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Tuesday, 4 October 2011

Something happened on the way to heaven

Today is October 1st so I guess its time to take stock of Nigeria’s 51 years and see where we are. The title is taken from a Phil Collins song and came to mind as I attended a book launch under the auspices of the Royal Africa Society at UCL for a book entitled ‘It happened on the way to war’ by ex US Marine Officer Rye Barcott, but more on that later. I guess we all know Nigeria is not working. I guess we all know things seem to be taking a strange turn to the worse. What none of us seem to know are the whys and the wherefores. In this post I’m going to try and put across what I think are the reasons for Nigeria’s current state, its current violent travails and the most Nigeria is essentially a gangster state with a gangster economy. It is run by gangsters for gangsters. This is true from its foundation in 1914 by Lord Lugard to its current existence under President Goodluck Jonathon. The only difference I can see is that a more organised and professional gangsters were supplanted by a more amateurish and rapacious bunch. The gangsters of pre 1960 had a clear unambiguous objective of producing and extracting wealth for themselves and the mother country, in order to do that they needed a basis of administration and arbitration, they needed a transport infrastructure, they needed a police and military presence to enforce the system of administration and arbitration. They needed a small educated workforce to operate the lower echelons of the administration. All of these they set out efficiently and with this unified common purpose in mind. In order for the pre 1960 set of gangsters to justify their existence they ensured these rudiments of order worked and that the system was seen to work. This made sense in that they could not fulfil their objectives without co-opting the native populace, both in mind and in deed. It is instructive that the Royal West African Frontier Force that campaigned so ably as part of the British 14th Army consisted in the main of 2 Nigerian dominated divisions and that every single African was a volunteer fighting for a ‘King Joji’ they had never seen, had no comprehension of and who was barely aware of their existence. Yet the same government of King Joji extracted tin from Jos using save labour and taxed the colonies in extremis to fund its war effort. Now I mention these as an illustration of how an entity formed and maintained solely for the purpose of extracting its wealth can run and function efficiently with the captive constituents not just working for the entity but voluntarily putting themselves in harms way to protect that entities interests even when the outcomes are in no way beneficial or even relevant to them. Post independence another set of gangsters took over. As the years progressed the gangsters threw off all pretence of governance for the wholesale extraction and looting of wealth until we got to nadir of Abacha, where kleptocracy coupled with out and out brutality sunk the nation to the lowest levels of gangster rapacity. So what has all of this led to? Its taken us to our current ‘democratic’ disposition with the highest paid lawmakers in the world with the least legislative activity, no oversight activities, a supine opposition and one party states all passing supplications up the chain. In a situation where winner literally takes all, the systems and structures of power and more importantly power seeking have become so warped that the inevitable has happened and the crocodile has begun to eat its own tail. In the Delta what evolved to become MEND through the various cultist groups were a direct off shoot of the gangs formed for rigging by the south south gangster governors like Odili, Alameishia etc. These gangs after having been cut loose turned on their former masters and eventually led to the MEND phenomenon, which led to kidnapping for political reasons which has spread now to kidnapping for pecuniary reasons. In the North the chickens of the vast culture and climate of patronage and poverty built up by gangsters of the North have finally come home to roost. By destroying their own power and finance base of agriculture, either by omission or commission the Northern gangsters created a new phenomenon of al Majiris or uneducated, unskilled men, sent to ‘learn the Koran’ with uneducated unskilled and unregulated teachers. All these boys ever seemed to do was beg for food and money and would reach their teenage years with no discernible skill, however they were useful for rigging elections or periodic pogroms as and when needed. The organisation colloquially known as Boko Haram again is a manifestation of a group that was set up for political purposes, to promote the candidacy of certain people who in true Nigerian gangster politician fashion promptly abandoned them upon gaining power. Boko Haram was attacked and crushed in a campaign of completely disproportionate force with mass extra judicial executions, most of which were televised, again a manifestation of a government or system of government that not only doesn’t govern, no longer even pretends to govern. It is instructive that there is no discernible pattern or consistency to the attacks in Northern Nigeria, some have been overt political assassinations or attacks on symbols of the state others have been terror attacks against churches and beer parlours. To my mind there is a clear distinction between the actions of Boko Haram and what I would call the actions of opportunistic elements seeking to hide under that cloak to create conditions whereby they will take back what they consider to be rightfully theirs, i.e. political control of the entity called Nigeria. In essence the phenomenon of urban terror is a civil war within the gangster cabal. Not even North vs South or Christian vs Muslim but faction vs faction. With innocent church goers, villagers, herdsmen, office workers, bar men and women and ordinary citizens as the expendable cannon fodder. There seems to be no logical political end to any of the insecurities and criminalities that exist in Nigeria but there are commercial ends. Just as refineries are run down so as to favour oil importers, fuel subsidies benefit fuel lifters, congested ports benefit corrupt port officials, Niger Delta insurgency benefits oil bunkerers, power outages favour generator importers and importers of basic goods that used to be manufactured in Nigeria, a purported Islamic insurrection favours those who will go whispering to western diplomats (an alarming trend illustrated by Wikileaks) that they are the only ones who can control ‘the boys’, those who seek to make the country ungovernable, those who wish to precipitate revenge attacks so as to perpetuate their us and them narrative. What is even more incredulous is that the various gangster elements who have provided nothing for their alleged constituents except destroying their industrial and agricultural base should claim to be speaking for them and fighting for them. With the experience of the last election in mind where these elites were attacked by mobs they seek as ever to divert attention and turn the contest into a them and us contest, we the faithful against them the infidel, the productive against the parasites. The book launch mentioned earlier involved the life experiences of a young US Marine officer who prior to getting commissioned visited Kibera slum in Kenya and ended up setting up an NGO called Caroline for Kibera, he eventually deployed as. On his way to war he attempted to bring peace to the various tribal groups occupying a slum the size of Hyde Park. He ended up in Military Intelligence serving in Fallujah. Of the several key things that he mentioned one was the need for participatory solutions to the developing world’s problems and how early intervention tended to be require less resources than post conflict interventions. These are common sense truisms but in the case of Nigeria they are in fact our only keys to survival. It is impossible for a system by gangsters for gangsters to survive intact much longer. Something somewhere will have to give and the unfortunate thing is that the ‘give’ will be along the path of least resistance, i.e. tribal or sectarian lines. It will be bloody, brutal and inconclusive. No one can say what Nigeria will look like at 52, it has been said the GEJ is an intellectual who actually wishes to hear contrary arguments and analyse the situation, as good as that is, analysis without decision and action is a navel gazing luxury we can ill afford Nigeria needs its entire people to have an insight into the problem and the solution, and the solution is an early intervention to attend to the root causes of our problems, which essentially begin and end with corruption. None of the problems in Nigeria from power to petroleum to industry are difficult or particularly expensive but as long as there are people profiting from the misery they will be impossible. We the people must start to use the tools of democracy contacting our Representatives and Senators to ask the relevant questions, to query and show our disapproval using social media and the traditional media. For those in the diaspora to share information about corrupt officials and politicians and lobby foreign governments and their agencies. These interventions are no cost and pre emptive and do not bear the alternative. This is to the benefit of the gangsters as well as their victims, the lessons of Gbagbo, Assad and Ghaddafi should not be lost on them, but more importantly the lessons of Pablo Escobar. Pablo Escobar tried to avoid justice in Colombia by a campaign of urban terrorism and assassination. He ended up dead in the Medellin jungle. 51 years ago Nigeria was ahead of its peers now we lag behind Ghana and Gambia. The road to hell is paved with good intentions, so possibly all the bad intentions that litter Nigeria’s history from conception to present portend something.

Saturday, 1 October 2011

419 Reasons to Like Nigeria

For too long, Nigeria and Nigerians have been readily associated with the online scams, financial crime and impersonation - termed ‘419’. However, beyond the unfortunate stereotyping, there are several positive characteristics and cogent intriguing traits of the country, Nigeria and its people, some of which are highlighted below as part of the ‘419 Reasons to Like Nigeria’ campaign which enlisted 100 volunteers and bloggers to share reasons why they like Nigeria. These reasons echo the voices of Nigerians, with resonating similar themes. The campaign is being facilitated in partnership with ‘The 419Positive Project’.
The full list of ‘419 Reasons to Like Nigeria’ is available here (
The list of contributors to ‘419 Reasons to Like Nigeria’ is available here
If you would like to say something positive about Nigerians and Nigeria, please do so here.

 I like Nigeria because it is a land of endless opportunities and possibilities. Nigeria is one country I believe the world is yet to experience it true potentials. I believe Nigerians are sharp, brilliant and accommodating people. Giving the right enabling environment the world will marvel at what Nigeria will become.
 Nigeria is the most populous black nation - and a buying one at that. From a capitalist point of view, this makes for a great investment opportunities.
 The fact that Nigeria currently lags behind so much - in infrastructure and developmental terms - hints at the size of the potential for innovation and transformation, and at the huge number of vacancies that exist for 'transformers'. What I think this means is that the world will be hearing a lot about Nigeria and high-achieving Nigerians (in the public and private sectors) in the near future.

 The Nigerian Green and White flag is a notable national symbol. The green color symbolises agriculture, seeing that the country is endowed with masses of arable land, while the white colour signifies unity and peace. Other national symbols include the Nigerian Coat of Arms, which depicts an eagle on a black shield, tri-sected by two wavy silver bands, and supported on either side by two chargers. The national motto underlies the coat-of -arms: "Unity and Faith, Peace and Progress." Her national symbols convey great meaning to its people.
 The Nigerian accent is currently ranked by CNN Global Experiences as the 5th sexiest accent in the world.
 Nigeria is home to Nollywood, one of the world's biggest film industries.

 Something great to like about Nigeria is our cultural diversity. A strong affinity exists, despite our differences. Learning about other ethnic cultures in my country really helped me personally relate to other cultures when abroad.
 I think the food is tastier in Nigeria than that I have found in other countries.
 Nigerians live a communal life style. The extended family is part of the immediate family in a Nigerian home.

 Nigeria has produced many world class musicians. A notable mention in this regard is Fela Anikulapo Kuti. A Broadway show titled ‘FELA!’ was produced in 2009 depicting the life and times of the Afrobeat musician.
 Nigeria’s movie industry, Nollywood, is reputedly the 3rd largest film industry after Hollywood and Bollywood, and has grown gradually into a $250 million industry in more than 10 years.
 Nigerian indigenous musical instruments are unique, soulful and rhythmic. They comprise the popular Talking Drum, producing proverbial and storytelling sounds, the Shaker (shekere), the Udu drum, the Lute, the leg and arm Rattle, the Omele, the Ogene (Gong originating in Eastern Nigeria), the Ekwe drum and the Kakaki (A 4m metal trumpet popular in Northern Nigeria). Many of these instruments have been incorporated in South American music over the years

 Nigeria is a nation blessed with rich human and natural resources. As the 8th largest exporter of Oil in the world, with the 10th largest proven reserves, our blessings cannot be overemphasised. No earthquakes, no tsunamis, no droughts, an evergreen land. The rest of the world should live here.
 The beauty of the Nigerian state cannot but leave one in awe. Blessed with captivating physical features and abundant wild life. From the rolling hills to the vast plains in the North Central Nigeria and the forests in the South, the beautiful scenery of the country is more than breathtaking and with the wildlife spread all over the country; Nigeria is surely a beauty to behold and a tourist's delight all year round.
 Nigeria is blessed with tremendous agricultural resources. Cotton in the North, Cocoa & Oil palm in the south amongst many others. The flag is green for a reason

 Nigeria has the largest population of any country in Africa. Approximately 1 out of every 2 West Africans, 1 out of every 4 Africans, and 1 out of every 5 persons of African origin is a Nigerian.
 Nigeria is the largest contributor of troops to the ECOWAS Monitoring Group (ECOMOG) and by extension, is the largest force for peace and stability in West Africa.
 A Nigerian will stand out anywhere you find him/her, from Libya to London, Tokyo to Timbuktu. Well known examples include Hakeem Olajuwon (Houston Rockets, USA), Olumide Oyedeji (Seattle Sonics), Tunde Baiyewu (Lighthouse Family), Sunday Adelaja (Ukraine), Chris Aire (US), etc.

 Nigerians are intelligent, brilliant minds who have proven their mettle in various fields - Wole Soyinka was the first African to win the much coveted Nobel Prize for literature in 1986. Chinua Achebe’s classic novel ‘Things Fall Apart’ was ranked as number 14 in a list of top 100 books in the world by Newsdesk in 2009. Others include Cyprian Ekwensi, Mabel Segun, Chimamanda Adichie and Helon Habila whose literary works have won both international and local awards at various times.
 We have budding fashion designers. Yes! It's a line every Bunmi, Amaka and Amina has decided to tow but to disregard the effort and originality of our Fashion Designers would be disrespectful. Tiffany Amber, Lanre Da Silva and Deola Sagoe are building world renowned brands, not to mention the legacy developed by the likes of Abba Folawiyo, Maureen Onigbanjo, Remi Lagos and Zizzi Cardow.
 Nigerians have excelled in the fields of economics and finance, managing well established global bodies. Ngozi Okonjo Iweala, the current Minister of Finance, was until recently a Managing Director at The World Bank. Obiageli Ezekwisili is currently the Vice President for Africa at The World Bank. Mr Adebayo Ogunlesi is a first class graduate of Oxford, and Managing Partner of Global infrastructure Partner (GIP), a concessionaire of London’s Gatwick International Airport.
 We take technology and expand it in ways those who created it could not have imagined. For instance, take the BlackBerry Messenger (BBM) which allows you to send broadcast messages to all addresses on your contacts list; Nigerians recently found a unique way of advertising the different businesses they do. Someone started a message highlighting the fact that many people in Nigeria are entrepreneurs or provide a service and included his BB PIN in the message and sent to all his contacts with the charge that they state the service they provide, include their PIN and send on to all their contacts too. This seemingly small campaign has gone “viral” with whole lists of entrepreneurs and their BB PINs being passed from phone to phone. This is a clear sign of the ingenuity of Nigerians!

 Nigeria is the 7th most populous nation in the world (over 160 million) and most populous in Africa - a gold mine of energetic, determined and talented people in each and every field. From Lagos to Aba to Kano, the Nigerian business spirit and desire to succeed is visible. It requires just proper harnessing of these human resources before Nigeria becomes the super power she was meant to be.
 Nigerians are passionate, friendly, welcoming, hospitable, and well cultured people. The average Nigerian reflects a combination of vivacity, intelligence, energy, talent, and resolution.
 We are a nation of people that can hardly hide their excitement at seeing family and friends. Some misconstrue this thinking we are loud but let's just say we are EXPRESSIVE! If you see us on the streets of New York making a big ruckus and hugging? No sweat. We are just happy to see each other.

 The Giant of Africa: Not ignoring the current challenges, eventually, when we get our acts right, we will reign supreme on the global scene. We have the potential and as is much touted by the Warri people - "Naija no dey carry last"
 The 'survivor-mentality' hard-wired into the DNA of Nigeria's people. The fact that against all the odds (and there are many of them), Nigerians continue to live, hustle and seek to triumph. It is not by mistake that Nigeria is regarded as one of the "happiest" countries in the world, despite its challenging economic and social conditions.
 We are hardy. The average Nigerian does business under circumstances that are unimaginable to people from other parts. In a place where there is no power, no credit, and scant regulation, people do business and do very well for themselves too. If you can make it in Nigeria, you can make it anywhere in the world.

 Nigeria is an amazing tourist haven and is home to the Obudu Cattle Ranch, located in Calabar. It is only 45 miles from the Cameroon border. The Obudu Plateau is spread over 40 sq. miles and is 5,200 feet above sea level. The Obudu resort features a Gorilla Camp where tourists may observe gorillas in their natural habitat.
 Nigeria has two UNESCO world heritage sites, the Osun Osogbo Sacred Grove and the Sukur Cultural Landscape in Adamawa. UNESCO world heritage sites are places designated as being of cultural significance.
 Nigeria has produced great footballers like Teslim “Thunder” Balogun (the first Nigerian to play for an English Club – QPR), Segun Odegbami, Muda Lawal, Stephen Keshi, Rashidi Yekini (who scored Nigeria’s first ever goal at the World Cup), Nwankwo Kanu, Austin 'Jay Jay' Okocha, John Mikel Obi, Osaze Odemwingie, to mention but a few.
 Nigeria has excelled in athletics over the years, still holding continental records in the 100m men and women, 4x100m men and women, 400m men and women, among others. Over 100 skilled Nigerian professional footballers played in First Division leagues in different countries all over Europe in the 2010/2011 season, 9 in England; 8 each in Finland, Norway; 10 in Ukraine and 7 in Sweden.

 Nigerians, despite our diversity are a united people who always strive to help one another. With 774 local government areas, multi religious and ethnic affiliations, 36 States, and population of over 160 million, we still stand undeterred to move forward together.
 Even outside the country, Nigerians remain united. This gives a quiet assurance somewhat that you can get on a plane and go to any country of the world and find a Nigerian there who will not only make you feel welcome but will go out of their way to be of really good help. I have experienced this several times on my travels and each time it amazes me how all I need to be is a Nigerian, not Igbo, Yoruba or Hausa and once I run into another Nigerian, I will immediately feel at home.
 Our greatest strength lies in our diversity.

The 419 Reasons to Like Nigeria’ Campaign is in partnership with ‘The 419Positive Proj ect. http://