These are Revolutionary Times

1Stand_Up

Poster by Chaz

These are Revolutionary Times. A revolution becomes necessary when it becomes obvious that bringing about change will take too much time. This underscores the reason why a revolution necessarily is a challenge to business as usual. It could challenge political orthodoxy and may not be palatable to those whose interests are rooted in the status quo.

There are many reasons why we can reasonably say that we have come to the point when a global revolution has become an inescapable necessity. Think of the rapid species extinction, water stress, increased deforestation and desertification. Bear in mind the current trend of organized and even random violence, rising inequality and xenophobic politics. Think of the fact that we are at the precipice of an ecological catastrophe with looming runaway climate chaos coupled with inordinate consumption and wastage of resources.

A nation must switch on the reflective mode when things become predictably volatile. Reflection and communications work best in an era when free speech is not just tolerated but is celebrated. Silence in the face of despair can be construed as either cowardice or acquiescence.

The socio-political situation in Nigeria has been calling for a revolution for decades even though the word ‘revolution’ may not have been used. Today the word has been presented as one with incendiary connotations. This could be due to the fact that the term has been used in that manner in the past. For example, Isaac Adaka Boro declared a revolution in the 1960s only to have the uprising crushed in twelve days. Since then we have had governments embarking on programmes that were fundamentally conceived as seeking to birth a revolution in Nigeria. No eye brows were raised.

Let us stay in history for a moment. Have we always been averse to revolution? The answer is a resounding no. The government of President Shehu Shagari mounted what was called an Ethical Revolution, while the government of General Muhammadu Buhari waged a War Against Indiscipline (WAI). In the days of the military presidency of General Ibrahim Babangida there was the programme tagged Mass Mobilization for Self-Reliance, Social Justice, and Economic Recovery (MAMSER) which was one of the recommendations of the Political Bureau that was headed by Dr. Samuel Joseph Cookey.

The 2015 election saw the birth of the All Progressives Congress (APC) which ran and won the election with a clarion call for CHANGE. At that time, the ruling party was campaigning on the tracks of Transformation, which in itself can be said to be more radical than Change. And to up its drive for Change, the current ruling party has promised to take Nigerians to the Next Level. While we may debate what that Next Level portends, it does seem that when Change steps up its game the result is bound to be revolutionary.

Having these historical and current antecedents in mind, it can be said that a revolution is not necessarily a bad thing. And, we don’t have to be fixated on so-called sponsors of revolutionary activities. The truth is that a revolution may not need to be funded. It is people who make radical changes happen.

The meaning of the word revolution is admittedly broad and can be given a bad slant so as to deter its effectuation. A concept that is similarly misunderstood is anarchy or anarchism. Anarchists are opposed to unjust societies and work to support individual creativity, human development and opportunities while eliminating domination and oppression. It’s about realigning the way power is distributed in society, including by extending gender justice. Anarchy is not disorder or the reign of violence, even though some may argue that situations generally point to that direction. But politics is not an arena where terms are given precise definitions.

Clearly, a sitting government can be revolutionary or it can become revolutionary. That would not be termed a rebellion. The call for CHANGE, by some definition could be termed a revolutionary call. As earlier noted, an election was contested and won on that platform. No one screamed rebellion or treason.

A nation must switch on the reflective mode when things become predictably volatile. Reflection and communications work best in an era when free speech is not just tolerated but is celebrated. Silence in the face of despair can be construed as either cowardice or acquiescence.

Some of us get really troubled when official spokespersons to political leaders behave more like attack dogs than as persons carrying out a duty that requires careful thinking driven by defined strategic pathways. We must tolerate dissent and not escalate every contrary expression.

Seeing #RevolutionNow as rebellion is just one of a thousand possible interpretations. Incarcerating Omoyele Sowore in the long run cannot add a positive notch to the image of the government or to the nation. It has been said that history depends on those who organize. Sowore is an organizer whether or not anyone likes to admit that as a fact. He has proven it. He is resilient. He is convicted of his convictions. Jail cannot upturn that. Neither would incarceration eliminate the demands he and associates demand of the system.

Every nation needs dreamers, especially when the night hours become exceedingly lengthened. With dreamers we also need those that sound the alarm, that proclaim when it is time to wake.

A Knife to the Throat

ChangeA Knife to the Throat. Think before you dance to the GMO beat. A popular saying has it that the person that pays the drummer dictates the tune. That saying may not hold true at all times because the drummer may on occasion allow her innate artistic flair to take over. The saying, however, finds a wide parallel in situations where governments do not fund their research institutions and agencies, thereby pushing them into the embrace of funding agencies with motives that may not be in sync with that of the governments.

A case in point has to do with the way we are handling issues of biosafety. We do not appear to worry that the surveyors of genetically modified (GM) crops and products, apart from their pretentious messianic posturing are mostly concerned with making profit out of our miseries. We do not worry that our staple crops are targeted and that these marketers are the ones declaring our vitamin or mineral deficiencies and presenting GM crops and foods as silver bullets to solve all our problems.

We are happy when we are assured that GM foods and products will be labelled and that we will definitely have a choice with regard to whether or not we wish to eat them. We do not consider the fact that most of our staples are sold in ways that do not permit labelling. We do ourselves harm when we gloss over this issue. We do know that in the global north you can know the origin of the bananas, oranges and other fruits you buy from the labels stuck on them.

We have said several times that our socio-cultural context does not allow for labelling in our informal marketing and sharing systems. The African Agricultural Technology Foundation (ATF) announces that GM beans will be planted in Nigeria in 2020. We must not lose sight of the fact that we are in breach of the law if any GMO is released into our environment and to our markets if it is not, and cannot, be labelled. Without the right of choice, we are forced to eat GM foods with a knife to our throats.

Back to the payer and the drummer. Sometimes the drummer may go into a flourish, but that often happens when the payer starts what may look like limitless spraying of currency notes. If the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA), Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation or Monsanto sprays you with seeds, or a laboratory, the dancer can go into a frenzy.

The fervour with which we are open to being used as testing fields of hypotheses dreamt by speculators, and even by students in foreign laboratories, should capture our attention. We recall when the great work IITA did in developing natural cassava varieties and methods for controlling the dreaded cassava leaf mosaic disease. These days they appear more bent to working on GM cassava for the increase of starch content in the tubers, not for foods for humans, but probably for industrial purposes. One such GM cassava was developed in a student project in a laboratory in Switzerland and brought to Ibadan, Nigeria, for testing. The so-called confined field trials have since been concluded but information on the outcome is not in the public sphere.

The routine response of the agency when asked for information on the basis of which they issue permits is to refer the enquirer to their website. When told that the information is not on their website, their response is to again reiterate their blanket reference to their website.

The same laboratory from Switzerland recently sent another GM cassava for a willing Nigerian institute, the Nigerian Root Crops Research Institute (NRCRI) located at Umudike, to obtain a permit and carry out confined field testing of a cassava variety engineered to contain high levels of iron and zinc. Despite very detailed comments sent to show why approval should not be granted for its field testing, the approval was granted by mid-July 2019.

Expert comments sent to show why certain applications should not be approved are treated with contempt and brushed aside. The agency is averse to giving a response as to why they reject the contrary points raised by concerned citizens and groups. The arrogance and hostility towards those who do not dance to the GM beats keeps increasing by the day. This has to stop.

The NRCI got the permit to carry out a confined field trial of the GM cassava on a plot measuring not more than 200 square metres. That is small, right? However, NRCI is to ensure a buffer or exclusion zone of 1.5 kilometres in which there must not be any non-GM cassava planted or growing wild. Is that possible in Abia State, or anywhere in Southern Nigeria? 1.5 kilometres without a cassava plant? Another requirement is that the place in which the GM cassava is to be planted must have security personnel keeping watch on a 24 hours basis. Really?

The immediate area of the trial zone is to be surrounded by a pollen trap to prevent the spread of pollen grains from the GM cassava. The trap is not something mechanical, like a mouse trap. It is rather a planted area where the crops planted there must flower at the same time as the GM cassava in the confined trial area. If that is not preposterous enough, consider who would ensure that the area is decontaminated after the field trial. That task will be done by “persons trained by the permit holder.” It is doubtful if such a person can be trusted to be objective in carrying out the task. It is obvious that entire scheme is a wild, needless gamble.

Some of us are wondering if the biosafety regulatory agency in Nigeria should bother to advertise applications for introduction of GM crops and call for comments when they already have their minds set on being little besides a permitting agency. Expert comments sent to show why certain applications should not be approved are treated with contempt and brushed aside. The agency is averse to giving a response as to why they reject the contrary points raised by concerned citizens and groups. The arrogance and hostility towards those who do not dance to the GM beats keeps increasing by the day. This has to stop.

The Classroom of life has no graduation

C97AC918-4170-4535-86BF-5A3970E9A0D5The Classroom of life has no graduation. Life offers classrooms without walls. Increasingly we are seeing these learning spaces to be the streets. They remain enclosed by our environment and our culture. Importantly, the Classroom of life has no graduation.

The classrooms of universities and multiversities, are concentrated arenas of learning that offer special opportunities to raise students and intellectuals to speak up for the poor, for Mother Earth and her children. In a time where our foods are being assailed by chemical-based agriculture, science needs to assure us that what we eat is not eating us up. At a time when our water, land and air are poisoned by wrongheaded extractivism, we need to remind ourselves that wellbeing is not defined by how much minerals we dig up, transform or accumulate.

What we make of our environment makes us, molds our imaginations and shapes our philosophies of life. It makes us humane or monstrous.

Distinguished ladies and gentlemen, we cannot be onlookers in the fight to tackle the existential crises of our days, especially that of climate change. Through music and philosophies of life we can persistently project our memories and challenge our imaginations till we all agree that the saying ‘another world is possible’ and calling for ‘system change’ are not mere sloganeering but real calls for action.

We face a challenge of how to communicate the horrors of climate impacts and displacements in ways that can wake the world from slumber. We have a duty to stand as environmental defenders and reject the forces compelling millions to live in extremely contaminated environments and pushing others to early and watery graves in the Mediterranean Sea or to fiery graves in the burning dunes of the Sahara.

With broad spectrum programmes such as the Festival of Ideas annually hosted by the University of York, it is clear that the town and the gown, the field and the laboratory, can all trigger innovation that would dismantle the concentration of power in a few hands and rebuild a future for our collective humanity.

Music, poetry, prose, drama, sculpture, architecture, painting and other forms of arts have been veritable tools for education, as well as maintaining our cultures for ages. Today we can make music with our feet and fists and halt over-consumption and build cooperation, solidarity and the true ideals of wellbeing.

Education transforms. One way this happens is by empowering us to accept dissent as a true mark of patriotism and to accept criticisms and needed solutions, even if they are advanced by those we do not often agree with.

We simply cannot stay silent or feign neutrality as societies fall apart. That is challenge offered by the education and practice at the University of York. This is an arena where academics and practice truly blend. We step up today by looking at the past and with solid hindsight building a harmonious and just future with one another, Mother Earth and all our relatives.

Education transforms. One way this happens is by empowering us to accept dissent as a true mark of patriotism and to accept criticisms and needed solutions, even if they are advanced by those we do not often agree with.

Let us close with “Keep Out of Prison” – a poem written by Ken Saro-Wiwa while in prison.

Keep out of prison,’ he wrote
‘Don’t get arrested anymore.’
But while the land is ravaged
And our pure air poisoned
When streams choke with pollution
Silence would be treason
Punishable by a term in prison.

* My speaking notes on receiving an honorary degree at the University of York graduation ceremony on 19 July 2019

Art and the Codes of Life

 

With Odia & Eve

Before the sage, Odia Ofeimun, took the stage

Art and the Codes of Life. While humans make history through acts of valiance or of villainy, much of history is preserved through the arts. Official historians may couch history to please the despotic rulers and politicians and may even decree the elimination of history from the educational curriculum, but true history remains largely beyond their reach. Our memory and imagination are the vaults where history is stored and these deserve to be continually nurtured and propagated.

The fact that we have had a checkered history in Nigeria cannot be disputed, but so is the history of every nation. However, we may hold the record of vigorously working to push our history under the carpet so as to obscure the unpalatable stories of those who must remain in the political firmament of the land. We seem to have found a way to decorate villainy, marking such as valiancy or gallantry. Unfortunately, brightly lit or coloured vileness, roguery or even rascality can dazzle and confuse the simple-minded. And, sadly, an obscured past births an obscured future.

Our stories hold the code for rebuilding hope and for rebuilding Nigeria, even the world. We have to decipher the codes of life, recognize our commonalities, know our stories and tell them, defend our memory, build our imagination and march in the direction of solidarity as we fight for socio-ecological justice.

Happily, the arts, by and large, hold the torch to light the way to our past in a way that refuses to be suppressed or obliterated. Poetry, songs, paintings, sculpture, stories, films, architecture and the like, tell our history in a living way. Novels by writers such as Chinua Achebe, Festus Iyayi, Helon Habila, Chimamanda Adichie, Okey Ndibe, Wale Okediran and many others give us clear sketches of  the rough waters of our histories. The poetry of Christopher Okigbo, Gabriel Okara, J. P. Clark-Bekederemo, Wole Soyinka, Femi Osofisan, Odia Ofeimun, Niyi Osundare, Tanure Ojaide, Ogaga Ifowodo, Harry Garuba, Nduka Otiono and several others, brilliantly capture our histories and fearlessly lay out the paths of our times of innocence, colonialism, neocolonialism, kleptocracy, authoritarianism, socio-ecological and financial corruption. They also give us the outlines of hope, as they inevitably sketch the way forward to a preferred future.

We also call to mind, notable sculptors, painters and writers such as Ben Enwonwu, Bruce Onabrokpeya, Demas Nwoko, Yusuf Grillo and Uche Okeke who were immersed in the struggle for Nigeria’s political and artistic independence. The vibrancy of their artistic production, discourse and vision, held up brilliant signposts to what could have been. Along with the architectural production of those days, we saw that our built and unbuilt spaces spoke of our hopes and enclosed the innate desires to be authentic in our march into the future.

Writing on the works of Odia Ofeimun, but also focusing on the general fighting spirit of Nigerian writers, Dan Amor captured the roles played by our writers in the historic struggles in the nation: “The traumatic effects of the social upheavals in the mid-sixties, the civil war and its attendant horrors, increased writers’ political commitment. Nigerian creative writers were caught in ambivalence after the war – torn between anguish over the predatory tendencies in human nature, as displayed or exhibited in mutual destruction of lives and property, and the need to reconstruct the society after the catastrophe. But the most significant creative development from the civil war is not merely the exposition of the horrors nor the writers’ anguish from the traumatic results of the war, but their determination to make their work an organic function of the nation’s history.”

What can we say about our music? Musicians raised the flag of highlife and equally sounded the alarm as the nation wavered between hope and despair, between light and darkness and between goodness and near absolute meanness. No matter what anyone may write as the history of Nigeria, the music of Fela Anikulapo-Kuti will stand as a testimony of their truthfulness or willful perfidy. Anikulapo-Kuti’s songs, including Beasts of No Nation,  Zombie and Vagabonds in Power speak volumes of the days of infamy in Nigeria.

The long list of artistes that have captured history and placed it out of reach of official deniers or manipulators is long and cannot be covered in this piece. Why do artistes do what they do, even to their own peril?

Some art may be for art’s sake, but to some of us, art aims to achieve particular ends. Even so, we realize that no matter how targeted a work of art may be, it often throws up unexpected additional results. The complexities of the crafts and the richness of memory and imagination necessarily moderate our architecture, sculpture, paintings, poetry, fiction, music and films as they capture our histories in verse, colour, movement or in concrete.

I listened closely to Odia Ofeimun as he spoke on Art and the Environment on 11 June 2019. The key points I distilled from the broad, intricate and rich tapestry of his presentation were that our memory is fed by our senses and that our imagination is developed by what our senses pick up. Our common humanity presents us with codes that teach us how to live together with a sense of order and without hurting each other. Without a sense of order there can be no successful pursuit of social justice. If this is true, as we believe it is, it means that we have either lost the code, our sense of common humanity, imagination or memory.

Evelyn Osagie

Poetry flows from Evelyn Osagie

Stories told in verse or carved in stone hold out mirrors that help us see who we are and grasp the codes of life. They both preserve and promote our memory and our imagination. Who are we? Where have we come from from? Where are we headed? Can we continue in the trajectory of so much insecurity such that  that one cannot walk between his bedroom and kitchen without fear of being kidnapped? How far can a nation go when corruption rises, the more it is fought?

Our stories hold the code for rebuilding hope and for rebuilding Nigeria, even the world. We have to decipher the codes of life, recognize our commonalities, know our stories and tell them, defend our memory, build our imagination and march in the direction of solidarity as we fight for socio-ecological justice.

 

A Poisoned Civilization

roasting.jpgWe live in a Poisoned Civilization. The Planet is on the sick bed. With up to one million species gone extinct and many of the remaining ones under threat, it is clear that things have gone terribly wrong. While it is known that humans are largely responsible for the harms brought on the Planet, we do not seem to care about halting the predatory relationship with other beings, simply because business as usual is so profitable to the drivers of the destruction.

Civilization ought to mean progress, sophistication, advancement and refinement but is that where we are today? If advancement means oppression, militarisation, violence, destruction and a reign of intergenerational injustices, then humans are living in a state of willing delusion. You may call it a state of willing blindness. In an age of threats of the Planet being burnt up, humans stubbornly insist on continuing to burn fossil fuels for energy. In a time when it is clear that species are being wiped out in droves, humans insist that progress means entrenching agricultural modes steeped in poison.

It appears we are stuck on the fatal track because of layers of corporate blindfolds placed over the eyes of policy makers across much of the world. The interrelatedness of lives on the Planet is not a matter for debate. When a part of the web of life is interfered with by humans, other parts get affected. The war against insects gave rise to the production of chemical insecticides. The war against unwanted plants gave rise to the production of herbicides. Profit-driven industrial agriculture continues to poison the species on the Planet and yet the push is to carpet the world with more of the toxic broths.

A recent report by the Inter Governmental Panel on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) warned that “Rapid expansion and unsustainable management of croplands and grazing lands is the most extensive global direct driver of land degradation, causing significant loss of biodiversity and ecosystem services – food security, water purification, the provision of energy and other contributions of nature essential to people. This has reached ‘critical’ levels in many parts of the world…” The IPBES report also warned that, “With negative impacts on the well-being of at least 3.2 billion people, the degradation of the Earth’s land surface through human activities is pushing the planet towards a sixth mass species extinction.”

Science decorated with corporate interests must not be allowed to trump good sense. The fear mongering by proponents of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) that we cannot feed ourselves without their dangerous products and that those opposed to their trade are anti-development, anti-science and anti -national interests must be discountenanced as blatant nonsense.

The war on insects is a war on other species. It is known, for example, that much of our food production depends on the agency of insects who facilitate production through pollination. The effect of the use of poisons in agriculture is already known to have greatly decimated the population of bees in the world. It is so bad in some places that farmers have to rent beehives in order to enjoy the services of the creatures and ensure good harvests on their farms.

Today, humans do not only dump insecticides or poisons on croplands, crops are genetically engineered to be insecticides themselves, killing intended and unintended insects. Today, crops are genetically engineered to withstand specific poisons labelled herbicides ostensibly to eliminate the drudgery of weeding on farms, reduce competition with unwanted plants and increase the harvest for farmers and investors. Humans have advanced to the point when extinction is actually being engineered in the laboratory in a technology known as gene drives. The extinction or exterminator technology, for example, aims to deliberately drive or force a genetic trait through entire species in such a way that reproduction ends up yielding off springs of a particular sex, for example and over a period of time wipes out that species. Experiments are being cooked up against mosquitoes and will be unleashed in Burkina Faso, Mali, Uganda and Cote d’Ivoire. No one loves mosquitoes, especially the malaria parasite carrying ones, but these experiments are simply a foot in the door towards teasing out the efficacy of a technology that can easily disrupt ecological balances and can rapidly be weaponized.

Let us return to the horrors of farming with deadly poisons. Landmark legal decisions are being made in the United States of America (USA) over the impact of Bayer-Monsanto’s famous herbicide, Roundup. A few days ago, a jury awarded $2 billion in damages against the company for cancer suffered by a couple who were exposed to the herbicide in that country. Court findings suggested that the presence of glyphosate, a major ingredient in the herbicide, Roundup, in food supply has a link to increased level of more severe cases of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) in the USA. In the course of the legal tussle, lawyers showed members of the jury heaps of materials said to show how the manufacturers of the herbicide are  manipulating scientific literature, ghost-writing scientific review papers and getting them published and cited as authoritative by policy making agencies like the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) of that country. In the midst of the legal fights, the EPA issued a new approval for the deadly herbicide.

Nigerians should be worried about the prevalence of the herbicide, Roundup, in our markets. We should also worry that approvals for field trails of crops genetically engineered to withstand this same herbicide are ongoing in our country. Monsanto-Bayer claims that the chemical is safe when applied as prescribed by them. The right way to apply the chemical includes being suited up as though you were headed for a space flight. With lax industrial practices, our farmers are not following those prescriptions. Even with the best adherence to the prescriptions in the USA, the results are now out that farmers and others that are exposed to the poison are not safe.

The war against weeds is a war that requires delicate consideration. What is termed a weed in one community may actually be food elsewhere. The same applies to pests. Where an insect is a threat to a plant, it may be food for humans and other predators.

Science decorated with corporate interests must not be allowed to trump good sense. The fear mongering by proponents of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) that we cannot feed ourselves without their dangerous products and that those opposed to their trade are anti-development, anti-science and anti -national interests must be discountenanced as blatant nonsense. The unfolding guilty verdicts in the courts of the USA should be early warning signs to us all.

We have to wake up and eliminate the poisons from our markets and farms. We must wake up and demand an end to permitting crops engineered to be cultivated with these poisons. It is time to make global peace with the Earth, recognize her rights and that of all other threatened inhabitants. The way to the future must be poison and fossil fuel free and we have to pave the pathways today.

A Journey with Ken Saro-Wiwa

A888DD39-245D-45E2-A1AE-E6059F92360FConversation with Ken Saro-Wiwa took place at the offices of We The People in Port Harcourt on Thursday 25 April 2019. The room was packed out and yet more seats had to be brought in. One seat only had a book on it. That book was Silence Would by Treason – the last writings of Ken Saro-Wiwa. The book is made up of principally of letters and poems he exchanged with Sr Majella McCarron while in his last detention.

Although the gathering was for a Conversation with Ken Saro-Wiwa., he was not physically in the room because he was murdered by the Nigerian State on 10 November 1995. This event confirmed the truth that killing the messenger does not kill the message.

Ken Saro-Wiwa was a man of many parts. He was a minority rights and environmental activist. He was an acclaimed writer with works of poetry, prose, drama and other genres. He was an astute businessman and a politician.

Opening comments by yours truly were drawn mostly from Silence Would be Treason and included a reading of three poems from the book. The poems were “Fire”, “Ogoni! Ogoni!” and “Keep Out of Prison” where the title of the collection was taken. That poem reads:

Keep Out of Prison

“Keep out of prison,’ he wrote
‘Don’t get arrested anymore.’
But while the land is ravaged
And our pure air poisoned
When streams choke with pollution
Silence would be treason
Punishable by a term in prison.”

We reminded ourselves that Saro-Wiwa understood his task as taking the Ogoni people on a journey. In a letter written on 1 October 1994 he referred to having escaped an assassination plot:

“Not that death would have mattered to me. It would have carried more harm to those still alive. However, I do want to take the Ogoni people as far on the journey to re-vitalization as is possible—until other leaders are bred.”

His socio-ecological dream was captured under what he termed ERECTISM – an acronym for ethnic autonomy, Resource and environmental control. His vision has nothing to do with partisan politics. He fought for the dignity of his people and for social, economic and environmental justice.

A second introductory presentation by Ken Henshaw of We The People spoke of Saro-Wiwa as a man that utilized his writing as a tool to liberate his people. He stressed that a writer must go beyond being a critic and use his craft as a tool for shaping society. He concluded by saying that Ken Saro-Wiwa lived the principle that a writer must be combative both in theory and in practice.

A punchy presentation by Celestine Akpobari summed that Saro-Wiwa was truthful, courageous and prophetic.

Participants in the conversation agreed that the positions taken by Ken Saro-Wiwa with regard to the devastation of the Ogoni environment have all been validated, especially by the 2011 report of the Assessment of the Ogoni environment by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).

The Conversation With Ken Saro-Wiwa stressed that although he focused primarily on the Ogoni situation the lessons from his life, ideas and actions have broad implications for oppressed peoples across Nigeria and beyond. He was more than just an Ogoni. He showed that we are all Ogoni.

A conversation with Saro-Wiwa would not be complete without reference to his allocutus or concluding speech before the Tribunal that passed a death sentence on him and 8 other Ogoni leaders.  In the allocutus he declared that “We all stand before history.” Our actions and sanctions will invariably be judged at some points in time.

“I and my colleagues are not the only ones on trial. Shell is here on trial and it is as well that it is represented by counsel said to be holding a watching brief. The Company has, indeed, ducked this particular trial, but its day will surely come and the lessons learnt here may prove useful to it, for there is no “doubt in my mind that the ecological war that the Company has waged in the Delta will be called to question sooner than later and the crimes of that war be duly punished. The crime of the Company’s dirty wars against the Ogoni people will also be punished.

“On trial also is the Nigerian nation, its present rulers and those who assist them. Any nation which can do to the weak and disadvantaged what the Nigerian nation has done to the Ogoni loses a claim to independence and to freedom from outside influence. I am not one of those who shy away from protesting injustice and oppression, arguing that they are expected in a military regime. The military do not act alone. They are supported by a gaggle of politicians, lawyers, academ­ics and businessmen, all of them hiding under the claim that they are only doing their duty, men and women too afraid to wash their pants of urine”

Conversations” is an initiative of Health of Mother Earth Foundation (HOMEF) as part of our learning efforts and aims to create space where citizens share ideas from the lives of reputable thinkers and practitioners in the quest for justice and radical Socio-economic transformation. We aim to ensure that young activists learn from history, struggle sacrificially and ground their works on solid thinking and analyses. We emphasize intellectual militancy!

Conversation with Ken Saro-Wiwa will be held in other locations including in Ogoni and in schools. We will also have Conversations with other leaders including Aminu Kano, Thomas Sankara, Amilcar Cabral, Eskor Toyo, Frantz Fanon, Oronto Douglas, Chima Ubani and others.

Is Transformation better than Change?

IMG_0430Is transformation better than change? Sometimes we can learn deep lessons from messages or fragments of wisdom on posters and billboards. They may jump at you as slogans and offer no further thoughts as to what they were meant to convey but when combined with photographs of products being advertised, some of these messages can keep you thinking for hours, days, weeks, months and even years. One of such posters has kept this writer thinking for years now.

Transformation is better than change. That was all the poster declared. And the thoughts about that assertion is what we will examine in this reflection. What is change, when does it occur and what may trigger it and for what purpose? Dictionaries tell us that change is a process by which a practice, function or thing is altered to become different compared to what it is at present. In other words, change is to alter, replace, exchange or convert. Transformation connotes change, but one that refers to a dramatic or total change in form or appearance of something or the order of things. Synonyms for transformation include alteration, variation, evolution, metamorphosis and mutation. In short, transformation refers to a process of profound or radical change.

Many thinkers have pondered and debated over these two words and concepts with some declaring that the difference is not clear. What is agreed by most is that change can be externally instigated while transformation often works from within. We have change of policies, for instance, in order to respond or adapt to situations. On the other hand, our reaction to changes can transform or radically alter our disposition in fundamental ways.

Such responses can lead to resistance or even acceptance and accommodation of things and situations that were previously unthinkable.

Sometimes, things can be in such a state of flux that the statement, attributed to Heraclitus of Ephesus, that change is the only constant thing offers a blanket for emotional stability, something to hang onto without being overcome by a sense of drift. We are often told to accept changes that come with age, social status, economic circumstances.

Many changes around us demand responses. Think of climate change.There is global agreement that the climate is changing inexorably and will continue to do so except some drastic changes are orchestrated or put in place. It is well known that the crisis is driven by the persistent fossil-fuel civilisation but policy makers find it inconceivable to rapidly stop the burning of fossil fuels and to redirect efforts to energy sources that are truly renewable and are not disruptive to global ecological balance.

Such a shift in direction requires radical changes in modes of production, consumption and other socio-ecological relations. Rather than tackling the root causes of the problems, society prefers to tinker at the edges and keep to what is considered safe and can maintain the status quo, especially including the privileges enjoyed by those that benefit from the crisis. This posturing leads to heavy investment in armament and in the enclosure of nations, if possible by walls, to ensure the exclusion of others who may wish to move to those locations. Enforcement of identity and exclusion have been the anchor of responses to some of the social, economic and political challenges in history and continue today. Exclusion can be an easy way out for those that do not wish to see societal transformation even where such is inevitable.

Change, as a slogan, played an incredibly effective role in the 2015 elections in Nigeria. In that season, the All Peoples Congress (APC) which was the main opposition party at that time, sold the idea of change to the populace. The change on offer was not interrogated but it stood as a veritable counterforce to a government that had claimed it had a transformation agenda, and they won. They won because Nigerians clamoured for change. At the next election cycle, it was quite clear that “Change” as a slogan would be problematic as Nigerians may have wished to be told what the core change of the previous four years was. The clever slogan on offer in 2019 was couched in a promise to take the people or economy to the “Next Level”. That slogan worked for the purpose of the election. Now, Nigerians have to examine what needs to be done to get to that next level or to say if they are already there.

Political change is not a matter of semantics. It is derived from practice. The same can be said of social and cultural changes including in the areas of the arts. Socio-economic changes can be complex and when birthed by forces of external power politics can have dire consequences. Consider for instance, the advice from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) that Nigeria stops paying subsidies for petroleum products. Although the government has always said that the subsidies would be removed, doing so has not happened and may not happen soon. This state of affairs persisted because of the intricate and complex webs of corruption surrounding the scheme. The country is unable to accurately guesstimate the amount of petroleum products consumed by its citizens. If not for their being major sources of hydrocarbons pollution one would have said that the petroleum refineries in the country are a huge joke. They are not a joke but a major problem. The importers and marketers of the products are embedded in the system, enjoy hugely from the state of affairs and will continue to work to block positive changes.

Considering the spate of statistical bashings that Nigeria has had to endure in recent times, it is obvious that the nation sorely needs some radical changes in many sectors. The figures are horrendous in the areas of extreme poverty, infant and maternal mortality, out of school children, unemployment, access to water/sanitation and corruption. Even without adding the state of insecurity and ecological degradation to the list, it is clear that the country is in dire straits and citizens are on the throes of pain and collective disorientation.

One may be tempted to consider the examination of the meanings between change and development as mere hair-splitting, but it is not. The understanding of the terms has the tendency of giving direction to efforts especially in socio-political organisation and practice. How does the alternation in context challenge or affect our identity and history? In what direction would changes take us? Change and transformation are powerful words and concepts. Like others such as sustainable development and green economy, they can easily acquire questionable connotations or become oxymorons. No matter whether you vote for change or for transformation, it appears that we need a combination of both in order to build an inclusive system that caters for the interests of all, including the weakest and the most disadvantaged among us.