Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Imperium

I've just finished Robert Harris's Imperium - his fictionalised account of Cicero's ascendancy to Consul in the 1st BC. As the author says, almost everything in the book actually took place - Cicero's letters and speeches survive to this day (almost 30 volumes of text). Although not quite as frantically gripping and page-turning as Enigma (on the famous code-breaking machines the British used to defeat the Germans in the Second World War) or his previous book, Pompei (which has an incredibly vivid characterisation of the famous Roman Pliny), Imperium is a huge achievement. Harris brings ancient Rome alive in technicolour, especially in terms of the colourful rituals of Roman democracy.

In between the lines, one cannot help comparing Cicero to Blair (Harris does an excellent job of concealing yet underpinning the comparison) - both lawyers of the highest aptitude, both able to talk themselves out of any corner, no matter how imperiled, both reliant on more powerful players of the game... Best of all, Harris brings alive the real-time drama of the political process itself. Strip away the technology, and 1st century BC Rome was startlingly similar to our times in almost every way.

The one signal difference: in our political times (at least in the West) everything is scripted - a politician rarely says something that someone else has not written (and someone else has edited and reviewed to assert its 'on-message' status). In ancient Rome, orators such as Cicero could memorise speeches lasting for four hours or more, and use the power of language to devastating effect. Cicero was the ultimate hero of using language to acquire power: he was the only man to become Consul without hereditary privilege, acquired wealth or wealthy benefactors.

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Development consultants extracting the urine

Someone by the name of Indar has just returned to the UK after a stint as a volunteer in Nigeria and started a blog. Her initial post is a scathing attack on a joint VSO (Uk organisation - Voluntary Services Organisation and GTZ - German govt's development agency) project and what they get up to in Nigeria. I hope she fully dishes the dirt, now that she is away from the hand that fed her.

It is quite rare to hear stories of the reality behind development - for the obvious reason that consultants don't want to be blacklisted or stop the flow of tax-free gravy. There are major issues that need to come out in the open, for example:

1. How much development money goes on consultants, and how much actually gets spent on delivery
2. How much consultants earn (1000Euros/dollars a day tax free is relatively low-end)
3. The difference between how much international 'experts' get paid and local staff (in many circumstances, the work load is the same). It is typical for a local staffer to take home say N100,000 per month (400 pounds) and, given the sum just mentioned, the oyinbo to take home 20,000 Euros+ per month (£14000). That's 35 times more moolah!!
4. How effectual the development projects are. I can tell some stories. Overlapping of projects is common (donor x and donor y doing the same project to the same agency, or donor x doing the same project twice, with a year or two gap).
5. How much emphasis there is on international companies doing work that could easily be done by local companies

I could go on, but I've already drawn blood from the hand that's been feeding me. Development consultancy is a con, basically. When you see oyinbos flaunting it round Abuja in some beefy shiny 4x4 with a big mast at the front, just remember this.

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Light relief: Norma's (Zamani Farms, Jos) farm update:


Advance warning: the strawberry situation remains 'uncertain':

"Hello customers,

It looks like the dry season is finally here (about a month later than usual). The weather has turned cool and dry. This morning at about 6am on the farm it was 16 degrees and the humidity is quite low. This weather is ideal for some of our vegetables, especially broccoli and lettuces, although others like courgettes and cucumbers prefer a more humid atmosphere. But we have to work with whatever is available and make the best of it.

Our lettuces are thriving, and many varieties are available. The head lettuces like iceberg and butterhead are starting to make small heads, but by next week they should be full sized. Other leaf lettuces like salad bowl, lollo rossa, prizeleaf and other red lettuces are also available, as are red and green cos and other varieties. We can make you up a nice mixture of colours and textures if you like.

We should have some endive frisee as well, although we are struggling to keep up with the big demand for this item. We are planting every week, but endive takes much longer to grow than lettuce, so we will have to be a bit patient.

Radicchio too is on the way but needs another couple of weeks. It too is a very slow grower.

Our courgettes are finally coming back to full production, and we have both green and cousa available, along with a small quantity of yellow ones. Our new squashes are also beginning, and we should have some yellow crookneck, some acorn and butternut for next week. Different varieties of pumpkins are also coming along and should be ready soon. We will let you know. (Unfortunately none of them produced in time for Halloween).

We are getting very nice plum tomatoes now, which is the only type of tomato available in quantity at present. Our new outdoor plants of cherry tomatoes are flowering and we should have quite a few cherries in a week or two. At the moment, we are relying on the end of the crop in the greenhouse, so there is limited availability. We are in between crops of beef tomatoes, and there are none at all for next week.

We have nice Chinese cabbage, Bok Choi, sorrel and some spinach. Our new Kale and Collard greens are coming along and should be ready shortly, but not next week. Kohlrabi is also now available in reasonable quantities, along with green cabbage. Red cabbage should be coming along soon.

We have nice cucumbers – both salad and pickling types – as well as leeks, radishes, spring onions, and fennel.

Beetroots and carrots have virtually disappeared. Our own crops of these have finished, and they are hardly available in the market. This year, because of the prolonged rainy season, most farmers were not yet able to sow their dry season crops in time, so there might be a relatively long gap before these become widely available. If we can get good quality ones locally we will supply, but if you don’t receive any please understand. We had to ration carrots in our last supply, and we are not sure of the situation for next week.

Our herbs are growing nicely in the sunny weather, and our new basils are coming along well. For next week we should have Thai basil, lemon, some red and cinnamon. Green (Genovese) is still not big enough to pick. Most other herbs are available, as are ginger root and fresh turmeric. As I noted a couple of weeks ago, it is the end of the season for garlic, and most of the heads available are relatively small. The new garlic should be along sometime this month. (We get good ones locally that come to Jos from Kano and Maiduguri). We will let you know if it starts becoming available.

Our new French beans should be ready to pick next week, despite the fact that our rabbit pests have returned and are trying to eat some of them. (Our security guards are on 24 hour rabbit alert). We have a small quantity of Liana (snake) beans available, as well as some Roma beans (Italian slicing beans). All are very nice. We might also have a few sugar snap peas for next week, as they have started producing a few pods. The mangetout (snow peas) are taking longer and are not yet ready.

We are planting out a lot of new aubergines, but they don’t much like dry weather and don’t produce as much as they do in rainy season. We will do our best to keep up with the demand, and have put in some new varieties. As they become available we will let you know.

Green bell peppers are the only ones available at present. Italian corni di toro, Jalapenos and others are still growing and are not yet ready to pick.

We should have some reasonable amount of broccoli for next week, as our next batch is fruiting. However, the demand is always huge, so we might have to ration to half kg if there is not enough to satisfy all the orders.

For fruit, the situation is a bit limited. Our pawpaws are growing well and producing a lot of fruit, but have not yet started ripening. The same is the case with our avocado pears.

We should have a limited amount of cape gooseberries and passion fruit.

The strawberry situation is uncertain – they started to produce and then stopped. Usually they need a bit of time to adjust to changes in the weather. We will see if any are producing by next week. If there are any, we will ration to half kg per customer as there certainly won’t be enough to go around. Meanwhile, the birds have discovered them, and we are trying our best to keep them away from the fruit.

Other items should be available as usual, including nice (but smaller) Nicola potatoes. We have virtually stopped supplying very large ones because the varieties that produce large sized tubers tend to spoil quickly, and we have found the Nicola variety to be the best in terms of taste and texture, as well as keeping ability. We are still waiting for the red-skinned floury potatoes to become available."

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videoskype

Damn those skype people are wizards in the art of data compression. I had my first video-skype conversation today with a mate in the UK (using my Macbook with built-in camera and the Beta version of videoskype for OSX). Even at a measly 50 or so kps, we were getting maybe 15 frames-per-second video contact. Can't wait to get my folks back home sorted with a web camera so we can have full audio-visual contact. Once you've done audio-video voip, a plain old voice-voice conversation seems two dimensional.

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Solving the aviation problem

The aviation sector most clearly indicates how far Nigeria is from global standards, and how weak and tired the excuse of the 'Nigerian factor' has become. What is needed are solutions, but first of all, what is needed is thought leadership.

The people to provide the thought and then the solutions are already out there. For instance, Chippla's blog. Chippla evidently has a keen interest in and knowledge of aviation. Why not bring him in as a consultant? Shango/Fred flies light aircraft, and again has a strong interest in Nigeria. Why not bring him in? There must be many many people out there who have the expertise and knowledge to start to genuinely solve the problem for good. They should be brought in to the loop. Then, you need a strong Ministerial leader - a Rufai or Ribadu type who can bulldoze what needs to be bulldozed and construct what needs to be constructed. Borisade clearly is not the man for the job - with too many deaths on his watch.

As usual in Nigeria, the problem-solving talent is out there. The problem is not know-how, it is that the people in power do not want to hire the know-how: the status quo is too materially beneficial for them.

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Jesus, help me find my proper place

Nkem’s post gave me the idea for a theological thought experiment:

Let’s just imagine God exists. Let’s say God is not a divine person, or a divine switchboard forever answering (the loudest most fervent) prayers with action (neither of which I can make any sense of), but rather a balancing force, redistributing good where there is bad, and perhaps even bad where there is good. God is the highest form of justice, and salvation is an appeal to the redistribution of good.

There were there is good (a land where people don’t merely suffer), God is present. He/She/It does not need to be appealed to in the form of prayer. There is food in the shops, money in the bank, law on the streets and health and security for most, if not all. The function of the church, the mosque and the synagogue slowly disappears, as the sacred spreads across the land.

There were there is not good (a land where most people suffer), God is not present. He/She/It needs to be appealed to constantly in the form of prayer. People go hungry, people have no money, there is no law on the streets, and health and security are serious issues for most. The function of the church, the mosque and the synagogue becomes the most pressing issue in society, as the sacred disappears across the land, drying up like a dead river.

In a way, this undeveloped allegory just reflects a simple truth: in societies which are mostly poor, difficult for most to live in, rampant with injustice, society at large has a pressing need for spiritual narratives and release. In societies with material abundance, well-oiled mechanisms of justice, society at large tends to forget about the need for spiritual release. The upshot: God is absent in Nigeria, there where He/She/It is needed most. The prayers are not working.

Never has the opiatic, under-developing effect of religion in Nigeria been so clear to me as it was last night, watching NTA. There will be no major change in the way aviation is run here, so long as the crash is classified as an Act of God, and our response to it conditioned to be one of prayer. Religion Nigerian-style numbs every sinew of the body, freezes the brain, and erodes any possibility of rational response, and above all, transformative action. It is, at present, a malign force – a force which does not transform, which does not heal. It is, as Soul says, the most vicious colonial effect.

It could, of course, be altogether different. Religion (whatever the hue) can be a force for change, for good. Prayers can probably be answered, in a sense (one crystallises intent through quiet moments of contemplation). But not where there is no accountability, not where religion is used as a political tool for repression (explicit or otherwise), not where material wealth is taken to be a necessary precursor to spiritual wealth.

Coda: I asked my sister-in-law last night (she is an evangelical) what colour she thought Jesus was. The answer came back immediately: of course, he was white. I suggested that bits of the bible describe him as having hair like wool with a bronze skin. She looked shocked. I went on to tell her that St Augustine came from North Africa, and was therefore African. Now she looked a little distressed.

How vast the symbolic deficit. How wide white supremacy casts its net.

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Monday, October 30, 2006

A trip to the hospital

I take my friend to the National Hospital. I drop him off at the entrance and go to park the car. His girlfriend holds his hand and leads him in; he cannot open his eyes, he shuffles his feet like an old man. There were two armed robbers in the front and one with him in the back, the car driving at extreme speed away from the city towards Kaduna. The guy in the back first broke my friend's glasses, then proceeded to pistol whip him constantly, punching him repeatedly in the eyes.

I parked the car. I saw a group of men in silhouette by the entrance. I thought I heard hilarity and assumed a joke had been told. Then I saw one of the men bent double and the others reaching down to hold him, and realised his laughter was in fact the almost supernatural sound of hysterical grief. I neared the group and then saw that someone was solemnly carrying a roll of blankets covering what must be a young body.

In the emergency room, a member of staff wheeled out an empty gurney, covered in blood and bloody cloth. Inside, a man on a drip was in a neck brace, while blood dripped slowly to the floor. We were told to go back to the waiting room. The Minister of Aviation was on NTA in his trademark sunglasses - Abacha-lite. He was leaning back on an armchair. He congratulated the emergency services on their good job saving lives. Then the Minister of Information appeared, at the very place where I stood, in front of the cameras hours before. He assured the gathered journalists that everything was being done to ensure the well-being of the survivors, and that everything was being done to improve aviation in Nigeria. The programme then shifted to interviewing religious leaders, many of whom called the crash an Act of God. Various people were interviewed. Almost everyone mentioned God - the Muslims talked about submitting to God's will, the Christians talked about being prayerful. A Catholic minister was the only person who was mildly critical and didn't revert to theology. The programme then switched to Lagos, and the airline's (ADC) head-quarters. A black book of condolences had been set up.

Eventually, after x-rays were taken and pills were bought, we could leave. There, where the young body had been just hours before, was empty space. The retinue of the politician who lost his children were waiting in cars nearby. I drove home alone at speed with my lights on full beam, ready to flatten anyone that tried to stop me. Luckily, the way was clear.

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Damn

A good mate went to swing some golf yesterday morning at 7am in Wuse - only to be car-jacked. They drove up to Kaduna, beat him up and dumped him. Now he can't see jack.. Damn.

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Couple of good new Nigerian blogs

Its hard to keep up - so many good new blogs cropping up.

Gbeborun of Lagos (love the header design - with the subliminal eco-message of a tree masking out a skyscraper)

and

Naijarita - which is a scream - a fake news site. Beat 'em to death with satire: Nigerian's very own version of The Onion.

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Step forward, the reality behind the Shango mask..

Well, with his blessing the icing on the cake, what can I do but oblige andreveal all. Shango, or should I say, one "Frederick Woodbridge", describes himself thus “I'm 35, fat, and almost happy. I have a wife, three cats, one very old computer, and many, many big guns.” But, is this not a case of the matrioshka effect (a.k.a the Russian doll-syndrome). Is Shango's real name really Frederick Woodbridge, or is this simply a nom-de-plume? The hunt now transfers to the quest for the real name behind the new mask..

You'll note in perusing his pages a more than passing acquaintance with perfumery (revealing an unexpectedly feminine side - but then being Shango - perhaps it isn't really a surprise), and his almost-erotic affection for one Melanie Phillips. Those in the UK familiar with the more rabid sections of the UK press will know who I mean..

Go forth and comment.

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The privatisation of Unity Schools

I'm a little confused. There's been uproar about the alleged privatisation of Federal Government schools, which the Pres tried to lay to rest late last week. He said that Unity schools are not being privatised, they are being put under a PPP management arrangement.

So, the argument would be that because a school owned by the state is now under private management, it has not been privatised right? Does the PPP not confer any ownership onto private sector 3rd parties in this arrangement? I thought the point of public-private partnerships was that at least some ownership was sold off (otherwise its just management outsourcing), with the private company turning the school into a commercial business. Very little has really been made clear in all of this. The story will surely rumble on.

There's been some talk that Britain has shown the way in PPP for education. Never has a bigger joke been enunciated. Just as the UK is selling schools to anyone (secondhand car salesmen with creationist intent), so too the Scientologists and other assorted fruitcakes may have spotted the ultimate opportunity in Nigeria. As we are now seeing, the whole 'faith school's policy has blown up in Blair's face (it being a convenient way to turn comprehensives into madrasas in Bradford). Are faith schools the way to go in Nigeria - as with the rash of new religious universities? I don't think so, if tolerance is continued to be valued as a virtue. Secular will continue to be misunderstood as 'circular' in Nigeria.

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Shango's blog

Aha! Shango has a blog and I know the url! Unfortunately, the phrasing he used in a comment in his guise as 'Shango' was the same phrase as he used on his blog.. Just one careless moment was all it took mate.

Now Shango, after all the hellfire and brimstone you've poured on me for months, what are you going to do to stop me announcing it to the world? Shall I send you my bank account details?

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Something good, something positive

Its time to dwell on the positive. The more observant among my readers will have noticed a new link on the left hand side - to Funmi Iyanda's new blog. FI is something to be really proud of in Nigeria - a passionate media star in the making with a daytime tv show on NTA. The pic on the left is not very flattering (its the only one of her alone I got off of Google)- she is more beautiful in real life and on the telly. Her blog reveals more than the tv show I reckon: this is truly a passionate advocate for a better Nigeria. Like her friend Sola Solako (whom I've met a few times) - she has a heart the size of the country, she is not afraid to criticise anyone, and a devoted following. She is a positive role model for young men and women alike. She is part of a future Nigeria I'm sure well over a hundred million people would like to see happen in their lifetimes. Long may she live, well may she be supported, and far may she go.

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Sunday, October 29, 2006

An afternoon of sadness..


In a distracted daze after the news of the crash, I went for a walk in the park, ill-at-ease with the world. The place was full. It was early dusk. The park was a disgusting mess of litter. I am constantly dismayed to see people roll down their window and distribute their litter onto the road in Nigeria, and to see the park such a shit-pit after a few hours of use. I only find one thing more intensely irritating than queue jumping – and that’s tossing litter. Unfortunately, Nigeria appears to be full of queue-jumpers and litter-droppers. I cannot disrespect someone any more than I disrespect people that dump trash from a moving car. For example, last time I was in London, I was on a bus when a woman let an empty crisp packet fall to the floor right in front of me. I asked her if she wouldn’t mind picking it up. She sucked her teeth. I asked her whether she would do the same thing on her doorstep. She muttered ‘bambaclaat’ under her breath and rattled off a patois curse to her friend. So I called her bambaclaat back, much to her surprise, and proceeded to weigh in. Others joined in the harangue and the woman was thoroughly cornered. I think I embarrassed her sufficiently to think twice about doing it again, ever. But why is it that in London I often see black people drop litter? Do parents not teach their kids about throwing litter? And why is Nigeria so full of litter-droppers? I think in both cases it has something to do with a lack of a civic culture of engagement, and an alienation from any possible form of public space and sense of belonging. Of course, its not a phenomenon restricted by race - its much more grounded in class and environment. But blaming the environment can only go so far: on another level its just plain ignorance and lack of respect for others. No home-training, as they say. Except that's the point - people don't seem to link the dropping of litter with being well brought up.

As I walked around the park, I spotted three Fulani-looking girls under a tree. One of them shouted ‘hey oyinbo’. I realised then that all three were in fact teenage boys, with earrings, make-up and dresses. It’s not that I find the Fulani ladyboy phenomena disturbing (although it is intriguing), it’s more that I find it amazing that it takes place quite openly in such a deeply homophobic environment. I remember trip to Bida market, with ladyboy “male wives” up for grabs amongst the cowrie shells and other juju items. It seems that as long as something is not explicitly said in Nigeria, it is permitted its space. As soon as tolerance is tested by law and the explicitly stated, everyone gets all antsy.

But back to the crash today. Apparently it was caused by a storm (but why was the plane on fire reportedly mid-flight? Can a storm really bring down an aircraft - albeit a 23 year old machine?) Will the black box be found (the Bellview black box was never recovered, which remains a distinctly odd mystery, given that they are virtually indestructible). Will a clear explanation be furnished? Will any heads roll (of course not – no one is to blame are they?) Rufai visited the scene and was appalled at the state of the 727’s tyres. So: no adequate pre-flight inspection there then. I’m sure the conspiracy theories have already begun – given that two senators lost their lives.

Incidentally, the two oyinbos brought in to head up the new Arik airline resigned last week (it seems to have taken on the mantle of the defunct Nigerian Airways, using their hangar etc), just as the service was about to launch. According to reports in the newspapers, they were not happy putting their names behind the claim that all the aircraft for the airline are ‘brand new.’ Local airlines in Nigeria continue to take advantage of weak regulation. I fear more lives will yet be lost.

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Yet another tragedy...

Another plane goes down - this time near Abuja airport - apparently in flames for quite a while. Perhaps, as with the Sosoliso accident, there was no water in the fire engines?

I have a doctor friend who is at the crash site as we speak. He confirmed the initial Reuters reports that the Deputy Governor of Sokoto state and the Sultan of Sokoto were in the plane, as were two senators. There are eight people in the National Hospital - so more survivors than the international news channels are saying right now.

We look to the skies for the answer as to when Nigeria will be a safe place to fly..

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The Stern report

A former senior economist at the World Bank, Sir Nicholas Stern, publishes a 700 page report on global warming tomorrow. It is the first comprehensive look at the consequences of the impending climate change by an internationally respected economist, making the argument that global warming will be potentially disastrous for the global economy, unless billions of dollars are spent immediately on reducing emissions. Stern argues that nations must address the issue via a set of international agreements, using a mixture of green taxes and carbon off-setting measures. As an article by Mark Lynas in a recent New Statesman suggested, the planet is around one degree centigrade away from being in unknown territory - never having been as hot as this in millions of years, it is difficult to predict what will happen. What is looking likely is that our children will reach adulthood in a world without an Arctic ice cap (it is predicted all the ice will melt in the next couple of decades).

This comes only a few days after a report that the Gulf Stream - the current that keeps Northern Europe at a relatively warm and wet climate instead of the cooler and drier one it would have without it - stopped for a few days last year. Oceanographers and climatologists still cannot work out why such a huge volume of warm current flowing at millions of litres per second could stop. The worst-case scenario is that in time, the Gulf Stream will halt, leading to dramatic climate change across Europe.

The question is not how much Britons will feel the crunch on the domestic front, as it becomes increasingly expensive to drive a car (especially a big car), as the price of all-year round fruit and veg from the local supermarket rockets upwards and foreign holidays become more expensive etc. but whether the American government embraces the report's findings. So far, I've found nothing in the US press about the report. In stark contrast to the British Press, the US media seems to be oblivious. And yet hyper-consumptive gas-guzzling America is where the really dramatic change in lives is going to have to come. Let's see if the report gets any airplay stateside in the next few days..

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The day passes

I've nearly achieved. I have only 20 pages of David Mitchell's Cloud Atlas to go. Its been a literary anchor chained round my neck for weeks. I have an anal loyalty to books I buy - no matter how much I am bored or distracted by them, I simply have to finish. In today's non-linear tri-media world, with information broken into polygamous packets, novel-monogamy seems curiously out of kink. So why am I so faithful to the text? I think in part I have a secret admiration for anyone who can crank out a novel and get it published, so I have to see it through. But there's also a sense of anticipated guilt, which I can't yet explain. It's almost as if it would be an infidelity to the ritual of reading itself, and has little to do with content. The pages must be turned, and all the pages must be turned, just like the Orthodox Jew must start bobbing in front of the Wailing Wall. Perhaps, as with Catholicism, its impossible to stamp out all the embers of a quasi-Methodist upbringing...

I started the year with the dandy fine resolution to read a book a week. Here I am, its nearly November, and I've only read 15 novels. But then I torment myself with the quantity question: who gives a f**k how many books you read? Isn't it intensity of experience, rather than amount, that matters? Of course it is, but with so many other books out there, how do you know that the next book won't offer something more, something richer. If only I'd read thirty by now. But its been a tricky year- malaria, a stressful project to manage etc etc.

Looking back on the year so far, the book I've disliked the most is Philip Roth's American Pastoral. What a detestably self-indulgent navel-gazing overly-nostalgic onanistic spurt. Reading Roth offers one no hope and no opening. I shall not again, with just the one remaining chunk of life ahead of me. The best I've read so far? Definitely Stephen Mitchell's translation of Gilgamesh (the oldest literary work on the planet) - a wonderfully rich heroic-yet-humble tale from the best translator of Rilke. Second place goes to Chris Abani for Graceland - perhaps the most talented living Nigerian writer. I'm dying to finish Cloud Atlas, with Robert Harris' Imperium waiting in the wings, as well as Hughes' translation of Ovid's Metamorphoses. Now, Harris is a man in total mastery of character and narrative, immediately resuscitating the point of the novel. I guess anyone who counts Peter Mandelson as a close friend must have an ear well-attuned to the shadier forces that motivate political desire. It certainly comes out in his pen - all his previous books are gripping yet intelligent page turners.

The day meandered on. Bibi is in Lagos so the structure of my existence becomes re-formulated and open-ended. I re-watched Ray's Pather Panchali and drank a beer. I wrote another memory down for my memory book project. I searched for the subject of the memory on Google - vengeance is still mine - but found nothing - he fell down a hole in Delhi. It always surprises me how quite so many people continue to evade the mighty sweep of the Google radar. Old friends who seemed to have achieved nothing that the Internet has deemed worthy to code into html: surely their lives have had merit and significance? Or is the Internet still a myopic animal?

I looked up the Opium Wars on Wikipedia to learn yet another dastardly part of British history (it turns out that the main catalyst was Britain's new found addiction to drinking tea in the late 18th century: "how do we finance a trade deficit with China? I know, let's get them all hooked on opium, and let's force the Indians to sell it...") I made flapjacks - not quite as good as the last batch, but still 8 out of ten. A friend has a nasty bit of malaria - so our car and driver and sister Yetunde ferried her to the hospital. There was no power for most of the day, but we have immunity from black-outs thanks to our supa-dupa Outback inverter. I drove through darkened streets - never failing to wonder at driving in a capital city of 150 million people that cannot keep itself alight. The day came and went.

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Saturday, October 28, 2006

Scientology comes to the rescue..

This Day reports in today's paper that over 100 books written by L. Ron Hubbard (pictured left, in his prime) have been donated to the English and Literary Studies department of UniLag. They claim the books are worth US100,000. Even if we assume 100 means 120, Hubbard's books are allegedly being donated at a 'value' of over 800 dollars per book. In London, they flog them for ten quid per tome as a marketing tool, so there seems to have been a bit of developing-country mark-up at work.

This being This Day, the journalist has done sod all research and provides not one whiff of context. There is no mention that Hubbard is dead, nor that he was the founder of one of the most unbelievable religions ever invented: Scientology. It is truly a mark of the weakness of the human mind that people find Scientology attractive - so much so that a new London HQ has just opened. All you need to know about Scientology can be found within this brilliant episode of South Park. The origin story is a familiar one - a little similar to the Nation of Islam curiously enough - man comes from another galaxy, landing on earth a few million years ago and being implanted inside volcanoes etc etc. Hubbard himself was a science-fiction writer - the religion he founded being his greatest work. Quite how Tom Cruise manages to believe all this stuff I'm not sure - but having been involved in Hollywood plotlines for most of his adult life, he's probably been inured to fiction and fabulation.

The really pathetic thing in this little story is that the department of Engish and Literary Studies at UniLag actually accepted the books. Rob Hubbard, Scientology: literature?? As the Guardian (UK) article (see the link above) mentions, one of Scientology's more dodgy beliefs is that 'yellow and brown' people are less 'progressive' than whites. Funny then that a racist religion should be looking to set up shop in Sub-Saharan Africa.

Anyone who wants to support Cassava Republic by donating our (genuinely literary) books to the same department, please contact bibi@cassavarepublic.biz. These people need help.

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The art of Gele

If you're not a Nigerian woman, you may have wondered how Gele's (Nigerian headwraps) are fashioned. Its a complex and ever-changing art form.. This is a Senegalese friend just before a wedding in Lagos earlier this year.

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Friday, October 27, 2006

Sisi Oge in the house

Can you spot her?

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London owambe

My first video on Youtube! An owambe in London in 2003. Women in lace and gele's dancing to fuji.

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Thursday, October 26, 2006

A christening


We went to our neighbour's christening recently at the nearby Catholic church. For the first time in Nigeria, I found the sermon moving and meaningful - it was on Job and the nature of suffering. Rather than the hard-sell of immediate wealth and brutal destruction of one's enemies, a la the pseudo-Christianity of the motormouth pastors, the priest spoke of the necessity to accept suffering, both personally and for others. He said that when one is next to someone suffering, it is often better to sit silently with them than to coat the moment in candyfloss (he didn't quite say it that way but you get the point). Although it was a Catholic church, this message strikes to the absolute core of my faith (if it is that) in the Buddhist message: embracing the necessity of suffering, rather than running away from it.

I do enjoy the colour and ritual of the Catholic church - especially in Africa. On the day, the music alternated between the drone-like latinisms of the priestly voice with lilting African melodious choral works. If only they'd change their tune on contraception!

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Donald Duke's my man

Donald Duke is easily the most impressive Governor, both to listen to and in terms of record. Cross River is now a model state for the rest of the country, with the cleanest city - Calabar - the best tourist resort - Obudu - and the most exciting business development area - Tinapa (due to open early next year).

Duke is young, articulate and has been working in accord with a twenty year plan for Cross River. It is a pity that it may be he is considered too young or too something not to be taken seriously as a presidential candidate. In my three and a bit years in Nigeria, I have not seen anyone come close to Duke in terms of political ability, vision and action. If I could, he would get my vote. If the current lot of discredited purse-snafflers were replaced by a bunch of men and women of the calibre of Duke, Nigeria (and Africa) would be on the brink of an incredible renaissance.

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Transformation of the civil service

One of the reasons for the continued excessive inefficieny and manifest corruption within the civil service has just been removed, thanks to the approval of a white paper by the Federal Executive Council. Up until this change, the Office of the Head of Service was solely responsible for the recruitment, posting, disciplining etc of all civil servants. Under this system, it was virtually impossible to fire people for incompetence or corruption. Those deemed to have erred were merely 'returned to the pool' as the euphemism went. This meant that well known corrupt civil servants merely got a slap on the wrist and a transfer, even after engaging in serious levels of corruption. A corrupt administrator with years of experience in say public-sector aviation issues would suddenly find himself in charge of fisheries, compounding corruption with ignorance in an unholy brew.

The new policy means that all significant HR functions will be decentralised to within the specific Ministry, Department or Agency. This gives each MDA power to hire, discipline and fire. It empowers each MDA to hire sector-specific staff, to implement performance-driven strategies, and to hold recruits to account.

Of course, as with all other aspects of the reform process, quite why this is happening so late in the day is another question entirely.

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Sponsorship blues

My criticism of the This Day jamboree a few weeks ago has been thrown into stark contrast in the past few days. It's been extremely difficult to attract sponsorship for our forthcoming Abidemi Sanusi tour (to Lagos, Abuja, Ibadan, Port Harcourt and Jos, from November 18th for two weeks) from either private sector companies or from Foundations and the like - even though you would have thought that promoting literacy and a reading culture is something many companies would want to be associated with. Definitely, the positive association we can offer is probably worth more than the hard cash we're asking for.

It's a shame that millions of dollars can be spent bringing American pop stars over (and other similar fripperies), which has little or no impact on the country, whereas the small amount of support we need to put on regular Cassava Republic author tours and writers' workshops falls on deaf ears. Although people talk about getting Nigeria reading again, it seems there isn't really any serious committment from the people with the deep pockets. Fundraising in Nigeria really is only about who you know, not about your value proposition. It's not just a problem we at Cassava Republic face, it's a problem for the Arts and Culture sector in general.

Anyone who wants to offer their support (no matter how small the contribution, it will be gratefully received and put to good use), please email: bibi@cassavarepublic.biz

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Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Umoja


Umoja, the popular African dance show (think leopard skin trunks and loud drums) that has circuited the globe for the past few years, finally hits Nigeria. The big question is, will the girls take their tops off? This is, at least from a heterosexual male perspective, the 'highlight' of the show..

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Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Jews of Nigeria 1 - Shabbat Service 1aa

Both the Yoruba and the Igbo make claims to be descended from the Hebrews in various ways. There are still Igbos practising the Jewish faith. I'm not sure how far back this practice goes - ie whether there is any evidence of a continuous tradition dating back hundreds/thousands of years.

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Wherefore the belly in Nigeria?

I've yet to get a conclusive answer on this in discussions, so I throw it open to my readers: wherefore the belly in Nigeria 2006? Do Nigerian men like their women to have a flat stomach, or do you still quite like a bit of a curve? Are Naija women increasingly specifying a six pack, or will the calabash stomach suffice? Your thoughts please people..

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Monday, October 23, 2006

Barka da Sallah

We took our friend Toks to Gurara Falls in Niger State to celebrate the end of Ramadan (there’s two days public holiday – today and tomorrow). Last time we went the place was empty. This time the place was crowded with locals taking time off. It’s quite a tricky place to find – this is the only signpost. Anyone doing their job in promoting tourism would have signposts leading up to the place all the way back in Abuja. The road to the falls from this signpost is atrocious, and all that is there when you get there is self-organised. Gurara Falls could be so beautiful and attract thousands more people each year (and revenue for the State, and jobs), if only there was an attempt at being more serious about tourism.

It was lovely to see the youngsters decked out in their best gear – a lot of young guys doing their best to yankee-fy themselves with 50cent headbands and Tupac-style sticking plasters all over their face (no one sucked on dummys however). Younger boys threw firecrackers at each other which sounded as loud as gunshots. As it is near the end of the raining season, the falls themselves were thunderous.

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Just after we arrived, I watched these two play for a few minutes. The standard was pretty high. I used to play all the time in my adolescence, but I was never anywhere near as good as these two. The guy in the hat on the left had a mean smash which he pulled off every time. Now, if Nigeria invested a little more wisely in sport, I'm sure a crack table-tennis team could be assembled for the next Olympics, judging from these two.

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styling and chilling..

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Toks and Bibi at the top of the falls

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At the top of the falls. I didnt notice the intenseness of the fulani guy in the woolly hat until afterwards..

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Adam

It being Barka da Sallah, everyone at the falls wore their finest. Adam was trying out a kind of late nineteenth century cowboy look, I think..

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Body

As I watched this guy, I felt a Mapplethorpe sensation come on. His beautiful sculpted body, glistening and strong. Some images draw you to the body, almost pushing you inside the flesh. Call it a primal eroticism, call it whatever - this moment had it.

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Smile..

Note the way the girl in the pink top has already acquired a sense of styling in front of the camera. The two guys in the middleground on the right frolicked all the time we were there, in love with their bodies, and the other's body, as the cool water rushed by.

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As we turned to climb back up to the top, we faced a barrage of young boys taking delight in racing as fast as they could done the rocky slope, some falling over laughing. In their midst, young women demurely found their way from rock to rock, as these two.

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The guy with the funky hair

On the way back up from the waterfall, we caught sight of this funky dude.

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Sunday, October 22, 2006

Tagged..

FOUR JOBS YOU'VE HAD IN YOUR LIFE
Strawberry picker
Boxing promoter
Dustbin man
Savoy Waiter

FOUR JOBS YOU WISH YOU HAD

Travel writer
Shiatsu masseur to the stars
Celebrated film maker
Coffee importer

FOUR MOVIES YOU COULD WATCH OVER AND OVER AGAIN
Paris Texas
The Graduate
Lost in Translation
Pulp Fiction

FOUR CITIES YOU'VE LIVED IN

London
Lagos
Liege
Leamington Spa (I like cities beginning with L)

FOUR TV SHOWS YOU LOVE TO WATCH
Six Feet Under
Curb your enthusiasm
The Larry Sanders Show
Starsky and Hutch

FOUR PLACES YOU'VE BEEN ON VACATION/TRAVELLED TO

Cuba
Prague
Doneghal
Istanbul

FOUR WEBSITES YOU VISIT DAILY
www.guardian.co.uk
http://en.widepedia.org
www.nigeriaworld.com
www.lagoslive.com

FOUR OF YOUR FAVORITE FOODS
Anything from Mildred’s, Soho, London
Mango
Akara
Vegan ice-cream

FOUR THINGS YOU WON'T EAT

Anything from an animal
Anything that involved cruelty or suffering
Anything that involved exploitation
Anything with wheat in it (I’m wheat intolerant)

FOUR THINGS YOU WISH YOU COULD EAT OR DRINK RIGHT NOW

Bubble tea (delicious Korean milk shake)
Vegan pancakes with maple syrup
Jacket potato with houmous
Chips and mushy peas

FOUR THINGS IN YOUR BEDROOM
Bibi (she’s not strictly a ‘thing’ however)
The New Statesman magazine
Our shrine
A Cuban film poster lithograph

FOUR THINGS YOU WISH YOU HAD IN YOUR BEDROOM
Flapjack dispenser
On-tap masseuse with expert fingers
A shower that did hot as well as cold
A balcony with a view of Aso Rock

FOUR THINGS YOU ARE WEARING RIGHT NOW
Tracksuit bottoms, that’s it!

ONE PLACE I'D RATHER BE RIGHT NOW
Salvador, Bahia

ONE FICTIONAL PLACE I'D RATHER BE RIGHT NOW
In one of Calvino’s Invisible Cities

FOUR PEOPLE YOU’D REALLY LOVE TO HAVE DINNER WITH
Noam Chomsky
Chinua Achebe
Michael Winterbottom (prolific British film-maker)
Nina Simone

FOUR THINGS YOU ARE THINKING RIGHT NOW

How to get rid of my hangover
When to start my daily Prince 2 revision
When I’m going to finish Cloud Atlas
My new project (it’s a secret)

FOUR OF YOUR FAVORITE THINGS/PEOPLE

My family
The English countryside
Champagne (Veuve Cliquot Premier Cru and rising)
London

FOUR PEOPLE YOU TAG
Tobias
African shirts
Sisi Oge
Akin

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Crepuscular

The dusk sky from our balcony was lovely today - so many unnameably subtle shades of mauve and orange changing by the second. Imagine a world where the sky was a uniform blue-grey every day, everywhere. All any work of art can do is to approximate to the sacred beauty of the sky.

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Saturday, October 21, 2006

Bleeding hotmail

Hotmail has stopped working in the past two days. The MSN site reports there are no issues with hotmail, which leads me to suspect that maybe it is being blocked for Nigeria.. Can anyone confirm?

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Sonny Rollins new album

Sonny Rollins, the 76 year old Saxophone Colossus, releases a new album (the first in five years). Its not out in the shops yet, but you can download it from the album site (there's a 'making of' video there to watch). Pic courtesy of the New York Times (links to article).

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Friday, October 20, 2006

Garth Crooks

The well-respected ex-top flight footballer and BBC commentator has been on holiday in Nigeria the past few days. He's live from Lagos on BBC Radio Berkshire tonight at 5:45pm. Click on the link to listen online live.

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Jimi Solanke

I was honoured to meet Jimi Solanke last night at a Nigerian Film Hall of Fame event at Merit Hall. Solanke is a well-known storyteller, actor and performer. He used to perform with Soyinka's troupe and has appeared in many films. At 65, he is still full of beans, taking his own theatre company into rural areas to perform ethics-based plays. He also teaches at Ife (OAU), focusing on oral history.

His voice is a fruity baritone, his face expressive, like a Rodin in motion. He re-told the Yoruba origin story - the mischevious Eshu getting creator-spirit Obatala (a.k.a Orishala) drunk, leaving Oduduwa to climb down and form the earth. Till today, devotees of Obatala cannot drink palm wine..

I think he was very happy to receive the award.

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Its an old story but worth repeating

MTN has been giving all 360 members of the House of Reps N7500 of recharge cards every month. We have the indefatigable Jonathan Elendu to thank for the story. Has anything changed since the story originally broke?

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Dele Giwa

There's a good post on remembering Dele Giwa on Chxta's blog right now. I wouldn't agree that it is too late to clarify the issue. It might have to happen in a few years time, for perhaps obvious reasons. But it seems to me that the strength of feeling will not disappear anytime soon. When the time is right, the truth will out. There's no avoiding it.

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Thursday, October 19, 2006

Africa Salsa Congress coming up


Coming up early next month - here in Abuja! The event is organised by 3 Naija brothers - salsa addicts all.

With Abuja Carnival coming up next month, as well as our next Cassava Republic Author tour (with Abidemi Sanusi), its going to be a busy month..

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Wednesday, October 18, 2006

A taxi home, in 1996

It was four am in the City, the night inky and wet. I entered the black cab to take me home, as I had done on so many other nights. Usually, after giving directions, the journey passed in silence – London cabbies are rarely as talkative as the stereotype. This time round however, the slightly balding driver kept the sliding window between front and rear sections open.

‘Been a busy night guv?’ He started, his voice an authentic cockney chirpiness, his head tilting slightly up in listening mode, reaching for my face in his rear-view mirror. My brain was in permafrost after eight hours of faffing with Word and Powerpoint for stressed corporate finance types in a fluorescent spaceship. After a few seconds of thawing, I was able to reply that it had been busy. We then exchanged some light banter. I told him I needed a holiday, he asked me if I had somewhere in mind. I replied that we were planning to go to Nigeria – my wife being Nigerian. This prompted the following memorable monologue:

‘Nigerian woife eh? I’ve got a Thai woife meself,’ he confided. ‘I went online and picked her out from a set of pictures. Coowse, I went to see her in the flesh before I made any decisions…its only right innit?’

‘I went to Bangkok, met her family, her sister. They woz right pleased that she’d met a white bloke, especially a white geeza from England. Treated me like royalty they did.’

‘Anyway, I brought her back wi me a coupla years ago. We got marrid n’all. I gotta tell you, it’s fakin great. A lot a wimmin these days in England are right stuck up caas. They want to make awl the decisions, call awl the shots. It ain’t right. It just ain’t right is it guv?’ He looked at me in the mirror again, asking the question. I grunted approval, to keep him going. The cab had crossed London Bridge and was speeding towards the Elephant.

‘See, my woife, she does everyfin’ a man needs and wants. When I get home, she’s made the dinner, laid the table, everyfin’. I sit daan, she gives me my knapkin, then she serves me dinna. Its beautiful, just like should be.’ Really? – I prod him phatically onwards.

‘Them Thai wimmin, they got wot we’ve lost ain’t they? Like, back in the Victorian days, wimmin was wimmin and men woz men. Then it all got messed up wiv feminism innit? But the Thais, you see they’ve still got it - what we had. The women are so happy to serve their guvnor, give him everfin' he wants. Its fakin great, if you’ll pardon my French.’

Silence filled the cab. I could not muster a response at 4:20am. The interior smelt of rubber and plastic, a spick and span, nearly-new smell. We were on Wandsworth Road, headed for my place in Battersea. I pictured the cabbie, paunched and balding at a shiny mahogany table, a slender Asian beauty in silky uniform standing by as he slurped and chopped. I felt sad for the world, and the thousands of convenient transactions of this kind that weave lives together.

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Leather

Ok here's a random question. Why are plastic bags called 'leather' in Nigeria?

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Abuja stories

Pastor Christ (Christ Embassy) is in town. Eagle Sq, the military parade ground, is bedecked with plastic chairs as far as the eye can see with a video screen by the stage. I've spent many puzzled hours watching him strut his stuff on tv. You know the rest of what I'm about to say: it goes in one ear and out the other - i just don't get non-linear sermons. Still, he conks his hair back and wears flashy suits. Perhaps that's the appeal. I'm told he's not a prosperity-doctrine illusionist, so that counts for something.

Meanwhile, I got stopped cheating a red light this morning by a late middle-aged policeman with a big stick near Nicon (it doesnt sound right calling it Transcorp somehow). "Pak well Pak well" he barked. Oh dear, I thought.

"Oga. Sorry o. My sister in law is very sick. I have to take her to hospital quick-quick." My assistant feigns serious illness on cue.
"Oga. Please forgive me. I'm desperate to get her to see a doctor."
His stern expression softens.
"Its ok. I forgive you for the offence. But what do you have for me?"
"Haba oga, I have no money." Jeremy pauses to come up with a plan.
"However, I have plenty bananas. Please, abeg. Take two." I hand him two bananas. He bursts out laughing.
"Oya go."

That's what I love about Nigeria - a polite conversation can go a long way. Try flattering a UK copper and see where it'll get you..

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More on adoption

Interesting piece on African adoption in the Guardian today. I can't help thinking there are too many children in the world. Why follow the urge to have babies in a world probably on the brink of ecological disaster, a world that is over-populated, over-heated and fast running out of vital resources (its been said for quite a while now that the first really savage global wars of the near future will be the water-wars).

Better to ignore that biological bell that clangs inside the body and adopt. There are too many of us struggling for access to too few resources.

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Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Patriarchy and development

I had to visit a few Federal Government agencies this morning. Doing the rounds, in most places, middle-age women stood around gossiping, or sleeping at their desks. The visible level of productivity is extremely low. No doubt in most places, some people are doing work, but for the most part, the civil service does seem the preserve of sub-professional women wasting energy on gist.

This prompted a thought about patriarchy and its relation to development. Having continued reading the university research reports I mentioned in a previous post, I discovered that female students report being undermined from all angles at university. Many end up cooking for their male counterparts in exchange for phone cards or little gifts, positioned as wives-to-be, and carriers of the domestic burden.

Taking together my musings on the survey and my experience this morning, I reached a conclusion that feminist thinkers reached a looong time ago – but you know how it is when a conclusion truly sparks inside your head for the first time. The conclusion: that patriarchy significantly contributes to social under-development. I would go so far as to say that patriarchy is the most significant cause of continued social under-development. You might ask why do I think this?

Well, first, in an obvious sense, patriarchy reduces the employment opportunities of women (apart from the hidden work of child rearing that is). Women are therefore given less chance to contribute to the economy. This is quite an obvious point so I won’t dwell on it.

Secondly, patriarchy tends to undermine women’s confidence. The microcosmic world of the Nigerian university is a case in point. The research shows that women across the country are almost continuously undermined in many different ways, by both their male and female lecturers, as well as by their male counterparts. Undermining a young person’s confidence is tantamount to physical abuse – given the effects it will have on the rest of their life. In most cases, it leads to a devastating internalisation of the values of patriarchy.

Thirdly, and this is the more unusual thought: in a patriarchal society the ‘mother-whore’ dichotomy is thrown into sharp contrast. A woman either functions as a potential mother, or as the whore or the twat. To the extent that patriarchal social systems increase the general vulnerability (economic and otherwise) of women, is the extent to which sex becomes transactional. The young female student body is a site of potential transaction (rather than intellectual potentiality), with male lecturers and male students in strict competition.

Now, when the female body is transactionalised in this way (positioned as the potential whore), I would argue that this has much more general affects on the society at large. The devaluation of women leads to the devaluation of value itself. If, as what a male commentor referred to as ‘student twat’ is cheaply available, this is a symbolic rape of womanhood more generally. And this symbolic rape cannot be contained solely within the sphere of gender relations – rather, it generates its own form of symbolic excess. Just as the woman’s symbolic power is weakened, so to is the apparent increase in symbolic power of the male mis-aligned. In simple terms, the male acquires a sense of entitlement that disrupts all other systems of value. This propagates a rent-seeking mentality, where leadership is reduced to ownership.

The question is: can patriarchal societies truly develop without questioning their own hierarchies of value? I doubt it.

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David Banda Ritchie

Madonna's little child David arrives in his new lap of Marylebone luxury today. It's quite hard not to be revolted by the adoption of this 1 year old Malawian - the way the Ritchies were able to fast-track the process sticks in the throat.

But more egregious by far is the arbitrary selectivity: one boy gets the best the world can offer, while the other orphans and unwanted children of Malawi are left behind. If there were to be no vanity involved (that warm cosy feeling of having done your bit for 'Africa'), the Ritchies should have just quietly put some of their copious resources behind orhanages/maternity hospitals etc in Malawi.

But that would have meant they don't get to come away with a little shiny brown prize. Its almost as vomit-inspiring a story as the recent Pitt/Jolie birth in Namibia - where the whole country was practically sealed off so the obnoxious mannequin could drop her brat.

In both stories Africa is just a forgotten someplace else that can be used whenever a whim or fancy occurs to the uber-class. Neither Malawi nor Namibia should have accepted this kind of support.

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Monday, October 16, 2006

More on the This Day shindig

We've slowly been getting reports from people who went to the This Day Independence Day party in Lagos - Beyonce, Jaz-Z etc. Just to remind you, the VIP tickets were going for N100,000, the 'cheap' seats were a mere N25,000 (nearly two hundred dollars).

Only the area near the front of the stage was packed, the rest of the venue was practically empty. It was mostly governors and other old politicos jigging away at the front - to Beyonce! It must have been a bit odd for the performers whose usual average audience age back home is between 12 and 15 to have 60-75 year olds agbada'd and gele'd up in front of them. The whole caboodle cost This Day US$10m apparently - they made a loss. Boo hoo. If they'd planned a TBS N2500 come-one-come-all jobby then half of Lagos would have turned up and they'd have made their money. But that might have been a security migraine.

The story of the show is a parable for Nigerian society writ large in a way: you have the old guard, controlling and cavorting, with the ghana-mus-go bags flying hither thither. The youngsters are locked and priced out, their energy dissipated through a thousand strategies of frustration..

Things will change.

Meanwhile, Beyonce had a hissy fit at the standard of the American Airlines chartered plane they brought the artistes over in. She refused to travel back in the same plane, taking a First Class BA flight via London instead. Naomi you may just have a contender for precious-little-madam-of-the-year 2006 award..

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Bibi becomes a celebrity

I started getting texts this evening and Bibi had 80 missed calls - she was at a 40th birthday party for an Abuja heavy girl, while I was at home with my hypothetical cat. The interview recorded with Diana Evans and Bibi on NTA's Today's Woman with Adesuwa back in August was broadcast this evening. Neither of us saw it, but they must have put Bibi's phone number on the show. Random numbers keep flashing her constantly, and she has endless text messages along the lines of, "My name is Segun. I live in Adamawa State and have written a xtian novel. How do I publish?" I recall the day it was recorded, me the loyal husband backstage. We chatted with Adesuwa after the show - she seems like a lovely earthy woman.

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Enlightenment


A few months ago, when I was quite ill with complex symptoms, I experienced something like enlightenment for the fourth time in my life. The first time, I was just about to drown on a foreign beach, the second and third times were drug-enduced meditations on nature in the middle of the night in remote fields (perhaps they do not count). This fourth time, after hours of uncontrollable shivering and two sleepless nights, something clicked and I transcended my body-in-pain. I felt full of love and a subtle kind of energy. It no longer mattered what happened to me, for I was something else apart from this sick body: a kind of luminous transcendence, and a kernel of laughter.

Its difficult to describe the experience. I woke Bibi up to tell her I was in buddhahood (or at least bodhisatvahood), but she was dog-tired (I'd kept her awake). Soon I fell asleep. In the morning, all I could feel was the afterglow of the feeling, like a lava-lamp just turned off.

Perhaps it is simply a physio-chemical reaction to extreme experience - bouts of serious illness or near-death situations. In a sense of course it is just this - the brain quickly releasing serotonins and endorphins to minimise the shock of impact, or the turbulent passage towards death and non-being.

But I believe it is not only this. It is also a state of mind that can be cultivated and attained at any time. I have felt the glow returning in the past few days, thanks to reading about various therapeutic techniques which aim to unleash creativity by reprogramming the mind away from hidden barriers (NLP, cognitive therapy, the forum etc) and a desire to be more gentle with myself and others. I want to move away from being so knee-jerk about the world (the comparison with Geldof in one of the comments stung!) I want to avoid the perception of being arrogant by cultivating a more listening relationship to the umwelt.

And so, when I hear today that an IT company with a poor delivery reputation has won yet another Government contract, on the one hand, I am filled with dismay and sadness: that the same patterns and the politics continue. But on another level, I find myself letting go. The current administration has laid some foundations for transformation, but it will take quite a while (years and years) for the benefits of positive change to filter down. Maybe the next administration will be capable of taking IT-driven transformation seriously, rather than just an alternative form of egunje. Its quite easy to get pissed off with everything in Nigeria, beginning with forms of consciousness and ethicality. But this only burns up the self; it doesn't actually help any.

I've always resisted going on a deep spiritual journey with myself, because I have a gut-reaction to the prospective narcissism built into the voyage (why I couldnt live in California). But now I'm starting to think that only by going on a spiritual journey can genuine change in the world take place. I learnt this lesson a long time ago when hanging with so-called 'engaged buddhists' - including an inspirational being by the name of Gukiyapati. But lessons learnt are quickly unlearnt in the miasma of experience and the hiatuses of relocation (physical and metaphysical). Now its time to walk the path again..

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Lekki cycling

The nightmare that is the Lekki Expressway is another opportunity for cycling as a transport alternative. Even VGC is only six or seven miles from town. Lagos State would have to provide cycle tracks that were separated from the road by a raised curbing (as in London), and of course, offices would have to provide shower facilities for sweaty bodies. But a frustrating journey of 2 hours could be cut down to a health-inducing 25 min zip on a bike.

The other (more readily realisable) option would be to enforce car-pooling, and/or have a pooling lane.

Whatever the case, something drastically effective has to be done.

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Lagos slum clearance

Nine 'disaster zones' in Lagos are to be cleared, with residents relocated to Lekki and Alimosho, thanks to a US$200m loan from the World Bank. The Lagos State Govt has an infamous reputation on slum clearance, thanks mainly to the pr disaster that was the clearance of Maroko fifteen years or so ago. Read Chris Abani's terrific novel Graceland for a fictionalised version of the story. The ex-residents of Maroko live in a new slum, further down the Lekki Expressway. Even if this time round, Lagos State has good intentions, one wonders how the Lekki axis, with only the one road that is already swamped with traffic for hours each day could possibly cope with millions more residents.

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Sunday, October 15, 2006

An imaginary monologue from a Nigerian university lecturer

I have been reading some recent research on sexual harrassment in Nigerian universities, and it filled me with anger, and then with a profound sense of sadness. I then bashed out the following, to try to make some sense of the life of a lecturer who avails himself in this way.

I wrote it in a few minutes, its clunky and there are idiomatic problems amongst others. It would be interesting to try to extend it into a fuller length monologue that could be performed - do you think it would be worth it? The text would be a partial success if I could get the listener to sympathise with the tragedy of a man who sleeps with his students for favours. Imagine a darkened stage, with a solitary figure on a solitary chair, a candle on a table next to him..

Bushmeat
What do you want me to say? I am paid a few thousand naira each month to scratch an existence like a chicken in the yard – that’s if I get paid at all. What would you have me do? We all have to find ways to get by. How could we live if we didn’t sell our notes to the students? How could I feed my family? How could I mend my shoes? Haba!

What do you mean my lecture notes are out of date? Some of my references are in the early 1990’s, is that not good enough for you? Where exactly do you expect me to get new material from? There is nothing in our library but dust and mould, and I haven’t been overseas since 1987. And don’t make me laugh and then cry if you think I can go online – when we don’t even have light on campus!

You think I should not help some of my students out? When the new girls need to find room in the hostels and there is not enough space for all and I can help ease their troubles, why shouldn’t I? They come to my office, we sit and we talk, I listen to their problem and then I sort them out, as it is in my power to. It is alright like that.

So what if they also sort me out too?

When they wear short skirts and show their shoulder, and come knocking on my door, it means they are also willing to come to the party too, you no sabi? Why should men always take the blame when it is the girls who are offering themselves like luscious fruit to be plucked?

And when they want to do well in their exams so they can get certificate and then get a job, why should they not come to see me, so we can sit down and talk it through? And if one thing leads to another, why on earth not? How many of them think this is wrong? Of course, it’s not just the girls I help. I take a dash from the boys to solve their problems too. Don’t misunderstand me: I am not like some others: my bushmeat has to be in a dress and have a nice smooth skin and a pretty smile.

My friend, you have not lived my life. So please don’t sermonise me with your air-conditioned attitude. You don’t know how difficult it has been to keep head above water these long years. We sell our notes, we pick out a little bushmeat each year, we let the days pass. This was not how I wanted my life to be, all those years ago, but this is what has happened.

And so let it be my friend.. Everyone gets what they want, so long as they really want it. Let my life pass, and I will let yours.

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Contemporary African architecture musings..


I've been reading about the Eastgate Centre in Harare, Zimbabwe. This 30,000sqm retail/office space uses passive cooling rather than air conditioning, using 10% of the energy of conventionally cooled buildings. The cooling system is modelled on ant-hills of the Zimbabwean savanna, with air vents pushing fresh air through the building using big fans (the accumulated hot air rising up and out through roof funnels by day, being recirculated during the cooler night hours), in combination with a high heat-absorbent exernal skin. The field of creating engineering solutions through the study of animals is called bionics - the Eastgate Centre being an excellent case study.

The architect, Mick Pearce, is a Zimbabwean architect with 33 years of projects under his belt.

It would be interesting to explore whether similar passive cooling systems could be possible in warmer, more tropical climes such as West Africa. Hybrid passive/active systems would be a start - the architectural equivalent of the Toyota Prius. A return to a more widespread use of mud architecture, common in Northern Nigeria, Mali etc would be an idea. The museum of Architecture in Jos has some excellent 1:1 replicas of traditional mud buildings, which could be the inspiration for a new contemporary mud architecture. Even in the heat of the day, the temperature inside the inner spaces of these buildings is cool, without an air-conditioning unit in site. Our dream would be to be involved in a new mud-build which demonstrates what can be done. From what I hear, there are already such projects underway in next door Accra.

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Friday, October 13, 2006

Vegan ice cream in Naija!!!!

Veuve-cliquot socialist that I am, I indulged myself recently with a Gaggia ice cream-maker. Here it is in action, whipping up a vegan chocolate chip number. It does everything - you just pour everything in and 30 mins later you have delicious Italian style ice cream. Yum yum.

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Damon Albarn in Mali

Interesting account of Damon Albarn's latest forays into the Malian music scene in today's Indy. Albarn lies at one end of the muzungu-in-Africa paradigm (generative, engaging, listening), with self-righteous tossers like Sting and Geldof at the other extreme (patronising, glib, deaf).

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Rwandan Coffee

Last time I was in the UK I bought some Rwandan Fairtrade coffee (Maraba Bourbon) from Sainsburys. I usually go for Fairtrade Ethiopian, but thought I'd give it a try. At only £2.29 per bag, its exceptional value and supporting a worthy cause. The flavour is unique - nutty, earthy with a hint of fresh citrus. Click here to find out more. The project was supported by USAID, and has helped to create a network of cooperatives in Rwanda, providing work for survivors. Who said donors are always a waste of time?

Its a shame good quality African coffees (Ethiopian, Kenyan, Rwandan) aren't directly available in places like Nigeria.

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Information pathology

One of the most perplexing issues in Nigeria is that of information management. The government is spectacularly inept at it - whether its dealing with the aftermath of a plane crash or defending its own day-to-day decisions and policies. The current case in point is the new bus transit system in Abuja. No one knows what the bus routes are. No one knows where to buy tickets from. The bus stops which were erected over a year ago have become largely symbolic - buses stop wherever they see a potential passenger. In other words, the whole set-up is pure confusion.

What would it have taken the FCT administration to put on an awareness and communication campaign? Why didnt they put up posters, do some radio and tv slots, maybe even create a website? As it is, no one knows how the bus system is supposed to work. I see many empty buses ambling around town. Meanwhile, people walk and walk.

The deeper issue is why the government is so averse to providing those it serves, the citizens, with the information they require. Its either that they view citizen-centric information as a privilege to be earnt (a hang-up from the military years), or there is just such clod-hopping organisational ineffectiveness that they are not competent to do the simplest things, such as creating a table of routes, then designing and pasting up some posters. It's the same issue with getting the Bureau of Statistics to publish their survey results (see a post yesterday) - the blood will not come out of the stone.

There needs to be an information revolution in the public sector (the private sector is almost as bad - witness the pathetic attempts to communicate service offerings amongst the telcos). The government needs to hire competent media professionals who know how to run campaigns and provide public service information. Evidently, the people doing these jobs at the moment should be fired.

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Thursday, October 12, 2006

Bin Laden tape interview

Ok ok - so YouTube can be funny sometimes..

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Snooty British cow

Donatus and I are on the balcony - he has come round to check on our plants. Donatus is a gardener and a lovely human being. Growing and nurturing tropical plants is his life and his spirit.

The other side of our yard in the Spanish embassy, the new ambassador (I refuse to give him a capital letter) and his wife are walking towards their pool. He waves. I wave back.

"Do you need a gardener?" I ask. I'm always on Donatus' side.
"No, we have one already. Where are you from?" Spanish dignatory asks.
"UK"
"Ah. My wife is from Britain."
"Hi." wife says, "Sorry there's going to be some noise tonight. It's Spain's national day."
"Oh ok." I remembered the last two year's parties. "Can I come?" I've always been a bit of a chancer.

Ambassadore says nothing. She pipes up, "No. We're full already."

I'm sorry but sometimes I just feel like shooting some of my people. Snooty British Cow. Isn't there an unwritten global law of humanity that if you're going to make noise and have a party, you invite the neighbours? She's probably from Surbiton, where such communal spirit long ago expired.

All throughout Bibi's yoga class, I dream of Teju Cole and I fashioning pea shooters and peppering the guests with lentil bullets. We'd have a competition to see who could ping her skimpy butt. What fun we would have, and they wouldn't be able to suss us, giggling and firing from the darkness of the balcony..

It will not go well with them. And I wish Teju and I lived closer together.

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Core Welfare Indicator Statistics

Finally, after much bulldoggish badgering on my part, the National Bureau of Statistics has published the summarised results of their recently concluded nationwide survey, the Core Welfare Indicator Statistics (CWIQ 2006) - 70,000+ households surveyed in all 36 states on a variety of poverty-related questions. This is where I got the FGM stats from in a recent post.

Click here for a list of all the PDFs. Quite why government agencies find it so enormously difficult to put stuff online remains a mystery..

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Now that Beyonce, Jay-Z and all have gone

While some young (and not so young) 'uns got to see and scream in front of their Channel O idols, either at the concert or after/before at the Eko Hotel, many others have a bad taste in their mouths after the This Day-sponsored event last week.

Apparently, the main acts were paid US$500,000 each to perform. When Nigeria is full of struggling creative talent who cannot hope to receive any support from newspapers, bankers, or the government, is it really the thing to do to blow all that money on some mediocre foreign acts? What an odd way to celebrate Nigeria's independence..

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Design in Nigeria

An interesting collaboration between the street welders of Lagos and the Royal College of Art. Click here and here for more. Thanks PK for the links.

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Support the orphanages

If anyone has some spare cash, there's probably very few better places to support than Nigerian orphanages. Below is an email to the Abuja ex-pats group which details one place, in Abuja:

Queen’s Child Solid Foundation (QCSF Orphanage Home)
This orphanage has over forty (40) children all orphans being taking care by the home. I was at the orphanage on the 26th August 2006 with some of our volunteers (HOPE Worldwide Nigeria volunteers) to reach out to the kids as part of activities making HOPE Worldwide Nigeria 10th Anniversary.

The visit was an experience for my team and me. Some of my team members are having this opportunity for the first time. The kids are in need for support, some are not in school.
After my experience I made a promise to myself that I will support this children in very way I can.
My appeal is for experts to take time to visit these wonderful kids, go see for yourself. The kids will need toys, cloths, educational support, and other gift items

The orphanage is own by one Glory C. Kennwood (Mrs)

Address:
Queen’s Child Solid Foundation (QCSF)
Plot 6A Cadastral Zone 07-05, Opposite High Court
Near Police Station, Phase 4, Kubwa, Abuja
E-mail: qcsforphanage@yahoo.co.uk
Te Phone: 08033110501, 08044908611

I will be glad to assist in anyway.

Thank you.

Ogundipe Akinwale Johnson
HOPE Worldwide Nigeria
Project Officer
Income Generation & Skill acquisation
+234-8023236553

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Bicycles are lovely

Here's my little idea that is win-win-winny. Now that many people are forced to wear out their soles (if not their souls) on Abuja's roads, why not get everyone bicycling? The people who set up the bicycle factory in Kaduna could open one up in FCT (Rufai would give 'em land). This would create mucho jobs (start by employing the ex-okada riders). Then the FCT people would paint cycle lane markings on the side of the road to make it a safer activity - cars would be fined if they strayed.

There could be bicycle parks at strategic points (more jobs created for people making and people selling cycle locks and for those looking after the parks). Abuja would become healthier still as everyone takes to the craze. Young men would date young women by offering them a ride into the country, cycling off for romantic picnics under the shade of Zuma rock. The hospitals would be less full of people with heart problems because everyone would be super-fit.

All we'd have to do first is persuade Senor Rufai that its not just poor people who ride bicycles in London, then maybe he'd be ok with it...

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Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Education education education

The Fed Govt currently spends approx 0.76% of its annual budget on education (according to the Ministry of Education's own figures). As historical context, the Central Bank of Nigeria has figures which show that government expenditure on education fell by 78 percent in real terms between 1980 to 1998.

Compare these figures to South Africa, which regularly dedicates over 20% (yes TWENTY PERCENT) of its annual budget to education. Or compare to Ghana, which according to this site, weighs in at 22%. The British Government usually devotes around 5%.

According to World Bank figures, the average expenditure for Sub-Saharan Africa is 15.89%.

Now I don't have time to do the full research and dig out a magical table showing all countries in the world and what percentage of their budget (there's some interesting tables on the OECD's site here) goes on education, but spending less that 1% when developed countries are spending over 5 times as much and other developing countries over twenty times as much is revealing, to say the least. Where can happen to a country that continues to devalue education so much?

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It didn't collapse!

A huge relief. However, the rumour, though baseless, has value - engineers have warned the bridge is at the point of collapse unless urgent repairs are effected immediately. Let's hope this scare-story propels Lagos State into action. What's happening to the mythical 4th mainland bridge project?

Serious questions yet again need to be asked of Lagos State's emergency services capability. Only a few days ago, yet another house collapsed in Lagos, with no emergency services until 20 hours after the collapse.

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Third mainland bridge collapse?

I've just heard a large chunk of 3rd Mainland Bridge in Lagos has collapsed... Does anyone know more?

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White people talking race

Eshunetics has a bit of a go at me in his most recent post. I don't mind criticism, but it is a bit disconcerting to be so deliberately misread on almost every point. I can't help feeling there's some kind of lateral interference affecting his text. Perhaps an irony is at work: some black theorists on race are keen to avoid race being seen as an issue that only black people must think about (avoiding an intensified burden placed upon skin colour). I entirely agree with this point. Unstated white privilege must be stated and explored. White people must be confronted with their own form of otherness (the external perspective) and made to realise the automatic privileges accorded to white skin, as a prelude to practical ways to disrupt this symbolic economy.

However, there does nonetheless seem to be a subliminal refusal to allow white people to theorise race. Hence Eshunetics' emphasis on his '25 years teaching in a multicultural context' and his attempt to belittle my conversations with teachers on the challenge of teaching young black boys in the UK, and his attempt to query how many race theorists I have read. I am sure that many people acquainted with the literature would find his suggestion that Kobena Mercer is the best writer on race a little odd. Either you are happy to broaden the debate, or you are not. If a white person comes along with some considered opinions, allow them their space. Do not attempt to reduce or belittle their considerations. A thousand minor silencing strategies will ultimately alienate a white perspective on race theory, and narrow the debate again.

Most disappointing of all is that Eshunetics and I share a common enemy and probably have much more in common than our differences - we both want to stamp out the forest fire of white supremacy. It seems the narcissism of minor differences may be at work. Either that or pure egotism.

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Tuesday, October 10, 2006

More on the okada ban

The more the days pass, the more ridiculously dictatorial the ban on motorbike taxis in Abuja seems. It was a win-win situation, providing jobs for the poor, and saving on footwear costs for the masses. The violent-sanitisation approach to Abuja is complete folly, especially given that a certain percentage of those now out of work will turn to crime. Where are all the buses? There only seems to be a handful at present. If there was going to be a ban, why was it not after there were adequate mass transit options, rather than before? The whole transition was poorly communicated and smacks of dictatorship rather than democracy. The people deserve respect, not autocracy.

A wiser strategy would have been to formalise the informal okada sector. This would involve licensing (which would enable the sector to be self-financed), MOT's on the bikes, the driver's taking a proficiency test, the insurance sector being brought in etc etc.

Policies which are based around poverty-hatred rather than poverty-alleviation, which are not focused on job-creation, are policies which will backfire in one way or another..

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Monday, October 09, 2006

Fela - Rebel Behind Bars

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