Tuesday, May 12, 2015

A country with no history (addition)

Although we are not currently taught Nigerian history in our schools (see previous post), it is important that we understand our history. I recommend borrowing books that discuss our history or other significant events such as the Nigerian civil war etc.

"A History of Nigeria" was a good starting point for me. To give an overview of the country before, during, and after British colonization. Also, I enjoyed the memoir by Chinua Achebe "There was a country." It doesn't serve as an objective observation of the Nigerian civil war, but gives his own perspective of that time. Since he was prominent before the war, his account is very educational to see how his life was affected. There are many more books that we can read to familiarize ourselves with our history.

Just because we weren't taught Nigerian history in school doesn't excuse us from learning about our past. And hopefully, within the near future we can have a government that commissions books that chronicle our history from time before the amalgamation to the present day. The historians will have a lot to write, but we just need to ensure that their interpretation is as objective as it can be. Objectivity, not length, would ensure the book has the desired effect of properly educating future students.

Monday, May 11, 2015

A country with no history

History. History. History.

What's history got to do with it? A better question: What doesn't history have to do with it?

Having lived in the US and been exposed to US history classes in high school, I have an overall sense of significant events in the country's history. What led to those events, the repercussions, their lasting effects, and so much more. Taking a US history class walks you through the country's story; a story fraught with triumphs and disappointment, a story fraught with struggle for many groups, and a country that to this day has to deal with its demons. But the country knows the source of its demons. The question is how to address them. However, ask the average Nigerian to discuss their short history. There is no written history. The country's history is often intertwined with a personal story. You only remember what you lived through. What about the rest?

Growing up in Nigeria, all I remember are the dates of certain historical events. My friends and siblings can also attest to this. History is often taught as part of a current affairs class, where we are to remember dates and names. In 1966, there was a coup led by General Aguiyi Ironsi. From 1967-1970, we had the civil war. Our country does not have a written history. Our young ones do not know their history. They do not know why the Nigerian civil war happened. They don't know why the first or second republic fell. They don't know how Buhari or Babangida led the country during their stints as military dictators. They don't know intimately about the June 12th elections and how the country unraveled back into another military dictatorship. As a university graduate, I find it disappointing that I was not taught these things. I find it inexcusable that our children grow up with no understanding of the triumphs and numerous mistakes of the past. A country with no history is sure to repeat its mistake.

One of the reasons I believe we have no written history is that history and the past are often fragile, subject to the whims of the story teller. The historians can regurgitate demons that current leaders may be reluctant to face. The current government which is telling the story can reinterpret past events to suit their motives. In essence, the past can make the present politically tense. But, that is a minute price to pay for a thorough understanding of where we have been as a country, and what our future holds. More importantly, ensure that we don't repeat past mistakes. And simply, make for a more educated and aware populace.

We need the democratically elected government (through the Ministry of Education) to commission a set of professors and historians to compile a book that can be considered the definitive story of Nigeria. In addition, Nigerian history should be mandated in secondary schools. Teaching history can foster a collective pride and show that Nigerians have a collective history, and not that the Igbos have their own history or the Yorubas have their own history etc.

If a man is bitten by a dog, and makes no mental memory of that event. When he returns another time and is bitten by the same dog, he has lost all pity. He is the definition of a fool.

Friday, April 10, 2015

The common resentment of the Igbos.

The late prominent Nigerian author Chinua Achebe once wrote in his book that "Nigerians will probably achieve consensus on no other matter than their common resentment of the Igbo."*

I recently read the book "There was a country," and thoroughly enjoyed learning about Achebe's life before and during the Nigeria-Biafra war (Nigerian civil war from 1967-1970). And when I read the aforementioned quote, I believed that sentiment. I couldn't come up with any counterpoints. That was truly disappointing.

Late last week, the Oba (King) of Lagos made a comment saying that Igbos (whom I have shown in my previous two posts voted overwhelmingly for the PDP party during the 2015 presidential elections) would perish in the Lagoon if they did not vote for the APC (the opposition party) Lagos governorship candidate. His attempts to backtrack from his comment were also a disaster. He said "Lagos has also not betrayed the Igbo people. Lagos has done so much to make the Igbos comfortable and to prosper. For this, we expect reciprocal respect and understanding."

Lagos did not do and has not done anything to make the Igbos feel safer. Lagos should not have to do anything specific to make the Igbos feel safer. Lagos just has to do whatever it takes to make Lagosians feel comfortable, whether they are Igbos, Yorubas etc. etc. Igbos did not seek any specific favors from the Oba. Whatever Lagos has done to make Lagosians prosper, the Igbos have also benefited. For those non-Nigerians reading this, the Oba's comment are like saying. "The city of New York has not betrayed the black people in New York, and has done a lot to make the Black people comfortable and to prosper, and so the black people should reciprocate and vote a certain candidate." That is the sheer definition of stupidity.

Before the Nigerian civil war, Lagos (and the Oba) did not attempt to protect Igbos that were being murdered and forced to relocate to the Eastern region. Stirring up comments like the Oba's doesn't do Igbos and Nigerians any good. Many Igbos and their families lost everything during the war, and had to rebuild their lives when they moved to Lagos. Lagos state government, and the Oba (to my knowledge) did not do anything specific to make the Igbos as a group feel more comfortable. No laws or special favors were made to accommodate the Igbos. Igbos had to fight for their livelihoods, and were treated like any other tribal group (like they should). Therefore, they should not and cannot be threatened to vote for the candidate of the Oba's choice.

Please, I should not hear anyone defending the Oba's comments, and I should not hear anyone agreeing with the Oba. Because, all that does is confirm Chinua Achebe's comments about Nigerians' common resentment of the Igbos.

Disclaimer: I am an Igbo.
* Chinua Achebe's novel "There was a country." It is a great read. Would recommend it for anyone who wants more information about Nigeria's history etc.

Monday, April 6, 2015

Did the Igbos hedge the wrong bet?

The 2015 Nigerian elections have been nothing short of exciting. I was glued to Channels TV during the entire election process. I know many people were. Never before has the recitation of random numbers being so exciting!

My first thoughts when the results were revealed was mainly on the Igbo and Igbo-leaning states. Here, I consider these Igbo leaning states to be the South-south and South-east states. As the graph below shows, the Igbos almost unanimously supported the PDP, and despite that, the PDP lost. About 90 percent of the Igbos voted for the PDP, and they accounted for over 50 percent of the PDP votes (see previous post). When it comes to national elections, it's hard for the Igbos to make a significant dent. They just don't have the numbers.

Figure 1. Percentage of each tribal group voting for each party. Shows that over 90% of Igbo-leaning voters voted for the PDP.*

Why does this matter?

This is because in a time of fair elections (at least two dominant parties), it makes no logistical sense for a national party to nominate an Igbo for president. As long as there is a Northerner who can garner his Northern brethren and then split the Yoruba vote, he will win. The odds are against the Igbo candidate. Winning the Igbo vote and splitting the Yoruba vote doesn't work (the 2015 election is an example).

This is the reason I believe the Igbos hedged all their bets on the PDP. If the PDP won, Nigeria would largely remain a one-party state. If the PDP continues their rotation policy (where the presidential candidate is rotated from the different political zones), then an Igbo presidential candidate can eventually emerge. Over 90% of Igbo leaning states voted PDP! I don't think they voted because they all loved Jonathan (some definitely did). They voted that way because having only one dominant party with a rotation policy was the easiest way to Aso Rock.

How can we have an Igbo president then?

But, the Igbos hedged the wrong bet. The days of a one party state looks to be over now. For an Igbo president to emerge, he/she has to be ideologically different. He cannot afford to run an election where the only difference between him and his opponent is his tribal group. The Northerner would always come out on top. In addition to having a very different ideology, he/she must also have done something in the North. By this I mean, he was a minister in a Northern state or acted in some high level position in the North. This can give him the exposure to engender some Northern votes. OR get a high level (and popular) Northern figure as the vice presidential candidate. If an Igbo candidate were to get Sanusi Lamido Sanusi as the vice presidential candidate, then that presidential ticket has a great chance.

Some will say "why does it matter to have an Igbo president? We are ONE Nigeria." To simply answer that, it matters. An entire region cannot be neglected when it comes to choosing the country's leaders. The last Igbo Nigerian leader was General Aguiyi-Ironsi, who ruled for 194 days, and the Igbo leader before that was the ceremonial president Nnamdi Azikiwe.

*Igbo refers to all voters from South-east and South-south political zones. Yoruba refers to all voters from South-west. Hausa refers to all voters from North-west/central/east. Also, other political parties other than PDP and APC were not considered. Of course, I ignored the fact that the states in these voting regions have different composition of trial groups within.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

The all-powerful North

It has been almost two years since my last blog post. But, the Nigerian elections have been too captivating for me to lay shallow for too long. I will be discussing some of my thoughts regarding the elections and what it means for our future.

It is official now. The General has replaced Goodluck. I am too excited that Nigeria's democracy has matured to the point where an incumbent can be removed from office. Since I love numbers, I collated all the voting numbers to see how the All Progressives Congress (APC) won. The graphs shows that the North remains all-powerful.

Figure 1. Percentage of registered voters from the different political zones (2015 election).

Of the APC voters, the Hausa/Fulani leaning states contributed about 80% (Figure 2) of the total APC vote. 80%! This shows that the Muslim-dominated North was mainly responsible for bringing APC to power. This is despite the fact that the Hausa/Fulani consist of 58% of registered voters. They overwhelmingly voted for their Northern candidate. Also, the low number (4%) of "Igbo-leaning" voters that supported the APC depicts the influence of the tribal tendencies of Nigerian voters. Since there was no significant ideological differences between the two candidates (and the two parties), it became an election of tribes. The Yoruba-leaning states split their vote evenly between both parties (Figures 2 and 3).

Figure 2. Data showing where the APC got their votes  (2015 election).

Figure 3. Data showing where the PDP got their votes (2015 election).

Based on Figure 2, I pose this question: If General Buhari contests the 2019 elections and has the same accomplishments as Goodluck Jonathan, can he be removed from power? That answer is not definite. Because, as long as he has the North, he shall be difficult to oust.

Fill the comments box!

Terminology: The "Igbo leaning" are states in the South-east and South-south. The "Yoruba leaning" are states in the South-west. The "Hausa/Fulani" leaning are states in the North-central, North-west, and North-east. Actual voting numbers from 2015 election were used

Disclaimer: a) I rooted for the APC during the 2015 election. b) All the voting numbers used to make the plot were obtained from ChannelsTV. c) Of course, I ignored the fact that each of these states has different concentration of the different tribal groups within.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Dear lovely Nigerian girl

Dear lovely Nigerian girl:

I hope you and your family are wonderful. How is your little brother? He must certainly be grown up now. I remember our younger days when both of us would run around with no hindrance. I was always (and still am) in awe of your beauty, and I always said to my friends that when the two of us grew up, I would marry you. Your flawless dark-brown face was always lit up with your endless smile, and I always feared your lovely eyes could see through me. It has certainly being a long time since the both of us talked.

I am writing you because I recently read an article saying that well more than 60% of Nigerian women bleach (or 'tone') their faces so that they can become whiter (Effects of skin-lightening products report). They use endless supplies of whitening creams and mixtures of chemicals they hope will make them look white. They claim that the whiter they are, the more successful they will be because it would be easier to find jobs. Or that it makes women more beautiful and confident in themselves, and easier to find a husband.

It is very sad to hear these things, and I hope you do not believe any of these lies. The Black skin is as beautiful a skin as there ever was. And when you tone yourself, you deny yourself that beauty, and most importantly deny yourself your identity. Our skin is our first form of identity; it makes us who we are, contributes to our image, and should make us special. I hope you know this. If you tone yourself, who do you become? You lose your pride and the beautiful skin that gives every Nigerian boy sleepless nights. Don't let any one deceive you by saying that it will become easier to find a husband. If a man prefers that you whiten your skin, try to find him a visa so that he can go to London. He is a wannabe oyibo, and if he thinks so lowly of you to allow you to change your identity, what more will he ask you to sacrifice... your life? You might become whiter, but at what cost? Those chemicals kill (kidney damage) and maim many. You may gain the job you desire, but you are no longer you. It was a different person that got that job.

I want to be able to recognize you as the girl I used to love, and although this love may not be reciprocal, just know that there is someone out there who loves you just as you are; especially those sharp dark brown eyes of yours. As Tuface once beautifully sang, you are an African Queen. For Black is indeed beautiful.

With love,
A Nigerian boy

Sunday, April 21, 2013

The perils of amnesty

Amnesty, Amnesty, Amnesty... It's one word that Nigerian politicians never get tired of saying. Ever since amnesty was granted to the Niger Delta militant groups years ago, amnesty has become the solution for any terrorist group that arises in Nigeria. Amnesty has now been suggested as a possible solution to solve the Boko Haram menace.

First, what is amnesty? Amnesty is defined as an "official pardon for people who have been convicted of political offenses," or "an undertaking by authorities to take no action against specified offenses or offenders during a fixed period."

Pardon me, but I don't understand how a group like Boko Haram, who have bombed and killed thousands of Nigerians, qualifies for amnesty. Murder doesn't qualify as political offenses. Children have lost parents that were killed for no specified reason other than 'Western education is evil.' Fathers, mothers, children, friends have been lost to a group we still don't know too much about. And yet, our president is welcoming the idea and even pushing the idea that amnesty be granted to Boko Haram. Nonsense.

Some might say: "But, amnesty worked for the Niger Delta militants." That's true. The Niger Delta militants e.g., MEND (Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta) were fighting for goals all of us can agree is an important one; they were fighting for their ability to live. Their lands, water, villages, and way of life were being destroyed by the oil companies that drilled for oil in those areas. MEND and other militants were fighting for their right to live. And, although they kidnapped foreign workers (most of which were freed) and damaged oil pipelines, they did not resort to random bombings. Boko Haram are not fighting for their right to live (come to think of it, what are they fighting for?), and so Boko Haram cannot be treated in the same way as MEND.

Discussing the prospect of amnesty to Boko Haram is one way the Nigerian government is saying that they have given up. They have realized that they cannot control the group or hunt down their members. And so, the government is planning to wave the white flag and sign their letter of defeat called amnesty. But, how do you solve the Boko Haram menace, you ask?

It's all about intelligence. Instead of the government always acting on the defensive, now is the time for the government to create a task force specifically with the aim to establish contacts and a network in the north and even the Niger Delta. Start strategically sending members of the SSS (State Security Service, the Nigerian version of the CIA) to regions in Nigeria with the goal to monitor communities. These agents shouldn't go and start flashing their badges, but blend into the community as new community members. Live with the people, complain with them, and collect information about daily activities. You can think of them as spies. The more years these people embed themselves in communities often prone to violence (i.e, Jos, Kano, the Niger Delta, Borno etc.), the more prepared the government will be when violence does strike. The end goal would not be to make an arrest within months. But, when trouble breaks out in three, five or more years, the ground work that had been done numerous years in advance would pay off. The intelligence that would have been gathered would be so enormous that it would be easier to pinpoint who might be involved, how the group recruits, what communities should be focused on. Even if the perpetrators are not known immediately, the fact that there have been agents on the ground will aid in familiarity of the terrain and eventually how best to conquer any future group like Boko Haram.

Intelligence gathering is the key to solve Nigeria's security problems, and it needs to start now. What people need to realize is that after amnesty is granted to Boko Haram, the resulting peace would be temporary. Until the next group rises up and torments Nigerians again. The rise of another group is an eventuality, and amnesty is NOT the way to treat every Nigerian militant or terrorist group and solve our security issues.

P.S. And I don't want those Boko Haram members walking alongside the people whose lives they have  forever altered. Those who died should not have died in vain.