The Virus Will Not Change Anything We Won’t Change

24F6F9CF-069E-41E4-AA98-CDC61885D841A key fact we have to face is that the coronavirus will not change anything we won’t change. The change that will frame the post pandemic era will come from humans, our relationship with each other and with Nature. The push for change will inevitably revolve around our interpretation of what is happening around us.

There were tales of woe as hapless citizens got trapped at the land border between Bayelsa State and Rivers State in Nigeria. They were not trapped because the bridge straddling the Orashi River had collapsed but because the State Governments had shut off the states from the rest of Nigeria in a bid to halt the penetration of coronavirus. The scenario played out at other border communities and may get messier as interstate travel is halted across Nigeria.

One media report informed that “following the enforcement order on border closure in Delta State, hundreds of travellers in and out of the state were stranded at the Asaba and Onitsha ends of the River Niger bridge. Similarly, commuters and travellers were reportedly barred at Agbor, Koko junction and Patani borders from entering or leaving the state. Heavy duty trucks, buses and cars stretched over two kilometres on the busy Onitsha-Benin expressway as they were stopped by security agents from entering or leaving the state.”

With Lagos, Ogun State and the Federal Capital Territory (Abuja) entering a total lockdown and Ekiti State capping their restriction of movements with a curfew, the situation requires that we examine if these measures on their own can stem the tide of the pandemic. Shutting down the borders of states in the Niger Delta may well be a futile exercise considering the fact that some of them can be easily accessed by boats from different directions. In fact, the only points at which enforcement of shut-ins, or even shut ups, can be enforced would be at places where oil and gas pipelines cross the creeks or rivers. Such points are manned by the military and other security forces who exert virtually all their energy on securing pipelines and intimidating the locals.

Many commentators have made the point that total lockdowns in societies with a high proportion of citizens subsisting in the informal economic sector could be suicidal. We are talking of about 70 percent of Nigerians doing informal work and earning incomes on the go and often going for days with nothing coming in. The 70 per cent we refer to gives us an idea of the size of the problem, irrespective of what bogus population (200 million) figure the nation bandies about – at the behest of international financial institutions and other manipulators of economic and political indices.

This is no time to panic. The pandemic is exposing the depth of inequalities in our society, including by showing who gets access to being tested and who has no possibility of being tested and who dies without even being noted in the statistics. Now is the time for citizens to be many steps ahead of panicky governments.  

Although these compatriots are the ones driving the country’s economy, providing services for the middle class and the affluent, they hardly enjoy significant official services. They are the ones whose children attend public schools where learning is often under shade trees or on broken floors.  They are the ones whose informal settlements are brutally destroyed or simply walled off as recently happened to residents of Monkey Village in Lagos. They are the ones who sleep under the bridges or in uncompleted buildings and yet wake up every day working to keep the wheels of the economy moving. They are the ones readily sacrificed without any compunction.

Similar situations are playing out in other nations, notably India where millions of citizens are embarking on treks over hundreds of kilometres as they struggle to get back to their villages. These citizens, characterised as migrant workers although they never left the borders of their country, are heading to their home villages because, as is the case in Nigeria, that is where they are sure of social and economic support from the traditional systems.

This pandemic is a multi-faceted disaster, no doubt. However, disasters and emergencies have provided the cover for the powerful to dispossess the poor of their lands, farms, rivers, creeks and other resources. Responses to the pandemic may not (yet) generate physical dispossessions, but they are already propelling finances from the public purse into the wallets of corporations and their chief executive officers. Megalomaniacs in power will see opportunities to assume unbridled power and by so doing shake what remains of the slim spaces for public participation in governance.

This is no time to panic. The pandemic is exposing the depth of inequalities in our society, including by showing who gets access to being tested and who has no possibility of being tested and who dies without even being noted in the statistics. Now is the time for citizens to be many steps ahead of panicky governments.

Despite the challenges of collapsing state structures and economies, this is no time to panic. It is time to think and overcome the miseries fabricated by the system. It is time to organise, even if we are physically isolated.  As an activist reminded me recently, the virus will not change anything that we the people won’t change.

It is time to reflect on how to push for systemic changes to steer away from the pathways that led the world into the present cul de sac. It is time to forge new ways of organizing and bridging distances created by geographic separations. Already humans are forced to forego the luxuries and material things they thought they could not do without. This is what ought to be done without waiting for a virus to force us into line. We have to halt over-consumption and the rabid assault of our ecosystems. We have to rethink wellbeing and our relationship with Nature. It is time to halt warfare, including the use of biological weapons. We all deserve a breath of fresh air and should already be fashioning a positive post coronavirus era that is free of fossil fuels.

Not all borders are marked and closing marked and manned borders will obviously not end the pandemic. The brutalization of citizens and destruction of goods and foods in the name of enforcing regulations will only increase the pains of already helpless citizens. Security task forces may harass and hound citizens who break curfews or lockdowns, but the virus moves both by day and by night. Coronavirus respects no curfew or borders.

Despite the challenges of collapsing state structures and economies, this is no time to panic. It is time to think and overcome the miseries fabricated by the system. It is time to organise, even if we are physically isolated.  As an activist reminded me recently, the virus will not change anything that we the people won’t change.

Education and Actionable Knowledge

March2 Let’s look at activism, academia and politics. A conference on the intersection of academics and activism was recently held as part of events marking 40 years of the Right Livelihood Awards. It provided an excellent platform to mingle with ageing activists as well as young and aspiring ones. The conference was hosted in Bangkok and took place at the Chulalongkong University, Bangkok as well as at Wongsanit Ashram. It drew participants from all regions of the world and was hasted by the School for Wellbeing Studies and Research.

If you think that most of the time was spent on nostalgic recollection of some good old days, you would be totally wrong. Of course, there were moments for tracing the origins of the Foundation from when Jakob von Uexkull, the founder, felt that by refusing to give an environmental prize, the Nobel Prize was missing out an important constituent of persons and organisations courageously contributing practical and exemplary solutions to global problems. That was how the Right Livelihood Foundation and its awards came into being. 40 years down the road, the Foundation has chalked up 178 laureates from 70 countries.

The theme of the conference was Education for Right Livelihood – Connecting Activism and Academia. In the forum were laureates who received the award in the 1990s and who are still going strong, providing leadership in diverse struggles. They included Vandana Shiva who received the award in 1993 and Sulak Sivaraksa who was honoured in 1995. The Landless Workers’ Movement (MST) of Brazil who received the award in 1991 was represented. Survival International (France) received the award in 1989 and was represented by Fiore Longo who was quite young at the time the organisation received the award. In all, there were about a dozen laureates at the conference.

While we drank from the springs of wisdom from the laureates such as Shiva and Sivarasksa, highlights of the days included the vibrant participation of youths who shared the spaces equally with the more elderly participants. It was a delight to hear the young folks, who came mostly from Thailand, Vietnam, Bhutan and Myanmar, lay out what they felt was the way to spread system changing ideals around the world. They especially insisted that the voices of the youths must not only be raised but must be heard. They suggested a system of continuous learning, including what they termed Travelling Universities through which youths could cross pollinate and share ideas with colleagues from around the world. Warning: this article drifts into the recesses of my mind and is not totally a report of that conference.

The place of the arts in protests and activism cropped up frequently and their preponderance during mass actions was noted. I thought on the awakening of the streets as critical spaces for seeding progressive ideas and wondered whether the protests proffer real solutions and if the root causes of global problems can be unearthed on the streets. But then, it has always held true to me that saying NO, and rejecting  a wrong is a solution in its own right.

The intensity of street marches and actions in recent years could make us wonder whether the world is at a tipping point or on the verge of a revolutionary moment. How could these actions counter the ambiguous, amoral, conscienceless and flippant political leadership in the world today? If we speak of reclaiming power, have we interrogated the very concept of power? Has the nature of power and its dynamics changed over time? Are the streets arenas for deeper things than building excitement and offering spectacle?

How do we tackle the forces of exploitation in the world today? Has the idea of democracy become a mere illusion in the world today? With the increasingly nationalistic and petty responses to issues, has the sense of citizenship changed over time? More questions. Considering that the street is not uniform across the world, how widespread can disruptive activism be practised and to what end?

In private conversations, the youths wished to know if it can be said that something is a Green New Deal when it is built on the same extractivist, polluting and unjust paradigms that created the problems it seeks to solve. Seeing the rush to introduce extinction genetic engineering, the youths wondered if technologies, including those pushed by “the poison cartel,” have made it impossible for humans to see and relate to Nature. The poison cartel, for those who do not know, promote genetic engineering, practice toxic agriculture and basically steal seeds from farmers and the poor.

Of all the questions that emerged and floated around, one took a huge corner of my mind and set up its tent there. In this age of rising individualism, is our experience dependent on, or validated by how people respond to our experiences? Huh? A lot of people post materials on social media platforms primarily to see how many people would like or share what they have posted. The more the likes, the more the sense of validation of the person that posted or shared the material. How real is this?

The streets. Do they give us space in which the quality of our disagreement with the status quo can be made sensible or is the street a marketplace for a cacophony of noises? The idea of making sense of disagreements lead to the recollection that the Occupy Movement always had moments for teach-ins to ensure that participants did not see the actions as mere spectacle but keep in mind the reasons why they were protesting and what outcomes they sought.

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There were many outputs from the conference, including a stress on  building actionable knowledge and promotion of intergenerational learning. The point was also made that as we struggle to build a just future, we must look into the far past and project the future without being restricted by the present. The future will be self-reinforcing and diverse. It will be built on a mix of ancient and contemporary wisdom with a concrete understanding that we are related to all species.
Connecting Activism and Academia

Ogoni Clean-Up and the Business of Pollution

Eleme 1Will Ogoni be Cleaned? Recent news making the rounds is that the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) and their oil company partners, Shell Petroleum Development Company (SPDC), Total Exploration and Production of Nigeria (TEPNG) and Nigerian Agip Oil Company (NAOC), have “disbursed” a total of $360 on the clean-up of the Ogoniland. This claim is reported to have been made by the Chief Operating Officer for Upstream of the NNPC at an hearing on the clean-up at the Nigerian National Assembly on Monday, 17 February 2020.

Even before this announcement at the National Assembly dusts have been raised over how that colossal sum could have been spent on the Ogoni clean-up without corresponding results. Some usually respectable voices have been raised alleging massive corruption in the ways and manner the Hydrocarbons Pollution Remediation Project (HYPREP) is handling the contracts. In fact, one report claimed that “it was unfortunate that an overwhelming $350million, an estimated NGN128,000,000,000 (One hundred and twenty eight billion Naira) meant for the cleanup has been largely misappropriated due to the massive corruption in HYPREP.”

While this article cannot respond to the charges of corrupt practices, it is important to deal with the delicate issues of perception and acrimony that presentations of this sort can generate. Let us refresh our memories about the funding architecture of the Ogoni clean-up exercise. Following the UNEP report of 2011, it was decided that a total of $1 billion should be contributed towards the clean-up of Ogoniland by the entities that polluted the area. Out of this sum, 90% is to be contributed at the ratio of Joint Venture holdings by the polluting partners while the balance 10% of the funds would come from a rather nebulous cohort including the refineries.

There is no doubt that the clean-up could be faster than it has been. There is also no doubt that certain emergency measures could, and must, be undertaken. There is no reason why anyone in Ogoni should be drinking contaminated water after a report, from no less an agency like UNEP, has clearly confirmed the fact of such contamination.

Citizens have a right to be emotive over the clean-up exercise because this is a matter of life or death for the present generation and for generations yet unborn. Pollution is an intergenerational crime. Indeed, some places in the Niger Delta will require several lifetimes to recover because the harms that have been inflicted can best be described as ecocide.

The misrepresentation of facts and figures and continuous infighting for whatever reasons continue to generate bad energy over the entire efforts and raises the question as to whether Ogoni will ever be cleansed. And, by extension, will the Niger Delta ever be cleaned?

One of the problems with the clean-up is that some people see it as merely a business opportunity rather than as a duty to ensure that this intergenerational crime is redressed. Indeed, the clean-up of the entire Niger Delta could possible provide employment form a large proportion of Nigeria’s unemployed youths if they are suitably trained and drawn into a comprehensive clean-up corp. In fact, the squabbles over the Ogoni clean-up contracts is a huge distraction at a time when we should be clamouring for an audit of all places in the Niger Delta (and elsewhere) with hydrocarbon pollution.

Chasing after an extremely difficult and complex clean-up without adequate technical and financial capacity is actually a disservice to our communities and peoples. We have seen the poor clean-up exercises carried out at locations where new spills occur. And the fact that it took UNEP to expose the lie in oil company claims that they had remediated polluted places in Ogoniland. The poor efforts at covering rather than remediating pollutions at places like K-Dere and others were all exposed by the UNEP report. A pursuit of the clean-up as “jobs for the boys” or where jobs are given out based on a sense of entitlement or as political patronage cannot portend anything good.

The nature, depth and complexity of the pollution of Ogoni requires the application of best skills and safe technologies from any part of the world. The exercise should be pursued as an ecological emergency where the fact that a company has not previously operated in Nigeria should be a secondary stumbling block. Some of us are convinced that this is the approach that is needed as the clean-up moves to more complicated lots.

If HYPREP stands firm on the quality of project delivery, as we believe they should, and if jobs are let on the basis of local capacities only, the outcome may be massive delays as jobs that should be completed quickly will have to be redone repeatedly to meet set milestones and indicators. We have seen this in simple construction projects given out to less than competent contractors. The outcomes have been shoddy deliveries, delays and abandonment of sites. Neither HYPREP nor the Ogoni people can afford that scenario.

Back to the matter of cash. When the NNPC chief announced that the polluters had disbursed $360 million the impression people get is that HYPREP had spent the cash. Few understand that the funds contributed or paid by the polluters are held by an Ogoni Trust Fund and not directly in HYPREP’s accounts. The NNPC chief may not have told the world exactly when they disbursed the 2019 tranche of the funds to the Ogoni Trust Fund. If the sums were paid at the end of the year or at the beginning of 2020 how could anyone think or believe that the money has been spent or spirited away in the clean-up process?

The misrepresentation of facts and figures and continuous infighting for whatever reasons continue to generate bad energy over the entire efforts and raises the question as to whether Ogoni will ever be cleansed. And, by extension, will the Niger Delta ever be cleaned?

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Locust Swarms and other terrors

LocustThe desert locust storms hitting East Africa indicate unfolding horrors. They are also a metaphor for other terrors on the continent. Pictures of swarms of locusts, crawling, flying, mating and stripping greenery in the East and Horn of Africa region appear like something out of a horror movie or some Africa Magic epic. One agrees that the poor devils have a right to live and to thrive, but why could they not find their own creepy planet? How could billions of the little horrors descend on shrubberies and farmlands without care?

The Earth is already challenged with a plethora of crises and one would think that plagues of locusts are best left as already settled in the Holy Book. To have those noisy crowds flying about and eating up every green thing is a form of terrorism.

And here we are, having these creeping disasters attack the last hope of the already desperately poor. It is said that a small swarm of desert locusts can devour the same amount of food as 35,000 people per day. Imagine that one swarm can have up to 150 million locusts per square kilometre of farmland or an equivalent of about 250 football fields! No one wants these swarms, no matter how small. One report has it that a large swarm in north eastern Kenya measures as much as 60 kilometres long and 40 kilometres wide.

Even without rising temperatures and though they die soon after copulating, these creatures are annoyingly fecund. Africa has had an unfair share of climate-related disasters. Floods, droughts, heat and water stress all pile harms upon the continent, deepening poverty and exacerbating inequalities. These locusts should take their lust for greenery to another planet.

Mark Lowcock, UN humanitarian chief, warns that the locust invasion in East Africa can become “the most devastating plague of locusts in any of our living memories if we don’t reduce the problem faster than we’re doing at the moment.” What is being experienced is said to be inching towards the worst to be seen in the last 70 years. The menace is so shocking that even cows are wondering what on earth is happening. Humans know that a hotter climate means more swarms, no matter what deniers may postulate.

It is estimated that if the locust storm (and that’s a close image of the plague) persists, up to 10 million persons may  plunge into hunger in that part of Africa. The locusts have already struck Kenya, Somalia and parts of Uganda. South Sudan, Eritrea and Ethiopia are also threatened. They are believed to have been blown in by strong cyclones from the Arabian Peninsula and across the Red Sea and to have had a hit with greenery in East Africa. More rains offer better conditions for the locusts to thrive. Lesser rain reduces their population, but a whiff of water would quickly see a multiplication of the survivors.

What can be done about these creatures? Kill the nymphs before they grow! Did we just say that? That sounds horrendously gruesome. But that’s the harsh truth. When they pop up, wiggly, wingless and hopping, that is the time to step on them. Ouch. That is the time to give them a shower of pesticides or locusticides. The insects are edible, but locust fries, salad or suya would not eliminate these hordes. Imagine if nets were set and these troops are captured and sent to any community where they could be served for snacks or dinner. Where are the titans in search of capital? This is a business idea, brisk, short-term and extremely profitable. The stock will be freely available, and you would not even need to pay for the creatures.

Aerial spraying could be a solution in the less accessible parts of Somalia, but that option is a no brainer with the presence of al-Qaida-linked al-Shabab groups. Halting the spread of the locust is a task that must be done. Left to their devices, the attack becomes a plague that  according to experts,  would take years to eradicate.

Looking at the climate disasters and now the locust invasion in East Africa, one cannot help but conclude that West Africa has generally gotten off lightly from the tweaks of Nature and disasters triggered by the reckless plunder of Nature in the pursuit of capital.

Look at a nation like Nigeria. Natural disasters are few and far apart. When the floods come it is often predicted by relevant agencies and the disaster nevertheless arrives at a leisurely pace, traveling down the Niger and Benue Rivers until they empty into the Atlantic Ocean after sweeping away the dreams of the hapless citizens.

While locusts devour lives from trees in East Africa, in Nigeria, city gates are locked before dusk in the fear of terrorists. Citizens locked inside the cities may enjoy a dubious respite, but those locked outside the gates get roasted and annihilated in exposed and unsecured villages.

The swarms of locusts love germinating crops, devour leaves and generate hunger and desperation. Climate change intensifies floods and wreak havoc in many areas. Where these aren’t so potent, humans look for ways to spill blood, light the fires of terror in forests and scrublands, kidnap, abduct and make kids become targets merely by wearing school uniforms.

While no one can claim now to have an immediate solution to the locust strike, we have those saddled with responsibility of providing security in Nigeria screaming that they have defeated their human locusts several months ago, and that even if they are bereft of ideas on how to tackle the murderous swarms, they are indispensable. Meanwhile, we wonder why the number of victims of terrorist attacks in Borno State and in the North East generally has regularly hovered around 30.

A casual look at some news reports show that 30 persons were reportedly killed in attacks in February 2012, July 2013, December 2013, May 2015, December 2016, September 2018, May, June and December 2019, and in January and February 2020. Is it that we cannot count persons or is 30 a set number for massacres in the region?  This variant of the locust storms built by years of inequality, deprivation, poverty, corruption and ignorance has blown long enough and demands real action.

 

 

 

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.