Friday, October 27, 2006

The Giant Strikes Again

In my university days, I earned the nickname waka waka for I enjoyed taking leisurely strolls around campus. Especially at night. So, whilst my more serious colleagues were either in class, or resting from the days exertions, or out working off the stress in the clubs, I strolled.

I particularly enjoyed walking around from 11pm onwards for at that time, vehicular traffic would be at a minimum, if not non-existent, and I would have the freedom of the roads. Why, would a young man spend his time walking around instead of reading his books, you wonder. Well, I had to keep the old Legediz Benz tuned up, and thanks to the walking, my odometer has crawled around to zero several times.

At Camp, not a few people thought I would keel over during the Endurance Trek. As a result, the vast numbers of slack-jawed persons watching me not only trek, but jog in some instances, was truly priceless. As a friend put it, they were witnessing the “eight wonder of the world.” At the end, I got several pats on the back from people who said they couldn’t handle the trek and they thought they were in shape.

When I moved into town, and discovered the wonders of okada, I put my Legediz Benz away, and began using it like any luxury vehicle for short trips only. It was truly delightful to travel long distances on a bike for as little as 60 bucks in some cases. I actually enjoyed taking bikes because I no send anibodi. But, as they say, good things never last. Like Al Pacino, just when I thought I was out, they've pulled me back in. For Nasiru "the Giant" El Rufai in his infinite wisdom, has banned okada in Abuja.

That in itself wouldn’t have been a bad thing, if there was a credible alternative. Nasiru promised us buses to rival those in London, but failed to deliver. He promised us taxis, but his own would tie you down and shave your head bald with a piece of broken glass if given the opportunity. His “London Cabs” often cruise the streets empty because no poor man can afford their outrageous fares. And the private taxis have seized the opportunity to jack up their fares.

But these are hardly the only problems. Bikemen knew every single street, crescent, close and road in Abuja. If you were looking for a street in Garki for instance, all you had to do was enter Garki and ask a bike to show you the way. Not so with cab drivers. They don’t know jack shit, and they’re as likely to take you to Suleija as drop you in Wuse. A bike would take you from Apo to Wuse for 80 – 100 naira, but with a drop, it would cost you anywhere from 250 – 350 buckaroos and if you enter "Green Cab" na you know o! And when your father hasn’t spent the last 20 odd years of his life with his arms and legs in the public till, your pocket definitely feels the squeeze. Another angle many commentators have failed to look at is the impact of this ban on Baba’s Poverty Alleviation Scheme. Many of these men were encouraged, and in some cases, railroaded into taking loans of upwards of 50 grand to purchase bikes and employ themselves. For many, this was the sole means of supporting their families. Now the Giant has taken away their jobs, their means of repaying these loans, and their means of supporting their families.

I’ll grant that some of them could be real menaces, but is a ban the only way to solve the problem? What ever happened to re-education programmes, safety training, and so on? They could have created a Motorcycle Bureau, taxed each okada 50 naira a day for operating in town, and used that money to monitor and inspect them. There were hundreds, if not thousands, of bikes in town. This could have raised, hypothetically, 100 grand a day, and that’s thinking small. It could have been made mandatory for okada riders to wear safety helmets, reflective vests and so on. But, we have a lazy government, one that would rather bury its head in the sand than solve the problems of the people. Besides, who elected el Rufai anyway. Yep, the man never had to stand before people and ask for votes, and the National Assembly members who’re supposed to be watching him are all in his pocket.

The other day, a radio presenter said the ban was a good thing because it would make us all fit, and raise life expectancy in Abuja to 90 years. Had he been close by at that time, it would have taken an entire Mopol Battalion to get me off him.

If anything, the stress has increased, and the frustration on the faces of the people has deepened. Traffic jams have become a daily sight on Abuja roads, and people now have to trek long distances in the hot sun just to get to a bus.

Public transportation is not a service governments provide with a view to making a profit. Rather it is considered part and parcel of the social contract between the government and the people, as a social amenity.

And, since Nasiru is hell bent on copying everything from London, why doesn’t he bring the Tube over next? Oh wait, that would actually cost money and ease people’s lives. Silly me.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Gods, Generals and Garrison Commanders

Watching recent events in Ekiti State, one cannot help but wonder if the principal actors are flesh and blood mortals like the rest of us. For, with each passing day, they act with more flamboyance and arrogance than any of the characters that graced the court of Zeus at Mount Olympus.

Governor Fayose had his bases covered initailly- his good friend was the CJ, he had friends ready to be empanelled to "investigate" him, and the allegations would be rubbished. True to form, the first panel, returned a verdict of not guilty with a speed that would make Superman slink off in shame muttering, "Speeding bullet Okereke-Onyiuke's ass." (And believe me, my friends, that is some ass!)

But before the Governor could return to his office in truimph, an enraged Speaker had tossed the CJ out on his ear and installed a new one, who set up a new panel to hear the allegations. This time, the panel returned a verdict of guilty on all charges with such alacrity that it erased the record set scant days earlier. Fayose and his deputy were declared impeached, and the Speaker sworn in as Acting Governor. If there was some way to harness whatever energy they're using in the Ekiti State House of Assembly, Nigeria could yet win the Space Race. (Minister of Science and Technology, are you listening?)

With the tables turned on him, Fayose pulled a Houdini. Some claimed he was in Ghana, others said he was in London. Of these claims, the latter was the most easily discounted for as our elders say, "When the lizard in front falls into a pit, those behind take caution." And, given the wide berth our governors have been giving London since the travails of Alams, it would appear we all have the same elders.

Anyway, some said Fayose would soon reveal himself to the "shame" of his enemies. And soon, he did. The man issued a statement that he was still the governor, and was on vacation (in hiding), and his deputy would take over until his return. She soon marched on Government House, and entered her office, and had photos taken to show that she still "dey kamkpe".

Well, seeing as matters had gotten out of hand, Baba decided to step in with his cure for all manner of civil unrest - a declaration of a State of Emergency in Ekiti state, since in the words of PDP Chairman Ahmadu Alli, Ado-Ekiti is a "garrison t..." Sorry, that's Ibadan. Ah what the hell, they're both in the South-West, abi? Anyway, the troops have moved in to restore calm, and preserve law and order, and so on and so forth. Fayose is still nowhere to be found, and with the EFCC reportedly actively looking for his hide, I would suggest he stays wherever he is.

At this point I would like to make a suggestion for Baba. Perhaps Baba should create a special "State of Emergency" Battalion or Division within the Army. Baba could ensure that the Commander is rotated out while the men remain the same or vice versa. This way, when next Baba declares a state of emergency anywhere in Nigeria, we all could rest assured that the men in charge have the requisite experience in governing bloody civilians, and altercations will be kept to the bare minimum. This is especially important since Baba made short work of all officers with "political experience" he met within the Armed Forces when he took charge in 1999.

Like I said, it's just a suggestion.

Friday, October 20, 2006

National Unity

Almost every nation on earth at one time or another will go through an internal crisis which threatens its very corporate existence. The Americans (who shall serve as my prime example) had their Civil War, the French had their Revolution, various African nations have gone through civil wars, and even the English went through a phase where the King was as likely to be beheaded as crowned.

For Nigeria, the period from 1967 - 1970 will forever remain our darkest hour, for that was when "brother turned on brother" and we experienced our (only, I hope) Civil War.

For the Americans, their Civil War was about the southern farmer demanding his "right" to have his very own niggers picking his cotton while he lazed in the shade on his porch. Fortunately for black men everywhere, the south lost.

However, in the aftermath of the war, the issues leading up to it were faced squarely and strongly tackled. It was ensured that never again would any part of the country declare it "had no inheritance in the house of Jesse", and never again would American soldiers lose their lives in such vast numbers on their own soil. The south was fully reintegrated into the country, and all sins were forgiven. Today, the "vanquished" south can lay claim to both having produced more United States Presidents and being the deciding factor in American Presidential Elections than the "victorious" north.

Now, before certain persons try to transplant that last sentence, let me make one thing abundantly clear: At no time (and I stand to be corrected) in the history of American politics has the main issue revolved around whether a man born in Oregon can be allowed to contest an election in Florida when his parents are from Nebraska. Or the state of Vermont demanding its "turn" to produce the next President.

Nigeria's Civil War actually began shortly before Independence, on the day when Nnamdi Azikiwe stood for, and won, a seat in Lagos. Obafemi Awolowo was so incensed by this "victory of a stranger over a son of the soil" that he hounded Zik out of Lagos. Thus chastened, and awoken to the harsh realities of his country, Zik returned to the then Eastern Region with the statement, "There can be no One Nigeria." Not that he was calling for secession at the time.

Well, with Awo telling the Igbos to contest elections only on their home patch, the Hausas soon decided to give the Igbos the boot as well. For, if the Yoruba man declared the Igboman to have no political mandate in "Yorubaland", then why should the Igboman have an economic mandate in "Hausaland". Thus began the pogroms. Having been told by their brothers that they would not be allowed to enter their father's parlor, the Igbos decided to move to a new compound.

When the war erupted in 1967, the Federal Government was quick to deploy the slogan "One Nigeria" as its rallying cry. The Biafrans were bombed, blockaded, and starved into submission. With the war over in 1970, the PR Department went into overdrive. "No victor, no vanquished" was another choice slogan deployed by the government. The government initiated schemes to foster national unity such as the NYSC and the concept of Unity Schools.

36 years on, these schemes are yet to make any impact. The NYSC has been severely undermined (some say it should be scrapped altogether and replaced with one year of compulsory military service) with people refusing to accept postings to far north states, and vice versa, while the Unity Schools have been systematically looted and underfunded by the Government. And, true to form, rather than tackle the problem of corruption among the administrators of the schools, the Government is taking the cheapest and, most cowardly, way out with talk of "privatizing" them. This is, of course, in the keeping with the spirit of the IMF Poison Pills our rulers are bent on having us swallow.

Nigerians basically don't trust each other, and the stereotypes listed here are just the tip of the iceberg. As Peter Pan said in his book "The Complete Nigerian", it would not be unusual to hear Nigerians referring to each other as being from different countries. Which is actually true for the Bini, Oyo, Kanem-Bornu, and other Empires that existed here prior to the arrival of the British were as distinct from one another as England is from France. We were cobbled together as a nation by our colonial masters, and for good or ill, a nation we must remain. I do not subscribe to the "let's-all-go-our-separate-ways" slogan that some have touted. And I have no desire to take part in another Civil War. We do have problems, but we must solve them as a nation. As separate entities, our once weaker neighbors, and indeed the rest of the world, will be able to pick us off at will.

Whenever I think back to what happened in Lagos between Zik and Awo, I'm tempted to weep, for that was truly a golden opportunity to build a united, strong nation, and it was thrown away without a backward glance, or even a forward look. For, without that one colossal error in judgment, I could today run for office in Kano State without being told to "go home", while my brother could run for office in Imo State without being called a stranger. Then we could do like the Bush brothers, and he'd help me rig the election in his state so I could become President.

Is it too late for us? Not yet, but if we don't act fast, it might soon be.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Religious Intolerance

My good friend, Chxta, has spoken at length on this particular subject, and he has been vilified, castigated, chewed out, spat on, and promised an eternity in hellfire for his views. I’ve known Chxta since we were yea high tots. He is not controversial by nature, but he does always speak his mind. Regardless of whose ox is gored, whose chicken is run over, or whose cow was given to Mai Suya.

I was not baptized at an early age. In fact, it took full adulthood for me to become a “practicing Christian”. I did not begin attending church until my second year in the University. And I wasn’t Baptized or Confirmed until Law School. (Ja, I’m Catholic.) My old man had this weird policy: in matters of religion we were to be totally free to make up our own minds. As such, he told us we wouldn’t be forced to go to church if we didn’t want to, and we wouldn’t be forced to stay home if we did. My mother, herself a staunch Catholic, accepted this decision. As a result, while most other kids had to spend their Sundays going through interminable church services and utterly boring Sunday school replete with floggings for failing to recite the Ten Commandments properly, I spent my Sundays doing pretty much whatever the hell I wanted. Some are already shaking their heads at this terrible way of bringing up a child in the “path he should follow.” The thing is though, I wasn’t just given any old weed-threatened path to follow. The man gave me a 10-lane expressway complete with functioning street lights.

While my father didn’t put much stock in religious education (he never went to church, and still doesn’t go unless physically dragged on account of some special occasion or other) he did imbue all of us with a strong sense of right and wrong, and an annoyingly solid foundation of principles. He wasn’t overly strict with us, but if we screwed up, we sure as hell knew it. I learned it was wrong to steal, lie, and cheat, to respect my elders, and honor my father and mother, etc. without being told that these were orders from God. Rather, I learnt that some actions were wrong because they weren’t the right way to live. These principles are so strong, they stay with me to this day. The result – I can’t get a girl drunk and take advantage of her, and I couldn’t find it in myself to jump on the 419 bandwagon. I could have been a millionaire by now. Damn him.

Of course, we had CRK (Christian Religious Knowledge) in school, and I made an A in the subject in my WAEC. Did this mean I was a good Christian, subconsciously? Hell no. It just meant I was a rather smart student. But the fact that I could make an A in the subject while living an actively “pagan” lifestyle minus booze, weed, and women (they would come later) merely shows that I didn’t have to go to church to be able to answer questions about the Bible, and give correct quotations from it.

To wit, Christians and Muslims are God’s children. My proof – when Sarah found that she still couldn’t conceive, she told Abraham to take her servant and knock her up. Imagine that fellas – your wife telling you that not only is it okay for you to sleep with the housegirl, but that you’re permitted, nay ordered, to knock her up into the bargain. Wow. Abraham (strong man that he was) duly did knock up the housegirl, and she bore him a son named Ishmael. The housegirl then began carrying shoulder for her madam because she’d given oga a male child when madam couldn’t. Silly girl. She grossly underestimated the power of incumbency. In double quick time, she’d been kicked out along with her son, and sent into the desert. When they were on the point of death, God sent his angel to her, and he opened up a well for herself and her son to drink. Also fulfilling God’s promise to Abraham that he would father many nations for Ishmael’s descendants can be found in Iraq, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Oman etc. Ishmael's descendants also constitute the vast majority of the Muslim population in the world today. And, since the world generally accepts the first-born theory, Ishmael’s descendants hold the rightful claim to being Children of God.

Which brings me to all the “Muslims-are-going-to-hell-and-so-are-you” people Chxta has had to contend with.

Consider this scenario: As a missionary you are sent to a remote village, where no one has previously carried a Bible into. On arriving there, you’re told a certain man just died. While he was alive, this man was a paragon of virtue. He never stole, told a lie, cheated his business associates, took another man’s wife or land, was generous to a fault, would give you the shirt off his back if you happened to need it more than he did, and generally observed what you call the Ten Commandments. Would you tell the villagers that because this man had never heard of God, he was destined for hell? I put this question to a certain “Born-Again Christian” (BAC) and she said yes- the man was on his way to hell. I beg to differ. If God truly sees all things, and knows all things, then a man who lived his life in accordance with the Ten Commandments even though he’d never heard of them, would certainly not be on his way to eternal suffering for being a good and principled man. If he’s not allowed into Christian Heaven, at least he’ll be sent to Valhalla. And that is on the assumption that there is segregation in Heaven, which I seriously doubt. This BAC held on to her views, and began machine-gunning Bible quotations at me to back up her claims. However, when I lobbed a few quotations from the same Bible in her direction, she fired the BAC standard response at me – “even the Devil knows the Scriptures.”

It is my firm belief that no matter what religion you practice be it, Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, Sun Worshipper, or whatever, it is the ultimate height of arrogance and indeed ignorance to insist that whomsoever doesn’t kow tow to the same faith as you do is bound for damnation. Nobody knows where he or she will end up. Granted, it would appear on the surface that Muslims are much more prone to violent reactions to any denigration of their religion, but for those willing to cast their minds back through history, the Crusades were about Christians trying to force others to their religion. Colonialism, a crass rape of other people’s natural resources and subjugation of their freedom, was carried out under the banner of “taking God to the Godless.” As one writer famously remarked, “They took our land and our freedom and gave us Bibles.” No doubt the early sermons were all about turning the other cheek. Galileo was excommunicated by the Church for daring to insist that the world was round and orbited around the sun. I think most people have heard about the Spanish Inquisition. And, if that trip through history is too far for some people to take, cast your minds back to Waco, Texas, and the Christian fanatic who caused hundreds of his followers to end their lives via mass suicide. Timothy McVeigh, who carried out the Oklahoma City bombing, was a Christian. The white men who shipped our millions of our people off to work their cotton fields in the “New World” were good Christian men. The men who fire-bombed black churches in the southern United States were Christians. The men who hung black men from trees were Christians. They waved their Bibles freely to show that their actions were sanctioned by God. Adolph Hitler was a Christian. George W. Bush, a man who has plunged the world into previously unimaginable chaos is a Christian.

Hell, had “The Da Vinci Code” been written some centuries ago, Herr Braun would have since confessed to giving Eve the apple, convincing David to go out to his roof to see something interesting, and wielding the spear at Christ’s crucifixion, amongst others. Then he would have been barbecued. (There are some who insist that he be given that very treatment even today!)

Clearly, Muslims do not hold the monopoly on extremism. Yes, many are touchy about their religion, but who isn’t? And the fact that some of them resort to violence and back it up with quotes from the Qu’ran doesn’t mean they’re all that way. I’ve met Muslims who quote from the same Qu’ran to show that Islam is a religion of peace and brotherhood.

The other day I read on a Nigerian’s blog that Arabs were “murdering sand niggers.” That fellow has my undiluted pity for his is a mind so shallow an ant wouldn’t drown in it.

We live in a complex, complicated, dangerous, and, sometimes, downright crazy world. We will always have our differences, quarrels will always flare up, but if we can’t or won’t learn to live and work together, perhaps whatever God we individually pray to is already shaking His head in regret.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Confusion Break Bone

Fela (the inimitable) once sang about 'double wahala for dedi bodi'.

We've certainly had our fair share of elected (selected, imposed...take your pick) rulers behaving like first class twats in this country, but I think that never in history have we been cursed with such a bunch of greedy, clueless, dunces in our political class. As a lawyer, it is doubly painful that our judges are everyday showing they have as much spine as an amoeba colony.

The current comedy playing itself out in Ekiti State bears witness to this. When the State House of Assembly asked the Chief Judge of Ekiti State to set up a panel to investigate the allegations against the state governor, Ayo Fayose and his deputy, they couldn't have had any idea that the panel would be made up exclusively of the beleaguered governor's friends, contract beneficiaries and family members. Talk about a jury of lions trying a lion for the murder of an antelope. The Panel swiftly cleared the governor of any wrongdoing and the State House of Assembly went apeshit.

They suspended the CJ and installed a new one who immediately set up a new panel to hear the same allegations. I'm not going to bother quoting from the Constitution as my colleagues who will besiege the national dailies with articles on the same matter will no doubt do. I will say, in layman's English, that the SHA had no authority to do what it did. Granted, the sumbitch had allowed the governor get off scot-free, but there are proper channels to take in handling such recalcitrant fellows.

Now, the governor says he's been cleared, the suspended CJ says he's still in power, the Chief Justice of Nigeria has condemned the suspension, lawyers are spitting fire left right and center, and the poor continue to suffer. To my mind, Ayo Fayose is no better than an illiterate, two-bit tout who was lucky enough to kiss the right asses during the 4/19 elections of 2003. He is living proof of the adage 'You can take the man out of the motor park, but you can't take the tout out of the man' or something along those lines.

Should the new panel indict the governor (which it will) then we are set for a very long night.

For a state which boasts the highest number of professors per family in the entire country, they're sure behaving like a bunch of morons.

dedi bodi get accident. double wahala for dedi bodi.

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I love my country, enjoy a cold beer once in a while, rabidly support Arsenal FC, but I don't get Diet Coke...