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Trends1So some weeks ago, I got to trend on twitter. Calm down, before you start shouting, iz a lie, let me clarify. To be very sincere, it was not me as in me that hit the trends map, it was, a random tweet of mine that made it to the top of Nigeria’s hyperactive tweetosphere. The object of my stardom, yes stardom, stop beefing, was a line dropped carelessly by a taxi driver who I had struck a conversation with. He just said it like that as he was giving me gist on how someone he helped one time was now doing him anyhow now that he had been met with some hardship. I suspected the whole gist was to make me add something extra to our agreed fare but given the kind of ear that I have, I knew once I heard it, that it was packed. So I tweeted it sharply. Before we got to the airport, it was already being retweeted like the wisest words since God said “let us make man a helpmate.”

So what did he say? “This world na standing fan. If e blow you small. E go blow another person small.

The reaction to the tweet was just spontaneous, and the engagement, organic. Okay that’s me trying to sound like all these social media consultants. In simple English, a whole lot of people quite naturally connected to those words and there were all sorts of interesting comments which in themselves were equally packed in their commonsensical wisdom.

One of the comments that caught me was to the effect that in Nigeria unfortunately, the leaders have kuku pinned the head of the standing fan so that it is no longer rotating and is now only blowing them, their family and cronies. Kai! Flesh and blood could not have revealed this fact to the person who posted it. In a way and if you really think deeply about it, you will come to agree that, that is essentially a summary of the trouble with Nigeria.

The Nigerian standing fan is pinned to a spot. E dey blow only some people forever and ever.

And the rest of us are sweating in the heat. Or drenched in the rain… on the other side. Suffering and smiling like Fela sang. In fact, it doesn’t even seem these days like we are also entitled to the air from this fan. Somehow the gods of Nigeria have ensured the natural law of nature as epitomized by the rotating standing fan or as captured by other lines like “everything na turn by turn,” or if you like “chop I chop”,  does not find expression in these parts. They have confiscated the fan by themselves and for themselves.

So yes, we have our own adaptation of Animal farm’s “All fingers are equal but some fingers are more equal than others

Trends map

In no place on planet earth is inequality and marginalization of a section more evident than in Nigeria. Any place worse than us must be hell fire. Sincerely, I can’t imagine such a place exists. I saw a picture that brought tears to my eyes the other day on twitter. Somebody had placed side by side the picture of a man carrying the lifeless body of his son (killed by a stray bullet during the commando style invasion, sorry demolition of the Owerri main market) and that of Governor Rochas Okorocha of Imo hugging and smiling to the camera with his son who had apparently just accomplished an academic milestone at some foreign university.

And need I remind us that Universities are currently shut down, the public ones that is. The children of those who pinned the fan to themselves are enjoying summer in the abroad and uploading their Instagram pages with their farts and vomitus, sorry, that is hate speech. I meant, their filtered pictures and vain videos.

Staying on the topic of demolitions, it would appear those who have monopolized the enjoyment of the fan are often irked by the sight of the sweaty bodies of the rest of us on the other side that they want nothing more than to make us disappear. Think Otodo gbame. Think Okobaba. Think. Think again. Sigh. I am tired of thinking.

Let’s not even talk about the pay disparity in this country. Let’s not even go there. Do you know that in this country, some people are collecting salary and allowances as Senators (the retirement home for governors) and also collecting very fat pension which they fixed for themselves, from their states? Meanwhile some others are collapsing and dying on the queues waiting to get trickles after serving this country all through their most productive years, with absolutely nothing to show for it. But like I said, let’s not even go there. Somebody can just get angry for nothing over it.

But wait a minute. It is not only the politicians that have pinned the fan o. Your pastors too have perfected the act after all, it is only them that deserve cushioned sits in the front row in church. Have you seen your pastor’s summer vacation pictures? The Lord is really good. While he is cruising in his limousine and stepping out in those suits whose prize tags run like telephone numbers – all evidence of tithe payers money in action, you are jumping danfo and stitching your old trouser to make it to your umpteenth job interview in a month, harassing God for not locating you. Listen up, it is not that the grace of The Almighty has refused to locate you, it is just that the place you are standing, the standing fan is not reaching that side.

Oh did I just cross the red line? I better be on my way before these children of anger come for me. But seriously, we need to do something to get the Nigerian Standing fan rotating as it ought to, again. The first step is to observe that the fan is actually not rotating and to get angry about it. But it shouldn’t stop there. Anger alone is not productive. Anger must turn into a resolve. Something that translates into “our mumu don do.” And then action. Your voter’s card. Yes. That is the answer if we are ever going to then that fan to turn in our direction.

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doctor-protestA Few days ago, Nigerian polling organisation, NOIPolls, released the results of a survey which they conducted in partnership with Nigeria Health Watch. The research revealed that about 8 out of every 10 (88 per cent) of medical doctors in Nigeria are currently seeking work opportunities abroad. In other words, not counting those who have already left, among the very inadequate number we have, 88 percent have their eyes set on leaving at the earliest opportunity.

And this is not just among young doctors. The findings, according to media reports, cuts across junior, mid and senior level doctors in both public and private medical institutions — house officers, corps members, medical and senior medical officers, residents, registrars, consultants and medical directors.

No surprises here. The survey has only brought what has been a long known fact to the front burner of national discourse, albeit for as long as our fleeting attention span on important matters such as these can accommodate. You know we have this national habit of discussing our problems seasonally in piece meals and before we as much as arrive at a consensus or a clear path forward, we leave that issue and jump to the next one. For example, how often do you see headlines or public forums on recession these days? It used to be the order. Yet, we are still in recession. Same applies to Boko Haram, herdsmen killings, the Forex challenges, the President’s health and restructuring — the more recent craze.

But I digress. The result of the survey is a reminder of how bad things are. Indeed some will be surprised that there is actually a 12% who are happy to stay. Is this loyalty to Nigeria, lack of ambition or simply a case of ‘I really cannot be bothered anymore’? which ever it is, the real tragedy, as I had written here in the past, is that a lot of Nigerians are in a hurry to quit their country and this is not only evident in the medical profession. If the same survey were administered to everyone else, perhaps the only group who will express majority desire to remain will be our politicians and those who this rent-seeking economy has helped to have their mouths positioned very close to our revenue nozzle.

The challenge with doctors and health workers generally is particularly alarming though. Health they say is wealth. This statement holds even more value for a country where the large majority of the people live in poverty with attendant poor nutrition and hygiene, which leaves them susceptible to a wide range of communicable and incommunicable diseases. Millions of Nigerians die yearly from what has come to be known as “brief illness” — mostly a cocktail of easily treatable and avoidable diseases. A lot of our people simply cannot get to a hospital to access medical care because there is none within reach or when one exists there is no doctor or the doctor really has nothing to work with. This explains the scandalously high infant and maternal mortality rates and low life expectancy in these parts.

It should be a national tragedy that we have just 72,000 medical doctors registered with the Medical and Dental Council of Nigeria given our population, but it gets even worse when you find that only approximately 35,000 of them are practising in Nigeria. And of this number, 88% are eager to leave.

So why are they leaving?

The simple answer is that the country is not in good shape. The economy is bad, the security is horrible, infrastructure is non-existent and the system generally discourages merit, innovation and hard work. This is in line with the findings of the NOIPolls study. The reasons respondents cited for the looming brain drain in the health sector included challenges such as high taxes and deductions from salary (98 per cent), low work satisfaction (92 per cent), poor salaries and emoluments (91 per cent) and the huge knowledge gap that exists in the medical practice in the country (47 per cent), among others.

It is one thing to simply want a better life for yourself and thus aspire to be where the grass is greener. It is, however, something else when you are willing to work but the tools are simply not there. Nothing could be more frustrating. And by tools, I don’t even refer to sophisticated diagnostic equipment. We are talking about everyday hospital supplies. And as if that’s not enough, you are most of the time embroiled in an argument with your employer and the government over your pay and allowances. Nobody wants to live in such a circumstance, the Hippocratic Oath and human conscience notwithstanding.

What to do? Clearly, we cannot force them to stay as long as there are other climes ready and happy to welcome them with open arms and offer them a far better condition of practice. We also cannot afford to just fold our arms and lament while the situation gets worse. We must do something.

The NOIPolls result should be the conversation starter for government and other stakeholders in the country’s health sector to begin to seriously discuss and fashion out the much-needed reforms in the sector and redesign the health system to make it one in which our people can have a fulfilling career in and to which our poor citizens can look up to for help when they are ill.

Above all, we need to fix this economy and the structure of the country as a whole, otherwise, regardless of what else we do, we will just be kicking a can down the road.

@nzesylva

First published here on olisa.tv on Aug 9, 2017.

My new ebook, My Mind is no longer here is available here on amazon and on the okadabooks app.

be a manI can say with a great deal of certainty, that as an adult man in these parts, you would have at one time in your life heard these words “be a man” or “man up” said to you, be it over shedding tears at physical pain, failing at some task, or even while enduring an emotional heartbreak. Indeed we begin to hear it early in the formative years when you are not supposed to cry in a verbal fight with your female siblings or when you are compelled to internalize the biting pain of cane strokes because it is unmanly to show such emotions. It is like a given, something we’ve all come to accept as normal. What you might not have realized is that, these words and the experiences have affected you in some way.

On their own, these words are not bad. Life presents challenges which everyone, male and female must face with a degree of resolve and determination, and this often requires toughening up our emotions and growing a will of still. However, when they are applied as some kind of status we must live up to, especially the way they are used for men, they have the tendency of becoming very problematic, distorting our understanding of masculinity and turning the concept of manhood on its head.

Over time we have created a stereotypical image for men which we all struggle to fit into. The instruction to “man up” becomes essentially a call to fall in line and conform. This builds insecurities, forces us to repress our emotions, hide weaknesses and effectively disconnect from who we really are. When the phrase is used in relation to the lurking, serious shadow of depression, anxiety, or any other mental illness, the results can be harmful. It is a medically researched fact that men dealing with mental disorders are less likely to seek help than women. Suicide is higher in men than in women. Abuse of alcohol, drugs, sex and gambling can be seen at a much higher percentage in men than women; possibly because the manly psyche built over years of being told to “man up” has to resort to seeking an escape route to truly express himself.

The compulsion to act manly can also be traced as the root cause of domestic violence with men taking out their fears and frustrations on their wives because they know not any other way of expressing it. It doesn’t help that the male chauvinistic society these men are raised in tells them also that it is a classic show of manliness to beat your wife and not entertain her views on any matter.

It can also be argued that a lot of men have failed to really live their full potential in life because they have had to conform to this stereotype. Because there has long been established types of careers which are fit for men. The world must have lost many a great dancer, musician, chef and artist – all because they were afraid to exhibit any emotional or creative behaviour when they were younger so that they are not taken for weak or unmanly.

My thoughts on this topic flow from my personal experience and a discussion that came up recently during a chat at the filming of an episode of the Onyeka Nwelue Show. I lost my wife and best friend a little over a year ago and have battled all kinds of emotions since. Through it all, I could not help but notice the nudge to ‘die’ the emotions, to come off it, in the comments, framed as condolence messages from friends and family alike. It is essentially a “Man up” call, to swallow it all up and keep a straight face, because that is what men do.

Because people have different ways of processing emotions, there is a tendency for some men to collapse under the weight of these unshed tears, bottled up feelings and unexpressed thoughts. We therefore do our men no good by telling them to “be a man” or “man up”.  Men are men already by virtue of their genetic make-up and do not have to “become men” in order to prove any point. There are certainly many better suiting words in English and the vocabulary of our indigenous languages that will accomplish the same feat if what we really intend to convey is a message of encouragement to a man going through certain challenges.

First published here

MacronEmmanuel Macron has become France’s youngest ever president following the official handover by François Hollande. Since the victory of the 39-year-old centrist whose campaign took France by storm, there has naturally been some reaction among Nigeria’s very young population, referencing Macron’s age in relation to their own realities.

This is not unexpected. Despite the provisions of the constitution, at 39 most politically active Nigerians can at best aspire to be hand luggage carrying Assistants to politicians and social media aides, acting like thugs online to burnish the narrative around their principals. They appear only useful during the campaigns where they are either used to run ‘situation rooms’ or on the field as political thugs to manipulate results but not deemed fit to handle sensitive positions where they can bring their intellect to bear in influencing the policy direction of government.

It is a situation where 39-year-olds cannot even be Youth Leaders of their political parties. When you consider that Macron has already been France’s Economy minister two years ago, you will see the sense in the outcry among young Nigerians and the merits  of the “Not too young to run’ campaign.

Personally I align myself to calls for younger people in government but with a caveat which I will explain shortly. There is no doubt that we cannot solve our problems with the same thinking (and the same people) who created them. We have been held back by years of recycled politicians, yesterday’s men who have refused to retire, who have planted themselves with deep tap roots in the system because they have the resources to sustain their influence in Nigeria’s rent-seeking polity and buy their way through elections. And like chameleons, they have mastered the act of remaking themselves to suit the current circumstance. They’ve dumped military Khaki’s for agbadas and swear to be converts of democracy. The PDP lost power and they trooped in their numbers to the APC, singing tunes of Change…just anything to remain relevant and keep young people out.

You would wonder why a population tilted heavily in favour of young people has not taken a clear stand to birth a new order, just like we’ve seen in France. The politicians have been able to (and continue to) exploit the most basic necessity of life — food — to remain in charge. Young people are happy to take the handout and crumbs, to be seen somewhere in the photo ops of the politician, they are content with feeling among, or being driven in the long convoys of the old man, in the hope that perhaps, if they show enough loyalty (even if this goes against the principles they loudly espoused as private citizens) they will someday be found worthy of a seat at the table, to commence their own ‘chopping’. One hopes we get to change this mindset and that ongoing advocacy is able to change the system to make it more favourable for young people to run.

But it is not enough to allow young people into office though. This is the caveat I talked about earlier. The fact is that when it comes to leadership age doesn’t matter – competency does. Our own history is full of examples of leaders who have succeeded and failed at every age, a good number of them young people.

Most of our post-independence leaders, military and civilian (most of who continue to hold the reins today), got on the podium first as youngsters. In recent times we have also had a few democratically elected youngsters whose performance does not in any way solidify the argument in favour of young people.

It is thus clear that just as corruption and incompetence do not have any age limits, the passion, character, commitment, discernment, and talent to be a good leader certainly also does not depend on a person’s date of birth. The real issue is competence and it is important we hold this dear in all conversations around leadership, especially as the 2019 drums begin to roll out. It is not enough to be young. You must also be competent. If somebody exhibited a certain level competence and success, nobody looks at your age.

While experience counts, energy matters and certainly, as we have seen over and over in our recent history, health also does feature strongly on the checklist for our next set of leaders. Some more salient issues are education and exposure. I am still not certain why being a graduate is seen as the minimum qualification for holding regular jobs but we leave the more sensitive issue of leading this nation to persons who have as much as attempted the secondary school certificate. That doesn’t appear very smart to me.

The whole conversation around Emmanuel Macron is one I hope will inspire changes in Nigeria and bring about a paradigm shift in the composition of our leadership. I hope that young people will sit up and take back their country from those who are currently running it down. This is a conversation that has to be had. But even more, we must interrogate more closely, the competence and moral character of the people we vote for and send to take decisions on our behalf at all levels of government.

First published on May 17, 2017 on Olisa.tv

Bail is FreeAlong with “police is your friend”, one inscription you are certain to see boldly written in every police station in Nigeria is “bail is free”. You might have even heard the police top brass make such claims in public statements. If you believe any of that, then you will believe anything.

But it ought to be free, or at least on paper it should be. Bail is the temporary release of an accused person, or a suspect, from police custody pending the conclusion of investigations or the final determination of the case, on the condition that he would report to the police station when necessary or attend court for trial. It flows from Section 35 of the Nigerian 1999 Constitution which intends to preserve the liberty of a suspect and is built on the assumption (at least among democratic states where the rule of law is more than a mere campaign slogan for politicians) that an accused person is innocent until he is proved guilty by a court of competent jurisdiction.

Anyone who has had a police case will tell you a different story. It doesn’t matter whether the arrest was for a criminal or civil offence or even a mere disagreement with a neighbour. The Nigeria police will demand money in exchange for your freedom, the amount charged and paid depending on such factors as the size of the greed of the investigating police officer, the profile and bargaining power of the accused and the nature of the case. It is now almost a non-issue. Bail payment is sacrosanct. And when you fail or are unable to meet the payment terms, the Nigeria police, who do not have the best of human right records nor regards for the rights of citizens, will torture you, even sometimes to death as was recently reported in Ibadan.

That this sad situation which is illegal and a mockery of the popular police lingo continues to prevail is however not the subject of this intervention. So many legal minds and human right groups have been in the trenches on this matter for so many years and the struggle continues. To them I pay my respects for the thankless job they are doing. My interest in this piece however is to ask what exactly the police do with the bail monies they receive from people?

You see, ideally, the bail payment is a bond placed as guarantee that an accused person will be available to the authorities when needed and forfeited otherwise. That’s ideally. Nothing about Nigeria as we know is ideal. Here it is a payment for freedom. Are there any records of such payments kept? Does the police issue receipts for such payments? Does the police account for such payments and/or forward same to revenue generating agencies of government? Are you really able to retrieve from the police any payment you make to secure bail after an arrest if investigations later indicate you are innocent of any offence?

The answer to these questions is obvious to all of us. What we have done is that, in furtherance of the rent seeking culture, we have created an industry for criminal minded police officers through which they dubiously make money from the public by extorting innocent and often hapless citizens. Because there is no consequence whatsoever for this, it is not uncommon for a team of police men, who need money to augment their paltry pay, to carryout raids, and round up innocent people including bystanders and pedestrians minding their own businesses, to whom they read no charges and cram them up in filthy cells. They then each have to pay a negotiated amount to secure release or be left to languish. This money collected is shared by the police officers.

This is a very sad situation. You don’t fully understand how bad it is until you have experienced it. When we talk about corruption, I wonder if we capture such as corruption. When you remember that the Police is supposed to be an anti-corruption agency of government but has successfully institutionalized this daily act of fraud, you then appreciate how deep the rot is.

Who do we look up to for help? The protection of the rights of citizens including enforcement of their bail rights lies with government. But when government itself is a culprit, disobeying court injunctions and rulings and infringing of the freedoms of expression of citizens, then there isn’t much to expect from them in terms of succor.

Nigerians, especially those who are not wealthy, who cannot afford lawyers, who are by virtue of their social status even ignorant of the law and their rights, will unfortunately continue to be taken advantage of by officers who are paid to protect them and a nation they had the misfortune of being born in.

The report of African migrants trying to reach Europe is a daily news item. Many as we know and see frequently in the news meet their deaths in the Mediterranean. According to the International Organization for Migration, many others are being sold by traffickers into slavery in Libya, including for sex, for as little as $200, while others still are killed and their organs harvested for sale in the booming human organ trade.

Many young Africans find that after having paid human traffickers in the hope of finding a better life in Europe, they end up being held hostage by their traffickers who exploit them and their families, turning the dreams of a better life into a nightmare.

The International Organisation for Migration says slave markets and detentions are becoming increasingly common on the illegal migrant routes as criminal gangs cash in on what has become a very sad situation.

According to IOM’s chief of mission in Libya, Othman Belbeisi, selling human beings is becoming a trend among smugglers as the smuggling networks in Libya are becoming stronger. In his words, “Migrants are being sold in markets as a commodity” at a going rate of between $200 and $500” .

While some migrants sold this way managed to escape, many wallowed in captivity for months before being bought free or sold on. Others die and are unaccounted for and many among them are Nigerians fleeing harsh economic situation back at home or simply chasing the myth of greener grass on the other side.

The reality is that for many young people in Nigeria, the ultimate ambition in life is to go abroad. And the exodus has been on forever. There is hardly anyone who does not have a relative or someone who has “checked out.” In the late ‘80s and ‘90s there was a massive brain drain of Academics and professionals following the collapse of our educational institutions, and the persecution of perceived pro-democracy activists by the military dictators who held sway then.

The brain drain continues even today. You see it in the long queues of visa applicants in foreign embassies. I still have vivid memories of the crowd of rowdy, sweaty applicants in a zigzag queue, I saw on my first visit to the UK Visa application centre in Abuja close to a decade ago and how very willing they appeared to endure any kind of manhandling in their quest for a visa.

Such is the value placed on obtaining a visa that it is often a major prayer point in churches and a good course for testimonies. This obsession very easily turns into desperation. Many short-term visa applicants have absolutely no intention of returning. Some on student visas do not honour the terms. They live illegally in the shadows abroad, many getting deported, or jailed. These stories of the fate of their compatriots do not stop those who intend to seek the West’s presumed greener pastures, as the risk is considered one worth taking.

The denial of a visa or deportation does not stop the determined Nigerian immigrant nor does the fear of the dangers associated with migrating illegally. As long as there is a chance of success, no matter how slim, there will be willing people. This has resulted in the growth of what is today an industry of powerful people and their agents, feeding off the gullibility and desperation of young people in the guise of helping them reach their dreams of a better life abroad. These issues form the theme of my new e-book, ‘My Mind Is No Longer Here’ recently published by Bahati Books.

We have read of people who faked travel documents, of folks who braved life inside airtight containers sailing across the sea, of stowaways in the wheel compartment of international flights. We are also quite familiar with the malaise of human trafficking, of young ladies who either by coercion or by choice, are taken to European cities to work as prostitutes and the daredevil journey to Europe through the scorching heat of the Sahara desert and the stormy waves of the Mediterranean.

The UN’s International Organisation for Migration (IOM) in 2016 warned that the trafficking of Nigerian women to Italy by boat was reaching “crisis” levels, with traffickers using migrant reception centres as holding pens for women who are then collected and forced into prostitution across Europe. About 3,600 Nigerian women arrived by boat into Italy in the first six months of that year, and more than 80% of these women will be trafficked into prostitution in Italy and across Europe, the IOM said.

We need to stem this tide. Many of those who make this trip do not know any better. The National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons (NAPTIP), the Nigerian government’s agency set up in response to the situation can only do as much. While we continue to clamour for a better deal from the government in terms of the state of the economy which is the ultimate solution to the crisis, we must also step up advocacy and public campaigns targeted at young people on the dangers of falling prey to criminal traffickers.

This is one issue where ideas are needed. It concerns us all because, in small instalments, our country’s future is disappearing…never to be recovered again.

The way things are going, one cannot help but note that when the history of this government is written, it would be one blemished with violence and bloodshed. This is not a prophesy. It is a statement of fact, what with the ongoing killings and destructions associated with the Fulani herdsmen and local farming communities that has continued unabated.

Even though every other day there is new news report and statistics of unnamed victims thrown at us, like all things with us, we have since grown numb to these news stories. Fresh or reprisal attacks by herdsmen on farming communities do not hold the same attention in the news and in public discourse as they once did. Much the same way we all grew use to boko haram attacks that in February 2014 fifty-nine boys were killed at the Federal Government College of Buni Yadi and the nation moved on like nothing had happened. We are seeing this happening again. Herdsmen killings are increasingly taking the back seat in our national consciousness. We are gradually resigning to having it as one of those things we have to live with…like corruption, power outages, annual Lassa fever and meningitis outbreaks and the super eagles not qualifying for major tournaments.

The ease with which we move on is an issue that deserves deeper study. Perhaps it is the most apparent evidence of a deep rooted cynicism, the expression of a people who have been disappointed for so long by their leaders that they have resigned to surviving on their own and in the process have deadened their conscience to any issues that affects anyone other than themselves. So when the victim of the current pain is not directly them, they make a little noise just to fulfil all righteousness and then move back to the rate race that is their private lives. Like I said, this is a matter than requires a deeper study.

The subject of this intervention is however the failure of those whose sworn duty it is to stop the killings to do so. It appears that the Nigerian state has thrown her hands up in a show of helplessness as concerns this issue. Over and over what we get is condemnations from Aso Rock of a new episode of mindless killings so much so it appears the media aides to the president simply edit the location of the incidence and the date and issue it. Reminds one of the days when the boko haram attacks was at its peak. These statements are deeply frustrating to say the least and inspire no confidence whatsoever in the citizenry. What is more, despite the ever present promise of ‘leaving no stone unturned’ in bringing perpetrators to book, hardly anyone has really been sent to jail for this nor those behind the scenes writing the cheques that funds the madness.

Read the full article published on Olisa.tv on April 28 2017

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