Oct 31, 2013

Nigeria’s Revolution of the Mind

Need for attitudinal change
The huge boulder on the way of Nigeria is not the average Nigerian leader. Rather is it the average Nigerian voter. The leadership challenges that are ‘peculiar’ to Nigeria have, actually, existed in other nations that we envy today. However the difference between Nigeria and those flying nations is that the sluggish state journey lasted just long enough for the common man to perceive it. They were then swift in ensuring it ended, using the power democracy has placed in their hands. In the case of Nigeria, the people observed the blemishes barely ten years after independence but failed to end it.

If you asked an ordinary Nigerian what he thinks is the solution to Nigeria’s problem, he id likely going to give you that boring thing about a political revolution.   They will site the case of Ghana where a revolution has changed the nation even when I personally think that there isn’t much difference between Nigeria and Ghana. This answer is even the best answer compared to “we live it in the hands of God” implying they have run out of ideas and surrendered even when God has already devolved power to us.

Until the Arab Spring, I used to think that a revolution works only through a ferocious blood bath.  The Arab Spring grossly changed this diffident impression of mine. In Tunisia, it merely took the outpouring of Tunisians into the streets to compelled Zin El Abidin Ben Ali to pack his bag and baggage. In Egypt it also took the weapon of will to compel Hosin Mubarak to quit after three decades of Dracula dictatorship. Ironically, in Places like Syria where the struggle is bloody, one can confidently say that the revolution has failed despite the losses in terms of lives, maiming, the economy and the regression.

It is clear that, given the circumstance of Nigeria, the revolution of the mind is what is desired. The common man must cultivate a progressive mind that can help him identify his problem, first and foremost. This is our first problem: improper diagnosis. Aside being able to recognize our problem, we should know how to end it and be courageous enough to act towards ending it.

 We don’t know how to identify people with the capacity to give us what we want; we think it is a game of trial and error. In Nigeria, we have been administered by rulers who are slightly ahead of uneducated traditional rulers in their mindsets. They lack modern approaches to issues. While the rest of the world moves on, we stagnated in a mire, left talking about how Malaysia came to Nigeria to pick palm oil seedlings, went home and worked hard to beat Nigeria as the number one palm oil-producing nation in the world. The ordinary man in Nigeria is not able to see the difference in the way of thinking between a traditional Nigerian politician and those in Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia … with whom we started. Ordinary people in Nigeria think that the right political leader is one who hangs around traditional rulers and respects, deeply, the opinion of religious leaders. On the contrary, our founding fathers designed our laws to ensure the separation of the state and the mosque/ church. Furthermore the ordinary man thinks the right political leader is one who wears a flying traditional dress without compromise. There is nothing wrong with wearing what is traditionally ours. The problem however is the use of these dresses as the yardstick for identifying the right man for the job at Aso Rock or the government house of any state.

Nigerians everywhere: behind truck wheels, riding on the spines of Okadas, selling under the open sun in the markets, in secondary schools, university/polytechnic campuses, at constructions sites … must recognize that the sole and most imperative criteria for considering a man fit for a leadership role is what he has been able to do during a previous and lower level of administration. Our refusal to heed this truly confirms that we think the choice of an excellent leader is a game of trial and error. It took just about two decades for a Nigerian, John Godson to become the first black MP. What did he do? He used money he has made to provide scholarship to students and help the poor. American President, Barack Obama, as a congressman sponsored laws that changed the plight of Africa-Americans in his constituency remarkably. He became a political superstar. We don’t need to look far to see that there are Nigerians who brought changes in the areas where they were assigned to carry out a task, even within the last fourteen years. They demonstrated the strong ability to identify the challenges of their assignment, understood how to overcome them and created the right atmosphere for their accomplishment.

Once such individuals are identified, the next thing is for Nigerians to be able to overcome polarization that revolve around emotions, religion and tribe. Refusing to vote an individual you just like because of his fine looks is not an easy decision to make. If however, you recognize that such a decision is fundamentally critical in deciding tomorrow’s trajectory of the nation then you need courage to do it. Therefore a bloodless revolution needs critical thought and courage to make a sacrifice. It is also the same where either religion or tribal considerations is tempting you to make a flawed decision. You also need critical thought and courage to make a sacrifice. I checked the national anthem and pledge to see if there is a line where the need for sacrifice is stressed. I did not find one.

If we choose the option of a violent political revolution we must also be ready to make sacrifices in terms of lives, maiming and the number of years we will have to go in the reverse direction. There is a difference between sacrificing your religion and sacrificing a wrong individual who comes from your religion. I should not be misquoted.

In Nigeria, a political revolution must come from the mind and is easy if we can build a strong courage to make sacrifices.


Abudu 1992: Traveling 21 years back to Abudu

It is surprising how times flies. This year, 2013 makes it twenty since I passed out of the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC).

The real NYSC is, to be frank, in the orientation camp. When one remembers his time during the NYSC, it is the events of the orientation camp that come to mind due to the depth of the impression they leave in his/her mind. Our orientation camp was at Abudu in Orhiomwon Local Government Area of Edo State.

Initially, Auchi Polytechnic was scheduled to host the orientation until it was changed to a secondary school at Abudu.  

I traveled from Jos through the glamorous emerging capital city of Abuja; through Lokoja, the confluence town where, for the first time, I saw water sold in a plastic bladders called “pure water” (“pure water” has a long history in Nigeria); through the city of rusty roofing sheets and rocky terrain of Okenne and into the tropical rain forest vegetation of the south of Nigeria. Soon I was in Auchi (Bauchi with the B taking off).

There was disappointment; the orientation has been moved to Abudu town. It was late but the fair and spotted-skinned security men were good and found a room for me at the hostel. It was probably the first time I slept without covering myself and still felt cozy; I come from Jos, the coldest city in Nigeria where this is impossible.

I rose with the sun the next day and hit the road en route Abudu. I was there within two hours. I entered the orientation camp with just N5.00 left from the N100.00 with which I started from Jos. Now one would have to pay fifty times that amount. Hardly had I arrived that my pocket was made full again. My dad wasn’t there, it was the bicycle allowance. I was handed my uniforms: khaki shirt/trousers, a white NYSC T-shirt, a pair of shorts and a brown jungle boots that I wore like an intelligent hoodlum by allowing the tongues to stick out.

The Mami Market brought a colorful atmosphere into the camp so that it was like a kind of thirty-day party. There we had corps members who called themselves members of the Palm Wine Club. At the time the African-American music genre, New Jack Swing, was just emerging and the music of Men-at-Large raged from huge speakers administered from the camp’s broadcast center. There was also Scarface’s my mind is playing tricks on me, Kriss-Kross’ Jump Jump.

One of the most thrilling experiences was lining up to take our meals. At Abudu we were served eba and stew, yam and stew, yams and weevil-infested beans which we ate with crushing sounds. There was beef, fish but no exotic meat like those of rodents, snakes, dogs, donkeys, horses … 

There were characters at the camp. The first one was I for being taciturn. Eventually I became a star after an encounter with a scorpion an event that made news. There was the daughter of Paul Unongo who was said to have schooled abroad but insisted she must serve in the NYSC back home. My observation is that it was a very meaningful decision. Other such kids actually consider themselves too superior for such service but fail to realize that they would be branded as lazy bunches that cannot succeed without their parents, a reflection of the ignorant Nigerian attitude. She laid bare her understanding of the allusion that will come from her refusal to serve by insisting she participate, as a leader, in every event. There was Douglas Oronto who asked the national commandant a question about the possibility of placing ballistics in the hands of corps members. The respond was a impressive “no” from Colonel Hafeez Momoh. One other character was Bob Manuel from Rivers State who surprised spectators during a football match by throwing the whole weight of his huge body to the ground and with a thudding sound each time he squandered an pricey scoring window.

At the dormitories I saw that thing about Nigeria that drives me crazy the most: its diversity and its brains. Nigeria’s diversity seems like a spectrum of colors that makes it alluring. There were the brains coming from all over. I sometimes wonder whether Nigeria still has those brains in view of the way things are going today.

There were picture-taking events. Every corps member wanted to have a photo with at least one female colleague. I still remember a hairy and fair-skinned Ibo lady with whom I had a portrait photo. Other photos of mine have endured till today but not this very photo that used to stir emotions in me each time I looked at it.

I would say that those who handed down foreign religions are our worst enemies. Whatever they brought should have just been purely secular. The only bitter experience was a religious altercation that led a guy from Borno State to pull a knife at a guy from Rivers State with whom they had become admirable friends. The fact that Boko Haram was born and raised in Borno State makes me wonder whether that was an extension of a ferocious religious tradition or a mere coincidence. 

There were visits by personages. Apart from the national commandant, there was also the modest John Odigie-Oyegun, the Social Democratic Party Governor of Edo State at the time. Oyegun came, inspected a guard of honor and gave a speech.

Nigeria is good but only if we can brush aside the wormwood. Funny how time flies.

Oct 5, 2013

Nigeria's Big Vote

Vote Second Tenure or Sovereign National Conference

By Yiro Abari

Currency showing diversity 

On October 1st, 2013, Nigeria marked its 53rd independence anniversary. As is the tradition, The President of Nigeria and Commander-in-Chief of the Nigerian Armed Forces, Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, gave a speech, relayed live on radio and television. President Jonathan gave a traditional speech that often downplayed the shortcomings of the nation and played up its successes. Also, the speech was loaded with eulogy for ordinary people.  One thing was exotic in the speech though: the President touched on one of the most sensitive topics in Nigeria: the Sovereign National Conference. The President said he was setting up a committee to work towards the possibility of convening a Sovereign National Conference. The question of a Sovereign National Conference is one that a lot of Nigerians have asked for in the past but also one that a lot of other Nigerians have ran away from, due to a spectrum of reasons. In Nigeria we all know that a call for a Sovereign National Conference points to just one subject: the subject of a possible disintegration of the nation as there is nothing very sensitive that has not been discussed previously except the disintegration of the nation.

Two days after the independence anniversary, a local radio presenter hosted a show in which she threw opened the doors of her show to callers, requesting them to call and say what it is about Nigeria they love the most. As usual, there were brilliant and dumb responses. I did not call to express my feelings. Hard I called, I would have cited the beauty of the diversity of Nigeria and the potential it holds for the nation as my reasons for loving Nigeria. 

Two days before, another presenter hosted a special show to mark the anniversary. He looked at the history of Nigeria’s entertainment industry with emphasis on popular Nigeria’s entertainment in contrast to Nigeria’s folk entertainment. Among other things, he traced the history of Nigeria’s popular music. He then sampled music from some of Nigeria’s finest Highlife musicians. With just three artists taken from different regions of Nigeria, he was able to paint a picture of the beauty of Nigeria’s diversity and the potential it holds for the nation.  I was overwhelmed by the revelation that came with this. I realized that football shouldn't be the only binding factor of Nigeria but the beauty of our diversity as well.

I am a member of the Association of Nigerian Authors, ANA, on Facebook. The forum has also enabled me to see the beauty and potential of Nigeria’s diversity. Authors are people who are lucky to be born with a little writing skill. At ANA’s Facebook page, authors post excerpts of their unpublished work so that colleagues can read and give comments. After reading some of the posts, I was blown and compelled to hold my head between palms in respect of the enormity of Nigeria’s human resources which comes from the bulk of our population which is more than sand on the seashore, in addition to the fact that authors often write from the viewpoint of the regions and cultures they come from, making entries colorful and gorgeous.
What preoccupies authors in Nigeria today and elsewhere, is taking part in one literary competition or the other. With what I was able to see at ANA, I felt bad for the rest of Africa, knowing that the Nigerians will always dominate a lot of these competitions due to the advantage of its status as one huge medley of assorted nations. This year for instance, four Nigerians were among the last five men/women standing for the Caine Prize Award. Of the four, one was Hausa, one Ibo, one Yoruba and the forth from a minority tribe. The prize eventually went to one of them. This is a typical example of the importance of our size and diversity: it will always work in our favor. It is the reason I see it as a crime to call for the breakup of this colossal piece of God’s invention called Nigeria.

When many Nigerians such as me and many others call for one united Nigeria, it is not out of desperation for wanting to belong to an oil-producing nation.  I am fully conscious of the reality that my state, taken alone, can never be poor. We are home to an envious collection of economic (!) mineral deposits. We were once a home to the Amalgamated Tin Mines of Nigerian Limited, ATMN that engaged the earth of my part of Nigeria for close to a hundred years, mining Tin and Columbite and eventually left due to abrupt policy changes by the Federal Government of Nigeria. So the ore is still there. My state and many other states across Nigeria have resources that can make them financially stronger than they currently are, in the event of the Niger Delta turning its back on the rest of us. If we call for one nation, it is not out of fear of poverty but out of love for a parent we are used to and brotherhood that we are also used to, not to talk of the benefit to us all.

Those who call for the fragmentation of Nigeria are either greedy or blind to the causes of frustration for many Nigerians. The calls for the division of Nigeria used to come from the southern half of the country as a whole. After the Obasanjo presidency between 1999 and 2000, the South-West suddenly went mute on the issue of Sovereign National Conference. A section of the people from the South-East and South-South are now the ones calling for a Sovereign National Conference. The Ibos have made it clear that their huge concern is being shut out of Aso Rock, to sum it up; that Aso Rock is close and yet far. In the same vein, the South-South is calling for a Sovereign National Conference because it desperately wants a second tenure for the-big-hat-man; it is all about the Presidency! This article serves to open the minds of Nigerians who are blind to the motives behind the call for a Sovereign National Conference.

It is important to note that the fragmentation of Nigeria will not change the status of the ordinary man in the emerging nations, should all other things remain the same. If the declaration of the independence of the Niger Delta region as a state can improve things ordinary Niger Deltans would have been among the happiest Nigerians long ago. This is because in addition to the monthly subventions that are due to the region from Abuja, there is the Derivation Funds, the Ministry for Niger Delta Affairs and the Niger Delta Development Commission all of which channel huge billions to the region. The revenue that accrues to Bayelsa, a state of just two million people, within a month sometimes equals that of the whole North-East region of Nigeria within the same period. Still, the leaders of the region are not satisfied.

‘The solution to Nigeria’s woes does not lie in a Sovereign National Conference. It lies in getting rid of the greed among political and traditional leaders. In the Niger Delta, these leaders unleash militants to the nation and tolerate oil theft. Now they add the issue of the Sovereign National Conference to threaten the rest of us into surrendering another tenure that sustains the billions going into private pockets and those of their executioners in the field. The selfish political leaders of the north also threaten the rest of the nation by openly talking in favor of Boko Haram. Years back, the South-West hard threatened the rest of us with Odua People’s Congress. Along that line, one can say that the Ibos have demonstrated a high level of statesmanship that should be respected. This is because it is difficult to link the activities of the Movement for the Actualization of the Sovereign State of Biafra, MASSOB, to the regions political leaders.  Perhaps Ombatse is a weapon of greedy politicians of the North-Central region. Only time will tell.

There is the need for ordinary Nigerians, especially the youths to understand these underlying issues and work to overcome them. Since the power-sharing deal of the ruling People’s Democratic Party, PDP, excludes other Nigerians, it means that the nation has other options. If the youths can understand these tricks and throw away divisions based on tribe and religion, they can channel their votes, overwhelmingly, to the right Nigerian. If the votes are staggering, it will be difficult for the Nigeria’s Independent Electoral Commission to, successfully, play games.

The youths can find energy in the understanding of the huge benefits of diversity that we already have. The source of strength that can sustain Nigeria’s unity is not only in football but in the beauty and potential of Nigeria’s diversity. One united Nigeria remains a most.

A Letter from a Mathematics Teacher to WAEC

Students writing examinations.   As a teacher, I have watched unsavoury trends over time, which have pushed me to the wall and coerced me to...