Friday, March 27, 2009

Before that Sunday...

Quick plug here. I was alerted to the existence of a website, Naira Books. Given that I've had cause to complain about our poor reading habits as a people, I think this site is a very welcome development. Little drops of water make a mighty ocean, and this is definitely a step in the right direction. Quick points to note about the site though, methinks they should as a matter of urgency make arrangements with Interswitch and eTranzact to help with ease of payment. I had actually forgotten all about the Flash-me-cash thing, and somehow I doubt that it works too well. When I can get a more secure form of payment, the first thing I would order is Fred Forsyth's The Avenger. By the way guys, there's a lot more to novels than romance and thrillers. There's also room for Nigerian novels you know? I would be eternally grateful if y'all can source me with Cyprian Ekwensi's The Passport of Mallam Ilia. I think I should hit CMS Bookshop next time I'm in Lagos...

Before that Sunday...

Yesternight I had drinks with some guys including a recalcitrant lawyer. As is the norm with a lot of conversations when Nigerian males and lots of beer is involved, the topic of the conversation drifted towards football. Not of the club variety this time (and I am sick of the way we follow clubs in Europe in this country), but of the national team variety. Two of the geezers gathered around me stated quite clearly that they don't want the Eagles to be at the next World Cup. I am still in shock.

Their reasons for not wanting us to qualify are quite sound I must say. And mainly have to do with the (lack of) organisation at the Nigeria Football Federation. They feel that not qualifying for the World Cup would be a shock to the system of Nigerians such that we would begin to question the NFF and a true reorganisation would occur in the Glass House.

I think they are wrong, and I think they are throwing the baby out with the bath water. Every body and his mother knows that the NFF is the most disorganised of all the 208 member football associations of FIFA. For starters, the NFF doesn't even have a website in 2009. The best place to get information about Nigerian football is on FIFA's website! Again, truth be told, the current leadership of the Football house in Nigeria leaves more than a lot to be desired, and in my God-honest opinion, Sani Lulu is an idiot. We failed to make the 2006 World Cup, but did that change anything? The answer to that question is no and yes.

No, because the NFF is still as shambolic as ever, and in my honest opinion is not going to get any better in the near future. It is a total embarrassment that in this day and age, we still play our League football in Nigeria on bare pitches that health and safety regulations in the UK would absolutely prevent people from even taking a walk on. It is also very embarrassing that in this day and age, Globacom can bully the League in such a manner as to insist that everyone wears a Globacom branded jersey? Now try and imagine Barclays insisting that Bolton and Hull wear Barclays branded jerseys and sit back to watch the heavens fall. It is very true, the NFF is a total disgrace run by civil servants and crooks who are just out to make a quick buck. How else does one explain the recent theft of cash from a safe in the Glass House the day after it was approved for this same game we are playing in Sunday? It smacks of inside job, and I daresay that the money will not be recovered. What the NFF needs is to be handed over to Corporate Nigeria to be run for profit. Then sit back and watch our football grow...

Yes, in the most obvious manners. Prior to 2002, Nigeria's football was on the rise. This was most apparent in 1994 when only inexperience on the part of our players prevented us from knocking out eventual runners up Italy at USA '94. In 1996, there was absolutely no doubt that the Nigerian team would have won the Nations Cup had dictator Abacha let us go, but he did not and what happened next is history. In any event, we showed the world that we were a force by winning football gold at the Atlanta Olympics in that same year. An event that showcased the next generation of World football stars (Vieira, Pires, Wiltord, Cannavaro, Buffon and Nesta are all players who have gone on to win the World Cup, and I didn't even mention the Brazilians) . In 1998 in France, it was expected that Nigeria would do very well, and we did begin well with that famous victory against Spain. Overconfidence was our undoing when we fell to the Danes in Round 2. One of the positives that came out of France '98 was that arguably one of Nigeria's greatest ever footballers, Jay-Jay Okocha came out of the football wilderness based on his performances in that tournament. From a footballer's point of view, that is the value of a major international tournament besides the most obvious one of writing your name in the stars.

Our failure to qualify for Deutschland '06 was directly responsible for the fact that a lot of our players today play in mediocre clubs, and the players know this. Hence for the first time in a very long time, the complacency that became a disease in the Nigerian National Team space has been erased. Even perennial call up dodger John Mikel Obi is in camp with the rest of the squad. Yakubu Aiyegbeni has paid his own way to Maputo to cheer his team-mates along, and Joseph Yobo even though injured is there. That is what the World Cup means to them. That they were always there for camp during the first part of the qualifying series, and that we came away from that first section with maximum points shows the new found dedication on the part of the Nigerian player, and that is reason enough in my opinion for us to be at the World Cup.

But the truth is that the NFF's sad behaviour is symptomatic of public sector life in Nigeria. We indeed have a way of placing square pegs in round holes all the time. That however should not prevent the Eagles from being at the World Cup. UP EAGLES!!!

P.S: I am seriously rethinking my plan to attend the next World Cup. The fact that Lucky Dube's killers gave mistaken identity as a Nigerian as one of their reasons from murdering the poor fellow is scary as hell. Why should I spend my money in a country that condones killing someone simply because he is Nigerian?

Friday, March 20, 2009

Even the heavens wept

On October 7, 1967, a detachment of the Nigeria Army under the overall command of Colonel Murtala Mohammed massacred three generations of men from Asaba in present day Delta State. Some of the people who were present on that day survived the bullets. This is the story of the day as told by one of them...

“ Ku diba su goma goma, ku je chikin chan de chan, kwu yi aiki de su” in Hausa that means “ Take them in tens into those corners and work on”. These are words that will live with me for the rest of my life. It was then it dawned on the group of men and boys gathered that afternoon of October 7, 1967, in Ogbeosawa – about two thousand strong – surrounded by a detachment of the Nigeria Army carrying sub-machine guns, that by that pronouncement, we had all been condemned to death.

I was standing with my elder brother Emma at the edge of the crowd. He was holding my hand. I had always been Emma’s little brother, shared his bed with him every night until he died. Even onto death, he felt his duty was to protect me. Emma was the very first person to be dragged by the soldiers. As they took him, he let go my hand and pushed me further into the crowd. I saw Emma struggling with one of the soldiers and another one shot him from behind at point blank range. He fell to the ground with the blood from his back forming a pool around him. His shattered vertebrae exposed in the afternoon gloom, the first victim of the massacre that followed.

As soon as Emma fell, all hell broke loose. A good number of the men and boys on seeing the first death began to flee into the surrounding bushes, and the soldiers began firing. Many of those trying to flee were cut down as they fled. The rest of us fell to the ground in utter hopelessness. I lost count of time. The soldiers turned their guns on those of us lying on the ground and the staccato bursts of bullets continued into the late evening. To this day, I live with the smell of the blood of my brethren that died that day, with the cries of those of them who had lost hope and stood up and begged the soldiers to end it all. Maybe they were the ones who saved the lives of those of us who survived the slaughter, because as they begged to be killed and the soldiers obliged them they disrupted the flow of the massacre as the killers now concentrated on them.

Finally, the bullets stopped. The heavens opened up and a light shower came forth. Even the heavens wept for the victims of that holocaust. I thought everybody was dead.

Then, I began to hear voices – the cries of the injured struggling to live, the regrets of some who had their limbs battered and were in need of help. It seemed to me that I was the only one who came out unscathed. Lying close by was a cousin of mine who had a bullet hole on his head and the middle finger of his right hand was shattered. He was alive, and lives to this day. My father was lying not too far away. I did not know where the bullet hit him, his eyes were open as if he was staring at me, his favourite son, he was dead.

I could not get up and escape into the bush as soon as we knew the soldiers had gone because there was no way I could go without my cousin who was injured. So we waited until it was dark then I helped him along and we found our way to my grandmother’s house.

The next morning, my mother came looking for us. There were five of us from my family – my father, my brothers; Paul, Emma and Gabriel, and I – who had been taken by the soldiers to the killing field. She found only me. Quickly she arranged for my sisters, my little brothers and I to escape with other people to Achalla, a few kilometres from Asaba. Latter she went to look for the bodies of my father and brothers. She found only my father and Emma. She put them in a wheel barrow and went to bury them. The body of Paul was never found. He was only twenty-four. For several years, we lived with the illusion that he must have escaped somehow and found his way to Biafra. But we had to accept that somewhere in Asaba, like several others, lies the body of Paul in an unmarked grave. We found Gabriel in Achalla. He was shot in the waist, but somehow, the bullet missed his spinal cord. He had eight bullets in him. The last of them was extracted at Igbobi Hospital in 1978.

Postscript: the man who told this story insists that he has no bitterness in his heart. He went on to have a family of his own, and only tells this story because he is afraid that such an event could reoccur in Nigeria.

Chxta agrees with him. Sometime ago, Chxta listened in horror as a 'lowly' gate-man described all of his employers neighbours. The gate-man is of Igbo origins. The neighbours respectively are Mr. K, Mr. O (who are both Yoruba), Mr. O (who is from Benin), and Mr. A (who is from Eastern Nigeria). The gate-man described these people as follows: 'Onye Mgbati, onye Mgbati na nu onye be anyi, onye Idu and onye be anyi'. In the Igbo language, the meanings of these descriptions are fairly obvious. Mr. O from Yoruba land is married to an Igbo lady, hence the description, onye Mgbati na nu onye be anyi (the Yoruba man married to our home girl).

At first glance, those descriptions may appear harmless. But thinking deeper into it, that is ethnic profiling. The gate-man has profiled his employer's neighbours by their ethnic groups. If there is trouble tomorrow, he would have no problems pointing out people who can be massacred. Chxta now look at the plebs around Chxta askance. Chxta does not know which of the 'lowly' persons around Chxta has profiled Chxta simply because Chxta is of Igbo origins.

Let us not kid ourselves, there is the potential for trouble as Nigeria has a large pool of idle people who have nothing better to do with themselves, and who even worse, are all too ready to blame people from other ethnic groups for their travails. We can only pray that such an event as October 7, 1967 and the subsequent massacres of the Civil War never happen again. In the language of my fathers, ozoemena.

Recommended reading: That we may not forget, Biafra

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Les barbares

Je m'appelle Fusena. Je suis le Bénin, et la semaine dernière je suis allé au Nigéria pour la première fois. C'était un choc...

...all my life I have been used to things being done in the right place at the right time and in the right order. I do not know if to say that those people have got everything wrong, or they simply lack the discipline that is needed to do things the proper way.

The first thing that I noticed was that they have so many agencies at the border. And all the agencies demanded money from me. Considering the fact that their currency has more weight than our currency, this was quite an expensive undertaking. However, I still wonder why I needed to pay to have my passport stamped at entry since as a sub region citizen I am supposed to have free entry. Again, I noticed so many plebs walking across the border to and fro, and these people frankly cannot afford a passport. Again, the people who demanded money to have my passport stamped failed to issue me with a receipt. I think this means that the money went straight to their pockets. I also found it shocking that the people who were there in theory to check my vaccination status allowed me to enter the country upon payment of a fee. What a big health risk! I am in total shock at that one.

When I made it across the border, I was shocked at the sheer number of touts. All shapes, all sizes. All aggressive in demanding that my host give them money for watching over his car. I feared for life and limb when they came close, but my host seemed to brush them off with ease. He spoke with them in some Creole form of the English which I could not get, then we got into the car and began our journey into town.

Unlike in my country, the sheer police presence on the road to town here was intimidating. There was a police check point at almost every kilometre. What struck me about the policemen was the avarice in their eyes. Being that my host is a young man, he was stopped at every check point and harassed. They always wanted to see his boot, then they always asked for something to 'make their day'. It became apparent to me that smuggling illegal stuff into this country with these fellows on the prowl would be very easy. Just tip them a little and they would gladly look the other way. Sad. I counted twenty two check points between the border and the town.

Our roads may not be the best I have ever seen, but these people's roads are frankly appalling. My host showed remarkable skill in negotiating the dangerous looking obstacles that dotted the roads. Those obstacles included his fellow road users, pedestrians and motorcycle riders. The first impression I got of these people while we were in a traffic hold up is that they are a very impatient people. A road that was made for two lanes has to squeeze in three because no one is interested in awaiting his turn. People insert their cars into the smallest gaps that open up ahead of them without any thought as to the consequences on their cars. As a result almost all of the cars I saw here have one dent or the other, a far cry from what it is back home. Another effect of that impatience was that in the traffic there was a lot of motion but not too much real movement, hence a journey of 25 kilometres took us well over three hours to negotiate. Not good at all.

We got to my host's home, and another thing I noticed was that he stays in a slum. The refuse collectors do not appear to be bothered to do their jobs, so all the roads are littered with rubbish. The gutters are full and I pointed it out to him. He mumbled something about breeding mosquitoes. I shuddered. What was scarier to me probably is that he claimed that his suburb was quite the middle class suburb. I still maintain that it is a slum.

That night he took me to the business district for drinks. Even that looks like a slum. I noticed that the road signs are not properly maintained, and my host did not stop for one red light during the journey to and from. Scary!

In the club, I ordered a drink, from the menu, and the waiter rudely told me that it was not available. So why was it on the menu? I also notice one thing about these people, they are rich. Richer than we are back home, and they flaunt their wealth. Very ostentatious people if you ask me. It left me wondering why things are so bad here. In the eyes of the waiter who served me, and the security guards at the club, I noticed the same thing that I had seen in the eyes of the many police men we encountered on the way into town. Avarice. These people are a greedy people.

After all was done at the club, myself and my host went back to his place for our
nuit d'amusement. Unfortunately however, it turned out to be less than that as the lights went out. When they did, the temeperature of the room went up sharply while the mosquitoes came out with a vengance. My host switched on the noise maker which everyone here apparently has, and while it provided relief because it powered on the fan, I could not sleep because of the amount of noise it made. The lights did not return until the next morning. My host took me to church the next day and I noticed the sheer number of churches in his suburb, and the overwhelming number of people going to them. It is frightening.

After church, we had to endure the return journey home. Again the police asking for gratification, and I noticed at the border, that my own country men who have been mixing with these people have begun to pick up a lot of their bad habits. Sad...

...Je ne pense pas que je veux aller au Nigéria encore. C'est un endroit effrayant, et j'ai été effrayé toute l'heure. Ils ont aller beaucoup pour eux, pourtant ils l'ont jeté toute loin. Je suis peu satisfait de mon voyage à cette terre des barbares.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Lessons from an Asylum

I've been back home for just over a week and now I'm seriously considering changing my conservative attitude towards phones and getting a camera phone. My camera just isn't with me enough times to capture a lot of the extremely funny things that I come across. But then again, I must be very honest here, and acknowledge that some of those things are not funny at the moment they are occuring, but tend to be funny when in the small hours of the night, you replay them in your head. Then you see the fun.

I was back in Lagos less than two hours from my mini tour of the country and I had already gotten involved in two fights. The first one happened at the Airport Road end of Toyin Street in Ikeja as I hurried to get to the airport Sunday evening to pick up Texazz who had decided that he wanted to spend the Eid with me. Some silly girl ran into me at the junction. The usual reason, impatience. I was negotiating the bend, she being an impatient (and very likely untrained) Nigerian driver tried to overtake me at the bend and in the face of on-coming traffic. Of course the oncoming driver who had the right of way did not give her room, so to avoid being hit by him at high impact, she took the easier route out and ran into me. In order to assume the higher ground, she let out a torrent of abuse in Yoruba. Some idiot who was seating in the passenger's seat kept asking me in Pidgin why I did not get into the major road on time. I said not a word, but got out of my car, took one look at where she'd hit. There was not a dent. I then looked at her car, some paint had peeled off, so I gave them the Chxta stare for a brief minute. I have noticed that the Chxta stare is chilling especially when Chxta is wearing the gorimapa haircut. They both quietened, and the only thing Idiot-in-passenger-seat could do was to mutter under his breath, "Oga na wa for you o."

I got into my car and drove off humming to the tune of 2shotz's 2004 hit song, Lagos Life.

At the airport, Texazz failed to come out of the arrivals hall and after a cursory shouting match, I paid the N100 parking fee and went into the hall to meet him. In the hall we saw a display of one of those cases of gross incompetence that maintains Nigeria in her unenviable position as an underdeveloped country.

My friend's ATM card had been withheld by the machine, and he was involved in a shouting match with the geezer in charge of the ATM machine's security. Here is Texazz's side of the story (which was corroborated by other eye witnesses). He disembarked from his flight, went to the ATM machine and slotted his card in. The card failed to go in completely, so he withdrew it, and put it back into the machine. Then the machine asked for his PIN code and followed the routine of dispensing cash to him. It was at that point that the trouble started. The machine refused to release his card. Then the security man sauntered over and said something to the effect of, "Oga e don already chop two people card today."

What?!?

Texazz naturally got mad and asked the man why he didn't tell him that before he put his card inside. The man had no answer to that except to mumble something to the effect that Texazz should be happy that at least he had gotten his cash out. That made my guy erupt in a volley of swear words. At the end of the day, the most simple question that could have been asked was asked, "Why can't you put up a notice warning people that the machine is out of order?" The man's response was that he was just a lowly security man and only a bank official was authorised to place such a sign. Texazz and myself offered to write out such a notice and include our phone numbers, so we could take it up with whoever queried him. The man refused our offer and was quite rude about it. Eventually we had to leave when we realised that this geezer was a problem in himself.

Lesson 1: So many Nigerians almost as a rule do not take responsibility for anything which is why things tend to be left to rot...

I can wager my salary with anyone who cares that the moment the airport at Asaba is complete, the ancient city of Benin would die off completely. While on the one hand I was pleased with the installation of Adams Oshiomhole as governor in Edo State, I think that his government proceeding about things the wrong way. Is there anything wrong with getting things moving while pursuing the likes of Sam Ogbemudia for stolen funds?

In Asaba (and in Lagos), I noticed a trend that needs to be replicated in other states so that government property is safe guarded...

You see, the overlying attitude in Naija is that what belongs to the government does not belong to the people, hence you have events such as railings being taken from Onitsha Bridge. Our government is so far removed from the people that people simply do not care if government property, their property is vandalised. However, in Asaba, the moment you enter the Delta State Capital Territory coming in from Benin, you notice that the street lights are well maintained, and there are power generators for sets of street lights. This is also true within the Asaba township. What is most significant about this is that some of these generators and street lights have been installed without any protection, and they are still there!

The same is true of Lagos where the administration here is embarking on street light and camera installation as well as beautification projects. I was pleasantly surprised when I attempted to whip out my dick at Tinubu Square and was accosted by an Area Boy as to why I want to spoil his fountain. He let me go after I begged and then parted with a little something. But that was besides the point. In both Delta and Lagos States, the government is embarking on projects with the full knowledge of the people. The Area Boy who accosted me was more than likely unemployed prior to the renovation of the Tinubu Square. Now the government has not only 'sought his permission' to renovate his patch, but they have made him directly responsible for its maintenance, and they pay him to maintain it instead of importing 'foreign' gardeners to do it. That has the treble effect of revamping an area once considered a basket case, removing a potential criminal from the unemployment market, and since he is directly responsible for its maintenance, the place would remain reasonably maintained as he sees it as his own property as well as that of the government. I was assured that it was a similar tactic that is being employed in Asaba. Brilliant!

Lesson 2: Carry the people along and there will be progress...

"I'm tired of this country. What rubbish is this?"
"What is making you tired this time?"
"Can't you hear the Imam's megaphone calling all the Muslims to prayer? Must they set it to the loudest volume all the time? And five times a day? It is disconcerting. They are so inconsiderate"
"Are you Christians any less guilty?"
"How? We don't shout at the loudest pitch and disturb the neighbours all the time do we?"
"You do even worse, especially those of you in the Pentecostal strains of your religion."
"How?"
"You forget that I live near a tent, sorry church? As a matter of fact, I live near four churches. They have all sprung up on me, and all of them hold regular all night services."
"So what? They are doing the work of God?"
"Doing the work of God to the detriment of their fellow man? How much more selfish can they get?"
"How so? At least we do vigils only once a week."
"Once a week each church, four different churches around me. All night. How much time does that leave me and my family to sleep and rest for the next day's work? And remember I have a four month old child.""If you don't like their ministry then move away."
"You have just typified the terrible attitude that you religious nuts have. You are as bad as the Muslims you are accusing of being inconsiderate."
"We are of a different breed from them. We have the Word."
"What makes you think their own Word is any less than yours?"

The above dialogue is an actual dialogue between two guys at Wuse II in Abuja last week. One of the guys was me, and no prizes for guessing which of the combatants I was. Funny enough on my way from Abuja to Benin (I chose to go by road), I noticed a proliferation of churches. In Auchi, Edo State, there are eight churches on either side of the road in the two minute drive in between Yak Hotel and Auchi Polytechnic. Are we that faithful to the Almighty? I will say a hefty no. Churches and Mosques in Nigeria are a means of mind control and profit making. Hence the large number being set up, specially of new age Pentecostal type churches. I'm quite sure my cynicism would shine through, else I'd have set up my own church so I would get my own private jet in the not too distant future...

By the way, last week on Facebook, I commented on Nigerian Christians' propensity to shout when they are praying. As is usual, not a few of the religious came out to defend poor, little, defenceless God from the arch demon. I recommend that the shouters study their bibles properly, especially Matthew 6: 5-8. I will maintain to my grave (well, crematorium) that God prefers it when you pray to Him in the quiet of your heart, and not disturb your neighbours in the process. Anything other than that, and you are already headed to the lake of fire and brimstone. Quote me anywhere.

I could write a lot more on the paucity of intelligence in religious discourse in the Nigerian space, but I have better things to do than to attempt to convince people who frankly do not want to be convinced, and who when you present them with a superior argument using the same bible they are so fond of quoting will resort to statements such as even the Devil knows the scripture...

Lesson 3: Religion is the opium of the masses, and like opium will lead them to destruction...

So there has been uninterrupted power supply in Kwara State for some weeks now. I'm so proud of them, and pissed off with the Federal Government at the same time.

It is evident to any twit that the solution to Nigeria's power problem is to break the country up. Let each state (or zone) be responsible for its own power, and anyone who has excess should feel free to sell it off to someone else. And there will be the power.

I am afraid that the cartel who are deep rooted, powerful, and responsible for Nigeria's lack of power are probably going to start working to make sure that Kwara's 'achievement' is not replicated elsewhere in Naija or even fucked up. And that will be a tragedy.

Lesson 4: The failure of governance in Nigeria is at the local level, while the Federal government is a hindrance to growth...

So much to say, not enough time to write. But watch this space. I'm well and truly back home!