Rebranding the Cabal

ChangeThe cabal toga is not one most people wish to wear in public. In recent months, we have seen concerted efforts to redefine the cabal as a political concept in order to give it a palatable connotation. In spirited pronouncements on popular television talk shows, we have been told that there is actually a cabal in the presidency but that it is not made up of mean people. The public has been told that ‘members of the “cabal” in the presidency are not hungry individuals and do not deserve the public criticism they get”. In other words, they are doing us a whole lot of good. The only problem is that we do not know this fact.

While stating that the cabal does not have undue influence on the president, a spokesperson decried the attitude of Nigerians to persons who have the president’s ears without occupying public offices. He said, ‘Nigerians have formed the practice of labelling people that are in some advisable positions of the president as a cabal. People (cabals) should not be labelled negatively simply because they have offered themselves to support the president of this country.’

The spin train went as far as saying that there are cabals in every government but that on other shores, they are daintily called kitchen cabinets. Hear this: ‘Elsewhere, they call it “kitchen cabinet,” but in our own country, we are being derogatory, and we term them cabals so that it will tarnish their own good standing.’

It does appear, however, that the so-called kitchen cabinets in some countries are an inner circle of staff or other officials. In other words, such kitchen cabinets are made up of officials. However, in some countries like the USA, the term is used for unofficial advisers. A dictionary defines such a kitchen cabinet as a ‘group of unofficial advisers to a political leader, especially when considered to be more influential than the official cabinet.’

When a political leader heavily relies on an unofficial circle of advisers to the detriment of the officially appointed ones, we can be certain that this has an effect on the contributions of the real cabinet to governance in any country. Citizens of such countries have every cause to worry because the official advisers and ministers are accountable to the people whereas the kitchen cabinet is not. While the official advisers would be expected to operate within the framework of the government’s agenda and within the confines of codes regulating their activities, the kitchen cabinet has no such restraints.

There have been stories of governors who have commissioners as mere sounding boards, or rather, as mere acoustic boards set up to absorb sounds. When they are assembled in executive meetings, all they have to do is to sit and endure hours of drivels by the emperors or governors. Some are said to spend hours sleeping in the hallowed executive chambers while the emperor is fiddling somewhere and while the states burn. Official advisers whose wisdom is needed by no one are as disempowered as you can imagine and are forced to continuously guard their pronouncements or steps as they could easily go on the path that the kitchen cabinet would frown at. In such situations, the states have been said to be blatantly run by cabals or delicately put, kitchen cabinets.

Cabals turn official advisers into puppets or dummies who have little or no authority. However, you can be sure that this is not what the defenders of the cabal are saying.

A look at various dictionaries consistently yield rather uncomfortable depictions of what and who the cabal is. Calling them kitchen cabinets is a huge leap in branding. One depiction is that a cabal ‘is a group of people united in some close design, usually to promote their private views or interests in an ideology, state, or other community, often by intrigue and usually unbeknownst to those outside their group.’ There you are. A cabal promotes its private views, desires and designs. Private views. They are neither elected nor do they represent the people. By official definitions, they are said to be purveyors of intrigues. That excludes the interests of the citizenry.

The first use of the word is said to have been in the 17th Century England where it described any secret or extralegal council of the king. The Merriam-Webster dictionary captures the cabal as ‘the contrived schemes of a group of persons secretly united in a plot ( as to overturn a government); also a group engaged in such schemes.’

Mnguember Vicky Sylvester portrays the cabal in her book of short stories -The Cabals and the Naked Dance- as a clique said to be running government and the country’s resources. That is a hot combination in the Nigerian context. The fictional cabal would not only be whispering into the ears of the helmsmen in power, they would also be grasping at the nation’s natural resources. When that is done without popular accountability, ecological damage of horrendous proportions must ensue.

It is indeed a tough job, branding the cabal as a kitchen cabinet. The two are best kept apart as the genetic makeup of the cabal is stronger than any hardwood that may be utilised in fabricating a kitchen cabinet.

Where a cabal thrives, mistrust spreads like a cancer. Their presence places political spokespersons in very difficult situations and can seriously hamper their performance, effectiveness and public perceptions. This situation confers sinister implication to every action or events, including for example the overturning of Imo State’s gubernatorial election result by the Supreme Court of Nigeria. A panel of seven judges made that decision, but while the nation waits to hear the reasoning behind the disruptive decision, the stories in town are that a cabal is at work, pushing an agenda that is a prelude to something more ominous. This is one reason why no one needs a cabal in the corridors of power.

Don’t Call Me at 9 O’clock

2020

Design by Chaz Maviyane-Davies

Don’t Call Me at 9 O’clock. Once upon a time, there were very few television stations in operation in Nigeria, and they only operated for a few hours a day. In those days most stations came on in the afternoon and went off at about midnight. The stations would open with a hissing sound which was followed by the national anthem before the presenters popped up to give a rundown of the programme of the day. Watching TV was a big deal as not every family had one. It was not unusual to see kids peeping through the window into their neighbour’s homes to snatch a few minutes of their favourite programmes.

In the 1990s many states in Nigeria had television stations, but they were obliged to join the national station at 9:00pm for the network news. That was prime time and it was a standard routine for some of us to watch at least the headlines. Watching the news was important if you wished to keep abreast of the thinking of the military dictatorships that held sway at that time. The radio was also useful, but in the tumultuous days of pro-democracy agitations, it was wiser to tune to foreign stations to confirm the reason for the commotion on your streets rather than tune to the local stations. It was that bad.

So, for over twenty years it has become a tradition in my family that we dedicate 9:00-10:00pm as a time for coming together. This has meant keeping the phones aside and not watching television. Although this has become a family tradition, we have thought it wise to regularly remind ourselves of the origins of this routine.

As twisted as some of the official media had become in those days, they provided fairly good sources of information if you learned the art of paying attention to what was not said. On one occasion watching a special broadcast by a military governor following a major uprising in my city gave some of us an inkling as to who the jackboots were targeting for arrest, assault and incarceration.  And we took some preventive measures that were partially successful, at least for a while. But that is a story for another day.

At a point, using the publicly owned mass media for propaganda to promote self-succession or transformation became the standard fair, especially in the regime of General Sani Abachi. There were advertisements extolling “who the cap fit.” Although the general was known to always spot a beret, he was getting itchy to switch over to a taller hat. The national network news at 9:00pm became so cluttered with officially sanctioned alternative news that there was little room to actually get to know what the real situation in the country was. It was at that time that my family decided that having that news hour as our family time was more productive than opening ourselves to servings of officially fabricated fake news.

So, for over twenty years it has become a tradition in my family that we dedicate 9:00-10:00pm as a time for coming together. This has meant keeping the phones aside and not watching television. Although this has become a family tradition, we have thought it wise to regularly remind ourselves of the origins of this routine.

It has been so bad in recent days that a presidential spokesman even justified the presence of a cabal in Aso Rock, claiming that this was simply equivalent to having a kitchen cabinet. Unfortunately, a cabal cannot be equated to a “kitchen cabinet” in the Nigerian context. It is a much more sinister construct, speaking of a clique that works assiduously to subvert public interests while ensuring the rule of personal or sectional interests.

In recent times, the travails of Omoyele Sowore, Col Sambo Dasuki (retd), Sheik Zakzaky, Agba Jalingo, Jones Abri, and some judges arrested in peculiar manners, and for sundry reasons, have raised a number of questions on the state of the democratic space in Nigeria.  The brushes of these Nigerians with the law, judicial processes and security agencies have led many to ask questions about the direction suggested by the drift. One of the key indicators that things are not well has been the role of the judiciary in protecting the human rights of citizens and then the obedience of court orders by security agents and actions and statements from the executive arm of government. An alarming apogee was reached when Sowore was wrestled down in the hallowed chambers of justice and whisked away into another round of detention while he had been released on bail.

The assault of Sowore rightly drew national and global condemnation, thanks to the wide sharing of the sordid spectacle through social media. We should note here that because President Buhari appears to be a man of few words, his spokespersons have resorted to speak even when silence would be more salutary. The unsavoury courthouse incident was presented as being essential for national security and other nations were told to mind their business. The Department of State Services (DSS) came up with the story that the incident was stage-managed and that Sowore was actually wrestled down, and rough-handled, by his supporters to give the security outfit a bad name. What they could not deny was that they were the ones that took him back into custody.

It has been so bad in recent days that a presidential spokesman even justified the presence of a cabal in Aso Rock, claiming that this was simply equivalent to having a kitchen cabinet. Unfortunately, a cabal cannot be equated to a “kitchen cabinet” in the Nigerian context. It is a much more sinister construct, speaking of a clique that works assiduously to subvert public interests while ensuring the rule of personal or sectional interests.

In all, we can say that the brashness displayed by the security forces, sections of the judiciary and the executive are very troubling indeed and needs to be checked before things deteriorate further. The spokespersons of the president and the governors should probably use this holiday season to have a retreat, to retool and to be reminded that abusive and unrestrained language cannot be the hallmark of governance or diplomacy.

So, Sowore was released from incarceration on Tuesday 24 December 2019 on the directive of the Attorney General to the DSS to let him regain his liberty. The same Attorney general had stated on Monday 16 December 2019 that he could not ask the DSS to release Sowore. Femi Falana, Sowore’s lawyer, had on the previous Friday asked the Attorney General to seek the release of his client since he had taken over the case from the DSS.

It came as a surprise that a few days later, he did not only ask the DSS to release Sowore but cited Section 150 (1) of the Nigerian constitution to back up his directive. It was a long, tortuous road to obeying court orders, especially when the case of Colonel Dasuki is also taken into account. Will that constitutional provision now be routinely respected or is what has transpired a fluke?

Bailed

At 9.00pm on Tuesday 24 December 2019 I tuned into the Network News to see if the release of Sowore and Col Dasuki, the most significant events of the day, would make the headlines. They did. Does that mean that things have changed significantly? Is it time to adjust the family tradition? Should I begin to take calls at 9:00pm? Whatever is the case, have an eventful New Year.

 

 

Xenophobia and the New Apartheid

506DD42A-2FF1-407F-B25C-A148AF0929B8Is xenophobia the new face of Apartheid? Nigeria was a radical Nation when it came to fighting for the liberation of Africa from the grip of colonialism and apartheid. The nation was radical when it came to taking positions against the apartheid regime in South Africa. The Africa-centric foreign affairs policy was so strong that international oil companies operating in Nigeria were partially nationalized at that time as punishment for hobnobbing with the segregationists. It was a time for the awakening of socio-political consciousness that liberty was indeed the right of every African, of every human. The liberation movements fought for economic, political and mental freedom. There was no shortage of publications from the African National Congress (ANC), The Mozambique Liberation Front (FRELIMO), South West Africa People Organisation (SWAPO) and the African Party for the Independence of Guinea and Cape Verde (PAIGC), to mention a few.

Bob Marley, from a fully Pan African mindset produced hits like War and Africans Unite. He sang of Africans liberating Zimbabwe. He did not say that Zimbabweans were liberating Zimbabwe. He said, Africans liberated Zimbabwe. Nigeria’s Sonny Okosun sang of Papa’s Land concerning Zimbabwe and Fire in Soweto in support of the struggle against apartheid outrages in South Africa. As far as Okosun was concerned, Zimbabwe was Papa’s Land. Peter Tosh and many other artistes played their part in projecting a universal African personae.

Many South African youths, while on exile from the then rogue government in their country, studied in Nigerian universities and were completely at home in the country. They were loved and not discriminated against. They were welcomed with open arms because the liberation of Africa was a collective struggle. No wonder that as soon as apartheid structures crumbled, victory was seen as an open invitation to fraternize with brothers and sisters that had been held in horrible bondage for years by the evil system. It was not long after the fall of that system that I made my first visit to South Africa.

One of the things that shocked me on my first visit, but which I discounted at that time, was the many times I heard South Africans say that they had “never been to Africa”. Never been to Africa? You would have thought that South Africa was in Asia or Latin America. Over the past decades I have come to make very good friends and comrades across many sectors in the country. We are still together in the struggle for environmental justice, for food sovereignty and against the neoliberal system that continues to wreak havoc on citizens of the world.

As bad as the attacks in South Africa may be, Nigerians at home cannot afford to vent their anger and frustration on South African businesses in Nigeria. Two wrongs never make a right. A tooth for a tooth is bound to leave everyone toothless in the long run.

Killing fellow Africans, looting and burning their business premises have become the recurrent new normal in South Africa. It is an outrage of horrific proportions that is difficult to explain or understand. A friend from South Africa explains that the hate that is burning through the nation is sown by politicians with the penchant for keeping the people divided within their communities and belligerent towards non-South African Africans.That explanation is not easy for those of us watching from the outside to understand. What stands out clearly is that this is a failure of leadership. Any leadership that does not sow love and good neighbourliness but sees a cheap way out of providing jobs and welfare to their people will find scapegoating immigrants as an easy way to avoid responsibility. It is the duty of leaders to provide the right conditions for citizens to invest their energies in positive ventures rather than in bloodletting and sundry criminal activities.

Citizenship under the apartheid regime was graded according to the colour of a person’s skin and probably the colour of their eyes. Unfortunately, the post apartheid days have not fundamentally addressed the deep inequalities and deprivations in the country. Has the apartheid infrastructure been dismantled? Are the warriors on the streets of South Africa fighting the right war?

We see this happening around the world with right wing demagogues ascending into power and playing to their base by raising the banner of hate and division. Hate becomes normal. Hate and division rise to be seen as inherent human attributes and as a means of securing a space in the sofiri-economic spheres, whereas it is clear that it is empathy, cooperation and solidarity that has ensured the survival of all social beings.

Sisonke Msimang, in an article published in Africa is a Country and titled “Belonging–why South Africans refuse to let Africa in” showed that the xenophobic uprisings in the country has deep underlying forces traceable to the boobytraps set under apartheid. Our reading of the analysis is that just as coloniality survives colonialism, so is the case of apartheid or divisions based on a superior sense of otherness. Msimang was born to South African parents but has lived in Kenya, Zambia and Canada. On return to her country, she learned to settle in and at the same time saw and understood the feel of being considered as an outsider until she mentioned her roots.

The apartheid system had built walls around the country, ensuring that both caucasians and blacks had peculiar views of Africans outside their borders. The restrictions were stiff, the country had its first television station in 1975, never mind that DSTV has now captured the continent. Before then, one of that country’s Minister for Posts and Telegraph said that television would only be introduced into the country over his dead body. He feared that through television “South Africa would have to import films showing race mixing; and advertising would make Africans dissatisfied with their lot.”

Citizenship under the apartheid regime was graded according to the colour of a person’s skin and probably the colour of their eyes. Unfortunately, the post apartheid days have not fundamentally addressed the deep inequalities and deprivations in the country. Has the apartheid infrastructure been dismantled? Are the warriors on the streets of South Africa fighting the right war?

The words of Emperor Haile Selassie of Ethiopia which Bob Marley sang in his classic War, declared that “until the colour of a man’s skin is of no more significance than the colour of his eyes me say war.”Msimang reminds us that today, some black South Africans consider their colour to be a lighter shade of black and that this confers them with a sense of superiority over the darker Africans. What an outrage! It is shocking that anyone’s mentality could be warped to that level. But then, don’t we see how skin whitening creams are best sellers with some fellows who end up with unenviable multi-coloured skins?

The violent contortions in South Africa should trouble the entire continent and the African Union (AU) should step up and play a role in realigning the imaginations of all Africans, irrespective of colour or nation. Nigeria was slow in responding while the slaughter goes on, but this is the time to draw the line and demand that leaders in that country do something to improve the lives of their people and get the nation to work rather than indulge in banditry and shedding of innocent blood.

As bad as the attacks in South Africa may be, Nigerians at home cannot afford to vent their anger and frustration on South African businesses in Nigeria. Two wrongs never make a right. A tooth for a tooth is bound to leave everyone toothless in the long run. This is the time for our president and that of South Africa to take a hard look at their countries. Government must step up in the defense of citizens’ right to life no matter where they may live. And, artificial colonial borders should not push us to destroy one another. Pan African ideals of leaders such as Kwame Nkrumah, Julius Nyerere, Thomas Sankara and others, plus ideals embodied in movements such as Africans Rising aiming to erase artificial barriers and elevate the best creative, productive and transformative capacities in us provide templates for what is possible. Leaders should borrow a leaf from such efforts and not stand aside to watch brothers kill one another.

Meanwhile, in solidarity with victims of the senseless xenophobic attacks I am staying away from a vital conference on Financing the Future holding 10-11 September in Cape Town, South Africa and to which I was invited as one of the Global Ambassadors.

Deprivation, Accommodation and Resistance

B6640FCF-F25E-47B0-8C5A-5B20341E1E94Education on Watery streets. There are some things that are better learned by personal experience than by stories we hear from other persons. However, it is also true that we do not desire to learn or experientially learn everything. There are things we would rather hear about, and others we prefer not to learn of at all. We choose to be willfully blind to certain things so as to maintain our aloofness from the glaring realities around us. Our choices of what realities to be open to, or immerse ourselves in, demarcate the boundaries of our willingness, readiness and availability to intervene in dire situations.

There are lessons that remain indelible in our minds and are scarcely eroded by the passage of time. One of such lessons for this writer was learned on a trip to oilfield communities in the Niger Delta in the late 1990s, organized by Oilwatch International as part of a cultural exchange between friends from Africa, South East Asia and Latin America. It was a long and tortuous trip made on foot, by bus and by boats. We were thoroughly trashed by bumpy, dusty, muddy and broken roads. At a time the bus ride was so bumpy we had to individually decide whether it was better to endure the ride standing up or sitting down. At the end of the bus ride, which literally was the end of the unpaved road, we were glad to place our feet on solid ground.

Have you ever been in a community where children pay school fees on a daily basis? Can you imagine that a child has to pay 50 (fifty) Naira daily to be able to sit in classroom to learn? Can you also imagine that because of the difficulty of raising 50 Naira on a daily basis, many children are out of school and others can only afford to go to school on a certain number of days per week as their parents can afford to pay the fee?

That was not our destination for the day. We pressed on, but this time by boat. It was already dark and the creek ahead of us presented a foreboding picture of an uncanny mystery. As paddles plowed through the dark waters, a guide held a paraffin lantern to ensure we didn’t make a wrong turn and to assure us that we were on the right path. Verdant boughs formed canopies over the creek at some points, mangroves provided staging platforms for frogs and other active contributors to that hum and chime that arises from rich ecosystems. Were they singing for joy or where these sounds plaintive whelps for help? Soon we saw flickering lights ahead of us and then we were at the village where we were to pass the night.

We were welcomed by joyful community folks who had prepared rooms for us in a guest house whose doors were barely hanging unto their hinges. The joy of the reception, the hot dinner and the beauty of the dark night were enough to erase any worries about dusty roads, muddy paths, doors that stayed ajar and mosquitoes that quickly assembled in uninvited orchestra. Before calling it a day or night, there was an assembly with community youths and leaders.

All these did not strike this writer as anything exceptional or out of this world. Having experienced the deprivations suffered by resource rich communities in various parts of Africa and others in the global south, and having been born and raised in another part of the Niger Delta, I was at home. Literally. What struck me was a statement made by a friend from a neighbouring country. He was absolutely aghast by what he saw. He was overwhelmed by the poverty, the neglect and the dire situations of the communities whose only access to energy was the polluting paraffin lamps or the roaring flames of gas flares a little way off. As we walked to our guest house that night, this friend declared that he would have become a revolutionary if he had been born in any place like the ones were were visiting. Before anyone could respond to our friend, a sage from Latin America answered, declaring that being a revolutionary is the inescapable path for anyone that is attentive the objective realities of his or her environment. Many years have passed and I have had to recall this episode on different occasions and in different ways, but the import remains fresh in my memory, proving light as we plow through the often spooky creeks of life.

That admonition comes alive whenever I visit Makoko communities in Lagos, the aspiring mega city and the economic capital of Nigeria. Understandably, many residents of Lagos do not even know where Makoko is, although it sits on the fringes of the Lagos Lagoon and is visible from the Third Mainland Bridge. The task of making it through the traffic on that bridge could actually keep motorists focused on the many stickers on the bumpers ahead of them other than to be distracted by a smog smothered community on the lips of the lagoon.

Makoko is home to over 100,000 Lagosians. It is made up of vibrant, thriving communities with a large number of the people living above water, moving on water and conducting their businesses on water. The housing here gives an indication of what residents of Lagos may resort to in adaptation to sea level rise and other impacts of climate change. The environment is clogged with plastic and other wastes pushing their way to the open lagoon and to the sea. Residents are weary of pollution tourists and others who are constantly going through the watery streets with cameras at the ready, clicking away at the exotic buildings and colourfully decorated boats.

Here is where some environmental and human rights activists have stood with the people, resisting the persistent attempts by property speculators who hide in the folds of the gowns of political leaders, and are working to demolish rather than upgrade these communities. Among activists that have stood by the communities are Felix Morka, the director of Social Economic Rights Action Centre (SERAC) and Betty Abah of Children’s Health Education, Orientation and Protection also known as CEE-HOPE. Their joy in working in these deprived communities must be fired by the conviction that the human spirit can thrive on solidarity and rise above the constricting realities of pervading neglect.

The streets of Makoko are clogged by boats piloted by kids, some probably as young as five years old. Others learn the skills splashing about in basins on the fetid waters. Their hope of having more schools in their communities were raised by the once iconic Floating School which had gained global attention but was knocked down by a storm and left the hapless kids watching as their dream was shattered and the debris floated away.

Have you ever been in a community where children pay school fees on a daily basis? Can you imagine that a child has to pay 50 (fifty) Naira daily to be able to sit in classroom to learn? Can you also imagine that because of the difficulty of raising 50 Naira on a daily basis, many children are out of school and others can only afford to go to school on a certain number of days per week as their parents can afford to pay the fee? You would be excused if you wring your hands or noses and snort that primary eduction is free. What options do children have in places where there are no public schools and only a handful of spaces are available in struggling private establishments? That is the reality in Makoko. That is the cry of the children of Makoko. What would be your response if you lived in this reality? Accommodation? Resistance? Transformation?

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.

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

Between Truth and Falsehood

Fabulous Fake Music (or When Fake is Real).

The need to deepen the interrogation of the current tensions between truth and falsehood cannot be overemphasised. With the rise of fake news and alternative facts, reality has come to be doubted. What is real could turn out to be fake and what is true could turn out to be false. This was the thematic focus of a recent Elevate Festival held in Graz, Austria, that this writer participated in.

Strands of conversation covered music, arts and political discourse. It was at this event that I got to hear of, and experience, fake music for the first time. In the performance at the opening session of the festival, the music was jarring, arresting and unforgettable. Was this music or was it a clash of sounds, light and vocal gymnastics? This was the sort of creativity that creeps on you and leaves you wondering what you just experienced. In other sessions, participants were immersed in a clash of words, more words, concepts and yet more words. Interestingly, they were also concrete.

According to the organisers, “Elevate’ is an annual interdisciplinary festival…With its unique combination of critical political discourse and contemporary music and art, the ‘Elevate Festival’ stands out of the ‘usual’ festival circus. Amongst the guests are human rights experts, climate researchers and activists from all over the world, who gather in Graz once a year with musicians and artists, illuminating pertinent issues of our future.”

One of the highlights of my participation was a visit to a chocolate factory, Zotter Schokoladen Manufaktur, which is more than just a place for making and eating the delicious stuff. With a hands-on leadership provided by its founder, Josef Zotter, the establishment produces up to 500 varieties of chocolates and admits 270,000 visitors a year. Among the attractions on the sprawling grounds of the establishment is an Edible Zoo, restaurant and a Choco Shop Theatre. What is an edible zoo? If you are curious about this, you definitely have company. The ‘zoo’ provides the meat served in the onsite restaurant. Yes, the meat comes from the animals that roam the farm here. When visitors that visit here see the connection, they either get drawn into eating more meat or they may decide against meat.

The cocoa beans used in making chocolates here are sourced mostly from cooperatives in Ecuador, Belize and other Latin American countries. A fraction of the cocoa beans is sourced from Africa. These come from Congo DR and Madagascar. Not one cocoa bean from Nigeria. The company uses only organic cocoa beans and is strictly concerned about fair trade, good quality beans and the working conditions of the farmers and harvesters.

Back at the festival, there were important discussions on topics such as climate truth/climate lies; conspiracy theories and conspiracy facts; echo chambers and bubble breakers. Two of the conversations that grabbed my attention were the ones on the intersection or lack of it of civil society activism and politics. The second conversation was on climate refugees.

The exchange of views in the session on civil society and politics was framed around the questions: “How does progressive or ecological politics actually come about? Is it political parties and parliamentarians who have prevailed here? Or are NGOs and civil societies the ones that provide the necessary pressure? And how does the cooperation look like? Is it necessary or should too much proximity among NGOs, grassroots movements and politics be avoided?”

The lead conversation was between yours truly and Thomas Waitz, member of the Green Party of Austria and member of the European Parliament. Waitz is an organic farmer, activist and politician all rolled into one. He makes politics look so good. His positions drive home the truth that politics remains a dirty game when those that can help transform it stand aside rather than step into the fray.

While politicians tend to seek to maintain the status quo and their grip on power levers, activists tend to be more disposed to be disruptive in response to broken or iniquitous systems. The undue influence exerted by corporations force some politicians to support the pursuit of competition and exploitation rather than the building of cooperation and the common good. This has given rise to right wing politics and dominant relationships in which nations exploit other nations, then seek to wall and insulate themselves from the exploited and wounded nations.

On the other hand, civil society groups sometimes run fragmented programmes that are tailored to meet targets favoured by donors. We also see undue pressure on the youth to be apolitical, imbibe entrepreneurial spirit and expect little or nothing from the state. Self-employment and individualism are taught as the ultimate virtue. Public institutions are often encouraged to be self-financing, build watered down ethics and open themselves to privatisation. When we understand that being political is not the same as being partisan, it becomes clear why being apolitical is not an option.

The commercialisation of science is one obvious outcome of pressure of vested interests in universities around the world. This situation has sometimes pushed scientists to work for commercial or even political interests. This explains why some persons speak and act the way they do. The revolving doors between corporations, governments and research institutions continue to complicate our search for safe and just societies.

The ‘Elevate Festival’ was a space to make dreams come to life. It was a space for confrontation of ideas and the questioning of what truth and falsehood are in a world where the lines are getting increasingly blurred. One truth that stood out in my heart is that colonialism is alive and well, but often wears different clothes and bears different names.