Friday, November 12, 2010

Real Partnership

There’s a scene in the Godfather Part II, where the heads of the major Mafioso families are meeting at a luxurious hotel in Cuba. Hyman Roth there announces to his fellow criminals that Cuba is paradise for them because there they have what they have always wanted: real partnership with a government.

The Cuban government was not naive or stupid, it knew that it was dealing with criminals, men under investigation in their home country for crimes ranging from racketeering, prostitution, and drug dealing, to murder. It is safe to say that every man at that meeting had “made his bones” in his respective family, and indeed, to rise as high as they did, each man present there must have had a collection of skeletons that would make any graveyard jealous. However, I digress.

The other day, Dimeji Bankole, Speaker of the House of Representatives declared that the generator importation industry to be a billion dollar industry worthy of protection from the effects of power sector reform. In other words, Dimeji Bankole, in his official capacity, considers the interests of generator importers to be more important than those of the millions of his countrymen who cannot afford generators and must live in darkness.

My first reaction was that either the man was high or he had spoken tongue firmly in cheek. Surely, no sane elected official would declare himself opposed to the interests of the electorate? But then again, this is Nigeria we’re talking about, and anything goes in the mad country we call home.

For starters, generators are not manufactured in Nigeria. If it was a generator manufacturing industry that he declared worthy of protection, one could attach more merit to his position. As it is, Nigerians spend billions of Naira each year importing generators from all over the place. The attendant capital flight doesn’t bother our Speaker, oh no. The fact that he’s not even concerned about it tells you how insulated he is in his lofty position.

The true function of a generator is to serve as a back-up to main power. Generators are accordingly in use in developed countries in sensitive institutions like hospitals where electricity cannot be done without for any extended period of time. It is Nigeria where main power is now the back-up to the generator, but Bankole clearly sees nothing absurd in that situation. Besides, he doesn’t pay for diesel, does he?

In Nigeria, we cannot have a working rail transport system because long haul transporters would lose business to a far more efficient system. In Onitsha, we cannot build an airport because operators of luxurious buses would lose business as people happily take to the skies to avoid the death traps that roads have become. Our local refineries cannot work because fuel importers (a breed largely unknown to Nigerians until the regime of Khalifa) would lose business. And we cannot generate and supply enough electricity because generator importers would lose business.

Something similar happened when mobile phones were introduced. At the time, we had NITEL payphones which used smart cards, installed in several places. To make a call, one had to buy a card with units on it. It should come as no surprise to your average Nigerian therefore, that with the mobile phone revolution, the card phones stopped working while the call centres set up a few feet away did a roaring trade. In some cases, the handsets were actually ripped out of the phones. Why? Because if the card phones worked, the call centres would lose business. The only force at work here is pure insanity. And Nigerians, so used to accepting the absolute worst in terms of rulership, will quietly swallow this latest insult and move on with their lives.

The really funny thing here is that in the developed world, they have railways, and long haul truckers. They have airports in major cities, and people still take the bus. They have constant electricity, and the generators serve as back-ups.

Generator importers are no doubt a powerful cabal, and going by Bankole’s comment, they are in real partnership with a government too, just like la cosa nostra in Cuba. The glee with which they supply traffic control boxes for police officers to use at junctions containing traffic lights which depend on PHCN tells you all you need to know about how entrenched they have become.

If someone finds a way to import the air Nigerians breathe...

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

The Usual Suspects

On the 50th anniversary of Nigeria's independence from Great Britain, Friday, October 1, 2010, a heinous crime was carried out in Abuja. Two car bombs were detonated, killing 10 people and wounding 21 others. Just before the bombs went off, news outlets Sahara Reporters and 234Next issued alerts stating that Niger Delta-based militant group, MEND, had sent emails warning that there would be explosions in the federal capital within 30 minutes. That time line was adhered to, and lives were lost.

Following the blasts, MEND issued, via the same outlets and international media, another statement claiming responsibility for the attack, and stating that lives would not have been lost had the FG heeded its numerous warnings about its planned attack, and warned the public accordingly. MEND further stated that Nigeria had nothing to celebrate in 50 years, and so on, and so forth.

Astonishingly, the next day President Goodluck Jonathan went before the media and stated that not only did MEND have nothing to do with the attack, but that the government would soon reveal those who were responsible. According to him, MEND would not do anything to jeopardize the chance of one of their own, namely himself, becoming President, which is what this attack was surely meant to do.

This patently absurd statement was rubbished no sooner than he was done by MEND issuing yet another statement in which they claimed to have given the government 5 days advance warning of their plan, and an additional one hour warning prior to detonation. Again, they laid the blame for any lost lives squarely at the FG (and Goodluck Jonathan's) door.

@Chxta's Facebook page made for interesting reading following Goodluck's statement. There were those who fiercely defended Goodluck's claim that MEND (which had claimed responsibility several times) was not to blame, but rather it was Goodluck's political enemies, most especially ex-dictator Ibrahim Badamosi Babangida or IBB, known affectionately to Nigerians as "Maradona" or "The Evil Genius". These people claimed that the hand of IBB was behind the bombings as he was seeking to discredit Jonathan.

I am no fan of IBB, and if I had my way, he would be first in line to face a firing squad on the day of the revolution. However, the idea that IBB planned and executed this terrorist act in order to "discredit" Goodluck was extremely laughable. In the first place, the man is running for President on the same platform as Goodluck, and would therefore be keenly aware of Nigerians love of incumbency. Accordingly, unless the bombs were planted in Goodluck's car, there would be no discrediting him.

Secondly, IBB would never plan such a thing as it would be insane of him to do so, knowing that the fingers of blame would immediately head in his direction. Goodluck would thus do everything in his power to prove that it was indeed IBB who planned and carried out the terror attack, and his Presidential race would be over and done with before you could say "June 12".

Then, this evening word came that Raymond Dokpesi, media mogul and the Director of IBB's campaign for President, had been arrested in connection with the bomb blasts, and the evidence against him is that two "suspects" already in custody had exchanged messages asking if Dokpesi had "paid the balance" and setting out plans to meet in IBB's campaign office.

The world record pace at which "suspects" have been arrested by a police force which couldn't catch a cold if you injected it with swine flu, immediately raised my suspicion. That they now claim the existence of these "text messages" as proof of Dokpesi's and, by extension, IBB's involement in what happened on Friday, tells me that clearly, Goodluck and his "advisers" consider themselves to be the smartest people in a country filled with retards.

It all seems so convenient that not only wasn't MEND responsible for the attack, IBB and his campaign director are. Throw in that IBB is easily Goodluck's stiffest challenger in the presidential race, and other far more sinister pictures begin to emerge.

Suppose MEND did it, and Goodluck knows it was indeed MEND, but has acted quickly to pin the crime on IBB in order to get hm out of the way? That doesn't require a hell of a stretch.

Or, suppose it really wasn't MEND? What if the whole thing was simply a plot by Goodluck and his advisers, led by Baba and Mr. Fix-It, designed to get IBB out of the way? That so many were instantly blaming IBB for the whole thing mere minutes after it happened must have had them leaping with glee. We've all seen the callous disregard with which our ruling class treats its citizens. 16 lives sacrificed in the pursuit of power, which is the only thing they care about, is not such a big deal. It would certainly explain Goodluck's rush to absolve MEND of any blame, and his comments about knowing those responsible. It would also explain the criminal negligence of the security agencies who, despite having advance notice of the threat via the news agencies, refused to issue any warning to the public.

It goes some way to showing how it is that they already knew the perpetrators of a crime as sophisticated as a double car bombing less than 24 hours after it had been committed, and had suspects in custody who had text messages asking each other about Dokpesi and IBB.

Connect the dots and ask yourself if it's really that hard to imagine?

Monday, October 04, 2010

The Rat Race

"It is a rat race time..." - The Mandators

You Lagosians are a truly amazing bunch of people. I’m sure that most of you Lagosians are good, honest, hard-working folk. I’m sure you pay your taxes, take care of your kids, and do all things expected of decent folk. However, I have one small observation for you. You’re rats, every last one of you.

See, you guys are crazy, unstable, downright loony. Anyone who has spent 10 minutes in a Lagos traffic jam will tell you Lagos drivers are insane. I could say that the bus drivers are the major culprits, and blame that on ignorance, illiteracy, etc.  and that would be all. In truth, all of you are exactly the same. You lack lane discipline, patience, good sense. And the more expensive the car, the crazier the driver.

One night last month, I spent four hours in a hold-up at Apapa, and ended up spending the night in a “hotel” somewhere in Ojo. The next morning, Chxta (who was driving) and I rose at 5.30 am, to make the journey back to his place in Surulere, where I planned to shower, grab my bags, and head for the airport. On our way out of Ojo, we ran into another traffic jam.

Bear in mind that it was a public holiday, and I reasonably expected you people would be in bed, sleeping off the exertions of the hellish commutes to and from work that Lagos inflicts on its residents. How wrong I was. The buses were packed full of you, and if it were possible, I would have stopped one and asked, “Where the fuck are you people going on a fucking public holiday at 6 fucking o’clock in the fucking morning?!” It made absolutely no sense.

And then the answer hit me.

You have been trained to wake up at 4.30 am, have a bath and rush off to work or whatever, and your minds cannot do without this routine anymore.  You people have been trained to expect a 15 minute drive to last 4 hours and, like any organism placed into such a situation for an extended period of time, you have evolved.

There is one other organism which is trained in the same manner. It is given a fixed task in fixed conditions, for a fixed reward for a length of time until it learns a routine to perfection. And once the routine is learned, the reward can be withdrawn without any adverse effects on performance. The task is  to run a maze, and the reward is the food at the center of the maze.

The organism is a rat.

Lagosians have been trained to run the maze that is their daily life and can now perform the task so adroitly, it doesn't matter that you're supposed to be taking a break. When you try to slow down, your minds revolt because you wouldn't know how to spend your free time. The four hour traffic jam is like a drug to you now, and you're addicted to it. Whenever Lagos-based friends come to Abuja, the first thing they do is complain that Abuja is too boring, seeing as there isn't a place to go that requires you to spend 4 hours sitting in your car twiddling your thumbs. Eventually, one of two things will happen: they either get used to the slower pace of life and acknowledge that Lagos was driving them crazy, or they beat a hasty retreat back to their beloved city.

I have one last thing to say to you. If you spend 4 hours a day in your car doing nothing, and you work a 5 day week, that rapidly becomes 20 hours a week, 80 hours a month, and 960 hours a year. In other words, you spend 40 days a year seated in your car, honking your horn, cursing other drivers, and getting totally stressed out. If you work a 6 day week, it becomes 48 days. And some of you spend 3 hours a day going to work, and 3 hours getting home, and you work 6 day weeks.

It doesn't get much scarier than that.

Friday, October 01, 2010


In life, one is never truly satisfied with one's station. One always strives for better position, greater recognition, more respect. Part-timers want to be full-timers, Assistant Directors want to be Directors, Vice Presidents want to be Presidents, and on it goes. Naturally, in the struggle for upward mobility and dominance, people are prepared to do whatever it takes to achieve their aims, and this drive isn't limited to honest endeavor, as the events today have shown.

The Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta or MEND as they prefer to be known, apparently tired of being called a 'militant group' decided today to go for the much more prestigious position of 'terrorist organisation' and passed their audition with flying colours. The detonation of two bombs during the 50th Independence Day celebrations in Abuja, for which MEND has claimed responsibility, claimed 8 or 10 lives (depending on your source) and left around 21 people injured.

MEND has operated for years under the cover of taking up arms to liberate the Niger Delta from the oppresive Federal Government which has done virtually nothing to develop the area from which comes the vast bulk of our national wealth. For a while, they had me fooled. I felt that the sad state of affairs in the Niger Delta, coupled with the chronic deafness of the FG to the legitimate concerns of the citizenry, the rise of MEND as an outlet for years of pent-up frustration was not only inevitable, but welcomed. I thought it would only be a matter of time before they forced the government to take action on the environmental devastation of the region by multinational oil companies. How wrong I was!

For starters, Asari Dokubo, the self-styled 'mujahedin' leader of MEND was no more than thug who had been closely associated with Peter Odili and played a pivotal role in seeing to it that the 2003 elections produced the 'right' result for Odili and his PDP cronies. It was only a falling out between these two hyenas that led Dokubo to 'discover' the plight of his oppressed people and take up arms on their behalf. Never mind that by rigging elections, he had deprived them of any say in how they were to be ruled.

When the kidnapping of expatriates oil workers began, I expected these Niger Delta 'Robin Hoods' to begin using the ransoms acquired to provide their people with the amenities denied them by the government. I expected to see schools built, roads paved, water provided, hospitals equipped. I expected to see these things as they would shame the FG and perhaps force it to act. This never happened. Instead, the money went on mansions and fancy cars. And, of course, more weapons. Soon, I recognised MEND for what it was - a criminal outfit piggy-backing on the legitimate anger of a region.

What they have done today is beyond any defending. Any residual sympathy people may have had for them is now gone, extinguished as certainly as they extinguished the lives of innocent men and women today. I agree that in 50 years, Nigeria has achieved precisely sweet fuck all. I agree that rolling out drums to celebrate what is no more than 50 years of inertia, corruption and thuggery, is an assault on the sensibilities of any right thinking person. However, I cannot agree with what they have done today.

MEND did not target some government installation. They targeted innocent people, bystanders. People doing their best to get by in a country where everything is dependent on who and not what you know. MEND murdered innocent people today. MEND murdered every last shred of credibility it could possibly have had and along with it, they could well have murdered the legitimate aspirations of the very people they claim to represent.

They have finally given the FG the opportunity to use that time-honored movie line:

"We will not negotiate with terrorists."

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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...