Friday, July 20, 2012

The Root Of All Evil

“The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn’t exist.” – Verbal Kint/Keyser Soze

It is common place to place blame for evil on the devil. Everything that is bad about the world can be heaped on his shoulders, and that’s all well and good. But who is the devil really? What is his mission? Where did he come from?

Now, Christians believe that God is good, God is perfect, and God is all-seeing, and all-knowing. He knows what you’re going to do before you do it and He has never changed His nature. God made man and gave him free will, and God also made angels, who have no free will. And therein lies the rub.

For you see, Satan aka Lucifer, aka the devil, used to be an angel. Then, as the story goes, he rebelled and was cast out, falling to earth where he began to use his angelic powers to oppose the will of the Creator, tempting mankind, and scoring an instant success with Eve and the forbidden fruit.

Now, angels have no free will, they do as they’re told, carrying messages to mankind and occasionally slaughtering a few hundred thousand Egyptian children to make the point that their boss is not to be fucked with and when He says “Let my people go” you let them go (despite shoving His hand up Pharaoh’s arse and working his mouth like a puppet so the poor man said no all the time). But I digress.

The point is, if there was no evil before Lucifer was made, and God is perfect, and Lucifer has no free will, then all he has ever done is follow his programming like any properly made machine. And follow it perfectly because his maker is perfect. Therefore, God deliberately created an evil angel, and is simultaneously the source of good and evil.

And like any good soldier, the devil remembers to check in with central command for updates to his mission and any special assignments. The best illustration of this occurs in the book of Job. The sons of God came to present themselves before Him, and Satan came among them, and God asked him where he had been, and he replied that he’d been travelling the world. Whereupon God asked him if in his travels he’d seen a man as faithful as Job, and Satan replied that Job was faithful only because God had blessed him with riches and a good family. And then God basically ordered Satan to go whack Job’s children, and destroy his business to prove that his faithfulness came from much deeper roots.

Now, get this: Satan not only has free access to Heaven, he is still considered to be one of the sons of God. And when he showed up God didn’t demand to know who let him in or what he was doing there, then throw him out, and fire whoever was on gate duty, oh no. Rather, God demanded to know where the heck he’d been, then gave him a special job. All of which makes Satan an elite general who is permitted to pick and choose his missions, but is working toward a general strategic objective.

The Bible tells you that ultimately, God will triumph over Satan. Which means the creation of Satan was a Machiavellian power play that the man himself would be extremely appreciative of. For one important piece of advice Niccolo gave the Prince was that he ought to create an enemy for himself that he could defeat, but make sure this enemy was not perceived as too weak to be a challenge to himself. Thus, when this enemy is defeated, the Prince’s prestige would rise.

So, Satan serves two purposes: firstly, he’s an “enemy” who has been created so he can be defeated at some point in the future. Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, he serves as a figure everyone can blame their inherent character flaws on, and blame for all the ills that assail them. For, if I personally came by your house one day and gave you a million dollars and then the next day I personally came by and burned your house to the ground and murdered your children, you’d say I was one crazy, twisted, fucking bastard, and you’d never want to have anything to do with me.

However, if I sent someone to burn your house down and murder your children, you’d still think I was a good guy, as long as you don’t connect me to the murdering arsonist I unleashed on you. And if you do, I can always claim that he’s a former associate who went rogue. Why would I do that to you? Well, because I can.

And that, is perhaps Satan’s greatest purpose. He’s ostensibly the ex-servant of God who turned evil, defied his master and came down here to screw up this perfect creation of His. He’s not of God, he’s just a twisted, sick bastard and one day God is going to punch his ticket and put an end to his reign over the world.

When you read between the lines, you discover that Satan is no more than a highly dedicated servant carrying out the instructions of his master, and even though those instructions make him appear to be opposed to his master, he fits into an overall game plan.
I say the greatest trick God ever pulled was convincing the world that the devil isn’t actually working for Him, and has been the entire time. Which makes Satan the world’s greatest and most successful double agent, for he isn’t actually playing for "the other side." The other side doesn’t exist.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Much Ado About a Name

19 years ago, an election was held in Nigeria in which a Yoruba muslim by the name of Moshood Abiola, won the majority of votes in both the north and south of the country. Stunned at the unexpected development, the then junta decided to annul the elections, plunging the country into a crisis from which it is yet to fully emerge.

The winner of that election was arrested and tossed into a dungeon to await the pleasure of Khalifa. His wife, who carried on the fight for him on the outside, was brutally murdered for having the gall to demand that her husband’s victory be recognized and his mandate restored.

Khalifa, then began his own transition program, with the aim of emerging from the cocoon of military dictatorship as a beautiful, dark-goggled civilian butterfly. The plan was going smoothly, the people had to endure being told that Khalifa was the key to their future, and the only man “the cap fit”. And then, one day, right out of the blue, Khalifa died. To this day, speculation surrounds his death, ranging from a poisoned apple wielded by a nubile assassin of Asian origin, to his heart giving out because he ignored the warnings on Viagra packets about mixing the erectile dysfunction medication with alcohol.

Either way, Khalifa passed on, and we held our breath to see if now, finally, Abiola would be granted his mandate. Alas, it was not to be. In the midst of discussions with the new junta, Abiola slumped and passed on, conveniently solving a rather knotty problem, but that is a discussion for another day.

The new junta quickly organized elections, and on May 29, 1999, a civilian President was sworn in. Calls began for MKO to be recognized as a hero of the struggle for democracy, and immortalised as such. These calls were largely ignored by the new rulers who, it quickly emerged, had by and large come from the ranks of the sycophants, apologists, and collaborators who had done their level best to prevent the return of democracy to the country. It was also quickly established that these new rulers had little patience for the rule of the ballot, preferring rigging and outright brutality as their route to attaining and retaining power. For these people, Abiola remains a reminder of what they could never hope to achieve: power through legitimate, free and fair elections.

In 2011, Nigerians trooped to the polls to elect Goodluck Ebele Jonathan as their President. It is safe to say that his administration has been an unmitigated disaster, and we still have 3 years to go. The GEJ administration has lurched from one crisis to another, with flagrant corruption and stupefying incompetence as its hallmarks.

Surprisingly, on May 29, 2012, 19 years after the election he won was annulled, GEJ decided to do something for Abiola, announcing that the University of Lagos would be renamed the Moshood Abiola University. Cue bedlam.

Students took to the streets to protest the renaming of “their” university with poorly-spelled placards. Twitter erupted, some people taking to their handles to question whether there weren’t more important things to deal with than the names of universities. Some simply poured scorn on the man. Others pontificated on the value of the name of the university, saying that it had to do with its heritage. In short, there were so many soapboxes “clumb” upon, it is a wonder that there was any space left for listeners. It is a measure of just how unpopular this administration is that a move meant to recognize a hero of the country swiftly became another stick to beat the President with.

One particular accusation that has been leveled at Mr. President is that this decision was taken to distract Nigerians from the epic failure his administration has been thus far. And I must wonder, have we, as a people, not yet reached that stage in our development in which we can say to Mr. President, “We are glad that you have finally decided to recognize the contribution of Abiola to your being in office today, and we say thank you. Now, how about implementing the recommendations of the subsidy probe report, and firing your hopelessly inept Minister of Petroleum? And oh, while you’re at it, where in nine hells are the allowances for our Youth Corps members?”

Are we not capable of engaging multiple issues in this manner? The furore over the name change of UNILAG ignores one fundamental factor, which is that UNILAG is owned, operated, and funded by the Federal Government of Nigeria, which can consequently call “UNILAG” whatever the hell it wants. As such, those saying that similar protests would occur if the US Government decided to rename Harvard University completely miss the point as Harvard isn’t owned by the US government. Others say that GEJ does not have the power to change the name of a University by executive fiat, but nothing stops Mr. President from submitting a bill to the National Assembly seeking to amend the University of Lagos Act accordingly. (Where it may well wallow for another 20 years.)

We have complained for over a decade that our “democratic” Federal Government had signally failed to recognize Abiola's contributions to democracy. We argued that June 12, not May 29, should be recognized as Democracy Day. We said recognizing Abiola had to go far beyond naming one road after him in Abuja.

At long last, the man receives official recognition and this is how people react? I am willing to wager that many of the students protesting have no idea who Abiola was, or know that Lagos was the epicenter of the protests for the man’s mandate to be restored. I wish the ghosts of those UNILAG students who were killed for daring to protest the annulment of the freest and fairest election in our history, could rise up and give these kids a history lesson they would never forget.

Indeed, if the objective of renaming UNILAG after Abiola was to distract people from the fact that one year into his first full tenure, GEJ is yet to give Nigerians any reason to smile about their choice at the polls, and instead has foisted increasing hardship, unprecedented levels of corruption, and Keystone Kops-esque ineptitude on the country, then I must congratulate GEJ for finally achieving something he set out to do. People are so busy preparing arguments and counter-arguments over what should have been brushed aside with a “that’s nice”, that they have lost sight of the fact that once again, our President has given us a speech with zero substance to it. He did not unveil anything in that speech that we can say was aimed at checking the rot in the security situation. He didn’t say anything about the corruption that has risen to eye-popping levels under his care. He hasn’t told us how he intends to tackle the members of his party who are sponsoring terrorists, a situation that prompted his NSA to speak out in frustration. Hell, the man even refused to say “Amen” to a prayer against corruption and corrupt politicians a couple of days prior to this speech, and in our uber-religious society, that should have raised all sorts of red flags.

Instead, we have once again demonstrated our unmatched capacity for supremely energetic shadow chasing. GEJ and his advisors must be thrilled.

I say to GEJ, “Thank you Mr. President, for recognizing a hero of democracy. Now, how about doing something substantial for once in your administration, like implementing the recommendations of the subsidy probe report, doing something about the Boko Haram sponsors in your party, or are you only capable of bending your knees to terrorists and telling us to endure their actions?”

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Of Sacrifices and Gods

Back in the old days, offerings brought to the temple of a deity automatically became the property of the deity’s priest. This is so because by their very nature, deities do not have bodies requiring sustenance. They do not eat, drink, or sleep. They do not require houses or clothes, or money.

Therefore, when you brought a goat to the shrine, the priest automatically knew that there would be no shortage of goat meat around the house for a while. And, seeing as it was such a sweet deal, no priest was actually going to tell you that his god didn’t need your goats or yams or cowries. Or that his god really didn’t exist and couldn’t make it rain no matter how many cows and chickens were slaughtered in his name. Or that placing food in a calabash by a junction was a waste of your time and your food, and that you were a fucking moron for going hungry while providing flies with a rich environment for breeding.

The invasion and conquest of Africa by the white man dealt the old gods a blow from which they would never fully recover. The sheer technological superiority of the invading forces turned all “cursed” forests into shortcuts, and the idols of our forefathers were brutally swept aside by those newfangled repeating rifles and cannons. Afterward, the white man introduced his god, and told our forefathers that his was the true faith. This god didn’t reside in carvings of wood and stone, promised you eternal life if you served well, and didn’t believe in human sacrifice. Naturally, they glossed over the fact that their god didn’t mind the odd human sacrifice himself as long as it was tastefully done, of course.

No, their god was so benevolent, he sent his only son to die for the entire world, believers and infidels alike, to save them all. And oh, the son would be back one day, so best behavior was required. It also turned out that this god didn’t mind sacrifices of money, yams, goats, cows, etc. In fact, from the spread of his reach, it should have been apparent rather quickly that this god had one voracious appetite.

Men flocked to be priests of the new god, and found that much like the old gods, the sharing formula was the same. Anything brought to the church and handed over to God, was now yours to do with as you saw fit. Some branches of the new faith believed that a man should hand himself over to the religion and forsake such earthly whims as family. Others believed that serving God didn’t require that step. Whichever branch you joined, you had your sheep to tend to, and your sheep supported “the ministry” through their contributions in cash or kind.

Churches soon began to accumulate the kind of wealth that would make Midas salivate with raging envy. And it was only natural that men would begin to question the wisdom of gathering all this cash only to send it off to some headquarters and receiving a pat on the head and a “good boy” for all your trouble. As history is littered with men who saw visions and were hailed as prophets, it was only natural that one would see a vision, receive a personal command from God, and start one’s own church with all the attendant benefits of “headquarters” being the room behind the church.

Before you could say “ka-ching!” men of God began to accumulate the kind of wealth that would make Midas rend his robes and weep at his poverty. Mansions and flashy cars became the order of the day, for these men do not serve a poor God, and all they’re doing is display the benefits of working in the Lord’s vineyard.

The focus of these one-man churches is simple: spread the word, and that word is “cash”. Their followers are admonished to “tithe”, “sow seeds”, “give generously” and so on and so forth. The pastors are no longer mere men of God, they become “Daddy” to their followers. You hardly hear their flock talk about the Bible or Jesus, but all they’re concerned with is what Daddy said about whatever subject.

People then begin to see themselves as vicarious property owners through their pastors, much the same way your father’s house was “your” house when you were a child. The suits, the houses, the cars, the private jets, are all theirs because they belong to Daddy. And they’re all signs of the blessings Daddy could send their way if they made that seed just a wee bit bigger.

In a nation of soul-crushing poverty, men of God are the wealthiest citizens. Their displays of wealth would make your average hedge fund manager look like he hasn’t got two nickels to rub together, and there is no sign of things slowing down, not with the gauntlet Bishop Oyedepo (Daddy to his followers) threw down last week. You see, the man already owns four private jets, but apparently private jets are for the poor, so he started his own airline. And, in case you were wondering, the four private jets aren’t going commercial.

Starting a new airline is a massively capital-intensive business, and may require you to pull off stunt after stunt to build up some brand recognition (just ask Richard Branson what he had to go through with Virgin). It would take years of operating at full capacity just to break even, and your more established competitors aren’t going to mothball their operations so you can catch up. So, in order to shorten the period you’re going to be making a loss, you’ll have to be hyper-aggressive in terms of opening up new routes (like Arik Air is doing) or offering competitive fares to passengers (like Aero Contractors did until the gimmick threatened to bankrupt them). In other words, the airline business is not for the shallow of pocket.

Oyedepo, however, is reputedly Africa’s richest pastor, and the money is still rolling in from his books, CDs, DVDs, conventions, tithes, seeds, etc. With rampant poverty pushing more and more desperate people into churches in order to secure themselves mansions in heaven, the situation is unlikely to change. And just like the priests of the old gods, it’s not in his interest to tell you that a god who created the world in 7 days using nothing other than the sound of his voice couldn’t possibly buy anything with your money. Or that this god who is everywhere has no need of a car or private jet. Or that he has no body and so doesn’t eat yams. Or goats. Or cows.

The gods don’t need your sacrifices and offerings because they can’t bloody use them. Men, however, are a different story. We have bodies, so we need food. We can’t be everywhere at once, so we need transportation. And we love the finer things in life, so we acquire them by any means necessary. And what better way to do that than as the servants of a “powerful” deity? And, the more powerful your deity, the wealthier you become.

It’s so brilliantly simple, anyone can get in on the action, and anyone does. Today, we have churches on every street, sometimes two or three per street. Each one with a name chosen to imply that God himself wrote the signboard, and each with a Daddy within, waiting for his children to come obey his commands.

Religion may be the opium of the masses, but Nigerians have upgraded to heroin. Opium is for the poor, and our god is not poor.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Punch Drunk

The Nigerian citizen is hardly given time to absorb one scandal and work him/herself up into a rage over it before it is replaced by something even more grievous. On an almost daily basis, we are subjected to tales of brazen excess from our rulers, mind-boggling corruption, and staggering incompetence.

The fuel subsidy removal protests forced the government to begin a long-overdue inquest into the rot in the petroleum sector. It was not long before our officials began buck-passing like it was an Olympic event and they were gunning for gold. We heard that it was the Petroleum Minister who authorised payments over and above the budgetary allocation. Then we heard that it was the Finance Minister. Then the Customs people came and told us that the Finance Minister ordered them to waive documentation procedures for petrol imports. We heard that the NNPC uses third-party storage facilities despite having its own. Independent marketers came and complained about being sidelined by people with access.

Then, just like that, the noise about the subsidy regime disappeared. Where has it gone? Probably into a committee which will take time to prepare a report which will shortly thereafter take its place in the pantheon of forgotten reports.

We're not bothered though because we have bigger fish to fry. It wasn't too long ago that our Commander-in-Chief came out and declared that Boko Haram had infiltrated his government. Now, to my admittedly slow and dim-witted mind, it appeared that the man had a ready-made solution: identify the Boko Haram members in the cabinet, sack them, and charge them with treason. Round them up one night and squeeze them for locations, names, etc. But then, like I said, I'm kind of slow and GEJ must have had something even better up his sleeve.
So, what did the man do about the terrorists in his cabinet? Try sweet fuck all. That's right, after telling the world that terrorists had infiltrated the government, the President and his security forces have not been able to publicly identify these people and prove to the country and her enemies that we are capable of handling the situation. Instead, GEJ went and got some MOSSAD agents to provide his personal protection.

In other words, the President was telling us, "You're all fucked if you seriously believe the police and SSS can protect you."

Needless to say that this apparent paralysis only served to embolden the terrorists who quickly scaled up their targets, adding major police and military installations to churches and mosques. After each atrocity, we are treated to the same statement of how those behind the dastardly acts would be fished out, no stone left unturned, and most galling of all, how we only had to endure these things for a little while because the terrorists would soon get tired of all the bombings and go home.
And for his sterling performance in piloting national affairs, GEJ has had a district in Abuja named after him.

Friday, January 13, 2012

A Magnificent Shame

Following the scandal which attended the purchase of Peugeot 407s by the NASS a few years ago, I wrote an article based on my own research which demonstrated that the contract for the supply of those vehicles had been inflated by several hundred million naira. Of course, this is Nigeria, and nobody goes to jail for corruption unless they’ve seriously pissed off whoever happens to be Boss Hogg at that point in time so the storm passed very quickly and quietly.

Shortly after winning his election in 2011, Goodluck Ebele Jonathan (GEJ for short) our new resident Boss Hogg, declared that the subsidy on imported petroleum products was going to have to go. He and his economic team headed by Finance Minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala (NOI for short) and CBN Governor Sanusi Lamido Sanusi (SLS for short) told us that the subsidy was crippling the government’s ability to spend on capital projects. The old arguments which had been trotted out by then-President Olusegun Obasanjo’s (OBJ for short) economic team which was headed by (surprise-surprise) NOI against the retention of the subsidy were dusted off and trotted out to do their thing once more.

We couldn’t subsidise consumption, there was corruption in the system, removing the subsidy would lead to deregulation and we would see a sudden and sharp improvement in the ability of the government to execute projects. Removing the subsidy would be the magic bullet that would solve all our economic woes.

Naturally, people kicked against removing the one thing that allowed the entire country benefit from the staggering wealth produced by the Niger-Delta and largely salted away in the foreign accounts of a few well-connected people over the years. So, we were told that the date hadn’t been set, nut the government was looking at April 2012 or thereabouts.

On January 1 2012, the PPPRA announced that the subsidy on petrol (PMS for short) had been removed, PMS had therefore been deregulated and would now be sold at ₦141 per litre or such other price as the agency would announce from time to time. My immediate reaction was to wonder how you "deregulated" a product but still set its price, but that is just a little corner of the picture. There was widespread outrage at the timing of the announcement and the incredible deception of the government. Transportation costs immediately skyrocketed, stranding several people who had travelled for the holidays. Commodities prices doubled. By January 2, people were in the streets protesting loudly against the callousness of the government’s decision.

Since then we’ve been treated to the usual governmental hogwash, culminating in the most useless Presidential gesture towards hard times since “Let them eat cake”. GEJ got on national TV and announced that basic salaries of office holders would be cut by 25%. Without going into the fact that it’s actually the horrendously hedonistic allowances of these people that bloat their salaries and not the basic pay, GEJ didn’t really say anything of substance in his speech.

NOI appeared on TV to tell us that we were massively in debt, facing hard times, and removing the subsidy would free up funds to tackle national development. I don’t know about the rest of you, but as far as I’m concerned, a Finance Minister who can draw up a budget allocating ₦1 billion to the feeding of the President and VP and their families in 2012, ₦300 million to buy cutlery, ₦200 million to water a garden, and ₦48 million to buy newspapers and magazines for the VP and then turn around and tell the country we need to prepare for austerity measures simply can’t be taken seriously.

SLS then came on air and told us all (with nary a blink in his eye) that he’d been raising alarms about corruption and rot in the subsidy regime for over a year. He told us that there was massive fraud going on, with people falsifying documents and transhipping petrol and so on. And then he threw up his hands and wailed that there was so much money involved, people could be bribed and there was more or less nothing the government could do to stop these fiends.

Ignoring the fact that the CBN Governor himself had just told the world that the administration he worked in lacked the will power to tackle corruption, the proposed solution surely flew in the face of common sense. We all remember when OBJ told us people were stealing money from toll gates and the solution was to demolish the toll gates. Surely, the proper thing to do was to launch an investigation into the theft, and prosecute a few people, thus letting everyone know that stealing from the FG would not be tolerated? I marvelled at the special brand of lunatic logic that one had to possess in order to see his solution as the right one. However, before anyone could debate the matter, all toll gates on federal highways were demolished at the cost of ₦360 million. I did however believe that with the transition of OBJ’s administration, that insane way of thinking was behind us for good. I was sorely mistaken.

We have been told that the subsidy bill for 2011 was ₦1.3 trillion. However, what was budgeted to cover the subsidy was ₦248 billion. From SLS’ pronouncements, we can safely conclude that the higher figure is the result of monumental, staggering corruption. Surely the proper thing to do is to tackle the corruption and bring any perpetrators to book? Wouldn’t that save the country billions and make the subsidy immediately more affordable?

But no, the government’s solution is to abolish the fund altogether. We have been told that there is a powerful “cabal” bent on retaining the subsidy for their own evil ends. We are told that we’ve been borrowing to fund the subsidy and this can no longer continue. Accordingly, this administration is basically telling us that it has been borrowing to finance corruption and not only is it aware of what is going on, it has no intention of solving the problems it has identified, and would rather abdicate its responsibilities altogether.

Now, I am economist, I hated maths in school and it hated me right back. I’m just a simple fellow with a simple brain but thanks to the marvels of modern science, I can rely on software to crunch really big numbers for me, so here goes.

If we assume an average production in 2011 of 1.5 million bpd of crude oil, sold at the government’s budgeted price of $70 per barrel (and we all know the real figure is higher than that) we can calculate that Nigeria earned around $38 billion selling crude oil in 2011. That’s ₦5.7 trillion using ₦150 to a dollar. Our total budget for 2011 was (wait for it) ₦4.4 trillion or thereabouts. That means that even using the government’s traditionally lower than actual price, we should have a surplus of over ₦2 trillion in last year’s budget from crude oil sales alone. This calculation doesn’t take internally generated revenue into account, and I have it on good authority that the FIRS had what one would call a phenomenal year. So, by my rudimentary calculations, although overshooting the budgeted subsidy in 2011 by almost over a trillion buckaroos is extremely alarming, we actually earned enough dosh to cover the amount and have a bit left over.

So, I challenge SLS and NOI with their fancy degrees and letters after their names to tell me that I am wrong. I want them to explain how we’re operating a deficit budget despite earning staggering sums of money. Did the world crude market tank in 2011? Did Nigeria's crude production fall to around 10,000 bpd? Didn’t we collect any income or corporate taxes? I want them to tell me that there is some justification for the rapacious borrowing that has seen our sovereign debt rise to over $33 billion dollars, our foreign reserves fall to $27 billion, and seen the ECA balance drop to $0.00. I want them to tell us all how they justify paying our federal legislators more money than the President of the United States of America.

I especially want them to explain the magnificent shame of Nigeria being the only oil producer in the world which relies on imported petrol.

Can they?

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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...