Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Celebrated Nigerian Women in Development

Following Nawahala's (interesting name choice there, eh?...if you're confused, see 6th comment on "Stop Trying to Save Africa" post)comments, we thought we'd share the link to what seems like a great book celebrating the efforts of some Nigerian heroines in the development arena (thanks for the link Olamide!). Celebrated Nigerian Women in Development is authored by Ayona Aguele-Trimnell, a brand marketing manager in Lagos, and it features women such as author, Buchi Emechetta, sculptor & cultural activist, Ndidi Dike, and model, Oluchi Onweagba, to name a few. An initial scan of the women featured on the website showcases the who's who of Lagos, but a closer look would reveal some truly great women doing their thing and making a difference in their respective fields.

According to Professor Sophie Oluwole (ED, Centre for African Culture & Development):

"The profiles of the 25 women celebrated in this well thought-out and ably presented volume can be multiplied several times over if the limelight is directed at women in the business of traditional herbal medicine, women who produce garri, pepper, vegetable oil, garden eggs and women who sell them; and women who are dress makers, hair dressers, nurses, primary and secondary school teachers, religious and community leaders.

This book provides an immediate answer to the question, 'Where are the women?' by giving a tentative answer 'Here are some of them.'

My message is that we need more books such as this to give us much needed documentation on Nigerian women who have arrived. The challenge to every female reader of this book is to celebrate the proud, resilient and forever hopeful Nigerian women. We need to celebrate ourselves."

Monday, July 23, 2007

How Far can the EFCC Go?

SolomonSydelle's comments spurred me to research the hot news on the naija scene about the governors who have been arrested by the EFCC. Filled with hope and excitement that I would find headlines with Ibori, Odili and the like, I was slightly disappointed at the names I saw. But it is a start, right? Abati's article in last week's Guardian probes the current EFCC manhunt and gives us a few issues to think about. How far can the EFCC go? Can/Will they (Ribadu) really have the guts to go after the "big dogs"? Should we be content with the progress made thus far? After all, no agency in the past has been able to make such progress.


How far can the EFCC Go? -By Reuben Abati

THE current onslaught of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) on former state Governors, who allegedly looted public funds in the last four years, and are no longer covered by Section 308 of the Constitution on immunity, is an act of self-redemption for the organisation, but a lot depends on how far it is willing to go, how fair and transparent it is seen to be, and whether at the end of the day, justice would have been seen to have been done. This is all that matters, not the politics and the grandstanding now surrounding the exercise.

Why redemption? With the coming of the Yar'Adua administration, there had been a kind of lull at the EFCC. Before May 29, the EFCC had boasted loudly that many of the state Governors who would no longer be returning to office would be arrested and made to answer questions about their management of public resources. The EFCC indeed announced that it had investigated about 30 Governors and its findings were very bad. But after May 29, it was as if the EFCC went to sleep. The people expected immediate action knowing that truly the Governors were capable of running away, what they got instead were chest-beating declarations by some of the Governors that they were untouchable.

Then, just when everyone had thought that the EFCC was losing relevance, it bared its fangs and began to arrest the Governors and arraign them in court in batches. In the past week, this has been the top story in the land. This is also about the Yar'Adua government. By allowing the EFCC to go after the former Governors, the Yar'Adua administration is also advertising its determination to punish corruption. But how far also, is the Federal Government willing to go? There are emerging questions.

One, the Governors that have been taken to court so far, or that are being targeted are not in the estimation of the public the only ones that they expect to see in the dock. They want other Governors in court as well to come and explain why after eight years of service, the various states of the federation are in such a messy state. The EFCC insists that it is still investigating those other Governors and that it wants to do a proper home work before spreading its drag net. One major criticism of the EFCC now and in the past is that its morality is too selective and vindictive. It must avoid that pitfall this time around.

Saminu Turaki, former Governor of Jigawa state, Orji Kalu (Abia), George Akume (Benue), Joshua Dariye(Plateau), Jolly Nyame (Taraba), Boni Haruna (Adamawa) and Chimaroke Nnamani (Enugu) are already having a "fellowship" with the law. But really in terms of the quantum of resources that they managed, and before the law, this is not an excuse, these Governors are not in the big league. For this reason, the public would like to see some of the other Governors, the big budget Governors, the ones with homes in all the major capitals of the world, in the dock. Thirty Governors were originally fingered. The EFCC must make sure that they do not run away before the cleansing process gets to their turn. Lest it be said that it deliberately targeted the present set in order to allow others to flee.

Second, the present exercise appears limited to the activities of state Governors between 2003 and 2007. How about the Governors who served between 1999 and 2003? With the sole exception of Abubakar Audu of Kogi state, there has been no known attempt to investigate this category. If the EFCC cannot do so, the Code of Conduct Bureau and the ICPC should step in and bring them to book. And this should not be limited to the Governors. How about Federal Ministers between 1999 and 2007? President Olusegun Obasanjo as well as former Vice President Atiku Abubakar? Certainly, the last two should be investigated afresh in the light of the recent declaration by Dr Shamsidden Usman before the National Assembly that the so-called foreign reserve of $43.3 billion is a piece of propaganda because what is actually available to the country is $8.8 billion.

Third, before the present blow-out, the EFCC had made it known that some of the Governors had returned some money and property to the state in exchange for their freedom. This is called plea bargaining. If the Federal Government is going to allow some Governors to escape under the cover of plea bargain then it must allow every other Governor that privilege. But the public must be told why. And the names of all the Governors who have been making reparations should be made known with a complete list of whatever it is that they are returning to the state. Plea bargaining which is part of the EFCC Act is however, an unpopular option with many Nigerians. The Nigerian people have been most affected by the corrupt practices of their leaders. They are frustrated by the absence of growth in their society, and the spread of poverty in their land. Plea bargain must not become an under-hand tool for helping the corrupt to save face.

But perhaps more important in all of this are the moral lessons. How are the mighty fallen. Say it on the streets of Awka, Enugu, Jos, Dutse, or wherever you wish, that these men who used to bestride the land in siren-bearing vehicles, serenaded by a retinue of fawning aides who mouthed "your Excellency, your Excellency" as if they received special training in the pronunciation of that word, men whose word was akin to law, men who ruled and reigned, men who became so self-important they signed documents only with red and green pens, with flourish, are now helpless reeds in the hands of the law!

The poet is right: "Life is but a walking shadow, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing". Only if they knew. All the people now strutting their stuff in the corridors of power ("Your Excellency....your most distinguished Excellency") should learn from this. E wo iku Gaa, e se ooto.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007


This article from the Washington Post is just one of many these days decrying the media's (and the Western world's) portrayal of Africa. The Live Earth concert 2 Saturdays ago was full of messages regarding global warming but somehow the topic of saving Africa managed to come up, as it's been deemed the sexiest topic these days, next to being green (if not ranked higher by the press).

Uzodinma Iweala questions the motives of these self-proclaimed saviours of Africa. We tend to ask, "when will Africans start helping themselves?", but in reality, they never stopped, the rest of us just need to get on board. An argument that comes up regularly is that regarding celebrities' motives behind their sudden "dying need to help Africa"? The Angelinas and Oprahs are no doubt doing some great humanitarian work but would we (Africans) be better off if they just gave the money to NGOs and called it a day without the media circus? Or are these characters more instrumental in that they are putting the African "pandemic" on the ever-busy world map?
(thanks for the article Rukky!!)

Stop Trying to 'Save' Africa - by Uzodinma Iweala
Sunday, July 15, 2007

Last fall, shortly after I returned from Nigeria, I was accosted by a perky blond college student whose blue eyes seemed to match the "African" beads around her wrists.

"Save Darfur!" she shouted from behind a table covered with pamphlets urging students to TAKE ACTION NOW! STOP GENOCIDE IN DARFUR!

My aversion to college kids jumping onto fashionable social causes nearly caused me to walk on, but her next shout stopped me.

"Don't you want to help us save Africa?" she yelled.

It seems that these days, wracked by guilt at the humanitarian crisis it has created in the Middle East , the West has turned to Africa for redemption. Idealistic college students, celebrities such as Bob Geldof and politicians such as Tony Blair have all made bringing light to the dark continent their mission. They fly in for internships and fact-finding missions or to pick out children to adopt in much the same way my friends and I in New York take the subway to the pound to adopt stray dogs.

This is the West's new image of itself: a sexy, politically active generation whose preferred means of spreading the word are magazine spreads with celebrities pictured in the foreground, forlorn Africans in the back. Never mind that the stars sent to bring succor to the natives often are, willingly, as emaciated as those they want to help.

Perhaps most interesting is the language used to describe the Africa being saved. For example, the Keep a Child Alive/" I am African" ad campaign features portraits of primarily white, Western celebrities with painted "tribal markings" on their faces above "I AM AFRICAN" in bold letters. Below, smaller print says, "help us stop the dying."

Such campaigns, however well intentioned, promote the stereotype of Africa as a black hole of disease and death. News reports constantly focus on the continent's corrupt leaders, warlords, "tribal" conflicts, child laborers, and women disfigured by abuse and genital mutilation. These descriptions run under headlines like "Can Bono Save Africa?" or "Will Brangelina Save Africa?" The relationship between the West and Africa is no longer based on openly racist beliefs, but such articles are reminiscent of reports from the heyday of European colonialism, when missionaries were sent to Africa to introduce us to education, Jesus Christ and "civilization."

There is no African, myself included, who does not appreciate the help of the wider world, but we do question whether aid is genuine or given in the spirit of affirming one's cultural superiority. My mood is dampened every time I attend a benefit whose host runs through a litany of African disasters before presenting a (usually) wealthy, white person, who often proceeds to list the things he or she has done for the poor, starving Africans. Every time a well-meaning college student speaks of villagers dancing because they were so grateful for her help, I cringe. Every time a Hollywood director shoots a film about Africa that features a Western protagonist, I shake my head -- because Africans, real people though we may be, are used as props in the West's fantasy of itself. And not only do such depictions tend to ignore the West's prominent role in creating many of the unfortunate situations on the continent, they also ignore the incredible work Africans have done and continue to do to fix those problems.

Why do the media frequently refer to African countries as having been "granted independence from their colonial masters," as opposed to having fought and shed blood for their freedom? Why do Angelina Jolie and Bono receive overwhelming attention for their work in Africa while Nwankwo Kanu or Dikembe Mutombo, Africans both, are hardly ever mentioned? How is it that a former mid-level U.S. diplomat receives more attention for his cowboy antics in Sudan than do the numerous African Union countries that have sent food and troops and spent countless hours trying to negotiate a settlement among all parties in that crisis?

Two years ago I worked in a camp for internally displaced people in Nigeria, survivors of an uprising that killed about 1,000 people and displaced 200,000. True to form, the Western media reported on the violence but not on the humanitarian work the state and local governments -- without much international help -- did for the survivors. Social workers spent their time and in many cases their own salaries to care for their compatriots. These are the people saving Africa, and others like them across the continent get no credit for their work.

Last month the Group of Eight industrialized nations and a host of celebrities met in Germany to discuss, among other things, how to save Africa. Before the next such summit, I hope people will realize Africa doesn't want to be saved. Africa wants the world to acknowledge that through fair partnerships with other members of the global community, we ourselves are capable of unprecedented growth.

Uzodinma Iweala is the author of "Beasts of No Nation," a novel about child soldiers.

Monday, July 9, 2007

Is Nigeria Ungovernable?

Insight with Richard Cockett and Raufu Mustapha: A new government but is Nigeria ungovernable?

Richard Cockett has been Africa Editor of The Economist since 2005. From 2001 to 2005 he was the their correspondent in Central America and the Caribbean. He covered the Nigeria elections last spring.

Raufu Mustapha is the Senior Researcher responsible for the West Africa Programme at Oxford University.

On July 3rd they met at The Frontline Club. Click below to see the discussion.

Thanks to Silvia for the link!

Wednesday, July 4, 2007


The clip below is of Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala's (former Nigerian finance minister) phenomenal speech at the TED Global conference a few months ago. For most of you, this is stuff you already know, but we thought it would be great to share her perspective on the ongoing reform in African countries. We tend to focus on the gaps that are yet to be filled but once in a while, it's important to acknowledge the great strides that have been made. She makes a great point about the importance of Africans needing to take charge of their own destiny, stop being dependent on aid and waiting on the West to help solve our problems. The Aid vs Investment debate is ongoing, some believe aid is extremely harmful and dangerous to Africa's development while others believe it to be the salvation for Africa. What are your thoughts?


These links (courtesy of Ethan Zuckerman's (who blogged the TED African conference in Arusha last month) blog, My Heart Is In Accra) will give you more insight into both sides of the debate that were voiced at the TED African conference by Okonjo-Iweala, Bono and Ugandan journalist, Andrew Mwenda.