Thursday, 17 April 2014

The Intellectual in Public Life

I recently came across a quote from Plato to the effect that those who refuse to participate in politics end up being governed by their inferiors, but then I suppose it depends who you imagine your inferiors to be. Dr Pat Utomi, the subject of this piece, once called the federal legislators ‘people of lower intellect,’ which they may well be although he didn’t care to elucidate. We do know, from another interview, that his ‘prime model’ of the ‘intellectual in public life’ was Patrick Moynihan, the four-time US senator who also found the time to write 19 books, one of which was nominated for a National Book Award. As one commentator quipped, this was probably more than many of his colleagues had read. It is almost certainly more than ours have done.
 
I gather from Wikipedia that Moynihan, who died in 2003, served his country well. Dr Utomi has never had the chance to prove his own mettle in the public arena although not for the want of trying. He made a bid the presidency in 2007 and again in 2011 but they were always non-starters. Indeed, it seemed more like a publicity stunt, along the lines of Pastor Chris Okotie , whose own equally pointless bid – politically speaking - was more understandable given his showbiz antecedents. On the other hand, we have lately witnessed the rise of the so-called Public Intellectual, of whom Utomi is certainly one. We remember his popular Patito’s Gang (of which Dr Reuben Abati was a member), which reportedly drew two million viewers each week. Perhaps he felt the need for a bigger stage to air his views on the trouble with Nigeria. He has now lowered his sights – although not by much, given the realities on the ground - and is gunning for the Delta State governorship, which he hopes to clinch under the APC banner.
 
I should admit at once that I am no fan of the so-called mega-opposition party. I don’t understand how anyone can imagine that Tinubu, a byword for greed and nepotism but who Utomi cloaks with ‘the courage of the lion in taking on daunting obstacles,’ somehow represents a radical alternative to the daily revelations of mind-boggling venality. As for Buhari, ‘austere and ascetic’ he may well be, and perhaps even ‘a man of integrity,’ but there are those – and I am one of them – who consider him a stiff-necked tyrant with extremist leanings, having vowed to Islamise the entire country if given the chance.
 
Well, this is politics – and Nigerian politics at that – so it may be that Utomi believes he is in possession of a sufficiently long spoon. Whether such a spoon exists is as doubtful as whether intellectuals – public or otherwise – make good politicians. Perhaps they do; perhaps not. My own suspicion is not, which is why Patrick Moynihan is such an exception. That aside, what, precisely, is Utomi offering that will somehow be different from that so far offered by our intellectually-challenged legislators?
 
To be sure, our professor at the expensive Lagos Business School has penned a lot of words - 11 publications, according to his LinkedIn profile – and I’m sure he’s well regarded by his peers, but what I have read of his abundant journalism doesn’t inspire confidence, for instance the following in The Guardian of 3 August 2010, which is to say in the run-up to his last presidential bid:
 
Politics in Nigeria today lacks principles. We are currently in an era where carefree politicians are running government. They have lost the sense of governance. The politicians of these days lack shame and their conducts are not guided by principles. What makes the whole matter frightening is that at a time the country is facing life and death issues, our politicians are busy parading themselves in a way that can plunge the country into revolution. If we are not careful with the present set of politicians there might be serious anarchy because Nigerians are weary of governance.

Perhaps the good professor was undertaking an exercise in how to say nothing in one hundred words. Or what about this from his interminable Patito’s Blog: ‘Power is so central to modern life, its economy, its pleasures and its social organisation inefficiencies.’ At which point your local vulcanizer, hair dresser or Mama Put might wonder whether you had to go all the way to odobo oyibo – PhD Bloomington, USA – to reach such an obvious conclusion.
 
Utomi is currently mired in a squalid court case involving yet another bank failure. As one of the directors of Bank PHB, it is said that he benefitted to the tune of N2.7bn to prosecute his 2007 presidential bid while defending the notorious Francis Abuche, the former Managing Director who is accused of looting N25.7bn. Utomi claims that he spent only N30mn on his campaign and perhaps this was so. Jonathan himself blew N85bn on the primaries alone but then Utomi was his own party, as was the fashion in those days, hence our new ‘opposition’.
 
Utomi is immensely proud of his many degrees, appointments and honours attained at impossibly young ages, a trait he shares with his former gang member, Dr Reuben Abati, who made his own bid for power, with what results we all know. Hazlitt said it well:
 
Clever men are the tools with which bad men work. The march of sophistry is devious; the march of power is one. Its means, its tools, its pretexts are various and borrowed like the hues of the chameleon from any object that happens to be at hand: its object is ever the same, and deadly as the serpent’s fang.

Whether Utomi thinks he can actually win depends on whether he believes the INEC of 2015 will somehow be different from the INEC of 2011, which he described at the time as already rigged ahead of the counting: ‘It is not possible... The system we have now cannot give room for free and fait election’. This begs the obvious question but perhaps one should be wary of asking it.

©Adewale Maja-Pearce

This piece first appeared in Hallmark, 15 April 2014


Adewale Maja-Pearce is the author of several books, including Loyalties
and Other Stories, In My Father's Country, How many miles to Babylon?, A
Mask Dancing, Who's Afraid of Wole Soyinka?, From Khaki to Agbada,
Remembering Ken Saro-Wiwa and Other Essays, A Peculiar Tragedy, and
Counting the Cost, as well as the 1998 and 1999 annual reports on human
rights violations in Nigeria. He also edited The Heinemann Book of African
Poetry in English, Wole Soyinka: An Appraisal, Christopher Okigbo:
Collected Poems, The New Gong Book of New Nigerian Short Stories,

and Dream Chasers. The House My Father Built, a memoir, will be
published later this year.

Click here to see Maja-Pearce's
amazon.com page: http://www.amazon.com/Adewale-Maja-Pearce/e/B001HPKIOU

Tuesday, 18 March 2014

Thanks for being there!

In February last year I determined to write 52 weekly blogs of about one thousand words each. The idea was to track the evolving political landscape as we began the approach to the 2015 elections. Even then, it wasn’t too early. Public office is the raison d’être of Nigeria, with crude oil earnings the prize. Everything that happens in the country, from the sacking of the central bank governor to the fatal stampedes in Abuja, Bauchi, Lagos and Port Harcourt for a few paltry slots in immigration and customs, can only be understood in those terms. My main worry, in fact, was how to keep it fresh week in, week out. To be sure, revelations of venality overtake one another faster than we can assimilate the sordid details but they are simply variations on a single theme.
 
Take the recent one by the central bank governor that $20bn of oil money had gone walk-about. This upset our Harvard-educated, ex-World Bank coordinating finance minister who ridiculed his claim on the grounds that he had first alleged almost $50bn before settling for the lower figure and promptly announced that the real figure was $10.8bn. She then attempted to shift the blame to her sister in the petroleum ministry, where all the money she is coordinating comes from anyway.
 
To say that Nigeria is geared for graft is to say nothing new, only a wonder that anyone ever believed that our coordinating minister, who had to be begged to forego her job at the World Bank to come and serve her country (‘It would be very easy for me to sit at the World Bank and earn a nice salary’), was ever going to serve our interests. But then we have always been in thrall to the foreign institutions which know more about the price of onions and peppers at Mile 12 than do our home-grown economists and must therefore take our punishment however they see fit, complete with Trojan horse.
 
These foreign institutions also encompass US public relations firms with ‘extensive must-win campaign experience’ on account of knowing ‘what it takes to win in difficult situations’, in this case Mercury LLC, to which the minister fled for advice on how to shore up her tattered image she otherwise insisted was still intact: ‘I don’t think my reputation is under threat and to imply otherwise is distinctly wrong. I know what I’m doing. I know why I’m here.’ I did try and contact the self-styled ‘high-stakes public strategy firm’ through its website but never received a reply, as invisible to them as the market women at Mile 12.
 
This invisibility of the people is currently being acted out at the recently convened national dialogue on the country’s future. Like its predecessor under Obasanjo, the delegates were told what they can and can’t deliberate on.  Then again, no government will pay delegates $4mn a month each for three months to deliberate them out of office. The only wonder is not that you can’t find 492 people out of 170mn to accept the insult to their intelligence (the majority of whom have been doing little else for years anyway), but that others not so fortunate should continue to imagine that anything good can come of it.
 
The triumph of hope over experience would seem to be the besetting vice of Nigerians, which was partly why thousands of young men and women were prepared to pay for the privilege of being interviewed for a limited number of federal appointments, most of which, it turned out (man-know-man), had already been farmed out to those better placed, none of whom, I daresay, needed to risk their lives in the stampede which followed. It can only be a matter of time before these same youths, who we continue to churn out from our universities with nothing to look forward to, will rise up and tear down the whole rotten edifice. The question is: When? It is telling that those responsible for their wretchedness – as who should know? - have taken the precaution of buying private jets to spirit them to the safety of their foreign havens. This includes, above all, the self-styled pastors who urge the gullible to close their eyes while they rob them blind as they exhort them to pray for the miracle that will never come.
 
But I have written all this before in any number of earlier blogs. Nor am I alone. Every commentator has said as much week in, week out in the pages of our newspapers. The ‘message’ has become dulled with the repetition. And to what end? The fact that they are published at all, and that nobody in authority pays the least attention to them, was acknowledged by the previous Borno State governor who was believed to have incubated the Boko Haram which thinks nothing of murdering children in their beds. What do they want? Good question. Possibly they don’t themselves know, any more than the rest of us know what to do with this awkward colonial creation. Why, we aren’t even allowed to see the piece of paper which amalgamated us. Perhaps the delegates can begin by demanding it so that they at least know what it is, precisely, they are supposed to be deliberating. Then again, perhaps this is another ‘no-go area’.
 
So this is my last blog in the present series, to which I gave the generic title, ‘All about Naija’. The danger of continuing is not only a reflexive staleness but also diminishing returns. Keep saying the same thing over and over and pretty soon nobody is paying you much attention. At the same time, the plethora of opinions might in fact be part of the problem.  A cursory look at Nigerian newspapers shows that the one thing we don’t respect is the facts, which is why one searches in vain for a full list of the delegates to the current national conference. In partial fulfilment of that lack, and with the looming 2015 elections in mind, I propose to embark on a new series profiling the political actors positioning themselves for 2015 in the hope that business will continue as usual. In the meantime, I will be taking a one-month break.
 
Thanks for being there!
 
© Adewale Maja-Pearce
 
 
Adewale Maja-Pearce is the author of several books, including Loyalties
and Other Stories, In My Father's Country, How many miles to Babylon?, A
Mask Dancing, Who's Afraid of Wole Soyinka?, From Khaki to Agbada,
Remembering Ken Saro-Wiwa and Other Essays, A Peculiar Tragedy, and
Counting the Cost, as well as the 1998 and 1999 annual reports on human
rights violations in Nigeria. He also edited The Heinemann Book of African
Poetry in English, Wole Soyinka: An Appraisal, Christopher Okigbo:
Collected Poems, The New Gong Book of New Nigerian Short Stories,
and Dream Chasers. His memoir, The House My Father Built, will be
published later this year.

Click here to see Maja-Pearce's
amazon.com page: http://www.amazon.com/Adewale-Maja-Pearce/e/B001HPKIOU

Saturday, 8 March 2014

What is to be done?


On 18 April 2012, a story appeared in The Punch newspaper concerning one Blessing Effiong, who had already served four years in Kirikiri Maximum for the alleged theft of a mobile handset. She was nineteen at the time. According to the report, she had bought the phone for N10,000 in order to start a business centre but later got a call from a man who said the phone was his and had been stolen. He wanted it back but would be happy to refund the money she had paid. She gave him her address but when he turned up he claimed that other items were also stolen (including a laptop), accused her of being a thief and called the police. Although she was then only sixteen the police, for reasons best known to them, insisted that she was twenty-one and could therefore be charged as an adult. So began her nightmare, which only ended on 5 July 2012.
 
According to a subsequent report in The Punch, Ms Effiong wasn’t charged to court in all those long years (one-fifth of her short life to that date) because the Director of Public Prosecutions couldn’t initially decide what to charge her with. Her case did eventually get to court, where she was charged with receiving stolen property. Her lawyer plea-bargained for her to be charged with the lesser offence of possessing suspected stolen property, whereupon she pled guilty and was freed, having already served eight times longer than the stipulated punishment.
 
I start from the assumption that Ms Effiong was innocent of her alleged ‘crime’ despite the fact that she now has a record that may yet return to haunt her. It doesn’t take much imagination – or any at all, come to that - to understand why she would have been eager to walk free, whatever the subsequent stain on her character. Moreover, given that she was a child (legally speaking) at the time of her alleged crime, the law itself erred in charging her as an adult. But there is also the matter of double standards in the way the law is applied in Nigeria, which is reminiscent of apartheid South Africa: one for the minority rich (whites), one for the majority poor (blacks). So, for instance, while the criminal justice system exerts time and resources over a N10,000 mobile phone, it indulges a senior civil servant, John Yakubu Yusuf, accused of embezzling N2bn but who was fined a derisory N250,000 and released after only two years behind bars.
 
Mr Yusuf’s case is especially pertinent here because he was convicted of embezzling the police’s own pension fund and, therefore, more deserving – humanly if not morally (or even legally) - of the nightmare the police themselves criminally visited on Ms Effiong. But Ms Effiong is a nobody with only N10,000 to invest in a business; and although The Punch report doesn’t explicitly say so, we can infer that the police were paid by her (perhaps vindictive) accuser to lie against her. What the report also doesn’t say, but which again we can infer, is that it was only their report that got her a lawyer in the first place, helped along by Linda Ikeji, perhaps the country’s most famous blogger, who was present at the hearing, along with assorted sympathisers she had galvanised online, and all of whom erupted in jubilation at what they evidently considered closure.
 
Unfortunately, closure it was not. For one thing, there is the question of all the other Blessing Effiongs awaiting trial in Kirikiri – 154 out of 191 at the time, according to The Punch report – among them two sisters, Funmilayo and Endurance Felix, one about to give birth, the other having already done so. For another, there is the question of what the police themselves were alleged to have done.  For a third, there is the tardiness of the DPP in all of this. These would seem to be weighty issues but are not even addressed. According to Ms Ikeji, who visited Ms Effiong in Kirikiri, where they ‘hugged’ and ‘wept’, Nigeria’s ‘most widely read newspaper’ erred in her age (nineteen, not twenty) and the price she paid for the mobile phone in question (N800, not the N10,000 it would have cost new).
 
In fact, The Punch report reveals much that is wrong with Nigerian journalism. Given Ms Effiong’s central role in the story – its peg, as it were – we have to rely on Ms Ikeji’s blog to give her some humanity:  ‘Blessing is an orphan. Her father died when she was very young and her mother died just last year. She told me her incarceration led to her mum's death. She was her only daughter. Blessing has two brothers but they are in the East and as helpless as she is.’ Nor are we told how she secured the services of a lawyer, who might himself have been quoted, although, again, we must infer that it was their own initial report which did the trick, itself inferred from the drama in the courtroom when ‘Justice Christopher Balogun berated both the prosecution and defence counsel’ for not intimating the court in good time about the change of plea but ‘nonetheless allowed the case to continue’, presumably because by now the case done pass be careful.
 
The point, at any rate, is that all the hullaballoo surrounding Ms Effiong’s case, while indubitably good for Ms Effiong personally (and one hopes that she did indeed receive all the help promised by Ms Ikeji), stops there. Nothing has changed. The same police who framed her – one can hardly describe it otherwise – themselves went scot-free to continue their criminal activities, and we are yet to hear whether the Felix sisters still continue to languish in the limbo called awaiting trial persons without the wherewithal to hire a lawyer or the good fortune to be mentioned in newspaper reports and private blogs, which can hardly be the basis of conducting a system of justice.
 
As I write, President Goodluck Jonathan has just finished naming the delegates to the national conference that is to debate - again! - the future of this country. In the nature of things, they do not include among their number the Ms Effiongs of this world. This would perhaps be too much to expect, but any resultant document which does not begin to address the fundamental injustices of the unequal society we have managed to construct out of our so-called independence will be an exercise in futility. But we have been here before and it would be a foolish person who expected any different now.
 
© Adewale Maja-Pearce
 
 
Adewale Maja-Pearce is the author of several books, including Loyalties
and Other Stories, In My Father's Country, How many miles to Babylon?, A
Mask Dancing, Who's Afraid of Wole Soyinka?, From Khaki to Agbada,
Remembering Ken Saro-Wiwa and Other Essays, A Peculiar Tragedy, and
Counting the Cost, as well as the 1998 and 1999 annual reports on human
rights violations in Nigeria. He also edited The Heinemann Book of African
Poetry in English, Wole Soyinka: An Appraisal, Christopher Okigbo:
Collected Poems, The New Gong Book of New Nigerian Short Stories,
and Dream Chasers. His latest book, The House My Father Built, will be
published later this year.

Click here to see Maja-Pearce's
amazon.com page: http://www.amazon.com/Adewale-Maja-Pearce/e/B001HPKIOU

Friday, 28 February 2014

Celebrating a fiction

The headline announced the early arrival of ‘more than twelve world leaders’ for the impending centenary celebrations. All were from Africa and all from countries whose presidents regularly travel to Abuja for handouts. There was Burundi, Mauretania and The Gambia, for instance, but not Kenya or South Africa. From the great world outside, Israel sent its agriculture minister, Switzerland its resident ambassador and the US a ‘state counsellor’, who will ‘meet with government officials and participate in high-level activities with other world leaders’, after which he will ‘interact with Nigerian youths’. It seems that the French President attended but there is the matter of a lucrative contract to help fight the home-grown Islamic terrorists we seem incapable of containing despite the extended state of emergency.
 
An official from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, ‘who did not want to be mentioned’, further ‘disclosed’ that no fewer than 42 heads of state and government were expected, although he refused to name them, and this to a reporter from the government’s own News Agency of Nigeria. No doubt all will be revealed in due course. One only wonders why the secrecy. Either they are coming or they are not; if so, who and who, exactly? But this is Nigeria. After all, the event these world leaders have come to celebrate is itself a state secret given that nobody appears to have seen the relevant document which amalgamated us and which, according to rumour, may contain a hundred-year time limit. In other words, the assembled may have come to celebrate a fiction, which is perhaps what Nigeria is anyway.
 
The celebrations themselves will honour 100 people judged to have distinguished themselves in the evolution of this fantasy. The two most perplexing categories are ‘contributors to the making of Nigeria’ and ‘outstanding promoters of unity, patriotism and national development’. The first contains just three people: the man responsible for the amalgamation, his then girlfriend who named the country and the current Queen of England (who, being the only one of the triumvirate still alive, nevertheless declined to attend). The second contains nine names, among them Abacha, Babangida and Obasanjo. Between these two poles, we are effectively being told that Nigeria should forever be seen as the creation of other people’s desires, and that its continued existence is posited on plunder. Looked at this way, it makes perfect sense that the ill-gotten loot of the latter should end up in the coffers of the former, which is what the amalgamation was designed for in the first place. Long live the Queen!
 
Not surprisingly, the more deserving – or their descendants in the case of the deceased, who make up almost half of the great and the good - quickly distanced themselves from the government’s cynical attempt to co-opt them. The Fawehinmi family pointed out that it was Babangida ‘who as military president, severally detained and tortured our father’. Femi Kuti, whose family was more than well represented, demanded that the Federal Government ‘apologise for the killing of our grandmother and the burning of Kalakuta’ by the first Obasanjo administration. And Soyinka, who was able to speak for himself only because he miraculously survived Abacha’s death squads (even fleeing from the country through the bush), ‘would have preferred that the entire day of infamy be ignored altogether’. Those other families with pretensions to probity – or, simply, self-respect – must stand where they may. This includes the Maja family.
 
The scale of the cynicism attendant upon this jamboree is borne out by the usual genuflection towards federal character, meaning that the Big Three invariably dominate, and underscored by the paucity of information on the centenary exhibition’s official website, which doesn’t even list the awardees. This might seem like a trivial point but consider the following:

Nigeria has distinguished herself over the centuries in the field of arts. Nigerian culture is as multi-ethnic as the people in Nigeria. From a rich culture of ivory carving, grass weaving, wood carving, leather and calabash. Pottery, painting, cloth weaving and glass and metal works, we have written our industry and enterprise in a way that can only be Nigerian.’

This is the introduction to the ‘About Nigeria’ section, which is otherwise taken up with press statements from various bigwigs with their snouts in the trough - the chairman of the centenary exhibition, the secretary to the federal government, the project director – along with the ‘implementation plan’ with which to fitter away the money at their disposal, which also happens to be by far the most detailed section: visits to the UK and the US ‘to meet Nigerians in Diaspora’, a press conference at the Abuja Hilton ‘to inform/sensitize/mobilize the public’, and – with absolutely no sense of irony or shame but that is the way with such people - the ‘design and hosting of the website’. I contacted this same website but am yet to receive the promised early reply from the hard-working team. As far as I can tell, the last update was 23 January.
 
The point in all of this is our fundamental lack of seriousness in everything we do, even as we invite world leaders to come and celebrate a non-event, which is why those not looking for handouts or contracts sent their messengers. Even Tanzania and Zambia made do with ‘delegations’, in the latter case led by that country’s defence minister. Meanwhile, the onward march of Boko Haram continues with reports of the army fleeing in their wake. Perhaps one can’t blame the soldiers. Who would lay down his life for a fiction which is busy gorging itself in a pretend capital built on the proceeds of other people’s wealth, the raison d’être of Jonathan’s presidency given that there isn’t anything else to recommend him – as he perhaps well knows.
 
© Adewale Maja-Pearce
 
 
Adewale Maja-Pearce is the author of several books, including Loyalties
and Other Stories, In My Father's Country, How many miles to Babylon?, A
Mask Dancing, Who's Afraid of Wole Soyinka?, From Khaki to Agbada,
Remembering Ken Saro-Wiwa and Other Essays, A Peculiar Tragedy, and
Counting the Cost, as well as the 1998 and 1999 annual reports on human
rights violations in Nigeria. He also edited The Heinemann Book of African
Poetry in English, Wole Soyinka: An Appraisal, Christopher Okigbo:
Collected Poems, The New Gong Book of New Nigerian Short Stories,
and Dream Chasers.

Click here to see Maja-Pearce's
amazon.com page: http://www.amazon.com/Adewale-Maja-Pearce/e/B001HPKIOU

Thursday, 13 February 2014

Hidden histories

If I didn’t know better I might have thought that Dr Pat Utomi had been hired as a megaphone by our new mega-party, perhaps hoping to provide much the same service that Dr Reuben Abati has been doing so well for a PDP now in comical disarray. In a recent article in The Guardian (10 February), he rubbished the ‘cliché’ that ‘there is no difference between the major parties’, and that APC ‘will be ideologically left of centre, and very peoples oriented, a kind of people sensitive and responsive enterprise economy that is justice focused’.  He based his terrible grammar on the lessons of history, which apparently show us that ‘the kind of groaning and travails that currently mark the system have had a way of giving birth to something new and more desirable’. The history he has in mind is the American Civil War, which we may be ‘shocked’ to discover was fought under a Republican and not a Democratic president. He is also keen on one Roberto Michels, who apparently published a book in 1911 about ‘the important place of political parties structure in evolution’.
 
History invariably proves what you want it to prove, which is why it has to be endlessly re-written, but even so his example seems somewhat esoteric given that he doesn’t actually relate the one to the other. But perhaps he is obliquely suggesting that Nigeria is also on the verge of a civil war that will accommodate strange bedfellows, which is in the nature of civil wars, as we should know, having already fought one but for our obeisance to foreign narratives, being a foreign creation to begin with. Moreover, quoting an obscure scholar without interrogating his conclusion – at least for our own edification - seems to be in keeping with the ‘methodology’ of our self-styled public intellectuals whose want of rigour is encouraged by badly-edited newspapers which evince no interest in, for instance, unearthing the historical document we continue to labour under even as we get up conferences designed to evade the historical question posed by it.
 
Dr Utomi’s intellectual sloppiness encompasses his assessment of our ‘people sensitive’ would-be saviours. Tinubu, of whom he ‘can speak with some fair amount of authority’ on account of the fact that he ‘spent a fair amount of time’ retreating with him both before and after he became governor, impressed him with his ‘passion for competence and his comfort level with having the best around him’. He also quotes the then US ambassador (who else?) who ‘wished the Federal cabinet were half as good as the Lagos State Cabinet’, and concludes by saluting ‘the courage of the lion in taking on daunting obstacles’, which he sees ‘clearly affecting the course of the APC’. He is less fulsome of the other two that make up his triumvirate but not by much. The ‘austere and ascetic’ Buhari is proved by those ‘at the bottom of the pyramid’ looking for a man of ‘integrity with a monomaniacal focus on the needs of the downtrodden’. Chief Bisi Akande is ‘someone who had been in government and who had shown uncommon touch for the common good while living integrity.’
 
I’m surprised that an intellectual – even of the public variety – should want me to believe what they say merely because they say it. I don’t personally know Tinubu but even his supporters concede that he is no Awolowo (which is perhaps why he needs intellectuals around him), and we all hear the roadside rumours – and read some of the evidence - about his greed and nepotism. As for Buhari, it seems surprising that he should feel comfortable endorsing a former military dictator and now a born-again democrat who not only executed three men with a retroactive decree in his previous incarnation but has insisted he will do the same again in his present one. With Chief Bisi Akande, we can hardly do better than let the ‘people sensitive’, ‘left of centre’ national chairman of our impending deliverance speak on his own behalf: ‘If election in our party is what you are trying to describe as internal democracy then we reject such idea... This is because it is the leadership of the party that understand the manifestoes of the party and know what the people really want.’
 
Once upon a time, Dr Utomi dug it out with Chris Okotie, the pop star-turned-pastor, in vying for the presidency of Nigeria, but is now content it seems to settle for his ‘main role’, which is ‘to pull together a formidable opposition and help build a value platform on which it could rest’ given his interest ‘in principles, systems, values and institutions that shape human progress’. Nor is he shy about burnishing his credentials. We are told, for instance, that he was once ‘matched in the top traunch of the Presidential debates with candidates Umaru Yar’Adua and Muhammadu Buhari’, that he ‘worked with General Buhari, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar and others’ to expose the flaws in the 2007 elections, and that he also ‘worked...with the late Chief Anthony Enahoro and Chief Olu Falae’ on something or other.
 
As CVs go, the absence of concrete detail might work with those who are themselves so bloated with their self-importance as to anticipate the desires of the great unwashed they would represent, but then this is Nigeria, where his brother philosopher earlier referred to – also widely published in the same ‘flagship’ newspaper before he opted for the trappings of power – has been defending the indefensible with similarly abstruse allusions. It is perhaps instructive that neither of them ever fails to remind us of their precocious doctorates while the rest of us were frittering away our time in extra-curricular pursuits.
 
If indeed he is applying for a job in the upper echelons, a word of advice: refrain from referring to members of the national assembly as ‘people of lower intellect’. They may well be so but will not take kindly to the description, irrational as this may seem to loftier minds.
 
© Adewale Maja-Pearce
 
 
Adewale Maja-Pearce is the author of several books, including Loyalties
and Other Stories, In My Father's Country, How many miles to Babylon?, A
Mask Dancing, Who's Afraid of Wole Soyinka?, From Khaki to Agbada,
Remembering Ken Saro-Wiwa and Other Essays, A Peculiar Tragedy, and
Counting the Cost, as well as the 1998 and 1999 annual reports on human
rights violations in Nigeria. He also edited The Heinemann Book of African
Poetry in English, Wole Soyinka: An Appraisal, Christopher Okigbo:
Collected Poems, The New Gong Book of New Nigerian Short Stories,
and Dream Chasers.

Click here to see Maja-Pearce's
amazon.com page: http://www.amazon.com/Adewale-Maja-Pearce/e/B001HPKIOU

Friday, 31 January 2014

Fuck it!

‘I’m a pan-Africanist. I belong to this continent.’
                                        Binyavanga Wainaina

My friend and brother, Binyavanga Waianaina, recently ‘outed’ himself. He did so partly – or even largely - in response to President Goodluck Jonathan’s anti-gay bill. Bin, as I know him, is a frequent flyer to our shores where, by his own admission, he invariably has ‘lots of fun’. He has vowed to come back as soon as anyone invites him, the occasion of which he said will be an ‘adventure’. Good for him. We stand ready to receive him, only apologetic that he should want to return. His own native Kenya is marginally better only in that it has not made gay marriage a punishable 14 years in prison (or 10 for aiding same), homosexuality being (as in Nigeria) a criminal offence anyway; and Uganda’s President Museveni was only dissuaded from signing a bill that would jail gays for life by the ‘Western’ threat to withhold aid, which might or might not be a good thing, for Uganda no less than for Nigeria – or even Kenya.
 
And, yet, any discussion of the love that dare not speak its name - in Nigeria, at any rate - must acknowledge the popularity of Jonathan’s latest demonstration of craze. It seems that the majority the president would seek to please find the supposed mechanics of male-on-male sex baffling, if not distasteful, getting our asses fucked being our collective experience in this country, which is why lesbians have been entirely absent from the narrative. This no doubt reflects the patriarchal nature of the society where a senator of the federal republic, i.e. one of the authors of the bill, asserts his right to penetrate 13-year-old girls, early marriage being, in his elevated opinion, ‘the solution of about half our problems’, and this from a Western-trained economist apparently willing to sacrifice his six-year-old daughter ‘if I want to and it’s not your business’. Except that it is my business - and therein lies the problem.
 
It is unfortunate that the West should have threatened to end their so-called aid if the bill was passed, whereupon our former colonial master promptly did an about-turn by increasing our ‘development’ from £200mn to £270mn (or two days’ crude oil earnings), thereby giving hostage to those much enamoured of our independence from her decadent embrace.  ‘Culture’ was the abstraction most bandied about by legislators who promote the parallel idea that kleptomania is also among our time-hallowed values, hence the travails of a former governor doing time at her colonial majesty’s pleasure (or is it Her Satanic Majesty’s Request?), along with his wife, his mistress, and his wife’s sister, oga and madam having themselves previously done time for shoplifting.
 
Amid all the brouhaha over what two consenting adults can and cannot do in the privacy of their bedroom, we can safely say that north and south, Moslem and Christian are for once united in an unholy alliance that can hardly bode well for the secular nation we claim to be nurturing. For Jonathan, who can’t but be alive to suspicions of barefoot illegitimacy, playing the religious card also has the cynical advantage of garnering at least a modicum of political capital amongst those who profess themselves so keen on their purity that their state governments sponsor parallel (and unconstitutional) police forces to raid brothels and beer parlours. And yet it is the ‘people’ who betray the supposed sinners in their midst, a case of Neighbourhood Watch run riot. It is also these same ‘people’ who loudly demand for the death sentence for the innocent-until-proven-guilty outside the Area Courts staffed by corrupt old men with little or no knowledge of the laws they casually enforce (chapter and verse supplied on request).
 
Flogging females, preferably young ones, seems to be something of a cultural value in our bigoted country. We recall the 2000 case of 13-year-old Bariya Ibrahim Magazu who was charged in Zamfara State for engaging in premarital sex and bringing false accusations against three men she claimed had slept with her. She was found guilty and sentenced to 180 lashes. The punishment was administered before her appeal was heard. The men themselves were nowhere to be found because, according to the law, four independent male witnesses were required to testify that they had actually seen the penises of the accused inside her vagina.
 
From flogging to stoning to death – the prescribed punishment for buggery as well as adultery - is not a big step given our much-touted religiosity, especially with the advantage of the foreign holy books we now swear by. It wasn’t so long ago that two women – Amina Lawal and Safiya Husseini – were sentenced to this medieval notion of justice. As with the Magazu case, the men went scot-free because, according to the judge, a man is not a woman whereby she will have a 'protruding stomach' to show for it. On that occasion the authorities backed down from carrying out the sentence. This time, it seems, the baying crowd might do it for them, which might or might not satisfy our irresponsible legislators seeking to divert attention from their own moral turpitude.
 
‘Prominent’ Nigerians have deafened us with their silence over this fascistic law, along with our professional associations - ANA, ASUU, NBA, NMA, TUC – who would otherwise have the country’s best interests at heart, but perhaps they are themselves poisoned by the bureaucratic torpor of our indolent civil servants cowed by a system they have given carte blanche to in exchange for their sitting allowances. That being so, they might care to remember the famous quote during the Nazi era about keeping quiet when they came for your neighbours, only to find there was nobody to speak on your behalf when they finally came for you.
 
So, Bin, my friend and brother, come, we are here. As for Jonathan's new law, you were already a criminal when you came here before, so: Fuck it!
 
© Adewale Maja-Pearce
 
 
Adewale Maja-Pearce is the author of several books, including Loyalties
and Other Stories, In My Father's Country, How many miles to Babylon?, A
Mask Dancing, Who's Afraid of Wole Soyinka?, From Khaki to Agbada,
Remembering Ken Saro-Wiwa and Other Essays, A Peculiar Tragedy, and
Counting the Cost, as well as the 1998 and 1999 annual reports on human
rights violations in Nigeria. He also edited The Heinemann Book of African
Poetry in English, Wole Soyinka: An Appraisal, Christopher Okigbo:
Collected Poems, The New Gong Book of New Nigerian Short Stories,
and Dream Chasers.

Click here to see Maja-Pearce's
amazon.com page: http://www.amazon.com/Adewale-Maja-Pearce/e/B001HPKIOU

Monday, 20 January 2014

Revisiting Uwais

With the countdown to 2015, all the talk is about the coming showdown between PDP and APC. In Nigerian parlance: Who will win who? The assumption here is that APC is some sort of ‘opposition’ party which will liberate us from the sleaze-ridden behemoth in power since we became a democracy again, as if it was somehow different from the one it is seeking to replace. That it is not is self-evident, although why so many should choose to believe otherwise is a question all by itself. Perhaps it has something to do with our profound unbelief and its concomitant: our seeming helplessness to bring about the kinds of real changes that will indeed transform us into the economic powerhouse recently envisaged by a foreign economist on an eight-day freebie to the country, courtesy of a foreign network.

Following the ‘do or die’ 2007 elections, which even the normally complaisant international community baulked at (with one or two honourable exceptions), the recipient of the stolen mandate prevailed upon a retired chief justice of the federation to recommend how we might do better next time as a palliative to the insulted and injured. The Uwais Electoral Reform Panel made many suggestions. The two most important - independent candidates, and who gets to appoint the ‘independent’ Oga of INEC – were eventually jettisoned, but then it was all a scam from time (to stay with Nigerian parlance), much like the present National Dialogue. There’s nothing like appointing a committee to keep everyone distracted while also leveraging political patronage, this being the sum total of Nigerian politics with the oil money otherwise meant to transform us into the fabled economic powerhouse.

To all intents and purposes, we might as well still be under military rule given that the ‘ordinary’ Nigerian - the 80 per cent or so who apparently live on a dollar a day, according to the same foreign economist - are denied a voice in their own country given the amount of money needed to bankroll offices in 24 of the 36 states just to contest for local councillor. In other words, I must go all the way to Abuja, where I am to have my HQ, in order to contest Surulere Local Government. This is justified under the rubric of national spread, thereby engendering federal character. And it’s not as if Nigeria began life as a cohesive entity. On the contrary, there can hardly be a more patchwork arrangement under the sun, the majority of them too small and insignificant in the scheme of things to ever hope for any kind of representation in an arrangement so heavily skewed in favour of those with the sheer numbers. As with the unexpected bonanza of crude oil (to say nothing of the ‘good inner demographics’ identified by said foreign economist), our diversity is neither a curse nor a blessing but what we choose to make of it. That we have consistently embraced the former is a truism hardly worth repeating but then a cabal which writes the rules – which is permitted to write the rules – can hardly be expected to reform itself.

Among those rules is that only Oga at the top can appoint the person who will count the votes of the election he is contesting in. To know what will happen in 2015 we need only look at what recently happened in Anambra, where it was apparently difficult to ensure that the ballot papers arrived on time. We excused the 2011 lapses on the grounds that the new-look INEC headed by an incorruptible political scientist who once fought the detested military had little time to prepare even as it demanded – and speedily got - N87.72bn for laptops, and is now demanding N92.9bn for even more of the laptops which had problems – the heat! the dust! - keeping an up-to-date voters’ register, as also happened in Anambra. Perhaps our problem is too much money, as a former head of state once quipped, doubtless to his eternal regret now that the 20 per cent (if that) have cornered the bulk of it and are using it to ensure that everything stays the same, however they otherwise dub themselves.

Gone are the days when they could send in the Gestapo to ensure that the ‘people’ voted for the chosen candidate, even those who couldn’t attend the polling booth in person, which didn’t matter anyway when it came to the actual counting. Our foreign well-wishers who insist on monitoring our shenanigans profess not to like such heavy-handed tactics. It’s bad for business and anyway looks indecent, democracy, along with trade, being a game of numbers, as our politicians never tire of reminding us, hence all those laptops, which are hardly the neutral objects they would have us imagine (ask Edward Snowden or Chelsea Manning, for starters), especially when it comes to number-crunching. But we are running ahead of ourselves. Nigeria’s ‘good inner demographics’, i.e. our excessively young population, can only be good if they can actually read and write, which most of them can’t, and never mind turning on the laptops they were once promised for free in the absence of electricity because they all had to go to INEC.

Whether APC will in fact hold together long enough to get to 2015 is in any case doubtful, although much the same might be said of PDP given its current woes under a clueless leadership. What we might be witnessing, in fact, is a case of thieves falling out among themselves in the scramble to acquire ever more wealth to add to the one they can’t finish in several lifetimes, although their children will probably do it for them in one lifetime. As the late Bola Ige put it, We go just siddon look, only a pity that he didn’t follow his own advice when he dined with the devil. Entertaining it will certainly be if you have the stomach for that kind of movie.

© Adewale Maja-Pearce


Adewale Maja-Pearce is the author of several books, including Loyalties
and Other Stories, In My Father's Country, How many miles to Babylon?, A
Mask Dancing, Who's Afraid of Wole Soyinka?, From Khaki to Agbada,
Remembering Ken Saro-Wiwa and Other Essays, A Peculiar Tragedy, and
Counting the Cost, as well as the 1998 and 1999 annual reports on human
rights violations in Nigeria. He also edited The Heinemann Book of African
Poetry in English, Wole Soyinka: An Appraisal, Christopher Okigbo:
Collected Poems, The New Gong Book of New Nigerian Short Stories,

and Dream Chasers.

Click here to see Maja-Pearce's amazon.com page: http://www.amazon.com/Adewale-Maja-Pearce/e/B001HPKIOU