Monday, February 18, 2008

N1 Million for Dinner!

By Ohimai Godwin Amaize

We have a great continent besieged with great problems. It is disturbing that Africa has retained the reputation of a continent replete with colossal absurdities. And our dear country Nigeria is no stranger to the shameful tune of torment and the macabre beats of a continental order still reeling from all the symptoms of a post-traumatic-stress-disorder. Everyday we wake up to the realities of a failed system foisted on us by our sheer ignorance of the psychodynamics of our civilization. We have spent years debating how the West underdeveloped Africa, but no one is talking about the debasing acquiescence of Africans to the superiority of Western concepts. It is true we have managed to overcome decades of colonial disorientation, but it is sad how much we remain entangled in the web of cultural deracination. The painful and yet prevailing paradox is the disappearance of our cultural values into the liminal limbo between the unafrican and the near-western! The result is the frenzy and pointless show of alien values in our media today. What is the problem with us?

I intend to attempt a brief, albeit seemingly digressive nosedive into the collateral manifestations of this growing media disproportion in African societies. The entertainment industry is no doubt a very profitable venture. So much progress has come to Africa through exploits in the arts, with music, theatre, etc. remaining the dominant genres of this sector. But a close look at music in Africa reveals a frightening descent from its critical status as an art form with great potential for social reconstruction, to a massive playground for sex and consumerism which are today considered ‘strategic’ tools for effective communication in Western media. But how did we relapse so fast into such distressing times?

It is shameful that the media in Africa continues in its sheepish admiration and regurgitation of negative portraits in Western media. Rather than getting involved in more public advocacy for greater sex education, our media have unwittingly collaborated with the Western media in its flagrant display of Western societies as sexually liberated, a situation which has created global sexual inequalities between Africa and the West. As a consequence, we have begun to pay the ultimate price for this socio-cultural derailment. The result is today’s disaster metropolis we call Africa – a continent despoiled by untold penury, famine and disease. If it is not bad enough that poverty continues to demobilize an increasing African population, the November 2007 UNAIDS/WHO report on people living with HIV/AIDS (PLWHA) world over, which puts Africa on the top of the chart with an estimated 22.5 million adults and children in sub-Saharan Africa alone, calls for sober reflection. This is out of the estimated global total of 33.2 million PLWHAs! Increasingly, sex has been identified as the major means of transmission. How then do we talk about real development with such media irresponsibility to society?

Let me now focus on the situation at the home front. Here again in Nigeria comes another opportunity for media slumber. The Kora Awards, the most popular awards of the recording industry in Africa is coming to Nigeria. Founded by Ernest Adjovi in 1994, the ceremony enjoys great media attention annually and rightly so, because it is patterned after the American Grammy Awards which is the biggest and most renowned music awards for deserving musical artistes in various music genres worldwide. The Kora Awards, being its African prototype has strived since its inception to live up to the standards of the Grammys. Perhaps, in a bid to broaden the scope of the event, the organizers are throwing the carrot to Nigeria. Nigeria, I understand has been granted the hosting rights for the next five editions. This indeed, is a welcome development. It is another milestone in the Nigerian entertainment industry and a good omen too for tourist exploits in Nigeria. I have no problem with the Koras coming to town.

The media launch announcing the awards in Nigeria has been scheduled for 20 December 2007 at the Abuja International Centre. And as is usual with such events, there will be a dinner. I would have been glad to stop here at this point of the event plan and wish the organizers a very happy launch. But my attention was drawn to the outrageous idea of dinner tables of ten (10) seats being available for N1 million! Yes, I mean N1 million for just one seat! But what is wrong with that? Somebody is bound to ask. Really, I do not expect much hue and cry from a nation where scandals involving billions of dollars have become more popular than the names of our national heroes. But the danger in adopting what may be called a trite-matter position on this N1 million per dinner seat, is the seemingly harmless but precarious infiltration of our national psyche by the spirit of corruption. It is critical to call attention to how we think we are building our society. Why do we spend so much on the ethereal at the expense of enterprising social ventures? What do we invest our time and resources in? Through this continued love for pleasure and fanfare, are we not entrenching a feudal order over a fast disappearing middle class? What is happening to our consciousness? Why on earth will a dinner seat for just one night be worth N1 million? Is the food from Mars? Maybe you have the answers, but a quick introspection into the fall of the flamboyant Bourbon monarchy of France is instructive to those who care enough.

My problem with this N1 million per dinner seat should not be misconstrued as an attempt to undermine the idea of the Kora Awards or efforts by the organizers to showcase a world-class event. I am particular about the extraneous trappings of their fund-raising strategy. It is true a lot of money is required to stage an event as the Kora Awards. But there is room for corporate sponsorships and philanthropy. Even the Grammy Awards which is approaching its 50th anniversary depends on corporate sponsorships, and has established the Grammy Foundation since 1989 in its attempt to develop a give-back mechanism to the American society. For whatever it is worth, the Kora Award launch has succeeded in portraying Africans again as bad imitators of foreign concepts. This is happening in Nigeria, a country where poverty is still a major issue. Or is this the new face of philanthropy in fund-raising? It appears the organizers are over-fascinated with the status symbol or VIP syndrome which has heightened the race for money at all costs, especially among our youths today. I strongly believe the organizers could have raised more funds if they had welcomed generous donations from organizations and individuals in the spirit of charity. It is instructive that with the growing civil consensus against corruption (thanks to the anti-corruption agencies) we must eliminate opportunities that promote the laundering of stolen funds.

Indeed, not a few Nigerians can afford the luxury of a dinner seat for N1 million. We had seen even more ostentatious display of ill-gotten wealth before the EFCC anti-graft guillotine started taking its toll. But what do we expect from a country with a sickly tax-paying system? Let’s not even talk about Aso Rock where eye glasses and daily refreshments enjoy an obese budget of N1.5 million and N2.3 million respectively!

Building the Nigeria of Our Dreams

Ohimai (Mr. Fix Nigeria) with students of Junior Secondary School (JSS), Jikwoyi, Abuja shortly after delivering an anti-corruption advocacy talk.

By Ohimai Godwin Amaize

Indeed, these are trying times. Apparently, yet paradoxically, these are times when the past presents more hope than the future. For some, it is perceived there is no future at all. The pathway to a new dawn has become a rocky terrain of recurring mirage. The gates have been closed with a hopeless bang, leaving echoes of failure and disappointment. These are times when hopes are continually raised and dashed on the rocks of deceitfulness. And whereas, the unfolding spectacle is a quintessential theatre of the absurd, it is amazing to see how much we continue to nurture an affinity for rot and a fancy for dust. But how did we degenerate so fast? When did we relapse into an awfully dysfunctional state whose landmarks are replete with colonial micro-nationalism, social insecurity, comatose institutions, intellectual peonage, value collapse, a national assembly unable to defrock itself from the garb of crookedness and the spiteful penchant of public officers for public stealing?

One of the biggest challenges confronting the Nigerian state today is the issue of corruption. World over, corruption has become an issue of great concern. While some consider it the bane of constructive efforts towards the building of a virile society, it is for others a necessary tool for accessing and securing personal fortunes. Sadly enough, the Nigerian experience is a careless harbinger of deferred dreams. Efforts geared towards the advance of project Nigeria, have been continuously truncated by the terrifying conditions of a system bedeviled by corruption. In the midst of this deepening crisis and perhaps the quest for a potent way out of the corruption quagmire, the Fix Nigeria Initiative (FNI), the civil society interface of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) invited youths from the six-geopolitical zones of Nigeria to the 1st National Youth Anti Corruption Summit which was held at Bolingo Hotel and Towers, Abuja on Monday 10 September, 2007.

According to the FNI, the aim of the summit was to bring together youths to deliberate on issues of corruption, integrity, accountability and the crisis of the Niger-Delta. I was one of the youths who attended the summit. At the end of the summit, it became clearer that the task of ridding our nation of the scourge of corruption was more Herculean than often imagined. A novel and imaginative way of problematising this in relation to the idea of building the Nigeria of our dreams, is a brief assessment of the role of the Nigerian media and its impact on the youths who are often considered the foundation of the future. Among the several presentations at the summit, I was particularly touched by the submissions of ace broadcaster Mrs. Eugenia Abu who herself a media practitioner, boldly chastised the Nigerian media for what she described as its promotion of consumerism and sex rather than our cherished moral values. According to her, “Today’s consumerism has ensured that there is so much representation of the power of money. The logic of profit prevents the discharge of the media’s responsibility to society.”

Indeed, the media, it is that safeguards the truths and moral values of society. As the Fourth Estate, as well as guard dog and conscience of society, it is a formidable force and potent tool in nation building. In consequence, its responsibility to society must not be compromised in a way that produces misrepresentations to young persons who are for the most part, observers of its social portraits. Hence the need for the media to embrace a paradigm shift and strive to continually portray cultural processes, whether African or Western, from a standpoint that provides sufficient subtext of the informing essence and context. The reality of our socio-cultural experience must not be allowed to disappear under the red light of reality TVs. Our soap operas must be strategic enough to cleanse the dirt which has permeated the fabric of society. Concerted efforts by the media to empower our youths must be prioritized over musical concerts and parties which only encourage materialism and bad role-modeling. Why do we preach patriotism to the fatherland when the media has forgotten that Taiwo Akinkunmi, the man who designed the Nigerian flag is still alive and has become a sickly beggar in the streets of Ibadan? Do we really expect young Nigerians to be patriotic to Nigeria when those celebrated by the media today are those who have imbibed the ideals of Hollywood while parading themselves as Nigerian versions of Shakira, Rihanna, Jay-Z, and 50 Cents? How many Nigerian movies are centered on contemporary Nigerian or African icons like Dora Akunyili, Nuhu Ribadu, and Nelson Mandela?

Permit me this; I am not advocating an anti-showbiz Nigerian media. I still enjoy good music, movies and soaps, whether Nigerian or foreign. But the prevailing truth is that the media must get its priorities right. What Nigeria needs at this time in her historic journey to national greatness, is a responsible media that understands its powers as a vital tool for social construction. So profound is the strength of the media that it can turn good people into bad people and otherwise. Thus, the media must be able to re-evaluate itself.

While media responsibility to society cannot be overemphasized, it is instructive to those who care enough that the task of building the Nigeria of our dreams is a task for all. So much is required to rescue the Nigerian state out of its current state of pollution. There are many who have expressed uncompromising belief in the dawn of a new Nigeria, but very few have actually taken bold steps towards orchestrating the desired national rebirth. Fela Durotoye is one notable Nigerian of my generation I admire so much for his great passion in the task of rebuilding the Nigerian nation. At 35, he is a retired successful entrepreneur who has undertaken the task of seeing Nigeria become the most desirable nation to live in by December 31, 2025. To this end, practical steps are already being taken to actualize the vision preciously tagged: “Gemstone 2025.” We need more hands like him.

For some, the foregoing represents a trite picture of an idea too lofty. Such critics only bring to mind a foretaste of the ill-naturedness of the human mind and its inherent pessimism. Without doubt, we can attain the Nigeria of our dreams. However, the way out of the Nigerian crisis is a distant journey into the innermost recesses of our minds. What we need is not a revolution of guns and machetes. We desire a revolution of the mind – an arrival at the threshold of the charity that truly begins at home. Every Nigerian must attain that distillation of spirit where service to the fatherland is prioritised over personal interests. From the lawmaker to the clergy, and the aristocrat to the so-called hoi polloi, let there be a sense and sameness of direction. We must not allow the diversity of our cultures to blur the clarity of our glorious future. Patriotism must not be viewed as an alien term that begins and ends in our newspapers when our journalists make references to the systems of the West. Nigerians must arrive at the crossroads in their cultural and socio-political odyssey where historic decisions about their future will be taken without risky hesitations or dangerous compromises.

With literary critic Odia Ofeimun at the 2008 Wole Soyinka Investigative Reporting Award (WSIRA) at the All Seasons Plaza, Ikeja, Lagos.

With Fela Durotoye during the HR guru's visit to the EFCC on 3rd April 2008. GOTNI President, Linus Okorie is first from right.