Really interesting looking show at the Studio Museum Harlem on emerging African artists working in the diaspora - click here for more. Thanks Obinna for the link. If anyone goes to the show, I'd be grateful if you could email me a write-up - I will post to this site - or send me a link to your blog write-up.
Monday, March 31, 2008
After climbing for nearly 9 hours on Day four, we finally broke through the tree line to reach the tufted grassy final reaches of the mountain. We would not have made it without the incredibly strong men of Gashaka, 12 of whom were our porters for the trip.
The guy to the left of the image carried a large bag of rice on his head all the way up (it was difficult just to lift the thing up). In another place he would have made a fine athlete. Just beyond him by about a mile is the Cameroon border, where we spent half a day's walking on the way down the following day..
There were times climbing Gangirwal where the only thing separating us from falling a few hundred feet to cracked ribs and broken legs were the roots and shoots around us. This picture of Bibi pulling her way up sums up the experience of day 4 of the climb...
Read Ebun Olatoye's account of her trip across the Sahara as part of the Chief Jibonoh-led Fight Against Desert Encroachment (FADE) awareness raising trip - here. I suspect they are in Mauritania by now..
Sunday, March 30, 2008
Nearly back home after climbing Gangirwal- Nigeria's tallest mountain. More on the drama of the trip later when I have reached home and bathed my wounds.
Thursday, March 20, 2008
Etisalat unveiled its new network last week, making it Nigeria's fifth mobile phone operator. Hakeem Bello-Osagie, chairman of Emerging Markets Telecommunications Services, or EMTS, owners of the license operated by Etisalat, said at the ceremony last Friday that Etisalat is expected to use a marketing strategy of reduced tariffs to take market share from established operators in Nigeria. Other operators are likely to follow suit, bringing the overall level of tariffs down.
EMTS, a Nigerian firm, entered into partnership with Mubadala Development Co. of the United Arab Emirates following Mubadala`s acquisition of a Unified Access License that includes a mobile phone license from the Nigerian government in January 2007 for $400 million. Etisalat has acquired a 40% stake in EMTS and operates the license in Nigeria.
Saoud Al Shamsi, Etisalat`s chief executive officer, said the company has built a network that spans the Middle East, Africa and Asia. Nigeria has more than 40 million mobile phone subscribers. Operators include MTN, Globacom, Celtel and Visafone.
(Source: Dow Jones Newswires)
Wednesday, March 19, 2008
1. In the queue at Virgin Nigeria Lagos (International Airport - for the moment). A man pays a middle man to jump the queue and get his ticket. Steam slowly arises from my ears. Later, I see him at the bar in the departure lounge, chatting up a woman. Her legs are slightly open and tilted in his direction. Then, when I am sitting on the plane, I see him enter. The woman is a few feet ahead of him. He pauses at the end of business class, and somewhat pointedly, stores his bag. The woman looks back, to see where he is. He sits down quickly in the wide seat. More people enter the plane. After a while, he walks back to her, then returns to his seat. A few minutes later, she walks up the plane to him, then returns to her seat. The plane starts to fill up. A few more minutes later, he walks down the plane and sits by her for the flight. Her accent sounds vaguely American. In Abuja, I walk past her, alone, on our way to arrivals. The guy is nowhere to be seen.
Am I right in thinking he was pretending to be in business class to charm her? That's a new trick..
2. At Salamander Cafe. In the yard outside, a black CLS AMG, looking all sleek and full of torque. A couple of glam-chic looking women leave the cafe. The darker skinned woman enters on the driver's side. I am in a rush, so walk past them and start my car (a slightly crappy Honda). A few seconds later, something catches my attention subliminally. The woman is struggling to get the metal monster out. She does a 8 point turn, and reverses into a large plant pot, instantly returning it back to the clay from whence it came. Eventually, she manages to get the Merc out. People are starting to stop and stare at the spectacle. I can't help roaring with laughter at the schadenfreude of it all. There is a scratch at the back of the car, as she speeds off into the distance. Mortification was hers..
Better park on the road next time dear.
We shared the same alma mater, Hull Uni, where I watched many a fine production at the Gulbenkian Theatre on campus. If only I had a copy of The Talented Mr Ripley, I'd watch it in his honour today. Can't wait to see the No.1 Ladies Detective Agency with Jill Scott as the voluptuous Mma Ramotswe...
Tuesday, March 18, 2008
Easter was always my favourite festival. All the choccy amidst pagan undertones, and the thrusting of spring usually well on the way. The cricket season and the smell of fresh cut grass just round the corner, followed by lazy summer days... Wrapped up in it was the minor thrill of it being close to the end of the football season - and the opportunity for the epsilons to keep shtum for a while about their simpleton game.
This Easter has a whiff of transformation about it. A few of my projects have moved into crysallis mode. NEITI looks like its going to kick ass this year and up the ante in terms of extractive transparency in Nigeria (watch this space). Meanwhile, there's another thing that you're going to start hearing about quite soon...
Meanwhile hash 2 (can't find the sign on my MacBook), a mate brought the Sunday papers from the UK. There was an article in the Sindie about Oxbridge's continuing dominance on public life (the law, media and politics in particular). The statistics are alarming. I came away thinking about how much this contributes to the hidebound nature of class in the UK and how it is stifling transformation and the opportunity for UK plc to remain globally competitive. The media is dominated by a narrow perspective on life. Think of how much for instance the BBC and the quality papers are utterly dominated by public school boys and girls who went 'up' to Oxford or Cambridge, ditto the houses of Parliament. Its not as if those who went to Oxbridge are particularly brighter than those who do their degrees elsewhere: more that the happenstance of their class background and secondary education gave them the supporting context and confidence to apply..
Note to those still commenting on the Dangote post: I simply will not approve any more of your comments, its getting quite ridiculous. I'm sure if someone lent me 400 bucks 20 years ago, I'd have forgotten about it by now..
Monday, March 17, 2008
One of my former students at The Bartlett, Martin Hampton, wins the Silver Egg at Emir Kusturica's Kustendorf Film Festival 2008, for his short documentary film Possessed. Click here to watch.
Sunday, March 16, 2008
After an involving and exhausting 3 day retreat for the new NEITI Board in Calabar, yesterday afternoon, a colleague and I visited the Drill Monkey Rehab centre on Ndidem Nsang Iso Road, just a few minutes from the city centre. It was pure therapy to stare at the chimpanzees (rescued from various places), with their half foot, half hand feet and age-old faces. The chimps were greedily demolishing mangoes when we arrived.
Nearby in their own large pen, the Drill monkeys are a fascinating site. The alpha male (who goes by the name of 'Creek Town') has a bright blue bum - sign of his authority status. The former alpha male (forgotten his name) has an appropriately fading blue bum. There is also an obese alpha male who moves around slowly with rippling layers of midriff- surely a reflection of modern times? Our guide told us that there is some tension in the clan, as the former alpha male is dating Creek Town's sister. Drill monkeys are irresistible to watch, with their unmoving shiny African-mask faces and bushy bodies. If ever you are in Cali, its well worth a stop off. Better still, plan to go upstate to Afi Mountain to the reserve. Email email@example.com if you fancy it.
Calabar itself is beguiling. The pace of life is Ghanaian, the people relaxed and friendly. Shame the hotels are a bit crappy and Freddy's is the only Lebanese joint in town - forget about any other non-Nigerian cuisine. Shame also that Tinapa is fading ever further away from being a commercial success. If only someone would come along and re-brand it as a leisure resort - that would work.
An article by Lagos-based Walidmar Pelser, which originally appeared here.
While most African churches condemn homosexuality and most governments ban it outright, a Nigerian reverend has set up a ministry for gay Christians in West Africa's largest city, reports Waldimar Pelser from Lagos.
18 men in northern Nigeria face 10 years in jail, or 120 public
strokes of the cane, for dressing like women at a party in August. In Senegal, seven men and a woman are arrested for appearing on pictures taken at a gay party. A member of the Muslim Supreme Council in Uganda calls in August on gays to be killed, while the minister for ethics and integrity insists gays should leave the country because of their "strange, ungodly" ways.
It is not popular to be gay in Africa, and illegal in 32 African states. Nigeria, Senegal and Uganda are among them, and from Morocco to Egypt and Cameroon gay men are behind bars.
But on the outskirts of Lagos a gay ordained minister is bellowing "Halleluja!" from a church dressed in the colourful rainbow flag.
His ministry has become a refuge for about 30 gay, Christian men in West Africa's largest city, some of whom have lost their jobs, been thrown out by their families, and suffered abuse by friends or the police because of whom they choose to love. Revd. Jide Macaulay (42) gained notoriety in Nigeria when he publicly spoke out in the House of Representatives in February 2007 against a bill that would have imposed a prison sentence for anyone who speaks out or forms a group supporting lesbian and gay people's rights.
If passed, it would have made Nigeria one of the most dangerous places in the world to be gay – barely two months after South Africa passed Africa's first act legalising gay marriage in December 2006.
Now stuck in a parliamentary committee, Nigeria's Same Sex Prohibition Bill is not law, but is "taken to be law" by many Nigerians, including members of the police, Macaulay told City Press in an interview at his House of Rainbow Church, which ministers primarily to Lagos's gay and
Non-denominational, House of Rainbow slots into the world-wide system of pro-gay Metropolitan Community Churches, founded in the US 40 years ago.
"Landlords consider it (the bill) law, employers consider it law. People are losing their job or the roof over their head because there is a bill that says same sex amorous relationships are prohibited," said Macaulay.
Last month Michael* (26), a paritioner at his church, spent 10 days in detention at an army barracks in Lagos, forced into hard labour by a family member who carried out a "civilian arrest" when Michael admitted he was gay, according to Macaulay.
Joseph Akoro (20), who runs an advocacy group for gay rights among the Lagos youth, told City Press extortion and "direct homophobic attacks" are common. His group, The Independent Project (TIP), organize events "amid tight security and always at night, for fear of being attacked".
Akoro hopes to set up a website for reporting abuse of gays and lesbians. "There is a culture of silence here," Jude Dibia (33), author of Walking with Shadows, a novel in which the lead character is "outed" by a colleague at work, told City Press.
A marriage failed; the character left Nigeria for London in the end. "When I wrote my book, I got so many messages from gay Nigerians who said, 'Thank you for telling our story'. But there was a backlash form the press, who questioned my sexuality and investigated my personal
Nigerians willing to speak out about gay rights face strong opposition from church groups preaching that homosexuality is a sin. The head of the world's largest Anglican church, Nigeria's Archbishop Peter Akinola (64), has led world-wide opposition to the ordination of gay priests in the United States, deepening a rift which some believe could split the Anglican communion.
He has called gays "strange, two-in-one humans" and homosexuality "an abberation, unkown even in the animal kingdom". While countries like Burkina Faso have scrapped sodomy laws, gays in Kenya organise large parties openly on the internet, and gay men and women in South Africa have been allowed to adopt children since 2002, Akinola's messages are spreading "ripples of fear" in Nigeria, says Macaulay.
"Peter Akinola is building an army of homophobic people. Religious leaders in Nigeria are very, very powerful people, have a large congregation, and use television and the airwaves to propogate homophobic messages."
Movies from Nollywood, as Nigeria's burgeoning home-made video industry is known, have also addressed gay themes, mostly depicting "lesbian relationships that end tragically," critic Unoma Azuah wrote in Vanguard newspaper last week.
In End Times, the protagonist was a gay pastor who got his powers from the devil, while a lesbian in Beautiful Faces was a thief, prostitute and leader of a vicious cult.
"Ons begins to wonder if it is mere co-incidence," Azuah asked. Prejudice forces gays into hiding and some claim it has an unintended impact on sexual health.
"Most gays are in hiding," said Macaulay. "Men tell me they are married but also have a lover, who they want to keep in a different state. This can have a drastic effect on sexual health. When you have multiple partners and there is secrecy around it, or switch boyfriends
all the time (to avoid being found out), it hightens chances of transmission."
Macaulay fears the issue of HIV among gay Nigerian men is "not surfacing". "It is very difficult to know (how many are infected). We do not have the data, we have no information."
In Senegal, French health group AIDES said last month the HIV prevalence rate was 21,5% in the gay community and 0,7% in the community at large, as repressive laws continue to make the outright targeting of gay men and women impossible.
Macaulay's church is therefore one of only a handful Nigerian organisations who do sexual health councelling specifically for lesbians and gay men, while preaching faithfulness and handing out condoms just in case.
"Our main vision is to get gay men and women to reconcile their sexuality and their spirituality. The tragedy is that many people cannot do it because of historical interpretations of the Scriptures," said Macaulay.
Armed with books like The Queer Bible Commentary, Homosexuality in the Church and The Lord Is My Shephard, And He Knows I'm Gay, Macaulay is preaching inclusion.
"Some churches say we are not the church of God. Then we do not serve the same God. We serve a God who is compassionate and loving."
Last month, Macaulay told an African sexuality conference in Abuja he was an ordained minister, and gay. There was surprise and damnation, but after he spoke 200 copies of his pocket-sized devotional for gay Christians were snapped up at the door.
"They said, 'How dare you?' But I cannot live dishonestly to please anybody else. I'm a happy, holy homosexual."
Friday, March 14, 2008
Stands for queer. I am stuck in Calabar and can't open up my own site to reply to the commentor who threatens me with a police cell (strangely, I can log in to blogger however). I'm not quite sure what the offence would be however - that bill wasn't passed into law now was it? As it stands, homosexual acts in Nigeria are illegal, not the writing about them. As Waffy said, there are so many more important things to be focusing on. Can we ever live and let live?
Meanwhile, if my commentor friend went to the North-West of England to preach polygamy, I don't think anyone would register his presence. As we learnt from the Archbishop of Canterbury/Sharia furore a few weeks ago, there are already second and third wives claiming the dole, so where is the big deal?
Thursday, March 13, 2008
Just received this:
We invite QLGBT Africans to submit original, unpublished essays, poems, short stories, plays, creative non-fiction, and visual art. We're looking for work that explores the lives of QLGBT Africans and how your experiences have shaped you emotionally, politically, socially, and culturally. We are interested in the ideas and language that make you African and QLGBT. We accept work from QLGBT Africans from the continent and those who have immigrated to other parts of the world. We also accept submissions from first generation QLGBT Africans born outside the African Continent. If you self-identify as a QLGBT African but do not fit the criteria
written above and would like to submit work for consideration, please write us at:NORsubmission@gmail.com
ALL WORK NEEDS TO BE TYPED in 12-point font, double-spaced. All submissions should include your name, address, titles, phone number and email address. Please include a short biography with your work.
All submissions must be unpublished work. Fiction should be one short story or an edited piece from and larger work. 15pg maximum. Non-fiction should be one essay or an edited piece from and larger work. 15pg maximum. Poetry should be a maximum of three poetry submissions per author. 6 pg maximum. Playwrighting should include one complete work or one act from a larger work. Please limit submissions to 15 pgs.
Photos and artwork must be reproducible in black and white. Do not send originals. Send hi-res digital files on CD or ZIP, or high quality photocopies of line art.
All pieces must include a short bio, including age, gender, sexual orientation, nation of origin and/or ethnicity, adopted country, and any other biographical information which is important to understanding your work. This demographic information will not be published. Please indicate the name(s) you would like to use for publication. Don't forget to include your contact information! You will receive confirmation that your submission was received. We greatly appreciate all submissions, and will handle them with care and respect. We look forward to seeing your fantastic work!
Deadline: March 31st 2008
Editors: Notisha Massaquoi & Selly Thiam
Please submit work to:
Wednesday, March 12, 2008
Monday, March 10, 2008
Nigeria's best boxer bags the WBC heavyweight title in Mexico. Thanks Patrice for the link.
Chief Jibonoh's trip across the desert for FADE has just begun. Pasted below is an email I just received from Ebun Olatoye, one of the people accompanying him on the voyage:
Free Internet connection only at the lobby, the air conditioners make the space toasty warm at the Sheraton.
Actually I take that back because it's quite nice save for the above mentioned inconveniences. After this it's going to be motels and hostels for us, so say a prayer for us.
The Nigerian end of the border went seamlessly. Jibunoh had sent someone ahead of us to process our papers so we only spent about twenty minutes there which was a shock.
The Benin end was a test of even Chief. Js patience. They checked our passports, and asked to view the holders, then queried us some more about our trip. They asked how many women we had in the group and someone said three(adding Adaure Achumba from Silverbird) and the guy says; "one for each man, yes". Listen, I don't even have any words unless they were daggers. Then we had to go through at least five more arbitraty barriers of men who are eager with a zeal that is dissolved with currencies. Any currencies, with the cede the least preferred.
I am so relieved that we're on the road though. My new friend Ernest Coovi Adjovi (KORA AWARDS) sorted us out very nicely. He booked our rooms at the 'Sheraton' and got us a 50% discount! He also informed the Minister for Health of our impending arrival and the Minister met us at the pool side of our Hotel with press.
I am so embarrassed that my French is lousy otherwise I would have/ should have interpreted. Anyway, "The Honorable Minister" as Captain Jibunoh insisted on calling him, was kind enough to interprete Jibunoh's eloquent speech to the Press.
We leave for Ghana tomorrow at 11a.m and we'll be spending only one night in my beloved Accra. We need to be in Dakar by March 16th so we can't faff about too much.
That's me for now. Thanks for your calls, text messages and all your support.
Please visit my blog for photos etc and other less personal information.
Sunday, March 09, 2008
We had a Chairman of a Local Government Council visiting yesterday. The man had suffered under the military, being imprisoned and beaten up several times. Not only has he emerged unscathed, his approach to his job is nothing short of inspirational. Several well known companies operate on his patch. Rather than take the customary bribe, he has put them to work, suggesting corporate social responsibility as the way forwards. These companies are now busy building roads, improving their relationship with their host communities. He promised improved power to the villages under his watch. When he went to PHCN to discuss, they told him he was the first Chairman to ever pay a courtesy visit. A payment schedule for unpaid debts was agreed, and now his LGA has dramatically improved power. Again, he has brought in several traditional rulers and put them on committees, giving them decision-making power as well as accountability.
Surely there is a much bigger lesson that can be learnt from his enlightened approach to governance that might be reproducible across the nation? By fusing traditional systems of governance with official democracy, he is aligning different forms of political leadership at the grass roots level. By creating a manifesto based on straightforward improvements in basic amenities, he has strong buy-in from those he represents. He told us people routinely think he is from a different planet. Good for him, the State Governor has taken notice and is strongly supportive of his business-as-unusual approach. There is hope at the third tier of government, if his simple but effective style of governance is reproduced elsewhere..
I go to buy our ritual Saturday Hoummous and Zaatar from Amigos. Its early afternoon and they have run out of everything, including French sticks. So its off to Cherry's Bakery in Zone 4. A party of mostly American kids (or at least, kids with American accents) are playing in the garden by the Lebanese restaurant, gulping down fizzy drinks and eating suya-on-a-stick, celebrating someone's birthday. Inside the wakkis-esque shack, I order baba ghanoush and hoummous. I sit and wait, and play BrickBreaker on my crackberry. Nearby, a late middle-aged Lebanese guy sits next to a beautiful young Nigerian woman. She is perhaps 21 or 22. She looks over at me. Do I detect something doleful in her expression? Then she turns back to her table, and puts her hand on his leg. Their food arrives. The adolescent expats scream with fun nearby. Soon enough, my order comes and I pay. The birthday party's red plate 4x4's exit the compound in convoy as I walk to my car parked outside. Just beyond the gates, a tiny girl only in her underpants walks amidst the rubble of a demolished building. Its just another baking hot day in Abuja..
On Friday, we went to see the 'V Monologues', a Nigerianised version of Eve Ensler's Vagina Monologues. As much as I have enormous respect for the work of the organisers - a delightful bunch on a mission, the latest production was a strange form of failure. On a superficial level, the show revealed a certain accomplishment, with songs in tight harmony and good physical-theatre use of the chorus of women surrounding each story as it is presented in its turn.
That said, V Monologues is an unwitting indictment of the status of women in Nigeria, and the feebleness of any attempt at resistance to the often brutally patriarchal status quo. We heard story after story of ugly violence against women in different circumstances. The only proposed solution throughout the play was the suggestion to fight back, either by penile strangulation or the odd well timed good kick. The renaming of the vagina sketch end up playing on a revulva-revolver pun - a dreadfully negative form of name substitution. The sketch where the vagina is celebrated as a source of self-pleasure just didn't happen: instead, we had a woman who takes her solitary pleasure by staring at her pudenda using a mirror. Masturbation was thereby tacitly constructed as taboo. Worse still, the recorded narratorial voice was male - surely a travesty of the entire point of the Monologues and the move for women to redefine their bodies and experience of sexual pleasure in their own terms. It seems as if the producers of the show capitulated to the pressure to circumscribe the stories in terms of masculine authority. The only unadulterated display of pleasure was when a born again woman sang hallelujah as her invisible husband (symbolically, the figure of Jesus?) brought her to climax..
The take-out from this version is that in discussions of the vagina in Nigeria (the word itself was curiously absent), there must always be a male authority involved. Masturbation and women seeking solitary pleasure must be unsaid. As for the sexual experience of northern women and Nigerian lesbians: nothing was said - they were entirely excluded from the piece. We had only superficial reference to matriarchies of the past (a check-the-box reference to Queen Amina and Moremi and Amazon warrior tradition). We had no reference to the schools of pleasure/oppression in the east, such as the fattening rooms of Calabar (surely an obvious starting point?) Instead, we had women represented as victims, with zero opportunity to recast and rethink their bodies and their experience of sexual pleasure outside of the male gaze. Decades of critical feminist thinking on all of these issues were left well alone. V Monologues was a poor compromise which did little to give voice to the plurality of women's experience in Nigeria, and absolutely nothing to point the way towards a less oppressive future.
Sierra Leone is starting to get the tourist treatment - four flights a week from the UK with BMI, favourable write-ups in the Sunday papers. Maybe its time to go island hopping...
Story on how rising wheat prices are affecting the rising demand for bread in Nigeria, here.
Friday, March 07, 2008
The Press Release:
NIGERIAN BREWERIES AND THE AFRICAN ARTISTS’ FOUNDATION ENGAGE IN MEDIA DIALOGUE WITH MEMBERS OF THE NATIONAL PRESS ABOUT INTERNATIONAL ART EXHIBITION: ‘The Unbreakable Nigerian Spirit”
In December 2007, The Nigerian Breweries in collaboration with the African Artists’ Foundation (AAF) launched an international art competition tagged “The Unbreakable Nigerian Spirit” to showcase excellent artistic talent in Nigeria and beyond.
Since then artists from all over the country have been solicited to submit their contributions on the theme and the best works will be exhibited in Lagos at the Civic Centre on the 27th of February with exhibitions in Abuja and Amsterdam, the Netherlands, to follow.
In order to raise awareness about the initiative and build bridges between the art world and the media, the two project partners, Nigerian Breweries and the AAF invited members of the print and electronic press to an informal discussion forum at art venue and hotel Bogobiri House in Lagos on the 20th of January, 2008.
Journalists from Abuja- and Lagos-based media houses such as the Guardian Newspaper, Vanguard, the Sun Newspaper, the Nation, the Punch, the Daily Independent, Daily Trust Newspaper Abuja, New Age, Associated Press, Channels TV, NTA and Public Eye Network attended the event.
Nigerian Breweries and AAF representatives engaged with the journalists, answering questions and giving briefings on the structure and relevance of the ongoing art competition, which aims to propel Nigerian artistry into the international arena. An important building block of this is the AAF artistic selection committee tasked with conducting the selection process of the 30 most inspiring works, 10 of which will be showcased internationally. The committee is made up of leading art experts in Nigeria and headed by Prof. Perkins Foss, an art historian from Yale University and a specialist on African art. The attending journalists commended Nigerian Breweries and AAF for this initiative and expressed their hope that the effort will be sustained and the exhibition will become an institution in the Nigerian art world.
Its been unbearably hot in Abuja for the past few days. Last night at 11pm it was 31 degrees! The power situation in town has taken a hit - perhaps the two events are related. Of course they are.
Meanwhile, the phone networks have also dipped sharply in their service. Its impossible to make a call, and one has to try repeatedly to get a text to work. I suspect that again, this relates back to the diminished power output: the base stations in FCT have run out of power and back-up power.
Life goes on.
Thursday, March 06, 2008
Wednesday, March 05, 2008
I hear that a new entrant in the GSM space is dangling N40m carrots to poach from the existing competitors. Meanwhile, the banks are paying N40-N45m for bright young things to come home - that's UK190k or nearly US$400k! Nigeria has joined the global hunt for talent, pushing demand ever further beyond supply, with salary costs chasing the tail. I hear that one of the top banks actually forced a pay cut on its lower ranks a short while ago - probably so they could hire more big guns. Again, a friend is looking to rent in Ikoyi. It appears there is nothing available under US100k per year. Haba. Who can live in Lagos these days with high class and low class slums as far as the eye can see?
Tuesday, March 04, 2008
Human Rights Watch (“HRW”) is seeking highly-qualified applicants for the position of Nigeria Researcher.
Description: The Researcher will be based in one of the HRW offices in Brussels, London, New York or Washington, DC, and frequent travel to Nigeria will be required. Working with the Team Leader for West Africa, the Researcher will monitor and investigate human rights developments in Nigeria in order to publicize and curtail human rights abuses through writing and advocacy. Responsibilities will include, but are not limited to, conducting fact-finding trips throughout the country; writing reports, newsletters, articles and press releases, as well as submissions to international bodies on human rights concerns in Nigeria; developing local and international advocacy strategies for improving respect for human rights in Nigeria within governmental bodies in Nigeria, the region and the international community, as well as intergovernmental organizations and international institutions; responding promptly to queries from the international press, the public and colleagues in the human rights community; and working closely with Nigerian human rights organizations to ensure that the work of HRW in Nigeria complements and enhances their own work. The Researcher will engage in joint research and report writing with researchers from local groups, identify Nigerian activists to travel out of the country to engage in advocacy at an international level and develop HRW's research and advocacy strategies in consultation with local groups.
Qualifications: The ideal candidate will have several years of human rights experience, ideally in Africa and Nigeria in particular; research, field, and advocacy experience; excellent writing and communications skills in English; and a demonstrated commitment to international human rights. S/he will be highly motivated, well organized, and able to work quickly and well under pressure, both independently and as a member of a team. An advanced degree in law, international relations, regional studies, journalism, public policy or a related field is desired, as is familiarity with international human rights law.
Salary and Benefits: HRW seeks exceptional applicants and offers competitive compensation and generous employer-paid benefits. HRW will pay reasonable relocation expenses and will assist employees in obtaining necessary work authorization, if required. Citizens of all nationalities are encouraged to apply.
PLEASE APPLY IMMEDIATELY by emailing in a single submission: a letter of interest describing your experience, your resume, names or letters of reference, and a brief writing sample (unedited by others) no later than March 25, 2008 to firstname.lastname@example.org. Please use “Nigeria Researcher Application” as the subject of your email. Only complete applications will be reviewed. It is preferred that all materials be submitted via email. If emailing is not possible, send materials (please do not split a submission between email and regular post) to:
Human Rights Watch
Attn: Search Committee (Nigeria Researcher)
350 Fifth Avenue, 34th Floor
New York, NY 10118-3299
Fax: (212) 736-1300
Good selection of Afrobeat compilation albums available to download here. Scroll down a bit to February 28th 2008 for the first of the albums. Thanks to Mr Williams for the linkage.
Thursday 6th March 1630 - 1730, Chatham House
Preventing religious conflict in northern Nigeria
Sheikh Qaribullahi Nasiru Kabara, Leader of the Qadiriyyah
Religion is a central feature of people’s lives in Nigeria. As such it plays a role both in conflict and conflict resolution. It influences Nigeria’s development, democratisation and its international relations. As one of Nigeria’s and Africa’s key Muslim leaders, Sheikh Kabara will speak at this roundtable event on his views of religion’s place in the social political and developmental challenges Nigeria faces.
The Royal Institute of International Affairs
10 St James’s Square
0207 957 5718
March 2008 Atlantic Monthly
Using militias and marketing strategies, Christianity and Islam are competing for believers by promising Nigerians prosperity in this world as well as salvation in the next. A report from the front lines
by Eliza Griswold
As the two groups waited in the heat to be counted, the meeting’s tone soured. “You could feel the tension in the air,” Abdullahi Abdullahi, a 55-year-old Muslim lawyer and community leader, said later. A tall, thin man with a space between his two front teeth and shoulders hunched around his ears in perpetual apology, he was helping to direct the crowd that day. No one knows what happened first. Someone shouted arna—infidel”—at the Christians. Someone spat the word jihadi at the Muslims. Someone picked up a stone. “That was the day ethnicity disappeared entirely, and the conflict became just about religion,” Abdullahi said. Chaos broke out, as young people on each side began to throw rocks. The candidates ran for their lives, and mobs set fire to the surrounding houses.
After that episode, the Christians issued an edict that no Christian girl could be seen with a Muslim boy. “We had a problem of intermarriage,” Pastor Sunday Wuyep, a church leader in Yelwa, told me on the first of two visits I made in 2006 and 2007. “Just because our ladies are stupid and attracted to money,” he sighed. Economics lay at the heart of the enmity between the two groups: as merchants and herders, the Muslim Jarawa were much wealthier than the Christian Tarok and Goemai. But Pastor Sunday, like many others of his faith, felt that Muslims were trying to wipe out Christians by converting them through marriage. “It’s scriptural, this fight,” he said. So he and the other elders decided to punish the women. “If a woman gets caught with a Muslim man,” Sunday said, “she must be forcibly brought back.” The decree turned out to be a call to vigilante violence as patrols of young men, both Christian and Muslim, took to the streets. What eventually transpired, in the name of religion, was a kind of Clockwork Orange.
Nigeria is Africa’s most populous country, with 140 million people (one-seventh of all Africans), and it’s one of the few nations divided almost evenly between Christians and Muslims. Blessed with the world’s 10th-largest oil reserves, it is also one of the continent’s richest and most influential powers—as well as one of its most corrupt democracies. Last year’s presidential election in particular—in which President Olusegun Obasanjo, an evangelical Christian, handed power to a northern Muslim, President Umaru Yar’Adua—was a farce. Ballot boxes were stuffed by thugs or carted off empty by armed heavies in the pay of political candidates. Across the country, political power is a passport to wealth: according to Human Rights Watch, anywhere from $4 billion to $8 billion in government money has been embezzled annually for the last eight years. The state has all but abdicated its responsibility for the welfare of its people, roughly half of whom live on less than $1 a day.
In this vacuum, religion has become a powerful source of identity. Northern Nigeria has one of Africa’s oldest and most devout Islamic communities, which was galvanized, like many others, in the 1980s by the global Islamic reawakening that followed the Iranian revolution. For Christians, too, in Nigeria, there’s been a revolution: high birthrates and aggressive evangelization over the past century have increased the number of believers from 176,000, or 1.1 percent of the early-20th-century population, to more than 51 million, or more than a third now. Thanks to this explosive growth, the demographic and geographic center of global Christianity will have moved, by 2050, to northern Nigeria, within the Muslim world.
No one knows what this shift will yield, in part because neither faith is a monolith. Indeed, the most overlooked aspect of this global religious encounter may be that the competition within the faiths—between Pentecostals and orthodox Christians, or between Islamic groups that want to engage with or reject the modern world—is just as important as the competition between the faiths. But it’s also true that the fastest-growing forms of faith on both sides tend to be the most effervescent and absolute. They promote a system of living in this world that promises heaven in the next, they see salvation in stark binary terms, and they believe they have a global mandate to spread their exclusive brand of faith.
While religion became a source of friction in Nigeria during the Biafran civil war in the late 1960s, the trouble between Christians and Muslims intensified in the 1980s, when the first oil boom fizzled and the ensuing economic downturn led to violence. Since then, thousands have been killed in riots between the two groups sparked by various events: aggressive campaigns by foreign evangelists; the implementation in 1999 and 2000 of sharia, or Islamic law, in 12 of Nigeria’s 36 states; the U.S. bombing of Afghanistan in 2001; and the 2002 Miss World pageant, when a local Christian reporter, Isioma Daniel, outraged Muslims by writing in one of Nigeria’s national papers, This Day, that the Prophet Muhammad would have chosen a wife from among the contestants. Most recently, in 2006, riots triggered by Danish cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad left more people dead in Nigeria than anywhere else in the world.
“These conflicts are a result of secular processes,” said Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, one of Nigeria’s leading intellectuals and a top executive of one of the country’s oldest banks, FirstBank. “It’s about bad government, economic inequality, and poverty—a struggle for resources.” When a government fails its people, they turn elsewhere to safeguard themselves and their futures, and in Nigeria at the beginning of the 21st century, they have turned first to religion. Here, then, is the truth behind what Samuel Huntington famously calls religion’s “bloody” geographic borders: outbreaks of violence result not simply from a clash between two powerful religious monoliths, but from tensions at the most vulnerable edges where they meet—zones of desperation and official neglect where faith becomes a rallying cry in the struggle for land, water, and work.
In Nigeria, the two faiths meet along a band of terrain roughly 200 miles wide called the Middle Belt. This swath of land, for the most part (an exception being Nigeria’s southwest), marks the fault line between Christianity and Islam not only in Nigeria, but across the entire continent. A satellite image from Google Earth shows the Middle Belt as a gray-green strip between the equator and the 10th parallel, dividing the fawn-colored dry land from the vibrant sub-Saharan jungle canopy. It also separates most of the continent’s 367 million Muslims to the north from 417 million Christians to the south. Plagued by bad government, a shortage of water and arable land, and rising birthrates, the Middle Belt is also the victim of environmental change: growing aridity in the north (the desert creeps forward at slightly less than half a mile a year) and flooding in the south. Shifting weather patterns have made planting and grazing seasons unpredictable and allowed insect-borne diseases, such as malaria, to run rampant.
Islam all but stopped its southward spread here in the late 1800s, because the traders, missionaries, and Sufi jihadists who had carried Islam south couldn’t handle the jungle terrain or the tsetse flies that plagued their horses and camels with sleeping sickness. Abdullahi’s people, the Jarawa, claim that their rights to the land go back to the days of Usman Dan Fodio, a Sufi teacher and ethnic Fulani herder who launched a 19th-century jihad to purify the faith, promote the education of women, and outlaw the enslavement of his fellow Muslims. Some of his jihadists, called his flag bearers, rode south over vast reaches of dry land until they reached the southern edge of the Sahel, roughly where the town of Yelwa is today.
The high, dry ridges and rocky escarpments of the Middle Belt also provided an ideal defense against Muslim slave raiders for non-Muslim hill people like the Goemai. When Christian missionaries arrived 100 years ago, many targeted these “pagan” hill people. For some, the mission was to create a buffer against the southern “spread of Mohammedanism,” as Karl Kumm, one of the more uncompromising missionaries, put it. But many of his coreligionists had little interest in combating Islam. Instead, armed with the two B’s of Bible and bicycle, as well as with the imperative of self-reliance, they dispensed practical advice on health, agriculture, and eventually education, providing a form of “emancipation” for the historically disenfranchised hill people, who also gained a powerful collective identity in Christianity.
The British colonial administration was ambivalent about missionaries, fearing that their efforts to convert Muslims would destabilize Britain’s plans for empire-building—as they had elsewhere in Africa. When the British overthrew the caliphate, then unified North and South Nigeria in 1914, the new colonial administration forbade missionaries to enter Muslim lands. Under the British policy of Indirect Rule, which was modeled on the Raj in India, Dan Fodio’s emirs were largely left in place. Many came to be seen as colonial agents, losing their religious legitimacy even as they amassed power and wealth. This colonial policy of favoring Muslims over minority Christians left a legacy of mistrust between the two groups. “Every crisis is automatically interpreted as a religious crisis,” said Archbishop Josiah Idowu-Fearon, the Anglican bishop of Kaduna. “But we all know that, scratch the surface and it’s got nothing to do with religion. It’s power.”
One Tuesday at 7 a.m. in Yelwa, about 70 people were praying their morning devotions at the Church of Christ in Nigeria (founded by none other than the fiery Kumm himself). It was in February 2004, about a year after the elders had issued their edict that no Christian woman was to be seen with a Muslim man. As the worshippers finished their prayers, they heard gunshots and a call from the loudspeakers of the mosque next door: “Allahu Akhbar, let us go for jihad.” “We were terrified,” recalled Pastor Sunday, who had been standing outside the gate as the churchyard swarmed with strangers. He stayed near the church gate, but many other people fled toward the road behind the church. There, men dressed in military fatigues reassured them that they were safe and herded them back to the church. Then the men opened fire.
Pastor Sunday fled; that’s why he survived. The attackers—who were not, in fact, Nigerian soldiers—set the church on fire and killed everyone who tried to escape. They chased the head of the church, Pastor Sampson Bukar, to his house next door and ran him through with cutlasses. They set fire to the nursery school and the pastor’s house. During my first visit to Yelwa in the summer of 2006, his burned Peugeot was still outside. The church had been rebuilt and painted salmon pink. Boys were playing soccer, each wearing only one shoe so that everyone could kick the ball. “Seven in my family were killed,” said Sunday as we sat in the churchyard. “We call them martyrs.” He pointed to a mound of earth not far from where we were sitting. On top was a small wooden cross: it marked the mass grave for the 78 people killed that day.
“This is about religious intolerance,” he went on. “Our God is different than the Muslim God … If he were the same God, we wouldn’t fight.” For Pastor Sunday, the clash was millenarian and grounded in the literal words of Christian scripture. “The Bible says in Matthew 24, the time will come when they will pursue us in our churches,” he said. Matthew 24 foretells the Tribulation: the war that will precede Armageddon and the final coming of Jesus.
A few hundred yards down the road from the church, there’s a cornfield. In it, a row of mounds: more mass graves. White signs tally the dead below in green paint: 110, 50, 65, 100, 55, 25, 60, 20, 40, 105. Two months after the church was razed, Christian men and boys surrounded Yelwa. Many were bare-chested; others wore shirts on which they’d reportedly pinned white name tags identifying them as members of the Christian Association of Nigeria, an umbrella organization founded in the 1970s to give Christians a collective and unified voice as strong as that of Muslims. Each tag had a number instead of a name: a code, it seemed, for identification. They attacked the town. According to Human Rights Watch, 660 Muslims were massacred over the course of the next two days, including the patients in the Al-Amin clinic. Twelve mosques and 300 houses went up in flames. Young girls were marched to a nearby Christian town and forced to eat pork and drink alcohol. Many were raped, and 50 were killed.
Yelwa was still a ghost town of sorts in August 2006. In block after burned-out block, people camped in what used to be their homes. The road was lined with more than a dozen ruined mosques and churches, but the rubble was hidden in hip-high elephant grass; canary-yellow morning glories climbed the old foundations. When I arrived at the home of Abdullahi, the Muslim human-rights lawyer, his street was mostly deserted. He stooped on his way out of a low-ceilinged hut. Behind him, I could see the sour faces of a man and woman sitting on the floor by his desk. “Marital dispute,” he explained.
It was the rainy season, so I waited out the noon deluge in another small hut on his compound. Finally, Abdullahi ducked inside, a worn accordion file under his arm. His wife followed, carrying a pot of hot spaghetti. In the beginning, he explained, the conflict in Nigeria had nothing whatsoever to do with religion. “Let me give myself as a case study,” Abdullahi said. He went to Christian mission schools and federal college, and never, as a Muslim, had any problem. “Throughout this period, I’d never seen religious segregation, because at that time the societal value system was intact. We were taught to respect each other’s beliefs and customs.” But as the population grew and resources shrank, people began to fight over who had the right to the land and its resources—who belonged as an indigene, and who didn’t.
During the Christian attack, the two young women took shelter in an elder’s guarded home. On the second day, the Christian militia arrived at the house. They were covered in red and blue paint and were wearing those numbered white name tags. The Christians first killed the guards, then chose among the women. With others, the two young women were marched toward the Christian village. “They were killing children on the road,” Danladi said. Outside the elementary school, her abductor grabbed hold of two Muslim boys she knew, 9 and 10 years old. Along with other men, he took a machete to them until they were in pieces, then wrapped the pieces in a rubber tire and set it on fire.
When Danladi and Ibrahim reached their captors’ village, they were forced to drink alcohol and to eat pork and dog meat. Although she was obviously pregnant, Danladi’s abductor repeatedly raped her during the next four days. After a month, the police fetched Danladi and Ibrahim from the Christian village and took them to the camp where most of the town’s Muslim residents had fled. There, the two young women were reunited with their husbands. They never discussed what happened in the bush.
“The Christians don’t want us here because they don’t like our religion,” Danladi said. “Do you really think they took you because of your religion?” I asked. The women looked at each other. “In Islamic history, there are times when believers and nonbelievers have fought,” Danladi said. “We think what happened here is part of the clash that will come. After the clash, people will see poverty and suffering and that’s what’s happening now. According to our ulamas [teachers], there is no way that the whole world will not be Muslim.”
Later, I looked up Matthew 24, the verses that Pastor Sunday had cited. In many versions of the Bible, Jesus’ words are inked in red to show that these are the exact and inerrant words of the Lord. Down the rice-paper page, one red verse (Matthew 24:19) caught my eye: “But woe to those who are pregnant and to those who are nursing babies in those days!” I thought of Hamamatu Danladi. After her rape, she told me, she didn’t give birth for four more months, which meant she carried that child for more than a year. Maybe I didn’t understand her. When I returned to visit her a year later, I asked again if I’d misunderstood. No, she said, she’d carried the baby for more than a year. Maybe, she thought, he simply refused to come into this world during the conflagration.
At the time of the massacre, Archbishop Peter Akinola was the president of the Christian Association of Nigeria, whose membership was implicated in the killings. He has since lost his bid for another term but, as primate of the Anglican Church of Nigeria, he is still the leader of 18 million Anglicans. He is a colleague of my father, who was the presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church in America from 1997 to 2006. But the American Episcopals’ election of an openly homosexual bishop in 2003, which Archbishop Akinola denounced as “satanic,” created distance between them. When I arrived in 2006 in the capital of Abuja to see the archbishop, his office door was locked. Its complicated buzzing-in system was malfunctioning, and he was trapped inside. Finally, after several minutes, the angry buzzes stopped and I could hear a man behind the door rise and come across the floor. The archbishop, in a pale-blue pantsuit and a darker-blue crushed-velvet hat, opened the door.
“My views on Islam are well known: I have nothing more to say,” he said, as we sat down. Archbishop Akinola has repeatedly spoken critically about Islam and liberal Western Protestants, and he was understandably wary of my motives for asking his thoughts. For Akinola, the relationship between liberal Protestants and Islam is straightforward: if Western Christians abandon conservative morals, then the global Church will be weakened in its struggle against Islam. “When you have this attack on Christians in Yelwa, and there are no arrests, Christians become dhimmi, the vocabulary within Islam that allows Christians and Jews to be seen as second-class citizens. You are subject to the Muslims. You have no rights.”
When asked if those wearing name tags that read “Christian Association of Nigeria” had been sent to the Muslim part of Yelwa, the archbishop grinned. “No comment,” he said. “No Christian would pray for violence, but it would be utterly naive to sweep this issue of Islam under the carpet.” He went on, “I’m not out to combat anybody. I’m only doing what the Holy Spirit tells me to do. I’m living my faith, practicing and preaching that Jesus Christ is the one and only way to God, and they respect me for it. They know where we stand. I’ve said before: let no Muslim think they have the monopoly on violence.”
Archbishop Akinola, 63, is a Yoruba, a member of an ethnic group from southwestern Nigeria, where Christians and Muslims coexist peacefully. But the archbishop’s understanding of Islam was forged by his experience in the north, where he watched the persecution of a Christian minority. He was more interested during our interview, though, in talking about the West than about Nigeria.
“People are thinking that Islam is an issue in Africa and Asia, but you in the West are sitting on explosives.” What people in the West don’t understand, he said, “is that what Islam failed to accomplish by the sword in the eighth century, it’s trying to do by immigration so that Muslims become citizens and demand their rights. A Muslim man has four wives; the wives have four or five children each. This is how they turned Christians into a minority in North Africa.”
He went on, “The West has thrown God out, and Islam is filling that vacuum for you, and now your Christian heritage is being destroyed … You people are so afraid of being accused of being Islam-phobic. Consequently everyone recedes and says nothing … Over the years, Christians have been so naive—avoiding politics, economics, and the military because they’re dirty business. The missionaries taught that. Dress in tatters. Wear your bedroom slippers. Be poor. But Christians are beginning to wake up to the fact that money isn’t evil, the love of money is, and it isn’t wrong to have some of it. Neither is politics.”
Democracy, Nigerians told me repeatedly, is a numbers game. That’s why whoever has more believers is on top. In that competition, Christianity has a recruiting tool beyond the frontline gospel preached by those such as Archbishop Akinola: Pentecostalism, one of the world’s most diverse and fastest-growing religious movements. In Nigeria, the oil boom of the 1970s brought a massive movement of people into cities looking for work. That boom’s collapse spurred the growth of the Pentecostal Gospel of Prosperity, with its emphasis on good health and getting rich; and of the African Initiated Churches, or AICs, which began about 100 years ago, when several charismatic African prophets successfully converted millions to Christianity. Today, AIC members account for one-quarter of Africa’s 417 million Christians.
One bustling Pentecostal hub, Canaanland, the 565-acre headquarters of the Living Faith Church, has three banks, a bakery, and its own university, Covenant, which is the sister school of Oral Roberts University in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Canaanland is about an hour and a half north of Lagos, which has an estimated population of 12 million and is projected to become the world’s 12th-largest city by 2020. With 300,000 people worshipping at a single service at the Canaanland headquarters alone and 300 branches across the country, Living Faith is one of Nigeria’s megachurches, and the dapper Bishop David Oyedepo is its prophet. The bishop, whose bald pate glistens above deep-set eyes and dazzling teeth, never wanted to be pastor: he had no interest in being poor, he told me. “When God made me a pastor, I wept. I hated poverty in the Church—how can the children of God live as rats?”
Bishop Oyedepo built Canaanland to preach the Gospel of Prosperity. As he said, “If God is truly a father, there is no father that wants his children to be beggars. He wants them to prosper.” In the parking lot at Canaanland, beyond the massive complex of unusually clean toilets, flapping banners promise: Whatsoever you ask in my name, he shall give you, and By his stripes he gives us blessings.
The Pentecostal movement is so vast and varied, it’s a mistake to generalize about its unifying principles. But Pentecostals do tend to share an experience of the Holy Spirit, or the numinous, that offers the gift of salvation and success in everyday life—particularly in the realms of personal health and finance. Archbishop Akinola, whose own Anglican Church is more threatened in some ways by the rise of Pentecostalism than by the rise of Islam, finds these teachings suspect: “When you preach prosperity and not suffering, any Christianity devoid of the cross is a pseudo-religion.”
But Bishop Oyedepo’s followers say that those who criticize don’t understand what’s happening in Africa. “There’s a kind of revolution going on in Africa,” one of the bishop’s employees, Professor Prince Famous Izedonmi, said. “America tolerates God. Africa celebrates God. We’re called ‘the continent of darkness,’ but that’s when you appreciate the light. Jesus is the light.” The professor, a Muslim prince who converted to Christianity as a child to cure himself of migraine headaches, was the head of Covenant University’s accounting department and director of its Centre for Entrepreneurial Development Studies.
“God isn’t against wealth,” Professor Famous said. “Revelations talks about streets paved with gold.” He added, “Look at how Jesus dressed.” When I appeared baffled, he patiently explained that since the soldiers cast lots for Christ’s clothes, they were clearly expensive. In Canaanland, clothes matter: the pastors wear flashy ones and they drive fast cars as a sign of God’s favor. They draw their salaries from sizable weekly contributions. On Sundays at some Nigerian Pentecostal churches, armored bank trucks reportedly idle in church parking lots, while during the service, believers hand over cash, cell phones, cars—all with the belief that if they give to God, God will make them rich. It’s said that if the Christian Prosperity churches disappeared, the banks of Nigeria would collapse.
But to see the Prosperity movement as simply a get-rich-quick scheme is to miss its importance. In many ways, Pentecostalism has updated Max Weber’s Protestant work ethic for the 21st century. Pentecostals do not drink, gamble, or engage in extramarital sex; so all of that formerly illicit energy can go into either business or education. Covenant has been voted the best private university in Nigeria by Nigeria’s National Universities Commission. Education is an essential element of the Prosperity message; so is hard work. “Abraham was a workaholic,” Professor Famous said. “He worked 16 or 17 hours a day.”
During my first visit to Covenant, school wasn’t in session, so I poked around the empty labs until I ran into a lone student, Mchenson Ugwu, 22, studying mechanical engineering in hopes of getting a job in the oil industry. Ugwu was born again in 2004. “Once in a while I backslide and have to rededicate my life to Christ,” he said. “That’s how it works: backslide, rededicate.” For Ugwu, salvation had very little to do with the next world; it was all about this one. “Because he owns everything here on Earth, if you make God your father, beginning and end, he’ll keep you up. Our bishop is the perfect example. He tells us he hasn’t been poor in 25 years, and God takes him from one level to the next.”
Later, the bishop led me across his red shag carpet to a white fountain tinkling in the corner of his office. “The problem with the African man is that he sees himself as poor, and others see him as poor,” the bishop said. He walked over to his desk and handed me a stack of his books—he’s written 60—including one of the best sellers, Understanding Financial Prosperity. The cover design features Nigerian banknotes. The back cover reads: “I am not a preacher of prosperity, I am a prophet. God spoke specifically to me while I was away in America for a meeting, ‘Get down home and make My people rich!’”
The Christian Gospel of Prosperity is so powerful that it has spawned a unique Nigerian phenomenon: an Islamic organization called Nasrul-Lahi-il-Fathi (NASFAT). The name is drawn from a verse in the eighth chapter of the Koran: “There is no help except from Allah.” This is the same chapter, “The Spoils of War,” or Al-Anfal, that Saddam Hussein cited to justify his genocide against the Kurds. But NASFAT has no interest in violence. Instead, the organization is based on economic empowerment and prosperity with an Islamic spin. Started with about a dozen members in the 1990s, NASFAT now has 1.2 million members in Nigeria and branches in 25 other countries. The organization has an entrepreneurship program, a clinic, a prison-outreach program, a task force to address HIV/AIDS, a travel agency, and a soft-drink company called Nasmalt, whose profits go to the poor. It even offers matchmaking. Although many conservatives believe that this engagement with the secular world is haram, forbidden, and distinctly un-Islamic, NASFAT argues that it is the only way to survive in the marketplace.
“We are competing for faithfuls,” NASFAT’s executive secretary, Zikrullah Kunle Hassan, said one blistering Sunday last August in Lagos. “Many people now want God. This is happening especially among the youth, that they feel they need to be committed to faith.” Gesturing to the streets choked with more than 100,000 men and women clad in shining white as they came from a prayer service at the Lagos Secretariat Mosque, he explained that NASFAT meets on Sundays so that Muslims have something to do while Christians attend church. “The space on Sunday is usually not dominated by Islam, but other faiths and other values. But when our people come here, they come and drink from the fountain of Islam.”
The prayer ground looked like a fair. Hawkers sold lemons from a wheelbarrow. Small booths offered pretty, scalloped hijabs, embroidered with “NASFAT” in blue. Men sat on prayer mats eating rice, while women attended a lecture on ways to make money that are in keeping with Islam.
NASFAT’s primary mission is to reclaim those values the world sees as Western, but which its members perceive as integral to the success of the global Islamic community, or ummah. Foremost is education. “We know that the West is ahead today because of education,” Hassan said. NASFAT has its own nursery, primary, and secondary schools, as well as the brand-new Fountain University. While many orthodox believers say that this new movement is bi’dah, innovation, and therefore dangerously un-Islamic, NASFAT’s adherents disagree, arguing that they are part of a charismatic Muslim movement that addresses social welfare—and that is on its way to sweeping the world. (They’re also mostly Muslims from Nigeria’s southwest, which means they grew up around Christianity and are more comfortable with its ways.) If every answer to life can be found in the Koran, Hassan said, then questions of how to survive and prosper must be addressed there. When conservative northern clerics kick up a fuss about NASFAT’s growing presence in the communities, NASFAT reaches out to them with gestures like involving community youth in business programs.
“To be honest, for us there’s a competition of civilizations, there’s a competition of values, and to me, the roots of the conflict are that we believe all civilizations have collapsed in the face of Western civilization,” he went on. “Communism collapsed. All other values collapsed. Islam remained resistant to Western civilization.” In order to survive, Islam has to address the contemporary needs of its people and compete with the Christian promise of prosperity. As one young member, who joined the organization to get a job through its business network, told me, “There’s nothing you want to achieve that NASFAT can’t help you get, here in this country.” He added, “Success, triumph, and glory are from the Creator.”
"Prosperity Gospel is more a symptom than the disease,” Father Matthew Hassan Kukah, the Roman Catholic author of Religion, Politics and Power in Northern Nigeria, told me in his office above a Catholic church in the city of Kaduna, at the northern edge of the Middle Belt. To his mind, Nigerians’ resort to religion to achieve prosperity was a natural response to their corrupt political landscape and the absence of any civil government. “You can buy a car and insure it,” he continued. “You don’t need a priest to pray over the car, to bless your house to keep robbers away … Here, there’s no guarantee. God is being called upon to police a lot of areas of our lives.” This need for God’s protection isn’t only individual, but collective and political, given the collapse of the state.
Many Muslims share that point of view. Take, for example, the ongoing effort to implement sharia, or Islamic law, in northern Nigeria, which came to fruition in 1999. On a practical level, sharia, with its promise of moral justice at the local level, seems to offer an end to the corruption that bedevils the people. And given that many Nigerians associate that corruption with the failure of Western-style democracy in Africa, “to reinstate the sharia … is not only good religion, it is supremely sound politics,” argues Murray Last, an emeritus professor at University College London.
Yet despite a huge outcry from Christians and the West, the implementation of sharia, which is currently on the books in 12 of Nigeria’s 36 states, has had very little practical impact. The harsh criminal punishments spelled out in the hudud have proven, for the most part, impossible to implement. And northern Nigerians have now seen that sharia has not stanched the corruption they face every day. In fact, many of the politicians who backed sharia have been linked to massive corruption; these include the biggest advocate, the former governor of Zamfara state, who is even rumored to have paid a man to let the state amputate his hand for stealing livestock.
So if religion has proven not to safeguard the car, not to cure malaria, not even to stop politicians from stuffing ballot boxes, is it worth fighting and dying for? Popular disillusionment is one reason why Father Kukah believes that Nigeria’s religious mayhem is an isolated stage in its development of plural stability. Paradoxically, this progression is clearest in Kaduna, formerly one of the most intense flash points, where Kukah lives. Over the past 20 years, many of the city’s churches and mosques have been burned down, and thousands of residents have been killed in battles fueled by religion. Kaduna, whose name means “crocodile,” is a microcosm of Nigeria: its population of 1.5 million people is divided in half between Muslims and Christians. The split isn’t just demographic; it’s geographic. The city’s Muslim neighborhoods—nicknamed Baghdad and Afghanistan—are on the north side of town. The Christian ones—called Television, Haifa, and Jerusalem—are on the south side. The Kaduna River separates them.
Pastor James Movel Wuye was born in Kaduna into an ethnic minority called Gbagyi. Historically, his people were aboriginal warriors who fought off Hausa Muslim slave raiders before the arrival of the British, who actually made things worse. “They were merciless, the Muslims who were ruling over us,” he said. His people still call the Hausa Muslims ajei, which means “those who trouble us.” Pastor James’s father was a soldier, and when James and the other barracks boys played war, their imagined enemies were their Hausa oppressors. As a teenager, James rebelled: he drank and smoked, and he wooed a long list of girlfriends. He also joined the Christian Association of Nigeria and, at 27, became general secretary of the Youth Wing. In 1987, the Middle Belt exploded. When fighting between Christians and Muslims reached Kaduna, Pastor James became the head of a Christian militia. “We took an oath of secrecy,” he said. “We carried pictures of those [of us] who’d been killed. We were martyrs: we felt that we were dying in defense of the Church.” The war, like the faith itself, became a struggle for liberation.
James incited violence by relying on the literal, inspired word of scripture. “I used to say, ‘We’ve been beaten on both cheeks, there’s no other cheek to turn,’” he said. “I used Luke 22:36: as Jesus said to the disciples the night before his crucifixion, ‘And if you don’t have a sword, sell your cloak and buy one.’” When the pastor was 32, a fight broke out between Christians and Muslims over control of a market. “That day, we were outnumbered,” he said. “Twenty of my friends were killed. I passed out, so I don’t know exactly what happened.” When he woke up, his right arm was gone, sliced off with a machete.
At mission school, Ashafa won the prize for best Bible student; he had a gift for memorization. After school, Ashafa would use a slingshot to fling stones at women who were showing their bare arms or backs in the streets. When the religious crisis hit Kaduna in 1987, Ashafa, like James, became a militia leader. The two were enemies. “We planted the seed of genocide, and we used the scripture to do that,” Ashafa said. “In Islam, you must fight in defense of any women, children, or old people—Muslim or not—so as a leader, you create a scenario where this is the only interpretation,” he explained. But Ashafa’s mentor, a Sufi hermit, tried to warn the young man away from violence. “You will not cross the ocean with hate in your heart,” he told Ashafa.
In 1992, Christian militiamen stabbed the hermit to death and threw his body down a well. Ashafa’s only mission became revenge: he was going to kill James. Then, one Friday during a sermon, Ashafa’s imam told the story of when the Prophet Muhammad had gone to preach at Ta’if, a town about 70 miles southeast of Mecca. Bleeding after being stoned and cast out of town, Muhammad was visited by an angel who asked if he’d like those who mistreated him to be destroyed. Muhammad said no. “The imam was talking directly to me,” Ashafa said. During the sermon, he began to cry. Next time he met James, he’d forgiven him entirely. To prove it, he went to visit James’s sick mother in the hospital.
Slowly, the pastor and the imam began to work together, but James was leery. “Ashafa carries the psychological mark. I carry the physical and psychological mark,” he said. “He talks so much. I’m a little miserly with words. So when he uses his energy like that, he sleeps very deeply. There were instances where we shared a room. He’s a very heavy sleeper. You can actually take the pillow off his head and he will just struggle and go back to sleep. More than once, several times, I was tempted to use the pillow to suffocate him. But this restraining force of the deepness of my faith comes ringing through my ears.”
At a Christian conference in Nigeria sponsored by Pat Robertson—one of the most anti-Muslim preachers in the world—a fellow pastor pulled James aside and said, in almost the same words as the Sufi hermit, “You can’t preach Jesus with hate in your heart.” James said, “That was my real turning point. I came back totally deprogrammed. I know Pat Robertson might have had another agenda, but I was truly changed.”
For more than a decade now, James and Ashafa have traveled to Nigerian cities and to other countries where Christians and Muslims are fighting. They tell their stories of how they manipulated religious texts to get young people into the streets to shed blood. Both still adhere strictly to the scripture; they just read it more deeply and emphasize different verses.
Nonbelievers may wonder how these “deprogramming” efforts can actually work. But religion is the X factor in conflicts like Nigeria’s, which can’t be reduced just to economics. As Barbara Cooper, the author of Evangelical Christians in the Muslim Sahel, puts it, “Faith matters.”
Pastor James sent me on a tour of Kaduna with one of his employees, Haruna Yakubu, a former Islamic militant who now works as a youth coordinator for the Interfaith Mediation Centre, which the pair of religious allies founded. Yakubu took me to see the poured-cement skeleton of the fire-ravaged Alafia Oluwa Baptist Church. “The Baptists want to sell it,” Yakubu said, as we climbed out of the pastor’s aging Mercedes. The cross and spire had been sheared off, but the walls and heavy cement Romanesque arches were still standing. They now enclosed a large grassy field; a cow was tethered to a tree. I walked toward the narthex, but Yakubu stopped me. It stank of human excrement. “The locals have turned it into a toilet,” he said, uncomfortably. On the wall, through a hole blasted into the cement, someone had painted a picture of a naked woman, a penis with “Pastor S—” written on it pointed between her spread legs. “We’re trying to convince the Baptists to come back, but they don’t want to.” I could see why. I couldn’t imagine a more desecrated place. In 2007, the Christians sold it after all. When Yakubu and I drove by a year after our first visit, the word masalaci, which means “mosque,” had been spray-painted across it in red.
We drove in silence. Yakubu looked out of the car’s smeared window at the colonial-era ash trees lining the broad road toward the polo ground. “Our religious leaders are some of our most dangerous people,” he said. “They preach that they want us to go back to Medina, but we can’t go back to Medina.” Medina, the city in which Muhammad led an army and a state, has different connotations than Mecca, the city of his youth. In the Koran, the verses from Medina speak frequently of war and violence, unlike the ones from Mecca. “Even the Prophet lived with Christians; why can’t we? If we call ourselves true Muslims, why can’t we do that?” said Yakubu.
Along the road, red-eyed boys sold jerricans of petrol. Nigeria is the United States’ fifth-largest supplier of oil, but because of corruption and mismanagement, it imports much of its gasoline. During price hikes and shortages, these young hawkers appear by the roadside. Such boys are the first to join the fighting; their gas cans become weapons. Usually someone’s paying them. In the north, there are millions of these jobless and school-less young men. For the price of a meal, they form a ready army.
One Friday before afternoon prayer, I visited Imam Ashafa at home. He’d already solved three neighborhood disputes that morning. Two smiling old men wearing dark glasses sat on his green sectional couch. Both were blind, and the imam had started a foundation to help them. His two young wives, Fatima and Aisha, both disarmingly warm and very attractive, served tea on top of a tin canister. “I like pretty women,” the imam told me later. The room was stuffy: the windows were shut and the green-and-white striped curtains drawn in purdah. On one closed door, a bumper sticker read Combat AIDS with Shari’a. The method was clear: abstinence. The imam and the pastor share the same conservative moral values, which has also helped them to find common ground.
Frequently, the problems each confronted weren’t divisions between Christians and Muslims, but arguments within his own side. One of Ashafa’s greatest challenges is to manage Kaduna’s growing list of Muslim groups at odds with each other. The self-proclaimed Shia of northern Nigeria are closely tied to Iran. They’re engaged in a cold war—which sometimes heats up—with a radical group of Sunnis. Some Sunni hardliners, in turn, rail against what they see as the “corrupt” Islam practiced by Nigeria’s Sufi majority. As among the Christians, the divisions between the Muslims continue to deepen—a splintering that undermines any facile notions of a global clash of two monoliths. Still, the imam is frequently accused of being a sellout because he associates with Christians. He identifies himself very much as a fundamentalist and sees himself as one who emulates Muhammad. Although he and Pastor James don’t discuss it, he also proselytizes among Christians. “I want James to die as a Muslim, and he wants me to die as a Christian. My Islam is proselytizing. It’s about bringing the whole world to Islam,” he told me that day.
Such missionary zeal drives both men, infusing their struggle to rise above their history of conflict with the same undercurrent of competitive tension that runs across the Middle Belt and the continent. As Pastor James told me at his office, Peace Hall, in Kaduna, he still believes strongly in absolute and exclusive salvation mandated by the gospel: “Jesus said, ‘I am the way and the truth and the life.’” He still challenges Christians to rely on the strict and literal word, and he’s still uncompromising on fundamental issues of Christianity. “We see same-sex marriages in the United States as signs of end times: it’s Sodom and Gomorrah,” he told me. “But I also want to say you can believe what you want to believe. We have to find a space for coexistence.”
Monday, March 03, 2008
Here are the dates:
Lagos: 12th April
Abuja: 17th April
Ibadan: 19th April
Ogidi/Awka: 23rd April
Nsukka: 25-26th April (keynote by Ngugi and a tribute by JP Clark)
You can download the programme at the link above (right at the bottom of the page).
Makes for an interesting read. Thanks Nkem for the link.
Sunday, March 02, 2008
With the handicap of the election tribunal process over, we may well see the Yar'Adua administration stepping up a gear in the next few weeks. The signs are already there, with the arrest of a Minister in the offing, and rumours that another prominent and controversial Minister may soon be vacating office as part of a reshuffle. MYA has also been making positive noises about infrastructure projects on his trip to China over the weekend, with a self-imposed 2011 deadline to considerably alter the energy matrix in Nigeria. Electoral and constitutional reform (with the President putting his weight behind removal of the immunity clause at Davos recently) would set Nigeria on the path of irreversible transformation and prepare for its place at the BRICS table. It might be time to start dreaming...
This evening I met an aromatherapist who is planning to move back home from the UK and set up shop in Abuja. Things are definitely changing..
Saturday, March 01, 2008
I’ve had a few comments on this blog over the past few months with questions and hypotheses about the kind of life I lead. People ask how come I manage to keep my blog going and post so frequently. They also wonder about where I get all my information. I think the assumption is that I am an over-paid and under-worked expat bathing in broadband with a huge generator humming away permanently in the background, living in a lux, calme et volupte compound with swimming pool, gym, amidst other lustrous foreigners spending their lives going to cocktail events etc. I suspect I am considered to be the type you glimpse turning to the left as they enter the plane to and from Abuja etc. People also probably think that being a Jeremy, I am the product of a public school education.
There’s a residual narcissism in writing a blog that can only be amplified by reflecting about one’s life on the blog. It puts me off writing about what I actually do and how I do it. However, at the risk of turning into a self-reflexive bubble, just for once, let me talk about myself and put the record straight:
The first thing to know is that I have been lucky to meet many inspirational people in Nigeria. I borrow a lot of ideas from them, and mix them in with my own to write my posts. In truth, ideas have no origin; they have always been there as a form of energy that connects people to actions and projects. So, I tap into the energy behind the ideas of the people I know, as they tap into mine. Many a post comes from this melange of bodies and beings.
There are, of course, wonderful humans everywhere in the world (even in Staffordshire); the trick is how to find them. When I say ‘lucky’, I’m not sure that that points to a simple random process. Rather, I take serendipity to be a dynamic of the cosmos, where energies go in search of each other, moving into aleatoric spaces of opportunity created by the unfolding of the world in time. Its as if there is an energy gradient for people, just like the meteorological pressure gradients that generate the weather. So, in terms of connecting with people and idea generation: its part happenstance and contingency, but paradoxically, also part necessity. More generally, I think we have to learn to accept the contradiction that life is a combination of contingency and necessity: absurd, comic and tragic all at once. Most of my ideas are not my own, but then they were never anyone’s anyway..
The second thing is, unlike many if not most people who move to Nigeria to work (expat and repat alike), I took an 80% pay cut to live in Nigeria. I left a job I enjoyed (working for a consultancy on the edge of Soho), reporting to a guy I admired and respected. I could not describe myself as an economic migrant. More like an experiential migrant, if anything. I am definitely not in Nigeria for the moolah. Moving here was one giant scary leap into the unknown, for both of us. Only now am I earning something resembling what I earned when I lived in London. Even so, had I stayed, I would be pulling in more over there, probably living in zone one, having a ball with ideas and creatively disruptive projects aplenty. So, I gave a lot up, just as I have gained through being here.
The third thing to know is that I am hyper-productive. I taught myself to type at 16, and now type 90-100 words a minute. I wrote my PhD thesis in 3 months, averaging 5000 words a day. Before that, I got an MA (distinction - from Warwick) and a First Class degree. These things did not come by chance. Nowadays, I typically write between 60 and 100 emails per day, and receive at least the same number, amidst the predictable oceans of spam (or should that be ‘supermarket shelves’?). At present, I am a consultant for DFID working for NEITI. Evenings and weekends, I work on a media start-up project. At the moment, it’s a quiet revolution under wraps. One day very soon, it will not be. I also do bits and bobs of consulting on other projects, whenever I have time. I tend to work 7 days a week, at any time of day or night.
Apart from earning money in these different ways, I am writing a book on memory. I have a long-term back-burner book on invisibility which is quarter written but currently unattended. I am also working on several film projects and studying the art and technique of documentary film-making. I also support Bibi with Cassava Republic – reading manuscripts, meeting potential writers, casting opinions on book covers etc. In between there’s tennis and yoga - bold attempts at keeping my belly the shape it should be.
I don’t think there’s anything so remarkable to celebrate in all this – many people keep themselves just as busy if not more so. It helps that we have a house-help, so there’s no time wasted on chores and the ultra-mundane. In a way, there’s no magic to the life I lead. It was an active choice to find a partner who believes in personal and social transformation. It was an active choice to study so hard, read so much, talk to so many people, ask so many questions, incessantly. I chose to spend night after night talking through the night, work consistently to become a better writer, spend hours and years practising jazz guitar. Years earlier, I had practised hard to be a cricketer. I didn’t make it. I’ve worked in factory after factory on night shifts, restaurant after restaurant, bar after bar. My first job was washing cars at the age of 14. Looking back, it was all about the desire to transcend the present situation and a desire to see and be in the world. Work, work and more work.
The fourth thing to say is that we do not live in a fabulous apartment with reliable electricity supply and broadband internet and a David Hockney patch of aquamarine in the compound. Our house leaks, has cockroaches, constantly disappoints. Our power is oftentimes supplied via battery/inverter. If we still lived in London, our living space would be way more comfortable, if a little smaller. We pay rent for occupation and maintenance, but nothing is ever maintained by our landlord (the norm in Nigeria). The door handles regularly break and fall off (it seems its impossible to get decent door handles in Nigeria). Ditto for taps. Our ceilings sag and shit dust and termites. Still, we’ve done the best we can to make it habitable. People often make mildly-impressed noises when they enter our living room, with our Bida tables, Moroccan wall hangings, big green abstract painting from India, our coffee table books and the welcoming ambience we create around us. But then, our taste didn’t come from nowhere. It too was work: galleries and books and conversations and experiences, not just thoughtless trips to Ikea amidst the numbness of the suburbs. The cultivation of taste has an intrinsic snob element to it – this cannot be avoided or denied.
The fifth thing is that I fly economy. Which is problematic, being a small giant. I’ve flown business class about ten times. I do have a sense of business-class entitlement, but that is height-based more than an in-built sense of superiority. I should also say that I went to a shitty comprehensive school full of brainless thugs, with only a smattering of sentience. My pre-tertiary education nearly ruined it for me. I am an auto-didact. We have to educate ourselves.
I get my insatiable curiosity for the world from my mother, and my indefatigable work ethic from my father. I’ve been lucky, to find an element of the cosmos that is the self of my other. But then, even that was not luck, it was work. I wrote this while flying Virgin Nigeria to Lagos. It took me 35 minutes to write, and another 30 minutes to edit. If it sounds pretentious and self-satisfied, so be it. There's no self-congratulation. The reality is, I am never satisfied and there is never any pretence.