Archive for December, 2009

This Terrorism Intern

Saturday, 26th December. I was on my way from Abuja to Kaduna for a Boxing Day visit to a couple of friends when I first saw the status report of a facebook friend indicating that a Nigerian had made an attempt at terrorism in the US.

Naturally, my patriotic spirit was stirred. What kind of story is that? I questioned. It sounded stranger than fiction. My instant conclusion was that a citizen of one of these neighbours of ours had done something and was claiming to be Nigerian (as many are known to do).

PHCN had not been generous to me with light earlier that day so I didn’t see the news.

A little later another friend posted the news with a lil more detail and like water from a shower, the news feeds began to roll in. His identity. His Father. The origin of the flight. How he was caught. Etc. Then the jokes also started…”Rookie Bomber”, “ Terrorism intern”, “Osama wannabe”. A friend of mine who works with a print media firm in Lagos was so irritated that a ‘spoilt rich kid’ was cutting short his much deserved break..making a mess of his clearly laid out plan for a free day as he had to jump off to work.

The other details of the incidence is out there, online and in the papers.

My concern however is the extra trouble the young man has caused this country. For a country trying (I have questioned the approach and the sincerity though) to rebrand, this is a big blow. We already have enough of our own troubles. Our green passport has for long been the primary requirement for going through sufficient embarrassment in airports world over. The world (myopically) had branded us a ‘bad’ people either for the notoriety of some of our kinsmen in hard drug peddling, international human trafficking or Internet scams. Now ,Faruk Umar Abdulmutallab had taken it to a whole new height by placing us firmly in the terrorism map.

Now, for every American Kid (and indeed even adults), Nigeria is that Nation of terrorists. A country that sends off 23 year olds on suicide bombing missions. It’s not just American. People world over now share the same feeling. For many who are even geographically illiterate, Nigeria might just be a country in the Middle East…cited somewhere between Yemen and Oman, sitting comfortably in the center of George Bush’s popular “Axis of Terror”.

The consequences of this new negative badge can best be imagined.

Some people have blamed it on his being a spoilt, rich child from wealthy parents. When I was 23, I was struggling to get a degree at UNN. I was grappling with a meager pocket money and plenty final year expenses. I had not been out of the country. Indeed I had not been on a plane. Getting on one to bomb myself and 273 innocent fellow passengers couldn’t have been one of the items on my thought.

I however commend the bomber’s father Dr Umar Mutallab who noticing the radicalization of his boy promptly alerted the US security agencies. What they did with the intelligence information is not clear but obviously they didn’t take the boy seriously until he almost performed the feat. Not many parents would do what this man did and while his son’s action has brought shame and ridicule to his name, I think he is a hero.

By and by, I feel sad. Sad for my country men. Sad for elements that brain wash kids and radicalize them. Sad that some people can conceive and execute such wickedness in the name of God. Sad that this particular dude is a Nigerian. Sad that we shall all share in the repercussions for this foolish act.

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It Tastes like the Booker

I went into the Taraba Hall of the International Conference Center Abuja, venue of the 2nd Abuja literary Festival not sure of what to expect. I had my buddie Charles and Princess Ify in tow. Instinctively, i took a seat on the back rows of the hall. That way I would maintain an anonymous presence while enjoying the various items on the programme. I am a shy introvert you know…who prefers to do the talking on paper with ink. Needless to mention that I was sure I wasn’t going to win the Short Story Category in which I had been shortlisted. I had told my self repeatedly that I would be glad to leave with an honorary mention, but Charles wouldn’t take it. He was confident I would win. Soon we were joined by two other friends, Stanley Achonu and Darlington Uzoigwe. While the event went on, we shared out the pages of The Saturday Newspaper Stanley had come along with and kept giggling among ourselves.

Soon the award presentation started. I had been called up earlier in the day by Ayo Arigbabu (Publisher of DADA Books) who is a friend to represent the firm at the occasion and pick up on his be half any award any of the books he entered might win. DADA Books titles picked up Five awards in five various categories. I had the honour of shaking hands and smiling to the camera as I proudly walked the aisle to collect the award on behalf of the publisher.

When my category was to be announced, my heart beat increased in threshold. The “Breath in and out” trick for calming down didn’t do it. At that moment I found out I badly wanted to win this…that so much depended on my winning it. The world around me went silent and all I could hear was the lead Judges voice.
“The winner is… On the Hot Seat by Sylva Nze Ifedigbo”

I sprang to my feet, pumped Charles’s hands and walked the aisle for the 6th time. This time slowly. Shoulders high. Proud. The resounding applause filling my head. My eyes welling up with tears. The MC did well to announce that this time I was not representing any one. That this was my one prize. I thought I heard the applause increase in wavelength.

The handshake from the lead Judge felt different. The next one from the representative of the Minister of Information who handed the Prize Certificate to me felt even more special. I turned to the blinding flashes of cameras. At the moment I was the cynosure of all eyes. I was the star.

Thank you to everyone who contributed in making it happen. This prize sure tastes like the Booker to me and I cherish it a great deal.

Sylva Nze Ifedigbo

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A Step towards my dreams

On  Tuesday 15th December I got notice from the organizers of the 2nd Abuja literary festival indicating that my short story entry “On the Hot seat” has made the short list for the prize for short Story.  The award will be announced on Saturday 19th Dec 2009.

Expectedly I was excited. My excitement were for many reasons, among which is the fact that honestly I think I need the prize money to make this festivities feel better and of course the push the award will give me psychologically to enter the new year with greater steam. It would be a sweet climax to a year that has been (to use the words of Mrs. Obasanjo in her autobiography) “Bitter- Sweet”.

But there are five of us and there could only be one winner and two consolation prizes to the 2nd and 3rd. I looked at the list and my heart sank. I am the youngest of the bunch I think.  I searched my Laptop for the story which I had not reread since I sent in the entry and I am like Gosh…..may be I could have done better…is this good enough to win?…No need to get my hopes high and then get it crashed on the day.

On a second thought, I find many other reasons to be happy whether or not I win. I had entered for the maiden edition of the competition last year and I didn’t make the short list. Now a year after, mine is one of the five stories the Judges felt is worthy of the award. Personally it means to me that my writing is improving and I am getting better in my craft.

It’s a long journey to Success and stardom….did I mention I aim to win The Booker…if nothing else, this is a first step, a step towards my Booker…a step I should be proud of.

I thank all those who have played a role in making me a better writer. I know I am the blue print of what is to come and I shall not take my eyes off the road…not even for a second.

Sylva Nze Ifedigbo

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Cheques and Churches

A friend of mine told me of his recent experience in one of the more popular hip and happening Churches in Abuja. Members had been told to come to Church with their Cheque books for some kind of special prayers. On the appointed date, there was hardly any spare sitting space in the church as Church member had turned up along with some other friends who they had shared the news with. The thinking of all was that the Man of God would pray and bless the Cheques and symbolically this would translate into better cash flows and successes in business, much like blessing a biro before an exam.

My friend was himself ecstatic. He is part of the management of an ICT firm in Abuja. Coincidentally, his CEO is also a member of the church. The CEO who wasn’t going to make it caused the company accountant to hand over all company cheques to my friend to take along to the special prayer including that of the CEO. So effectively, my friend had about nine bulky cheque books with him ready to be blessed for increased earnings.

That day, the sermon took longer than usual. The topic centered on generosity. Why brethren should be generous. Why brethren should sow seeds. Why brethren should bless the Lord (through his servant the Man of God) with gifts and all that. Those were stories the congregation had heard before. They all itched for the cheque blessing part, the reason why most of them showed up.

When it finally came, my friend said it was over in less than two minutes. Very simply, the Man of God told every body to raise their booklets in their hands and in prayer he asked God to bless this cheques bla bla bla and that was it. Like some kind of insignificant thing. My friend said the brevity and shallowness of the prayer deflated the enthusiasm he had come with and indeed that of most people in the congregation.

Then came the big one, the main act actually by the Pastors scripts. The Church was carrying out X Y Z projects and was requesting for financial assistance. The appeal was laced in these lines, “No need to pledge. We know your cheque books are here, just write us a cheque. God will bless you abundantly”. My friend said he had never felt more irritated and while those who the joke was on started scribbling down and tearing out cheque slips, he gathered the booklets he had on him and found the closest exit from the Church.

Beyond the laughter we shared while he narrated this story, an irritation was also steered up in me, one which has given me the temerity to steer the hornets nest today by challenging these money mongering, superstar men of God who have become demigods and saviours to many hapless people in this country.

I have once asked if churches paid tax to the Federal Inland Revenue. If they don’t, they ought to because they are very potent money spinning institutions and such windfalls should not go untaxed. In fact, Churches should be made to declare their accounts at the end of the year. So lucrative has this business become that a banker friend of mine told me once of the many loan requests they receive accompanied with Ivy League standard business plans by persons who want to set up Churches.

It is important I make it clear ab initio that I am not against the practice of any religion in any form the practitioners deem fit. But when the practice involves the organized, systematically executed and continuous reap off of a religiously gullible people in a population where 50% of the people according to the UNDP are poor, then it raises a deep moral question. One that right thinking people must begin to talk about and challenge.

In agreement to Karl Marx’s opinion of Religion being the opium of the Masses, Nigerians have under the pressures of a failing economy and a directionless leadership ran to the Churches for succour. The Penticostal outpouring of the early eighties and Nineties seems just apt for a people who were trying to hold unto something to sustain their hopes and belief in life. That religious revival however gave rise to a new set of Chief Executives going by various names such as general overseer, supreme shepherd, founding bishop and the like.

These individuals who driven either by a foresight of the boom that lay ahead had set up their own churches suddenly turned into kingpins as their congregations transformed from mushroom gatherings into business empires and very large conglomerates. Gradually but steadily, a new class of bourgeoisie emerged, this time around in the vineyard of God and thus unquestionably divine.

We watched as the focus shifted from an intercession to save our nation from final collapse to a grandiose scramble for the same old ‘root of all evils’, money. Pastors who had tasted the pleasures and comfort of the elite class by virtue of their headship of various churches and the unhindered assess it gave them to the common wealth of their congregation sustained their position by spreading a new gospel of prosperity, devising new methods of expanding their followership and squeezing out more money from them.

We have today therefore, mega rich, celebrity, Super star, stage con-artists parading in the name of Men of God. They move in long convoys. They establish Universities and colleges which most of their members can not afford to send their kids to. They dress in cloths bought off boutiques were Hollywood celebrities shop. They speak with cultivated accents. They own conglomerates. They cruise round the world. Only recently while the nation and indeed the world moaned under the weight of the Global Melt down with many losing their jobs and Government cutting down on spending, one of them chose it as the best time to announce the purchase of his personal jet bought at an amount that could make a dead man shiver in the grave.

Now, like I have once asked, would we be right in always attacking our civil leaders of corruption and deception when our religious leaders are as good? Would it be wise for us to continue to fall prey to these self-serving individuals who claim to be speaking for the Supreme Being when clearly it is evident that they are just toying with our sensibilities for their personal benefits?

The Cheque in Church episode is nothing but a big scam and should be rightly described as that. So also their many other tactics and gimmicks through which they get us to part with some more money. We can not continue to treat them all like sacred cows just because the Bible said we should not ‘touch’ an ‘anointed’. The ‘anointing’ has surely become an all comers affairs so it behooves on us to unmask them. Like it is said in pidgin English, our mumu don do.

Sylva Ifedigbo

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Coming home this Christmas?

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The Christmas trees are being lit. The red and green garlands and beginning to appear at the entrance of buildings. Phones are now blaring melodious carol when they ring. And yes, even the harmattan is here. We are all winding up activities in preparation for that all important annual festival, the worlds most celebrated; Christmas.

The question really is. Would you be going home this Christmas?

Christmas comes with its peculiar ritual. We make that our once in a year trip home from the ends of the earth. The things that drag us home are usually both diverse and sometimes absurd. They range from House warming, marriages, Family meetings, match making or very simply to show off what the Lord has “blessed” us with in the last year. This year however, we likely might not be seeing that mass exodus?
One new phenomenon is responsible for my hypothesis; Hostage taking.

Now, that’s one phenomenon that would go down as the most outstanding for the year 2009. From a once in a while exploit of criminal minded youths who were having a tough time differentiating between militancy and criminality, it has grown to become a million dollar spinning business, one that we collectively as a nation have failed to find an answer for.

It has now assumed a very domestic form with brothers arranging to pick up brothers or an Uncle or their children especially those that live and work outside home, with the aim of squeezing out some extra cash which they wouldn’t ordinarily part with on request. Only last week, I watched the police in Enugu parade a gang that kidnapped an octogenarian. The leader of the gang (who as is with most police stories was still at large) is a step son of the granny and had whisked her away with the aim of squeezing out juicy amounts from his step brother who he claimed was rather stingy. A while ago I read of a young man who had kidnapped another old lady because her son who he served in Lagos refused to settle him.

With Hostage taking becoming the option for settling domestic disputes and for getting rather stingy relatives to part with some of their hard earned wealth, it becomes a major concern and indeed a threat to all those who usually flock back home by this time of the year. Already it is changing the way we do things.

A cousin of mine recently decided to make his Traditional marriage ceremony a quiet one (just an indoor interaction between the bride and grooms family) because of the fear that hostage takers were sure to come around as soon as you set up canopies and got a record man to play sunny Bobo or Rex Lawson in large loud speakers as is normal of us.

Perhaps an added concern for those from Anambra state is the heightened political tension in the state due to the Campaigns for Gubernatorial elections. Guess there is no need reiterating here what that means to the state of security in the state especially with the many money bags the state has been ‘blessed’ with funding and equipping thugs to protect their interests.

With all these and more in mind, you might really wish to ask yourself again if you will be home for Christmas this year. Though it is said that the fact that people die in war has not stopped countries from going to war, you might really wish to look again to see if you are generous enough to give out a million naira to a group of boys who chanced upon your lovely daughter or your aged mother.

Sylva Nze Ifedigbo

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This oil drought in Abuja

Abuja at the moment is experiencing the worst form of fuel scarcity, the worst I have seen in recent time.

The streets are now so free. Most of the cars are at the filling stations. Routes along major filling stations have now been blocked off by cars waiting and waiting to buy fuel. The crowd at the bus stops is unbelievable. People scramble and elbow their way to seats on the few cars that still manage to be on the road. The transport fare has expectedly shot up. That should be expected when a liter of fuel is going for as much as N300 (as against the official N65) in the black market.

Yesterday, a cab to the Nnamdi Azikiwe Airport charged me N4000.00. The normal cost is usually between N2000 and N2500.00. The driver told me a tale fit for a best selling novel, of how he had spent a full twenty four hours at the NNPC Mega filling station before he could fill his tank, of how his wife had continued to call him perhaps scared that he might have spent the night in another women’s bosom, of how some smart women have quickly raised up makeshift restaurants around the filling stations to provide food for the drivers who now have an abode there.

The only bright side to the whole situation is that the normal traffic on the roads leading to the city center has disappeared. Yesterday I got home at 6.00pm which is a miracle by all purpose. Well that was because I was lucky to get a car. For many, despite the fact that the roads are free, they got home late at night as there were no vehicles to convey them.

This morning I got to work by sheer dexterity. I wouldn’t bother you with the graphic details of my martial act skills that helped me secure a standing space on the big mass commuter buses which luckily are still on the road. In the bus, I over heard many civil servants complain bitterly. Many can not make it to work. Many have sworn not to bother if by tomorrow the anomaly has not been rectified. Many just hiss and curse.

As usual, there is really no explanation for what is happening. I listened to the NNPC Spokesman (the one who used to anchor a late night talk show on NTA a while ago) do what he seems now so good at doing; differentiating between six and half a dozen. It’s been his burden to convince Nigerians (through word of mouth) that deregulation is the best option and now he struggles to tell us why there is a drought of fuel in Abuja. Listening to him, I got no answers. He blamed tanker drivers. Tanker drivers on the other hand blame the NNPC.

While all this happens, our President cools off in the ICU of a Jeddah hospital, adamant to resign, adamant to hand over to his vice. So we sit back and watch this ship without a captain sail in troubled weather to a destination that is nothing but doom.

Did I hear you ask about the FCT minister? Hahaha. I don’t think there is one. The person pretending to be one currently is as good as his principal. Species off the cuisine list of a sea food restaurant. Slow. So slow, he wished the FCT residents to be as slow by fitting all junctions with annoying speed breaks. I doubt if he is aware that there is a scarcity. If he is, I don’t see him giving a damn.

The situation forms the core of every discussion in Abuja right now. I was at the canteen for lunch and I heard someone say (with a measure of authority) that the deregulation has commenced. I think again between morsels of eba and egusi soup if the man really isn’t talking sense. Well, the NNPC people would not agree with him but I guess that’s the only truth about the situation. It’s all about deregulation. We have deregulated everything, from our elections to our sense of responsibility. Now, we have also deregulated truth.

I really wish Nigeria had oil.

Sylva Nze Ifedigbo

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