Tuesday, November 27, 2007

The Year of the Nigerian Reader

This Economist article highlights the sad truth that even though 2007 has been "the year of the Nigerian writer", it has not been the same for the Nigerian Reader. It's harder to change behaviour in grown adults than it is in our children, so the focus should be on the next generation. So, how DO we get our children excited about reading amidst the poor infrastructure around education and health in Nigeria? Should we wait till we've solved all our other "big" problems? It's good to see there are those out there who are keen to get Nigerians reading (again?). And for those who feel like doing something about it this minute, here are just some ways: One Laptop Per Child and Merry Hearts.


Award-winning novelists have more readers abroad than at home

WHEN a bookstore in Makurdi, the central state of Benue, wants to buy Chimamanda Adichie's latest novel, "Half of a Yellow Sun", it sends a text message to Muhtar Bakare in Lagos, down south. Mr Bakare, a publisher who heads Kachifo, replies with a bank account number and a price. Once the money is transferred from Makurdi to Lagos, Mr Bakare loads the books onto a public bus, which then begins a day-long trip to the other side of Africa's most populous country.

Though Ms Adichie's second novel, winner of this year's Orange Broadband Prize for Fiction, may have sold over 240,000 copies in Britain, in Nigeria it has shifted barely 5,000. Her book, like others by Nigeria's novelists, is stuck, often literally, in a publishing industry in shambles.

Nigeria was once the centre of literary publishing in west Africa—not just for local companies but international houses as well. But when military rule and economic decline saw much of the middle class flee in the 1980s, the publishers left too. Today, there is no distribution network and scant demand for fiction.
In order to survive, publishers switched from literature to textbooks, certain to be bought by students and schools. Fiction is much harder to sell. By the time a novel is printed and transported across the country, the price may be as much as a tenth of an average worker's monthly salary. Ms Adichie's novel costs N850 ($7.30) from Kachifo and goes up to N1,500 in bookshops in Abuja, the capital. Far more readers choose self-help and religious books that are supposed to have a more immediate pay-off.

So pity the enthusiasts who persist in trying to sell novels. Mr Bakare likens his business to the telecom industry, which has had to build its own infrastructure from scratch. He is not building roads or relay towers but a network of bookstores, buses, taxis and bank transfers. Cassava Republic, a publisher founded last year, operates with a low profit margin for now, in the hope that it can cultivate a loyal base of readers that will one day meet costs. The founder, Bibi Bakare-Yusuf, says she wants her customers' "intellectual hunger to be as pressing as their stomachs".
Her hard work may just be paying off. Ms Adichie says she is starting to get e-mails from all over the country—from Kaduna in the north, Lagos in the south and Makurdi in-between. She is flattered by the foreign attention but says that Nigerians are still her most important audience. "Half of a Yellow Sun" is mainly about the Biafran War, a conflict that, from 1967-1970, split Nigeria apart; its scars still linger. Ms Adichie is telling Nigerians about a history that was never taught in school—and which she wants more of her countrymen to know about.

Muhtar Bakare launched his publishing business Kachifo Limited, which trades under the name Farafina, in June 2002. (Check out their free online magazine @ www.farafinamagazine.com )Over the last couple of years, "Farafina has become one of the most energetic and forward looking book-publishing companies in Nigeria... attempting to balance cost, quality and marketing with the kind of self-confidence not common in that industry." (Nigeria Daily News)

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Lest We Forget....

This article from Nigeria Village Square brought up so many burning questions around the new twist in EFCC's mandate - from bringing corrupt criminals to justice to making deals to secure stolen loot. On the surface, there appears to be nothing wrong with this shift - true, the nigerian people cannot feed on wicked (wo)men rotting in jail, and true, the families of these looters should not indefinitely continue to live the lavish lifestyles they have grown accustomed to, courtesy of stolen Nigerian wealth - but should this be the new FOCUS of the EFCC? Will the Nigerian people be better served in this way? And who will take up the former cause of bringing the "teefs" to justice?

Economic and Financial Confusion Commission - Sonala Olumhense

Finally, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission has confirmed our worst fear: it has forgotten its mission.

For four years, Nigerians have seen the EFCC as the answer to the challenge of financial and economic crime in our country, acting on the side of the Nigerian people. It chairman spoke courageously and loudly about this mission, particularly about the looting of state resources by governors. He told Nigerians he would be putting many of those governors before the law as soon as their terms ended on May 29, 2007.

As one of the EFCC’s loudest supporters, I have complained since then that the anti-graft agency seemed to have lost traction and direction.

It is now official. Last week, two of its officials told the nation that the EFCC is now “more interested” in recovering Nigeria’s looted wealth than in prosecuting economic criminals or embarrassing anyone.

I beg your pardon?

According to a report in The Punch of Sunday, November 11, 2007, the EFCC has done a deal with five former governors under which they would return N50 billion to the public coffers. They risk prosecution (only) if they fail to honour this “agreement” within two weeks.

The second of The PUNCH’s EFCC sources was particularly adept at speaking through a lower orifice in his body. “Our stance on anti-corruption is not necessarily to expose and shame the looters of the collective wealth,” he said, pompously, “even though that is equally important if only to serve as a deterrent to others.”

But he was just warming up, this powerful hawker of cow manure. “It is the belief of the commission that justice will be better served with the recovery of the stolen wealth because that is what the people really need.”

And then, this political gymnast reached backwards, towards that other orifice, for this overarching contradiction: “We want to prove that the proceeds of crime cannot be the reward of crime.”

I really have to find out where they manufacture this kind of personnel at the higher levels of the EFCC. He continued: “The EFCC has done a great deal to curtail the culture of impunity and corruption in Nigeria today. Granted, we have had a lot of challenges in accomplishing this, but the important thing is that we are making progress.”

At that point, you knew a chest-pumping boast was next. The EFCC coward, and you know he is one because he did not want his name appended to his voice, then said: “ I can confidently tell you that there is an international consensus that assets recovery programme in Nigeria is the best in the world; it is the most robust and the most remarkable in the history of assets recovery.

“We are also working fervently to ensure the quick return of billions of naira looted by corrupt governors and to remit these to the government‘s coffers for the development of the country, which is what it was originally meant for,” he told the reporter.

Let me interpret the game. The EFCC is saying that contrary to previous promises to the Nigerian people to deliver on the assignment in the law by which it was established—or in violation of it—it is now on the market for deals with our powerful thieves. The broad outline of this new regime is that, in exchange for drops of the stolen funds, the EFCC will look the other way and let these men enjoy their freedom, their loot and their laughter.

So the EFCC was not investigating these people for purposes of prospection after all. All our months and years of waiting for the commission to deliver on its plans and “readiness” to do the right thing now turn out simply to be a hoax. Our worst nightmare, that the EFCC might have a hidden agenda, and serve the status quo, is emerging as our fate.

What is the EFCC saying? It will now abandon the law by which it was set up—and its own boasts about nobody being above the law—and become policeman, judge and executioner. The only problem is that even in this new plan, it is pre-determined that the criminal does not lose too much: certainly not his freedom, because that kind of punishment is reserved only for the poor. The anti-graft body will supposedly “agree” to terms with the criminal over what sounds good to be returned to the same people he had betrayed and left to starve and die.

This new age Robin Hood headed by Mr. Nuhu Ribadu will then turn to Nigerians and say, “People, take this and be grateful. It is better for you to take this and give it to the current governor than to seek justice against this man who thought you were not worthy of the same air. We recommend that you take this.”

Of course, the people may ask, “What if the current governor also steals the money?”

To which Mr. Ribadu would respond, “Ah! Ah! That is not a problem. You can see we have an internationally-celebrated track record of achievement. We will also make him refund the loot! Can’t you see you have nothing to lose?”

I laugh, but I have burning tears running down my cheeks. I laugh because this is way too serious for words. I liked Nuhu Ribadu, but the time has come when he should either deny being a part of this mess and resign his office, or simply publish his resignation letter and go home. Since this awful story broke, one week ago, nobody in the commission has denied it. And of course, no former governor has been taken to court.

This development largely confirms the popular perception that his commission is selective in its work. But that may be too generous an assessment. Perhaps the EFCC has forgotten what it was set up to do, or itself been paid for.

That is why it is laughable that the Commission this past week, the Commission’s Head of General Investigations, Umar Sanda, promised the Coalition Against Corrupt Leaders which visited to file a petition against Olusegun Obasanjo, that the Commission would investigate the allegations of corrupt enrichment against him.


The Commission would “embarrass” Obasanjo where it is now hesitant to embarrass former governors? The Commission will investigate Obasanjo, and not settle for deals as it is now doing with former governors?

I cannot wait.

But let us return to basics. The very name of the commission includes the word, crime, that is, illegalities of an economic and financial profile. When something is a crime, its perpetrators are known as criminals, and sought by the law as suspects. It is the role of the law to bring criminals to the bar of justice...In the courtroom, due process permits the accused person access to lawyers and a structured defence. In the end, the court makes a decision regarding the guilt or innocence of that suspect. If the verdict is guilty, it also determines responsibility or punishment. In that scenario, a convicted former governor would not be negotiating from behind bars how much of his loot to part with, or leave with his girlfriend, or on what foreign beach he will spend his post-stealing days.

This process is often rigorous. Otherwise wealthy or powerful suspects are carried in police trucks they would never have permitted themselves to be seen near. They may be handcuffed and shackled. Grown men have been known to sweat and weep in the sun, fall on their knees in front of a laughing, taunting throng, or even lose control of their bowels. It is not a pretty process, but it is the way of the law, known ahead of time by each and all who choose to violate its terms.

Last week, regrettably, the plan unveiled by the EFCC was one under which it would pre-empt this process and save the former governors the indignity of facing the law. This is a shame, and the most profound betrayal since Nigerian began to pretend to be fighting corruption. It makes the EFCC now just an accessory to the crime, but a criminal.

We are looking at a situation here where men who ignored the law and their people for as long as they were in office will enjoy the additional entertainment — at the expense of the people— of being treated with deference — even reverence — by that law. It is enough to make a man vomit.

But is this whom we are? Is this how much we love our Nigeria? Is this the EFCC’s tribute to the rule of law? So, all of the loud talk and reassurances and promises of Mr. Ribadu comes down to sloganeering and posturing? So, his EFCC is an agency that would chase the rule of law only when it is convenient? Perhaps that is the hole into which they have driven themselves. But Nigerians must come out of their own complacency and find ways of making it known to the EFCC that they will have nothing less than a public trial of those who commit crime, whoever they are. Contrary to the EFCC’s emerging nonsense, we are more interested in this process and in the lessons it teaches than in any trillions of Naira the thieves decide to favour us with. Give us the trial, and we will determine how much they stole, and take every penny we can find in the same way Obasanjo and the EFCC have scoured the world for Sani Abacha’s loot.

In the spirit of MORE TALK, MORE ACTION, if any of you know someone in the upper echelons of the EFCC, it might be worth us all getting together to write them a letter/petition to revert to their initial raison d’ĂȘtre. Email us at info@theafrobeat.com.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Spot the difference...

We're always quick to call out the gross misconduct of oil companies and our dearest federal and local government when it comes to the Niger Delta (and rightfully so, wethinks) but it's nice to hear some good news once in a while. According to the Guardian, this project, though not scheduled to be completed till the end of 2008 should at least give those quant-heavy economic development folks some actual quant data on just how terrible things are in Ogoniland (and rouse them out of their indifference) and hopefully the project can be scaled to include other badly-hit parts of the Niger Delta.


UN bodies to assess oil-polluted sites in Ogoniland - Chinedu Uwaegbulam

A COMPREHENSIVE environmental assessment of oil-impacted sites in the Ogoni region of the Niger Delta is to be launched by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), in association with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).

The move follows a request by the Federal Government as part of the broader government-led peace and reconciliation process in the region. Local communities and partners will be supporting UNEP to undertake the evaluation.

Senior officials from UNEP began talks in Abuja yesterday to seal the final detail of the assessment, expected to be completed by the end of 2008.

The assessment will be conducted by the Post-Conflict and Disaster Management Branch (PCDMB), which leads UNEP's work in areas of the world where the environment is impacted by conflicts or disasters, or where the environment is a factor contributing to conflict and disaster impacts.

Achim Steiner, UN Under-Secretary General and UNEP Executive Director, said: "The assessment will seek to identify, evaluate and minimise the immediate and long-term human, social, health and economic impacts of oil contamination in Ogoniland, as well as those related to environmentally and economically important ecosystems.

"We will be deploying several teams of international and local experts in order to conduct field-based assessments in over 300 sites to identify the impacts of oil on environmental systems such as land, water, agriculture, fisheries and air - as well as the direct and indirect effects on biodiversity and human health," he added.

On the basis of the findings, UNEP will make recommendations for the appropriate remediation activities to rehabilitate the land to a condition that is environmentally acceptable, according to international standards.

The project will be undertaken in a manner that maximises benefits to the community through employment, capacity-building activities, information and consultation.

PCDMB conflicts and disasters are closely intertwined with the environment, hence, proper environmental management and governance is considered essential for long-term peace, stability and security in any conflict- or disaster-prone country.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007


Looks promising. PLEASE SPREAD THE WORD...

+234 Magazine is a branding tool for the country, and is hereby calling for submission of articles, short stories, expose', interviews, reviews, photographs, memoirs, cartoons, poems, and features, for its maiden publication soon.

We are looking for submissions with a strong bias for Nigeria, showing a Frenzy outburst of patriotism and works that will speak for the country in turn.

To promote and redefine Nigeria as a positive brand.

By 2011, Nigeria and her brand 'Heart of Africa' will be thriving uniquely as an acceptable and advanced nation.

-To promote Nigeria as a positive brand, hence, ensuring a positive image for the country.
-Re-brand our image in a very handy medium.
-Promote positive and alluring perceptions of Nigeria, its people and values.
-Promote our people, resources, business, and all facets of Nigeria to the world

Topical works with special relevance to Nigeria.
Submissions must be objective and accurate.
Meet international writing standards; normal grammatical standards in written English: use of correct punctuations and spelling.
Must be original, relevant sources must be referenced.
Submissions should be made along with a brief biography.
Submissions should be minimum of 1500 words and maximum of over 2500 words.
Deadline for submission is 19th November 2007.
Please all submissions should me emailed to info234magazine@gmail.com
For further enquiries call +234-803-780-3142.

+234 Magazine…..redefining Nigeria!!!!