Tuesday, 18 November 2014

The House My Father Built 2

The House My Father Built_front


I first met Prince when he introduced himself to me as I was walking past a bungalow in the close. I had allowed him to catch my eye because I had just then embarked on the election handbook and had noticed a party flag and some posters on the front wall but the place was always deserted. It turned out that Prince was the campaign manager for one of the state gubernatorial candidates, although it didn’t appear that his man was overly serious about his political ambitions, perhaps because the eventual winner was already known (internal democracy being considered a foreign endearment, as I was discovering in my researches) and was simply positioning himself for his own slice of the national cake baked in the swampy heat of the oil-producing Niger Delta that had caused Saro-Wiwa to be hanged. There was a chair, a table and an outdated newspaper in one of the three bedrooms that passed for Prince’s office. The rest of the flat was bare.

Moreover, since it soon transpired that his aspirant never actually paid him for his services, and there wasn’t in any case much for him to do, he was forever on the lookout for other means of getting by. As it also happened, I needed someone to visit all the registered party offices to collect whatever literature they had that I could use. Moving around Lagos was difficult enough – too many vehicles, too few roads, no alternatives despite the city’s extensive waterways. There were twenty-six registered parties altogether, eventually whittled down to three to satisfy so-called national spread, meaning that they had to have a presence in two-thirds of the thirty-six states, plus the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja, where they were also to have their head office. In a country with too many languages, too many ethnicities and too many religions this meant, in effect, that the minorities and special interest groups who between them comprise half the total population were excluded from representation by the so-called Big Three, much to Prince’s approval. “The minorities will have their say but the majorities will have their way,” was how he put it and laughed when I muttered something about fascism. Prince was nothing if not reactionary, in politics as in everything else.

Prince is dead now. It seems he had a heart attack in the middle of the night and it took too long to get him to the hospital. I wasn’t surprised when I heard. He would have been about sixty then, the same age I am now, and I hadn’t seen him since he had become a nuisance in his own turn, but it was perhaps a wonder that he lived as long as he did. He was just above middle height, with the physique of an athlete – he told me he had been an amateur boxer in his youth – but for his stomach, which was the biggest I have ever seen on anybody. Not that he was disturbed by what some might have considered a self-inflicted deformity. On the contrary, he lolled about bare-chested whenever he was indoors and I never had the impression that he thought it a sexual turn-off, if only because he regarded the women he openly salivated over (which is to say, almost any woman who crossed his path) as sex objects and nothing more.

'Look at that, the devil walking on hind legs,' he once said with sudden fierceness when a comely woman strolled by as we sat drinking beer on the front balcony where Ngozi had once kept her generator. His vehemence took even him by surprise because he suddenly giggled and said something to the effect that he hadn’t had a screw in ages, although he needn’t have worried on my score.

Prince was also reliable, if expensive. He liked nothing better than a clear brief, although a good number of the party offices he visited when he embarked on the first of the many assignments I gave him over the years that we were together turned out to be either bogus – a rented room where nobody ever turned up after the registration exercise, and the landlord looking for the balance of his rent – or were reluctant to part with their manifestos (assuming they had one) because Oga was not ‘on seat’. At the end of each day, he would fetch the beers from the woman down the road. ‘You can send an old man a message but don’t tell him to run,’ he would invariably quip before settling down to read all six newspapers I bought every day as I worked away on the balcony overlooking the school in the adjoining compound. By and by, I felt confident enough to entrust him with extending my Nigerian passport.

'They thought you were a Lebanese,' he said when he returned some hours later and told me how he had found someone in the office who spoke his language and all was sorted. It also happened to coincide with the day Ngozi was supposed to have been evicted and he could see that I was agitated, so I brought him up to speed. He was shocked when I told him that the Alhaji was a tenant. 'The Alhaji!' he exclaimed. 'But I thought he was the owner of the building. That is what he has been telling people.'

'Which people?'

'Everybody,' he said. 'He is a big man, you know. He used to be a socialite. Whenever he went to a party he would spray more than anyone else, although they didn’t know he was using condemned money from his office that should have been destroyed, but which he packed into his house in beer cartons. Chief Ebenezer Obey even wrote a song about him.'

Aluta continua... 

© 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

 

Wednesday, 12 November 2014

The House My Father Built 1

Image preview

Over the next few weeks I will be running extracts from my new book, The House My Father Built, which has just been published by Farafina under their Kamsi imprint.

The book itself, a memoir about how I returned to Nigeria to possess my possession, is a follow-up to my earlier travelogue, In My Father's Country, published in 1987.

The third part of the projected trilogy, A Farewell to My Father's Country, will be published anon (but hopefully not with so long a gap).


'I hadn’t expected anything from my father’s will and was surprised when I discovered that he had left my siblings and me a block of four flats – one each for my mother’s children – in a decent area of Lagos. The property itself was initially tied up in a trust fund whose terms were only satisfied when I was in a position to return to the country in a meaningful way. I was forty then, ten years exactly after my first journey back following my father’s death, and lucky enough to be working as Africa editor of Index on Censorship, a Cold War journal whose mission was to bring the light of democracy to the dark places of the earth, first behind the Iron Curtain and then elsewhere. I was lucky, also, that Nigeria was caught up in a crisis, by which I mean a crisis within the larger one that has been the nation’s lot since independence in 1960. Elections had been organised after many years of military rule, but were annulled before the counting was over in order that the military might continue. At the same time, apartheid was coming to an end in South Africa, leaving what we are pleased to call the ‘giant of Africa’ fully exposed in all its wanton corruption. It was easy enough to convince a foreign foundation to underwrite my extended trips to Lagos.

'Two of the flats, along with the annex at the back, were still occupied by tenants who had refused my earlier offer of a year rent-free to help them move so I put a friend in one to keep an eye on things during my prolonged absences and settled into the other as I prepared to do battle. I had no idea at the time how fierce and long-drawn out it would turn out to be, how rancorous and tiring, how absurd and humiliating.

'The most combative – outwardly at least – was the Yoruba Alhaji in the front flat downstairs, a squat, thick-set man in his early fifties with red lips, bandy legs and a white skull cap. He thought me amusing when I politely knocked on his door and told him that he had to go in a year’s time, but that it wasn’t personal. In the event, it took me six years to be rid of him, only ending, neatly enough, with the hasty transition to democracy, which the by now hapless military was forced to organise in order to save what remained of its – and the country’s – dismal reputation.

'Because the Alhaji had rented directly from my father when the place was newly built twenty years earlier, it was obvious at once that he regarded me as something of an interloper. He was also my senior in age so that, in his eyes, I was doubly done, Nigeria being a gerontocracy in the interests of ‘African tradition’ – a useful concept to invoke whenever anyone tried to suggest the desirability of ‘Western’ notions of freedom of expression, equality before the law and other such inconveniences. He fought dirty and encouraged the other two to stand their ground alongside him, but it was partly my own doing that the case dragged for so long. The arrangement I had with the magazine meant that I could only manage two months in Lagos at one time. This meant, in turn, taking long adjournments, but then I was the only one who wanted a quick resolution in what I had assumed would be an open- and-shut case.

'The more drawn-out the case the more money I would have to part with, which suited not only whichever lawyer I happened to be using at the time (and I went through a number of them) but also the court clerk, the fellow who helped with the photocopying (always so many papers) and even the old man under the spreading almond tree in the front as though for all the world it was his office, which in a way it was. At each sitting, I would arrive at the court at nine sharp, only to see the Alhaji emerge from the magistrate’s chambers and drive off with his trademark smirk that betrayed what I thought a pointless triumphalism. Two or three hours later, my case would finally be called. The magistrate would bark at my lawyer over some infraction or other and then bring down his gavel to the spontaneous refrain, ‘As the court pleases’. I found this increasingly irritating as we fixed yet another date some months later, while the assembled lawyers on the front benches looked at me with a mixture of pity and defensiveness that I not think badly of this Third World charade that was an accurate reflection of the shenanigans being played out in the larger political arena.'

To be continued.


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, 29 September 2014

Between Fayose and Joshua

In the wake of the Ekiti gubernatorial election last July, I was among those who chastised Fayemi for putting physical over stomach infrastructure, as in the case of the expired Thai rice. He was too aloof, an intellectual who didn’t sit down by the roadside and drink pami with the people. I even accused him of lacking ‘common sense’, which I now regret. You can’t be both a democrat and a thug. You can’t, for instance, concede power gracefully, which was what Fayemi did because ‘I am a democrat and the will of the people is the basis of democracy’, and at the same time burn down the opposition party’s headquarters even before assuming power, which was what Fayose did, but only after slapping a high court Judge, such is mindset of the man of the people.
 
I remember a photograph of Fayose in his post-election press conference with Fayemi. He wore a pair of dark jeans and a red T-shirt with short white sleeves and the legend TOKYO in bold white lettering across his chest. But it was the round, white-rimmed sunglasses which sealed the thuggish impression, more so given that the event was being held indoors. Fayemi, by contrast, who sat across from him on the sofa, was dressed more demurely in the same dark jeans but with a plain white short-sleeve shirt and what seemed like a smile of mild bemusement while his would-be successor addressed the assembled journalists, a microphone in his right hand showing off a white wristband, which completed the ensemble.
 
Fayose, of course, was already widely known for his thuggish behaviour during his first incarnation between 2003 and 2006. ‘Where is Bode Olowoporoku, I want to kill him, I have immunity,’ he once thundered as he led his merry men to attack the then senator of the federal republic, who had been tipped off by well-wishers and miraculously escaped. Not so fortunate were four students at the College of Education, Ikere-Ekiti who took part in a peaceful demonstration to protest the imposition of a provost and paid with their lives; another was so severely beaten that his leg had to be amputated.
 
The fact that Fayose was selected to contest at all says much about the equally thuggish nature of PDP itself, which has since declined to comment on his latest outrages, even objecting to Fayemi’s call for the man to be prosecuted outside the state in order to ensure transparency given the complicity of the security forces who stood by during the invasion of the hallowed chamber. One recalls the occasion in 2004 when, piqued by the ‘loss’ of Anambra State, suspected PDP thugs burnt down government offices and two studios of the state-run radio station while the police also stood idly by, causing Chinua Achebe, the celebrated novelist, to reject a national honour on the grounds that the then president, Obasanjo, had turned his state into a ‘lawless fiefdom’. Ironically, it was Obasanjo who was later to call Fayose a ‘bastard’ but his political son had learnt well enough. They have since been reconciled, bastards, like thieves, being without honour.
 
So the consensus is that Ekiti is also about to be turned into a lawless fiefdom with the full connivance of the presidency. With Ondo now under PDP and Osun recently – and miraculously - spared the same, all eyes are now on Lagos, Ogun and Oyo. It is an open secret that PDP would love to ‘capture’ the troublesome south-west, as they once briefly did under Obasanjo, with Lagos as the jewel in the crown. Whether this ultimately matters is a moot point. As I have argued in previous blogs, one is hard-pressed to see any difference between the ruling party and the so-called ‘opposition’. Impunity is the name of the game, whatever the supposed political colouration of the party concerned, as witness both Jonathan and Fashola rushing to congratulate Pastor Joshua for breaching the building regulations which Fashola had himself earlier vowed to curb: ‘It is our job to ensure that no life is lost where the circumstances are avoidable, therefore, when people do not die of old age, illnesses that sciences can’t treat, rather they died because people cut corners...'
 
Indeed, the collapse of the building in the extensive compound that is the Synagogue Church of All Nations might usefully be taken as a metaphor for the collapsed state of Nigeria itself. Moreover, as with the victory of Fayose, who was, after all, voted in by the people who already knew of his antecedents but were willing, it seems, to exchange their birthright for bags of expired rice, so it appears that Prophet Joshua’s followers still continue to flock to his house of miracles despite the evidence of his culpability in what can only be described as murder, as I saw for myself when I drove past the place last Sunday. It may very well be that the self-declared man of God can make the blind see and the lame walk, as many insist, but this is as nothing compared to the greater miracle that is their continued belief in one who so casually dismissed the tragedy caused by his own negligence - even as he proved himself unable to raise the dead.
 
Between Fayose and Joshua, what hope for Nigeria? Both seem to have grasped the gullible, miracle-seeking nature of the Nigerian people who simply refuse to believe in the evidence of their own eyes and thereby collude in their bondage. Democracy is doubtless a good thing, and may even be the solution to our myriad problems, but it is not an imminent possibility so many years after the soldiers returned to the barracks. It might be galling to admit it, but the politicians and pastors who prey upon us have understood us well enough.
 
© 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, 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.
 
These 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 attributed to Dr Doyin Okupe, the president’s No. 1 Rottweiler, was wrongly ascribed 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