Tag Archives: Nigeria

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.

Advertisements

2 Comments

Filed under A Day at X

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!

Leave a comment

Filed under Commentary on Media, Social Science

ABC of Polio Vaccination in Nigeria – Part 1

Polio, Vaccination and I

Two weeks ago, an attack aimed at health workers in Kano State brought my attention to Polio. Opposition for Polio vaccination appears to be the strongest reason for such an attack, or perhaps the strongest cover. Until two weeks ago, I knew Polio to be a disease but honestly could not tell what polio looks like. It was embarrassing to find that most of the disabled beggars I have met throughout my life on the street are victims of Polio. I had not personalized it, or even given it much thought.

Small Pox had been eradicated and attention is now on Polio. There is rise in spread of Polio recently in many countries and the strain of the viruses discovered originates from Nigeria. Then I learnt that some Nigerians have had strong opposition against the vaccination, like in a few countries, but it appears the Nigerian opposition has been successful at the detriment of those who are not vaccinated. The main opposition is from a Muslim group even though the President, of International Fiqh Council Yusuf Al-Qaradawi at the time, and other Muslims within Nigeria denounced the opposition as making unfounded allegations that are contrary to established findings.

Polio Victim

I have since explored further the issue of Polio Vaccination in Nigeria with interest. Some materials explored where quite technical for Doctors or Statisticians. The aim of this post is to explain Polio Vaccination Opposition in Nigeria to a lay man, by a lay man. As a result, precise dates, technical terms and referencing of ideas have been omitted. Also, names of people involved have been omitted for tidiness and to avoid the reader’s bias to some who are public figures. The point is for the reader to get the overall story and idea around Polio Vaccination Opposition in Nigeria, not to take a test. I am grateful to those whose observations granted insight into this Polio business. This post has been divided into two: the first part gives a background of Polio in Nigeria and issues raised by opposition; the second part explores responses to the issues raised, and attempts refutations of some claims made in the first part.

Fairness and Setbacks

Faced with many challenges daily, we make decisions without having to justify our choices. We are often living contradictions of ourselves and we become uncomfortable when someone points that out. Although we rest on rational grounds, we don’t always take a rational path to reach it; for example the dogmatic scientist believes strongly in science and prioritizes quality of scientific discoveries based on “credibility” of some journals over others. This approach must be accepted unless we don’t want anything to be done. However, when we are challenged, we must be fair to the challenger in tracing back and justifying our positions, and in understanding the position of the challenger.

“O ye who believe! stand out firmly for God, as witnesses to fair dealings, and let not the hatred of others make you swerve to wrong and depart from justice. Be Just: that is next to Piety, and fear God, for God is well acquainted with all that ye do” Quran 5:08

In most of the debate around Polio vaccine in Nigeria, neither sides are sufficiently justifying their positions, nor do they seem to understand the argument by the other side. It is hardly to do with lacking the capacity to understand, but it seems ego, like in most arguments, is doing its job of distorting what one hears or reads in order to make the opponent ridiculous. There is a difference between an argument and the game of “how can I make you look ridiculous”, and this accounts for why arguments rarely end in one side adjusting their opinions even if slightly. Because this writer supports Polio Vaccination, it is fair to contextualize the arguments from the opposers of Polio Vaccination so that it may not be seen as ridiculous as it is portrayed to be.

Another popular strategy adopted by both sides of the argument is of character assassination. Supporters of polio openly accuse the opposers as simply seeking political power which the Polio issue offers an opportunity for, and for which they don’t care if children get infected in the process. On the other end, the supporters of vaccination are accused of deliberately partaking in the “genocide” of unborn babies (by inducing infertility) just because they want to maintain their salaries (or have been offered bribes). This nonsense degrades the quality of the debate.

Trust in a doctor is as important as trust in the medicine offered by the doctor. Most doctors are trusted because it is assumed they have qualified and are well intentioned, but when a doctor is working as an agent of an untrusted government which is seen as a product of a resented colonial power, it becomes much easier to refuse a medicine even if free. This is the situation public health workers face in Nigeria, especially in the North.

Oral Polio Vaccination

Background

First, it is important to appreciate that anti-colonialism has been mixed up with anti-modernism. This is especially true for Muslim majority regions where colonialism is not seen as a necessary trouble to success, but an interruption of an evolution towards a successful Islamic society. Here is an excerpt from Daniel Pipes’ book “The Hidden Hand: Middle East Fears of Conspiracy” which exemplifies anti colonial sentiments in the Middle East. Coming from Daniel Pipes, one has to be cautious because of his views on Muslims, but it doesn’t seem too far from what one hears being discussed in some circles in Nigeria:

Western colonialism stands accused of causing all “diseases rampant in the Arab lands.” Specifically, the British imported cholera and malaria to Egypt after World War II. A British midwife who trained in the Kabylia province of Algeria got accused by his angry Algerian supervisor of working in league with the “white-coated saboteurs passing their hands from vagina to vagina, infecting my heroic people with syphilis!” An unnamed enemy—presumably American—infiltrated deadly diseases into Iraq via maggot-ridden cigarettes. Israel transmitted cancer to Palestinians by getting them to take dangerous factory jobs or subjecting them to phosphorous searches. It also smuggled irradiated fruit into Egypt to cause cancer.

AIDS, combining sex and disease, prompts recurring nightmares. Jerusalem hires young Jewish women infected with AIDS to spread the affliction in Egypt. One article in the Egyptian press focuses on an Israeli named Sarah who cavorted in luxurious apartments and infected the young and the prominent, while other versions count between 20 and 327 infected Israeli agents. The most imaginative account conjures up a “special formula” of the AIDS virus that infected sexual partners without in any way affecting the Israeli female carriers.

1979, the Iranian revolution took place, the Shah dynasty of Iran was overthrown and Imam Khomeini became the leader of the country. It was a victory that resounded with many Muslims around the world. It was a revolution where good overcame evil. The Shah, who is considered the evil one, was also known as the American Puppet. In short America is evil and out to destroy Muslims. A few years later in 1980s, Nigerian government embarked on two programs simultaneously: Implementation of “National Population Policies”, and the “Expanded Programme on Immunisation”. The Immunisation program was being pressured from outside Nigeria. At the same time, pamphlets were circulated in mosques stating that America and Britain, owing to their defeat in Iran, are out to destroy Muslims by controlling Muslim population. The pamphlet referred to a declassified document which showed that America’s population was declining whereas the Muslim population is increasing. So America feels the need to eliminate Muslims through population control and disease ridden vaccines. Subsequently, vaccination programs were not to be trusted.

In 1996, the pharmaceutical company Pfizer learnt about the insufficient Meningitis vaccine in an ongoing vaccination program by the Nigerian Government. Pfizer took advantage and conducted a drug test for a drug which had been banned in the US and Europe for adults and unapproved for children. The result was that 11 out of about 200 children died from the unauthorized study. It took about four years before the story received international recognition. The unethical study was carried out in Kano State, which is a majority Muslim state. Some opposers of Polio today believe that the unauthorized trial was actually planned with the Federal Ministry of Health and “relevant UN agencies”. Subsequently, vaccines have been mistrusted by an influential Muslim group, even when scientific reports were carried out disputing raised claims, because the reports could be associated t the government and “relevant UN agencies”.

2004, concerns were raised about a Polio vaccination campaign that was to ensue. A group of researchers traveled to India representing the opposing Muslim group, and tested a particular batch of polio vaccines that was being administered in Nigeria at the time. In an interview with one of the researchers from the group, the following issues were raised: The vaccine is contaminated with Estrogen; Estrogen (generally) is known to inhibit fertility; The Polio Vaccine is a fake drug; Polio Vaccination should not only be opposed, it should be prosecuted; There is a secret (evil) agenda by the US on third world countries, which was yet unproven; Powerful countries disdain the intellectual capacity of third world countries;

2004, National Programme on Immunization sent its representatives to South Africa to investigate the claims made about the Polio Vaccine (containing HIV and causing infertility). Their result was that the Vaccine was safe, and they commented that people were not looking towards the proper authorities on the subject but at “archaic information” on the internet.

2004, Kano State, a predominantly Muslim state sent its representatives to Indonesia, an Islamic Country to test the vaccine for contaminants. Their test came back claiming that it was not contaminated with HIV, as previously claimed. An alliance of trust was established between an Indonesian Pharmaceutical company and Kano State, to supply the state with trusted Polio Vaccine hence forth. [Presently I think all of Nigeria’s Polio Vaccines come from Indonesia]

2012, in an article, the following issues were raised: Since the introduction of Polio Vaccine a decade ago, paralysis that are not cause by polio have increased by 1200% in India; The more doses administered, the more cases of paralysis that are not caused by Polio Virus; The Polio Vaccine contains actual living Polio Virus, which has been shown to cause paralysis rather than vaccinating; In a period of twenty years, about 150 people were paralyzed due use of live Polio virus in vaccines in the US, which led the US to stop using it (Yet US NGOs are using it disdainfully in other countries).

On Certainty

Don’t trust experts, experts are overrated. Opinions by experts are accepted less critically on the assumption that an expert is well, an expert. For more reasons on why you should not trust a single expert’s opinion, pay attention to people like Noreena Hertz on experts. But we have to give experts the credit of knowing more than a lay man in their trades. Experts are human, and so they are susceptible to altering results of a study in order to serve certain personal interests. This is where science comes in to save the day. For a scientific discovery to be trusted it must be peer reviewed. This scientific method applies many to subjects, not just core sciences. This is why peer reviewed journals are the standard for accepting any academic conclusion because in peer review, we harness the intellect of many experts in a particular field who serve to keep each other honest. One only needs to understand the ego of academicians to appreciate what an effective method this is.

How do we know anything is true? That is a philosophical question. How do we decide what information to take as reliable? We consult a peer reviewed journal. What about books and interviews and articles? If they claim certain findings that need evidence to be true, we refer to the sources they reference. If the sources are magazines, newspapers, or (non peer reviewed) journals, we keep our suspicion and not make important decisions on those information. If however the source is a peer reviewed journal, one can be comfortable in using those findings to make important decisions; provided one understand what the findings actually mean.

Drug approval test is one of the most thorough that there is. At the same time Pharmaceutical companies are known to be some of the most cunning when it comes to manipulating test results which are presented to government bodies for approval. The best person to monitor these corporations is one whose career is guaranteed, one who cares more about their integrity or reputation than money; it will help if this Monitor is egotistic as well. Who better fits these criteria than an Academician. This is why you find countries, that are serious about drug regulations, entrust the Academic Community with the task of investigating findings claimed by drug companies.

This is all to set the stage for the next part of this post. When presented with two conflicting “findings”, one from an expert and the other from a peer reviewed paper, it should now be easy to know which to consider especially in making important decisions. Findings from peer reviewed journals set the tone for the “common knowledge” of an expert community. Therefore, established knowledge cannot be overturned merely by the findings of an expert, unless other experts review and support the new findings. Then knowledge is updated, and this new knowledge becomes the common knowledge. At best, opinions or claims to findings by an expert should provoke a review of that experts findings, and if found with integrity and true, then a review of previous conflicting findings so that knowledge can be updated.

Stay tuned for the second part of this post.

2 Comments

Filed under Commentary on Media, Uncategorized

Distinguishing Highway Robbers from Security Agents

How does one distinguish between a security officer from a highway robber? Given the current security situation in North of Nigeria, the answer to this may mean life, death, loss, pain, trauma or a combination of all. To justify the more-than 1 Trillion Naira budgeted for security, security checkpoints are rampant intra-city and intercity. On the quest to answer the posed question, let me share a story that happened 2 days ago (12/12/12) which motivated this post. It happened to a friend of mine en route Kano, let us call him Maina.

We had arrived Kano around 8:30pm and Maina was behind us with 2 hours. There was hardly any checkpoint (that I recall) between Zaria and Kano until a few kilometers to Kano City; just before a place called “Dakatsalle”. Maina, like us before him, found himself in the slow traffic of a checkpoint; squeezing cars into unlikely spaces to save time and to prevent other cars from cutting the queue. There was a small Volkswagen (Golf) in front of Maina (who was alone in his car). The two cars kept the slow pace. Finally only the Volkswagen stood between Maina and the agents. Maina suddenly heard a car screech and it was not from behind. The Volkswagen took off and bullets followed it. Maina could not tell if the bullets found their mark. The Volkswagen escaped.

A shocked Maina instinctively raised his hands in the air as a sign of submission. But they were not shooting at him; more like protecting him since they are security agents. The revelation only known to Maina at the time was that during the shootings, the true identity of these agents was revealed to him. These are not security agents, they are highway robbers. Maina was made to lie down by the road side and other cars were stopped to be robbed. And so,  Maina was dehumanized, threatened with death and robbed.

Interestingly the robbers pulled about three to five cars to the side for robbery while passing other cars through their “checkpoint”. Passing cars through checkpoints is simply what security agents at check points do. So to Maina, they were security agents and robbers at the same time. Another interesting observation by Maina was that there was a “real” security checkpoint about 500m away on the opposite lane but they didn’t respond to the shots fired at the Volkswagen. They are “real” because he later reported to them, then they used their “real” police/military car, took their “real” guns and turned on their “real” police siren.

This true story raises many questions and perhaps it could answer the one we started this post with. Some of the questions it raises are: are the robbers security officers who take shift in being security one minute and robbers the next? Are the robbers colluding with those security agents less than a kilometre away? Did we (who were ahead of Maina) go through this checkpoint while in their “security” shift? Were the robbers those untidy-dressed policemen at a checkpoint we passed around that area? Why did they allow some to pass and others to rob? Didn’t the Volkswagen that escaped shots report to those “real” police ahead?

The robber’s strategy is effective precisely because it is difficult to differentiate between a robber and a security-agent (who is an oppressor anyway). It takes a keen observing sense to differentiate between the two; as in the case of the Volkswagen driver. By having their victims lie down on the side of the road, a typical Nigerian passerby sees no cause for alert because that is a popular scene; where “real” security agents make civilians lie on the roadside. A passing civilian sees the victims and assumes “there goes some people who offended the almighty security agents”. A study revealed that the language in Nigeria Police training curriculum is loaded with the word Power (Power to detain, Power to arrest…) and scarcely the word Rights (citizen rights). An oppressive police is the result of such oppressive curriculum.

Back to the question of How does one distinguish between a security officer and a highway robber? The primitive robbers are easy to identify: they don’t have security uniforms; and their checkpoints look looks temporary (something that can be dismantled easily like stones and spikes but not covering tens of metres). However this new evolved breed of Highway Robbers pose a new challenge; they seem to have security uniforms and use/fabricate genuine security checkpoints. Measures could be taken by security forces to counter some of the vulnerabilities exposed in this story. To answer the question I started with, in the case of these evolved robbers, I will have to get in touch with that insightful Volkswagen Driver to share what tipped him off security-acting robbers. Maina’s moment of realization could have helped but he is traumatized and perhaps wasn’t thinking straight when he got his revelation.

2 Comments

Filed under A Day at X, Uncategorized

NI MA NA YARDA: A Pro-Education State of Mind

I woke up to an auspicious morning. Then I thought about it, realized it must have been a dream. But then I remembered that I did in fact wake up earlier and what I read may have not been a dream, even though it fits well in a dream.

I read that a legislator from Katsina State has withdrawn his children from a private school and enrolled them into a public school. Nigerians are such satirical people, so perhaps I should not pay it attention… but then I realized it was posted by a “serious” person Auwal S. Anwar. I know Auwal, although in no way lacking humour, holds this subject too dear to make a joke of it, especially because there was a picture that seemed to support his post. I checked the NI MA NA YARDA facebook group and found the legislator (Abdullahi I. Mahuta) himself had made a post.

The picture was of two children, and here is what I saw and read:

NI MA NA YARDA in Action!

These are Honourable Abdullahi I. Mahuta’s children, Imam and Muhammad, whom he removed from a private school in Kaduna State and enrolled in a public school in Katsina State. Mahuta is known for his campaigns on this issue. And we are all in it with him. Today he is upping the ante. Now the ball is in our court.

Well done, indeed he is earning the honour in honourable.

I was impressed with this move and wanted to share this information with people I know to be interested but found that it had not been publicised… YET. On Auwal’s suggestion (perhaps in jest), I decided to blog about it; but simply drawing from his writings. (I am glad to find out that someone will be writing a newspaper piece on the topic to do it justice, which I plan to link here)

Background

NI MA NA YARDA (literally: I also concur) is a concept/movement to recover the debilitating education system in Nigeria by becoming ACTUAL stakeholders. In its mild form, it calls for a more egalitarian education where education inequality is minimized by citizen action. In its strict form, an education policy that restricts public officials from enrolling their children in schools other than public schools. The logic is simple: those who influence education policy should do it as if they are doing it for their children… but since most have their children elsewhere, the policy would make it easier for them to “feel among”.

Teaching career has long been made the dumping ground for the societal miscreant and the unsuccessful. For the better among them, it is a temporary job before finding “greener pastures”. Even I recall in secondary school, teachers bragging about how they were better than their jobs and how circumstances have got them in it. Hausa people have a (very unfortunate) practice where they believe that the remedy to a societal miscreant is that he is wedded. It seems this philosophy is creeping into our public education; societal miscreants given a teaching job. Like I said, the aim of NI MA NA YARDA is simply to incentivize the influential into being ACTUAL stakeholders in public education.

Taken from a post on NI MA NA YARDA, here is some staggering information about Katsina State; the State our legislator is from. In 2011, “no single kobo” was released to the oldest highest institution in the state. Only 10% of allocated funds were released to Science and Technical Education board; and only about 16% was released for state-wide educational sector for capital expenditure. Corruption unaccounted for; the ACTUAL figure would be eroded to single-figure percentage.

Coincidentally, a past aspiring governor of the same Katsina State held similar ideas for the State; which may have meant mild (by example) and strict (by policy) implementations simultaneously. On the other hand, the Katsina State legislator is taking the first step of NI MA NA YARDA in its mild form, before embarking on its strict form.

I learnt Ogun State recently attempted to effect a similar policy but it was murdered by the legislature; not unlike Julius Caesar (It’s back stabbing to benefit from public education then kill its revival). Moments like these makes one crave for true federalism and politics based on ideology, for if these exist, the two legislators (whom I believe spearheaded the attempt) in Ogun State and the legislator in Katsina State could be peer-legislators (in same State) and speed up the change.

The Challenge

Organize and start participating. Two issues regarding its practicality are (and by no means exhaustive): whether doing so will have an effect; and whether it will destroy the education of your children. For the former, I suggest forming a local group (say 5-10 families) then enrolling into the same school so that there are enough qualified/influential parents monitoring school progress. For the latter, know that enrolling your child in public school does not exclude home tutorship (after all you don’t expect the changes in the school overnight).  It might be rough at first, but it is possible, just a little more creativity.

Kano State ought to start. I hear the new government is making it difficult to run private schools anyway, through high taxes. Better give it a go than to wake up to a state without private schools. (Money saved could be put into home tutorship. Wink wink)

Contact (to be updated):

http://www.facebook.com/groups/349400128471492/

5 Comments

Filed under Commentary on Media

[Spoken Word] Green White Green

This poem was written sometime in 2008 and recorded sometime 2009.

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Spoken Word

New Media and Governance

“You can try to avoid that’s why its pointless
but you can never avoid the voice of the voiceless” – Lowkey 
“The voice of the Voiceless… that voice is social imbalance”  – Immortal Technique

A conference titled New Media and Governance: Tools and Trends was held on the 14th to 15th of May 2012 (three days ago) organized by the partnership of Yaradua Center, EnoughIsEnough and Galaxy Backbone PLC (there are a ton of non-major partners).

New Media is a large concept and should not be subsumed in to social media, which is a part of New Media. New Media as a concept could involve the apparently primitive media tools insofar as information cost is lowered whereas social media is almost inseparable with electronic devices. If a town-crier best suit your purpose of disseminating information, there is no need for a whole village to subscribe a Blackberry plan. However due to demand of interactivity our discussions dwell on those tools that offer a two-way information traffic. And judging by the number of iPads at the conference, it would ve been disappointing not to talk about online tools.

Gidi Traffic alerts you of traffic congestion via twitter. When NYSC Corp members were not paid allowance, Ministry of Youth Dev did not find out through its bureaucratic channel but via social media updates. This could be the future of Nigerian governance. New Media may be extended to monitoring corruption by transparency (as in Ekiti State later on) and by citizen engagement (client engagement in terms of contract).

“Many World Bank projects have failed because citizens don’t engage in accountability” – Caroline Sage of World Bank

The essential ingredient of New Media is low cost, cost of information and cost of collaboration, which are significantly lowered by New Media; E.g information on budget can easily be disseminated via SMS and protests can be organized over facebook. There were so many real world examples given during the conference but for the sake of brevity, I’ll skip them.

A New Media organization is the big-guy that can stand up for the voiceless by relying on two major supports: Anonymity and Partnership. Such organizations/platforms can receive information anonymously (then perform necessary verification) and relay this information to their partners (or not as when mySociety flooded traffic authorities in the UK with complaint-emails without seeking permission first which would have been denied).

The style of this post is issue-focused. I noted some of the issue I thought were interesting and I’ll attempt to indulge in some. The reader may wish to jump to which sub headings they find interesting. The content of the conference was vast and quite detailed at times so here is a link to the presentations made for any who would ve wanted to attend (available for download). A few factual information in this post are taken straight from their presenters and not verified; also subject to my memory. I intended a section on technical details of the new media tools but that may make this post too long; a different blog perhaps on request. I will append a section at the end with a list (and links) to some of these tools.

INEC Situation Room

First, it was interesting to find out that Civil Societies love Prof Jega (Head of INEC); he is a kind of a celebrity. I got a different impression from internet comments but you know what, he seemed like a cool chap after many references to his participation in some endeavors… enough on Him. Cooler stuff await.

Did you know that INEC had a situation room? Neither did I. Perhaps my imagination is getting the best of me but I imagined it to be like 24’s CTU. There are large screens with major news channels (one was wasted on NTA), arrays of phones (landlines and mobile), and loads of people. An interesting sight is that the civil society ReclaimNaija had a section for itself in the situation room monitoring election in realtime. ReclaimNaija was using the Ushahidi Platform to monitor elections (more on that later).

#OccupyNaija and #FuelSubsidy Protests: Success or Failure

I won’t prolong the suspense. The consensus at the conference is that the protests were successful. It must be viewed from two perspectives to appreciate this answer.

First, by viewing the protests as battles and social activism as the war. As highlighted, the lack of a unified/operational youth body made it easier for NLC to hijack the campaign which led to them settling for “half” of the demand. What matters is that the demand of citizens was listened to and the government’s callous decision was “half” reversed.

I think international media is to blame for perception of others that this was a failure. For the cost of creating a spectacle, international mainstream media labeled the “Arab Spring” a facebook revolution. Many candid Nigerians believed it and thought that simply facebook/twitter were enough to cause change. What they were not aware of is the prolonged struggle and sustained organization that were the foundations of the entire revolutions. Many Nigerians that came out to the street felt betrayed (by NLC) and are disheartened because it seems what they understood to happened in other countries has not happened in theirs. Simply because of misinformation. I guess New Media can exaggerate aspects of a cause. Critical reading of news becomes a priority.

The second perspective to understand this success is from the point of view of Civil Societies. These are people who do the behind-the-curtains jobs in addition to the on-stage actions like the boisterous protests. For example the FOI act recently passed was a result of sustained attempts for 12 years. Now the Civil Societies are feeling the change in response of the government to issues they were once aloof about. More publically, the recent senate probe on fuel subsidy that was reported was prompted by this change in dynamics: Now that is success.

Equal under God… Except if You Know More

Chidi Odinkalu made an interesting claim: that Nigeria is a nation of discrimination based on information. We are constantly reminded that we live in an information age, the truth of which may be contested. The Nigerian context, although may be far from the typical economic implication of “information age” but may be socially/politically in information age. The question is that why are civil servants the richest class of people in the country? or why does any rich person have to depend much on civil servants? The answer relevant here is that because civil servants have information, others don’t.

In this sense, Freedom Of Information act is supposed to bridge this gap (of course not focused on economic investments). Freedom Of Information is then Freedom in Information or Freedom through Information. In most cases government organizations are not willing to share their secrets so FOI requests likely end up in court.  But even Chidi (I think) mentioned how the will of Justice is easily swayed in Nigeria. In cases where FOI requests succeed, it means only a few people (the requesters) have their hands on it. New Media comes to the rescue.

For other government agencies that publish documents on their websites, that is New Media and potentially accessible to anyone. The few that win court cases on FOI requests could publish it on the Internet or any other New Media. Discrimination then may not be based on information bust based on effort to access the information (which is technically not discrimination).

Revenue from Transparency

It was pay day in Afghanistan and many police officers were excited. They had gotten a raise. Perhaps this raise comes with their new payment method which was electronic (notification on phones). What they found out later was that there was no raise and it was no mistake. It was simply that their commissioners used to carve out chunks of their salaries before paying them… for years. This was a story shared at the conference by Steven Livingston.

More relevant is the case of Ekiti state which was narrated by the Governor at the Conference. Tax Revenue from Ekiti before adopting New Media (electronic payment) was about N150 Million. Tax Revenue after adopting New Media immediately jumped to more than N600 Million. This means that only about 15% of the taxes get to government treasury, the rest was “lost” along the way in the hands of bureaucrats.

It seems the answer to transparency (and citizen participation) can be provided by New Media. But why have many government agencies not embraced it? The Minister of ICT mentioned at the conference that by 2014 about 50% of government information will be published online and that 15 to 20 services (in addition to tax and immigration) will be added to New Media payment. However it seems government agencies are resistant to these services so far because the prefer yahoo and hotmail to their .gov.ng domains. The MD of Galaxy Backbone Plc (who provide the service) confirmed that only 6% of this .gov.ng services are being utilized. This reluctance may become resistance to “intrusion” of New Media. I hope the reluctance is not because of unreliable service… that is another issue then.

Did you know that a recent study showed that people are more truthful on emails than on phones? Emails implicitly mean documented, thus accountability. I’m just saying…

Transparency’s Scourge Proved Wrong

Caroline Sage, from World Bank, talked about the information revolution in the World Bank. The default stand of the World Bank (as with most authorities) is that all information is private unless there is a need to make it public; which may not unrelated to court cases. However the revolution flipped the scripts: now World Bank information is public by default unless there is a reason to make it private.

The fear of World Bank (as many other authorities) was mainly that exposing such information might leave them vulnerable to attacks and criticism. However World Bank has recorded less complaints/criticism since the information revolution. This is probably due to the availability of clear information which formerly may not have been clear and so easily misconstrued.

Another interesting finding which will douse the fear of exposing New Media to rural areas is the case of rural farmers which Caroline Sage worked with. Keep in mind that New Media includes monitoring via SMS. Potentially anyone that uses a mobile phone can be a New Media agent. This is what Caroline Sage had to say about the rural farmers:

 “I don’t know about literacy but Nigerians (farmers) have grabbed ICT with a vengeance.” – Caroline Sage

Preventing Rigging by Participation

There was a discussion on the techniques of rigging election in the recent context where voters are registered before voting. This point came from an unexpected source. It was not a detective, forensics or sociologist; it was a musician BankyW. The logic is outlined in what follows. Bear in mind that youths (18yrs to 35yrs) account for over 60% of Nigeria’s population.

Assuming there are 100 Nigerians and two political parties; let us hypothetically call them HP (Honest Party) and PDP (Power for Darkness Party). PDP is the evil party seeking to rig election to their favor. 70 Nigerians register to vote, 40 came out to vote. Of the 40, 30 vote of HP and 10 for PDP. Now PDP is smart enough to know that it will be difficult to rig the elections since the number of voters can be accounted for. PDP then prints ballot-papers and cast 30 votes in favor of PDP. The election commission sees the result for HP as 30 votes and for PDP as 10+30 votes. And so PDP wins.

Of course it is not all this simple in reality as one may ask questions like: why isn’t biometrics used to confirm identity of voters, was the registration protected enough because PDP could have inflated the number of registrants in anticipation of the future… and so many other questions. The message is that by coming out to vote, you are also preventing rigging.

Celebrity Dilemma

On the second day three artists were invited for one of the sessions titled “Naija Generation and New Media”: they are Efe Paul, a poet; Darey, a musician; BankyW, a musician. All three entertained us well the night before during a dinner sponsored by the conference organizers. During the session however, there was more preaching and less performing. BankyW was the exception; he seemed to be doing both. The three gave inspiring and contemplative short speeches but I highlight the question of whether celebrities should meddle with politics; this point was emphasized by Darey.

Darey threw in the rhetorical questions and BankyW attempted to answer some. This has always been one of the fallacies of media especially in advertisements where a celebrity endorses a product with statements that his/her artistic qualifications don’t give him/her authority; e.g. what might D’Banj know about toothpastes to give him authority to say it is the best. Darey asked if celebrities shouldn’t be careful before jumping into politics and if they must, shouldn’t they require understanding of policy making? BankyW on the other hand has been partisan in many civil movements and so justified his stand on doing what seems right (I think according to constitution). This type of involvement is different from that of say D’banj who sang for the present president as endorsement. D’banj’s producer apologized to Nigeria after the president callously (and stupidly I add) withdrew fuel subsidy without approval of relevant stakeholders.

Something interesting happened: the Ohimaya (SA to the Minister of Youths) was also in the panel. In his passionate speech he accused BankyW for indecisiveness for not endorsing a presidential candidate and even praised D’Banj. He, in his activist days, had endorsed a presidential candidate different from the present administration which he works for. BankyW responded that he endorsed the Governor of Lagos publically but would keep to himself who he voted for president because none of the candidates impressed him. With crowd support for BankyW’s response (thus Boo to the SA), the SA chipped in that BankyW should then run for president someday. BankyW (who wouldn’t let it go) in a smirk reply insinuated that the SA has a better chance after all he has come from activist to SA to minister in such a short time. Enough of this! beginning to sound like a gossip…

Darey articulated his decision not to endorse anyone because he feels its every citizen’s responsibility to decide for themselves, without his imposition. I guess Darey has forgotten about “manufacturing consent”. My advice for artists is not to endorse any politician but to promote causes. I guess that is what BankyW does and what D’Banj didn’t do. As far as I’m concerned, I can’t listen to D’Banj’s advice on social matters because his actions indicate that he can be bought whereas BankyW has my ears. Not because celebrities like BankyW are experts, but because they have not corrupted themselves by association and have not given me a reason to doubt their motives.

Youth Poverty Alleviation

The minister of youth affairs was at one of the sessions. Today university graduates are selling phone recharge cards on a small scale. About 70% are unemployable because they lack skills needed by employers but these people could thrive in entrepreneurship. The ministry of youth affairs needs to launch programs on Youth Development.

Given the current situation, Youth Development is not possible because the ministry spends over 90% of its budget on Youth Management. Actually about 90% of the budget is spent on NYSC. The youths in NYSC hardly make up 5% (my guess) of the Nigerian youths which the ministry is set for. The implication of this is that New Media projects are not likely to be launched for youth development (or youth participation in governance).

This couldn’t have come at a worse time because many are optimistic that youth development can be achieved through New Media. A project currently running in India is providing cheap/free internet connection on android tablets via satellite. This exposes youths to a variety of free skills acquisition resources online.

Non-Tool Focused Campaigns

I feel the need to touch on this point again because it received a lot of attention during the conference. Simply put, it is that New Media is not synonymous with Social Media even though Social Media is New Media. This point was explained in the introduction of this post.

Therefore when planning for a campaign for which you hope to find a solution in New Media, don’t immediately think about Facebook or Twitter. Make your purpose clear and define your constituency then make a decision on the variety of social media platforms available. Anyone trained in software engineering sees this as intuitive but it is worth mentioning.

Don’t Reinvent the Wheel, Make a Mercedes Benz

For the techy’s it is very tempting to want to create your own New Media platform from scratch especially after hearing about how do-able they are and after identifying some of the weaknesses. If you are a techy and that is your end aspiration, then by all means. However if your end is to achieve a social cause, your energy may be better utilized using existing platforms and customizing to your taste. You can then focus on the social cause not the tool. An effect of this approach is that if you can come up with a better version of the platform, others can benefit and improve on your platform since it is open source; the evolution begins.

An example of this approach was illustrated during the conference. Michael Best used the Ushahidi platform initially but found that it crashes when rate of incoming signals exceed 50 SMS/second (I think). They created their software based on Ushahidi and were able to achieve about 150 SMS/second.

The analogy in the above title is also to show the organic importance of New Media. If New Media is the wheel, the entire cause is the car and destination is the cause’s goal.

African Software Engineering

I am particularly interested in this issue not because I am from computer science background but because I live in a third world country where we tend to borrow “international best practices” and attempt applying them to our situations with scarcely any adaptive changes. But it gets better, Africa now has its own superstar software platform called Ushahidi.(being open source means that it may contain contributions by non-Africans but it is important that it was born in Africa and managed in Africa).

Ushahidi was developed in Kenya as a way to archive information and make it publically available for access. Ushahidi is a web platform that allows the gathering of messages via SMS, email, tweets and direct posting on the website. It has since been built upon to monitor disasters in Haiti, in Japan and other places. It has also brought about what Mike Best (at the conference) called the African Software Engineering. I didn’t get the opportunity to ask him further what the term involves but it suffice to say it implies a form of customization of software for African context. It might interest you to know that the ReclaimNaija election monitoring site is based on Ushahidi but had to be customized for the Nigerian context.

This for me is a revolution in New Media (or ICT) but hopefully will extend to other fields for both large scale (like free market capitalism) and small scale (like world bank funded) projects, when it comes to application in Africa.

Big Brother for Politicians

If you are excited about the title, bring it low because there are no surveillance cameras and drama among housemates (as in the Big Brother reality show). But I will encourage you to raise your expectations.

New Media provides opportunities to monitor what your elected officials are up to. MySociety is a UK-based organization that provides just that solution. MySociety basically facilitates citizen engagement and governance transparency by building websites. 55% of visitors to one of their sites “TheyWorkForYou” think better of their MPs after visiting the site (TheyWorkForYou monitors Members of Parliaments each with their pages). More recently MySociety worked with Mzalendo to monitor Kenyan MPs, which was re-launched in February 2012. IF you thought NTA’s live coverage of legislature proceedings is cool try any of the two mentioned above.

In a previous post, someone proposed that government contracts should be monitored during a symposium (on the report on fuel subsidy probe). Perhaps New Media in the form of MySociety could help in this regard; it’s the concept that is important. Contracts could be monitored through their lifecycles like MPs are. As such, budgets could be monitored online.

Denial of Justice Attack (DoJ)

In computer networking, there is a form of attack which can be targeted on servers called DoS attacks (Denial of Service Attack) The trick is to overload the server with requests which is beyond its capacity (usually by automating the requests and never terminating sessions). The result is that the server crashes/hooks because it cannot respond; thus made nonoperational.

The head of INEC Prof Jega explained their situation in regards to the minimal prosecution of electoral crimes. It turns out that his tenure has prosecuted the most electoral offences since the commission was established. A problem he pointed out is that the definition of electoral offences is so wide that they have a record of about a Million offenses but were able to prosecute only 250 cases. This I call the DoJ Attack (Denial of Justice Attack).

Prof Jega says the solution lies in the outcome of the Uwais Committee Report.

The solution I propose lies in acknowledging that humans are not computers. Generally, especially in the case of a simple DoS attack, a server is unable to prioritize between requests partly because most of the time they are the same high-priority requests. Humans on the other hand can single out the offenses that will pass the message the most e.g. high profile personalities for media coverage, strategically located culprits to serve as examples for anyone.

Internet Censorship… Say WHAAAT?!

It was interesting that many contributors favored content censorship or some form of enforcement and Internet legislation. When I first heard a comment to that effect my reaction was: Say WHAAAT?! Haven’t you heard about SOPA and PIPA and Wikileaks and aren’t you aware that this conference is for online techies?! then I remembered its not really for techies but more for activists. But that makes it worse when you have techies that are activists!

First Prof Jega called for a form of legislation recalling that INEC has been a victim of unfounded rumors and that INEC has reacted to wrong signals (perhaps as planned diversions). Then Minister of Youth Dev shared similar concerns; following his encouragement of some ministers to embrace online presence, they have been subject to insults and a Senator was issued death threats. I also remember a discussant passionately calling for prosecution of online-content “offenses”. Many others either contributed in favor or passionately applauded. There were three responses I remember.

Prof Steven Livingston called for “self correction of rumors” in social space; adding that truth outweighs lies. If there are a significant number of reporters of incidents, then mathematically, truth will kick out the rumors (assuming probability of truth is high). Gbenga Sesan pointed out that threats on twitter are probably by people who “can’t hold a knife properly” and that real threats are not advertised on social media. Y.Z. Yau made a presentation on a systematic approach to curbing rumors using a four-step approach. Unfortunately the Y.Z.Yau’s slides are not available among the downloadable documents.

Summary: rumors that can require action should be subject to a confirmation mechanism (a number of methods have been suggested); insults and slurs, if you are a politician live with it; threats/inspiring threats, most are empty but if eventually leads to action and can be proved then the culprit should be prosecuted. Government is allergic to New Media. Social Media Etiquette might be more reliable (next to common morality). Using force/legislation is simply the lazy/expedient option like it’s easier to wage a war than to struggle for peace.

Monitoring Bribes and the Bribe Market

Since we are on the issue of transparency, what if you could monitor bribes? The gigantic bribes are left to simple mathematics (addition, subtraction etc) to discover that corruption has taken place but hardly able to decipher how much of that was spent of bribe. But the most rampant type of bribe are those that happen outside of contracts: with the police man, with the gate man, with the security officer etc. Now it is possible to monitor petty bribes… to an extent.

An online mechanism that achieves this provides users with a form in which users/volunteers fill to report the bribes they have given. This method doesn’t seek to stop bribe directly but in the spirit of transparency it seeks to make the bribe information known and archived. Of course we then totally rely on the honesty of the reporters (on which many online tools count upon).

The first of these tools is ipaidabribe setup to monitor bribes in India. This is an excellent site because it has an informative visual display that gives you all sorts of information like number of reports and from which cities; As at the time of writing this post over 440 Million Rupees have been reported in petty bribes. A Nigerian version of the tool is bribenigeria.com which also offers similar services as the one for India. Bribenigeria.com might do well to make its graphical analytics on the home page. Bribenigeria.com seems underused with just about a total of 42 reports (Lagos topping the ranks).

It is also important to note that these tools also allow reporting cases where a bribe was expected but was not paid. I like to do this exercise quite a lot as in a previous post.

Perhaps bribenigeria.com needs to expose it’s site to Nigerian Software Engineering  and awareness to allow for more participation. SMS capabilities could be added to broaden constituency of reporters or Smartphone apps could be developed (prudent of apps though). And perhaps, some media awareness will help. But even after achieving huge participation, only a percentage of bribes can get reported. Statistical methods could be used to get a reliable figure for how many Nigerians are involved in paying bribes (or not) and how much is this bribe-market worth.

In the future we might be seeing statistics on bribes being quoted next to poverty figures etc of the country. I am interested to know if much bribery happens on weekends and perhaps whether intensity of bribery negatively correlates to dates of salary payments.

Handicaps Participation

20% of Nigerian population are disabled. That is a significant constituency. A representative of handicaps at the conference asked the Minister of Youths what efforts the ministry is putting into supporting the disabled. The response was not promising. I will like to propose a New Media solution to harnessing power of the disempowered.

For now I am more concerned with the deaf and the blind. Assuming a quarter of the disabled population (5% of Nigerians) fall under deaf or blind. Then imagine that policy-making information is available online and legislative members embrace the online monitoring system (like theyWorkForYou or Mzalendo). Then providing internet access to this 5% (more than 10% of citizens that voted) could make all the difference. Cheap and reliable internet devices could be provided as in India presently (which Prof Steven Livingston mentioned).

The technology that makes online content available to the deaf and blind is available. The disabled person only needs an additional device to interact but the issue lies in designing websites/online-content to be accessible/handicap-friendly. In fact such a standard exists: here is the guidelines and here is a tool for website developers to ensure that their sites are handicap-friendly. The University of York in the UK is committing a lot of research in this field.

Now to a more realistic analysis. Not all of the 5% may be literate enough to use the portable internet devices but they can use phones. We might need a little African Software Engineering there. Then by accounting other categories of the disabled (of limbs), shortage from the assumed 5% could be topped up by the excess in other categories. So indeed participation could be 5% or more. If New Media flourishes, we might see a disabled-persons union that has a political will. Now this is social justice!

Points of Action… Action!

Discussions and conferences can be insidious to progress if they are not translated to action points. Fortunately in this case, a few actions had already been taken by the end of the conference… talk about speed. And by this I mean those I have come to know about.

EnoughIsEnough have agreed to work with a concerned citizen from Warri which in his own words “does not have big problems… but extraordinary problem”.  Also, Omidyar agreed to sponsor mySociety’s work with EnoughIsEnough. Action!

New Media Tools 

Ushahidi
Crowd Map
OpenStreet Map
Open311
Mapbox 
M4ID
MySociety: TheyWorkForYou, WriteToThem, FixMyBarangay, FixMyTransport etc
Mzalendo
Gidi Traffic

3 Comments

Filed under A Day at X