Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Everybody Say Yeah Yeah!

For most young Nigerians at home, Fela Anikulapo Kuti is perhaps one character they would rather not be associated with. I was seriously put off by one “oyimbo wanna be” Nigerian girl I met overseas when she professed her hatred for Fela. For yet another category of Nigerians (the over 35’s) Fela represents the courage, passion and simplicity that most of us lack. Fela is one man that stoke his neck out (more often than he needed to) in defence of the poor and down trodden, this fuelled his legendary Afro rhythm that inspired a nation and captivated the world.

The World? Ostensibly, Felas genre of music – aptly tagged “Afro Beat” is for Africans at home and abroad. However, you would be surprised to learn how popular this charismatic, eccentric artiste is – From experience, i know that one of the few GOOD things I hear about Nigeria from foreigners is about music and football.

In the 1989 as a naive teenager in a crowed dance floor in far away Perth, Scotland, I was stunned to hear those unmistakable “Sorrow, tears and blood” anthem from the 1978 “Coffin for Mr. President“ album. The lyrics “Everybody run, run, run, everybody scatter scatter” could have made sense to the sole African in the club, but I couldn’t help but wonder why, the rest carried on like they could understand what he was saying. My conclusion was that white people would dance to any funky beat regardless of what was being said. That was to change a few years down the line in the then popular South London Nigerian hang out called “Calabar” where I met Fela’s number 1 fan. Arnold... A blue eyed English man who had fallen head-over-hills with Nigeria. Having never visited the country, he learnt how to speak Pidgin English from listening to Fela and hanging out with Nigerians over the years. His passion for Afro Beat appealed to me, as I also have a taste for exotic music far removed from my social and political culture. But I don’t think I could have gone for all Tarrus Riely and Sean Pauls concerts, yet Arnold had not missed any Fela concert anywhere in continental Europe.

Fela Abami eba! Immortalized on Broadway!
In a classic case of a prophet not known in his own kingdom, Fela’s fame outside Nigeria is unrivalled by any other black African musician. Something his son Femi still rides on to date. Like his mother Olufunmilayo before him, The Anikulapo Kuti’s activism runs deep (Beko Kuti is one of Nigeria’s foremost civil activist). There have been several calls for a posthumous award in honour of his fearlessness in his bid to entertain, enlighten and promote our culture. Yet, these have fallen on deaf ears.

Interestingly, the main antagonist Fela sang about throughout his life and their stooges still prowl the corridors of power today. Little wonder why there has been any significant move to honor him. While we wait for our deaf, blind and dumb leadership to rise to the occasion. Other nations and organisation have imortalised this legend - recently Fela’s life and music has hit Broadway.

FELA!, http://felaonbroadway.com/ is the most critically acclaimed new musical of the season, has already received three Tony Awards: Best Choreography, Best Costume Design for a Musical and Best Sound Design of a Musical! Featuring Kevin Mambo as Fela and Grammy award winner and multi-platinum recording artist Patti LaBelle! At the US tour Mitchelle Obama was among the dignitaries at the star studded launch. Read more.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Naija - Majoring in Minor

I recently went on a road trip to Ilorin Kwara state – a round trip journey of over 1400KM all in the name of felicitating with my boss on the occasion of her daughter’s wedding. I knew Ilorin had few if any flights on a good day, and with the joining of two “Rich Kids” all flights were fully booked. So I decided to hit the road. As you may have imagined, the journey was as terrible as hell, the road was worse than you can imagine – Hill and gully rides that saw as crawling at less than 60km/Hr for most part of the journey. The outward leg from Abuja – Okenne – Kabba – Ilorin took 7 hours 30mins, while the return leg via Ekitti took about 6 hours. So I spent more time sitting in the car than I spent at the Church and reception combined.

Throughout my journey and indeed, at the wedding ceremony, I couldn’t help but notice how diverse our cultures are, from subtle hints in the architecture in each village, I watched how straight lines made way for Islamic arches in great and small buildings... I watched how the dressing of the common villager changed to reflect Christian and Muslim values. On the several 2011 election posters that littered each community, I noticed the Yoruba names of aspirants in the middle of Kogi State (reminded me about one of my old blog articles on Igbo names and Ikwerres in the deep south). As we approached Ilorin, I noticed the strong Muslim presence and recalled that history of the Usman Dan-fodio led Jihad that brought Islam as far as the Ilorin in western Nigeria. All this gladdened my heart – to see how dynamic culture is, and how civilisation propelled by education and enlightenment can change a people, regardless of how remote their location. The expeditions of Usman Dan-fodio, Mungo Park, John & Richard Lander (the Lander brothers) and the early Christian missionaries have all added their unique hue to the kaleidoscope before me.

As expected, I must have seen something wrong, something odd, something most would ignore or not bother about. Yes indeed. I noticed how blinded the present Nigerian is about carving his own identity, distinct from the norm. I noticed that despite the evolution of things around us, that we have decided to chart our own course – even if it leads to nowhere... Before I am beheaded, let me outline the things I noticed.
  • That there were only a few modern buildings in each village I passed – probably belonged to the political elite in the community – ex Senators, Representatives, and local councilors
  • But there was always a (new) hotel, even in the midst of poverty – probably belongs to the politicians, built to accommodate his guests on the event of a country side getaway, funeral, turbaning, etc.
  • The increasing loot of the political elite is evidenced by the size of the houses they build – I saw forts, castles, not palaces and mansions as we are used to. No doubt this is fuelled by their unholy remuneration – something I have written about in the past.
  • The presence of all manners of law enforcement on the road - what business does a VIO have to do on the road?
To my mind, one obvious thing that was missing was standards. We lack standards, our yardstick for measuring success is not based on any firm globally acceptable benchmark, but on our ignorance and greed. I will elaborate on some of these issues in the months to come, but for now, I will concentrate on only one, standards on the road.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

A Promise... is Comfort To a Fool!

Source CBC News

1st shocker yesterday was a court ruling upturning Emmanuel Uduaghan's 3 and half years tenure as governor of delta state. Then the Nigerian Labour Congress NLC and Trade Union Congress 3 days warning strike to press home their demand for a N18,000 minimum wage. But like Emperor Nero and his court, the Federal Executive Council celebrated the day by approving billion dollar DCC contracts while Rome burns. It is really annoying when our government bury their head in the sand or look the other way while the poor suffer. But even more annoying is that fact that we always do as they expect us to. A people deserve the leaders they get. We are gullible, easily impressed, and worst still, lack standards.

Why am I wailing again this morning? Well, I was sad to learn that the strike is over just because the President met with the union leaders and as usual, settled the score with yet another promise. A mere promise, like the several promises made to Teachers, Lecturers, Doctors, Nurses, etc... but as the saying goes - a promise, is comfort to a fool.

Who Are The Goons?

You and I, and the so called Labor leaders! Don’t get me wrong, I am not one of those lazy people that want to down tools and stay home for weeks unend. I am also not one of the bourgeois who enjoy the status quo and relish at every event that impedes on the growth of the poor and down trodden. A person whose attitudes and behavior is marked by conformity to the norm. Rather, I think the strike shouldn’t have been about only raising the minimum wage, but reducing the remuneration of top public officers. Yes, that’s one sure fire way to bridge the gap between the upper and middle class in Nigeria.

In situations such as this, it is always nice to compare. While researching the issue, I found 2009 figures that show that the average US senator earned $174,000 par annum (See US Senate Salaries since 1789). A conservative estimate using the official exchange rate works out to roughly N24,360,000.00 I was alarmed to learn that this is not even enough entertainment allowance for their Nigerian counterparts. The Nigerian senator earns N43,000,000 quarterly - N129,000,000 annually (about $908,450.00). In fact the several people before me have written about the unholy sums the Nigerian government pay their lawmakers. (See Nigerian Senators Earn 10 Times more than their counterparts and An appendix while the nation rots away. Little wonder why you can find all forms of luxurious effects in our society, where an undeveloped piece of land cost more than a town house in Virginia USA, yet the masses still suffer in abject poverty.

In all, we can conclude that the Nigerian senator is not only the highest paid law maker in the world, but earns 10 times more than the president of the United States of America. How ironic, in a country where millions have to make do with less than $1 a day. Even more worrying is the fact that they want more (See 2011 Election: Senators want N10.9 billion quarterly) No doubt Nigeria is ripe for a revolution, these self servicing law makers should be done away with, I support the strike, and I am not happy with the focus of labour unions. NLC should not be looking only towards raising the minimum wage, but go further to reduce the maximum one. How much work does a law maker do? Why should they earn so much? Little wonder why Nigerian politicians perpetuate themselves in power – who would walk away from such a sumptuous dish? Little wonder why they are ready to kill to remain there, and what do we do to help? fan their fire by asking for a raise on all levels while there is nothing in the offing to sustain the endeavor. This drama is akin to a house hold whose output is marginal but where the father drives a Jaguar and the kids no longer see reason why they should trek, and are therefore demanding for a VW beetle - in comparison to their neighbors who run a successful family business and the Father drives an average Japanese salon and the kids ride bus. While one family is able to gradually climb the ladder of economic growth, the other will soon run out of fuel money in the first year alone. If only things were this easy to explain, life would have be a bed of roses in deed. That is why I often think from my ass. yes out of this world.

My Blue Sky "A**" thinking – the Way Out.
First off, let me say that true democracy is unattainable (if at all feasible), no nation in the world can boast of practicing true democracy, Surprisingly, democracy cannot be easily explained, Abraham Lincoln’s popular definition as “the government of the people by the people and for the people” (Lincoln, 1863) is actually a Utopian idea that still exists to date. Consequently, the concept of governance has evolved 3 main forms. 1. Representative type where people select (or elect) representation. 2. Citizens participation, where representation deliberate with citizens to reach a consensus. and lastly 3. a Direct form where everyone plays a role. Yes,everyone. Until recently with the advent of technology, this 3rd form of governance was beyond any society. but it is now possible - Like me, Ari Orr thinks this has made representation obsolete -

I have often been accused of being a Technological Determinist (one who thinks technology solves all problems) in fact a bosom friend of mine calls me TD. But I am not alone, some civilized nations are already thinking of Direct Governance, one in which people make their laws through public participation in eGovernment. Utilizing tools like referendums and public portals to engage citizens in the conduct of governance. Direct Democracy advocates like Orr see public officers like Senators and false forms of representative government as the evil that must be done away with. These complicated technical problems of bureaucracy of public office continue to be the major reasons why other forms of governance are wasteful and expensive. He surmises that “Today, for the first time in history, it is possible for millions of people to make every political decision themselves, directly - without representatives” (Orr, 2000). The huge expenses spent in running these complex structures should be used to develop our infrastructure and alleviate poverty by creating more jobs.

Nigeria's problems are complex, solving them completely for now is only an Utopian idea, yet it needs to be tackled, Who will bell the cat?