Sunday, August 31, 2008

Nigeria in 20-08

I remember getting so excited as a child when my dad would bring home those One-Year Diaries that Banks gave their clients at Christmas (back in the day when corporate gifts were modest but useful) sister and I would get so excited going through the maps at the back, adn trying to figure out where in Victoria Island or Ikeja we could recognize on them. It gave you a sense of the "smaller world" around you. It's a shame that we are celebrating such a universally trivial accomplishment in the 21st century...but better late than never, eh? tAB congratulates the NTDC on this first step to improving (creating, really) the nation's navigation system. I hope we continue to hear of other feats being IMPLEMENTED by various federal, state and local agencies to improve the lives of everyday Nigerians.

As Reuben Abati puts it in the Guardian article below:

"Tourism can only be part of a wider and better articulated package; the key element of that package is good governance. Navigational aids: maps and all that, information flowing from the NTDC like the Niagara Falls can only be useful when governments: federal, state and local, focus on such urgent challenges as security, public infrastructure, and an enabling investment framework and so on."


A Journey Around Nigeria - By Reuben Abati

For the benefit of those who are looking for good news from Nigeria, here is something to crow about: the Nigerian Tourism Development Corporation (NTDC), led by Otunba Olusegun Runsewe, has launched what it calls "a world class road network navigational system." I attended the media launch, in Lagos, two days ago. What Runsewe, former General Manager of the New Nigerian now since 1999 a public official, introduced to the public, is a set of navigational aids: a personal, in-car travel equipment which can be fixed to the windscreen of a car, maps which can be downloaded from the internet into cell phones which can be used to navigate one's way around the city, city maps covering all Nigerian state capitals and the Federal Capital Territory, and an online tourist market which can help provide tourism information about Nigeria. Runsewe was understandably beside himself with excitement: "Oil is exhaustible", he said. But "tourism is sustainable." "Tourism is life," he intoned.

And he cited the great example of how in the last 22 years Dubai, to which Nigerians now flock like termites, was transformed from desert into an international business destination. His main argument is that as part of Nigeria's Vision 20-2020 project, namely Nigeria's plan to be one of the 20 best economies in the world by 2020, a major entry point would be tourism.

Since he assumed office as Director General of the NTDC, Runsewe has brought fresh dynamism and innovativeness to the tourism sector. He has a bagful of publications to show for this: special publications on Nigeria which advertise the country's tourism potentials, in 2007, he had organised the Abuja carnival and for the first time, all Nigerian state capitals have been reduced to maps that can be picked up on the shelf for free. No one was surprised when Runsewe reported that many of the state Governors were impressed when the NTDC presented maps of their state capitals.

What's the big deal? Such travel aids are used elsewhere in modern cities across the world. In Nigeria, maps are only studied in Geography classes in schools. An ordinary Nigerian in a new town or city does not look for maps, because these are non-existent; to get around, we all more or less rely on word of mouth, and increasingly on the ubiquitous okada cyclist. When you are lost anywhere in Nigeria, just call a commercial cyclist. But it is not always that motorocyclists know the geography of the immediate environment, nor are they always good men.

Ladies have been lured to hide-outs and raped. Persons have been led to criminals, and turned into victims. In some instances, persons who were stranded who could not find their way around a Nigerian town reportedly went to the neraest police station to ask for assistance or to ask for permission to wait there till morning. Many of such persons were robbed by the same police to whom they had run for safety and support. Nigeria is also not the best place to park your car by the roadside to ask for directions. You could be misled. Nigeria is a tourist's nightmare, even for the citizen, it is like a jungle.

The NTDC initiative on navigational aids is helpful. It is forward-looking and encouraging. It is achievable, its advantages are many. It is likely to have the same effect as the GSM revolution particularly among the educated who can read maps. But the test of it all is in the implementation and sustainability. Runsewe had admitted that the mapping of Nigeria and the introduction of the navigational aids is a work in progress. He is right. He and his team would have to provide public enlightenment on a number of issues: where and how can the navigational aids be accessed? Which cities are covered? And cost? And what are we going to do about our many streest which have no names, or whose names change every season, and our unmotorable roads which impede access? The NTDC is a federal agency, how well is it interfacing with state and local councils, tourism after all being the responsibility of all levels of government? This can only work if states and local councils buy into it.

Runsewe spoke about the importance of tourism. Quite true. Countries like the UAE, South Africa, Kenya, Ethiopia, Ghana, Sawziland, and the countries of the Caribbean islands have turned tourism into a strong national branding mechanism. Nigeria's tourism income is negligible, the industry is under-developed, our cities are no destinations of choice, even for the people. Why? There is a lot more that needs to be done beyond the provision of navigational aids. The NTDC and its Director-General are showing much enthusiasm; they want to make a difference, they want to move Nigeria closer to 2020, but 2020 has become such a magical, whimsical creation. Tourism can only be part of a wider and better articulated package; the key element of that package is good governance.

Navigational aids: maps and all that, information flowing from the NTDC like the Niagara Falls can only be useful when governments: federal, state and local, focus on such urgent challenges as security, public infrastructure, and an enabling investment framework and so on. European tourists flock to Ghana because they can move about without any hindrance in Accra and elsewhere at any time of the day. To do that in Nigeria is to take a serious risk. Runsewe's NTDC has played its part, but the country is still a long way from 2020. We may all be excited about navigational aids but that is not enough. However, this is not Runsewe's headache. The Yar'Adua administration has been busy pursuing the Vision agenda as if it is an isolated, disjointed effort, with each department of state, acting on its own, and federal agencies dictating to the states, but this is not what vision is all about; what exists at the moment looks like 2020 gambling.

If the NTDC gives us something this week to be optimistic about, the same cannot be said about the government of Zamfara state, where Bashir Gusau, the Managing Director of Legacy, the state-owned newspaper, has been fired for writing an article titled "My fears for Yar'Adua" in which he argued that "the past one-and-a-half-years of Yar'Adua's Presidency were marred with indolence, ineptitude, violence, kidnapping, armned robbery, communal clashes, power blackout, and succumbing to the whims and caprices of a cabal holding the nation to ransom." In a two-page statement, the state Commissioner for Information, Ibrahim Danmaliki accussed Gusau of being "Insincere." He added that President Yar'adua is the "de facto and de jure head of the country and we shall never associate the government and people of Zamfara state with any attempt to run him down".

Subsequently, the state Government organised a special prayer session for "peace, good health and God's guidance for the Yar'Adua administration and the nation in general." In fact, the state government has now decreed that no civil servant must say, write, hear or see anything that is remotely bad about or critical of the Yar'Adua government, the punishment for a breach is instant dismissal. The stupidity of this action is so obvious, it requires no further comment, but let the point be restated that the sycophantic censorship at work in Zamfara state is a violation of the Constitutional right to free expression, duly articulated in Section 39 of the 1999 Constitution and in international conventions on human rights.

It is in addition a violation of the profession of journalism: section 22 of the 1999 Constitution grants the media oversight roles over government, and whether Yar'Adua is de facto or de jure head of state, Gusau's article is a fair comment, written in the public interest, and it can be easily justified. Do we not all have "fears for Yar'Adua"? One other point: the same Yar'Adua for whom Gusau has now lost his job has been "missing in action" for more than a week. Nigerians are not sure whether he is in a hospital in Saudi Arabia, or attending the lesser hajj, ill or well. Gusau wrote about kidnapping, armed robbery aand communal clashes. What is insincere about this? Is the Zamfara state Governor living in outer space?

In journalism, facts are sacred, opinion is free. Gusau was expressing an opinion. The Zamfara Governor is an ANPP Governor, a party in the opposition. Who should encourage criticism if not the opposition? But we have the likes of this Governor who see democracy as a mechanism for self-promotion by any means. You are wrong sir. Gusau has since been replaced. He should be re-instated, and the dictator of Zamfara should be told that this is a democracy where state Governors must not behave like drunken sailors. And what was that about sacking any civil servant who criticises President Yar'Adua? Criticism, sir, is the oil of the demcoratic wheel.

Shall we now go to Bauchi state where an idle state House of Assembly has just passed a bill into law, banning co-education at all junior and senior schools in the state. The lawmakers argue that this law has become necessary in order to check teenage pregnancies and poor performance. They note that teenagers have difficulties controlling their sexual urges. Again, stupid. Private religious schools are however exempted. But stupid all the same. If the Bauchi lawmakers are looking for ways to reduce adolescent sexuality, they should not do so by enacting laws that will not make any difference in the long run.

If they are interested in better academic performance, they should seek the reasons for poor performance elsewhere, and enact laws which support Governor Isa Yuguda's expressed determination to transform Bauchi state into a leading centre of education. But obviously a legislature with sex on its mind, cannot think that far. Co-education is not what is responsible for sexual urges: people don't get sexual urges simply by seeing the opposite sex, law-making should be informed by greater rigour not speculations.

And in Bida, Niger state, one Abubakar Bello Masada has been under fire for about two weeks now, for marrying 86 wives. All kinds of custodians of the Islamic faith including the Jama'atu Nasri Islam (JNI) have ruled that Bello is not a true moslem and that his battalion of 86 wives is far in excess of the maximun of four wives prescribed by the religion. There were intial reports that the JNI had issued a fatwa on the man. The JNI later denied this insisting that it is only interested in restating the doctrine and that it is not true that the octogenarian may be put to death this weekend. There is so much mystery suroounding what the old man is supposed to have done or not done. But what is certain is that he has been ordered by the JNI and the Etsu Nupe to divorce 82 of his wives and keep only four of them or leave Nupe land.

On Thursday, the man was subjected to a three-hour trial. The Etsu Nupe had also ruled that the man's safety can no longer be guaranteed. Does that mean he will be stoned to death? Kidnapped, amputated, or what? Bello's ethnicity is even been questioned as the Etsu Nupe reportedly pointed out that Bello cannot be a Nupe man.

In Nigeria, the distinction betwen an indigene and a settler is sensitive, it could make a lot of difference in traditional commnuities. At the end of his trial, Bello reportedly asked for two weeks of grace to decicde which of his wives he would do away with, many of them about the age of his great-grand children. But the court of the Etsu Nupe has ruled that the choice must be made within two days. What is Mallam Bello's offence? Did he marry any of his wives under the Ordinance, for which he could be guilty of bigamy? Even if he is guilty of bigamy, only a court of law can determine his guilt, not the JNI, not the Etsu Nupe-in-council. No one has accussed Bello of incest, only that he is too much of a polygamist. And if the issue is that he no longer reads the Quoran as he claims, he is entitled to the freedom of choice. Looked at closely, it may even be said that other men may be envious of this old man. In some other countries, his virility and feritlity would be a subject of scientific inquiry.

But here the Etsu Nupe says Masada should undergo psychiatric examination. And there is an element of hypocrisy involved. Many of those who are condemning Mallam Masada are probably serial polygamists or serial monogamists. What for example is the difference between four wives and 86 wives? The Etsu Nupe, the JNI, and the Niger State Government should take responsibility for Mallam Bello Masada's safety. The police should protect him from the gathering mob.

Finally, a report in The Herald of Zimbabwe quoted in an article in The Nation of Kenya by Kitsepile Ngathi on August 18 indicates that some African leaders including the leaders of Zambia, Botswana, and Tanzania have since apologised to President Robert Mugabe for allowing themselves to be misled by the opposition. After the June 27 re-run Presidential election, Botswana, Nigeria, Kenya, Liberia, Zmabia, Tanzania and other African countries had refused to recognise Robert Mugabe's victory. But now Ngathi writes: "the biggest surprise, however came from Nigeria, which sent a high profile emissary to South Africa on Sunday to seek a meeting with President Mugabe and offer apologies for taking an "uninformed position" on Zimbabwe's electoral process during the last AU summit in Egypt." Apologies also came from Zambia, Bostwana, and Tanzania. Did Nigeria apologise to Mugabe? The Ministry of Foreign Affairs owes Nigerians a clarification, if not explanation.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Eko / Lagos - you name it!

"Africa’s most traffic-plagued, most populous and fastest-growing megacity", World's most densely-populated city, 30th most expensive city, centre of excellence, commercial gateway to Nigeria, name your pick. This NY Times Article applies its outsider's lens to the conundrum that is Lagos, and highlights that juxtaposition that has become standard across Nigeria - filthy rich vs. dirt poor.

Today, what is Lagos synonymous with? And what would we like it to be 10 (or even 20) years from now? How can we get there? Will we have to lose yet another generation to the "get rich or die trying" mentality before we can see a Lagos (nay, a Nigeria) with a legitimate upper class, a booming middle class and a socially-secure lower class?


Lagos - Opulence & Chaos Meet in An African Boomtown - New York Times

LAGOS, Nigeria — The governor’s son sits hunched at the bar, contemplating his nearly empty bottle of Hennessy. On the dance floor, the airline director’s daughter sways back and forth to a hip-hop beat. Nearby, the star soccer player, just in from London, tries to squeeze past his growing circle of fans and hangers-on. In the center of the club, the oil magnate’s son gets on top of a table and takes a swig from a bottle of Dom PĂ©rignon.

Just another Saturday night in Lagos, one of Africa’s money- and contrast-rich boomtowns. Already a city of superlatives on the continent (it has variously been deemed Africa’s most traffic-plagued, most populous and fastest-growing megacity), Lagos has a new title to add to its mantel: most expensive.

Lagos has always been one of the most powerful commercial hubs in West Africa, ever since slaves were first shipped from here to Europe and the Americas. But because of the rising price of oil, the declining United States dollar, the relocation of foreign workers from the oil-rich but kidnapping-prone Niger Delta, large privatization efforts and a mad dash for the city’s remaining plots of land, Lagos is more flush with cash and full of glitter than ever.

A recent study of the most expensive cities for expatriates by the consulting firm Mercer found that Lagos ranked 30th, making it only slightly less costly than New York but considerably more expensive than Los Angeles, Miami and Washington.

Even European cities like Stockholm and Barcelona, Spain, were found to be more affordable — and in Lagos the high prices are that much more eye-popping because the average Nigerian survives on less than $2 a day.

Evidence of vast amounts of money floating around the “islands” — two small pieces of land poking into the Atlantic that anchor the city’s economic activity and are home to banks, consulates and oil and telecommunications companies — is everywhere. Dinner for two at an average restaurant costs more than $200. A cocktail costs more than $15. A box of cereal costs $12 at a supermarket. Hotel rooms under $400 are difficult to find.

In the aisles of glistening new malls, expatriates and wealthy Nigerians often buy $10,000 watches and $5,000 cellphones. New BMWs, Mercedes-Benzes and Bentleys plod through grinding traffic, bumping over rocks and weaving around potholes.

Multimillion-dollar yachts speed up and down the creek separating the two islands. (The creek was recently determined to be too shallow for the biggest yachts, so a dredging project has been started to deepen the waterway.)

Apartment rents on the islands start at $3,000 a month, but rents of $6,000 to $7,000 a month are common here, and renters are required to pay two or three years of rent in advance.

But high prices do not always mean high quality. The city was built to accommodate fewer than 100,000 residents, but it is now home to an estimated 14 million or more, according to the state government. So no matter what your station in life is, it is impossible to avoid the city’s traffic or its lack of reliable water and electricity. Most homes and businesses on the islands run on diesel-powered generators nearly 24 hours a day, resulting in thousands of dollars in energy bills.

Tayo Emden, 33, a British-educated Ghanaian who has lived in Lagos for five years as a director for a telecommunications company, said the costs were just too high to stay.

“After living in London with colleagues, we thought Lagos would be nice and cushy, but we’re having second thoughts,” Ms. Emden said. “You used to get a lot of bang for your buck, but that’s not the case anymore.”

Several efforts have been made to create economic hubs away from the islands to reduce traffic and lessen the burden, but none have been successful. So at least three million commuters fight their way through hours of traffic to the islands every day. Many leave before 5 a.m. to beat the traffic, and many do not return home until after 10 p.m.

Moreover, most Lagosians do not enjoy the privileges of the city’s new wealth, and perhaps no economic division cuts deeper than housing. On the islands, plots of 645 square feet sell for millions of dollars, and houses built on the plots are subdivided and rented out to wealthy Nigerians or expatriates whose companies do not bargain down.

“Living in Lagos is tough, that’s the bottom line,” said Bola Sobande, the general manager of the popular Palms shopping mall. “But Nigerians are survivors. We survive against all odds. Until something else comes up, we’ll just hang in there.”

More than 70 percent of the city’s residents live in informal housing, crammed into slums with no electricity or water, according to Felix Morka, the executive director of the Social and Economic Rights Action Center, a local economic rights group.

“Only the superrich can compete in this market,” Mr. Morka said. “Most people are looking for a small plot of land where they can build a shack, or to rent space in what are known as ‘I See You, You See Me’ buildings with no facilities at all. That’s what people can afford.

“The oil companies can afford to rent out huge complexes for all their staff,” Mr. Morka said, “so why would a landlord want to rent out to the Nigerian teacher who barely is even assured of a salary at the end of the month?”

Because of widespread corruption, the vast amounts of money coming in rarely trickle down in Nigeria. Still, more and more people stream into the city every day, drawn by the prospect of wealth absent from most of the rest of Nigeria.

“People are moving to Lagos because you can find work, you don’t need to know anybody or have anything,” said Francisco Abosede, the state minister for public planning.

Early on a Sunday morning, as the rich and famous begin to stumble out of clubs and into the hazy light, they are quickly surrounded by dozens of young boys acting as informal parking attendants or hawking chewing gum, mints and phone cards. The boys are paid little mind, but if they are lucky, a small bill may be handed to them from behind the narrow slit of a tinted window of a departing BMW.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

SaharaReporters - Report Yourself

Meant to put this up last week but....

In any case, do check out Saharareporters when you get a chance. Some have argued that it's just another seedy tabloid (online) newspaper - "if you believe what's on there you'll believe anything"; But in most cases, "where there's smoke, there's fire". The sorts of sensational news stories it reports (courtesy of everyday non-journalists who are privy to the lavish corruption and sordid activities within the corridors of the government) are a reflection of the level of ludicrousness our country has sunk to. As Sonala puts it in this Guardian article: "It is journalism that may be too important to be left to journalists."

(Oh, and while you're on there, be sure to read: "Chronicles of a Starving Cleaner" by Okey Ndibe)

Our SaharaReporters - Sonola Olumhense

IF you are a Nigerian, and literate, but have never heard of Sahara Reporters or been to its website, something must be seriously wrong. I suggest you rectify that situation today. is the place to visit if you really want to understand where Nigeria has been, or what it is doing. It is journalism that may be too important to be left to journalists. It is, I suspect, the address that corrupt Nigerian politicians and their privileged criminal brethren detest the most on earth. SaharaReporters is the face of Citizen Journalism.

As a journalist, I believe that the industry thrives on the assumption that it will report society thoroughly and painstakingly. That is not always-or often-the case. Sometimes, journalism is about convenience: speeches and development about which the headlines are bigger than the substance, press conferences or statements.

In other words, not much. After all, while speeches on the floor of the legislature or at a conference may be very important and ought to be reported, publishing their highlights is not really reporting. Speeches often say nothing about the speaker, whose very actions may actually be in contradiction with his public claims.

That is why the most important challenge in journalism is to go beyond and behind the spoken or public word. That is the province of investigative or forensic journalism, because true reporting is about action. In Nigeria, this often poses tremendous difficulty for the mainstream press which may opt for a comfortable compromise.

A comfortable compromise is reporting a murder as committed by someone other than you. However, while it takes courage to report a murder or a theft; the paradox is that the more "important" the murderer or the thief, the more courage it takes to put that story on the front page.

But remember what Aesop once said: "We hang the petty thieves and appoint the great ones to public office." The man was Greek, but he must have been speaking about Nigeria. While our great thieves have brought the nation to its knees, they are not necessarily in hiding or in jail. The trouble is that when you read the mainstream press, you may not get that impression.

What SaharaReporters has done is to take this task on, and to empower the ordinary Nigerian to report his country. Indeed, the motto of SaharaReporters is: "Report Yourself".

It has provided an opportunity for Nigerian citizens with access to valuable information about Nigeria's leaders and their lifestyle to make a contribution to our understanding of those leaders that the mainstream press and their ownership may be uncomfortable with. In my view, then, SaharaReporters is Nigeria telling the truth to Nigeria. It is journalism by the people for the people.

How has this happened? In the past two decades, some amazing technologies have appeared that are capable of making journalism more cogent, urgent and powerful. These are tools that aid and ease investigation as well as rapid transmission, tools of effective and widespread broadcast or circulation, tools that make it possible for journalism to be more, and do more.

Of these tools has SaharaReporters taken advantage to give journalism in our country a boost, and challenge the mainstream press. With particular focus on corruption, SaharaReporters often sheds some incredible light on the track record of powerful Nigerians that most of us only whisper about in our bedrooms.

A quick search of the website reveals an assortment of such powerful Nigerians, what they have stolen, who their accomplices are, and where the bodies and booty are buried. There is published proof of fake higher degrees and titles being peddled by top Nigerians. There are stories of scam and vice by Nigerians in high office.

I do not know how SaharaReporters operates. But for an outfit that reportedly has such a small staff, it does seem to have the help of Nigerians who keep it persistently supplied with information and materiel.

I know that SaharaReporters has been called names. It is difficult to imagine any of those people about whom it has published unflattering accounts being happy. Strangely though, hardly anyone writes rebuttals to its stories, let alone sues them for inaccurate portrayals. What invariably seems to happen is the old Nigerian ploy of trying to ignore a story in the hope that it will blow over.

Not likely. Through the efforts of SaharaReporters, the nature of the Olusegun Obasanjo administration was made even plainer to the world. SaharaReporters is also monitoring the Umaru Yar'Adua government with an equally critical reporting and analytic eye.

The strength of SaharaReporters is obviously its high principles. Its advocacy is in its unwavering sense of right and wrong, not on the basis of any friends or permanent enemies. In the chaos that is Nigeria, an advocate is often bought off. That is not usually a difficult task, given the vast riches in the hands of many big thieves, and the false advocate soon disappears in his new riches.

SaharaReporters, on the contrary, has stuck to its mission of reporting with determination and courage, particularly in terrain that others avoid. Hopefully, the mainstream media will take advantage of the doors that the website often opens-including breaking stories--rather than dismissing them or considering the site a competitor.

In any case, an enterprise of this nature is never without cost, as patriotism does not pay the bills. Without a committed support base, SaharaReporters is certain to run into problems. Appealing for assistance, in this regard, a link on the site says:

"...We want to remain true to our dream of providing average readers with the tools that can help them make informed decisions about how their nations are run in the Sub-saharan African region..." it says, pledging to "remain the authentic, independent, and investigative citizen reporters who unearth what has remained hidden from the public eye..."

Hopefully, Nigerians who appreciate the patriotic work of SaharaReporters and recognize what is at stake will offer practical support. The future cannot be without cost. Report for duty. Report yourself.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Shuffering & Shmiling

Another memoir from Ofilispeaks. Sad to think that 30 years later, Fela's insightful analysis of the Nigerian state of being is still ever so apt. As Ofili puts it, "Nigerians have bypassed the government and look to God for hope". Necessarily a bad thing? Not if it gets you through the day. However, this system of "shuffering and smiling" is not sustainable, as things cannot progress without an accountable (and active) government in place. As our leaders turned themselves into demi-gods and drove our nation further into the ground between 1999 and 2007, we suffered and smiled. As the new administration busies itself with nothing, we continue to do what we do best. I only hope that we don't wake up one day to find that we have raised a new generation of suffering smilers who have learned to expect nothing of their leaders and wait in vain for elusive divine interventions.


Memoirs Of An Immigrant: Shuffering and Shmiling - Ofili

In the early 70’s popular Nigerian artist Fela Kuti released “shuffering and shmiling” a song that served to juxtapose the chaotic environment of Africa with the blinding optimism of its indigenes. Optimism that many times was the product of a mass flooding of religious hope into the minds of Africa’s people. According to Fela “suffer suffer for world, enjoy for heaven” was the motto that seemed to place the minds of Africans into a false sense of enjoyment, one that caused them to ignore their current and often chaotic predicament and remain enthusiastically optimistic for a future that was bleak. Not surprisingly Fela’s song received national criticism from the upper echelons of the Nigerian government, who condemned his obvious claim of suffering. And by the lower class Nigerian citizenship seemingly offended with the notion that somehow they were satisfied with their current state of poverty. In 2003 Fela would be vindicated posthumously by a World Value Survey carried out by the University of Michigan. A survey that listed Nigerians as the happiest people in the world. A happiness that occurred amidst nefarious statistics courtesy showing that 35% of Nigerians lived in abject poverty with more than double that number considered as poor. All this while still being ranked as the 20th poorest nation in the world. But somehow we had found a way to the top of a happiness poll?

As an immigrant into the United States I was confused, surely something must have been wrong with the survey sample. Surely the Nigerians that were surveyed were not the ones I spoke to on a weekly basis that complained about the bad roads or the consistently inconsistent power and water supply? Surely they did not include the hundreds of Nigerians that crowded foreign embassies clamoring for a chance of another life in any other country but Nigeria? Surely it did not include my Dad, who had his business run to the ground by greedy government officials insistent on getting paid undocumented business taxes? Surely it did consist of the Nigerians Fela had in mind when he sang…

Everyday my people dey inside bus, Shuffering and Shmiling
49 sitting 99 standing, Shuffering and Shmiling
Dem go pack dem self in like Sardine, Shuffering and Shmiling
Dem dey faint dem dey wake like cock, Shuffering and Shmiling
Dem go reach e house, water no dey, Shuffering and Shmiling
Dem go reach e bed, power no dey, Shuffering and Shmiling
Dem go reach e road, go-slow go halt, Shuffering and Shmiling
Dem go reach e road, police go slap, Shuffering and Shmiling
Dem go reach e road, Army go whip, Shuffering and Shmiling
Dem go look pocket, money no dey, Shuffering and Shmiling
Dem go reach e work, query ready, Shuffering and Shmiling
Everyday nah de same

But unfortunately it did. The survey consisted of the same suffering Nigerians who had somehow found a reason to smile for the World Value Survey; with a happiness ranking higher than both America and the United Kingdom combined. A ranking so economically illogical that it warranted a personal investigation by myself into the mechanisms that produced the survey results. The original article as published by the British New Scientist Magazine showed the survey results were determined from two key questions. The first question asked how “happy” an individual was at a particular moment. Under this context Nigerians came out on top. The second question asked how “satisfied” an individual was with life as a whole, finances and health. In this category Nigeria ranked near the middle for satisfaction. Both results were arithmetical averaged and Nigeria was determined to be the happiest nation in the world.

However, behind the survey science lay a trend that was hidden from much of news media outlets, out of all the countries surveyed, Nigeria was the only country in which its people were happy despite being less satisfied with life. Only Fela could have said it best, “Nigerians were suffering and smiling,” a situation that he blamed on the religiously influenced dogmatic optimism that possessed Nigeria. An optimism that not only isolated Nigerians from the apparent poverty they faced but also isolated the Government from its social responsibility to its people. Somehow according to Fela religion had made Nigeria dangerously optimistic.

This notion of religiously fueled dangerous optimism pushed my memories all the way back to my early childhood. A childhood in Nigeria that had religion as a mandatory part of life, almost everything involved religion...As a child I experienced my fair share of religious enthusiasm as a student at a catholic elementary school. Our morning assemblies consisted of both impromptu and memorized prayers that lasted up to an hour. And prayer did not simply stop at the assembly it continued in the classrooms at 12 noon when the bell rang for our prayer to Mary Magdalene. This was the norm for me, I just showed up and prayed whenever I was required to.

My religious innocence however became challenged as I got older and more socially conscious. A consciousness that sparked an internal battle between my religious and social spirits. I wanted to go out and do the things those teenagers my age did, unfortunately there was a slight problem. The problem was my mum; she was as religious as you could get. A missionary in Church, she prayed in the morning, listened to scriptures in the afternoons and preached to us at night. We went to Church almost every other day, Tuesday was bible study, Wednesday was prayer meeting, Saturday was Youth service and Sunday was the dreaded general service that lasted up to five hours long, it was terrifying. As a family we spent 50% of our lives in church, not even including the other 10% we spent at home praying. Suffice it to say, our family was as holy as you could possibly get.

Church sermons at that time revolved around a common theme, call on God for all your problems and he would answer you. This theme was spread through the sound systems of a myriad of churches across the nation. The theme focused on God as the solution of all of our nation’s problems, family problems, personal problems and even electric problem. Ironically I had a problem with this, one that was suppressed for years in Nigeria but only allowed to mature in America. In sharp contrast to Nigeria, church services in America were exceedingly short and straight to the point. But the key contrast did not reside in the length of the service, but rather in the theme of the service. A theme that, similar to churches in Nigeria spoke about God as the solution to all problems, but only if intertwined with an effort from the congregation. From their view point it was not alright to accept ones position of poverty with a hope that God in his time would make it better, you had to be willing to do something about your poverty. But ironically this part of religion is mostly overlooked in Nigeria, where God is pushed to the masses as the ultimate solution without demanding anything from the citizens. And the citizens in return don’t demand anything from their Government, instead they bypass the government and look up to God for hope. In doing so they expect little from the Government and little for themselves, this concept of little gives birth to the distorted conception by the world value survey analysis that somehow Nigerians are happy.

In the words of Desmond Tutu "When the missionaries came to Africa they had the Bible and we had the land. They said "Let us pray." We closed our eyes. When we opened them we had the Bible and they had the land." A statement that lays emphasis on what happens when religion is drunk without the consumption of social issues. Nigeria and Africa as a whole have to take a page from the American religious system. We have to charge people to demand more from themselves and government, while simultaneously praying to God as a catalyst for the solution. Only then can we experience true happiness.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

GOing GOing, back back

"SO what is Nigeria like?", I was asked by a colleague last night. IMMIGRANT'S DILEMMA (to borrow from ofilispeaks ;))! I want to uncloak the veil of ignorance of this Oxford graduate so he can be quick to tell his family/friends/ acquaintances that Nigeria isn't just this oil-exporting country that can't ever seem to get it right (guerillas in the niger delta, 419-stereotypes, corruption, etc). I want him to know that it is this eclectic melange of cultures, beliefs, attitudes, work ethics, and BLAH. The people are resilient and vibrant (some would say aggressive/loud, others would say life of the party), and the current mood is "hopeful limbo". But i know he wants performance ratings, economic growth/development stats - a clean-cut success/failure story (he was afterall making polite conversation). So instead, I talk about the slow/ unsure exodus of "patriotic" (some would say "jaded with the west") generation X, the safety concerns and the LAGOS HUSTLE. I tell him that Nigeria has its issues/problems like many a country out there (though we take the cake when it comes to the SCALE of these problems), but that with "a little bit of luck and a lot of work", we will one day get it right... How's that for 2 cents!

Reverse brain drain as ambitious Nigerians come home - By Nick Tattersall (REUTERS article)

LAGOS (Reuters) - From cocktails with hip-hop stars to sushi with smooth-suited bankers, it's no wonder Nigerians moving back after decades in New York or London feel right at home among the high-rolling elite of Lagos.

This urban sprawl of 14 million people, the chaotic hub of Africa's most populous nation, may epitomise what many foreigners fear most about megacities in the developing world: violent crime, corrupt police and crumbling infrastructure.

Yet legions of young Nigerians, educated at English public schools and U.S. Ivy League universities, are leaving highly paid careers with Wall Street banks and City of London consultancies to return to the Lagos hustle.
The draw?

Not just a pay package that approaches or matches what is on offer in the United States or Europe, but a dash of patriotism -- a chance to help fulfil an ambition of building world-class Nigerian businesses as an example to the rest of Africa.
"In the States, it's an established economy. You can't create another Apple, you can't create another Microsoft, you can't really create another Disney," said Michael Akindele, who left U.S. consultancy firm Accenture to set up his own business investing in Nigerian media and entertainment.

"I'm stepping away from that salary, that comfortable, stable environment where you have power all the time, you have water all the time. But here I can create the lifestyle I want."

Nigeria is the world's eighth biggest oil exporter but its economy has been hobbled by decades of endemic corruption and unemployment is high. A power sector crisis, which means much of the country can go without electricity for weeks or months, has closed hundreds of factories and cut thousands of jobs in sub-Saharan Africa's largest economy after South Africa.

Many wealthy Nigerians of Akindele's generation were sent to boarding schools in England or the United States in the late 1980s and 1990s, when Nigeria was a military dictatorship with little foreign investment and a disintegrating education system.

They watched with cautious optimism as it began to return to democracy in 1999 with the election of Olusegun Obasanjo after three decades of military rule, and welcomed the reforms he started to push through after winning a second term in 2003.
When Nigeria used $12 billion (6.1 billion pounds) of oil savings to pay back debts owed to the Paris Club of rich creditor nations in 2005, and won the write-off of a further $18 billion in return, foreign investors and diaspora Nigerians sat up and took note.

"I was following all this from London and started to believe now was the time to start planning to come back," said Kayode Akindele, 28, no relation to Michael, who returned to work for United Bank for Africa's (UBA) investment banking arm, UBA Global Markets.

Kayode Akindele, an Oxford graduate who lived in Britain for more than 16 years, was working on structured derivatives for Lloyds TSB in London when he was introduced to Tony Elumelu, chief executive of UBA, two years ago. Elumelu was looking to build a world-class investment bank in Nigeria and Akindele's skills were exactly what he needed.

"There was a sense of patriotism. I have always regarded myself as Nigerian and planned to return to Nigeria eventually," said Akindele, now a vice president at UBA Global Markets.

Financial sector reforms in 2005 forced Nigeria's banks to consolidate, creating multibillion-dollar institutions with the capacity to branch out into sophisticated new markets and pay salaries on a par with some of their Western peers.
Banks have also seen explosive growth on the back of record oil prices and a growing middle class among Nigeria's 140 million people, and have been aggressively raising capital and increasing their capacity to lend. Diaspora Nigerians -- with experience in banking but also the cultural knowledge to navigate the complexities of doing business in Nigeria -- have been in high demand ever since.

"I think there's a window that will be there for maybe another 18 months to two years," said Chuka Mordi, head of business development at First City Monument Bank.
"That's the view at the moment, that people moving back understand exotic products ... but it will percolate to the local sector and people will learn these things and there won't be any need to drag investment bankers from New York or London."

Nigeria's $95 billion stock market was one of the best performing emerging markets in the world last year, attracting private equity and hedge fund investors from Europe, Asia and the United States.

The world of vanilla interest rate swaps may seem a million miles from the realities of life on the streets of Lagos, where hawkers selling everything from phone charge cards to electric irons ply their trade among belching minibuses and moped taxis.
But bankers hope that building strong financial institutions will help open credit lines to millions of would-be entrepreneurs, allowing them to develop small businesses and lift themselves out of the informal sector, which accounts for a major part of the active workforce.

"When you see the hustle on the streets of Lagos, all those traders selling all those products, you know the street works," said Obi Asika, an Eton-educated entrepreneur whose own record label sells albums through market traders and street sellers.

"You formalise distribution in Nigeria today, it's a billion dollar business. Because everybody needs distribution. Everybody's got products," he said.

The idea of making money as a businessman in Nigeria -- long spurned by some of the elite as inferior to a high-powered job in the public sector -- is catching the popular imagination, demonstrating to an ambitious young generation that you don't have to be in the pay of government to get rich.

It is a point hammered home by "The Apprentice Africa", a reality TV show co-produced by Michael Akindele's Executive Group and Asika's Storm Media based on the hit U.S. series, in which aspiring entrepreneurs compete for a job with a top businessman.

"You get up in the morning and you see all of Lagos on the move, young boys trying to make ends meet. It's an eye-opener," said Isaac Dankyi-Koranteng, winner of the first series, aired on free-to-view TV in Ghana, Kenya, Uganda and Nigeria. The government is still the largest official single employer in Nigeria, and the vast majority of people still live on less than $2 a day, but the new private sector elite hope that if they avoid the mistakes of their kleptocratic predecessors, Nigeria may haul itself out of poverty and corruption.

"There are issues. It's not Valhalla. We're not in Milton's Paradise yet," said Asika. "But I believe in Nigeria, I'm positive about this country."