Saturday, 12 October 2013

Afriyie's Stab in the Dark...

So, some Tories are out to get David Cameron and replace the Prime Minister with, wait for it....Windsor MP, Adam Afriyie.

And? I hear you ask.

Maybe, I should spell the name for clarity; A-F-R-I-Y-I-E. No? Nothing? Oh well, since you are going to be a spoilsport, I better let you in on the secret....he is black.

Try not to choke on your cornflakes, this is 2013 Britain....our heroes come in a variant of shades. The last Olympics ensured this would be the case for a long time to come.

Adam, a guy who is very much his own man, actually describes himself as 'post-racial not black'. Son of a Ghanaian father and a British mother, Adam is probably one of those mixed-race people like Tiger Woods, who detest people referring to them as black. To be fair, I suppose it's only fair that the 50-50 blood is acknowledged. We wouldn't call mixed-race people white, so why call them black, right?

Well, it is a free world and I don't really care what Mr Afriyie calls himself, as long as he does not try to introduce us to another word like 'Caubliasian' (this was Tiger's gift to us during one of his Oprah confessionals!). To the uninitiated, that stands for Caucasian, Black and Asian.

Back to the matter at hand.

It appears the rumblings within the Tory party has refused to go away, especially around the contentious issue of the referendum on Europe. David Cameron in his infinite wisdom has already made this an election issue, by saying if he were to return to Downing Street in a Conservative victory in 2015, we would have the referendum by 2017. This and a relatively successful party conference has obviously not doused the blue fires.

Enter  some Conservative backbenchers (that's another word for bitter people who have no influence within their ruling party), who have got together and decided to truncate Cameron's time at the top. This group apparently, believes Mr Afriyie is the Tory Obama....the very type of character they can utilise to diffuse Labour's possible attempt to spring Chuka Umunna into Number 10.

Or is that just my naive political instincts driving me to the wrong conclusions? Well, I cannot speak for all, but to my mind, surely the future is neither black nor white, rather it is definitely leaning towards a wonderful blend. A blend that brings us to together and one that is bound to bring a tear to Sir Trevor Mcdonald eyes, as his trembling voice announces our 'Obama' moment.

But seriously, the truth remains everybody wants to be cool and every party wants to reverse their currently dwindling political fortunes. Post-racial is the place to be. Talking of fortunes, it turns out Adam is a self-made man with £100 Million dangling in his back pocket! I don't know about you, but I think he will fit in snugly in our 80% millionaire cabinet.

Clearly, for him to take that leap, he has decided to be a constant pain in his leader's side. Words like backstabbing, treacherous and perfidious, must be doing the rounds in the corridors of Whitehall. Of course one of the most precarious acts you can undertake in politics, is putting one's head above the parapet. Note to up on your Heseltine history.

Adam Afriyie and the missus

Saying all that Mr Afriyie, I do wish you luck sir with your 'leadership' plot.  I hope you are not the sacrificial lamb to be offered to High Priest Cameron. Politics is a complicated web of intrigues and underhandedness. From what I have seen so far, you are a micro-organism in a pool of sharks. I fear you will be torn apart.

With 140 of your 147 Tory parliamentary colleagues leaving you stranded on your Ego Island, I bet the end is definitely nigh. But why should you care, right? You are still young, rich and black (sorry, post-racial).

So much as I would like to see you become the British Obama, I would rather place my chips on Chuka Umunna, Labour MP for Streatham.

Nothing personal, I just want Nigeria to pip Ghana to the Downing Street finishing line...major bragging rights bro...major!

Thursday, 10 October 2013

A Man For all Seasons

It will be disingenuous to begin this piece without accepting an indubitable fact - Death is indeed a natural part of life.

Aside from being born, the only other certainty in life is the reality that you will one day...die.

Having said that, it is also a fact human beings will eternally struggle with the concept of that final breath leaving the body. It is an inherent trait of the Homosapien to search frantically for the ability to control everything around us. So our discomfort is palpable when something continuously outwits us.

This ensuing frustration is what leads most of us to attach what we see as cogent reasons to inexplicable (and explicable) expirations. We attach such negativity to death, forgetting that in reality, it is nothing but the continuum of the circle of life. No one escapes it.

As I write this, it has been seven days since the tragic plane crash in Lagos, Nigeria. That crash, of a small chartered plane, turned out to be responsible for a catastrophe of massive proportions. Not only did it claim the majority of the lives on-board, it also managed to wipe out two generations and visit jarring grief on aged parents, siblings, spouses and children alike.

I lost a friend in that flight. He would have been 43 years old yesterday. He was a vibrant, witty and cerebral individual. Whenever I went back home to Nigeria, I always hoped I would run into him….not because I yearned to socialise or hobnob with him, but more for the fact that he was a gifted raconteur. And boy, did he have stories to tell for days.

Deji Falae was the person responsible for my favourite political story of all time. I loved the story so much, I have since regurgitated it close to a hundred times, but somehow never nailing it in that brilliant way Deji always did. I wish I had been closer to him; perhaps I could have done a better job with that story.

Here was a young man who managed to live what I would consider a relatively simple life, when in truth; he could have done the exact opposite. Nigeria is a place where people will brazenly live off the name of their distant influential relatives and do quite well in the process, so when you come across someone who people have to keep asking to confirm if indeed, they were the child of a popular politician, you slowly come to realise you are indeed in the company of a truly humble soul.

Enter the dark-cloaked, scythe-wielding embodiment of death:  the one we all know, but are rarely prepared for. The routine, creepily the same….as it came for one of us, hourglass in hand, waiting for the last particle of sand to drop. The result was swift, brutal and invariably has left us with numbing grief.

The Grim Reaper, unlike the person it has taken from us, is not our friend or ally. Its only duty is to leave us in no doubt of its fatal mission. It lacks compassion and in true form, during the period between that plane crash and today, it has taken more loved ones from people we all know. It leaves us sufficiently weary.

This is what must have led the late English playwright, Robert Bolt, to conclude:

Even at our birth, death does but stand aside a little. And every day he looks towards us and muses somewhat to himself whether that day or the next he will draw nigh.

The Grim Reaper drew uncomfortably nigh that Wednesday morning and the task was clear…it wants us to be caught unawares and stew in sorrow. It wants to stand aside and watch us perpetually shed hot, unplanned tears. Our pain is its joy and our anguish, its ecstasy.  This is the crowning piece in its grand intimidating design.

But on this occasion, we should not let it get its way. Even in these impossibly sad times, we should take a collective deep breath and learn to celebrate Deji’s life. As we offer our deep condolences to his parents, siblings, his wife, Ese and their children, we should remember the good times and sustain them with wonderful memories of his loving ways.

Yes, we could huddle and share our angst as we bitterly wonder why Deji took that flight. We could question the wisdom of flying alongside a coffin or the irony of how someone who wasn't the biggest fan of flying ended up on such an ill-fated flight. We could do all those things, but it would not ease the pain. 

What we should do is celebrate the legacy he left behind in his role as a son, father, husband, brother, friend and exemplary servant of his state and country. We need to gather around those left behind whenever we are chanced and tell joyful stories about Deji and not let death dictate how we remember this gem of a man.

This is how we can ensure he lives in our hearts forever.  For if we keep his memory alive, in essence…..he will never be away from us. We shouldn't fret that a part of us dies when a special loved one passes away, we should celebrate that a part of us lives with our loved ones on the other side.

We must take refuge in the biblical verse given to me when I tragically lost my younger sister five years ago:

John 14:1-4:

”Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. And you know the way to where I am going.”

Happy Birthday and Rest in Peace Deji.

Monday, 7 October 2013

Parental Advice - Nigerian Style

Maybe it's the Nigerian in me, but when it comes to my parents, any insult, intentional or otherwise, will always be met with forceful brimstone and years of grudge-holding. And yes, my father has been dead for 13 years. Nigerians are just like that.
We may share many things with Black Americans, but it doesn't extend to the 'yo mama' thing. In fact, I know many people who still nurse injuries visited upon them decades ago for forgetting that fact.
With that introduction out of the way, you can just imagine how the Daily Mail/ Ed Miliband war of words is playing out in Nigerian homes across the UK. If you don't have a friend of Nigerian background, get one quick and enjoy our unique views on unreserved parental reverence. You can thank me later.
So, what exactly did the UK's 2nd best-selling newspaper say and why is the leader of the UK's most popular party (if you believe the pools) so irate?
In the spirit of brevity, here's the condensed version:
The Daily Mail, in the wake of Ed Miliband's speech at the Labour Party conference, published an article entitled 'The Man Who Hated Britain,' in which the paper honed in on the Marxist beliefs of Ralph Miliband, Ed's father. In that piece, they contended Miliband Snr nursed anti-British sentiments which could have influenced his son and as such ".....should disturb everyone who loves this country".
As if that wasn't enough, just for added vitriolic relish, they included a picture of Miliband Snr's grave with the caption, 'Grave Socialist'.
Clearly, the Milibands were not going to have this depiction of their late father stick. Ed managed to get a 'right to reply' which in turn was cynically neutralised by the paper's re-assertion of their story in the same edition! It became clear there was no concession from the paper and the war of words ignited into a free-for-all.
Alastair Campbell, Tony Blair's erstwhile enforcer and sworn enemy of the paper got into the ring with impressive gusto, as he took the paper's position apart and savaged the paper's deputy editor, Jon Steafel, on Newsnight. In case you live under a rock, here's the evidence.
Unsettling as that verbal execution was, one could almost say it was well deserved. Although, you couldn't help but wonder if Mr Campbell was morally positioned to do the hatchet job. His bully-boy vocals whilst accusing the paper of bully-boy tactics, wasn't exactly a golden moment.
Personally, an execution delivered by Mehdi Hassan is more my style. Low-key, incessant, witty and ultimately destructive. His BBC Question Time savaging of the Daily Mail was a class act.
But getting back to the paper's accusations. Ralph Miliband was a 17 year old who said things which underlined his conflicts at the time. He went on to serve the country and laid his life on the line. Yes, he was a confessed Marxist and yes he hoped the Britain lost the Falklands War, but I am not aware of these sentiments being crimes.
Anyone who thinks our armed forces is full of people who love everything the UK does, needs medication. Furthermore, anyone who reads the article and genuinely comes to the conclusion that Miliband Snr did indeed hate Britain....well, they need the whole medicine cabinet.
Yes, ironically, Ed Miliband would want a 17 year old to get the vote, so I guess there will be those like myself asking why we should then disregard the views of someone that age. But at the same time, I am prepared to wager there are civilians and members of the armed forces (of all ages) who have said worse things. And I am doubly sure they still continue to root and fight for this country.
Civilians and Soldiers alike are not robots, consequently, they sometimes feel frustrated, but it doesn't diminish their patriotism.
Interestingly, as the row went into overdrive, The Telegraph newspaper, in a subtle rebuke to their 'noisy cousin' reprinted their 1994 obituary of Professor Ralph Miliband, in which they described him as a balanced socialist, leading many on social media to praise the right-wing paper, whilst continuing to pummel the Daily Mail.
The Telegraph's move was delivered with so much class, it reminded me of how the Tories deliver the same messages UKIP struggle to impart into the national psyche and in the process, manage to steal some borderline supporters.
In any case, in the preparation for this post, I suddenly felt an overwhelming urge to eat some Nigerian food. Perhaps my writing about Nigeria had made me nostalgic and only a meal of pounded yam and egusi stew could douse the flames. I contemplated on the best venue.
Whilst deliberating, I received a call from my Sarah, my English friend who loved all things politics and even more so, foreign food. She had pestered me earlier in the year about wanting to try Nigerian cuisine. I decided to invite her to the 805 restaurant in London. It was going to be the blogger's holy grail: food, chat and booze.
Once at the venue, I quickly brought her up to speed on my project and how I came to the restaurant for inspiration. As we chin-wagged and waited for our food, a long-lost older friend walked towards (without invitation) our table.
I quickly warned my friend this could be my opportunity to get that unique aforementioned Nigerian view. She swore herself to complete silence. Secretly, I was elated the older friend clearly wasn't capable of same.
He had gleamed my folded newspaper and went into full throttle.
"Can you imagine the disrespect? The man is dead and not here to defend himself."
"Margaret Thatcher is not here, but she got torn to shreds by some Labour people and Ed Miliband did not exactly slam them," I replied feebly.
"Is Thatcher the mother of the Daily Mail?"
"In a way, yes you can say that. She was someone they will claim they hold as dear as the Milibands' hold their father."
"What? Do you think you are white? Sometimes I think you have lived in this country too long! How can you say something that silly?"
I reassuringly nudged my friend under the table and prayed there would no further mention of race. Still, I had to continue with the conversation.
"This is what some Tories are saying. I'm just repeating...."
"Would the Tories have been happy if a newspaper came after Cameron's father? Please don't say anymore. I need to get a bottle of Guinness to erase the memory of your last statement."
I sighed heavily as I ordered his drink. It was my weak attempt at placation. Although, as he gulped down the contents of his glass, it became obvious it hadn't worked.
"What were the parents of the newspaper people doing when Ralph Miliband went to war for this country?"
"They were probably at war too, although I heard the editor's father, Peter Dacre, may have not gone as he was a journalist in London."
"A journalist? Jesus Christ of Nazareth! So he is questioning what someone else's father did, but his father avoided fighting for the country. You see where we are going wrong in this country?"
"But the editor is not contesting for the country's most powerful job?"
"Really? But he already has a very powerful job. Mark my words, I have lived in this country for a long time and it is my prediction the Daily Mail will apologise. Imagine this was back home, the editor will be in serious pain by now."
At that point, just to ensure my friend wasn't confused and had heard him correctly, I decided to drill further.
"You mean if I wrote same article about your father, you will come and hurt me?"
His answer came in form of a glaring stare. His erstwhile joviality was now a distant thing.
I could feel the sweat trickling down in my hidden places. Worse still, I could see my friend's increasing discomfort. I couldn't say for sure if it was the spice in the egusi stew or the intimidating stare. Either way, she had gone completely red in the face.
Either way, it was a relief when he lowered his stare and finished the contents of his drink.
"Thanks for the Guinness," he said menacingly as he left the table.
(This article is dedicated to the memory of my dear friend, Deji Falae, who lost his life in the October 3 Lagos air crash. May his gentle, witty soul rest in peace.)