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ideas have consequences

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A text of the paper delivered by Prof. Soyinka at the just-concluded South-south Economic Summit in Asaba, Delta State, Nigeria.

I must begin by thanking you for the honour of this invitation to address you. I am glad that I did not have to decline, pleading the truthful excuse that I am, unfortunately, still saddled with a heavy load of unfinished business elsewhere. In any case, I have come to accept that it is a condition of human existence to be saddled with this particular affliction - unfinished business – that sense of an incomplete mission.

The difference between one individual and the next is perhaps that some know this, while others do not. With individuals, this distinction does not matter a great deal. We go into retirement with a sigh of mission accomplished, convinced that one’s self-imposed, fortuitous, or mysteriously transmitted mission in life has indeed been fulfilled.  Or perhaps we simply shrug our shoulders in resignation, saying, ‘Enough is enough, let others take over from here.’ No matter the variant, we are still buried with our own self-assessment, accurate or misconceived.

A sense of mission, and the identification of such a mission varies from individual to individual, from institution to institution, from community to community, with or without relationship to one’s social status or formal responsibilities. For instance, you might read that the United Nations is sending a fact-finding mission to the Sudan to check on al-Bashir’s compliance with its latest directives. Or that Amnesty International has sent a fact-finding mission to Burma, to see whether the Burmese military dictators were truly easing up on their stranglehold on Burmese democracy, ensure that the mere concession of an electoral exercise, or the release of the opposition leader Aung Suu Kyi, is not mere cosmetic, an excuse to clamp others into detention or retain despotic powers by other means. Peace missions, or peace initiatives – sometimes known, in the latest Nigerian parlance as Peace Advocacy - are also just as commonplace.

A former head of state in this nation went on what he considered a peace advocacy mission to a group of rampaging psychopaths who had laid siege to the nation. We may argue from here to eternity about the appropriateness of that motion, especially its timing, but at least he had some credentials for his undertaking, and it would appear that the proposal came from some of those who thought – rationally or with pathetic naiivette – that he might play a useful role in stemming the tide of blood. The former Secretary General of the United Nations, Kofi Annan, was sent on a mission to Syria, in an attempt to stop the Butcher of Damascus using his people for target practice, and endeavour to bring both sides to the negotiating table. Peace missions - or advocacy - come in various shapes and guises. Quite a number of them are self-ascribed. Many successful ones, such as that undertaken by a little known Irish group, worked quietly, unpublicized but effectively to bring an end to the decades long civil war in Mozambique.

By contrast there are others which only end up afflicting their target areas with all the bristling paraphernalia of war, appropriate to themselves a disproportionate amount of the security resources of a nation to inflict peace on a perfectly peaceful environment, and with maximum gaudiness and ostentation. Variously also deflected as a thank-you mission, they move from state to state with all the extravagant baggage and panoply of feudal potentates visiting vassal states.

They seize up traffic in throbbing commercial capitals, bring all motion to a halt, insisting on a gift of peace on a state which never evinced any indications of warfare nor asked for peace evangelism. The places where the nation may be said to have be at war are known all over the world, not just within Nigeria, but they do not venture there. No, it is to states which are in the throes of peace, which evince no need of peace healing, that the ministrations of such peace physicians lead what end up memorably as carnivalesque caravans of disruption.

Traffic is tied up. Security is tied up. Productive motion is tied up. Commerce is tied up. Governance is tied up. Individual, corporate, even leisure schedules are tied up - all to pander to bristling head-ties tied up in a floating parade of gorgeous fabric, sterile, provocative and contemptuous of the rights of others to their own desperate mission, the mission of generating the life-sustaining morsel for family and self.

A vanity parade born perhaps of boredom or a feeling of neglect, this banal extravaganza, which attained obscene heights with the military, has transferred to our supposedly democratic environment under various pretexts, guzzling funds and guzzling the productive time of others. Productive motion is held to a standstill and citizen rights are trampled upon.

This disrespectful misappropriation of public space that exists primarily for the movement of goods and humanity, especially by the unelected, by mere appendages to constitutional power, has become a culture of spousal aggression and can only beget a response of disrespect and ridicule from those it most affects.

There are numerous, far more creatively effective ways of bringing the train of peace evangelism to places in need, or not in need, and these do not involve the usurpation of the daily mission of millions by the mission of any one individual.

Where were we? Oh yes, we were embarking on the theme of missions.  Every individual does have, or is entitled to have his or her own self-assessment of the level of achievement of a life mission – it does not matter in the least what that mission might be.

The sense of satisfaction in the fulfillment of that mission, or regrets about its non-fulfillment remains primarily an individual assessment, and one that accompanies each individual to his or her grave. With nations however, there is little room for such indifference, and the reason is simple: individuals vanish but nations endure – at least in one form or another - and nations impact on the quality of existence of each transient occupant. Each occupant therefore has a stake in the fortunes of the nation, a stake that, proportionately speaking, equates the eternity that we have optimistically conceded to the life-span of the nation.

The unfinished business of nation being is thus not one to which we, as individuals, can afford to remain indifferent. In many more ways than we like to admit, the nation defines its citizen. This means that the citizen remains unfinished, a creature in the limbo of identity, leading an improvised, unsecured and uncertain existence, until the nation itself can boast of a recognizable and functional identity.

I do not refer merely to unfinished business as in governance business -  policy making, planning, execution, and so on. No, I refer to that far more fundamental, unobtrusive, but nonetheless comprehensive seizure of nation being. Some nations are wise enough to acknowledge their state of incompletion, and take steps - even while the business of governance remains uninterrupted - to tackle this essential business head on, addressing the very history that brought them into being and examining the factors - both positive and negative - that have shaped their existence since they began to recognise, and conduct themselves as nations.

Others muddle on, immured in an impenetrable carapace of complacency. They list their achievements, both internal and external - economic buoyancy, a prestigious foreign policy, low level of unemployment, a highly literate society, eradication of diseases, uninterrupted electric power, potable water and other indices of enhanced civic life, even IMF and World Bank approbation etc. etc -  as proof of the claim that they have “arrived”, and can confidently assess themselves as nations, beyond the mere naming.

They refuse to recognise that some at least - not necessarily all but some part - of a suppressed social malaise or political fractiousness can be traced to the basic issue of the unfinished aspect of their self-constitutive process. This includes those who cannot boast of even these medals of achievement, those who, long after any self-respecting nation should have been weaned, continue to insist that their endemic negative symptoms are merely “teething problems.” Such nations are clearly on a self-destruct trajectory.

Permit me to cite as analogy the ordeal of one my children who, one day, during a routine basket ball game, collapsed and passed out. Until then, he had experienced intermittent breathing problems – they were put down as mild attacks of asthma and allergy – you know, increase in pollen counts with seasonal changes and so on. Until then however, nothing as drastic as an actual faint had ever occurred. Fortunately, one of the paramedics who were called to the scene felt that this was more than a mere asthmatic attack, or equally benign incident – and so began a series of tests which merely increased the bafflement of the diagnostic clinics and their specialists

A period of round-the-clock monitoring was prescribed. He was banned from any further sporting activities and was strapped to a gadget that communicated directly to an emergency centre for any sign of recurrence. No matter where he was, a fully equipped ambulance was on call, ready to rush him to a clinic in case of a life-threatening recurrence – all this, while various images of his heart, lungs, full body and brain scans were subjected to analysis. The trouble was that some of these scans gave off contradictory images, which simply drove the doctors to distraction.

In the end, the mystery was solved. His condition was a heart tumour, but not just any tumour. It was that uncommon type which has a habit of sinking back into the wall tissues of the heart, and then pulsing outwards, so that sometimes the instruments showed only one, but at other times, two or three growths. Evidently these extrusions would sometimes impede the regular flow of blood, which had led to his passing out in the first instance. In one of these sophisticated machines, one could actually watch the tumour change shape and contours, flattening back invisibly into the wall. The option had already been decided upon - open-heart surgery – but it was necessary to do a thorough study of the behaviour of this pulsating growth before embarking on the drastic process.

That decision was only the beginning. The surgical team had to go back to school – that is, they were compelled to look up prior cases, consult surgeons who had carried out similar operations. Video recordings were exchanged. Finally, D-day. It was, I must confess, an unnerving experience to see your son’s heart taken out of his body while he was attached to an artificial heart that kept the blood pumping to his system. As if that was not enough, we learnt that, after the heart was re-attached and resuscitated, it suddenly stopped beating. Injections, administration of electric shocks – the surgeons did what they were trained to do and he survived.

Now, why have I bothered to go into details? Simply to ensure that you do not overlook the mission that has –  I presume – brought  us here today. The realities that compelled you – again, presumably – to demand of yourselves what is missing from the delivery of responsible governance and thus, seek strategies for their fulfillment. You know that if that youth had been in our part of the world, he would be long dead. And that applies to many deficiencies that your citizens face – not merely in terms of the quality of life they lead, but even the very threats to survival in numerous fields of routine activities.

That is Lesson One. Many here have at least one such story of deliverance, of an extract from real life that barely escaped tragedy. Others were not so lucky. The stories they have to tell did not have such a happy ending. We must not however lose sight of the analogy, which goes deeper than the incidental vagary of the health of one individual, but concerns the corporate body.

Even the greatest pundits can be wrong about the health of any organism - human, institutional, or national. I am speaking here of the deceptiveness of appearances – those of you who are soccer addicts would have read recently of the collapse and death of an Italian player – my eye caught the news because the story reached backwards to refer to similar tragedies, sudden deaths of other athletes who had evinced no sign whatsoever of a weakness in their anatomy.

It happens all the time. This nation must surely recall the shocking case of Kanu. Institutions are no different – just see how the banking system in the most advanced countries suddenly collapsed, creating a domino effect that saw seemingly robust economies collapse one after the other. But here again, we are still speaking simply of parts of a functioning totality, not the entirety.  A deep malaise may defy the most astute diagnostic minds, leading to a complacent reading of its state of health. If however, there is a sound, fundamental structure that holds the totality together, that totality will override flawed mechanisms of the parts – this is what is pulling many European nations out of the rut. Lucky, therefore, is that entity that is urged from time to time to examine and re-examine the very walls, tissues and muscles of the heart that pump blood into its system. That it is beating sturdily does not mean that there are no tumours embedded within its very interstices, waiting its moment to strike while bounding confidently from one field of undertaking to the next, overriding one hidden trauma after another, but progressively weakened by each trauma inducing experience.

Most mortals do need to be left alone to find their feet after any traumatic experience. The nation is no different, the most enfeebling traumatic experiences in the Nigerian instance being both the civil war and years of military rule. There is also the affliction of illegitimacy –the dubious legitimacy of a large percentage of representatives of the people’s supposed political will at the centre, at the federal and national assemblies and even in the lodges of executive governors.

The percentage of occupational illegitimacy did admittedly decrease over the last elections but, we still do know, and they know that we know, that even in a seventy-five percent perfect election, properly conducted, a vast number of the present ‘honourables’, senators and governors, could never have caught the sheerest whiff of the wood varnish on the seats they now occupy.

Some of these are the most vociferous, most assiduous in their denunciation, indeeed demonisation of the very notion of a genuine convocation of peoples, that is, a convocation outside the sanctuary, privilege and self-interest of the homes of illegitimacy, the convocation of a people who wish to examine their present and decide their future.

Let me declare here that I have taken a decision never again to add my voice to that call, having joined with others  - two of whom are now dead – to let the judiciary pronounce, at the very least, a symbolic judgment on whether what now passes for a ‘people’s constitution’ is indeed any such product of a people’s will, or yet another product of illegitimacy hung around the nation’s neck like a noose.

That I shall no longer add my voice to that call however does not mean that I abandon the right to examine, even if only as a contextual exercise, the antecedents of that call, its provocation, the distortions it has endured, and continues to endure, the potential consequences of its rejection, and perhaps the true motivations of its opposing or evasive voices.

Northwards from this very spot where we are gathered, a daily decimation of our  humanity pronounces its diabolical judgment on the structure that still struggles to deserve the name nation, calling in question, through its fiery monologues, the very legitimacy of our nation being. Let me take this opportunity however to stress to us all within the nation that this ongoing catastrophe is not the burden of any one part of the nation by itself, but a fight of survival for the totality of its humanity. The antecedents of the present national crisis may seem particularized, the carnage concentrated on a geographical sector – at least for now - the solution nonetheless remains the responsibility of the entirety of the constituent parts. There is an immeasurable gulf between taking up arms against the state and declaring war against humanity.

I recall a cry from a stricken heart – metaphorically speaking this time –  when the United States of America invaded Iraq under the pretext of looking for weapons of mass destruction. The Arab League happened to be holding its session at the time, and its Secretary-General was reported to have exclaimed: “the inhabitants of hell have been let loose”.  Several members of that League thought he was merely being alarmist. The US president, George Bush certainly thought so too, especially once he had overrun the defences of the deluded tyrant Saddam Hussein. Several years after, not merely the Middle East, but the entire world is still attempting to cope with the rampages of the successors of those fiends from hell, unleashed through past global defaults admittedly, but also ministering to their own innate demonism, determined to drag the rest of the world down into their own private and collective hells.

What applied to Iraq is both pertinent to, and apparent in Nigeria – evade it how we will. The rejects even of hell have indeed been let loose, but many prefer to shy away from the question: who let them loose. How long was the present scenario in preparation? For how long was the mind-set of its direct perpetrators nurtured, for how long were impressionable minds doctored, warped and then homicidally re-focused?  Was it through secular ideological indoctrination – let us say, a Marxist revolutionary orientation?  Or was it through the theocratic, serving however the power obsession of a minority? This is a basic enquiry that should precede all else. However, the nation has elected, in the main, to climb aboard the conveyance of evasion, bound for the bunker of denial.

Those who unleashed the denizens of hell are among us, they did not come from outer space, they are known, and they know where their myrmidons retreat while they prepare their next outrage on the populace. I invite you to take a hard look, for instance, at the photos of those killers of the Italian and British hostages, finally trapped in Kaduna. Do you seriously think that they – and hundreds like them - are independent actors in the ongoing rampages? Does anyone still believe that they sponsored themselves to training grounds, on this continent or outside, in some infernal regions, for their deadly mastery of weapons of human evisceration? Their sponsors are not phantoms.

They are real. They exist among us. But, phantoms or not, today, they are afraid. Their own agents of destruction have turned upon them, demanding evidence of preparations of the theocratic utopia that was dangled before them, a utopia founded on theocratic myopia that nerved them to acts of total disregard for fellow humanity and a passion for self-immolation.

How do we disable such forces? Let me insist on the negative – not by appeasement. Not by utterances or gestures of appeasement. Those who seek to dominate others do not understand the language of appeasement. To them it translates as endorsement, multiplies their self-righteousness and urges them to even greater acts of contempt for humanity.  Dialogue is a cultured, always commendable device – in principle. However, I must call attention to a fervent contradiction – within this general field of dialogue - that appears to have escaped certain among our pundits of dialogue at all costs. Here it goes:

On the one hand, those very voices are on their knees urging dialogue on the assailants. On the other, those whose call for dialogue – but on a wider, national scale - holds out the possibility, at the very least, of a holistic apprehension of the far-reaching causes and prescriptions for remedial action for the guarantee of a future, are told to go and have their heads examined.

Therein lies the contradiction. A force for blind violence comes to the fore, a force that manifests utter contempt for that very civilized facilitator of co-existence called Dialogue, yet, hardly has the first prickle of blood been drawn before the chorus goes up - let’s invite them to sit down and talk. Tell us what you want and we’ll see what can be done. And even before that, there were already calls for Amnesty. The sequence is important – let us keep this in mind. Now, what is this supposed to indicate? That only through the language of terror can one make oneself heard?

One side says, let us sit down peacefully, as free peoples, and work out a new order of internal relationships and overarching governance. The other says, I already have my own unilaterally concluded order of internal relationships, divinely ordered, beyond questioning by mere mortals, subject to no tests of rationally, equity or experimentation. To the first, the response that hits their ears is  – nothing doing. To the other however – at least from those responsible for the health and survival of the nation, the response is, ‘please, come and talk to us.’ And for their pains, what has been the constant reward? A few hundred souls in their daily routine of scraping a living from the sales of basic, life sustaining products of farm and manufacture, and yet a hundred more, gathered on their okada motor-cycles, waiting to transport those market men and women to their farmstead and homes, workers to their factories and homes, are unconscionably blasted to eternity. Thus comes into being the ordination of two competing sovereign states, one pleading for dialogue, the other contemptuous of the very word.

Yes indeed, ‘sovereignty’. The sovereignty of the nation, we are lectured, is non-negotiable, and that mystic possession – sovereignty - would be imperiled if the constituent parts of the nation do indeed embark on a dialogue of free peoples. It’s a very portly word – sovereignty – mouth-filling, and chest expanding. It is designed to stop all arguments. Merely pronounce that a form of action is a threat to the illusionary banquet called sovereignty and the world is supposed to go into seizure from sheer surfeit. One can only marvel at what happened to this patrimony of ‘sovereignty’ when a Buhari, a Babangida or a Sanni Abacha terminated preceding sovereign claims with a mere radio announcement accompanied by a martial tune.

Some of the more hysterical among our current voices, opposed to a people’s dialogue, did not wait for the military spittle to dry out on the air-waves before they vanished into the obscurity of their villages. In this case however, today, Dialogue as a voluntary undertaking, an operative stage in nation-being, as an expression of collective will, increasingly voiced even in hitherto unexpected sectors, is being derided.

Sadly, one can sometimes understand causes for the vilification of this recourse. Only a few days ago, the clamour for Dialogue – the genuine kind that is – was joined by one of the most nauseous and obsequious, self-ingratiating servitors of the repellent dictatorship of Sanni Abacha. Such incidental bed-fellows make one despair but, as we say, this is a democracy, and even those who seek to sanitize their past by a cynical revision of a history through which we all lived and survived – thank goodness - must be given a hearing. The message, not the messenger – that must be our meager consolation.

I merely play the devil’s advocate. I have lost all interest in the call for a National Conference and, at the very end, my prescriptions shall be made plain. For now let us also offer a material solace to those who are morbidly afraid of a national dialogue. In the highly unlikely event that such a mythical National Conference concludes its work with a rational agenda that garners the approbation of an overwhelming majority, leading to a clamour for instant implementation, such demurrers would only be bowing to the clearly articulated will of the people, as opposed to a bunch of adventurist individuals in uniform. This, of course, is only an extreme speculation, designed to douse the dismissive, unreflective, more sovereign-than-thou, what-we-have-we-hold, what-exists-is-holy mentality that has corrupted the reasoning of some of these opposing voices.

It is actually a liberating position, abandoning the chimera of a National Dialogue. It leaves one free to confront one prospect, the most challenging prospect of all – the future.

Where else does one look at this stage? The future naturally, leapfrogging the chancy route of what a dialogue might bring, seizing the future by the throat and demanding of ourselves – what can we make of that future, with or without dialogue? But first, what do we see when we do turn to that future? Yes, let us first direct our gaze at that future, which means – let this present speak to the future. So, what does it say? I urge that we address ourselves dispassionately, not fantasize, not simply project the future of our escapist desperation.  We shall let our present interrogate that future, and what does it spell? Peril. An imperiled future, and that means – an imperiled generation of a nation’s humanity.

We obtain a preview of a future that is finally divested of the surviving scraps of the opportunities that many of my generation enjoyed when we were indeed pronounced as that future that is now our present. In practical details, what the present projects objectinely as its offspring, is a vista of brain wastage, thanks to unstable tumours that peek and vanish, undetected, and when detected, are left uncorrected. A future that is very much in doubt, a future tarnished and devalued by a succession of incontinent, irresponsible leadership, decked in both civilian and military outfits, but mostly of the military. A future where the intangible yet reinforced pillar of civilized society – such as justice - has become available on the open market. I am making no new assertions and, do not take my word for it. Revert to internal motions for reforms such as the Justice Eso commission of enquiry into the judiciary and also call to mind various pronouncements of the National Bar Association.

Ask yourselves how it comes about that one of your former members of this very governorship consortium is currently basking in immunity, having succeeded in obtaining a judicial injunction against prosecution for his crimes against the future, perpetrated while in office. Do we need to point out that as a nation we are covered with shame that it took an external court of justice, of the former colonial masters, to finally put an end to the costly shenanigans of another of your former brother governors, one who held the forces of anti-corruption at bay, led them a merry dance all the way to Dubai until he was plucked out of his imagined sanctuary?

And what of that judge, the judge who freed him of over a hundred and fifty criminal charges here, in this very nation, pronounced him innocent of blasting the very future of the generations under his watch by a career of systematic, unconscionable robbery? Why are we surprised therefore to find ourselves faced with a future where all sense of community has all but evaporated and only predators roam the streets, making their own laws of survival as they proceed. Yes, they make their own laws, for even these know that without law, written or unwritten, there is no community, and without community, all talk of nation is vain. Nations are built on the palpable operations of community, otherwise they are empty, artificial and hollow. They collapse with the tiniest pinpricks of unrest, they drift into oblivion with the slightest winds of external pressure. So, that learned judge held the strings of community in his hands, the judge who pronounced our elusive governor free of all blemish, that custodian and administrator of justice,  our question today is - is he still passing judgment in this nation, or has he proceeded on retirement leave to Dubai?

Prof. Soyinka, Nobel Laureate is a social critic, freedom fighter and people’s intellectual.

The most corrupt officials are often the most generous, but letting this system continue only preserves the giver's power

Former Nigerian state governor James Ibori was sentenced by a British judge to 13 years in prison. He is guilty on two counts. One is corruption – a crime of which many other Nigerian leaders are guilty. But the second is his belief that some people are "somebodys" who are born to own, control and enjoy while others are "nobodys" whose lot is to serve, toil and endure – a mindset shared by most Nigerians, at every stratum of our society.

Here, the politician can't accept that "nobodys" like his driver and cobbler are expected to appoint him to the throne. Instead, he seeks the anointing of powerful godfathers, and then arranges to rig the elections. The nurse takes home the bedding donated by charity to the government hospital wards; she knows that the wretched patients are used to sleeping on sheet-less beds in their homes anyway. The newspaper editor would rather make a lead story of the minister's mother-in-law's 80th birthday ceremony than of the fact that 400 children died of lead poisoning in Zamfara state. The wealthy madam doesn't bother that the nannies accompanying her prim children are dressed in rags; she can afford to clothe them nicely, but then, she can also afford to cast pearls on swine. The dead body lies in the street until it bloats and bursts, because no person of worth has reported a missing relative.

Is it then surprising that many Nigerians will do almost anything to rise just that one more level higher than someone else? All in the hope of more dignity and more respect. And as soon as someone on a lower rung edges that one level up, they immediately claim their licence to disparage and abuse as they have seen others do, and so the cycle of oppression continues.

But being "somebody" in our society is not all about barking orders and being waited on hand and foot. It's a role that comes with great responsibility. The "nobodys" look up to you for solutions to all their problems. They consider it their right to reach out to you for aid. And the more people reaching out for your help, the more highly you are regarded. Public officers even tend to view their jobs – when they bother to do them – as an extension of their philanthropy. TV stations constantly show grateful citizens expressing their appreciation to the governor or council chairman or minister for "what he has done for us". These acts of charity include building roads, renovating schools or drilling boreholes. The masses don't realise that these good works are their entitlement, the natural functions of a government.

And so some of the most corrupt government officials are the most generous, preferring to dispense their state's budget directly from their pockets rather than from the public treasury. The stories of Ibori's "generosity" are enough to fill the pages of an encyclopaedia. Some I've heard could bring tears to your eyes. This false charity preserves the giver's power, keeping the people ever grateful and indebted. No wonder Ibori's squadron of supporters are ready to bite anyone that threatens the hand that feeds them.

On the same day that Ibori was sentenced, a group calling themselves the South-South Grassroots Coalition took full pages in some Nigerian newspapers to announce their unwavering support for him. They drew comparisons between their compatriot's current "persecution" by Britain, and that of Oba Ovonramwen Nogbaisi of Benin and Jaja of Opobo, two traditional rulers from the same Niger Delta region as Ibori whose historic resistance to the British colonial government fetched them exiles in foreign lands. The Urhobo Youth Leaders Association, official representatives of Ibori's 14 million-member tribe, also threatened to sabotage Nigeria's oil production when a Dubai court decided in 2010 that he was to be extradited from the UAE to Britain. The previous year, three days after Nigeria's defunct NEXT newspaper published documents showing evidence that Ibori was indeed an ex-convict, he was the chief speaker at a Nigerian Institute of International Affairs event. His talk was something along the lines of "how to move Nigeria forward".

Even if all our leaders were to be immediately marched off to British jails and a new set took over, very little would change. There is a multitude of latent Iboris temporarily keeping themselves occupied with noisy calls for reform. I wish my country could show other Africans the way forward by bringing in experts who can advise how to change the attitudes of our people. That is our only hope for permanent, long-term deliverance from degeneration on this continent.

Adaobi Tricia Nwaubani is the author of I Do Not Come to You by Chance, a debut novel set amidst the perilous world of Nigerian email scams; winner of the 2010 Commonwealth Writers Prize for Best First Book (Africa). She lives in Lagos, and works with Nigeria's groundbreaking NEXT newspaper. The article first appeared at Guardian UK.

Saturday, 28 April 2012 20:20

The 10 Poorest Countries In The World

 

According to a new methodology calculation developed by Oxford University, the ten poorest countries in the world are found in  Africa.  South of Sahara Africa is the poorest region, followed by South Asia.

Multidimensional Poverty Index, or MPI is the new methodology calculation will replace the Human Poverty Index.  United Nations will cease to use the Human Poverty Index  and its next tracking and measure of poverty known as Human Development Report will utilise the new computation, MPI.

Human Poverty Index  are measured on Life span and Standard of living. With Multidimensional Poverty Index,  the calculation will be lengthen in scope to connote children school enrollment, proximity to drinking water, electricity, shelter, Nourishing meals  and other basic needs of existence.

The ten poorest countries using the new  MPI according to Oxford University Report are:

 

1. Niger

92.7% Living In Poverty

65.9% Living On At Least $1.25 A Day

89.5% Deprived Of Sanitation

 

2. Ethiopia

90% Living In Poverty

39% Living On At Least $1.25 A Day

61.5% Deprived Of Adequate Schooling

 

3. Mali

87.1% Living In Poverty

51.4% Living On At Least $1.25 A Day

36.2% Deprived Of Electricity

 

4. Burkina Faso

56.5% Living On At Least $1.25 A Day

35.4% Deprived Of Nutrition

55.1% Deprived Of Adequate Schooling

 

5. Burundi

84.5% Living In Poverty

81.3% Living On At Least $1.25 A Day

93.4% Living On At Least $2.00 A Day

 

6. Somalia

81.2% Living In Poverty

69.1% Deprived Of Sanitation

70% Deprived Of Drinking Water

 

7. Central African Republic

86.4% Living In Poverty

62.4% Living On At Least $1.25 A Day

82% Deprived Of Electricity

 

8. Liberia

83.9% Living In Poverty

83.7% Living On At Least $1.25 A Day

83.9% Deprived Of Cooking Fuel

 

9. Guinea

82.4% Living In Poverty

70.1% Living On At Least $1.25 A Day

54.2% Deprived Of Adequate Schooling

 

10. Sierra Leone

81.5% Living In Poverty

53.4% Living On At Least $1.25 A Day

52.3% Deprived Of Drinking Water

 

 

(The following statement was released by Fitch Ratings, the global rating agency)

 

The fact that corruption in Nigeria’s oil subsidy programme has been officially uncovered is encouraging, both politically and economically, Fitch Ratings says.

 

Politically it shows the government can clean up the system if there is political will. However, a key test will be the penalties suffered by perpetrators and what is done to make the system more transparent. However, it does make it more likely that further steps will be taken to reduce or eliminate the fuel subsidy, though the timing of such a move remains uncertain.

 

 

A parliamentary report published last week estimates that Nigeria lost USD6.8bn due to corruption and mismanagement of its fuel subsidy programme between 2009 and 2011. According to the report, the programme cost USD16.5bn in 2011 a 10 fold increase since 2006. This is more than double the USD7.5bn previously estimated by the government.

 

 

Economically, the amounts uncovered are big enough to allow both increased spending on infrastructure and improve fiscal savings and foreign exchange reserves, all of which would be positive for creditworthiness.

When the government attempted to repeal the subsidy in January its intention was to spend the savings on improved public transport and other programmes to persuade the population of the benefits from removing the subsidy. This recent report has clearly demonstrated the waste and potential savings to the electorate as well as the scale of corruption, all of which could help push the case for further reform.

 

 

The findings in the report regarding the state-owned Nigerian National Petroleum Company may also expedite the passing of the Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB). This is a key reform for Nigeria as certainty about the oil sector framework is needed to attract new deep water foreign investment. It is also important in terms of increasing government revenues from existing production sharing contracts (PSCs) and implementing institutional reforms that would improve transparency and organise the oil and gas sector to meet international standards.

 

President Goodluck Jonathan has made passage of the PIB a key priority this year but the need to resubmit the legislation to the National Assembly means progress is likely to remain slow. Together with reforms to the key electricity sector, following on from progress cleaning up the banking system after the 2009 crisis, reform momentum is gradually building but remains beset by political hurdles. The Boko Harum insurgency also risks distracting politicians’ efforts from the crucial economic reform process.

 

Contact:

 

Richard Fox

Senior Director

Sovereigns

+44 20 3530 1444

Fitch Ratings Limited

30 North Colonnade

London

E14 5GN

 

Jeremy Carter

Managing Director

Fitch Wire

+44 20 3530 1391

The size of Nigeria's economy will shoot up by some 40 per cent in the second quarter this year, placing Africa's second-biggest economy on the list of middle income countries and bringing it closer to rival South Africa, a source close to the matter said.

 

The makeover may give the country financial bragging rights, but will change little for the millions trapped in poverty.

From around July or August this year, Nigeria will change the base year for its GDP calculation to 2009, from its current 1990, the source said yesterday, applying the new base from Q2 onwards.

 

Analysts said a recalculation along those lines would bring Nigeria's economy up from a current IMF estimate of $270 billion for 2012 to about $375 billion — just behind South Africa's, expected to be around $390 billion by the end of 2012.

 

The source said the calculations had "taken into consideration fluctuations, availability and consistency in the data in choosing the new base year, which will be 2009," and that it will be applied from the second quarter of 2012.

 

Most governments overhaul gross domestic product calculations every few years to reflect changes in output and consumption, such as mobile phones and the Internet. Since Nigeria has not done so since 1990, analysts had expected a large jump. Nobody had put a number on it until now.

 

Nigeria's markets were largely unmoved on Wednesday, with the stock exchange index trading marginally up 0.34 per cent. The move was flagged late last year.

With growth 7 per cent a year, compared with 3 per cent in South Africa, Nigeria looks set to overtake its rival to seize the top spot, an event that would most likely boost interest in local consumer goods companies seeking to unlock the potential of Africa's most populous country and its 160 million consumers.

 

"Perhaps the upside for Nigeria is that it will become too important to ignore as a frontier market and investment destination," said Standard Bank's Samir Gadio, but he added that the change was largely "a symbolic turnaround" that will have little impact on Nigeria's actual diplomatic clout. Nigeria's GDP may be roaring ahead, but a glance look at its huge and fast growing population and poor record on governance makes them look less impressive, analysts said.

 

Poverty in Africa's top oil producer is rising. A decade of breakneck economic growth has failed to lift 100 million people living on less than $1 a day out of dire poverty.

The percentage of Nigerians living in absolute poverty — those who can afford only the bare essentials of food, shelter and clothing — has risen to around 60 per cent, thanks largely to kleptocratic governance hampering basic services.

 

"Nigeria remains significantly underdeveloped in terms of basic infrastructure (electricity, roads etc) and faces high income inequality. Output per capita in Nigeria will continue to trail that of South Africa over the next decades," said Gadio.

— Reuters

Pictures: Suicide bombing at Thisday Newspaper at Abuja and Kaduna

" suicide bomber detonated a car loaded with explosives Thursday at the office of a major Nigerian newspaper in the country's capital and another man threw a bomb near another newspaper office in Kaduna, killing at least seven people in the attacks, witnesses said. The attack in Abuja struck the offices of ThisDay, an influential daily newspaper. The bombing in Kaduna struck a building housing offices for ThisDay, The Moment and The Daily Sun ewspapers, witnesses said. At least 26 people were injured in the attacks. No group immediately claimed responsibility for the attacks, though they mirrored others previously carried out by a radical Islamist sect responsible for hundreds of deaths in Nigeria this year alone." - Huffington Post

Shattered vehicles are seen at the site of a bomb explosion in the Morroco district in Suleja, outside Nigeria's capital Abuja on February 19, 2012. Another attack on April 26, 2012 that killed three people at a newspaper office is believed to be a suicide attack.

 

Shattered vehicles are seen at the site of a bomb explosion in the Morroco district in Suleja, outside Nigeria's capital Abuja on February 19, 2012. Another attack on April 26, 2012 that killed three people at a newspaper office is believed to be a suicide attack. Photograph by: Afolabi Sotunde , Reuters

The body of a victim lies covered on the ground after a bomb blast in front of the office compound of Nigerian newspaper This Day in the northern city of Kaduna April 26, 2012. Two suicide car bombers targeted the offices of This Day in the capital Abuja and the northern city of Kaduna on Thursday, killing at least three people, officials and witnesses said. A Reuters witness saw the second attack in Kaduna, when a suicide car bomber drove into the This Day office compound and tried to detonate his explosives but was stopped by bystanders, who dragged him out of the vehicle. The bomb later went off, killing at least one, Police Commissioner Mohammed Abubakar confirmed on the scene. There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the bombings. REUTERS-Stringer

The body of a victim lies covered on the ground after a bomb blast in front of the office compound of Nigerian newspaper This Day in the northern city of Kaduna . REUTERS/Stringer

titleA car destroyed by the bomb sits outside the premises of ThisDay Newspapers bombed in Abuja on April 26, 2012.

 

titlePeople look at a tree uprooted and a vehicle destroyed by the bomb outside the premises of ThisDay Newspapers bombed in Abuja on April 26, 2012.
titleDebris is strewn inside the bombed office of ThisDay, an influential daily newspaper in Abuja, Nigeria
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titleRescue workers tend to an injured man at the site of the bombed office of ThisDay, an influential daily newspaper in Abuja, Nigeria, Thursday, April. 26, 2012, . (AP Photos/Gbemiga Olamikan)

titlePolice Anti-bomb officers stand on the burnt engine of the Jeep used by the suicide bomber that ravaged ThisDay Newspapers in Abuja

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Pictures source & Credit:  AP, Denver Post

 

Liberia's Charles Taylor Aided And Abetted War Crimes, Court Finds

 

Former Liberian President Charles Taylor is guilty of "aiding and abetting" forces in Sierra Leone that committed war crimes and other atrocities during a war that lasted more than a decade and left more than 50,000 people dead, the International Criminal Court ruled today.

 

Taylor, the first head of state since just after World War II to be judged by an international tribunal, "knew that his support" would assist and encourage fighters who were committing war crimes, the tribunal ruled. In return, he received so-called blood diamonds from Sierra Leone.

 

The court proceeding in The Hague began at 5 a.m. ET, and it wasn't until after 7 a.m. ET that the judge finished reading through the judge's findings and their verdicts.

 

Update at 7:15 a.m. ET. Guilty Of Aiding And Abetting On All 11 Counts.

NPR

 

After asking Taylor to stand, Judge Richard Lussick said the court "finds you guilty of aiding and abetting the following crimes ... and planning the commission of the following crimes":

 

— Acts of terrorism.

 

— Murder.

 

— Violence to life, health and physical well-being.

 

— Rape.

 

— Sexual slavery.

 

— Outrages upon personal dignity.

 

— Violence to life.

 

— Inhuman acts.

 

— Conscripting children under the age of 15.

 

— Enslavement.

 

— Pillage.

 

Taylor's sentencing hearing is set for May 16. He's to be sentenced on May 30.

 

The Nigerian Diaspora Won’t Return Home

Recently New York Times published an article about the increase of U.S. immigrants going back to their native countries to start up their own businesses. It is safe to say over the past decade the countries grouped in the BRICS have been fortunate to receive a brain-gain, as many of their best and brightest have seen their own countries as land of opportunities.

 

On one of my social media networks I spotted a comment that said “By the time Africans get featured in an article like this the gold rush will be over.” Of course you can easily interpret this statement in several ways but it spoke volumes about how Africans tend to always be last in everything.

 

As a Nigerian in the Diaspora I would love to go back after I finish my education to pursue my own dreams but realistically we are faced with obstacles that cause many diasporans to become reluctant to return back to Africa to start up a business. Here are my reasons why…

 

The Political Climate

The political climate in Nigeria is one of the number top reasons why the Nigerian Diaspora refuse to go back to Nigeria. Despite a democratic society, the political system is still full of corruption and lack of transparency.

 

If we compare our political history to a developing country such as Malaysia you will see some similarity as both countries received independence two years apart from each other from British rule. Even in the 1960’s Nigeria was ahead of Malaysia economically wise and had vast more natural resources. If we compare both countries as of today, Malaysia has been able to pull ahead in terms of development. In Malaysia, a person can literally start a business in less of week versus Nigeria which is 30 plus days. Interestingly enough there is an increasing Nigerian base in Malaysia. In other countries hard work can actually turn into a successful business like Chris Aire who has created a jewelry empire or Kase Lawal a well known business man in the oil sector. In Nigeria there are many businesses thriving based off their own work, but as well just as many growing because of ties these companies have with the government.

 

Lack of infrastructure

It is 2012 and Nigeria still does not have a stable power for companies to run businesses. Many companies in Nigeria use over 10% of their income to run power from day to Night. In other countries running power for the company is the least of one’s concern and normally amount to 1% to 2 %. Besides the power, roads are an eyesore and connectivity is still a problem among businesses. These issues have stifled Nigerians for decades who dream of building a business. Many Nigerians in the Diaspora have great ideas but are held back simply because Nigeria lacks the infrastructure to turn their idea into a viable business.

 

Out of touch with Nigeria

Let’s face it some people in the diaspora are just simply out of touch. They have no clue what is taking place in Nigeria and some do not even want to know. Other countries do a great job of connecting their people in the diapora to their home countries. In India a person from the Diaspora sits on parliament. Chinese have groups in the Diaspora that actually have influence in Chinese affairs. If we look in Liberia they allow they citizens in the Diaspora to vote in government elections. Yes, we can say we have “people” in the government who are suppose to handle Diaspora affairs, but what can we say they have done. We have groups in the Diaspora who are there to help Nigerian entrepreneurs invest back into Nigeria, but instead it becomes a power struggle of who will lead the group. In this area the Diaspora affairs must improve in order to create a better bridge between those in and out of Nigeria.

 

The comfort of being overseas

Time and time again I meet Nigerians who continue to say I want to back to Nigeria one day and it never becomes a reality. I remember jumping in a taxi cab on my way to a meeting and coincidentally the taxi driver was a Nigerian. He was telling me his journey from Nigeria and how he wishes to go back but he is just use to his routine in the US. Many people aspire to be entrepreneurs but some rather deal with the comfort of 9 to 5 rather than going back to Nigeria to deal with the headache. Nigerians who have left to go back to Nigeria get there to discover a pile of empty promises. People who said they will connect them with so and so end up being dead ends. Staying in the Diaspora may not be the ideal route, but to many Nigerians it is considered the safe route.

 

Despite all of these roadblocks to go back to Nigeria I am still moved by the vast opportunities to try my luck and move back to Nigeria. There are many Nigerians who have gone back and have made a successful name for themselves. Nigeria is growing by leaps and bounds ripe for development. It will be difficult to assimilate back into the country, but anything great is not easy to obtain. The challenges of Nigeria should not discourage people in the Diasporas; it should in fact encourage us to transfer our skills to build up Nigeria. As a wise man once told me, “Nigerians are walking on money; the opportunities are far too great to not see them”. I call on Nigerians in the Diaspora to migrate back to Nigeria to take advantage of these opportunities. Do not wait for the gold rush to be over tap into Nigeria’s potential.

 

Are you a Nigerian in the Diaspora? Are you willing and ready to return home? Or are you a newly returnee? How is your experience? Leave your comments below!

 

Chika Uwazie is a Human Resource professional with experience in recruiting, human capital management, and organizational development. Chika currently is a recruiting project associate at American Institutes for Research where she leads recruiting on social media platforms and conducts data analysis for recruitment metrics. Chika runs a blog called the Naija Careerist, which gives career advice to young Nigerians. On the Naija Careerist she discusses job search strategies, the state of human capital in Nigeria, and the profession of human resources in Africa.

Wednesday, 25 April 2012 01:55

Malaria: A Dickens Of A Disease

World Malaria Day 2012: A Critical Moment for Reversing Spread of Malaria

 

Charles Dickens' depiction of Magwitch grabbing Pip has stuck in my mind and, I suspect, in the mind of generations of scared school boys who watched or read "Great Expectations." The Kent churchyard, with its "lozenge shaped" tomb stones, in "marsh country down by the river," is now firmly on the literary tourist trail during the Dickens 200th anniversary. But few visitors will know that the "marsh ague" that filled these graves was none other than malaria.

 

The inscriptions tell a story familiar to millions of Africans: "Mary died in infancy, William 8 months, William 7 months, Francis, 17 months, James, 4 months, Elizabeth, 3 months, William, 8 months." Seven children under five dead in 12 years, all between 1767-1779. The family must have so much wanted a William to live but it was not to be. Malaria was then, as it is now, a child killer.

 

In contrast their illustrious contemporary, George Washington, survived his first bout of malaria in Virginia -- it was at the age of 17 -- but suffered periodic attacks until 1798. The fifth President of the United States, James Monroe, also caught malaria in "marsh country down by the river," by the Mississipi in 1795. Escaping death by malaria seemed almost to be a qualification for America's early Presidents.

 

The notion that malaria in the "West" was only a scourge of the 18th century is far from the truth. Abraham Lincoln survived attacks during childhood. War was a great ally of the disease and American Presidents remained notable victims until after J.F. Kennedy, who caught the disease during the Second World War. He followed in the footsteps of Andrew Jackson in the Seminole campaigns in the Florida swamps. The discovery of quinine began to change the picture in the 1840s, though it was only by the 1890s that the poorest could get access to the drug in significant numbers. That did not stop many hundreds of American troops in southern Italy dying from malaria during the Second World War. The malaria parasite remained a minor scourge for America into living memory.

 

So it always came as a surprise to me when, on both sides of the Atlantic, my Faith Foundation reported back about our interfaith campaign against malaria deaths that people sometimes said "but we don't get malaria here." True enough but memories are short. Teddy Roosevelt caught malaria in 1914, James Garfield, 20th President, caught malaria in Ohio in 1848 when he was 16 years old. The Pontine marshes around Rome were lethal until Mussolini drained them -- mainly for political effect. And Dickens' stomping ground around Rochester, Kent makes the point with great poignancy.

Tony Blair visits pioneering interfaith malaria initiative in NigeriaTony Blair, ex-President Olusegun Obasanjo, and Nigerian religious leaders demonstrate use of bednets against malaria in Kuje, Nigeria with a volunteer and her child. Photo: Tony Blair Faith Foundation

 

The real point is that malaria was eradicated in the USA and UK because people realized that it was utterly preventable and set about preventing it with adequate resources to hand. And there are no reasons it cannot be eradicated in Africa and other endemic malarial areas too. Or rather there are several reasons all of which can be overcome with sufficient political will and application. It remains an entirely preventable disease.

 

World Malaria Day this year comes at a critical juncture for the massive global effort at malaria eradication. It has made extraordinary gains under the impact of some extraordinary people. I am thinking of Ray Chambers, the UN special malaria envoy, and, of course, Bill Gates. But there are countless lesser known champions against malaria deaths like Sheikh Conteh in Sierra Leone, Bishop Dinis Sengulane in Mozambique, Bishop Sunday Onuoha in Nigeria who are leading faith communities in national campaigns against the disease.

 

Faith leaders through the authority they hold, and the outreach and networks of their communities, can be powerful influences for the good in public health. Giving health messages and training others, just five malaria dos and don'ts to protect families, can, and does, save lives. I have seen this collaboration with Ministries of Health in Sierra Leone and Nigeria. It takes so little to protect the under-fives, an impregnated bed net, the knowledge of how to use it properly and cleaning up stagnant water. Two visits to the health clinic can save the lives of pregnant women who are particularly vulnerable.

 

Yet intensive national campaigns that reduce deaths significantly and open up the possibility of eradication cost money. International donors, the Global Fund and the US Presidents' Fund, make them possible. Under the impact of economic crisis they are faltering. Pledges are not being fulfilled. There is foot dragging. This could set the clock back and break the momentum across the world.

 

So World Malaria Day on 25 April highlights a critical year for achieving the most achievable of the Millennium Development Goals, halting and reversing the spread of malaria. We owe it to the Marys, Williams, Francis, James and Elizabeths of Africa not to reduce funding to the Global Fund, not to falter in this great endeavor.

 

Tony Blair is the former Prime Minister of Britain

Mitt Romney is in the midst of a bruising, costly campaign to oust Barack Obama from the White House, but one expert has long said the Republican challenger's efforts are for naught: the president's re-election is a sure thing.

"Even if I am being conservative, I don't see how Obama can lose," historian and American University professor Allan Lichtman told US News & World Report.

That was last August, and he stands by his prediction today.

Lichtman is no ordinary soothsayer; he and his pattern-recognition model have been right 100% of the time since he created The Keys to the White House in the early 1980s.

His system, based on 13 conditions that favour re-election of the incumbent party, has also retroactively called every presidential election since 1860.

That's 37 in a row, including advance calls on every election since 1984.

As for 2012, "I don't think [Romney] can upset the apple cart," Lichtman said, as his system gyrates around a simple truth: "presidential elections are essentially referenda on the performance of the party holding the White House."

In other words, "there is little or nothing the challenging party can do to change election outcomes."

 

Assessing strengths


The 13 keys assess the strength of the incumbent party, the presidency's perceived achievements and failures on issues such as the economy and foreign affairs, and charisma of the incumbent and the challenger.

Obama currently holds 10 keys. He'd have to lose three more to lose the election, but Lichtman says such a collapse this late in the game would be unprecedented.

The professor has fended off criticism, notably by Nate Silver of the New York Times, who wrote in the FiveThirtyEight blog last year that many of the keys are subjective.

President Obama and Mitt Romney (Credit: AP Photo)

Lichtman argued that "the world is subjective, and can't be reduced to these equations as we know."

He's stirred controversy by saying for example that Republican John McCain's status as a war hero was not enough to turn the challenger charisma key in 2008.

This year he scores some keys controversially in favour of Obama, such as the president effecting "major changes in national policy," a nod to his health care reform, even though the law is unpopular.

Silver and experts like University of Chicago professor John Brehm say Lichtman engages in data dredging, mining details of past elections in order to establish a winning set of criteria.

Margin of victory

Brehm points to Lichtman's deficiencies in forecasting the margin of victory, including in some elections that were "squeakers in reality but ... the model predicted them to be runaways," such as John F Kennedy's razor-thin 1960 defeat of Richard Nixon.

Lichtman said he has not heard from the Romney campaign.

But he has over the years fielded calls from Democratic challengers, including one from an advisor to a man Lichtman had never heard of in 1991: Arkansas governor Bill Clinton.

"I shared the copy [of 'The Keys'] with governor Clinton and he loved it," Kay Goss, who was senior assistant to Clinton at the time, said.

In the aftermath of the Gulf War George W Bush had some of the highest approval ratings in history, and Democrats were avoiding running against him in 1992.

Lichtman saw it differently, and wrote that based on the keys, Bush could be beaten.

"I can't speak to the exact impact it had on his decision-making process," Goss said, but the book was "quite helpful to me and to many others supporting governor Clinton's successful quest for the presidency."

Tobe Berkovitz, an advertising professor at Boston University and long-time political consultant, says the system provokes collegial envy and criticism.

Popular vote

"It's a brilliant work of marketing. But, he's been accurate," Berkovitz conceded -- though he stressed Lichtman's model predicts the popular vote, not the electoral college, which allowed him to keep his perfect record in 2000 when he picked Al Gore.

Gore won the popular vote, but Bush won the White House.

"Overall, more power to him," said Berkovitz. "But am I going to bet the farm on his prediction? No."

Lichtman says there is still a path to victory for Romney -- albeit a negative one.

"The economy could take a catastrophic dive into recession, there could be some terrible disaster abroad, and some presidential scandal. Those three things would do [Obama] in," he said.

As for 2016, some keys are already in the Republicans' favour, especially if Obama wins re-election and there's a Democratic nominations battle four years from now.

"Run," Lichtman tells Republicans, "because it's more likely to be a better Republican year than now." -- Sapa-AFP

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