Saturday, 30 August 2014

Caliphates and other fictions

‘We have nothing to do with Nigeria. We don’t believe in this name... There is nothing like Nigeria.’ With these words, Boko Haram recently declared the new Islamic Caliphate in the north-east. There seems little reason to argue with the sentiment, if not the intention, in this the year of our purported centenary. The country was always a fiction, the creation of foreign adventurers and their native collaborators with no higher purpose than plunder. We have known this all along. Once, early on in our so-called independence, which was when the native collaborators really came into their own, the attempt to rewrite the terms of our forced union that could be the only affirmation of that independence was ruthlessly crushed on the grounds that, ‘to keep Nigeria one, is a task that must be done,’ an accurate enough expression of the mindlessness now consumed in tragedy, a case of the chickens coming home to roost, as the deputy-governor of Enugu State in the once and future Biafra recently discovered.
 
This was not to be avoided. The Niger Delta militants had already demonstrated the impotence of a state mired in levels of corruption that now witnesses soldiers fleeing better armed insurgents who loot and rape at will, much like the government they have vowed to overthrow. Nigeria is fracturing although the government, which is unable to guarantee the country’s territorial integrity, still appears oblivious of the immensity of the crisis unfolding before us. It was only six months ago that it belatedly acknowledged we were at war, and it was just yesterday that the president received yet another report from yet another national conference supposedly convened to move the country forward but in reality to impede its progress by distracting our attention. Alas, the time for talk is over. It was over a long time ago, in 1970 to be precise, which was when Biafra was ‘defeated’ in order that we might Go On With One Nigeria, with what results we now see.
 
So here we are and - that famous question - what is to be done? The same question was recently asked by a well-known political commentator who usually has something sensible to say but not so this time. Alleging that ‘[w]e love our democracy, rule of law and human rights with all their imperfections,’ he recommends that Mr President ‘call on young Nigerians to come out and join the armed forces to save the country.’ He further suggests that we re-equip the military ‘with the urgency it deserves,’ and court-martial those responsible for its present parlous state. Finally, he calls for ‘a serious political and ideological campaign’ to rope artists into creating ‘the new slogans we need to mobilise for the successful prosecution of the war.’
 
I take this to be profound misunderstanding of what is happening in Nigeria. If indeed we had democracy, the rule of law and human rights - however imperfect - we wouldn’t be in this mess to begin with. Moreover, to imagine that the country is teeming with youths dying (as it were) to offer themselves up as sacrifice for a country which delivers only grief in order to support the status quo that is their biggest problem is as deluded as the idea that anybody will ever be court-martialled for anything. Who is going to court-martial them? The man who told us ‘[t]here is no corruption but mere stealing in Nigeria,’ his wife having been labelled the ‘greediest woman in Bayelsa State’ by the US authorities in the days before she and her husband moved into Aso Rock?
 
The problem isn’t with this particular commentator’s staggering naiveté concerning the nature of the country he imagines he is living in but that his views are echoed in one form or another by many of his fellow commentators, even at this late hour. We see this in their affected surprise in the pages of the same newspapers that the latest expensive talking shop ‘merely’ agreed to disagree on the division of the spoils, which is all that has ever interested them. It’s hardly any wonder that the president’s constituency should threaten that ‘the blood of the dogs and the baboons will be soaked in the streets’ if their man is not returned come February next year, only surprising that they failed to follow Boko Haram’s logical example and secede altogether, thereby keeping all the proceeds of their good fortune to themselves, which was always theirs anyway.
 
To cap it all, we are now daily assailed by considered opinions as to who might or might not run in next year’s elections. INEC will certainly have its work cut out, perhaps, as in 2011, using youth corpers, i.e. ‘young Nigerians,’ as shock troops should they decline to sign up for direct military service. In other words, it isn’t only the ‘authorities’ who are deluding themselves concerning the nature of the challenges we are facing but those privileged to know better. There may be good reasons for this refusal to look the facts in the face given that nobody wants to contemplate the possible ‘Somalia-isation’ of Nigeria – as one current presidential hopeful once put it – but pretending that we live in normal times is equally likely to hasten the fragmentation we are now witnessing all around us.

So we come back to the question: What is to be done? In one way, the answer is simple, which is perhaps the problem with it: Let everybody go their own way. Since this is not going to happen by government fiat, government itself being largely a fiction, we will have to do it all by ourselves, just like the Biafrans attempted, just like the militants threatened, and just like Boko Haram has done. What will come out of it is anybody’s guess but anything has to be better than the slow drift to anarchy that bodes ill for all.

© 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. 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, 12 August 2014

Africa goes to Washington

    Tom: I can’t tell you how many times your father and I have discussed your future.
    Michael: You and my father discussed my future?
Tom: Yes, many times.
 Michael: But I’ve got my own plans for my future.
                                                                                                             The Godfather

Africa went to Washington last week and The Washington Post had a field day with the assembled delegates, or at least their consorts. Leading the pack was Mrs Biya – ‘The first lady of Cameroon and her hair have touched down in D.C.’ – which extolled the achievements of Madam’s ‘bouffant’, which was ‘a beauty school master’s thesis in contradictions,’ somehow managing to be ‘short and long, rebellious yet elegant, unruly but controlled.’ Mauritania’s ‘chic’ Lady Tekber Mint Melainine Ould Ahmed managed to make ‘wearing aviators at night look cool.’ Not to be outdone was the Rwandan president’s daughter, who towered above everyone else and so could afford a more demure look. Sadly, our own Patience wasn’t in attendance, although this might have been just as well.
 
It seems that some serious discussions did occur in the course of the three days, things like encouraging ‘progress in key areas that Africans define as critical for the future of the continent,’ things like ‘expanding trade and investment ties,’ things like ‘engaging young African leaders, promoting inclusive sustainable development, expanding cooperation on peace and security, and gaining a better future for Africa’s next generation,’ in the words of the White House press release.
 
There are all doubtless laudable ambitions but not a few raised sceptical voices. One of them, Mukoma Wa Thiong’o, likened the event to ‘a father calling his children to discuss their futures,’ which some thought a cheap jibe. Another, Mo Ibrahim, the British-Sudanese businessman who offers an annual $5mn reward for African leaders who pass the sobriety test, i.e. leave office without falling or being pushed (but which, significantly, has not been awarded in the last two years). As he bluntly put it:
 
Everywhere in Africa there are Chinese businesspeople, there are Brazilian businesspeople. None of us went to Brazil or to Asia or to China to tell them, look, come and invest in Africa. They found out themselves and they come and invest. That’s how basic business people behave. Why do we need to come and inform these misinformed American businesses? You know, you guys invented Google. Use it please.

China, as everyone pointed out, was the great bugbear behind this sudden rush to do something about Africa, as indeed Obama confirmed in an interview with The Economist of London the previous week: ‘My advice to African leaders is to make sure that if, in fact, China is putting in roads and bridges, number one, that they're hiring African workers; number two, that the roads don't just lead from the mine to the port to Shanghai.’ The US, by contrast, doesn’t ‘simply want to extract minerals from the ground for our growth’ but to ‘build genuine partnerships that create jobs and opportunity for all our peoples and that unleash the next era of African growth.’ Not everyone was convinced. A sulking Zimbabwe, one of the three countries barred from dinner on account of its human rights record, understood the gathering to be ‘America pursuing its interests, afraid that China has made headway,’ according to a statement by that country’s information minister.
 
But there was also something about Obama needing to leave behind an African legacy, which seems to have become de rigueur for American presidents. Both his predecessors had staked their own claims, Clinton by negotiating the African Growth and Opportunity Act, George W. Bush by throwing money at HIV/AIDS (along with his country’s pharmaceutical industry), yet neither had their successor’s continental roots, and which Obama himself was now –belatedly - claiming: ‘I also stand before you as a man from Africa. The blood of Africa runs through our family.'
 
Unfortunately, the blood line didn’t extend beyond the distinguished guests. At the closing press conference, to which he turned up over an hour late, the White House press corps was given front-row seats while the African journalists ‘scrabbled for space behind the cameras’ and never got a chance to ask any questions before Oga was ‘whisked out of the building,’ leaving one of the African journalists to wonder, ‘What did we come all this way for?’
 
In fact, much the same question might have been asked by the assorted heads of state (and their consorts) had they been able to see beyond the fancy dinner. When all the noise had died down, Obama announced a $14bn investment pledge by US companies. To put this into context, the US has blown $104bn in Afghanistan alone, but the real question is: Was it necessary for all those African heads of state – and never mind the journalists - to travel to Washington en masse in order to secure such a risible sum, less even than the former Central Bank governor accused our very own NNPC of purloining under the leadership of a minister known for her financial recklessness?
 
One wonders for how long we here in Africa will continue to look to the foreigner to save us from ourselves. Five centuries and more of slavery, colonialism and exploitation – whether from Europe, the US or China – have still not convinced us that the solutions to Africa’s many problems lie with us, not them. To that end, we have been given all the resources we need, the very resources Europe, the US and China are here for in the first place. That our heads of state – and their consorts – even honoured the invitation to have dinner in the White House is a measure of how far we still have to go. Well, so be it. One day we will wake up to the realisation that we need our own plans for our future. Until that day, we will continue to go a-begging in the vain hope that foreigners really do have our best interests at heart.
 
© 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. 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

Saturday, 26 July 2014

The dangers of irresponsible ownership

To use Nigerian parlance: One small girl came to Nigeria and the president jumped to it. Three months had passed since the abduction of the Chibok schoolgirls but it was only now that he consented to meet with their relatives. Others had been pressing the case, including a former minister and assorted ‘troublemakers’ who decided to occupy a small corner of a public park in protest against the government’s inaction, but it seems he considered them agents of foreign propaganda, and promptly sent hooligans to harass them. He is evidently ill-served by his advisers but then he presumably hired them to tell him what he wants to hear. Quite what this is nobody seems to know apart from remaining president come the elections next year, and his cringe-inducing performances on CNN and other international outlets have been well remarked.  One of these appearances apparently involved forking out $59,200 via an American PR firm, Fleshman-Hillard Inc., for the privilege. Now we hear that he has hired yet another such firm, Levick, at a rumoured $1.2mn to brush up his image.
 
Levick has so far only issued a one-paragraph statement in which it spoke about the ‘brutality of Boko Haram’ and its ‘cowardly tactics’ in its ‘terrorist campaign’, and insisted on the firm’s ‘mission’ to assist their paymaster ‘to rescue the girls’. They didn’t give details of their rescue plan but then one can understand their problem given that Oga is himself clueless - the word most associated with him in the media - as was evident in the op-ed Levick also arranged for him in The Washington Post, for which he (or, rather, we) purportedly paid $60,000. He needn’t have bothered.  After assuring the grieving relatives how much his ‘heart aches’ for the missing girls, being ‘a parent myself’ who knows ‘how awfully this must hurt’, he could only implore foreigners to come and save us from ourselves: ‘Terrorism knows no borders’, ‘I will urge the UN General Assembly’, ‘new international cooperation’, and other such platitudes.
 
Our genuflection before the foreigner even as we vociferously insist on our authenticity - legally raping schoolgirls, for instance, while denouncing same-sex marriage between consenting adults – is the measure of our hypocrisy, which is what makes us such easy pickings. Some commentators questioned the logic of paying foreigners exorbitantly for what we could do ourselves, what with all the Senior Special Assistants (duly capitalised) running around Aso Rock at Nigeria’s expense, but this is merely affected naiveté, as if they don’t understand the raison d’être of Nigeria, as in, ‘Are you not a Nigerian?’ Others were surprised that Levick was simply trying to do what it was hired to do, i.e., help change the ‘international and local media narrative’. As narratives go, Jonathan’s ascent is as magical realist as the country itself.
 
And a narrative was what the Levick appointment quickly became. Even a statement made by Dr Doyin Okupe, the president’s No. 1 Rottweiler, was wrongly attributed to the foreign interloper, as if Dr Okupe, who was said to have brokered the Levick deal anyway, was incapable of thinking for himself, which he then proceeded to do. Calling the #BringBackOurGirls ‘psychological terrorists’, he surpassed even his own asinine interventions in the public space on behalf of his master - ‘I check through the history of Nigeria, among our past and present leaders, the only one we call our Mandela is President Jonathan’ – by blaming the protestors for ‘contributing to poverty and violence in Nigeria’. Levick has its work cut out but they might want to consider the beast they are dealing with.
 
According to the American Kennel Club (to stay foreign), the Rottweiler is ‘a powerful breed with well-developed genetic herding and guarding instincts’. It is an excellent guard dog, fierce, loyal and with a good overall temperament. Unfortunately, ‘irresponsible ownership, abuse, neglect, or lack of socialisation and training’ can lead to ‘potentially dangerous behaviour’, which is understating it somewhat since they account for over half of all canine-induced human deaths in the US. Even at that, they may sometimes ‘behave in a clownish manner toward family and friends’ while being ‘protective of their territory’, reluctant to ‘welcome strangers until properly introduced’. Dr Okupe, who once incurred the wrath of Baba for his questionable behaviour – ‘I was there when President Olusegun Obasanjo physically beat and assaulted him because of his attitude and lack of honesty’– suggests that the ‘irresponsible ownership, abuse, neglect’ and so on and so forth done pass be careful by the time he was allocated his own kennel in Aso Rock.
 
Meanwhile, three months have now passed since #BringBackOurGirls were abducted to become slaves before Mr President, chastised by the small Pakistani girl, Malala Yousafzai, finally got to meet with the relatives and the fifty or so girls who had managed to escape, self-help being the only recourse left to Nigerians now that government has actually ceased to govern in all but name. As might have been expected, the event – or the narrative, if you like – reflected the gap between perception and reality that would otherwise be bridged by American PR firms.
 
According to newspaper reports, the venue was the ‘cavernous’ Banquet Hall in Aso Rock with a banner proclaiming, ‘Special Meeting of the President with Parents of the Abducted Chibok Girls’. The chairs were decorated in green and white silk arranged to resemble the national flag. Some tables in a corner were laden with food. While the guests awaited Oga’s arrival, they were serenaded by the Brigade of Guards band. As one journalist put it, ‘a wedding reception could not have been more colourful’. So far, so tacky but no sooner had all protocol been observed than the assembled journalists were shooed outside, to be admitted three hours later in order to watch the band play the national anthem. Security was also on hand to ensure that none of the journalists got to talk to any of the invitees as they were ushered into their buses and driven back to their war zone.
 
I was going to say that Levick might advise its client that Nigerians just want to know what the hell is going on. Silly me! Nothing’s going on, not even lunch for the journalists.
 
© 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. 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

 

...

 

Wednesday, 16 July 2014

Everything changes but remains the same

There is a famous photo of President Goodluck Jonathan taking the salute on Independence Day decked out in military attire. He himself was to later say that he was no soldier: - ‘Some others will want the President to operate like an Army general, like my Chief of Army Staff commanding his troops. Incidentally, I am not a lion; I am also not a general’ - and by common consent he looked ridiculous, what with his double-jointed, salute-cum-wave at the best of times.
 
The photo was subsequently forgotten as an unfortunate aberration until recently, when it surfaced again in the aftermath of last month’s gubernatorial election in Ekiti State. Not only was the state itself flooded with soldiers but they were also deployed on the expressways to turn back serving governors of the opposition come to support their ‘brother’. Prior to that, they were busy impounding vehicles carrying newspapers which had published stories alleging the courts martial of treasonable officers for aiding and abetting Boko Haram - which the same military is spectacularly failing to contain.
 
So we are seeing the growing militarisation of Nigeria as a civilian president struggles to contain the many war fronts he is busy ignoring but for the inconvenience of the unregulated social media, as in the case of the abducted Chibok schoolgirls. Ironically, the reason for the military’s inability to contain Boko Haram also points to the reverse: the civilianisation of the military. We no longer have soldiers but supplementary police in battle dress, fit only for corralling civilians.

This was not to be avoided. Past military leaders always acknowledged their civilian sponsors and never tired of reminding us that they couldn’t have actually ruled alone, as their ministerial appointments demonstrated, not excepting the prominent newspaper publisher who served the worst of them and paid the price accordingly. By common consent, it was these civilians who showed our boys in uniform how to go about looting the treasury, the pen always being mightier than the sword in this as other areas.
 
All this has now resulted in a military-civilian cabal that rotates power within itself, power being its only objective. These are those who are currently in and those who are currently out. Many of the latter are busy scurrying between the two parties you couldn’t insert an ATM card between. The difference between Fayemi and Fayose in the recent gubernatorial election in Ekiti State was not between contending ideologies but contrasting personalities, the one enlightened, the other not. It is our misfortune that the latter predominate (and deliberately so), as perhaps we will see in Osun State next month with the triumph of another alleged murderer. President Jonathan’s apparent flirtation with a military he ostensibly commands but which is unable to secure the territorial integrity of the nation he presides over seems foolhardy, especially with all the talk in some quarters of the senate president heading a caretaker government to do...what, exactly? Restore sanity? Move the nation forward? End the nightmare of corruption that he and his like have made our way of life?
 
All of which raises the question of whether the Chibok schoolgirls are merely hostages to naked power come elections just six months away now. The military’s own endlessly repeated reluctance to invade the Sambisa forest in Borno State for fear of inadvertently causing the deaths of our daughters might or might not be operationally true, although one needn’t go further than the widely reported military operation in Baga in the same Borno State three months ago.
 
Baga residents told Human Rights Watch that soldiers ransacked the town after the Boko Haram militant Islamist group attacked a military patrol, killing a soldier. Community leaders said that immediately after the attack they counted 2,000 burned homes and 183 bodies. Satellite images of the town analyzed by Human Rights Watch corroborate these accounts and identify 2,275 destroyed buildings, the vast majority likely residences, with another 125 severely damaged.
 
But one needn’t rely on satellite images. Just last week in Lagos, where there is no war (or at least not yet), they showed us what they were made of when one of their number was accidentally killed by a BRT bus. Perhaps he was in the BRT lane at the time, like that other military fellow Governor Fashola was forced to publicly chastise; and we still remember the occasion when soldiers from Abalti Barracks burnt down Area ‘C’ police station at Ojuelegba because a bus conductor had been rude to a rookie out of uniform.
 
The phrase ‘bloody civilian’ was much bandied about in the military days. Perhaps that is how all militaries view the politicians they are compelled to take orders from. One sees their point. What does Jonathan know about hand-to-hand combat? He even chickened out of an announced visit to Chibok to commiserate with the aggrieved families until the recent arrival of Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani schoolgirl shot in the head for going to school, whereupon he changed his mind, only to be distressed by their refusal to grant him an audience.
 
But Nigeria was always a military state, only held together by force of arms, a fact which the president is belatedly acknowledging as he approaches his nemesis less than six months hence. This predates independence in 1960 to encompass the country’s genesis in 1914, the terms of which the bloody civilians – for which read colonial subjects - are prevented from interrogating, and never mind the provisions of the Freedom of Information Act, which is just another fantasy in this cauldron called Nigeria.
 
©Adewale Maja-Pearce
 
This piece first appeared in a slightly different version in Hallmark newspaper, 15 July 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

Friday, 11 July 2014

The 'problem' with Tinubu

Following Fayemi’s defeat in Ekiti, there has been much discussion in the media about the role of Tinubu in the nation’s politics. The general view seems to be that his growing unpopularity in Yorubaland didn’t help. One leading commentator even claimed that he actually cost him the election, but that seems doubtful. If nothing else, the people themselves were clear enough on why they voted for Fayose. The more urgent question would seem to be why they elected a man who stands accused of murder, and who also happens to be answering corruption charges – of their own money.
 
I am no lover of APC. Indeed, I find it disturbing that anyone should consider them an alternative to PDP, not least because of Tinubu himself, whose well-documented greed and nepotism are the very definition of Nigerian politics. Moreover, his own assessment, post-Ekiti, that Fayose triumphed because his election was rigged by a ‘subterranean process’ in which ‘elections have become a perverse form of modern coronation’ sits uneasily with a man who positioned his wife in the senate, his son-in-law in the house and his daughter in the market, along with assorted local government chairmen in his self-declared fiefdom, having once boasted that when the ‘lion of Bourdillon sleeps’ so does the rest of the city-state he once disastrously governed.
 
It was telling that Tinubu was careful to avoid any mention of Fayose’s expired Thai rice, leaving it instead to his protégé, the Lagos State governor, to explain its purport in the pages of the newspapers. This was unusual in itself given that Fashola is not noted for discoursing at length on weighty political matters in the public arena. But it was also an unedifying performance from a man whose own second term was a foregone conclusion on account of his ‘solid achievements’, a la Okonkwo. It was also difficult to remember that he was a lawyer – and a SAN to boot - when reading it.
 
‘Ekiti State: My Take-Away’ begins by referring to ‘some of our most seasonal [sic], informed and respected columnists’ who, just the week before the election, unanimously noted ‘that the incumbent had served his people well’ and therefore deserved at least a close run. That being so, it was inconceivable that Fayemi should have lost by such a wide margin, which these same columnists, writing after the event, then erroneously sought to blame on ‘money and inducements…that swayed the electorate’, and the fact that ‘the incumbent was elitist and disconnected [because] he spoke too much English’. To Fashola, this was clearly absurd. In the first place, Fayemi had been running a social welfare scheme for the elderly and the disadvantaged for three years; and, in any case, Ekiti was a land of the professors - all of whom, presumably, speak impeccable English.
 
Having thus marshaled his ‘arguments’, Fashola found it ‘illogical’ that so many should have ‘so overwhelmingly’ abandoned ‘an incumbent that was a respected family man, a devout Catholic, gentleman and urbane representative, even in his own ward,’ which was difficult to follow, especially in Nigeria where the private lives of politicians – however depraved - are never a factor in their electability. Curiously, he stopped well short of actually accusing PDP of rigging, which was where his argument was otherwise headed. But one can see his problem. Despite the heavy presence of PDP stalwarts from Abuja, complete with truckloads of soldiers; and despite the barefaced harassment of APC supporters (including three governors), all 28 local and foreign observers were unanimous in agreeing that the exercise was free and fair, at least according to our ‘Third World’ standards. It would sit ill with a ‘progressive’ to deny the will of the people, which, as he himself concedes, ‘is their prerogative, I cannot question it’.

So where does that leave him? In a quandary, it seems:

It may well be that the party of the governor elect may be right in their assessment of what the people of Ekiti and by extension Nigerians want, this would make any inquiry appropriate because it may compel a change of strategy for many political parties. It should make governance a lot easier if they were right. Do nothing, put money together, share it a few weeks to election, strut to Government House, and why should you bother about agriculture, electricity, housing, security, healthcare and more?

When someone resorts to so many qualifiers – ‘It may well be’, ‘the governor elect may be right’, ‘it may compel a change’ – then we may assume ‘woolly thinking’ is afoot. To put it plainly, what he is really asking is whether the great mass of Nigerians – rural, poor, semi-literate – are not to be trusted to vote for the ‘right’ candidate, which is to say the candidate who bothers about ‘agriculture, housing, security’ against those who dole out expired rice at the opportune moment.
 
It is true that Fashola is one governor who has indeed built infrastructures but then Lagos is not rural, poor and/or semi-literate. Unfortunately, it is also true that what Fashola sneeringly calls ‘infrastructure of the stomach’ is very much Tinubu’s style, which is one reason why he needs to amass as much money as he is reputed to have done. What I have called the ‘problem’ with our lion is in fact the problem with Nigeria, which the politicians know well enough, and why they continue to keep the masses in poverty.
 
No doubt all this will be debated – is being debated – as we gird our loins (or our stomachs) for the showdown next year. Meanwhile, we are now being assailed with photographs of another suspected murderer stopping to eat corn at a roadside somewhere in Osun State, where PDP hopes to repeat Ekiti next month. That he happens to be wearing a wristwatch worth N3 million (according to one newspaper report) was obviously lost on him, being no more a man of the people than Fayose himself – or Fayemi for that matter – just a cynical politician who understands his people well enough.

©Adewale Maja-Pearce

A slightly different version of this first appeared in Hallmark newspaper, 8 July 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

Thursday, 3 July 2014

Whose numbers?

Early last year, a Canada-based academic, Morten Jerven, published a book with the title, ‘Poor Numbers: How we are misled by African development statistics and what to do about it’. As the title indicates, his basic premise was that most figures given for the continent are plain wrong. His book caused a furore. Calling the author a ‘hired gun’ who had not dome his research, Pali Lehohla, the South African Statistician General, said that ‘unless he is stopped in his tracks’ he will ‘hijack the African statistical programme,’ and proceeded to try and prevent him from attending a conference organised by the UN Economic Commission for Africa. Mr Jerven responded by saying that Mr Lehohla and his counterparts ‘are doing well in the current system,’ and that ‘[a]ny change to the status quo in the political economy of statistics in Africa is considered a threat.’ It seems that the two have since made up, which doesn’t mean that the problem has gone away.
 
Mr Jerven, an economic historian, was concerned with GDP figures. Here in Nigeria, we recently rebased our economy and discovered that we were underselling ourselves. According to the new figures, we are now Africa’s biggest economy. This may well be so. I am no economist although I’ve often wished I was the better to understand the world I live in, what with its getting and spending and laying waste our powers, as William Wordsworth, himself no economist, poetically put it.
 
But I do believe I understand something about politics, more particularly Nigerian politics, which in any case is the duty of every citizen. Among the things I understand because everybody else does, too, is that we can’t count ourselves, and that this is not a problem of economics but of politics. Every census since 1952 up to and including the last one in 2006 has been disputed. We don’t have to go far to find out why. In a recent interview, Festus Odimegwu, the immediate past chair of the National Population Commission, bemoaned the parlous state of the commission itself, the place where all the activity was supposed to be taking place – ‘Nothing was working there. The commission was deliberately killed, so it will not fulfil its constitutional obligations’ – and was finally forced to resign when he queried the figures for Kano State:

In the process, when all these fraudulent people were shouting, Governor Kwankwaso started running his mouth from Kano that I, Festus Odimegwu, His Royal Majesty, that I am drunk. He made a joke of a serious matter, as the biggest beneficiary of the fraud that is the demographic data in Nigeria

Mr Jerven himself got ‘a peek into…the domestic political pressures some serious technocrats have to deal with’ when he was finally permitted to attend the conference and was subjected to ‘a loud rant’ from Busani Ngcaweni, Deputy Director-General in the South African Presidency.  There is a character in Charles Dickens’s Great Expectations who, presented with an apparently intractable problem, ‘took the case altogether out of the region of metaphysics...and by that means vanquished it.’ Mr Ngcawemi did the opposite by accusing Mr Jerven of ‘sustain[ing] the meta-narrative of the Heart of Darkness' while also managing to slip in something or other about Salman Rushdie’s Satanic Verses alongside the Conrad novella, which was where he finally lost me.
 
Regarding our population here in Nigeria, we know perfectly well that the figures are skewed in favour of the north for reasons of patronage, and that it’s doubtful whether Kano State is more populous than Lagos State. According to the 2006 census, the former has just under 9.5mn; the latter 9.1mn. So outraged was the then Lagos State governor that he denounced the figures and went ahead to do his own illegal enumeration given that counting Nigerians is a strictly federal matter, whereupon he came out with almost twice that, as even the UN agencies agree.
 
With that in mind, I recently undertook some research on behalf of Africa Check – www.africacheck.org - on the question of Nigeria’s population. During my background reading, I came across a study by Africapolis, a French based team currently part of a global study of urban populations. Using ‘a combination of satellite imagery, geographic information systems, and the largest collection of documentation on the region ever collated,’ it concluded that the 2006 census for Lagos was reasonable. It also found the population of Kano city – about one-fifth of the state’s land mass - ‘inflated’. Perhaps there are many people in the hard-to-access rural areas but we know all about the cultural problems of counting the womenfolk in those parts.
 
Part – or even most – of Mr Ngcaweni’s ‘rant’ (although I wouldn’t have used that word myself, having watched his slick, measured performance on YouTube) is this business of foreigners doing our work for us, or at least the work they want done but which we won’t or can’t do ourselves. Another participant at the UN conference, and himself a former director of the commission hosting the event, criticised Mr Jerven on a number of issues, as contained in the commission’s own report, to wit: ‘sensationalism and Afro statistical pessimism’, ‘failure to consult statistical elders’, and ‘the insinuation of political interference in the management of statistics’. Having cleared away the troublesome weeds, he had two questions: ‘which equation is he trying to solve and on whose behalf is he working?’
 
Unfortunately, the problem is with the weeds, not the questions, the answers to which are self-evident, only a pity that he should be asking them, having introduced the very sensationalism he deplores by his appeal to bogus authority that is the continent’s greatest bugbear. And in embodying the very politics he attributes to others, he enables all sorts of things for which we – not they – are responsible, things like women dying in childbirth, things like babies dying before they reach the age of five, things like children not going to school. Sensational, perhaps, but until we know who this abstraction is we cannot possibly plan for its future. 

©Adewale Maja-Pearce
 
A version of this piece first appeared in Hallmark newspaper, 1 July 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.

Thursday, 26 June 2014

Counting pointless votes

I was going to get all worked up about Saturday’s gubernatorial election in Ekiti State. As I write – 9 p.m. on the day – it seems that Fayose might have succeeded in unseating Fayemi, who had to wait three years for his earlier victory to be validated by the courts after the mayhem visited on the state by a PDP desperate to retain its ascendancy in the famous ‘do or die’ 2007 elections. Like everyone else, I read about how the V-P declared Ekiti a ‘war zone’ in the ruling party’s determination to regain its ‘stolen mandate’. Perhaps he was impugning the majesty of the law he had sworn to uphold, or perhaps, more likely, he just wasn’t thinking, which would be par for the course. That said, preliminary reports from the 28 local and international observers consider the exercise fair enough, at least by our ‘Third World’ standards.
 
And so it was, indeed, that Fayose won - and convincingly so. The troubling aspect about the exercise, and the one which has been much remarked upon, was the role of the military. Ekiti was swamped by soldiers who might have been better employed in Borno, where #BringBackOurGirls are still languishing more than two months after they were abducted from their school by our wayward Islamic brothers. Perhaps their salvation will come next February, when the general elections are scheduled to hold. On the other hand, there are already fears that no elections will take place, either there or in the other states still labouring under emergency rule.
 
The question is: Does any of it matter? Does it matter whether APC lost out to PDP, or even whether elections do or do not take place in certain designated states come next year? The fact of the matter is that the country has fallen apart – apologies to Achebe – and it seems pointless agonising over the nomenclature of its architects, even when they consider themselves ‘progressives’, the heirs to Awolowo’s legacy (but which, bizzarely, a now ‘older and wiser’  Fayose is claiming: ‘I want to be the Awolowo here...’). We needn’t labour the point. Consider one of their ‘stalwarts’, Chief Tom Ikini, the former foreign minister in the bad old days of Abacha who chased our only Nobel laureate into an ignominious exile, and who was himself outraged by Saturday’s election. ‘What happened in Ekiti was a violation of the constitution and those who are responsible should be exposed and, where necessary, punished’, our wordsmith opined, as who should know? Plus ca change, as Aristotle said.
 
It was Ikimi’s emergence as a significant force in the new mega-opposition that should have alerted us to the true nature of the party that parades itself as the radical alternative to the present incumbents. In a normal country he would be wandering about in sack cloth and ashes imploring the forgiveness of those he sinned against, but then a normal country would hardly have produced the likes of the master he served so diligently. Hear him:
 
My first achievement in that Government was to initiate the creation of the highly successful Petroleum Trust Fund [which] General Muhamadu Buhari headed...successfully... Those who are still deaf and have not heard the true situation regarding my tenure as Foreign Minister as it does not in any way relate to the unfortunate occurrences regarding Ken Saro-Wiwa are advised to watch my 70th birthday documentary still being run on the AIT television. I am prepared to donate free copies.
 
The idea that anyone would want to watch, much less acquire (even for free), the self-glorification of a man who dragged this country’s name through the mud and then turned around to distance himself from that ghastly episode could only occur to the architect himself. Well, we are used to such obscene levels of hubris among those who lord it over us. We see the same with Ikimi’s brother-in-arms, the man he once helped into the defunct PTF and who now revels in the adulation of the great unwashed he did not help out of poverty when he was passing his with-immediate-effect decrees. But these are easy targets and Tinubu’s newspaper has lately gone to town over Ikimi’s sins now that he and the ‘lion of Bourdillon’ have fallen out, as was perhaps inevitable. But this doesn’t mean that Ikimi’s assessment of the immediate past Lagos State governor is wrong: ‘I am informed that Asiwaju Bola Tinubu is not comfortable with my independent-mindedness and he holds the view that I cannot be controlled. He prefers someone that he believes will do his bidding...’
 
In other words, there is no difference between the two contending parties. As regards Ekiti specifically, it is true that Fayose is not the kind of man anyone would want to represent them (he still has case pending over N1.2bn gone walk-about in his first incarnation as governor), and by all accounts Fayemi is a gentleman (as he demonstrated in the aftermath of his defeat), but that is not what concerns us here. In any case, the people voted and we are bound to respect their wishes. The point is not this or that party or person but the system itself which tends to nepotism and corruption by the nature of the case. It cannot be helped. And this is so because the end is not service but plunder, however otherwise well-meaning the candidate, who would never have gotten there in the first place anyway.
 
So what would make it better? Alas, one has to keep coming back to this: true federalism. The fact is that too few Nigerians believe in Nigeria, which is why they can steal public funds with impunity and their fellow citizens cheer them on, praying only for their own chance to do the same. It is no accident that those currently arguing at the national conference for more of the same also happen to come from those parts which have the most need to steal.
 
©Adewale Maja-Pearce
 
A slightly different version of this piece first appeared in Hallmark newspaper, June 24.


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