Monday, December 8, 2008

They came to Jos; they served the people; and they got slaughtered.

I have often tried to reconstruct the scene in my mind: three corp members on their knees and scared out of their wits; fifty or more ferociously armed guys dancing round them and chanting, "Allah Akhbar." Minutes later, one of the corp members gets his throat slit while the other two are hacked to death with axes.

Or the the man who was thrown to the very depths of helplessness as he stared horror in the face: the savages dancing round his house after setting it on fire, with him, his wife and three kids inside and no route of escape.

The Jos carnage exposes the bestiality in man.

An estimated 300 people dead and more than 500 still missing. This horror is supposed to have emanated from clashes between supporters of the various candidates in the just concluded local government elections. I hold a different opinion. The Jos massacre does not look like a spontaneous action, it smacks of premedication. It is not even a religious issue, as has widely been canvassed. I think the bloodbath at Jos is an ethnic issue. How did the rampaging youths identify the religious inclinations of their victims before they struck? Did they verify that the corp members were not muslims before butchering them? How did they know there were no muslims inside the house before setting it on fire?

Those three corp members did not go to Jos to for business, neither did they go for pleasure. They got posted to Jos for the mandatory one year National Youth Service; a scheme that was primarily established for purposes of strenghtening relationships between the various ethnic groups within the country. They went to Jos; they served the the people; and they got slaughtered. How will their parents and relations feel tomorrow, when someone else from the family gets a call up letter from the NYSC?

I shudder when I imagine that the earlier mentioned scene, or a similar one, will be recreated live again and again.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

The Lagos Challenge

The popular, albeit ominous, statement, “This is Lagos” really does capture the essence of life in the sprawling city called Lagos. Currently the sixth largest city in the world with an estimated population of thirteen million inhabitants, Lagos easily qualifies as the nerve centre of the Nigerian country and indeed the African continent. However a multitude of problems abound in this megacity. The United Nations Cyber School website sums it up succinctly, “Energy and water access, sewerage, transportation and housing have all been adversely affected by haphazard development of a geographically disjointed city”-

A lot of issues abound in Lagos such as Migration, Health, Traffic and the ever predominant issue of lack of social services. On an excruciating hot afternoon, my partner, Richard Babarinsa and I set out on an exploration of selected areas of Lagos Island in a quest to get a feel of the place. Our first port of call is the intense congested square popularly known by locals as “P & T” bordered by the massive seven-floor Ministry of Commerce building on one hand and the popular Lewis Street on the other. A sense of chaos greets you, buses and motorcycle taxis blaring horns whip by, everyone seems in a frantic haste even though its way past the rush hour, a DVD plates retailer adds the high pitched advertisement of his wares to the din, it seems hell really did break loose.

We are attracted to a rare sight, a young man sitting near a call centre and calmly reading a book and approach him. He amiably introduces himself as Joseph Dare, age 32 and a Caterer by profession. He is “a true Lagosian” , as he describes it because he was born in Lagos. He is a staff of Bonix Party Drinks and explain he is idling now because he normally works on weekends if customers come knocking, he worked last weekend and prays he gets an offer this weekend. Joseph animatedly argues that the greatest problem Lagos has is that, “Government really does nothing for the people”. He believes the Government should provide better roads, housing and healthcare but most importantly, “give ambitious youths like me the opportunity to afford schooling as my desire is to study Business Management and start my own large scale catering outfit”.

Richard and I continue our tour and find ourselves in the popular Tafawa Balewa Stadium. A bit more subdued area, perhaps due to the ever looming presence of the Ministry of Defence in the next street, however the hustle and bustle were still evident. The commercial bus drivers especially of the mini bus popularly called “molue” scream out their routes at the top of their lungs as if demanding that passengers come on board whether or not you had business plying those routes. The stadium shopping complex houses lots of travel agencies and seem to be doing brisk business as a good deal of the population seem eager to leave the country in search of greener pastures.

We enter one of the travel agency offices and meet with the manager who is noticeably disappointed we are not prospective clients. He adamantly refuses to give his name, because according to him, “Nigerian journalists often get you in trouble with quotes attributed to you that you have never heard before in your life”. A 1990 graduate from Federal University of University Owerri, the 35 year old came to Lagos in 1994 and sees the city as a big commercial centre. He believes Lagos is a fertile ground because, “virtually every business in Nigeria is linked to Lagos”. He, however, identifies numerous problems with life in Lagos emphasising particularly on issues of housing and transportation. He also believes the Government is not providing any social services and suggests the adoption of a more practical mortgage system in solving the housing problem.

A couple of years ago, 2003 precisely, the BBC asked novelists who have a profound understanding of the city they live in to reflect on the fiction it has produced and the various works of literature set there. In BBC’s compilation of these contributions titled Sense of the City: Lagos, Helon Habila (the 2001 Caine Prize Winner) really captures the “This is Lagos” phenomenon in this apt statement, “Lagos is seen as a place where people come and lose their innocence. It is seen as a kind of enemy to innocence, because basically it is a colonial creation”

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

The other side of 'yahooism in 9ja'

Why on earth would some banker somewhere be perfectly willing to let me in on a forgotten stash of loot which I could help him/her withdraw from the bank for a sustantial percentage? I've received loads of emails, for the past 2yrs, soliciting for my assistance in withdrawing, albeit clandestinely, mindboggling sums of money from bankers guarding monies belonging to such conveniently dead folks as Abacha, Eyadema, Abiola etc.

These 'yahoo boys' really have assumed epidemic status, and the FG + International Police should intensify efforts at battling this scourge. Infact I suggest that a National Immunization Scheme against 'Yahoo Disease' be set up to fight this epidemic. Or better still, a full commission - National Campaign against Yahooism Commission (NCYC), be created with Dora as its pioneer MD to steer the ship. Oh! just had Yar Adua presented a bill to the Natiuonal Assembly on the establishment of the National Cyber Crimes Commission

However, I am very concerned that the fight against 'yahooism' seems to be following one track. Fine, it's criminal to send mails giving untrue information with the aim of defrauding victims, and perpertors should face the law. What about the guy whose ears prick up at the prospect of skimming a couple of millions of dollars off Abacha's loot? Or the chap who is interested in claiming the lottery which he/she never applied for? Or the smart businessman who wants to cut corners and come invest (exploit) in Africa?

I never read tru any of these mails, I delete immediately I catch the drift. Hey! don't get me wrong, I'd very much love to make the extra bucks now and then, (who doesn't?), but I really think contacting me from the blues to discuss a transaction that would earn me a few million bucks in a couple of weeks is taking wishful thinking a bit too far.

How could any sane person fall for this kind of scam? It seems almost impossible but statistics reveal that the 'yahoo boys' industry makes an estimate of 3billion naira annually. So, business is good. The industry records higher and higher applicants and the brains are expanding thair scope of activities. It is ironic that the massive unemployment rate in Nigeria, which contributed to the growth of the 'yahoo industry' in the first place, is now one of the results of this expansion. 'Yahoo boys' have now begun to turn to the huge possibilities in the massive numbers of the unemployed. Vacancy ads are placed in papers and the resultant thousands of applicants are usually asked to pay 'application fees'. The numbers indicate that business is good, the 'mugu or maga' is always around the next corner.

It is important that these so called victims of 'yahooism' be called to explain their own intentions. I think the greedy fellow who decides to get involved in a deal to transfer illegal funds has committed a crime by not reporting to the appropriate authorities. S/he should be tried before the courts and, if found guilty, jailed. The weel worn cliche that you always hear by defenders of the industry is that, "we are taking back what was stolen from us during the colonial era." Now, this is a highly debatable issue, (maybe we'll talk about it later). Fact is, the victim is not really the victim.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Dat Nigga

Nigga Raw emerges as a very big influence on 9ja's youth today. This icon invented the infusion of modern techniques of rap with the local dialet which results in something of a new cultural phenomenon. Infact Raw is undoubtably the father of modern 9ja rap. Dat Nigga has built an awesome fan base and of course got great reviews from fans and critics alike. A great number of our youth today who have chosen careers in the music industry have become influenced by this enigma: and have begun to reshape their individual brands. Raw won the 2008 Nigezie Icon of Style and is posed to definitely collect lots more of silverware. Outstanding musicians who have emerged from his shadows include Timaya, Decumzy, Smartman, Duncan Mighty, Desperate Chicks -( i absolutely love those chicks), Blackdog and a whole lot of others. Raw's latest album - Everything Remains Raw reputedly sold 250,000 copies in the first 3 days of its release, now sale figures are in millions of copies. Nigga Raw has always been loyal to his roots and manages to intwine his loyalty to his hometown - item with that of Enugu - where he grew up. I hereby appoint him the Honourable Ambassador for Youth and as he currrently tours Europe on a promo, i say to him, "nwanne enwero, keep on waving the green flag bro"

1 on 1 with an 'alaye'

His story is the stuff of fiction: the son of a commercial sex worker and raised in an orphanage, Samuel Mensah fled the orphanage and Accra when he was about 11 and roamed the streets of the harbour city of Tema in Ghana for 2 years, then woke up one day, got on a bus with six of his friends and headed to Lagos, Nigeria. “I choose Lagos because opportunities plenty here more than Ghana”, he says is the reason for his somewhat impromptu decision to leave Ghana in 2001 for Lagos. Samuel and his crew had one thing in common: vague plans for survival but each determined to brave the odds.

Samuel is in his early 20s – he doesn’t know his age, “My mama born me around 1987, drop me for motherless (orphanage) go continue im job for ashawo hotel” – he radiates a feeling of being wild and free. On arrival in Lagos, Samuel slept in buses parked in garages at night and roamed the streets by day in search of jobs. He worked in an MrBiggs outlet as a cleaner for six days before his boss found out that he was an illegal immigrant and sacked him. Samuel was deeply disillusioned by this and according to him, drove him to, “copy as area boys take dey survive”. Thus a new member joined the swelling population of street boys in Lagos. These boys constantly engage in a variety of jobs; however they mainly congregate in selected areas; lay claim to such and shake down any unwary pedestrian or motorist who fall into their trap. Samuel describes his daily routine as washing face and feet with sachet water, (bathes fully only on Sundays), hit the roads with his gang, and at the day’s end - usually about 2am – sleep anywhere possible, usually in same area that they operate. George is also a Ghanaian and part of Samuel’s gang; he admires Samuel’s resilience and admits that, “Samuel na rugged guy, na correct survivor.”

Samuel currently lives and operates along the western pavilion of Tafawa Balewa Square. He appears relaxed, in contrast to the hustle and bustle of evening rush hour as we sit on the concrete ledges that fence the pavilion. There is a suffocating stench of urine and pedestrians, predominantly workers, hurry past. Samuel doesn’t care, he is relaxed and happy that he is soon going back home. Ghana has experienced enormous economic growth with recent discoveries of oil and last year’s re denomination of the Ghanaian Cedi. . Samuel is excited about the wind of change and says, “Now na people from here de go Ghana. Me and two of my paddy don arrange, we dey go next week”.

Samuel wants more of his compatriots on Lagos streets to join him in going home; he is currently convincing 7 others to join their party. He is aware of the challenges, “my mama don die, I no get family or anybody in Ghana”, he says. He is however apparently not bothered, and believes in meeting hurdles head on. In trying to convince his compatriots on joining him on the trip back home, he has this to say to them, “We no know anybody here before we come, and we survive, how we no go survive for our own country?” Life, as he adds, is all about, “being on the move”.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

The new immigrant and housing in Lagos

He was fifth in line, on a queue at dawn, to use the sole bathroom in the 14 room apartment. Chidi had arrived Lagos the previous day and was really bewildered with life in the city. First, he had to pass the night in cramped arrangements with his uncle and family in a single room; and then, at dawn, to be confronted with tons of tenants spilling out of the other rooms in a rush to make use of the facilities.

Overcrowding in housing units has assumed alarming proportions in Lagos especially in predominant slum areas. Abdulhakeem Akinola identifies accommodation as the greatest problem in Lagos City; he observes that, “too many people are jostling for inadequate building structures.” It has become common to see situations where as much as 10 people live in one room.

Migration is a big issue in Lagos; the city has attracted millions of people seeking for a better life from Nigeria and beyond. The last population census in Nigeria gives Lagos population as 9.6million which makes it the second highest in the country after Kano; however the Lagos State Government contests these figures, alleging that Lagos population should be about 13million and thus the most populous city in the country. Lagos is literarily bursting with over population and people still flock to the city in alarming numbers; statistics reveal that approximately 21 new immigrants arrive Lagos every hour. In 1999, the United Nations predicted that the city's metropolitan area, which had only about 290,000 inhabitants in 1950, would exceed 20 million by 2010 and thus become one of the ten most populated cities in the world. Mr. Shina Odunuga of the Lagos State Ministry of Housing says that, “The heavy influx of immigrants contribute to the strain on housing in the city, however Government is trying its best in providing more housing units to accommodate as many people as possible.”

Construction of economic housing units is an important responsibility of Government. However new immigrants like Chidi asks, “Where are the low cost housing projects?” The Lagos State Government recently built 2 housing estates at Oke Eletu, Ikorodu (where 2 bedroom flats go for 3 million naira) and Abraham Adesanya, Ajah-Lekki (where 3 bedroom flats are on sale for 12 million naira). “Do these qualify as low cost housing?” asks Mr. Casimir Ehirinne – an Estate Agent. “What we really have here is Government building houses for Its high ranking officials to purchase and either live in or lease out to rich tenants”, he adds. For mid civil servants like Chidi’s uncle –Tony, these housing projects are out of their means, “I definitely can’t afford that on my wages, and I can only improve by searching for another public yard where I can get two rooms probably in same filthy conditions”, he says.

Living conditions in these ‘public yards’ are quite unhealthy. In Tony’s case, approximately 50 people live in the 14 room compound and use one bathroom and toilet. There is no water; residents have to buy water from a commercial borehole some 100metres away. A greater population of Lagos residents live in similar conditions; recent studies by the World Bank reveal that Lagos has 42 slums, with the figure actually outnumbering well managed neighbourhoods.

Chidi finally got his turn at using the bathroom and as he dressed up, he couldn’t help wondering if he emerged from the filthy bathroom cleaner or dirtier. He is determined, however, “To work hard and rent my own room as soon as possible, hopefully with a cleaner bathroom.”

Saturday, October 18, 2008

what's with palin? has the united states gotten to this point?