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ideas have consequences

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Friday, 30 November 2012 18:13

Review of Achebe and Soynika Writings

 

The Gods Are Angry

False narratives hamper Africa's development, while dangerous new ideologies flood in from the outside.

Africa as we know it is a fiction, constructed after the arrival of Arab and European slave traders, at which point the continent had already experienced millennia of cultural and civilizational developments. That history was largely unwritten and therefore lost. Africa in the past century was governed by rulers, both colonial and postcolonial, who didn't know where she came from. Artificial borders and alien political structures were set up to govern her peoples. Rebellion, instability and economic stagnation followed. Though the leaders have changed repeatedly, the results have remained the same.

 

Consider Nigeria. The country had its borders drawn by the British in 1914, with little regard for ethnic and social cohesion among its hundreds of tribes. After independence in 1960, the Brits rigged the first election to ensure that power went to the conservative elements in the north, who came to believe that it was their natural right to rule Nigeria. In subsequent years, the country was racked by ethnic strife, secession and civil war. No Nigerian statesman was able to reach across to other tribes. And while the country has regained stability in recent years, its path to development today is hampered by corruption, misrule and the rise of radical Islam.

Nigeria stands in for Africa's broader plight, and it is fitting that books by two Nigerian authors—the Nobel-winning playwright and poet Wole Soyinka and the celebrated novelist Chinua Achebe—attempt to confront the historical and spiritual roots of Africa's crisis. The authors—among Africa's greatest intellectual giants—have been consistent and courageous critics of misrule on the continent for decades, stances which put their lives at risk and forced them to flee their native country. Both authors see hope in Africa's indigenous religious and political traditions.

 

Mr. Soyinka is "frustrated" by the false narratives of the continent, as well by the dangerous new ideologies flooding in from the outside. "Of Africa" is an intellectually robust, book-length essay that attempts to unravel the paradoxes and contradictions plaguing Nigeria and, by extension, Africa. "What is Africa?" the author asks. What we know of the continent is based on mythologies propagated by the early European adventurers, colonialists, postcolonial African leaders and African Americans.

The Arabs and the Europeans were invaders, colonizers and enslavers, who imposed their alien religions on Africa. Neither Islam nor Christianity, as Mr. Soyinka points out, is indigenous to Africa. While the Europeans ran the trans-Atlantic slave trade, the Arabs ran its north and east African counterparts. But, says the author, the suppression or denial of the equally ugly history of Arab and Islamic plundering in Africa—perhaps for reasons of political correctness—has allowed a new threat to emerge: "a shadowy but lethal force determined to reenslave a continent with its chains of fundamentalist theology!" Radical Islam has taken root in places like Mali, Somalia and Nigeria. Mr. Soyinka sees it as more dangerous than the corrupt, secular dictatorships. The latter, he says, can be confronted but "the chains placed around the mind through religious absolutism are far more constrictive, tenacious, and implacable." According to Mr. Soyinka, the pre-eminent African issue of the 21st century will be a "crisis of religion," and he warns that if "Africa falls to the will of the fanatic, then the insecurity of the world should be accepted as its future and permanent condition."

Salvation, he thinks, can be found in "the undiscovered—or neglected, indeed, despised—terrain of African spirituality." He discusses "Negritude," a concept first formulated by, among others, the American civil rights activist W.E.B. Du Bois to refute racist claims of black inferiority and spotlight black contributions to civilization. Among African intellectuals, Negritude took hold in the 1930s. To Mr. Soyinka, it is an untapped resource of African humanism. The anti-Apartheid icon Desmond Tutu describes a similar concept when he talks about ubuntu—"the bundle of humanity"—and Mr. Soyinka finds his own version in the traditional religion of his Yoruba culture, Orisa.

 

Mr. Soyinka's motivation for writing "Of Africa" was his search for an African humanism that could counter the deadly consequences of religious fanaticism. He urges Africans to remember their continent's traditions and recognize that tolerance is at the center of African spirituality.

Mr. Achebe's book is a history and decidedly less ambitious, philosophically speaking. But it, too, is driven by an ideal. "There Was a Country" is a fascinating and gripping memoir of Biafra, the country his Igbo tribe sought to create by seceding from Nigeria. In the first years after Nigeria's independence from Britain in 1960, the Igbo, who hail from a region in the country's southeast, were among the most successful of the country's tribes. They had the highest literacy rate, the highest standard of living and the greatest proportion of citizens with postsecondary education among the tribes. They dominated senior positions in government and educational institutions. Igbo success bred resentment

The fateful day was Jan. 15, 1966, when Maj. Chukwuma Nzeogwu, an Igbo, led a group of army officers in an attempt to overthrow the government. It was widely misinterpreted as an "Igbo coup" and caused a backlash throughout Nigeria: "Thirty thousand civilian men, women and children were slaughtered, hundreds of thousands were wounded, maimed, and violated, their homes and property looted and burned." There was a mass exodus of the Igbo from the north. Mr. Achebe was working at the Nigerian Broadcasting Service (NBS) and had just completed a novel, "A Man of the People," which severely criticized Nigerian politics and climaxed in a coup. Being an Igbo, he was naturally linked to the real coup under way. Drunken soldiers appeared at the NBS to ask him which was more powerful: their gun or his pen. The author wasn't yet at work, and, upon hearing this account, he fled.

 

On May 30, 1967, the Igbo declared their own independent country, Biafra. (Mr. Achebe would serve as its roving cultural ambassador.) But the Nigerian government reacted savagely to the Igbo secession, blockading the region and starving the rebel tribe into submission. Over three million perished, mostly Igbo, before the end of the civil war in 1970. Mr. Achebe interweaves his own history with a harrowing account of the war.

The end of Biafra didn't bring an end to the pogroms against the Igbo, nor to Nigeria's problems. The country became plagued with "a home-grown enemy: the political ineptitude, mediocrity, indiscipline, ethnic bigotry, and corruption of the ruling class," as Mr. Achebe writes. To resolve these problems, Mr. Achebe also invokes the Negritude embedded in the mbari of his own Igbo culture, which emphasizes mutual respect and coexistence. "The Igbo believe that art, religion, everything, the whole of life are embodied in the art of the masquerade," Mr. Achebe says. It is the cosmic masquerade that upholds the "virtues of African tolerance and accommodation."

 

It is astonishing that two authors writing from such different perspectives should conclude that the solutions to Africa's problems can be found in Africa—her bosom, her humanity—and that Africans must rebuild their own indigenous institutions.

 

But Messrs. Soyinka and Achebe's focus on Negritude is problematic. It is an idea that failed miserably. Its first African proponent, the late president of Senegal Leopold Senghor, thoroughly discredited the concept by using it to develop an "African socialism" as an alternative to Marxism. Socialism is fundamentally antithetical to Africa's economic heritage, which explains why it was a disaster wherever it was implemented in Africa—in countries as varied as Ghana, Guinea and Tanzania, for example—producing one economic crisis after another. (When Senghor retired as president in 1980, he settled in France with his French wife to focus on helping improve the French language—some Negritude!)

 

Messrs. Soyinka and Achebe fail to adequately explain the genesis of African spirituality. It stems from the belief that man doesn't live alone in the universe, which Africans divided into three elements: the sky, the world and the earth. Each person has a specific place and function in this universe. Human action corresponds to the animation of nature, and each gesture correlates with some aspect of the universe. African art, dance, music and other human activities are a reflection of the rhythms of the universe.

 

The three cosmological elements—each represented by a god—must be in perfect harmony or balance. The sky god is the supreme among them, and each must be propitiated. If the sky god is "angry," there will be thunder, floods, etc. If the world god is angry, there will be conflict, war and state collapse. If the earth god is angry, there will be poor harvest, famine, barren women and the like. The gods may take human, inanimate or spiritual forms, and there are many intercessors—dead or alive—between man and the gods: ancestors, kings, chiefs, priests, medicine men. All are arranged in a hierarchical order. Among some tribes, harmony among the cosmological elements, called kiet, requires corresponding human behavior: tolerance, accommodation, etc. (Mr. Achebe's Igbo, for instance, have no gods, since any individual person is the union of the three elements.) Religious intolerance and fanaticism thus have no place in the highest ideals of the African soul, something noted by both Messrs. Soyinka and Achebe. They wouldn't coexist in a religious system that seeks harmony among the cosmological elements.

 

There are more than 2,000 African ethnic groups but despite the incredible diversity there are striking commonalities among them. Whereas Western jurisprudence emphasizes punishing the guilty, the widespread African tradition stresses restitution and reconciliation or "restorative justice"—the basis of South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commissions established after the dismantling of Apartheid. Africa's economic heritage featured free village markets. There were rudimentary free markets in Timbuktu, Kano, Salaga, Onitsa, Mombasa and elsewhere before the advent of the colonial era. Whereas the West practiced majoritarian, or representative, democracy, ancient Africans practiced participatory democracy, where decisions were taken by consensus at village meetings variously called asetena kese by the Ashanti, ama-ala by the Igbo, guurti by the Somali, dare by the Shona, ndaba by the Zulu or kgotla by the Tswana.

 

More important, the traditional system of governance was inclusive. In Senegal, slaves could send the representatives to the king's court. There was also foreign representation: The kings and chiefs of Angola and Asante, for example, allowed European merchants to send their representatives to their courts. Many empires in pre-colonial Africa—Ghana, Mali, Songhai—were confederacies, characterized by decentralization of power and devolution of authority.

 

But much of this knowledge, as Mr. Soyinka rightly complains, has been hidden. Myths about Africa came to replace these truths, and the problem was compounded by the failure on all sides to distinguish between form and substance. The institutions of democracy, free markets, money, marriage, justice, can take many forms. Just because there were no ballot boxes or supermarkets or white-wigged judges in pre-colonial African villages doesn't mean Africans had no conception of those institutions. African tribal cultures aren't in conflict with the Western; only the forms of institutions are different.

 

In fact, there is one area where the two share exactly the same political philosophy. Both see the state as a necessary evil. The American founding fathers chose to deal with this particular threat constitutionally by limiting the powers of the state. Africans found two unique ways to accomplish the same. The first was to abolish the state altogether and dispense with centralized authority. Such acephalous, or stateless, societies included the Ga, the Igbo, the Gikuyu, the Somali and the Tallensi. These tribes have no chiefs or kings and took the concept of freedom to its most radical limit.

 

Other tribes chose to have states and centralized authority but surrounded them with councils upon councils to prevent them from abusing their powers. Such kings had no political powers; their role was spiritual or supernatural (to mediate among the cosmological elements). For this role, they were mostly secluded in their palaces and kept their royal fingers out of people's business. The Yoruba Oona, for example, could only venture out of his palace under the cover of darkness. Such indigenous democratic forms were eroded during the colonial age and decimated in the post-colonial one.

 

So what makes up Africa's soul? Tolerance, consensus-building, inclusion, restorative justice, decentralization of power, free village markets and free enterprise. The gods are angry because Africa's soul has been denigrated and trashed. As Messrs. Soyinka and Achebe warn us, Africa is doomed unless her rulers discover her soul. Without this knowledge, we cannot traverse the path to development. An African proverb says, "He who does not know where he came from does not know where he is going."

—Mr. Ayittey, a native of Ghana, is president of the Free Africa Foundation and the author of "Indigenous African Institutions" (2006).

 

 

 

 

U.S. Secretary of State Hilary Clinton has marked World Aids Day by unveiling the PEPFAR Blueprint: Creating an Aids-Free Generation. The plan is the Obama administration's addition to the President's Emergency Plan for Aids Relief (PEPFAR), a global aids initiative introduced in 2003 that has supported HIV/Aids treatment and prevention services for millions of people affected by the virus.

"As a nation, we are firmly committed to turning the tide on the 30-year-old fight against AIDS. That’s why I proudly announced last year that creating an AIDS-free generation is a new policy imperative for the United States. To be clear, we still face enormous challenges. Far too many people are dying from this disease. We need

to reach more people with both prevention and treatment services. But today, thanks to remarkable scientific discoveries and the work of countless individuals, organizations and governments, an AIDS-free generation is not just a rallying cry—it is a goal that is within our reach.

At the International AIDS Conference this past July, I asked our Global AIDS Coordinator, Ambassador  Eric Goosby, to prepare this blueprint outlining our path to helping create an AIDS-free generation. I want the next Congress, the next Secretary of State, and all of our partners here at home and around the world to understand everything we’ve learned and to have a road map for how the United States will contribute to an AIDS-free generation.This blueprint should make one thing clear: the United States is and will continue doing our part. But creating an AIDS-free generation is too big a task for one government or one country. It requires the world to share in the responsibility. We call on partner countries, other donor nations, civil society, faithbased organizations, the private sector, foundations, multilateral institutions and people living with HIV to join us as we each do our part.

Together, we can deliver a better future to millions across the globe. A future where children are not born with HIV… where teenagers and adults are at far lower risk of contracting the virus… where those who do have the virus get lifesaving treatment. A future where every child has the chance to live up to his or her God-given potential."

-  Hillary Rodham Clinton, United States Secretary of State

 

further reading:

Pepfar Blue Print    http://www.pepfar.gov/documents/organization/201386.pdf

(PEPFAR) http://www.pepfar.gov/

 

Dominique Strauss-Kahn Settles Lawsuit With Nafissatou Diallo, New York Hotel Maid

Word of a settlement agreement between former International Monetary Fund chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn and a hotel maid who accused him of trying to rape her could bring an end to a saga that has tarnished Strauss-Kahn's reputation, ended his hopes for the French presidency and renewed a debate about the credibility of sexual assault accusers.

 

But it might not mean the end of legal troubles for Strauss-Kahn. He is awaiting a ruling on whether he is linked to "pimping" in connection with a French prostitution ring.

 

A person familiar with the New York case said Thursday that lawyers for Strauss-Kahn and the housekeeper, Nafissatou Diallo, made the as-yet-unsigned agreement within recent days, with Bronx Supreme Court Justice Douglas McKeon facilitating that and a separate agreement to end another lawsuit Diallo filed against the New York Post. A court date is expected next week, though the day wasn't set, the person said.

 

The person spoke to The Associated Press on the condition of anonymity to discuss the private agreement.

 

Details of the deal, which comes after prosecutors dropped related criminal charges last year, weren't immediately known and likely will be veiled by a confidentiality agreement. That could prevent Strauss-Kahn and Diallo from speaking publicly about a May 2011 encounter that she called a brutally sudden attack and he termed a consensual "moral failing."

 

Strauss-Kahn lawyer William W. Taylor III declined to comment. Lawyers for the housekeeper didn't immediately respond to phone and email messages.

 

Diallo, 33, and Strauss-Kahn, 63, crossed paths when she arrived to clean his luxury Manhattan hotel suite. She told police he chased her down, tried to yank down her pantyhose and forced her to perform oral sex.

 

The allegation seemed to let loose a spiral of accusations about the sexual conduct of Strauss-Kahn, a married diplomat and economist who had long been dubbed the "great seducer."

 

With DNA evidence showing a sexual encounter and Diallo providing a gripping description of an attack, the Manhattan district attorney's office initially said it had a strong and compelling case. But within six weeks, prosecutors' confidence began to ebb as they said Diallo had lied about her past – including a false account of a previous rape – and her actions after leaving Strauss-Kahn's room.

 

Diallo, who's from Guinea, said she told the truth about their encounter. But the district attorney's office dropped the charges in August 2011, saying prosecutors could no longer ask a jury to believe her.

 

Diallo had sued Strauss-Kahn in the meantime, with her lawyers saying she would get her day in a different court. Strauss-Kahn called the lawsuit defamatory and countersued her for $1 million.

 

Strauss-Kahn's whereabouts Friday were unclear. After his return to France in September 2011, Strauss-Kahn initially kept a very low profile. But in recent months, he has shown signs he is trying to rebuild his professional reputation, giving speeches at international conferences and reportedly setting up a consulting company in Paris.

 

Unconfirmed reports surfaced Wednesday that Diallo was in Paris this week on the invitation of a feminist group. A French lawyer who works with her U.S. defense team, Thierry de Montbrial, told The Associated Press that the reports were untrue. He declined any comment on the settlement.

 

Diallo's lawsuit against The Post concerned a series of articles that called her a prostitute and said she sold sex at a hotel where the Manhattan DA's office had housed her during the criminal case. The News Corp. newspaper has said it stands by its reporting; a spokeswoman declined to comment Thursday.

 

In helping resolve the cases, McKeon averted what could have been an ugly court drama.

 

Strauss-Kahn initially said he had diplomatic immunity, an argument the judge turned down in May. Strauss-Kahn's lawyers had since asked McKeon to throw out part of her claim for other legal reasons. Court records show the judge had yet to rule on that and several other legal issues, and it appeared that a high-stakes step – depositions, or pretrial questioning under oath – had not yet been taken. Depositions can give both sides information and a better picture of how strong the key parties and other witnesses might be in court.

 

While the vast majority of civil cases end in settlements, some legal observers were surprised that the deal between Strauss-Kahn and Diallo came before the legal arguments were resolved.

 

"I really expected it to go a little farther," said Matthew Galluzzo, a criminal defense lawyer and civil litigator who has been following the Strauss-Kahn case closely.

 

Still, the case likely had taken a toll on both Diallo, a single mother of a teenage daughter, and Strauss-Kahn, who has found himself plagued by accusations of sexual misconduct that further sullied his reputation. The Socialist had been seen as a potential leading candidate for the French presidency before his New York arrest.

 

In France, judges are to decide by Dec. 19 whether to annul charges linking him to a suspected prostitution ring run out of a luxury hotel in Lille. He acknowledges attending "libertine" gatherings but denies knowing that some women present were paid.

 

In August, a separate case against Strauss-Kahn, centered on allegations of rape in a Washington, D.C., hotel, was dropped after French prosecutors said the accuser, an escort, changed her account to say she wasn't raped.

 

Soon after Strauss-Kahn's arrest in New York last year, French writer Tristane Banon accused him of attempting to rape her during an interview in 2003, a claim he called imaginary and slanderous. Prosecutors said they believed the encounter qualified as a sexual assault, but the legal timeframe to pursue her complaint had elapsed.

 

The Associated Press does not name people who report being sexually assaulted unless they come forward publicly, as Diallo and Banon have done.

 

Strauss-Kahn has separated from his wife, journalist and heiress Anne Sinclair, who stood by him through the allegations in New York. The two said they were filing a lawsuit this summer against a French magazine, citing invasion of privacy, for reporting they had split, but Sinclair later acknowledged it was true.

 

The New York Times first reported the agreement between Strauss-Kahn and Diallo.

AP

 

Thursday, 29 November 2012 03:45

The psychology of Achebe’s critics

NOW that the army of critics of Prof. Chinua Achebe’s new book: There was a Country are getting tired, it is appropriate to assess the psychology of these critics, their criticisms and the state of mind of the educated elite to the Nigerian project.

 

I have to own up from the on-set that I have neither seen nor read the book about which hundreds of thousands of both ugly and beautiful words, attacks and counter-attack have been heaped upon. As a resident in one of the numerous back yards of Nigeria where access to the basic necessities of life is a mirage and the desperate quest for daily sustenance, a consuming passion affair of such high intellectual magnitude may receive little or no attention. I, therefore, do not expect early access to the book. Our counterparts, who constitute the diminishing reading public resident in Abuja, Lagos and Port Harcourt, might have read the work. You can be sure that by the time some of us lay hands on the book, one would be quarreling with his vendor about whether what one is having in his hand is the original copy from Heinemann (assumed publisher) or pirated copy from the enemies of copyright owners.

 

Written words are probably the most criticised of the ‘inventions’ of man. Imagine the mountain of criticisms that have been made on Karl Marx’s The Communist Manifesto, Thomas Khun’s The Structure of the Scientific Revolution or Rashdie’s Satanic Verses. Even Chief Obafemi Awolowo reviled the forty-nine wise men that framed the 1979 Constitution and their product for having spent two years copying what took him six months to write. For the uniformed, the admirable chief was saying that the Constitution Drafting Committee headed by the late legal icon, Chief Rotimi Williams, copied or plagiarised his book: Thoughts on the Nigerian Constitution.

 

I am an ardent admirer of Achebe as an intellectual prodigy and Africa’s gift to the world that compares with established masters of English language and literature. I suspect you also admire him for his hard work. But certainly, I have also been a victim of his intellectual bravado whereby he cajoled Heineman into withdrawing the publishing right already given to translate Things Fall Apart, his magnum opus, into Igbo after the work has been rendered as Ihe Agbasaa by a publishing company in which I have financial interests.

 

From my reading of excerpts from There was a Country, Achebe has not said anything new on Biafra and Chief Awolowo’s place in that dirty interregnum on Nigerian history that has not been written between 1967 and 2012. And the literature on the subject is quite high. If scholars still write and reinterpret American Civil War, which occurred more than 200 years ago, Achebe has the right as a participant in the Biafra project, to write his recollections on such a recent event. The Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria guarantees him safe landing. And the platform is also safe for Ebenezer Babatope, an ardent Awoist, Femi Fani-Kayode, an emergency Awoist, and others.

 

It is to my mind, a good development that Achebe has written again at the age of 82. A leopard will never change its spots. And as usual, he has provoked the kind of reactions that his works have always generated. But any person that has got some sinews of Nigerianess in him should be worried that mere exhibition of such old data from a personal perspective would generate such huge ethnocentric invectives. It shows that the Nigerian intelligentia is irredeemably lost. Rather than being worried that the Cocoa House, architectural symbol of Awoism has been in decay; rather than being worried that no other stadium has been built in the Western Region after Liberty Stadium, Babatope and others are worried about data that Chief Awolowo acknowledged to be its author before his death. In Anambra State, I am worried that the only state-sponsored functional library is the one at Onitsha built by Dr. Michael Okpara, a political contemporary of Chief Awolowo, but commissioned by Chief Chukwuemeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu in 1967. I am worried that in 2002, Governor Chinwoke Mbadinuju claimed he had built a state-of-the-art stadium at Awka when the nearest one to Anambra State is the Nnamdi Azikiwe Stadium at Enugu. I am worried that while Biafra, which is the subject of discussion, successfully operated two International Airports at Uga and Uli, Enugu Airport inherited from the Eastern Region has degenerated so hopelessly that sometime ago, the Sam Mbakwe Airport at Owerri built through community effort in 1980, has been the saving grace for air travelers in the entire Igbo region. I am worried that Gen. Yakubu Gowon’s own state, Plateau, is an isolated illustration of a failed ‘state’ where life has been short and brutish, forty two years after his so-called war to keep Nigeria one. I am worried that while Biafran scientists refined their own petroleum, invented ‘shore batteries’, self propelled bombs (ogbunigwe) etc and sustained the struggle for self-determination for three long years, today, Nigeria cannot satisfy the petroleum needs of its population.

 

For some of these writers to heap insult on Achebe and charge the atmosphere with anti-Igbo sentiments and ethnocentrism seems to be a continued portrayal of Nigeria as the ‘mistake of 1914’, which one would expect the Civil War to have corrected. I neither twit nor blog but I am informed that one blogger suggested that Things Fall Apart be banned in schools after he had exhausted his gangrene of tribalism on the Igbo.   The corrective intendment of the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) on the intellectual windsowers, whose primary and secondary allegiance has been to their tribe, is still lost as evident from anti-Achebe writings.

 

The Yoruba no doubt rightly hold Chief Awolowo in high esteem on account of his seminal works that started with the construction of Yoruba unity from the time he founded Egbe Omo Oduduwa through massive social and economic development efforts in the old Western Region. But for the attackers of Achebe to allude sainthood to Awolowo is to emulate a man who through the intrigues of cross-carpeting in 1956, elevated ethnicism to a standard policy. Achebe merely pointed to the Yoruba house with his right hand; he did not use his left.

 

The defenders of Achebe from the ‘East from whence I come’ have as usual fought back to prevent their kinsman from intellectual annihilation. The defence line is quite long - from both sides of the Niger shoreline to the littoral front of Igwocha (Port Harcourt). I doubt if I have come across any Yoruba writer that has called for a truce. From the Igbo side at least, I have read Dr. Anthony Nwaezeigwe simmering along that line. Prof. ABC. Nwosu’s detailed expose, which I suspect are excerpts from a forthcoming book on the same subject ‘I Horatio’ is authoritative and detribalised. We are waiting for I Horatio hoping that its production will not be encumbered with the mentality of publishing abroad.

 

• Ogechukwu Ezeajughi wrote from Awka.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thursday, 29 November 2012 03:35

Breaking the Dynasties of Poverty in Nigeria

 

Poverty is the summary measure of the state of well-being of a people, and hence the effectiveness of governance. Embedded in the measurement of poverty are such variables as income, education, employment, and access to basic necessities of life such as housing, clothing, food, water, etc. Breaking the vicious circle of poverty and inequality vis-a-vis insecurity, low savings - low investment and low and fragile growth traps constitute a central concern of public policy. In Nigeria, most people can FEEL the poverty burden - on the streets and the high level of dependency.  A deepening crisis which receives little attention is the breakdown of the social ladder, values, and networks traditionally used in our society to climb out of poverty. Poverty is consequently becoming an inheritance - a dynasty - whereby the children of the poor will, in all likelihood, end up poor. Increasingly, the rich won’t be able to sleep because the hungry and angry poor are awake!

 

If the statistics released by the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) on the state of poverty in Nigeria in 2010 and 2011 at 69% and 72% respectively are correct, then there is a state of emergency. The previous poverty survey in 2004 put the index at 54% and by 2011 it has jumped to 72% despite an average 7% annual growth of income, said to be led by non-oil sector (largely agriculture where the majority of the poor are). No other comparable oil exporting country has a similar record.  If the numbers are correct, Nigeria would not only miss the MDG goal in 2015 but would probably hold the world record as the country which rather than reduce poverty by half, actually almost doubled it. All these despite the plethora of public interventions to reduce poverty, including NAPEP and MDG funds!

 

From the NBS result, much of the Northern Nigeria is still in a poverty trap, although the rate of worsening poverty has slowed down. An interesting puzzle is the South, (especially the South-east which previously had the lowest poverty rate) but now shown to be on a high speed lane in the race to the bottom to catch up with the North. While poverty is declining elsewhere in the world, the states in Nigeria are reported to be competing to see which one wins the trophy as the poorest state.

 

I have decomposed the relative contributions of each state and geo-political zone to the worsening poverty, using the NBS figures, and the results for the zones are: North-central (4.7%); North-east (10.2%); North-west (15.6%); South-east (37%); South-south (14.3%); and South-west (18%). In total, the 19 Northern states contributed about 30%, while the 17 states in the South contributed 70% of the deterioration in the national poverty index. At the state level, the five states with the worst deterioration (in percentages of deterioration compared to 2004) are: Anambra (238%); Bayelsa (189%); Abia (185%); Oyo (152%); and Enugu (132%). The states with the most improvement in reducing poverty (percentages of improvement) are: Niger (32%), Kogi and Jigawa (17%); Kwara (13%), Kebbi (10%), and Lagos (7%). The full results show that compared to 2004, poverty worsened dramatically in all Southern states except Lagos in 2010, whereas in the North, it worsened in 11 out of the 19 states. A very interesting symmetry is the fact that except for Adamawa and Zamfara States, every state where poverty declined in the 2004 survey, it increased in 2010 and vice versa. Can this be true or a typo? The statistics are quite intriguing. To be honest, I have serious reservations about the NBS figures. As I argued in an earlier article, the flaws are so much that neither the arithmetic nor the economics makes sense. The NBS needs help to give Nigeria credible national income and social statistics.

 

If the figures are correct, they raise a very important issue pertaining to the size of government spending and poverty. Interestingly, some of the states that spent the most money also had very high deterioration in poverty between 2004 and 2010: Ogun (117%), Edo (119%), Imo (109%), Rivers (101%) and Akwa Ibom (80%). The results challenge the thinking in some quarters that the more money states have, the more likely they are to reduce poverty. They also raise issues about value for money spending in the states as well as the composition of the expenditure. These and the issue of how we measure performance are issues for another day.

 

While we can dispute the exact figures or their distribution, what is not disputable is that there is pervasive poverty in the land. Many factors determine poverty but we focus on three: size of the household, educational level, and occupation of the head of household. The least educated are likely to be in the informal sector or peasant agriculture with low income, and probably with a large family size. It is shown in Nigeria that 90% of households whose family size exceeds 10 are in poverty. It is not difficult to see why some parts of the country are trapped in poverty. To escape the trap, our political and religious leaders must have the courage to educate the people that the number of wives and children anyone decides to have is a choice, and not destiny. If you have children that you cannot train in school, you have condemned them and perhaps their own children to a life of poverty. In one of the organisations I worked, I was told of a driver who had 32 children.  Clear and sensible population policy as well as a credible programme for demographic transition can no longer be ignored.

For the large army of people eking a living in the informal sector and peasant agriculture with very low productivity and incomes, public policy must explicitly target them. Productivity per hectare of land is very low in Nigeria. While aiming to raise the productivity of the existing peasant farmers, Nigeria needs a long-term strategy of transition from peasant agriculture to commercial farming. Most of the existing, ad hoc skill acquisition centres do not work well, and cannot reach many in need.

 

The key to sustained poverty reduction is access to opportunities by all. Access to qualitative education is the foundation and provides the social ladder that enables the children of the poor to break out of the cyst. In my primary school at Nigercem Nkalagu, I was in the same class with the children of the General Manager of Nigercem. For the secondary school and university education, we were in class with children of the super rich and taught by the same teachers.  Most successful people I know today had humble beginnings and the only magic that happened in their lives was access to qualitative education as well as opportunities to demonstrate their talent. In that world, if the children of the poor were more brilliant and hard working, they had a chance of doing better in life than children of the rich. Not anymore! Today, the children of the rich would be in elite private schools or abroad, while the others are condemned to a bleak future in the collapsed public schools.

 

My estimate is that the poorest 40 per cent of our population (which NBS says are also food poor), with their children in the poorest of schools, if any, are getting a raw deal, and their children will likely end up in poverty. A vicious circle ensures, thereby creating dynasties of poverty. The middle group which manages to enter the largely public higher institutions end up with estimated 60% being unemployable because of the poor quality of education. With no structural diversification of the economy, the labour market is tightening relative to the supply of labour force from our youthful population, and hence very high unemployment. A tiny one or two per cent are able to offer their children world class education abroad. We are creating multiple enclaves of Nigerians, with the hungry, angry but rugged bottom 40% on the one hand, and the ‘managing to get by’ middle as well as the upper, elitist but fragile top likely on a collision course.

 

One of the consequences of the oil resource curse in Nigeria is the creation of a culture of easy money, with no correlation between effort and reward. Everyone sees hundreds with no daytime jobs ‘making it’, and no one cares to ask what you do for a living. The millions excluded must survive one way or another. A sizeable number are now engaged in the underground speculative and criminal economy including prostitution, kidnapping, armed robbery, 419 scams, oil bunkering, drug trafficking, smuggling; dealership in fake and substandard products; etc. As the informal sector, especially trading shrinks, millions (largely uneducated) are migrating to all parts of the world and Africa in search of ‘opportunities’. Social networks based on kinship and trust, especially in business, are also breaking down. Without trust, most of the interventions to help the poor, including non-collaterised loans, break down.

 

Perhaps a more dangerous development is the poverty of the mind especially among the bottom 40%, and the impact of religion in keeping them down. I was brought up to ‘work and pray’. In my secondary school, some of us had on the cover of our notebooks the quote by Albert Einstein that “genius (success) is 1% inspiration (luck) and 99% perspiration (hard work)”. Another popular quote we had was: “success is when preparation meets with opportunity”. When I mentor young ones, I emphasise three keywords: focus, hard work, and prayer. Especially among the trapped 40%, and increasingly also among the ‘educated’, people now want opportunity without preparation.

 

Success is seen to be all about ‘luck’ and no personal responsibility in terms of effort. No wonder there is a boom of all kinds of spiritual and religious groups promising ‘miracles’, and there is a booming clientele.  If the promises of instant miracles don’t materialise, the clergy will see visions for their ‘captives’ about some relatives or friends who have ‘taken their luck’. A friend of mine in the oil and gas sector told me an interesting story. For several years during Christmas, he would buy rice and kill cows to share to the destitute in his village, as well as give scholarships and credit for micro entrepreneurs. After some time, he noticed that the number that came dwindled dramatically. He was happy and thought that it was an indication that less number of people needed help. It took a courageous close relative of his to tell him that the reason was that people said that he was ‘collecting their luck’ through his philanthropy, and that was why he was a successful oil magnate. I have heard several such stories. The import of this is that private charity will decline. How do you get millions with this kind of mindset to work their way out of poverty? Our imams and pastors have to help us with this!

 

Nigeria suffers from an illusion of affluence. We are a poor nation. The proposed Federal Government budget for 2013 comes to about $180 per Nigerian. There is a whole lot that government can and should do to break the poverty traps. But there is a lot more that the society must do. Perhaps a national summit to focus on this emergency is the starting point!

 

Dr. Chukwuma Charles Soludo, is the former governor of Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN)

 

Thursday, 29 November 2012 03:30

Nigeria: The Best and Worst living Side by Side

Less than a week after Forbes Magazine chronicled the list of  40 richest Africans in which 11 of them were Nigerians;  another different  list emerged that was unfavorable to Nigeria.

 

The quantification and tabulation by Forbes, maintained that  Aliko Dangote was still the richest person in Africa for two consecutive years, 2011 and 2012 respectively. Many Nigerians were probably proud to have one of their own at the top of the list.  Of course, Dangote works for his money and has been providing jobs to Nigerians. He is part of the solution by heavily investing in Nigeria and Africa, unlike those that siphoned their wealth abroad.

 

And here comes the bombshell, The Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU), a sister company of The Economist magazine, complied a list of  its 2013 Where-to-be-born Index and  of the 80 countries evaluated, quantified and covered, Nigeria comes last in the ranking at  80 out of 80: "it is the worst place for a baby to enter the world in 2013." This is beyond just a bad news, it is depressing, no matter how you look at it.

 

Nigeria is among the worst and miserable places for wealth redistribution  and income inequality  in the world. An oil and mineral resources rich nation, where less than 1% of the population controls about 99.5% of the country's wealth. This implies that Nigeria wealth distribution is more like a pyramid with tiny wealthy class at the top and large base of poor and destitutes  at the bottom. No country can progress without a thriving middle class. Nigeria does not have a middle class, but few very rich and the large very poor.  This is a  pathway to gloom and doom, not a recipe  for winning a future.

 

Nigeria a nation of private jet owners, tantalizing cars and expensive wine drinkers, is also a nation of massive homelessness, joblessness, disease infected water and starvation. Many women and children go to bed at nights on empty stomach with malaria infected bodies. Nigeria is the only oil exporting nation without reasonable electricity, drinking water and health care facilities.

 

Wole Shadare and Faith Oparugo, writing in Guardian News on Nigeria's  growing ownership of private jets wrote:

"WITH Nigeria holding the record of a country with the highest private jet ownership in Africa, the aviation sector has brought into sharp relief the paradox of a nation that is endowed with huge oil resources but where only a few are wealthy.

In a country where the average Nigerian lives on less than $1 a day, there is a super rich class of business moguls, bankers, preachers, politicians and oil magnates whose private ownership of jets is more than that of any other country. While the rich can afford such luxuries, the economic crisis in the nation is seen in a situation where the aviation sector needs financial succour from the Federal Government.

According to an official of Bombardier, the Canadian aircraft manufacturer, Nigeria ranks behind the United States, United Kingdom, and China among countries that top their orders for the supply of the aircraft type; just as there are indications that N1.30 trillion may have been expended in the last seven years. Nigeria is said to top the market for private jet ownership."

 

Well this time around, the country of jet owners has been classified as the worst place to be born in the world.

 

What does this really mean?  Well, it is loaded and this is  not good for Nigeria and Nigerians. Without being defensive as usual, the world is actually losing the hope they bestowed on Nigeria.

 

Nigeria is not a confidence nation and Nigeria without doubt, rely on how the rest of the world sees her. This is important because the world is telling Nigeria that her so-called image re-branding and public relation are not working. The most important image re-branding is doing the right thing, not tricking people to think otherwise.

 

The Economist Intelligence Unit assessment actually means that among the poorest countries in Africa, Latin America and Asia,  Nigeria is the worst place to be born in 2013.  Cynics and  realistic Nigeria may refute such an assumption and conclusion, but that may not be necessary because they do not have the bigger microphone to dispute EIU  assertion and convince the rest of the world that Nigeria is the 'best' country to be born.

 

Nigerians do  not have access to media industry as big as CNN, BBC or EIU that can easily dispense and dissipate information to all the four corners of the world. Therefore Nigeria has to lick her wound and move on as usual. Nigeria is now becoming like a football to be kick around without any consequences because our leaders and policy makers are so inconsequential in global affairs and do not command any respect.

 

Is Nigeria really  the worst place to  be born?  The answer depends on who is answering the question. Of course the fat cats and politicians will resoundingly say NO, but the average Nigerian without food, electricity and drinking water will say YES.

 

But it is also easy to pick on Nigeria, because of its management failure. Nigeria's natural and human resources have not been properly managed, due to weaken internal mechanism of operandi .  This is the principal factor that deterred her from greatness and parked her where she found herself today.

 

Nigeria can be a miserable place for our youths whose unemployment rate is at a disastrous and alarming level.  Our youths are poorly educated, and less than 5% of them are gainfully  employed. This means that 95% of Nigerian youths are roaming the streets without purpose and employments.  The implication of this scenario is crime, restlessness and vandalism that are running rampant among energetic youths and elusive minds.

 

The rate  of joblessness for the entire country is alarming,  Nigerians without full employment should be approaching 75-80%. The operating word is 'full employment' and when an individual is fully employed, it means that he is not underemployed and he can survive comfortably from the gainful employment.

 

Nigerian wealthy class are known for spending their fortunes in foreign lands.  Big shops in places like  Dubai, London and many others cannot be satiated until wealthy Nigerians step into their expensive stores and impressed them with hard currencies.  At  same time it must be clearly clarified that spending one's earned income is his right. But when  the rich could not utilize their disposal income to help boast the well-being of their country, then there is a problem.

 

Nigeria must be serious about improving the quality of life and well-being of her people. The brain drain occurring in Nigeria is not healthy for the most  populous country in Africa. Nigeria needs all the brain power  it can muster and as much as it can gather to improve her economy for her poor citizens. There are emerging leaders and active Nigerians that are rising to the challenge of making their nation better but the critical mass has not been approached.

 

As The Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) narrated: the "quality-of-life index links the results of subjective life-satisfaction surveys—how happy people say they are—to objective determinants of the quality of life across countries. Being rich helps more than anything else, but it is not all that counts; things like crime, trust in public institutions and the health of family life matter too. In all, the index takes 11 statistically significant indicators into account. They are a mixed bunch: some are fixed factors, such as geography; others change only very slowly over time (demography, many social and cultural characteristics); and some factors depend on policies and the state of the world economy."

 

Corruption has arrested affirmative development in Nigeria. The country must slow down corruption to be able to win the future for posterity. Corruption has become so bad in Nigeria, that even sports, the only institution that Nigerians collectively adored has been touched by corruption. The Nigerian Green Eagles coach recently narrated how bribery and corruption played a role in selection of the players.

 

Nigerians are becoming sick and tired of hearing Nigeria called, " the most corrupt, the worst country, the bad and the ugly". For once Nigerians desire to be proud to announce to all and sundry -  We are Nigerians  without anybody reminding them how backward, corrupt or bad Nigeria is. When is that going to happen?  Or Nigerians asking too much?


Emeka Chiakwelu, Principal Policy Strategist at Afripol. Africa Political & Economic Strategic Center (AFRIPOL) is foremost a public policy center whose fundamental objective is to broaden the parameters of public policy debates in Africa. To advocate, promote and encourage free enterprise, democracy, sustainable green environment, human rights, conflict resolutions, transparency and probity in Africa. www.afripol.org   This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

 

 

 

Published in Emeka Chiakwelu
Tuesday, 27 November 2012 20:24

Achebe: Dividing Nigerians Further

As a child, I grew up reading many novels. Among the authors I read then were Chinua Achebe, Ola Rotimi, Wole Soyinka, James Hardley Chase and all the Pacesetter series I could lay my hands on. My Reverend Sister principal almost suspended me for reading Mills&Boon, the most popular among girls of my age. The most read authors then were Chinua Achebe and Wole Soyinka, and both were highly respected. In fact, my generation has benefited hugely from the documentation both have done.

 

Things Fall Apart, the epic novel written by Chinua Achebe, is a reaction to Joyce Cary’s Mister Johnson, a novel about a Nigerian youth who was not successful in his career in the British Colonial service. Professor Achebe has written history before. Unfortunately, however, his recently released memoir has made things to fall apart and the centre can no longer hold. Emotions are high and seeds of bitterness have been sown.

 

Speaking on how he got inspiration for his novels, Achebe said Mister Johnson struck him as superficial and fired his determination to write his own novels about Nigeria. This he has said repeatedly.

 

This time around, if one may ask the highly revered professor, where did he get the inspiration to write his memoir the way he did? Not a few will agree that his memoir has further sown the seed of discord among Nigerians – something that was unexpected from a father figure like Achebe. The war is over and the people that prosecuted it declared there was no victor, no vanquished. So why has the professor stirred the hornets’ nest?

 

My opinion is that Achebe is an angry man desirous of spewing his anger on someone or some people he, rightly or wrongly, believes are deserving of such. Even now, I suspect Achebe is still out to take it on Professor Wole Soyinka who he has never seen as the rightful winner of the 1986 Nobel Prize for Literature. It is now clear why he has rejected the National Honour bestowed on him severally.

 

In African tradition, which Achebe loves to narrate, an elderly man in the family makes sure he settles all disputes among his children before he dies so that he could rest in peace. If he were to be judged by the standard of the African tradition, Achebe would be declared a failed father for his inability to unite his children even in old age.

 

His memoir has generated bad blood among Nigerians and further intensified ethnic distrust among Nigerians.  Perhaps, one of the most benumbing and confounding issues raised in the memoir was that relating to the role of the late Chief Obafemi Awolowo during the civil war. Achebe painted Awolowo as enemy of the Igbo. For sure, generations  unborn in Igboland would read the memoir and relate to their chldren how a Yoruba man masterminded the killing of their people.

 

Whether he intended it or not, Achebe has reopened old wounds, and not many would forgive him for that. But Nigerians will like to know the role Achebe played during the war. Just last week, a lady told me how she was attacked verbally by a trader who she had no business with in a building materials market. According to the lady, she was negotiating the prices of some building materials in a shop next to his and had jokingly told the Igbo shop attendant: “Shylock Igbo man, don’t waste my time.”

 

But the man in the other shop heard this and shouted at her: “See you. You whose grandfather starved Igbo to death.”

Though she said she didn’t see the face of the man, only his back through the net that demarcated the two shops, when his insults became profuse she replied him thus: “Your grandfather Ojukwu ambushed the food Awolowo sent for his soldiers and later described Awolowo as the best president Nigeria never had. The same Ojukwu came to contest the presidency of Nigeria, but your brothers didn’t vote for him. Even his funeral was modeled after that of Awolowo.”

 

When she realised she was outnumbered by the Igbo in the area, she wisely left the scene, thus avoiding what easily could have become a mob action on her; though the Igbo trader continued to hurl insults at her.

 

Professor Achebe, this is the fruit of the seed of discord you have sown. The very fragile relationship among the ethnic groups in Nigeria has finally fallen apart and only God can make the centre hold again. An average Igbo man now hates the Yoruba for the distorted history created by you. This is exactly what Joyce Cary did in Mister Johnson that led you to write Things Fall Apart. History has repeated itself, this time by your distortion of facts and sowing of evil seed among Nigerians, and who knows where this will lead us? Is this the kind of legacy you want  to leave behind? This is not how a father should depart.

 

I am glad some of your kinsmen have come out to speak the truth. But what of the damage that has been done? Would the man at the building materials market understand the damage control? What of the generations unborn who will have access to your memoirs? I repeat, this is not the way to depart. The world now knows that your memoir is written to fight a personal war, not the cause of the Igbo.

Tuesday, 27 November 2012 16:00

NIGERIA: ZAMFARA LEAD POISONING CRISIS

 

A deadly lead poisoning outbreak that began two years ago in northern Nigeria continues to claim young victims even today, due to the lack of total commitment on the part of Nigerian government to tackle the epidemic from the roots.

 

Medecins Sans Frontieres’s (MSF), Head of mission in Nigeria, Ivan Gayton had criticized the government of oil-rich Nigeria for not taking the threat seriously, despite over 4,000 children already being sickened by the outbreak linked to gold mining.

 

"One thousand five hundred children are currently lead-poisoned but are not receiving treatment because it is impossible to deliver effective treatment while they still live in contaminated homes," Ivan Gayton, said.

 

In 2009 it became clear that hundreds of children in the northern state of Zamfara had died from exposure to lead.

 

In 2010, a Nigerian health ministry official reported that lead poisoning caused by illegal gold mining had killed 163 Nigerians, most of them children, in remote villages, in the space of just a few months. In November, 2011 the Nigerian government said it would spend more than $5m (£3m) cleaning up Zamfara, and in some areas this work has already begun.

undefinedpic:humanrights

Since then, the mining has continued and some 4,000 children of the miners, often from desperately poor backgrounds where other sources of income are meager, have been contaminated. The villages affected, such as Dareta and Giadanbuzu, are in the poor, arid Sahel region on the southern fringe of the Sahara, where many people work as miners and subsistence farmers. No action has been taken to help them.

 

ROOT CAUSES OF LEAD POISON OUTBREAK

The existence of gold deposits in Zamfara along the border of Niger had been long known. But it wasn't until gold prices soared in recent years that villagers began heading into the bush to search for it.

 

Soon the poor herdsmen and farmers could sell gold for more than $23(N 3,680) a gram - a huge sum in Nigeria where most people live on less than $2 (N320) a day.

 

However, the ore brought back to the villages in Zamfara contained extremely high levels of lead.Miners return from work dusted with lead, which then pollutes their homes. Fathers carried the precious rocks home to store inside their mud-walled compounds, sometimes leaving them on sleeping mats. Wives often broke the rocks and ground them, sending dust and flakes into the villages' communal areas.

 

HEALTH EFFECTS OF LEAD POISON

High levels of lead exposure can damage the brain and nervous system, resulting in behavior and learning problems such as hyperactivity, or cause slow growth. Lead also can cause reproductive problems, high blood pressure, nervous disorders and memory problems in adults. In severe cases, it can lead to seizures, coma and death.

 

Because the body struggles to rid itself of metal, it accumulates in the blood over time. Children are particularly vulnerable because their developing nervous systems can be permanently damaged. It wasn't until 160 children died and others went blind and deaf that authorities in 2010 realized the region faced a lead poisoning outbreak, which the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention called "unprecedented".

SYMPTOMS


Children suffer most because their size makes them more vulnerable to the effects. Symptoms include lethargy, abdominal pain, vomiting, constipation and headaches. Children in particular may develop encephalopathy - seizures, delirium and coma. For mild poisoning it may be sufficient to remove the patient from the source. More severe poisoning will need medical treatment, but may prove fatal.

 

MITIGATIONS

 

Foreign aid groups have done much of the work to clean the villages affected in rural Zamfara state and provide care to the children, who likely will suffer long-term brain damage from their exposure to the lead. Meanwhile, tests show that lead is returning to areas that have been cleaned. An international team of doctors and hazardous waste experts arrived in Zamfara in mid-May 2010 to clean the region, but seasonal rains halted their work.

 

In the time since, the cleanup work and the medical care for those affected has come almost entirely from foreign aid groups. While the government ordered the halt of mining by local villages, the practice continued. In January 2011, it was reported that some villages already cleaned by foreign experts showed traces of lead and mercury again because residents had begun mining again without taking any precautions.

 

Gayton called on Nigeria's government to release $5.3 million for the cleanup effort. He also said the government needed to educate those living there that precautions could make mining safe. "It's possible to do the environmental remediation and it is possible to do safer mining," Gayton said. "We need not die in search of livelihood. It can be done safely."

 

On Friday May 11, 2012, an International Conference to find solutions to the Zamfara lead poisoning crisis, of which Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) was the lead organizer, concluded its brainstorming session. The conference delegates endorsed a clear action plan calling for Nigerian government commitment to resolve the crisis.

 

"There has been plenty of talk, but now is the time for action" said Ivan Gayton, MSF Country Representative in Nigeria. "MSF said at the conference that it would only consider the conference to be a success when all of the poisoned children are living in a safe environment and receiving treatment."

 

At the May, 2012 Conference, delegates including Zamfara State officials, HRH the Emir of Anka, Nigerian government representatives as well as national and international aid workers, scientists, health, environmental and mining experts expressed disappointment that the decision-makers from the Nigerian government; the Ministers of Mines, Environment, and Health, were not present - and that no concrete action by the Nigerian federal government was announced.

 

Then, the Conference called for the promised funds of N 850 million (US$ 5.4 million) for environmental remediation and safer mining that have been languishing for months, while thousands of children continue to suffer from acute lead poisoning, must be urgently released without further delay to the people of Zamfara.

 

Also, the Conference agreed an Action Plan to set the path to achieving the three key pillars necessary to solve the Zamfara crisis - medical care; environmental remediation and safer mining. To succeed, the Nigerian government, in particular the ministries of Mines, Environment, and Health at both federal and state level must commit significant resources and coordination.

 

Release of the promised funds was a key priority of the Action Plan, as is the immediate remediation of the village of Bagega where an estimated 1500 children have been suffering from lead poisoning since 2010, and continue to wait for their village to be made safe. MSF cannot provide effective treatment in locations such as Bagega, which have not been remediated. MSF treats the sickest children at its inpatient facility in Anka hospital.

 

"The people of Bagega are desperate for help." said Zakaria Mwatia, a nurse and project coordinator for MSF in Zamfara. "Some of the villagers are attempting to remediate their own compounds in hopes that MSF will be able to provide treatment."

 

"To effectively cut the pathways of lead contamination requires specialized expertise and equipment" said Simba Tirima scientist with environmental engineering experts Terragraphics. The people of Bagega need the urgently required assistance to provide a safe environment for their children."

 

The charity group Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) is concerned that the situation in Zamfara is deteriorating as the water supply becomes polluted. MSF also called on the Nigerian government to do more to deal with the deadly outbreak of lead poisoning.

 

CONCLUSION

 

It is also our believe that it is possible to do environmental remediation as well as carry out safer mining. The Nigerian government needs to act now to help thousands of children in Zamfara exposed to lead who are at risk of death or long-term disability.

 

More than 2,500 children with high-lead blood levels have been treated. However, thousands more cannot be treated because they continue to be exposed to lead. For those children, treatment would be ineffective or could lead to even more serious medical problems.

 

It has been more than two years since this epidemic began and the government needs to end the inaction and delay. If Nigeria’s federal government steps forward, Zamfara could become a model of how lead poisoning can be effectively addressed, instead of an example of how hundreds of children’s lives were needlessly lost. It is a known fact that since the problem first came to light about three years ago the price of gold has almost doubled.

 

More and more people have turned to mining despite the health risks to their families.Although the authorities have told people to stop mining, Experts including professional Chemists at the Institute of Chartered Chemists of Nigeria (ICCON) want to see better education in place to teach people of the health risk of mining gold ore containing lead and also alternative safer process of mining.


The Institute of Chartered Chemists of Nigeria (ICCON) was established by Decree 91 of 1993 (Now  ICCON ACT CAP 1.12 LFN 2004) statutorily charged with the responsibility of regulating the teaching and practice of Chemistry profession in Nigeria. The Institute is a parastatal of the Federal Ministry of Health.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

South Africa's President Jacob Zuma has appealed to his ancestors to help him hold on to the leadership of the ruling African National Congress (ANC). Mr Zuma attended a ceremony at his village on Sunday, where 12 cattle were slaughtered and incense burnt as people prayed for his re-election.

 

His opponents are pushing for him to be ousted as ANC leader at the party's conference next month. Mr Zuma, a polygamist with 21 children, is a well-known Zulu traditionalist. He beat his predecessor Thabo Mbeki in a bitterly contested election in 2007 for the leadership of the ANC.

 

Spear and shield

He later forced Mr Mbeki to resign as South Africa's president, installing Kgalema Motlanthe as caretaker leader until the 2009 general election, when he took power.

 

The ANC's influential youth wing and several government ministers are now campaigning for Mr Motlanthe, the deputy president, to run against Mr Zuma at the ANC conference in Mangaung next month.

 

The Zuma family slaughtered 12 cattle and burnt incense at a traditional ceremony at their village in Nkandla in KwaZulu-Natal province on Sunday to appeal to the ancestors to guide him ahead of the elections.

 

"We are here to give our father a send-off to Mangaung. With this ceremony we are now sure he is protected and he will come back to celebrate with us," Nomthandazo Zuma is quoted by South Africa's The Mercury newspaper as saying.

 

Traditional leader Inkosi Bheki Zuma gave the president, who was dressed in leopard skins, a Zulu spear and shield and told him to use the weapons to protect himself from his ANC opponents, the newspaper reports.

 

Mr Zuma has been dogged by corruption allegations throughout his term, but he is expected to be re-elected as ANC leader, analysts say.

South Africa's Auditor-General Terence Nombembe and Public Protector Thuli Madonsela are investigating whether taxpayers' money has been improperly used to upgrade Mr Zuma's residential complex in Nkandla, reportedly at a cost of about $27m (£17m).

 

It includes chalets, a security bunker, and bulletproof windows.

 

Earlier this month, Mr Zuma - who has four wives and 21 children - said he taken out a mortgage to pay for the renovations and he objected to being "convicted, painted black, called the first-class corrupt man, on facts that are not tested".

 

The National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) dropped corruption charges against Mr Zuma shortly before his election as president in 2009.

 

He was accused of taking bribes from an arms company and his financial adviser Schabir Shaik - allegations he strongly denied.

 

Earlier this year, Mr Zuma's government unveiled The Traditional Courts Bill which would allow local chiefs to act as judge, prosecutor and mediator, with no legal representation and no right of appeal in certain cases.

 

It has been widely criticised for being unconstitutional, especially by women's groups, which argue it would take South Africa "back to the dark ages".

 

But Mr Zuma says the legislation will help "solve African problems the African way, not the white man's way".

 

Sunday, 25 November 2012 16:18

THE IGBO PEOPLE OF NIGERIA-JEWS OF AFRICA?

In a White House memo dated Tuesday, January 28, 1969 to President Nixon, former Secretary of State, Henry Kissinger describes the Igbos as “the wandering Jews of West Africa-gifted, aggressive, westernized, at best envied and resented, but mostly despised by their neighbors in the federation”(foreign relations document, volume E-5, documents on Africa 1969-1972).

 

Kissinger's description aptly portrays the Igbos and their experience in Nigeria. Over the years, the Igbos have been the victims of numerous massacres, that they have lost count. Most of the violence directed against the Igbos have been state sponsored. One can say that the Igbos knew how to spell “state sponsored terrorism” before the rest of the world did. The state sponsored terrorism directed against the Igbos in 1966, led to the declaration of the Republic of Biafra by the Igbos and subsequent civil war. Over two million Igbos died in the civil war, primarily by starvation. One will not be wrong, if they call the Igbos the “Tutsis” of Nigeria.

 

However, the Igbos are one of the largest and most distinctive of all African ethnic groups. Predominantly found in Southeastern Nigeria, they number about 40 million worldwide, with about 30 million in Nigeria. They constitute about 18% of Nigeria's population, with significant Igbo populations in Cameroon, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon and the Ivory Coast. Igbos predominate in five states in Nigeria-Imo, Anambra, Ebonyi, Enugu and Abia. In three other states- Rivers, Lagos and Delta, they constitute almost 25% of the population.

 

During the slave trade, Igbo slaves were known to be the most rebellious. Most of the slave rebellions in the United States, Haiti, Jamaica, Belize, Trinidad and Tobago, Barbados and Guyana were led by Igbo slaves. In South Carolina, Igbo slaves were reported to have drowned themselves, rather than be kept as slaves. Today that place is called Ebo Island in commemoration of the slaves who died there. Igbos were one of the 13 African ethnic groups that provided the bulk of the slaves who were brought to the Americas. Majority of the slaves who ended up in Virginia, Alabama, Tennessee, Maryland, Arkansas, Mississippi, South and North Carolina and Georgia were Igbo. An Igbo museum has been built in Virginia to honor the contribution of Igbo slaves to the state. One of the slaves who was sent to Liberia by the American Colonization Society-Edward Roye- became the fourth president of Liberia.

 

During the colonial period, the British disliked the Igbos, because of their supposedly uppitiness and argumentativeness. During military service in Burma and India, the pride of Igbo soldiers amongst other African soldiers was proverbial. In the company offices and orderly rooms, the first few words from the White officer speaking to an Igbo soldier was followed by “don't argue, you! Or “you want to be too clever”, and similar expressions. Their expressive and aggressive mentality which they enjoy in their culture at home, does not always allow them to accept false charges or accusations without responding.

 

The late famous writer, Langston Hughes, observed “the Igbo looks proud because he is bred in a free atmosphere where everyone is equal. He hates to depend on anyone for his life's need. He does not mind if others look proud. He has much to be proud of in his land. Nature has provided for him. He is strong and able to work or fight. He is well formed. He is generally happy in his society where no ruler overrides his conscience. He likes to advance and he is quick to learn. He likes to give rather than take”.

 

Culturally, the Igbos are a very diverse group with different clans, families, subcultures, and subgroups. However, the customs are similar with local varieties. Although there are disagreements about the origins of the Igbos, there is a consensus that they originated from Nri in Anambra State of Nigeria. The language of the Igbos is Igbo or Ibo.  It is one of the largest spoken languages in Africa, with Hausa and Yoruba. Igbo speaking people are divided into five geographically based subcultures-Northern Igbo, Western Igbo, Southern Igbo, Eastern Igbo and Northeastern Igbo. Not as urbanized as the Yoruba, they live in multitudinous villages, fragmented into small family groups. They do not have hereditary chiefs like the the Yoruba or Hausa/Fulani. Every Igbo more or less is his or her own master. The Igbos operate the “Umunna System”, which emphasizes the patrilineal heritage, rather than the matrilineal. Some of the important Igbo cities include, Onitsha, Enugu, Umuahia, Aba, Asaba, Abakaliki, Owerri, Nsukka.

 

In commerce, the Igbos are mobile, vividly industrious people who have spread all over Nigeria and Africa as traders and small merchants. In countries like Gabon, Ivory Coast, Equatorial Guinea, Sierra Leone, Togo, and Gambia, Igbo traders predominate in retail trade. Most Igbos are clannish, despite their individualism and hold closely together in non Igbo communities. They are often very unpopular in the communities they live in, because they push very hard  to make money and often dominate the retail business in alien communities. In his book, the Brutality of Nations, Dan Jacobs describes the Igbos “as ambitious, dynamic and progressive people whose education and abilities did not endear them to those among whom they lived. Even during British rule, there were massacres of Igbos in Northern Nigeria-in Jos in 1945 and in Kano in 1953. The Igbos have acquired the sobriquet, Jews of Africa”.

 

Education is highly emphasized and given priority in Igboland. Converted to Christianity by Catholic, Anglican and Presbyterian missionaries, they took up self improvement with such enthusiasm, that by the 1960's, the Igbos had the highest percentage of doctors, lawyers, engineers, physicists, and teachers than any other ethnic group in Africa. Because of the abundant educational talent in Igboland many newly independent African nations recruited them to fill vacancies in their civil service. The first American style university built in Africa was in Igboland-the University of Nigeria at Nsukka. Its founder, Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe was a graduate of Lincoln University in Pennsylvania.

 

Politically, the Igbos are so effervescent that the British differentiated between the “good East and the disruptive East”, meaning by the later, the radical Igbo strongholds. According to author Dan Jacobs “for Britain and for the British civil servants who continued to work in the Northern Region, the Igbos have always been a troublesome element in the federation, a people with a democratic tradition who are not easily controlled. Many  British were glad to see them out of a central position in the federation, as were those who had driven them back to their homeland and those who now held the civil service and other jobs they had left”.  The Igbos had been the  most ardent advocates of a united Nigeria. Upon independence in 1960,  an Igbo, Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe became the first President and Governor General, while another Igbo, Aguiyi Ironsi became the first indigenous military chief. Another Igbo, Nwafor Orizu became the first president of the senate, Jaja Wachukwu became the first foreign minister. Leadership of the elite universities in Southern Nigeria were also occupied by the Igbos.

 

Following the military coup of January 1966, which the Igbos were accused of initiating, Aguiyi Ironsi became President and Supreme Commander of the armed forces. Tensions rose very high in the country resulting in the massacre of Igbos in May 1966. In July 1966,  a  Hausa/Fulani/Tiv  inspired military  coup overthrew Ironsi's regime and a terrible massacre of the Igbos began in earnest. This led to the secession of the former Eastern Nigeria and the declaration of  the Republic of Biafra. This eventually led to the civil war.

 

According to George Orick, an American businessman and consultant to UNICEF who was in Nigeria at the time, one million Igbos were to be killed in order to avenge the death of an Islamic zealot called Ahmadu Bello, who was the Sardauna of Sokoto-Prince of the Islamic Sokoto Caliphate. He reported that “one could hear on Northern Nigerian radio the reading of  long lists of Igbos who were targeted for extinction”.-see Goddell team report, congressional Record of February 15, 1969, pp51976-7.    The Igbos believe, and rightfully so, that had they not fought back, their fate would have been worse than that of the Tutsis in Rwanda. The same way Northern Nigerian radio was exhorting the Hausa/Fulanis to kill the Igbos, was the same way Radio Milles Collines was exhorting the Hutus to slaughter the Tutsis in Rwanda.

 

Similarly, Heinrich Jiggs, a Swiss businessman in Nigeria who later became the chief Red Cross delegate in Biafra, reports seeing one of the circular letters in Northern Nigeria which stated that every Igbo down to the age of six would be killed.  A Canadian Journalist, Alan Grossman, who had been West African Bureau Chief of  Time Life News Service in Lagos from May 1966 to June 1968, testified before the External Affairs Committee of the Canadian House of Commons on what he saw. He told the committee “many thousands of Igbos were slaughtered in towns and villages across the north, and hundreds of thousands of others were blinded, crippled or maimed or in majority of cases, simply left destitute as they attempted to flee to the Igbo homeland in Eastern Nigeria. Some of the fleeing refugees did not make it home.

 

On one train that arrived in the East, there was the corpse of a male passenger whose head had been chopped off somewhere along the line. Another group of Igbo refugees men, women and children whom I happened to see-I would say 100 or more of them-were waiting in the railway station in the city of Kano,  the largest city in Northern Nigeria, for about three days, with no security guards, for the arrival of a refugee train, and a land rover full of government soldiers  came and mowed them down with automatic weapons. Igbo shops and Igbo hotels were  ransacked and looted, while blocks of non Igbo  businesses were carefully left untouched”. (see minutes of Canadian House of Commons proceeding, external Affairs Ref. 7 pp. 239-40).

In the final analysis, Dan Jacobs, in the Brutality of Nations, summarizes the plight of the Igbos in the following way, “to the other Nigerians, the Igbos were not only leaving Nigeria, they were departing with the oil under the lands with which they are seceding. Here lay the explanation of the paradox that the Nigerians had driven the Biafrans out, yet seemed to be fighting to keep them  in the federation. What they actually wanted was the land the Igbos were on and what lay under it-without the Igbos”.

 

Some internationally recognized Igbo personalities include former president Nnamdi Azikiwe, former military ruler Aguiyi Ironsi, writer Chinua Achebe, former Biafran leader Odumegwu Ojukwu, former justice at the World Court  Daddy Onyeama, former commonwealth secretary general Emeka Anyoku, former foreign minister Jaja Wachukwu and former middleweight and lightheavyweight champion of the world Dick Tiger. Some African Americans of Igbo ancestry include evangelist T.D. Jakes, actor, scholar and athlete Paul Robeson, actors Forrest Whitaker and Blair Underwood.

 

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