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 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 but 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 course of action 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 figures 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 being able to count 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

Thursday, 19 June 2014

Militarising Nigeria

The former MD of Nigerian Breweries recently called for the return of the military. Festus Odimegwu doesn’t seem to be a man much given to hyperbole so we must take him at his word, as indeed those various others voicing the same opinion. It should be said at the outset that his reasons are cogent enough. ‘Our leaders don’t understand what leadership is all about,’ he opines and few would disagree. As I write, the president and the newly appointed Kano State emir are forgiving one another their kleptomania; meanwhile, the vice-president, whose reputation for avarice is second to few, has descended on Ekiti State to beef up the ‘war front’ in the ruling party’s determination to ‘bring back our stolen mandate’.
 
This is what happened in Ekiti State during the infamous 2007 elections that made the courts finally overturn the results in favour of Dr Kayode Fayemi, the incumbent now hoping for a second term:
 
This writer was in Ekiti State during the re-run elections and I saw how dangerous and desperate they were. The entire state resources were deployed in order to keep the loot. The Nigerian press had a bitter lesson to tell and the documentation of raw deal newsmen suffered in Ekiti State. I saw Oni’s men and women going berserk and mad just to remain in power. Senators Ayo Arise and Omisore took the fight personal because they know that if Oni loses their position will be on [the] line. Senator Ayo Arise and Omisore...physically mobilized thugs to main and kill innocent people with impunity. The delegation from Abuja led by the Dimeji Bankole, the Speaker of the House of Representatives provided a shield for the Oni’s army to unleash violence on the people of Ekiti without caring a hoot.

With the new gubernatorial election just two days away, Fayemi has already expressed fears for his life following the death of a supporter from a police bullet during an otherwise peaceful rally. He also alleged police complicity following an altercation between OC Mobile and his own police detail that is the preserve of state governors but not schoolgirls. Meanwhile, we are now hearing that several turncoat governors have been denied entry to the state by soldiers at checkpoints. Given all this, it is hardly surprising that Mr Odimegwu should claim that Nigeria is ‘not ripe for democracy’, but calling on the military to stage a coup is both infantile and mischievous.
 
Mr Odimegwu has evidently forgotten the trauma we all went through during the long years of Buhari, Babangida and Abacha but he misses the central point, which is that military rule never really ended with the so-called enthronement of democracy in 1999. The military-civilian oligarchy which has governed this nation since 1960 simply swopped khaki for agbada and continued business as usual. The only difference between then and now is the veneer of freedom without the ‘with immediate effect’ decrees which, for instance, banned newspapers, yet a president who now feels threatened by the same press which fought the longest and the hardest to bring about our so-called democracy sends soldiers to impound newspapers and arrest vendors. That this is being done under the guise of that catch-all, national security, only underlines the sinking feeling of déjà vu.
 
At bottom, Mr Odimegwu fails to understand that the problem with Nigeria is structural. It isn’t a matter of the head of state’s dress code, hence the clamour at the on-going national conference for the true federalism we attempted to practice for the first six years of our independence until it was truncated by the very military he would now invite back. Mr Odimegwu himself knows that Nigeria is a failed state - ‘Nigeria as a state has failed already. We cannot be saying it may fail,’ he opines – but fails to understand that this is so because it is designed to fail given the politics we play.
 
Or, more accurately, the politics we are allowed to play by the military-inspired Constitution we have been labouring under since 1979, as amended. According to this Constitution, ordinary citizens like you and me, i.e. the common man and woman, are forbidden from contesting for any elective post from local councillor to president unless we belong to a ‘national’ party duly registered by the misnamed Independent National Electoral Commission. The reasoning, if it can be so called, is to foster unity in a diverse nation but we all know that the real reason is to enable those already in possession of the money – the money-bags – to continue to perpetuate themselves in power in order to acquire yet more money.
 
No one doubts Nigeria’s diversity. Indeed, a case could probably be made for calling it the most patchwork country in the world which would never have become a nation in the first place but for the European imperial adventure. The many religions, languages and ethnicities had lived cheek by jowl for centuries without seeing any need to come together in any formal way. Well, we got our independence and those who were privileged to decide these things thought it best we remain as one. Since then, they have been reiterating our indivisibility like a mantra, even declaring it a ‘no-go area’ whenever they get up yet another conference to map our future.
 
In fact, the only way Nigeria can cohere is by celebrating the very differences that we have turned into our biggest problem. And this will only happen when each of its component parts – however large or small – is able to control its own affairs (including its own resources) within the larger context of a federation they have freely agreed to be part of. Under this arrangement, any citizen anywhere in the country would be able to stand up and decide to vie for any position without recourse to one or other of the permitted behemoths currently parading themselves as political parties.
 
Until that day, looking for Mr Odimegwu’s strong man will only guarantee that the country remains the ‘war front’ that is currently being enacted in Ekiti ahead of the greater conflagration awaiting us next year.
 
©Adewale Maja-Pearce
 
This piece first appeared in a slightly different version in Hallmark, 17 June 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, 12 June 2014

The arrogant North

I was reading with amusement a communiqué from the Northern Elders Forum. Nothing new, alas. It begins by saying that the ‘majority of the northerners...are far more politically conscious of the two broad regions that make up Nigeria’, and laments the ‘dangerous trend’ by the Jonathan administration ‘aimed at weakening the determination of the North to reclaim its traditional position of providing leadership for the Nigerian polity’. After taking a swipe at the traitors among them who have agreed to fall for Jonathan’s divide and rule tactics, it reiterates its long-held belief that the North has a divine right to rule – ‘it is the almighty that has destined it so’ – which alone has kept the country ‘stable and secure’.  All said and done, ‘The North is only asking for what it does best in Nigeria: leadership.’
 
The contempt for the lesser breed is hardly to be credited. Dismissing the current ‘aberration’ with an ‘interloper’ going by ‘the name of a Jonathan Southern presidency’, they recall the only previous occasion when they were caught ‘unawares’, which was when ‘Aguiyi Ironsi and his Eastern cohorts’ jumped the gun. Other than that, they once ‘even denied themselves’ by allowing Obasanjo two terms, although he ‘nearly abused this privilege’ by latterly trying for a third ‘after he begged and pleaded with the North that brought him to power in the first place’. Although he ‘made amends’ of sorts by installing ‘his friend’s younger brother,’ he nevertheless oversaw ‘the most rigged election of 2007’ which cheated Gen. Muhammadu Buhari of his deserved prize.
 
The communiqué is clear that Buhari is ‘currently the undisputed of the North’, given that ‘there is no other person whom the masses in the North are willing to vote or even die for’. It then praises Tinubu, who ‘has seen the light’ by joining forces with him, unlike the inflexible Awolowo, who didn’t understand ‘the strategic wisdom in working with the North for a just and sustainable Nigeria’. According to their calculations, the North and the South-West between them have the numbers, unlike the current zone, ‘which arrogantly believes that it is entitled to [power] by virtue of [its] natural resources’, not minding the fact that ‘all mineral resources belong to the federal government’, as has been the case ‘since the colonial period’.  Once in office come 2015, they will ensure that derivation is reduced from 13 per cent to 5 per cent for on-shore oil only, and adds: ‘If the North stands together with its allies in the South-West we can ensure that local governments get 35% of federal allocations, while states get 39 percent. Let those who want 50% derivation get it only from those resources that were not located naturally.’
 
Whether Tinubu himself is prepared to be the willing stooge of a contemptuous North; or whether, more importantly, the people of the South-West see themselves as collaborators in the theft of other people’s resources, will undoubtedly be one of the lessons of the coming elections (assuming that they actually take place), but this is in many ways the story of Nigeria, and in that sense will merely be a continuation of the same. The entire communiqué reeks of power for its own sake for the purpose of plunder as a God-given right.  And in insisting that only the North has delivered a ‘stable and secure’ country when all the evidence tells us otherwise, they also threaten – if only by implication – the mayhem they are currently witnessing in their own domain, a clear enough case of the chickens coming home to roost: If you govern by divine right, you just might suffer divine retribution.
 
The communiqué was signed by Dr Yusuf Jubril (President) and Sani Mohammed (Secretary). Nothing much seems to be known about either of them and perhaps they are misrepresenting another group by the same name, which has been more measured in its tone, if not in its demands. In an address delivered to Jonathan two years ago, they professed themselves distressed by the activities of Boko Haram while blaming the government for its ‘misjudgement’, which led to ‘the poor handling of the sect’s activities’. But they were also distressed over the disparity in revenue allocation, ‘which appears to ignore the constitutional injunction of promoting even development’; and the dearth of federal appointments, currently standing at about 18 per cent.
 
In a way, it’s unfair to blame the ‘arrogant’ North when one is talking about a severe minority of the self-interested, as contemptuous of their own people as they are of others. This includes the Middle Belt, Jonathan’s only apparent ally outside his own zone, whose inmates are distinguished by their ‘treachery right from the days of Joseph Tarka and his likes’, but which nevertheless couldn’t prevent ‘the Northern People’s Congress (NPC) from winning in the past’. Their ‘political naivety and narrow mindedness’ will deliver them into the hands of the North this time around, ‘if only the APC selects a Northern presidential candidate’.
 
‘If only the APC selects a Northern presidential candidate.’ So there you have it. Once you get past the grandstanding, the veiled threats, the extended sulk, they must openly beg those who nearly abused the privilege after they begged and pleaded to be allowed power in the first place. But the game is up and they know it.  More importantly, so does everyone else. They themselves call Jonathan and his people ‘arrogant’ without any sense of irony but they are right nonetheless. And why not? Why shouldn’t Jonathan and his merry men do the same with the same resources, and which they happen to own whether you like it or not.
 
Meanwhile, Nigeria, the country of however many million square kilometres with abundant land and rain and people – and, yes, oil - seems all but forgotten. We don’t deserve it and for that reason we are going to lose it. This may or may not be a bad thing, but it is what we are doing.
 
©Adewale Maja-Pearce
 
An earlier version of this piece first appeared in Hallmark, 10 June 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