Sep 12, 2013

Chris Okotie for President

Chris Okotie: Source:The Nigerian Oracle
If you were born after the Nigerian music storm of the 1980s, you will know Tuface, D’banj and P-Square but not Chris Okotie. A former Nigeria pop music star and divorcee, Christ Okotie is the founder and pastor of the Household of God International Ministries, Lagos Nigeria.

Chris Okotie stomp the consciousness of Nigerians in 1980 with his all-conquering song, I Need Someone, from an album of the same title. The prominence of his music was so strong that it defined the Nigerian urban life of the 80s; you play it and travel back to see how life was at the time. He remained conspicuous for about half a decade and, then, went behind the veils.

Sometimes while I watched the screen of a huge TV of two basic colors in the 90s, there he was, Chris Okotie with his jerry curls,  seated on a bed and dramatizing his encounter with God. He heard God’s voice while in his bedroom. The voice told him: “sit down I want to talk to you!” That was the encounter that transformed him into a minister of the Word, leading to his establishment of the Household of God Ministries International.

“Politics is a dirty game,” goes the saying. For a long time, in Nigeria, however, only the military played the dirty game. This is why many Nigerians remained na├»ve of the complex nature of politics. When Reverend Moses Adasu joined politics to become the Governor of Benue State during the third Republic, it was weird to many Nigerians – it is a dirty game, unbefitting of a pastor … a man of God! Then, in 1999, the military decided to drive off the filthy path of politics, leaving it to the civilians. As 2003 approached, the rhythm of political campaign started building. One of the emerging political parties was the Justice Party, fielding a former musician, dancer and a pastor, Chris Okotie, as a Presidential candidate. Since our political inexperience taught us that politics is never for the men of God, it made Okotie’s declaration extremely controversial in the eyes of Nigerians. His argument remained Mathew 5:19: “In the same way, let your good deed shine out for all to see, so that everyone will praise your heavenly Father.”

The convincing argument became a strong demonstration that Nigerian democracy, if allowed to continue, will eventually grow from nascent to full maturity (we just hope that the maturity will not take too long; we are still waiting).  Uncle Shege better known as Olusegun Obasanjo won the race, Mohammadu Buhari claimed he actually won the election but was robbed, Okotie and the rest accepted the outcome. We were, however, left wondering what Okotie set out to achieve; his campaign was designed to lack an overcoming force of speed. This was in 2003.

In 2007, I walked in the Gyel neighborhood of Jos-South and beheld a glamorous Rhinoceros (Hummer) Jeep heading in the direction of the “palace” of the late Wazirin Jos, Da D. B. Zang. The next morning, I learnt that Okotie drove in that jeep that was worth more than N25 million at the time.
D. B. Zang was, at a point, the richest man in Plateau State (that also included Nassarawa State). There were times when he single-handedly financed the activities of the Plateau State branch of the Nigerian People’s Party, NPP, which ruled Plateau State, under Solomon Lar between 1979 and 1984. The trajectory of his life made him a vocal political figure as a result. The aim of OKotie’s visit was to seek for political support in the journey towards 2007 when there will be new elections.

I had persuaded Adams, my brother, to vote Buhari as I did not like the way late Umar Musa Yar’adua was bundled into the race, unprepared. When Buhari came to Jos for his political campaign, his followers sharpened cutlasses along the Bukuru Expressway and chanted religious slogans. Adams was disenchanted and voted Okotie.

During the visit to Jos, Okotie was hosted by the Nigerian Television Authority, NTA, Jos. Adams watched and was astonished by the way Okotie answered questions flung at him. He came to the conclusion that Okotie is the type of man he would have wanted as Nigeria’s President. He used his vote to make a statement, certain that Okotie will not win. Had Adams told me this, prior to the election, I would have acted likewise.

In 2002 as the campaign for the presidential elections gains force, I was still in Port Harcourt. An oil worker and fellow tribesman, Sunny Timeh, perceived Okotie’s expression of interest in the Presidency as an insult to Nigerians. According to him: “how can someone declare he wants to become Nigeria’s President after wearing jerry curls, tying a cotton band around his waist and dancing with a petty guitar?” I also listened to a friend of mine joked about Okotie’s presidential campaign, years later. According to this friend, the campaign poster of Okotie and his female running-mate actually looked like a wedding poster. The “cocoonus” north of Nigeria see Okotie as a man who is too western in lifestyle and will not embrace their aspirations as a result. They are also of the feeling that a man like Okotie is the type that will throw a disco party in the state house in the event of becoming a president, an outrage. To them it is like a throwing a party in a hallowed temple.

I have often thought that a political revolution must involve an apocalypse (!). The initial stages of The Arab Spring however taught me otherwise. As we have seen in Syria, even a violent approach has failed to bring about that desperately-desired political change. The change that can bring about a revolution in Nigeria is that of the mind, a change that will let us understand what we truly need, a change that makes us understand that the president we need must not wear a fluttering traditional agbada with a cap to fit and chant banal political slogans.

Perhaps Sunny has been right, to a certain degree. Okotie does not help his political ambition, by insisting on the ultimate as a starter. Yar’adua rose from lecturer to governor and, ultimately, to president. Goodluck Jonathan went through a very similar path. Okotie should have aimed at something comparatively modest such a governor, senator or aspire for a cabinet ministerial position and use it to exemplify what he can do. I don’t want to see his insistence on the ultimate as a show of poisonous hubris, often administered by the campuses of universities; he is humble and philanthropic with emphasis on apache kids.

Our inability, as voters, to look around to see what goes on elsewhere shows that we could be the problem of our own country and not the leadership, that what goes on at the leadership ranks is normal: a stage that many nations had passed through, albeit briefly as they had scrupulously rational and ruthless electorates. We need not look too far to see instance of individuals who came from modest backgrounds to become leaders of their own nations. Recently, Nicholas Maduro became the President of Venezuela after Hugo Chaves, his boss, died of cancer. Maduro was a bus driver. Also recently, was the election of Michel Martelly to become the Prime Minister of Haiti. Like Okotie, he was a musician. Lula Da Silva, who, a few years back, ended his second term as Brazil’s President, oversaw the country’s most remarkable period of development, a period during which it showed one of the world’s fasted growth rates alongside other nations with which they collectively came to be known as the BRICS nations. Lula was, at one time, a shoe-shine boy. Andry Rajeolina is Madagascar’s leader. He was a disc jockey (or DJ, in case disc jockey sounds too advanced).

 If Okotie’s music past was an imperfection, what about his status as an attorney … as a pastor? For those who consider music playing a immoral, what about the religious admonition that teaches us to forgive sinners who have confessed their sins. We must remove the log in our eyes to see the tiny specs in the eyes of others. What we have always wanted, desperately, has always been here with us. Grow up Nigerians.  

Kugiya Fun Haven to Become History

Dog meat Sellers at Kugiya
Kugiya is the Hausa translation of the name of a hoisting tool, the hook. How did the word, “hook,” come to be used to refer to a rendezvous of fun-seekers?

A conglomeration of old, dirty shacks subsist opposite the Central Store of the old, defunct Amalgamated Tin Mines of Nigeria (ATMN) and some two hundred and fifty meters south of the Bukuru Railway station. Of course, ATMN was the European mining company that engaged the earth of Plateau State for, perhaps, close to a century, ending in the 1980s.

We have been told that Europe built the oldest internet, better known as the railway, to satisfy its economic cravings. Thus the railway that inter-links the different locations of Nigeria has, at this very point, a diversion into ATMN’s Central Store in the town of Bukuru. The aim of the diversion was to bring the heavy equipments and machinery vital for the operations of the company into its Central Store. Hence it became imperative to have a hoisting mechanism at the very point. It explains why there is an old steel mast supporting a pulley system at the end of which hangs an awesome steel hook.

The very hook, for decades, lifted and lowered tons of heavy components of earth-moving machines into Central Store from Europe and thousands of tons of tin and columbite that went in the opposite direction. This huge steel ware that aided the European economic interest became a token with which the shanty, across the railway came to be known.

As they say, “old habits die hard.” In the face of the strong presence of modernity, the people have been able to hold on to native lifestyles in one way or the other. The drinking of local native African liquor named burkutu is one habit that has defied modernity through the ages. Kugiya is one of the many fountains of burkutu across the whole of Plateau state, home of a spectrum of cultures and a microcosm of Nigeria. Without the fear of contradiction, one can say that Kugiya remains a paradox of the most famous and notorious burkutu joints in Nigeria, not just Plateau State.

What makes Kugiya famous? It is a summit of fun. Happiness is the most important fuel that drives life. Without it, life may cease to have meaning, grinding to a halt or people may cease to live and just exist. Fun can sometimes be difficult to find though; it can be expensive. Kugiya however, offers the opportunity for the poor of the poor to find happiness. Considering that the poor and weak are in the majority, this underscores the justification for the survival of Kugiya.

The things that make Kugiya notorious are huge and skewed disproportionately against its benefits. It hosts what one may refer to as an extremism of the burden of groveling conditions for humans. The drink, dog meat and pork are not the problem but the conditions in which they come, get prepared and served. The dogs are often what Jamaicans will call “maga dogs:” diseased, famished and unattractive. Often, the pigs slaughtered there are the worst, the unconfined ones that breed around dirty gutters and putrefying human remains.   Since there are hardly any toilet facilities in Kugiya, the unusual gallons of urine that should be expected from people on a drinking extravaganza have to be “channeled” in the poor drainages that work to inhibit flow rather than aid it. The result is the foulest stench in the air of Kugiya all year round with occasional relief at times of heavy down-poor.  I leave the picture of solid human waste management to your imagination. Kugiya is also home to lunatics and destitute who share the afternoons and evenings with the sane. There are also hoodlums and junkies who find the place most convenient.

These are the fundamental issues that have come to accentuate the squalor and undesirability of the locality. In my travels, there is only one place that came close to Kugiya: Artillery in Bori Camp, Port Harcourt. 
Against all these challenges, these citizens find the place the most attractive of all places. This is due to their mindset, shaped by the simplicity of where they have been, what they have seen and what they have heard.
People can be schooled in the classroom but also by what they see, day in day out. If the hosts and their guests in Kugiya are head-over-heals in love with the place as a result of modesty in pride, little or lack of education, then they can be educated by coercion to live constantly in decency and get accustomed to it; it is in their own interest and the interest of society. Good human behavior comes through compulsion by laws. Once they get used to decency, they will never settle for anything less. Only the powerful machinery of government can bring this fundamental change in state of the mind.

On the 19th of August, the Plateau State Governor, Jonah Jang, demonstrated a remarkable show of meekness by leading his glamorous convoy into the slum of Kugiya. It was an event that put the contrasting extremes of human dignity shoulder to shoulder: glamour on one hand and drabness on the other. The governor stood in the center of a crowd of his own men and excited subjects. His eyes carefully went round until he completed a circle of inspection after which he announced that he will set up a committee to evaluate the buildings, that the owners will then be compensated, that bulldozers will then set out, that Kugiya will then become history… forever. The implication is that the destitute, urchins, vermin and the businesses in Kugiya will go.

I went to Kugiya a day after the biggest proclamation regarding its fate was made to weigh their feelings. Comrade Emmanuel George is the Chairman of Kugiya Market. He only talked about how happy the people were to receive the first citizen of the state as he could not get close enough to hear what the governor had to say. Security men kept them away from the Governor by a reasonable distance. Only press men, who swarmed the governor, heard him. Those who care about news heard it the next day.

Governor Jonah Jang refers to the last two years of his administration in Plateau State as “injury time” during which contractors must throttle softly as he wouldn’t want to leave any project without completion. The implication is that, come what may, the place where Kugiya currently stands will be replaced by something more glamorous, an extension of city renewal, an indication that things are changing.

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