Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Today on BEN

The concensus on BEN television's morning phone-in is that Nigerians are not competent enough to handle an aviation industry. Some complain that it is the corruption which causes these problems. Many called for the sacking of the Aviation Minister, Babalola Borishade. One said that sacking wasn't enough and only punitive measures would send a message. He was probably referring to corporate manslaughter charges which were brought into UK legislation followig the Hatfield and Paddington rail crashes.

Another man poignantly said that we here in the UK were scared to move back. Those of us in the UK don't want to move back to Nigeria to go and die. I insist that these things will continue to happen while we stay silent. We need the legal minds to launch criminal or even civil lawsuits against ADC and the Aviation Ministry. Civil disobedience, picketing, boycotting airlines. We're too docile a nation, we're too lackadaisical, too horizontal, too accepting. Wake up, people!

Monday, October 30, 2006

The irony of it all

When I first heard the news about the plane crash, I had just been listening to World Service edition of From Our Own Correspondent, one of the best examples of radio anywhere in the world. The eponymous correspondent was Kieran Cooke, ironically, had been talking about a mishap when he was on a plane in Nigeria. He found the Nigerians' response to such a potential tragedy humourous and endearing. He must listen to the news of the ADC crash now and not see the funny side of his mishap anymore.

The FOOC piece was on the African news page of the BBC yesterday, but has since been taken off. One wonders if it had anything to do with treating the crash with sensitivity. Someone asked me why prominent Nigerians people always seem to be in plane crashes. Well, rich Nigerians have no option but to travel by air. If a plane is departing from or flying into Abuja, it will inevitably have Senators or Congressmen on the flight.

My mama sent me text message from Lagos last night saying, "No rail, no road, people travel by air - it's a problem." That is the crux of the Nigerian transport system. It isn't so much to transport living bodies from one place to another, but almost a conduit of souls to the afterlife. The grim reaper stands at the transit points, airports, and bus depots. So this is how you wish to die. Mid-flight, armed robbery on the highway, car crash after hitting a crater on something people still amazingly call roads instead of dirt tracks? The man in the hooded cape holding a scythe would have offered the choice of despatching you on a railway track, except Nigeria barely has any.

Of course the issue of accountability arises again. Last year, it was deemed that Babalola Borishade should stay and fix the mess of the Sosoliso and Bellview crashes. Granted. But his staying gives no indication of where the buck stops. He has been silly enough to blame the pilot for the crash. The pilot apparently ignored control tower advice not to take off until weather conditions were better. This begs two questions. Why is the opinion/advice of the control tower not enforceable? And why is the safety of the passengers and the plane not put before profits? I can see no other reason why the pilot would be rushing to Sokoto, other than to minimise ground time, and make some more money on the return flight.

If we can still suffer another fatal crash one year after Bellview and Sosoliso, there is much that Borishade is doing wrong. As the headmaster of a failing school or the captain of a faltering ship would do, he should go. Walk the plank, jump or be pushed.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Sultan killed in plane crash

Yet another plane crash in Nigeria. Someone with me when I heard the news said, "they say it so nonchalantly, as if it happens all the time." Well it does. Why is this still happening?

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Okonji-Iweala on Hardtalk

Ngozi-Okonji Iweala makes a typically bullish appearance on BBC's Hardtalk. Stephen Sackur tries hard, but you know Ngozi - where Margaret Thatcher swung a handbag, she swings her headtie. She sounds like she's shouting, but then she's Nigerian. Perhaps she's just loud, as are all Nigerians... She does admit to not being happy when she was moved by Mr President, which I have to applaud Stephen Sackur for getting that out of her. Watch it before it gets taken off the website at midnight tonight (Thurs 25th/Fri 26th).

$5m for the African democrat

Mo Ibrahim encourages African leaders to leave office voluntarily, and $5m could be theirs. It is an amazing prize considering African leaders don't have access to directorships and such that their Western counterparts have. It'll be interesting to see who wins the first one. My bet is that they'll come from southern Africa.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Prince Ahmed Khalifa

Today, I was contacted by bonnie Prince Ahmed Khalifa of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. I'm absolutely flattered that considering he's never met me before, he's willing to trust me with the receipt of his $42m dollars. What a generous guy. I would have taken him up on the offer, but I don't know where "Durblin" is, let alone afford a flight to what sounds like an enchanting place filled with four-leaf clovers and blarney stones.

Dear sir/Madam,
I am contacting you based on trust and i believe you will treat this offer with keen interest and utmost sincerity.my name is PRINCE AHMED KHALIFA, a citizen of, the kingdom of saudi Arabia ,although i was born in the kingdom where i had my education aswell.Following the recent crises between the israeli forces and hehezbollahs militant group in lebanon, my business has suffered a tremendous set back. i run a currency trading company and money exchange bureau in beirut.During one of the israelis airstrike in lebanon, our office building was razed to nothing leaving 13 people dead and over 300 injured.The reason why i am contacting you is to find out if i can invest my money in your line of business.It has become very necessary for me to diversify my interest in the area of investment. I have in cash the sum of $42,300,000.00 in Durblin Ireland, I am searching for a responsible and credible partner who can receive this fund on my behalf and invest it in real estate or another line of business any where in the world,there is a trusted diplomat who can fly the money any where in theworld with a diplomatic tag once we agree.I am presently, undergoingtreatment in the united kingdom because we were evacuated.You can contact me on my private email address for further informations.

i await your urgent response.
best regards.Ahmed khalifa.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Nigeria trawl

I've been doing a trawl through the British newspapers, and there've been a fair number of stories about or concerning Nigeria. In today's Times, Tosin Sulaiman, whom I have the pleasure of knowing, visits the Jobs in Nigeria exhibition:

FOR years governments in Africa have talked optimistically of reversing the brain drain, as thousands of professionals have continued to travel abroad in search of better opportunities than they could find in their homeland. Now, however, there are signs that some of these skilled workers could be making their way back. Read more...
The Duke Onoriode is rather silly talking about going back to Nigeria. He says it's important to use "the skills you’ve gained here to help improve things there." Except he only has a masters; what skills is he taking back? I quibble.

The Daily Telegraph had an article on expats in Nigeria publishing a collection of stories about their experiences in Nigeria. There seems to be a trend among people writing about Nigeria; they all tend to start with the woe-is-Nigeria premise, followed by the unbelievable-but-true-that-Nigerians-don't-eat-their-young continuation of the article. Alex Hannaford's recent piece the Indy is one such example. The expats' tales:

Nigeria. The name conjures up images of violence, corruption and injustice. Fortunately the experiences of a group of expatriates in Nigeria balance that view and are gathered together to form a collection of stories called Nigerian Gems. The book depicts a Nigeria that is far more complex, friendly and rewarding than our preconceptions allow for. Read more...

At a press conference today, some hostages released by Niger Delta militiamen spoke about their ordeal.

There was a rather intriguing story about Russian spies is in Nigeria in yesterday's Sunday Times. It reminds of rumours that the US defense attache at the US emabssy in Abuja has his office in the Nigerian Ministry of Defence. If such rumours were true it would explain why Russians would want to spy on Nigeria. Procurement of British military equipment doesn't help either:

Michael Quinn, 65, one of two Irishmen named in the Nigerian courts as part of an alleged Russian spy ring, runs a company, Marshpearl, which the Nigerian government paid to maintain and upgrade 36 British-made Scorpion attack vehicles in 2001. Read more...
In the Guardian at the weekend, there was an interview with a man who hunts bushmeat smugglers.

And there's an old, Okonji-Iweala family love-in, mother and son.

Friday, October 20, 2006

The trouble with Nigeria

Where two or more are gathered in Nigeria's name, there chaos is in their midst. I went to the Nigerian High Commission on Northumberland Avenue yesterday. It was, as one corner of Heathrow Terminal 3 becomes on weekday, a microcosm of Nigeria's madness, rudeness, ridiculousness, rule breaking, and worst of all, tribalism. One conversation between a man and a receptionist:

Man: Nwoke'm. ke du maka oburonma osiso, biko. (okay, he said something in Igbo, and I just exhausted my Igbo vocabulary)

Receptionist: Why are you speaking to me in Igbo? Do I look Igbo?

Man: I'm sorry, I thought you were Igbo.

And that is the trouble with Nigeria.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Chaos in Ekiti

"A clear case of usurpation of power, " is how President OBJ describes the impeachment of Governor Ayo Fayose (pictured) of Ekiti State. He's declared a state of emergency in Ekiti state as three people claim to be the sitting governor. What is happening in Nigeria is quite extraordinary. After two governors have already been impeached, one would think that a third wouldn't matter. But people appear to be genuinely enraged about Fayose's impeachment. There are a few key questions. Is Ayo Fayose a bit dodgy? Probably. Should he have been impeached? Yes. Was the impeachment process a bit iffy? Perhaps. Does he deserve due process? A resounding yes. I'll explain.

One of my favourite plays is A Man for All Seasons by Robert Bolt. It was made into a stunning film in 1966 starring one of my favourite actors of all time, Orson Welles, and Paul Scofield. Scofield plays Sir Thomas More who got on the wrong side of Henry VIII, his head eventually meeting with the King's guillotine. In one scene, Richard Rich, who everyone suspects to be a spy is allowed to roam free unopposed. William Roper the Younger is an upstart whipper snapper who thinks he's the bees knees:

More: And go he should, if he was the Devil himself, until he broke the law!

Roper: So now you'd give the Devil benefit of law!

More: Yes. What would you do? Cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil?

Roper: I'd cut down every law in England to do that!

More: Oh? And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned round on you, where would you hide, Roper, the laws all being flat? This country's planted thick with laws from coast to coast -- man's laws, not God's -- and if you cut them down -- and you're just the man to do it -- do you really think you could stand pright in the winds that would blow then? Yes, I'd give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety's sake.

The law does not just exist to punish the guilty, but also to protect the innocent. Which is why Guantanamo Bay detention camp is inexcusable. Which is why detaining suspects for 90 days without recourse to habeas corpus is unforgivable. We may want to bend and break the rules to catch the men that evil do, but once the rules have been destroyed, how will we be protected?

Fela on 1Xtra

This being Black History Month in the UK, Radio 1Xtra has a series of documentaries on all things black. Yesterday, they aired a brilliant documentary on Fela. For (what I think is) the first time we hear the voice of Sandra Izsadore (pictured), the woman who is said to have politicised Fela. It does have a few annoyances, such as the Home Videoesque dramatic drumrolls to indicate something dodgy was about to happen. I also felt some references to Rakim and George Clinton would have gone over the heads of today's hip-hop generation. Then again, perhaps that kind of audience wouldn't have been listening. Still, check it out.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Lifting the veil

Since the former Foreign Secretary, Jack Straw, made some comments about the Muslim full veil, or niqab, a couple of weeks ago, the media in the UK has been in a frenzy. First some background. The article that sparked the controversy was written by Jack Straw for his column in the Lancashire Evening Telegraph. For those that don't know the story, it's relatively simple. Jack Straw says that whenever Muslim women dressed in full veil (pictured) come to his MP's surgery for help and advice, he asked in that very British way, "You wouldn't mind terribly, if you could just consider thinking about contemplating removing your veil".

Jack Straw reckons that the communication experience is enhanced if people who are talking can see each other's faces and read their expressions. Perhaps. The comments flooded into the BBC website. Comments such as "Jack Straw must have problems with emails, then. No faces." Worst of all, he offended blind people. Blind and partially-sighted people can't see the people they're talking to, and they'd argue that their interactive experience isn't diminished by being blind. Listen to In Touch, a programme for the visually impaired on Radio 4. (Do it by evening, Tuesday 10th, or read the transcript).

Communication is the reason he cites for asking that his constituents take their veil when they appear before him, however, in an interview with the Today programme, he lets slips his actual motivation. He's worried about "community relations". In other words, the people in a community cannot communicate with a woman who covers her face, in this instance at the behest of her religion. The veil here, acts as a barrier, just as 18-year-old boys in hoodies are intimidating. And if non-Muslim and Muslims who are trying to live harmoniously alongside each other cannot interact, "parallel communities" start to develop.

In one sentence, Jack Straw's comments about the veil is, about how Muslims practise their religion, and how it affects the British society in which they live and belong.

Since the debate is about religion, some see it as a non-argument. If we live in a society where religious freedom is a human right, it is the believers' prerogative to practise their religion as they see fit. However, these are the exact reasons why the issue must be debated.

First of all, there's the issue of the State. Every citizen, who interacts with the state must be, if you'll forgive the pun, naked. Who is beneath the veil talking to Jack Straw? In Islamic countries, where women wear the full veil, they are usually searched and identified by other women. This allays security fears, and the woman can still cover up. If heaven forbid, an accident happened, and a male police officer was on the scene, would he have to wait for a female officer before the woman in niqab can be helped?

The Aishah Azmi furore at the weekend is another interesting case to look at. Most telling is the interview, where she buckle under Peter Sissons's hard questioning.

Such religious expression in the presence of the State invariably melds both together. While countries like France and the US have an explicit separation of Church and State, the Church is still fully intertwined with the State. The Head of State, Elizabeth Regina, is the "Defender of the Faith". The head of the Anglican communion, The Archbishop of Canterbury, and other bishops sit in the upper House of Lords. He is also chosen by the government, and appointed by the Queen. And if you go back to medieval times when Estates of the Realm meant something, the Lords Spritual was one of the three. The only distinction in this case is that the religion in question is not Christianity, but Islam. If bonnie Prince Charles gets his wish to become "defender of faiths", things might change.

Secondly, there is the debate about why woman wear the veil. Some argue that it's an edict straight form the Qur'an, while others say that it's merely cultural. There's a great debate taking place within Western Islam about how faith can be compatible with citizenry. The question of whether one can be British and Muslim arises time and again. Whether a Muslim's obligation is to the state or to Allah, or if at all there has to be distinction.

The Yasmin Alibhai-Brown contention is that women wearing the veil is an attempted indictment on all men in the West. If the veil is worn to prevent the lecherous advances of men, it almost means that men are beasts of the field who cannot control their primitive urges. In this instance, it means, "back off, I'm unavailable". As this becomes a signal of being unapproachable, nobody approaches a woman in a niqab. So once again, the community relations and interaction argument kicks in again.

Nonie Darwish, contends that the rights gained by feminists who fought for women's rights in the last century have been misused. When women wanted sexual liberation, they didn't expect women to become hard drinking ladettes who are as lewd as the filthiest of gutter-mouth men. It wasn't so that women should take up the worst excesses of men. Likewise with the niqab. Women's liberation was not fought so that Muslim women could wear the veil - by choice. It's almost paradoxical that the choice of the modern woman is seen as a retrogressive by those feminists who espoused choice as a tenet of their liberation.

On the one hand, some women have embraced those rights by utilising them to the full, while other women embrace them by choosing not to use them.

There is the issue of sensitivity on the part of Muslim women who wear the veil. When any woman goes to Saudi Arabia, she covers herself. Someone like Frances Harrison (right), BBC's correspondent in Iran, always wears a headscarf when she's reporting. People visiting certain parts of the Middle East dress appropriately to the host culture. That may be by showing respect, or by diktat. In Western culture, even though culturally people don't wear full veils, there is nothing against it. As a result of liberal democratic philosophy, in theory, you can wear what you want. Some reckon that as Muslims have been allowed to practise their religion in Britain, the least they could do is to be sensitive to British sensibilities. The lands that their forefathers came from in the Middle East and South Asia are not so tolerant of non-Muslim religious practice. The recent case of a man in Afghanistan was facing execution for converting to Christianity is an example.

It's a livewire topic in Muslim countries and not just in the West. Nigeria, despite not being a "Muslim" country (even though we're members of the OIC), has its fair share of "ninjas", as they're disparagingly called. I can't envisage an immediate future where Nigerians are debating the wearing of the veil - it would mean that the country's religious veneer has faded. There might be the occasional ructions between Muslims and Christians, both religious leadership harbour socially conservative attitudes. In this, they are one and the same.

Turkey's secular state has proscribed the headscarf, while only a couple of days ago, the Tunisian government has spoken out against the headscarf. The distinction in the Middle East is quite interesting. In Egypt, more women wear the veil and headscarf now than did 20 years ago, whereas in Tunisia it's not as widespread. It should be also be noted that both countries are de facto police state dictatorships.

No doubt this will rumble on.

Monday, October 16, 2006

It's only a mouse

I've just moved into a new place, and in the process of doing some spring cleaning, I'm finding articles from days of yore. Remember that esure.com advert with Michael Winner (pictured)?

Just when we thought the TV licence van had left our street, and it was once again safe to turn on our television sets, Michael Winner makes us all have three Death Wishes with his esure.com adverts. Some smart advertising exec thought that the best way to make post Little Britain Britain buy that most dastardly of products, insurance, was to put a man dressed as a woman beside the insufferable Michael Winner.

A wonderful idea, except, the esure.com advert isn’t at all funny. This follow up to the, “calm down love, it’s only a commercial” adverts fails because it combines the worst elements of Hollywood (the curse of the sequel), and insurance adverts (the quest for humour).

Insurance is one of the greatest cons of capitalism, and attempting to make us laugh is admirable, but daring to suggest we’ll be gullible enough to latch onto another catchphrase, “calm down love, it’s only a mouse”, is just taking the Michael Winner.

Of course, the main premises of the advert are that women are scared of mice, they know nothing of technology, and sadly only silver haired fox Michael Winner can save the fairer sex. All men will worship Michael Winner for this because it means the road to enlightenment can be found in a bottle of peroxide bleach, and underneath a 7 minute sunbed. Alas, for women, the solutions are the same: rely on Michael Winner to fix animate or inanimate rodent problems.

No doubt some pop culture addled teenagers will latch onto the catchphrase and torment innocent bus passengers with the verbal equivalent of a rusty syringe. Elderly passengers will skirt the fine line between “reasonable chastisement” and maniacal homicide, while more modern adults will ring the ASBO police to act
accordingly. So the next time your granny wakes up in the middle of the night,
be sure to comfort her with the words, “calm down gran, it’s only a nightmare”.


Article in today's Guardian on the the guy behind 419eater.com; not very interesting if you already know about the website. If you don't, it's worth a look.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Good week for hip-hop

This week sees the release of Fortywater's My Ghetto Report Card, UK rapper Ty aka Ben Chijioke, releases Closer. If you don't know Ty, his second album, Upwards would be a good place to start. In yesterday's Friday Review, Alexis Petridis writes the most amusing review of P Diddy's new album Press Play. People on the tube must have wondered how a newspaper made me chuckle so much. Here's a taster:
Earlier this year, Sean "P Diddy" Combs expanded the business empire, which has thus far netted him an estimated $364m, with the launch of his own perfume. As with a lot of celebrity-branded scents, Combs's took an adjective as its name. But the word he picked was somehow inappropriate: there is something a little jarring about calling an aftershave Unforgivable. It sounds peculiarly negative in conversation ("She bought me that P Diddy's aftershave for my birthday." "That's Unforgivable."). Matters were not much helped by the great man's gnomic explanation. "Life without passion is unforgivable," he said, thus explicitly linking his product to a life without passion. It's as if he's trying to sell you bottled essence of sexless misery. Read more...

No need

The governor of Plateau state, Joshue Dariye, may be a chiselling little crook. But there's no need to shoot his supporters. Nigerian security authorities need to have lessons in crowd control. In various incidents, the authorities panic and bring in the military to deal with what is essentially a civil order issue. On the other hand, when they use riot police, they act with military force. Where is the balance? The Nigerian police should invest in Alsatian dogs, and horses. Africans are generally scared of animals.

Police horses are not normal horses. Police horses are intimidating Pegasian megaliths; I'm sure they could be bred in the Northern Nigeria where there's a long tradition of horsemanship. Anything that can keep British football hooligans under control deserves to be at least considered. The government should be investing in relatively harmless but effective animals, rather than giving trigger happy police access to guns.

To the average African, dogs are one of two things: vicious guard dogs that eat the newspaper vendor whenever he comes round, or docile stray wusslings to be stoned in the street. A few police Alsatians would have dispersed the crowd sharpish. And there is historical precedence. I seem to remember reading somewhere that Zairians were offended by George Foreman when he arrived in Kinshasa for the Rumble in the Jungle. Foreman landed at Kinshasa airport with an Alsatian dog by his side - the very symbol of colonial Belgian oppression. Kind Leopold and his successors controlled the Congo with barks and bites.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

The Bridge stands... at least for now.

Contrary to the news spreading, the Third Mainland Bridge has not collapsed. The traffic jam was caused by an accident, which LASTMA has now cleared. Please go about your daily activities. Anouncement by the Lagos State Government. Long Live Lagos!

The above is a paraphrasing of what I heard on the Lagos State Radio Service (streaming) at about 1452hrs BST. The bridge lives on, if only for a few days.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Couple caught in mosque sex romp

Tried to be as tabloid as possible. Yup, a couple were caught doing the dirty in a mosque in Kenya. Not exactly sure what to say...

One or two...

There've been a few Nigeria related stories surfacing in the British newspapers recently. The one that caught my eye, was the British Chancellor Gordon Brown's proclamation that Nigeria was a breeding ground for religious extremists. When I heard him say it, I remember thinking, "what the heck is he on about?" But on closer examination, his source (Bono) has a point. I always shout about Nigeria's post September 11 Osama baby name craze, and the country's Taliban wannabes as reasons why Gordon Brown's claim is plausible. The Telegraph had a little write-up a couple of weeks ago.

Mark Tran of the Guardian, has written a mini-analysis of the Niger Delta's oil curse.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

A nation's laziness

No doubt most you have seen the documentary on Nigeria Village Square, the one about General Vatsa's execution at the hands of Babangida's regime. The documentary is called "Babangida and Vatsa: A Widow's Pain, A General's Burden", except that we don't hear about Gen Vatsa until the 29th minute, more than half way through the film.

The scriptwriter/producer made a hash of a job, considering what could have potentially been an entertaining documentary. The casting was good, with the Effiong guy, Vatsa widow and son. But the narrator said "coup d'etats", when it's actually "coups d'etat". I'm obviously quibbling here, and most Nigerians will say I'm commiting hateration. I won't slag it off anymore, but it's disappointing viewing.

What the documentary brought home above all else is how docile Nigerians are. Our armed robbers and vagrants are happy to use violence to get their way. Except that they do it against defenceless civilians, and not to the military governments that terrorised Nigeria in the past. There is no reason for a country with Nigeria's population to be so dominated, even by military power. The men in khakis kept coming back because they Nigerians would do diddly squat.

If you look at the ten most populous countries in the world, none of them have stood, or are standing for the crap we've been dealt. Correct me if I'm wrong:

  1. China. Population of over a billion. How free are they? Not very. However, modern China was founded on Mao's Cultural Revolution, which the Chinese believe/believed in. China is changing rapidly, and the people there are effecting change.
  2. India. World's largest democracy. Free.
  3. USA. Democracy. Free.
  4. Indonesia. General Suharto ruled fo 30 years, before being pushed out in 1998, during the Indonesian Revolution. It took 30 years but the people still did it.
  5. Brazil. Democracy. Even though they had military presidents between 1969 and 1985, Brazilians still had a large say in how they were governed. In 1985, people power put pressure on the government, and the military was sent back to the barracks.
  6. Pakistan. Military dictatorship. General Musharraf came to power in 2001 after the military had been out of power since 1998. Something is brewing in Pakistan. Musharraf is a pro-US, war on teror supporter. The people under him seem to be trying to undermine him, by, say, supporting the Taliban in Afghanistan
  7. Bangladesh. Democracy. Free.
  8. Russia. Democracy-ish. Free-ish. Putin's authoritarian streak is the complaint.
  9. Nigeria. Democracy. Free, but never fought for anything. Military let Nigerians have power, and then gave them their very own civilian military president. Surprise, surprise.
  10. Japan. Democracy. Free.

See my point? Most countries do something, but we're just happy to sit there and let things happen to us. How can you subdue 120 million people? You can't, unless they're Nigerian.

Monday, October 02, 2006

More blood

Militants have attacked an oil facility in the Niger Delta. As at 1954hrs this evening, the latest reports said 14 soldiers (according to AFP) had been killed.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Independence gloom

Happy Independence day. But things are gloomy up north in Zamfara state where a dam has collapsed and killed 40 people. Read more...