Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Unless you have been living under a rock, you have heard about AFRICOM. According to President Bush, AFRICOM "will strengthen our security cooperation with Africa and create new opportunities to bolster the capabilities of our partners in Africa, ... Africa Command will enhance our efforts to bring peace and security to the people of Africa and promote our common goals of development, health, education, democracy, and economic growth in Africa.”

Now, of course, we commoners do not know the details of any such agreement between the U.S. and whatever African countries will sign up for the 'partnership'. So, it is quite possible that when the ink dries, any partnership will not only benefit the U.S. but will also benefit Africa.

In the interim, let us turn our sights to Nigeria. All the chatter in the U.S. regarding AFRICOM suggests that Nigeria has signed up for the partnership. I have not heard anything from Obasanjo's administration but what I have heard and read from the mouths of the U.S. military establishment makes it clear that Nigeria is in cahoots with the U.S. This gives me great cause for alarm. I am nervous about the militarization of American international policy particularly in the Gulf of Guinea, an area historically fraught with tension, violence, military domination and dictatorships and a quality of life that is abhorrent.

If you are wondering whether the U.S. currently has a military presence in the Gulf of Guinea, consider that U.S. military ships are at this moment patrolling the Niger Delta region with permission from Obasanjo. The U.S. military is also assisting the Nigerian government in beefing up and securing our northern border from terrorists (shudder!).

As I said above, it is quite possible that Nigeria will benefit from this arrangement. But from what I have seen and heard, there is little benefit for the ordinary Nigerian. Not yet, anyway. What is apparent is that this 'collaboration' is not one between equals. Whenever there is an unequal relationship, the smaller partner will undoubtedly get swallowed alive.

Anyway, I am concerned that the militarization of the Niger Delta will only cause more friction between the various forces that are currently fighting for control and/or access to oil revenues. By bringing in more military equipment and 'better trained' soldiers (be they American or Nigerian), the conflict between MEND and the Nigerian military will simply escalate, leaving the poor to suffer the consequences. Such military escalation will do very little to improve the living standards of the various ethnic groups that call the Delta home - the Ijaws, the Kalabari people or the Ogoni who are only three of approximately 65 nations that live in that region.

Additionally, assuming that AFRICOM is eventually headquartered in Sao Tome & Principe (within Nigeria's sphere of influence and close to our territorial boundaries), it will militarize a region that historically has been fraught with military repression and dictatorships (as mentioned above).

Of additional consequence is the possibility that the presence of America in the Delta Region will attract anti-American radicals into a region that is already unstable and in desperate need of democracy and not more conflict. Can you imagine the instability of Iraq taking place in Nigeria? God forbid! I would never wish such madness on anyone. However, one cannot ignore the fact that the presence of American soldiers in Iraq has drawn groups and individuals into Iraq with the sole purpose of attacking American interests.

The relationship and partnership between Obasanjo and the Bush administration on this matter illustrates the lack of commitment to democracy by Nigerians and our leaders. This is not the first time that Obasanjo has entered into agreements with the U.S. without allowing elected officials to have a say. Such action, sanctioned by the U.S., simply reinforces for many that Obasanjo does not have the nation's interest at heart. For many, this sentiment is extended to the U.S by default. The inability of Nigerians to have a robust debate on this issue and therefore influence whether or not a 'collaboration' would take place, reinforces that our society lacks a concrete understanding of accountability and the fact that if you don't like your representatives, you must then vote them out of power. Sadly, by partnering with Obasanjo, the U.S. has intentionally/unintentionally taken advantage of this mentality to its benefit and our detriment.

Well, it is our fault. Na we wey de do mumu. Can you blame someone for taking advantage of our situation? I know I can't as I probably would do the same if faced with the issues America faces - the potential interruption of oil flow and the potential security threat posed by radicals and terrorists. This fact must cause all Nigerians and those sympathetic to Nigeria's need for democracy to ask, who will fight for Nigeria? Our 'leaders' clearly do not have our interest at heart. Only God knows why. But as I noted in a previous post, 'White Man's Magic', our 'leaders' do not consider their constituents to be intelligent, enterprising people but rather, lazy and inferior. Taking that attitude into account, it is clear that such leaders can neither be trusted nor expected to "hold the reins of power and lead effectively."

So, again I ask, 'Who will fight for Nigeria'? I hope that our 'leaders' will realize that the cure to solving the instability in the Delta is to improve the quality of life of those who live there, not introduce more guns and artillery into the area. Unfortunately, I have no answer to my own question and lack any positive insight on this situation. As I noted above, the ink is yet to dry on this 'collaboration', so, I will remain cautious and pray for the best because only God can fight for Nigeria. E be like say our own wahala don pass human intervention.

Further Reading:
- AFRICOM: The Dotted Line Has Been Signed
- A Bush In Africa
- A Liberian's Thoughts on AFRICOM
- Nigerian Presidential Elections Back In The Spotlight

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Tuesday, February 27, 2007

"[T]he Niger Delta covers almost 75,000 square miles and 185 local government areas. Home to the world’s third largest mangrove forest and the most extensive freshwater swamp forests in west and central Africa, the Delta is a “hot-spot” of global biodiversity. Thus the Delta is much more than the source of most of Nigeria’s oil output; it is also a vital and fragile natural environment, a world resource that demands protection."

- CONVERGENT INTERESTS: US Energy Security and the "Securing" of Nigerian Democracy, Center For International Policy, February 2007, p. 7.

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Saturday, February 24, 2007

I had a conversation with a wise man Friday evening and a topic that we frequently talk about came up. Why is it that in Nigeria, we tend to trust/prefer white people over our fellow Nigerians? Some of us truly believe that anything good stems from 'white man's magic'.

Let me offer an example, I once visited Ikoyi Club in Lagos with a cousin of mine. We wanted to sit by the pool and order some lunch but were told to wait. As we were standing there, this young white man, probably not more than 16 at the time, came behind us. The same host that just told us to wait, ran up to said white man with a huge grin on his face and seated him promptly. My cousin lost it and made sure to let the host have it. After all, there was only one other couple seated when we arrived, so there was no issue of there not being enough seating. Anyway, we chose to leave and go somewhere else.

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Friday, February 23, 2007

Pat Oliphant

Just thought I would add this comic strip that was sent to me by Dee.

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Wednesday, February 21, 2007

(DISCLAIMER: The title to this post are lyrics from Anna Nicole Smith's reality TV show titled, The Anna Nicole Show. It aired a few years ago and considering the madness surrounding her death and the aftermath, I thought those lyrics were apropos for today's entry. Despite the possible connotation, my post does not aim in anyway to bash the late Ms. Smith.)

My focus on the late Ms. Smith was prompted by a growing frustration that reached its pinnacle today. For the last few weeks, there has been a media freefest about this woman, her dead son, her infant daughter, her lawyer/lover/piranha, her estranged mother, her photographer ex, her alleged 'Prince' of a lover and the list goes on.

Back to the real issue - I reached my limit today. It is Anna-mania everywhere and none of it is good. I turned on the television to catch some news and put it on MSNBC. What did I see? Ms. Smith's mother in a lilac colored outfit, joking about her age. I then changed the channel to FOX NEWS and again, there was the same woman joking around in court. Both CNN and CNN Headline News were no better. She surely did not look like someone who was bereft with grief over the very recent loss of her daughter. Anyway, I digress. The point is that those channels are the only 24 hour news channels I receive. Yet, I could not get any news, except if I wanted to read the information most channels scroll at the bottom of the television screen.

There are people dying, changes occurring that can spell disaster and damnation for millions of people and other serious things that are of more significance than the madness that is currently being covered by the U.S. 'news' media. I must confess that I am tired of hearing about the many scandalous revelations surrounding Ms. Smith.

Her 'loved ones' couldn't wait 24 hours before there were court cases and hearings. I find that despicable. However, such behavior made me think about Nigerians and the madness that happens when someone with perceived assets dies. We have all heard stories of husbands dying and his family members descending upon his property and taking everything, leaving little for his wife/wives and children.

This practice of rushing to collect the 'spoils' goes beyond any particular group of people. Nigerians, at least, try to give the appearance of respecting the dead by wearing black and taking a period of mourning. Here, in the U.S., I continue to be shocked by the constant quick return to normalcy that people in the public eye have when they lose someone. "Oh, he would want me to go on..." is what they say, to justify their inability to hide that they are not affected by a 'loved ones' death. It is customary in Nigeria to not speak ill of the dead, no matter what their faults may have been. As we can see with the late Ms. Smith, dead people get no respect and can be attacked for various issues despite their inability to defend themselves.

Despite my problems with Nigeria, I wish that our attitude towards death and the importance of mourning could be adopted by the media over here. It would reduce the need and desire to force feed viewers all the unsavory and unnecessary details that arise every day with respect to Anna Nicole.

Anyway, although I think Ms. Smith's actions contributed to what is now going on, the fact is that she had the right to live her life as she saw fit. It was the media and viewers who cared so much to know what she was or wasn't doing. Nevertheless, may her soul rest in peace. And, to all those who claim to have her daughter's interests at heart, God have mercy on you. To her daughter, I'm sorry you lost your mother and hope that you can somehow grow into a descent, God-fearing human being. Finally, to all those who take advantage of someones death to make a name or kobo for themselves, best of luck. In this day and age you might just achieve your goals, but at what cost?

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Monday, February 19, 2007

Today, I spent some time watching TV One's Black Men Revealed. The topic of the day was "Dark Skin vs. Light Skin" and the conversation proved to be interesting. The participants had funny and witty comments from time to time and at other times, made down right ridiculous statements.

Well, after watching for a while, I could not help but think about Nigeria and the various issues my people have about skin tone. Consequently, this post about the 'complexion complex'. I shall define the 'complexion complex' as an inability to accept and appreciate darker skin tones, and a disturbingly particular preference for lighter skin. My definition of this 'condition' stems from my experiences in Nigeria and my interactions with people from other countries such as Cote D'Ivoire, Zaire (now the D.R.C.) and India to name a few. Growing up, it became clear to me that to be dark skinned was not desirable. At school, light skinned students got better treatment from teachers and students alike. Some parents even informed their children to not bring any "dudu" girl/boy home to be considered an in-law. These examples barely scratch the surface of what is the pervasive and complicated practice of skin bleaching in Nigeria.

But, for a concrete example of the 'complexion complex', one need look no further than the popularity of bleaching creams toy Nigerians. According to a document posted at YouthExchange.com, a 2002 survey showed that the usage of bleaching cream in Lagos was close to 77%. Now, I find that percentage startling and even hard to believe. I also do not pay attention to figures when I do not have any idea of how a set of statistics were gathered. That being said, however, I cannot contest the figure but will simply acquiesce that a lot of people use bleaching creams. Considering the fact that Fela even penned a song about the practice, Yellow Fever, no one can question that bleaching is very popular.

So, why the fascination with this bleaching practice? I personally feel that the source of our 'complexion complex' stems from our interaction with Europeans. I believe, that as a people we were fed the delusion that to be white was superior and thus, many of us aspired to be as close to such superiority as possible. It is no secret that white women are still considered the ultimate symbol of beauty by a large majority of people in and out of Nigeria. Accordingly, those with lighter complexions are thus closer to what is the pinnacle of beauty and success - whiteness.

Skin bleaching is actually a very dangerous custom. The acting ingredient in most bleaching creams, hydroquinone, is known to cause serious skin discolorations and maybe even certain forms of skin cancer (according to tests done on rats). According to a Chicago Sun-Times report in January 2007, the U.S. Food & Drug Administration is considering placing a ban on skin lightening creams. Although less potent than bleaching creams, the basis for the potential ban is the health issues these products pose. In fact, the type of bleaching creams that are available on every corner in Nigeria have been banned in the U.S. and other countries for several years. This is because, in addition to containing hydroquinone, bleaching creams contain dangerous levels of mercury which can and do cause neurological disorders and kidney damage.

There is clearly no reasonable need to bleach one's skin. Yet, despite this fact, it is clear that human beings are not always rational actors and therefore, will do things, such as bleaching, that make little sense. To bring this unsafe practice to an end in Nigeria, we will need to embark upon a serious campaign to rewire our attitudes towards complexion. We cannot continue to under-appreciate the beautiful skin that God blessed us with because colonialists enslaved us mind, body and soul in order to control us and our resources. We must let go of our insecurities and slavish dedication to the lies we were fed. When we achieve this, we will diminish the desire to be lighter. By reducing the socio-cultural bias against dark skin, there will be less pressure to apply bleaching creams.

To discourage bleaching, we must educate each other about the potential health risks involved with the practice. Those that are unaware, must be given the necessary information so they can then decide whether the risks are worth the supposed reward of lighter skin. Those that are aware of the health risks must also be provided with clear illustrations of the effects of the practice.

Finally, the government must take precise action to bring this custom to an end. Laws must be drafted to ban the production, importation, possession, sale and use of bleaching creams that contain unhealthy levels of chemicals that cause the previously mentioned health problems. Of course, merely having laws on the books is never a solution, so, the laws must be enforced with the full and complete backing of the authorities. Our government must think ahead and be concerned about the future ramifications awaiting us due to our use of bleaching creams. Productive individuals will be unable to contribute to the economy and society as a whole because they will have to deal with health problems. Assuming that Nigeria eventually gets its act together and creates an effective health care system for most Nigerians, the potential cost of treating thousands, if not millions, of Nigerians will be staggering. It would be much better to avoid the future financial and societal costs of bleaching.

I hope that anyone reading this will stop bleaching and/or never start the practice. I also hope that if you know someone that bleaches, you will strongly counsel them to stop. Above all these, I pray that all Nigerians will let go of the bias we have against ourselves and eventually bring an end to the dreaded 'complexion complex'.

Please read Bleached Skin Isn't The New Black (Folake)

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Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Please scroll downwards for the aforementioned discussion. Or, simply click here. Do remember that the next installment takes place on February 16th at NIGERIAN POLITRICKS. It will then be GBEBORUN OF LAGOS that will host on February 23rd.

For more information on upcoming installments in the series, please visit Nilla's Spin .

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My mother has once again introduced me to something new musically. She asked me recently if I had heard of a song called 'Olori Oko'. I told her no, but somehow, the title sounded familiar. (It turns out another blogger had featured the artist Infinity, but I never had the chance to listen to the song).

I went to YouTube and low and behold, there it was. After listening to the song, I realized that this is the sort of Nigerian music that I have been looking for. I found the song to be inspiring and uplifting. The video, though the online quality was poor, was nice as well. I find it to be in line with the great history and tradition of theater that is commonplace in Nigeria. Reminded me of a trip my class took to watch a play at the National Theatre many years ago. Good times.

Anyway, here is the video for Olori Oko. It is in Yoruba (at least most of it) but you should be able to enjoy it nonetheless. It is also heavily influenced by the Bible and cleverly weaves in many Yoruba proverbs. If I find a translation, I will post it.

Further Reading:

-Nigeria vs. The African Continent II - P-Square "Say your Love"
-Nigeria vs. The African Continent III - Infinity's "Olori Oko"
-Nigeria vs. The African Continent IV - Tuface
-Nigeria vs. The African Continent V - Ty Bello's "Greenland"

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Monday, February 12, 2007

Every February is Black history Month in the United States. It is a time to remind ourselves of the great achievements and sufferings of Blacks in this country.

I have always been aware of the importance of this month for society as a whole. It is important to highlight the contributions of various segments of society. It is also crucial to educate those who lack awareness to the sacrifices that were made by those upon whose sweat and tears the economic foundation of this country depended.

For the first time in my life, I actually took the time to consider the significance of this month to me, as an individual. What brought this about? Well, I realized that for as long as I could remember, this was the first February where any reference to Black History Month was limited to commercials on entertainment channels. I have not caught many commercials recognizing the Month but did catch the Coca Cola ad that was shown Superbowl Sunday.

Anyway, after a lot of thought, I must say thank you to all those who marched, rioted, boycotted, cried and died to make America a place where black people can and do have opportunities. Thank you to the usual suspects - Martin Luther King, Jr., Harriet Tubman and W.E.B. Du Bois. Thank you to the nameless faces whose names I cannot mention that lost their lives in the struggle for equality.

It is the courage and strength of the activists (peaceful or not), the intellectuals and all who played a part big or small that have paved a path for me, a Nigerian, to be here and to succeed. The struggles against discrimination also influenced my forefathers in the quest for Pan Africanism and freedom from colonial slavery.

I cannot imagine living in the America that was but have great hope that the America that is to come will be one that honors the sacrifices of those who have come and gone.

To learn more about the history of Black History Month, please visit The Origins of Black History Month.

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Friday, February 9, 2007

I spent a lot of time thinking about what issues to present for the Nigerian Discussion Series today. After thinking for a long time, I realized that there was one problem that repeatedly arises whenever we talk about anything in Nigeria. That problem is corruption. I think it is necessary for us to deal with this underlying issue today. As we all know corruption is pervasive in Nigerian society and exists at practically every level of society. For Nigeria to progress into a country where a majority of its people can afford 3 meals a day, have access to appropriate healthcare and where teachers can get paid a fair salary, corruption, and its effects, must be expunged.

The Niger Delta, for instance, is in complete chaos and I believe that government officials are to blame. Organizations like MEND kidnap and destroy in a quest to get more oil revenue for the people of the region who live in absolute squalor. Yet, it has been well documented that although the oil producing states of Nigeria make up around 10 percent of Nigerians, they receive a significant amount of federal funds annually. Where does that money go? Undoubtedly into the pockets of politicians and their cronies. All reasonable people know that oil revenue should be used to build schools, hospitals, provide clean water and electricity and of course, clean up the environmental mess created by oil companies like Shell. Apparently, corrupt officials are not reasonable and do not see that the solution to MEND and the Delta's problems is to investment in their constituents.

The Obasanjo administration set up the EFCC to investigate and prosecute Nigerian officials for corruption. This organization has put various elected officials, political aspirants and even military officials in the hot seat by accusing them of graft. I can only hope that they will soon turn their attention to the corrupt leaders of the Niger Delta. Well, corruption has reared its ugly head in the preparation for upcoming elections. The EFCC just released a list of political aspirants it alleges are too corrupt to participate in the upcoming elections. However, as is sometimes the case in Nigeria, a good thing can turn bad very quickly. Critics have accused the EFCC of being a tool for Obasanjo to thwart the political ambitions of his alleged enemies. These accusations have, and continue, to weaken the platform upon which EFCC was founded and in my opinion have created an environment where future attempts to wipe out corruption will be threatened, but not impossible.

The 'Big Boys' are clearly not the only ones in the corruption game. I once saw a Nigerian movie where a woman could not go past a gateman to see his oga on the inside. Why? Well, he informed her that he did not care who came to visit his oga, everybody had to 'settle' him first. She calmly gave the man his money and walked into the house. I use this as an example of how rampant corruption is and how every layer of society participates in it and is obviously affected by it.

We must all admit that corruption is the common denominator to all of Nigeria's problems. From the Big Boys to the gatemen. From the police officers to the university teachers. How are we going to get rid of corruption in Nigeria? Are institutions like EFCC the way to deal with the issue? If not, are there alternative measures and what are they? How can we as individuals, at home and abroad, effect change? It is imperative that we address this issue because we need to come up with the solution. We clearly cannot depend upon our leaders to do it.

UPDATE: The governors of Ebonyi, Enugu and Benue have been charged with corruption. (Thanks for the update mom). See it in the Tribune.

(Sorry for the delay in listing this entry. Winter storm took out our power.)

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Thursday, February 8, 2007

So, Ghana whupped Nigeria's @$$! Since I didn't watch the match (don't think it was shown Stateside), I visited a couple blogs and websites. I finally landed at a blog I read frequently and it gave me an incredible description of the author's attendance at the aforementioned match.

If you have the time, read Nelson Abbey's post on the match - 'Ghana Obliterates Nigeria'. It is hilarious. Now, I must warn you, if you are Ghanian, you might be offended. As, Mr. Abbey has 'insults' for everyone, he called a Ghanian fan a "Somalian looking Kenkay soldier ." Now, I know that the comment will rile up some Ghanians, but sorry, after a hard day, it really made me laugh.

Don't forget that Mr. Abbey is an equal opportunity offender in this post. Therefore, if you are a Nigerian woman, tread lightly because a brief reference to Nigerian women as gremlins could make you very, very, very upset. Fortunately, I have dealt with this issue of attitudes towards Nigerian women ("I'M NOT REALLY ATTRACTED TO NIGERIAN WOMEN.") and have 'exorcised' the demons that can arise from such a comment. LOL!

So, read the post with an open mind and enjoy his commentary. Oh, please read some of the responses from upset Ghanians. The back and forth is simply priceless.

PS. - Is it Ghanians or Ghanaians? Only saw the latter option while using spellcheck. Quite confusing.

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Corruption is the issue that raises its ugly head any time one talks about Nigeria. Regardless, of the context. Want to drive down the road to the market? Corruption - you or the taxi driver must 'grease' the palms of the various police officers at several police checkpoints on the way. Need to start a business? Better know the right people, who know the right people so you can find the right people to bribe. I could present many more examples but the point has been made. All Nigerians can agree that corruption is rampant in practically every sector of society.

Yesterday, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) listed 137 persons that it alleged were too corrupt to run in the upcoming April elections. The current EFCC list mentioned political aspirants from all the main parties and continues to embolden those individuals who argue that the EFCC is simply an attempt by Obasanjo to prevent Atiku and his supporters from winning positions in the upcoming elections.

Contrary to Fela's legendary song, this last point that should give us all 'cause for alarm'. The EFCC should be lauded for playing an important role - investigating graft and corruption and bringing the perpetrators to justice. However, I worry that a process that should be above and beyond repute is being dragged into the mud. Although I am in support of legal and political wrangling, the back and forth between the various factions continues to descend into a mess. As if on cue, Governor Bola Ahmed Tinubu responded by stating,

"I don't know when I was investigated. Nobody has questioned me... How can EFCC indict somebody who was never contacted, formally accused and formally investigated?... It is full-blown dictatorship that we are having in the country... The President is after Atiku. EFCC put other people's names just to make the whole thing credible. We know our lives are in danger because of Atiku." [sic]
This comment represents the thoughts of several people. Such sentiment simply plagues the political process and bogs it down in minutea, wasting precious time that should be spent discussing Nigeria's future and the steps political aspirants will take to take the country forward.

As of today, the PDP, which had 53 individuals on the EFCC graft list, announced that it will replace 52 candidates with others that are not connected to the list. (Why the PDP mentioned 52 individuals and not 53, is anyone's guess). It seems that they are working hard to place the party above repproach. This act of replacing their candidates helps to distance the party from corruption and separate themselves from other parties that are yet to indicate what they will do other than go to court. Above all else, the PDP's action also lends credibility to the EFCC list and again opponents will simply espouse Tinubu's claims that the EFCC is a cover for Obasanjo who is a member of the PDP.

So, here is my question - is all this wrangling really necessary? Can an election be won without political manipulation and maneuvering? I can honestly say that I do not know. At least not at this stage of Nigeria's political development. Consider for a moment the 2000 Presidential election in the U.S. It involved dimples, chads, voter machines and ultimately a decision by the Supreme Court in favor of George W. Bush. I don't think anyone could have foreseen the serious political battle that occur ed, and probably not the conclusion. And this is in a country with over 200 years of voting for Presidents and other elected officials.

The art and business of politics in Nigeria, as in America, is cutthroat and involves serious disputation. Politicians are simply concerned with winning and getting a piece of the pie and not the consequences that their fighting might have for the country's future. Don't get me wrong, I still believe in the use of the law and legal structure to create a history and precedent of a non-violent means of achieving resolution. Nevertheless, the continued descent into madness on the part of Nigeria's 'leaders' has me concerned. I am convinced that corruption, as always, is playing an overly significant role in what should be a period of inspiration and hope for the country. After all, this would be the first time that one democratically elected President has handed power to a democratically elected successor. Despite this, we have managed to turn the quest to expunge corruption into a trifling battle between politicians who in my opinion, care little about the country but care most about their fame and riches.

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Tuesday, February 6, 2007

As I noted in my last post, Nigerians seem to be doing very well when it comes to getting an American green card through the Visa Lottery. Here is the evidence. Of all the countries and regions in the world where people are allowed to participate, more Nigerians were invited to gain a green card than anyone else. 9849 Nigerians, to be exact. That number is staggering when you consider that the closest country/region was Ethiopia at 6871.

Well, digest that. This could definitively explain why I feel that my city is little Nigeria, what with the amount of Nigerians I see, or hear, on a daily basis. Oh, I mentioned the proliferation of Nigerians in Bowie in Where Did All the Hausa People Go?

If you would like to see the 2007 results for yourself, please click here.

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Have you ever watched 'The Foreign Exchange with Fareed Zakaria'? Well, I caught a few minutes of it late last night and all I could think was 'It's amazing what you can learn from TV."

Zakaria was interviewing Edward Luce and they discussed how the Indian economy grew outside the realms of the government because the Indian government was ineffective at creating the necessary growth and development. I couldn't help but think of Nigeria, as this is my suggestion for future development for that country. See my earlier post, Response to Nilla, for more on that topic. I will spend some more time developing the idea in a future post.

Anyway, Zakaria and his Mr. Luce moved on to talk about America's popularity in India. Mr. Luce noted that apart from India, there was one other country in the world where America's popularity was not only high, but grew despite the negative image America has in most of the world. Guess what country that was? Yes, you figured it out, didn't you? The answer was Nigeria. I couldn't believe it. America's popularity grew in Nigeria? Interesting. As I am eternally curious, I decided to go downstairs to the computer and get on Google. You can always find what you need via Google.

According to the latest Pew Global Attitudes report, there are only two other countries that have America-favorability ratings higher than Nigeria - The U.S. and Japan, respectively (of the countries where people were polled). Considering how much Nigerians like America, you would think it wouldn't be so hard for Nigerians to get a visa. Although, come to think of it, Nigerians seem to be doing very well at the Green Card lottery. Seen the figures lately?

What really caught my attention was the fact that despite the high numbers for America, there is a clear disconnect between Nigerian Christians and Muslims. The report noted that, "[r]oughly nine-in-ten (89%) Nigerian Christians have a favorable view of the U.S., compared with only 32% of Nigerian Muslims." It went on to state that the margin between Christians and Muslims grew since 2003 when 85% of Nigerian Christians favored America while 38% of Nigerian Muslims viewed America favorably.

This stark difference between Nigerians is normal. After all, there are a lot of us (140 million) and thus, there will be various opinions on everything. However, the fact that the difference in opinion falls along religious lines makes me apprehensive. This pronounced divide further illustrates the tension between Nigerians that is religious, ethnic and economic. A tension that I continue to hope will not be the trigger for a seriously dangerous situation. There is enough instability in the country, and I worry that anything could light a fire that we will not be able to extinguish in time. The consequence of which will be lost lives. I worry that those who do not care about our future will take advantage of this deep division to their benefit and of course, our detriment.

Despite the pessimistic tone, I know that there are many ways to move Nigeria towards a place of healing and trust. It will take all people doing all things, big and small, to close the divide. It starts with raising your children and impressing upon those who look to you with respect the importance of treating our brothers and sisters well. We can not continue to treat our tribal mates preferentially at the disadvantage of others. We are all Nigerians and must always remember that fact. Yes, we were thrown together by Europeans who had no idea or didn't care of the consequences that would arise from their random country-creating. Nevertheless, we are Nigerians and must work through the problems of haphazard nation construction (at the hands of the British) and turn Nigeria into a place where many are one. That has a nice ring to it, don't you think? I can see it right now 'NIGERIA. WHERE MANY ARE ONE.' Don't you see the t-shirts and bumper stickers? If any of you steal my idea, well, I'll simply take you to court. I am not kidding. I didn't become a lawyer for nothing.

Anyway, why don't you keep that in mind the next time you have to interact with a Nigerian from a different ethnic group or religion. No, not my threat of litigation, but the promise of hope. NIGERIA. WHERE MANY ARE ONE.

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Saturday, February 3, 2007

Alright, let me explain the random title. I am curious as to why in over 10 years of living in the United States, I have never met a Hausa man or woman in my age range. As far as I am concerned, Hausa people are practically extinct. Of course, I know they exist, I grew up and went to school with Hausas. However, I have only met 2 Hausa people in the U.S. I met a Hausa man (and official pervert) while working at Blockbuster and a relative of mine is married to a Hausa lady. Neither of these two are my age mates and I am desperately seeking Hausa people for reasons that will become clear as you continue reading.

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Here is a joke I received this morning. I hope you enjoy it. It should also give you cause to think about a couple things.

A Hausa, an Igbo, a Yoruba, and a Stupid Calabar Man

Uche Ogbuagu, the number one Igbo comedian and social commentator southeast of Nigeria, has released a new Audio CD titled "Ochichi Gbakwaa oku," which literally translates to "May Leadership burn in fire" or, metaphorically,"our rulers can go to hell". In that CD, Uche Ogbuagu tells the story of three men, a Hausa, a Yoruba, and an Igbo. The three men had heard that a Calabar restaurant owner in a small town was suffering from amnesia, short-term memory loss, forgetfulness.

So the three men, with dishonorable intent, went to eat at the restaurant. The Yoruba man went in first andordered some food. When he was done, the Calabar man asked him for payment."I have already paid" replied the Yoruba man. And being a forgetful man, the Calabar man apologized and off went the Yoruba man. The Hausa man went in and ate. Once again, the Calabar man, after serving him the food, asked forpayment. "I have already paid you. In fact I paid even before eating,"responded the Hausa man. Again, the forgetful Calabar restaurateur holdinghis head in his hands, quickly apologized. Finally the Igbo man, who had seen the success of his partners in crime,went in and, after eating, was confronted with a request for payment. "Man", said the Igbo man to the Calabar man, "you seem to be forgetful. Abeg give me my change!"

I heard this story while riding from the Airport to my hometown, in my brother's Jeep on the eve of this past Christmas. The Jeep, which was full of my noisy friends who came with my brother to pick me up, immediately erupted with chest-hugging and noisy laughter, in fact guffaws, with tears dripping down my brother's eyes as if he was hearing the story for the first time. As I held my chest, laughing, what followed, unexpectedly, was a heated debate about whether the Igbo was the smartest of the three clowns or whether his partners, who were satisfied with just eating for free, were more honorable, and so on.. I had too many questions. Uche Ogbuagu's story ended without indicating whether the Igbo man received his 'change'. What ultimately happened to the Calabar man? Inexplicably, I wanted very badly to know this information.

One of my friends, who had attended the University of Calabar , insisted that he knew exactly the location of the restaurant where this story started and could take me there. I did not believe him but I was already scheduled to attend a friend's wedding in Cross River State on January 7, 2007. On a dare, and with too much time on our hands on January 5, 2007, off we went toCalabar, Cross River State , with a sense of adventure. In a small town near Calabar Municipality , we drove to a small but clean motor parts shop on astreet corner lined by provision stores owned by mostly Igbos but also by some other Nigerians who were clearly not from Cross River State. Across the street from the motor parts shop was a big white building housing a medical clinic called simply Medical Clinic. Two teenage boys attended to us as we selected some useless motor oil and power steering fluid. After making our selections, a man, whom I assumed was the owner, came to us and asked, in Calabar language "Nno me oku" (give me money). A man of about fifty years of age, he was graying on the fringes of his hairline, graceful, and immaculately dressed in a white outfit. I greeted him in the Efik language "Ete mesiere" (Good morning sir)."Mesiere nde" (good morning to you too) he answered."Iren foo?" (how are you?) I asked. "Mmode"(fine) he said.(Now my greetings in Efik were phonetically correct but I cannot guarantee that the written forms are grammatically correct). As soon as my friends told him why we came to talk to him, he asked us to leave his shop. He was either tired of telling his story or he did not wish to talk to us for unknown reasons. We explained to him that we had traveled more than five hours just to see him. He, very politely but firmly, asked us to take our exit and to do so immediately.

As we left, one of my friends asked him if he knew a good hotel for us to spend the night. He wrote down an address quickly, handed it to me, and then held the door open to indicate a 'goodbye'. I was the last to step out of his shop. As I stepped out, a bright idea occurred to me: I had in my pocket the keys that, from my experience, open all doors in Nigeria . Why didn't I think of it earlier I thought. Very quickly I took out my wallet and opened it as the man looked. I purposely fished out some dollar bills, let a few fall on the ground, and went through the slow motion of picking them up as he looked with a new-found interest. "Sir, if you have time later, would you please come and see us at the hotel.We are willing to pay you in dollars." I said.

At exactly 10:00 p.m. he was at the hotel to see us. After accepting a few dollars, getting an assurance that we were neither journalists nor government investigators, he told us in confidence, that Calabar men and women had known for decades that the way to a man's bank account was through his stomach. Then he opened his mouth andtold what he meant: "Yes, I was the Calabar man in that story. That story has been around for sometime now before Uche Ogbuagu re-told it in his CD. When you came to my shop this afternoon, did you look across the street?" We said we did. He continued: "Across the street is my brother's medical clinic. It was the only medical clinic in this town. In those days, the clinic was virtually empty due to the fact that no one seemed to be sick. My brother needed some patients. At the same time, I was not employed. So my brother and I devised a good way to drum up business. We set up a restaurant exactly at the same location that my motor parts shop is now. "That restaurant was set up for the sole purpose of drumming up business forthe clinic. How? We arranged with some local boys to put the word out that I was suffering from amnesia and that I was serving food without remembering to collect the payments. Did you know that the restaurant was filled to capacity every night for six months and seventy five percent did not pay after eating."My friends, I am happy to inform you that the restaurant did not make moneybut my brother's bank account was full of loads of money from the teeming patients that filled his clinic every day with stomach virus, diarrhea, dysentery and other illnesses. "Of course I can't tell you what we put in the food. But I can tell you that I closed that restaurant within six months, at which time my brother had accumulated so much money that he opened the motor parts shop for me.

As the man concluded his story, I had many questions for him, all of which he,understandably, refused to answer. He had told us too much already, he said. "What about the Igbo man in the story" I asked, "did he ever get his change?" "Sure, I gave him his change. But I also gave him an extra take-home food. I discovered later that he and his wife spent two days at my brother's clinic.Yes, he paid for the food alright." As he left us, my friends and I did not know whether to laugh at the three clowns or clap for the Calabar man. Indeed, the Igbo elders were wise towarn children not to forget that Nwata na-acho ka o g'esi rie Inine, Ininen'eche ka o g'esi gbaa nwata afo (as the child plans on how he will eat the beetle, the beetle plans on how to give the child diarrhea).

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Thursday, February 1, 2007

For some reason, I didn't hear much about the recent World Economic Forum that just ended in Davos, Switzerland. I was probably too busy to notice, though something tells me that is not the case.

Anyway, I think there just wasn't the same sort of excitement this year as there had been in years past. Nevertheless, I have spent some time scouring the Internet and talking to people about their thoughts on the issues discussed at the Forum. I'd like to share a quote, taken from the all-knowing Bono. I don't know much about this man - he's a musician that has used his fame to highlight the predicaments of the underprivileged. That's a fair description, right? Well, take a read -

"Twenty million children have gone to school [last year] as a result of resources freed up from debt cancellation. Corruption is Africa’s number one
problem, above HIV Aids, Malaria and TB. Just ask your African friends. But there is also corruption north of the equator. If [Africans] sell us orange
juice instead of oranges, we slap a tariff on; if they sell chocolate instead of cocoa, we slap a tariff on. This is corruption. At the [next] G8 summit in Germany we will know whether we made progress. If we failed, it is corruption of the worst order."

I must say that I liked his quantification of what is obviously a problem - the irony of 'fair trade' - corruption on both sides of the hemisphere. It is clear that the common denominator to Nigeria's problems is corruption, but I found it comforting for a non-African to admit that the problem goes both ways. It is tiring to constantly hear of your shortcomings from someone who is probably just as bad, if not worse than yourself. Oh well, just thought I'd share that with you all. Don't forget that the Nigeria Discussion Series will be hosted right here on February 9th. So, please stop by and be prepared to leave comments. That is a message to those of you know me and send me your comments via email and voice mail instead. Have a great day!

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