moral musings, Nigeria, dear native land!

Why I am tearing-up my Green Card

This is quintessentially Wole Soyinka, a true Nigerian in values and decisions.

There has been a flurry of media-hype on his decision to give a red card to the American green card given the then impending Trumpianism. Now that it is no longer impending but real, the Nobel Laureate in this succinct article bares his mind on why he is doing this. It is long but worth the time. Enjoy.


RED CARD, GREEN CARD – Notes Towards The Management Of 
Hysteria -  By Wole Soyinka

I shall begin on a morbid note. One of the horror stories that emerged from the Daesh (Isis) controlled parts of Iraq was the gruesome tale of the mother who had a daughter affected by wanderlust, even in that endangered zone. One day, when she looked for her to attend to some home chores, she found that she had gone missing yet again. As she searched, she shouted in frustration:  ”As Allah is my witness, I’ll kill that girl when I catch up with her”. A neighbor overheard and reported her to the Hisbah. The mother was summoned by the mullahs who ordered her to put the child to death, since she had sworn by Allah. She refused, so they took the child by the legs and smashed her head against a wall. End of story. True or false? It certainly was published as true testimony. That is all I have to say to the ”literalists” who obsess over a time scheme of their own assessment. Thus, failure to have torn my Green Card ”the moment” that I learnt that Mr. Donald Trump had won the presidential elections of the USA. It did not matter what I was doing at the time – teaching, eating, swimming, praying, under the shower or whatever. Or a family member saying, ”Wait for me!” – speculatively please, no such disturbance ever took place. If it did however, I am supposed to contact the Nigerian media – to whom I have never spoken, and who never contacted me – except one – to beg permission to pursue a realistic definition of ”the moment”. Media fascism is however a subject for another day,

For now, that moment having passed, I must be culpable of breaking a solemn promise. By the way, since we are on the terrain of literalism, has anyone attempted to ”tear” or rip apart a Green Card? Even a Credit Card? For the average hands, that would take some doing! I have actually considered garden shears for a dramatic resolution, this being closer to my real profession.

I have been asked several times – interestingly only by the foreign media, with the exception of THE INTERVIEW – whether indeed I did make such a statement at any time, and whether I still intended to carry it out, and the answer remains a categorical ’Yes’.  Not recently, mind you, nor, in the inaccurate blazing  PUNCH headline of Thursday Nov. 16 , but in the accurate wording that is contained in the actual story on page 9. So, where and when did I first notably make that declaration. Answer: Addressing a group of students at Oxford University and fielding questions. It was NOT a public lecture. I have never summoned a press conference on the issue. The organizers did not invite the (unregistered) Association of Nigerian Internet habituees.  It was the accustomed student seminar format that moved from the light-hearted to the serious, the ridiculous and (hopefully) the profound and back again. I even used the encounter to compare my threat with the public antics of a former president  – unnamed, I assure you – who tore up his party membership card of a moribund ruling party. Whatever my failings, I do not lack originality, and I was not about to be find myself indebted to that contumacious general!

Nonetheless, did I mean what I said – that is, ’exiting’ the USA? Absolutely, and that is the very theme of this address. It will not attempt to deal with the notion of an exit time-table as conceived by others, as if even the incumbent US president and his replacement are not even permitted over two months to pack their bags and prepare to move in and out of the White House, but must exchange positions the very moment that a winner was proclaimed. Anyone would think that the Brexit Vote made it imperative for the Brits to plunge into the English Channel instantly, instead of negotiating two years for an orderly withdrawal. Plebians like me of course need far less time, nevertheless they do not uproot overnight. Any other proposition speaks of a permanent agenda, of frustration and hidden histories – such as opportunities to rehabilitate themselves in the public eye. There is also recession in the land, and I can understand the psychology of impotence and thus, transferred aggression. Let it be understood – before I move even one word further – that I interrupted my present commitment in the United States  solely for an  urgent meeting with the Ooni of Ife on an ongoing project. I am obliged to return to the US in a matter of two or three days to complete my interrupted mission. Fortunately, that mision is guaranteed to end long before the United States becomes Trumpland Real Estate.

And now we move from absurd, frankly idiotic distractions to Substance. Why, in any case, am I pulling out of the United States? Why – as demanded of me by some of my genuinely concerned and sober interlocutors around the world – why such an extreme reaction? Why the terminal response to the elections of another land? Also, and perhaps most crucially, why am I left virtually mouth agape at the furore my stance has engendered? I simply fail to understand why this has gone beyond a flurry of public commentary and hilarious cartoons, and turned into a masturbatory for some, a vomitory for others, and an epilleptic sanatorium for a self-reproducing number? Why, in genuine bafflement, do I experience astonishment? Why do people find this commonplace, accessible-to-all act so extraordinary?

The answers to all the forgeoing can be summed up in a familiar expression: a life of environmental sanitation, or call it – sanity.  My temperament requires a certain minimum level of environmental health to function properly. I use the word ’temperament’ as a historical fact, a personality development that first manifested itself all the way back to student days, and has remained consistent all my life. Nowhere is perfect, certainly not all the time. Nonetheless, every human being has this need, however approximate, some perhaps with objective awareness, others intuitively, some more acutely and intensely than others, especially when defined by their professions, occupations, social and other involvements. The craving is common to all humanity – if I am wrong, then I must have dropped from Mars.

Here now is a potted history of the choices made by this contributor over the years in pursuit of this need, all the way from student days. Read carefully and learn!

As a student in Leeds University, one of whose subjects was Spanish, I steadily refused to accompany other students on long vacation job opportunities in Spain, designed to make us master the spoken part of the language. Apart from the Isle of Man, I went to France and Holland instead, whose languages were not part of my studies. And yet I had already fallen in love with flamenco music – played for us from records by our Spanish lecturer, and was dying to watch flamenco dancing in the flesh. Language study however involves, as we all know, the study of a people´s history and culture. I had encountered the history of the Spanish Civil War, the violent overthrow of a legitimate Republican government, and the ’white terror’ of the Falangist leader, General Franco. I identified with the volunteer soldiers of the International Brigade. Spain was under boycott in parts of Europe, so there was a choice to be made. I refused to step into Spain until years after I had graduated and returned home, and General Franco was certified dead and buried. A personal choice.

Australia: It is now some twelve to fifteen years since I issued a Red Card to Australia, unannounced. That Red Card subsists till today. The occasion was a conference of PEN International, and I had made the usual visa application. When the forms arrived, I found  the requirements for applicants over 70 years (I think) so obnoxious, intrusive, and degrading that I refused to fill them. Negotiations with the Australian government by Australian PEN led to an exception being made for me. When it was communicated, I wrote back: Absolutely Not. I refused to be the token geriatric. That application document was highly disrespectful of age and I wondered what kind of mentality had crafted it, wondered if the Australians themselves knew what image was being projected in their name. I said to our go-betweens: Not for a moment am I equating myself with Desmond Tutu or Nelson Mandela, but they are older. Does it mean that, if they decide to visit Australia, you would subject them to this form of degradation?

Till today, I have routinely declined any invitation to Australia, a country I had visited years earlier to sumptuous hospitality. I learnt some time ago that the obnoxious requirements have been removed but have not bothered to check. The reason was this follow-up: a journalist heard about my absence from the PEN conference and made enquiries. He interviewed me and I told him the cause. After visiting the Australian embassy for their side of the story, he reported back that the diplomat in charge responded to his questions with the comment that the embassy was too busy with more important matters. did not make a fuss. My position was based on principle but, basically, it was a personal affair between me and Australia. It remains so till today.

China: I did not, could not visit China for years after Tienanman Square. I was dying to visit that remarkable nation of culture and history, itching to go with every invitation. The Chinese ambassador in Nigeria tried to win me over after the ousting of the Gang of Four. I declined, but accepted the books he had told me did not exist while the Thought of Chairman Mao ruled the waves.  Even when, years later,  one of the top American travel agents organized a visit of Nobel laureates with mouth watering honoraria, I could not bring myself to join others. Constantly swimming before my eyes was the image of armored trucks and tanks running over students encamped in Tienanmen Square, leaving behind rivulets of blood.  Before I eventually accepted an invitation from the University of Beijing, I checked with some of the dissident poets – was it a decent time to visit? Had sufficient time passed for the average survivor of that carnage to obtain closure?  Until they gave me the green light, I refused all invitations.  Again I did not fuss. I did not call an international press conference in the interim.

Back home to our continent  – this time,  post-Apartheid South Africa. How many of these hysterical purveyors of Internet obscenities – including some printed media – are aware that for nearly two years, I handed South Africa the Red Card? And why? Because of her then astonishing display of xenophobia, most  notably against Nigerians. I was a personal recipient of that treatment which took place – of all occasions imaginable – on the occasion of my visit to deliver a three-part memorial lecture in honour of the late Nelson Mandela. Undoubtedly, on that very occasion, there had been a misunderstanding over visa issuance. Nonetheless,  taken in the context of the rampant humiliation of Nigerians at the hands of South African authorities, and the South African civic pockets also, I went to the final lecture with my luggage. The moment I concluded the last of  my lectures, I insisted on being driven to the airport, silently shaking off the South African dust off my feet for ever. It was only to my hosts that I uttered the declaration that they were seeing me in their nation for the last time. Until I withdrew the Red Card, I did not summon the Press.

Now, how did that boycott end? It is a remarkable story which deserves its place in the narratives of sheer serendipity. It involved Dennis Brutus, the South African poet, an enlightened Head of Nigerian Immigration and, indirectly, Archishop Desmond Tutu and Albie Sachs, former chairman of the South African Constitutional Court. Also, retrospectively, the role played by Nelson Mandela’s widow, Graca Machel, during my ordeal at the airport. While the boycott lasted however, I declined between seven to nine invitations to South Africa, including a UNESCO event that was however billed to take place there. The ending of that boycott, like the beginning, was ultimately my private and personal decision.

Shall we take Cuba, that revolutionary island where I was personally decorated by Fidel Castro with the Felix Valera medal of honour?  Despite all efforts by the then Cuban ambassador to Nigeria, and very valued friends and colleagues in Cuba, I issued her my usual silent card some years ago. I found the execution of those ill-fated adventurers who tried to escape on a raft excessive, not forgetting the shooting down of a hi-jacked plane. Were their acts condemnable? Indisputably! Did the punishment fit the crime however? My answer is obvious – No.  Jose Saramago, the late Portuguese Nobelist had apparently taken the same position, as I found out when we both met at a subsequent event in Cuba when our Cuban boycotts eventually ended. Were we wrong or right? That is immaterial. The point is that neither called a press conference or publicised our individual decisions. They were personal decisions, made independently.

And so on, and on, and on….brief to prolonged, reluctant to instant boycotts of places of normally congenial roosting, for a variety of reasons, and dictated by individual temperaments. And so we come finally to Donald Trump, and the sometimes travesty of collective choice.

I was in New York during the run-up to elections. I watched this face, its body language, listened to his uncouth, racist language, his imbecillic harangues, the insults to other peoples, other races, especially the Hispanics, Africans and Afro-Americans, even citing once – I was told – Nigeria as an instance of the burdensome occupation of global space. I watched and listened, disbelievingly, since this was America, supposedly now freed to a large extent – as we like to believe and have a right to expect – from its lamentable history of racism. But I saw, not only this would-be president but – enthusing followers on populist a populist roll at the expense of minorities! I followed the fluctuating poll statistics. I began to warn my colleagues, friends, my family: listen, this thing is happening right before our very eyes. This is how it begins, how humanity ends up with Cambodia, with Rwanda, with Da’esh. We are watching a Hitlerite phenomenon. We are witnessing history in reverse, unravelling before a complacent world. I said to them, if this man wins, I am relocating. It had gone beyond a joke. They all said, it will never happen. Even a day to elections, some Nigerians, with whom I had a meeting in New York,  waved off the possibility. The entire world goofed – T.B. Joshua and other pundits, charlatans and experts alike.  A colleague at Harvard mentioned the celebrations that would follow the election, but shortly after, confessed his concerns, cursing the FBI man who had chosen to intervene at an unprecedented stage in the elections.

 Again, I said to him, I shall relocate if Trump wins. He said, I’m coming with you, echoing numerous other colleagues to whom I had sounded the same alert. I promised them all political asylum! So, it was nothing new, the Oxford comment.

Whatever language I used is my familiar language, not the language of Da’esh or its local impotent surrogates.

Finally, here is something very personal, but I have to answer the question of my genuine interlocutors in matching sincerity.

Our US base and family home in California – Abacha instigated – faces a rock hill known as Mount Baldy. It has survived the menace of fires, so close to disaster that we were placed on evacuation alert a number of times and were once actually bundled out by the police for over forty-eight hours. A fireball overflew the house on one occasion, landed some distance from ours and consumed that unlucky home. Not too far away, an escaping family took a wrong turn and lost their lives in the flames. Nothing of such menacing interludes ever brought to the fore the remotest consideration of relocating! However – and let this be stressed to all those who are strangers to the world of images – for this individual called Wole Soyinka, the superimposition of the Trumpian face on those bare mountain slabs began to take on reality, a reality that probably became even three-dimensional, like the massive faces of those former US presidents that remain gouged into the peaks of Mount Rushmore in South Dakota, visited by millions. My environment, albeit a substitute one for our authentic home in the forests of Ijegba – had become compromised. That is all I shall write on the reality of superimposition – the notion of waking up every day of habitation and seeing on that mountain slab the face of Donald Trump on my borrowed preserve, where, from upstairs, I sometimes stood in bouts of  contemplation, especially whenever the house was empty.

For me, something is gone. Again, I speak for myself, not for my family who are, in any case, also American citizens, an acquisition that I have declined I cannot recall how often. Let me repeat, even that portion of empathy that comes from intimate occupancy and usage over the years, and where the products of my ”extra mileage” were born, has become violated. It is still home, second home, but one individual named Donald Trump – and his cohorts – have ruined its hard-earned  companionship and serenity, built up over the years. As I keep repeating, these issues are personal.

And so, back from our quick excursions to Asia and the Antipodes, what is so special about America that an agenda of abandonment creates such hysteria? I am incapable of double standards in these matters. Why do individuals feel threatened? I have never invited anyone to join me in my purely personal odyssey, begun before most of these sniveling upstarts were born. Is it the Green Card that sets America apart? Then perhaps it iis time to repay the compliment with a Red card, as in soccer. I am not aware that the world’s oxygen storage tanks are located in the US of A, so that we cannot breathe away from it. I shall always compliment the American success story on many fronts, including the fact that millions of migrants derive their very living – including crucial send-home remittances – from her generosity. Many of us will always be grateful to her government at the time for sheltering both our persons and our mission during the Abacha years. However, we are also individuals, with specific needs, different sensibilities, and definitions of productive environments and thus, up to this moment, my Wolexit stands.

It is a personal thing. Perhaps it will help even further if I remind you of what I wrote in my memoirs: YOU MUST SET FORTH AT DAWN. There I confessed that my greatest – and irrational – fear in exile was that if I died outside Nigeria, my well-meaning family, colleagues and friends, would bring my body home. I took firm steps. The thought of resting within that earth while it was trampled over by a despotic monster whom I thoroughly despised, was the absurd but all-consuming fear that I had all through that deadly struggle. Obviously that fear has been eliminated, but then, having watched this American Wonder rise to power through a contemptible denigration of my sector of humanity, through mockery and jeers of my origin, I no longer find that environment congenial either for work or leisure, and I have signaled my unambiguous intent to exit. No one else is invited.

Well now, a remarkable development.  I stated earlier that the issue is not just one individual called Donald Trump, but the human environment that he and his ilk have spawned, one that contributes to a toxic environment across the globe, with the rise of ultra-nationalism and exclusionist politics. That environment is however engendering counter aspects to that created by Trump’s lowest common denominator in followership. Spontaneous protests have sprung up across the country. Too late, I’m afraid, and ineffectual, since Democracy has the last word, and its rituals have been concluded. The law of the land will prevail. However, I have been considerably cheered by the spontaneous manifestation of this rejection of the shame and horror that a ”majority” has imposed on the totality.  Americans will have to live with it, but there is hope. Even  before the street protests, something rather strange had taken place.

On the very morning of the conclusion of elections when I switched away from one news channel to the next, the screen went suddenly blank. Then came a scrolled message that called for a quiet, peaceful revolution. It went on and on, without voice or images, and it was non-partisan, since it rejected not only Trump but Clinton as befitting candidates but declared American democracy a sham. It went on to complicate matters by identifying an individual – Bernie Saunders – by name as an acceptable leader of a new movement.  It excoriated past governance policies, dismissed even Obamacare as a failure – I disagree by the way – and urged viewers again and again to LET’S TALK ABOUT IT. LET’S MEET ON THE INTERNET. LET A PEACEFUL REVOLUTION BEGIN etc. etc. It could have been Channel 33 or 34, I am no longer sure.  A serious, viable movement? Maybe not sustainable under the present system, but it goes into that multi-faceted network that leads to the eventual sanitization of any socio-political environment. And then, latest of the latest, the state of California has mounted a referendum for secession, within her constitutional rights. Quite an unpredictable prospect but, much as I am predisposed to upheavals by vox populi, I prefer to be out of the environment, being a non-citizen.

Let me end with a Red Card to those noisome creatures, the nattering nit-wits of Internet: maybe Trumpland is not as despicable as the Naijaland you impose on our reality from your secure cesspits of anonymity. Go back to school. Your problem is ignorance, ignorance of whatever subject you so readily comment upon. Learn to study your subject before opening up on issues beyond your grasp. Sometimes you make one feel like swapping one green for another, out of embarrassment for occupying the same national space as you.  But don’t get nervous, or start jumping for joy too soon – the Nigerian passport is just as tough to rip, physically, as is the Green Card, so I’ll stay put in my private Green Belt – the one I have named the Autonomous Republic of Ijegba. I negotiate my relations with both peoples and nations from its internal protocols – yes, that is indeed arrogance for you, but an arrogance of several decades’ principled growth. I carry that patch of green with me, everywhere, in a secure, invisible, and inaccessible pouch! It is that warehouse of ingrained sensibilities that engendered my decision.

WOLEXIT stands – I coined that deliberately, to signify repossession of my space of legitimate decisions. The media can nitpick over details – that is your profession. At long last, totally oblivious of the ongoing cacophony that had sprung up in my absence, I finally did receive for the first time a brief questionnaire from a Nigerian journal, The INTERVIEW, and one other. I responded. My exit time schema applies, not yours. If it even becomes convenient to bring it forward, I intend to do so, but please don’t come at me with plaints of time imprecision. ! never discussed it with you, nor invited you to a private decision whose execution was already in the making. Do not try to browbeat me. It’s a waste of time – all you have to do is  immerse yourselves in my antecedents.


Nigeria, dear native land!

A new ambassadorial list

Image result for nigeria embassyA lot of political spanners are in the works these days. One of them is the new ambassadorial list that the President has just sent to the Senate for scrutiny and confirmation. It is a highpoint among political appointments that have to be made and, even though it has taken this long, it has finally come.

The immediate thoughts that sprang up in my mind at the news of this list is my first-hand experience of one of our embassies in Europe. I had gone to this embassy to get some service for the first time. Right from the entrance one could sense that ‘anything-goes-here’ sort of feeling.

Whereas in many other embassies in the same country, a curt and official-like security officer would welcome and put you through the necessary security necessities, in our embassy there was this unruly, oddly-dressed ruffian  doing his own thing and giving a truly-worrying but wrong first impression of Nigeria to anybody from that part of the world. Or “is it indeed a wrong impression?”, someone might ask.

Whereas in this said European country just like many other in the occidental world, you simply pick a tally or press a simple machine for a ticket so as to order services and prevent unnecessary chaos, in our own embassy there were people in the crowded office shouting “give me number”, “na me be next person!”. It was an utter spectacle of an unorganized people.

Whereas in several countries, including the European country in context, a number of the issues one needed to come to the embassy for could be resolved easily via online enquiries, my country’s embassy had a most unresponsive and non-dependable website. Again someone might even say “thank God there was a website at all”.

Maybe nothing paints the picture of our average embassy better than the experience of a Nun who was also present in the embassy I visited that fateful day for a visa. This Nun, a Westerner, was all huddled up in one extreme space of the embassy watching, apparently with incredulity, the whole commotion in a national office which was indeed meant to be representative of the country she was about to visit. It was so embarrassing. I am sure she must have wondered to herself what sort of life attended her in Nigeria.

Now take all the aforesaid information in and let’s get back to the incipience of this article: a new ambassadorial list is in the making. With the other forty seven career ambassador designates submitted by the President to the Senate for confirmation in June this year, the present list of forty six non-career ambassador designates brings the whole list to ninety three. The most interesting thing about that whole list is the sort of eminent people it features. There are many unknown names included yes, but most of those on that list are real eminent, accomplished persons you may add.

The fearful question that comes to mind therefore is “what really used to happen after these eminent and accomplished persons are finally appointed?” How come these apparently decent and very savvy people end up running embassies that look like shackles of some tag-rags which the smallest of any organization will be so ashamed to own?  And that is our country’s embassy?

Well, it is time to speak to the conscience of the Senate which now has the duty to confirm such appointments to go beyond the disgusting test of “recite the national Anthem” and the likes, and approach such confirmation with the reality painted above in mind. We cannot afford to vividly present our country as a nation of unordered people and yet when it comes to talking about the nation, present same country as some ideal nation. It is very contradictory and actions, they say, speak better than words.

There is no better time to embark on a proper sanitization of our embassies worldwide via a choice of capable Ambassadors of the country who would indeed be true Ambassadors and showcase the country in better light with decent embassies. The eventual Ambassadors have no better means to key into the change-begins-with-me moral campaign of the government than with their new mandate with which they could make a difference.

It is about time we ended that schizophrenic division between a choice of apparently capable and exposed Ambassadors on the one hand, and an eventual shoddy job of managing our several embassies abroad by these same people on the other hand.

This is another reason why the clarion-call for strengthening all our institutions, one of them being ambassadorial position, is a major test of our other rather loud albeit necessary war on corruption.

Read from the Punch: Image result for punch nigeria

Nigeria, dear native land!

An open letter to the Vice President

Image result for vice president osinbajo

@ ProfOsinbajo

Your Excellency,

  1. I have followed for a while your interest in digital connectivity. Very commendable, given the fact that you are a digital migrant yourself.
  2. I’m hopeful you’ll do everything to promote the ‘Internet of all things’ that you believe in.
  3. The visit of Mr. Zuckerberg recently is one leeway forward. He spoke passionately of an ‘express WiFi’ to create greater connectivity particularly for rural areas that are yet to experience internet penetration.
  4. ‘Express WiFi’ will not only create an inter-connectivity hub for businesses. It could also be deployed to help in:

(A) Building security platforms via Internet-deployed technologies.

(B) Creating a super & satisfactory public transport (buses/trains) portal and their schedules online; and also portals to other public utilities and government initiatives. It helps in further creating an e-government which the budding digital population in Nigeria really needs in order to effect a connect with the government.

(C) Promoting greater transparency in governance i.e. putting and circulating govt. plans and policies on social media. Encouraging full compliance with the FOI bill. We have suffered mediocrity, corruption and outright low-life because of a long veil of darkness/ignorance on our common face in Nigeria

(D) Sparking off some competitions for production of IT contents among the 70 million youths in the country. One can only imagine the reach of these initiatives.

(E.) creating educational contents that are accessed online, driven by technology and available to all. Our deficiency in robust education is now at an all-time low than ever. (Forget the numbers that are said to be gaining secondary school education; what they gain in there is the issue.)

I hope these, and many other goods that a promotion of a wi-fied Nigeria further promises, encourages your Excellency to pursue this goal relentlessly.

The almost 100 million youths in Nigeria look to such growth as the nation now stands on the cusp of greatness in spite of her present predicament.

Thanks for your time.

@bimboamole, originally tweeted September 3, 2016.

Nigeria, dear native land!

Nigerians and the 8th Senate

Since the beginning of the 8th Senate led by its President, Bukola Saraki, it has been an interesting timeline of happenings and activities; of assurances and pledges, yet of dashed hopes and broken promises. The very first act of electing its President was fraught with accusations of back-stabbing and disloyalty. Little did one know then that such a bleak beginning was going to trail the Senate, even though now well over its first year of inauguration.

Thinking about this controversial first year and its ingloriously-dotted timeline, nothing gets one worried more than the daily, enlarging dichotomy of blame and distrust which we as the Nigerian people are nursing against the Senate, allegedly elected by our very self on the one hand. And, on the other hand, a reaction from the Senate itself of not being trusted by its own people.

From the peoples’ side of the coin, the feeling is that many of the Senators are not representing the true interest of the people. A possible inference from such a feeling is that many of us outside of that Senate would do much better than this present lot. That is the inference that interests me most, for my argument is that such a thinking is not necessarily true.

Take a census of what is happening in the daily life of ordinary Nigerians and the posit above may become clearer. The saying is that “you do not know the real nature of a person until he is tested with power”. But even without such powers that our Senators are now wielding, the average Nigerian is daily engaging in incredible stuff, some of such stuff oftentimes not considered as correlates of our present national vexing predicament.

The pool of renegade behaviours is endless: open demand for bribes in public and privates services(see the list, even of Judges, accused of kickbacks and sorts, some of them now shamefully dismissed); vehement bigotry and religious intolerance (a woman just got killed for speaking about her faith, for instance); insensitivity to the needy and vulnerable in our midst (some people recently diverted resources meant for the Internally Displaced Persons, while these poor vulnerable refugees in their own country died in tons of malnutrition); flagrant flouting of traffic rules (several accidents have robbed many of their lives this year alone due to stupid disobedience of simple traffic rules – of course that is without counting the untold hardship of traffic logjams because some just refuse to be orderly); corrupt advancement of the man-know-man Nigerian practice (the alleged high-handed recruitment by CBN/FIRS recruitments are just few examples out of many unheard ones – somebody even humorously said that in today’s Nigeria, you need to know somebody if you were to get your plate of rice quickly/at all at birthday parties)! One can go on, and we know the list is endless.

The point is well made: it is not with the Senate that the main problem lies. It lies within the general attitudinal worldview of the average Nigerian person. In other words, if we were to elect any average Nigerian person into the Senate today, you will have a replication of what is going on in the 8th Senate right now, if not worse.

The questions are, what do we then do? Are we condemned to this state of things and degrading ways of living where our Senators fail us woefully, for instance in such alleged behaviours where they even threaten their colleagues of rape (to reconstrue Dino Melaye’s alleged abusive words to Senator Oluremi Tinubu), and where ordinary Nigerians equally engage in different uncouth behaviours in the polity?

No, definitely things cannot go on this way without our disintegrating into oblivion or, at best, postponing our exit from a self-foisted slavery to mediocrity whereas other nations are researching into living in space.  But no true change will come by just wishing it, or without undertaking a true “healing from the roots”, different from a populist hype of a change mantra. I suggest three important course of actions if this usual “we/they” dichotomist accusation was not to go on with no reasonable escape from its cul-de-sac.

1. Education: It is clear to all who truly ponder on it that the state of our education in Nigeria is now below poor. The unfortunate incident in Oyo State where Secondary School students became pawns of thuggery and vandalism because the State Government sought to reform education in the State is a good example. The formation of mind and character is not only divorced in our present educational system nationwide, none of the two is hardly done this days. Of course the inability of States to pay teachers and civil servants generally has only worsened the situation. With this sort of scenario, what sort of people do we expect our children are growing up to be? What sort of future leaders do we think they could possibly be? If members of the 8 Senate got some reasonably good education (considering the past of Nigeria) and we are presently so dissatisfied with their manner of behaviours, what do we expect of youths who are now getting far less education in terms of quality? It is no magic, we shall be disappointed unless we engage in a holistic and integrated overhaul of our educational system. It is elating to hear reports of what Governor Aminu Waziri Tambuwal is doing in Sokoto in the education sector. Same goes for Chief Willie Obiano, the Governor of Anambra State. These gentlemen understand there can be no true growth and change until attitudinal change is attained. And no credible attitudinal change can be achieved without a robust and vibrant education. The time to start was yesterday.

2. Transparency and monitorable structures: Education is good, but it is not all. In fact, education is only the foundation to what the human person, particularly the one elected and given the mandate of leadership, must ultimately take up as a tool for ordering of public of life. We have seen several laudable initiatives of government become frustrated and messed up. That precisely spells out the fact that the buck does not stop with education but with policies tailored at helping educated citizens comply with government plans and initiatives. One basic problem in our country is the gross lack of oversight and monitoring, enabled by a terrible lack of transparency in many government activities. Non-transparency is a big dragon that we must kill if policies were to work in Nigeria. Education will then become enhanced with laid-out, monitored structures.

It is true that one major area where such transparency must be installed and upheld is in governance itself. For a long time public offices have become havens of ill-gotten wealth, while the publics themselves get rotten. The state of our several infrastructures speak for themselves. If the present government or any government worth its name was to successfully engineer a rebirth of Nigeria, transparency must become the hallmark of State. It is unfortunate that now that we have suffered its lack for many years, what some Senators are asking for currently is immunity rather than a clamour for more transparency in government dealings.

Yet, the discovery of massive paddings in the 2016 budget (compared to its undisturbed presence in our several budgets in the past) and the revelations that the Treasury Single Account (TSA) has brought are clear examples of how we could even do better in governance if transparence are not only spoken about but enforced by credible structures and monitor-able technology.

Be that as it may, transparency and proper structures are equally needed outside of government. In fact if they were needed in government, it is for the greater purpose of instilling same among the governed. When a transparent, monitored way of doing things becomes our hallmark, there will be less or at least controllable ills in the different areas of our national life.

The internet of things which the Vice President recently spoke about for instance is a theme that should receive a greater focus by the government. It is unbelievable that in 2016 we still cannot deploy a full monitoring of ministries and parastatals via internet-based technologies, much less make use of a true internet of things in our private individual lives.

To cite another vista to the discussion on the necessity of transparency in the country as a tool for massive development, think about the budgets of institutions like the Senate, the States, the ministries and parastatals. How many of these are available to the public? How many of them are subjected to public scrutiny and monitor? If transparency is not enforced in these ambiences, we may continue to witness years of earmarking funds for innovations and projects without corresponding actions or execution of such projects.

If developed countries with robust tools for transparency and monitoring still struggle with economic saboteurs and outright pilferers, how much more do countries like ours need to buckle up and ensure transparent and efficient monitoring at all levels of our lives?

3.Citizens-owned change: This point naturally arises from the last one. The most popular narrative about President Buhari and his government right now is the anti-corruption drive. But more than one event has shown that this drive needs more than one individual to succeed. Not only because the President can only do the much a single individual can do, but also because right in his very government, in his very before as our friend Zebrudaya alias 4.30 would put it, we have heard of individuals who want to carry on as before. Indeed corruption does fight back.

It is thus important that the will for change that Mr. President is bringing on board be hinged on structures and on the people’s participation, not only on his macho self, however macho he is. The immense citizens’ watch that is ongoing on the media is very crucial to the change being canvassed for by Mr. Buhari. It is wise that such a vibrant world of people who have keyed into his vision of wanting a corruption-free and, by consequence, people driven-Nigeria be brought on board made to own the change being sought. Citizens’ watch is a narrative that needs massive encouragement and strengthening at this time in our nation’s history if government policies and structures were to succeed.

When the trio of education, transparency and massive citizens’ participation team up with a purposeful government, the result cannot but be monumental development and growth.

But to leave out any of the trio would be to continue our usual blame-dichotomy narrative of “we” against “they”, whereas in essence neither of the divide is so clean to cast the first stone. Let us earnestly begin to build a future that is founded on solid education; a future that is subject to rigorous monitoring and transparency, a future whose success is owned by the people and thus earnestly sought-for by the people.

Nigerians and the Eighth Senate

dear native land!, Nigeria, dear native land!

The correlation of talent and growing that badly-needed forex

 Oresegun Olumide 8

These works of the Nigerian artist Oresegun Olumide who makes true-to-life pictures in oil speak for themselves. This is one of the many individuals we have around in the country who need to be brought to the limelight and given utmost support. This gentleman should start an art academy with every support that we can muster.

If we are talking about diversifying the economy and looking inwards, such efforts like this are often overlooked or even relegated to the background. We often think of agriculture, mining and industrialization alone. Those are very important but never sufficient.

This is an example of feats that can generate those badly needed forex that has now become a major national concern in Nigeria. Imagine having and promoting 10 scores of such individuals like Olumide in different fields of the Nigerian life? The sky is the limit for such a country.

The concern is that we do have them, and more than 10 scores. We got them in hundreds. When shall we begin to accord them the necessary support and national recognition?

Of recent the car-making industry brought to light another talented Nigerian who has been on the rise for a while: Chief Innocent Chukwuma of Innoson Motors. Some few days after he trended on different social media and was promoted by one of the Senators albeit a controversial one, the Nigerian Senate President was said to have ordered some foreign exorbitant executive cars for official use!

The question arises: if we want to grow Nigeria and bring it to world standard, do we expect the likes of BMW, Toyota, Total, Julius Berger or these countless other international corporations to do this for us?

It is evident to perceiving minds that our country needs a massive encouragement of home-grown talents and initiatives right now more than ever. The importance of individuals in different cadres of leadership in our country standing up to canvass for an encouragement of our many but silently struggling talents all over the country is now at all-time highpoint.

The founding fathers of America made some provisions for their fatherland, seeing and projecting into the future. It is time for us to begin projecting a better future for ourselves and our children from today.

The works of Oresegun Olumide and those of several like him in different practical fields call Nigeria to the sacred work of looking inward and knowing that developed countries got to where they are today by a promotion of such amazing talents, a search for such individual feats and a replication of such giftedness.

Nigeria, dear native land!

Education: the missing rib of our macho-change

There is certainly some tweaking that is still missing in the current atmosphere of change in the country. There is also certainly a complete spectrum of differences in the responses that this change is generating among different groups and individuals in the country. But what is left beyond doubt, as far as sincerity of purpose is concerned and as all men and women of goodwill in the country will testify, is that for the first time in the history of Nigeria we are attempting to look straight at our ugliness without flinching. “Without flinching”, not because the ugliness is not enough to make even the blind cringe at the hideous and appalling appearance that we have tried to cover up in this country for such a long time, but because we are now at least attempting to summon courage to do the needful if Nigeria is not to remain a contraption.

As the drive for change gathers its momentum, and as it is being subjected to the necessary tweaking of perfection by the government, civil groups and individuals, education has once more shown itself as the single element that is most necessary if all these efforts are not to be naught at the end of the day.

Speaking on Channels Television recently, a contributor touched on the heart of the matter at hand. In his view, corruption is actually not our biggest problem. It is monstrous enough, yes; it has caused destruction of untold proportion, yes. But it is not our biggest problem. Our biggest problem which now commands urgent and burning attention (for lack of more serious adjectives) is our comatose education. This view is not novel. It has been repeated by several brilliant minds for a long time.

Perhaps it is difficult to imagine the extent of the rot in our education system which our meagre flesh still attempts to cover up. But for a quick self-help, simply take a survey of schools around you. Except for the few, and very few indeed, private schools that are operating according to standards, most of our schools are just barely struggling to keep their doors open and answer the name school.

If you engaged a secondary student in an average Nigerian school today for some 10 minutes, you will certainly have a feel of the consequence of this “barely struggling to keep their doors open.” The truth is that from the very foundation of primary, through secondary and tertiary education, both the formation of mind and character has taken a drastic downturn to say the least.

It is clear to a discerning mind that any meaningful change as it is now being canvassed now must start with true formation of the human person. It is he or she, the human person, who is the change we are looking for. Indeed, all our weariness in the face of the outrageous situation which Nigeria now finds itself cannot be wanded away by the change mantra of a potent Buhari or a savvy Osinbajo alone without a corresponding and adequate attention to the education sector where men and women are seasoned in the formative cuisine of intellectual capability and moral probity. As Bishop Emmanuel Badejo puts it recently, we must “recover the man”. It is the man, the human person, who has been denigrated for a long time in our society by the ill of mis-education that has now reached his/her blown-up state, resulting in the present distasteful, quasi-failed Nigeria.

The job is already initiated. The percentage earmarked for education in the budget of the Nigerian government in recent years is encouraging: 2011-N306bn; 2012-400bn; 2013-N427bn; 2014-N493bn; 2015-N492bn. Even though this year gets a relatively low cut compared to the previous years, perhaps the government’s seriousness about plugging wastages should also be factored in. It is not so much about the budget sometimes. It is more about how much of the budget gets properly and truly expended.

But even at that it is not yet uhuru as our brothers and sisters in East Africa would say. We are not there yet, it is not time for celebration yet. Compare the figures above to the 26% which the UNESCO sets as the ideal for developing countries. We are therefore still a long way from home actually.

Given the monumental shambles that we have in our hands to deal with in the education sector, one practical way forward but which has sadly been perpetually sacrificed on the altar of religious nepotism and political wickedness is the return of schools back to their original owners. A serious and complete overhaul of the carcass of education in our country as it is critically needed now cannot be undertaken by the government alone. It is clear that serious hands are now needed on deck and we must leap over this sad religious divide which has kept the return of schools back to missionary groups and other private hands.

The unfortunate thing is that most of the stakeholders in government or otherwise who have refused to return these schools back to their original owners were themselves trained in these institutions. Till today they continue to speak of the glory of “those days” when they were in such schools. Yet when the time to do the needful comes around, the idol of religiosity which has now come to define us as a people in Nigeria rears its ugly head – a religiosity without the necessary fruit of godliness.

We have lived the lie for such a long time. The journey into the depth of this lie took off smoothly and pleasantly with the discovery of that liquid and much accursed black gold: petroleum. There was a mass drift, both from the point of view of general government policies and the vocations of individual Nigerians, from commitment to agriculture, trade and commerce which are ordinarily the mainstay of even the best economies. “Oye” as it is locally called in pidgin became the sole and acceptable language of our economy. The shift, in itself, is not the main trouble but the consequent life of indolence, quick fixes, corruption and ultimately a life-style of mediocrity which has now marked our existence as a people.

The worrying dimension is that this mediocrity has found its way even into our education system. That is worrisome. For once the water of education of a people is poisoned with the ivy of mediocrity, very little is remaining. Such a people only exists and merely survives in nomenclature, it does not truly live. It is now time to begin to live again. It is time to get back to proper education of mind and of character.

If there is any period where this is possible, it is in this period of our supposed change. It has been said severally that we are living at an opportune time. The crusade for change led by our popularly-acclaimed moral-macho-President cannot be successful if the whole process is built on this sole individual. True change in a society becomes effective and lasting if it is instituted through processes and not merely by a singular fiat of a leader, no matter how morally robust such a leader is. For such a leader is just one, and he passes away with his administration someday.

Thus, a lasting, effective and much-desired legacy that the Buhari administration can give as a precious gift to Nigerians is to institutionalize this change mantra, beginning with the field of education where the Nigerian boy, girl, man and woman will be trained to appreciate the big grammar of change that the government is presently blowing. From the field of education where the boy becomes the man, such institutionalization of change process should also be done in our judiciary, in our constitution, in the civil service, in the MDAs, and generally in our lives in Nigeria.

As a ready help to kick-start the formation of mind and character, it is now time, and urgently so, to return schools to mission groups and bury this hideous and cruel toying-around with religious nepotism that has turned our people to certificated illiterates. It is time to begin to redo the ills in our educational system and prepare a people for a change that is being demanded of them. After all, nemo dat quod non habet. Nobody can give what he does not have.

You cannot expect a people to follow any process of change if they do not understand clearly why such is necessary in the first place and why it is in their interest to change holistically. Whereas if the mind of a people were properly formed, a whole army of change is, by so doing, already raised.

The okada rider will continue to flout traffic light; the civil service staff will continue to seek gratification; the student will continue to look for avenues to cheat if all that these people get is no more than a clarion call for change. The people need more than a mere command in order to form bricks! The human person needs a solid educational formation which turns him to a being of conscience and right choices without which the paraphernalia of change is meaningless.

The best programme of change in any society will suffer woeful failure if the mind is not trained and character neglected while we labour with figures of misappropriated government monies and courts alone. That must be done without jettisoning the engendering of a new springtime in human formation.

It is now time to let go of religio-political rhetoric and return schools back to the missions and other private groups.

Published on Punch Newspapers,