Tag Archives: Nigeria

Nigerian Same Sex Marriage [Prohibition] Bill 2013

 

 

The Nigerian SSMB 2013 was passed by the house of representatives on the 30th May.  It is now in the hands of President Goodluck Jonathan who must decide whether or not to sign it into law. The US and UK have both stated that passage of the Bill would compromise some aspects of aid, possibly HIV/AIDS funding but I doubt threats from either are substantial enough to persuade him. It boils down to which pressure he feels the most – from his own government and lawmakers or from the foreign donors remembering that countries such as China are no doubt ready to fill in any financial gaps arising from loss of US/UK aid.     How much will there is for the passage of the Bill is not clear considering it has taken nearly two years between the 2011 Senate vote and last Thursdays lower house vote.    The original Bill dates back to 2006 and there are some differences in the wording but of most concern is the “Offences and Penalties” section which was originally 5 years and has now been upped to 14 years for civil union or marriage and 10 years for registering a ‘gay’ organisation or shows affection in public plus 10 years for witness too or aid and abet.  The Bill is also  far more precise in its interpretation of marriage which includes civil unions as follows….

means any arrangement between persons of the same sex to live together as sex partners, and shall include such descriptions as adult independent relationships, caring partnerships, civil solidarity pacts, domestic partnerships, reciprocal beneficiary relationships, registered partnership, significant relationship, stable unions etc

Whether it was the intention or not, the wording of the Bill reflects an admission that same sex relationships are ‘caring’ ‘significant’ ‘stable’ partnerships and their decision to extend criminalisation of such relationships is cruel and and assault on the dignity of all people irrespective of their sexual orientation to decide how they conduct their intimate life in public and in the domestic sphere.  It now remains for Nigerian and African civil society and human rights orgnasations to add their voice in support of GLBTIQ rights in Nigeria and across the continent.

The 2011 Bill can be downloaded here 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Shocking extent of oil pollution in the Niger Delta

Shocking photographs of  showing the extent of oil pollution in Niger Delta rivers, creeks and ponds.  Via National Post for more photos.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

For more on the Niger Delta environment see Nnimmo’s Reflections 

 

 

 

 

 

THE LIONESS OF LISABI – Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti

THE LIONESS OF LISABI - Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti – “Nigerian feminist and activist who fought for suffrage and equal rights for her countrywomen”  Reblogged [unedited] from July 2004, one of my first blog posts.  The photos are from a 2010 post by Cosmic Yoruba

Yesterday, I came across this album that contains pictures from the private collection of the much loved Nigerian feminist, shero and inspiration to several young girls and women, Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti. With Sokari’s help, here are some pictures from the album below but make sure to click on the link above to see more pictures and click here to learn more about Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti or FRK for short

 

Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti was born on 25th October, 1900  in Abeokuta, Egbaland.  The Egba branch of Yoruba (one of many politically autonomous groups each with its own mutually intelligible dialects) lived in an area between Ijebu in the east, Eko (Lagos) in the south and the Ogun river in the west.  By 1900 the Egba like other Yoruba had a highly sophisticated social hierarchy and socio-political system and in fact the had been in the south-west of Nigeria for over a millennium.   Although women were excluded in all but one of the four branches of government they did have access to the political system through the female only IYALODE society (meaning “Mother of the Town”) which enabled them to be represented in decision making and administration.

 

The settling of the Egbas in Abeokuta was a result of inter Yoruba wars in the early 19C when thousands of Egbas were killed and 1000s more sold into slavery.  Once Abeokuta was secured the Egbas then returned to their traditional economic activity which consisted of a gendered division of labour where the men specialised in agriculture (unusual as most of sub-Saharan Africa this was the women’s role) hunting and warfare and the women cloth production, marketing and trading.   The colonial presence in nearby Eko (Lagos)  provided the Egbas with a ready market for both agricultural produce and the women’s trading businesses.

By 1892 the colonial government had expanded into Egbaland and created the Egba United Government (EUG) and by 1917, Egba was part of the Southern Nigerian Protectorate.  The then Governor, Lord Lugard introduced first a system of direct taxation and secondly created the Sole Native Authority which was a form of indirect rule whereby the Obas (High traditional rulers) acted as agents for the colonial government.   The SNA led to an even greater erosion of women’s access to political power as the Alake rarely if at all consulted women in his decision making.  Nonetheless the education of girls was seen as essential to the progress of the Egba people.    The diminishing status and power of women in Egba was reinforced by the “prejudices and assumptions of the British colonial administration officers who worked for a government in which there were scarcely any women and who therefore did not expect or wish to find women involved in Southern Nigeria” (p11)

t.

 

The direct taxation system which included women was the one issue that catapulted FRK into the political spotlight first in Abeokuta and then in Nigeria.  In fact the issue of colonial FRK was an Afrocentric feminist  who recognised that women faced multiple oppressions of race, gender and class and that the way to challenging these oppressions was through the empowering of women.  Secondly, although FRK actively fought for equality and justice for women, she was also a nationalist which meant that she fought for the end to colonisation  and all forms of domination whether at a local or a national level.  Thirdly she was a social democrat and was committed to the reorganisation of Nigerian society in such a way as to promote self-development over and above capitalism and materialism. Taxation of women was a highly contentious one which was taken up not only in Egba but also in other parts of the country and most notably in Igboland.

FRK had no interest in the material trappings of her class and status and although she shunned western dress and  refused to speak in English in the public forum, she was a nationalist that had no time for ethnocentrism.  Neither did she believe in sticking to tradition for traditions sake.  She challenged those aspects of Yoruba culture which she felt were in conflict with her egalitarian worldview such as kneeling or prostrating to an elder, spouse or titled person.  Both her and her husband refused to do so and taught their children not to do so.

In 1923 FRK was head teacher of Abeokuta Grammar school (girls branch) and it is here that she organised a group of young girls and women into the Abeokuta Ladies Club.   The group made up of western educated middle class and most Christian women concentrated on learning handicrafts and social etiquette.   When FRK moved to Ijebu-Ode with her husband she against founded a similar ladies club and again when she moved back to Abeokuta this time the activities including civic projects and organising a range of activities for teenagers of both sexes.

In 1944 FRK was approached by a friend and former student who introduced her to a market women who told FRK that she wanted to learn to read.  The ALC regrouped itself and expanded its membership to include market women.  Women who were generally poor, Muslim and not educated.   It was at this point that FRK truly began her career as a political activist.     Listed amongst its aims were “to help in raising the standard of womanhood in Abeokuta… to help in encouraging learning among the adults and thereby wipe out illiteracy”.   Members of the extended Ransom-Kuti family were recruited as tutors including Wole Soyinka and his mother, cousins of FRK.

FRK husband had meanwhile founded with others, the National Union of Teachers and these two organisations often went on to  work together in their push for women’s rights.    In 1945 the issue of price controls of foodstuff sold by the market women was brought to the notice of FRK and the ALC.  The ALC sent a number of delegations to the District officer and the Egba Native Administration council — to no avail.  However the Daily Service newspaper published an article about the matter and within a week the confiscation of rice ceased.

FRK began to listen to the market women and was horrified to hear of the level of their exploitation by the colonial and ENA.  For example, conditional sales, which forced women to buy slow moving goods together with fast moving ones which placed a heavy burden on the women who lived with very low profit margins.  Another example was the imposition of quotas of food to be sold to the government, harassment by police and representatives of the Alake (Oba of Abeokuta).   All of this came as a great surprise to FRK and she is quoted as saying “ we educated women were living outside the daily life of the people”.  It was at this point that she forever abandoned western dress and started wearing the traditional Yoruba wrapper “in order to make the women feel and know I was one of them”.

From this period on the ALC, later to become the Abeokuta Women’s Union, (FRK was the president from inception until her death in 1978)  became involved in a series of protest actions.  The first was the demand to end government control of trading and for no increase in the taxation of women, the latter would lead to the most “dynamic and protracted struggles, culminating in the temporary abdication of the Alake and reform of the SNA” (p67)

The issue of taxation was a particularly sore issue for the  women of Abeokuta who were amongst the first females to be subjected to tax by the colonial government.  Girls were taxed at age 15 whilst boys 16 and wives were taxed separately from their husbands irrespective of their income.  The women considered the tax as “foreign, unfair and excessive” but they also objected to the method of collection.  “Homes were invaded, women sometimes physically assaulted, including being stripped naked …. And jailed for non-payment.” As stated earlier the British had introduced a system of indirect rule so it was the Alake who was ultimately responsible for the collection.  This then put him in direct conflict with the Abeokuta women who were also disenfranchised through the process of indirect rule.

The AWU became a huge due-paying organisation with some 20,000 women as members.   They were able to organise huge demonstrations.  It was a highly disciplined organisation and everyone was expected to follow the rules.  The anti-tax protest action was a long and protracted one in which FRK was at the head leading the women in the struggle which eventually resulted in the temporary abdication of the Alake of Abeokuta.   The protest consisted of mass demonstrations, refusals to pay the tax.  FRK apparently led training sessions in her compound for these demonstrations.  Where she showed them how to cover their eyes, noses and mouths with cloth when tear gas was thrown.  She also instructed them to pick up the canisters of tear gas and throw them back at the police.   The demonstrations were called “picnics” or “festivals” by the women as they were unable to get permits.  When one puts the demonstrations into a time context (1947) it becomes even more amazing as the women were utterly fearless.  They even challenged the “ORO”, an entirely male “thing or ritual” said to have supernatural powers.  At one point FRK seizes the ORO which is like a stick and displayed it in her home.   The anti-tax protests took a large toll on FRK and the women but they stuck with it and eventually succeeded in their demands.

FRK’s next step was to organise women on a national level and to move into the international arena.   “no other Nigerian woman of her period had the same international exposure.”    The AWU became the Nigerian Women’s Union and began establishing autonomous branches throughout Nigeria.  FRK herself was invited to talk to women’s groups across the nation.  The political objectives of the NWU were getting the franchise for women, allocation of proportional representation for women and the abolition of electoral colleges.   In 1953 the NWU held a two day conference, a “parliament of women of Nigeria”  with 400 delegates from 15 provinces, in which a number of resolutions relating to the political objectives were passed.

At the conference FRK “propounded a feminist consciousness and ideology… acknowledging that women were victimised by their social conditioning, which led them to internalise a negative self-image and to be passive and apathetic”  She went on to criticise polygamy, bride price.   FRK was not only concerned with women’s issues.  She was also an active member of NCNC even though that organisation tried to ban women from membership of the NWU and the Federation of Nigerian Women’s Societies (FNWS) and used their membership with these organisations as a way to criticise the NCNC on its policy towards women and women’s issues.  Eventually FRK was expelled from the NCNC for constantly criticising the party which had since become highly corrupt and its exclusion of women from the decision making process.

FRK’s  international career began when together with her husband and their  close friend Ladipo Solanke created the infamous West African Student’s Union (WASU).  AS well as providing support for West African students studying in London in 1925, WASU promoted nationalist and anti-colonial movements in British West Africa.  A list of life long members of WASU reads like a WHO’s WHO of West African leaders and activists:  Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe, Chief H O Davies, Aliyi Ekineh, H A Korsah of Gold Coast, Dr Taylor-Cummings of Sierra Leone, the Alake of Abeokuta, Emir of Kano and Asantehene of Ghana.  Kwame Nkrumah and Joe Appiah were vice presidents in 1946.  WASU was a huge influence on many West African students of the day and played a major part in the independence movements of West African countries.   FRK and her husband acted as agents in Nigeria raising funds and distributing pamphlets for the union.

In 1947 FRK left for London as part of an NCNC delegation.  During the two months visit, FRK was asked to give a number of talks including one about the state of women in Nigeria.  She also wrote an article on the same topic which was published in the British Communist Party paper, the Daily Worker and reproduced for Nigerian papers.   FRK argued that under colonial rule women had lost more than men:

“Before the British advent in Nigeria….there was a division of labour between men and women…. Women owned property, traded and exercised considerable political and social influence in society….. With the advent of the British rule…instead of women being educated and assisted… their  condition has deteriorated.”  She also wrote that women had lost their traditional economic and political power and that they were oppressed by the colonial system and its agents such as the Sole Native Authority in Abeokuta.   Once again she clashed with the Alake when she wrote about the  how in Abeokuta women were forced to pay taxes that they could not afford and in return did not get even basic amenities and that women were “poverty stricken, disease ridden and malnourished” and held the British government responsible.

The Alake of Abeokuta wrote a reply denouncing the article whilst the Lagos Market Women’s Association and the Abeokuta Women’s Union both declared their support for her arguments and FRK was given a huge reception on her return to Abeokuta.

In 1955 the Rev Ransome-Kuti died of cancer.  The next 30 years saw FRK struggle to build and run a series of schools with and without support from local and national government.  She also became involved with a series of land litigations which cost her and her children dearly and none of which she was able to win.   One of the family properties that became the center of controversy and probably the most infamous sites in Lagos was that which was located at 14 Agege Motor Road.  The property had been occupied by FRK’s musician son, FELA.  FELA’s music and lyrics were highly critical of Nigerian governments.  Fela was a champion of traditional African culture and like his mother a Pan-Africanist.  14 Agege Motor Road had become a commune which Fela called Kalakuta Republic and had changed his name from Ransome Kuti to Anikulapo Kuti meaning “warrior who carries strong protection”.

Kalakuta was often raided by the police and armed forces as was his club “the Shrine”.   On February 18th 1977 Kalakuta Republic was surrounded by a thousand armed soldiers (The present president of Nigeria, Olusegun Obasanjo was then Supreme Commander of the military dictatorship of the day).  That day, FRK together with Fela’s brother Bekolari, Fela’s many wives and Fela himself.   This raid was a particularly brutal one.  The soldiers armed with bayonets and clubs stormed the compound without any warning and began to beat people, destroy property and strip women naked.   FRK, then 77,  was pulled by the hair  and literally thrown out of the window severely injuring her leg and putting her into shock.  The property was then burned down by the soldiers.  The raid known as “Kalakuta War” received a large amount of publicity and the government was forced to undertake an investigation.  However this came to nothing and the whole incident was blamed on “over zealous unknown soldiers and to Fela”.   No one including the Ransome-Kuti family have been compensated for what happened that day.  The raid destroyed FRK’s physical and mental health and observers said she had lost her “fighting Spirit”.  A year later the family suit for damages from the Kalakuta raid was dismissed as FRK is said to have moaned “why are they doing this to us”.  She died in April that year, one of Nigeria’s truely greats and one of its very few RIGHTS activists.

 

Reblogged from July 2004.

Everywhere in Lagos

From 10 December until 18 December 2012, I wrote short Facebook posts around my daily experiences of living and working in Lagos. Here are those posts, collected and illustrated with Instagram images.

Photos by Emeka Okereke

I:

Lagos, the shining and perishable dream itself. Our bodies tattooed with scars of survival, every one of us trading our narratives of killability, every time we meet menace. It’s a hustle, or business-like nonchalance; it’s ambition or plain listlessness.

This evening, look at the unmoving traffic, and imagine it’s the sea, without waves.

The man who’ll walk all the way to Alausa/Secretariat, all the way home, no tricycle or motorcycle for transportation, knows the extent of his anger. As he curses the Governor that has banned motorcycles and made him walk.

He’ll vote in 2015, aged and wiser.

II:

We are not photographers, but it has become expedient to see. Past the crowded room, past the incessant brutalities of vain men, past the complaints that linger in our hearts because we are of this country. To see and see again is the task that has befallen us.

And beyond seeing, to record.

III:

Silent revolutions.

The first man says to the second man, we talk about this everyday, and yet see how unheard we are.

You are speaking too much grammar my friend, the second man replies.

The first man reverts to silence.

We, who have experimented with democracy, know the ambivalence that comes with resistance. What kind of government is this?!

Those idiots in power! One day God will judge all of them! Their children will pay for their sins!

And yet we speak and our voices are secrets of the marketplace. Everyone hears. But who is listening?

Between speaking and being heard there is an infinite silence.

The first man replies, if I am speaking too much grammar, that is all I have. If I complain, it is because I know no other expression. Tell me, what else I can do? Eh, tell me.

The other man reverts to silence.

IV:

[A first person speaks to a second person]

A: Facebook has democratized stupidity.

B: Shut up.

A: Facebook is the start of our attention deficiency.

B: Shut up.

A: Clicking a like button only confirms that we are half-hearted, pretentious addicts.

B: Shut up very much.

A: Too many posts since we joined Facebook and we have not said enough.

B: Your big mouth!

A: Someone said reading her twitter timeline gives her the feeling of trying to catch up while running.

B: So?

A: If you say you’re leaving Facebook to sidestep the mundane, you’re probably guilty of taking yourself too seriously.

B: Your first intelligent comment!

A: So we’ll just remain spontaneously expressive

B: Maybe.

[Silence]

B: One more thing…

A: What?

B: Share it!

V:

A very basic story about meeting the love of your life in a danfo bus.

Part-inspired by shameless longing for a partner, part-inspired by the knowledge that ladies play hard to get only because they know they can be gotten, and part-inspired by your imagination.

Imagination is knowing the right word with which to begin the conversation.

Here you are; talk to the lady.

VI:

Being driven, what do you make of the world?

This traffic is so serious, Jesus Christ! It was like this last month, and the driver took Ojota. That’s why I’m telling this man to follow Ojota, he will not hear.

The most important lie you’ll tell yourself is you’re in this city to reach your life’s goal.

The road is always hungry, always wanting more movement, yet brittle.

That’s the way you’ve become, every word an assault on the bus driver, his conductor. You are trapped in a moving-dead metal box, and not the driver, not his conductor are pampering you with soothing words. Words you need after your hustle.  So you assault them with words you can’t take back.

It is 11.30pm and you are yet to get to your house. Lagos is making us rehearse for an eternity of sleeplessness.

The president is in town. In the morning, as you left for work, you were costumed as a dignitary. Now you’re naked as a worm.

Because the most important lie you’ve told yourself is you’re in Lagos to reach life’s goal.

VII:

A makeshift cinema on a street shows mostly Hausa films. In the evenings, men sit in a half-circle facing a kiosk where there is a TV. Watching, commenting — being comrades. On their heads a halo of suspense.

[I want to go home and write...]

A man sitting in the dark outside the gate of a building with four floors. A cigarette is fastened to his fingers. He is unmoving as a stone; the night is steadily edging towards silence. When night is stealthily silent, the Underground awakens.

[I want to go home and...]

The door of a bus falling out while in transit, passengers screaming. Their cries lost in Lagos perpetual momentum. Two friends are yards away. They look back, then hurry on. No man for another man, God for us all.

[I want to go home...]

The same friends had seen a bus on fire, passengers safe-distances away, talk-shouting, hands on their waists. The friends were in a moving bus, Bariga to Yaba. Moving Bus passengers only watched in transiting kinship. Even shared suffering does not stay in one place. Tragedy has roots in the air. Alas.

[I want to go....]

A restaurant owned by a Lebanese immigrant. Two Nigerian ladies and two Lebanese men sitting on a table laughing, one man smoking. Pidgin and tobacco wafting into the air.

[I want to...]

The words on t-shirts: (i) I Facebooked your Mother; (ii) My money grows on trees like grass; (iii) Don’t tell my mummy; (iv) Nobody in my area has swagger like me

[I want...]

One Lagosian tweets: In-plain-sight tattoos are beginning to compete with earrings in Lagos.

[I....]

One man says, everywhere in Lagos I know.

Nigerian folk stories in minority languages

From Saraba Magazine – The Ways of Nigerian Folk… Sometimes we forget we have 300 plus languages each with their own folklore, creation stores, myths and just wonderful evening stories.

Saraba ChapBook

Too often, Nigeria is presented as a union of three cultures with solid, defined margins. The truth however is far more blurred, delicate and much richer.

Presenting these folklore in their indigenous languages, we aim to communicate the beautiful variation and uniqueness across these cultures on the hinterland.

An Emai myth from the Emai clan of Edo State tells us the surprising creation story of why we have have armpit hair, God’s desire to contain human immodesty.

There are proverbs and sayings in Ibibio,the indigenous tongue of the Ibibio, who make up the majority of the inhabitants of Awka Ibom State. Ibibio is also spoken in parts of southern Cameroon; this illustrates the spread of the language….Continue reading and download

Jackie Kay, ‘Falling Back” – Meeting my Nigerian Father

A humorous 15 minutes from Black Scottish writer, Jackie Kay on her birth, life in Scotland and her journey to meet her Nigerian father who turns out to be a ‘Born Again Christian’ who spent their first meeting jumping up and down praising God. Wonderful – a must listen!

Jackie Kay @ 5×15 from 5×15 on Vimeo.

The Red Dust Road
Jackie Kay was born in Edinburgh in 1961 to a Scottish mother and Nigerian father. She was adopted by a white couple at birth and was brought up in Glasgow, studying at the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama and Stirling University. Her experiences of growing up inspired her first collection of poetry, The Adoption Papers (1991), which won a Scottish Arts Council Book Award and the Saltire Society Scottish First Book of the Year Award. Her other collections include Other Lovers (1993), Off Colour (1998), Darling: New and Selected Poems (2007) and The Lamplighter (2008). Her collection of poetry for children, Red, Cherry Red (2007) won the 2008 CLPE Poetry Award. Her first novel, Trumpet, published in 1998, was awarded the Guardian Fiction Prize and short-listed for the International IMPAC Dublin Award. She has also published three collections of short stories: Why Don’t You Stop Talking (2002), Wish I Was Here (2006) and her latest book, Reality, Reality (2012). Her memoir Red Dust Road (2010), a memoir about meeting her Nigerian birth father, which was short-listed for the 2011 PEN/Ackerley Prize. Jackie Kay was awarded an MBE for services to literature in 2006.

#16Days – Onwu Di

 

She dies and…

‘Oh! Take heart’

‘May God comfort you’

‘It’s one of those things’

 

He dies and it’s…

‘Aahh!!!’ ‘She has done her worst!’

Ajoo Nwanyi!

Amuusu!

 

On sick bed,

On wheels,

Beneath the sea,

In the air,

‘She was the cause!!!’

They always say.

 

The other people lament

‘What rubbish!’

‘Such injustice!!’

But to deaf ears they fall.

 

They come in troops

Lazy bones in disguise

To reap where they sowed not

in the name of kinship.

Day by day they saunter in, to cast your lot

And at times, battle over the remnants

Like vultures to the carcass.

 

Di,

Stand up!

Get up from your eternal slumber

and show us your slayer

For your home is falling apart.

Your kinsmen have ravaged your house.

 

Your wife has become a barbarian

Made to drink the juice of your corpse

Stripped of her beauty by her skinned head

Ruffled and tossed like a culprit.

 

They have sentenced her

to a dozen months imprisonment

In the confines of your ancestral home.

They gave her white this time

to cover her nakedness.

A change from the black

that used to be the uniform

 

And until she completes her days,

The light of the sun she dares not see again

Nor witness the joys of the world.

And when that happens,

A second wife we fear she may become.

 

The other people lament again,

‘What rubbish!’

‘Such injustice!!’

Yet to deaf ears they still fall.

 

Your children, we know not their fate

Chased away from your cocoon

Scattered like sheep

Destitute we fear they shall become.

 

Di,

If you do not arise

and prove the innocence of your wife,

Then your home we fear,

is doomed forever.

 

 

 

©  Chinwe Azubuike 2004

bakassi IMG

Bakassi: The World’s Unwashed Backside

Guest blog post by Rolands Ndu Akpe

…the executioner is sure of his destiny/the innocent will lose his head for it…”

- Tchicaya U’Tamsi

 

Fathers make decisions bordering on causes, infantile and asinine, on behalf of their progenies. It becomes doubly asinine when said progenies are middle-aged and veritable providers for progenies of their own. That being said, fathers are a necessity. I must warn you, before this work goes any further, that my analogies after you have eaten of the meat of this piece shall be shown for what they are: crude and, in the words of agriculturalists, ‘cobs with rust’.

In a ‘perfect’ world (and please permit me all the liberties you can a human male old enough to be called child by his mother and man by the government,, and its attendant flaws) I, most probably, would not be writing this. In that perfect world, I would not know a word of English. I would not understand a word of Yoruba or know there ever was such a tribe, a people to the west of my hometown to the coast. Or I would. I would if one of the more adventurous Alaafins, had decided to take his cavalry further east of his Ondo and Ekiti tributaries. The creeks, swamps and tsetse fly allowing, of course.

In the said world, I would not own my battered pair of made-in-China Zara sneakers; no Lord Lugard; there would have been no Aba women’s riot; there would have been no independence in the Nigerian sense of the world; no civil war in the Biafran sense of the world; Igbo towns would not have Ezes governing Federal Government created Autonomous Community thrones.

In the said perfect world, the only language I would speak: Ukwuani. Occupation? Farming, fishery or hunting with my frail, teeny thin arms. In that world, a tribe’s geographical spread would depend [only] on brute strength and its knowledge of superior technology and weaponry. Advanced nuclear technology, perhaps. Ha-ha!

In said world, the sole rule that would hold true would be the law of the jungle: dog eat dog. No, to play to negritude: lion eat lion. Ah, in said world, to paraphrase His Excellency Mr. Munroe’s ‘America for the Americans’, the fairly jeweled, nubile and sari-ed Hindustan would be unbothered by the uncircumcised greed of the British Raj, Europe would be for its dukes and the Bakassi peninsula for the Bakassi people.

Like the Ijaws would say, ‘a log on stilt is home’, I will trudge on with my stilted logic. A world in which a people’s boundary is almost exclusively dependent on the strength of its young men’s fishing- and farm-honed triceps and biceps and the ability of elder clansmen to negotiate treaties from at least a position inter aequalis would be, considered from the logic of this piece to be, ideal. That is not the meat of this piece.

The meat of this piece is not the fact that, in the words of Dr Wondwosen Teshome, “borders were drawn essentially according to the geopolitical, economic and administrative interests of the colonial powers”1 or that disputes among ethnic peoples, at borders, all around Africa began, according to Nene Mburu, “with colonial treaties and arbitrary boundaries”2 in places like the Ilemi Triangle ‘shared’ by Ethiopia, Kenya and Sudan. That these arbitrarily drawn borders were sketched without recourse to the histories and, socio-cultural, politico-cultural precedence of the aboriginal peoples of these lands, or that the internally displaced peoples of the Horn of Africa are the direct heirs of these myopic and turkey-necked decisions, is not one I am ready to grapple with here.

The history, validity and morality of colonial treaties made beneath the uncomprehending beard of indigenous peoples is not my piece of meat. That, as indicated by Justice M. Mbuh in his work, during the 1961 plebiscite to determine the status of Ambazonia (of which Bakassi is a part) “declassified file[s] of London show[ed] that London had negotiated secret deals with Yaounde, such that Commissioner J. O. Field stayed in Buea on July 1961 instead of being in Foumban where the so-called negotiations were supposed to be taking place… [which makes it] clear that Britain betrayed Southern Cameroons, by secretly agreeing with Ahidjo that the British would create a vacuum of the territory, which President Ahidjo would then fill with his own troops” or “the gross violations of international law at the time of the plebiscite…”3 is most certainly not the meat of this piece.

That the war-frazzled epaulettes of young General Gowon for political expediencies, or not, choppily signed the Coker-Ngo and Maroua treaty or that Cameroun did not consider the unconditional jurisdiction of the International Court of Justice, when the suit was filed at the ICJ, while Nigeria did is not the issue.

The issue here is, in the words of Orhan Pamuk, “the apprehension that one is someone else” due to the directly proportional fact that one’s “world has changed from top to bottom”. The kind of stability a man, like a people jarringly and unjauntily tossed by history, feels in the throes of nonsynscope nonvertigo.

The issue here is the fact that the Bakassi, for the better part of the last century and this, has been “offer[ed]…the highly combustible mixture of transience and novelty” Toffler promised the inhabitants of the future in his seminal work, Future Shock. The problem here is the Bakassi man’s presents in that past, and present, have been nothing but an uncertainty of identity and community that transience breeds in the soul.

A novelty and transience whose permanence has been assured by the hell-bent boots of overlords, from the pale calf of the English and German colonial to the brutish armies of Cameroon and Nigeria’s dictatorships to the insoucianced, gaveled ruling of the ICJ, leaving him roofless in his home and nameless in his land.

The issue here is the children of a political detainee, Ngek Simon of Oku, street beggars scrounging the street for breath, identity and nutrition. Wandering dark, back alleys, peopled by scrawny cats, cat-sized rodents and other orphan-sized children, with blistered soles and souls starved of the protection a father gives. The issue here, also, is the Bakassi-man who after having chosen to be Nigerian by dusting his feet of the littoral silt that his ancestors walked on while treading the seas for fish is left tossed about like severed seaweed pitched about the haphazard sea that is Nigerian bureaucracy.

The matter here is the fate of the Bakassi man. Say Etuk, whose choice for his homeland is for self-rule but whose fingers, empowered by Grotius’ jus cojens and the United Nation’s Right of Nations to Self-determination that nations based on respect for the principle of equal rights and fair equality of opportunity have the right to freely choose their sovereignty and international political status with no external compulsion or interference, has been castrated off his hands by a ruling, somewhere in the Hague, in favour of a long-throated Cameroon.

A Cameroon whose President, declassified documents from the Public Records Office of the UK show, “failed to prepare a draft constitutional document to be signed between him and John Ngu Foncha[of Ambazonia (Bakassi included)] during and after the Foumban Conference… [which] show[s] that [no] unification process ever took place.” A Cameroon whose concern “since the faked unification, […] has been centered only on extracting the riches of Ambazonia[Bakassi included], free of charge, and does nothing in return to the citizens of this ill-fated territory [but wear them prison-ravaged skins, boot-ravaged paths and unkempt huts]”4.

Arguing the legal precedence leading to the International Court of Justice’s decision to award the Bakassi peninsula is not in my alley at all seeing that I cannot spell the word ‘legal’ correctly when rendered cross-eyed by hunger. With humanity in one’s heart and logic in one’s hand one is forced to ask questions like:

How does it feel/
To be without a home/
Like a complete unknown/
Like a rolling stone? as Bob Dylan did in the song, “Like a Rolling Stone.”

 

 

This is a question I am sure victims of floods in Delta State, the Northern states would perfectly have pointed answers to. This is a question those who have been displaced and lost their homes to war from Libya to Sudan and Somali know the answer to. This is a question men, women, children, ethnic minorities from the Angas and Ogoja of Nigeria to the Ainu in Japan who are nothing but the barely washed backsides of the world know the answer to.

Choices and privileges were the inalienable rights made available to the Plebeians of the Roman empire all over the world, even at the dusk of Rome’s glory while its extremities and guts were being bitten to shreds by Germanic tribes from the north. Let the people choose, speak.

Edward Wilmot Blyden has said, “If you are not yourself, if you surrender your personality, you have nothing left to give the world. You have no pleasure, no use, nothing which will attract and charm me, for by the suppression of your individuality, you lose your distinctive character.”

 

 

 

REFRENCES

1“Teshome, Wondwosen: Colonial Boundaries of Africa: The Case of Ethiopia’s Boundary with Sudan” quoting Leisel(2004: 4) citing Miles(1994: 68)

2“Mburu, Nene: Delimitation Of The Elastic Ilemi Triangle: Pastoral Conflicts and Official Indifference in the Horn Of Africa”, (Year): 16.

3 “Mbuh, Muluh: The Bakassi Peninsula Dispute”, Pg 25 culled from Justice M. Mbuh. International Law and Conflicts: Resolving Border and Sovereignty Disputes in Africa. iUniverse, Inc., 2004.

4 “Mbuh, Muluh: The Bakassi Peninsula Dispute”, Pg 16 culled from Justice M. Mbuh. International Law and Conflicts: Resolving Border and Sovereignty Disputes in Africa. iUniverse , Inc., 2004.

 

“We Remember Differently” – Oil is Everything in Nigeria

From Bella Naija – Chimanada Ngozi Adiche responds to some of the criticism of Chinua Achebe’s memoir “There Was a Country”.   I finished reading ‘There Was a Country’ a few days ago and was contemplating my own response to some of the critical reviews of the book.  Fortunately for me Adichie has said nearly everything I wanted to say and probably much better too.   She unlike Achebe’s few lines of reference and unlike all of the reviews I have read, has at least mentioned  one of the two elephants in the room – the Biafrian minorities.     My memory of this period is a vague which probably shows that the war had little impact on our lives.  I do know that our Igbo workers did not leave the compound and there were large numbers of soldiers and check points everywhere – something which has never gone away.    In that sense it was a frightening time – the soldiers were frightening.  Young men with machine guns and red eyes and limited vocabulary.   I do know that families were split between those  who supported Nigeria and those supporting Biafra.   My parents were on the Nigerian side – then.  The Biafran side were in Port Harcourt or thereabouts.    A good question to ask is how much choice did minorities  have but to stay when Biafra was declared and they woke up to find they were in another country?

The other elephant in the room is oil.  I do think it’s worth asking the questions – Would there have  been a war without oil? Would there have been a secession?  Would there have been a succession of coups?  Because Oil is everything in Nigeria.   It would be another 20 years of dance and thievery in what was known as the ‘oil boom’ for some and for others the ‘oil doom’ before the Ogoni people, drowning in oil polluted swamps, would rise up and set in motion a new consciousness amongst Nigerian minorities of the east.
“Chinua Achebe at 82: “We Remember Differently” by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie”

” I have met Chinua Achebe only three times. The first, at the National Arts Club in Manhattan, I joined the admiring circle around him. A gentle-faced man in a wheelchair.

“Good evening, sir. I’m Chimamanda Adichie,” I said, and he replied, mildly, “I thought you were running away from me.”

I mumbled, nervous, grateful for the crush of people around us. I had been running away from him. After my first novel was published, I received an email from his son. My dad has just read your novel and liked it very much. He wants you to call him at this number. I read it over and over, breathless with excitement. But I never called. A few years later, my editor sent Achebe a manuscript of my second novel. She did not tell me, because she wanted to shield me from the possibility of disappointment. One afternoon, she called. “Chimamanda, are you sitting down? I have wonderful news.” She read me the blurb Achebe had just sent her. We do not usually associate wisdom with beginners, but here is a new writer endowed with the gift of ancient storytellers. Adichie knows what is at stake, and what to do about it. She is fearless or she would not have taken on the intimidating horror of Nigeria’s civil war. Adichie came almost fully made. Afterwards, I held on to the phone and wept. I have memorized those words. In my mind, they glimmer still, the validation of a writer whose work had validated me.

I grew up writing imitative stories. Of characters eating food I had never seen and having conversations I had never heard. They might have been good or bad, those stories, but they were emotionally false, they were not mine. Then came a glorious awakening: Chinua Achebe’s fiction. Here were familiar characters who felt true; here was language that captured my two worlds; here was a writer writing not what he felt he should write but what he wanted to write. His work was free of anxiety, wore its own skin effortlessly. It emboldened me, not to find my voice, but to speak in the voice I already had. And so, when that e-mail came from his son, I knew, overly-thrilled as I was, that I would not call. His work had done more than enough. In an odd way, I was so awed, so grateful, that I did not want to meet him. I wanted some distance between my literary hero and me.

Chinua Achebe and I have never had a proper conversation. The second time I saw him, at a luncheon in his honor hosted by the British House of Lords, I sat across from him and avoided his eye. (“Chinua Achebe is the only person I have seen you shy with,” a friend said). The third, at a New York event celebrating fifty years of THINGS FALL APART, we crowded around him backstage, Edwidge Danticat and I, Ha Jin and Toni Morrison, Colum McCann and Chris Abani. We seemed, magically, bound together in a warm web, all of us affected by his work. Achebe looked pleased, but also vaguely puzzled by all the attention. He spoke softly, the volume of his entire being turned to ‘low.’ I wanted to tell him how much I admired his integrity, his speaking out about the disastrous leadership in my home state of Anambra, but I did not. Before I went on stage, he told me, “Jisie ike.” I wondered if he fully grasped, if indeed it was possible to, how much his work meant to so many.

History and civics, as school subjects, function not merely to teach facts but to transmit more subtle things, like pride and dignity. My Nigerian education taught me much, but left gaping holes. I had not been taught to imagine my pre-colonial past with any accuracy, or pride, or complexity. And so Achebe’s work, for me, transcended literature. It became personal. ARROW OF GOD, my favorite, was not just about the British government’s creation of warrant chiefs and the linked destinies of two men, it became the life my grandfather might have lived. THINGS FALL APART is the African novel most read — and arguably most loved — by Africans, a novel published when ‘African novel’ meant European accounts of ‘native’ life. Achebe was an unapologetic member of the generation of African writers who were ‘writing back,’ challenging the stock Western images of their homeland, but his work was not burdened by its intent. It is much-loved not because Achebe wrote back, but because he wrote back well. His work was wise, humorous, human. For many Africans, THINGS FALL APART remains a gesture of returned dignity, a literary and an emotional experience; Mandela called Achebe the writer in whose presence the prison walls came down.

Achebe’s most recent book, his long-awaited memoir of the Nigerian-Biafra war, is both sad and angry, a book by a writer looking back and mourning Nigeria’s failures. I wish THERE WAS A COUNTRY had been better edited and more rigorously detailed in its account of the war. But these flaws do not make it any less seminal: an account of the most important event in Nigeria’s history by Nigeria’s most important storyteller.

An excerpt from the book has ignited great controversy among Nigerians. In it, Achebe, indignant about the millions of people who starved to death in Biafra, holds Obafemi Awolowo, Nigerian Finance Minister during the war, responsible for the policy of blockading Biafra. He quote’s Awolowo’s own words on the blockade — ‘all is fair in war and starvation is one of the weapons of war. I don’t see why we should feed our enemies fat in order for them to fight harder’ and then argues that Awolowo’s support of the blockade was ‘driven by an overriding ambition for power for himself in particular and for the advancement of his Yoruba people in general.’

I have been startled and saddened by the responses to this excerpt. Many are blindingly ethnic, lacking in empathy and, most disturbing of all, lacking in knowledge. We can argue about how we interpret the facts of our shared history, but we cannot, surely, argue about the facts themselves. Awolowo, as de facto ‘number two man’ on the Nigerian side, was a central architect of the blockade on Biafra. During and after the war, Awolowo publicly defended the blockade. Without the blockade, the massive starvation in Biafra would not have occurred. These are the facts.

Some Nigerians, in responding to Achebe, have argued that the blockade was fair, as all is fair in war. The blockade was, in my opinion, inhumane and immoral. And it was unnecessary — Nigeria would have won anyway, it was the much-better-armed side in a war that Wole Soyinka called a shabby unequal conflict. The policy of starving a civilian population into surrender does not merely go against the Geneva conventions, but in this case, a war between siblings, people who were formerly fellow country men and women now suddenly on opposite sides, it seems more chilling. All is not fair in war. Especially not in a fratricidal war. But I do not believe the blockade was a calculated power grab by Awolowo for himself and his ethnic group; I think of it, instead, as one of the many dehumanizing acts that war, by its nature, brings about.

Awolowo was undoubtedly a great political leader. He was also — rare for Nigerian leaders — a great intellectual. No Nigerian leader has, arguably, articulated a political vision as people-centered as Awolowo’s. For Nigerians from the west, he was the architect of free primary education, of progressive ideas. But for Nigerians from the east, he was a different man. I grew up hearing, from adults, versions of Achebe’s words about Awolowo. He was the man who prevented an Igbo man from leading the Western House of Assembly in the famous ‘carpet crossing’ incident of 1952. He was the man who betrayed Igbo people when he failed on his alleged promise to follow Biafra’s lead and pull the Western region out of Nigeria. He was the man who, in the words of my uncle, “made Igbo people poor because he never liked us.”

At the end of the war, every Igbo person who had a bank account in Nigeria was given twenty pounds, no matter how much they had in their accounts before the war. I have always thought this a livid injustice. I know a man who worked in a multinational company in 1965. He was, like Achebe, one of the many Igbo who just could not believe that their lives were in danger in Lagos and so he fled in a hurry, at the last minute, leaving thousands of pounds in his account. After the war, his account had twenty pounds. To many Igbo, this policy was uncommonly punitive, and went against the idea of ‘no victor, no vanquished.’ Then came the indigenization decree, which moved industrial and corporate power from foreign to Nigerian hands. It made many Nigerians wealthy; much of the great wealth in Nigeria today has its roots in this decree. But the Igbo could not participate; they were broke.

I do not agree, as Achebe writes, that one of the main reasons for Nigeria’s present backwardness is the failure to fully reintegrate the Igbo. I think Nigeria would be just as backward even if the Igbo had been fully integrated — institutional and leadership failures run across all ethnic lines. But the larger point Achebe makes is true, which is that the Igbo presence in Nigerian positions of power has been much reduced since the war. Before the war, many of Nigeria’s positions of power were occupied by Igbo people, in the military, politics, academia, business. Perhaps because the Igbo were very receptive to Western education, often at the expense of their own traditions, and had both a striving individualism and a communal ethic. This led to what, in history books, is often called a ‘fear of Igbo domination’ in the rest of Nigeria. The Igbo themselves were insensitive to this resentment, the bombast and brashness that is part of Igbo culture only exacerbated it. And so leading Igbo families entered the war as Nigeria’s privileged elite but emerged from it penniless, stripped and bitter.

Today, ‘marginalization’ is a popular word in Igboland. Many Igbo feel marginalized in Nigeria, a feeling based partly on experience and partly on the psychology of a defeated people. (Another consequence of this psychology, perhaps, is the loss of the communal ethic of the Igbo, much resented sixty years ago. It is almost non-existent today, or as my cousin eloquently put it: Igbo people don’t even send each other.)

Some responses to Achebe have had a ‘blame the victim’ undertone, suggesting that Biafrians started the war and therefore deserved what they got. But Biafrians did not ‘start the war.’ Nobody with a basic knowledge of the facts can make that case.

Continue reading on Bella Naija

 

Female Deities in Pre-colonial Igboland

From The Adventures of Cosmic Yoruba and her Flying Machines -  Cosmic examines the creation and roles of  female deities  in pre-colonial Igboland

 

With the abolition of the international slave trade in 1805, some Igbo people created new deities and mystical forces that were to help them fight the internal slavery that continued on after the abolition of the transatlantic slave trade, as well as to protect those who were left behind. These primarily female deities functioned to defend societies, they served as both mothers and protectors. The deities shielded communities from slave raiders and they repopulated the communities by using the bodies of women and the sperm of “anonymous human male sperm donors”. This institution was called igo mma ogo and allowed female deities to marry women so as to repopulate society. The children born from such unions were said to be children of the Goddess and her human wife, they bore names of their deity parents.

The women who were chosen to marry Goddesses were usually demanded as retribution for crimes that someone in their family had committed. Such crimes included murder, manslaughter and theft. Although the women married to Goddesses were not allowed to marry any freeborn men, they were allowed to have sexual relationships with freeborn men, those are the male sperm donors mentioned above. These men played their part in helping the female deities become female fathers.

One example of a powerful female medicine that went on to become a deity is Adoro of Alor-Uno, a northern Igbo town. As with most other towns in northern Igboland where the most popular and powerful deities were female, Adoro was a Goddess. She started out as a “medicine”, a spiritual force, to protect Alor-Uno during wars with other towns, and to save them from the slaving activities of the Aro and Nike who were renowned as aggressive slave-traders. Adoro grew to become a Goddess who meted our justice in events in the community, she also maintained social harmony and was apparently one of the most powerful expressions of female religious and political power in Nsukka……. Continue reading “Pre-Colonial Igboland: Marriage to a Goddess” 

#16Days: – Nigeria’s Memory Hole*

In the early hours of the morning of the 20th November, 1999, 27 trucks carrying over 2000 soldiers plus 4 armored personnel carriers mounted with machine guns drove into Odi Town in Bayelsa State. Between 2pm that afternoon and 6pm the following day, the town was bombarded with artillery fire. By the end of the two days, practically every building in the town was flattened, set on fire and/or looted. In all 2,483 persons – mainly women, children and the elderly were massacred in 24 hours. Thousands more fled in canoes or on foot to the forests where they hid, some up to a week with no food or shelter.

The order to invade and destroy Odi town was given by the then head of state, President Olusegun Obasanjo. The reason given for the attack at the time was that two weeks before, 9 policemen had been kidnapped and killed in the town by a criminal gang.

Odi was not the only town in the Niger Delta where people were massacred and property destroyed during the Obasanjo years. Kaiama just a few miles from Odi was attacked January and later Oleh Town, in Delta State and Erema in Rivers State were also invaded to name a few. Then there was the terrible rape that took place in Choba, Rivers state where Nigerian army soldiers were photographed raping women. No one has ever been held to account for these past and present crimes against women and other civilians.

In the original report on the invasion of Odi the term used for those who killed the police was “criminal gang’. This has now been revised in line with the ubiquitous use of the ‘war on terror’ narrative, to ‘militants’ and ‘terrorists’ by both President Obasanjo and Jonathan. Remember this was in 1999 and rather than put an end to militancy – there wasn’t any at this time, it is very likely the action gave birth to the militancy they now claim was the reason for the invasion. In response to Jonathan’s claim that the massacre of Odi people did not put an end to “terrorist’ acts Femi Fani-Kayode wrote

“The Governor [Alamieyeseigha, the then Bayelsa State governor] said that he was unable to do so and President Obasanjo, as the Commander-in-Chief of the Nigerian Armed Forces, took the position that security personnel could not be killed with impunity under his watch without a strong and appropriate response from the Federal Government. Consequently he sent the military in, to uproot and kill the terrorists and to destroy their operational base which was the town of Odi. The operation was carried out with military precision and efficiency and it’s objectives were fully achieved. The terrorists were either killed and those that were not killed fled their operational base in Odi.” The people of Odi town have denied the charge that the men were militants and that Odi was ‘an operational base’.

I use the invasion of Odi as an example of the extent to which militarism pervades governance and all aspects of Nigerian society – cultural, social, economic and gender justice, in Nigeria. Successive Nigerian governments both military and civilian have always chosen violent responses, under the guise of protecting citizens, to silence political protests, punish ethnic and religious conflict, evict street vendors, destroy informal settlements and remove beggars from the streets.

The award winning environmental and human rights activist, Nnimmo Bassey describes the responses to the Odi massacre and destruction of property and livelihoods in the Niger Delta as a’Blanket of Silence”. The impunity with which the murder of civilians and the extra judicial execution of alleged  criminals is never questioned.  Such is the desensitization to violence. No where in the media reports or in any other statement on the invasion, does anyone question the use of collective punishment – the massacre of 2,483 people and the total destruction of a town which can only be described as a war crime.  What arrogance and shamefulness it is that an ex-President can attempt to justify the murder of 2,483 unarmed women, children and elderly men.

When I speak of violence, I am speaking of an inclusive violence. Women have been at the center of this violence and they continue to be so.   Women have always been at the center of these acts of violence which are psychological, sexual, physical, emotional and verbal, as well as  the fear of those acts.   The true nature of the gendered violence which comes from the relationship between the militarized ruling elite and multinational oil companies, is obscured by the focus on supposed militants and or criminal gangs. In June 2009 the government of the late President Yar’Adua bombed Oporoza town, Gbaramatu Kingdom, in Delta state supposedly to ‘root out’ militants. Yet not a single militant was killed and there is no real evidence that any were present. Once again women, children and elderly men were killed and driven out of the town to hide in the swamps. Many trekked for days before reaching the city.  Later some 2000 women and children were placed in a refugee camp outside Warri run by women’s rights activists from Rivers State.

In the post amnesty period, 2009 to the present much of the violence against women has come from cultist and criminal gangs empowered by the culture of violence around the protection of oil production and bunkering. At the same time women have become increasingly disempowered through the perpetual violence and the loss of their livelihoods as market traders, farmers and fishing. Many women have had to move to Port Harcourt and despite the hardship and poverty of living in the city, they remain fearful of returning to their villages.

It is now 2012, the militants have been given amnesty yet the region remains heavily militarised and it is impossible to move by water or land from village to village or town to town without facing a checkpoint. In a 2011 audit of security forces carried out by myself and Emem Okon of Kebetkachie Womens Resource Center, Port Harcourt,  we listed the following security in the region.

Nigerian security forces: The River’s State Internal Security Task Force – used against the Ogoni people. The Special Naval Task Force, regular forces of the Nigerian Army, Mobile Police and police units, and more recently the Joint Task Force [JTF].

On the militant’s side there were [are] two main militias: the Niger Delta People’s Volunteer Force led by Asari Dokobo and the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta [which has a number of splinter groups]. In addition there are various other militias some being splinter groups of the main two such as the Coalition for Militant Action in the Niger Delta (CMND), South-South Liberation Movement (SSLM), Movement for the Sovereign State of the Niger Delta (MOSSEND), DE Gbam, DE Well, Niger Delta Vigilante, and Meninbutus. There has also been at various times a Joint Revolutionary Council whose aim was to bring together leaders from all the militias.

The multinationals [Shell, Chevron, Agip, Elf, Mobil] all have their own private security personnel as well as a close political, economic and general working relationship with the various Nigerian security forces. Since the 2009 amnesty many of the ex militants have been employed by oil companies as security. In addition there are criminal / cultist gangs at work in urban centers and villages especially in those where there are oil facilities; There are also ex militants, church and other institutional security forces.

The culture of militarism is thus an all pervasive one which impacts directly on the rights of women as it extends into the domestic sphere, traditional spaces and the environment through a systemic destruction of the ecological system.

* The phrase ‘Memory Hole’ is taken from an article by William Finnegan in the New Yorker.

Trans-homosexuality

The funniest things happen when you out yourself as a translesbian (i.e. a transsexual woman identified woman; a lesbian.) I, for one, am an African translesbian and I have a beautiful girlfriend who is virtually more African (if I may use this as an honorific) than I am and she’s a lesbian as far as being a lesbianism goes. Although all this is happening in Europe as I speak; African LGBTI is condemned to the underground while the “religiously righteous” seems to prefer repression to sex, sexuality and gender identity truths. Yes the strangest things still happen in the twenty first century. In Africa, for instance, as a translesbian, I will be so far underground the light of day will only emerge as a virtual spectre and how sad is that? All these stem from the deluded assumption that transphobia or homophobia is of African origin. Nothing can be further from the truth, according to Dr. Sylvia Tamale, the moral order (as applied in Ugandan Law) in its ascribed hatred and fear of transgender and gay people exposes its own selfishness. [1]

Some of this is still played out today in Europe, exported worldwide and with that is the knowledge that the fear and hatred apportioned to the civilising process which continues riding the wave of contemporary history today. It is no surprise that suddenly all the lesbians around you feel threatened by the unknown they assume that you present them with. It is something people do out of insecurity, paranoia and a scream out for approval. The question I would love a straight answer to is, who’s transphobic/homophobic now? The assumption that only female born women can be lesbian has a history as dated as humanity itself. Translesbianism is only one strand of womanhood and trans-homosexuality (i.e. transsexual and homosexuality), there are trans-gay-men (a strand of manhood) out there doing their thing on various platforms too: be they non op, pre op or post op and we date with as much diversity as the mainstream does.
What makes this area interesting? Well, translesbians unlike our lesbian allies are subjected to a sort of underhanded scrutiny by all as a result of absolutist conditioning. You can understand my shock when pre op, an acquaintance asked me if he could be honoured with a test run “fuck”. Worse he could not even imagine how offensive and demeaning his request was. I find that the wonder still prevails in a lurch, a sideways glance or a passing shout of abuse by a child, an adult or both, one aiding the other in learned prejudice. Everyone seems to want to see you naked to confirm their assumptions. When you are out for the night all eyes are on you and I’m not raising this subject in isolation as the situation above confirms. If this isn’t enough, I have also inadvertently had week long flings with women curious to know: vagina or hole? With a certain experience you instinctively become aware of your innate longings and act on them without the expectation that you are going to be anyone’s “science project”. Why are trans-homosexuals so threatening to the gay community especially when we are part of the same group? Why do people feel that they have to get into relationships with you because somehow they find out that you are transgender/transsexual? Is it merely their curiosity that goes into overdrive or is something else on a psychological level tossed in the mix?

Imagine going into a club and everyone just seems to be rearing for a fight. Understandably, you leave them to it. Engaging circumstances like these are counter-productive open traps waiting to ensnare you at the slightest opportunity. You measure their range and spar virtually as you blow them virtual kisses, or cyber smooch them, if you like and it ought to end there but it rarely does. Talk to those that are worth it, hug those that you love, and befriend accordingly. Those who are intent on picking a fight soon get the message that no matter how loud their voices get, more often than not what happens is that they expose their own fears, their hatred. Even the fear in their uncomfortable laughter sounds more jarring than anything a translesbian or trans-dyke and a trans-gay-man or a trans-fag could ever provoke; and wait for it: trans-femme, trans-androgynous or trans-butch, we are proud and we are here to stay not in competition but together.

Conversely, perhaps it is time we start thinking about lasting sexual orientation and gender identity freedom in Africa today rather than waiting for another European pill to bail us out or worse, the next century and half hence in which to mend our way, ourselves. The script of our future is ours to write, definitions ours to define and all that. Divided we fall, united we stand together as one.

[1] See Voices of Witness —Africa 2008, which can be viewed on the Integrity USA website under ‘other resources’.

 

The genocidal Biafran war still haunts Nigeria

From the Guardian: The genocidal Biafran war still haunts Nigeria by Chinua Achebe

Almost 30 years before Rwanda, before Darfur, more than 2 million people — mothers, children, babies, civilians — lost their lives as a result of the blatantly callous and unnecessary policies enacted by the leaders of the federal government of Nigeria.

As a writer I believe that it is fundamentally important, indeed essential to our humanity, to ask the hard questions, in order to better understand ourselves and our neighbours. Where there is justification for further investigation, justice should be served.

In the case of the Nigeria-Biafra war there is precious little relevant literature that helps answer these questions. Did the federal government of Nigeria engage in the genocide of its Igbo citizens — who set up the republic of Biafra in 1967 — through punitive policies, the most notorious being “starvation as a legitimate weapon of war”? Is the information blockade around the war a case of calculated historical suppression? Why has the war not been discussed, or taught to the young, more than 40 years after its end? Are we perpetually doomed to repeat the errors of the past because we are too stubborn to learn from them?

The Oxford English Dictionary defines genocide as “the deliberate and systematic extermination of an ethnic or national group …”. The UN general assembly defined it in 1946 as “… a denial of the right of existence of entire human groups”. Throughout the conflict the Biafrans consistently charged that the Nigerians had a design to exterminate the Igbo people from the face of the earth. This calculation, the Biafrans insisted, was predicated on a holy jihad proclaimed by mainly Islamic extremists in the Nigerian army and supported by the policies of economic blockade that prevented shipments of humanitarian aid, food and supplies to the needy in Biafra.

Supporters of the federal government position maintain that a war was being waged and the premise of all wars is for one side to emerge as the victor. Overly ambitious actors may have “taken actions unbecoming of international conventions of human rights, but these things happen everywhere”. This same group often cites findings, from organisations (sanctioned by the federal government) that sent observers during the crisis, that there “was no clear intent on behalf of the Nigerian troops to wipe out the Igbo people … pointing out that over 30,000 Igbos still lived in Lagos, and half a million in the mid-west”.

But if the diabolical disregard for human life seen during the war was not due to the northern military elite’s jihadist or genocidal obsession, then why were there more small arms used on Biafran soil than during the entire second world war? Why were there 100,000 casualties on the much larger Nigerian side compared with more than 2 million — mainly children — Biafrans killed?

It is important to point out that most Nigerians were against the war and abhorred the senseless violence that ensued. The wartime cabinet of General Gowon, the military ruler, it should also be remembered, was full of intellectuals like Chief Obafemi Awolowo among others who came up with a boatload of infamous and regrettable policies. A statement credited to Awolowo and echoed by his cohorts is the most callous and unfortunate: all is fair in war, and starvation is one of the weapons of war. I don’t see why we should feed our enemies fat in order for them to fight harder.

It is my impression that Awolowo was driven by an overriding ambition for power, for himself and for his Yoruba people. There is, on the surface at least, nothing wrong with those aspirations. However, Awolowo saw the dominant Igbos at the time as the obstacles to that goal, and when the opportunity arose — the Nigeria-Biafra war — his ambition drove him into a frenzy to go to every length to achieve his dreams. In the Biafran case it meant hatching up a diabolical policy to reduce the numbers of his enemies significantly through starvation – eliminating over two million people, mainly members of future generations.

The federal government’s actions soon after the war could be seen not as conciliatory but as outright hostile. After the conflict ended, the same hardliners in the Nigerian government cast Igbos in the role of treasonable felons and wreckers of the nation — and got the regime to adopt a banking policy that nullified any bank account operated during the war by the Biafrans. A flat sum of 20 Nigerian pounds was approved for each Igbo depositor, regardless of the amount of deposit. If there was ever a measure put in place to stunt, or even obliterate, the economy of a people, this was it.

After that outrageous charade, Nigeria’s leaders sought to devastate the resilient and emerging eastern commercial sector even further by banning the import of secondhand clothing and stockfish — two trade items that they knew the burgeoning market towns of Onitsha, Aba and Nnewi needed to re-emerge. Their fear was that these communities, fully reconstituted, would then serve as the economic engines for the reconstruction of the entire Eastern Region.

There are many international observers who believe that Gowon’s actions after the war were magnanimous and laudable. There are tons of treatises that talk about how the Igbo were wonderfully integrated into Nigeria. Well, I have news for them: The Igbos were not and continue not to be reintegrated into Nigeria, one of the main reasons for the country’s continued backwardness.

Borrowing from the Marshall plan for Europe after the second world war, the federal government launched an elaborate scheme highlighted by three Rs — for reconstruction, rehabilitation, and reconciliation. The only difference is that, while the Americans actually carried out all three prongs of the strategy, Nigeria’s federal government did not.

What has consistently escaped most Nigerians in this entire travesty is the fact that mediocrity destroys the very fabric of a country as surely as a war — ushering in all sorts of banality, ineptitude, corruption and debauchery. Nations enshrine mediocrity as their modus operandi, and create the fertile ground for the rise of tyrants and other base elements of the society, by silently assenting to the dismantling of systems of excellence because they do not immediately benefit one specific ethnic, racial, political, or special-interest group. That, in my humble opinion, is precisely where Nigeria finds itself today.

Read the Guardian’s new Africa blog at www.guardian.co.uk/world/africa-blog

Last Flight to Abuja

Nigerian blockbuster takes film-goers on a white-knuckle flight. Last Flight to Abuja, the Nollywood hit about a near miss, delivers a fairytale ending in country with a dire air safety record by Monica Mark

 

It is perhaps an unlikely theme for a blockbuster film in a country with a dire air safety record: a near miss in which a pilot steers a smoke-filled plane to safety.

In Nigeria, Last Flight to Abuja has become the first homegrown production to outsell Hollywood films this year. Crowds have been packing cinemas to see how the Nollywood fiction matches the reality of taking an internal flight in Africa‘s most populous country.

The film took a record-breaking 8m naira (£32,340) in its first week on release in Lagos. It has toppled this year’s box office hits The Amazing Spider-Man and Ice Age: Continental Drift, and is currently the second highest grossing film in west Africa after The Dark Knight Rises.

“Each time I fly in Nigeria it’s a nervy experience. All the shaking, the bumpy landings, the unexplained noises, as the plane starts off five hours after you’re supposed to have arrived at your destination,” said the director, Obi Emelonye. “The film was an accumulation of all those stories.”

The timing of the film’s release was inauspicious. It coincided with aDana Air plane smashing into a Lagos slum, killing 163 people. Relatives of the dead encouraged the director not to cancel, to keep aviation safety in the spotlight.

“The timing was spooky because it was supposed to be an era behind us. I felt I had a social responsibility to show [improvements] we could make with just a little change of attitude, being proactive,” he said.

Audiences have given the fictional white-knuckle ride a positive reception.

“When I watched it, I thought that’s how a country with big dreams like Nigeria should be able to handle an aviation disaster,” said cinemagoer Daye Sola, who has spurned domestic carriers since a “bad experience” 12 years ago.

Not everybody is convinced by the fairytale ending, in which emergency workers are at the scene before the plane’s dramatic touchdown.

Femi Alade, whose house is within sight of where the Dana plane crashed, is a rare person from the slum who watched the film. “Someone like me, I have never entered a plane and I will not do so. I enjoyed the film but afterwards I remembered how people were looting and police were beating the crowds,” he said.

“The emergency reaction wasn’t realistic, it was just too prompt,” said another filmgoer, Ohimide, 32, after a showing in Lagos. The reality is undoubtedly grimmer. June’s accident marked the start of a tumultuous period in which half of Nigeria’s domestic airlines have been grounded.

Africa accounts for 14% of the world’s aeroplane crashes although it has only 3% of global traffic.

Whistleblowers have claimed that heavy debts in the aviation sector routinely compromise safety.

In some cases, insiders say planes have been dangerously overloaded with fuel to avoid paying refuelling fees in each country.

David Kolawole’s seven-month-old daughter survived the initial Dana Air impact. But emergency services took 45 minutes to push through the crowds thronging the slum’s narrow mud roads. At the local hospital, staff were unable to save her amid electricity blackouts. “In a country where people are prepared, she could have been saved,” Kolawole said.

An inquest revealed other failings, including emergency staff who had not been trained to put out an aircraft fire with chemical foam rather than water. The aviation minister, Stella Oduah, has cleared Dana Air to fly again, although an inquiry continues.

Safety in Nigeria improved after two aircraft crashed within two months in 2005. But public distrust has returned since the country’s most popular airline, Arik Air, was briefly grounded when aviation workers raided its offices, saying they had not been paid.

Hailed for its fleet of new planes in a creaking industry, Arik had mopped up passengers in west Africa’s thriving market as competitors floundered.

Accusations of financial mismanagement have threatened to engulf the sector, which has grown steadily as air travel has become an alternative to being transported along the region’s often poorly maintained roads.

“We had situations where some of our aircraft were flying with only one engine working rather than pay for the cost of maintaining two,” said John Nnorom, a former finance director at Air Nigeria, one of the recently suspended airlines.

Monica Mark is based in Nigeria and reports on west Africa

US considers unilateral strikes on northern Nigeria, Mali and Somalia

The Washington Post reports President Obama is considering the use of “unilateral strikes” against Boko Haram in northern Nigeria, Al Shabab in Somalia and Azawad held territory in northern Mali. Possibly the use of drone strikes and or  military interventions by regional proxies.  The US AFRICOM now has surveillance bases situated in a corridor from west to east Africa – Mauritania, Burkina Faso, Uganda, South Sudan, Kenya, Ethiopia, Djibouti and Seychelles.

 

 

The White House is mulling the use of “unilateral strikes” in Africa as part of its ever-expanding war on terror, the Washington Postreports.

The Washington Post reports that “secret meetings”

reflect concern that al-Qaeda’s African affiliate has become more dangerous since gaining control of large pockets of territory in Mali and acquiring weapons from post-revolution Libya. The discussions predate the Sept. 11 attacks on U.S. compounds in Libya but gained urgency after the assaults there were linked to al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, or AQIM.

U.S. officials said the discussions have focused on ways to help regional militaries confront al-Qaeda but have also explored the possibility of direct U.S. intervention if the terrorist group continues unchecked.

“Ways to help regional militaries” has included, according to the Washington Post, giving military aid or training to Mali after the March coup and giving millions in military equipment for Mauritania and Niger.

The report cites unnamed officials who say there has been no decision on whether armed drones would be used, though the U.S. has been operating “surveillance flights” from a U.S. Special Operations forces base in Burkina Faso.

Related “Why African LGBTI community should be concerned over US policy in Africa and AFRICOM”

Via the Black Socialist 

A New Nigerian Literary Order

I will argue for a new Nigerian literary order.

Suppose we call this ‘neo-literariness’, for want of a better word, and because in hyphenation a word acquires two identities. So, neo-literariness is the word to use for a generation of writers and enthusiasts who function despite institutional lapses, and whose artistic engagement thrives of new ways of being, especially web-technology.

I will explain with a few examples.

In 2009, Dami Ajayi and I began publishing Saraba Magazine, which to date has published 12 issues of PDF magazines, 5 poetry chapbooks and 2 sub-issues. We have, so far, received no grant, or made no profit, but we have published up to 120 writers from 5 continents. How do we manage to do this? When I am working on any new issue of Saraba, I wonder how these far-flung writers get to hear about our work. And this is more surprising because we have clearly defined our Nigerian and African sensibility. The answer is not far-fetched; something about how literature is exchanged is changing.

I think that the change that is happening is happening for two reasons — ease of accessibility and ambitiousness. The first is easy to explain. I pay about one thousand five hundred naira for weekly internet subscription. My subscription is 20 hours with a validity period of one week. I live in Lagos, which means I get 3G easily. If I lived in Umuahia, where I recently visited, I will barely struggle with EDGE. So although I know that there are exceptions, and not everyone is asprivileged as I am, I understand that there increasing numbers of Nigerians on theInternet explains ease of accessibility, that at least, people find ways to do what they have to do online. And wasn’t it Gbenga Sesan (@gbengasesan) who retweeted that Nigeria had the fourth largest Internet users on earth?

But ambitiousness as an indicator of neo-literariness is a different matter. It means that our literature is changing because writers and literary enthusiasts are finding their voice on the Internet, as literal as that sounds. It means that writingaside the Internet, in this generation, is a failed endeavour. Even my most secluded of friends, Ayobami, has a blog. There has to be, I repeat, something happening for you online. There’s a plethora of Facebook groups, blogs, websites, that attest to a multifarious ambitiousness.

Because the first place a writer gets published, at least in my generation, at least most writers, is on a website. There are indications that more and more lit-websites will be hosted in the coming years, as we lack the structure in Africa for print journals. Saraba, although named as one of top African lit-mags, is yet to publish a print edition, if we ever will. I dare to mention the importance of this although we have equally seen how dangerous this could be — with the ease of accessibility people tend to pose as ‘critics’ without knowing the meaning of the word, or the art, the speculative erudition required. For the danger of our neo-literariness is the spontaneousness with which we can write — a tweet, a post, a comment, even before we have thought out our stance. …. Continue to The Mantle 

From Oil City to Book Central!

My friend, Richard Ali, has also written about Port Harcourt as the World Book Capital City 2014. I consider his thoughts refined, and even apposite.

Here is an excerpt:

The sense of achievement in this win is seen at the popular level, but the significance of this win is even clearer amongst writers such as me. It is the primal significance of illumination, how a stand is made against the chaos of a world without words–so that I can introduce myself as a writer proudly. The core of Greek mythology is found in the stories of benevolent, Fire-stealing Prometheus; the Judeo-Islamo-Christian monotheisms locate the start of the human story in the creation of Light by the Deity. It is the same way that the year 2014, with this great victory, will hold up the book in the same manner as the Statue of Liberty’s torch to the world, the rays of the activities planned falling first on Nigeria, which surrounds the pedestal, and then rippling in happy, harmonizing words around Africa and then on to the rest of the world.

Read the rest, here.

Port Harcourt: An Outpost City

My short essay on the successful bid for Port Harcourt as the World Book Capital for 2014 by the Rainbow Book Club appears in YNaija.

Here’s a short excerpt:

“Port Harcourt as the World Book Capital of 2014 will thrust books, and literature into public glare. It is not the case that Nigerians and Africans are not a reading, or ‘literary’ public. It is the case that we need to enliven our books: adapt them into films, exhibit excerpts from them alongside photographs, convert them into formats for mobile devices, serialize them into soapies, adapt them into comic strips, read them aloud as podcasts and audio books, broadcast SMS excerpts from them–endlessly reuse them. So, we need an incident, an event, to galvanize literary efforts within the African continent. Port Harcourt as World Book Capital 2014 is thatevent.

I recognize the gift this successful bid is to collective memory, to what Nigeria is, to whom Nigerians are. Port Harcourt is a historic city, by all ramifications; a centre point for British military operations in World War 1; Nigeria’s most prominent oil city; a symbol of the struggle for equity and environmental sustainability. From this standpoint of history we can imagine a coming history, when Port Harcourt is described as the outpost of Nigeria’s literature.”

Read the rest here.

 

Texting Poetry – 3: Fear !!

 

Fear!!

A driver fucked up with
Fear; he just started,
Today & all, the poor imp.
Happily, he brought into it
-A neighbourhood’s illness
They call you man, miss
All cower what will come?
So when he broke hard
Spilling me forward & then blaming my lack.
An explosion of laughter
‘Wait,’ commanded the
Terrified driver, ‘until we Reach the bus stop! You
A big man’ How
Convenient for you all!
More & more laughter
You said what? If you
Must, I’m a woman, get it
? The laughing witness;
Hypocrites all! What’s to
Fear? What’s to fear?Fear!
Mia Nikasimo (c) March 2009

Black Gold: “We are rebels of the struggle”

Black Gold: The Struggle of the Niger Delta” is a feature film written and directed by Nigerian filmmaker, Jeta Amata. Based on the film synopsis, Black Gold sounds fairly straightforward. A  community protests against multinational oil companies and the Nigerian government but to little effect. Enter militants and war is declared. Its not possible to evaluate a film based on a 2 minute trailer but there are a number of reasons to feel positive about the film. Apart from a BBC production some years ago, most films on the region have been documentaries which have to a very large extent been accessible only to western audiences. As a feature film and a Nigerian production Black Gold, has the potential to reach local audiences.  This is especially important now as the US Supreme Court rules on whether US based corporations can be sued for human rights abuses committed overseas with specific reference to  Ogoni activist, Ken Saro-Wiwa and eight others [Saturday Dobee, Nordu Eawo, Daniel Gbooko, Paul Levera, Felix Nuate, Baribor Bera, Barinem Kiobel, and John Kpuinewho] who were executed on November 10th 1995 for protesting against Shell.

Over the past two years there has been a growing number of literary ventures focusing on the Niger Delta:   Ayo Akinfe’s “Fueling the Delta Fires”, Helon Habila’s “Oil on Water”, the yet unpublished graphic novel, “Light Sweet Crude”, a collaboration between Kenneth Coker and Chris Feliciano Arnold; and Christie Watson’s, “Tiny Sunbirds, Far Away” [I will be reviewing this shortly]. The film’s timely release is further evidence that the region is finally seeping into consciousness of Nigerians.