Critical Sanity for 2015 Election

The political scene is muddy. Presidential candidates are campaigning. One week to election… date remains unconfirmed. Mudslinging in every direction. Muddy and murky. Excitement from the mudslinging, delight from the pigs, entertainment for fans of mud wrestling, and most importantly murky vision. This mudslinging analogy can further provide insight into the current state of aggressive political campaigns.

Before that, it is worth realizing that although this type of campaign is unprecedented in Nigeria, it is not new elsewhere. While many see this as retrogression in terms of political engagement, it is actually progress towards the living models of the liberal democracies we earnestly aim to attain. “Successful” liberal democracies like the US have been mudslinging during campaigns for some time now. A simple walk around youtube would reveal many such campaign videos and posters aimed at Obama, Muslim loving politicians, welfare loving politicians, “the others”, etc. The mere fact that Nigeria’s political campaigns are mudslinging par excellence, could mean we are on our way towards democratic maturity since we are imitating democracies like the US.

More importantly for the argument of progress is that the political discourse in Nigeria is evolving. Politicians used to be content simply coming out for rallies with paid and unpaid crowd, then shout catchy phrases (especially those that invoke chorus replies), then wait until election day, hire thugs to steal the ballot boxes or deploy “vote dealers” to buy votes from people for cash or equivalent. It used to be much simpler when political discourse was really a discourse of muscle and money. Now they are digging out “facts” to discredit their opponents. The discourse is evolving towards use of speech, new media and PR expertise. Money may stay a while but it would be progress if with the rise of mudslinging political discourse, we see a fall in the muscle political discourse.

critical thinking
noun
the objective analysis and evaluation of an issue in order to form a judgement.

Now back to the main issue of this post. The aim of all this mudslinging it seems is to persuade the voting public to cast their votes one way or another. Let us not call it mudslinging, let us call it revelation of “facts” since it seems that is the popular description agreed by both sides. The modern rational and liberal democrat prides themselves on their enlightened rationality and ability to investigate issues with xray vision and arrive at a conclusion. Their only requirement is to be provided with fact, and then they can make informed decisions. When provided with these facts, the democrat then makes an informed decision, even if that decision is to conclude that the fact is itself distorted. It is sufficient to point our here that double standard is often employed to discern admittable facts from “distorted” facts; which undermines the democratic mission and only provides a method for justification using “facts” but not for reevaluation. That is not very interesting.

What I find interesting is the myth of “facts”. This is the belief that fact is not only true or false, but also right or wrong, independent of context. A conflation of scientific concepts (facts’ truth and falsity) with ethical concepts (right and wrong). This is why some stakeholders would rather allege facts as distorted (i.e. false) rather than contextualise it’s rightness or wrongness. The more sophisticated participants in the discourse contextualise the fact to argue that something which has been painted wrong is actually right considering the context. Both positions take for granted that the source of the fact is unimportant as long as the fact can be verified to be true; a proper scientific attitude. In some instances, the source of the “facts” is questioned which at first seems like an exercise in verification of the truth. However it is often not the source that is questioned, rather it is the promoter/revealer of the fact whose motif is questioned. Not so scientific anymore.

polemic
noun
a strong verbal or written attack on someone or something.

I am more interested in the timing for revealing facts, the end they seek to achieve and the authority on which they achieve this end. The end they seek to achieve is to persuade and dissuade (instantly), the authority for the use of “facts” is Critical Thinking; it is assumed that the one who changes or reinforces their belief based on “facts” is a critical thinking citizen. However critical thinking is not an exercised to be rushed; it requires thinking through and verification. Critical thinking is not instant, which is why it is not utilised by our fast food society. On the other hand, polemics is instant, emotive and of course persuasive. We can confidently categorise the bulk of newspapers, at least in Nigeria, as polemic writings.

Communication by critical thinking and polemics could have similar outcomes on the belief of the recipient even though by different methods or with different degree of authority. Keep in mind that critical thinking and polemics may overlap but my experience is they rarely do. At this point, It is important to distinguish three possible effects of critical thinking and polemics: persuasion to a belief, dissuasion from a belief and reinforcement of belief. If achieved via critical thinking the first two cannot be instant, and the last is not relevant. On the other hand if achieved via polemics, all three can be instant. So why all this talk and theorising?

If the above claims are true, then the average citizen anointed with the burden of critical thinking with the incessant revelation of “facts” must be overwhelmed and could hardly reach a conclusion on their candidate before election time. Remember that making such decisions is not simply about the pros of one candidate but the stock of pros and cons of each candidate then compared; this is why it helps to know the position of the candidates on different issues. If citizens however drop the authority of critical thinking, and admit to being steered by polemics, then those would be honest and engaged citizens. This difficulty is why it helps to have political parties based on ideologies, or at least clear agenda they can be held accountable for. Having ideologies or clear agenda in political parties makes it easy to decide which to vote for, then engage all the “facts” that come up to justify your position. Unfortunately, in the case of PDP and APC there is hardly any difference, after all APC can be seen as basically a disgruntled PDP. Both parties have identified the same issues with the nation but their how relies on the moral integrity of one person in the case of APC, or continuity with paradoxical conviction that things need time not improvement in the case of PDP. The distinguishing feature of PDP is that it has a ruling president which an international magazine referred to as a Chauncey Gardiner character.

Goodluck Jonathan, a Chauncey Gardiner figure with no obvious vision for his presidency beyond holding office. – Financial Times

It would be excellent critical thinking to attribute causation to one of the presidential candidates for events that happened during their rule. Social scientist have had to grapple with this problem of establishing human causal explanation to social events that they simply settled for “partial explanation” as sufficient. By settling for partial explanation, they have also downplayed the causation it self, making the requirement for causation to be a sum of many partial explanation. According to Max Weber, partial explanation is “explanation that for all their patent one-sidedness would be somewhat more rigorous than the conventional procedure in terms of ‘re-experiencing’, ‘intuition’ or ‘feel'” (H S Hughes – Consciousness and Society). Yet we hear a lot of “Buhari did this” and “Goodluck did this” simply because these things happened during their rule. As long as we are not making claims to objectivity (or ciritical thinking) then we are good to go. So what about unfortunate things that happened under their rule? If they form part of the partial explanation then we are justified to not want them return. However what about all the other partial explanations usually in forms of institutions, are we doing anything about those since they are likely more permanent than the rulers?

What am I saying here? Simply, ignore all those “facts” that are revealed say two months prior to election and maintain who you have decided to vote for whatever reason (I hope you would include Justice among your criteria). To feel as though you are being critical based on those lately revealed “facts” is likely to be dellusion, or make an inadequate exercise on critical thinking. My sane and delusion free recipe for voting is to have an ideology/agenda/choice and stick to it; it would have taken some reflection and feedback from everyday existence to decide on an ideology or agenda. If you would like to engage the campaigns then do so on a level of polemics but don’t take polemics serious enough to change your decision because that would be a disservice to your dear modern liberal democracy. Unfortuntely some would be expected to actively play into polemics with counter polemics, but this should be done without mistaking it with critical thinking but knowing the potent implication of keeping quite. Perhaps this is what Chomsky has known all along when he wrote about the use of anti-critical thinking to shepherd the citizens via media in “Manufacturing Consent”.

Rather than fixating on facts from the past, I’d rather we look into the future. Let anyone be the president, but make sure the president can be held accountable on what he/she leveraged to get elected. Celebrity and superstar culture magnifies the role of the president and has little or no regard for institutions, legislature and judiciary which can keep the president not only in check but accountable. Let us simply decide on our presidential candidate, then channel some of that energy towards electing the capable legislature to effect institutional reforms.

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Ballad for the Dead – By The Peace Seeking Anarchist

God have mercy on their souls. The murdered… and the murderers. This is no mistake, I pray for their souls as well because the evil I wish on them makes the seventh circle of Dante’s Inferno seem like vacation. It belongs to the unsaid of scriptural accounts of hell. God is just and it is for God to deal with their souls. I ask only one thing; let us deal with their bodies. The weight of praying for their souls is lightened by lofty ambitions to deal with their bodies, an idea that regained its lustre in light of their recent attacks. Know that I remain a sceptic of the conspiracy theories that abound these murders, not because there is no basis for there is, but because neither conspiracy theories nor any academic institutional analysis can serve my purpose at this point. I am not jumping the gun here when I claim this purpose because I have not yet suffered directly from their attacks. My limbs are intact, my nuclear family and family friends have been spared murder by what seems increasingly statistical fortune. Though my extended family and the family of my family friends have suffered directly by what seems increasingly statistical misfortune. But the gods of statistics are not just. God is. God shall deal with their souls, let us deal with their bodies.

 

Sorrow, then hope, and finally cynicism… Death came with these three. Sorrow. It was reported that over 120 people were murdered, but I was told over 500. Minus 120 people in Kano families, plus 120 people to the daily statistic of deaths in Kano; a minus and a plus but conclusively negative. Then Hope. On the same day, attacks were foiled by stopping and apprehending at least 5 attackers; one was at the hospital treating survivors of the first attack because they wanted to finish what they started. We should also finish what we started. Security is sought in anarchism! Finally Cynicism. The 5 apprehended were all lynched; that is the summary. In two words, Summary Killings. One is reported to be lost to the black hole called Security Services. We are back to where we started. Many injured, between 120 to 500 murdered, 1 attack, 5 killed, 1 foiled attack… conclusion is: we have no idea when the next attack may be, no idea by whom. So when I received a forwarded message seeking my forgiveness because the senders know they may be killed anytime now, any place, now… I didn’t reply. I can forgive deeds done to me, but I won’t forgive giving up, not yet. I don’t think God would in this case either, but God decides how to deal with souls. God shall deal with their souls, let us deal with their bodies.

 

Ever since the civilian JTF were made brothers in arms to the rogue JTF, security was found in anarchy. Lynching reign aka Civilian Execution. I don’t forgive giving-up, neither do the murderers apparently. Why else would they seek to attack the hospital treating the wounded but to finish what they started? That is why we must also finish what we started by going from Civilian Execution to Civilian Inquisition; the complete security package of anarchy. Whether it be worse than the Spanish Inquisition, let historians keep the data and compare. When Voltaire argued that torture was not effective in determining truth, I wasn’t there. Geneva Convention on how to treat foiled and repelled attackers… is well really just another convention. For an unidentifiable combatant is no soldier but an assassin, their identities must be unmasked before war is established; then war ethics can be applied. As long as rubber tires scrub these tarred roads, Nigeria is some distance from that future where foiled attackers would not be lynched; burnt in a blazing ring of rubbery fire. Until we walk to that promise land, I say we interrogate them… first; torture if you have to but with skill. With 5 captured attackers, interrogated skilfully, a success rate of 40 percent means 2 out of 5 would have provided us information. By us I don’t mean the Security Forces, I mean we the sitting ducks, the newly discovered Forces of Security. God shall judge our necessary evil. God shall deal with their souls, but oh God, let us deal with their bodies.

 

I admit these words erupt in rage, but I dare say there is evidence of outrage. So do not seek to patronise me by saying my proposal is outrageous. It is neither courageous, nor religious, but it may be called tactical, cold, desperate, probable and these would be right. It may be called savage, lawless and primitive and I hope they find more negative words for at least their vocabulary would have improved, by the time our security improves. This is no complex political theory but if it were a doctrine it would be anarchism, with a heavy dose of activism, a fanatic sanctification of life, a crowd-sourced intelligence to uncover the killers. We have been agonising, let us begin organising, so they might be agonising. This is the time for action, better be anarchistic than anachronistic. God shall deal with their souls, let us deal with their bodies.

 

Signed: The Peace Seeking Anarchist

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Picketty For Nigeria

Once I had a chat with a fellow Nigerian about the social injustice implicit in the idea of accumulating monetary interest. His reaction was shock and he was stupefied. He responded “why should I keep money when it wouldn’t work for me”. How can two such people continue a meaningful conversation on this matter? While being aware my religious exposure may have nudged me to think about such matters, I wondered whether to continue engage my chat mate from a historical analysis of his beloved interest or from philosophical inquiry of past sages; which I know so little yet enough to pass the point across. He paralyzed me when I understood that his was such a dogma that chats laden with unreferenced historical claims and modest philosophical arguments could not shake.

Prior to reading Piketty (Capital in The Twenty-First Century), I came across a few review articles on the book which encouraged me to read the book. Now that I have read the book, I can’t quite remember what the reviews were about but I remember the criticism were mild and mostly directed at how difficult his proposed solution would be. I was tempted to make an artsy review which would simply be a fresco of quotes by the author, so that the gist and treasures of the book are captured. If I have more time to myself I would experiment with that in the future. Until then this commentary must do. The reader may wish to jump to subheadings of interest because they could be read independently of each other.

North versus South, Hausa versus Yoruba versus Igbo… these are the sides we are conditioned to choose to identify with. A perenial issue in Nigeria, which threatens its nationhood, has been the North-South divide the most palpable (in history) being Igbos versus other Nigerians. This is a lasting legacy of the 1967 civil war which has been inherited and is being zealously championed by many who were not even born or merely infants at the time. Piketty is faced with a similar situation being from the home of the French Revolution, and Europe where theories of Capitalism and Communism were articulated and defended zealously. However he is a model for Nigerians, he embodies a progressive mind towards development who seeks a goal without the baggage of competing ideologies in their popular forms. Piketty represents a consciousness of distribution rather than simply accumulation which could sit comfortably in the mainstream (Capitalism) without discomfort of ideological mismatch. He doesn’t come in lashing capitalism or communism, or with a lot of bias. He is basically saying: here is the data, what is the best explanation for it, and how do we reach a more just society based on this data?

I belong to a generation that turned eighteen in 1989, which was not only the bicentennial of the French Revolution but also the year the Berlin Wall fell. I belong to a generation that came of age listening to news of the collapse of the Communist dictatorships and never felt the slightest affection or nostalgia for those regimes or for the Soviet Union… I am interested in contributing, however modestly, to the debate about the best way to organize society and the most appropriate institutions and policies to achieve a just social order. – Piketty, Capital in the Twenty-First Century

And…

The clash of communism and capitalism sterilized rather than stimulated research on capital and inequality by historians, economists and even philosophers – Piketty, Capital in the Twenty-First Century

Moral Ends as Motivation

Capital in the Twenty-First Century is not a difficult read. Simply having interest in social justice and basic understanding of mathematical equality-signs would suffice. The slightly intimidating bits are data analysis which are always broken down in the most plain language, but would slow one’s reading speed simply. Perhaps one would expect a book with such a title to be more focused on economics than social justice. That is not to say there isn’t basic economic concepts, but even those are assumed that the reader has no background them. This approach reflects Piketty’s notion of what the discipline of “economics” is about. It is not simply descriptive as the other social sciences, it is prescriptive. Therefore in studying economics, one should seek to answer the question: how could resources be distributed in the most just way. Perhaps what people assume to be economics is either its unscrupulous counterpart or Finance. Piketty in so many places complains about the presumption of economists to be “scientists” hence the over indulgence in mathematical equations as if to arrive at certainty. Social Sciences however are not concerned with certainty, but with what is most justified. A brief class in economic modelling immediately betrays the multitude of assumptions which are baggage that come with those models; not to mention breakthrough in behavioral psychology where the classic economic rational being is hardly existent. So if social justice is the end, then having this moral motivation is sufficient to get you started on the book; any little math or economics that one learns along the way is simply a means to that end.

Social Science 2.0

Piketty dislikes the name Economic Science, he prefers Political Economy due to its normative and moral aspirations. Therein lies another characteristic of the book and the author. It could be seen simply as a book of Social Science because in it, demarcation between Social Science disciplines collapse. If however one is pressured to confine the content of the book within the least number of disciplines, it would be a book on History and Economics; the former perhaps even more dominant. Even he warns that his book may be too historical for economists and too economist for historians.

The most distinctive thread sustained throughout the book is the use of data which spans centuries, but the most comprehensive ones span the last century. This is why such a book could not have been done before now, but in the future more could be done about it. (If you think the works of economists like Kuznet was such, read further to find out why not). Not only were the data analysed but this was done using best practice of Reproducibility in data analysis; which means for all of the claims Piketty makes, one could go to the internet (url given in the book) and find the data used and the generated graphs; here is a link. One could reproduce all the graphs if they have the time. This is taking book writing to another level! It is book writing 2.0 for the internet age; academic and interactive.

However the author is fully aware of the limitations of the data used which is stated in the analysis. Perhaps more interesting for lovers of literature is Piketty’s use of literature especially Jane Austen and Balzac who lived in interesting times as far as distribution of wealth is concerned. These authors were sensitive to the distribution of wealth in their times and well captured in their books. Makes one wants to re-read some Jane Austen with wealth distribution in mind.

Social Science to Social State 

Given the focus on social justice and normative expectations from this social sciences, the end game for this Social Science is the Social State at its least unjust implementation. The social state is here to stay! Piketty explores the history leading to the social state following the historical development of taxation in Europe. 19th century taxes were low compared to 20th century and as the taxes increased the social state emerged, taking more and more social responsibilities.

In other words, the growth of the fiscal state over the last century basically reflects the constitution of a social state – Piketty, Capital in the Twenty-First Century

The logic of Piketty’s social state is not simply taking from the rich and giving to the poor, it is a logic of redistribution based on rights. Therefore all, rich and poor, should have what is considered minimum for a decent (honorable) life. Typically attention is focused on education, health and pension. However the threat is wealth inequality. Piketty calls for reformation or updating of the social state, not the dismantling of it.

Looking over the Shoulders of Giants 

It would be nice to say Piketty built on the shoulders of giants but it is more appropriate to say he looked over their shoulders; beyond them while locating them within the view. According to Piketty, Social Sciences so far have been built on few established facts (data) and a lot of speculation. If there was a single economics-giant Piketty built on, it would be Kuznet from whom he refined a methodology, however he looked beyond Kuznet in terms of the amount of data that was analysed which resulted in faulting the conclusions of Kuznet. For other giants like (Malthus, Young, Ricardo and Marx), Piketty criticized their methods and so their conclusions. In the 18th Century was Malthus and Young, in the 19th Century was Ricardo and Marx, in the 20th Century was Kuznet (and Sallow to some extent). By relying on history, Piketty positions them within their contexts such that their claims make sense, however inaccurate. Although credit is given to Marx for seeing the need to formulate a systematic approach to analysing economic realities, it seems there was insufficient data to make such monumental claims. Piketty also points out that Marx’s work was life-long academic work (Das Kapital) defending an earlier work in polemics (The Communist Manifesto).
As for Kuznet, his work is used to explain away glaring inequalities resulting from capitalism because it is theorized as simply a phase before inequalities “naturally” reach an equilibrium, even if this requires many more countries to subscribe to a particular type of capitalist economy. On the data used by Kuznet (which was reported as meticulously analysed), Piketty locates it covering the period of the two world wars which must not be ignored, as if wars of that magnitude recur every few years. Concerning Kuznet’s prescription for more countries to subscribe to a version of capitalism, Piketty locates this prescription coming in the midst of the Cold War where communism was the enemy for USA and Kuznet was addressing economists that make policy for USA. By simply analysing data that spans more than the duration covered by Kuznet, Piketty reaches the conclusion that is contrary to Kuznet. Unfortunately many policies have been made in Europe and North American on this flawed conclusion.
Nonetheless, Piketty commends these past giants for the questions they asked; even if they answered them wrongly

Tabloid Economics 

To laymen of national economic discourse, it felt the issue of rebasing of Nigerian GDP was the most sensational economic topic since removal of petrol subsidy. The discussions were disappointing (the little I followed) because it was discussed like gossip from tabloid, sparsely academic and deficient philosophically. Arduously, it became clear to those interested that nothing has really changed as far as their daily economic activities were concerned. It was simply updating the parameters of calculation, which placed Nigeria ahead of South Africa. No different from football debates and voyerism, but the implication of Nigeria leading South Africa occupied the minds (and collective egos) of many leading to a burst of sudden patriotism. Is a misplaced patriotism still patriotism?
This is no different from obsession of the world, including Nigerians, with Forbes Magazine’s list of wealthiest individuals. Nigeria’s annointed child is Aliko Dangote, Africa’s richest man, whom I celebrate mostly because he represents diversion from idolising rich criminals to the legally rich. Piketty has something to say about the role played by the likes of Forbes Magazine in perpetrating myths that sustain inequality. The myth is that merit makes one wealthy, and high salaries are justified by productivity of managers; Bill Gates, Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg are the poster childs. Piketty warns against taking Forbes Magazine estimates seriously, but perhaps he is ok with their rankings afterall ranking could be deduced without knowing accurate estimation of wealth. Forbes Magazine’s list is simply a more classy MTV cribs or any of those junk TV that glorifies the rich and thereby inculcating the capitalist myth.

Keeping Eyes on the Price

To pull a wool over someone’s eye is to misdirect a person and let the person enact the endgame so the resulting blame or praise is theirs to bare. That is basically what magic tricks are. However in the case of magic, we are aware that something is not right as habit would predict, which leaves us with childlike wonder. The magician deliberately misleads and the price is wonder, we allow ourselves such amusement. In the case of our society, which is the subject of Social Sciences, misdirection is not necessarily intentional (except by sophist politics) nor do we willingly indulge in it (except one thinks like Freud). We blame academic awareness, or the lack of it, and deficient political will for our misdirection. Eventually we get immersed in the amusement of theories and models, we temporarily forget what we are supposed to be looking for… So when someone like Piketty comes to remind us what and where we ought to be looking at, it is highly welcomed.

Piketty takes some of our attention from regalian questions like “how much profit was made” to questions like “what share of profit goes to income and to capital”. The questions we focus on in concerns of economic, reflects our philosophy of what is just; for instance, whether justice is even worth consideration in profit sharing. Other questions Piketty asks are “how important is capital relative to labor in say national income“, “how does rate of return on capital compare to rate of economic growth in terms of the effect on social inequality“. In other words, Piketty redirects our preoccupation with averages and aggregates of income to question on distribution of income.
Three spheres of focus were carved for investigating income inequality: Inequality in labor income; Inequality in ownership of capital and its resulting income; How inequality in labor income deepens inequality in ownership of capital. The last question in other words is asking why does the rich keep getting richer; or to put it in Nigerian context, why does appointing/electing a person into public office becomes the baptism of the person’s lineage into the social class of the wealthy? A related issue is to do with inheritance.

Equality is the norm, and inequality is acceptable only if based on common utility – Piketty, Capital in the Twenty-First Century

Inheritance  

Coming from a religious tradition that has legislated on the formula for sharing inheritance, I find it very important to understand how inheritance may or may not perpetrate social inequality which would lead to social injustice. Piketty identifies inheritance as a major mechanism through which wealth inequality is widened across generations. This information which is not new has not been neglected by some western countries by imposing a tax on inheritance, however they seem to be doing it more as a source of revenue than to restrain inequality. Piketty in several of his proposed solutions (which will be discussed ahead), clearly acknowledges that placing a high tax on the very wealthy is not primarily to generate wealth, instead it is to curb exponentiation of social/income inequality.
The question is not whether inheritance should be abolished or not. Piketty asks instead whether inheritance should be taxed (progressively) or not. I remember more than two years ago I first came across this debate on inheritance but didn’t have the background information to appreciate the claims and prescriptions. To my knowledge, taxes on inheritance either don’t exist or would be so easy to evade in Nigeria given our tax system which is yet to mature; thanks to oil money. It is another question entirely if any Nigerian could be persuaded to pay any tax at all when the government is not accountable. However, I am interested in understanding the role of inheritance in the Nigerian context and if taxing it is the more just thing to do, then how would that be reconciled with religions that have certain prescriptions for it (I see Maqaasid and Istislah saving the day in Islam). I must say though, on the surface, it seems to me inheritance among Nigerians probably reduces inequality because when a wealthy Man has between 5 to 15 children, distributing the wealth is like sharing to a small community; so possible less concentration of wealth compared to Europe. Moreover the Islamic formula allows one to make a will on only one third of wealth; the two third must be shared among family according to a formula which would include extended family.

Class Struggles with Data

We hear that the middle class is this and the middle class is that, as if we know what makes the middleclass. Perhaps because we think we are able to place people in the right class (as lower class, middle class or upper class), we assume we know what the middle class is. The difference between knowing who belongs to middle class and what defines the middle class is a matter of judgement and of analysis respectively. The latter is what concerns our moral inquiry on the justice in inequality. According to Piketty, such classifications are arbitrary and are only important to extract a society’s “implicit and explicit position concerning justice and legitimacy of the amount of income or wealth claimed by a particular group”. Instead Piketty proposes that the useful classifications for discussions on inequality should not be arbitrary but based on something such as centiles and deciles. So that instead of asking “how much wealth does the upper class control”, we ask “how much wealth does the top 10% control”. The occupy wallstreet movement comes to mind, because centiles (and deciles) were their language as their protest was against the top 1%. This classification is also more inclusive in terms of having a strong and well defined base of comrades because in the lower/middle/upper classification, most at the top 20% would have been packed in the same group as those at the top 1% whose realities may be very far apart. Also having this type of classification enables comparison across space and time while grounded in their specific contexts e.g. it is more meaningful for analysis of inequality to compare the how the top 10% differ from the rest in Nigeria and Cameroun than to compare the “upper class” of Nigeria to Cameroun; contries that have different histories and different parameters.
Unfortunately to use centiles and deciles, data on wealth of individuals is required. This is lacking in Nigeria. Another interesting observation is how the middle-class classification and the decile/centile classification reflects the thoughts of Marx and Piketty respectively. Piketty views the shortcoming of Marx as not having adequate data (which was expensive in their time anyway), so Marx formed a system of classification quantitatively arbitrary but made possible due to high inequality. On the other hand, Piketty relies much on data in addition to a system of classification which enables centile and decile classifications in many analysis (Paretto’s type of analysis which is often used polemically and heuristically can now be backed by data in some parts of the world). Class struggle of the future should be based on centiles/deciles.

Claims and Solutions

I hope to summarize Piketty’s claims and the solutions proffered with as little detail as possible. Here are the two major discoveries from the vast data. First, distribution of wealth (and income) is decided by political acceptance of what it just, it is not deterministic based on economic forces. Second, the direction of distribution of wealth is determined by underlying forces of convergence and divergence. Forces of covergence, which close the gap of inequality, include mainly diffusion of knowledge and skills across population especially the least well off. Forces of divergence, which widens the gap of inequality, are higher rate of returns on capital than rate of economic growth in the longrun; which is boosted even further the more central role capital plays in an economy. Current trend is that forces of divergence are more potent given the current configuration of most capitalist societies.
The basic solution would be to sustain forces of convergence and constrain forces of divergence, justly. For the latter, the recommendation is to levy a progressive tax on Capital (not simply on income), which should be done globally as it would be a joke otherwise given globalization and tax havens. Progressive tax means those with most wealth are taxed higher percentages. A requirement for this would be more accurate data on ownership in countries, which would then be shared among countries. This would not replace progressive income tax but compliment it. Result of the historical analysis demands a new solution to the monstrosity of capitalism because even instruments like progressive income tax and pension systems, which are creations in particular historical contexts and capitalism, have become more complicated since then.
Faithful to his aversion to Economics-as-Science, and understanding the importance of politics to economic norms, Piketty only offers these solutions as a starting point so that ultimately democratic debates shall decide. But he has provided the criticisms, the data, the analysis and possible solutions.

If we are to regain control of capitalism, we must bet everything on democracy – Piketty, Capital in the Twenty-First Century

After the cancerous insecurity in Nigeria, I think the issue of inequality raised by Piketty comes next, parallel to lack of industries and bad education system. That it because in setting up industries and education systems, long term inequality that may be perpetrated by the system should be considered. Piketty is willing allow debates and responses to enrich his proposed solutions, and perhaps make it even suitable to economies of the third world. If not 2015 (presidential election), then maybe 2019, we need a Piketty for Nigeria!

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Mad Men

“Mad Men” is a “term coined in the late 1950s to describe the advertising executives of Madison Avenue…” – T Frank

Yesterday (11th Nov 2014), I woke up determined to get to the office earlier than usual, but I arrived later than usual. The reason was an unanticipated traffic jam. It remained unexplained. Later in the day, I overheard a generous advice about which routes to follow to avoid being caught in the traffic, but I didn’t bother to seek explanation. Further in the day, I glanced at a charade on NTA (Nigerian Television Authority) which we are used to expecting nothing better from. You know it is a charade when you see the face of Goodluck savoring the buffet of flattery. What caught my attention was at the top right hand corner, which read LIVE. Then it was mentioned that Goodluck was declaring his candidature for Presidency in 2015. Hadn’t he done that already, what was the buzz about TAN and some concert they had about how so many Nigerians insist Goodluck seeks presidency. By the way notice that TAN is an anagram for NTA. So this event was the cause of the morning traffic jam, and so the cause of my lateness. Not to mention the most obvious recent killings and increasing domination of Nigerian territory by militants even on the day of this event.

Ok I need to write. Obviously, someone has been playing intense advertisement campaigns for Goodluck. The flood of online advertisement (via Google perhaps) is drowning, once you are connecting to the Internet from Nigeria. So many posters with captions that make your jaws drop; if your jaws are not busy chopping national cake that is. Whichever firm has been contracted to advertise Goodluck, they have my respect for knowing their business. But they won’t get praises from me, and not only their profit driven ethics. They don’t seem to be doing anything sophisticated, they are just playing fundamentals, but pretty well.

 

For those who don’t already know the TV series Mad Men, it is about advertising in New York of the 60s with all its capitalistic ambitions, machismo, misogyny and political scandals. “Mad Men is set in the 1960s, initially at the fictional Sterling Cooper advertising agency on Madison Avenue in New York City, and later at the newly created firm, Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce… ” (Wikipedia)

“Mad Men is set during what industry insiders called the Creative Revolution, when advertising professionals stopped bowing and scraping before the client and overturned the traditional language of advertising itself.” – T Frank

Being interested in advertisement strategies relying on human psychology, even though for self defense against media-control, it may be worthwhile to draw a few parallels and points of reflection between what we have being sold about Goodluck and prevalent strategies of advertisement. Hence my interest in the TV series Mad Men. What follow are by no means exhaustive, but it is something:

Staging

No one in their right minds should take advertisement posters or videos for reality. We are expected to know that it is posing and acting; therefore staged. I find it curious that all the events held by Goodluck’s supporters are on a stage; therefore staged. Even the opposition use stages it seems but what makes supporters of Goodluck stand out is their acting skills. I once thought the sycophant was a great actor, in control of his mischief, but watching speech by some “respectable” Nigerians praising Goodluck, it is hard to believe they are simply acting. I am more inclined to believe sycophancy is delirium… or dementia. I may be wrong, it may simply be a fooled audience at the mercy of creme de la creme of actors. Since realistic acting is supposed to mimic reality, what acting surpasses one that leaves its audience dumfounded as to where the line resides between reality and a staged play. Perhaps even the “actors” (aka praise singers) are incapable of this discernment, hence this demento-cracy.

Actor Representation

As is the trend in Hollywood, block busters these days cannot afford to be found lacking in representation. Lest the Blacks would feel the movie is not for them, or the Asians, and the Latin Americans. This is often not an explicit demand from the audience, even though it is for the major studios, but audience are more likely to connect emotionally with the movies if there is at least one person from their racial background. Other times the movie suffers from critics for not representing minorities enough. It is similar in advertisement, especially in Nigeria where tribal sentiment is almost divine. This explains why something as national as Indomie noodles, or Royco cubes, cannot afford to neglect posters inciting locals to go and purchase these products. No better language of incitement than language of one’s tribe or familiarity, which is why the devil speaks every language, and why revolutions were crafted with local languages all over the world. No wonder Goodluck has so many tribal costumes, it wont be surprising if there is a Special Adviser on Costumes.

       

 

The striking bit about all the praise singers of Goodluck is their unearned appropriation of the status of representatives. All the few I heard, begin by mentioning the constituency they represent. There is no controversy over representing organisations. However it takes a lot of audacity claim to represent a constituency for which an organisation does not exist. For instance, a delegated member of Market Women Association of Lagos may represent that organisation, but it would be ambitious to claim to represent market women in Lagos. But in the world of make-belief, like Hollywood, we have seen the US (aka the world) destroyed countless of times, we have seen American military continuously play the hero, we have even seen… Seeing many that claim to represent North-Central, North-East, North-West, and South-West, I wondered how audacious their acting.

Deception or Semiotics 

In the context of advertisement, Semiotics is the craft of embedding hidden meanings into artifacts of advertisement like logo, slogan, brand names, product specification etc. It is through semiotics that people buy a white Apple product, when the hidden meaning is that having an identifiable apple product boosts self-esteem. It is also how these days Indomie noodles is sold to lower social class of Nigerian because Indomie has the hidden meaning of being associated with middle class sophistication. So many examples.

With regard to Goodluck, it seems to me they lack in sophistication of semiotics. But like I said, the firm in charge of this advert campaign may not be sophisticated but they know their fundamentals. The two I see in play are the semiotic-crafting of repetition and fame. By bombarding the public with quotes about the alleged competence or effectiveness or good governance of Goodluck, and with enough repetition, the public would begin to believe it themselves. The default disposition for humans is truth and as a result, to be gullible. Since falsity is not expected to last without being betrayed, the human mind confuses the reverse as true; that is whatever persists is true. Therefore an advert firm need only put covert effort to make an information to persist in public space and eventually the human mind would start to believe it. The second craft of semiotics concerns the conflation of fame and success. When someone is famous, especially in a good light, the hidden meaning is that the person is successful, therefore an agent of success. Bombarding the public with Goodluck as this man of all tribes and all ages (by the out-of-place Polo shirts), the public eventually see him as an emblem of success.

Regulation 

Due to arsenal from the field of psychology which are employed to achieve advertisement ends, advertisement is regulated in many countries today. Some adverts are basically lies, wrapped cleverly so that they may not be legally classified as misinformation. Most times they are clear misinformation with impunity. Some adverts are targeted at weak people, like children and those with bad habits, to win control over their desires. Even adverts on controversial topics are regulated by these countries. I propose Goodluck’s advertisement campaign be regulated! So much misinformation.

There’s even insensitivity! See below. This is the epitome of insensitivity. Twisting the now catchy #BringBackOurGirls, who are in captivity for 212 days today, into an advertising pun?! Where is the limit?

What is more controversial than the claims made on these posters. Many including myself believe they are more lies than controversial. Moreover it is targeted at a public whose awareness of their civic identity hardly goes beyond claiming they are Nigerians.

Mad Men of Nigeria

Seeing these parallels between the advertisement of the person Goodluck and his supporting partners, while keeping in mind the Mad Men TV series, it would be fitting to call Goodluck and his structures Mad Men! In what sense, you decide.

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Humorous, Tumorous and Numerous

If you have recently watched a video which you found so funny mainly because you are Nigerian and it was made for Nigerians, then you might want to keep on reading.
Sometimes the worst jokes are the funniest jokes translated into a language other than which they were forged. Sometimes even between “dialects” of a languages. Having an appreciation for Humor, I have had to switch languages (or dialects) in order to pass on a joke so that the joke is not lost in translation.  Some have theorized that humor comes from proper combination of incongruity and surprise (shattering of expectations). This is mostly true for American and British humor. Nigerians may miss out on many of their jokes, not for the political and cultural references but for the non universality of humor across cultures. In any case, humor is tied to culture, and if this escapes us, it is because of the hegemony of global entertainment culture.
That is why it is admirable to have a “Nigerian Humor”, ignoring the inadequacy of that term for now. One only need to be familiar with American and British stand-up comedy, then watch one of Night-of-a-thousand-laughs series to notice the contrast. Gordons is certainly different from Jimmy Carr. It seems comics (comedians) are linguistically sensitive to their environment. Since stand-up comedy is generally spoken, it is a given that different regions would use language differently to pass on their jokes. However there is also the content of these jokes. This is where my interest is.
I have utmost respect for comedians who don’t give into the pressure of stereotypes. My hats off to the female comedian who doesn’t do a sex joke (sex object stereotype), and the black american who doesn’t curse in every utterance just so they can be “def” (black american stereotype). I have more tolerance for black-vs-white joke from blacks, or a even Warri joke from “Nigerian” comics, though they play on stereotypes. The result of giving into pressure is that comedy becomes less and less creative, then more and more “populist”. By populist I mean consumerist. Why should it matter if comedy is populist, shouldn’t it simply be funny with no other purpose? Well, like it or not, humor is a powerful cultural and political tool. From stand-ups, to cartoon strips on newspapers, to “funny vids” on the internet, to the more relevant genre of satire… humor is pervasive, but how invasive?
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The First Thin Line
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Satire: the use of humour, irony, exaggeration, or ridicule to expose and criticize people’s stupidity or vices, particularly in the context of contemporary politics and other topical issues. – According to Google
Primarily, satire is a tool of political and cultural awareness so that contradictions are exposed, with the implicit aim of triggering corrective measures from the target of the satire. Since satire often involves ridicule, there is often a lot of humor in it, and humor is a game played by two. Therefore, proper satire requires a part to be played by the artist and by the audience; the former making sure their message is passed, while the latter acknowledges and deciphers the message, amidst the hunor. In satire, humour is informative and even aims to be corrective to some extent. In its most debase form, humour is merely used for teasing and insult… in other words mockery. Mockery is built on a feeling of superiority over the subject being mocked.
Mockery: teasing and contemptuous language or behaviour directed at a particular person or thing. – According to Google
Humor has probably succeeded in more subversion of authority and power than even committed Marxists and Feminists. Subversion is easy for humor, but is it simply mockery, or is it satirical? In my opinion, and keeping the above definitions in mind, mockery and satire do not overlap typically. When Humor becomes subservient to the consumer market, its purpose becomes lost, and artists of humor simply seek to please their consumers regardless of the implication. The demarcation between mockery and satire is crumbled by the number of “hits” a content gets on the Internet; consumerism of humour. The capitalist artist takes advantage of this fallen barrier to maximize “likes” (or hits) by skillfully utilizing the mask of satire to make acceptable what mockery cannot. That is not to say the audience, aka consumers, particularly care but perhaps the artists need to live a sweet lie.
Due to the far extent mockery could go, its misuse is easily detected within the shards of morality still recognizable; for instance it would be considered foul to mock a person for being attacked by armed robbers. However it seems easier to make humour out of the same situation if a celebrity or public official was the victim. That is because satire works for the capitalist artist, where mockery comes short. Mockery in the latter case hides behind the mask of satire because it is assumed that the formula <famous person + funny mockery = satire aka acceptable humour> is true. It is a collusion between the capitalist artist and the consumerist audience for ethical bypass where the artist assumes they are not simply mocking, and the consumer assumes there is something non negative meaning behind the mockery. What is achieved actually is that the famous person has been de-humanized just for fun.
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The Second Thin Line
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On a related matter, there is a thin line between cruelty and “funny”. We like youtube fail videos like these not only for the failed expectation (which is mildly cruel) but also for the extent to which the events turned around, even when that extent is violent. The ethical cushion is that we assume (as is the norm) that any such videos did not lead to dire consequences after the event. Thus, the man who gets flinged by a tornado in his underwear is only funny if we know that the person survived the fling. Closer to home is the reason why the dubbed “Underwear Bomber” can be funny because his attack failed and even backfired. Had he succeeded, it may not be as open to funny comments. Keep in mind the presence of cruelty in all the examples above. There is also a healthy amount of cruelty when people in power are reported or recorded (or on camera) doing the most ridiculous things, or saying the most unintelligible things. It is funny because we discover that they are that dumb after all their apparent success; especially in a culture where fame is equated to success. Need I mention Chai! There is God Woo, and its remixes, or all the interviews with the Nigerian President exposing his lack of charisma and inability to understand the questions, etc.
On the surface, it may seem all well to derive humour out of activities of the famous. But as these type of content become popular with the consumer, we enter the humorous vicious cycle of demand and supply for funny content, which is two dimensional graph missing the ethical dimension. Consumers don’t care to differentiate between mockery and satire, they just want what is funny! This is capitalism without the ethics that Adam Smith intended.
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Two Thin Lines don’t Make a Thick One
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So far we have seen two lines drawn across the vast ocean of humor. Two battle lines where it seems unethical capitalism of humour is winning. The first line between satire and mockery, which is systematically blurred further for consumerist profits. The second line is the thin line between cruelty and “funny”, which is also further thinned for consumerist ends.
Now I come to the new trend of viral funny videos for Nigerians. These are not simply clips of “fails” from real events anymore because animation and youtube has enabled easy creation of scenes. I am particularly interested in the “funny” political videos. There are popular youtube channels, with quite creative producers, like this one. It has produced viral videos like “Shekau vs Goodluck“. There is also this one where Obasanjo is the protagonist of an action filled animation, in which Obasanjo goes to kill Bankole (former Speaker of the House), David Mark (Current Senate President) and Goodluck Jonathan (Current President)… and he succeeds! While watching some of these, I could see why some think of it as funny, but I was disturbed by it. In the first video, the serious issue of the Chibok Girls was being trivialized to a game of slaps between Shekau (the Militant Leader) and Goodluck (the Nigerian President). In the second video, a powerful politician killing other powerful politicians is taken for a joke in a country where this is very much within possibilities.
As much as I am glad there is a “Nigerian” humor, and as much as I praise Nigerians for relentless use of humor to deal with dire situations, I find some of these consumerist driven jokes distasteful! It is escapism, funny and tragic. It is mass psychosis, sustained by a consumerist demand for humor.
My wish is not to abandon humor completely for all its microscopic implications. It is to be aware of the power humor has, to heal as much as to trivialize, then be sensitive in the way it is mould into arts, and how we consume it. In fact humor is a weapon for ideological frontier as history has shown and we still continue to witness. The touring American/Mid-Eastern comics, The Axis of Evil for instance, succeeded in subverting some of the stereotypes of the American dominated news outlets portrayal of Mid-Easterners by un-dehumanizing them and spinning the political “Axis of Terror” on its funny axis. Take this blog for instance(The Dark Corner) which has a lot of good Nigerian satire (even on the Nigerian God!) which are clearly ideological but the author chose to make fun of the Ekiti Election but not Chibok Girls… at least I haven’t come across one of such.
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What is the Fuss about Anyway?
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Aren’t these videos I claim to be foul simply animating what newspaper cartoons have been doing all along? To me, the two are different in effect on the consumer. However even if one does not accept that, it is surely evident that the medium of transmission for the two is completely different. These videos are shared on phones, today when most people have video enabled phones, whereas newspaper cartoons has a limited and cadre of consumers (readership). After all newspaper cartoons are placed in the midst of “serious” news which puts the cartoon in context of seriousness. On the other hand, these videos are saved on the memory cards next to other funny videos that are non-political and the ever more distasteful Music videos. So in the case of the videos, it is all fun, funny, and “very funny”. Simply put pleasure and a bit of decadence, whereas newspapers are assumed to be serious.
The subversive power of humor has been recognized through out history. English (and perhaps European) Kings opted to tame them in the form of the King’s Fool and Play Performers who are often commissioned by those in power. In Muslim tradition, satire has been held with suspicion especially because that was one of the tools used against the Prophet early in his mission, just as poetry was. Eventually poetry is being reclaimed, which began when the Prophet was alive, but satire may have not. On closer inspection, early Muslims were more victims of mockery than subjects of satire. The recent explosive mockeries on Muslim religious symbols has brought back the historical repulsion to mockery, which is yet to be distinguished from satire. In the future perhaps.
In summary, the new culture of Nigerian funny media needs to be saved from the consumerism of humor which is ethically impoverished. It requires us to play the part of a critical ethicist when we consume these funny media content, and to desist from sharing, “like-ing” and clicking if we find it distasteful, because we actually help the cause when we click and download. This piece hopes to underline the potency of humor so that there can be conversation, or at least consideration, on how to make use of it. To simply use it driven by consumer demand for humor, and producer demand for likes on Youtube and Facebook, is an unjustified use of such political tool. This is valid as long as we claim to have an ethical framework guiding our lives, unlike those who claim such frameworks don’t exist.
Popular funny videos in Nigeria are indeed Humorous, Tumorous and Numerous!

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A Short Letter to the Young Muslim Studying Abroad

The young Muslim is facing a lot of challenge today. The challenges have been identified differently, every concerned Muslim with their perspective. I also have my perspective and even prescription which is simply to learn, be just and be critical. This doesn’t say much because it sounds like too general an advice. Or perhaps it says everything precisely because of that. Ohh well…

Below is a link to a letter I just wrote to my sister who has gone abroad to study. While writing it, it occurred to me that many others in her position could benefit from my little scribbles. So I wrote in a way it would apply to both male and female, Nigerian and non Nigerian. Go ahead and read it from the link below, then share it if it is found to be beneficial. You can save it too

A Short Letter to the Young Muslim Studying Abroad

 

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Going Gongola – Efficient In-Security

Over two weeks ago, I was in Gongola State of Nigeria! A state doesn’t exist officially by that name since 1991. What used to be Gongola State is now Adamawa State and Taraba State. I have my reasons for preferring to use Gongola, not simply because “Gongola” sounds more adventurous. My destination was Taraba State (Jalingo City) but since there is no operational airport in Taraba, and the road is long and insecure, I had to get to Adamawa (Yola) first then proceed to Taraba, which is just less than 200km from the airport in Adamawa. He who traverses the two states in a single journey has earned the right to call it Gongola; after all airports and destinations (local) should be in the same state. And it is. Gongola!

It is tempting to rant about the condition of the airport, but that would be cheap, I would rather write about something more interesting. However the condition of the Yola Airport (Captial city of Adamawa) is still worth mentioning. In summary, Yola Airport ‘s main building was missing its entire roof. The story goes that wind took off the roof… How… is a mystery. Easy to imagine but hard to believe. On stepping out of the plane we saw a group of passengers who were obviously waiting for us to empty the aircraft so they can board it. We walked passed them and their looks were reassuring because they didn’t seem one bit uneasy about the absence of roof, nor did they seem oblivious to it. They seemed to have accepted the situation with grace only a Nigerian could exhibit, difficult to differentiate from pretense. Only on my return journey would the reason be revealed. At this point I was more amused than disappointed. Our human train ended just some tens of meters from the plane. Immediately we saw our bags being unmounted from the aircraft, replaced by luggage of the new passengers, then ours loaded on large trolleys. Within a minute or less, we had the first batch of trolley with our luggage and one simply picks up theirs. In roofless airports, one discovers that aeroplanes are like large cars after all, they have boots!

Gongola State of Nigeria – before 1991

Quite striking was the time efficiency in picking luggage. It seemed retrieving luggage outside, on trolleys took less time than retrieving luggage inside from conveyor belts. What good is technology when it is not more efficient (in time and other resources) than in its absence? That is called a liability. In any computerized systems, we know that a bad setup or configuration of any is bound to be result in waste of resources, if not setback in efficiency. Look around and see how many state-of-the-art technologies have been deployed via government contracts but how useless they are when not set up properly. To be frank, I can’t say the absence of conveyor belt is faster than its presence with statistical confidence because this is the first time I was at this airport so I can’t compare it with the time it takes before the wind. However, it felt like the fastest luggage-pickup time for me across local airports.

Efficiency. This thought about efficiency conditioned my mind to watch out for other efficiencies on the long road to Jalingo (Captial city of Taraba). Typically the journey should take a little over an hour, but due to bad roads and series of security check points, it takes 3 hours (and that is the shorter route). The car for the journey was a Toyota Starlet! (didn’t know these exist today) and it was a good deal; one-third the cost of taking an airport taxi (Peugeot 406). It was 6:00pm. The sun retiring from our horizon, we zooooomed… not really, because we hit the first check point before testing how fast it takes a Starlet to go from 0 to 60km/h.

Toyota Starlet

It would be tedious to narrate the experience at all the check points passed, for both the writer and the reader. Moreover, only the most skilled writers are able to narrate waiting on a queue, on the highway, at night, in prose, and of course in a Toyota Starlet. Through out the journey, we went through eight major check points and five minor ones; the minor ones are the small ones within settlement areas of local governments. And guess what else they have in common apart from having little or no queues… They were the only check points manned by Nigeria Police! That is to say, in this Gongola region, the Police play a small role in security. The Police looked more pathetic than the typical Nigerian Police on the road, a new level of wretchedness.

So who are the bigger security players in Gongola? There was Nigerian Military, NetForce, SARS, Immigration, Civilian JTF (Joint Task Force); I may be missing out one or two more. In case the mind wondered, SARS doesn’t refer to the epidemic, I was told it stands for Special Anti Robbery Squad. It seemed all these groups are doing the same thing which is slowing down cars, then peer in with piercing eye contact to find a weak-target, if identified then exploited. Few found it worthwhile to exploit the driver. They also pick on people with beard, people like me; I am getting used to this Muslim-beard harassment. It is something to deal with another time.

With all these explosions of security groups, some of which are new and others revived, I couldn’t help but think about the situation in terms of efficiency; efficient use of opportunities. Given the security situation in the North East, a lot of economic activities have been halted. Both the legal and the illegal. Therefore there is an unemployment pool of low earning merchants, physical labourers and no-income miscreants, in addition to the graduates sitting at home. Recall, Nigeria budgets hugely for security in recent years. We also know that much of the economy depends on the government expenditure. If I were an entrepreneurial citizen paying attention, and living in these circumstances, adding two-plus-two equals get-a-job-in-the-security-industry! It seems many others in the North East have solved this equation. Perhaps Security is the fastest growing employer in this region… perhaps.

Recently, Amnesty International reported crimes committed by the Civilian JTF, which is no different than those by the Army; I even wrote about my disappointment and a proposal. Witnessing the Civilian JTF in action made me question an inconsequential mis-assumption I had that the Civilian JTF embarked on the task to protect their community, in spite of being civilians, due to a sense of duty. However pondering on the amount of jobs created by the security industry, I am more inclined to think it is a job opportunity; Efficient use of opportunity. Moreover I asked the driver if the security personell on ground are from all over the country. He replied that with the exception of Military, Police and Immigration, majority are local to the North East. Efficient use of local manpower in the booming industry.

The darkness remained as the night got colder, in a car made for the 1970s, on a road evidently made earlier than the 1980s, ever more surrounded by ancient mountains visible as giant shadows casting safety while stimulating imagination… it felt like time travelling. Indeed, this is a journey to Gongola. The surreal atmosphere of the journey even inspired a Spoken Word Poem. The journey brought to mind the saying “it is not about the destination, it is about the journey”. Even this writing is about the journey.

Security check points have also be optimized to be quite efficient, not unlike an industrial production line. The vehicle queues are deliberately made long it seems, in order to create opportunities. To go faster, you pay; that is the service. This business model is similar to many online file sharing services where free users are given a slow speed, not because there isn’t resource available, but so as to create a service a customer would buy into when frustrated enough by the slowness. The security check points would offer valuable case studies for students interested in manufacturing demands; by selling efficiency. This is how it is done.

For trucks which transport certain goods, there is a corporate security efficiency plan. It is assumed that trucks carrying the same goods on the same route, belong to the same industry and those truck drivers must have a corporate body or union. Let us take example of the one I witnessed; the cattle market. Trucks carrying cattle barely slow down for check point queues, simply flash headlamps, indicating it is them and every car is halted until they pass… without checking! The driver explained to me that the union of cattle trucks for that route has a commercial agreement with the Military (which were the majority checkpoints) “securing” that route; they pay a flat sum of N500 per truck per check point and they would be allowed to pass efficiently. Imagine if I was an arms dealer trying to traverse that route? Get a truck with cattle. Easy. The service is so sophisticated that the truck drivers don’t pay the check points directly, the military infantry simply count the trucks that pass, then claim their tab at the end of the week or the day. So if I was a arms dealer, I would probably traverse for free!

For small cars, purchasing efficiency service is optional, unless in the few cases (on my return) when it is demanded. If one decides to pay, the service is called No Delay (Seriously! I heard them call it that) and it costs N50 per car per checkpoint. On one occasion during my return journey, the driver gave them N200, and they asked him to go forward to collect change of N150. No kidding. The service is that no questions are asked, one simply carries on. No Delay is not as well packaged as the service for cattle trucks because one has to queue anyway, No Delay only avoids further delay when your turn to be checked finally comes.

If a small car decides not to go for No Delay, they have to be efficient as well to avoid longer delays. This is how. Put a humble face (the driver), smile if possible, say hi to all the security personnel, then roll down your windows for the security personnel to have an easy view of the insides. At night, in addition, one dims their headlamps while queuing for a check point (to avoid straining the eyes of the grumpy security personnel) and turns on their inner lights for better visibility. In other words, if you don’t want to pay N50 naira at a checkpoint, you have to be overly nice and considerate. But if one is paying, you are entitled to keep a frown, simply dim the head lamps (that may not even be necessary).

That was my efficient-ful road trip. The experience at my destination was interesting in its own right but not much on efficiency so it wont be featured here.

<Few days pass experiencing Jalingo… Back at Yola Airport>

I mentioned earlier that I didn’t understand why the passengers we met on arrival seemed unfazed by the devastated airport. I found out it is because they went to through the same process one goes through in properly functioning airports. The only difference here is that everything is done manually, even the ticket is written on with a pen! This is not a bad thing, in fact I think it is praiseworthy. For every task accomplished by a (computerized) technology, it is important to be able to understand the component processes well so that it could be manually carried out in case of disasters; for instance, a Yola Wind (we know how terrible those are). Even the temporary building, where the manual process takes place, seems to have been put up in a hurry because it is made of ply wood. It is environmentally friendly too because there are minimal electrical appliances powered, not for lighting or cooling, and half the waiting chairs/benches are outside, under a tree with large shade. How African. How environmentally efficient!

As we waited for the new arrivals to empty the aircraft we were to board, I noticed the amazement in a few eyes, and I hope I gave them a similar reassuring look I received on arrival days earlier. They should know that the manual process of check-in is well done at Yola Airport, quite efficient, and the temporary airport is environmentally efficient!

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