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AdichieA Speech delivered by Chimamanda Adichie  at the ceremony to mark Anambra’s Governor Willie Obiano’s 100 days in office.

 

Ndi Anambra na ndi obia, ekenekwa m unu.

Good afternoon.

I feel greatly honored to be here today. I want to thank our governor, Chief Willie Obiano, for inviting me. As we mark the first one hundred days of his term, I would like to commend him for his vision and ambition in the areas of education, health and agriculture. And particularly security.

Most of us know how, for a long time, Onitsha has been a security nightmare. If you are travelling, you do NOT want to be in Upper Iweka after 6 PM because of the fear of armed robbers. But today, because of our new governor’s initiative, people in Onitsha no longer live in fear. True freedom is to be able to live without fear. A relative told me that you can drop your mobile phone on the ground in Upper Iweka and come back hours later and still see it there, which was NOT the case in the past. And which is one of the best ways to measure leadership – by the testimony of the ordinary people. My sincere hope is that, under the leadership of Governor Obiano, Anambra state will continue its journey of progress with strides that are wide and firm and sure.

I am from Abba, in Njikoka LGA. My mother is from Umunnachi in Dunukofia LGA. I grew up in Nsukka, in Enugu State, a town that remains deeply important to me, but Abba and Umunnachi were equally important to me. My childhood was filled with visits. To see my grandmother, to spend Christmas and Easter, to visit relatives. I know the stories of my great grandfather and of his father, I know where my great grandmother’s house was built, I know where our ancestral lands are.

Abum nwa afo Umunnachi, nwa afo Abba, nwa afo Anambra.

I am proud of Anambra State. And if our sisters and brothers who are not from Anambra will excuse my unreasonable chauvinism, I have always found Igbo as spoken by ndi Anambra to be the most elegant form of Igbo.

Anambra State has much to be proud of. This is a state that produced that political and cultural colossus Nnamdi Azikiwe. This is a state that produced the mathematics genius Professor James Ezeilo. This is a state that produced Dora Nkem Akunyili, a woman who saved the lives of so many Nigerians by demonstrating dedicated leadership as the Director General of NAFDAC. (May her soul continue to rest in peace)

This is a state that produced Nigeria’s first professor of Statistics, Professor James Adichie, a man I also happen to call daddy. This is a state that produced the first woman to be registrar of Nigeria’s premiere university, UNN, Mrs Grace Adichie, a woman I also happen to call Mummy.

This is a state that has produced great writers. If Chinua Achebe and Flora Nwapa and Chukwuemeka Ike had not written the books they did, when they did, and how they did, I would perhaps not have had the emotional courage to write my own books. Today I honour them and all the other writers who came before me. I stand respectfully in their shadow. I also stand with great pride in the shadow of so many other daughters and sons of Anambra State.

But the truth is that I have not always been proud of Anambra. I was ashamed when Anambra became a metaphor for poor governance, when our political culture was about malevolent shrines and kidnappings and burnt buildings, when our teachers were forced to become petty traders and our school children stayed at home, when Anambra was in such disarray that one of the world’s greatest storytellers, Chinua Achebe, raised the proverbial alarm by rejecting a national award.

But Anambra rallied. And, for me, that redemption, which is still an ongoing process, is personified in our former governor Peter Obi. I remember the first time I met him years ago, how struck I was, how impressed, that in a country noted for empty ostentation, our former governor travelled so simply and so noiselessly. And perhaps he is proof that you can in fact perform public service in Nigeria without destroying the eardrums of your fellow citizens and without scratching their cars with the whips of your escorts.

I was struck by other things – how he once arrived early to church, because according to him, he tried not to be late – in a society that excuses late coming by public officials – because he wanted young people to see that governors came to church on time. How he visited one of the schools handed over to the missions and gave the school prefect his direct phone number. How Government house here in Awka was often empty of hangers-on, because he had a reputation for what our people call ‘being stingy,’ which in other parts of the world would be called ‘prudently refusing to waste the people’s resources.’

Former governor, Peter Obi, ekenekwa m gi. May the foundation you built stand firm and may our governor Chief Willie Obiano build even more.

Anambra was and is certainly one of the better-governed states in Nigeria. We measure good governance in terms of accountability, security, health, education, jobs, businesses. All of these, of course, are important. But there are other values that are important for a successful society. Two of those in particular are relevant to ndi Anambra and ndi Igbo in general: the values of community and consensus

Most of the recorded history we have about the Igbo – and indeed about many other ethnic groups in Africa – came from foreigners, men and women who did not speak the language, missionaries and anthropologists and colonial government representatives who travelled through Igboland and recorded what they saw and who often had their own particular agendas. Which is to say that while they did useful and fascinating work, we still have to read their writing with a certain degree of scepticism.

However, all the history books written about Igbo people are consistent on certain things. They all noted that Igbo culture had at its heart two ostensibly conflicting qualities: a fierce individualism AND a deeply rooted sense of community.

They all also noted that Igbo people did not have a pan-Igbo authority, that they existed in small republican communities, to which that popular saying Igbo enwe eze – the Igbo have no kings – attests.

Many of these missionaries and anthropologists did not approve of the Igbo political system. Because THEY themselves had come from highly hierarchical societies, they conflated civilization with centralization. Some of them wrote that the Igbo people were not civilized. This was of course wrong. The fact that the Igbo did not have an imperial system of governance did not mean that they were not civilized.

One of the writers summarized the Igbo system as being based on two things: consultation and consensus.

In fact one can argue that it was a much more complex form of organization, this system that I like to call the democracy of free-born males, because it is much easier to issue an order from the top than it is to try and reach a consensus. Professor Adiele Afigbo beautifully describes the political culture of precolonial Igboland when he writes that “AUTHORITY was dispersed between individuals and groups, lineages and non-lineages, women and men, ancestors and gods”

Perhaps it was this diffuse nature of authority that made it difficult for those early travellers to understand the Igbo. Professor Elizabeth Isichei has argued that if we are looking for unifying institutions among the Igbo, then we cannot look to political organization since there was no centralized system. Instead we must look at other areas – social institutions and customs, philosophical and religious values. And language.

And on the subject of language, I would like to tell you a little story.

Some years ago, I met an academic in the US. An Igbo man. He wrote articles about Igbo culture, organized conferences about Igbo history. We had an interesting conversation during which he bemoaned the behavior of Igbo people in America.
“Do you see the Chinese children?” He asked me. “They speak Chinese and English. See the Indian kids? They speak English and Bengali. But our children speak only English!”
He was very passionate. Then his phone rang and he excused himself and said it was his daughter. He spoke English throughout the call. At the end, I tried to be funny and asked him if his children spoke Igbo with an American accent? He said no.
Something in his manner, a certain discomfort, made me ask—do your children speak Igbo?
No, he said.
But they understand? I asked.
He paused.
Well, a little, he said. Which I knew meant that they probably did not understand at all.

I was suprised. Not because it was unusual to see an Igbo whose children did not speak Igbo, but because I had imagined that THIS particular man would be an exception, since he wrote and spoke so passionately about Igbo culture. I imagined that he would not be infected with that particular condition of the Igbo – a disregard of their language.

It is not enough to bemoan this phenomenon or to condemn it, we must ask why it is happening, what it means, what it says about us, why it matters and most of all what we must do about it.

This condition is sadly not limited to the diaspora. I once ran into a woman here in Nigeria, an old friend of my family’s, and her little son. I said kedu to the boy.
His mother quickly said no, no, no, he doesn’t speak Igbo. He speaks only English.

What struck me was not that the child spoke only English, but that his mother’s voice was filled with pride when she said ‘hei mbakwa, o da-asukwa Igbo.’

She was proud that her child did not speak Igbo.

Why? I asked

Her reply was: Igbo will confuse him. I want him to speak English well.

Later as we talked about her work and her son’s school, she mentioned that he was taking piano and French lessons. And so I asked her, “Won’t French confuse him?” (okwu ka m na-achozikwa!)

The woman’s reason — that two languages would confuse her child — sounds reasonable on the surface. But is it true? It is simply not true. Studies have consistently shown that children have the ability to learn multiple languages and most of all, that knowledge of one language can AID rather than HARM the knowledge of another. But I don’t really need studies. I am my own proof.

I grew up speaking Igbo and English at the same. I consider both of them my first languages and I can assure you that in my almost 37 years on earth, I am yet to be confused by my knowledge of two languages.

My sister, my parents first child, was born in the US, when my father was a doctoral student. My parents made a decision to speak only Igbo to her. They knew she would learn English in school. They were determined that she speak Igbo, since she would not hear Igbo spoken around her in California. And I can assure you that she was NOT confused!

My parents are here/I could not have asked for better parents/Grateful to them for much/for giving me the gift of Igbo

I am richer for it. Sometimes I wish I could speak beautiful Igbo full of proverbs, like my father does, and I wish my Igbo were not as anglicized as it is, but that is the reality of my generation and languages have to evolve by their very nature.

I deeply love both English and Igbo. English is the language of literature for me. But Igbo has a greater emotional weight. It is the enduring link to my past. It is the language in which my great grandmothers sang. Sometimes, when I listen to old people speaking in my hometown Abba, I am full of admiration for the complexity and the effortlessness of their speech. And I am in awe of the culture that produced this poetry, for that is what the Igbo language is when spoken well – it is poetry.

To deprive children of the gift of their language when they are still young enough to learn it easily is an unnecessary loss. We now have grandparents who cannot talk to their grandchildren because there is a hulking, impermeable obstacle between them called language. Even when the grandparents speak English, there is often an awkwardness in their conversations with their grandchildren, because they do not have the luxury of slipping back to Igbo when they need to, because they are navigating unfamiliar spaces, because their grandchildren become virtual strangers with whom they speak in stilted prose. The loss is made worse by imagining what could have been, the stories that could have been told, the wisdom that might have been passed down, and most of all, the subtle and grounding sense of identity that could have been imparted on the grandchildren.

Some things can’t be translated. My wonderful British-born niece Kamsiyonna once heard me say, in response to something: O di egwu.
She asked me: What does it mean Aunty?
And I was not sure how to translate it. To translate it literally would be to lose something.

One of the wonderful things about language, any language, is that it gives you a new set of lenses with which to look at he world. Which is why languages sometimes borrow from one another – we use the French au fait and savoir faire in English — because communication is not about mere words but about worldviews, and worldviews are impossible to translate.

Some people argue that language is what makes culture. I disagree. I believe identity is much more complex, that identity is a sensibility, a way of being, a way of looking at the world. And so there are Igbo people who don’t necessarily speak the language but are no less Igbo than others who do.

But I focus on language because while it is not the only way of transmitting identity, it is the easiest and the most wholesome.

I’d like to go back to the story of the woman whose son did not spoke Igbo and the pride with which she related this.

The corollary of her pride is shame. Where is this shame from? Why have we, as Ama Ata Aidoo wrote in her novel CHANGES, insisted on speaking about ourselves in the same condescending tone as others have used to speak of us?

There are many Igbo people who say the same thing as the woman with the son. Others may not think that Igbo will confused their children, but they merely think it is not important in our newly globalized world. It is after all a small language spoken only in southeastern Nigeria. Kedu ebe e ji ya eje?

It is indeed true that the world is shrinking. But to live meaningfully in a globalized world does not mean giving up what we are, it means adding to what we are.

And speaking of a globalized world, I remember being very impressed by the effort that the people of Iceland put in preserving their language, Icelandic. Iceland is a tiny country with a population less than that of Igboland. Many people speak English but speaking Icelandic is also very important to them. It is NOT because Icelandic has economic power. Iceland is certainly not the next China.

It is because the people value the language. They know it is a small language that does not have much economic power but they do not say: kedu ebe e ji ya eje?

Because they understand that there are other values that language has beyond the material and the economic. And this I think is key: Value.

To value something is to believe that it matters and to ACT as though it matters.

We don’t seem to have this value. It is one thing to say speaking igbo is important, but it’s another to make a conscious, concerted choice to speak Igbo to our children.

In many respects, to argue for the preservation of a language should be a conservative position, but oddly, in our case, it has become a progressive position.

I should pause here and say that I am not trying to romanticize Igbo culture. I quarrel strongly with a number of things in Igbo culture. I quarrel with the patriarchy that diminishes women. I quarrel with the reactionary arguments that try to silence dissent by invoking culture, by saying that so and so is not our culture as if culture were a static thing that never changes.

Igbo is not perfect, no people have a perfect culture, but there are Igbo values that we can retrieve and renew. The values of community. Of consensus.

In his book about President Yar’Adua’s administration, Segun Adeniyi tells a story about the dark weeks when Nigerians did now know where their president was, and whether he was alive or dead. He writes that Dora Akunyili came to him and said, “Segun, my conscience will not allow me to continue keeping quiet.”

Her conscience. It seems to me that conscience is rare in Nigerian public life. It should not be, but it is.

Conscience and integrity are central to Igbo culture, and to any culture that has strong communitarian principles. Conscience means that we cannot think only of ourselves, that we think of a greater good, that we remain aware of ourselves as part of a larger whole.

Some years ago, my cousin from Eziowelle told me a story that his grandfather had told him, about ISA ILE, where people in a dispute would go to a god and swear that they had not lied, with the understanding that whoever had lied would die. My cousin said, ‘thank God we no longer do that.’

Have we become, I wondered, a people now overly familiar with falsehood? Are we now allergic to truth? Should we not continue to have a metaphorical isa ile as a guiding principle? Should we not have a society where willfully telling lies that cause harm to others will have real consequences?

The Igbo are famed for their entrepreneurial spirit. But at what point did we decide that we will no longer sell goods and services, but instead sell the safety of our sisters and brothers? How did we come to a place where people no longer sleep in their ancestral homes because they are afraid they will be kidnapped for ransom by their own relatives?

Igboland was once a place where people were concerned about WHERE your money came from. Now that is no longer the case. Now, it matters only that one has money. As for where the money came from, we look away.

In Chinua Achebe’s classic, Things Fall Apart; Unoka consults Agbala about his poor yam harvests.

Every year, he said sadly (to the priestess), ‘before I put any crop in the earth, I sacrifice a cock to Anị, the owner of all land. It is the law of our fathers. I also kill a cock at the shrine of the god of yams. I clear the bush and set fire to it when it is dry. I sow the yams when the first rain has fallen, and stake them when the young tendrils appear. I weed…’

‘Hold your peace!’ screamed the priestess, her voice terrible as it echoed through the dark void. ‘You have offended neither the gods nor your fathers. And when a man is at peace with his gods and his ancestors, his harvest will be good or bad according to the strength of his arm.’

So while we, ndi Anambra, till our fertile soil with strength, let us also be sure that we have not offended our fathers or our mothers. Let us retrieve and renew the values that once were ours. The values of conscience and integrity. Of community and consensus.

Let us disagree and agree to disagree but let us do so NOT as separate fractious groups fighting against each other constantly, but as people who ultimately have the same goal: a better community for everyone, a better Anambra State.

 

A PRESS STATEMENT ON THE MISSING CHIBOK SCHOOL GIRLS BY THE #CHOICE4LIFE ADVOCATES DATED MAY 5, 2014

Since Monday, April 14, 2014, more than 200 girls, mostly teenagers, were reportedly abducted by heavily armed men from their school in Chibok, Borno State, Northeast Nigeria. The news of this event sent ripples across the nation, and many are yet to recover from the shock of such a catastrophe. While some of the abducted girls have escaped and returned home, the exact whereabouts of the others remain unknown.

Reports regarding this event, are increasingly dominating the media, especially the new media with the launch of the #BringBackOurGirls campaign. Also, Nigerians, especially women and some parents of the abducted girls have taken to the streets in different states and countries around the world. They all show solidarity through protests pressurizing government to swiftly and continuously take necessary actions to ensure the girls are returned home alive.

Apparently, incessant kidnappings have recently being on the increase in Nigeria. Victims suffer untold traumatic physical, psychological and emotional consequences. In this particular case, it is imperative to note that these girls are at high risk of sexual violence. While we earnestly anticipate their quick return in order to stop the continuous abuse they may be going through, it is imperative that we consider our readiness, especially our legal and health systems, to ensure that the victims immediately commence the process of full recovery upon their return.

We recognize the challenges of handling insurgencies such as this, as we unreservedly acknowledge and appreciate the efforts of our military, para-military and other security personnel towards ensuring that peace, order, and security of lives and properties is restored in Nigeria.

We commend all the efforts of well-meaning Nigerians who have toiled over the last couple of weeks, to raise awareness about the kidnapped girls, and who have worked to pressure the government to go the extra mile towards bringing our girls home.

We appreciate the support from non-Nigerians, global leaders and the international media to the campaign for government to rescue our girls and bring them back alive.

We commiserate with the families and relatives of all the kidnapped girls, assuring them that Nigerians stand as one with them through these trying times.

To this end, we, the #Choice4Life Advocates, a group of young Nigerians from diverse ethno-religious and social background across Nigeria, who uses social media to advocate for non-violence and promulgation of relevant policies needed to protect sexual and reproductive health and rights of women; therefore demands that;

  1. The Federal Government and the Borno State Government, through relevant security agencies, intensify and strengthen all current efforts being made towards the quick release of the girls.
  2. Given the fact that our current laws on violence against persons, especially women, is insufficient in ensuring justice for the abducted girls upon their much-anticipated return, we request the National Assembly pass the Violence Against Persons Prohibition Bill (#VAPPbill) without further delay so as to guarantee a robust legal framework needed to seek justice for the girls. The swift passage of the VAPP Bill will also, among others, boost the confidence of the citizens in the polity as well as serve as a legal protection of citizens against all forms of violence regardless of sex, age, culture, tribe or religion.
  3. A policy on the right of every Nigerian to education should be formulated and included in our National Constitution and/or relevant documents so as to protect and guarantee the right of citizens to education regardless of cultural and religious beliefs. This is expected to take preeminence over any local, cultural, and/or religious policies, which are against right of citizens to education.
  4. The education and empowerment of women should be given the adequate priority and urgent attention it requires.
  5. All necessary structures and actions should be put in place immediately to forestall a repeat of this and similar incident in any part of Nigeria.

We do look forward to the earnest return of all the girls unharmed. It is time to #BringbackOurGirls Alive! Thank you.

Signed:

  1. Dr Laz Ude Eze
  2. Mr Francis Anyaegbu
  3. Mrs. Bukky Shonibare
  4. Dr Chijioke Kaduru
  5. Mr. Alkasim Abdulkadir
  6. Pharm. Tolu Ogunlesi
  7. Dr Sylva Nze Ifedigbo
  8. Ms Busolami Tunwase
  9. Mr. Akachukwu Okafor
  10. Mr Kolo Kenneth Kadiri
  11. Ms Oluwabusayo Sotunde
  12. Mr Uche Briggs
  13. Barr. Gabriel Okoro
  14. Mr. Moses Nwokedi (Big Mo)
  15. Dr Ugochi Nnaji
  16. Mr. ‘Fisayo Soyombo
  17. Dr Isa Jiddah Mohammed
  18. Ms Joy Odiete (J’odie)
  19. Mr. Ayodele Fanida
  20. Mr. Stephen Oguntoyinbo
  21. Dr Chioma Enyi
  22. Engr. Stanley Azuakola
  23. Mr. Kamil Alebiosu
  24. Mr. Franklin C. Uzor
  25. Dr Patrick Ezie
  26. Mr. David Nnaji
  27. Mr. Jeremiah Agenyi
  28. Mr. Stanley Achonu
  29. Ms Tosin Ajibade
  30. Dr Hamid Adediran
  31. Mazi Moses Idika
  32. Mr. Uche Njoku

blog tourA few weeks ago my friend Chioma Iwunze-Ibiam introduced me to the Writing Process Blog Tour informing me of her intention to bring me into the loop. It was not exactly like I had an option in the matter. She sounded unusually enthusiastic about this and I did not dare say no.

Last week Chioma shared with the world, details of her writing process and especially about her upcoming book to be published later this year by Ankara Press. Somehow, I have been a part of the journey of that book and I cannot wait for it to be released. It will be a befitting crown on my friend’s hardwork and I mean it, Chioma works hard. I am also confident it will be the beginning of many more great works to come from her.

In her post, Chioma handed the baton over to me, Robin Cain and Osemhen Akhibi.  In like manner, I will be passing the torch to three great guys who I am certain will have very interesting tales to tell about their writing process. They are Nwachukwu Egbunike, Iweka Kingsley and Mazi Chiagozie Nwonwu. You will get to meet them at the end of the post when I am done answering the four golden questions of the tour.

 1)What am I working on?

I am working on a novel. It is the same one I mentioned I was working on about a year ago in a similar blog tour project; The Next Big Thing. The work is still not done. I feel somewhat ashamed to admit this but that is the fact. It is now three years in the making. I have been working on it though. Making slow and steady steps. The title has since changed to “My mind is no longer here” and I am working with a new editor who gives me nightmares with the many red lines of tracked edits in each chapter she sends back. The nightmares are good though because I am currently doing a wholesale re-write of the entire story, introducing new characters, making existing ones more rounded and polishing the sentences. The important fact is that with the work (as I stated in The Next Big Thing) I am experimenting. I love to do that a lot and I will be offering a rather unusual form of the novel, structured rather interestingly with a plot that is almost non-existent  I will either get a lot of bashing for this or a lot of thumbs up. Either way, I believe that will interest readers a great deal.

2) How does my work differ from others of its genre?

I guess it differs because it is me writing it. You don’t really go out to reinvent the wheel in whatever genre you are writing, you aim instead to create your own voice and show your style clear enough to leave an impression on the reader. That is what I aim for when I write. The difference in my writing is largely therefore a function of my literary influences, my own experience and the society in which I am writing. Usually, my stories tend to be a lot about socio-political issues prevalent in my society and about everyday human experiences as we battle to make ends meet in the system.

3) Why do I write what I do?

First I will say I write because I cannot not write. For my sanity and sense of fulfilment, I write. But beyond this, I hope to influence society in some way through my writing. I hope to also entertain and educate in the process. And yes, I hope one day to make enough money from my writing to not ever work a single day ever again.

 4) How does my writing process work?

Is there really a method to the madness? Let’s see. My writing process is a typical storytelling process I guess. An idea pops in my head, instigated by an item in the news, a fellow I pass by on the street or even something from the past regurgitated by my memory. The idea is sustained in my head by a protracted course of daydreaming during which many layers are added to it or during which it wither away gradually, replaced by another idea. If it survives, I then get to the sitting down to give it life in words part which is the hardest aspect of the process I must say. The truth is, what comes down on paper or should I say on the Ms-word page on my PC are often not the exact ideas that had occupied my head…sometimes they take a different shape such that they look nothing like my initial thoughts when my fingers are done punching them out. Then there is the editing (sometimes by me and other times by a peer reviewer) stage, the self-doubt stage and the many other re-writes that follow.

So we are done. Here is passing on the torch to

Nwachukwu Egbunike who blogs at http://feathersproject.wordpress.com/

nwachuwkwuHe trained as a medical laboratory scientist, practices book making and earned his first income as a cub reporter. Nwachukwu writes for Global Voices and Global Voices Advocacy. He blogs in Feathers Project and can be found on twitter as @feathersproject. His poem, Help was published in Okike Literary Journal in 1995. He is the author of Dyed Thoughts: a Conversation in and from My Country – a blunt socio-political, satirical and critical book of conversations on Nigeria’s contemporary history, which was published in 2012. His short-story, Stifled, was published on Sakanfo in 2013.  Nwachukwu lives in Ibadan, Nigeria. He is a media researcher with bias for social media, political participation and social movement studies.

Iweka Kingsley who blogs at http://iamscopeman.wordpress.com/

Kingsley is a Creative Writer with vast experience in Content Development, iwekaContent Marketing and Media Consultancy. He is the author of fiction novella titled DAPPLED THINGS published by Partridge Publishing, a Penguin Company in India. He manages a platform (Africa-ontherise) that delivers ONLY positive and progressive news about Africa. He is passionate about positive change for Nigeria and Africa, and this reflects very much in his writing and works.

Mazi Chiagozie Nwownu blogs at http://fredrnwonwu.blogspot.com/

maziChiagozie Nwonwu is a writer with particular interest in speculative fiction and culture. He has written articles for several Nigerian newspapers and magazine, both online and offline. His fiction has appeared in Africanwriter.com, story time, Saraba, Sentinel Nigeria, naijastories.com etc. He lives in Lagos with his wife and two daughters.

 

 

Photo Credit http://www.turismoeconsigli.com/ and the three authors listed.

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Some will argue that there is really no dramatic increase in cases of rape and other forms of violence against women, that what we are witnessing instead is an increase in the reportage of such incidents especially with the advent of the social media and citizen journalism.  Whatever side of the argument you belong, the important fact is that cases of sexual abuse and gender based violence remains a fact of life in our society, occurring at rates that are both scary and unacceptable.

Women and girls live daily in fear of various types of sexual violence at home and in public spaces. It happens on streets, public transport and parks, in and around schools and workplaces, in public sanitation facilities and water and food distribution sites, or in their own neighbourhoods. According to a 2013 global review of available data, 35 per cent of women worldwide have experienced either physical and/or sexual intimate partner violence or non-partner sexual violence while 1 in 3 women are expected to be raped once in their lifetime.

A minimum of 3,800 rape cases were reported in the print media alone in Nigeria in the last 3 years according to Ipas Nigeria, an organisation that works to strengthen women’s sexual and reproductive health and rights across the globe. The facts gathered from these reported cases and other research studies by both Ipas and other similar organisations indicate that the prevalence of rape cuts across ethnicity and geo-political zones being as much a problem in the North of the country as it is in the south. The perpetrators also cut across all social classes and religious orientation.  Cases have been reported involving traditional rulers, police officers and clergy men, persons who are otherwise supposed to be custodians of values, morality and the law.

Rape cases involving minors and the elderly seems to be on a startling increase. A huge percentage of cases is by acquaintances and trusted relations. In a study carried out by Ipas Nigeria in Kano state, it was found that one of every three gynaecological presentations at the hospital was a rape case with 41% of victims aged 1-9 and those aged 10-14 years making up 31%. Furthermore, more than one-third (37%) of the survivors presented with sexually transmitted infections (STI) while 21% presented with varying degrees of injuries to their genitals. In a similar study conducted in Benin City, 48% of rape survivors were less than 13 years of age(Olusanya et al). Besides the injury to the genitalia and the possibility of contracting STIs, rape presents grave physical, psychological and reproductive health consequences for victims, families and the community.

Closely related to rape is the issue of domestic violence and spousal battery which also afflicts women in all social strata and geographical locations in Nigeria. Victims who are poor or not financially independent often the most affected because oftentimes they are constrained to continue living with the abuser or forced to adhere to cultural injunctions that prescribe that a woman should remain in her husband’s house.

One might wonder, if these things are readily reported and openly discussed in the country, why then is it still a huge problem. The answer is simple; Nigeria currently has a very poor legal framework to address violence against persons as the existing laws are restrictive, obsolete and do not effectively address the prevailing challenge. For example, a provision on the Penal Code operational in the North of the country allows a man to chastise his wife in order to correct her. In addition, the burden of proof which requires a victim to provide two witnesses to the act allows many perpetrators of rape to go away unscratched or with very light convictions.

It has become important therefore that something urgent be done to strengthen our laws and bring them in line with current acceptable standards and knowledge. It is heartening to note however that there have been some pragmatic steps in that light, with the highpoint being the VAPP Bill which is currently before the National Assembly awaiting passage.

VAPP is an acronym for Violence Against Persons Prohibition Bill. It is an amalgam of nine related Bills before the National Assembly during the 5th and 6thAssembly and seeks to eradicate violence against all persons in both the public and private spaces. The Bill seeks to abolish all obsolete laws relating to issues such as rape, molestation and assault, while expanding their definition to bring them in line with present realities. For example, the proposed law recognizes that both men and women can commit or be victims of rape. The bill also makes provision for compensation to victims and the protection of their rights in line with the provisions of the Maputo protocol.

Issues concerning female genital mutilation, harmful widowhood practices and spousal rape are also addressed by the bill. Also prohibited in the proposed law is the abandonment of Spouse, Children and dependants without sustenance and makes provision for a regulatory body that will see to the implementation of the law, a vital provision which was not captured in the Child Rights Act. There are in addition, provisions for the establishment of a Special Trust Fund for Victims of Violence against Persons.

This law however has made a very slow progress in the National Assembly. Indeed it has had unsuccessful gestations in past Assemblies which ended without its passage. The reasons are not farfetched. With many lawmakers more focused on the next elections and what they can accumulate to retain their seats, it is very easy for laws on violence to be ignored. This is in addition to the pre-existing phobia common in male dominated Assemblies for issues of gender equality and a tendency to see laws that have a seeming bias for women as an indirect ploy to make them equal to men.

That we need to protect women, children and the vulnerable in our society is a fact that cannot be overemphasised. Indeed it is a matter bothering on common sense. Flowing from that therefore it is expected that enactment of laws that protect them and strengthens the enforcement of their rights should be accorded priority. It is on this premise that I call on the Nigeria Senate to urgently work towards the passage of the VAPP BILL before the end of this legislative Assembly. This will perhaps be the most important legacy the distinguished members can leave for the generations unborn.

On our part as private citizens we must continue to stand and speak against rape and other related kinds of violence. We must in addition to teaching our girls to say no, also teach our boys to stop when she says no. And when rape occurs we should report it and not cover it up as a family matter for in doing this, we perpetuate the problem and keep the scares on the victims forever fresh.

First published in the ScoopNG

The aptitude test conducted by a third party for recruitment into the Nigeria Immigration Service (NIS) portrayed the high rate of unemployment in Nigeria. I was a guest on the Channels TV social media show #Channelsbeam to discuss it.

Gabriel_Garcia_MarquezGabriel Garcia Marquez The Nobel prize winning author of ‘One Hundred Years of Solitude’ passed away Thursday 17th April, 2014. He was 87 years old. In celebration of his many literary achievements I reproduce here a farewell letter he wrote to friends and lovers of literature when he declared his retirement from public life after being diagnosed with terminal cancer. 

 

If God, for a second, forgot what I have become and granted me a little bit more of life, I would use it to the best of my ability.

I wouldn’t, possibly, say everything that is in my mind, but I would be more thoughtful l of all I say.

I would give merit to things not for what they are worth, but for what they mean to express.

I would sleep little, I would dream more, because I know that for every minute that we close our eyes, we waste 60 seconds of light.

I would walk while others stop; I would awake while others sleep.

If God would give me a little bit more of life, I would dress in a simple manner, I would place myself in front of the sun, leaving not only my body, but my soul naked at its mercy.

To all men, I would say how mistaken they are when they think that they stop falling in love when they grow old, without knowing that they grow old when they stop falling in love.

I would give wings to children, but I would leave it to them to learn how to fly by themselves.

To old people I would say that death doesn’t arrive when they grow old, but with forgetfulness.

I have learned so much with you all, I have learned that everybody wants to live on top of the mountain, without knowing that true happiness is obtained in the journey taken & the form used to reach the top of the hill.

I have learned that when a newborn baby holds, with its little hand, his father’s finger, it has trapped him for the rest of his life.

I have learned that a man has the right and obligation to look down at another man, only when that man needs help to get up from the ground.

Say always what you feel, not what you think. If I knew that today is the last time that that I am going to see you asleep, I would hug you with all my strength and I would pray to the Lord to let me be the guardian angel of your soul.

If I knew that these are the last moments to see you, I would say “I love you.”

There is always tomorrow, and life gives us another opportunity to do things right, but in case I am wrong, and today is all that is left to me, I would love to tell you how much I love you & that I will never forget you.

Tomorrow is never guaranteed to anyone, young or old. Today could be the last time to see your loved ones, which is why you mustn’t wait; do it today, in case tomorrow never arrives. I am sure you will be sorry you wasted the opportunity today to give a smile, a hug, a kiss, and that you were too busy to grant them their last wish.

Keep your loved ones near you; tell them in their ears and to their faces how much you need them and love them. Love them and treat them well; take your time to tell them “I am sorry,” “forgive me, “please,” “thank you,” and all those loving words you know.

Nobody will know you for your secret thought. Ask the Lord for wisdom and strength to express them.

Show your friends and loved ones how important they are to you.

Send this letter to those you love. If you don’t do it today…tomorrow will be like yesterday, and if you never do it, it doesn’t matter either, the moment to do it is now.

For you, with much love,

Your Friend,
Gabriel Garcia Marquez

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History matters. It matters even more when it is about Africa’s most populous country- Nigeria, which celebrates the centenary of her existence this year, 2014. At this point when the younger crop of her over 160million strong population are contemplating the future of their country, a proper knowledge of the past, where the rain began to beat as a popular Igbo adage will say, is imperative to ensure that the future is a different story. And when history is well told, in an engaging manner devoid of academic encumbrance, it makes for a truly engaging read. Such are the accomplishments of the book ‘Soldiers of Fortune by brilliant historian, Max Siollun.

Siollun satisfies in this book, the yearning of Nigerians and non Nigerians alike who have long sought an insight into what really went down during what were undoubtedly Nigerians most important years. The 300 page book captures essentially, the major political events in the country from 1983 to 1993, an uninterrupted period of military rule characterized by coups, rumours of coups and reckless decisions some of whose consequences the country still grapples with.

As many historians have identified, the foundation for Nigeria’s under development was laid in its colonial history. What the British handed over at independence was an administrative liability, a country which was expected to fail. After the euphoria of Independence had died down, the task of fostering development in the country fell squarely on the shoulders of leaders who were in many ways representatives of regional interests. The internal disarticulation and disunity which colonial rule promoted created problematic imbalances and engendered a situation where ethnic domination became an obsession even from the very inception of the country.

It was not long before the young nation came crashing with the 1966 coup. A counter coup followed the same year and a series of events that led to a bitter civil war (1967-1970) in which over a million people mostly Igbo’s from the south east of the country are said to have lost their lives. A brief period of democracy was experienced between 1979 and 1983, a period during which Siollun noted, the military essentially acted as a government in waiting. Populated at its top echelon by the same persons who had been members of the last military government and indeed the core team of officers mostly of Northern Nigerian origin who had executed the counter coup of 1966 and fought the civil war, the military was already too politicized that it found it difficult to stay away from civil affairs. For example, Siollun noted that during this period, some senior military officers drafted a list of government ministers they wanted President Shagari to sack accompanied by a list of their own as replacement.

The politicians on their part helped create an atmosphere that justified the return of the military to power for the ten years stretch of military dictatorship that ‘Soldiers of Fortune’ covers. General Babangida is quoted in the book to have claimed that every coup fed on the frustration of the people with the current government. His claims find merit in the events of 31 December 1983 when following the nationwide disquiet evoked by the general elections that held earlier that year, the Military staged a comeback bringing in General Muhammadu Buhari and later Ibrahim Babangida (who ousted Buhari from power in 1985 and ruled until 1993.) They would remain in control until 1999 when a conclusive democratic transition to civilian rule was effected.

This book, a sequel to his ‘Oil Politics and Violence: Nigeria’s Military Coup Culture (1966-1976)’ by the same author captures the downward slide Nigeria witnessed in all spheres of her national life under the leadership of the duo of Muhammadu Buhari and Ibrahim Babangida. The book captured on the one hand, the defining element of Buhari’s regime, a draconian approach to anti corruption which in the process muzzled the press, promoted inhuman decrees and failed ultimately in bettering the economy which was the most important yearning of the people. Babangida’s reign on the other hand witnessed the glorification of corruption which reached a level Siollun described as ‘spectacular’, the creation of a power cartel some of who continue to enjoy massive influence even in retirement today and a long expensive but inconclusive transition programme.

Soldiers of Fortune reads like a novel, like a thriller with familiar characters some of whose actions you are already familiar with and others which you might scream out in disbelief about. The way Siollun builds his plot and narrative, unraveling the intrigues associated with coups and the tensed drama that defines the success or failures of same, leaves you feeling as though you had a Robert Ludlum or a David Baldacci book in your hand. Readers are sure to pause and wonder at various points at how a handful of gun toting rascals to whom not much intelligence can be credited to, held and decided the fate of an entire country for so long a period, with very little resistance.

While the narration is not academic, there is no doubt a scholarly attention to the detail and judicious backing up of claims with verifiable facts. This combines to make the book a refreshing and engaging read. Siollun’s well researched analysis provides interesting details on the inside story behind most of the critical happenings during the period under review including many of which the absence of information over the years have made to appear like myth. Among this is the way Babangida quelled the Dimka coup, the Diplomatic Baggage story involving ex Minister Umaru Dikko, the Vatsa coup story and the circumstances surrounding the annulment of the June 12, 1993 Presidential elections.

Soldiers of Fortune reveals that the Nigerian military was not as united as most of the people assumed, that the actors were not as powerful as we believed they were, that they had their moments of fear and insecurity like other mortals, that the people, the media and notable personalities alike were accomplices in whatever harm the military succeeded in imparting on the country during their reign.

Importantly, Siollun in this book confirms what undoubtedly is an accepted fact, that military rule in Nigeria embodied everything that is antithetical to development and should never be allowed to happen again. A renewed appreciation of this fact I hope, will ensure that the younger generation who are today aspiring to positions of leadership, will guard her democracy jealously and lead the country back to the prosperity envisioned by her founding fathers at Independence. The book is thus a recommended read for every Nigerian and all those who love Nigeria.

Soldiers of Fortune is published by Cassava Republic Press.

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