Category Archives: A Day at X

Marriage Certification: The Open Legal Man-Hole for Muslims

Marriage is full of surprises, and weddings are cliche, but legally certifying a marriage in Nigeria can be misleading. What follows exposes a prevalent misdirection, so that Muslims, and others with similar issues, don’t fall for the (unintended) booby traps.

Like many traditions, marriage is fundamental to building a sound society for Muslims. For that reason, family law is one of the most prominent section ever-present in books of Islamic law (Fiqh). The Shariah regulates several aspects of the family life through family law. Unfortunately, the constitutional process of certifying Muslim marriages in Nigeria can be misleading; especially due to the officers one encounters. At the risk of stating an irony, Nigerians rely on other Nigerians for much information from directions to locations, to whether President Buhari controls Boko haram, but rarely from officially verified documents and instructions. Not that government agencies make these documents and instructions available.

So you have had a stressful week engaged in your wedding activities. You barely kept your cool to make it through the countless events. You don’t wish to go through another ordeal like this. Relief settles on your mind simply knowing that those last few months of stressful planning are over. Now you know why fairy tales end with “happily ever after”, because there is always a wedding at the end even if the author doesn’t mention it; anything after the stress of wedding seems like “happily ever after”. The Nigerian constitution laughs at you when you feel accomplished that you are married, because it is not legal yet! You need to have a Marriage certificate!

There is hardly any Muslim, faithful to Islam, who would have their marriage regulated by anything other than the Shariah. To be regulated by the Shariah, it is sufficient to have any legal framework that does not contradict the Shariah’s position, or that which allows for Muslims to live according to Shariah. It is a matter of compatibility/accommodation of Shariah rather than exclusively identifying a homogeneous rule-book called Shariah Marriage. Fortunately, Nigerian constitution allows for Muslims to opt to have their marriage legislated by the Shariah. But unfortunately, the Marriage registry staff can be misleading , and often successfully, even if unintended.

Basically, there are two main options to certifying marriages in Nigeria. One is “marriage according to the Act”, and the other is customary (Native Law and Custom) marriage; at least these are the two options we were exposed to. For either, the process begins with obtaining a declaration documents from a court. At this point, the couple is often not aware of the two options for certifying a marriage. So they proceed to the next stage which is the marriage registry. This is where the couple is often presented with the two options to marriage certificate; those that have an idea beforehand probably are just as misinformed as those who are unaware at this point. This second step is also the step of possible misdirection.

Steps to Certifying a Marriage in Nigeria
1. Obtain Marriage Declaration from court
2. Obtain Certificate at Marriage Registry

Do you want blah blah certificate or the flah flah certificate? This is the first question thrown at the couple, or at least the way they hear it. The registry officer who is used to couples being puzzled by the names of the options mentioned, goes on to clarify. If the couple looks Muslim, the officer knows just the right way to break it down to them. Do you want the one-wife certificate or the many-wives certificate? The latter allows for the man to marry more than one wife. The officer might elaborate by saying the one-wife certificate is a more tedious process than the other. All the while with the smile resembling a mischievous smirk. Not all civil servants are devoid of customer service after all.

Actually that is Customer Disservice! Based on an episode I witnessed, when you ask a newly married couple whether the husband would want to take another wife, what do you expect? This is how many Muslims end up taking the option of one-wife certificate. Only a few are bold, or insensitive, enough to go for the many-wives certificate. While polygamy hardly fails to attract interest, that is not the issue at stake when making that decision. By misrepresenting the issue, the registry officer has done a disservice to Muslim couples, probably without intent.

The issue is not whether the marriage can accommodate more wives or not. It is about whether the Shariah court would adjudicate and regulate the marriage, or other courts. The one-wife certificate is actually marriage according to the 1990 Marriage Act, whereas the many-wives marriage is marriage according to customary laws; and Shariah courts fall under customary laws. Marriage according to the Act, which means no Shariah court, also means the marriage would be regulated by other acts like the accompanying 1990 Matrimonial Causes Act which conflicts with the Shariah on matters such as divorce (dissolution of marriage). The 1990 Marriage Act already conflicts with the (default) Shariah in restricting number of wives to one; without a valid justification for sidelining the options provided by the default. Other areas of interest would be the process of re-marrying and child custody, etc.

Basically Muslims are mislead into regulating their marriage using a document that contradicts the Shariah, though unintentionally. Seeing that many Muslims only acquire marriage certificates for official reasons and conveniences, it is no wonder that the many Muslims who have been misdirected to the one-wife certificate are not necessarily affected by the certificate in practice. These same Muslims, follow the Shariah but not via a court, often through family and community. Nonetheless, any of the spouse could insist on taking the other to court for violating stipulations of the marriage regulating acts; which is foreseeable when passions are high and one feels the Shariah is to their disadvantage.

Nigerian Muslim couples, new and old, should be aware of this likely pitfall during marriage certification. Do not be baited into thinking the issue is polygamy, the issue is the regulatory framework of the marriage.

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NYSC: Kufr, Sexist and Tyrannically Bad

Having background in Computer Science applications, I appreciate that the design of any information (collection and processing) system is crucial. Performance of a system could be the best there is, theoretically, but a disregard of potential users in mind could make the enterprise a failure. That crucial design stage is when cultural nuances are embedded, religious options are made available, minorities are made relevant… In the past few weeks, while assisting my wife in registration, I have laid the following charges against NYSC (Nigerian Youth Service Corp): Kufr, Sexist, Tyrannically Bad… and for good reasons

NYSC has been automating its registration process; which seems like progress. It depends on whether progress is simply moving forward, or moving forward without crushing your subjects.The main issue is simply that when a woman decides to keep her surname after marriage, the precocious NYSC registration system changes her surname for her, and even cleverly requests that she cannot proceed with the registration until she provides documentation for Change of Name. And her forcefully changed name is what will appear on the NYSC certificate; that necessary paper to get a decent office job in Nigeria.

Who cares if you are married or not, during your NYSC? Your spouse and kids if you have those. Without a proof of marriage, get ready to be deployed to any of the thirty six other states in Nigeria. But show up a marriage certificate, and you shall be with your household.

Kufr

NYSC is Kufr! Kufr to Muslims mean rejection of an established truth. Groups like Boko Haram attribute it to individuals, institutions and organisations to legitimise deadly attacks on them. Forcing a Muslim to take an option, which is not conducive to the Shariah, is to force a Muslim to go against the Shariah; in other words Kufr. So when two separate NYSC staffs inform you that you have to change your name because that is what the Federal Republic of Nigeria’s constitution says, before you can perform the obligatory NYSC as a married Muslim woman, then many will be willing to call the practice of NYSC is Kufr! I thought so… for a while.

But it is actually not. What the NYSC is doing is that it is enforcing an option that is not recommended according to Islamic tradition. True that some would insist Islamic tradition requires a woman maintain her maiden name, but it is mostly for the sake of identity and lineage so some sophisticated social security number could make it easier for those Muslims to accept that a woman should change her name to her husband’s. Until Nigeria’s social security number (or National Identity Number) gets fully deployed to address this Shariah requirement, those who consider NYSC as the arm of the devil would have a strong point… if only the reference to the Nigerian constitution is true. We checked the Nigerian Marriage Act of 1990, and guess what, it is quiet about change of name. Neither do customary laws instruct adherents to change their names on marriage; which by definition depends on the varying custom. So it is not Kufr because the NYSC staffs are wrong. Whether it is Kufr or not, the issue remains: a woman who decides to retain her name after marriage cannot register for NYSC.

Sexist

NYSC is sexist! This issue is a female issue; specifically a wife-issue. Since NYSC has failed to give an explanation for why this issue exists, we have no choice but to interpret as fit the situation, with no obligation to be generous in the interpretation. By refusing a married woman the option to keep or change her name, NYSC is saying what many men are saying, which is that married women have no identity seperate from their husband’s; while accepting that her husband’s identity is indifferent to her existence. Double standards, from point of view of both equity and equality. This set up even makes women’s maiden name ominous in the sense that changing her name is equivalent to the her husband purchasing her from her father; that’s what you do when you buy a car from someone.

Perhaps it is not sexist. But how could this excuse pass? There is one way to pull this off, and even courts, as well as the Shariah, agree with me. The crime of the mentally sick is a crime void of intent; in other words it may not be punished but someone is going to fix the issue, and someone else is going to a facility/hospital to be fixed or quarantined. The crime here is by NYSC on married women. NYSC registration system is either sexist or mentally sick… actually it could be both, but let us focus on the latter. Simply looking at report cards of kids in primary school, it is a thin line between being an extremely poor student, and a developmentally slow. So NYSC is either an incompetent organisation or developMENTALLY poor.

Tyrannically Bad

Based on the above, a conclusion to be drawn if one is generous to NYSC, is that NYSC registration system is poor at best because it is discriminatory.

When incompetence becomes the air you breathe, or the water you swim in, you lose your sense of identifying excellence. As we have seen, you become difficult to distinguish from the mentally incapacitated, which also means critical thinking is nowhere to be found around you. Your arguments become appalling so much that the only more unsettling thing is the casual way you defend your actions. When you stay quiet on an issue, we can only suspect why you fall short, but when you speak, you risk exposing your dumbness. After engaging the management of NYSC staffs on the above issue, there were two defensive arguments where I think staff of the NYSC outdid themselves.

The first defense is that their registration system forces women to change their surnames to their husbands’ in order to prevent other women who lie about their marital status from manipulating the NYSC into getting posted to the state of their fathers. Apparently these women create fake documents showing that they are married to their fathers. I’m sure NYSC felt really smart coming up with this idea, but they seemed almost dogmatically amnesiac in how they fail to see the implications of their “brilliant” idea; or how they dismiss it. The first implication is that ALL married women in NYSC who do not wish to change their names will now have to change their surnames just so they can do NYSC. Secondly, the registration system automatically rejects the application of any married woman who has the same maiden name as her husband’s surname. Imagine how many tens of thousands of graduates suffer from this, every batch from this batch.

Their second defense is simply “deal with it, what is the big deal”. Very Nigerian indeed. The message we kept receiving was what is the big deal in changing a woman’s name to her husband’s surname. It came in different flavours: “Just change your name, it is easy now”, “every woman should be proud to use her husband’s surname for herself”, “It is just change of name, it only means changing your surname, not that your own name has to change”. Patience is a virtue when you are being condescended on by people who fail to see the implication of being forced to change your name. Identity and its construction is obviously something the management of NYSC have not pondered upon. How could an organisation like the NYSC with the aim of nation building be so sociologically ignorant?!

As far as critical thinking goes, there were other noteworthy but less impacting follies which they brought up as their arguments. But I reserve the right to forget them. I thank God I am done with NYSC, and I am not a married woman going into NYSC. May God make it easy for married Nigerian graduates.

PS: Any feminist or women rights group interested in raising this issue up, contact me please for more info.

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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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Plato’s Republic… of Nigeria

Simply Amazing! that Plato guy… Another amazing thing, how people get away with absurd claims with contradictions unchecked. It is worth paying attention when these claims turn into beliefs and then into a way of life. Plato (or Socrates) could easily be attributed with the gift of foresight (clairvoyance) because this guy has predicted so many things; well, not by prophecies but by creating literature works where our fundamental issues of today are explored. Isn’t that the role of a Philosopher to investigate our most fundamental concepts? Or could it be that history is simply repeating itself? In any case, I have heard Plato being commended for his insight but only now have I heard him talking about my Nigeria. Didn’t I say he is amazing? Reading The Republic Book 1 could be read as Plato diagnosing the attitude of Nigerians to questionable/corrupt leaders…

Plato looking a little African

In The Republic Book 1, Socrates (the main character) investigates what Justice is. He takes three perspectives: Older Generation, Midlife Generation and Sophists. Our interest is on the Sophists. Who are the Sophists? Sophists were people in ancient Greece who claimed to know what it means to succeed in life but nevertheless had little or no concrete idea of what success means. This is not a problem for Sophists because to a Sophist, having concrete ideas is not important, however making an idea look concrete is very important. One could say they don’t even teach success, but they teach one how to appear to be successful, and how to convince oneself that one is successful. Today, the closest examples to Sophists are those motivational speakers that sell the formulas to success in life. There are religious Sophists as well. Caution, I am not saying these people are all sophists, I am saying that if there are Sophists today, they would blend in right within these groups perfectly not because of any fault of these groups, but because of the way other people consume information that comes from these groups uncritically! In The Republic, Socrates engages Thrasymachus who is a sophist (at least in training) concerning the definition of Justice and Injustice. By Justice they don’t mean it in the sense of reprimand to balance an injustice committed, but in the sense of what is good, and what is not.

Thrasymachus thinks good guys finish last and that justice is simply to finish first with the most personal advantage. What?! He thinks any other way of looking at it is just naive/idealistic. Doesn’t that ring a Nigerian bell? This is what he says to Socrates:

… You must look at the matter, my extraordinarily simple-minded friend, in the following way: the just man is always a loser compared to the unjust man. First, he loses when it comes to private contracts: when a just man has an unjust partner, and the partnership is at an end, you will find that the unjust man walks away with more and the just man gets less. Second, in dealings with the state: when it’s time to pay taxes, the just man pays more and the unjust man less on estates of equal value. Likewise, when there is anything to be gotten the one gains nothing, the other much. Look also at what happens when it comes to serving in public office: apart from any other loss, the just man can count on his personal affairs suffering from his neglect, while he, because of his justice, makes no profit from the state. To make matters still worse, he is hated by his friends and associates because he refuses to help them bend and break the law. Reason & Persuasion: Three Dialogues by Plato – John Holbo and Belle Waring

How typically Nigerian is that? The exception is that Thrasymachus is actually bold about this position. Many others behave consistent with this idea but are not bold enough to say it.

It has always appalled me how Nigerians talk about questionable/corrupt leaders as heroes! Many (traditional) musicians even make loads of praise songs on them; of course they get well compensated even if no royalties. A melodic sycophancy. This extends to their staffs, family and friends who basically make them believe that they are heroes for getting rich at the expense of the people they serve, as long as family and friends “benefit”. This is all sycophancy and opportunism. On the other hand there is the average person who does not fall under the circles of family and friends of these corrupt leaders, yet they sing the praises of the leaders. This group has nothing to gain (at least immediately), they appear to believe at a fundamental level that what the leaders do is justified. Sometimes they out-rightly praise the scheming abilities of these leaders with an eye towards emulating them if they were to be in that position. Other times they justify the bad of the leaders as necessary evil to be in a position to do good; good sometimes meaning personally doing a fraction of what they ought to be doing officially; e.g. they loot part of a budget for social amenities, then go back to their communities and personally erect structures.

Yet Nigerians are very sensitive to crimes, very sensitive. Nigerians are quick to carry out jungle justice on petty criminals like petty thieves, while celebrating the big-time criminals. This is exactly what Thrasymachus, our sophist, says to defend his claim. Thrasymachus continues:

… But the tables are turned in the case of the unjust man. I am speaking, as I have been from the very start, of the man with the power to commit excesses on a massive scale. Consider such a man, then, if you wish to judge can judge for yourself how much more he personally profits by being unjust, rather than just. You’ll see what I mean most easily if we turn to that highest form of injustice—the case in which the criminal is the happiest man on earth, and his victims, and those who refuse to commit crimes are the most miserable. In a word, I speak of tyranny, when, by force or fraud, property is stolen from its owners not little by little but wholesale. Everything goes into one bag: sacred things as well as profane—private and public. Were someone to commit these acts on a petty scale and fail to get away with it, he would be severely punished and regarded with the worst kind of contempt. Those who commit such partial forms of injustice are called temple robbers, kidnappers, burglars, conmen and thieves. But if men will go to the additional trouble of relieving their victims of their freedom as well as their property—enslaving the citizens—why, then, far from being called these insulting names they are deemed happy and blessed, not only by their fellow-citizens, but by all who hear that they have ascended to the very pinnacle of perfect injustice. For it is not the fear of doing wrong, but of being a victim of it, that calls forth people’s denunciations of injustice. Thus, Socrates, injustice, committed on a grand scale, is a stronger, freer, more masterful thing than justice, and—as I declared from the very start—justice is the advantage of the stronger, whereas injustice is a man’s own profit and interest. Reason & Persuasion: Three Dialogues by Plato – John Holbo and Belle Waring

This claim is disturbing to the average person. And trust me this argument is not as easy to dismantle as it appears. It is relief to know that Socrates succeeded in arguing that justice is actually NOT the advantage of the stronger, to which Thrasymachus eventually concedes, reluctantly. Plato’s The Republic is basically a blueprint to a Utopia; the ideal human society. By dealing with Justice in Book 1, Plato underlies the centrality of Justice in a good society. Also, by attempting to clear wrong ideas about Justice, Plato is showing how there can’t be a good society built on a bad conception of Justice. Thrasymachus gave Plato a tough time in Book 1, which means it may be a little difficult to deal with those that think along Thrasymachus’ ideas. What does it mean when you have many Thrasymachus leading you, and even among the followers? You have Nigeria as it is!

Certainly these issues are not limited to Nigeria but it is interesting to see it through the Nigerian lens. The word “Republic” may have originated from the latin translation of The Republic. Isn’t it ironic that Nigeria, which is a “Republic” represents what is wrong with the idea of a Republic?

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Visit to Ghana: From the Airport

Getting to two weeks now I have asked myself whether to write about my visit to Ghana or not. It was one of the most relaxing and pleasurable weekends I have had. But that doesn’t mean there wasn’t much to write about. In fact, the plane ride to Accra itself was interesting that I wrote about it. My hesitation is that I felt there was more to be written about had I more time. So I plan a second visit to Ghana InShaAllah!

I enjoy travelling to new places but the biggest obstacle I have is applying for Visa. Let us just say I hate that. I would forfiet many travel opportunities if it requires me to apply for Visa, especially the tough ones. Thanks to ECOWAS, perhaps the only benefit of ECOWAS to me, I don’t need a visa to go into Ghana.

This was my first time in Ghana, Accra. After an interesting flight that left me a little drained and disappointed, I assumed I wouldn’t be amused by Accra until the following day; after all it was dark when we landed. How wrong I was. Either I underestimated the points of interest in Accra or overestimated my sadness. I got a good wake up call at the airport, may be that was what got my senses alert.

“Can I see your Yellow Card?” I heard one of the airport officials ask one of the passengers from my flight. Yellow WHAT?! This is not South Africa is it? I knew there was a debacle between Nigeria and South Africa concerning yellow cards (which are proofs of vaccination for yellow fever) used by Nigerians, even though I didn’t know the details at the time… that was an embarrassing moment for Nigeria. Anyway, why is Ghana asking me for Yellow Card? I didn’t even need a Visa to come here… why on earth are they asking me for the more obscure Yellow Card? Apparently Ghana takes the issue of Yellow Card seriously; I suspected it is a special treatment for Nigerians. What I know about other countries like Malaysia is that if you are missing a Yellow Card, you get quarantined in the airport for a few days before you are allowed to proceed. That would not have been an issue but I was in Accra only for the weekend! Do I return to Nigeria simply after being quarantined in Accra Airport? How was I to proceed? Would I ever see Accra? At this point let us just say something of God’s intervention saved me. I actually went through without showing a Yellow Card. How it happened? How dare you ask about God’s intervention?!

I was out, unscathed, luggage safely in the car, and on my way to my destination. The radio station in the car was discussing Serbs and the Bosnian war. Ghanaians must have too little on their plates to be dedicating air time on local radio for such international events. It had to be a local radio because it was crystal clear, which means it must have been an FM station. The radio host is undoubtedly British, sounding like one of those BBC presenters. I bet he even worked with the BBC in the past. Even the guests were British. Or do Ghanaians speak British English? We have been taught in primary school that Ghanaians have a good command of English Language; this is probably what they meant. So I asked the driver what station that was and he said it is BBC. BBC in Ghana?! Nigerians too listen to BBC services but it is on AM radio and not half as clear as this. What secrets to Ghanaians know that Nigerians don’t? I found out that BBC has a local FM station in Accra. That is interesting. I wondered at how welcoming the socio-political climate of Ghana is to be attractive to the BBC. Would the BBC, or rather did the BBC, try to put up a station in Nigeria; the most populous African Country?

There was also sanity in the driving. It was difficult to place a finger at what, but there was sanity in the driving. For starters, it didn’t feel like anyone was trying to overtake another. Could it be that sanity was incorporated in the design of the roads, or is the average Ghanaian driver thinking differently from their Nigerian counterparts? Ghana drivers actually have options on the size of plate numbers they fix on their cars. There are two sizes; the rectangular and the square-looking ones for smaller cars. Does Ghana road authority care about the little man who can only afford a little car? At least owners of little cars know they can have plate numbers that fit their cars. Even if you can’t afford a good quality jeans, there is nothing better than jeans that fit just right!

The billboards on the roadside seemed more organized than Nigeria’s. I bet there is a management authority regulating the how it is erected. I couldn’t help but notice how clean the roads were. Clean Clean Clean… I shall come back to this issue in the future. Another interesting thing was that I did not come across a single Mosque on the road as I move to my destination. Understandably Muslims are not majority in Accra. However it took us 15 minutes of driving before coming across a billboard for a Church! No way that is possible in Nigeria. And it seems that church (after later discussions), the one with a billboard and grandiose facade, is set up by Nigerians. I reserve my comment on whether that is a positive thing (relating religions with grandiosity) or not, but Nigerians sure know how to place their marks.

It is convenient that where street lights were absent on major roads, there were reflectors on the ground to guide you. How thoughtful. The drive continued until we reached our destination. A little tired. So was my trip from the airport. If I make another post on this trip, I shall do less writing and more photos.

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Public Intellectual in the Making

I am proud of her. On second thought, should I be? She lamented about the state of affairs, in her school that is. How could the school authority demand that of them, where is the justice?! They (her classmates and her) had nothing to do with the event, yet they are paying for it. In a year, she would be happy to pay, but not now, its too soon. “It’s so unfair!” she made her point in that punchline. She is nine years old and in primary five. She is my sister; the same one I made weep in a previous post.

 


Their school had asked them to pay N3,000 for the coming graduation ceremony but she is not graduating, until next year. The graduands were asked to pay N12,000… but paying one-third the graduands’ was still not justice enough. She felt that the school authority was not just. To buttress her point, she added that the school, with the kind of money it gets from school fees and payments like this one, ought to have more than one school bus, yet it has only one! Moreover, they had paid school fees, haven’t they? Why then all these hidden charges. At this point I suspected it wasn’t her perception that made her articulate the “injustices” surrounding her life. It is more likely she overheard someone senior (likely adults) making similar complaints and then she agreed with them. My proof is that before long she started including vocabulary like “investment” and “profit” and “made their money back”.
I had just read the two-part article by Ibraheem A. Waziri on the “Public Intellectual”. In the first part, he reflected on the meaning and identity of the public intellectual, before and after the European Enlightenment. He argued that the Enlightenment has weaken the standards of the (intellectual) requirements needed to become a public intellectual; prior to which existed a social class of Public Intellectuals who underwent rigorous training. He concluded observing the way so called (Nigerian) Public Intellectual dabbles in their murky understanding of different disciplines to come up with invalid conclusions, which lack a clear goal (e.g. national interest). The result is a confused citizenry. He gives example of “Boko Haram” ideology as a manifestation of this confusion. Thus there is a heavy burden on the Public intellectual.
In the second part he explored the concept of truth, the importance of truth in giving meaning to life of citizens, and those responsible for identifying the truth which may be difficult to extract by the untrained mind. The article concludes with an invitation to establishing a standard for the role of Public Intellectual. In other words, the critical privilege of Public Intellectual should be earned, rather than simply being equipped with “control of words”.
Now, back to my sister. What I was observing were two things happening simultaneously: the nine year old has been influenced by an uncritical public intellectual (the adults she agreed with); and she was another public intellectual in the making. According to her, school fees cover ALL costs that may come up, so they were simply paying double for participating in that graduation ceremony. How was she becoming a Public Intellectual? There were adults (as I was) at the scene of this articulate manifesto, and they agreed with her, (as we say) hundred percent! She has gotten positive feedback from the authorities in the world (the adults present) and she may be on the roll to being an addition to pile of uncritical “Public Intellectuals” who propound populist ideas, and who’s survival depends on the narcotic praises they get from a crowd eager to blame and complain, without necessarily providing insight into the state of affairs.
A nine year old being political and self-righteous is cute, but can have ugly manifestations if adult intellectuals think at this level. It makes you wonder if some Public Intellectuals are not really only nine years old, intellectually. It is not bad to be nine years old intellectually, some say it is even blissful, the only demand that comes with this bliss is to please not be another “Public Intellectual”, at least not yet.
PS: The case of school fees is obviously a simplification of the real issue, as example.

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The Accidental Public Servant: Sceptical Then, Sceptical Now

Today, I was at the presentation of the long awaited book titled The Accidental Public Servant by Malam Nasir El-Rufai. I went in a sceptic and came out hopeful, but a sceptic. What was I sceptical about before the launch and why was I sceptical after the launch?

Over a year ago, a book by Olusegun Adeniyi Power, Politics and Death was released to an eager Nigerian public. Nigerians were just coming out of a troubling time, when hearsays and rumours were the most reliable information about the state of the Country. The end of the time was marked by the assumption to office of the President, by the former Vice President, after the death of the Former President. However, there were too many unanswered questions, situations that needed explanation, gaps in stories that needed to be filled, gossip mongers that needed to be vindicated, politicians that wanted the truth to remain hidden, and politicians that wanted the truth to come out. Who better to clear the air than the late President’s Spokesman; who authored the mentioned book. I didn’t read the book.

I had two reasons for not reading the book, or bothering to do so. The first was that I know there will be so much juicy news and gossips that keeping an eye on my social media would give me most of the gist. Second reason was that I considered it to be only slightly more credible than the usual hearsays, which may well be true, but cannot hold as evidence in a legal court. To me, it was a political drama literature… and I had already watched The West Wing on TV.

My worries were sedated when I took a peek at the 90-page appendix, of The Accidental Public Servant, that seemed like large pages of international passports decorated with stamps, and signatures. These were no immigration stamps because the stamps read “RESTRICTED”, and the signatures were of former top government officials. I understood that the appendix was loaded with documents adorned with RESTRICTED stamps, perhaps to serve as evidence to some of the author’s claims. There was some other document that looked like minutes of a meeting. This book might be interesting and relevant after all.

There was still a stone in my shoe. It is amusing, at best, to hear about political dramas and scandals, but it is careless to accept unproven claims as true, especially when the information originates from a partisan in politics. The author, Malam Nasir El-Rufai, probably has the most ears of Nigerian youth, especially those on Twitter and Facebook. Now that is a dangerous man! Any person in such a position is indeed a force to reckon with. It doesn’t matter that some of his “followers” don’t like him, what matters is that he can decided what issues are being debated about on and off social media. As for those who look up to him, they are lucky to be guided… or misguided. In a country where evidence is a strange word, where narratives of a war from forty years ago still decide public attitudes and government policy, my fear of a monopoly of a narrative is forgiven; even if this book’s narrative is not along tribal and religious variables. So regardless of what a nice person I think the author is, this recognition scares the hell out of the Leftist in me. Thankfully, this fear was calmed at the Presentation; in what follows.

Disclaimers and clarifications were given early. There were many top current (& former) government officials, and Civil Society Members at the Book Presentation. Even though many of them consider themselves friends with the author, they were not spared in the book, their bad nor their goods. Some, who had already read the book, gave accounts of their sides of the story, where they disagreed with the book. This is remarkable. It calms my fear of a person, or group, having hegemony of narratives to story. This distributed opportunity of narrative is a key feature of (proper) Academia; which is the source of credible knowledge used in all sorts of applications. The fittest theory survives based on evidence and validity. In the political realm, the fittest narrative may henceforth be based on evidence; or be open to alternative narratives that must counter the opposing evidence with at least an equivalent quality of evidence. Instead of a peer-reviewed journal, we could have a peer-reviewed Narrative.

Many speakers at the Presentation called for public servants to write books. I thought it was a joke because frankly I have never thought of public servants as intelligent. Even after some recent personal dealings, I came to see them more as cunning than intelligent. I must have forgotten the ritual of how money can summon Ghost Writers. However, many of those present could easily write books I would like to read. If not for the sake of writing, it seems this is a book that could ignite responses of narratives especially by those featured in the book.

On a different note, the book may well be what I have been waiting for, to justify taking a stand on political matters. For long, I have taken the high road when it comes to taking a stand on government policies (except Subsidy removal) because I fear the tendency of being carried away by orchestrated misinformation. Unfortunately, many others take a strong stand on public policy issues, when interactions with them shows that they don’t quite understand the issues enough. One of the speakers at the launch mentioned that the book contains information about how the economy is planned, how projects are run, why projects have succeeded or failed etc. These are gold for citizens that want to (really) engage the government. Knowing that the author has a way of simplifying the complicated, as in the case of his frequent articles analysing government budget, then this book could serve as an introduction into the workings of public service. A reader of the book then will be more justified in taking a stand in policy matters and government dealings.

It was also pointed out that the book is a rich source of the history of Abuja, and that should interest residents of Abuja.

The book launch was very interesting and there is a lot more to be reported from the funny and captivating contributions by speakers at the launch, but I definitely recommend reading the book review by Prof. Chidi Odinkalu. I went to the book launch a sceptic, I became hopeful from the available evidence pool to back claims, I became hopeful from the promise of an academic-type responses and future books, I became hopeful of enriched citizen awareness into the engines of public service. But I left as a sceptic… which I picked up sitting among fellow audience. I left sceptical of whether those who respond will respond with quality arguments and evidences on the relevant issues, not the distractions they have so perfected. I left a sceptic of whether Nigerians will use this book as a resource to enrich engagement with the government, not a tabloid for juicy gossips.

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