Wednesday, July 30, 2008

A favorite past time of mine is to scour the web and find Nigerians who are having discussions or expressing their opinions about Nigerian and global events. I recently happened upon the blog of a young Nigerian called Naija Pikin. His post was titled - Are We Cursed?

The writer, AustynZOGS, confessed,

I am tempted to want to give in to the school of thought that strongly believes that a demonic cabal is happy holding us down.
He then went on to share a quote that he believed was appropriate to Nigeria. It stated - 'In a sick country, every effort to cure its sickness is an affront on those who profit from its illness.''

After reading his post, I could not help but share my thoughts on the issue he raised and I have provided a copy of my comment below.

"... the issue you raise is one that millions have probably considered. I'm not sure if a workable answer/solution has been derived.

The only demons that hold sway over Nigeria, are Nigerians themselves.
No one to blame but us. We have had the best opportunities to create a nation that should be a leading example for every human being, but we have failed.

Can we overcome this failure? Absolutely. Failure is simply an opportunity to revise the game plan and attack the problem(s) with a better and successful strategy. Why haven't we achieved this success? For the very reason you referred to with [the] quote - those who benefit from the status quo will protect it with everything they have.

That is basically the way of the world and it is not a new phenomenon. The issue, in my opinion, becomes when will the average Nigerian realize that they as a collection of individuals and interests can demand and work towards change that will benefit everyone and not just those that already are advantaged by the current status quo? I pray that that time will come sooner rather than later, because the Nigeria that I know, and the Nigeria I take pains to study does not have time to wait for the 'government' to make changes from the top to the bottom. Nigeria needs a bottom - up strategy that will likely be organic. It needs minds and psychology to change in order to have a populace that engages in democracy and the decisions that will transform the country."

Now, I know some will criticize this approach and stress that Nigeria suffers from the vestiges of colonialism. Technically, I do not disagree with that point. I however strongly believe that Nigeria is the one country that has everything it needs to overcome and surpass any disadvantages/hurdles. On this day, I point fingers at noone. We are all to blame for the situation Nigeria is currently in - every single one of us.

And as to my dismissing the influence of the "demonic cabal" AustynZOGS refers to, the Devil doesn't have to do much with Nigeria and its madness. He just sits back and watches us do the work for him. Yes, Nigerians make it easy. We give the Devil, and indeed the demons that might hold sway, a holiday.

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Monday, July 28, 2008

I had the good fortune of living in Cote D'Ivoire for almost 7 years. It is a beautiful country with wonderful people, incredible music, great food and excellent beaches. I must confess that despite the recent insecurity and fighting that nation has experienced, Cote D'Ivoire and specifically, the city of Abidjan, will always have a special place in my heart.

Well, Cote D'Ivoire, or the Ivory Coast as non-French speakers call it, has done something that Nigeria's government should pay attention to. There was a riot in April when the government increased the price of diesel. In response, the Ivorian government has just announced that it will slash the salaries of Ministers by half to subsidize the lower cost of diesel for the masses.

Source: Selay

This action is unparalleled in West Africa as far as I am aware. In fact, I have never heard of such happening anywhere. And, even though it could simply be a means to get votes for the upcoming November elections, the mere fact that the Ivorian government listened to the people and took a decisive step to make appease citizens is commendable. I do no know how far this decision will go to keep diesel prices at a manageable price for Ivorians, but the fact that Ministers will experience a pay cut shows that that nation's leaders are willing to bear the burdens of tough global economic times right alongside the common man. This is enough to give the people confidence in their government and hope that future disagreements will be solved by compromise.

Now, if only there was such unparalleled action in Nigeria on a whole host of issues....

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Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Nigeria's Sovereign Wealth Fund (SWF) was one of the fastest growing in 2007. The SWF grew at a rate of 291% and many, like Dow Jone's Jan Randolf, consider it to be "a new financial power brokers, replacing the combined financial muscle of hedge funds and private equity, and usurping central banks as the international capital providers of last resort." Of what I am learning about the power of these financial arrangements, Nigeria could technically use their SWF to accomplish incredible feats.

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Monday, July 21, 2008

"All Nigerian politicians are corrupt!"
I know that is a statement/sentiment shared by many Nigerians, but does that mean it is true? The reason why I ask is because of an enlightening conversation I had with a fellow blogger not too long ago. While we discussed Lagos politics, we happened to debate whether every current Lagosian and indeed national politicians are corrupt. Playing the role of 'Devil's Advocate', I argued that not all politicians are corrupt and stressed that there had to be some that did not take bribes, shunned corruption and strove to do their job responsibly.

My fellow blogger then provided a basic analysis of the Nigerian political situation that even I found hard to dismiss. He made two points -
  1. Most Nigerian politicians 'chop' and are therefore corrupt.
  2. For those politicians that do not 'chop', they see others 'chopping' and do little or nothing to stop them and as such are equally corrupt.
After hearing these points, I thought for a few minutes and posed a simple question. I asked him, given how much he knew of me and my ideals, whether it would be fair to consider me corrupt if I were ever to become a politician in Nigeria.

He didn't hesitate, but laughed, probably for my benefit and to lessen the sting of his frank response. He concluded that if I ever became a politician in Nigeria, I would undoubtedly fall into one of the two categories regardless of my intent or whether or not I did a good job "because that is the system."

With much respect to my fellow blogger, I have to state unequivocally that his position is not only troubling but extremely dangerous. The conclusion carries a sense of futility that is detrimental to the hopes and aspirations of all persons regardless of nationality who aspire to create a better existence for themselves and others. Such an attitude, right or wrong, suggests that there is very little reason to work toward a better Nigeria. If one were to take this conclusion a little further then no politician, leader or even person can be trusted to work for their constituents and the nation would never improve.

But even more important is the concept that a person can be 'guilty by association'. Far too often, I see that Nigerians automatically distrust people who are accomplished (either in their career or financially) and suspect them of being corrupt simply by the mere fact of their success. While this is very different from suspecting that a politician is corrupt, especially given the history of corruption in Nigeria, the roots of both sentiments are similar in that the mere category a person falls into (in this case - politics, while in the other case career/financial achievement) determines the level of suspicion that he/she will face at the hands of Nigerians. Isn't that problematic? I learned in my younger days that "Correlation does not mean causation" and to deem everyone the same without taking the time to separate the wheat from the chaff helps no one,least of all the Nigerian public. So, on this issue, I will have to say that although I sincerely respect my fellow blogger's thoughts and hope to learn more from him, I will not submit that all politicians, or anyone else, should be guilty by association. I will consider each person on their individual merit for the accomplishments or failures and encourage them to do better.

I only wish I had asked my friend and fellow blogger if he would have fallen into one of the two categories of Nigerian politicians that he suggested. Now, that would have led to an even better debate!

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Monday, July 14, 2008

The International Criminal Court (ICC) charged Sudanese president, Omar Hassan al-Bashir, with genocide and crimes against humanity in relation to the murder of approximately 300,000 Darfurians. Men, women and children have been losing their lives in Darfur for over 5 years and despite outcry from within Sud an, Africa and the entire world, it appears that the crisis in Darfur simply continues to fester.

Killing members of the Fur, Masalit and Zaghawa ethnic groups
Causing these groups serious bodily or mental harm
Inflicting conditions of life calculated to bring about these groups' physical destruction
Crimes against humanity:
Forcible transfer
War crimes:
Attacks on civilians in Darfur
Pillaging towns and villages


When I heard of the plans to place charges against al-Bashir, I was hesitant to get excited. While I believe that taking al-Bashir and/or anyother leader that fails their duty to protect the lives of citizens to court, I wondered about the impact that such charges could have on Darfurians who are technically refugees in their own country. Well, not too long after the announcement that the ICC was not only charging al-Bashir but also seeking an arrest warrant, news broke out that UN staff would be removed from Darfur.There are over 1300 civilian staff stationed in Sudan to assist Darfurians. In addition to these individuals are 9600 troops, the majority of whom are Nigerian soldiers charged with the responsibility of protecting African Union/UN interests and people. These troops were having a hard enough time protecting Darfurians from Sudanese government-backed Janjaweed militants. What will now happen to the people of Darfur who already are living a misearable existence once the only barrier they had towards attack leaves?

Nevertheless, regardless of my disagreement with the choices that have been made, I understand why the UN is removing its staff and I understand why the ICC took these legal steps against al-Bashir. I can only hope that this will be a warning to every despotic, irresponsible, illegal, and downright evil ruler (democratic or otherwise) that blatantly disregards the rights of human beings. Considering what is happening in Zimbabwe with the terror being unleashed on Anti-Mugabe groups and the overwhelming failure of the African Union to take decisive action against Mugabe, maybe these charges against al-Bashir will remind leaders/rulers/despotic juntas (a la Myanmar/Burma) that they do not have impunity to destroy the lives of others.

With regard to the Zimbabwe situation, where Nigeria played a direct role in placing Mugabe in power [1], Nigeria should be playing a larger role in returning that country to democracy, but as I pointed out in my "Soiled Hands" Theory, there are serious self-created obstacles to achieving that objective. Despite this and despite the similar issues surrounding Nigeria's last elections, President Yar'Adua at least was the first African head of state to openly criticize Mugabe at the recent African Union (AU) meeting in Sharm el Sheikh, Egypt. Additionally, in Sudan, Nigeria should remember that apparently "a large chunk of the Sudanese population can trace at least 50% of their ancestry to Nigeria" and we could do more than just sending our troops. and merely issuing But, at this moment, I think African presidents like Yar'Adua are too busy battling with the problems within their borders to focus on issues outside their territories. Let us all keep the people of Darfur and oppressed people everywhere in our thoughts and prayers.

[1] - In 1976, then-military ruler, Olusegun Obasanjo waited for Queen Elizabeth to leave England on a flight before nationalizing British Petroleum Company. The regime then used this act as a warning and negotiating tool to influence Great Britain in the ongoing negotiations for an independent Zimbabwe.

Further reading:
- 'Soiled Hands' & Strategy":What Nigeria Says About Democracy
- Nigeria, Mugabe & The ICC
- Zimbabwe

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Friday, July 4, 2008

In an effort to limit the effect that violent thieves are having on its reputation and the lives of Niger Delta residents, MEND
"confiscated the stool of a royal father in Bayelsa State alleged to be sponsoring sea bandits and also captured seven of the suspected sea pirates."
MEND confronted the local 'royal', who ran off and is currently on the run. According to the group,

"Yes, we sent out our fighters to confront the sea pirates when we got information that the boys were robbing fishing trawlers, they attack them, extort money from them, sometimes, they disconnect trawlers and carry the whole thing away. You see, all these things they are doing is spoiling the struggle and people think that it is the MEND that is doing it."

"Our information is that a man who claims to be a royal father is the one that is bankrolling them and we went there to confront them after we got report of what was happening, that was after they just robbed a trawler, belonging to a company in Lagos."
Personally, I am glad that MEND recognized that it has a responsibility to protect the Delta not just from oil companies or the federal government, but also from local 'leaders' and others who fail to serve the people and instead punish them with additional suffering and insecurity. However, I also hope that MEND understands that they are the cause of such problems as they have emboldened common thugs and their abhorrent sponsors to adopt MEND-like tactics which inherently cheapen MEND's original message and goal - the betterment of the Delta and its people. The group plans to 'deal' with the captured thugs.

"In fact, how can you suggest that we should hand them over to the security agents, we cannot do that, we just hope that after dealing with them, they will change and stop robbing people because the struggle is not to rob people.

We have reasons for blowing up pipelines in the Niger-Delta, it is not we are animals[sic], but, the government has turned us to animals and slaves in our own country, we have been pushed to the walls and we are telling them enough is enough of the marginalization and oppression..."
It seems that MEND plans to clear out the chaff to improve its credibility. I wish them the best of luck.

Further Reading: 
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Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Reader T sent me a disturbing story about British American Tobacco (BAT) and its marketing strategy on the African continent.
According to the BBC, BAT discovered that it can attract more young African buyers of its product by adjusting marketing strategy to meet their (young people's) needs. Now, there is nothing wrong with marketing one's product to target an audience of possible consumers. However, in this case, BAT allegedly targeted Nigerian and other African children as young as 11 by aggressively marketing single 'cancer sticks' to them. The company also hosted events that targeted young people despite their publicly stated commitments to the contrary. One individual even went as far as describing BAT as "the unacceptable face of British Business". While I would rather give that distinction to Brutish Airways, I can find no fault with the gentleman's characterization. These acts by BAT are simply unconscionable and are illegal in the West, but somehow, cigarette producers manage to get away with them on the African continent.
The serious health consequences of BAT's actions are already being felt on the continent but it seems the worst is yet to come. In fact,
"[t]he World Health Organization (WHO) predicts that the number of smoking-related deaths in Africa is 100,000 a year, but that that figure is set to double in the next 20 years."
In 2007, Nigeria became the first African country to sue major cigarette manufacturers for the health problems created by their products. This was because of the growing burden of cigarette related health costs on the nation's struggling health sector. In 2006, Lagos State recorded more than nine thousand cases of tobacco-related diseases at its hospitals. The state spent over N2.7 billion treating these cases over the course of just one year. Considering this information, it is no surprise that Lagos State, and the Federal Government of Nigeria, seeks compensation. One of the tobacco companies being sued is none other than BAT.
This new information about BAT's tactics will only provide useful evidence to Nigeria's legal team. Hopefully, health administrators across the continent will also use this knowledge to create effective programs limiting the number of new cigarette smokers in their respective countries. Nigeria, and Africa in general, does not have the luxury of not stamping out cigarettes from our society. We have enough issues to deal with. Being a market for cigarette products, the resulting addiction, cancer and other related problems is not something we need to put on our plate at this point in time.
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