Making Democracy Work, like we have a choice

Making Democracy Work for Africa | Kukah Centre | February 2018

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Upon my arrival at the Yar’Adua Centre for the event, I was stopped at the entrance by some security guards. They demanded that I show my invitation to the event before letting me in. Your guess is as good as mine regarding whether they were just catching some fun, or they thought I looked like a ‘small girl’.

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SPECIAL REMARKS
Dr. Bukola Saraki (Senate President): I got into the hall just as a distinguished female Senator was delivering her special remarks on behalf of the Senate President, Bukola Saraki. A quick scan of the guests seated on the stage confirmed that the promised special guests – Nana Akufo-Addo (President of Ghana) and Prof. Yemi Osinbajo (Vice President of Nigeria) – were indeed at the event. This led me to wonder why the Senate President had sent a representative to such a high profile event. Unfortunately, I cannot say that the distinguished Senator ably represented the Senate President. Most of her speech was lost on the audience as she was no great orator. (This was later reiterated by Molara Wood, whom I met after the event, and informed me that herself and the Chief of Staff to the Senate President Dr. Baba-Ahmed were face-palming throughout the speech because of the poor delivery.)

Kashim Shettima (Governor, Borno State): I am pretty terrible at remembering the names of politicians so it is possible that this speech was delivered by the Governor of Kebbi State. He didn’t say much of interest. The main thing he said was that states needed more resources (presumably from the Federal Government) in order to bring development to the people. He did not speak much about trying to raise higher revenues internally, as he also mentioned that all the money from donors was still insufficient to solve the problems in his state. He completely missed the points of democracy and Africa, as he went on to speak about how global trade was not fair to Nigerian farmers because of the protectionist policies in some developed countries.

SPECIAL INTERVENTIONS

Chioma Akwuegbo – Social Media and Democracy: I have always admired Chioma. She is a member of the Global Shapers Hub, Abuja, and is the Founder of TechHer. Her presentation on the role of social media in strengthening democracy was not great however. She spoke a bit about the power of social media, but then dwelled a lot on the negative effects of social media. I did not hear much about the power of social media in shaping agendas, influencing public opinion, and mobilising the populace. She ended her speech by advising that before we posted something on social media, we should imagine that our post would be on a sign board above our heads, and decide if we wanted to go ahead with the post. Well.

Dipo Salimonu – The Role of Think-Tanks in Strengthening Democracy: I was excited to listen to this presentation, as I believed there was a lot that could be done with it. I was a bit disappointed however, when Dipo spent half of his allotted time reeling out the achievements of Ghana. Given that we were a proud Nigerian audience (for better or worse), we tried our best to clap half-heartedly as he told us why Ghana was awesome. However, when he exclaimed that Ghana’s stock market was the best performer in the world in 2017, and that the Brookings Institution had predicted that Ghana would have the fastest growing economy in Africa in 2018, with the World Bank predicting it will be the fastest growing economy in the world in 2018, our ‘bad-bele’ got in the way and there was radio silence. Dipo did go on to speak about think tanks briefly, but did not say anything remarkable. He spoke about the Kukah Centre and its role in influencing public policy. He gained some points by quoting Amartya Sen (Development as Freedoms) and Michael Porter (The Competitive Advantage of Nations). He lost most of the points he gained, however, when he said that the most awarded degree in Nigeria was Mass Communications compared to MBAs in the US. He went on to say that this is why Nigerian youths were on Twitter, while American youths were driving innovation.

Ndi Kato – Youth and Democracy: I had heard about Ndi prior to this event, and was looking forward to listening to her speak. She didn’t disappoint. She had a very strong presence and had a  big voice. She took the stage and reminded everyone that at 28 years old, she was a youth. She gave a very fiery presentation and informed the youths in the audience that she had studied power and had observed that nobody that struggled to get in power relinquished it easily. She basically made a call to arms, declaring that youths had to be ready to seize power as it wouldn’t be handed to them. I personally felt that her rhetoric was missing the truth that youths had to be ready to take this power rather than seize it for its own sake.

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GUEST OF HONOUR ADDRESS
Vice President Prof Yemi Osinbajo was the Guest of Honor for this event, and he did not disappoint. I had listened to him speak a couple of times, and was once again amazed by his ability to present a speech (including direct quotations) without reading. He mostly introduced the President of Ghana and expressed the deep admiration he had for him. He also informed us about Ghana’s many great achievements.

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KEYNOTE ​ADDRESS
I had previously heard of Akufo-Addo’s oratory prowess and was not disappointed. Although he read his speech out, it was actually very good. Regarding Democracy and Africa, he spoke about his firm belief that education was the way to move Africa forward. He spoke about the free Senior High School Programme his administration had launched, and how it would ensure that every Ghanaian had at least a complete secondary school education. He spoke about how Africa needs to have high quality human capital in order to compete with the rest of the world. His statements reminded me about an event that was said to have occurred sometime after the civil war. Although I don’t know how true this story is, and I also don’t remember who I heard it from (possibly Obasanjo or Atiku). It goes thus: After the Civil War, General Yakubu Gowon called a meeting with some top leaders in Nigeria and the objective of the meeting was to answer one question – How could Nigeria ensure that the disaster of the civil war did not repeat itself? The answer he was given was education. He was told that if every young child from the different ethnic groups in Nigeria were given high quality education, it was less likely that divisions along tribal lines would occur.

Akuffo-Ado also spoke about intra-Africa trade and the efforts by the African Union to promote this. He made some solid points on how we needed to do business with each other in Africa. This again reminded me of some remarks made at the China Europe International Business School (CEIBS) China Meets Africa Conference in Ghana in 2012. One of the delegates lamented about the fact that it was easier for Nigeria to do business with China, than with Egypt.

To conclude this very long summary, the event was not bad. I can’t say I got a lot of information on how to make democracy work for Africa but there were a lot of good points. Given that it was the inaugural lecture, I look forward to attending the subsequent events.

​I however went away from the event with a sinking feeling that Ghana is going to lead the charge in the rebooted Africa Rising movement (and this is not okay with me).
P.s Three months later I have taken a position with the Nigerian National Assembly – the seat of Nigeria’s democracy – as a result of being at this event. Who would’ve thought?
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On Loneliness

Loneliness does not merely mean being alone but being without something. In essence loneliness is the absence of a thing. You cannot be lonely for something if you have not experienced its presence. A house only becomes an empty house if it has once been full.

Loneliness is being without.

Is it then better to be loved and to stop being loved than to never be loved? Is it not better to never know what it feels like to have a soul mate than to have one for a short period? Isn’t the hole much bigger, when something huge has been forced in then taken out?

Is it not better to just be than to for a brief moment experience the tornado that is love and be left with nothing but the resulting devastation?

Would a person, born blind, wish to see the world in full colour only to be returned to blind darkness? Wouldn’t this darkness be all the more devastating because then the blind person will know the true depth of their blindness? The darkness a constant reminder of the colour and light they have been denied of?

And in love, is it worth loving and losing? Can we love truly, knowing that it is only for now? Knowing that this glorious love we are experiencing today, may be soon relegated to that sad space that is occupied by burned out love?

How can a person slowly but surely insert themselves into your being and your heart and then violently extract themselves leaving you with a gaping them-shaped hole and frantically trying to stem the terrible bleeding out of yourself?

I don’t know.

Herdsmen-Farmer Crisis: What is the real story?

According to research by Johns Hopkins University, from February 1992 to February 2016, over 5200 lives have been lost due to clashes between farmers and pastoralists in 24 states across Nigeria. On the other hand, according to Dr. Garus Gololo of the Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria (MACBAN), almost 3000 herdsmen have been killed in these clashes.

Depending on who you’re speaking to, the conflict is either fundamentally attributed to the encroaching of herdsmen on farm lands, or the encroaching of farmers on grazing lands. This dichotomy of narratives brings us to the question: What is the real story?

The Fourth Deadliest Terrorist Group in the World

The Fulani Herdsmen militia have been ranked as the fourth deadliest terrorist group in the world by the 2015 Global Terrorism Index. Attacks that have been attributed to the herdsmen were initially contained within the North and North Central areas, but are now pan-Nigerian with reported attacks in the South and West of Nigeria.

It is apparent to anyone that this crisis is one that can potentially once again bring Nigeria to its knees. It is again obvious that Nigeria cannot afford for this to happen, especially with the ongoing conflict in the North-East and the resurgent conflicts in the South-East and South-South. Also, the increasing sparseness of public funds as a result of the declines in oil prices, oil production and the general decline in Nigeria’s productivity mean that these limited resources cannot be diverted to fund another war.

The herdsmen-farmers crisis has to be resolved permanently and effectively. This is a fact. However, how can this be achieved?

The Danger of Too Many Stories

It can be argued that to find a solution to a problem, one must first have a clear picture of what the problem is. By extension, in order to find a solution that appeals to all stakeholders to the problem, it is important for these stakeholders to agree on what the problem is.

There are a multitude of narratives regarding the Herdsmen-Farmers crisis. H.E Atiku Abubakar shared at an event that took place in Abuja in May 2016 that the herdsmen crisis was said to be partly caused by herders that had sold off the cattle they were custodian off and squandered the proceeds. These herders then resorted to criminal activity such as kidnappings to get more money to maintain their lifestyles. These offshoot narratives are numerous, but can all be traced to one cause.

What is the Real Story?

At the centre of the herdsmen crisis, from whatever angle you look at it, is access to grazing land. This has become a problem especially as a result of climate change, increase in human population, increase in livestock population, and poor agronomic practices.

What Do The Herdsmen Want?

It is important to note at this point, that the herdsmen usually own only a small fraction or even none of the cattle that they herd. These cattle usually belong to influential cattle breeders which includes politicians, top-level civil servants and other wealthy Nigerians. These cattle breeders have a representative association known as the Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria (MACBAN). The Jamu Nati Fulbe Association, on the other hand, is more focused on the herdsmen themselves and was formed to enlighten the nomadic herdsmen on the importance of living peacefully with their host settlers. “Jamu Nati Fulbe” is said to mean “Peace has returned for the Fulanis.”

The Miyetti Allah issued a recommendation signed by its National Secretary listing some requests to the Nigerian Government that they believe, if met, will minimize the clashes between herdsmen and farmers. The requests can be summarized as follows; The Federal Government and relevant MDA’s should demarcate and preserve grazing routes; create a comprehensive Livestock Development Action Plan; Establish a Federal Ministry for Livestock Development; Provide funding for grazing reserves development; Close monitoring and detection of trans-boundary movements, trans-boundary animal diseases; Undertake livestock census and carrying capacity of grazing reserves and grazing areas; Provide intervention fund for the development of comprehensive livestock production including ranch acquisitions, grazing reserves and stock’ routes both in the short, medium and long term and provide training and capacity building for pastoralists.

The group however, refused the Federal Government’s suggestion to set up cattle ranches as an alternative to nomadic grazing.

What Next?

Grazing Reserves: The most obvious solution to this challenge, that also appears to be within the reach of the government of Nigeria is the setting up of grazing reserves along the grazing routes of the herdsmen. However, this proposal is not widely accepted by all stakeholders, as it plays into the suspicions of those who believe there is a Fulani agenda to Islamise or subjugate the rest of the country. Also, over 70 percent of 415 existing grazing reserves previously set aside by the federal government are still yet to be developed, or have been diverted to other uses. In addition, sedentary farmers in various parts of Nigeria believe that setting aside grazing reserves for the herdsmen amounts to giving them preferential treatment.

Cattle Ranches: The establishment of cattle ranches has also been proposed as a potential solution to the problem. The Federal Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Audu Ogbeh, recently proposed that grass would be imported for the ranches from overseas as is done in other high output cattle rearing countries like Saudi Arabia. However, the Miyetti Allah has rejected this proposal, opting instead for the establishment of grazing reserves. Again, a study conducted by Ismail Iro on cattle ranching in Nigeria concluded that the efforts by the federal government to set up these ranches were mostly a failure as the ranches became huge financial, environmental and health disasters.

Way Forward

Would it be possible to find some middle ground between the establishment of grazing reserves and the establishment of cattle ranches that would be accepted by majority of the stakeholders? The only way to find this out will be to ask them. There is a need to convene a series of dialogue sessions with these stakeholders using comprehensive research work on all the available options as a backdrop. The objective of these discussions would be to arrive at solutions that have been created by the parties involved, rather than imposed on them. This is the only way to ensure that the solution is lasting and would be truly effective.

On Biafra: Please Don’t Go Your Own Way

I think I was in Primary 6 when I first heard the word Biafra.

It was in a Social Studies class, if I remember correctly, and we probably spent all of one minute discussing it, if we did at all. I mostly learned that the Igbos of Nigeria had once decided they no longer wanted to be part of Nigeria, and had tried to break away (silly Igbos!). I learned that this act caused the civil war, but that Nigeria was eventually preserved as one country. Most of my class, including myself, joked about the incredulity of the whole thing. How could they have tried to leave Nigeria??

More than a decade later, waiting for a meeting with one of my bosses in a Director’s office in the Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs, I decide to ask him: What do you really think about Biafra?

He becomes immediately animated, speaking of the ill-advised youth agitating for Biafra. He talks about his experience of the war in Sierra Leone. Then he talks about his experience of the Biafran war. He tells me how as a child during the war, he would play a game with two of his friends one afternoon, and by the next afternoon one of them would be dead. He mentions a contact he has, in one of the Nigerian ministries, and explains that they took school lessons under trees together in Biafra, as the Nigerian army was bombing school buildings. He pauses a minute, and I realize with sadness that he has gotten emotional. I flash back to something a colleague had said to me previously, about how emotional some of his relatives that experienced the war got, when the subject was brought up. I had thought he was exaggerating then, as he often is, but sitting in the Director’s office with my boss, I believe him.

Like many young Nigerians, my real introduction to the Biafran story was through Chimamanda’s book, Half of a Yellow Sun. I cannot say that I believed all of the narrative. I recognized that the author may have embellished the story, made it much more tragic than it was, for the sake of art. Fast forward again to a time that I was crying, right after watching a movie on the Rwandan genocide. I wondered how people were able to bear so much pain and suffering. Then the next movie was announced. Another movie on a war that happened in Africa. “All these African countries,” I thought, “Why do they always do things like this?” But then lo and behold, this war happened in my own part of Africa. I watched as an American soldier tried to help a woman whose breasts had been sawed off by a Hausa soldier. At a point in the movie, a priest bade the soldiers farewell, saying “God go with you.” The soldier (Bruce Willis by the way) responds by saying “God has left Africa already.”

Now flash forward to the present day. On the news yesterday I heard that six pro-Biafra agitators lost their lives. Yesterday, I joked with an Igbo taxi driver that declared he was going to marry me. “How can you marry me when you’re all saying you want to go to Biafra?” I’m surprised when his smile disappears, and he remains silent for the rest of the ride. I tell my colleague jokingly but seriously, “If the Igbos go, then we won’t be Nigeria anymore. There’s no Nigeria without Igbos, they’re so much a part of the Nigerian identity.”

One to three million Igbos died in the Biafran war. From one, to ten, to a hundred, to one thousand, to a hundred thousand, to one million, to three million, possibly more. One to three million Igbos died in the Biafran war.

There’s a famous picture on the internet that makes me incredibly sad whenever I see it. That picture of an extremely malnourished African child, trying to crawl her way to food, and a vulture trailing her. It hit me recently that this picture could have easily been taken during the Biafran war.

That night, I send a friend a text, I don’t want you to go to Biafra : ‘( !!! After a while, my phone lights up with a response, Haha, to go and do what. I feel a little better but not much. I go to bed feeling very pained for my country and its people. I can’t shake the feeling of being in a house where everything and everyone that is precious to you resides, and trying hard to deny the fact that you can smell smoke.

p.s. The title of this article was derived from an Economist article on the same subject –  “Go Your Own Way”

Yeah, he said there are way too many dickheads in Nigeria….

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This is his article.

This is my response.

Aww, shucks, he’s probably right. It’s basically the same thing I’ve been telling my friends, just in err, more appropriate terms. I do honestly agree, that the problem with Nigeria is Nigerians (including yours truly).

This white guy said something that struck me.

“If you were to replace the politicians – let’s say our 109 senators from before – with 109 random people from the Nigerian citizenry, you would get no change in behaviour.  You could repeat the experiment a thousand times, and you would get no change.  There is no ruling class in Nigeria, there is just a set of rulers.  Where any change is expected to come from I don’t know.”

If you take a moment to think about it, you’d realize that unfortunately, this is very true. Tim Newman discovered the thread of greed that runs through most of us. Greed white greed (forgive me). Think about it though, even the supposedly rich are shining their eyes. Maybe that should be our slogan: Nigeria, shine your eyes. Most of the population, including me again, has a strong desire to be wealthy or to better pass our neighbours, and most of us want to attain that wealth with the least possible effort. C’est le problème.

Whenever I’m discussing the Nigerian situation with someone, and they start singing that broken record about the government this, the government that, I’m always like “Err, excuse my french, but bullshit”. I proceed to draw their attention to numerous polls (though informal) that have been carried out asking average Nigerians if they would dip their fingers into the infamous national cake, if given the opportunity. Needless to say, majority of them admit that they most definitely would. Including kids in high school, our leaders of tomorrow.

It’s not the government. It’s us Nigerians, as a whole.

The Nigerian mentality. The hustle mentality. I gats to be rich. Emi na ma di bigs girls. Our eyes are always open, waiting for our big break. No one wants to venture into anything that does not directly and immediately benefit them. My dad recently lamented to me the fact that majority of Nigerians would prefer to acquire multiple cars and houses than invest in the progress of science and technology.

People often say that I do not sound Nigerian (not that I have any sort of foreign accent) and I say, yes, I’ve somewhat neutralized my accent. Usually, they get all worked up, accusing me of not being a proud Nigerian. I am, in fact, not a proud Nigerian. I love my country a lot, but I am currently not very proud of it. I will identify myself as a Nigerian whenever I have to, but I will not throw the fact of it in people’s faces. Like many other people, I think we as a country, are performing way below our capacity.

Before I ventured out of Nigeria in search of higher education, I was oblivious to our worldwide reputation. Soon enough though, the overwhelming negative fact of it hit me like a slap on the face. Just about thirty minutes ago, in a tutorial class, the teaching assistant was advising us not to be like the Nigerian students because they don’t attend lectures and resort to cheating in exams. Some people that knew I was Nigerian, protested and said it was a student thing not a Nigerian thing but he insisted and said,

“As for Nigerians, that’s their record”.

Trust me, I gave that T.A. a piece of my mind, but I was left with a bitter taste in my mouth because I knew that there was an underlying truth in what he said.

There’s a lot I have to say on this issue as it is very very close to my heart, but I’m going to cut it short. I once told a friend (one of those that criticized me for neutralizing my accent) that one of my goals in life was to do something for my country. She hissed and said “You even have time.”, which generally translates to “Why bother?”.

I do think Tim Newman should not be too quick to condemn Nigerians. He was working in the oil and gas industry, which could arguably be described as the nucleus of the country’s corruption. There are a lot of Nigerians that are rising above the cycle of greed, that genuinely care about their country, and are actually trying to do something to veer it off its path of destruction. That girl on YouTube, sadly, is not one of them. This other girl though, definitely is.

Please be one of these Nigerians. Nigeria is not an abstract concept. It is not its government. Nigeria is you and I (was going to type “me”).

Afterall, the whole sex thing is over in five minutes…….

i-am-woman

I’m hungry. I’m really hungry. In fact, I’m starving. My tummy rumbles in agreement.

Walking back to my hostel, I see that the African Studies department is hosting an event. I seriously consider attending the event, mainly because a buffet has been laid out.

I shake my head.

A friend of mine got a Galaxy S4 just the other day. I’ve been trying to save for a phone for the past four months. The same goes for everything else. Groceries, clothing, shoes, rent. I always have to be very careful before I make any expense, because mehn, Ice cream and pizza today can equal garri and peanuts tomorrow. These other girls though, they only have to pout their perfectly stained bottom lips, and their needs are met. Just like that.

I have long since resigned myself to the fact that I am not like them, and would never be like them. There are two main reasons why not. There is God, then there is my pride. Sometimes, though, I’m sorely tempted.

Later that day, I’m invited to an event.

This man, he’s fifty, same as my dad, and says he wants us to be good friends. I laugh my delightful little laugh, and ask what what exactly he means by that. I am overwhelmed by the alcohol in his breath as he guffaws. Then he tells me good friends are friends that take good care of each other. I smile and take another sip of my drink, stealing a glance at the gold band on his ring finger.

Looking into his face, smiling as I watch him speak, listening to what he is saying, and hearing what he actually means, my mind wanders. I imagine not having to walk under the hot sun to hustle for a bus when I have to go somewhere. I imagine having all the latest tech toys at my disposal. I imagine ignoring, as opposed to frowning at the price tag on a coveted dress. I imagine the marvelous state of abundance in place of this state of want. I flashback to all the other promises, always made with that infamous clause.

“I can actually get you an internship at KPMG…”, “I can get your articles published in the national paper…”, “I can pay for your ticket to SA…”, “You should come with me to this beautiful resort in Togo…”, “I can get your pictures in that magazine…”

After all, like a dear friend of mine concluded, the whole sex thing is over in five minutes.

But no. There is God, then there is my pride. I will not turn this temple of God (my body, in other words), to one of those oriental fertility temples. I will not sacrifice my dignity for material things. I will continue to support myself. I will learn to sufficiently provide for myself. No man will be able to take credit for the amazing success I know for a fact that I’ll become.

I will not lie on my back, but will stand on my two feet.

And in other news, I am woman, hear me roar (couldn’t help it, sorry).

Young and Stupid

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I’m lying on my bed, laughing to and at myself. Sometimes, I can be really stupid. Often, I do a lot of stupid things.

The way I see it, I’ve done a lot of stupid things but I can’t say I’ve done enough. In fact, I’m eagerly awaiting the next set of bad decisions I’m going to make. The next set of unfortunate consequences that I’m going to endure. It gives me a thrill you know, the whole cause and effect thing. This thing is happening as a result of that thing I did. It makes me feel like, I’m in control.

I was saying, I haven’t done enough stupid things. I’m young, therefore, I’m allowed and even expected to be stupid. It’s a cliché I embrace with my whole being.

I just finished reading a book-Forrest Gump-about an idiot. A real idiot. He was always saying, to paraphrase, ”What do I know? I’m just an idiot.” Honestly, I think we are all idiots in our different ways. We try not to over-analyse things as it makes the little understanding we have of them slip through our fingers, like smoke. We just go with it.

Just go with it. Let me be stupid. Let me make bad decisions. It’s okay if I don’t know what I’m doing. Really, who does?