"Sugar is sweet, pepper is peppery". Welcome to Chikachoo's blog. His stated mission statement:
"1. I will promote world peace.
2a. I will promote Nigerian home videos as they are grossly under rated. I mean only in the afore mentioned can the tragic scene of a dying man saying how much he will miss his family become comic as he forgets his lines and says "I dish (wish) I could live a little longer" and of course the producer forgets to edit it out. Anyways the point is that I give my people props.
b. I will also promote Ramsey Noah as all I can say is that he tries and often succeeds in making really bad lines sound worse.
3. I will promote harmony and unity.
4. I will promote weavon. It is a very good product.
5. I will promote the use of the word promote as seen above."
Is this man for real or are we at last witnessing a dose of satire in the Nigerian blogosphere?
Also, check this hilarious site out: Church of the Greener Pastures.
Tuesday, January 31, 2006
"Sugar is sweet, pepper is peppery". Welcome to Chikachoo's blog. His stated mission statement:
Monday, January 30, 2006
Changing oneself can take a few seconds or may never happen at all, no matter how intense the reflective frustration. Changing societies involves an exponential increase in complexity. The rate of change for the good in Nigeria is still at present frustratingly slower than the rate of change for the ill. Worse still, I don’t see this equation changing very quickly. Prevailing attitudes are cynical, lazy, unethical, fast-buckish, out here in the Wild West. Meanwhile, other developing economies are getting their act together apace. The legacy of the black-hole years of military dictatorship is still bleeding scar tissue on the surface of the polity. Pus and gangrene congregates; the wound isn’t allowed to suture and to heal. There is still corruption from the very top to the bottom of society on a level that only a few other countries can match for sheer hutzpah (witness the gargantuan amounts of moolah Dariye extracted from the citizens of Plateau State). There is all-pervasive bad faith and self-delusion among the elite: everything is illusion, from religion to business to love. As long as you have a Benz and live in VGC you’re ok. Those in leadership are usually clueless, too old, too tainted by the past, unaware of technology, over-burdened by dependents, turned-on by their power and the freedoms of abuse over others it affords. It is testimony to the enduring (and utterly non-rational) power of social norms that the African duty to respect the elders continues when those elders have so utterly failed to build a nation.
My whinge (if it is that: I’d call it productive criticism) is that so few here take responsibility for their actions. Everything is outsourced to God. Nietzsche’s criticism that Christianity can involve an abdication of responsibility is surely correct in Nigeria’s case: everything (in the South at least) is deferred to Jesus (or to the Devil). Evangelical Christianity has become the crack of the people. Cold turkey and facing the realities of the task ahead for Project Nigeria is not going to be easy or pleasant. Slowly, the tide turns against the pastor-thieves.
The frustration is that we all know that countries can transform literally overnight. We all remember images of the Berlin Wall coming down, and more recently, of freezing nights in Kiev when the people demanded change and change came. How many dream like me of an overnight victory for Nigeria, when all the intelligent, ethical, passionate Nigerians out there in the diaspora decide to return en masse to take back their country? MM Airport swamped by people with funky hair and funky brains, re-taking each and every organization and institution one by one; homophobes and fascists and theological nutters retreating to the margins, as elsewhere.
All one can ever do is to continue to work toward change and hope for change. It might not come in our time, but it will come.
At the weekend, I am fooled yet again. I see a bag of crisps in a clear plastic bag - just like the ones you get in Spain (they make the best crisps in the world). I know what to expect, but the hunt for a decent bag of Nigerian made crisps propels me forever onwards. The potatoes here are so lovely, so should the crisps be, so goes the melody of my hope. Of course, I was disappointed yet again: the oil was rancid (it always is). Nigerian crisp manufacturers seem to think they can cut costs by using the oil for far too long. When will they realise that cutting on quality and flavour like this is a false economy? Of course, its a trivial example, but it speaks of the "Idea la need" sloppy attitude that prevails. Then this morning, I tucked into Nigerian-made cornflakes for breakfast. Something was decidely wrong with the way they were made - the flakes were too small and greasy. Over the weekend, our internet connection stopped working (I am typing this from an extremely slow cyber cafe connection). We went to NITEL this morning. The well-nourished person behind the desk was chatting to her friend on the phone, ignoring all waiting customers. Eventually she deigned to come off the call. We first of all wanted a full print out of our bill - at over £100 per month, it seems extortionate. All we have to go on is a summary which could be hiding all kinds of errors. She said to come back next week - they have run out of toner. Perhaps next week there might be toner. Then she went back to another personal call. I do hope that with the privatisation of NITEL (in the next two months), she is among the first to be turfed out.
And so on and so on. If life is frustrating MOST of the time for me in my cosy Abuja bubble, how much more impossible is it for the woman on the Surulere omnibus? The trouble in each case (bad crisps, bad cornflakes, bad service etc) is inept/corrupt leadership, backed up by inept/corrupt business processes. Idea la need indeed. What we need is: Details la need.
Sunday, January 29, 2006
I gave my first "How to Think" training session yesterday with an IT company based in Abuja. I've been planning to do this course for months, but bouts of illness and procrastination have delayed and delayed. Also, a secret nag about balance has taken its toll: to get people to really start thinking (rather than bovine normative regurgitation - chewing on the social cud), I think people need to be shocked and confused into it. I know as a philosophy student 15 years ago, I began to think almost as a fight for ontological survival. I was so utterly confused and bewildered by the cacaphony of informed arguments clamouring for my attention. But in Nigeria, where God is all and questions are squeezed to the margins, given that I want to flog my pony to a corporate market, I've worried that I would upset too many apples from the theistic cart and they wouldnt enjoy the experience.
As it turned out, I needn't have worried. My friend's is lucky that his company is full of bright young things, waiting for an opportunity to begin their day with a thought. The session was a gruelling 9 hours long. Underneath, there was a prevailing idea la need (see Teju Cole's recent entry on this subject) - in other words a "cut to the chase/gimme the meat" impatience, and a sense in which conceptual rigour can (and should) all too quickly slip into conceptual approximation. But the general pulse was of a hunger to sharpen critical faculties being fed. I'm glad I've finally started. I'll need to improve the course for next time - now I have a better sense of the prevailing weaknesses.But my worry is that all my energies will dissipate a week or so after the event, and God will resume his role as the unquestioned Authority in a world lacking the interrogative.
Nigeria is by and large an uncritical society; this is not to say there aren't thousands of people with critical things to say here. Rather, it is that any criticism is taken to be negative. The idea of productive criticism - criticism for the sake of improving something, not simply to destroy it, is not present. And the idea that one can have heightened reflexive awareness is not present: asking oneself as deeply as one can: who am I? How did I get here? Where am I going? The most precious thing any society can have is its own internally generated questions: questions the young ask of the old, and questions the old ask the young, and questions the middle-aged ask of themselves. Its time that Nigeria asked itself the question: who am I and where am I going?
Friday, January 27, 2006
A friend came into my office today and told me he is planning to leave Nigeria. This is a young, ambitious chap who had been working for an IT consultancy outfit here in Abuja. He'd spent a few years working in the telecoms sector in the States and has reservoirs of experience to offer here. This comes against the backdrop of others I know who are on the verge of bailing out. It's all Nigeria's loss. So many Naija's think "I love my country, but does my country love me?"
Now that the Immigration Service has tried to clean up its act by right-sizing, they are also planning on making it more difficult for ex-pats/foreigners to live here. Apparently, ex-pats will have to register with Nigerian professional bodies, as well as get their visa and work permit from their home country. This will make it difficult for people like me, as well as for Nigerians without green kpali, to continue living here (what if there's no professional body for the work you do? Do you really want to put yourself through visiting the Nigerian consulate in New York or London, just to get to Nigeria?) It seems like a mistake, closing the door at a time when Nigeria needs all the help it can get. Let's see what happens..
Nigeria can be a rough, unforgiving place - especially it seems if you only want to offer something of benefit. Just a small group of people make life unbearable for the rest in a country whose wealth should mean a much better standard of living for the masses. What makes people like my friend leave? Well, often they dont get paid enough, and they don't get paid on time, and they don't get apologies for the financial mismanagement which led to the cash-flow difficulty in the first place. This such a widespread phenomenon in Nigeria as to be almost the norm.
Deep and difficult questions have to be asked about what is it about Nigerian culture that good clean leadership is so incredibly thin on the ground. The same questions have to be asked about financial management.
The longer I live here, the more I realise that technological interventions or money pumped in by donors will do little to transform, unless there is a primary focus on business processes (whether in the commercial or the public sector). Teju Cole's recent "cargo cult" comparison is extremely apt in the case of Nigeria. Nigerians enjoy the benefits of cars, laptops, mobile phones and other modern technology, but live in a society which does not understand the discipline and rigour it takes to produce such technology. This creates an alienated culture where technology and modern industrial processes are seen as a mystery. No one seems to be able to solve the aviation crisis. No one seems to be able to create value-added manufacturing processes; no one seems to stem the tide of an import-economy, turning into an export-economy. So few technological interventions (in any sector) meet with any kind of success.
So what is the solution? Business process change is the key. Cutting through bureacratic business processes requires that human behaviour adapts; instead of rigid rule-following for the sake of rule-following, we need flexibility and practicality and adaptivity in the way we follow rules here. None of these three words should be a shibboleth for corruption or what they call 'sharp practices' over here. Because there should also be monitoring/score card business processes that run alongside.
Sometimes, there needs to be a reformist approach (let's see how we can tweak it), sometimes there needs to be a revolution (let's ditch this process and begin again).
Either way, examining an organisation's core business processes, then developing a strategy for improving/optimising them, is the way to go. Business analysts of the world unite!
Thursday, January 26, 2006
There is an orange bucket in our bathroom (we use it in place of a shower whenever the need arises). On the side of the bucket is some text, which states the following "In Remembrance of Our Father, Asani Olanrewa Aju Oseni, (a.k.a Aram Aram), 1901-1978. 11th August 1978. Presented by Charlin & Children.
I have spent quite a while pondering the significance of this text. If one added all the minutes spent sitting on the toilet, or kneeling down to tip water over my body, the collective pondering must amount to several hours. Many questions bubble up: Who is Aram Aram? How did this bucket get here? Is it really 17 years old (it does not look it). If it is not, then the bucket must have come from a commemoration ceremony. Let’s imagine it’s a 25 year ceremony (so the pail is only a couple or so years old). In which case, Aram Aram’s death is still remembered and celebrated a quarter of a century afterwards. What kind of person was Aram Aram, to be remembered with such commemorative force so long after? Why did he have this nickname?
It feels somehow amiss that Aram Aram stays in our bathroom in this way. He has seen me naked on many an occasion. Meanwhile, I am an unclothed witness to his transition. We meet in the midst of our most intimate moments; me during my daily ablutions, he, during that most intimate moment of all, the moment of expiration. And the interface of our communion is made of plastic.
The humble bucket is therefore not simply a receptacle for carrying water; it is also a receptacle of memory. There is something profoundly moving about how humdrum everyday objects in Nigeria are often suffused with meaning and memory in this way. In the midst of banality lie the most precious forms of spirit.
Tuesday, January 24, 2006
Some lovely pics Jasmine has just uploaded of the Cattle Ranch..Six hours trekking into Cameroon sounds like fun!
Talking of tourism, just caught the Heart of Africa ad for Nigeria on CNN. A distinctly amateurish effort when compared to the ongoing Malaysia Truly Asia and Incredible India tourist campaigns (don't these people study how the competition do what they do?) The same can't be said for the Enugu ad some of you may have seen: high production values, nicely paced narrative etc etc. Must have cost a pretty packet.
Whatever one's views on the SEEDS benchmarking exercise, it has woken some of the States up to that wonderful thing called a development strategy.
Sunday, January 22, 2006
To those of who have too many ideas in our head and who type quickly, the blogging tech that has grown exponentially in the past two to three years can be a curse as much as a blessing. We can all type before we think things through: I'm as guilty as the next person. And sparks can needlessly fly.
I dont write this blog to cause random controversy, nor do I wish to create undue negativity. I do it because I care for my adopted country and want to encourage positive change as much as I can. I'm playing my own tiny drop in the ocean as part of the ongoing debate about what Nigeria is right now and what it can be. Alternative media is the way to go in this regard.
But way more important than my words in all this are the words of young Nigerians who live here, and the supporting words of those privileged to live elsewhere. We need to work out how to get Nigerians in Nigeria blogging in their thousands, as those bursting with ideas of freedom from repression do in Iran (Farsi is one of the top non-English blogging languages on the planet). This way change lies: through the power of words. All actions in the world begin with words that are said, or not said.
In which case, the words of those young Nigerians who are leading the way in blogging here are incredibly important. So it saddens me that someone in the vanguard of in-country blogging shoots from the hip by suggesting that women attracted to women should be "dick-whipped". Dick-whipping is such a violent way of speaking. It ultimately translates itself into rape. How can someone so young have such violence stored in themselves? Where is the love?
I have said all I want to say on this issue. I hope for respect, and love, and the absence of such violent speech from the rare young blogging voices in our midst from now on.
Those who rant on about homosexuality being unnatural need to touch up on their ethology. There is an excellent paragraph on this subject on wikipedia (thanks to UK Naija for the ref). It includes this paragraph:
* Male penguin couples have been documented to mate for life, build nests together, and to use a stone as a surrogate egg in nesting and brooding. In 2004, the Central Park Zoo in the United States replaced one male couple's stone with a fertile egg, which the couple then raised as their own offspring.  German and Japanese zoos have also reported homosexuality among their penguins. This phenomenon has also been reported at Kelly Tarlton's Aquarium in Auckland, New Zealand. 
* Courtship, mounting, and full anal penetration between bulls is common among American bison. The Mandan nation Okipa festival concludes with a ceremonial enactment of this behaviour, to "ensure the return of the buffalo in the coming season."  Also, mounting of one female by another is common among cattle. (See also, Freemartin. Freemartins occur because of clearly causal hormonal factors at work during gestation.)
* Homosexuality in male sheep (found in 6-10% of rams) is associated with variations in cerebral mass distribution and chemical activity. A study reported in Endocrinology concluded that biological and physiological factors are in effect.  These findings are similar to human findings studied by Simon LeVay.
Sorry this sounds like a bit of a high-horse sermon – but this is how I see it:
A whale that confused itself up the Thames into Central London, dying during the rescue operation grabs all the attention on Sky news yesterday. Outsiders must think that the British are mad, or their “bellies are too full” as the saying goes.
For myself, I cannot explain how people who regularly consumer meat without giving a nanosecond's thought to the implications of the act (the suffering involved, the way in which life is reduced within an assembly line of death environment) can suddenly emote about one random mammal that becomes confused in the water.
Let's be honest, most of those glued to the telly would not pass up the chance of eating whale meat, if visiting Norway or Japan. So they are being drawn to the spectacle first, then being carried along with arbitrary sympathy second.
As Aristotle identified 2000+ years ago, ethics begins with the capacity of one’s moral imagination: being able to imagine what it is like to be other than oneself. Most people do not take the time to map out the limits of their own moral imagination it seems to me: perhaps they like to buy organic food or free-range eggs (if they live in the West), and perhaps they take their newspapers and bottles to the recycle banks, but beyond that, the imagination fades. Bob Geldoff doesn’t help with his bedraggled sanctimonies.
It's in this vaporous atmosphere that the media can grab attention (a Princess dies in a car crash, a whale flounders in the shallows of a city), and an en masse emote is conjured up out of thin air. All is forgotten a few weeks later. Nothing changes.
All those who are mourning the loss of a solitary whale yesterday, ask yourself this: what have you done to campaign against commercial whaling in the past? Has it even enter the rim of your consciousness as an issue worth making a noise about? Will you continue to eat meat (fish, mammals or otherwise) with unquestioning abandon? What then did you let happen to you yesterday, as you felt sorrow for the animal when it convulsed and died?
If life goes on as normal for you (you make no noise, you continue to eat animals), you have just been had by the media. Congratulations.
Went to a nice little party around the corner in Maitama last night: lots of youngish donor-consultants like me, plus an equal number of Nigerians. Even the drivers were there - twas great to see the usual barriers broken down. We need gatherings like this every week to keep the revolution coming. 2006 is going to be a whirlwind. Forget all the stuff you read in the Nigerian papers (that's mostly paid for), there's something subterranean happening - the seeds will turn to shoots later in the year.
So I'm back with my spirits again. No Passeran.
Saturday, January 21, 2006
Let's get our stuff together here.
Fact: No one has yet to see the details of the proposed Bill banning 1) same-sex marriage, 2) relationships or 3) activism. However, we do know from the papers that all three are to proscribed. I also know from feedback that many many people are simply stunned about the news (as I was). Some gist even has it that it is an anti Atiku/IBB thing (no need to spell that one out I take it). I'm not so interested in that kind of gossip. Its better to think about acting rather than emoting at times like these.
Now, I am right in thinking that Nigeria has signed up to the Universal Declaration of Human rights abi? Can someone tell me where this is stated? (I cant find a list of signatories, but I'm lazy and I've only spent a few minutes looking).
Anyway, let's take a look at these rights. Click here to read at your leisure.
Now I am not a lawyer, but it seems to me that the proposed Bill (assuming it does point substantively against the three points above) is immediately in contravention of:
"Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status."
"Everyone has the right to recognition everywhere as a person before the law."
"All are equal before the law and are entitled without any discrimination to equal protection of the law. All are entitled to equal protection against any discrimination in violation of this Declaration and against any incitement to such discrimination."
"No one shall be subjected to arbitrary interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence, nor to attacks upon his honour and reputation. Everyone has the right to the protection of the law against such interference or attacks. "
"Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers."
"Everyone has the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and association.
No one may be compelled to belong to an association."
That's not bad: in direct contravention of 6 articles of the UDHR. Just in case one might worry that the Universal Declaration is "UnAfrican" in some way, peruse the African Charter on Human and People's Rights (adopted by the OAU in 1981). There are a similar number of direct contraventions the proposed law would have.
When the Bill is published, it would be well if legal experts can provide a much richer analysis than my simpleton effort above. Then, the moment the first application of the Law is attempted, there is a global effort (from international NGOs, Nigerian pressure groups, UN bodies, donors, concerned citizens here and abroad) - in short a whole lot of noise - to stop the case going through. Just as the stoning of the Northern women were stopped, this Bill can be challenged, if there is enough global and internal pressure.
What say you all?
Friday, January 20, 2006
Its hard to blame the widespread corruption in Nigeria on poverty. There are poorer countries with much less. Closer to the truth is that soon after the country achieved independence, the black gold was discovered. The largely agrarian society that was lost all sense of control: like villagers at a party discovering an abundance of wine. The problem of corruption in Nigeria is of course about weak leadership, and even weaker followership (is it only Soyinka who is allowed to voice his dissent?) But closer to the nub of the problem is the huge wealth of the country, that a tiny few are determined to hold onto, at whatever cost.
Here is a story: the Zamfara Gov's wife has been reprimanded for dancing. What else happened at the party she was attended? 63 cars and N1,000 000 were given to each musician who performed. Read all about it.
I was sent this viral email by a young chap this morning:
>A pornographic movie
>is being shot and is intended to
>show up in America soon, which shows Jesus and his disciples as
>Similar to a play that has been in the Theatre halls
>for a while. It's called Corpus Christi" which means "The Body of
>It is a revolting joke on our Lord. But we can make a
>difference, that's why I'm sending this e-mail to all
>of you. Could you, please, add your name to this e-mail's
>list's end? If you do so, together we may be able to ban this movie from
>being shown in America. Apparently, some regions from Europe have
>banned the movie already. All we need is a lot of signatures!
>Remember, Jesus said: "That who deny Me before men, I will also
>deny Him before my Father which is in heaven."
>Please, do not simply forward!!!
>Please, select all the text by dragging mouse down on
>this message. Copy message (CTRL+C), then select "compose" or go to inbox
>new message which gives you a new email page, position
>cursor in the message box & paste (CTRL+V).Edit any unwanted
>text, add your name at the end of the list and send to all your contacts.
>When the signatures get to 500 names, whoever is the 500th name,
>please forward this email to: firstname.lastname@example.org And
>then start it all over again.... IF WE WORK TOGETHER WE CAN
On the back of a heavy night pondering the atmosphere of extreme intolerance Nigeria is falling into thanks to the move to completely criminalise homosexuality, I wonder how much longer I could live in this place. Not that I bale out easily - but on the other hand I am fortunate to have the freedom to be able to live elsewhere. Thoughts such as "why would I continue to put myself through this experience - it not being my country or my fight?" seeped into my head. Nigeria doesnt appreciate how utterly backward these decisions make the place look - a place where human rights count for nothing.
Thursday, January 19, 2006
I say a quiet prayer for all those men (and women) in history who have been beaten and killed for their sexuality. I continue with a prayer for the men (and women) who in Nigeria will now be beaten on account of the difference of their desires. I think of those who will languish in a shittypissy cramped cell, all because old men with intolerance and hatred boiling in their blood have said they should. And I try and fail to forgive those who will use this legalised bigotry as a licence to fuel their own homophobia.
And for those who delude themselves that homosexuality is something imported from the West: you are not yet aware of your own history or your own culture. And you forget in the midst of your bigotry that your Bible and your Koran are both imports. Why do you not reject them as well?
One day, these old men will have to face their God and account for the sum of all the suffering they have unleashed upon the world. I’m not a Christian, but if there is a God, just now I hope he’s of the Old Testament variety, and the vengeance will be His.
Nigeria takes a step backwards. Oh dear.
As CyBlug points out:
"Basically If you embezzle Billions you go to Jail for 6 months , but if your sexual orientation does not fit the norm in our society, you go directly to jail for 5 years (No Bail)"
Wednesday, January 18, 2006
One of the main reasons I miss the UK: Mildred's on Lexington St in Soho. The same staff have worked there for years which demonstrates the friendly vibe. The Veggie burger and chunky potato chips is heavenly, as is the ale pie with mushy peas: the best in English vegetarian.
Instead of staring into disconnected space at the Ministry, I've decided to work from home most of the time from now on. This is great - connectivity, partner on tap, kitchen nearby etc. As I am now only focusing on one project rather than the 8 or so before Christmas, its possible from now on. Its been interesting to find out how much mass-broadband is changing working habits in the UK. A company such as Shell now has a considerable percentage of its workforce working mainly from home, saving office space and operational costs. It can be hard to appreciate the radical transformations that mass high-bandwidth is beginning to have on society: already the retail sector (especially music and books) are having to rethink (exit Stage left the HMV/Waterstones boss a week ago).
One of the spin-offs of several conversations in the past few weeks is discovering a beautiful page within Wikipedia on the Four Humours. The philosophical question is this: can the human personality be classified into types, or is any such attempt at categorisation inevitably an oversimplistic reduction of the complexities of human reality? On the one hand, one would want to say that it is possible to develop basic rules for interacting with different behavioural patterns (in the interests of an efficient and healthily communicating organisation); on the other, one would want to hold on to the irreducible subtleties and uniquenesses of each person.
Whatever response one takes, the Wiki link above shows that it is an age-old issue that has often been linked to health. So: have you too much yellow bile, black bile, phlegm or blood in your system?
Tuesday, January 17, 2006
I'm back at work at the Ministry but frustrated by a thousand things: Mama the cleaner (and drinks supplier for our floor) is still on leave so our office is accumulating: chicken bones encircle the bin (I find them too hideous to contemplate picking up). The civil servant has his daily picnics in the office with his chums; they sit in bovine silence and watch tv (I force them to watch it with the sound down - I have a low tolerance for noise), or else they endulge in that favoured Nigerian male pastime - political gossip, otherwise they speak in hushed tones - indicating more dubious activities; the phones are not working, the connection is too slow to browse the Internet. Meanwhile, contractors who were supposed to have finished everything before Christmas are not answering their phones. One takes two steps backwards to every one step forward.
Meanwhile, my body is reacclimatising. The atmosphere in Abuja is laden with dust - Aso Rock has become a phantom giant elephant shrouded in haze. My stomach is making complaints - some West African bacteria have found a new home again - causing me to feel numb and dizzy in the head. I down litres of water to flush them away.
The inspiration of London is still inside me - each day I spend one hour writing and one hour reading - how productive I will be this year if I can keep it up.
I leave you this night with this gnomic thought - inscribed onto the windshield of an okada driver near Park and Shop today: "What is the world?"
Monday, January 16, 2006
Despite the monochrome cold, London was as usual excessively inspiring; I return full of creative energy and a desire to be part of the utter transformation of Nigeria. We spent the first couple of days with my parents touring the great Victorian Institutions: at the Victoria and Albert Museum we stood in front of a 5th century statue of the Buddha, walked through the Japan rooms (and admired the series of Edo-period costumes that are to Nigerianised eyes like oriental agbadas) and then toured the fashion section with its fascinating “history of the gentleman’s suit” from 18th century frock to modern day Armani. We also went to the Contemporary China temporary exhibition. What was interesting was to see the ways in which upcoming Chinese artists are using their own cultural stock to subvert and challenge what it is to be Chinese: a series of nine photography portraits of a shaven headed man, the first image with a few characters of script inked onto his face, the last image with his face completely blackened with ink, the images in between showing him increasingly “written on”. The text on his face composing of normative injunctions about the role of the family etc. This powerful and huge series of portraits both represented the power of tradition and the ways in which norms write themselves on the body, as well as a subversion of this. Other images included video footage of a feminine-looking man walking naked on the Great Wall, as well as a hidden camera in a female public toilet (the women constantly adjusting their hair and breasts). In comparison to the stale conservativism of young Nigerian artists and photographers (markets, fruit, fishermen, durba riders), contemporary Chinese art is tapping into its own historical reservoirs to fuel a disruptive outgrowth of the collective imagination. China is coming into its own, while Nigeria treads water.
At the National Portrait Gallery, I became absorbed by the rooms of Stuarts, Tudors and Elizabethans – a visualisation by portrait of the building blocks of the British Empire as it began in the 15th century – the lineage from Henry VII’s defeat of Henry Tudor at the Battle of Bosworth, to Henry VIII and the separation from Rome. Then via the sickly interlude of Edward the VII to the victorious realm of Elizabeth I and her cast of noble suitors – Raleigh, Leicester etc. Downstairs, the contemporary portraits were equally arresting: the Labour politician Mo Mowlem (who died in 2005) looking sad, human, defiant and strong. The playwright and neuroscientist Jonathan Miller bent over in a pose that was both pensive and morose, with so much empty space above him (a metaphor for the mystery of the mind and the spirit above).
Then from Tuesday onwards we travelled through the ceramic catacombs of the Tube to engage with culture and friendship: the premier at The Tricycle of August Wilson’s (who also died in 2005) Gem of the Ocean – a redemptive tale of black experience in the early twentieth century that was both magical realism and a profound meditation on the nature of freedom (most of the reviewers in the British papers were either too stupid or too white to get it). We saw Brokeback Mountain, Ang Lee’s “Gay Western” with incomparably beautiful images of the American outback (Wyoming). I agree with Thomas Sutcliffe of The Independent that there is an unconscious homophobia in the way in which the two leads were framed as suffering for their sexuality, despite the boundary pushing of HBO in TV series such as Six Foot Under, Hollywood is decades away from men to actually enjoy themselves in a gay-flick. Better still was Rize, David LaChapelle’s documentary on the dance sub-culture of Black Los Angeles. Krumping is a frenetic hybrid of breakdance, capoeira and clowning, which looks like those participating are on fast forward (the film starts by confirming that there are no speed-ups during the film). As a third way between joining the Crips or the Bloods, joining a clown troupe is a way of avoiding the cycle of violence of gangster culture in the black ghetto. For the music and the collective genius of those involved as their bodies draw on cultural horizons their minds are not yet aware of, Rize is the first great documentary of 2006. I will buy the DVD when it comes out – it might just create a new cultural phenomenon in Nigeria (we shall show it in Ajegunle as part of an upcoming mobile cinema project).
Rize also prompted me to return to the idea that culture is about a connected circuit of energy. A culture of one is no culture. Dynamic cultures that deterritorialise history and reterritorialise it on a plane of singularity – in Deleuze’s philosopeak. What this really means is that new cultures (such as Krumping) are not (and never) authentic – the language of authenticity/inauthenticity has for too long been associated with the analysis of culture. Rather, fragments of history (music, dance, colour, dress etc) are appropriated (“deterritorialised”) and recombined (“reterritorialised”) to express the needs of the present. In the case of krumping, those involved live at the limits – their friends become gang-bangers, go to jail, are shot etc. Dancing in this case is a passion to survive, and reaches the peaks of collective genius. As I've said repeatedly in this blog, culture and returning to a cultural imaginary is what will utterly transform Nigeria; technology and banking and infrastructure will erect themselves in the wake of this retrieval. My main beef with evangelical Christianity in its current form in Nigeria is that it tries to erase cultural heritage rather than accommodate itself within it. In this respect, it continues to be part of the problem not a component of the solution (which it could so easily be - a la liberation theology in Latin America).
We ate well. At our friends M&M, we savoured a deconstructed meal (there was no beginning, no end, no starter, no desert, no sweet vs savoury) – dried mango, carrot cake, hummous, pecans, sweet polenta, chocolate and ginger biscuits in an eclectic dance of tastes, all the while, an episode from Six Feet Under played at 1/16, projected cinema-size onto one wall of their studio, while some incredibly Korean flute music stretched itself into the shadows. At Wakeman Road, we re-immersed ourselves with our friend Julian, in the sumptuous confines of their Victorian palace. In the past few months he has entered new landscapes of inspiration – the sonics of Damian Marley (son of Bob) and his new album “Welcome to Jamaican Rock”, as well as new South African fiction such as “The quiet violence of dreams” by K. Sello Duiker. The discussion turned towards culture vs. diasporic culture. The insight emerged that the Nigerian diaspora is the creative blade of Nigerian culture, precisely because diasporicity involves the equivalent of the break of modernity (that is absent in the agrarian home culture).
And in various favourite places (Mildred’s in Soho, Bar Ganza in Camden) new music filled my ears: on the popular side – the Gorillaz new album (which sounds like the Kinks melted into The Neptunes with a bit of The Fall on the side), as well as the new folk of Declan O’Rourke.
On the plane back I bumped into the Finance Minister – an auspicious entry back. On Saturday, I picked up The Sun and read an article on the “Real Reason Census was Postponed” which contained this paragraph:
“Sources said the body of Emirs and other powerful interests from the North allegedly rejected the form design for the exercise because it probably would have exposed Nigeria as a circular state”
The idea that the Census might challenge the geography of the nation (and not its religious/non-religious make-up) brings me back to West African terra firma with a bump. Here we go..
Saturday, January 07, 2006
Is in the early planning stages near the site of the London Olympics. Featuring wind-turbines for minarets, caligraphy throughout and space for 40,000 worshippers, the "London Markaz" would be designed by Ali Mangera, who has worked with Zaha Hadid. Click here for more. The link came via www.worldchanging.com
Just clicked on an advert on this blog - it takes you to www.africast.tv - where subscribers can watch nollywood forever (there are also free previews). The opening video features a short piece by Tunde Kilani - The White Handkerchief.
Spending a few days in the UK, its clear that convergence between tv and the internet is now just a few months away. In a couple of years, the future versions of Freeview, Sky etc will mean that tv and the internet have become one media-rich channel. Instead of the 900 or so channels available from Sky, there will be tens of thousands if not hundreds of thousands of channels of content. Viewers/listeners/readers should be able to tune into content from anywhere in the world - of course most of the time they will have to pay for the privilege of watching well-made content. Its encouraging that there is some evidence of African-oriented media that are awake to this paradigm shift just before it is about to happen.
www.elendureports.com continues to be the most interesting Nigerian alternative news blog, and will surely play an increasingly important role this year. Many Nigerian journalists get their source information from this site. It functions in the same way as the gossip-celeb newspaper City People for politics - rumours are reported and then followed up. Like City People, amongst all the rumours, there is often a lot of truth. In credit to those behind ER, they do try to corroborate their stories, rather than publish political "gist". One of the latest stories concerns a sum of N372m donated to the media to keep shtum about the 3rd term..
The news that 20 or so people were crushed in Mecca the day before yesterday when their hotel collapsed on them is tragic; people doing what their religion instructs them to do (go on pilgrimmage, walk round the Ka'aba if you are able bodied and can afford it) pay with their lives because some dodgy contractor/developer wants to make money by cutting corners on construction. Unfortunately, it seems that many people also try to make profit from the prophet.
When we left Lagos over a week ago, the airport was chock full of people waiting for their Haj plane. Many were dressed aso-ebi style (in the same cloth), to ensure that no one gets lost. Quite a few had been waiting for days for the plane to whisk them to their Holy land. After we left, it was Bibi's mom's turn to go take the plane. Being a woman of moderate means, this was her first Haj; she had put all her savings into the trip. She is popular and well-loved on her street in Surulere, so they had a send-off party for her (she loves parties!)
But then at the airport, she and her fellow travellers were told there would be a delay. One of Bibi's sisters started to make trips to the airport to deliver food. The days passed and the deadline for arriving loomed. The organisers then told the pilgrims there would be a N50,000 surcharge, saying they didnt collect enough money. This went up to N80,000 the next day. Meanwhile, the airport was full of muslims trying to get on the scant charter planes. Obj stepped in and obtained a 36 hour extension of the arrival deadline from the Saudi authorities. Still my mother-in-law waited..
And then the deadline (yesterday morning) passed. Everyone had to go home. They were told that they would not be refunded. At a meeting, Bibi's mom complained bitterly, at which the disappointed pilgrims were told they would at most get 25% of their money back. She continued to complain, at which point someone in the crowd told her to be quiet.
Like many others, she now has lost all her savings and cannot count herself as a Al-Haja. Where her money has gone, and the money of the thousands along with her who didnt get to go, no one knows. Someone has become enormously richer, and many thousands of people poorer.
Friday, January 06, 2006
Orascom had been playing dirty, allegedly.
The news that the Lagos State Govt has given street traders a 14 day ultimatum to stop their business in the interests of beautifying the State is yet one more outburst of fantasy politics. Where are these people supposed to go? How are they supposed to find an alternative means of living? No doubt a certain percentage will be forced to turn to crime, armed robbery etc. in a city which has security issues already. Until the State and Federal Govt develop serious job-creation strategies that involve the informal sector and tap into its incredible self-organising capacity, along the lines of the thesis of De Soto's revolutionary text The Mystery of Capital, gestures in the direction of making Lagos a pretty place by outlawing street trade/okadas etc etc will end in failure.
Thursday, January 05, 2006
and I'm a little less rambunctious, I'd like to be able to write like Teju Cole, as he makes sense of his recent trip to Nigeria (I had the immense pleasure of spending a few days with him):
"If you prick us, do we not bleed? If you tickle us, do we not laugh? We begin to understand Africa from the point of view of African normalcy, then we can talk about what is not normal in Africa. We can talk about the way the world fails Africa and the way Africa fails herself. But specificity is the first step in any act of compassion, and naming is knowing. Saying my grandmother’s name is Khalilatu Yusuf and she was born on March 3 1923. Saying her house is on Itun Ajina in Offin, Sagamu some forty-five minutes drive from Lagos. Saying such and such is her experience in life. This is the only way to combat the National Geographic images of Africa, an Africa which is only natural beauty, despotic regimes and heartbreaking poverty, the same partial truths reiterated. This is the way to give meaning to the toll from American military or corporate misadventure. The specificity of the lives and stories."
Click here to read the full text on African specificity.
Wednesday, January 04, 2006
We've spent the past week eating and reading and sleeping and swimming and sauna-ing in the parental bosom. I have just finished Zadie Smith's recent Booker shortlisted On Beauty. While not in the same league as say Ian McEwan's Saturday (the best living UK writer imho) in terms of visceral compulsion to keep turning the pages and sink deeper into the quagmire of the characters' existential complexities, it's a good attempt at gauging race in England and New England, with some brilliantly conceived comic touches for balance.
The two main characters, Monty Kipps and Howard Belsey, are totems for a resurgent reactive conservativism and a liberalist ideal that has lost the plot, each vying for territory within the lebensraum of a leafy Boston liberal arts college. Smith hits some purple patches of description when entering the cloistered world of campus life and Belsey's fall from grace, but sometimes the dialogue is overworked, especially when it comes to trying to capture various American speech patterns. As usual, I felt that the editors had wussed out on the job. But with the text obviously aimed at an American readership (we have 'candy' instead of 'sweets' and various other US-English smattered through the text), its clearly a "Smith tries to crack America" text. Good luck to her.
Otherwise, being in Wheaton Aston is like being set within the amber of memory: I am the son, frozen in time. This is not a bad thing. Dad dug out a scrap book of press clippings written by someone who lived in the village for much of the twentieth century. I saw stories about my great-grandfather Frank in the early 1930's (he seemed to like hanging out with the Women's Institute posse for some reason!) - a clipping commenting on my grandparents' wedding in the 1930's; a story about electricity coming to the village at the same time etc. There was a whist-drive in the late 1930's to save up money for a Spitfire (war was humming in the background). As with the village, our family has come a long way since my grandfather's time - he having never left the country or received a university education - me having been to over 20 countries so far with a PhD. Our children will be space travellers.
Meanwhile, there seems to be all kinds of wahalla going on in Nigeria (as usual) - the most interesting for me being the botched attempt to flog NITEL to the Egyptian telco Orascom. The Egyptians thought they were going to get a bargain for under US$300million, only for Baba to step in at the last minute and stop proceedings.
Whatever happens next, it is almost certain that a foreign operator will buy NITEL. This must surely be a template for all future privatisations in Nigeria - public goods go into the hands of private hands from overseas. Its a shame but nigh on inevitable. In NITEL's case, there are many Nigerians with solid telecoms experience, and many Nigerians with expertise in the upper reaches of the financial services sector in the City and Wall St. The fact that telco experts cannot get together with financiers to keep NITEL within Nigerian ownership is yet again an example of Nigeria (and its diaspora) being less than the sum of its parts.