Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Will the killings continue?

Since 1960 when the country gained independence, Nigeria has lost millions of her citizens to sectarian violence.

From the series of violent upheavals which are now relics of the country’s early post-colonial past to the civil war which claimed over three million souls, the Nigerian experience is like a bloody battle between sworn foes nurtured by the eternal echoes of a retribution that must be avenged again and yet again.

Sadly, in the midst of these national tragedies, it appears for the most part, that Nigerians have chosen to remain mute witnesses to the senseless recurring carnage which today situates itself in the nation’s body politic. But what can the people do?

Often victims of a failing order bedevilled by a tragically wobbly cohesion between the national promise and expectation, one can hardly surmise a coherent intervention from the people where the government itself has lost touch with the nation’s agenda for credible direction.

From the Maitatsine riots of 1980 to the Zango-Kataf riots of 1992, Nigeria has since been in and out of the bloody depths of sectarian violence. In 1999, about a 100 people reportedly lost their lives to two bloody days of ethnic violence in Lagos.

BBC reported that the trouble began when Hausa and Yoruba traders started fighting for control of a popular food market in Ketu on the outskirts of the city.

On October 15, 2001, protests in Kano state against American and coalition forces’ bombings in Afghanistan left dozens of people dead. Between June, 2001 and October, 2002, nearly 1,000 persons lost their lives in religious conflicts between Muslims and Christians in Bauchi and Plateau states.

In November 2002, as Nigeria prepared to host the Miss World Beauty Pageant, violent protests by Islamic groups, particularly in northern Nigeria, derailed Nigeria’s hosting of the event. In 2007, fights over Danish cartoons of Prophet Mohammed killed more than 100 Nigerians.

About 10,000 people have died in ethnic and religious violence since 1999. One wonders, will the killings continue Perhaps the answers are buried in the ruins of the recent past as Nigeria witnessed last July the sectarian violence unleashed upon Bauchi, Borno and Yobe states, claiming hundreds of lives.

Christened the Boko Haram riots, the violence was ignited by the Boko Haram group, a northern Nigerian Islamic movement opposed to Western education. Boko Haram means “Western education is sinful”.

Amid the social tension generated by the festering Niger-Delta crisis, one must observe the crisis beyond the matrix of a mere breakdown of law and order.

The extra-judicial killing of Mohammed Yusuf, leader of the Boko Haram sect recasts the issue in new dimensions, raising questions about the nation’s flawed law enforcement, the effect of harsh socio-economic conditions in the proliferation of sectarian violence while also hinting at the possibility of a hegemonial religious conspiracy theory. The emerging issues are disturbing.

Professor Murtalal Muhibbu-Din, Head of the Department of Religion at the Lagos State University, contends that the crisis was born out of anger and frustration rather than religious faith.

“What they said they were fighting against, such as Western education and Western values, are just smokescreens to vent their anger on the government.

That is why they are attacking police stations, which they see as government establishments,” he told IPS in Lagos.

The same could be said of the Niger-Delta conundrum. Agitation on behalf of the politically-marginalised and socio-economically deprived ethnicities for a fairer share of the oil wealth, have sustained armed resistance in the region till date.

Curiously, law enforcement agencies have yet to bring a single perpetrator of religious violence to justice. This, according to The Guardian, has “emboldened all sorts of religious fundamentalists who rise at will to visit mayhem on innocent people.”

As Nigeria continues in her troubled odyssey, one can only hope for a future that thrives on a coherent union and management of the nation’s diverse human and natural resources.

Achieving this will depend on the quality and ability of the nation’s leadership। Failing portends an imminent relapse into another round of violent uprisings that could degenerate into an irreversible national apocalypse.

Ohimai Godwin Amaize

September, 2009

Culled from The Nigerian reVOTElution!

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

District 9: Deconstructing Brand Nigeria

Not a few Nigerians were incensed with Oprah Winfrey when she maligned Nigeria and Nigerians in a TV discussion about the global scourge of cyber crimes. In an attempt to lend credence to her inflammatory pronouncement, Oprah purportedly played the video clip of a popular Nigerian hit-track that celebrates cybercrimes (Yahoo-Yahoo) to millions of viewers hooked on to her Oprah Winfrey Talk Show worldwide. Whatever that meant, I believe Oprah is entitled to her own opinion.

Only last week, Sony Corporation issued an apology to Nigeria over a TV commercial for its latest PlayStation which attacks with innuendo, the reputation of Nigerians. The Sony apology came shortly after Nigeria’s official image maker, Information and Communications Minister, Prof. Dora Akunyili issued a release condemning and demanding an unreserved apology from Sony Corporation. Good for Nigeria and kudos to Madam Dora, Sony has withdrawn the commercial, but not before it had been posted on YouTube, entrenching our global reputation in the liminal limbo between death and dying.

And just as Nigerians were still smarting from the attack delivered by the Sony advert came a new assault, this time from the world’s movie capital – Hollywood. In District 9, a 2009 science fiction directed by Neill Blomkamp, written by Blomkamp and Terri Tatchell, and released on August 14, 2009, Nigerians are portrayed as voodoo experts, gangsters, drug dealers, pimps, prostitutes, cannibals and an unintelligent bunch of weapon traffickers. For the sake of our cinemas, let me avoid a sheepish regurgitation of the plot within this discourse.

I saw District 9 on the evening of September 9, 2009. Shot on location in Chiawelo Soweto, South Africa, District 9, apparently another Hollywood sell-abroad in the league of movies like the famed Indian Slumdog Millionaire, grossed $US 37 million on the weekend of its release and has been attracting reviews some of which have critiqued it for its apparent selection and demonization of the Nigerian people. This is where I have a problem. Whether the likes of Oprah Winfrey, Sony and now Neill Blomkamp acted in good faith or whether they were right in their assertions about Nigeria is first, not as important, as telling ourselves the truth about Nigeria and the need for us to do something serious about it. Before we be begin to roar in outrage, before we begin to call for the heads of those who amplify our national notoriety, let’s do a bit of introspection here. Are we truly not what they say we are?

Talking about cyber crimes (Yahoo-Yahoo), we rank third globally. Corruption nko? Until Nuhu Ribadu appeared on the scene in 2004, Nigeria was globally reputed as one of the most corrupt nations of this world. Sadly, in the last one year, Nigeria has begun a steady relapse into the dark days of the past. Or is it prostitution? Let us leave Italy out of this matter. Our electoral process is reality stranger than fiction! Since independence, our leaders have been powerless about the power issue plunging the entire nation, particularly our manufacturing sector into the recklessness of fruitless darkness. Our terrible roads are probably too long an issue to discuss here. Or is it our sharply declining per capita income or lazy theories of seven sleeping agendas? Maybe we should talk about the deprived communities of the Niger-Delta and the resultant carnage unleashed upon us by militant youths who should be in school to make their families and our nation proud. Tell me; where else in the world do people get slaughtered over cartoons they know absolutely nothing about?

It is this same Nigeria of rock star bankers in shiny suits and armoured car convoys dishing out may-God-forgive-them loans in billions of dollars to their friends, families and well-wishers. It is this same Nigeria where people live and die to understand that the police who ought to protect them could indeed, be their worst enemy. Can we just wake up from this lame sentimental slumber and picture a country whose Minister of Education wasted over 150 million naira on his birthday and wedding anniversary party at the Transcorp Hilton in Abuja while millions of Nigerian undergraduates are wasting away at home over government’s inability to provide better welfare for university lecturers? And then, when some overfed over-inspired overseas buffoon begins the lame game of name-calling, we cry blue murder! Are we not worse than what they even call us? Has our own Nollywood not portrayed Nigeria and Nigerians in far more injurious perspectives than this Hollywood flick we have made so popular by our untamed crocodile tears?

More worrisome is how far all these will go to validate the doctrine of rebranding Nigeria. These are perhaps some of Madam Dora’s brightest moments. And for all the self-styled consultants and apostles of branding and rebranding Nigeria, this is one glorious opportunity to step up their game; sell new ideas to the government, and get paid the Abuja way – all at the expense of taxpayers’ money. “Why I dey vex? Is it my money?”

If Nigerians can devote the same amount of energy and attention they expend on ignoble distractions like District 9, Nigeria will have moved a few more miles away from Hades. Our worst enemies are not the Oprahs, the Sonys or Blomkamps of this world. We are our own greatest enemies, and interestingly too, our greatest messiahs.

Regardless of the foregoing, for whatever it is worth, I am averse to the creative recklessness of Neill Blomkamp and Terri Tatchell, director and writer of the movie District 9, respectively. If it was contemptuous labelling the gang of neighbourhood terrorists in District 9, Nigerians, it was far more distressing calling their leader ‘Obasanjo’. At its best, this was creativity debased and by all means a demonization of our cultural dignity and identity.

By singling out Nigerians and the immediate past president of the country for such undesirably bizarre and stereotypical castings, District 9 comes crashing down the pedestal of ‘great’ science fictions placing the movie at the very heights of self-conceited racial prejudice. Coming from a South African director, and viewed from the lens of prevailing socio-political and cultural realities in the African continent, one can hardly deracinate its thematic preoccupation from its hideous xenophobic expression. Whatever good, satirical or allegorical outcome the makers of this movie planned to achieve, they rubbished with their audacity of slanted imagination.

By daring to depict the world’s largest conglomerate of black souls in such despicable candour, Neill Blomkamp plunges his audiences globally, into the paradox of distorted worldviews of not just Nigeria, but South Africa and the African continent as a whole. Let somebody remind the young South African director that this same Nigeria produced Africa’s first Nobel Laureate for Literature, the legendary Prof. Wole Soyinka. Philip Emeagwali, regarded as one of the fathers of the Internet, is a Nigerian. The Chinua Achebes, Emeka Anyaokus, Gamaliel Onosodes, Nuhu Ribadus, Chimamanda Adichies, and the Asas of recent memories are not from space like Blomkamp’s aliens in District 9. They are all Nigerians. Ikponmwosan ‘IK’ Osakioduwa, current host of the Big Brother Africa TV show ongoing in South Africa, is a young Nigerian. It is also on record that a Nigerian university, the University of Ibadan emerged winner of the recently concluded Zain African Schools Challenge. But all these are facts, the Oprah Winfreys, Sonys and Neill Blomkamps of this world chose to ignore because the good among us have allowed the bad and the ugly to take prime positions in our fatherland. Perhaps, more instructively, this is a lesson to future filmmakers.

For us as Nigerians, we have a long way to go. We are the embodiment of aspiration, audacity, ability and achievement in the entire African continent but we have this constantly nagging challenge of good governance which has brought the nation to its very knees since independence. Today, the way out may not be etched in a bloody revolution. No, maybe not yet. But before us, especially my generation of young people lies a formidable opportunity to kick out our bad leaders using the ballot box. If we can get it right with the quality of candidates that emerge as our leaders; if we can identify our potential leaders as candidates and begin to mobilise for them; if we can register to vote at the polls; if we can stay with our votes to ensure that they count, then the good men can have a chance to emerge and clean up decades of rot and rubbish in both high and low places. Then we will have no need for rebranding; we will begin to receive befitting welcomes in airports world over; we will have good, great movies named after us. Then, our story will become an inspiration to the world.

Ohimai Godwin Amaize
September, 2009

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

A great man is gone

It was with great sadness that I received the sombre news of the passing away of Chief Abdul Ganiyu Fawehinmi (SAN), one of the greatest Nigerians that ever lived. He was a dear friend, father-like figure, mentor and extraordinary patriot; Chief Fawehinmi was a truly revered individual in every corner of Nigeria and abroad.

His untimely death is a tragic loss to Nigeria particularly at this moment in our history, but we must take consolation in, and celebrate, the fact that his life and principled example made him one of the few fathers of modern day democracy in Nigeria.

Gani was a selfless man who fought both the military and civilian dictators. His struggle came at a huge cost, but one that Gani was prepared to pay. He fought tenaciously for justice, fairness and equality. He symbolized the true image and spirit of Nigerian unity; he was a pillar for the poor and a fearless voice that spoke against the enemies of the people - the oppressors, the evil and the corrupt.

There is no question that Chief Fawehinmi played the most significant role in the development of modern law in Nigeria, from his law reports to the countless cases that he handled in our court systems, a good proportion of them on pro bono. Nigerians will forever admire this incomparable legal mind and remain grateful for the monumental role he played in several facets of their lives.

I first met Gani when I was a trainee Prosecutor in 1984-85 during the trial of the politicians whose unconscionable acts of corruption led to the demise of the Second Republic. Gani took a position against the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) which had opposed the use of the tribunal. He felt that the menace of corruption was so deeply embedded that some extraordinary tools were justified.

His stance gave legitimacy to the tribunal that tried the corrupt politicians. I suggest that subsequent events and history have proved Gani right as corruption still remains the single most debilitating disease to plague the country, indeed a malaise that continues to threaten the fabric of the nation. Gani’s efforts were consistently an igniting force in the major task of striving to eradicate the disease of graft and money laundering so that Nigerians can realize progress.

The privilege of meeting Gani at such an early stage of my career helped galvanize my work and defined my public life. I will ever remain indebted to him. Chief Fawehinmi’s friendship and unwavering support made the most significant difference during my stewardship at the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC). His encouragement and moral fuel energized my colleagues and me and helped us in our attempt to change Nigeria for the good. His support will be sorely missed, but I will continue to remember and be shaped by his legacy.

In the end, his enduring contribution lies in working towards the emergence of a generation of Nigerians who believe in justice, fairness and equality and who are not afraid to speak out especially for those who do not have a voice. Gani’s legacy will resound with us for generations to come. He has taught Nigerians, young and old, to stand firm in opposition to those who conspire against the common good of our commonwealth. In my last conversation with him he emphasized the need for all enlightened Nigerians to mobilize the citizenry for Change.

To Chief Fawehinmi, I say: dear friend, may your soul rest in peace. I send my deepest condolence to his family. To his closest circle of friends as well as multitudes of admirers, I say: Let us remain committed to the ideals that Gani exemplified in his words and conduct.

I regret that I am unable to be with his bereaved family and my fellow mourning Nigerians at his Jannazah. I pray to the Almighty Allah to grant this honorable man Aljanna. May Allah also give his family, friends and admirers the fortitude to bear his loss. Amin.

Nuhu Ribadu
Snr. Fellow, St. Anthony's College,
Oxford University, UK.