The photographer Jide Adeniyi-Jones sent this to myself and others today. He intended it to be published in the local newspapers (it was not). Please feel free to forward it on:
Some thoughts that I sent to the papers a month ago, since they were not
used I thought I would send them to a few friends:
‘This is Nigeria’
It is hard to say precisely when Nigeria lost its way, but soon after the
demise of the first republic we lost our self-confidence. In defense, we
took refuge behind words like Giant, Great and Excellence as if their
forceful proclamation would endow us with the qualities that they define.
The very need for these superlatives in the face of our obvious challenges
is itself symptomatic of our neurosis. But it is a little too easy to seek
the root of our current predicament in military intervention. After all the
military were hardly the bastion of the brightest and the best of our
pre-independence population. So in the battle for the soul of the nation,
they are unlikely to have won such a resounding victory; even with all the
instruments of coercion at their disposal. No, I think we have to look a
little farther back.
Pre-independence politics, as dubious as it sometimes was, did not sink to
the universal game of shadows and echoes that it has become today; where the
vitally important issues of human interaction are in the hands of sorcerers
skilled in slight of tongue and hand, with the spoils going to the slickest
or most ruthless shyster. A politics of ideas was emerging with
inspirational thinkers like Chief Obafemi Awolowo, Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe and Sir
Ahmadu Bello prominent among its leaders. Today, of course, all of their
epithets Chief, Dr and Sir regularly preface a single individual’s name
assigning to him or her unmerited qualities of all the titles. Our fear of
accomplishment makes us democratize it, we spread it everywhere, in the
process trivializing achievement and making a mockery of cultural, academic,
and religious endeavor.
Proof of the early politics of ideas, can be found in the NCNC (National
Council of Nigeria and the Cameroons) triumph in the erstwhile Western
Region. But Nigeria lost its essence the day the western legislators
‘crossed carpet’ to install Awo instead of Zik, a non-Yoruba, as premier.
Thought and ability quietly lost their currency as the pursuit of our
highest common factor gave way to a desperate clinging to our lowest common
denominator. We became consumed with claiming for our ethnic allocation of
the national pie, meanwhile the short-circuiting of the fledgling political
system in Ibadan resulted in the morass that is Nigeria today.
‘This is Nigeria’ I feel fortunate to be old enough to remember a time when
those same words, with slightly different emphasis, carried a code
diametrically opposed to what they represent today. The indignant ‘that
cannot happen here, this is Nigeria, not some banana republic.’ of my youth,
has given way to a resigned, ‘Siddon there my friend, this is Nigeria’. The
code works with ruthless efficiency and enjoys universal recognition and
acceptance. Nigerians and non-Nigerians alike understand and use the phrase
to end discussion of the most shocking and disgraceful occurrences. It
quells all outrage or enquiry, as it unfailingly co-opts us into impotent
acceptance of our common inability to live up to our potential, after all
this is Nigeria. We cannot ask very much of our peers or ourselves; this is
Hearsay has it that, in the run up to the recent Senate reading of the
constitutional amendment bill, the third term architects at The Rock, when
cautioned that success of the project did not look likely, commanded ‘Make
it happen, this is Nigeria!’ Today there is a distinct air of confidence
even on danfo buses as I overhear ‘They could never have succeeded sha, this
is Nigeria’. Thus the battle for the soul of Nigeria continues.
In retrospect, it seems that the whole drawn out third term drama was
therapeutic for the nation. Whether President Obasanjo wanted a third term
or not is neither here nor there. In the end, the attempt was foiled, not by
the will of a good or bad president, but by an emerging democratic
structure. Balance of powers, the legislature curbing the potential excess
of the executive. Straight from the textbook on democracy, this is Nigeria.
As for Obasanjo, with all his strengths and weaknesses, he has always
appeared to me to have an eye on posterity. As post colonial African history
is written, he has tried to position himself to be in the chapter with
Mandela rather than Mobutu. So it seemed to me a distortion of common sense
that he would today be striving for a third term in office. It appears that
I was probably dead wrong. Robert Mugabe, reviled today in some circles, was
a bona fide African champion as he led a courageous and principled assault -
from the bush and then the ballot box - on Ian Smith’s stranglehold on
Rhodesia. To this day I get goose bumps when I remember him at Rufaro
Stadium, after midnight, with Bob Marley celebrating the liberation of
Zimbabwe. Liberation that left apartheid South Africa exposed and alone, a
night on which he symbolized endless possibilities for Africa. What changed
Mugabe? I do not know, not having walked in his moccasins. So it is with
OBJ. His experience under the boot of Abacha followed by years surrounded
by the sycophantic hordes in Aso and environs may well have altered his
self-image. The Museveni example may also have encouraged him to think that
a change in the constitution might do the trick.
Constitution change having failed, much time is still being wasted in
speculation about what the president will do now to achieve a third term or
who he will select to succeed him? This is idle speculation because if we
have learnt anything from the last couple of weeks, Baba’s endorsement of a
candidate now may be the kiss of death for that individual’s presidential
ambition. In our far from perfect legislature, members on the right side of
history, have a newfound swagger in their stride. A fresh confidence and
pride borne, not from their bank balances, but from the respect and
adulation of those whose interest they are supposed to serve. In the system
when a few good men and women stand up remarkable things are possible, this
There are indeed tides in the affairs of men, which taken at the flood lead
to good fortune, but if missed leave you high and dry. Luckily, the nature
of tides is that they return in cycles giving second and third chances at
success. This is cold comfort if you live in a country that serially misses
its tides, but it is reassuring in the grand scheme of things to know that
with each new surge we have another chance to steer a steadier course. I,
like many others, experience ebbs and flows of despair and hope on our
chequered road to tomorrow. We have been stuck in a mire of, turn-by-turn,
chop and go politics, with our main focus being on whose turn it is chop
next. Meanwhile, measured by almost any social indicator that you choose,
life in Nigeria has declined or at best stagnated over the last few decades.
Today the paradox of Nigeria is exemplified by fiber optic cable being laid
through the length and breath of a country whose minister of power says will
not have steady supply of electricity for the next fifty odd years.
If the flicker seen recently in the national assembly becomes a flame, even
the honorable minister may be surprised at what is possible; after all there
was a time when we put our best foot forward in an attempt to build a
nation. Umoru Altine was the mayor of Enugu. Mazi Unbonu Ojike was the
deputy Mayor of Lagos. People like Mercy Eneli were on the Lagos city
council (and their seats were not zoned to them). So we will see the
not-to-distant day in which the inhabitants of Zamfara State, realize that
the administrator in Abuja assuring that their environment is protected from
ruthless mineral exploitation is a woman named Oby, and that the local bank
manager giving the market woman in Ogun state a loan was born in Borno. That
will be the day in which Nigeria has found itself once again.
By: Jide Adeniyi-Jones
Tuesday, June 27, 2006
The photographer Jide Adeniyi-Jones sent this to myself and others today. He intended it to be published in the local newspapers (it was not). Please feel free to forward it on:
The new British Council building in Ikoyi, Lagos, built by Allies and Morrison, wins the prestigious RIBA International Award for 2006. Its a gorgeous building - tropical modernism at its best.
Monday, June 26, 2006
Ok so here's the story. Two high powered MD's working in finance were at the Hilton in Abuja last week. Both are coincindentally female. They sat down to order their food. Meanwhile, their male colleague was late to join them. After a while, he arrived and made his order. Surprisingly, his order came in first - even though his two female colleagues had been waiting for quite a while. When they questioned the waiter why they were still waiting for their food while their colleague had already been served, they were told, "I served him first because he is a man."
Now, I happen to know one of the women, and she is neither someone who suffers fools gladly, nor would she take one gram of sexist patriarchal BS from anyone. One way or the other, a head will roll.
Meanwhile, a message to women who may be dining at the Abuja Hilton: watch out for the antediluvian attitude from the waiters, and don't take any crap.
The weekend began on Thursday, with the visit of Comfort. Comfort is our masseuse. After an hour of persuasive needling and noodling, one feels like sleeping for a week. She has a magical way of doing the arms. If I were rich, Comfort would be live-in on tap. But perhaps that would be too decadent? She's upped her rates which is a bit annoying though.
Meanwhile, our lovely gardener Donatus has had his home squashed by the FCT's merciless bulldozers. Currently its Utako's turn to be flattened. He called me in desolation on Friday. Hopefully, we his client-base can raise enough money collectively to see him and his family quickly reaccommodated.
I'm getting bored of troughing through Phillip Roth's American Pastoral. I find it all too laboured. I can't quite see where the literary adoration comes from. Perhaps it helps to be a navel gazing American shovel full of nostalgia for a 1950's golden age? He's such a misanthrope. Living in Nigeria, its a bit too much ploughing through the wordsworthy snarls of a malcontent looking backwards. In my boredom, I started reading a collection of Chekhov short stories I picked up in London a few weeks ago. I read his 4 page story, The Student (the version linked to here is not the version I read - I read the newish Penguin Classics version which I think is a much better rendition). Its an incredible piece of writing, with a tantalisingly enigmatic message about the nature of time and the connectedness of human suffering at the end. The idea he leaves you with is like a flower that blooms with further thought. Its not often one comes across ideas that grow by the day in this way..
I woke on Sunday to PHCN-death yet again. The power cut lasted for just 12 hours so it was quite a short one. We're slowly learning how to cope - this time we didnt chop and cut all the fruit we'd bought from the market - just the water melon which was quickly polished off.
Then to the British High Commission to watch the footie. England were distinctly underwhelming. They are simply not in the same class as Germany, Argentina, Italy or even France. Sven keeps on buggering about with the formation. I'm a cricket person so I have no in-depth understanding of football tactics, but having one striker up front doesn't seem like a good idea, whatever players you have. No wonder England struggle to score goals. I sat next to the British High Commissioner. He had a St George on his cheek. What with people draped in England flags and wearing cheapo plastic England hats, it felt like a late night Calais-Dover crossing.
Its a busy week ahead, so I'd better stop here. But I must write about an incident at the Hilton in my next post..
Saturday, June 24, 2006
Thursday, June 22, 2006
And now for some sparkling good news: Ghana Must Go (to the final 16)!
I haven't read the papers or scanned the internet for analysis, but the word on the street about why the Finance Minister has been replaced (by her junior, the former minister of State) if true, threatens to quickly return me to my depression. The word is that the Govt need to get big money out of the treasury to fund the upcoming election campaign, and Ngozi would not have allowed that to happen. By replacing her with an inexperienced and manipulable alternative, treasury funds can be more easily secured. I hope against hope that this is not true.
Meanwhile, one of the contractors I have been working with on my EU project came to see me this morning. I noticed something odd in her face immediately. Then she told me. 'I've been robbed. Twenty gunmen came to our house in Gwarimpa and took everything.' They came back to the next street the following week. At this point, they decided to move. As she was telling me this, I could see a bewildered pained expression surface to her face; the tears of the trauma were close by. My assistant, who lives with her mom over an hour outside the city, tells the same story. 'They come every night.'
All this is more than a little worrying. The next few months may turn out to be chaotic and riven with blood. So much money flowing around, with so few people having access to it. She is considering leaving the country. How could anyone blame her?
Wednesday, June 21, 2006
Its time to be positive. The trick in Nigeria (as anywhere) is not to get cynical. Its the lazydog position. There are always hidden pockets of positive energy to be unearthed. If you get cynical, you've just forgotten how to dig. Plus I like it when commentators say oyimbo will not stay. There's nothing that fires off a spirit off determination quite like someone saying you're just like the rest. I remember at college a smart ass I'd become close to giving me a calculating look once and saying I can see your future Jeremy: a nice safe wife and a nice safe life. I've been answering the fucker back ever since.
Music is always the inspiration. I have been absorbed by the compilation African Spirits out on the unfailingly excellent Soul Brother label. The opening track by Pharoah Sanders, Our Roots began in Africa is sonic majesty itself. And the jazz titan is still going strong after all these years - playing a gig in London soonish. Click here for a review and to listen.
Our inverter is knackered so we're going to have to buy a new one. This should give us guaranteed 12 hour power back-up from now on - and stem the moments of temporary depression.
Tuesday, June 20, 2006
Puffy eyes this morning from fitful sleep. No power for 24 hours (the light finally came back on this morning). Thankfully it was a cool night so we did get some rest. We haven’t had water for the past two days either so it’s back to survival mode – camping in the tropics. I slowly grow a beard yet again (how can you shave when nothing comes out of the tap?)
We live in the pukka part of town (Dangote and Ovia have houses close by) where owning a house will set you back at least N70m (around £280,000) – around 25 - 30 times more than the average Nigerian will earn in a lifetime - and we don’t have the basic amenities. It’s hard to stem a tide of resentment as one begins the day tired and irritated with life, with all of yesterday’s shopping now uselessly rotten in the fridge. But resentment against whom? It’s hard to resent a facelessly dysfunctional system. Meanwhile, security guards and cooks and house helps notice little difference: their pre-modern post-modern lives are not especially encumbered with electrical requirements.
The system is in a state of accelerated entropy, the heart of darkness (Conrad turned into a bitter joke). As with Leibniz’ monad, the biggest things manifest themselves writ small. For instance, at the entrance to the Ministry, they’ve just installed a scanning device like the ones you shoelessly walk through at the airport. It beeps every time you walk through it. But there is no one there to check why it beeps, or to check the entrant for weaponry. But who cares about technology embedded in structure and process when someone gets paid, and of course someone else gets paid? Again, outside the gates, a throng of citizens with placards block entrance. Their signs read, ‘Ngozi, we want our money.’ Just another random group of unfortunates with nowhere and no one to vent their frustrations at except the underpaid security guards.
Last night, we searched for somewhere to eat (its not easy, cooking in darkness). Everywhere was closed. In Zone 4, dolled up Abuja University girls thronged the earthen track that passes for a road, selling their intimacies in return for money to pay for school fees. Others manage to permeate the security guards at the large hotels, knocking on rooms at random with a “Good evening, Uncle”. With DFID estimates that 80+% of Abuja working girls are positive, the offers are risky. Abuja: where pussy and politics collide and collude.
Why all this dysfunction, this lack of care? Who knows? The PDP is slowly eating itself, as the Atiku and Obasanjo camps lash out at each other. The police seal buildings, make arrests against the other side. The Power and Steel minister estimates that, at the current rate of investment, Nigeria should have stable power by 2050. By that time, the ice caps may have melted, many lowland land masses will be submerged and the biological experiment called conscious life may be on the verge of cancelling itself out. The insects will, of course, remain, oblivious.
No wonder there are no credible signs of extra-terrestrial life or time-travellers on geo-history tourism: consciousness (human or otherwise) suggests itself to be a self-defeating construct. By the time technology has advanced to the stage of crossing light-years of intergallactic space, the folly of conscious intention and empowered egotism will have rendered that passage impossible.
Monday, June 19, 2006
Unless you're lucky to have VSAT in your office (costing your company around US$1000 per month for most often pseudo 'dedicated' bandwidth of 128kps), getting internet access in Abuja is increasingly difficult. Nitel's internet (both dial-up and ISDN) is out of action, with no solution in sight. The Internet cafe on Gana street many used to use has closed up; NIIT keep having problems with their server. Apart from a handful of cluttered/dilapidated rooms full of old boxes here and there about town, the only 'serious' cybercafe (uncluttered, you can use your laptop etc) is Cool Cafe. Owned by Lebanese, Cool Cafe takes the piss when it comes to service. It is N350 per hour (about £1.40 - which is v expensive by Nigerian standards). If you stay for an hour and ten minutes, they charge you for two hours. The staff are offhand and dopey. Its annoying that as they have no competition there is therefore no incentive other than to provide the atrocious service they provide. And its annoying to think the owners would never get away with this level of disdainful service back in Beirut. You are lucky if you get 20kps bandwidth. It took me two hours on Sunday to download all my emails. If only we had something similar to Accra's Busy Internet with a relaxed restaurant, broadband wireless, good quality printing services, meeting rooms for hire etc etc. One crummy cybercafe in the capital of a nation of 140 million! Its puzzling to think that with such huge pent-up demand for internet access, no serious entrepreneurs have stepped in with an Easy Internet or Busy Internet type model.
Meanwhile, the latest target for armed robbers in Lagos apparently are the mainland cybercafes. The '19 boys' like to parade their wealth (watches, chains etc) as they tap merrily at their caps-lock letters of help from Miryam Babangida etc. And so the armed robbers have spotted easy pickings. What comes around goes around.
‘Lagos - Future City?’ discussion on the future of the world’s fastest growing city
Friday 30 June 2006, Khalili Lecture Theatre, SOAS @ 6pm
This discussion will seek to look at urbanism in a developing world city, and how the management of the urban agglomeration of Lagos is conducted.
Examining the perceptions of Lagos as recorded in texts [fiction and essays], imagery [film and photography] and lived experiences, which point to chaos, but point also to a seemingly new/future urbanism. These will be considered within the context of a weak state capacity.
Present [Histories and narratives]
- Growth Trajectory
- City genesis and expansion, politics, economics, failure of conventional infrastructure, crime
Resisting the Imposed / Managed anarchy?
- Appropriation of the idea of the European city
- Aspirations to Modernity
- Informal nets
- Informal institutions and networks within the city
- Future Projections
- Radical synthesis of the traditional and modern; space and dwelling
- Global assimilation; reality of growth and potential within a globalised world.
Mega City or World city?
Post Oil age; no oil no city?
Professor John Godwin (Professor of Architecture, University of Lagos)
Kaye Whiteman (Writer, Consultant)
Ola Uduku (University of Strathclyde)
Kunle Adeyemi OMA (Office of Metropolitan Architecture, Rotterdam, tbc)
Segun Doherty (Lawyer, Lagos)
A reception will follow the discussion.
Seats are limited. To register your attendance please email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Or call: +44 (0)20 7898 4390
Mapit, the South African company that set up shop in Nigeria last year (producing the first decent road atlas) has just launched a sat nav service. Be warned - the website is pretty third rate. Worse still, the images in the adverts (there's a pull out feature in today's Business Day) do not have any sample Nigerian images. Very lazy advertising. They say they have Lagos completely mapped at street level and all other main roads for the rest of the country. The cheapest available device is N83,000.
Our Lagos Live photographer Omonigho took this picture recently. Jankara market (on Eko - Lagos Island) is the main juju market in the city. Here you can buy all the fetishes and charms you need - monkey's heads, crocodile skins, tail of horse. Despite the visual and verbal noise of evangelical christianity, the frantic business being done at Jankara reveals the indigenous underbelly..
Friday, June 16, 2006
Click here to add your opinion to a page on the Beeb's site.
I had to delete the last few posts on celebrating Nigeria - they were getting way too bitchy and invading my personal life. I come away from it with a strong distinction to be made between two types of pride: the former where you are proud of something for specific reasons, the latter where the pride is for its own sake and cannot be substantiated. The latter type cannot be analysed beyond being a pre-rational emotion, whereas the former is always open for discussion or contestation. I think my posts brought up some confusion between the two types.
Enough already. We're in Lagos to catch fun. I took an okada latish last night: lovely to feel the wind wushing by and the tyres bouncing off the potholes.
Tuesday, June 13, 2006
Today it feels like it must have felt in the 1980's in Nigeria. None of the phones work (no NITEL, no MTN etc). I'm one of the lucky ones who can eek out some bandwidth. Meanwhile, no one seems to know what is going on at the top apart from some probably vicious power struggles. I'm reduced to visiting people if I want to talk to them. Lagos must be traffic hell right now..
There's N250k to be won for writing an essay on leadership in Nigeria. Click here to find out more about the competition and the Nigerian Leadership Initiative. Deadline: 28th July.
Monday, June 12, 2006
We landed at 4:16 am this morning. The sunrise over Aso Rock as we entered the city was lovely - pale shades of pink above rock. At least the house hasn't burnt down, and the electricity was working and water flowing out of the tap. However, the Nitel strike is entrenched, which means no bandwidth at home and the mobile networks are, as I expected, hit and miss. I talked to a friend who (still) works at NITEL - apparently the new local conglomerate Transcorp were meant to take over the reins this month, but nothing has happened. Still NITEL staff have not been paid for months and will not return to work until they are. As we know that there is money available to pay them, it looks like someone is holding onto the money to rake in the interest. Its going to take a day or two to adjust back to the utter dysfunctionality of life in Nigeria, moving from high speed wireless internet to snailspeed spaghetti wired interent..
Friday, June 09, 2006
We went to see The Estate (see previous post) at the Soho Theatre this evening. It was very well done with quite a few highly comic moments, based on acute observations of contemporary Nigerian family life - the househelp turned 2nd wife, step-sibling rivalry, the thieving staff, incest, the pastor with corrupted motives. The set was excellent - tacky Naija plastic sofa, glass table and naff rug, huge family photo portraits. There is even a power cut which adds to the authenticity. Its on until the 17th, so go see it if you have the chance. It'd be great to have it over in Nigeria - a comic counterbalance to the accidentally comic stock Nollywood fare.
Thursday, June 08, 2006
Our last few days in the UK and I'm taking a deep breath... back to irregular electricity, sporadic water supply and noband internet, oh and female anopheles. Nitel's indefinite strike has knocked out all landlines in Nigeria and put a huge strain on the GSM-thief networks. People are so used to 4meg+ broadband in the UK they often express surprise that there is no broadband in Nigeria. Because cheap broadband is now an everyday utility here (Carphone Warehouse is now offering a free broadband package), there is incredulity that the rest of the world doesnt have it. If only there was clean running water available through a tap and lights that came on when you clicked the switch. Alas, these developmental basics seem to be decades away in Nigeria, and affordable broadband a distant mirage in a far-off desert.
If only a political party looking to 2007 announced itself on the basis of improved access to water, power, healthcare, education instead of the self-defeating egoludicrous infighting we are seeing at present.
Wednesday, June 07, 2006
One of the strangest and most mystical places in the UK - Lud's Church. Mentioned as the 'Green Chapel' in Sir Gawain and the Green Night, alleged hide-out of Robin Hood (Sherwood forest is not so far away), worship place of the proto-protestant Lollards, and hidey hole for the counterfeiters of Flash (a nearby village - the highest in England) - from where the phrase 'flash money' comes from. Lud's Church is a spooky cleft in the landscape in the middle of a forest in North Staffordshire. Don't go there at night.
Sunday, June 04, 2006
Saturday, June 03, 2006
This week at the Soho Theatre, Tiata Fahodzi unveil a new play, The Estate, by Oladipo Agboluaje. It looks like one to check out - a social comedy about an owambe funeral. Click here for more data.
Thursday, June 01, 2006
Ethnic Loft/Global Voices report today on a 17000 acre leisure resort being planned near Abuja. It sounds like it will be a cross between Alton Towers and Sun City. Let's hope its not too tacky and has eco-credentials (I fear I hope too much)..
Click here to see a Nigerian group on YouTube. If you've not heard of it: YouTube is part of the whole "web 2.0" movement of so-called me-media. You can post your home made videos online. Beware, 99.9% of stuff on YouTube is crap, but there is some good stuff. On Naijaspace, the best video posted so far is "Never Far Away", a music video by Lagbaja.