The Pope and his Fiat

papal fiatBy the time you are reading this, His Holiness, Pope Francis, would have concluded his long trip away from the Vatican, which has taken him from Cuba and through the United States. Thanks to television, and trust the Americans, they know how to force us to lap up their news, it felt like the Pope visited Lagos, and we’ve been a part of every move he made, every speech he gave, every message he passed and its implications to the sanctity of human lives, the survival of the earth and peace of the world, for speaking from America is like standing on the pulpit and addressing the world.

Besides the words he spoke, or the gestures that has endeared him to many, such as the way he often broke protocol to touch and bless children and the sick and accept gifts from people in the crowd or even the selfies, Pope Francis passed an even more pertinent message to the world especially to leaders of every stripe, religious and political, without uttering a word or waving a hand…It was somewhat of a papal fiat, and it was delivered from inside a fiat.

Pope Francis is the leader of the Catholic Church and the head of the Vatican which accords him the triple status of a religious leader, head of state and if you like, a mega celebrity. He can have any car he desires on earth. Indeed, he can have one of any specification made for him if he so desires. In his position, such small comfort as a luxurious car that fits his status and soothes his aching back is not something anyone will even raise an eyebrow to. But this man decides instead to ride is a tiny small car, one that looks like a match box.

This was not a show for the American audience. It is in line with the person of the Pope who is known to always forego limousines or specially constructed security vehicles including the bulletproof Papal mobile. He uses a blue Ford Focus to get around the Vatican, during his visit to South Korea he used a Kia. When he visited Brazil, he was driven around Rio de Janeiro in a silver Fiat Idea, a model that is popular with middle-class Brazilians.

This action of the Pope screams louder than any sermon he would ever preach. In it we find the healing balm for our world today where capitalism, greed and vanity have blinded us from the things that are most important and have pushed us to focus on the things that do not matter, driving the earth closer to its precipice, daily. The Pope’s choice of vehicle is a big thumbs-down to today’s consumerist lifestyle, to glamour and the inanities of pop culture, to ‘lootocracy’ among political leaders, to the stigmatization of the poor, to an economy of exclusion and inequality. To the superstar lifestyles of today’s religious leaders!

This message is even more pertinent to us here in Nigeria. It was an unspoken sermon to our many church leaders who today live like corporate executives and Hollywood superstars rolled into one. And to the many gullible followers who are ever happy to rise in defense of their G.Os while emptying their lean pockets to fund such lifestyles in exchange for a promised breakthrough.  Hear him:

“It hurts me when I see a priest or nun with the latest-model car. You can’t do this. A car is necessary to do a lot of work, but, please, choose a more humble one. If you like the fancy one, just think about how many children are dying of hunger in the world.”

The question I have for our super rich religious leaders is, do you know there are people among your very congregation that are dying of hunger, do you care? Do you appreciate that only a tiny percentage of your congregation can afford that school you used money from their meager earnings to build? Does it matter? Do you know that the money for your jet or that convoy of SUVs translated into support for charities can win more souls for heaven than all the crusades you fly/drive around in them to attend? Are you thinking?

It is true that Pope Francis took a vow of poverty when he became a Jesuit priest but the moment he became a Bishop, he was no longer bound by those vows. Now as Pope, he ordinarily has enough excuse to have the best things of life. But he has stayed true to his vows, choosing to live in a modest guest house, rather than the Apostolic Palace, driving a $20,000 worth car and guess what? He is touching millions of lives, giving many a personal encounter and changing the conversation on climate change and reminding all of humanity of the basic principles by which we should live.

I look forward to Pope Francis visiting Nigeria, hopefully he would during his Papacy but until then, I hope we’ve all learnt a lesson or two and that this lesson will be manifest in our attitudes to the less privileged, the way we go after wealth and our commercialization of religion.

First published here

Image credit: Montreal gazette.

We should all be Pacifists

no-warWar and violence are unjustifiable. This ought to be the default state of human reasoning. Not a religious doctrine or ideology scholars earn Ph.Ds. in.  It should not even be something people sit around to argue about. Humans by nature love their dear lives and will do everything in their power to protect it. Is it not ironical that in an effort to do this we act in a way that destroys the life and freedom of others and leaves us perpetually at risk of same in a never ending cycle of hate and bloodbath?

War destroys. That’s its very essence.  It is wasteful and hardly solves any problems. Where it does appear to solve the problem that instigated it, it leaves in its trail other problems, often of graver consequence than the precursor. Violence begets violence. Quite simply, the invention of war is one of mankind’s greatest blunders. That we continue to let it destroy us makes the blunder something of a self-inflicted plague…in present continuous tense.

The most popular argument by warmongers is that there are some conflicts that are just irreconcilable. Oh well, how successful has it been in ensuring the world is less violent or how much more secure does it makes us feel? Because wars are a contest between two or more parties, the spoils enjoyed from it are at the expense of others. For example, war may bring a sort of freedom to one group of people, but it takes away those of others.  Look what we’ve done to the world. Look how we’ve put the lives of human beings down to the decisions of politicians, lunatics and religious fanatics. With the outbreak of every new war, civil unrest or terrorist attack, we weaken the universal brotherhood of mankind and sink the world deeper into grief. The world mourns.

From South Sudan to Central African Republic, to Somalia. From the confusion in Libya and Yemen to the killing fields of ISIS’s Iraq  and Syria. There is always some bomb blast in Afghanistan and Pakistan every other day. Senseless violence led to the shooting down of a passenger plane last year and no one has been arrested for it. The northeast of my country is a theatre of blood bath. Every once in a while some deranged fellow gets hold of a gun and unleashes his demons on innocent people. Yes, this happens even in the most developed of societies. Then a new lunatic emerges on the scene professing some new ideology and willing followers are never in short supply. The Taliban, Al Qaeda, ISIS, Boko Haram, LRA, name them. These are vivid examples of how hatred begets hatred and violence does nothing but fuel the flames.

The irony is this; the side that wins a war is not necessarily the one with the most justification, but the one with the greatest power. And even more, wars never truly end. Long after the truce or the victory by the stronger party, the war continues…in the hearts of those who fought it, in the scars it leaves before our eyes, in the seeds of vengeance that it sows.

We should all be pacifists. Our world needs a breath of fresh air, to heal it, to ends its mourning. There are not enough voices speaking for peace or for ways to promote it. With the level of sophistication in the world today, we should have been able to devise better ways to solve our problems. But it’s not so much about sophistication. It’s a matter of common sense. War and violence make no sense. We are all victims of them.

First published here

Image Credit: ragingbuddha.net 

crying-child-210x210A series of recent news reports served to remind us of the existence amongst us, of insane adults who are on the prowl. The subjects of their misdemeanor in this instance are their own daughters, mostly underage girls who have become for them, objects of sexual pleasure. There are very few things more bizarre and despicable that I can imagine.

We have among them, men who actually admit guilt but attempt rather stupidly to reduce the magnitude of their indiscretion by saying things like I did it only 6 times or trying to find justification for same by claiming I did it to test her virginity. How do you describe a man who does that which he should not even contemplate and actually tries to justify it?  ‘Half men’ should be a more fitting description for this band of lunatics who have transcended all known standards of morality and common sense.  They simply do not fit to share the same space as normal people.

As a father to a daughter myself, I find these stories bone-chilling and beyond comprehension. It is already alarming enough that our girls, from the cradle up to the Old People’s Home, live daily under the threat of abuse from trusted relatives, friends, teachers, religious leaders, and strangers. To have them now insecure in the hands of the one person with whom they should feel most secure, beats every imagination.

The damage these men do to these girls is mostly irreparable. Besides robbing them of their innocence, they subject them to a lifetime of psychological trauma and forever damage for them the idea of lover, sex and marriage. It is even worse in a society where speaking about it is taboo, where the abused girls live with the shame (and guilt ) without any help, where the family of the randy father is more concerned about the family name than the sanity of the abused daughter. In most of the instances, the mothers are aware of what is happening but do not say a word nor come to the rescue of their daughter. Pray, tell me, how does a woman live with herself knowing that her husband is sleeping with their daughter and not do anything? What loyalty to marriage or family name or even fear should compel a mother to look the other way when such horror persists in her home?

But we also have instances where the mother, who are most often victims of abuse themselves, have made the bold effort to seek help from the police but are turned back with the now infamous lines; “It is a family matter.” This abdication of duty by the police under this excuse is what has allowed the perpetuation of the madness, ensuring that serial sexual offenders, rapists, child molesters and spouse batterers, not only walk free but continue to commit their heinous crimes with impunity. But I have news for this group of people and mostly for our police: The times have changed. Rape and domestic violence are no longer a family affair, they are criminal offences.

One of the last historic acts by former President Goodluck Jonathan in the twilight of his administration was the signing into law of the long delayed Violence Against Persons (Prohibition) Act, 2015  (VAPP Act) after almost twelve years of its first introduction as a bill in the National Assembly. In the months leading to the eventual passage, I had the pleasure of joining a group of young professionals under the aegis of #Choice4Life to advocate for the passage of the law.

The VAPP Act prohibits all forms of violence against persons in private and public life, and provides maximum protection and effective remedies for victims and punishment of offenders. Specifically and in direct relation to the subject of this intervention, the Act has provisions for rape, coercion, and incest with punishments that range from life imprisonment to varying degrees of fines.

I wish to bring the attention of the police and the general public to 3 provisions of the law:

“Part 1: [Rape] A person commits Rape if he or she penetrates the vagina, anus or mouth of another person with any part of his or her body or anything else, and without the consent of the other person. And such a person is liable to a minimum of 12 years imprisonment without option of fine to life imprisonment.”

“Part 3: [Coercion] Any person who forces another to do anything that will have negative effect on that other person’s wellbeing commits an offence and will be sent to prison for three years.”

“Part 25 [Incest] Any person that engages in sexual intercourse with another person within the Prohibited Degrees of Consanguinity and Affinity with or without consent commits an offence and will be sent to prison for up to 5 years without option of fine.”

Nothing in those clear unambiguous lines justifies or makes for the condoning of the actions of randy fathers in any form or any guise especially with the trash talk of being a family affair. In any case, Part 7 of the law provides that any person who frustrates the investigation and prosecution of offenders under the law commits felony and will be sent to prison for up to 3 years or pay a fine of up to N500,000.00, or both fine and imprisonment.

It is now incumbent on all of us to break the silence and put this law into action. Clearly this madness is happening a lot more than is being reported and many cases will never make it to the pages of the newspapers. We do our daughters the greatest disservice by keeping quiet. Not any longer. We owe them the duty of protecting them and to do this, we now have a law to ride on. We must do this to secure the future of humanity.

Click to download a copy of the VAPP Act.

Article first published here

Image credit: http://www.bride2mum.com/

GovtThe global economic realities of the day coupled with the impact of megatrends – shifts in global economic power, demographic and social change, rapid urbanisation, technological breakthroughs and climate change and resource scarcity — mean that to continue to adequately provide for the welfare of their people, Governments must apply renewed focus to issues around fiscal discipline, and reducing cost of governance. At the same time, they must forge greater collaboration with businesses, embrace digital technology as a tool to drive innovation and tackle the dearth of skills and infrastructure.

With the future at risk of being consumed by today’s debt, and at a time when the demands for public services is growing daily while revenue is dwindling, it is important to get a tighter grip on public finances. Achieving this requires governments committing to a renewed focus on achieving fiscal balance, with a spotlight on understanding, and sustainably reducing costs while building the ability of public sector organisations to cope with fluctuations in commodity prices.

A key foundation for achieving a more affordable government is to know where the money is being spent now or where the leakages are, in order to know how to change or block them.  But it is important that cost reduction is done in a way that is sustainable in the long term, not just knee jack political statements to achieve short term gains.  Closely linked to this is the need for governments to adopt and demonstrate a commitment to transparent reporting especially by implementing good accrual accounting practices. With IPSAS (International Public Sector Accounting Standards) serving as a reference point, governments should be able to strengthen budget surveillance and fiscal monitoring while also modernising their accounting systems.

In essence, governments need to rebuild citizens’ trust in the public finances and help them to regain confidence in the state’s ability to meet existing commitments and plan for the future.  There is a clear need for governments to communicate complete and transparent information about their public finances, based on best international practices, and explain it in simple and clear terms to the public. This is a key feature of democratic accountability, a process which requires strong political commitment backed by greater scrutiny of citizens, media and markets.

One way governments can approach the above is to adopt digital technologies. Digital is fast evolving and is having an impact right across the board. There is a new generation of citizens who want more accessible, portable, flexible and customised products, services and experiences. They demand the same speed of services when accessing public utilities as they get when shopping online.

To meet the expectation of the citizens therefore, public agencies need to embrace digital technology as a tool to drive innovation, transform how they engage with citizens, foster the interaction of citizens with each other and explore how outcomes can be better secured, resulting in innovative and effective public services long into the future. Digital technology has the potential to help public agencies to redraw public service provision, reduce operational overheads and create a more user-focused experience for those accessing public services. It is also critical for fighting corruption, and increasing transparency in public finances. A number of good examples of where this has worked our own clime exist.

Another important issue that should be a priority of government is having a skilled and adaptable workforce. Developing the right skills for the workforce is however not a task only for government. It’s clearly important for business and government to find effective ways to collaborate on the skills agenda and for business to take greater responsibility for ensuring that the education and skills system delivers what it needs. Government must structure education systems to produce a workforce trained to deliver on the skill needs of the economy.

Just as skills are critical to business success, sustainable infrastructure is essential to provide the backbone from which economic success and prosperity can grow. The lack of infrastructure affects productivity and raises production and transaction costs, which hinders growth by reducing the competitiveness of businesses and the ability of governments to pursue economic and social development policies. To maximise the benefits of infrastructure spending, particularly in emerging markets, an enabling environment is needed with the proper mix of economic, social and environmental incentives. Federal, State and Local governments can also do more to create a more conducive business environment for investors in infrastructure by overcoming such obstacles as unpredictable regulations, bureaucratic delays and difficulties in securing land rights

The enduring message of the foregoing discussion is the need for greater collaboration between business and the state to achieve society’s goals. It goes without saying that better collaboration across public and private sectors is needed to deliver a shared vision for a place – at federal, state or local levels and a delivery plan to make things happen. To be effective, the stakeholders need to work together and be clear on their roles and how they are jointly and collectively responsible for good growth, including creating the business cases for others to invest in their localities.

Today’s leaders in government (and business) are being called on both to lead, and also to serve increasingly empowered citizens who are choosing to trust more in their peers and ‘the regular person’ than ever before, assisted by the power of new technology and social media. These citizens are making increased demands of their government and expect nothing but the best.

This article was first published here

VappSometime in 2014 I joined a group of young Nigerians (#Choice4Life Advocates) to add voice to the effort of many other organisations to get the Violence Against Persons Prohibition (VAPP) Bill passed into law. The International NGO Ipas captured the modus operandi of our campaign here. As part of the efforts I made an intervention on why the national assembly had to pass the bill and subsequently wrote a letter to the Senators asking “What if your daughter is raped?“. Those two articles offers an insight to the delays the bill had suffered and why it was exigent that it be passed into law at the time, asap.

Now it is law! It was finally passed by the National Assembly and signed into law by former President Goodluck Jonathan in the twilight of his administration to much cheer. See our excitement on the day captured on buzzfeed news. Now that we have the law, what are we going to do about it?

Well you can start by DOWNLOADING a copy to read the content and provisions of the bill.   Don’t keep it to yourself, Share!

Sports 1For long, the line “football is big business” was for many Nigerian football followers, limited to the fat wages, transfer fees that run like telephone numbers and eye-popping endorsements  and television rights deals they gather around newspaper vendor stands to read about. Today, many of them are coming to believe and act upon this saying to add some extra cash to their pockets by doing something they’ve for so long done for fun, predict the outcome of football matches.

Admittedly, there’s always been some kind of roadside sports pool staking in major cities of the country which has thrived for many decades but the recent explosion of full-fledged sports betting in the country has taken it to a whole new level.  Powered by the increased adoption and penetration of the internet and e-commerce, sports betting now offer something extra such as online betting, live streaming, in-play betting, and reliable picks, and they are becoming a common feature on our streets. Indeed, there are many streets in Lagos today where the newest looking shop, often with an exaggerated external signage complete with neon lights, is a sports betting center. A recent report claimed there are as much as six betting companies within a 10-kilometre radius in the outskirt of the federal capital territory.

And one has since lost count of the brand names of these outlets. They just keep sprouting all over the place. The bigger Sports 4brands have become sought-after franchises, with agents, franchise owners if you like, that have contributed to the seeming ubiquity of the centers. If we kept proper statistics of new businesses in these parts, sports betting must top the list. This is not unconnected to the fact that it is really a big money spinner. An August 2014 report based on investigations by the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) suggested that about 60 million Nigerians between the ages of 18 and 40 years spend up to N1.8 billion on sports betting daily. 1.8 billion! And by one account in the report, a betting company can generate up to 20 million naira monthly and use between N5 million and N7 million to meet winners obligations in terms of payment.

With just N100, sometimes even as low as N50, hundreds of people, old and young, male and female, emerge from the betting centers daily and twice the number on weekends, clutching slim papers containing their predictions, amounts staked and, hope. It is this hope and the promise of big jackpot that it holds that wins for the practice new converts daily. In a country where poverty levels are so high and unemployment is in double digits, this is not surprising at all. This hope also breeds addiction, which is a problem of its own. The damaging effects of gambling on an individual and society are well documented and it is not different in this case. The lure for easy money and the investing of everything into getting it, including loans, could lead to catastrophic ends when the expectations are not met. This becomes even a bigger issue when the player is not properly protected by law as is the case here. What is more? Even though some betting companies claim on their websites that only those aged 18 and above are allowed to bet, in reality, underage players are increasingly getting hooked to the practice because there is no gatekeeper.

The regulation of sports betting in Nigeria is currently almost non-existent. It is, for the most part, largely an all-comers affair with little distinction between right and wrong practices. Related to this is the concern that the government is being short-changed as the mandatory remittance due it through the National Lottery Regulatory Commission cannot be collected.  And in all this confusion, the interest of the player who stakes his hard-earned money and hopes for some big win is not protected. The challenge is that the law setting up the regulatory commission, National Lottery Act 2005, does not include the word ‘gambling’ or ‘betting.’

According to a recent interview by the DG of the Commission, due to a low activity in the lottery sector at the time the law was made, a regulation (Regulation 2007) was approved whereby any lottery that is tied to a sporting event was suspended. The commission, it will appear, is now trying to correct this serious error. The  DG puts it in better perspective: “Because of what is happening in the Nigerian society of today, the commission had to recommend to the board that there is a need to review Regulation 2007 such that as we speak we have come up with an amendment to Regulation 2007 where section 20 of the regulation was amended to accommodate sports lottery as part of what we have to regulate in compliance to section 57 of our Act which says that any scheme or game that is even attached to the result of a sports event is lottery.”

The implication of this is huge. For starters, that such a relatively new law is so inadequate tells the story of how thorough our lawmakers are. That it has taken us this long to get it amended says just how serious we are as a people. But we hope still that soon it will be amended and when it comes through – If and when our recess loving lawmakers finally get around to it — the lottery regulatory commission will become able to issue permits with specified terms and conditions for sports betting operators. This hopefully should help in defining standards, weeding out the pretenders, protecting the interest of the players and ensuring transparency and accountability in the lottery business in Nigeria. Until then, the betting companies can continue to smile to the bank while the players continue to take their chances… betting on hope.

First published Here

browsingA comment, the freedom to drop it, is among the hallmarks of the internet.  From listserv’s, to online forums, early adopters used the comment section to build vibrant online communities. This vibrancy found expression in the heated intellectual arguments that were often the order on some of those forums. One of the forums I remember most fondly for this is Nigeria Village Square.

I started blogging on WordPress some eight years ago, at a time most traditional Nigerian media houses did not have active websites, and internet access was mostly restricted to cyber cafes. Bloggers in Nigeria then were scattered like tiny islands across the country. The comment section of my blog was very important to my writing. Besides helping me connect with fellow bloggers, the valuable feedback that each post attracted provided the push to continue making that trip to the cyber café and enduring the snail speed of the network.

Then it all went south. Well, there was a peak before the fall though. 234next and the variants that sprang up around the time were nothing short of an explosion of thought. The expansion of the space for informed discussion especially about the news, saw to the increase in interest among young people for their country and the way it was being ran. It was refreshing to read through the comments and in the process learn other perspectives to the idea shared in the news or article posted.

Today, the comment section of most news sites and blogs celebrates everything that is wrong with our society and is becoming a national security issue. One writer described it as the internet’s own septic system. Sitting beneath the post, the comment section presents a modern day two-way social stratification of some sort.  The elites, the writers of the post, yapping about intellectual ( and pseudo-intellectual) mumbo jumbo above, while below, the dregs of the society claw and bicker at each other over and over again, in a fight for who should be king in the kingdom of the blind.

And the extremes are well represented. From the nauseatingly ridiculous to the downright hilarious. It’s a mad house. People seem to go there to advertise their nuisance value; religious bigots, racists, sexists, nitwits, sadists, masochists, tribal champions and fraudsters make up the roll call. This is not to say there are no genuine comments. Some people make the effort to stimulate decent discussions but their post is so quickly hijacked by the internet goons. To locate any enlightening comment in a thread, you will have to dig through Eiffel tower length layers of filth, crawling on all fours.

Comment sections are the biggest evidence that our educational system has failed this generation. Besides the hate and abuse that is rife, the bad English, poor reasoning and sickening exhibition of ignorance shout to the high heavens that our country is in danger. Nothing is impossible. A few days ago a friend on twitter, expressed his shock at finding Nigerians applying for the Commonwealth Scholarship right in the comment section of a detailed ‘How-To-Apply’ advertorial. It doesn’t get better than that. But it’s not all the fault of the commenters. The site owners are complicit. They encourage and enjoy the madness. Like something out of the Roman Coliseum, they set the tone and for their selfish delight watch as the ‘gladiators’ tear at each other to death.

That is the way of the internet. Clicks equal money. The more the traffic, the better the ratings. The stormier the comments section, the fatter the pocket of the site’s owner. Simple capitalism. And because we are mostly a vain generation, we are happy to rush to where some ridiculous post has generated some equally ridiculous chain of comments and will feast on it like vultures until the next  crazy post come up.

This system might satisfy the present aspirations of making money, but the site owners are also contributing to the daily chopping away at the thing that holds us together. Our society is a reflection of our thinking  and no society progresses without knowledge. If we fail to encourage proper engagement around issues that affect us online, it will certainly come back to hurt us all. For comments sections to return to being a place for discussion or even argument (and not, like scenes out of a poorly directed alien movie) then we need to start doing something about it.

Moderation is the ready option. I see some coming for me with talks of censorship and the need to protect people’s right to the freedom of expression. Yes, no doubt, moderation will potentially shut out voices especially those with dissenting opinions but on the balance it makes for a cleaner, saner and safer space for all. Not even the UK Guardian’s Comments is free pages publishes every breath of halitosis emanating from every lunatic that has a grouse to settle with the world.  Freedom must come with some responsibility and if the commenters cannot exhibit it by themselves, the site owners have a duty to enforce it.

Hate, abuse and pettiness cannot be condoned on the altar of freedom of speech neither should we be propagating ignorance and disinformation because we do not want to be seen to censor.  Comments section is a public space and to that extent, basic rules of public discourse should apply there as well.

The alternative is to kill off the comment section entirely.  A number of platforms have gone down that route recent example including The Verge albeit temporarily and The Daily Dot. Extreme? Perhaps, but nonetheless wise. The reason for their actions says it all.  And if you will permit my citing the good book, if your left hand leads you to sin…cut it off.

First published here…

Photo credit http://www.dreamstime.com/


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