Thursday, May 26, 2011

#lunchwithGEJ

"Now I have realised that talking with Goodluck Jonathan in public and private amounts to sacrilege before young Nigerians on Twitter" ---Mercy Abang

"Twitter is the Internet gone mad" ---Chippla Vandu in 2008 (and probably Ryan Giggs as we speak).

Some time last week, I received an email inviting me to have lunch with the President of Nigeria. The invitation clearly stated that it was meant to be a youth event. Being someone who spends a lot of time on a radio and television show criticising the President, and even more time writing critical articles about his Administration, I was pleasantly surprised that the invitation was not by the security services. I accepted the invitation, which by the way, happens not to be the first time that this Administration is reaching out to me for ideas and dialogue.


On the day of the event, I donned a suit, made sure I looked my best, and I proceeded to the venue, which was the Eko Hotel in Victoria Island, Lagos. The first thing I noticed was that the road leading to the venue, Olosa Street, had been resurfaced. Now, Olosa, a road that I ply very regularly, is normally full of potholes, so my immediate thought was, "how the hell will the President ever know that something is wrong if we repair things each time he comes around?" However, I took a look in my rear-view mirror, and kept my opinions to myself. In my own little way, I am also guilty of putting on my Sunday best. How often do I wear a suit? I can totally understand the road maintainers concerns that the Presidential behind does not get bruised on our gullies.

The event itself was poorly organised. Some of the 'youth' present were men about as old as my 62 year old father. Some of these men jostled me out of the way as we were trying to get accreditation to enter the venue, and I found myself wondering why, if there was a master-list of invitees, did we have to get accredited. Once inside the foyer, we had to fill a questionnaire in which we ranked the issues that we would like the President to address most urgently. My issues are Power-Education-Security-Jobs-Corruption and others in that order.

On getting in, finding my table was hard enough, but I got a pleasant surprise, I was seated close to the centre table. Good opportunity for a one-on-one with the President, or so I thought, I was wrong. The table inserted between mine and the President's was filled with members of his emerging kitchen cabinet and a few people who are trying to get into that inner circle such as the failed Lagos governor-to-be. The event was not exactly the kind of interactive session that I had hoped for, and of the seven plus one pre-selected speakers, only Red Communication's Chude Jideonwo gave a speech which was really critical of the government.

Jonathan's speech itself revealed what I already know about him. He is learning. Learning how not to speak out of turn, something I have heavily criticised him for in the past. He is also clearly growing in confidence. I only wonder if he can successfully navigate his way through the piranha infested waters that is the government of Nigeria, but that is something we can only find out with time.

After the President's speech, there was some music, and for me, the minor irritation of some dimwit praise singers, singing that GEJ is their 'rock of ages'. As an aside, can someone please ask TY Bello to stick with her promise not to do live performances?

When the event was about to end, there was an announcement that the participants at the lunch should wait behind. At that point, I jokingly updated my Facebook status to ask the question whether we were being asked to wait for the President's security which is unarguably very important, or whether we were being asked to wait for GMGs (Ghana Must Go bags). In any event, some of us who are resident on the Lagos Mainland left. The reasoning was that we had come for lunch and we had to get back to our day jobs, or home, before the security induced traffic would begin. In my case, I factored in the fact that on most Tuesdays, Lagos traffic is really bad, due to Aswani market. Again, the last time the President was in Lagos on a Tuesday, I was sat on a closed-off Third Mainland Bridge for five hours!

An hour later, I was home and that was when the madness began. The first allegation of gratification collected by attendees at the lunch was started by Kayode Ogundamisi via a blackberry broadcast. I replied him immediately to tell him that that did not happen, and thought nothing more of the matter. I went back to work, then to bed, then woke up to head to Victoria Island for Smooth 98.1's Freshly Pressed and there it was again, allegations of 50k received by Lagos based participants at the lunch, and 150k received by up country. By day's end, and on a day which I had to gone to Abuja for a meeting, my twitter timeline was full.

For the sake of clarity, an honorarium is a standard part of any political or business event worldwide. So that is a moot point.

However, the amounts alleged to have been dished out are admittedly too high, and if any one of the participants at the lunch event did receive such an amount, he has to look into the mirror and question himself. But, it must be made very clear that I am yet to meet anyone who collected the alleged money. What I heard from Adebola Williams of the Enough is Enough Coalition, who happened to have a meeting at Eko Hotel in the evening, is that there was a stampede at the venue of the lunch. This stampede occurred at 2030 hours. A full five and half hours after most of us left the venue.

In any event, my main annoyance is with the people especially on Twitter who have taken it on themselves to cast aspersions on ALL the attendees at the event, myself included. Let me state here in no uncertain terms: I did not collect a kobo for attending the lunch. I can also vouch for the following people - Sade Ladipo, Subomi Plumptre, Seyi Taylor, Hadiza Mohammed and Toyin Fajj. We all left about the same time.

Let me go further again and state that the very next morning, anyone who bothered to tune in to Smooth 98.1's Freshly Pressed heard me criticising the very government who gave me lunch the day before.

What must be made even clearer is that a lot of the arm-chair critics have no clue about how democracy works. Democracy is a simple process which involves bringing people with divergent ideas into a room, trashing out those ideas, and finding either a common ground for progress, or in the alternative, discarding the weaker ideas and moving ahead with the stronger ones. Simple and short, we MUST engage and dialogue with our elected representatives, even if in some cases they may have been fraudulently elected. There is no other way to move forward.

I must also say that I actually regret not collecting the 50k (I reside in Lagos) if it is true. The transformer in my area is acting up, and my generator has told me in no uncertain terms that he wants a helper. 50k would have gone a long way in getting an Eve for that particular Adam...

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Getting DSK out of jail

This is the handiwork of a friend of mine, who happens to be a lawyer, and also has a VERY active imagination...

Scenario 1: DSK comes out naked from his bathroom and he sees a young woman dressed as a hotel maid rummaging through his personal effects. He accosts her and she appears to shove something (maybe jewellery, a memory stick containing top secret or sexually incriminating info wanted by tabloids or even a bug she had wanted to plant in his hotel phone) into her underwear and makes for the door.

Without thinking he chases after her and catches her on the hallway. She struggles and he tries to obtain what she’s hiding. He now realizes the MD of the IMF is naked, poking his hand into the underwear of a housemaid in the hallway of Hotel Sofitel on Times Square. He drags her into the room but she manages to run into bathroom and flushes the incriminating stuff. They struggle but he lets her go after she refuses to explain what she was doing in his room.

He is disoriented. He has an urgent meeting and a plane to catch (he did go to see someone after the occurrence). Maybe he needed to see a private eye or adviser because he suspects “Shakorsky” or some other political rival from France wants to plant something on him. In this state of flux he forgets his phones at the hotel. I mean Saturday wasn’t exactly a normal day. Why didn’t he report to the police? Somewhere in his mind maybe he thinks even if she wasn’t sent from France she’s probably FBI and telling the police would be a no-no.

How long has the hotel maid been working in Sofitel Times Square? Has she lived in France before? Could she have been paid by French intelligence or sleuths to stage him for a fall? Has she been suspected of stealing in Sofitel before even if unproven? What is the procedure for confirming if a hotel guest is still in the room? Did she follow proper procedure? If she follow proper procedure what is the probability she would have entered an occupied hotel room? Since Sofitel is a French hotel group managed by Accor could this be a hotel managed or sanctioned conspiracy?

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Life is beautiful

I ought to listen to my Dad more. I just arrived back home from a near death experience, which has redefined my perspective on life as I know it.

I was on a flight to Abuja yesterday evening/this morning, we got to Abuja, but had to turn around. That flight, Air Nigeria's VK57 could very easily have been breaking news on CNN as we speak.

The first inkling that something was wrong was when my dad sent a text yesterday morning warning me about Friday the 13th. I took it as superstitious trash, and dismissed it. We had discussed it earlier when I told him of my intention to travel on that day. His advice had been that I travel either the day before, or the day after. What I found weird about the whole arrangement is that in my 31 years on the planet, my Dad has never talked up Friday the 13th, so why now?

I got to the airport in time for a 1740 flight, checked in and sat down to wait. As is usual with Nigerian flights, it was delayed. I took no notice, this was not new. However, by 2000, my Dad began to call me, his request was that I forget about the trip.

"Why would I throw money away?" was my question, "besides, all the other people travelling, are they less special than I am?"

He called again and again, and I simply ignored him. Finally we boarded the plane at 2110. Then we spent another hour sitting on the tarmac. What happened?

Dayo Adedayo and his co-traveller had paid for Business Class seats. Unfortunately, the stupidity of the airline staff meant that they were denied their seats. Knowing their rights, they were having none of it, and somehow the whole thing actually descended progressively from a shouting match to threats, to an actual fist being thrown. I found it at the same time irritating and entertaining.

Finally we took off for Abuja at 2220. The pilot announced that it would be a 55 minute flight, and that we were scheduled to land at 2315. No problems, I went to sleep, and it was a nice, deep sleep. That was until the man in the next seat grabbed me tight. The plane was shaking!

We had arrived Abuja in the middle of a storm and the pilot was attempting to land. On the first attempt, he ran headlong into a very strong wind which gripped and shook the entire plane. At that point, I could see the lights of the airport. On the second attempt, the shaking was even fiercer. He finally gave up after the third attempt, by which time I could not see any further than the light of the wing, just outside the window. The storm (and wind) was that intense. When he circled again, I thought that he was going to make a fourth attempt to land, and was by this time convinced that he had a death wish.

However, he calmly announced that we were heading back to Lagos. And that was when the drama began. I shit you not, all the way from Abuja until we began the descent into Lagos, there was turbulence. The plane changed altitude so many times that my stomach still feels a little queasy. Of course there was a cacophony of prayers in the plane. As for me, I realised in those moments, that when you think you just might die, your life does truly flash before your eyes. Mine flashed before me at least four times earlier today, and now I realise that there are people I need to make serious amends to.

I will not complain about what happened when we finally touched down safely in Lagos, that is an article for the Daily Times of Nigeria. What I will say here is that I am so grateful to be alive, and I feel that I've been reborn.