The Devil is in the Weevil

A few days ago, Leadership News reported that Ireland returned 5 containers of beans exported from Nigeria. Ostensibly, this was because the shipment had as much weevil as beans or something to that effect. We all ate beany weevils in boarding house – and “weeviled” beans when we got back home on holidays. It was arguably protein augmentation. The problem is the  good folks of Ireland don’t like beany weevils. The accompanying headlines across the Nigerian blogosphere were rib-tickling to say the least; one went as far as to proclaim it a national embarrassment. I’ll say – “koo dan” (cool down, with a Waffi accent), it is not a national embarrassment, unless of course you choose to make it one. It is a blow to the pocket of the exporter, but national embarrassment it wasn’t.

The Minister of State for Agriculture, Mr. Heineken Lokpobiri obviously felt it was a national disgrace and dude left his office in Abuja and made his way to pick some beans in Tin Can Port. Apparently dismayed when faced with enough weevils to colonise an insectarium, he instantly made a policy pronouncement – “hence forth, for any agro-product to leave the country, it has to be certified by the Quarantine Service”. So my friends in the Nigeria Plant Quarantine Services (NPQS) have ministerial blessings to become the Bean Picking, Review, Inspection and Coordination Kaisers (Bean PRICKs). Brilliant, init? Nah. This is a classic instance of how ill-thought out policies fail to solve any problem. It is also how we create more problems, in addition to existing ones.

The shipment was not returned because it was not inspected. This may sound counterintuitive, but it is true. It was returned because there were weevils in the beans. It is that simple. The problem is the presence of weevils in beans not the absence of Bean Pricks. So why did the minister not choose to solve this problem? I would win the Lottery tonight if I knew the answer to that. My guess however is that this is keeping in line with our spirit of “anyhowness”. It is often easier to make a show of solving a problem than to actually solve it. Somewhere on earth, there is an exporter who exports raw agricultural produce to the EU without being rejected. I will bet there is someone who exports beans successfully without the “national embarrassment” of rejection. Why don’t we find out how it is done? No, we don’t do things that way in Nigeria. Who has time to find out how to grow, harvest and pack beans without weevils? That will be a colossal waste of ministerial resources.

So Mr. Lokpobiri, having failed to solve the problem, goes on in grand Nigerian style to create another problem. We now have a new raft of jobsworths who will become another constrictive kink in the flow of goods at the ports. Of course, Bean Pricks don’t work for free – never mind their salaries. Depending on how “weevilish” a container of beans may be, Bean Pricks will demand some settlement. I can imagine a settlement tariff chart that says,

  1. a) No weevils – N20k /container.
  2. b) Weevil eggs – N40k/container
  3. c) Full blown weevils – N60k/container
  4. d) No inspection – N100k/container
  5. e) No settlement – Container confiscated

Pretty soon, you’ll start seeing Facebook spam advertising the sale of confiscated bean at Apapa Port.

Mr. Lokpobiri has done his job and gone back to Abuja. Meanwhile, the weevils live on in the beans; and the devil in the weevil.

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Their Grievance: Learning from history

I do not have any proprietary rights over wisdom, what I write below is based on what I have read and observed. I do not approve of violence – you need to see my 5ft 6in frame to know that I am not built for violence – and there can be absolutely no excuse for wantonly taking the lives of other human beings.


I have been in a handful of discussions on different social media fora in the last 24 hours where the (ongoing) violence in certain parts of Northern Nigeria is being discussed and condemned. A lot of these have eventually assumed an ethno-religious hue, alongside the call that Major General Muhammadu Buhari should lend his voice to call for an end to the violence. The blanket tar that has been used to paint the whole Northern Nigeria is that of a frontier of primitive tribal and religious bickering; and that the terms of our corporate existence as a nation-space called Nigeria should be re-negotiated.


Often when criticism is levelled against acts of destruction and violence, virtually all the critics fail to question (never mind trying to resolve) the precipitants that led to these events. This seeming inability (or is it an unwillingness) to examine and resolve the causes of such upheavals, inevitably keeps the society in a vicious circle. History (Nigerian history as well as that of other nations) is replete with instances where seemingly civilised segments of the society descend, and quite rapidly, into an orgy reprehensible violence which they never believed they could.


One of the points that I find is very biased is that this is Northern Nigerian or Northern Muslim behaviour. It is as insensitive as it is baseless. From the Aba riots of 1929 (Eastern Nigeria), through to the 1960’s Operation Weti e and Agbekoya uprisings (Western Nigeria), Maitasine Riots (Northern Nigeria), Warri riots, Niger Delta “militants” campaign against the oil industry (South-South) and the Jos riots (Middle Belt) – our nation’s history is littered with all manner of mayhem that it would be tendentious to attribute these to some inherent belligerent trait in any tribe. The 1966 coups, the subsequent pogrom against Igbos in other parts of Nigeria and the Nigerian Civil War all give an insight into how quickly everyone can tumble from their perches of racial haughtiness and become barbarians given the excuse and the opportunity. Anecdotes abound of how some Igbos (who barely 2 years earlier were victims of some of the most abominable crimes against any tribe in Nigeria), toward the end of the civil war, turned on the minority ethnic groups in what was left of Biafra and many were killed in extra-judicial circumstances – the term used to describe them was “saboteurs”. This perhaps shows how quickly victims can become tormentors when disorder sets in.


Have the Agbekoya riots or the Ife-Modakeke riots made the Yorubas a “violent race”? Or have the actions of Colonel Boyloaf and Tom Polo condemned every Ijaw man to being called a “militant” for the rest of his life? Just as the actions of a clutch of Igbo men in 1969 against some Ndonis have not resulted in the Igbos being called barbarians, it then becomes a simpleton’s conclusion to say the disturbances in the North of Nigeria happen because Northern Nigerians (whatever that means) are innately bellicose. I do not want to start a religious argument here either, but for those who are quick to add a “Muslim” dimension to this, I would urge you to do a crash course in Judeo-Christian history and see how steeped in blood it also has been.




Having tried to show that the same madness is capable of besetting any group of persons, regardless of creed or language, it then becomes important to try to assess what gives rise to these events. Underlying every instance above is an unaddressed sense of grievance – I would like to think of it as “disenfranchisement”. The mistake that has been made over and over, when an injustice is deemed (and I have said “deemed”) to have been perpetrated, is that those who are not involved simply shrug their shoulders and move on. To the group that has felt slighted or left bereft of what it believes to be its entitlement, it is not quite as easy to gloss over. In 1966 January, rightly or wrongly, Nigerian soldiers of Hausa/Fulani descent felt cheated by a coup deemed to have been plotted by Igbo officers, which left both the civilian and military Northern leaders dead. By the end of the third week of January 1966, the Sardauna of Sokoto, the Premier of Nigeria and Brigadier Zakariya Maimalari were dead. [Never mind that Lt. Col Arthur Unegbe was also killed in the coup and Maj. Gen. JTU Ironsi barely escaped being killed; and Northern soldiers and at least one officer from present day Benue State participated in the coup.] Virtually nothing was done [from the point of view of the aggrieved] to address their misgivings. History may judge on the rights or wrongs, but 6 months later the country was headed to a civil war.


The Igbos have always been a republican ethnic group without kings and have governed themselves by universal adult male suffrage for years – “Igbo a ma eze” is an expression that means “the Igbo do not recognise, or have no regard for, kings”. The British unilaterally appointed warrant chiefs in a bid to carry out indirect governance, ignoring the customs of the people that were being governed. Aba women’s riots were precipitated as a consequence of this amongst other issues. Many contemporary views agree that this upheaval is indicative of an un-redressed defect in the British colonial style of governance.


The perennial Niger Delta unrest, regardless of how the politician in Abuja sees it, is a result of decades of neglect of the environment and the people where the bulk of the nation’s wealth is derived. Until this is addressed coherently and comprehensively (and not by some witless truce or amnesty), it does not take a genius to figure out that this would continue in one variant or another for a long time.


The civil disturbances in Kaduna and Kano in the past 24 hours have their roots in a perceived electoral injustice. I say “perceived” because except a court determines otherwise, the elections returned Dr. Goodluck Jonathan as the President-elect. It would however be wishful thinking to assume every segment of the society believes the numbers stack up to reason or that the elections were fair. The segment that feels robbed is the segment that is protesting at the moment. That we are a nation divided at the moment is putting it mildly, and it behoves President Jonathan to do his best to assuage the sensibilities (and emotions) of those who are aggrieved; curfews suppress physical movement, not human emotions.


For those who are quick to say “let them go to hell”; let caution be the guard over their mouths, for no one has the monopoly of violence – not the Egbesu, not the Boko Haram and not the Agbekoya – and should things get exacerbated, it is sadly the innocent who will suffer more before things are properly resolved.




PS:
This is not an academic article and I am not trying to give it a hue of academic legitimacy; however here are some other references that could prove interesting.


1929 Women


Federalism and ethnic conflict in Nigeria


Agbekoya


Holy Inquisition


Eluoma


Igbo religious philosophy


Igbo Enwe Eze


Max Siollun

Spiritual Toll Gates

Prologue
Being a Christian does not preclude asking questions and demanding propriety from those in authority.
It is stale news that Pastor Christian “Chris” Oyakhilome’s Christ Embassy took an “innovative” approach to crowd control by charging an entrance fee of N1,000 per head to attend its New Year eve church service.  With a church auditorium said to seat about 25,000 people, this is a crowd control measure with an income earning slant.  Viewed purely as a monetary transaction between the attendees and the church, this incident is hardly newsworthy.  Provided the buyers are willing to part with their money and the seller – in this case, the church – is willing to receive the same and offer some service in return, it is all well and good.   This short essay however tries to examine this incident from another set of perspectives.
Those willing to attend but unable to pay
Whilst many pastors (and their fervent acolytes) will disagree with me, an organised church is a charitable establishment amongst other things, with a religious hue.  Amongst the people who might want to attend a church event are many who have a genuine need – beyond the euphoric – for a tangible spiritual experience, but who cannot afford to give any monetary consideration in return.  A church being a charitable organisation has a moral duty to these people.  The Bible is replete with instances where Jesus forbade the disciples from turning the needy from him.  On more than one occasion, He brought the crowd around Him to a halt to attend to the need of someone on the verge of being discarded by society as a waif.
It is utterly galling to then see an establishment place its pecuniary objectives ahead of its charitable duties and then turn around and try to justify it by terming it “crowd control”.  Someone needs to be told the truth here, without that “crowd”, there will be no church.  The services rendered by charitable organisations can often not be quantified in monetary terms.  A bowl of soup might cost just 90 pence, but when you go feeding the homeless at Leicester square on a winter night, that bowl is worth more than 90p to the homeless man that is fed.  In a similar manner, what price tag can you really attach to the spiritual experience that was denied that widow or area boy turned back at the gates of the “Embassy” for want of N1,000?
The follies of ignoring history
Many of us, first generation African immigrants in Europe, are shocked at the extent of religious apathy exhibited by most Western Europeans.  A history of the church in England might help here, because Mr. Oyakhilome’s crowd control methods are not new.  A few centuries back, virtually all the cathedrals in England had one relic or the other, which many unwitting peasants had to pay to touch or see, with the belief rife that touching or venerating these relics brought solutions to some problem(s).  These churches became spiritual toll-gates of some sorts.
In retrospect, a list of these relics from previous centuries look like a scammer’s toolbox – toe clippings from the nail of Mary Magdalene, a piece of the true cross, Saint Peter’s chains, a feather from the raven (some say dove) that Noah sent out of the Ark; the list is endless.  I will use this quote from Wikipedia – “since Christians during the Middle Ages often took pilgrimages to shrines of holy people, relics became a large business.”  The sad part of the monetised church was the obscene opulence in which the cleric lived, whilst a substantial part of the laity lived in poverty.  In an extreme instance of financial irresponsibility, the church refused to finance Henry V’s war against France in the 15th century, threatening anyone who dared tax the church with excommunication.  The disheartening consequence of this business is that as people became more enlightened and the obvious frauds behind the relics’ toll business came to light, the seed of disenchantment was sown.
These attributes are echoed in the 21st century organised church, where pastors live in abominable splendour in the face of indigent members – and the taxation of churches is something we must not discuss because we have been indoctrinated – “touch not mine anointed and do my prophets no harm”.   So, monetisation of spirituality is nothing new, but the paucity of attendance in churches in Europe today speaks volumes of the long-term effect of a monetised church.  Many an Anglican parish minister in England will long for the crowd that Pastor Oyakhilome turned back on 31 December 2010; sadly the 21st century English flock has gone to the pubs and clubs instead.
The focus of the church over many centuries was on money without a sustainable spiritual base for worshipers, the absence of tangible spiritual benefits being offered by the church has seen a generation has turned its back on organised religion and by extension turn its back on God.  I have had the opportunity of attending majority black churches (MBCs) in England as well as a handful of other churches with predominantly Caucasian congregations and I know which group dwells on “money, money, money and more money”; and I am mildly amused at the seeming incapacity of MBCs to learn from the mistakes of the older “orthodox” churches.
As society becomes more technologically advanced and science and technology provide more succour (even) in under-developed nations like Nigeria, and a prosperous existence is not predicated on the pulpit utterances of some pastor in flashy suits, churches will be built, not on congregations where members can pay N1,000 but on Christians who have a genuine relationship with God.  By then, the N1,000-paying, hero-worshiping and skabashing throng will be long gone to other exciting venues  and one may well ask, “whither shalt thou be crowd-control?”

The Nigerian, the Masochist

I was not going to write this piece, hoping the (empty) hubris that I have been accused of would not be brought to the public domain. But I’ll lose the moral right to complain over the next 3 to 4 years if I do not express my views, so I write.
I won’t be voting in the forthcoming Nigerian elections because I am about 4,000 miles from the nearest polling booth and do not have the luxury of travelling for the event.  That said; being my country of birth, I am very interested in the inputs and the outcome of the imminent elections.   Sadly, I am holding myself out as a prophet of doom – Nigeria is not ready for any dramatic development.  Using the Facebook blogosphere as an indicator of the wider sentiments in Nigeria, with due apology to Honorable Igodomigodo, I am “maniacally bewildered” by the catatonic tendencies exhibited by Nigerians who still consider Dr. G.E Jonathan and the PDP as credible options for the Nigerian presidency for another four years.
Anyone who, at this stage of the country’s retrogression, is still rooting for PDP’s continued leadership – for reasons other than being a direct beneficiary of the extant putrid and thoroughly inept system of governance embodied by the PDP – seriously deserves the worst that life can throw at him or her.  Given that the office of the Nigerian president has been adorned by all shades of characters – from a barely literate goon to a couple of PhD holders (one of them after the office); from a 29-year old bachelor to a 70-year old polygamist – all with colossal failures – with the incumbent contributing an accelerated decline to the retrogression, I will be hard-pressed to believe that there is anything to be gained by retaining this current salmagundi of dimwits.
Tomes have been writing about the quantum of fiscal incompetence exhibited in the past 18 months since the ailment (and later, demise) of the late President Yar’Adua; and I am not inclined to add to that library.  External reserves have been depleted with hardly a sliver of motorway to show for it; and the country recently celebrated the resuscitation of a train service that takes 9 hours to ply the 300 or so miles from Lagos to Ilorin.  In an age where the emphasis has shifted from not just providing stable electric power supply to obtaining commercially viable green sources of power supply, we have a national leadership that is unable to generate as much electric power as Wisconsin, never mind the United Kingdom.  A leadership that believes it is necessary to shut schools down for voters’ registration, when in the same period; I filled my census form in the UK without leaving my bedroom.  After listening to speeches laced with “umblerras” and “fellow widows”, I am hardly surprised at the discount placed on education by the man in a fedora.
I have heard all sorts of puerile arguments about being hopeful.  Sorry, hope should be reserved for the deserving  – those who truly lift one’s hopes – and not for the worthless scoundrels who have dashed the nation’s hopes over and over again without remorse.  Whilst the insensitive recklessness and pathetic incompetence exhibited by the elites of the PDP is, well, to be expected, what is more appalling is that some simpleton who carries a Nigerian voter’s card is optimistic enough to even consider the party as a credible option during the elections.   In any environment that seeks to be clothed with even the thinnest veneer of progress, the PDP’s defeat would have been as assured as the darkness that follows sunset on a moonless night.  If GEJ (by extension PDP) is voted in at the next presidential elections, it is not because he deserves the office on the basis of any commendable track record, it will be because of the self-destructive naïveté (and the masochism) of the Nigerian.  But then, common sense is not a widely available commodity; or will I be proven wrong by the Nigerian votes?

When Orunmila spoke and Enoch anointed

Caveat:
“He suffered no man to do them wrong: yea, he reproved kings for their sakes,  saying, Touch not mine anointed, and do my prophets no harm. “
I can safely say the 2011 presidential election in Nigeria is a fait accompli for Dr. Goodluck Jonathan.  Not since the witch of Endor foretold the death of Saul have the gods of pantheism and Jehovah been aligned on an opinion of this magnitude.  The custodian of the 300 odd deities of Yoruba land, decided a few weeks back that heaven had lost its voice and with theocratic authority, decreed that Dr. GEJ is  the new-found voice of heaven.  To forestall a situation where this voice would be deprived of celestial company, Madam Péshé (French pronunciation, please) was deemed to be the spouse (read: Echo) of this new cosmic voice.
Not to be outdone, the man of God, named after another man of God who walked with El-Shaddai of old and was found no more – “for God took him”; in a divinely inspired moment had the president of the most populous (?) black nation kneel down before him whilst he proclaimed (?) him as the anointed one.
Both of these events within four weeks of each other!  When the denizens of the pantheon speak, woe betides the mortals who oppose their proclamation.  Let Atiku be filled with fear! Let Ribadu’s trepidations overwhelm him into submission. Let Buhari lose all hope. The gods have spoken.  And should any of them be tempted to “heat up the polity”, let them be told –”it is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God”, for it has been prophesied unto GEJ, “the Lord shall fight for you and you shall hold your peace”.
And I am earnestly urging all Nigerians; do not bother to vote, lest you incur the wrath of the gods.  If you vote against the anointed of heaven, you are voting against your maker(s).  If you vote for him, you are being presumptuous in thinking that you can help the gods; remember Uzzah in the Bible who was struck down for holding out his hand to keep the ark from toppling off a cart? Think of the election day as a public holiday. Sit at home and keep your wives and children company. If you have no children, use that day to make one. If you have no wife, ring up that girl you have been mustering up courage to chat up. Do anything, but do not vote.
I do not wish to hold brief for Orunmila or any other Yoruba deity; my knowledge of Ifa is based almost entirely on Wikipedia and I do not hear from the Judeo-Christian God with sufficient clarity that I would decide to anoint anyone. I am just a Christian trying to do my quota on earth whilst I yet have breath.  On the other hand, I think that with the privilege of being the principal custodian of religion in Yorubaland or having direct access to God, comes the responsibility to apply discretion in one’s pronouncements.  After all, Samuel took care to anoint David in private, likewise Ahijah when foretelling the ascension of Jeroboam to the throne of the northern Israelite kingdom.
On one hand, it will be extremely comforting to know that the deities across different religions have agreed to support Jonathan. On the other hand, there is a question that tugs at the corners of my mind, in this quick succession of divine pronunciations, is GEJ the ruler ordained to deliver the country from the morass where it currently sits; or dare I ask, are the gods simply prodding him forward to a destination known only to them?  Otherwise, a disturbing proverbs begins to echo faintly in my mind – “he whom the gods wish to destroy, they first make mad”.

From 6/6/6 to 10/10/10

I am going to offend some of my christian friends here. What on earth is it with Christians and dates?
 
I have received so many inane texts about how October 2010 is a unique month and that it occurs once every 863 years, once every 1000 years (which is quite obvious) and all sorts of other outlandish claims.
 
I got one last night about how October 2010 has 5 Fridays, 5 Saturdays and 5 Sundays; and that this unique combination occurs only once every 863 years. I was then requested to forward the two-page text so as not to break some puerile fengshui luck. I don’t know which upset me more, the banality of the text or the requirement that I should use my money send a two-page text to four more people in order to partake of this Chinese luck.
 
On the 6th of June 2006, it was night vigil galore. On 7th July 2007, it was the turn of those seeking some gamblers’ goodluck. Each year, I am bombarded by texts and mails, proclaiming fantastic interpretation of some date or another.
 
Where do people – particularly my Christian friends – keep their grey matter on issues such as this? The Gregorian calendar is cyclical for crying out loud. Within a 28 year period, every date combination you can come up with is repeated (except years, which are unique anyway). So, come October 2027, there will be 5 Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays in the same month, so what becomes of this fengshui drivel? Given that the Gregorian calendar was derived by skipping some dates, which 10 October 2010 is valid? Is it the Julian or Gregorian? Or the Jewish calendar? Or the Islamic calendar? Or the Chinese?
 
Purely from a biblical perspective, there are clear restraints placed by God, which forbid a Christian from astrology, which is equivalent to this dates combination claptrap . “For these nations, which thou shalt possess, hearkened unto observers of times, and unto diviners: but as for thee, the LORD thy God hath not suffered thee so to do.” (Deuteronomy 18:14). Somewhere, between being true to one’s faith as a Christian and using our brains, one would ordinarily assume people will realise each day is unique and appreciate it for what it – a gift from God.
 
Henceforth, if I get any text or mail about how this date occurs once every 777 years or that another month has a Friday the 13th, my reaction will be definitely explosive!

The Finance of Self-Preservation

In many developed and actively developing countries, there is usually some state-initiated mechanism (or a similar device) which seeks to prevent the denizens of those countries from falling into some social abyss or another.  These mechanisms play out as welfare schemes, targeted infrastructural development drives and government involvement in certain areas of public infrastructure maintenance.
In Western Europe, there is a welfare / benefit scheme in each of the constituent countries (which vary in how “lucrative” they are from country to country). These ensure that the basic needs of the citizens and other inhabitants are met, regardless of their ability to earn income. Like all systems maintained by man, these are abused continually by unscrupulous people, but there is a matched effort on the part of the governments to stem the abuse.  In other instances, countries may embark on infrastructural development initiatives to kick-start economic growth and social regeneration in areas where there are identified economic (and often social) development needs.  Similar objectives see these governments provide employment in seemingly trivial activities like street cleaning and community beautification activities.
Beyond the obvious economic advantages of having as many people in the nation working or having a means of livelihood, these seemingly altruistic activities of these governments have at their core, a very self-preserving objective.  History has shown over and over again, that when there is a critical mass of disenfranchised citizens in any space, the resultant backlash crystallises in the displacement of the erstwhile elites who disenfranchised them in the first instance.  It is thus beneficial to the ruling class to prevent this critical mass from being breached.  Unlike physics however, where the critical mass of an element is known, the tipping point and mass for a repressed population cannot be quantified by any social scientist.  It may be as elastic as the Nigerian’s or as brittle as the Taliban’s.
I am in no way advocating the implementation of a welfare state in Nigeria, largely due to the absence of an identity management framework like the US Social Security Number or the UK National Insurance Number models.  In addition to this, the gestation period before the effect of a welfare scheme is seen might be a luxury that the precipitously placed entity called Nigeria can ill afford.  This does not in any way obviate the need to start to develop a credible identity management framework.  Professor Jega’s N84billion voter’s register could have turned out to be much less expensive if such a framework had been in place.
On the other hand, I will try to make an active case for an accelerated infrastructural development program in the remaining parts of this essay, using a rather outlandish example.  I will use the Niger Delta as the principal example in this mini-treatise.
Niger Delta – the size
The Niger Delta occupies about 70,000km2.  Whilst it is shaped roughly like a section of a circle, this landmass is comparable very much comparable to a trapezium that is 280km/250km.  Whilst it may appear like I am being rather pedantic here, please note these numbers.  In miles, this roughly translates to 174 miles by 156 miles.
Motorway Infrastructure
Assuming a mono-focal government set out to literally cover the Niger Delta with a grid of motorways as its own development plan for the area, how much really would be the cost of this venture?  In the UK, it costs £4.8million to build a mile of motorway.  The Naira equivalent of this is about N1.2billion.  Allowing for topography – which may cause this to be more expensive in the Niger Delta – and higher costs of living in the UK, which would cause materials and labour to be comparatively less expensive in the Niger Delta, I will hold this amount as being equally applicable to the Niger Delta.
A Motorway Blanket
If a motorway grid is built from scratch, running the length and breadth of the Niger Delta, with intersections every 15 miles; the resultant grid will be 12 motorways running for 174 miles and 10 motorways running for 156 miles.  This will probably be one of the most reticulated motorway scheme in the world, given the landmass involved.  The total mileage involved in this seemingly gargantuan project is approximately 3,640 miles of motorway. At a total cost of £4.8 million per mile, this is £17.5billion; in dollars, that is $26 billion.   Now that is some truckload of money, right?  Well, sorry to bust your bubble, no it is not.
Colossal Financial Ineptitude and Lost Economic Opportunities
In the period since the former President Obasanjo vacated the office to date, the Nigerian foreign reserve has been depleted by this amount and more, with zilch to show, save a national cake of embarrassing dimensions and 20-odd PDP governors growing fat.  This money could have changed the story of the Niger Delta – forever.
The multiplier effect of such a project in the Niger Delta will alter the economic landscape even more dramatically than the visual impact of such a motorway grid. This will go a very long way towards settling the claims of injustice that have got the Niger Delta militants up in arms against the ruling class in Nigeria.  This analysis can be extended to any sector – electricity, health, agriculture or education.
Conclusion
I very much doubt the need to build such a grid, but I have gone to these outlandish lengths to show that whilst the operations of a welfare state might be impracticable in the immediate term in Nigeria, economic development initiatives are definitely within the financial capabilities of the government.
However, the agitations of the subjugated will rather be ignored whilst the Sarakis, IBBs, Odilis, Tinubus and Uzor Kalus of this world ostensibly feed fat on the sweat and blood of the deprived populace.  I read the 2009 Ben Enwonwu lecture delivered by Prof. Osinbajo and his remark about the failure of Somalia should be a dire warning to the avaricious political elite in any country – particularly Nigeria.  When Somalia failed and the area boys (he called them warlords) carved up territories for themselves, the erstwhile elites were queuing up with ration bowls in their hands to receive the UN-provided food. What would it have taken to prevent this from happening?
As Nigeria seemingly hurtles towards its self-inflicted fatal denouement, one wonders if there is any atom of self-preservation in the malignant lot who have held bayonets to the throat of the nation for over 50 years –for the rot started before independence.  I do not see the explosions of 1 October as an event, but more a symptom of other events, which, like a concert building to its crescendo seems all but set to unleash its climax on us all.
Like a true Nigerian who has his favourite haunt along the Lagos/Ibadan expressway, I conclude by saying God help us all!

A fedora, a gap-tooth and Aso Rock

In the last 9 months, the shadowy world of Nigeria’s politics has gone from a very dark grey to a shade of black that makes coal look like a dazzling white. From the time a comatose President Yar’Adua (PUYA) signed a supplementary budget in December 2009, it was obvious to any discerning observer that the hell-spawn politicians who are in charge of the country’s finances had upped the ante on corruption. With this brazen move, the stakes, where power and looting are concerned in Nigeria, were forever altered.
The subsequent death of President Yar’Adua a few months later only added another dimension to this macabre tale that started on October 1 1960. The field was ostensibly thrown open for all comers to join the presidential electoral race. The beauty of presidential democracy is that anyone (within the guidelines provided by law) is allowed to contest; so one has seen the comic, the inspiring, the tragic and the dangerous. This essay is about the dangerous.
Like most things Nigerian, where a peverted joke of the Fates throws up the worst characters to be at the pinnacle of our national identity, the race is shaping up to be a choice to be made from the worst that the nation can breed. Put bluntly, a candidate that is perceived to be the least repugnant is likely to turn into an electoral icon.
The Fedora
Purely from anecdotal evidence, the accidental presidency of President Goodluck Jonathan (GEJ) is one of the most ruinous events that has occured in the history of Nigerian democracy. After 6 months of his presidency, there is neither a coherent implementation of any inherited policies nor a discernible policy thrust. To be fair to him, he holds the distinction of being the most educated Nigerian to occupy the office; bar this achievement, his administration has been a concentrate of corruption and ineptitude.
The government’s stance on corruption can be easily deduced from the restoration of the convicted felon – DSP Alams – into the favour of the presidency. Lest some simpleton is inclined to see this as a one-off instance of blind loyalty, other colourful characters are emerging from the woodworks into positions of prominence in GEJ’s organisational chart; so names like Anenih and Otedola are looking like compund surnames of GEJ nowadays. In the interim, nothing has been heard of the cases brought against the bank chiefs by CBN / EFCC.
Fiscal illiteracy is turning out to be one of the principal features of the GEJ presidency, with a totally depleted excess crude reserve, (alleged to have been shared out in a bid to curry the support of perceived antagonists) and a country running without a budget being one of the legacies he is bound to leave in the minds of many Nigerians. To rub grit in an already festering sore, the esrtwhile minister of state for finance “accidentally” made it known that the country’s petroleum company was actually running on empty – nay, make that running on exhaust fumes.
If these were not enough, some self-destructive spinelessness seems to be propelling the man in a fedora to some destination that is left to more imaginative minds to figure out. In the nocturnal return of the late PUYA to Abuja, someone ordered troops to the Nnamdi Azikiwe Airport, in a barely veiled contempt of GEJ’s position as the de-facto C-in-C of the Nigerian Armed Forces. To date, no news of a court-martial or a reprimand has been heard regarding these audacious individual(s) who organised this troop movement. The day these same troops are arrayed in assault on GEJ’s place of abode, one prays his incompetence is not rewarded in the same manner as the late Major-General JTU Aguiyi-Ironsi.
It is this epitome of ineptitude that now surreptisiously wants to rule Nigeria. heaven help us all.
The Gap-Toothed Mephistopheles
For many Nigerians under 30 years, IBB is a name they have only heard, but not experienced. For any well-reasoning man or woman over 30 years old, the man who bears this name is one whom many would love to thrust down the precipice of existence to the depth of Hades. Sadly, between hunger and depravity, many Nigerians have been deprived of any form of reasoning, talk less of a rational thought process.
So the soldiers from whose ranks this spawn of hell rose to prominence and who should turn their bayonets on him, would rahter shout “ranka dede”. The bloody civilian governors who should be aggrieved are lining up behind him, trying to claim their share of the famous Gulf War I plunder. And the unfortunate and benighted press, having conferred on him the title of a genuis, are already smiling to the banks, sated by sullied brown envelopes; from the lowly editors to the high chief from Aghenebode, it seems no journalist is immune to the corrupting influence of the Nupe general.
This man, under whose watch corruption became an acceptable career, and under whom some of the most reprehensible murders took place in the country (including the death of an entire generation of military officers) is aspiring once more to rule – this time via legitimate means. His ambitions are not hurt at all by the seemingly inexhaustible pot of looted funds which he has. One of the many Nigerian discussion boards ran a story of how a N500 billion (about $4 billion) shady defence contract was awarded this man recently; if true, with that quantum of funds at one’s disposal, one might call the election a fait-accompli for IBB.
To his credit, he is facing a rather bland incumbent, who has failed to impress nor prove himself to be street-smart. If push comes to shove, there are no guesses where the guns that welcomed PUYA’s comatose body to Nigeria will be aligned.
These are the obnoxious men who seek to rule. If these are the best any country can throw up, one can only imagine the fate of such a nation. If these are not the best Nigeria can offer, then it is the responsibility of everyone reading this to spread the awareness – these charlatans must be stopped.

For and against – Let’s divvy up this contraption!

Over the past few months, there has been a deluge of articles and comments, calling for Nigeria the country to be carved up into its constituent “lingual nations”.  In the more diplomatic calls, the requests have been couched as a “linguistic regional government”, whilst in the more abrasive suggestions, some have called for an outright break-up of the country. In both instances, most of the writers have cited the existence of the country itself as the basis of the problems that the country faces; which is the fundamental point that I intend to tackle in this essay.
Stating that the existence of a country is the root of its problems, in addition to being is somewhat simplistic, is akin to stating that a man’s existence is the reason for his illness. Whilst this might be true physiologically, killing the man is not the panacea for the illness.  In the past couple of months, the most vocal proponent of this Balkanisation call is my friend on Facebook, Mr. Adeyinka Shoyemi and I will try to address some of the issues raised in his articles.
Homogeneity – a spatial delusion
The argument is often hinged on the development of “homogeneous” societies, which appeals to our primordial senses, but which is a fundamentally flawed argument. Given than no two individuals of the estimated 15 billion people who have walked the planet are perfectly identical, homogeneity starts to break down on a logarithmic scale as the population increases; so I can safely say you will never see another you. Societies have evolved and developed on the strength of the fit that we bring to bear despite our difference, not because there are no differences.
Allusions are made to the homogeneity of language in countries in Europe and proponents of balkanisation attribute their development to uniformity of languages in the respective European countries that are touted in this argument. This is an argument that is devoid of tangible substance in history. I will use the history of Britain, starting from medieval times to buttress my rebuttal.  The scale and brilliance of development that was witnessed in England after the Norman invasion and conquest of 1066 exceeded anything that the country had witnessed when it was ruled by Anglo-Saxon kings. Bear in mind that the Normans were (are) French, whilst the Anglo-Saxon kings were, well, English. Despite the homogeneity of language, the land was constantly at war – Harold Godwinson, the last Anglo-Saxon king, had just finished fighting a war against an invader from the north, when he rushed down south to battle Guillaume le Bâtard (later King William 1, The Conqueror).  The northern folks in what is today known as York were literally a law unto themselves.  Yet, when a foreigner invaded the land and subdued it, the extent of prosperity and relative order that followed was something that the kings who spoke the local language could not have managed.
What William of Normandy brought to bear to the country, which had huge potentials lying fallow, was a degree of organisation that no previous Anglo-Saxon king had managed before. When you drive by the Tower of London, or other Norman monuments that litter the country, let them remind you of the dedicated (often ruthless, though fair) leadership of a king who did not speak the local language. The Domesday Book, which provides the best record of what life was like in medieval times, was commissioned by this same bastard from another country. From influencing the architecture to putting an effective system of governance in place; from changing the language to how wars were fought, this influx of Norman invaders altered the landscape of the country forever. In the aftermath of the Norman invasion, national pride was hurt, but the bedrock of development was laid and some of these benefits continue to accrue today – even if only in tourist revenues.
I have elaborated extensively on this, to show that good leadership and not uniformity of language or culture is one of the key pre-requisites for development. William and his sons who ruled after him were not English men; it was not until two generations later that a king who was born in England would sit on the English throne, but by then who really cared? The country was easily the richest in Europe – this can be verified from the Domesday Book.
In contemporary times, the fact that the native language spoken in Cornwall is not English has not impeded the development of Cornwall. Just to correct the erroneous notion that England (I say England, not Britain) is monolingual, Cornwall is in England. So arguing that development is possible only in the face of “uniform customs and practices” (apologies to my friends in trade finance), is baseless.  Barcelona is not less developed than Madrid.  Long before the advent of a regional parliament in Scotland, Glasgow had its own underground rail system.  That is what good leadership puts in place, not some ethnocentric jingoism.
In India, the largest lingual group are the Hindi. This group constitutes approximately 30% of the country’s population, besides this group there are over 20 languages spoken by over a million people. There are states where there are 4 or more distinct language groups with over 1 million speakers. Yet this extent of diversity has not impaired the country’s development, because there is an identity beyond being Bengali or Gujarati – there is an Indian identity that is not based on language. This identity was not created overnight, but the creation of this identity was not avoided either.
Amongst the Yorubas – who are advocating that a break-up of the country is the panacea to all its woes, the idea of a homogeneous Utopia that waits for the inhabitant in the aftermath of a split-up, is even made more ridiculous by the fratricidal wars that pockmark the history of the Yoruba people. In an earlier essay, I referred to the Ijaiye war, the Kiriji war and the Owu invasion as instances of such wars amongst a “homogeneous” people; wars that cannot by any stretch of imagination be attributed to the existence of a Nigerian nation. If the protagonists of a balkanised Nigeria insist these are but medieval acts of barbarity, I have good news for you. Have you taken time out to observe the “unity” within Afenifere; or The Oodua People’s Congress; or the Alliance for Democracy / Action Congress; or the endless bickering between the Alaafin and the Ooni in the old Oyo State? Perhaps a trip to Epe would help clarify issues, for within that small town are two claimants for the throne(s) – one claiming kingship over Epe-Isale and the other over Epe-Ijebu. By the way, Epe is not an administrative contraption of the British colonial masters.
Corruption – a non-discriminatory infection
In the third instalment of his autobiography, “We must set forth at dawn”, Professor ‘Wole Soyinka made a tribute to the politicians who “fought” for Nigeria’s independence.  According to him, when they (the politicians) came to the UK in the 1950s ostensibly to attend conferences where the nation’s future was being decided upon, many of them abandoned their duties, choosing instead to solicit the assistance of Nigerian undergraduates in the United Kingdom to act as pimps and procure Caucasian women to have sex with. These are the characters who inherited the mantle of leadership on October 1, 1960 – in a “linguistic regional government”.   I am not a biologist, but I will boldly say a rat can only raise ratty offspring, so does anyone wonder why these less-than-honourable homo-sapiens have only handed power in one form or another to even less honourable protégés?
In 1956, it was okay to use government funds to pay for the services of a prostitute in the alleys off Leicester Square, in 1996 it became acceptable to buy a house for the same prostitute in West Hampstead.  I would accede, there is a high degree of homogeneity in the corrupt species that rule Nigeria and they have managed to hone their science of corruption to an art that would rival anything produced by the Renaissance Masters.  In this clan of corruption, no lingual barriers exist, neither do religious ones; for the only religion is corruption itself and the Lingua Franca is corruption as well.
It then saddens me greatly, when people fail to see the foundations of corruption that were there before independence, which have grown into a Pantheon, where all the gods of corruption are being worshipped and more are being apotheosised daily.  It baffles me when people see the goggled burglar of Kano, the late Mallam Sani Abacha as a Hausa man, not as the epitome of corrupt leadership. I am puzzled when people fail to see through the corrupt practices that ran through UPN, instead they see Chief Awolowo as a god who was not duly revered. It is not the Hausa in Sani Abacha that was wrong, it was his use of state funds for personal indulgences that is unacceptable. As divisive a figure as Chief Awolowo might have been, the bigger problem was in using Ogun state funds to run the party at a national level.  These corrupt practices do not know tribal marks or tonal marks; and these are the practices that are ruining most of black Africa.
Patriotism – a confluence of land and language
The last aspect of the split-up argument that I am tackling here is that patriotism is driven by language. May I get colourful and say “this argument is utter balderdash”.   My British friend of Indian origin speaks Hindi with native fluency, but was born in Bradford. His father was born in Bradford and his grandfather died in Bradford. He is British. When you hear him, you have not doubts where his allegiance lies.  He will die before the Union Jack is disgraced, yet he speaks the language of his forebears.  I have a Greek friend whose story is very similar to this. A proper North London boy – nah, make that Norf London – yet he speak flawless Greek. But make no mistake, he is British.
The American identity is not based on language. It was forged of a siege mentality – settlers (us) versus colonialists (them).  A history of New York tells the story of the country’s language identity, from New Amsterdam, a city of the Van der Bilts to New York; from Dutch to English, with various claims for the nation’s soul by the Spanish and the French thrown into the equation. Yet it is not a city of the Hispanics or the Jews or the English; it is an American city. One that is built on the human drive to survive and excel in the face of the vagaries of life – a common denominator in all humans, irrespective of the lingual barriers.
What point am I making here? That language does not preclude one from having a national identity that transcends language barriers. Oh, it does help, but life may not always hand us the easiest of starts. We however owe ourselves the duty of going further than the starting block in life. So I can be Hausa and Nigerian. I can be Yoruba and Nigerian. I can be Igbo and Nigeria.  I can be Nigerian. No one has said it is easy, but we have been Nigerians for 96 years. It is not going to be an easy task to each a south paw to box with his right hand when he is 96 years old.
If Nigeria breaks up, it will not be because that is the cure to all the problems that bedevil the country, it will break up because of the problems that plague the country.
I will end this piece by saying, “the path of least resistance, though sought by many, often leads nowhere.”

Celebrating 50 Years of… being cursed?

Like the princess from the Charles Perrault’s fairy tale – Sleeping Beauty – Nigeria had a wicked fairy gate-crash her “independence” ceremony and pretty much like the princess from Monsieur Perrault’s tales, a curse was placed. Sadly however, that is where the similarities end.

Unlike the princess in the famous story, where death was promised the princess when she reached adulthood, instant calamity was bestowed on Nigeria. Quite contrary to the princess’ lot, there was no good fairy to mitigate the impact of the curse on Nigeria, the death of the country if it would ever come was prophesied to be a long drawn-out process, with new depths of pain promised each time the country adjusts to its extreme sufferings. Whilst the princess was condemned to sleep for 100 years until her true love came around to wake her with a kiss; there no determined date was set by the horde of fairies, witches, wizards, gnomes, elves and other ethereal beings that graced the glorious occasion of Nigeria’s independence.

So from the onset, the infant was doomed and by the time she was 6 years old, she had been subjected to levels of horror that would make a jaded grandmother pale. Like many victims of extreme shock, her mind has gone numb, that she might protect herself from the psychological torture that has (and continues) to be inflicted on her. At 12, she was a already an alcoholic – a drunk reeking with crude oil – and had been half-decimated through a civil was and re-kitted as a loose patchwork of states, which would form the platform for looting on an unprecedented scale by the time she turned 35. And she has been drunk ever since.

The bizarre state of affairs in the country, which leaves little to be celebrated and much to be mourned, is one that confounds even all observers; both the foolish and the wise. In the midst of this sad setting the collection of village idiots, whom the aggrieved fairy gave the rights to rule the country, has decided to celebrate. The question that begs to be asked is “what is being celebrated?” Is it the plunder of all that the nation has ever been endowed with? Or the impending disintegration as we launch off a cliff without a parachute or a safety net? Is it the miasma of the 50-year old decomposition of both the physical and social infrastructure? Is it the ascendancy of a looting class into power that is being celebrated?

And the miserable pittance that our esteemed imps in agbada, isi-agu, bowler hats and babanriga want to set ablaze in this celebration of stupidity is just N9.6 billion. I am sure Mr. Goldman Sachs – the latest inductee into the Abuja hall of “lau-lau” spending – would be quick to say this is just £38.5million. That is true, but not when there are better uses to which this money can be spent; uses which are presently starved of funds. And whilst the over-plundered treasury is trying to come to terms with that, some recycled bin recently lifted its lid to request N55 billion to conduct an election in 6 months. All the while, the nation’s embodiment of incompetence and corruption – the Nigeria National Petroleum Company – has been said to be hovering between extreme illiquidity and insolvency. The amount involved by the way is a measly N1.4trillion (depending on whose narrative is right).

And we want to celebrate.

In a nation where the wrong people are celebrated, is it any wonder that the country itself is incapable of realising that there is nothing to be celebrated after fifty years of tottering around embarrassingly like a drunken grandmother in stilettos? A national honours list that would all but discourage any young person in the country from ever aspiring to anything by merit goes a long way to show who, really, we are as a people. In a nation where the gap-toothed one can evolve from a villain within 20 years to become a “celebrated” presidential aspirant, anything can indeed be celebrated.

Unlike the Sleeping Beauty – whose curse was defined, Nigeria’s malaise does not lend itself to a precise definition, let alone diagnosis. Where the ailments of the country shift colours and symptoms faster than a chameleon changes its complexion, it would take more of a gifted charlatan (if such a person exists) than a qualified physician to deliver the country.

If this ever gets to Dr. GEJ’s notice, please tell him, we the aggrieved citizens of Nigeria, do not take it personal with him and his cohorts; because we realise they are all operating under the spell of the aggrieved fairy from a Grimm’s fairy tale with no happy ending.