Saturday, 12 October 2013

the writer and protests of votes

     October 1st. What started as a minature event metamorphosed into a virtual inferno throughout the social media. The arsonist? The Etisalat Prize for Flash Fiction with £1000 at stake. The entry with the highest number of votes would be coronated winner. Like rats in the rat race, the scramble for the cheese was on. Soon writers who entered for the competition (those in the red corner), organized digital campaigns, pelting social media pages and our sensibilities with tattered manifestos, on why we should vote for their entry.
     Then another group of writers (those in the blue corner), who claim to be defending the wobbling integrity of the Nigerian literati stood up, casting votes of anger and protests of displeasure at how Etisalat is ruining the literary scene with their bolekaja prize, claiming that the organization is using money to insult their sensibilities like the capitalists they are.
      The ripple effect of the adherents of the blue corner, created a third group, the salt-coated ones. This crop of writers initially in the red corner withdrew their entries when their 'integrity' was caught in the cross-fire between the blue and red corners. They were afraid that their exposed underwears would be stained by the dust generated by the tussle. Some even put up public disclaimers, claiming that the competition was a sham and expressed their innermost regrets. They should get better PAs. Such posture is as hypocritical as the preacher who says money is the root of all evil but gallivants in his private jet. Would they have withdrawn their entries if the blue corner had turned a snobbish nose at the competition? Was it not the same monetary motivation, which is the latent reason for the protests from the blue corner that propelled these salt-coated writers to enter?
      Herein lies the crux of the matter. Who is to blame, Etisalat or the Writer? Suffice it to mention at this point that this is not the first competition to be decided by voting. Even competitions whose winners have been decided by a panel of judges have come under fire as being shambolic and not transparent. Ask NLNG, Obiwu and Oguibe. Using the public voting process as a parameter for evaluating the integrity of Etisalat's flash fiction prize is shambolic.
Etisalat did nothing out of the ordinary when it decided to chose winners through the voting module. The blame should go to the writers turned politicians and started campaigns for votes. Those who did not believe their stories enough to sell itself, and sought to convince us with manifestos.
It is unfair for writers to apportion blame to Etisalat without taking cognizance of the role they played in bringing literature into the pigsty. This bespeaks of the putrid stench of ego that is accustomed to the Nigerian writer, where he is an all-knowing expert that needs and heeds no correction. This is nothing short of the white-saviour complex where the wolf shouts wolf only after draping himself in sheep's wool.
    The Nigerian writer is a product of the Nigerian society. A society that accords prestige and respect to the individual that has the most money. A society where everything has been commodified for the highest bidder, including conscience. A society where monetary artefacts determine the course of thought patterns and social institutions. What writers have merely done is to carryover these polluted values into the literary scene, and like their counterparts in the wider society, they look for a scapegoat when 'shit hits the fan'. This time they found an unwilling volunteer in Etisalat.

Wednesday, 15 May 2013

The Thatchernomics of our history

The death of Margaret Thatcher threw up a plethora of issues erstwhile lost in the labyrinths in our collective history as Africans. While the world was caught in a choreographed grief system churning out condolences, there is the need for us as Africans to send condolences of a different kind. We have to mourn the dearth and death of African history. The African history is fast becoming history. Just a trip to our public schools would convince one of this anomie and impending cloud of cultural disaster.

      First it was a case of the absence of indigenous history as against the foreign ones in the curriculum. Presently, it is the absence of history as a subject. The number of history teachers has been going down astronomically, as there are fewer public schools which offer history as a course or seem interested to.
      Private schools which supposedly offer more qualitative education to students and better remuneration for teachers are hardly interested in adding history as a course in their curriculum. The reason for this exclusion may not be unconnected to the fact that most see it as a waste of intellectual venture since history can't get you a job. The same fate is suffered by geography (social studies).
     Reasons for this may not be far-fetched. Our educationists believe that (African) history has no place in this fast-paced society of ours driven by science and technology where reality is formed by the media. What good is it to a pupil or student to study a course which is out of place with his current social needs like a dismembered joint? As such, there is no need to equip and maintain museums or heritage sites. There is no demand for the return of artifacts displayed in European museums. Excursions are no longer taken to heritage sites.
    The death of Margaret Thatcher has thrown up the issue of ahistoricity. Upon her demise, several Africans typified this historical dearth through their condolence message, perhaps in a rush to feel politically relevant to their slave masters. The Nigerian president, Goodluck Jonathan in his statement said that "she would be always remembered by the World for her unique, distinctive and purposeful leadership which restored the pride and respect for her country...." Current South Africa president issued 'heartfelt condolences' to the Thatcher family. Some medis outlets are awash with her achievements hailing her as an iconic feminist figure and the true personification of an 'iron' lady.

    The foregone remarks were either borne out of sheer ignorance or an attempt to appease their white masters, but are certainly nothing short of an insult to Africa's history. For a leader who legitimized the apartheid regime and openly branded the ANC as a terrorist organisation comparing it to the IRA, it is despicable for Africans to show some heartfelt condolences to someone who reinforced class and racial segregation.
However, Thatcher is just a tiny speck in the compendium of historical abortion. We have forgotten our heroes, cultures, religions and ourselves. We have dug up our cultural roots and eaten the seed of unborn generations. We now employ foreign experts to teach us about our cultures, ways and ourselves. One of the effects of colonialism is that it paved the way for European anthropologists to study and give Europe a supremacist position of African cultures and social institutions. Little wonder African women cry of subjugation by menfolk because they don't know about the Amazons of Dahomey, Female-husbands of Ohafia, the Novendu rain-queens or the matriarchy of the Ashantis. Little wonder that 'Ekwensu' and 'Esu' in Igbo and Yoruba Mythologies (respectively) are victims of character assassination which made them evil gods. Why do we still wonder that little is unheard about ancient African writings such as the Nsibidi and Uli because history records us as having no written tradition or system of recording events. Yet, no wonder that some Igbos go about proselytizing that they are descended from the Jews. African history is sunset to the African eyes.

Between the writer, headaches and prescriptions

      The writer's place as a component in the social structure may be procative, reactive or both. His musings while being reactions to happenstance in society, can also be foothills upon which society can catch a glimpse of the future. Life is a source of his inspirations, so the writer in us dies when society goes to the gallows. His desire to pursue a particular subject or issue is influenced by a bias rubbed off on his consciousness as a consequence of being a member of a particular society, culture, race, religion or whatever social compartment he finds himself. The pen is the mouthpiece of what his eyes has written down. Thus, it is not uncommon to find subjects such as science-fiction, serial killings, the beauty of summer et al from Europeans and North Amearicans, just as it is not uncommon to be bombarded by literature of wars, revolutions, ethnic politics, religious strifes from developing or under-developed countries. The latter explains why most African literature -especially the award winning ones- evolve round this derogatory theme.
    If we take cognisance of the plethora of phenomena that threaten to negate the foundations underpinning our existence as a country, one is tempted to pose the question: what is the role of the writer in present-day Nigeria? As a social being existing within a particular cultural nexus, should the writer assume an impassive journalistic role, echoing the sentiments of an oppressed confused society or a messianic posture burdening himself with the charting of a new course for society? Should he be satisfied with giving headaches or adopt a contrasting standpoint in the issuance of prescriptions?
   The imperativeness of such inquiry is underscored by who or what constitutes a writer. What parameters should be set when operationalizing the concept 'writer'. Is he one that scribbles with the distant objectivity of a lab scientist or is he a participant observer and actor in society. A writer to me embodies the latter qualities. A writer's duty is to pull society by the ears from the brink of anarchy and drag him towards humanism. The writers role is fundamentally more than that of a journalist. He is a cultural nationalist who aims to level the hills upon which popular supremacist ideologies look down on his society trapped in the murky waters of discrimination as exemplified in Frantz Fannon's 'Black skin, White masks', and Ngungi Wa Thong's 'decolonizing the mind'.
     A writer is expected to be a leader and restore the dignity of his country as personified by Thomas Sankara and Leopold Senghor. Sometimes he may be a scapegoat for peace like Wole Soyinka or a revolutionary like Christopher Okigbo who takes up arms in defense of his rights. He is expected to criticize his society like Achebe did in his 'Man of the People' or record history for unborn generations like Oluduah Equiano. Last year, the Ugandan government issued a statement that sought to demolish the country's only museum, a historical and nonetheless national treasure in favour of a 60-storied trade centre. This move was aborted as a result of the resilient opposition of the writers in that country. Thus a writer is a warrior standing guard against the cultural marauders, a philosopher like Aime Caesar.
     Now what is the role and place of the contemporary Nigerian writer in charting a progressive course for the country and continent? What is his stance in the cultural and mental revolution of his comprades? The fervor of Soyinka, Achebe, Flora Nwapa, Okigbo, JP-Clark, Odia Ofeimum and Niyi Osundare has been doused. The contemporary Nigerian writer is aloof or at best seems non-chalant to his current exiatential realities. He distances himself from society, and like a vulture searching for carcass, chooses to prophesy doom from foreign shores. He is now no more than an entertainer, a literary jester aiming to satisfy the cravings of the bewildered masses. At best he is a journalist echoing the sentiments of a confused group or at worst an ethnic bigot postulating parochial views. He can neither give headches to the political elite or offer prescriptions to the decadence of his society. His literature looks the other way, hungry for foreign acceptance and recognition. It does not stir in us the thirst for development and political change.
     The foundations of world civilizations and thoughts were forged by the steel of pens. Such task does not come from the mass population, for there has to exist a certain class of people not swayed by the currents of society, but who watch and give meanings to the sequence of events. The onus falls on the writers to bell the cat. Would the Nigerian writer be satisfied with writing footnotes and glossary?

The sainthood of Ndi-ichie

    Religion has always been a part of humanity and plays a pivotal role in social organization. The world over, diffrent cultures and societies were/are aware of the presence of an unfathomable supernatural force beyond human comprehension, which kneaded and knitted the earth. As such, they sought to reverence and communicate with this supernatural force through pratices, rituals and dogmas sanctified my myths, hence the birth of religion.
If all cultures had displayed a collectivity of ideas towards the existence of this unseen force which seemed (as at that time) to direct the affairs of mortals in a pre-determined fashion, then the question of the superiority of a religion of a particular faith seeing God as its exclusive property should not arise. Such stance becomes worrisome with the apparent similarities that exists amongst religions of the world. The sainthood in Christianity and the Ndi-ichie of igbo traditional religion are one of such from the plethora of similarities that exists between world religions.
Sainthood is the veneration of exceptional individuals for their works in the christian faith. 'Holy' men and women who through exemplary lives on earth went into heaven to be with other saints. The word in itself is a transalation from the Greek word 'Hagos' which means to 'set apart one'. In the new testament the word is used to describe those who believed in Christ and adhered to his teachings and philosophies. Saint Paul often addressed his epistles to saints of a particular city (see Ephesians 1:1&2; Corinthians 1:1).
As Christianity spread, the operationalization of the term began to change thus becoming applied to people who were/are venerated after deaths s saints. This led the catholic church to create a process called canonization through whichvenerable people could be recognized as saints.
The Ndi-ichie occupy a very high place in igbo cosmology. They are esteemed individuals held in high regard who have gone to be with the gods and ancestors. The igbos believed that one became an 'iche' at death through a life of hardwork, honesty, resourcefulness, sound moral standings and other virtues. Like the saints of christianity, Ndi-ichie are in constant communion with the living ones on earth continually interceding on their behalf to God(s). They also offer advis to their descendants and appeal to Alusi on their behalf. This is no different from what the catholics do when they pray offer prayers to the saints for guidiance and interception. Thus while the African says the God of my forefathers, the Christian says the 'God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.'
Furthermore both act as signposts for behavioural conditioning in their respective religions. The Saints and Ndi-ichie are not only models for imitation, but also are parables unto others. By extolling virtues such as service, hardwork, humility, forgiveness et al, the sanctity of Ndi-ichie (or sainthood) inspires people to emulate such lifestyles while as mortals with the hope of having a place with -the- God(s) and ancestors (heaven) upon their transition to the spirit world.
Finally, both like every other element of sainthood in other religions are hinged upon the belief of life after death. The emphasis of the indestructibility of the soul and the recurring debate of the origins of human existence seek answers in the conceptualization of sainthood. The are temporary buffers to the permanent shock of the unanswered question of death. Both sainthood and ndi-ichie are diffrent points along the continuum of ancestral veneration. They are not any different from Arahat in Buddhism, Rsi and Guru in Hinduism or the Wali in Sufism.

Saturday, 11 May 2013

Nigerian revolution and the Apolitical Church

     Sir James Fazer in his analysis of the principles of thought upon which magic is based came up with two thought processes.  One, a statement of rules which determines the sequence of events and the other, a set of precepts which humans observe in other to compass their ends. The former deal employs a microcosmic approach, trying to know the factors that influence the occurrence of events, the latter is concerned in making the event happen. The reactive former draws inspiration from abstract conjectures, while the proactive latter draws strength from the action and practicability.

     As more parallels which seek to juxtapose the thought pattern of the present apolitical nature of the Nigerian church and the mental process that determines how it perceives its social realities, more questions beget the critical mind. The psyche and mental position of the Nigerian church pays spiritual dowry to the first. The present church is a reaction of the people’s wants.  Just like the mass media, the present church functions as an escapist tool, through which the masses can seek that anesthesia to forget society’s sorrows. It entertains the Nigerian mind with the riches of beyond, harvests of miracles, baby factories and instant contracts of marriage. Thus if you want to be rich, you sow seeds, speak to it and you shall reap bountifully. The Church does not equip the mind with the logic and practicability to transform ideas into products. It is rather a victim of its own mental trappings.

      When it comes to taking a stand on the political issues in the country, the church yet again chooses to perceive issues from conjectural formulations. It is not uncommon to hear of prayer and fasting programmes for the country. Even the president calls for prayers for the nation to deliver it from its problems. Most times the problems are placed in the hands of God with pleadings of ‘God help us’, ‘God will deliver us’, ‘God knows best’. No church questions the political process that allows for the type of leaders and nauseating corruption that rapes the country. No church preaches political reformation and change. No pastor, evangelist or bishop has called out his congregation to protest against fuel hike, extra judicial killings, lecturer’s strike or the outright insensitivity of the government, which are exemplifications of the second thought process.

       Rather the church is now a group within the political elite, a bourgeoisie that profits from the spiritual labour of the Nigerian masses. Like the government, it has lost contact with the people it claims to protect. It is now the psychological arm of the government. During the debacle of President Yar’Adua’s health, some selected ‘men of God’, went to Aso villa to ascertain the status of his physical condition. They all came back proclaiming that the president was hale and hearty. The president died some weeks later. The church has chosen to snub the stench oozing from the country’s decay. Politicians are given front row, some are even bestowed titles in church.

      The church is oblivious to its role in pushing for a political revolution and correctness in the Nigerian polity. It is the only body that unites most ethnic groups in the country. As such it can serve as an umbrella organization that would fill the vacuum left by labour, political parties and civil groups. It also wields the (political) influence and has the economic backing to sustain such. Imagine if all Catholics were to protest fuel hike, or all followers of Christ embassy were to picket the national assembly.

      The church played a huge role in Europe’s quest to conquer the world. The inquisitions, crusades, slavery, colonialism, and distribution of trade routes were seriously influenced by the interests of the church.  The Nigerian church cannot afford to remain apolitical. It cannot be impersonal and neutral in the midst of growing resentment against the political class, the uncertainty and fear of the political future of the nation. The Nigerian church is where the revolution for the new Nigeria should start from. It has the compliance and submissiveness of the masses. The Nigerian church would be committing historical abortion if it chooses to play a psychological role in dumbing down the consciousness of the Nigerian masses. Elijah, Jeremiah, John the Baptist and Jesus all had confrontations with the political class of their time. Change must first occur in thought process of the church to observe those set of precepts which would navigate us to our political end

Wednesday, 31 October 2012

Area Boys in Power

The thugs have left the streets,
And taken up political seats
Collecting tolls, hijacking votes
Hiring crowds to chant political jingos

The brutes in street corners
Have been legalized with state power
Flaunting propaganda like an engagement ring,
Voices of opposition are dumbed down, with political killings

So life becomes short, nasty and brutish,
The land is flooded with waters of anomie
Vultures of corruption and ethncism
Feed on the carcasses of citizens

The intellectual stands ashore,
Watching events like a ship off the coast,
The country, wobbles like a snake dancer,
Under the gentle strumming of political chaos.

The young -unprepared,
Naïve about the coming tasks ahead,
Solace, they seek in entertainment,
Selling their future, for a morsel of bread.

The broom has swept away civility,
The maize has been poisoned
The pen's conscience has no ink
And the umbrella can't stop hunger's drumbeats.

Thursday, 13 September 2012

Dangote recruitment: Lessons for Nigerian (Under)graduates

Just recently, Dangote Group, the company of billionaire business man,
Aliko Dangote advertised for the application of graduates with
second-class upper degrees (2.1) for the position of drivers. The
advert started campaign of mud-slinging, name-calling and a moral
vendetta against Dangote Group's seemingly degrading evaluation of
Nigerian graduates. Others, as the case always is, blamed the
government for crippling the Nigerian economy thus creating an
environment that leaves the Nigerian graduate vulnerable to the antics
of economical predators such as the Dangote Group.
Reactions such as this are guided by blind sentiment, serving no good
purpose, especially for the Nigerian youth. Inherent in this
occurrence are lessons to be learnt by a constructive mind. Firstly,
the pride of a man is in his work. A man does not work to pay the
bills (but sadly, the contrast is the case), rather engaging in labour
brings a certain fulfillment. It is the essence of his survival and
purpose on earth. Take away man's ability to engage in labour and you
have taken away his ego and pride. This is the reason why men take up
jobs far beneath their status, because the man must go out into the
field to till the ground. The notion of graduates taking up jobs as
drivers should not generate uproar if our graduates decide to shelve
the cloak of pride. In a country where there are fewer jobs by the
day, and majority of those employed are being underpaid, taking up a
job as a driver till the next big thing comes is not a bad idea.
Across our shores, Nigerian graduates do more demeaning jobs to
survive. Most juggle between 2-3 odd jobs, working as cleaners, bar
attendants, baby-sitting, washing dead bodies et al. Is it not the
same quest for survival that pushed graduates abroad to take up such
jobs? Why then do we expect something back home? Why do we expect to
be given hand-outs and soft-landing? What is the pride in having only
your certificate to show yet the illiterate is able to fend and
provide for his family? The fact that the graduate is knowledgeable of
government's insensitivity is enough catalyst to push the graduate to
look for ingenious means of creating economic avenues for himself. Yet
we pride ourselves with paper-qualifications.
  Secondly, the scenario also brings to the fore, imperative questions
which the graduate and undergraduate should ask if he is serious about
his future. Am i a job-creator or job-seeker? What skills do I have
aside from my degree? How far am I willing to go to develop this
skill? What skills do I need to acquire to position me in a vantage
spot? Today's existential reality has made it as a matter of urgency,
for the Nigerian (under)graduate to seek to explore inherent talents
and skills which most times are not moulded within the formal walls of
our universities. How is your extra time spent? Chasing girls, binge
drinking or self-development? To be fore-warned is to be fore-armed.
Nigerian (under)graduates are fully cognisant of the fact that our
educational system is dysfunctional. Our professors can't even
propound solutions to the nation's problems and on the average, have
performed worse than the politicians themselves when appointed into
government. Lecturers are out of sync with the current realities of
the contemporary pedagogical methods, while the curriculum is
out-dated. The Nigerian student knows all this. Why then does he still
fall prey to the whims of economic predators? Why does he still
embrace the mind-set of looking for a job-seeker? Why has he not armed
himself since he has had prior knowledge of the labour market's over
saturation? Why are university certificates an end in itself, instead
of a means to an end?    There is a serious need for a paradigm
shift. A value-reorientation. Graduates should debunk the notion that
the world or government owes them something because they graduated.
Education is meant to expose and broaden the mind, not give you a job.
Going to school with the sole purpose of getting a job defeats the
purpose of education. Such a myopic purpose would be better treated
through apprenticeship, worker's guild and technical schools.
Being a graduate does not exempt you from doing menial jobs. But if
as a graduate, you do such menial jobs for a long time, is as a result
of wrongful application of cognition. Until Nigerian youths learn to
be proactive and avoid campus vices and distractions and shed the
cloak of ego-massaging, then they would be so educated that all they
would be left with is their certificates.
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