Friday, 27 February 2009

Silence of the Damned....

As Robert Mugabe’s bloody and stubborn hands, slip inch by inch from power, his, will be a life marked with utter defiance of Western powers and an utter disregard of his detractors. A so-called proud nationalist and patriot, Mugabe was once the darling of the West, but his moves against the white farmers, permanently put paid to that.

There are not too many Zimbabweans who would openly condone the President’s actions, but I have spoken to some who (off the record) will tell you how much they admire the man’s anti-western stance. They recount legendary stories of his time in jail under the government of Ian Smith, of how he was a proud and obstinate inmate, who was insubordinate to the end. They strain under his leadership, but view some of his actions as a continuum in his complete disregard of colonial powers.

Personally, I do not see the difference between Mugabe and many of the dictators we have had in Nigeria. They all oversee economic mismanagement and the subsequent improvishment of their people, whilst they acquire staggering undeserved wealth. The difference I guess is the amount of white lives Mugabe has either destroyed or taken. He has broken the last taboo and forgotten the unwritten rule; one white life equates fifty black ones, at least. I suppose that explains why Nigerian leaders rarely come in for Western criticism; until the ongoing Niger Delta crisis, very few white lives have been threatened or for that matter taken in our 'troubled and politically instable' land.

The issue of double standards never stops rearing its ugly head though. I remember the vitriolic British media’s criticism, directed towards Jacques Chirac, when he was pictured shaking hands with Mugabe, at an international conference in France a few years ago. Where were these people, when Mrs Thatcher did more or less the same, when she invited PW Botha to the UK, in the face of international condemnation?

Botha had been personally responsible for the displacement, torture and deaths of so many blacks in his country, yet the recrimination was painfully silent. Although, we were told that she had invited him, to discuss reform and the potential release of Mandela, I wonder if they had time to discuss Dennis’ business concerns in South Africa.

Yes, African leaders are the poor masses' worst nightmare and we can not wholly place reponsibility for our condition on the West, although it would help if Western banks and governments refuse unaccountable wads of cash, ending up in their unquenchably thirsty coffers. I point this out because it does sound a bit rich (excuse the pun), to partake in a nefarious process and then puff out your chest in vitriolic condemnation when your partners have been exposed.

The truth is this; there are rules to the game of systematically raping and looting an African country's wealth. You need to embrace what is called 'Western Love'. Mugabe should have understood that game. To get ‘Western Love’, he should have romanced the white farmers and continue to eliminate the mainly black opposition. At least that way, he would have preserved his access to foreign accounts from Zurich to London.

And the Western condemnation – I predict, painfully silent.

Thursday, 26 February 2009

Ab Initio

Someone once told me that 99% of humans use only 30% of their inherent potential.

Unfortunately for me, this was in retort to a statement I had made regarding the colour of number plates in the UK. I had, after ten years of inhabiting that isle, just realised that a vehicle’s front and rear plates have to be different colours. It was such obvious information, but like most things that are right in front of one’s eyes, I missed it.

The gentleman who so eloquently qualified my ignorance, without making me feel inferior, went on to advise me on the need to extend oneself, particularly as God had entrenched certain undeniable gifts within us. He opined that Einstein, Bell and Michelangelo would have been unworthy of note, had it not been their zeal to push themselves and their visions, to the limit, although, he was gracious enough to accept the individuals in question, had their unfair share of natural intelligence.

That salient point notwithstanding, it was now crystal clear that I had to take my ‘fair’ share of intelligence and broaden it as much as was mentally and physically possible. I was advised to read voraciously and conduct simple mental exercises like; continuously adding, subtracting and multiplying numbers (no paper please). Also, memorising car number plates (I wasn’t sure whether this was just a humorous inclusion) and of course, telephone numbers.

I do all these, to this day and considering the fact that alcohol has been proven to kill brain cells, I am living proof that the exercises work. Okay, there are going to be the cruel jibes from my mean friends, who are now likely to say things like; ‘no Castro, you are still as stupid and drunk as you were in University!’

Seriously though, my father passed on a year after he enlightened me. His thoughts stay with me and the older I grow, the wiser his sayings become. If the truth be known, the greatest mistakes that I have made in my short life have been closely linked to my choosing to ignore some of his worthy advice. He always used to say Nigeria was a perfect example of a country where inherent potential was definitely underused and talent, criminally wasted. Of course the evidence is overwhelmingly in his favour, even nine years after his demise. Crazy thing, but my father like most fathers of his generation, was fearful for his children and our peers. I wonder if their worries have not been manifested right in front off our eyes – just compare our achievements with what our parents had accomplished at our age (I am 42 by the way!).

Having come from him, I wished I had understood that he was my beginning. That is why today, I am determined to increase my 30%. I just hope my capacity for the other 70 hasn’t gone with all the unheeded advice.

One day. I hope Nigeria does the same....

Monday, 23 February 2009

The Death of the Gentleman....

I believe it is prudent to begin today's entry by acknowledging the seven day gap created by my lack of blogging activity. Basically, I was on enforced leave, to celebrate the fact that I had successfully completed another year on earth. Friday the 20th was my birthday and unlike during other years, I was compelled to say my thanks and reluctantly take a, there we are.

Of course, even though my keyboard was on sabbatical, my brain wasn't and at least 10% of my celebral activity has been quietly spent trying to understand a phenomenon I have repeatedly witnessed in modern-day Nigeria. Unfortunately, I couldn't comment on whether this trend afflicts other countries within our challenged continent, as my travel from the Cape to Cairo is shamefully limited! But as someone who grew up in the continent's most populous country, I can rant all day and all night, when I observe any aberrations in our social fabric.

So people, tell me, am I the only one who has witnessed the lack of etiquette amongst the so called middle-class in Nigeria? I isolate this group because like in most countries around the world, they are responsible for guiding the masses in social nuance and ultimately occupy the jobs in the civil service, which in Nigeria's case, is the Banking industry. It is really eye-opening going to the average financial institution in our major cities and coming across the suited and booted custodians of our monetary systems, who on their best day cannot muster the necessary decorum to conduct a sinple transaction over the counter. In some cases, it even gets worse when you have an issue which has to be attended to by senior management! And as you would expect when the centre fails, the whole society begins to replicate low standards.

An abiding memory of mine, was at one of the many eateries that decorate the surburb called Victoria Island. I had just finished some arduous negotiations with some business partners from Namibia, when we had the unfortunate experience of wanting to exit the establishment at the same time as some well dressed bank officials(their ties gave them away!) wanted to gain entry. Of course, the obligatory security personnel opened the door for us (the ladies in our entourage led), but it seemed the bankers had different ideas! Without trying to earn the irk of the whole industry, shall we just say; a scene developed where a lot of shoulder-barging and shoving took up the next minute or so. In the end, the ladies wisely stepped aside for the marauding band of five executives(?).

This, for the observing eye, is not an isolated incident. The general social behaviour along with our moral compass, has unfortunately spun out of control and all you have left are a skeletal minority, who deem it fit to acknowledge the necessity of simple manners. Correct me if you believe I am wrong, but isn't it still the case that we all men still came out of a woman? Granted we have our traditional beliefs and our agreed place for the fairer sex, but as long as we embrace Western systems and attire, we might as well stretch to certain values and convince the world that we know 'what time it is'.

I could go on and on, giving you a legion examples to justify the topic of my latest moan, but I feel a word is always enough for the wise....this is my story....what is yours?

Friday, 13 February 2009

Ashes to Ashes...

I was involved in a heated conversation two weekends ago, where but for the introduction of some good old-fashioned tact, there could have been blood! The popping veins and raised decibels of the verbal pugilists displayed the passion felt about the controversial topic. Can anyone guess what the subject was? No, okay...I will help you.

It was simply; 'Does Barack Obama smoke?'

One never realises how much love people have for an individual until an area of contention emerges and the ever-ready grey cells get engaged in the mother of all arguments. There was actually a moment during the epic debate, where I literally feared that if I could not produce any evidence to back up my claim that the 'messiah' did smoke, I was in grave danger of not walking out of the bar with my dentition intact!

It seems discussions about the little stick can grow unexpectedly into passionate wrestling matches, as witnessed during the battle to ban indoor smoking in the United Kingdom and United States. Of course, naturally, the non-smokers won as no matter how much one loves dragging on the deadly weed, the overwhelming evidence that passive smoking is an extremely hazardous sport, destroyed any arguments about freeedom that the Smoking League had.

So, as the conversation petered out and the hostile voices became friendlier, I cautiously began another discussion regarding the banning of indoor public smoking in Nigeria for starters and probably Africa in the long run. I was surprised to find myself in a minority of one, arguing that the Federal government could pass the neccessary laws if it wanted to. Everyone, despite the fact we all complained bitterly that our clothes always stunk of tobacco after a night out drinking, seemed to think there was no political will to push through the legislation. A clearly sozzled friend was more indignant;

'How can you ban smoking indoors, when the President smokes like a chimney? All these governors, even the good ones like our dear Mr Fashola, smoke all day long!'

As you can imagine, I had no reply to that, neither did I want to re-ignite the Obama thing. I was tempted though, as a statement like; 'the President of the US smokes and that country has banned indoor public smoking,' would have been golden at that moment, but running the tip of my tongue around my dentition soon stopped that thought. But, the issue as comical as it might have appeared on tht fateful night, has a serious thread to it.

The effect of smoking on the African continent is to say the least, damaging. Unfortunately, the profits made by the likes of British American Tobacco means we are all involved in a long and brutal battle to limit the number of our brothers and sisters that we lose to the various forms of resulting cancer. In certain parts of Nigeria as all over Arica, there are smokers as young as 10! The idea is to get the youngsters into the habit of a lifetime and ensure eternal customers and profit.

This is my take on the issue. Even though it is obvious that banning indoor public smoking will not stop the habit dead in it's track, it has been shown that the numbers of smokers does get reduced with the ban, as witnessed in the countries where it has been effected. There is no possible harm in a starting a bandwagon to install a smoke-free ambience in our bars, restaurants and cinemas. It's what is generally known as a no brainer. The cleansed air also opens up those places for the safe habitation of children.

So, if you don't want to do it for those of us who are grown and long in the tooth, could you just consider it for the kids?

Thursday, 12 February 2009

Things will not Fall Apart!

I always reflect that the singular most significant thing my parents ever did in my life, was to send me to a diverse secondary school. Okay, I was the one who passed the exams (with flying colours of course!), but they could have chosen not to let me enjoy those laid back boarding schools days. Having said that though, my appreciation is not propelled by the amount of fun I had in secondary school, rather, it is borne in the fact that for the first time in my relatively short life, I was surrounded by members of every ethnic group Nigeia could muster.

I found myself in the laboratory of life where your conclusions are not shaped by the slightly askew uncle, brother, mother or father, but by cold, clear and clinical evidence, gathered by everyday living and rubbing shoulders with people who made up my majestic country.

As is the case all over Africa, I was brought up in a household where my elders innocently and casually made 'politically incorrect' statements about everyone who spoke a language separate from ours. The Hausas were uneducated dunces, the Igbos could not be trusted and the average Mid-westerner was steeped in an ancestry of armed robbery. We, the Yorubas, as you would expect were perfect, but suffered from being apparently held back by our parasitical tribal neighbours. Nothing was ever our fault and Nigerian history, at least through our myopic eyes showed how we never took the wrong turn....yeah...right! Anyway, back to my school.

FGCL as we fondly called it, was one hell of a melting pot. In the year of 77, we had students from every state of the country. Yes, all 19 states! I was surrounded with the likes of Emeka Chikelu, Odaro Omonuwa, John Kpanabo, Emmanuel Madaki, Winston Onoja, and so on and so forth. For the first time, I could make up my mind on what traits 'other' Nigerians had, without the unrequested colourful advice which my kinsmen were always quick to provide. It was an eye-opening experience!

The Hausas turned out to be quite clever people with a penchant for hanging together and keeping their unit very tight. The Igbos were wiser than their young ages and always did well in school, also, they never broke their word and always had your back. The folks from Bendel were honest, intelligent, dogged and extremely sociable. I was living in the real Project Nigeria and all the tribal negativity was not holding up. All I found were fellow students sharing stories of how their folks had also fed them tales of the conceited Yorubas, who were never to be trusted. It all began to sound like a broken record!

Here's the thing......there are no reasons for Nigerian ethnic groups to hate each other, nor do they have any evidence to remain disunited and at each other's necks. The British have left now and the colonial days of 'divide and rule' are long gone(see their map above). The Yorubas should not condemn the Igbos as money loving Jews who can kill their relatives for money, the Igbos should desist from that age old campaign of blaming the Yorubas for their unsuccessful bid for seccession and the Hausas should not be complaining, full stop. Without sounding like an Obama clone, we all should realise that together, rather than apart, is where our strength lies.

It is time to erase the false lines we have drawn around ourselves and begin to see the potential in working for the same thing. If an Igbo president is to emerge by 2015 (that's my prediction), then Igbos have to embrace the Yoruba and Hausas, without whom that eventuality will never see the light of day. We all have to work towards that unity, so we can have a reversal of the wonderful poem that graces the beginning of Chinua Achebe's classic;

'The falcon will hear the falconer.
Things will not fall apart, the centre will hold.
Mere Anarchy will not be loose upon the world.'

Some might call me a dreamer, but did you ever for one minute think we would one day  have a black man at 1600 Pennsylvania? Well then...

Tuesday, 10 February 2009

The Return of Walter Rodney

If a picture ever spoke a thousand words, then I guess the image above has been nattering away for quite some time now. I do not want to lead anyone into any conclusions, but I guess that would have been a futile exercise, as everything you can see in this Kodak moment speaks for itself.

As the primitive quest for wealth acquisition sullies the land of our forefathers, Nigerians, unlike any other people in the world seem to be suffering from a severe case of historical amnesia. We seem determined to recreate a time when we bowed and scraped to a fair-skinned 'master' race, whom we connived to decorate with baseless awe.

The recent advent of the Chinese to our shores have left us divided into two camps; those who believe it is a good thing and those who do not. Granted, if we cannot develop our own infrastructure to guarantee our people a reasonable level of existence, we might as well bring someone else in to have a go. The issue here though, is whether the so-called imported experts are actually helping the local economy and spreading the proceeds around.

Having lived for over two decades in the West, I have observed a disturbing trend amongst the Chinese communities, when it comes to their economic relationship with their Black neighbours. I am open to correction here, but can anyone tell me when they have ever seen Chinese consumers patronising Black businesses. Okay, I know our businesses are not as widespread or even as robust as theirs, but believe me when I tell you that the non-patronage of our businesses is a conscious cultural behaviour. Most might baulk at this, and I am aware it is a hard pill to swallow, but I seriously doubt if Chinese people even see us as human.

Our economic soirees with them will only end in pain, as they will always extract more out of us than we out of them. It is no coincidence that when the Chinese do business with you in far-flung Africa, they bring every item under the sun with them, even the water they drink! They refuse to engage the local community and always ensure they suck the host environment dry! It's just like when you visit one of their restaurants, where you go in and are treated with clinical, but distant service, spend a lot of money and you find yourself starving a few hours later.

I have never felt comfort with the way Nigerian administrators run our country, but that discomfort is severely extended when we take an already malnourished country and put it's resources in the hands of bloodsuckers. Yes, my language is harsh and my logic untested, but I am guided by pure human instinct. Afterall, no matter how propsperous Nigeria becomes and no matter how many contracts the Chinese decide to give us in their country (as unforeseeable as this might seem), I cannot see a day when the image above will be reversed.It is time for us to shed our 'colonial complex' and fully comprehend that there is a good reason why Asians are adept in the business of 'takeaways'.

My fervent prayer is that we collectively realise our precarious situation before it is too late. Otherwise, our children's generation will have their own classic; 'How China underdeveloped Africa'.

A word is enough for the wise......

Monday, 9 February 2009

Let there be Light!

As a recent convert to the 'I believe in Nigeria' religion currently enveloping thousands within the global Diaspora community, I cannot escape the scourge of that one thing we all believe will move our sleeping giant of a country to the next level.

The issue of electricity in Nigeria is fast becoming a cringe-inducing pain in everyone's proverbial backside! How does one defend the darkness thrust upon the nation by a selfish cabal, who apparently prosper more in our opaque blanket of misery? What would be one's proud rostrum to stand upon in an international debate, when we falsely proclaim our inflated status whilst the cities of our 41 year old country are festooned by noise pollution generated by imported diesel and petrol robots, that share our gardens with the bicycles of the young generation?

The alarming thing of course is this; if the likes of IBB and OBJ, who clearly know the country inside out, cannot install a new age of constant electric supply, what hope does UYD have? Also, never mind giving us light, but can the people responsible for fulfilling this requirement please enlighten us on their challenges? I would like to believe the 'a problem shared is a problem halved' theory also applies to things Nigerian. Right now, Nigerians just want this one issue resolved, even if it is all this government does!

We are waiting.......