 8, 2005
An Honor System
Recently I went home to Modakeke to visit with my father, who is 91 years old. He had given us quite a scare a couple of weeks earlier, when he seemed suddenly to have lost his memory and power of cognition, as well as his sight. But he quickly recovered and by the time I visited, he was strong enough of mind and of spirit to be able to share his favorite scotch with me on a pleasant afternoon. He said, only half in jest, that he was now ready to go meet his ancestors, and if I promised to bring his granddaughters to visit before year’s end, why, he would even hang around for them.
As my father slips deeper into the autumn of his life, and he prepares to welcome the gathering darkness with his customary good cheer, I think more and more of the lives that he and his friends—the people of his generation—lived.
When one considers the state of our country today, my father’s generation has to be thankful that they at least led a purposeful life, where honor mattered, where a real effort in the service of others was routine, and where it was still a matter of course that one’s life was constructed around the simple notion that you shall do nothing to bring the family name into disrepute.
My father and his friends built a community for us to grow up in, where it mattered little if you came from a different clan or belonged to a different faith. Their town needed a high school, so they simply built one. They needed a lawyer, so they pooled money together to send a bright youngster to study the law in England, come back home and hang up a shingle: Attorney-At-Law. They were men of faith but they did not wear their religion on their sleeves. If a neighbor’s crop failed, they found a way to keep his children in school. They worked together to do their best for their community, because in their eyes all that mattered was the common good, from which all goodness flowed. It was by no means an idyll, but at least they had honor, and it was an article of faith that if you had no honor left, then what had you?
This is a story, I would wager, that is familiar in at least its broad outlines to most of you here tonight, my father’s people. And of course, our inquiry would not begin to gather momentum unless I could somehow find a golf analogy to explain its contours.
As avid golfers know, golf is constructed around an honor system. There are no referees, no supervision, no scorekeeper. The game relies entirely on the players’ integrity, to penalize themselves when their balls sail out of bounds; to not improve an unfavorable lie even though no one is looking; to declare their score though they are the only ones who know what that score is. In short, golf is played according to a set of rules fully understood and subscribed to by the players, who then are trusted to police themselves and do the right thing.
The environment constructed by my parents and their peers, in which we grew up, was founded substantially on such an honor system. You do what must be done in the way that reflects well on you and your family. You pay for produce stacked by the roadside even if the seller is nowhere in sight. You kept an eye on the neighbor’s child as diligently as on your own. And if you strayed, you accepted the penalty for your transgressions. That was the natural order of things.
Trust is the lifeblood of any society. The lack thereof manifests itself quickly in the simple exchanges of our everyday lives. If you can’t persuade your bank to lend you anything other than an ultra-short-term facility, it’s because the bank does not trust you to take your repayment obligations seriously. The landlord who demands two years’ rent in advance is acting out of the fear that there may be no tomorrow, and that you cannot be trusted to pay your rent diligently once you occupy the premises.
And so we must ask: What constitutes the good society? Your answer may include words such as democracy, prosperity, equality, community, education, justice, law and order, ambition, liberty, honesty, values, prosperity, diversity, selflessness. In some societies this has been boiled down in their constitution—their social contract—in the ringing tones of the French Revolution: “liberte, equalite, fraternite.” Or the Americans later on, as they tried to set an ambitious agenda for their emerging nation: “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” Probably most of us in this hall, and most people outside, will have no disagreement with these words and phrases, even if some would emphasize one over another.
Then we may ask also, is Nigeria such a country? And if not, how can it be made into such a country?
This, ladies and gentlemen, is the nature of our inquiry tonight.
The Challenge of Facts:
A debilitating lack of self-confidence, I think, characterizes today’s Nigerian, having seen his country go down the tubes whilst in the custody of rapacious rulers, and with his own active connivance or apathy. This condition sometimes manifests itself in a prickly defensiveness. I often have friends of mine lapse into such grand statements as, “that’s because you don’t live here,” as an all-purpose dismissal of an argument whose uncomfortable truths they cannot logically avoid. It is manifested in the irrational xenophobia exhibited by many against, for example, South Africans doing business successfully in Nigeria.
But this defensiveness cannot conceal the facts of Nigeria’s condition today. By all objective measures, the country is far poorer-- $350 billion in oil revenues later—than it was 40 years ago. Its moral foundations have cracked wide open, a society whose core values matter far less today than they did four decades ago. Its schools and hospitals 40 years ago were far superior to its schools and hospitals today. Its bureaucracy was more meritorious and far more efficient than it is today. Its elite was far more self-sacrificing, certainly, than today’s elite, whose behavioral patterns bear striking resemblance, if I may be direct, to a swarm of locusts. Nigeria in 1960, as we all know by now, was ahead on the development curve than Singapore or Malaysia or the Philippines or South Korea. Nigeria’s life expectancy has fallen—FALLEN!!— a full decade since the early 1970s, to just 43 years, according to the latest edition of the United Nations Human Development Index, which measures these things. What this means is that I have already lived longer at my age than the average citizen of this nation can fairly be expected to live. The average Nigerian now lives only half as long as the average Chinese or Japanese. We have become a poster child worldwide for fraud and corruption. We are clearly traveling down an escalator that is going up.
The road to recovery is paved with these uncomfortable facts. Confronting them, rather than avoidance and obfuscation, is a necessary condition for our renewal.
A Hobbesian Jungle
I was at a seminar on leadership recently in the South African bush, and in preparing for it I was obliged to read Hobbes’ Leviathan again. A wiser and older friend remarked to me once that philosophy is lost on youth. Re-reading Hobbes after so many years, and with the advantage of thinning hair and the wisdom acquired from the slings and arrows of middle age, made me realize that my friend was indeed a good and wise man.
You cannot read Leviathan and not feel that Hobbes, who wrote in the 17th century, was in fact writing about Nigerian society today. We live in a Hobbesian jungle, where everyman is for himself and the concept of the common good has become totally alien. We blatantly expropriate public property for private use, so long as it is possible to get away with it, and it often is. This applies equally to the elite who divide up public parks among themselves to build private monstrosities behind 10-foot walls, and the very poor who take over highway medians and overpasses to make building blocks or set up trading kiosks or tap directly into street lamps for their electricity.
In such a state, there is no law that anyone is willing to obey. The state itself is considered illegitimate. Force and fraud are the two driving forces. Individuals arrange for their own security, their own electricity, their own water; every home is like a private local government. What we need we take, in complete disregard of any rules. Hobbes calls this chaotic free-for-all a state of war, the very heart of our darkness. It is an entirely unpredictable place, and everyone plans only for the short term.
Let us listen to Hobbes: “In such condition there is no place for industry, because the fruit thereof is uncertain; and consequently no culture of the earth; no navigation, nor use of the commodities that may be imported by sea; no commodious building; no instruments of moving and removing such things as require much force; no knowledge of the face of the earth; no account of time; no arts; no letters; no society; and which is worst of all, continual fear, and the danger of violent death; and the life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short.”
Now the language of the 17th Century transplanted to today may sound a tad melodramatic. But I think that, in its essentials, it offers a useful way of understanding the underlying forces that have made Nigeria such a chaotic society, to wit: a virtual absence of a legitimate authority that governs the country’s affairs primarily for the common good, as opposed to catering to the wretched excess of the elite and its elaborate rituals of pompous self-importance.
The Good Society
Earlier we touched briefly on the words that might represent for most of us the idea of a good society, such as liberty, equality, justice, morality, modesty, self-sacrifice, honesty, and so forth.
I think it is quite clear that any attempt to construct a good society must of necessity start with the citizens coming together to determine for themselves their rules of engagement. What kind of a country do we, the people, want to have? How shall we be governed? How do we collect and allocate revenue? How do we educate our children?
I don’t think anyone can reasonably claim that our current arrangement works—or is even seen to be legitimate by most citizens. Without legitimacy, a state cannot serve as the pillar of the good society. The legitimate state is one where the individual components have willingly surrendered their natural rights—from the primitive state of every man for himself—in exchange for the more orderly and more efficient system of managing the common affairs, including security, laws in respect of property, and dispute resolution.
We are not called upon to reinvent the wheel; simply to recognize, as Rousseau does in “The Social Contract,” that “each man, in giving himself to all, gives himself to nobody,” and enjoys the same rights and privileges as do others in society. And if the citizen should breach this covenant, it is clear that the state has legitimate coercive powers that it can be reasonably expected to deploy.
Law and order in a legitimate state is predicated on the sovereign having the authority, within a system of checks and balances, to enforce the agreed rules of engagement. The punishment must always be greater than the reward that the lawbreaker expects from breaking the law. There also must be a high likelihood that a transgressor will be caught and punished. It’s no use having laws imposing fines for running the red light at an intersection, when a potential transgressor knows that the state has no capacity to impose punishment.
The necessity of creating a true Commonwealth in our country cannot be overstated. And its legitimacy is conditional on the citizens having come together to devise the rules of engagement. We can already see one of the most appalling consequences of an imposed constitution, one that places a class of politicians above the law of the land and basically grants them blanket immunity, even when they brazenly steal the family silver. To place anyone above the law is to debase the law itself, and invite the creation of a locust culture, where the swarm of the political elite is engaged only in plundering as much as possible, as quickly as possible, and for as long as possible.
This is why, though a prophet I am not, I would take a bet that we will eventually get around to instituting a genuine national conference, one whose members are not substantially appointed by the current governments at federal and state levels, to chart a new way forward.
The illegitimacy of the current state is at the heart of our more egregious problems. The culture of impunity—a total lack of accountability that is prevalent at all levels of society—can be traced directly to it. So can corruption, election rigging, law breaking, even widespread poverty.
Between Memory and Forgetting
In our headlong rush into a future we have not planned for, we have mastered the dangerous art of willful forgetfulness. If a people have no memory, how can they measure progress? If memory is deliberately erased, what is the evidence that they ever existed? Can there be justice without memory? Can we seriously pursue a more equal, more just, more prosperous, more moral society that we seek? Milan Kundera, the Czech author, goes so far as to say that freedom itself is unattainable without the aid of memory, that “the struggle of man against power is the struggle of memory against forgetting.”
And so today we are expected to forget the heinous crimes of some of our past dictators, including state-sponsored murder, institutionalized corruption, the abortion of our democratic experiment, and our eventual delivery into the claws of Sani Abacha. So total is our memory failure that some of our close friends have even wondered aloud, on occasion, whether things were not better under Abacha than they are now.
Need I say more about the danger of forgetting?
Almost 40 years ago our nation underwent a violent convulsion. The image of the grotesquely malnourished child, with distended stomach, spindly legs, large head and unseeing eyes became the lasting imagery of the Biafra War. One million of our children, our mothers and fathers, our fellow citizens, perished in the war. Many thousands of women were raped and villages and towns pillaged.
I often raise this issue with my wife, whose family was trapped in the inferno for a while before they were all evacuated to England. Now and then, some forbidden story from the extended family will surface—an aunt who was raped, a man who disappeared, the constant struggle by many to find food, the acts of heroism and cowardice and depredation, of fetching tenderness and extreme coarseness.
All this has been erased from the national memory, though it no doubt continues to exist in the interior lives of many. No monuments mark the war’s high points or low. No register of names of those who died fighting on both sides exists anywhere that I know. No acknowledgement of loss and pain and suffering. Nothing at all as we race headlong into our opaque future, afraid of a backward glance lest we be turned, like Lot, into pillars of salt.
The case of the forgotten war illustrates for me very vividly the unreality of the Nigerian state. We have apparently decided that we are a people without a past, and it stands to reason that we should be darting this way and that in confusion, not at all sure what direction we should be heading.
The Challenge of Leadership
One of our most glaring failures has been in the area of leadership. By and large we operate on the insane principle that it is not necessary to put our best foot forward. This accounts for the fact that those who rise to leadership positions in all spheres of our national life include a large number of gangsters, shady businessmen, hustlers—even accused murders and ex-convicts. It is not an accident that, since independence, Nigeria has not managed to have a single president with a university education. Ten heads of state and counting, and not one has a college degree! Now one cannot sensibly claim that a college degree is a guarantee of efficient and inspired leadership. But surely it should be no disqualification either.
In other societies, inspired leadership has galvanized the population toward positive change and modernization. Lee Kwan Yu, Singapore’s founding father, willed an island backwater into perhaps the world’s most efficient and best-educated state—and also one of the most prosperous—in the short span of 30 years. On our own continent we have the awe-inspiring example of Nelson Mandela, the very personification of the self-sacrificial leader, who, at his moment of triumph, decided that wisdom was just as important as righteousness, and that his own time on the national stage should be brief, so that a new generation of leaders could be allowed to take the country into the 21st Century. Unlike the disappointing Robert Mugabe, Mandela did not believe in the infallibility of iconic leaders. Julius Nyerere, no matter the failure of his economic policies, was nevertheless a deeply honorable and modest leader, who shunned personal gratification and worked tirelessly at trying to uplift his poor country.
What did these men have in common? They believed in certain fundamental values—service, sacrifice, honor, freedom, human progress—on which they anchored their lifelong labors. Which brings us to this central point:
Leadership, values-based leadership, is indispensable if we are to successfully tackle the daunting problems that confront us.
So far, our national conversation exists mainly at the level of the cave man, not a society trying to deal with the myriad challenges posed by a 21st Century world. Various ethnic groups are clamoring for the next president (or the next governor, or local government chairman) to come from their area. As far as we are concerned geography is destiny. It matters little if the next president is a scoundrel, an incompetent or a fool, so long as he comes from the right “geopolitical zone,” to borrow from the tendentious language of our national politics. Thus the argument right now is whether the “north-north” must produce the next president, or the “south-south” or some other such ridiculous contraption.
From the foregoing we can see that the quality of our national conversation is of an abysmal standard.
We are stuck firmly in the era of Big Man politics, a politics founded entirely on personality. We have done this for 50 years already, and even a child, having burned her finger by the flickering flame of the candle, quickly realizes that a repeat misadventure is easily avoided.
Karl Popper, the Viennese philosopher, argues that a society’s best bet is to create institutions of state, properly balanced in their authority and scope, as a more profitable way of insuring good governance, rather than the moon shot of hoping for a wise and decent leader.
“… it is not at all easy to get a government on whose goodness and wisdom one can implicitly rely,” Popper argues. “If that is granted, then we must ask whether political thought should not face from the beginning the possibility of bad government; whether we should not prepare for the worst leaders, and hope for the best.”
In other words, the focus should not be on getting the next Wise Chief, the benevolent Big Man who shall solve our problems—they almost never do, at least in Nigeria’s experience. Rather, Popper says, “how can we so organize political institutions that bad and incompetent rulers can be prevented from doing too much damage?”
I would agree with Popper that leaders of the quality of Mandela, or Gandhi, or Lee, or Lincoln, are exceptionally rare; that “rulers have rarely been above average, either morally or intellectually, and often below it.” It is far more likely that a country, particularly a country like Nigeria, will get a below average leader, so that “it is reasonable to adopt, in politics, the principle of preparing for the worst, as well as we can, though we should, of course, at the same time try to obtain the best.”
In this vein, it stands to reason that we must adhere strictly to term limits, even at the risk of getting a less competent or even less honorable leader. The value of predictable transitions far outweighs the faint hope that an extended tenure for any particular leader will yield the benefits of that good society that we seek.
Of Pets and Men
In addition to focus on leadership, we must understand that our best efforts will be defeated if we do not create the conditions for a more equal society, and that begins first and foremost with fighting poverty. I will not bore you with the numbers, except to keep in mind just one: about 70 percent of our population—that’s right, 70 percent—subsists on less than one dollar a day. This extreme poverty in the world’s sixth-largest oil producer is a stain on our national conscience, though it’s still debatable if we have any conscience at all.
The evidence is all around us: the destitute fill the streets of our cities. Rather than being in school, thousands of children beg for food from the highway median, their noses pressed to the windows of our limousines while we pretend to busily read the newspaper. We avert our eyes and we do nothing, condemning a large proportion of our fellow citizens to lives of serfdom. We build high walls to keep them out, but they will not be denied. We withdraw behind 10-foot gates in Ikoyi and Victoria Island but they set up roadside stalls as vulcanizers and guguru sellers in our residential neighborhoods. We retreat to gated communities on the Lekki Peninsula but they clog our roads and turn the sidewalks into brick making factories and auto spare part shacks.
The inescapable fact is that we cannot build a modern state, in which we have the rule of law and enjoy the fruits of liberty, in the face of such overwhelming poverty. Starvation and dignity—or starvation and democracy, for that matter—do not mix. Arthur Okun, the economist, arguing for a mitigation of the excesses of the free market, says we must avoid a system that allows “the big winners to feed their pets better than the losers can feed their children.”
Again, we need not reinvent the wheel. The most profound lessons are already around us, often embedded deep in our culture. Ubuntu, umuntu, agamutu, say the people of South Africa. People are people through other people. Or, in plain English: I am my brother’s keeper. What is good for the community is good for me. When the Alsatians and the Dobermans of the elite receive better medical care than the children of the poor, it’s time to change direction.
Those Who Walk Away from Omelas
If you are a member of this privileged elite, as many of you in this hall tonight are, one must acknowledge that it is not easy to surrender a perceived advantage, to fold your cards when you know you have aces and kings. But experience teaches us that there is no better time to surrender the mere pursuit of personal gratification, to walk away from Omelas, as in the title of the magnificent moral dilemma written by Ursula K. le Guin.
The writer introduces us to the blissful surroundings of Omelas, a small town where everyone is happy and prosperous; the sheer physical beauty of it; the view of the bay and the mountains, the scent of jasmine and the blaze of chrysanthemums and the bloom of crabapple. Even the sex enjoyed by the residents appeals to our most wonderful fantasies, for orgies are permitted unselfconsciously. A drug, called drooz, provides euphoria without aftereffects or the pain of addiction. What could be more perfect?
There is only one cost: for the community to exist in this paradiseland, its members must accept the abominable suffering of a single child locked up in a basement.
Most try very hard to avert their gaze from the suffering child, because they feel they are having a lot of fun living in their idyllic town of Omelas. Those who walk away are few and far between. They have moral integrity and a troublesome conscience. But their passage is a lonely one.
Life in Omelas could roughly be compared to the hedonism of the Nigerian super-elite, which lives in overwhelming abundance and even blithe excess. The super-elite announces funeral arrangements on billboards. They drive in Hummers with tinted and bullet-proof windows, albeit over flooded and garbage-strewn streets. The cost of their wretched excess is not limited to the “abominable suffering” of one child, though, but of the rest of the population.
To say that we fight for, and not merely talk about, a just society is not to be against seeking a good life for ourselves. The tension between egalitarianism and personal gratification can be reasonably balanced. Right now, it seems there is room only for unlimited personal gratification. If we do not do a course correction, we are doomed to remain at the bottom of the well.
The fastest growing industry in Nigeria today—faster growing than even the telecom sector, and perhaps just as profitable, is the faith industry, which feeds off the misery of the people and appeals to their worst instincts and propensity to superstition, illogic and unreason. The mushroom churches are particularly in love, it would seem from the billboards around our benighted city, with words such as fire and damnation, as well as promises of wealth—a kind of money-doubler trickery. Thus you have billboards proclaiming a “mountain of fire,” and the like.
We do not necessarily have to agree with Marx that religion is the “opium of the people” to recognize the destructive power of mindless faith, which eschews self help and sacrifice and instead asks you to trust in God, who will magically provide everything for you.
This unquestioning faith has adopted and perverted one of the tools of modern management, which is the concept of outsourcing non-core competencies to others. In this case, our prophets simply ask us to outsource everything to God. Of course, the prophets live spectacularly well off the backs of the foolish multitudes. I was looking at one of these glossy magazines that are established for the purpose of singing the praise of our moneyed class. It featured one of the most popular prophets in the land, showing off his collection of six or seven luxury cars, all in his favorite color black, with the clear implication that anyone who follows him will of course be similarly blessed!
I do not by this mean to single out Christians at all; I think the same is largely true, even more so, in the other major religions. But our country right now is in a desperate state, a time that calls for clear thinking and rationality, not magical solutions and a reliance on divine intervention. Life is grim and hard, and it should not be obscured by the sentimental philosophy of the pulpit, where everything is outsourced to God and people are encouraged to believe that the just and the good will somehow result from some deity reaching down through the clouds to sweep all our sorrows away. To quote the rationalist William Graham Sumner, to do so “is to spread an easy optimism, under the influence of which people spare themselves labor and trouble, reflection and forethought, pains and caution—all of which are hard things, and to admit the necessity for which would be to admit that the world is not all made smooth and easy, for us to pass through it surrounded by love, music, and flowers.”
The good society of which we speak will be built, as it has been built elsewhere, by men and women who act, who take it upon themselves to sacrifice a little bit of their individual pursuits for the common good. The new society will be built by teachers who teach, doctors who actually treat, lawyers who fight for justice and the rule of law, bureaucrats who manage efficiently the commonwealth all the while resisting the lure of the easy money, leaders who actually lead, and do not expect that a criminal is worthy of being protected from the law by some perverted notion of executive immunity. And yes, this good society will in large part be built by citizens who understand and accept the responsibilities of citizenship.
We. The People
As we speak of the challenge of leadership as a catalyst for transformation, so must we examine the nature of today’s Nigerian, whose deep and self-destructive cynicism, as we have seen, is perhaps the greatest obstacle to change.
Many Nigerians today continue to deny the obvious—that a potentially wide-ranging transformation is under way, needing only their buy-in for the process to gain momentum. Perhaps because the process is at the moment uneven, that the fight against corruption might even sometimes appear to be a selective one, and that the fruits of a generally sound macro-economic environment are not as yet readily apparent, many of our fellow citizens still look upon the current situation with suspicion, if not outright cynicism or hostility.
After years of corrosive military dictatorships and their attendant caprice, as well as the general dissolution and greed of a thieving political class, the Nigerian today feels so battered and bruised that he appears to have lost all sense of how to be a citizen. I have been following with some interest a simple but important exercise by the Ministry of Finance, which uncharacteristically for a Nigerian government agency actually is promoting transparency. The ministry periodically publishes in the newspapers a complete list of revenues allotted from the federation account to every single state and local government throughout the country. So if you live in, say, Isukwato-Okigwe local government area of Abia State, you can tell from the newspapers that your local government received 500 million naira last month for the administration of its affairs.
The question that faces us is, how many residents actually take the trouble to demand that their councilors account for how the money was spent? Did it go toward fixing the broken windows in local schools? Or paving the rutted neighborhood roads? Or reactivating a long dormant waterworks? Or purchasing supplies for the local health dispensary? My guess is that many citizens do not bother, thus signaling their leaders that they do not have to be accountable at all.
The same is true in virtually every important respect. Most parents do not get involved in their children’s schools or hold teachers and school administrators accountable for the proper education of their children. They ask not why our highways are death traps. They witness fellow citizens illegally expropriating public property for private use and they consider it normal, or at least acceptable. They appear to believe, in fact, that rulers have an entirely free hand to do anything whatever, including commit grievous crimes and recognize no difference between public funds and their private spending. The rulers—we must of necessity avoid the term leader, which connotes purpose and service—have naturally taken as much liberty as the citizens are willing to give them, and then some.
The citizen has become praise singer and court jester, obsequious, slavish, bowing only to wealth and position. We have become Fela’s parody of the “government chicken boy.” Our praise singing culture has reached new depths of perversion, with music extolling the supremacy of anyone with money no matter how accumulated, with newspapers and magazines dedicated only to the chronicling of the comings and goings of the elite, with chieftaincy titles bestowed with such feverish abandon that one of our big men apparently has more than 600 of them! The age of Simply Mr., which The Guardian newspaper so valiantly sought to champion more than 20 years ago, has passed into oblivion.
We are ruled no longer by poorly educated men with guns, but the Nigerian remains wary of his freedom. To paraphrase Rousseau, freedom is like a lovely meal of pounded yam and edikai-ekong, but very difficult to digest,. That the citizen in Nigeria today lives in relative freedom does not mean he knows what to do with it. In fact, one often gets the impression that many Nigerians would rather not be free, scared as they are of freedom’s responsibilities. They grumble and complain about the flagrant inequities and outright robbery that unfold daily in full view, and they shrug and hope for some divine intervention, and fail to act to shape their own destiny.
I have been looking out of the window in hopes of catching sight of this divine intervention, but perhaps my sight is poor. There is no cavalry out there riding to our rescue, ladies and gentlemen. We must face the cold hard fact that the world owes us nothing, and those who are not prepared to function in it will fall farther behind and become slaves to other races of men. It is neither fair nor unfair; it is just the way it is. As the line goes in the Merchant of Venice, “I hold the world but as the world, Gratiano…”
The task before us, then, is not only simply to reform our political system, but fundamentally to learn how to be citizens all over again. Simon Bolivar, el libertador, said the main task facing the leaders of the newly freed Spanish colonies of South America, early in the 19th century, was nothing less than the creation of a new kind of citizen. The new political leaders, he said, “have to reform men perverted by the illusions of error and unhealthy desire.”
We must recognize that it is not necessarily a sure thing that citizens will do the right thing when given the chance. As in the allegory of the chained men in a cave in Plato’s Republic, people do not necessarily want to see the light. The sunlight is bright and can be momentarily blinding, though it soon opens up the vista to our imagination. Freedom tastes great, though it is hard to digest.
The Americans have this wonderful preamble to their constitution, a statement of their ambitions as a nation. Its phrasing is elegant and soaring. It rallies the citizens around a common purpose. “We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union…” That’s right, a more perfect union, a recognition that the task of improvement is never concluded, that a society must constantly strive towards the goal of insuring the common good.
Are we the people here gathered, and those beyond these walls, pledged to end the culture of greed and avarice that we have allowed to grow, like cancer, on our nation’s soul?
Are we the people here assembled ready to take charge of our own destiny, set our shoulders against that boulder, and start the hard tasking of rolling it uphill?
We the people, are we pledged to forsake purely personal advantage and hedonism, and seek ye first the common good?
We the people, are we prepared work tirelessly for life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness?
Are we, the people, willing to set ourselves high standards, rather than constantly seeking the lowest common denominator? Are we willing to create the republic of ambition?
Let us close our exploration tonight by turning for inspiration to Anna Akhmatova, perhaps the greatest of the 20th-Century Russian poets, whose exhortations to sacrifice speak loudly to us today:
“Your heart must have no earthly consolation.
“You must not cling to either wife or home.
“Take the bread out of your own child’s mouth
and give it to a man you do not know.
“You must be the most humble servant
of the man who was your desperate enemy
and call the forest beast your brother.
“Above all, never ask God for anything.”
Monday, October 24, 2005
Just got back from a weekend in Lagos doing stuff for the Lagoslive website. I’d intended to come back on Saturday night – but Bibi persuaded me to make a weekend of it. So: a close shave with the old mortal coil. Meanwhile, we know quite a few people whose friends/colleagues died.
I wasn’t feeling too pukka on Sunday morning so I tuned into the local telly to catch up on the crash. Of course, the reality was there was better quality information coming from CNN and BBC news than most of the local content (but even then there were some data-wobbles: are they alive? Which state did the plane crash in?), however, the Nigerian stuff was better at unintentionally revealing some of the deep-seated problems over here. On NTA, the owambe-anchor ran out of prayers, so they wheeled on a pastor. He too ran quickly out of prayers, so they switched to a press conference with the Minister of Information (a man called Frank). He assured Yemi-public that all was ok and that the emergency services were on top of things. If a poll had been conducted at that precise moment, I’m sure 0.000001% of the population would have believed him (the 0.000001% being the left side of a grandmother’s brain as she lay sleeping in her Maduguiri compound). Then the MD or Chair of Bellview came on telling us all to ‘relax’. Unbelievable hutzpah. Well, it may force their company into bankruptcy (that and Virgin Nigeria nicking all their routes).
Even now, two days after the event, most media-heads are talking about being prayerful and equivalent spirit-level guff, when what needs to happen is a series of pointed questions directed at the govt aviation bodies and the local airlines:
- Is it wise to use 30+ year old aircraft in a country with no maintenance culture?
- Why did it take over 14 hours to find the bloody aircraft?
- How come the airline took hours to come up with a list of passenger names?
- Why did the village chief decide to “sleep on it” when the nearby village heard the loud noise (they didn’t investigate until the next morning)?
- Are the reports of scavengers stealing money etc true? If so, what does this say about the moral depravity that permeates this country?
More simply, a core problem in Nigeria is that people should stop being so fucking prayerful and get with the reality: there are masses of problems to be solved which praying will do bugger all to solve. Sunday really showed how fundamentalista religion in Nigeria is getting in the way of social transformation and is part of the problem at the moment, eroding people’s ability to respond rationally to crisis situations. As I told a bunch of pastors at a meeting the other day (rephrasing Herr Marx): evangelical Christianity in Nigeria is the crack-of-the-people. Needless to say, they weren’t too chuffed.
Then there’s Stella and her untimely demise in advance of her 60th next week: death-by-liposuction (or was it renal cirrhosis?) in Marbella, of all places. The reactions to the death are more interesting perhaps than the deflation itself. Ngige sent his condolences to Baba from Texas: he was midway through that time-honoured gubernatorial rite: the medical vacation. Nzikwe airport this ‘avvy was chokka of governor’s jets (all visiting El Presidente to pay their respects). The poshest one was the Rivers State plane (he's not just a suave dresser). Then there were shots on telly about Stella at a function in China, Stella in Kenya. RIP Stellar Stella: iya s’owambe.
Lots of other stuff to report from the Lagos jaunt, but I’m a bit fagged so this’ll have to do for now..
Wednesday, October 19, 2005
Nigeria has been adjudicated the 6th most corrupt country in the world by Transparency International (download the Nigeria PDF report). The slow climb up the ladder (the country was second most last year) is something to be celebrated. At this rate of change, Nigeria is sure to be the least corrupt country sometime in the 4th millenium. Keep up the good work Baba!
Just received a kind note from someone about this blog. It makes me think that there are perhaps huge numbers of Naijas out there who utterly reject the current kleptocracy ruling the roost in Naija and the yoruba-hausa-igbo tribal horseshit. The problem is that at the moment, we are much less than the sum of our parts. We are forced to be quiet and atomistically set apart from one another. We dont support and encourage each other enough. So how do we connect and start making some noise? How do we drown out the agbada-fucks or make them irrelevant?
Well first off, we dont have enough fora for meeting. What about a tranforming Nigeria website? Our www.lagoslive.com project (and subsequent stuff you'll be hearing about) needs to connect with stuff that others set up, like rivulets and streams flowing into a huge river of change (pardon the flowery talk). The beautiful thing about Nigeria is that it's up to US to construct the conditions for change. We might not get to enjoy the benefits sometime soon, or even in our lifetime, but what better motivation can there be than doing something for the 'beautiful ones who are not yet born'?
And all the creative and beautiful Nigerians in the UK who want their country to change need to majorly get their shit together. You need to start thinking about what you can do to change the place. Maybe you can set up something in the UK that attracts funds and helps build capacity here. Or maybe you have an idea for change: well now's the time to test yourself out on implementation. Let me give you an example. There are large numbers of journalists here who want to push a progressive agenda in Nigeria, but they never went to journalism school and have to suffer crap equipment and ultra low pay. How about someone setting up a knowledge-transfer exchange? How about some of the oodles of CSR guilt money going into things that actually happen and effect change (rather than the mythical activity that Chevron and Shell get up to in the Delta).
Another Nigeria is possible. Bosah! Bosah! Bosah!
Tuesday, October 18, 2005
Sometimes Nigerians can be so down on themselves, when what we should be down on is humanity itself. This feeling is hardly surprising, given the things that happen. For example, some friends visited us the other day - they run a community for the mentally destitute way out East in Abia State. They told of a witch-hunt that is going on at present in the neighbourhood. It all began when some children alleged that they saw naked people dancing in the forest at night. The next thing that happened is that some people were accused of being witches. A witch-doctor was hired from Cross River State to come and sort out the problem. The first thing he did was ask the Local Government whether he could come - warning the officials that those that are witches would die when they drank his potion, and those that survived would then be found to be clean of all evil forces. He was allowed in (for a fee of N200,000), and since that time, many people have died of his poison, being forced to unceremoneously dumped in the ground in unattended funerals of shame, rather than buried.
Then again, the story that a young boy was lynched and set alight in broad daylight in Lagos yesterday by a gleeful crowd (he was suspected of kidnapping another boy) shocks but should not surprise. Nigeria is similar to medieval Europe in terms of its current social structure - a feudal system with no functioning justice system, creating a Big Man/baying masses syndrome (the exact equivalent of the Lord vs the braying Tyburn Mob salivating in front of the Gallows near modern day Marble Arch).
These depressing stories (there are many more) do not reveal anything specific about the nature of Nigerian humanity; rather, they reveal what can happen to any human society given a certain context in which to operate. Power-without-reason and justice-without-law can have awful consequences on any human context. While humans have created pyramids and cathedrals and the loveliest music in times of cultural rebirth, there is a daemon within the human spirit that unleashes madness and destruction given the opportunity. Only reason-based structures and processes, creating a sustainable infrastructure and accountable legal system can rid the country of these acts of senseless violence. The sad thing about we humans is that even when a society does have these mechanisms in place, barbarism still exists (witness the lad whose was beaten to death in a gay-bashing attack on Clapham Common last weekend).
In the West, whether we admit it or not, online porn drove the development of e-commerce as much as any other sector (banks, travel, supermarkets). The porn industry in the States is a much bigger market than Hollywood, so it shouldnt come as a surprise that demand for online porn created demand-side pressure.
The question is, what will drive the development of e-commerce in Nigeria (once infrastructural issues such as payment systems and legal framework are taken care of - which they are not at the moment).
My thought is that religion will take the place of porn in a country like Nigeria. The most advanced online sector are the evangelical churches. Megachurches such as Redeemed, Ministry of Fire, TREM, TB Joshua and Christ Embassy all have well designed and developed sites. Following the fee-based and wholly monetised Bible-belt model in the States, its all about selling content.
By the way, I've just discovered a site which exposes a few of the fakest of pastors, including some of the big Nigerian fraudsters and the Americans they love to ape.
Monday, October 17, 2005
We trooped off to see Sefi Atta give a talk on her book Everything Good Will Come, published locally by Farafina. Unfortunately, the organiser had planned the event to take place in Millenium Park - always a risk to do an outdoor event in the rainy season. Sure enough, as we were just getting started, the heavens opened and Sango danced a little dance. We all stood huddled and shivering under a tokunbo marquee (having to hold onto it to stop it blowing away at times). The rain was cold; it felt like a wet Wednesday in Manchester. Sefi was a bit knackered, having just arrived in Naija from her home in Mississippi. While the rain bucketed down, a man did a passable Michael Jackson routine, including copious crotch holding. All suitably surreal.
The Nigerian version of the book is much better designed and put together than the original US version - the cover of the original was too grey and monochrome to invite picking up and perusal. Congrats to Mukthar Bakare for his second local publication. We're glad he took up our suggestion of getting into local printing over a year ago.
Sunday night we missed our first GAP event - a performance poetry/literary jam that takes place in three Nigerian cities simultaneously each week, run by enthusiastic young literary/performance types. Will go soon and report back.
I'm aware that sometimes my blog seems like one loooonnngg moan and rant about the failings of Nigeria. It does feel that I am one amongst many hundreds who are pushing for change - like we are pushing a huge boulder towards a cliff and soon it will fly and release everything. Perhaps its the lot of the change agent to have to whine every now and then. I agree with some of the comments that the main problem is that of the dysfunctional collective ego of the elite. An increasing issue is the "returnee" elite - Diasporic Nigerians who have returned to cushy jobs in Telecoms etc. This bunch often have little or no confidence in the "non-exposed" underclass who never had the chance to school or work abroad. The returnee elite are often more at home in expat circles than getting on an okada and heading for the mainland. They may have lived on an estate near Elephant & Castle or some anonymous sprawl in Newark, but as soon as they are ensconced on their Lekki Peninsula Estate with their Toyota Prado in the yard, they start lording it over everyone else. A new form of class snobbery is emerging, which threatens to be every bit as incidiously disempowering as colonialism.
Friday, October 14, 2005
I caught a piece on AIT last night on Nigerian art. All the big guns of the Nigerian art scene were at an exhibition featuring some of their older work: Oshinowo, Onabrakpeye, Okoko etc. It was a depressing spectacle. As each artist stood in front of their pieces, they bumbled on about the most obvious aspects of the work in a semi-articulate manner. The fact that most of them are Professors was shocking. Oshinowo stood in front of a portrait he’d done of a woman wearing a yellow scarf and all he could comment on was how much he loved the scarf. Other commentators (including the journo) tried to give a history of Nigerian contemporary art, starting with the “natural synthesis” approach of the Zaria School and its descendants in Ibadan and at Yaba Tech. All natural synthesis amounts to is combining motifs from modern Western art – mostly impressionism – with indigenous forms. Both the artists and the commentators approach to art criticism and art history was rudimentary. One artist’s work was based on building an almost photographic image from tiny dots. He claimed to be the originator of this technique: betraying a complete ignorance of the trajectory from pointillism all the way to contemporary artists such as Chuck Close. Of course none of this should be a surprise: where would any interaction with the outside world come from within any Nigerian art school? When would young artists get the chance to sample art scenes elsewhere in Africa, let alone beyond the continent?
It seems to me that contemporary Nigerian art (at least in the hands of the old guys) is a form of alienation. Nigerian art does not do what art does elsewhere: provoke, incite, seduce, inspire – all reactions grounded in the contemporary moment. Rather, Nigerian art is simply a form of decoration on the walls of the elite. It speaks towards a much larger point: that contemporary Nigerian culture is estranged from itself. The root of the estrangement is the stranglehold fundamentalist monotheism has on the culture and the aversion the majority have towards any form of traditional polytheistic practice or ritual. Contemporary Nigerian art is simply a symptom of this collective alienation. I return to a point I have always made about development in Nigeria: that the country will not begin to develop its own forms of autonomy unless it first achieves a form of cultural autonomy: the collective being grounded in a historical imaginary. The colonial legacy and its Bible-belt continuation are ensuring that Africans in Nigeria at least are fundamentally disconnected from their own historical ways of being and doing.
Monday, October 10, 2005
Saturday was one of the most action-packed days since we moved to Nigeria two years ago. In the morning, we drove with friends to Katampe, a large mass of volcanic rock that is reputedly the geographical centre of Nigeria. It would be a lovely spot to climb and enjoy the tropical landscape, except that they put a radio station right at the top which ruins everything. I stood at the top surrounded by soldiers on some sort of duty, gazing into the distance and the beautiful ring of hills that surrounds the city, dreaming of building a retreat centre one day..
Our plan was to visit the Fulani village the other side of the hill – a clump of domes made of reeds that look like huge molehills from a distance. We heard the delighted screams of children from down below and could just make out a man on a horse riding through the village. It was Leo, the Greek chief diplomat for the European Union, on one of his weekend rides. We trekked down the steep hill through thick undergrowth, eventually reaching a field of three metre high maize. Emerging from the thick vegetation, we saw some Fulani women by a stream. It felt like a Livingston moment. We asked which way to the village and they pointed us down a rust red earth path.
The Fulani village is divided in two – a smaller compound which seems to be occupied by an old man and all his wives (each wife has a separate hut). Some of the women cradled small babies, indicating the old man had not finished taking his pleasure with his wives. I asked (with sign language) to two of the women if I could take some photos. They quickly fetched capes to cover themselves, and then stood in a pose.
After taking some more snaps, we moved on to the larger settlement. The place smelt of chicken shit. I entered one of the huts – two boys had just finished their prayers to Allah. The hut was at most 10 feet in diameter, with a rope bed and simple matting. To keep the rain out, plastic sheeting covered the walls underneath the dried reed exterior, held in place by a frame of bent reeds, a bit like a natural version of an igloo tent. The rest of the group had entered a larger hut which was full of wedding presents for a newly married couple – sets of cutlery and hundreds of plates. One of our party eyed up some decorated calabashes in a corner; another member from Senegal who speaks Fulfulde (the language of the Fulani) then began negotiating. It’s amazing to think the language of the Fulani extends all the way from Nigeria to Senegal.
It’s funny also to consider that just a couple of miles outside Abuja (which resembles Milton Keynes) there is a community whose way of life has not really changed that much for hundreds of years.
After scampering back up Katampe, I had just an hour to rest before heading off to the footie, seeing Nigeria take on Zimbabwe. Angola had to lose in another match against Rwanda for Nigeria to go through to the World Cup. Our party was made up of about ten people from the EU Delegation, including the Ambassador. We had to scramble underneath a fence by a stream to reach the National Stadium. Police were lifting the metal fence and taking bribes for access. It was odd to see the Ambassador crawling under the fence with hordes of young Nigerian boys. The walk up to the Stadium is a bit like the walk to Wembley; except there were no flags flying or any sense of a national occasion. A few police were arranged with belts and whips, ready to smack anyone who hinted at misbehaviour. Further on, at the turnstiles, a crowd of about 1000 or more people were pressed up against the fence, pushing to get in. No one it seemed had tickets, and as most of the police were taking bribes away from the ground, there was no one to ensure order. We started to queue but the crush was too intense; some women were screaming in pain. It was complete chaos.
I wonder whether Nigerians are ever taught to queue: I am often in situations where queuing systems break down into a scramble. At my local bank, there is always a crush around the tellers, with no sense of first come first serve. And so I inevitably intervene and try to order the person before me and the one after into some sense of ordered approach. I always leave wondering whether anyone in Nigeria ever received any kind of queuing discipline while at school.
The match itself was good, with several Nigerian players exhibiting class as the opposition was pummelled 5-1. We sat in a box behind the supporters club – a tribe of around 500 people all decked out, with drums and trumpets. But all the noise in the world could not help Angola from beating Rwanda and the Super Eagles missing out on the World Cup. We were told the Angolan coach had been given a bribe by some Nigerians; if so, it wasn’t enough.
Then in the evening we held a joint party with some friends which went on till late. The discussion veered with stale inevitability to yet another variant on the Hausa-Igbo-Yoruba issue which Nigerians never tire of discussing. To an outsider, it seems like vain navel-gazing and a complete avoidance of the real issue in Nigeria: a tiny super-elite stealing all the money at the expense of the masses who have nothing. It would be great if Nigerian conversations could at least be about West Africa, if not looking at International relations, but I fear that is too much to ask.
Friday, October 07, 2005
Feeling a bit more positive about being here today: we have internet access at home! When we left the UK two years ago, our lives were wrapped around cheap Broadband. Now I'm typing this in via a 56k modem (soon to be upgraded to a 128k ISDN line). As was seen in the UK, its only when a society shifts its infrastructure into an mass-market affordable broadband (ie minimum 512kps) infrastructure that e-commerce can truly take off. Unfortunately, very few people in Nigeria understand this. Still, its nice to be able to blog from the comfort of my study.
Two other pieces of good news: www.lagoslive.com is very nearly ready - we're ironing out glitches and loading up content. We'll be fully loaded and ready to fire up Lagos within a month, in time for the Christmas returnee rush. Our aim is to help rebrand Lagos (which has just been voted 5th worst world city!) The second bit of news is a secret, but if we can pull it off, it would be the first step along a thousand mile journey: transforming Nigeria by feeding the country's collective imagination, weaning young and old of fruitcake fundamentalist belief.
Talking of nutcase religions, my love of Islamic culture has faded rapidly since we moved to Maitama. Nearby is the local mosque. They insist on broadcasting prayers over the loudspeaker, even though the convention is to only broadcast the call to prayers. And now its Ramadam, the guy in the tower has been tunelesslessly wailing pretty much all day. I completely resent having someone else's religion stuffed down my ears. It leaves me with a depressing thought: would humankind ever develop spiritually and intellectually to leave the folly of monotheism and a simplistic idea of spirit-being behind? Even the lizard on the rock has a better understanding of the spiritual magic of nature than most monotheistic belief systems. Oh that Zoroaster had never lived!
Another bit of good news: the Bayelsa State thief gets to languish in Brixton prison until his next hearing on November 6th. The time is nigh for all the governor-thieves.
Monday, October 03, 2005
Damn Nigeria is frustrating. At a time (45 years after Independence) when people should be reflecting on the profound failures since the British left - increased poverty, complete infrastructural breakdown, corruption on a massive scale - all of which are exacerbated day by day - in fact the media is full of self-congratulatory/delusionary BS. How strange that many are lambasting the arrest of the Bayelsa State governor with the unpronouncable name (Alamieyeseigha) in the UK as a 'show trial' and as illegal (admittedly most of the noise is coming from the Ijaw tribe where he's from).
The argument seems to be that Nigeria should be left to deal with its own. Unfortunately, this would never be possible given that the Governors have legal immunity. The second argument to back this up seems to be that it is bad for Nigeria's image in the 'comity of nations' (you hear that antiquated phrase a lot right now) that a governor should be being tried abroad. I would have thought the opposite: Nigeria's deeply tarnished reputation abroad would be redeemed by this action - especially if the guy is found guilty and thrown in the clink.
With the continuing row between the presidents and his VP, and signs abounding that the PDP (the ruling party which dominates 95% of the country) is about to self-destruct, no one can be sure what is going to happen in the next few months.