Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Nigeria on Google maps

Lagos from Google maps (click on the Satellite button). It doesnt offer up the same amazing scaling-in resolution of google mapping London or New York, but you get a good sense of the shape of the city and its size.

The Delta. If only it was as beautiful on the ground as it looks from space.


Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Critique of NOI

was sent this article by a friend. It's an interesting counterbalance to my praise from a couple of weeks ago:

Hagiography and Patronage, By Moses Ebe Ochonu

It's funny how power can transform otherwise secure and self-assured individuals into paranoid cravers of empty compliments and condescending attention. Reading Paul Valley's interview with Nigeria's finance minister, Mrs. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, in the Independent (UK) of May 16, 2006, one is struck by how vain and insecure the woman has become since tasting the trappings of the Abuja power game.
So Abujanized has she become that it now seems that she has created her own make-believe vision of Nigeria. In this self-absorbed world of hers, everything is going well with Nigeria and critics are either disgruntled losers in the ongoing "reform" or hateful agents of the influential losers. In this world, there can be no independent, patriotic, and principled dissent; dissenters and critics are simply jealous and self-interested hirelings out to get her or to scuttle her "reforms."
It was instructive to read the feast of redundant mutual adulation that was passed off as an interview. Mr. Paul Valley lobbed softball questions at Mrs Okonjo-Iweala, making sure to sprinkle the questions with generous amounts of highfalutin praise. Mrs Okonjo-Iweala returned the favor with giddy affirmations of the interviewer's friendly opinions disguised as questions. It was clear that Mr. Valley had been fed a diet of pro-regime claims as he laced and prefaced his leading questions with preconceived informational backgrounds. That a brilliant woman of Okonjo-Iweala's caliber allowed herself to be so patronized by such an uncouth agent of hagiography is telling.
The title of the interview, "The Woman Who Has the Power to Change Africa," gave away its intent. The notion that an individual-man or woman-has the capacity to change a whole continent is as bankrupt as it is patronizing, and if Mrs Iweala was half as modest as a recent BBC story says she is, she would not only have rejected the messianic connotations inherent in such a notion but would also have interrogated its sincerity. It is a notion steeped in the racist and reductive idea of a single, undifferentiated Africa-the notion of Africa as one simple beleaguered country needing salvation.
That an otherwise intelligent and intellectually vigilant woman would sit through, tolerate, and even reward Mr. Valley's patronizing and condescending questions and attitude indicates the extent to which she has become accustomed to the Abuja system. In this system, empty praise singing and flattery trump reasoned critique and vigorous dissent.
She comes across in the interview as politically insecure, insular, and desperately in need of Western validation. Mr. Paul Valley gave her plenty of validation but by overdoing it, he exposed her to ridicule and revealed the agenda-laden underbelly of what was presented as a neutral journalistic encounter. His questions were designed to make her look good, to give her an opportunity to toot her own horn and to lash out at the enemies of "reform."
But Mrs Okonjo-Iweala's responses were far more counterproductive than Mr. Valley's questions. They were repetitively self-congratulatory, lacking in self-critique and modest self-appraisal. It is her responses, more than Mr. Valley's patronage, that makes this interview an exercise in self-exposure. Let us examine what she had to say.
Mrs Iweala claims that the five targets of her "reform" package have either been reached or are being pursued vigorously. On each of those five points, there are grounds to doubt her confident chest-thumping. While the publishing of revenue allocations to states and local governments have promoted a measure of accountability and transparency, the anti-corruption fight has since been compromised by the political scheming of an insecure and paranoid administration. This is so well known and the laughable hypocrisies and selectivity of the anti-corruption campaign so well documented that one does not need to dwell on it.
She mentioned public expenditure and public service reforms. This is a euphemism for a policy designed to please the IMF and World Bank, which holds that African civil bureaucracies are over-bloated and that substantial savings can be made by drastically reducing them. The Nigerian government deceptively calls its satisfaction of this IMF prescription right-sizing. This policy has seen thousands of regular civil servants lose their jobs while the size of government has actually bloated. This government has more political appointees who are a drain on the public treasury than any other government in the history of the country. We are yet to be told how much money has been saved from the massive reduction of the federal civil service, but it now seems as though the thousands of low- and mid-level civil servants who lost their jobs were sacrificed to accommodate the growing expenditure associated with this government's idle army of political appointees. This type of cosmetic self-defeatism has become a hallmark of this government.
The debt repayment triumphalism is another overblown rhetoric. From information emerging about recent borrowing activities by the federal and state governments, especially the news that we have just borrowed $1 billion from China to finance the modification of our rail project when we supposedly have over $30 billion in foreign reserve, it is clear that we may simply have wiped our debt slate clean in order to borrow more to fill up more foreign private bank accounts.
Okonjo-Iweala talked about macro-economic stability. This is a fancy term which means very little in terms of quotidian improvements in the lives of Nigerians. Yes, some macro-economic indicators have improved, but this has had only a modest impact on the economic rating, investment worthiness, and credit profile of Nigeria. Under the weight of increased corruption, collapsing infrastructure, and contrived political instability, this modest impact has not translated into real benefits for the country. Besides, I am not entirely sure that it is wise to leave domestic needs unmet and to neglect deteriorating economic conditions and micro-economic problems in pursuit of largely abstract, paper prosperity in the form of healthy macro-economic statistics. A wise government does not neglect the welfare of its own people in order to meet some abstract macro-economic targets.
Her fourth point-governance and institution building-is such a clich├ęd slogan that it is perhaps not worthy of a lengthy response. If anything has been a victim of the political shenanigans of this administration, it is governance. As for institution-building, I wonder how Mrs Iweala could, with a straight face, proclaim this as one of her achievements when we have seen a steady subordination of institutions to personal loyalties and ideological conformity.
The last item in her "reform" package is accelerated privatization and liberalization. This is another hollow policy that has resulted, we now know, in the fleecing of the nation's strategic assets and have enriched and financially empowered a few administration insiders and friends. Its shoddy implementation, which has been characterized by cronyism, favoritism, the granting of private monopolies, and outright corruption, has resulted in the institution of what one may call clique capitalism.
Perhaps the most self-serving claim Mrs Okonjo-Iweala makes in the interview is her argument that her "reform" has become so accepted that its rhetoric has now become the referential index against which national political conversations are conducted. She points to the recent Third Term debate as an example of this supposedly heart-warming trend.
It is true that there is a burgeoning practice of using the on-going "reforms" as a point of reference in discussions about political succession. But this trend is neither heart-warming nor indicative of the acceptance of the "reforms." If anything, it speaks to the bankruptcy of political debates among the Nigerian elite, which is a very depressing phenomenon. It is lamentable that even those who opposed the Third Term power grab attempt bought into the administration's ruse about sustaining current "reforms" instead of rejecting or transcending it. They agreed that the "reforms" needed to be sustained but insisted that someone besides Mr. Obasanjo should do this. The rhetoric of reform was in fact deployed by administration hacks to dignify the case for a Third Term for Mr. Obasanjo, and it is sad that, as commendable as their stance was, the anti-Third Term politicians could not see this for what it was.
It is disingenuous on the part of Mrs Okonjo-Iweala to claim that her "reform" has been widely accepted by Nigerians. When did she conduct a poll or a referendum on it? When did we have a national debate on whether the current economic trajectory is what we desire? Putting a populist gloss on her reforms may impress clueless and impressionable outsiders but Nigerians-the object and subjects of these "reforms-have not been impressed. Of what good is a reform if it does not lead to tangible improvements in the lives of regular Nigerians? I hope that the honorable minister has not gotten caught up in the empty sloganeering of proclaiming reform for reform's sake or of articulating reform and its supposed benefits in purely esoteric and abstract terms. The elevation of "reform" to the status of an overarching and sacrosanct doctrine of government has already insulated Mr. Obasanjo's economic team from the fact that, on the ground, standards of living are falling and costs of living are rising for most Nigerians.
Some of her claims about economic success are so downright ridiculous they should be dismissed with common economic sense. She claims, for instance, that one of the achievements of her economic team is that $3 billion is now being remitted by Nigerians living abroad. She attributes this increase in remittances to a new confidence in the Nigerian economy. Common economic reasoning tells one that if Nigerians abroad are remitting more money to their relatives in Nigeria this is irrefutable evidence that conditions are getting worse and that Nigerians are increasingly relying on the generosity of their relatives abroad to survive. How this can be advanced as an achievement beats me.
One of the off-putting moments of self-righteous haughtiness in the interview came when Mr. Valley asked the minister about the dollar salary controversy which threatened her tenure in its early days. She went through the song and dance of burdening us with the supposedly uncommon financial responsibilities she had to shoulder before becoming a minister, making sure to inform us that she and her husband did very well and had a comfortable life of luxuries and obligations. Not only should these intimate details have been kept away from uninterested others, it should not have been invoked as a defense against the charge of greed which greeted the dollar salary revelation. I am writing here as someone who, during the internet debate on the issue, actually supported her right to be paid a fair salary commensurate with her previous earning and big enough to sustain her cultivated lifestyle. I objected to her being paid in dollars, not to the amount that she was being paid.
However, reading her comments on the issue, it is quite clear to me that Mrs Okonjo-Iweala's does not deserve the sympathetic understanding that I had accorded her. As she did during the debate on the issue, she resorted, in this interview, to the rhetoric of sacrifice and self-denial as a strategy for securing public sympathy. The whinny story about her child suspending college to enable her take this low-paying job is beyond the pale. The language of sacrifice will only resonate with those who are unfamiliar with the cost-benefit calculations of a government appointment. Far from being a sacrifice, a government appointment is an investment.
In the United States, people routinely leave the private sector for government appointments. Such political appointees earn a fraction of what they used to earn in the private sector. But no one sympathizes with them on their choice to serve, nor do they solicit sympathy. The reason is that everyone knows that serving in the government boosts one's resume, enlarges one's circle of influence and connections, buys one some goodwill, and gives one a leverage to secure more lucrative private sector jobs when one's tenure expires. Taking a pay cut to serve in government is therefore a self-interested investment that will yield returns in the future. Mrs Okonjo-Iweala is therefore not making a sacrifice by serving as minister even if it appears that way. Her service will position her for bigger things in the future in the private or public sector.
Finally, the minister went to shockingly disgusting lengths to malign the critics of her "reform" and of her special dollar salary. She used terms like "hired internet bloggers" and "anti-reform elements" to describe them. They were, she tells us, out to sully her name internationally. Mrs Okonjo-Iweala has obviously assimilated into the culture of power in Abuja; she even engages in Abuja-speak. The imputation of insincere and pecuniary motives to her critics, some of whom I know to be have been motivated purely by patriotic instincts, is the typical Abuja politician's reaction to stinging criticism. Such impulsive contempt for criticism and dissent betrays an attempt to self-righteously monopolize patriotism, to demonize opponents, and to encourage the cult of personality. Far from being enemies, haters, and malicious "anti-reform people" Mrs Okonjo-Iweala's critics may be her best friends since they are the ones who tell her what should inspire in her some introspection and self-critique.
I don't understand what is so sacred about the ongoing "reform" that critics of it are regularly described in very uncharitable terms. Such defensiveness cannot be a good sales pitch for the "reform"; on the contrary, it may suggest that the "reformers" are not very secure in their "reform" hence the resort to personal attacks as a way of deflecting legitimate questions and concerns about it.
Mr. Valley's interview has done more damage to the honorable minister's reputation than she realizes. Ironically, this damage stems from the fact that the interview is too good a public relations job. And if something is too good to be true, it probably is.


Monday, May 29, 2006

In the shires

Back from Brooklyn. Spent a morning in an ER near where we were staying after what I thought were palpitations but I think were oesphageal contractions. An interesting experience being interviewed by a hyper alert Indian doctor - just like on the telly.

Had immense problems with the new Macbook we've bought (the launchpad of my filmic alter-ego) which involved three separate trips to the 5th Ave Apple Store and an eventual replacement machine. Not a very good entrypoint to the brand - especially as I wasted an extremely expensive Amtrak trip to a friend in Washington to put software on a machine that obstinately refused to work when I got there. I would load lots of interesting pix of our New York sojourn on the blog but for the lack of a usb drive on my parents 'puter. Oddly enough, I'm feeling better than I've felt for months. My body needed to breathe home air I guess - but still I want to fix an appointment with an accupunturist to see if there's some blocked chi in there. I've had enough of being ill for the next decade. Its funny, we've been away from Nigeria for only a couple of weeks and it seems a universe away. It's good to get some distance from the place before jumping back in. The next few months are going to be a huge push.

I watched Crash again this evening with my folks. It has to be one of my all time favourite films: the elegaic sound track, the frissions of racial expectations and projections, the connectedness and potential humanity stretched across LA scrubland and urban wasteland. A triumph of a film, with LA as protagonist and antagonist, opening up hope within the American racial nightmare. Back in London in the next few days before hopping back to the tropics..


Monday, May 22, 2006

In case you're wondering

We're in New York, staying in a Brooklyn brownstone. Writing this from the new 24hr 365 days per week Apple Store opposite the old Plaza hotel. Connecting with various naija circuits of energy etc. This is one happening city..


Friday, May 19, 2006

Obasanjo accepts 3rd term defeat

Obasanjo's gracious acceptance of the end of the 3rd term constitutional amendment is the canny move that some have been expecting all along. At once, he exonerates himself by claiming to have maintained a studied silence all along, as well as distancing himself from the PDP machinations. Whether that is really the truth, we'll never know. It could be that he was using Ali-mus-go as his stooge. But it also could be that he predicted all these events from the start. On this hypothesis, Obj would have realised he was powerless to explicitly contest the tenure-extension bid from within the PDP hierarchy, and therefore decide to sit on the fence and make the odd off-the-record remark to insiders to stave off any suspicions that his views were otherwise.

Whatever the truth, its another good day for Nigerian democracy. Obj's backing strengthens the democratic cause. Now all efforts should be focused on signing the Acts I mentioned in an earlier post into law, as well as working towards a free and fair election next year.


Good comments and the ontology of ill-health

Nice to see a healthy debate off of my last post. There's definitely something afoot with Nigeria - a passion for change that perhaps has never been so strong or in such capable budding hands and minds. Its great to hear that people are planning things in their homeplace. We need to distinguish as strongly and clearly as possible ethnic reductionism and tribalism from care for one's native locale. Its perfectly human and decent to want one's place of origin to improve above all other places, and doesn't signify tribal prejudice at all. When it comes to development, Igbo, Hausa, Yoruba need to drop out: there is just this place with these unfortunate circumstances, and this place, and this place, and this place.

Meanwhile, for those who think Nigeria is buggered up, try looking at the sorry state of the UK just now. The Labour government is in one holy mess, mainly based around clueless immigration policies. The Home Office appears to be in utter confusion, not knowing how many illegal immigrants are here, how many have left, what to do with foreigners in UK prisons etc etc. The origin of the problem is that global liquidity (of money, assets, persons, images, symbols) and the erosion of barriers (the enlargement of Europe for eg) increase migrational flows, while failure to develop in the non-West create strong push factors.

At a time of falling birth rates/an ageing population, immigrants doing the dirty work is attractive (the Home Office found out yesterday it was employing, through a contractor, five Nigerian illegals as cleaners!). On the other hand, there are all kinds of backlashes against this: fear of mono-ethnic dissolution and miscegentation, fear of tax-payers money/housing etc being diverted to the immigrants, collapse of the distinctions between asylum seekers, economic and political migrants.

The West is perhaps only now coming to realise that it has just not being giving the Global South what it needs. Live Aid/Geldofism is a sticking plaster conscience-salve that scratches the surface of the surface of the problem. What is really needed is deep structural macro-economic change, beginning in Europe with the wholesale reform of the Common Agricultural Policy (the EU continues to dump agricultural products on Sub-Saharan Africa, at the same time as discouraging local African subsidies). All this has to change for Africa to play a larger role in global agribusiness, create labour-intensive employment opportunities and so on. Of course this will hit European farmers, and Europeans in general, hard, and does raise food security issues (not that food security stops massive western imports of food stuffs right now). The same goes for US agricultural policy and its enormous support for American farmers. Its such a difficult issue from here it appears intractable, but change does have to come through reform of subsidies and tarrif structures, via strong armed interventions via the WTO. The IMF and the World Bank need to reform drastically to play a role in this as well.

The sad upshot of not facing this issue is that people who fall ill while visiting the UK are now starting to be refused treatment, witness the tragic case of the Nigerian lady who died at the weekend from heart failure. The West is heading for crisis, the UK (especially the south) has run out of water (30% of water in the UK leaks away out of 150 year old pipes). There is absurd talk of pulling icebergs up the Thames as remedy. The Euro is under threat due to a collapsing dollar. Its all quite millenial and apocalyptic. The push to transform Nigeria therefore has absolutely global signifance. Migrational flows need to arrested and the brain drain reversed. This can happen if all Nigerians abroad focus intently on what they can offer, and start offering it. Nigeria can pull back migrants, as well as act as an attractor for other Africans to migrate to Nigeria, get training, experience and then return. The next goverment in Nigeria has to focus massively on education (especially public-sector education), rather than handing out private university licenses to their (especially religious) friends.

Meanwhile, I've just spent two days in hospital, having all manner of tests (no malaria, no HIV, no liver/kidney malfunction etc). Nothing is wrong with any part of my body apparently, but I still feel like death warmed up - shivering, no energy, brain-on-pause-staring-into-space. The trouble is, Western allopathic medicine follows the route of looking for general patterns rather than specific causes. This makes it highly effective for mass treatment, but inadequate for specific or unusual cases. The tropical diseases bod doubts I ever had malaria (my symptoms were apparently not strong enough) - which leaves me doubting him as well as doubting the lab testing facilities in Nigeria, leaving me in a no-humans-land of confusion and mild despair. I do not fit the gastro-enterologist or the tropical disease expert's diagnostic pattern-language. I tell them I still feel crap, they frown and tell me its probably post-infectious fatigue syndrome (ie they haven't a fucking clue). On the way home from the hospital just now, my heart was beating like crazy just climbing the steps of the Tube, I had to cling on from not fainting. The hypochondriac in me was thinking heart attack.

My experience leaves me to think that illness is difficult for we humans to handle pyschologically. If one is ill and doesn't know what it is (and neither do the 'experts') one can get into a kind of in-body-claustrophbia, wishing one was not stuck in this sick cell of a body and yet being stuck in it. If the other is ill, we have an unconscious/semi-conscious revulsion which is based on the primal fear of the same happening to us. It takes huge amounts of mental and spiritual strength to rouse oneself from these dual prangs of woe.

But I shall be well. Everything that is, will pass, so spaketh Guatama Siddartha. We all suffer from terminal illness; its just that some are clinically labelled as such, and others are given the spiritual relief of being able to delay this prospect for a while. None of this is particularly negative - its the source of our joy of living, of life, of being-with-others we love or might just start to love.

Peace to all. Don't worry about me. I will return. As will Nigeria.


Wednesday, May 17, 2006

best case scenario

Ngozi or Soludo become President next year and the administration acquires a rigorously competent approach to policy and planning. Post election, there follows a thought-through, inclusive and non-politically motivated constitutional review process mid-year which creates a more balanced federalism, removes immunity from prosecution for the governors (many of whom are forced to leave office, plus all the thieving ex-governors are banged up). The reform process continues apace, with labour-intensive sectors rapidly developing (especially in mechanised agriculture). Naija husbands (comme moi) get to get green kpali and so end that fiddly visa-Cerpac process, becoming proud ambassadors for brand Nigeria in the process. Obj continues to rear his chickens and mushrooms in rural bliss and grows into an elder-statesman figure. Atiku and IBB settle quietly in Nassarawa and Niger respectively, all hopes of reconquest faded into the sahelian sand. Nigeria gets taken off the FATF blacklist so homegrown master and visa cards are accepted globally. The naira becomes a convertible currency. FDI increases exponentially. Tinapa becomes the new Dubai of Africa. Cheap broadband suffuses across the land, creating an internal and external outsourcing industry, with hi-tech business parks sprouting up like mushrooms. The Chinese-built national railway system starts to emerge, starting with a high-speed bullet train linking Lagos with Abuja. And tens of thousands of diasporic Nigerians suddenly realise they're living in the wrong country..


Pat Utomi for president?

Here's an interesing interview with Pat Utomi on Elendu Reports, where he hints that he might be interested in running for the President. That would be a first in post-Independence Nigeria: an intellectual on the throne.


The Fulani

The fulani are a fascinating bunch, on the margins and yet ever present within the Nigerias I have visited. There's an excellent website here which reveals some of their secrets. I long to see the male Wodaabe beauty contests in the desert.


Artemisinin research..

My research on the anti-malaria wonder herb, artemesinin, continues. What we need is to grow artemsinin annua (known as sweet wormwood in Western herbal medicine) locally in Nigeria - to make a cheap complimentary therapy/preventative available en masse. Interestingly, one other type of artemesinin (absinthium) is an hallucinogenic traditionally used by native Americans, as well as being the herbal source of absinth.

Drying the annua leaves and drinking regularly as a tea may well be the absolutely best and safest form of prophylaxis. They are of course available in China but its a bit tricky getting hold of them (the Chinese are only just opening up on this one). Given China's renewed relationship with Nigeria, it would be great if there could be an exchange of herbal wisdom and knowledge-transfer in this area. Sweet wormwood is a magically curative plant, having demonstrated anti-cancer properties as well. Read this article here.

I've found somewhere in the States that sells 'em. Hopefully I'll be able to get hold of them before we return to Nigeria. Then we can get our green fingered guru Donatus to help us grow them.


Tuesday, May 16, 2006

On earthly divinities

Saw a weird and unenjoyable film (called Brick) at my second favourite cinema - Curzon Soho this afternoon (is there anything lovelier and more of an indulgence than daytime matinees?), followed by two meetings with inspirational Nigerians (more later on this). So many Nigerians are making strong plans to do amazing things back home, it's exhilirating to be in the presence of such passion and anticipation. There might just be a tipping point or critical mass of change agents relocating in the near future. All this followed by Bibi and I going to one element of my earthly heaven, veggie restaurant Mildreds in West Soho.

I simply don't believe in an afterlife or a celestial zone of perfection in some fluffy elsewhere - as Blake and other mystics have known, these things can be found in the here and now if only we can reattune our senses and our spiritual perceptions to them. As we shared a porcini and ale pie with chunky chips and mushy peas laced with fresh mint (washed down with vegan hot chocolate), I reflected that in this finite realm, there are only a limited number of times left in which we will enjoy dinners together at Mildreds. The morale of this epihpany: I must enlarge this finite number as much as possible!


Ngozi and the solidity of the reform process

There's a big positive spread on Finance Minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala in today's Independent. When people ask, 'what has she really done?' I would always defend her and say a) the debt relief deal (60%) she got was just about the best she could get with the Paris Club, given Nigeria's international reputation. b) the Extractive Industry Transparency Initiative which recently conducted an audit of oil revenues (and revealed alarming disparities between the oil companies figures and CBN accounts) has upped the stakes in terms of access to information. c) One can say the same for the Federation Account figures detailing monthly oil and other Federally-accrued revenues that go to the States (now whereever you live in Nigeria you can find out how much your State Governor receives, and compare this figure with the state of your local infrastructure. d) inflation is down from around 26% three years ago to 11%, thanks to setting the budgetted oil price to a modest level and accruing billions of dollars in foreign reserves. Plus the fact that she now earns US$6000 for her efforts (the standard ministerial salary) is highly commendable.

To have achieved these four key elements in just 3 years on the job is a huge achievement, both materially and symbolically, given the conditions she found on entering office. The question is, if the worst case scenario happens next year and IBB gets in, how intractable are these reforms? This is perhaps the central weakness of the reform process: they have yet to be rigorously institutionalised to any significant degree. What really needs to happen urgently now that the 3rd term wahalla is over and done is several key pieces of legislation need to be made into law: the Fiscal Federalism Bill, the Procurement Bill, the Statistics Bill and the IT Bill to name just four that I'm aware of. Each Act will pave the way for much more deep-seated structural reforms. Let's hope the executive and legislature can now focus on core government business and stop all the self-defeating power plays.


Job opportunity: Country rep for Ashoka Nigeria

Vacancy: Ashoka Representative for Nigeria
Ashoka Innovators for the Public, a global Citizen Sector Organisation dedicated to advancing social change is seeking a representative for its Nigeria programme.

Ashoka is based in Washington DC with country offices in more than 27 countries around the world. Ashoka identifies and invests in social entrepreneurs—individuals with innovative and practical ideas for addressing social needs. Since 1980, Ashoka has pioneered the field of social entrepreneurship, investing in more than 1,700 leading social entrepreneurs with systems-changing ideas, known as Ashoka Fellows, in over 60 countries.

Rather than building one school or clinic in one community, Ashoka Fellows work at the systemic level, transforming the way children learn or creating new healthcare delivery systems. Together with these social entrepreneurs, Ashoka develops patterns for effective collaboration and designs the systems and supports that help social entrepreneurship thrive.

The individual selected will be responsible for running Ashoka’s program in Nigeria, interfacing with our colleagues around the world and being a key member of our fundraising efforts in West Africa and Africa, as well as implementing Ashoka’s global guiding principle within the Nigerian social, economic, political and cultural context. Local and international travel will be involved.

In particular the successful candidate will:
• Continue to spread the concepts of Social Entrepreneurship in Nigeria and contextualize them to local audiences.
• Implement Ashoka’s proven methods of Search and Selection to find and elect new Fellows from across the entire country,.
• Engage with the corporate sector to build bridges between corporations and citizen sector organizations beyond basic Corporate Social Responsibility.
• Join Ashoka’s global team to fundraise adequate resources for the program both within Nigeria and across Africa.
• Manage local operations including staffing, budgeting, reporting and other administration issues.

Ashoka has a rigorous screening process for hiring new staff. The ideal representative will:
• Have at least 10 years of demonstrated leadership experience in the social and/or business sectors.
• Be comfortable and competent in engaging prominent business and government leaders.
• Be willing and excited to work across Nigeria and globally.
• Have strong communications skills.
• Be proficient in English and have a working knowledge of French.
• Be a strong team member within Ashoka’s global community.

In addition to the above, Ashoka also seeks people who are entrepreneurial, collegial, have a proven commitment to social innovation and posses the strongest of ethical fibre. For a full description of Ashoka’s criteria in evaluating staff, please visit our website at

Interested candidates should please send a cover letter explaining how they qualify for the position and a CV to [email protected] as soon as possible, and before 5pm, 20th May, 2006.


Monday, May 15, 2006


Saw the doctor-consultant today. He suspects bilharzia, which I would have got from that damn swim in Usman Dam. I'm coming to deeply regret that dip. Never again shall my body grace Nigerian still waters. I'll get the results on Wednesday. It sounds perverse, but I'm hoping his instincts are correct: its an easy one to squish with antinomy.

How lovely it is to come back to a such a wonderful city that we know so well. After the hospital, Marlyebone High Street was as delightful as ever, as were the intricately proud Fitzrovia streets on the way to Tottenham Court Road. I went to one of my all time favourite buildings, Lutyens' RIBA and its fantastic bookshop. Then through the palace of sensuous delights deli-cum-restaurant The Villandry and onwards to Planet Organic. There I met a man who grows rare Japanese and Chinese mushrooms, once the exclusive preserve of emperors, which supercharge the immune system. He had a huge bright red mushroom he reared himself in Sussex. His honest passion for mushrooms bowled me over. I also bought myself a big bag of Goji berries, apparently the most nutritious fruit on the planet.

In the evening, we walked the handsome Bloomsbury streets from Clerkenwell to our favourite cinema the Renoir to see a strikingly moving new French film, Time to Leave (about a young man diagnosed with cancer). Then to the Hare & Tortoise, our fave Japanese restaurant just next door. Dinner for two came to £11.50. If only there was such in Nigeria. Then back along Lambs Conduit St, the loveliest street in Bloomsbury. London is such an inspiration, full of lovingly manicured gardens and people with highly specific passions housed in highly specific beings.

Meanwhile, back in naija, I hear that AIT has been closed down for broadcasting anti-third term content. The worry now is that road to hell is paved with Maradona (aka IBB) intentions. There's never a dull moment.


Sunday, May 14, 2006

Janded and looking back

Back in Jand since this early afternoon. Off to see the men in white coats manana to try and work out why my immune system is still down and out. The sky was grey and everyone stops as soon as the lights go to orange. Odd to be back in a control society after being 5 months-in-one-stretch in an uncontrol society.

Meanwhile, Obj's reported comments about being (and continuing to be) Commander-in-Chief a couple of days ago are a little worrying. Let's hope that the recent defeat of the 3rd term/tenure elongation project means he will go gracefully. After taking receipt of a new US$70m presidential jet last week, this might be a tough one. At this stage, it looks like Atiku/IBB have been outplaying the regime all the way. But let's not descend into Tell-esque politiko gossip. Nigeria is balanced on knife edge, between continued positive progressions and falling back into the dark old days. No one seems to know what is going to happen. Debt-relief and telecoms growth aside, one has to look back on the past 7 years of OBJ and ask how the poor masses have benefited, if at all. The power situation is worse, there are no new jobs, no one has access to potable water, kerosene prices have gone through the roof, the Delta is at boiling point while Shell et al continue to waste valuable gas by flaring. I don't believe in it, but one is almost reduced to prayer.


Saturday, May 13, 2006

Images of Nigeria

The Emir's Palace in Kano. Click here to see all the Nigerian images from (thanks BK for the link).


The Book of the Dead

In the west, it often seems as if we live too far away from death. Death is quickly whisked away on its gurneyed journey; the curtain closes, the bleach is poured, the mop rinses away the suffering, the bed is relaid. The ashes (who knows if they are the real powder?) are scattered, the coffin gravely lowered. A vicar or priest is brought in. One sees the dead one’s face all too briefly. Few dare to embrace the marble coldness of dead flesh. And so, when death comes, it knocks us leftways and backways and upways; most of us have lost the knack of rituals and a collective sense of process that will carry us on in life through death. Bereavement turns viciously in on itself; a knife searing the soul with the most profound form of absence; an absence that haunts us from beyond the edge of the imagination.

In Africa, we find ourselves at the other extreme. Death is suffocatingly close, omnipresent, billowing at every corner like hot dust in the air. 50 people in a bus fall off a bridge into water; a spark from a drilled pipeline explodes, incinerating one hundred and fifty, perhaps more. So many faces fade away, crowds of women hold their hands to their heads as the traffic roars by uncomprehending. Anonymous bodies fall back into the hummus. In backrooms, secret illnesses wreak havoc on faces, revealing bones as they erase intentions.

And yet, there is much more to death here than the heart of darkness one might be tempted to articulate. There is passion and defiance and joy in the rituals of death; an embodied almost jubilant acceptance of the ultimate fate. In Nigeria, few are buried in cemeteries; most are buried near the house, in the compound or garden. There is a space of death within the domestic realm, as there used to be in Europe. Many African cultures have much to show us about embracing this mortal coil that we cling to and must leave. What can happen to us when we leave ritual behind, a fortiori what can happen to us when we leave the rituals of death behind, only to rediscover them when it is too late?


Friday, May 12, 2006


It's fascinating what a few small tweaks in your life can do. We're lucky that two of our favouritest people have moved/are about to move to Abuja. All it takes is three or four like minded souls in one place and the world magically spruces itself up. Now all we need in Abuja is for the new cinema to open..


My last post

I regret posting my last post so I've deleted it. I'm sure you can divine the healthy provocation that was intended. The fact is that rolling back homophobia does require sacrificial victims. However, its not for me to choose who these people are. Enough said.


Thursday, May 11, 2006

The collapse of the 3rd term?

The 3rd term brouhaha seems to be cancelling itself out: Northern politicians have created a wall of opposition, meaning the majorities required in both Houses are looking increasingly like a distant dream. One can anticipate a tipping point in the near future where everyone abandons the 3rd term ship, putting the PDP into potential free fall. A thought still lurks that all this narrative is part of a cunning master plan Baba has had up his sleeve for us all along..


Wednesday, May 10, 2006

On Palestine

Like most lefties, I’ve long held deep sympathy with the plight of the Palestinians, the world’s longest standing refugees. Ethnically cleansed by the Israeli’s from the 1950’s onwards (with full backing from the British), thousands of villages razed without trace and banged up in squatter camps for generations, it’s hard for an unbiased outsider to avoid seeing Palestinians (whether Muslim or Christians) as the underdog victims of the sweep of history. Just as is it is hard not to see the policies of successive right-wing Israeli governments as anything other than pathological if not demonic behaviour, perhaps originating in the suppurating wound of the Holocaust.

All that said, it’s just as hard right now to sustain sympathy for a people who recently voted in a bunch of terrorists (Hamas) and are now suffering the consequences from the international community. Hamas pig headedly continues to refuse to recognise the State of Israel or to renounce suicide bombing or other acts of terrorism against ordinary Israelis. How then can one disagree with the EU and America’s decision to withdraw funding? The fact that the economies of the West Bank and the Gaza strip are now on the point of collapse (civil servants, who receive something like 40% of all money entering the economy, have not been paid for months) has been inevitable since the elections. Just like Serbia holding on to genocidist Mladic and therefore guaranteeing continued rejection from joining the European Union, Hamas really have nowhere else to go but to renounce terrorism and agree for a two-state solution. Amongst all the criticism, it;s good to see the EU exerting just the right kind of diplomatic pressure. Relying on other Arab nations for replacement funding is a non-starter (neither Egypt nor Syria would dare, as for Iran..).

Something will have to give in the next few weeks. Let’s hope Hamas wake up and smell the olive oil: the only viable route out of their self-imposed quandary, before more Palestinians languish in a suffering elected by themselves, is to redefine themselves as one half of a two-state solution for that tiny strip of land currently called Israel.


Tuesday, May 09, 2006

4th Estate Revolution

A measure of how much Nigeria needs to transform can be taken from the business model that drives the Media in the country. At present, for your content to appear on TV, you have to pay, just as if you were running a TV ad. This means that quality of content is sacrificed to the highest bidder. Of course, this is a back to front version of what should happen: the tv station should pay for the best possible content for each available time slot. The quality of the content drives audience, which in turn pushes up ad revenue. As it is, the current tv business model creates no incentive for improved production values or general quality of content.

A similar business model drives the newspaper business. It is an open secret that a good deal of newspaper content is 'placed'. This is why we see the same tired old faces - bankers, politicians etc in the papers, rather than seeing fresh faces actually doing interesting transformative things. The problem here is the very structure of ownership. Many of the newspapers are owned by big politicians, and are used as a vehicle for a particular slant. You may say there's little difference here between Nigerian newspapers and Western newspapers - except that in the West, it is rather political influence rather than politicians that is directly at work in the newspaper biz. However, the underlying business model is completely different. Again, for newspapers to be read by more than the 20,000 copies per day of the best selling newspapers on offer right now, the quality has to increase 1000 per cent. This means moving away from brown envelope content. This in turn means paying journalists a living wage.

All it would take is one player to come along with a global best practice business model to attract a mass market audience (and talented upcoming journalists) to wipe all of the sham-media out of the way..


The zuma verdict

The acquittal of Zuma in SA yesterday leaves a bad taste in the mouth. We may never know whether the sex with the family friend was consensual or not. What we do know now from all the coverage in SA is that for far too many South African men, rape is no big deal. We also know that men like Zuma think a good shower is better protection against HIV-AIDS than wearing a condom. We also know the horrors that can expect women who go to court against rape.

In a country where so many have died from AIDS, a 'leadership' like this is shocking. All along, my suspicion has been that there is a strong Khosa-Zulu tension within the ANC being played out in the trial. Certainly, his support base seems to be nearly 100% KZN in ethnicity. It seems South Africa is no more immune to the blind loyalty of tribalism than elsewhere in Africa. All in all, a sad day for South Africa. Let's hope the upcoming corruption trial nails Zuma for good: how can such an ignorant fool help South Africa advance?

Read an interesting article here.


Monday, May 08, 2006


There's lot's of smoke and mirrors activity going on with the 3rd term. The press is full of allegations that various senators have been promised N100 million (with N50m initial payment) - with senators being spotted visiting banks in Abuja to pick up the cash (must be a lorry load!) Plus each pro-3rd term senator is allegedly being given a car. Who knows how true all this is? Meanwhile, This Day alleges (in yesterday's paper) that the govt-owned conglomerate Transcorp is funding the payments with Zenith Bank and UBA being the two main backers. It could of course all be being made up by the anti-third term lobby, but then again it could be true. AIT's live televising of the debate has put the senators under a lot of pressure, with many senators resisting pressure from within the PDP to vote for tenure extension.

What is the case is that the pilot electoral role information gathering exercise in Abuja has been an utter farce. Very few people know that the INEC exercise is going on. With the elections less than a year away and no realistic timetable for building a reliable electoral role, it looks like there are huge opportunities for the kind of massive vote rigging that plagued the elections in 2003. It seems that democracy is just not yet a strongly held enough value in Nigeria to counteract the pressures of patronage.


Friday, May 05, 2006

Naijablog gathering?

I'm in the UK in early June. Perhaps we naijabloggers can have a little get together in London? Thanks for you nice messages about my Uncle Godfrey. He was a bucolic angel of sorts.


Thursday, May 04, 2006

Uncle Godfrey RIP

Uncle Godfrey was a timeless part of my childhood Christmases. After the set daytime ritual of visits to various relatives around the village (pressies, sherry, family banter), at around five o’clock we’d walk from The Green (first from School Lane, then from Church Farm, then from Mulberry Cottage) up Frog Lane to Aunty Iris and Uncle Jack’s handsome farmhouse. In the early days, there would be, in addition to Aunty Iris and Uncle Jack, my paternal grandparents Phillip and Olive, and Iris’ mother Mrs Maund, a perfect Grandmother figure with little round glasses and a warm smile. Iris’ children Andrew and Jackie would be in the main living room by a roasting fire. There would be the inevitable James Bond flick on a large tv in the corner.

After festive banter lubricated with sherry or beer, we would eat jacket potatoes and salad and sausages and pork pie, polished off with a trifle. After dinner, we’d move down the hallway to the back living room (past the separating door with the atmospheric stain glass window and the old servant bells), where another fire would be glowing the room with warmth. The back living room was a more formal space, dominated by a huge and elaborate bar cum dresser, all rococo carvings and dark wood and a huge solemn mirror. Uncle Jack would sit nearest the fire, stoking and turning and feeding the flames with the occasional new log, comfortable in his agricultural girth. Granddad, Godfrey and Jack would reminisce about people from the village, and quickly modulate into a rural village brogue probably unique to Wheaton Aston. After a while, Uncle Godfrey would bring out his slide projector, the lights would be turned out and we would sit and listen to his slide show. We were treated to photos from his latest travels (most of the time in New Zealand) – flower gardens in Napier, road trips to distant beaches, rugged coastline shots. I recall one embarrassing moment: a shot of a woman draped over Godrey’s car. He fumbled to click the projector around one more slot. There was always a small sense of loss when the show was over.

After the slides, the cards would come out and we would sit around the table. This was when Uncle Godfrey came into his own. He would lead us through Manchester Rummy using two packs of cards; an absorbingly enjoyable game which went through an elaborate sequence of stages – round one would be the first to get a run of 3 and four of the same (eg, 3,4,5 of Hearts as well as four aces). This game would last at least a couple of hours. And then, when the grandfather clock struck midnight, Uncle Godfrey would say what he always said, ‘Now we are the furthest its possible to be from Christmas Day.’

As the years passed, Mrs Maund passed away, as did Uncle Jack, as did my Grandparents. As I hit my twenties and came back home for Christmas, it would be my sister Victoria, Mom and Dad, Iris, Andrew, Jackie (plus boyfriend Andy) and Uncle Godfrey. We would follow the same sequence of events: first the front living room with 007, then food, then move to cards in the back living room. And we would play Manchester Rummy. And Uncle Godfrey would remind us that we are yet again a full 355 days, 23 hours and 59 minutes away from Christmas Day.

Outside of all those Christmases, we saw Uncle Godfrey occasionally: a Sunday dinner at Church Farm, a wedding or a funeral. I would also see him riding his bike from place to place in the village. He was a man at one with nature: he could tell how old a hedge was by looking at it (something to do with the number of plants intertwined within a space of yards). It’s impossible to have an image of him other than that of a calm and gentle face. When I became self-conscious in my adolescence and fussed about my hair, he gave me a great tip: don’t use brylcream, use rape seed oil. I tried using the oil for a while – it made my hair look jet black and shiny, but it was difficult to avoid it staining one’s clothes (or the pillow). Yet Uncle Godfrey carried it off with great effect: with his trademark slick and wavy hair.

He must have carried many memories of times beyond imagination. Uncle Godfrey had been touched by the lighthouse sweep of history: he’d lain injured in a ditch for three days in Normandy towards the end of the war. Fortunately, the Germans didn’t find him. He went back several times with other veterans to revisit the fields were tragedies’ blood had irrigated the fields with sorrow.

Above all, he was a sweet and gentle man. A man of the fields and of the place that bore him, my village of Wheaton Aston. The evening before he died, he was doing the crossword, his mind still curious and active, at the age of 87. He went gently into the night. Rest in peace Uncle Godfrey: 1919-2006.


Wednesday, May 03, 2006

3rd term Shenanigans

My convalescence is taking quite some time - after the amoeba (which Nigerians pronounce 'a-mow-eba' instead of 'ameeba') came gastritis/ulcer and internal bleeding (from all the drugs). I've lost a lot of weight and am weak, but I'll get there in the next few days. Its a tough mental/spiritual challenge being sick!

Meanwhile, the papers seem to be full of stuff going on 3rd-term wise. I read a story in Business Day I think on Monday about how the Reps/Senators were being offered US$1,000,000 to vote for the constitutional amendment but they were squabbling about it - they want to be given the money up front in cash, rather than after the fact and by cheque. If its true then it sounds like the whole political edifice is wrotten to the core. Let's hope there's some stiff uncompromising resistance to this kind of outrageous corruption.


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