Tuesday, 27 August 2013

Open Letter to David Cameron

Dear David,

I am writing to you in the wake of the ongoing dilemma called Syria and hoping you will heed to some of the advice you will find in the following paragraphs.

Let me start by laying my cards on the table. I have never run anything in my life, talk less of running a government or being one of the most powerful individuals in the world. I am just a keen observer of world affairs and a keener follower of the history of the Middle East, who sits on the sidelines and watches our leaders fumble through crisis after crisis.

Clearly, you have an endless list of advisers who are far more qualified than myself and as such, would hopefully guide you with wisdom this issue demands, but if the totality of their advice is for the UK to get involved in Syria militarily, then I have to say they are wrong.

Syria, like most countries in the Middle East and North Africa, is a country most Westerners do not understand and consequently, when we interfere in their business, we often come out worse off than when we went in. Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya are three examples of political open sores we are yet to effectively heal, but somehow it appears the lesson is never learnt.

The issue isn't whether we are obliged to go into these countries, the issue is we have shown time after time, we do not possess the guile to draw up an exit strategy when the time to leave arrives. Like a bumbling 'good' Samaritan who wants to stand up to the schoolyard bully, we rush in and end up with more than egg on our faces and yet we attempt to conjure up a story for the electorate, of how we are mandated to keep the peace in cultures we clearly do not understand.

Let's take Libya as an example.

For all the hue and cry rained down on us by you and other world leaders, Libya today is as bad as Syria. There are lawless individuals still toting around with enough arms to destabilise a small country and the peace we have brought to that land is a tenuous as the relationship we had with Qaddafi. If Libya's payback for kicking out the much reviled statesman, was to murder the US ambassador, then it is only a matter of time before the powder keg they precariously sit on, takes the whole place apart. Once the media leaves Damascus behind, I will not be surprised if the next stop is Benghazi.

I am not predicting this woe because I am a naysayer, rather, I am just recounting the pattern we see continuously before us. As a leader in the so-called free world, I am sure you see these things too, but it seems there are other behind-the-scene factors which are dictating the path your government intends to go down.

The current atrocities in Syria are heinous and barbaric, but how can we tell the reality on ground? Who do we know has used what weapons in such an opaque war? How do we know it was the Syrian government who ordered the shooting at UN Inspectors? How do we know categorically the rebels haven't used chemical weapons? How is it our Foreign Secretary is already calling out the Assad government on these crimes, when the inspectors haven't concluded their investigations? How can we expect the Syrian government to see us as neutral? Could there be other reasons why we are so keen to get involved? Are the exertions of Shell in the Syrian landscape a pointer to facts minnows like myself are not privy to? Where is the proof that previous interventions in this volatile region has ever ended well and worthy of getting involved in?

I am aware there will be dissenting voices (albeit in the minority) like mine amongst your advisers and I am 100% sure the hawks are doing all they can to get you committing the UK troops to this war, but at least unlike your predecessor (once removed), you cannot say no one told you otherwise. This letter is in the public arena now and will stand as a stick to beat you with, post your misadventure in Assad's playground.

In conclusion, I wish you good luck in all you do. The responsibilities of being at the helm of affairs of such a powerful country must be overwhelming. I am aware people like me only know 20% of the story and as such, I will accede to your superior position, but I pray you do not get so blinded-sided that you start to believe this is your moment to crystallise your legacy. For this is not your moment. And always remember...in the end, all leaders fail, but history is kinder on the leaders who possess clarity and do not attempt to hoodwink their people.


Kanmi Iyanda

P.S - I hear Tony Blair has asked for you to intervene asap...well, if that doesn't dissuade you from what is clearly political harakiri, nothing will.

Sunday, 25 August 2013

Flying Foreign Colours - A Nigerian Casestudy.

An English friend once told me of his ‘out of body’ experience drinking Nigerian Guinness and watching a live Premiership game in his Lagos hotel. 

He appeared perpetually bemused as he recounted his experiences whilst we ironically shared some bottles of the black stuff (made in Oba Akran, of course!!) at a Nigerian restaurant in London whilst we watched…..you’ve guessed it……another live Premiership game. 

He had been to Nigeria three times in one year and quite naturally, it had altered his world view and coloured his thought process. 

“I just couldn’t believe how fervent the support for the English clubs was,” he screeched. 

“That is Nigerians for you, we don’t do things by half,” I replied with a shrug and a knowing smile.

“You can say that again. Even the support for sports at the younger levels is phenomenal. Under 17 and 21 football is hardly viewed in the UK, but in Lagos, it was as if I was watching the World cup. Simply unbelievable! Why do you think this is the case?”

I sipped my fresh pint, giving myself a cream moustache in the process. In truth I was buying time before replying to a question, for which I genuinely had no profound answer. Saying we are a passionate and sports-loving people, will obviously make sense, but in this politically correct age, it could also be deemed a subtle insult to my English host. 

I rested my pint on the table and cleaned off my now disintegrating moustache – this took another precious fifteen to twenty seconds. My host was at his English best, quietly restrained and patiently waiting for my answer. It was time to say something. 

“I think it is linked to our ability to find something we like; immerse ourselves in it and hold on without restraint,” I answered feebly, as I took another gulp of my drink.

My friend picked up his glass as I lowered mine, all the time wearing an unfulfilled face. He clearly had other ideas.

“Maybe you are right, afterall you are Nigerian and I am not, evidently. But I truly believe it extends further than the reasons you just articulated. I think it’s a spiritual thing and I am convinced people who have a high degree of belief in God, have a corresponding fervency in their chosen sports. Do you remember the worldwide Religious Belief poll conducted a few years ago? I am not sure now if it was the BBC or TIME magazine, but in any case; I think it was Nigeria and Poland that led the way. Have you ever seen a football game in Poland?  It’s an experience let me tell you.”

I was about to reply, when I noticed the closest table to us had a group of Arsenal fans, all donning their red and whites. They had somehow run out of things to say and had come to the decision that our conversation was worth joining. The chubby one with a goalkeeper’s frame was the first to speak.

“Igwe, e be like say your oyibo boy get point. Nobody fit worship reach Naija. Even some of my oyibo colleagues at work no dey believe the passion we bring to the table.”

An equally huge, but fitter member of the group was not so willing to jump on the bandwagon.
“What has God got to do with football? I think the answer is much simpler; Nigerians like to outdo each other. So once we like something, it is our moral duty to prove we are better at doing that thing than the next man. Shikena! It is not complicated at all.”

My friend moved to reply, but I was quick enough to nudge him into silence. He resorted to raising his hand to generously order drinks for both tables. The discussion was now gathering momentum and we had consensually joined both tables, physically and otherwise. I had a quick glance around and realised we were now the focal point of the room. 

I looked across at my friend and all I saw was a confidently relaxed person, who displayed none of those ruffles foreigners manifest, when discussions amongst Nigerians go from Heated to Ogbona Feli Feli! He was clearly in his element; he had started a discussion which contained all the juicy bits of life…..God, religion, sports, colonialism (apparently, the EPL is another instrument of English cultural domination), colonial mentality (someone from another table accused us of loving English things more than our own).

One of the Arsenal fans actually thought it had more to do with the fact Nigerians more than any other people; appreciated hard work, talent and the resulting beautiful expression when both things come together. 

Nigerian Billboard announcing the imminent arrival of the Arsenal team.
An hour later and nearly everyone including the restaurant owner had joined in (to the annoyance of her boyfriend who sat stone-faced in the corner), but it seemed we were still far away from agreement. Seconds turned into minutes and then into another hour before we decided to courteously announce our departure. 

Somehow, the initial stirring had now turned into a full sandstorm, which had degenerated into pockets of verbal combatants who had now decided the consensus of table arrangement was a thing of the past. The majority of those pockets were now arguing about who were the most passionate Premiership fans in London and judging by the animated state of the restaurant owner, this was not going end any time soon.

“Once my friends leave, can you roll down those shutters,” she shouted to one of her staff.

My friend and I exchanged the customary farewell handshakes. He succeeded in amusing everyone with his ability to click fingers with ease. The young guy, the one charged with closing the shutters, followed us out and waved goodbye with a few words.  

“That’s how it is here every weekend! Drogba this, Osaze that. The players don’t even care about these people and they will never receive cheques for their support. Na wa o!”

A few minutes on the roadside and our taxi pulled up. The driver, a seemingly meek man (who just so happened to be Nigerian) had only been driving for a minute when he suddenly exploded.

“I am sorry sirs, but my blood is still boiling. Can you believe this Arsene Wenger man? We are talking about winning trophies, he is talking about development! How can you develop when you never win any cups? How can you progress when we don't buy players? Premiership, zero! FA Cup, zero! European cup, nothing! Carling Cup sef e no fit win. Abeggi, please return to France and let Klopp come and do the job!”

My friend and I exchanged glances, both nodding at the driver. 

We had to…...we didn’t need an agitated person at the wheel. Besides, he had turned his neck almost 360 degrees to start the conversation with us. 

Swift agreement was the fastest way to avoid a death ride.

Friday, 9 August 2013

A Beautiful Thing....

Every detail had been arranged to perfection. The restaurant, the seats, the suit I had on and the Mariachi band waiting in the wings. I delivered my sure-fire compliment designed to hit the proverbial spot, as I pulled back her seat.

“Thank you, but can I start by saying I cannot be the most beautiful woman you have ever seen,” she said looking quite unimpressed as she sat down.

I gulped my red wine nervously and realised quite quickly I was being thrown a curved ball much earlier than I had expected. All the mock trials had not prepared me for this segue. My insecurities began to line up, impatiently determined not to wait for their starting orders and if the truth were to be told, I could already see the finish line in sight.

As trickles of sweat ran down from my armpits, she calmly continued.

“I hope I haven’t burst your bubble, it’s just I have had a few of these blind dates and guys do come out with ridiculous things off the bat. No woman wants all the pressure of being the most beautiful female you have ever seen, because most women know they are not that beautiful. Maybe sexy, maybe alluring, maybe even, attractive, but never beautiful….it is what we aspire to be, and the wise women out there are aware, it is somewhat of an elusive standard.”

I blew out my cheeks and nodded timidly as she continued.

“Besides, I find it difficult to comprehend how one could call another person beautiful, without actually knowing them personally. Beauty like ugliness is an inside-out quality. It cannot be assessed solely on aesthetics. You understand?”

It took me a few seconds to realise it was my turn to speak.  Clearly, I was far more comfortable if she had kept on educating me. You know what it’s like when someone says profound things you hadn't even began to imagine. They sound so refreshing and clever, making you feel so dated and stupid.

I had been warned of this new generation of women, unafraid to lay out their insightful thoughts, but I had naively yearned for an easy ride. Oh pride...how deftly you come before a fall.

So, on top of all the discomfort I was already feeling, I was now under the self-manufactured fear of uttering something completely unwise. And you know what they say about fear of failure, how it makes you do or say very silly things. Well….

“In truth, maybe I should not have used the word beautiful, but I couldn’t use the word ugly either. I mean, you are not that ugly, so it would have inappropriate to use any other word, but beautiful.”

Why I said it, I would never know, but it was clear at that juncture, the only inappropriate thing at the table was me! Let’s be frank, I could have said something about requiring the gents or asked about her likes and dislikes, but nerves have a weird way of numbing your confidence and grey cells in one swift swoop.

The slow shake of her head and incessant drumming with her French-manicured nails on the pristinely laid table, signalled the end of the shortest date in history, so I did my best to pick up what was left of my prostrate dignity.

As I beckoned the waitress over, I knew some sort of damage control was also appropriate to save face, so I gave her the biggest tip of my dating career.

She smiled brightly at both of us and whispered;

“Thank you. You make such a beautiful couple.”

Saturday, 3 August 2013

Yerima for President!

Yes, I said it and I have no intention to retract. After all, we are referring to a country called Nigeria.

So, now that you have succeeded in not choking on your breakfast, lunch or dinner, we can continue the necessary discourse on the plight of our dear giant of Africa. A country (or shall I say an enterprise) that has surely lost its way in a self-created maze of gluttony, lunacy and egocentricity.

To be frank, I have found the ensuing fallout of the Senate’s grisly decision to effectively legalise child marriage, very interesting. I have come to realise how little many of us know of our constitution. I have also come to acknowledge that many people do not even have a clear comprehension of Section 29. The reality is nothing has really changed. The Senate wanted to delete a subsection which has now been retained in the face of the Yerima-backed campaign. In other words, like always, Yerima fought his corner and won!

The offending subsection states:

‘…any woman who is married shall be deemed to be of full age’

In any case, as per expectation, Nigerians from all corners of the world have blustered and ranted their protestations via various social media outlets. Seldom have we had a burning issue that has had the powers that be, shifting uneasily in a country where the elite’s disdain for the man on the street is palpable to say the least.

We have had David Mark, the Senate president, appealing to us and stating it was a case of political blackmail (???!)….we have had the odd senator crying out and telling us they more or less harangued into casting a blind-sided vote. The excuses, like those of an errant child have been rapid, but invariably impotent. The truth is these guys don’t know what they are doing and a forensic examination of their limp individual qualification for the seat they occupy, would ultimately tell you why this is not a surprise. We are in effect, a rudderless nation.

Of course, in these volatile type of situations, the political commentators from all manners of penmanship are always a source of common-sense and measure. In the midst of the loud silence from your Buharis, Ribadus, Obasanjos,  Rufais, Mr President and their other cohorts, it has fallen to a spattering of people to voice the indignation felt to the very core of our people’s psyche.

The brilliant Gimba Kakanda and the stoic Maryam Uwais have been the stand-out contributors in my humble opinion.

Gimba’s witty observations and vitriolic rejection of the indefensible has been incessant, honest and without prejudice.  In his withering piece ‘Rumble in the North,’ he delivered this gem:

“In our rash of debates, we failed to highlight that Yarima, who married an underage Egyptian, couldn’t do so in the bride’s country because the law there has outlawed child marriage. And Egypt is over 80 % Muslim!”

And therein lies the poison in this current discourse. Whilst the likes of Saudi Arabia are working frantically to increase the legal age of young brides, Yerima and his colleagues are attempting to introduce a new brand of Islam to us in total contravention of where every other nation with an Islamic slant are heading.

But then can you really blame him?

Here is man who successfully implemented Sharia Law in Zamfara State in 2000, even though we are telling the world we are a secular country! Here is a man who in 2003 married a thirteen-year old, without so much as a whimper from the observing masses. He successfully defended himself against a possible legal reprimand of marrying an underage girl, arguing that under Article 61 Second Schedule of the Nigerian Constitution, the Nigerian Government has no power to legislate on “marriages under Islamic law and Customary law including matrimonial causes relating thereto”, meaning that he had no legal case to answer. He insisted he had not dishonoured sharia:

"History tells us that Prophet Muhammad did marry a young girl as well. Therefore I have not contravened any law." 

Here is a man who subsequently (four years later) put his name forward to be the ANPP candidate for the 2007 presidential election and won backing from the Christian Alliance! In case you are missing my logical direction here, in brief, here is a man who doesn’t give two figs what any of you thinks.

But then why should he?

He has already explained his thinking to us in a rebuttal of all the flak he has been catching in the wake of the Senate vote.  In brief, he believes worse things are happening in the lives of underage girls on a daily basis in Nigeria.

In the cold light of day, you cannot really blame this type of individual. He, like his many colleagues who make up our elite, is well aware that Nigerians are a reactive people and as such always build their gates after the horse has bolted. The elite know we are not a strong people. The elite know our barks are far worse than our bites and as such will continue to visit all manner of crap on us, until we tell them ‘enough is enough’ and even when we do begin to say this, they will still defecate on us for good measure. It’s not called bad leadership for nothing.

To be frank, are we really surprised by the ‘crap in, crap out’ legislation that we have in Nigeria?

When our brightest and most distinguished have veered into the domestic private sector and the rest, deserted the country and cocooned themselves away in Western Suburbia, what is it we are expecting from this group of brigands and intellectually-bereft individuals? You cannot produce precious metals from spurious material and until we begin to realise any change in our laws affect affects us all, irrespective of foreign domiciles (now that immigration services in the West are doing spot checks!) or domestic sectors, we will not witness any significant fortunes in our poor state of affairs.

Say what you will about our founding fathers, do you see anyone in our current political class who can be described in the same vein as say; Ahmadu Bello, Tafawa Balewa, Nnamdi Azikwe or Obafemi Awolowo?

And for those who may feel my comparative analysis is flawed, shall I go down to the next level and ask if we can find anyone today who we can compare to the likes of Aminu Kano, Louis Mbanefo, Samuel Akintola and many more of that hue?

Nigerians keep forgetting that irrespective of whether the likes of Obama visit us or not, we are still the forerunners of the black race…..it is not a case of whether we want to embrace the leadership position, it is actually incumbent on us to do so. Those accustomed to my musings, can confirm my rantings on the fact that Nigerians represent 1 in every 5 black people on earth. That ratio could even increase if we began to check results of extensive global DNA tests, which have confirmed the likes of Oprah and Forrest Whitaker are of Nigerian extraction!

 We have the talent, the guile and the numbers. But crucially, we lack the most important ingredient of all…..courage.

We have become a shadow of ourselves and a foot-mat for anyone interested in trampling all over us. Our fight is gone and our collective pride ground into dust. We are like that failed patriarch, unaware of their pariah status, still rambling of our golden days whilst the reality of today’s emptiness evades our deluded mind. We love to sleepwalk our way into crisis, whilst we profess alertness. Boko Haram's stranglehold was a situation that many Nigerians told me would never happen.....sometimes, I still have the post-traumatic stress disorder of being derided publicly when I dared to inform some of my resident Naija friends of my fears. We seem to be completely comatose!

Why else would the likes of Rotimi Amaechi doubt our passion?

So yes, in line with the title of this piece, I believe very soon we will start to see Yerima’s posters accentuating his presidential ambitions. It shouldn’t really surprise you; we all know he has those ambitions anyway. In truth, if the likes of Diepreye Alamieyeseigha can have the chutzpah to distribute posters informing us of their senatorial ambitions, what can really stop Yerima? The 'good and great' will definitely pitch their tent with him and he could actually win. And pleaaasseeee don't do that Nigerian thing and tell me it can never happen!

Say what you will about the man, at least he has not been convicted of any form of corruption.

So yes, Long live Nigeria…..the valium-laden giant who welcomes all forms of deviants. Long live Nigeria….the country where talented youth is shunned in favour of the same old political class. Long live Nigeria….the paradise for those who refuse to learn from history.

Long live Nigeria……and long live President Yerima!