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.


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.


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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Nowhere to Run: Nigeria’s Climate Crisis – A Review – Part 2


The agenda of the film is clarified by the context in which it is unveiled. United Nations COP21 is around the corner and this is perhaps the most optimistic convention on Climate Change since the inaugural edition in Rio 1992 which has since become one of the biggest disappointment on the “international community”. The optimism in the air is further strengthened by the launch of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) in September of this year which has taken over the Millennium Development Goals (MDG). Even though the Nigerian government is counting on fossil fuel to fund its near future development, environmental issues are poised to become a relevant consideration, by the appointment of Haj Amina Mohammed as the Minister of Environment. Haj Amina Mohammed was the senior special assistant to Nigerian president on MDG, then as special adviser to UN Secretary General on post-2015 development planning, so part of the architects of SDG until its launch while working with the UN.

The production quality of the film is impressive. It could easily pass for the Nigerian version of Al Gore’s documentary Inconvenient Truth which became a phenomenon in itself; for many, there was the climate change issue, and there was Inconvenient Truth. Advocacy via good quality films are convenient for audience from middle class Nigeria, which is why Youtube advert-clips are getting better and better in terms of quality. One technical issue in the experience of watching the film is the frequent and rapid subtexts showing profile of those interviewed which competes for attention from the message being passed; I found myself snapping back into the film trying to figure out what I missed for the last few seconds.

There were useful facts and specifics with regards to data on location, date and quantification of the climate crisis. For these I encourage you go watch the movie. Though some of these predictions are not new to some, it rings a different chord in us when it is presented by fellow Nigerians; it feels more believable. For instance “By 2050, much of Lagos and 75% of the Niger Delta could be underwater”, “Nigeria annually loses approximately 150,000 hectres of land to advancing desert”. If you are Nigerian, how does it feel reading this, knowing it is coming from the works of Nigerians. In the documentary, you are shown familiar beaches in Lagos, and for those who remember scenery of the beautiful beaches on Lagos in the 90s, now you have an explanation; climate change.

In its effectiveness as a tool for advocacy to the middle class, therein lies a conundrum worth resolving: does the movie-grade quality of the documentary gets it to be regarded as entertainment, or is it both entertaining and advocating without the former undermining the latter? One thing repeatedly happened during the screening; the audience reaction to what they considered was indistinguishable from similar audience reactions in blockbuster movies. The thing with blockbuster movies is that the funny lines are usually cheap and almost predictable, but what is even more predictable is the synchronised laughter and giggles of the audience in the cinema. Except for one funny statement about a traditional ruler taking environmental crisis seriously because it is heading to his house, the other “funny” moments were hardly coined to be funny. In fact they were mostly funny only to the middle class because the joke was on the interviewee speaking broken English; audience were laughing at the interviewees not with them. It was a sort of mockery of a character who is actually not a character but a person explaining their problems. These are people we meet everyday and who we don’t find funny when they talk to us, but when they appear on the big screen with high quality production, they become funny in a mocking way.

Just as these “funny” and entertaining moments on big screens distract movie viewers from seeing the underlying politics, ideology, social commentary, and even nothingness that pervaded blockbuster movies, I fear the message of the documentary may be missed. Let us not dismiss that Climate Change has become a formidable ideology; and I support it being fully aware of this.

Talking about politics and ideology, a review will not be complete without mentioning the sponsors and supporters of the movie. There is the EU, National Security Adviser’s office, … and Shehu Musa Yar’adua Foundation of course who is the executioner of the project.

These are the stark predictions of an interviewee, which is believable if climate change continues worsening globally, “People from the North will come down, people from the south will come up”. Yet I am amazed that Nigeria’s climate crisis may be the reason to eventually coexist more tightly, geographically. Whether that would birth peaceful coexistence or its opposite, only time will tell. Unless humanity does something about the crisis, and re-understands its role in the cosmology and ecology.

Climate Change Trailer- HD from Shehu Musa Yar’Adua Foundation on Vimeo.

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Nowhere to Run: Nigeria’s Climate Crisis – A Review – Part 1

Climate Change Trailer- HD from Shehu Musa Yar’Adua Foundation on Vimeo.


What is the weather like today?
It may not feel like so, but the climate is actually changing.

In anticipation of the most optimistic climate change conference yet (December 2015, in Paris), the winds of change are rattling the leaves on the tree of life. Or is someone orchestrating the leaves, mimicking a passing wind? The anticipated change is the “international community’s” attitude to global warming, which is intricately related to other crises of nature and its resources, with significant implication on our economic culture. Let the future come to pass and we shall judge this change. For now we can observe the trembling “leaves” which includes: international community’s resolve to embark on sustainable development goals (SDGs) in Sept 2015, global climate march which is ongoing at the time of this post, French embassy’s one-week events on climate change in Nigeria, premier of the documentary Nowhere to Run: Climate Crisis in Nigeria. It is this premier that I shall expand on.

It was called a “green carpet” premier because of its theme on nature, not as many Muslims would suppose that it has something to do with the Prophet’s favorite colour. The host was Shehu Musa Yar’adua Foundation.

Within an hour, the documentary managed to cover important issues around Climate Change with references to the Nigerian experience: desertification, oil spillage, gas flaring, toxic waste, rising sea level, deforestation, mud slide, scarcity of natural resources, efficient cooking energy, etc. This is quite comprehensive and succinct. The main message of the movie was communicated well through the movie, because at the end one feels the imminent crisis as well as appreciates the connection between some of our daily activities and the impact on the environment. The film could be made longer to strengthen connection between audience and issues especially those that affect domestic practices. In its present form, the film is more likely to influence policy than mindset and practices of people. Given the context of global discussions, that may be the aim of the film anyway.

Certain cause-effect relationships were put forward in the documentary. This approach to advocacy is a popular one, where fear and empathy are invoked in an audience to move them towards action; fear for what would befall you and your descendants, empathy towards direct victims of the resulting frequent natural disasters, fear of being an indirect victim. This would work. In the case of oil spillage, gas flaring and toxic waste that occurs in the South-South, it is easier to link the effect of poor health to un-farmable lands. In the case of the North East, it is not as easy to argue that desertification (and the drying up of lake chad) is the cause of social instability and insecurity, so it was argued to be a contributing factor; though it is presented as if it is the sole cause competing with other stale causes like poverty and “education”. The ethno-religious attacks between cattle herders and farmers, which has opened an opportunity for cattle rustlers, was also explained in the film to be largely due to competition on natural resources. Similar argument has been made about the Syrian uprising, and even the “Arab Spring”. I don’t know about the Arab Spring, however in Nigeria these seem to be contributors but not causes.

There is the inspirational community of Ekuri in Cross-Rivers state, which mobilised “construction” of its infrastructure and maintains stewardship of a virgin forest autonomously in the absence of the government effort. Other inspiring projects are the Rimi wind power farm and the Songhai Project of scientific farming both in Katsina state; the documentary showed the latter to be making considerable progress. However, an important subject that was missing in the film is resilience. Cities, any settlement with appreciable risk of climate crisis, should aim to become more resilient. This is particularly important to cover because there is a home grown solution designed by a Nigerian, as part of the solution to the rising sea level of Lagos state, which is called Makoko Floating School. These are floating structures that could allow people to survive in post risen sea-level Lagos.

Read Part 2 of the post.


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Boycott South Africa… Or Not?

Trying times present us with challenges to live up to ideals that once where only imaginations and hypothetical. If we act in accordance to our ideals, we can feel relieved that at least it wasn’t only lip service. If on the other hand we fail, then we should seek introspection to rectify our cognitive dissonance. The challenges are not always straight forward; challenged to act for or against something you have taken a position on in the past. That is because some ideals may not have been simulated as such, but that doesn’t mean we have not taken a position were the situation to present itself since we often find our minds made up when the situation reveals itself. This is what happened when Nigerian’s called for boycott of South African goods and services, in reaction to the recent xenophobic violence in South Africa. Few are responding to the call and more are unable to grasp why on earth people would think of such a worthless performance i.e. some are more in tune with certain acts of activism. That little analysis is made before making a decision indicates preconceived decisions, as well as the difficulty to activate the activists in us.

Nonetheless, the response is disappointing because the majority of Nigerian consumers (who received the campaign message) just couldn’t be bothered to deprive themselves their satellite TV (DSTV) or port their phone numbers from MTN (which is easy these days), or disrupt their convenient weekly shopping at ShopRite simply to make a political statement to South Africa (by the way I have not been able to find a source showing ShopRite originates from South African but it seems to be included in the boycott list). Those who respond to this call should be commended for having inclination towards activism. I was tempted to join them, after all I have boycotted a number of companies due to their support for Israel’s oppressive and illegal occupation of Palestine… but I couldn’t bring myself to it so I wondered why I felt resistance to be part of this beautiful activism. This is what I hope to share.

It is not trivial that the method of reaction to South Africa is to boycott their companies especially given the countrie’s indebtedness to boycotts for the end of apartheid. Equally important is that this particular method of consumer boycott is ill suited for the purpose sought. I came to the conclusion that it is for two reasons. The first is the audacity to treat the xenophobic attacks in SA (which are historically minor despite the viral graphic) with the same strategy and language that is used for institutionally oppressive states like Israel and Apartheid SA. Secondly the cases of Israel and Apartheid SA were not meant to be short term quick fixes, but rather a long term struggle that must be sustained across several business cycles (years) until the effect weighs down the trends of their economic development. I feel the need to digress on these points.

We need caution when comparing two historical events as similar, or to a lesser degree when using the same strong words used to describe a past event to a present event, precisely to manufacture a connection between the two events. It is sufficient that oppression or injustice occurs to justify anger, or even rage. But the temptation to invoke past imagery and rhetoric is often careless, although surprisingly effective, which is why activists and politicians tend to use them. For someone who aims to be critical, I have a sensitivity to these exaggerations that I turn off my empathy once I feel a person is exaggerating their situation and manufacturing connections to manipulate me. For instance, when someone calls a mass shooting a repetition of the “holocaust” (which is different from understanding the event using holocaust), there is a tendency I would feel manipulated by the speaker/writer, which would douse my empathy. I would rather respond to a speech full of rage about how one or two people were shot or attacked or violated, because any injustice deserves the empathy for justice. It may seem so little a cause to ignore the main point of the speaker/writer which is that injustice or oppression is happening. Unfortunately, it may be so, but this is usually for events at a distant from me that I can’t find out things for myself. For instance, it doesn’t matter how many people claim Boko Haram are like (or worse) than Hitler’s Nazis, it would not affect my understanding of the situation because I don’t depend on them to know what is happening; they don’t mediate by understanding. In the case of the call for South African boycott, I feel manipulated to be lured into a boycott that effectively puts Israel and Apartheid SA side by side with these xenophobic attacks.

Then also, such boycotts are not the effective short term solutions to deal with an event like riots and lynching. These need more urgent interventions for instance leaders of victim countries could threaten the victimising country with a deadline before military action or diplomatic scandal. Yes deadline is important in this! How many monthly/yearly renewals of DSTV subscription does one have to boycott, or how many calls does one have to NOT do with MTN, or how many groceries does one have to NOT buy from ShopRite, before South Africa feel the impact on the taxes it collects from these companies and decide to put more effort in protecting the foreigners? All the foreigners would have been dead by then! Take examples of successful boycott movements against Apartheid SA and of Israel. The Anti-Apartheid Movement began in the 1960s with the support of the UN, and Apartheid SA came to end in 1992 (30+ years). The BDS Movement (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Movement) on Israel for the oppression on Palestinians began in 2005 and currently ongoing, but with some progress (10 years). Now how does that fit like a solution to the xenophobic attacks of Nigerians (and other foreigners) in South Africa. I think it can be understood in the background of Nigerians’ obsession with glory, and to an extent the activists calling for this might be taking the same strategy the violent South Africans are.

Many Nigerians are proud Nigerians, and this is difficult to justify unless in a poetic language e.g. we cannot be proud of institutions working in Nigeria but we can be proud of how Nigerians make joke of national shambles that other countries may be having a panic attack over. Nigerian’s panic attack, and reaction to trauma, is to make a joke out of it… poetic isn’t it. Another praise for Nigerians is that they are very hopeful, often assertive in their hope that they literally do not listen to words of discouragement (God forbid!). We are hopeful of having non poetic virtues to be proud of. This is why the GDP re-basing of the economy (over a year ago) was such a celebration for Nigerians. Nothing had changed as far as their economic lives were concerned, just the parameters for calculation of GDP was updated and then Nigerians were very excited… especially now that they are leading South Africa as Africa’s largest economy. Not much attention was given to what that means in terms of GDP per capita, or the GINI index, and who leads in these respects. Simply that Nigeria is the largest economy in Africa. (Nigerians have many dreams which have little to do with reality, two of which are: to maintain/reclaim the title of Giant of Africa especially from South Africa or any other “threat”; to return to the days when one Naira was exchanged for one British Pounds.) Nigeria vs South Africa, this is the background.

By calling for a boycott on South Africa, it was invoking that Nigeria vs South Africa competition that has become an instinct in us recently. Then how do I allege that Nigerians are employing the same strategy as the violent South Africans? Well, the attackers did more looting than killing. Looting in this context is really the release of long brewed internal envy mixed with greed. It is a classic maneuver during riots, people (including one’s neighbours) suddenly turn against a person’s hard earned wealth and take from it as much as they destroy it; and there is no support for the argument that they need these goods as essential to their lives. It is more believable that the aim is to rid the owner of their property, and derive satisfaction in that. There is a lot of (envy ridden) indignation around these looting, because many “locals” are envious of how “foreigners” can come and make a living and be so successful at it. Riots are opportunities to rid them of these wealth. So the Nigerian’s calling for boycott, it can be argued, are basically targetting those very profitable businesses in Nigeria that belong to “foreigners”. It is in this context that I have heard people arguing against the monopoly some of these companies enjoy, and how they get away with “exploitative” transactions. My question is: were they doing this before or only after the xenophobic attacks begin? Whereas BDS movement and Anti-Apartheid Movement went for not only boycott, but also divestment (which hurts even more) and sanctions, the Nigerian activists seems to be calling only for boycott (at least that is all I have heard of). Whereas the BDS and AAM called for consumer, cultural and academic boycott, the Nigerian activists seem to only call for consumer boycott. The more I see this disparity from BDS and AAM, the more the similarity with the envious looters in South Africa.

Let us chant something else, but not boycott for this situation. But let us chant, not only for Nigerians but for all the oppressed!

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Election Reflections: Nigeria’s Religious Secular Democracy

Nigeria Decides 2015

Democracy, tyranny, secularism… these are among the many words we take for granted often because we think we have an idea of what they mean. Such is the folly that accompanies natural language in contrast to precise languages like mathematics. Most people would find it puzzling for instance that a government can be democratic and tyrannical at the same time, or even secular and religious at the same time. They might be more confused to find that the extent of democracy is not necessarily indirectly proportional to the extent of tyranny; meaning one could have a highly democratic state that is highly tyrannical at the same time. Today, most would also agree that democracy is secular, and might not be able to conceive a democracy that is religious (which enriches the dichotomy in their minds that there is something called secular as opposed to something called religious). At this point I would like to assume that most Nigerians think along this line, that democracy is inherently secular, then go ahead to show the contradiction I find of interest.

Democracy: control of an organization or group by the majority of its members.

Tyranny: cruel and oppressive government or rule.

Let us first begin from Nigeria being recognised globally for being quite religious; if not for our popular evangelical miracle healers, then for the notorious Boko Haram. Political processes are not spared religious “intervention”. It is widely reported that during the 2011 presidential campaign, GEJ (the out going president) succeeded by and large due to Church endorsed votes. The just concluded election has been full of religious interventions as well. Pastor Mbaka called against voting GEJ, while CAN (leadership) clearly supported GEJ, then Gumi called not to vote either of the two major contestants. These were religious intervention with a lot of human element.

Within Mosques and Churches, a lot of prayers, supplications, praises have been offered to guide the outcome of the election in a certain direction; for some it is victory to their party, and for others it is avoidance of post-election violence. Without investigating how it is that prayers actually work, which is stepping into theology, let us accept that prayers are “answered” in the way most people believe it is. Then we can conclude that religion/prayer is a tool used prevalently in Nigeria to determine political outcome; the outcome which is itself democratic. Religion/Prayer is thus a democratic tool; in practice even if not consciously acknowledged.

Now religion as democratic stands in contradiction to the popular belief that democracy is secular, unless one considers the process of getting to power as outside the scope of democracy. But that would be absurd, as it continues to be in the cause of the leadership tenure. For instance, religion/prayer is used to get a person into office, but it is not used to get a person work properly in office. We rarely pray for our leaders to do the right thing, nor put our faith in prayer to get them to do this and that, we employ more direct approaches like letters (nothing like open letters!), protests, commentaries, and other civil engagements etc.

Noted that some of us pray that leaders be guided by God in their leadership. The difference between those who pray for guidance of leaders and those who don’t is not simply that of the religious and the non religious, it is a difference of different theological schools simply. Among the Abrahamic religions, we can classify beliefs about God’s relationship to creation into two broad categories: where God created creation along with the mechanism to keep it going (e.g. natural forces) then let the world to work according to His design; second category is where God created creation, equipped it with mechanism to sustain it, but is also “in touch” with creation as to guide (or intervene in) it. We can see where the two groups belong.So the contradiction between religion as a democratic tool and democracy as secular remains whether we pray for elected leaders to be guided by God, or engage them through the mechanisms of democracy.


I came across two amusing accounts on the use of religion during the concluded campaigns. Unfortunately Christian readers may not get the amusement being grounded in Islam’s texts. The anecdotes would be digressing if in the main argument above but fit within the use of religion as tool for democracy.

The first story is to do with Ibrahim Shema (the outgoing governor of Katsina state) who is supporting a candidate with first name Musa. It is reported that rallies at villages, Ibrahim quoted a verse of the Qur’an from Surah al A’la (Q87:19) to prove to the crowd that his candidate (Musa) should be voted AFTER him (Ibrahim): “… Suhfi Ibrahima wa Musa”. He performed an exegesis saying the order of “Ibrahim” then “Musa” is basically a divine order! Actually the translation is simply “The scriptures of Abraham and Moses”.

In the second case, some Nigerians were very hopeful that perhaps 2015 would emerge the first female governor (who has been declared to have lost). This was the candidate for Taraba State, which was one of the few states that election had to be conducted a week later due to the controversial occurrence. While the candidate has accused the declared winner as employing severe malpractice, the public has wondered what really happened in a state like Taraba where leadership has been strongly along religious lines. We may have the answer! The explanation is the that Muslim votes were swung away from her (being Muslim herself) by the use of the controversial ayah of the Qur’an in Surah al Nisa’ (Q5:34) which says: “Ar rijalu qawwamuna alan Nisa…” (translated “Men are the protectors and maintainers of women…” or “Men are in charge of women…”). This was the tie breaker it seems. Even in religiously charged space, patriarchy champions!

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Election Reflections: A Voice or Musical Sound

Nigeria Decides 2015

Poets are the conscience of a time

Musicians today are supposed to be the poets of yesterday, given their prominence in popular culture. Unfortunately the lyric is often pathetically unpoetic which is why the instruments are steadily taking dominance over the voice; we don’t want to listen, we just want to dance. Poets of the past were public intellectuals, and poets of the past are also musicians of today. This replacement across time has lead to the conflation of the public intellectual and the musician, which has had a profound impact on the level of influence musicians enjoy over their listeners/fans.

A lot of music has been released in the campaigns of the ongoing Nigerian general election. From Hausa pop music to the urban “Nigerian” music, all have been represented. Most tracks are promoting candidates prior to election but a few that did not fit into that category. One track was literally lionising the Chairman of INEC after the successful presidential election, a few others were celebrating the victory of the president-elect, and I heard only one which was gloating over the loss of the outgoing president. At first glance, it appears that these musicians have something to say to the world. That would be inaccurate without adding the fact that most of the tracks were sponsored. Being commissioned to say something, even if you believe it, is not considered as sharing your opinion. It may be a musical sound, but not a voice in the sense of  “the voice of the people”.

In an interview with BBC Hausa, an interviewed musician welcomed the election season because the demand for sponsored music soared. He mentioned that prior to the campaigns, it would take weeks and months to be sponsored to make a track, but these days he makes up to 3 or 5 tracks a day! At this rate, it means the tracks you hear are only the few that became popular. It is important to note that the business model of Hausa pop music is obviously not very sophisticated, which is easy to pick from the audio production quality, which is also why most weddings are able to sponsor an “album” or two all about the wedding. It also speaks about the cost involved not being high. We can comfortably say that a lot of Hausa pop music are services to be rendered, at a cost, to the requestor (low budget movies, weddings, political and non-political campaigns).

Then there is the side of Nigerian urban music, which is basically referring to the music heavily influenced by what amounts for music in BET, MTV, Reggae and Jazz. As an industry, there is more income, the musical production is higher quality, and the business model is more sophisticated following the footsteps of consumerist and celebrity centred models of major labels in the US. Sophisticated enough to have tours. Like their counterparts in the US, you could invite them to perform for a private party, if you have the right dough; it is probably cheaper in Nigeria comparing the equivalent percentile of artist. Movie actors of Nollywood are considered to belong to the same celebrity pool as the Nigerian urban musicians. These two groups appear together in cause-driven campaigns usually sponsored by NGOs.

This election featured a number of campaign music and videos featuring celebrities from Hausa music and film industries, and also from urban Nigerian music and film industries. It would be misleading to take that as a sign of commitment from them towards political change. It is more accurate to consider them as committed to offering the service they offer best. There was a report that some celebrities got into a public disagreement over the sharing of payment for a campaign video, which suitably appeared in a celebrity gossip website, which also shows that the payment was probably not contractual but rather it was merely a token from the politician, as a king would to performing fools, or politician to sycophants. Then there was the news of celebrities that sang or appeared in video of campaign were out of the country at the time of election, which means they won’t be walking the talk. Of course this assumes that the reported news (which I can’t locate at the moment) are true. Nonetheless, many would agree that many mainstream celebrities in Nigeria are political whores; or more appropriately political servants.

Another campaign music video caught my attention as an advert on Youtube. It is a campaign for the APC gubernatorial candidate in Lagos, Ambode (who has won at the time of this post). The first striking thing is that there is/are artists who are not even indigeneously from Lagos, or probably not registered voters in Lagos, which makes it highly unlikely that there votes will count in Lagos state gubernatorial election; artist for hire?… Sell out?

When an action generally regarded as a sincere expression of personal convictions, is immersed in a highly service based industry of show biz, should the “performers” be stripped off the authority of public intellectuals that they are accorded by default? What about musicians that make “serious” tracks under the reigns of their record labels for the sake of targeting a particular audience? I opine in the affirmative! Service based musicians, at least in their sponsored or marketing tracks, should not be granted the attention of public intellectuals. But they enjoyed it quite considerably this concluding election.

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Election Reflections: Call to (Non)Violence

Nigeria Decides 2015

It seems commonsense to count on political aspirants to keep their supporters calm from violent uprisings. Experience has shown that political aspirants are able to incite violent uprisings by the instruments of their supporters. A logic is derived from this experience: if they can instigate violence, then they should be able to calm it down. The sustained assumption is that inciting violence takes the same or similar abilities as is required to douse an uprising; or at least it takes similar political status and privilege to make it happen. We have seen a number of calls for peace prior and after the Nigerian 2015 Elections by the “leaders”.

On closer examination, the abilities we confer on these “leaders” can be seen to be based on a faulty assumption because everyday experience shows that those who are easy to bring about disturbance are often far from being endowed with restoring calm; or vice versa. It appears these are two different skills. Unless one assumes that all speeches from people of political status is more or less the same, and that the only thing that matters is the content. Surely this may be true about bureaucratic documents but hardly believable for social interactions like public speeches. Nonetheless, let us assume it is so. The implication then becomes political “leaders” control the mass of voters. This may be true in experience, but this is also where the contradiction lies; with regards to democratic ideals.

Democracy aims to provide structure where voters control their leaders, and even decide who becomes the leader. Contrary to popular misunderstanding, a democratic leader is not one you have submitted to, or have faith in to handle your affairs. She/He is someone you are comfortable enough with to handle your affairs but whom you have under your observation; to be held accountable. That is why there are several feedback mechanisms to communicate to this leader(s) on the decision of the masses, from simple letters to petitions to threats and protests directed at the leader. Such a leader can avoid the wrath of her/his constituency by giving into their demands; at least if they are a substantial percentage. Therefore it is safe to say that in democracy, it is the people who control the political leaders, not vice versa.

It then requires an assumption that is a contradiction to democratic ideals to have a politically elected/aspiring officer calling for non-violence, for instance. It is less of a contradiction when entertainment celebrities take this role because they have no obligation to serve their audience, or be controlled by their audience, unlike the democratically bound politically elected/aspiring officer.

It could be argued that political leaders are called upon to douse uprisings not by their capability to positively calm it down through any of their abilities, but because having them denounce violence, then we are assured that they won’t be calling for violence. In other words we want political leaders to commit to non-violence so that if they were to attempt to incite violence, they would run into contradiction! Interesting use of contradiction. The issue then becomes one of calling for violence vs NOT calling for violence, rather than calling for violence vs calling for peace. We could say this is what it means for a political leader to call for non-violence but you and I know that is not what is implied, or at least that there is a problem in accepting that. Again (as in previous posts on this series), Wittgenstein comes to save us. Meaning should be sought in its usage. We can all agree that the usage of calling for non-violence is really under the belief that the leaders have an ability to calm violence down. In other words, we believe (and perpetrate the belief that) those leaders control the will of their constituency rather than serve it. But Democracy would have these leaders serve the Demo i.e. the people. Thus the contradiction!

Next time you find a democratically elected leader calling for non violence, consider the contradiction at play.

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