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Archive for February, 2010

Behind the two hundred Naira note, that’s where you find them…the legendry pyramids of groundnut that once represented Nigeria’s self sufficiency in food production. I write from that city where the pyramids were said to have existed; Kano the biggest of all northern Nigeria cities.

Quick history class;

Kano State became famous for its magnificent groundnut pyramids during Nigeria’s period of agricultural boom in the early 1970s. The pyramids came about because licensed agents would go into the rural areas, buy up groundnut harvests and bring everything to Kano for eventual evacuation, by train, to the export facilities in Lagos.

Since there were more groundnuts than trains to carry them, a warehousing problem soon surfaced, hence the stacking up of groundnut sacks into skyscraping pyramids.

Where did the Pyramids go? Dami my friend asked me online some days ago. Your guess is as good as mine. Here is my guess; they melted away under the heat of our mad rush for oil and along with it every thing that independent Nigeria boasted of, the cotton fields, the cocoa & oil palm plantations, textile industries, good leaders and our collective national sense of dignity.

I feel anger as I type.

It’s been a week every right thinking Nigerian should be angry. A week when we sat back helpless and watched a small group of people led by a shameless queen mother threaten to put a Knife to the slim string that still holds us together as a nation.

But I wouldn’t bore you. My fingers now hurt from typing articles against them. They don’t read you know. I am now set for action. Yes, action. The kind that rings like a telephone in the dead of the night inside their clogged ears. The kind that sends only one meassage; CHANGE!

Back to my weeks story.

I hit Kano from Katsina on Tuesday. Last weekend wasn’t as boring as was now usual. I made a great discovery. Haha…beer, plenty of it was sold in the hotel in Katsina. I couldn’t believe my eyes. Men and women, boys and girls sitting round tables that looked like islands in the open area, quaffing.
Wasn’t the open sale of alcohol prohibited in the state? Weren’t most of these people supposed to be banned by their religion from tasting anything with the OH radical?

Damn. Talking about single a story, that was the night I lost it all. Every bit of it. Shariah is indeed politics. Laws made to witch-hunt the poor and to secure cheap political gains. Honestly, Guinness and Nigeria breweries are is good business up here. Good business.

Round and round Katsina I went. I was at Bindawa LGA. I saw the Yar’adua family House. Was at the palace of the Emir of Katsina for Jumaat . The Suya in Katsina was the best yet. MTN 3G internet was at its worst. I did cyber cafes and jeez what viruses I picked up. Sunday Mass was at St Martin de Porres (amazing name).

There was something very unique about Katsina. The Mosquitoes. They are like house flies. They fly around even in broad day light. They bite like craze. Jeez. As they fly about, so does malaria fly around and yes that’s what my mission in the state was about, Malaria.

A senior nurse at one of the facilities really did take me on. She accused the Government and NGOs of being busy churning out drugs without doing much to control the source of the problem. Not even my talk of the long lasting Insecticides treated Nets (LLINS) would assuage her. She hit the nail on the head. Our Environment is too dirty and that is the reason why no matter how much Global Fund spends on free ACTs, there would always be malaria. I couldn’t agree less.

Now, whose responsibility is it to fix that? Simple answer, you and me.

Arriving Kano was a special experience. Big city as rowdy as Lagos. No pyramids. Traffic madness. Crazy driving. Hot. Yes, hot. That’s the most remarkable thing about Kano. The heat is alive. It is the kind that makes an air conditioner look stupid. The type that makes you wish for haze. The kind that makes me feel sick. Sick and sticky. Thankfully I am already dark in complexion. Can’t get darker than this I hope.

Did I mention that Man Utd trumped West Ham 3-0 within the week? Ok, now you know. Hehehe…there was something to cheer about after all.

Finally, (in a hushed tone), I saw Mohammed Abacha’s face on a poster signifying his intentions to run for Governor of kano state. From me here, no comment. It’s up to Kanawa (Kano people) to say what they make of it through their votes when the time comes.

I leave you with the link to a piece I wrote sometime ago on Nigeria’s rising misery index. Enjoy!

Sylva.

http://234next.com/csp/cms/sites/Next/Opinion/Editorial/5478518-148/The_Rising_Misery_Index.csp

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Sometime last year a short TED Talk video of award winning writer Chimamada Adichie was circulated online. Listening to Adichie speak for me is always a special experience, but this time, it was the salient truth in her talk more than her beautiful use of language that made me fall in love with the video. She spoke on the dangers of a single story pointing out how clinging to a single story of any people has severely compromised our impression of the people. I feel ashamed to note that I am guilty of this just as most of you are.

What am I talking about? For most Nigerians from the South, the North is a no go area because of our single story of the northerners being a group of religious bigots, willing and eager to bring life to an end at the slightest provocation. Perhaps more notorious of the lot is Zamfara state which became popular some years ago for its implementation of shariah. 

I arrived Zamfara on Thursday 11th February with a single story of Zamfara people weighing down on my thought. I had just spent a truly boring week in Kebbi and it seemed a death sentence that I should be spending another (plus the Valentine day weekend) in this “state of religious fanatics”. On Wednesday 17th when I finally left Gusau, I knew in my heart that I had become more Nigerian even if just in my thought.

I met a receptive people. People facing the same challenges as my grand mother in the village deep in Anambra state is facing. People yearning for a better life, for a little more money in their pocket, for a richer plate during dinner. People so welcoming and helpful that you want to begin to doubt their sincerity.

I interact with them. They tell me that shariah was simply politics. I see them sitting around and interacting openly with women. I speak with some Corp Members and they tell me no one molests them as regards their mode of dressing. All the food, akpu, amala tuwo is available in the restaurants. Our Lady of Fatima Catholic Church (where I attended Sunday Mass) sits in the heart of the town, enjoying such generous land space that for a moment I thought I was in the heart of eastern Nigeria. 

The people, from the achaba riders to the young man who cut my hair are funny and sensitive. They feel the pinch of the low and consistently dropping power supply. They hate that they pay more for fuel. They are bitten by mosquitoes. They are concerned about the Super Eagles. They pray to a God. They are Nigerians.

I was at Mardum LGA close to 100km away from Gusau. I saw the newly constructed Maradum Dam. In a way, it felt strange to see such large body of water in the middle of this almost arid environment. In Maradum I met with one Dr. Ekong the Physician in charge of Maradum General Hospital. He’s been there for eight years. Are you as shocked as I was when he told me this? He looks much fulfilled, each day attending to barely literate and senile men and women of a different tongue and creed…people who in our single story do not have a right to such care…people who really need his expertise.

No doubts about it, my Valentine weekend was far from ideal. Well, save for my laptop I was all alone. Alone to my thoughts…alone with a muse that refused to be courted. I stuttered when I tried to write. When I got tired, I arose and took a walk my pocket made heavier with fifty naira worth of dobino (dry Date palm fruits) which continued to disappear into my mouth as the walk lasted.

I was happy however for what I knew would happen the next day. I knew that on Monday 15th, the very first edition of the Sentinel Nigeria online Magazine of contemporary Nigerian Writing would go online. I remember when a few months ago a young man I hardly knew, Richard Ali who had always left a comment in the short stories I published on facebook invited me to join a team he was constituting. I liked the idea and I signed on. We did make it online and are in fact already preparing for our May 15th issue. I feel so proud to have been part of this. I know one day Nigeria will thank us for this…for giving voice to young writers who like me are struggling to overcome all sorts of challenges…for providing a platform to reach and ascend…for starting it all.

Today, I write from a room aptly named “Aguata queen” in the Fadama view Hotel Katsina. Don’t be alarmed, an Anambra man actually owns this modest Hotel in the very heart of Katsina. Deal with that. So there are such names like Onitsha queen, Nnewi Queen..etc. I am pretty sure there is an “Agulu Queen”.  Tiger Woods is reading a very emotional apology on television. He says he thought money and fame was all that mattered. That was his single story. We all have ours. We must let them give way.

From what I have seen of Katsina since I came in on Wednesday I make bold to state that His Excellency Umar Musa Yar’adua…a man I criticize very much right from the less than modest way he got to power, his slow pace and the fact that he is holding us all hostage with his weak heart, left legacies of good governance in Katsina as Governor. I am here and I can see. My single story of him is fast giving way. There is never a single story of any one or any people.

Have a happy weekend people.

Sylva Ifedigbo.

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I was warned. My friend and master wordsmith Richard Ali it was who issued the stern warning laced with a great deal of wit; People Die of Boredom in Brinin Kebbi. I almost died!

Last weekend was the longest I can remember. When you stay alone in a place for an extended period of time, you tend to begin to hold conversation with the wall. It made me begin to marvel all over again at how Nelson Mandela survived confinement for twenty seven years. Accidentally, just yesterday the world celebrated the 20th anniversary of his release. I remember the ‘Free Mandela’ song we usually sang back in Primary school. I don’t know about you, but foe me, I feel I played a role in freeing South Africa from apartheid and that is why I am particularly irked by their xenophobia and District 9-like tendencies.

Sorry I digress. Last weekend was boring but cheering. From my laptop and the epileptic and convulsive MTN internet service I followed the elections in my home state Anambra. A part of me was over there in the state, joining forces with my brothers and sisters to ensure election thieves and criminals do not kidnap our mandate. The high point of it all was when on my return from Mass on Sunday I got the news that has changed politics and electioneering in Nigeria. Peter Obi, the people’s choice had been announced winner. Suddenly that morning, I longed for a bottle of beer. Yes, beer. A very chilled one.

Were you shocked when I said I went to Sunday Mass.? In case you are wondering, I be omo jesu o. I sought out St. Dominic’s Catholic Church Birinin Kebbi where I had the rare privilege of having Mass said in both Hausa and English simultaneously. WOW! I think these are the people living the faith…men, women and youths doing their thing in a predominantly Muslim community. Sincerely more than once while I was inside the Church, I imagined the place suddenly being surrounded by miscreants like I often read about in Jos. It was a relived me that flagged down an achaba back to the hotel.

On Monday morning activities resumed fully. Well not quite morning. In this parts official duties doesn’t resume until at least 11.00am. Did I tell you I had a bike accident on Friday? I don’t know what came upon the achaba rider. All in a flash we were obeying the law of gravity. Well only my knee touched the dusty earth luckily. It took some courage to board the achaba again. I felt adrenalin flowing through my veins, all the while imagining what could have been. Here

I met some very interesting people who are enthusiastic about the Global Fund Malaria Project which will be happening in the state for the first time in Round 8. I was at Gwandu and Maiyama LGAs. As you can be sure, infrastructure is at a laughable low. However, every space on the streets and including the Sign board for the State Secretariat is covered with posters of the Governor who obviously has concluded long ago that he was going to taste the pudding twice. Every where you went you are greeted by the message; NASAMU 2 TERMS with additional billboards erected by a million solidarity groups and political job seekers. I hope the people of Kebbi witnessed (at least through their radio) the exploits of Anambarians on 6th February.

I cant fail to say how elated I was to read that Mr. I-don’t-care, sorry Anakonda sorry I meant Aondoakaa the know it all, almighty attorney General has been sentenced to many mornings of tea drinking and news paper reviews in the largely redundant Ministry of Special Duties. It was about time. I hope Goodluck doest stop there o. In any case I am still wondering, does it mean Mrs. Patience Jonathan by the new arrangement is now also Madam Acting First Lady?

Now two weeks after I am beginning to miss Abuja. I miss AWF readings. I miss being able to buy the days copy of a newspaper not a day after. I am once again sentenced to another long lonely weekend this time in Gusau the Zamfara State capital. Don’t ask me what I saw in the close to four hours journey from Kebbi to Zamfara. I slept through much of it after I got tired of looking at vast empty land areas and donkeys bouncing like they would collapse the next minute.

Now I am wondering….Valentine holed up in Gusau doesn’t have a very good prognosis. Phew! Maybe I should take time off to write a story or something. I don’t know. Any suggestion would do.

Sylva.

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Musing from the seat of the Caliphate.

It’s been six days since I set out on this tour of the North Western states of Nigeria. Today (Friday 5th) I arrived Birinin Kebbi, the capital city of Kebbi state from Sokoto the seat of the Caliphate where I spent five days.

I arrived Sokoto on Sunday 31st January via a Virgin Nigeria flight. The amiable Mrs. Joyce Olagesin who manages me and my colleagues on the same assignment in other zones of the country did well to have gotten me a window seat on the flight. From my seat at the tail end of the plane, I began to take in the change in the geographical scenery…a change so classical that it took my mind off the normal anxiety of flying. The vegetation went from green to brown and finally black. From light to sparse and finally empty. In these parts, desertification is no more a threat, it is a reality.  A reality that became even more apparent after alighting from the flight and through out my stay in the state.

First thing that struck me on landing at the Sultan Abubakar International airport Sokoto was the hot sun overhead. Too bad I didn’t have a Funla cap on. Trust me, I have one now.  And yes, there was quite some drama as we tried to claim our luggage. Nigerians, always abhorring orderliness…rushing and bickering when simple patience would have done it.

After a little search, we finally settled for Sokoto Hotels on Kano Road Sokoto. I wouldn’t know where the hotel falls into in the star ratings. It was however a modest abode which was home for five days. Make that five nights actually, as I was out for most of the day.

For me it was a return. I had visited Sokoto before as an undergraduate. We had come all the way from Nsukka by road, a journey of over 14 hours to attend the National Convention of Veterinary Medical Students. It was great to see those familiar places again…Gingiya hotels, Usman DanFodio University Teaching Hospital, City Campus, and the Sultans Palace. But I was at many new sites, the State Ministry of Health, the state medical stores, the Society for Family health regional office, MDS Logistics stores, The Planned Parenthood Federation of Nigeria (PPFN) office, hospitals and pharmacies.

My assignment took me also to Wurno LGA close to fifty kilometers out of Sokoto.  Give it to this people up here, they have good roads jare. On that trip I saw more Camels and donkeys than cars. In some cases we met camels standing fearlessly right in the middle of the road. Accidentally, His Excellency Governor Aliyu M. Wamakko was scheduled to visit Wurno to commission a project that same day so everywhere was buzzing with activity. The sight of secondary school students lined along the road, under the scorching sun waiting for a man who probably hadn’t left his office in Sokoto was particularly interesting. Reminded me of the days we did same for visiting military leaders some of who never showed up at the end of the day.

In Wurno, I lost MTN service.  I must congratulate ZAIN as they alone had coverage there. Wurno has electricity poles towering over head but has no electricity. The pharmacy store in the General Hospital was fitted with a split unit air conditioner provided by the Government. What an irony…a classical case of our Government perpetual paranoia.  Two ambulances standing on stones unable to overcome their inertia were more evidence of a system that is simply not working.

As I promised, I would keep the findings of my mission out of this discussion. So let’s go back to the side gist.  At Wurno I stood and looked out far and all I could see was vast, dry empty land. It seemed endless like it led to the end of the earth. The Border with Niger Republic couldn’t be too far away I imagined. Guess what, I saw Corp Members there. These were those really serving the country, clad in their shrunken NYSC uniforms, their appearance and demeanour showing evidence of their being cut off from much of civilization.

Our host at Wurno, the Roll Mack Malaria focal person provided us a meal of ram suya and pepper source. I didn’t reject. Thank God my Public Health professor was no where around. I really enjoyed it incase you were wondering. As we left Wurno, I still saw the students standing, waiting for the only symbol of Government that they know of…fast moving siren blaring vehicles with tinted glasses. Only this time the lines were broken, some of them squatting as the waiting continued…waiting and waiting like the rest of the country for dividends of democracy…for light, for good schools, for working hospitals.

Trust me; I didn’t just do paper work. I interacted with the people. I was at a business center, a barbers shop and most importantly a Mai Shayi spot. I speak a fairly good amount of Hausa so language was not a barrier. They (especially the men at the shayi spot) were happy to speak with a visitor. One didn’t have kind words for Mr. President.  He asked me if in Abuja (where I came from) any of the 7 points of the 7 point agenda he keeps hearing on radio had been achieved.

Finally, it was always a special experience hearing the reaction of friends and relations on phone once I mentioned I was in Sokoto. The reaction ranged from shock, disbelief and anxiety….. “Sokoto? Ah…what are you doing there?” I would then explain and then they would end by warning that I should be careful. It told a million tales of the distrust between the North and the South especially as the smokes were still being put out in Jos.

Now I am live in Kebbi. The Governor here is a son in-law to the President. Hmmm….a long weekend ahead. My heart however is in Anambra my home state as the people go out to elect a governor tomorrow 6th February 2010.

Sylva.

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