There was a lovely interview with one of my intellectual heroes, Amin Maalouf, on BBC World this morning. As with another favourite thinker, Michel Serres, Maalouf's work has been occluded by louder brusquer voices. If you've not read him before, the place to start is Leo the African. Maalouf's project is to redeem an intellectual, cultured arab world (through literary fiction) that is intertwined with Western culture. One of the most interesting points of the interview for me was his reference to Lebanon as the historical bridge between both worlds..
Friday, March 31, 2006
A naijablog reader sent me this image recently. It gives me the idea for a project: loads of images of religious banners, papered all over a room in an art gallery (or wherever). The title of the exhibition: Deliverance. Thanks Mobolaji for the image.
The DTI-sponsored event on IT in Abuja and here in Lagos was a success. It was a vital space to discuss new technologies and that ever-present issue of leapfrogging with new tech. I was particular impressed with the work various companies are doing on targetting rural communities, creating a viable business model using softswitches (localised bandwidth control) and so on. With Nigeria being pretty much the fastest growing mobile market in the world, it remains one of the places to be on the planet. The only negative note is that we need more of these fora, with the Nigerian govt stumping up cash to support.
However, as I said in my pres (on e-Govt and some of the work I've been doing for the Fed Govt), what continues to hold the country back is the lack of value placed on research. The telcos, for instance, are raking in humungous profits in Nigeria, and yet are prone to collective organisational stupidity. We are still stuck in a prepaid, 2g, no-data paradigm. GPRS is available on V-mobile and Glo, but there has been an utter failure to develop data services the market wants, let alone to communicate the features & benefits in a consumer-centric way. If the telco's re-invested just 10% of their profits on R&D, we might see radical changes. The money that could be made from a straightforward picture-messaging service would increase returns still further - Nigerians love being 'snapped' perhaps more than any other group on the planet. Beyond images, the use of mobile phones for data-services and digital-wallet capabilities that meet the needs of ordinary joe's at the bottom of the pyramid - mechanics, drivers, traders etc are simply not being met.
After the conference, I took a walk in VI. It was good to walk amongst those that work on the street, and feel the searing heat as they do everyday. All those in leadership positions, whether here in Nigeria or elsewhere, should spend at least one day a year doing what ordinary working people do. Otherwise, they are in danger of losing their ability to feel compassion.
Meanwhile, had a lovely conversation with a delegate at the hotel this morning. His company is offering high-altitude bandwidth (beamed down on large areas via circling planes). He connects his professional focus on wireless tech with the Hindhu monkey god Hanuman. Hanuman is also the god of the wind and of communication, as well I think of compassion. As Mr Patel was saying, without compassion, communication (and the redistribution of value) is useless. As it was in the Bhagavad Gita, so it shall be with 4th or 5th gen networking.
Wednesday, March 29, 2006
The sky darkens ominously outside my window and I remember the eclipse. I walk out onto the rooftop of the ministry where I work. God adjusts the dimmer switch and the sky turns a crepuscular hue. The obscured sun hides behind a cloud. All around, people stop for a moment. The workers down below point upwards and discuss. Others populate balconies around about. And then the clouds part and I steal a glimpse to the heavens. A sickle of shimmering steel. I close my eyes and the afterglow remains. A man appears with some cardboard specs with foil in the middle. Upwards again, and there is the sickle once more: China rising? Then, the sky lightens by imperceptible movements, and the sahelian glare returns.
Tuesday, March 28, 2006
A friend brought cds and dvds from the UK yesterday (as well as a large pot of Dijon mustard). The prize possession of which is Damien (son of Bob) Marley's album Welcome to Jamrock. Even if you have only a passing interest in dub/reggae/dancehall, this album will draw you in). I've only listened to it a couple of times but its immediately compelling, with bouncing track after bouncing track and rich layers of sound. Go forth and listen..
Nothing you didn't know already, but it's interesting to see Nollywood is garnering attention in the chattering classes rag of choice. It still seems to me as if Nigeria is quite a way from producing a Tsotsi equivalent, but then again, all it would take is some serious funding (whether from Wesley Snipes or elsewhere) and the production values would rocket vertically. In a few years, there'll but multiplex cinemas in most of the big cities in Nigeria. With Emeka Mba's Film and Census Board slapping a directive of a minimum say 30% local content on distributors (as in France), things could change quite radically. Richard Mofe Damijo rubbing shoulders with Denzel on a certain stretch of red fabric at the Oscars?
Went (and spoke at) an event sponsored by the UK Govt's Department of Trade and Industry today. I presented my experiences working on the Integrated Financial and Economic Management Information System (IFEMIS) - the first inter-agency govt platform for the Fed Govt here in Nigeria. I moaned a bit about SAT-3 (as my wont is). The discussion floated around bandwidth blues for a while. Someone from BT Global Services spoke as did the VC of the NCC, Ernest Ndukwe. The bandwidth for SAT-3 coming into Nigeria is set to triple in the next month apparently. There is also a plan to cover much more of the country in a fibre-optic network. The chap from BT reckons that 512kps should cost around US$10-$15 per month to be affordable here. The prices for retail access to SAT-3 are falling thanks to NITEL's move to being a wholesale provider (Rosecom offers it at around £100 per month now).
The interesting question for me is that if broadband does become a cheap reality in SSA, will it supplant the existing focus on mobile technology as the platform of choice for developing/emerging economies? With increasing attention on local manufacture (helped on its way by Nokia's move into local manufacture announced recently), the US$100 pc may be on its way.
It's good to know that Ndukwe fully appreciates the socio-economic significance of cheap broadband for Nigeria. Now all we need is a quick sale of NITEL to a serious bidder...
Meanwhile, a whole slew of things are going on politically, which you diasporics can best read about on other sites. The news that IBB has thrown his hat into the 2007 ring certainly stirs things up a bit.
As a boy growing up in a little village in the Midlands, I used to stare out of the window and wonder how anything ever happens. Nigeria is possibly the other end of the spectrum of that feeling: I wonder if there will be a day when nothing dynamic doesn't happen. It's an exciting place to be for the big waves, if you know how to handle your existential surf board.
The census seems to have made up for lost time. I only know of one person who wasn’t counted in my petit cercle – a young chap who lives in Kubwa, one of the satellite towns of Abuja. He’s worried that not being counted will stand against him – the authorities may believe him to have tried to avoid the count at some future time. I suggested he go to the National Population Commission and ask to be counted.
With over one hundred names, addresses, occupations, fuel-knowledge (kerosene or gas) etc. the govt will have some powerful information for data mining. A combination of State of Origin plus surname (if categorised into types) would theoretically be sufficient to aggregate on the basis of ethnicity if required. Apparently it is going to take four months before initial results emerge.
A lot of people have been denigrating the whole exercise and faulting whatever figures come out as false in advance. This is a bit silly. As in all statistical surveys, I’m sure there’ll also be a margin of error produced, which will yield a fairly accurate bandwidth. So, on the whole, the NPC has done a good job, at this stage. Now we all need to get back to work, after a week of suspended animation.
It’s easy to see how desperately hard the past few days have been on street traders, phone card sellers, newspaper vendors and the like. Denied their daily income, it must have been tough going under the blare of the sun. The enthusiasm with which young guys tried to flog me phone cards and newspapers on the way to work this morning says it all. With kerosene prices through the roof, being poor in Nigeria is a daily struggle to survive.
Monday, March 27, 2006
If boredom should strike one while in Nigeria, there is always the option to turn to NTA. The news is a constant source of mirth and hilarity, if one knows how to find it. If it is not for the extravagancies of costume (see the fine example of regal agbadahood to the left), then one can readily admire the extravagancies of the language. The English spoken on NTA is a uniquely distinct dialect of the language. Its provenance is 100% organic colonial: a sort of Africanised Etonian twang which results in weirdly contorted somewhat nasal locutions and odd syllabilic emphases.
Best of all though are the maps behind the newsreaders. To amuse myself, sometimes I imagine there is highly sophisticated intent behind them. My analysis takes me in two directions: either it is a nod to Pangea, that hypothesised super-continent said to have existed millions of years ago before Africa, America and Asia went their separate continental ways.
In this case, the map is a subtle reference to Africa being the origin of homo sapiens, and therefore the wisdom of ages is visually (and symbolically) accrued through a neat geographical sleight of hand. On the other hand, I take the fact that according to NTA, Spain has now linked up with North Africa, the UK has melded with Normandy (and lost Scotland to the icy wastes of the far North Sea in the process), the fact that the Mediterranean Sea has now become three separate lakes (losing its saline character in the process I imagine), thanks to some very odd growths occurring to Italy and Greece, and finally, the very odd bloidal blurrings taking place in South-East Asia (with Australia linking up with the Indonesian archipelago and Japan yearning for a Kiwi kiss) to all be signs of a magnificent and cartographically grandiloquent optimism for the future. Thousands of years from now, we humankind will have developed such brotherly and sisterly love for one another, that combined with our technological capacity to redirect plate techtonics (using nuclear fission and interplanetary energy sources), we will make a universal geo-political decision (at a future version of the UN) to reverse the previously ineluctable separation of continental landmasses, and decide to link up with one another – as it was in the beginning, so shall it be in the end. In other words, the NTA map is perhaps the most futural object on our planet, and should be celebrated as such.
Thursday, March 23, 2006
Which of dem we go speak? …
One metre --
We travel to Umunede, we go speak Isoko,
We travel to Borno, say na Fulfulde,
We travel to Ughelli, dem go speak Urhobo,
We travel to Buguma, say na Kalabari,
We travel to Kaduna, dem go speak Hausa,
We travel to Okene, dem go speak Ebira,
We travel to Abbi, dem go speak Kwale,
Ogomola, dem go speak Okrika,
One kilometre means another language,
half a kilometre means another language, …
One metre …
We travel to Sokoto, dem go speak Fulani,
We go to Benin City, dem go speak Edo,
We travel to Onitsha, dem go speak Igbo,
We travel to Asaba-Asa, den Bendel we go,
We travel to Gboko, dem say na Tiv,
We travel to Otukpa, dem go speak Idoma,
We travel to Akure, dem go speak Yoruba,
We travel to Ase, dem go speak Aboh,
We travel to Uyo, na Ibibio,
We travel, we travel, we travel travel travel …
All I'm saying, Lingua franca …
One metre …
We travel to Patani, dem go speak Izon,
We travel to Vom, dem go speak Berom,
We travel to Ekpoma, dem go speak Esan,
We travel to Auchi, dem go speak Etsako,
We travel to idah, dem go speak Igala,
We travel to Bida, dem go speak Nupe,
We travel to Ogbakiri, dem go speak Ikwere
One question that's bugged me since I moved to Nigeria is how many different ethnic groups and distinct languages there are in the country. We hear different figures in different reports, without anyone ever quoting an official originary reference point. The World Bank and the UN like to suggest 250 in the documents I've seen, but I heard once that there are something like 200 languages in Niger State alone (that seems scarcely creditable however). According to the Index of Nigerian Languages (Crozier & Blench 1992) there are 500 extant languages. I've scoured the internet and found very little of substance. There are 478 languages listed here (helpfully categorised into language group) from Abanyom to Zumbun. This page was created by Dr. Uwe Seibert, Department of Languages and Linguistics, Faculty of Arts, University of Jos (email address email@example.com). However, it does not enumerate how many speakers there are for each language, how many separate dialects there are within each language (how many dialects of Yoruba are there, for instance?) nor does it state whether there is isomorphism between distinct languages and distinct ethnicities.
We therefore still do not know (and the census again will sadly not help us) how many living sustaining ethnic groups there are across this vast and polymorphous terrain. We therefore do not know which cultures are endangered and where (or what factors are leading to their potential extinction). In an increasingly homogenised world, cultural diversity is an inherent value within humankind that needs to be supported. I wonder if Dr Seibert is still carrying out his research, and whether there might be a tie-in with a well-funded African American/Black Studies programme overseas for this valuable research. Wouldn't it be wonderful to have a website with all the languages of Nigeria available to listen to?
Wednesday, March 22, 2006
From all reports, it looks like there has been a mass exodus from Lagos in the past week as Igbos and Hausas return to their State of Origin. The population figures for Lagos will likely be a considerable underestimate of reality. The obvious question is why people feel they have to leave to their State of Origin? It seems to me there are three reasons why this has happened:
1. The State of Origin law (which originated in the 1970's), which defines one's indigeneity in terms of patriarchal provenance. One may never have lived in Anambra or Kano States, however, because one's father was 'from' there, one's identity is deemed to be Eastern or Northern. Of course, one's father may in fact be in the same unreal relationship to origin as oneself (he may never have lived in Anambra/Kano/etc, but his father did). In other words, the State of Origin law acts as a barrier against cosmopolitanism (and a robust concept of Nigerian citizenship). It is surprising to an outsider how much Nigerians now identify with their imagined or real homeland (but not surprising given the weight of legal and bureaucratic apparatus that enforces it).
2. Obvious political reasons: people want their State/village to have higher figures than the reality, in the hope that this will increase funds appropriated to their local government area (or perhaps increase the number of LGA's stated in the next iteration of the constitution).
3. However, the deepest reason why there has been the exodus is that there is little sense of an urban or cosmopolitan identiy attached to living in a town or city in Nigeria. People inhabit Nigerian cities as if they were a large collection of villages. You could say the same phenomenon happens anywhere in the world - London can be seen as such for instance. People tend to know only their neighbours and those who work in local shops and people who frequent local amenities - all of which helps to form a sense of the 'locale'. The difference is that the village mentality in Nigeria is not simply related to making a village out of one's immediate habitat (that is perhaps the universal phenomena). Rather, the village mentality relates one's being-in-a-place to an identity that is elsewhere. Someone from say Ohafia lives in Lagos as an Ohafian, and only secondarily as a Lagosian. The State of Origin law perpetuates this linkage; however it is a legal framework that articulates a preceding structuration of identity. Unlike the mass exodus to the cities in 19th century Europe, which saw the linkages between one's rural origin and one's newfound urban location being severed (leading to urban alienation, anomie but also just as importantly to new political movements and new forms of politics), this has not happened in Nigeria. Perhaps the break with the past happened in a much sharper fashion in the West because of the rise of the Factory and rapid industrialisation. Urban useage patterns were disrupted and disciplined by the factory clock; whereas in Nigeria, industrialisation on any appreciable scale has yet to begin.
Tuesday, March 21, 2006
The census has, er, started. I hesitate because as usual, there is an almighty information balls-up at work. First, we were told to stay at home Tues-Sat. Then, the President stepped in and said we only have to be grounded Fri and Sat. Meanwhile, Lagos State had already decreed that everyone must stay home for the whole 5 days, as originally planned. Lagos has apparently shut down for the week. Now, the FCT minister has apparently announced that everyone must leave work by 12 (or 2?) Tues-Thu, with everyone staying at home Fri and Sat. But then I caught the Information Minister on NTA last night implying that only those who hadn't already been counted and who received a calling card must stay home Fri and Sat. It's all very confusing. I went to see a Director witin a govt agency today and asked him what he planned to do. He said every now and then, he peeps out of the window. If everyone starts leaving the building, he will too!
Worse still, enumerators across the country are complaining they haven't been paid, either for the training or for the work itself, or both. This has led to some unpleasant situations in different parts of the country. One can now see the logic of excluding ethnicity and religion from the indices - what turmoil that would have caused. I'm also not sure if they are counting ex-pats/non-Nigerians or not. Ultimately, I think everything will go off ok. We will finally get to know how big Lagos is, and how many people live in Nigeria (not sure when the results will be published tho).
Monday, March 20, 2006
From the age when I started to think about these things (around 10 or so) I have always been vehemently against the death penalty. As a vegan, I remain staunch and committed. But the story of the murder of Mary-Ann Leneghan, how she was drugged, tortured, raped and then shot dead puts my faith in this principle of the importance of preserving life to the extreme test. Calling these six individuals animals is an insult to the animal kingdom. It is hard to avoid the language of evil when trying to articulate what was done. As with Rwanda, the Holocaust and other gross tragedies, it is extremely difficult to hold onto the value of keeping the perpetrators within the realm of the living spirit, when a lethal injection is just a syringe away.
But then, perhaps this is the greatest lesson the philosopher Derrida has to teach us. Forgiveness is forgiveness of what is impossible to forgive. It is impossible to forgive Adrian Thomas, Indirit Krasniqi, Jamaile Morally, Joshua Morally, Llewellyn Adams and Michael Johnson for what they did. We must therefore forgive them.
Nollywood, we need you - to chart the rise and fall from grace of Robert Adewunmi.. (Robert in London?)
Last night I went to a luxury owambe ('come and show') party. A big society woman was 'washing' her new upscale housing estate in Maitama. The yearly rent is reputedly 90,000US per year (N13.5million). The compound was beautifully decorated with coloured cloth awnings and softly glowing lanterns. There were hundreds of women resplendent in expensive lace and fantastically origamed geles. The initial impression was as if one had been shrunk to insect size and I were crawling through a pile of christmas presents for aristocrats. KSA (King Sunny Ade) was crooning and praise-singing on stage. I want to write in more detail about the space of the owambe in a separate essay - there is so much complexity and subtlety at work that owambes at their finest reveal the genius of the (mainly Yoruba-derived) culture. For now, just feast your eyes on the images to the side and below..
Sunday, March 19, 2006
Abuja has become barely habitable in the past few days. For example, from midday yesterday, there was no electricity until 8pm. Various excuses have been bandied around in the media: Kainji dam has sprung a leak/is empty, gas pipes have been broken in the Delta, heavy rainfall in Lagos has drained FCT of power and so on. Whatever the case, it's really annoying when all plans (which involve computers, electricity etc) are laid to rest and one is forced to swelter indoors. This on top of a lack of running water for weeks and weeks (we're surviving on water tankers). If life is irritating and enervating for we the ultra-privileged, what is it like for the other 98% of the populace?
But the weekend hasn't all been dull and frustrating. We went to a friend's house to watch Polanski's classic noir take on 1940's LA, Chinatown, followed by a drink and dance at the local bar/club joint Point, which was fun. We went with some chaps who work for a brewery near Lagos. One of the guys was dancing like he'd been locked in a cell for the past six months; a lovely source of energy. This evening, we went to Wuse market to buy ankara (I've harboured dreams of an ankara shirt for a while now). While Bibi and Yetunde shopped, I listened to Oumou Sangare on the Ipod and observed the lazy late Sunday afternoon activity. Under the backdrop of a gorgeous neem (dogonyaro) tree, women and men in flowing fabrics of all colours came and went, while Sangare's voice soared up and down like a kestrel. A perfect moment before the evening’s crepuscular. Later on that night, I went to an owambe (see next post).
Friday, March 17, 2006
Ugwu is a variant of the pumpkin family, latin name Telfairia occidentalis. It is a wonder plant/superfood native to Nigeria/West Africa. Ugwu's closest nutritional equivalent in the West is wheatgrass. Both plants are hugely rich in chloryphyl, which has a very similar molecular structure as blood. For this reason, ugwu is fantastically good to boost the immune system/blood level. If one's red cell blood count drops for whatever reason (loss of blood, illness), ugwu will raise the levels back in just a few days. It can be thought of as a natural form of blood transfusion. The shoots and leaves are the main ingredient of the Nigerian edikang ikong soup.
The best way to take ugwu however is to juice it (using a masticating juicer). The resulting liquid is thick and green and has a powerful taste, just like wheatgrass. Mixed with juiced beetroot and carrot (and orange as a sweetener and source of vitamin c/asorbic acid), it truly is a superfood.
Unfortunately, little research has been done on the properties of ugwu and how it can be used in different ways to treat various conditions. Such research could be hugely beneficial in Nigeria, both in terms of prevention and cure.
There is a senior consultant at the National Hospital here in Abuja who wants to undertake such research. As many readers will know, the consultants at the teaching hospitals (LUTH etc) really know their onions. Many of them have pet research projects up their sleeve which, if funded, could lead to dramatic results. This particular consultant needs just 5 million naira for his research (that's around twenty thousand pounds). Its a tiny amount of money given the potential benefits. If anyone reading this blog can recommend sources of funding, I will pass them onto him immediately.
Thursday, March 16, 2006
The much anticipated Census is nigh. Nigeria will be on holiday from Tuesday until Saturday next week, with no movement allowed until after 4pm. It seems to me poor planning indeed that a task that will only take a few minutes per household will nonetheless require each household is grounded for the entire week. Quite how people who make their living from day-to-day street selling will get by is an interesting question. The obvious issue is why couldn’t the planners divide up the enumeration zones into days, so that each area would only experience at most one day’s disruption. I know several people who are leaving the country to work in Ghana etc next week just so they can avoid being under curfew.
Nigeria’s power situation declines like a wilting flower. We are down to a daily output of between 2600-2900MW per day (the figures are disputed). To put these stats into perspective, the UK, with between a half and a third the population, produces around 50 times more electricity each day. Even pampered Maitama where I live is currently experiencing heavy load-shedding. This week, there has been a blackout from 7pm-3am every night. It is impossible for foreigners unused to 30+ degrees of night-time heat to sleep (hence why I am up at 4:30 am having not slept a wink). Since the end of military rule, the power capacity for the country has declined year on year. The Ministry of Power and Steel (popular parlance replaces the last two words with ‘to Steal’) promises a brighter situation by 2010, with Chinese and Indian investors rubbing their hands. Four years is a lot of lost sleep and lost opportunity.
Worse, the strategy going forward seems to be locked in the past – coal and gas Independent Power Plants aplenty. There is no innovation towards developing for example a local solar energy industry, or partnering with alternative energy expertise from India or elsewhere. In a vast country that benefits from year-round sunshine, this is stupid. The vested interests are clear to see: people with money will continue to be forced into buying expensive and expensive to run/maintain generator sets (yet it’s getting more and more difficult to buy the increasingly expensive diesel needed to run them in Abuja at present). The fact that there isn’t any serious joint-venture with solar energy companies from overseas in a country crying out for such can only provoke suspicion. There are rays of hope, with energy efficiency solutions emerging for specific industry sectors, but the outlook for the private or small business electricity consumer whether in Lagos, Abuja or elsewhere in Nigeria for the next few years remains bleak.
Wednesday, March 15, 2006
After having led the governors on a 3rd term goose chase, it turns out that the end of the chase Mantu laid a well-concealed snare. Now the governors are forced to confront the prospect of a revised constitution in which only the president retains immunity from prosecution. That means that the very thing they hoped would protect them from the EFCC hounds and Ribadu’s mounting dossiers is the very thing that will Balogun them in the end.
Worse still, the plan is to channel local govt funding from the Federation account directly to the LGA’s themselves, cutting out yet one more lucrative channel for State level funds diversion. Obasanjo remains at least two steps ahead of the guzzling gubers at each stage. Now all we need is a member of the economic team to put themselves forward and we’ll be forced to admit the President is a master tactician.
Tuesday, March 14, 2006
One of the deepest reasons why still more Sub-Saharan Africans meet their end on the Straits of Gibraltar (see Black Look's recent post) is due to the power of symbols, rather than any material or existential reality. The West has ownership of the production of signs, meaning and representation, thanks to an all-powerful corporate media machine. Many non-westerners are drawn to the glow of this symbolic economy like moths to a flame. It seems to me that an important but neglected project is to find effective ways of disupting this semiotic regime. One such strategem is to produce images of the white body which contradict this representational norm.
The image posted here is an example: oyinbo driving okada. It reminds me of a dream a young Belgian wannabbee-film-director had of making a short movie about black aid workers (in white coats obviously) going to visit a white refugee camp full of stringy white bodies and white babies with extended bellies and flies all over their face. I daydream of Augusto Boal-esque Invisible Theatre interventions in Lagos - say a white beggar sifting in bins, or a white madman, walking naked with matted hair on Marina. Images of this sort would begin to take apart the image of the superiority of the white body that flow out into the realm of signs like a semiotic Amazon.
Perhaps there is some minor tradition of counter white-symbolic-supremacy out there, but I have yet to find it. It strikes me as rich terrain for radical Nigerian artists keen to challenge any avenue where neo-colonialism rears its head.
Monday, March 13, 2006
I have been criticising Nigeria and Nigerians (in as productive way as possible I hope) for quite some time. I know that this runs the risk of superciliousness, which I'd want to avoid. As a corrective, perhaps its time to take a look at 'my people' - the English. I'd welcome any comments from perplexed Janders living in the disunited kingdom.
The English are a peculiar mongrel bunch (of no fixed abode), with one thing (and perhaps only one thing) in common: a lusty love of alcohol. Everything that is done in the UK involves some kind of drink ritual. If one wants to get ahead at work, one has to go to the bar after work, where all the real business gets done. If one wants to find a mate, one has to neck copious amounts along the way. If one meets the vicar, a tipple will be involved. If one goes for a walk in the country, a pub has to be sought at the end for liquid refreshment. If one eats desert, it better have an alcoholic component (think sherry in trifle, brandy on Christmas pud). In short, there is a love affair with the bottle that my people the English have which utterly perplexes me. Where did it come from? What do we do? Perhaps we got it from the Angles, perhaps from the Saxons.. Whatever its ancestry, one thing that the English are mad about is inebriation.
Sunday, March 12, 2006
Gisting is quite a phenomenon in Nigeria. It deserves a whole phallanx of linguists from across the world to come study, as with pidgin (especially its Wafi variant). Gisting is a kind of phatic communion (a linguistic term for initial speech interaction based on establishing sociality, rather than being based on the transfer of information). Gisting is a subset of gossiping. It is usually done at high speed. When done in English, the outsider cannot keep up with the blistering pace of the words. Gisting sounds a bit like Coltrane in his heyday - a sheet of sound cascading between mouths. It is more a form of verbal music than information exchange.
While gisting as a form of sonorous behaviour is fascinating and, as I say, deserves to be studied, I'm on the whole against it. Ok, good gisters have a masterful conversational memory which means they can remember step by step each element of discourse - he said she said etc. However, gisting seems to me to be a lazy form of communication on the whole. As with the German philosopher Martin Heidegger's critique of what he called Das Man (equating ultimately to Idle Talk) in Being and Time, I find gisting to be mostly vacuous. The narrative genius of agile gisters is not enough. What is required is that rare thing in Nigeria: analysis. Gisting is such a waste of time when one can simply get to the point and break down speech and meaning into its constituent parts. Gisting takes up many hours which could otherwise be spent plotting the revolution. What we need is a device which converts a minimum of say 10% of gisting energy into revolutionary thought processes. I'm currently conducting a thorough search of the wildest margins of Google to find a mad scientist who will turn this theoretical device into a working tool.
Saturday, March 11, 2006
Click here to see. With the news that there are now over 30 million blogs, its good to see all kinds of naijablogs are in formation. Would be great if there were indigenous language blogs - blogs in igbo, yoruba, hausa etc. Are there any?
Click here to read my interview with emerging hip-hop talent/producer FML (aka Blaise) on Lagos Live.
Friday, March 10, 2006
The news that Mantu and his gang said Aye in PHC yesterday is enough to deflate even the most high-pressured optimism. The Saharan gods from the north responded by covering Abuja in a cloud of sand, preventing planes from flying in or leaving today. Quite a nice Shakespearean fair-is-foul cosmological twist methinks: just as the 3rd term threatens to isolate Nigeria from the commity of nations (as they like to say here), so too the sandstorm has cut us off literally.
All may not be lost however. In my bones, I can't believe that farmer Seg wants to carry on being oga patapata into his 70's. I've always assumed he's grooming one of his Economic team for the 20-vehicles-in-convoy-to-go-to-the-toilet job. The 3rd term push has come from the PDP hierarchy, eager to keep their guberklepts close to the till. So while the Lucky Igbinedions of this world may stay in power, I imagine/hope that the Federal reforms will continue apace. Let's see.
Thursday, March 09, 2006
As anyone that has ever lived in Nigeria will tell you, each compound will, under close exploration, reveal a multitude of microdramas unfolding before the eye, day after day. It's something I don't write about on my blog but does deserve some attention, for it reveals more of the marvel of West African living than a year of Big Brother. Nigeria is such a truly dramatic place that I agree with a friend who says that Hollywood blows up American reality, whereas Nollywood calms it down. The trouble is, the repository of such stories lies with the cleaners, drivers and gatekeepers of this world. They know who lives where, who is doing what, who is sleeping with who. Meanwhile, the elite don't know who their neighbours are most of the time. Anyway, here's a timeslice of stories from today in our compound:
The lock to the gate of our flat goes walkies. We mention to Fidelis and Tanko, our two guards, that if the lock doesn't reappear, the money for the lock will be taken out of our share of their wages (each of the four flats contributes to the gatemen's wages). Surprise surprise if an hour later the lock appears, discreetly half-hidden behind a bush nearby. My size 14 wellingtons disappeared recently (they were by the gate downstairs). Quite how many Nigerians would benefit from such large rubber appendages I have no idea. A few weeks ago, some builders were doing work in the house, and my prize hammer disappeared. I kicked up a noise and the errant object magicked its way back into the flat by being placed at the bottom of the stairs.
Now, water. We haven't had regular water (ie flowing from the tap) in about 6 weeks. So Alhaji in the flat downstairs across the compound orders in a water tanker once a week. Alhaji's upstairs neighbour is not benefiting however. Why? Because Alhaji has blocked access to the water tank's water for the upstairs flat. Alhaji and wife (who have an 18 yr old daughter) consider that their water consumption is far less than the family in the flat upstairs (an Igbo family with four kids). The whole problem (and others) revolve around the fact that the compound has no central authority or means of negotiating these issues. So it falls to Bibi to go to each flat and see if we can all chip in for the water. Finally, our driver. It is our friend's party tonight so we made a big bowl of salad for the guests. We told Yemi our driver to take the salad round to our friend's house. Yemi made a booboo and took the salad round to the wrong friend's house, only for the wrong friend to ring us up and thank us for the lovely surprise. Her daughter, who doesn't like salads, is tucking in and enjoying it. So of course we have to carefully extricate the salad from the wrong table, by getting Yemi to pick it up and redeliver it. Yemi can be a real pillock some times.
Anyway, these are little apercus of demotic activity in our compound. I'm sure there are a hundred other stories worth gisting each day on our street alone, but not having a gossipy cook (we used to), we are not privy.
Went to see VM last night in Abuja. The show started an hour or so late - the actors (all 12 or so of them) were working on African time apparently. The show went well, except for a couple of powercuts: people held up their mobile phones to try and shine light on the stage. Sango enjoyed the performance too - he/she sent lightning and rain. That an event of this nature can be put on in Abuja without a riot is a triumph in itself - especially given the lesbian sex story towards the end etc. I liked the minor localisation - all kinds of naija names for pussy - including an agbalomo reference. However, the localisation could have gone further, so instead of hearing about Korean comfort women, we could have heard about Aristos and young girls sent to Italy and more facts on domestic violence in Nigeria etc. But all in all, its a big pat on the back to Hafsat/Kind for bringing the show here.
Watched a bit more of Big Brother Nigeria yesterday. All they seem to do is eat all the time and hang out en masse like a herd of cows. Some of them don't appear to have access to regular food, so one gets the impression of a consumptive over-compensation - as if rationing is finally over. It is extraordinary to see how no one goes off on their own. Perhaps it is the fear of being positioned as the outsider by the group? A fear of being anti-social, or perhaps a deeper point about not being able to define one's identity outside of collective dynamics? Meanwhile, the tactility has morphed into a kind of somatic promiscuity; hands touch bodies, stroke hair etc. Clearly, at least two of the women are fighting for Ebuka, he with the winning smile (most of the text messages scrolling along the bottom of the screen are of the format: x from Zambia saying Ebuka I luv u). One sees all the contradictions of sexual mores in Nigeria writ small: a girl lies in bed reading her bible, meanwhile another woman wiggles her hips nearby, performing for the attention of her target male. The conversation is as banal as it is on any other Big Brother - scarcely audible yapping. We humans are not much more sophisticated in our communication patterns than higher primates - we mew and caw. Although one would like to think that every life is extraordinary, and that every person has a unique story, there is a nagging undertow that many people are in fact just like so many others, that there is nothing inside their heads.
Wednesday, March 08, 2006
Just read an interesting article on Iran's alleged nuclear threat by John Pilger in the New Statesman. Whatever one thinks of Pilger (leftist ranter, mouthpiece of the wretched of the earth, somewhere between etc.) he makes an interesting point towards the end of the piece. I didnt know for instance that Iran is about switch its oil trading currency from the dollar to the Euro. I do remember that many commentators have said that Sadam Hussein's threat to do exactly the same a few years ago brought about the pre-emptive disaster that has been the American invasion. The weakened and weakening dollar, propped up against huge trade deficits in the US by being the reserve currency in many Asian countries, faces some form of meltdown if a major oil-producing nation switches to the Euro. In both cases, the IAEA and other bodies are facing enormous pressure to castigate and sanction, based on spurious evidence: Iran has been open to IAEA inspections at all times (in contrast to Israel). Pilger may be onto something more than a conspiracy theory here..
The raining season is just breaking on FCT. The daytime temperature dropped to around 26 degrees yesterday, after the past few weeks of 40+. This is one of the fruit peaks when everything Nigeria has to offer fruitwise is at its finest - mango is in season, the pineapple is sweet, but best of all is the paw-paw (aka papaya). I still haven't sussed the guava cycle however - it seems so ephemeral. Yesterday's paw-paw was so sweet it tasted like caramel and toffee.
Meanwhile, I am finally clear of malaria. I brought back from Lagos some hardcore zap-all-falciparum-within-range agbo, consisting mainly of a reddish bark and some reedy looking gunk. It was quite possibly the most disgusting thing anyone could ever thinking of pouring down their neck. Drinking it every now and again will keep the anopheles at bay.
Meanwhile #2, adsl broadband appears to have hit Abuja, via Rosecom. Apparently its 15000 naira per month. Although this is steep and out of the range of 99% of the population, its still a lot cheaper than VSAT. I'm going to check it out today. We're celebrating International Women's Day (yesterday) a day late by watching Vagina Monologues tonight in Abuja..
Tuesday, March 07, 2006
Big Brother Nigeria launched on Sunday amidst fanfare and expectation (of what I don’t know). The US$100,000 prize money seems excessive. Things may likely turn ugly. Watching it (on DSTV channel 37) is both excessively boring and highly interesting. The conversation, when one can hear it, is tedious and banal, quite puerile/adolescent in many ways. Also, they seem to be having transmission problems – the screen had lines running down it by yesterday evening. However, what is interesting is to observe patterns of behaviour. Most of the time, everyone hangs out together in a large group. In the UK Big Brother’s (ordinary or celebrity), there tends to be more dispersed social clusterings – three or four people at most in conversation – unless ordered to be together by Big Brother. Also, there is a tactility amongst the Nigerians one would never see at this early stage amongst Northern Europeans - which is already reaping consequences as the men set their sights on specific girls. There is also a conservatism at work. For example, last night a Jacuzzi/hot tub scene was set up. Only two women dared put on their cozzies to join the men (there was about 5 or 6 men in the water). These things wouldn’t be an issue elsewhere. Earlier in the day, the group started to play music on the lawn. It was quite astonishing that a random group of people could make such interesting sounds, telling stories spontaneously through song and dance. Here we see the creativity hard-wired into Nigerian youth that goes largely untapped by the culture (or by the culture industry).
Most interesting of all at this stage is the set design. Elsewhere, Endermol (the company behind the stunt) like to go for futuristic/hyper contemporary looking interiors – all Ligne Roset and aluminium surfaces. In the Ikeja BB House, we have instead a drab looking space Africanised by the odd leather pouf or rattan chair. It reveals a total lack of imagination on the part of the set designers.
Monday, March 06, 2006
Seeing the guys in the hotel with their young things at the weekend has made me think again about the issue of polygamous practice in Nigeria. It seems to me it is yet one more layer of hypocrisy that married men with jobs (large and small), who regularly spout on about God etc also have the moral flexibilty of allowing themselves to sleep with girls who are oftentimes around the same age as their daughters. In other words, there are three issues that interest me:
1. How men who like to express their faith yet do not see a contradition with being non-monogamous
2. How men who have not made an agreement of an open relationship with their wives can nonetheless be polygamous
3. How men can sleep with women the same age as their daughter (ie half their age or more)
The only way I can begin to understand these three points is in terms of hypocrisy and unchecked desire. In a way, it is obvious why Nigerian men love their country so much: pussy is available in vast, continuously renewing proportions. There is always yet another pretty young girl struggling to pay school fees or support a younger brother etc etc. So there is always an "Aristo" (the local term for an older man who plays/preys on young women) available who will take care of her, so long as "she takes care of me."
My interest is focused on Christianity (yet again). This is because elsewhere, Christianity places a strong taboo against polygamy, as well as because there aren't such taboos against polygamy in either Islam or traditional religious practice. The question is, why does a tacit polygamy circulate amongst Christian Nigerian men? Is it that polygamous practice and expectations outweigh any Christian moral layer? Or is it more simply that men will do (as anywhere in the world) whatever they can get away with? Perhaps it is some combination of the two.
In all this I circulate around without yet articulating a central point: that many (most?) women in Nigeria are in a position of economic dependency on men. Patriarchy isn't simply an abstract concept - it lives and breathes through the pores of existence. Patriarchy means that young women (and most women)without a solid means of income in some kind of financial need will offer themselves up for sex, either explicitly through prostitution, or tacitly, through hanging out with Aristo types or marrying into wealth and status. Patriarchal power is so pervasive here - the media parades powerful men (politicians, biz tycoons, bankers etc.) - that for many women their only access to power or wealth is through the male body (father, uncle, husband, lover etc.) Until women become economically empowered patriarchy will be the order of the day. Now, this does not mean that you don't have an Aristo phenomenon in the West, on the contrary. And yet, the choices available to many women here are so incredibly limited they spend their lives being vulnerable to predatory males. It's quite sad really.
For more thoughts on patriarchy, power and challenging the status quo, read a recent piece on Black Look's blog.
At Churras, once you've loaded your plate with their gorgeous salads, people come round with skewers of all kinds of barbecued meat. Being a veggie, this was only of visual interest for me. However, when the pineapple and cinammon churras came..
Bola 3 is an exclusive jewellry shop in The Palms. Everything is in dollars, with several pieces being in the US$5000 range. Apparently, the owner is the daughter of Amebo, she of Village Headmaster fame.. Everything is handmade and somewhat exquisite. To all the armed robbers out there whose curiousity may be aroused: don't even think about it - the glass is bullet proof. The security guard was not happy with my snapping, as you can see.
I thoroughly enjoyed my day (Sunday) in Lagos today. I checked out the new shops at The Palms (it’s getting there) – getting into a heated argument with a security guard at one point – there’s nothing like a theatrical argument to liven up one's days in Lagos. He was very keen for me not to take any photographs. I ignored him. He got heated. I told him he had something wrong with his head. He threatened to biff me up and smash my camera. I took one last snap and made my move.
Then I went to the new Brazilian restaurant Churras on Ozumba Mbadiwe. The vibe is relaxed in a nautical kind of way, with beautiful Brazillian tunes playing, and lovely food (very herbivore-friendly). Then I met up with a happening upcoming rapper called Blaise at Terra Kulture, while twenty modellish women sashayed about in the gallery upstairs. More on Blaise later.. Lagos feels like it’s a city on the move; Bar Beach is finally being sorted out for good, the Radisson is looming on the skyline, the new Brazillian restaurant is a great place to hang on the weekend. Everything is slotting together. I’m starting to think like we’re living in the wrong city..
Sunday, March 05, 2006
Arriving at the local airport, I see a helicopter across the tarmac. Oil workers are taking flight. Near the luggage hall, a man take a young woman’s number. There is a hint of resignation to her fate on her face. Moments later, outside arrivals, a waddling agbada invites a ring of sycophants, including a baggage handler who prostrates fully on the oiled floor. A tall woman I’d seen on the plane with a mask of make-up stands waiting nearby. Her shapely legs and behind are stretched into pinstripe trousers. Her top procures an exuberant cleavage, with beads finishing off the effect. She takes call after call on her mobile. She has a white Vuitton graffiti bag. I wonder what kind of expensive Abuja treat she is, and for whom. Nearer by, a young nervous Chinese guy fumbles in his bag, fishing out a fag. Dusk settles slowly, my pick up is late. I wait while Lagos forms and unforms around me. Just another set of moments at Lagos airport.
After my work is done, in the bar at the hotel, I see someone I know from Abuja. He’s all pally pally, talking about us going out to catch some fun at a private party. Some of his boys turn up, big men full of it. Then some girls turn up, fresh from a Silverbird outing. Titi and Jessica introduce themselves. They sit and look slightly bored while the men brandy themselves up a little. I have a headache to end headaches; any thought of going out is not on my mind. The girls mutter about having to get home to Surulere etc. Another girl in the background mentions to another member of the crew that she is looking to go to school in South Africa. Something tells me that all this is just strategic coyness. I take my leave. There is such a sliver of a fine line between the girls you see standing on street corners and taking drinks all alone in hotel bars and these fly-by girls, it seems wholly disengenuous to call one an ashewo and the other a young lady.
Wednesday, March 01, 2006
Our malaria seems to be s l o w l y abating. Yesterday morning I felt hot and tired, imagining the parasites to be dancing in my bloodstream. But the feeling gradually wore off and spent the rest of the day taking it easy, watching an Eric Rohmer film in the evening. This is the first time I've had malaria and gone the agbo-herbal route.
Rather than feeling bombed out by the drugs, its a slower process, where one is still aware of the cyclical attack patterns of the parasite. We have been taking two types of agbo, a gin-based concotion that you take by the thimbleful, bought from Lagos, as well as a homemade gloup made by boiling various leaves (neem, orange, pawpaw, guava, mango) in water for hours. Both are very bitter to the taste.
Our maid and the drivers all take agbo when they are sick with malaria (they cannot afford the drugs). I wonder if agbo could be formalised/formulated into an official recipe? Our doctor came this morning (he's a malariologist) and gave us B12 jabs. As vegans, we need to have these every 2-3 months anyway. What many people don't know is that when you have malaria and are taking drugs, you should have a B12 jab as well, otherwise the drugs are less effective.