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dear-alaereEriye Onagoruwa’s debut novel, Dear Alaere tells the story of Alaere Benson and her struggle to navigate challenges in both her family and work life. On the one hand, she meekly accepts responsibility for her husband’s oligospermia which is largely responsible for their childlessness, while onn the other hand, her efforts to build a career in the corporate world is threatened by varying degrees of workplace shenanigans replete with situations that border on toxicity and even diabolic acts .

Alaere, the main character narrates this story in the first-person through a series of diary entries, chronicling her experiences, pains, and wishes in sometimes witty but thoughtful posts. The space between her life at work and the situation at home is filled by Alhaji Wasiu, her rather talkative, driver who unlike Alaere enjoyed high fecundity, but with no male child to show for it. A situation he laments about on end and takes sometimes ridiculous actions to change.

Alaere’s world manages not to fall apart because of the love she and her husband ‘Laja share and her dedication to doing the right things at work despite the issues.

Set in Lagos, Eriye through this novel contributes to the important conversation around reproductive health in marriage and how the wives are often stigmatized even when the man’s condition is responsible for their childlessness. Many, like Alaere, endure the ignominy while keeping the truth to themselves in order to protect their husband’s pride. Others like Iya Segi in Lola Soneyin’s The Secret Lives of Baba Segi’s Wives find other means of getting pregnant which ensures that they secure their own happiness, while covering their husband’s shame.

The other major theme is around the intricacies of corporate environments. Eriye captures the hypocrisy, rivalry, scheming, harassments, gossip, and even mysticism at Criole, painting a picture many readers will find familiar. Those who have experienced or are active players in such circumstances will agree that it could be quite exhilarating and downright dangerous. Little wonder the binding and casting of enemies ‘at your place of work’, is a popular prayer point for many Nigerian men of God.

With these two broad themes, Dear Alaere packs a punch, but it really never lands it. The story doesn’t manage to rise to its potential nor convey the emotion that should make the reader feel, if not a part of Alaere’s story, at least, some sympathy for her. The novel does not quite hit the mark in the narration which could have been aa lot more engaging, the development of the characters who remain largely one dimensional, the exploration of the themes which does not go deeper than the superficial and the expansion of the plot which is rather bland and predictable, culminating in a nollywoodesque ending.

Read the full review here in the Lagos Review

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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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abu-aliThe Nigerian Army has been engaged in serious operations against the Boko Haram insurgents for almost a decade. The destruction to lives and property has been unquantifiable but very little is still known about the war itself. Nigerians know more about the War against ISIS or the even the shenanigans of the dictator in North Korea than they know of the war being fought for so long in their own country. The very little information that trickle in, come as reports from international organisations like the Human Right Watch while for the most part the rest is stepped in propaganda and falsehood with the army itself being known to have at various times, issued information that was later found to be false.

The consequence of the dearth of information about the war is that there has not been any detailed human angle to it. So we hear of communities wiped out and statistics of the number killed and that is all. We hear of soldiers ambushed and missing and afterwards of ‘sizable numbers’ being found. Hardly any names attached to victims, who they are and what their stories are. But for the celebrated Chibok Girls, not much is known about human victims of this war and ironically, because they are the only one whose case have been so publicized it sometime begins to sound like they are the only set of girls and women who have been victims of the war.

Equally, we know very little of the heroes of this war. The gallant officers who are daily paying the price so that the rest of us can live, do our businesses and sleep peacefully at night in this country. On several occasions I have written on this column, how shameful it was that we report the news about our military casualties just as figures, sometimes even grossly underreported just to perhaps save some top dogs some embarrassment. Nigerian soldiers fighting this war are buried un-acknowledged and uncelebrated. We do not even know their names. It is like they never existed.

I have argued that this is an opportunity being missed by the army. Wars are won on many front and one of the fronts is being able to control the narrative and inspire your people to support the war efforts. Being able to document and tell the stories of your war heroes both alive and dead instills bride in the army itself and fires up the spirit of patriotism in the people and a knowledge among a huge section of the populace that indeed if they die serving their fatherland in the army, they will be celebrated and their efforts would not have been in vain.

It is thus cheering, on a very sad note though, that finally, one such gallant officer and hero of the war is being celebrated. Prior to November 4, 2016, the name Lt Colonel Muhammad Abu Ali aka Slim rang no bells and very few Nigerians outside of his army colleagues knew about him or his exploits. For those who are yet to read about him, a brief introduction will suffice. He was the commanding officer of the 272 Task Force Tank Battalion who became popular among his peers for his heroics in the battle field, killing boko haram insurgents which earned him an accelerated promotion to the rank of Lt Colonel in the army. He was killed during an ambush on 4th November while he was preparing for another raid on Sambisa.

It is painful that we only got to know about Abu Ali in death. It is sad that we can now only celebrate in past tense this unique officer who has been described by his peers as uncommon leader, a patriotic Nigerian and a fine gentleman. When he was given accelerated promotion for his heroics especially during the recapture of Baga, why did we know hear of it, why did the army not celebrate him and let Nigerians know of his story. This is such a huge missed opportunity. It was not enough to have added a new rank on his shoulders, he should have been sold as the face of the army, a live evidence of the heroic army which has been so battered by poor press for being cowardly in the face of battle.

Though he is getting the commendations he deserves in death, he would, I am sure have been happier to see a nation appreciate him while alive. Now, one hopes that beyond the praises, the Nigerian government will do what is necessary to immortalize him and importantly, take care of the very young family he left behind.

But there are many more Abu Ali’s in the Nigerian Army alive today. There are many more officers and soldiers who have shown extraordinary courage, innovation and leadership in the battle front who we should now begin to celebrate and whose stories should be told. One of our problems as a nation today is that we lack role models to look up to. The lot of our past leaders have very little for anyone to admire. There are too few stories to inspire the next generation and instill in them a sense of national pride and patriotism. We need to talk more about the best among us, those who are doing the kind of things that is worthy of celebration in every field of endeavor. The heroes of the war on terrorism presents very good characters for this tale and Abu Ali is a good first chapter.

@nzesylva

First published here on Nov 10, 2016

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We love to party in Nigeria. This national culture runs true regardless of social class. We close up streets and set out canopies populated with plastic chairs and tables. We sew uniforms, complete with caps and hifalutin headgears, and endure all kinds of discomfort to honour invitations to come and chop. In the clubs, we turn Champagne into water, so much so we are said to be the world’s second highest consumers, inching close to dethroning the French. Everything has to be elaborate, from naming ceremonies to weddings and even funerals. It has to be loud. It has to be lavish. It is as if we are in a competition with everyone else for the gold medal on whose party was the best within a period.

We are so consumed by this love for ‘owambe’ that sometimes it appears to be a form of a compulsive disorder. Last year I remember a patient who just had a baby in one of the wards in LUTH and was being kept because in addition to her baby having jaundice, her blood pressure was elevated and she needed to be monitored for a few more days. This lady was, however, more interested in being home for the naming ceremony so much that she was constituting quite a nuisance. It was as though if she did not go for the naming ceremony, the world will end. If strong advice by doctors on a life threatening issue were not enough to make this lady see reasons, one wonders what else can. There are very few scenarios that will beat this in the show of ignorance.

I can liken the lady’s story to the ongoing craze where states in Nigeria are falling over each other on who will throw the biggest party to celebrate their anniversary. There are certain things that take place in this country that are so stupid that you feel commenting on it makes you also stupid. This is one. Just when you think the state governors have done the very worst thing possible, they come up with something new to take it to a whole new level. The last time they (APC governors in that instance) took themselves to Germany supposedly on a training trip – an excuse for a summer holiday and shopping spree, on tax payer’s money. There seems to be no limit to the ability of public officials in Nigeria to shock.

There seems to be no limit to the ability of public officials in Nigeria to shock.

An Igbo saying goes that you do not need to tell the deaf that war has started. One ordinarily expects that nobody will appreciate the dire financial stress we are in as a country than the state governors, whose monthly trips to Abuja, cap in hand, to share money, has been producing dwindling returns. As a result, not a few, have raised their hands in dramatic declaration of defeat that they can no longer meet their monthly wage bills and capital projects have as we say “entered voice mail”. Indeed one can count on the fingers of one hand the states that are still working. If these states were businesses, Majority would have declared bankruptcy by now. A few have even reduced their work days, to allow helpless workers go fend for themselves and their families. There has already been two rounds of bailouts by the Federal Government yet many of the states are still hanging on the precipice, not to mention that many of them are so deep in debt that generation yet unborn will inherit.

It is thus shocking when the leaders of these states, even the worst hit of them, still turn out and declare senseless parties with the little they have. Clearly, these deaf people need a megaphone to remind them that the war is just about consuming them. As if it is not enough that they have not bothered, in the face of the crises, to cut down on their flamboyant lifestyles and over bloated cabinets, their Excellencies have caught the new bug of lavishing scarce resources on state anniversary celebrations as though they were some revenue generating enterprise.

The latest of the lot is the state of Osun which is debt-ravaged and last month received zero allocation from the Federation Account after statutory deductions of its debts. The state’s leadership apparently were not too bothered about this and were more interested in marking its 25th anniversary in grand style. How does one rationalise such show of shame? How do these guys, who are owing many months of salaries, who have sunk the state in debt, who cannot even get the free money from Abuja, sit around in their cabinet meetings and decide on such things? It is just hard for me to understand. Any explanation that can rationalise the expense on such celebration is welcome.

If Osun does not celebrate its anniversary, will the sky fall? On the other hand, could that money have been applied more profitably towards the welfare of the people of Osun? The answer does not require rocket science to decipher. This is one wastage and misplacement of priority too many. Their Excellencies should please note that toying with sensibilities of the ever patient citizens and getting away with it has its limits. At some point, the people will let them know they have had enough. We already have an example.

Last week it was reported that Governor Bello of Kogi was stoned in Lokoja during a Jumaat service to mark Kogi at 25. Let all those other states who are nursing the intention of throwing similar parties please note. When you are in a hole you seek for ways out and digging deeper is not one of them.

@nzesylva

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Rio teamThe Rio Olympics has ended and it’s no more news that it was a shambolic and truly embarrassing outing for Nigeria. I hate to say I told you so, but I had written in an article published in this column about a month to the games that it would be a spectacular failure. But there was hardly anything prophetic about my prediction. The signs were everywhere for everyone to see. A popular adage posits that if you fail to prepare, you should prepare to fail. And fail we did. In every aspect. Even the lone medal, a bronze in the football men’s event, was won from the sheer will and determination of the coaches and players. We remember how the team only managed to reach Brazil few hours to the kickoff of their first match against Japan.

That is why it is laughable when the sports minister, Solomon Dalong, who had promised at least 10 medals prior to the games, blames the failure at Rio on the past administration. There could be no better case of burying one’s head in the sand. Perhaps the last administration was also responsible for the ceremonial wears of the team as well as their kits not making it to Rio, arriving only 3 days to the end of the summer games. Little wonder Don Wilder famously said; “Excuses are the nails used to build a house of failure.” Many are still waiting to see if the minister keeps his job after what was an embarrassing outing, but then you want to ask, which ministry really is currently delivering the goods?

Rather than the empty excuses and sharing of blames, one will expect that we will return from Rio with a basket full of lessons learnt on how not to make it at the Olympics. One will expect that sports administrators will take responsibility for the woeful outing, apologise to the country and then resolve to do what was necessary to ensure Tokyo in four years’ time is an entirely different experience for both the athletes and the country.

These things are not rocket science. If we cannot take a man to space, we should at least be able to make our mark on the global stage via sports. We know that the talents are not in short supply. This is the largest black nation on the planet. We have the population to draw from and experience has shown that Nigerians excel very brilliantly when they are given the opportunity and needed support. We must realise that winning medals at the Olympics does not come by mere wishful thinking or prayers. It is not also something you hold few weeks camping for, no matter how gifted an athlete you are. Countries who left Rio with their kitty full of medals prepared for at least four years for it. Indeed countries like the US and China have a long drawn out plan of action for these games such that they seemingly effortlessly trounce their opponents when the games finally arrive.

It is not magic. If we want to excel in Tokyo, we must begin now. There has to be a ‘method’ to the ‘madness’. First, we must identify the sports we want to compete in — especially those we have a comparative advantage in. The traditional areas of strength; Sprint, football, weight lifting, and boxing aside, we need to raise athletes that can compete for medals in other sports which we have simply ignored over the years. Someone said there was no reason why we had no contestants in Swimming, archery and shooting sports. It took a decision and personal effort of our US based lone rower Chierika Ukogu for us to participate in that sports when our people have been paddling canoes and rowing for ages.

The Federations of such identified sports must now rise up to the occasion. One wonders how people feel comfortable to occupy seats in federations that cannot even produce a single athlete for the Olympic Games. The Federations under the guidance of the Sports ministry must now draw up four year plans towards Tokyo 2020 and this should include building capacity of known talents, identifying new talents, engagement of coaches, planning of training tours, acquisition of modern training equipment and knowledge, exposing the athletes to international competitions, proper budgetary planning and clear strategies for raising funds outside of government’s purse through corporate sponsorships.

These are not things to be mouthed off for the camera like the sports ministers declaringrio to journalists recently that preparations for Tokyo have begun. It requires clear-cut strategies, a team of people capable of critical reasoning and execution, a commitment by government to keep its part of the bargain and pack of athletes who are fired up to see their nation’s flag raised and their anthem played in Tokyo.

If we are a serious people we will realise that beyond the medals and national pride, there is a lot of benefit to be reaped from sports. Nothing unites our people like it and indeed nothing better harnesses the strength, skills and creative abilities of our youths. It is thus an opportunity begging to be exploited both by the government and the public sector. But no private body will put their money into a sector where government has not created an enabling environment, where there is simply no order.

The tunes being sang now are familiar, we’ve heard them before. We heard them after London in 2012. We will still hear them again in 2020 after Tokyo if we don’t get off our behinds and begin to do what is necessary to give us a different result.

On a final note, I believe congratulations are in order to the U23 football team for doing us proud. Nigerians salute you.

@nzesylva

First published here on 23 August 2016

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We are all quite familiar with the ‘Wailing Wailers’ title, the early-in-the-day indication by Aso Rock’s chief mouth piece (and indeed there are quite a number of them) that this government will not only be dismissive but also quite intolerant of criticisms and dissenting voices. If the government has been complicit in this regard, their supporters who seem like infestations on every public space, — from vendor stands to twittersphere — are not only dismissive and intolerant, they are also very willing to criminalise any thought, opinion or idea contrary to those of their sworn messiah president, no matter how sensible.

We’re citizens, not subjects. We have the right to criticise government without fear.

Nigeria operates, at least as at the time of my writing this, a constitutional democracy where power is at all times drawn from and limited by the Constitution. It is, or ought to be, a government that is subject to accountability, responsiveness and openness and where each citizen regardless of their creed, tongue or voting preferences, has the right — and duty — to participate in shaping everyday decisions of the government. This right, for the avoidance of doubt, is enshrined in the rights to freedom of opinion and expression and flows through such other laws as the Freedom of Information Act.

What this means in simple English is that all Nigerians are free to (and are called to) criticise the government — especially when they fail to respond in an open and accountable manner to the trust placed in them by the electorate or are railroading us all into some very unpleasant economic recession by both their slow action and in action. There is a bright distinction which has to be made, and loudly too, between citizens, who have rights and privileges protected by the state, and subjects, who are under the complete control and authority of the state.

Being critical of government does not make me an opposition or a rebel.

Saying my piece against a particular decision of my elected leadership does not make me unpatriotic. So many people, young and old, exhibiting their little mindedness are quick to relegate every opinion seemingly judged to be against those of the government which they support as being unpatriotic. Nothing could be more ignorant.  If patriotism, as all literature on the matter suggests, means being true to the principles for which one’s country is supposed to stand, then certainly the right to dissent is one of those principles and thus a patriotic act.

As a Nigerian citizen my loyalty is not to the government but to the constitution. It is a very common mistake to think that patriotism means support for or obedience to your government. We the people are the government. The machinery of state, is created by us (through the constitution which we gave ourselves) for reasons such as enforcing rights, laws and ensuring even the weakest of us is protected through sound economic policies and welfare packages. At any point when the elected symbols of government begin to go contrary to these responsibilities, even if it is in my own very minority opinion and I speak out, I am not being unpatriotic. I am being a good Nigerian. It doesn’t mean I cannot still support same government on another issue.

I have found it necessary to make this the crux of my weeks’ intervention because the level of intolerance for contrary opinion both among private citizens and between citizens and the government is really reaching alarming levels. We are daily putting blades to the things that hold us together, amplifying our fault lines and digging deep into our stubborn positions, which is cast in steel. There is an increasing fear to speak out against government either out of fear that ‘your file will be opened’ and they will come for you or  because you will be alienated by friends. Some people on social media for example are quick to block or delete anyone who challenges their opinions and they boast about it. The space for discourse, for engagement, for birthing new ideas which these platform ought to expand, continues to shrink.

And while we are at it, our light is going out. Our unity (or whatever is left of it) is dying. The economy is in a mess. A recession is now certain and a depression speculated. Jobs are being lost. Everything seems to be at a standstill. Nothing happens without the President’s nod. We snail on. Ministers can’t take initiative, except when it comes to speaking carelessly. The poverty is palpable. But it’s not just the economy, our liberty is also being lost. Before long we will lament the days long past when we could freely celebrate our independence as citizens. Yet we are in a democracy. Not a dictatorship.

I don’t have the count but it can be argued that in the last year, the Nigerian army alone has killed more unarmed Nigerians than violent crimes by Boko Haram, Fulani herd’s men and armed robbers put together. And there is a grand effort to cover it all up. When independent international agencies raise questions, our army brushes it aside. The Presidency doesn’t even find it important enough to be mentioned.  The citizens are muzzled. This should not be so.

We have a duty to turn the government inside out. Shake it up. Scream and shout. Demand answers. President Buhari and his cabinet, the governors, legislators, the armed forces , the police, all the way down to your councillors, are accountable to the public. They must be able to explain and justify their decisions and actions, respond to and be accessible to the people and conduct the business of governance in an open and transparent manner. They can only do this when we ask and insist and this is a responsibility we all shoulder.

@nzesylva

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mobPerhaps the most disturbing story to make the headlines in this Federal Republic of Absurdities we call home last week, was the murder in Kano, by a mob of religious fanatics, of Citizen Bridget Agbahime. Her crime, alleged blasphemy. Kano, the ancient city has a long history of hosting similar lynchings by persons who accord to themselves, the power to determine what constitutes (or does not constitute) blasphemy, persons who feel their God is too weak they have to fight on its behalf and who are quick to pronounce themselves judge, jury and executioners, in defense of a God they are clearly ignorant about.

That this should still be happening in 2016 is deeply worrying. But even more worrying is the conspiracy of silence among elite Muslim leaders in condemning said act openly and sternly  (not the halfhearted mumbles by a hand few that we saw)  and that there exist even among my generation, persons who are bold enough to advertise their little mindedness by justifying such heinous acts  in the name of religion. The President thankfully acknowledged this sad event and issued a statement condemning it. The President’s message, unfortunately, showcased the very reason why we are where we are on this matter. You cannot condemn a crime on one hand then, in the same breath, warn people to respect each other’s faith.  In case the President’s minders did not notice, that statement amounted to pronouncing the dead guilty for causing her own death. It is like justifying the action of the mob. It is unacceptable.

No one has a right to take life under whatever guise!

But we live in a theatre of absurdities so anything goes. Take for instance the laughable statement from the Minister of Labour and Productivity, Dr Chris Ngige, ordering banks to suspend the retrenchment of staff. It is so funny it is nauseating. Who told him he could even do that? The first question is to ask why are banks sacking en mass? The simplest answer is that it is a direct consequence of the state of the economy and as profit-oriented organisations, the banks shed weight when their wage bill begin to threaten their margins. Is it not then laughable that the federal government who should ordinarily take responsibility for the state of the economy is telling the banks not to downsize? One wonders, if the government will give the banks the money to pay the staff?

That directive also has implications for investor confidence and that is why as painful as it is that people are losing their jobs, it should not be allowed to stand. There is a clear limit to what controls the state has on private businesses or at least, there ought to be. World over, over regulation is already a major complaint of business leaders and a key determinant on where they move their business. To add the possibilities of governments being able to order when businesses can hire and fire has just one consequence….we lose out in the investment race and continue to have our economy bleed, endlessly.

Dr Ngige and the rest of President Buhari’s team should get on with the job of fixing the economy already.

This brings me to the classic reaction of the Minister of Transportation Mr Rotimi Amaechi on the issue of Foreign Airlines closing down their Nigeria operations. The minister, who either cannot just be bothered or is simply so ignorant he doesn’t appreciate the consequences of the trend, told journalists in the most pedestrian of tones; “When they were not here, were we not flying?” So essentially, they (foreign airlines) can all go to hell if they so like. No acknowledging the issues making them leave. No thinking around a solution to it. Just gra gra and careless talk.

Unfortunately, gra gra does not have a place in the global marketplace.

And as if the absurdities were not already enough for a week, we were treated to the Mr President is ‘fit as a fiddle’ drama. The President’s mouthpiece, Femi Adesina in his accustomed defence of his boss (because he thinks his job is to make the President look good), went as far as saying the report that the President was ill, broken by an online news media, was the figment of the reporter’s imaginations. Same old cliché. Same old needless drama. It’s a wonder how the man felt when less than twenty four hours later, he was the same person issuing a statement that acknowledged the President was indeed indisposed and needed medical attention abroad.

Is the president not human? Can he not fall sick? So why try to hide it?

We do not know shame. That is the very foundation of our problem as a people. And given the situation, we are all condemned to wallowing in this circus of absurdities without even knowing it, until perhaps the end comes or we are all consumed one by one, by the system we’ve all failed to change.

@nzesylva

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pmbIf the town crier, as we know him in the traditional African village setting, speaks the mind of the king, then the words that have been coming forth from the mouth of various aides to President Muhammadu Buhari in recent time, presents a genuine reason for worry.

At a time when Nigerians are experiencing the worst forms of power and energy shortages as have been seen in recent history, which coincidentally is about the anniversary of the election of the current administration, one would have expected that anyone speaking for the government would be sensitive to the plight of the people and exhibit moderation in their comments but that has unfortunately not been the case.

First off was Mr Femi Adesina, the President’s Spokesperson, who has a history of throwing unguarded statements to dismiss critics of his boss and the administration. Mr Adesina is credited with the ‘wailing wailers’ comment, a product of a tweet he made early in the administration in response to Nigerians who had expressed concerns about the slow take off of the promised change. Mr Adesina took his apparent impatience with Nigerians, or disdain for criticism as it where, a notch higher a few days ago during an interview on Channels Television’s Sunday Politics. It was bad enough that the presidential spokesman was grinning and laughing while discussing an issue that mattered so much to Nigerians as though it was some trivial issue, saying fuel shortage was a ‘normal thing’ and insinuating that Nigerians were just being unreasonable by complaining.

It became very bad however when he, in response to questions concerning the power situation in the country, a major campaign point of his boss, told Nigerians crying about darkness to go and hold those vandalising gas installations responsible. In essence, the President’s media aide was abdicating duty and making citizens responsible for the power situation. It is hard to imagine anything more embarrassing coming from the lips of a media aide to the President.

FUEL-0

fuel scarcity biting hard

Mr Adesina was not quite the first to fire a miss-aimed salvo on the fuel situation. That honour will go to Ibe Kachichukwu, the Minister of State for Petroleum, who also doubles as the Group Managing Director of the NNPC. While addressing journalists on the current confusion in the country as regards the return of fuel queues, he said, “I am not trained as a magician” before going ahead to indicate that the fuel situation was not going to end anytime soon, effectively truncating the hop he had built in the minds of Nigerians a week before when he said it will end in a few days. This was a very insensitive statement to make and caused the resultant panic buying that aggravated the crisis.

At a time we had the Minister of aviation in Belgium resigning following the terrorist attacks in that country, we have a minister in Nigeria effectively telling us he had failed at his job and instead of throwing in the towel, he is rolling his eyes at us.

Next to ‘misyarn’ was the President’s Senior Special Assistant on Foreign Affairs and Diaspora matters, the otherwise respected Mrs Abike Dabiri.

A Twitter user, Onuoha David, had in a tweet to Mrs. Dabiri complained about unstable power, high insecurity, low wages, poor infrastructures, etc, at home, wondering why he should decide to return home. In response the former member of the House of Representatives, tweeted back “But who is asking you to come?” Though the lady has taken steps to apologise, claiming she was misunderstood, or that what we read was not what she meant, the response was so harsh and quite unbecoming of a presidential aide who should if anything be giving citizens reasons to come home not sounding dismissive of the desire to return to ones motherland.

The last example of the King’s town criers who has been saying things the president should find worrying is one Nasir S. Adhama who by his profile is Special Assistant to the President on Youth and Student Affairs. Reacting to the fire outbreak in Sabon Gari market, Kano, the SA put up a post that was as both grammatically embarrassing and indicting on the competence of the people the president has around him.

Here is what Mr Adhama posted verbatim “I pray to entire people of Kano over the tragicmis fire outbreak at Sabon Gari Market May their lost be replenished.” Your guess is as good as mine on the quality of advice the President is receiving from this Special Assistant who clearly has a serious issue stringing a correct sentence together. Ironically he handles ‘students’ affairs.’

That these aides to the president can say these things in the first place without any qualms whatsoever speaks volumes of the arrogance on which this government is built. It is an arrogance that came from the victory at the polls and the presumed infallibility of the President. It is an arrogance that has gained substance following the very little opposition the government has received and the fact that very few are questioning the president.

We are all still in that state where we are looking at the President as one who can do no wrong, who cannot be challenged, who is always right. But the condition on the streets today do not support this notion, neither does the comatose economy. I am not sure how much longer we can endure this inactivity and insensitivity? The question is for Nigerians to answer.
@nzesylva

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school1These days, perhaps due to my largely sedentary lifestyle occasioned by some ongoing personal events, I find myself increasingly having very deep thoughts about my country. These thoughts, which are often triggered by the news and the discussion (sometimes not so much of discussion as it is pure noise) it generates on social media, continue to point me to one major conclusion; that we are a nation of pretenders, both government and citizens alike. Everyone is acting according to a prescribed script and this has now been elevated to a national policy of sorts.

It’s everywhere, in everything we do, in every sphere of our national life. Take the

bubu

President Buhari

educational sector for instance. President Muhammadu Buhari while speaking to Al Jazeera recently (by the way, I guess we are now resigned to the fact that we shall only learn about major policy statement and the true inner thoughts of our president when he travels and sits down before some reporter with an accent) indicated he was no longer willing to avail Nigerians studying abroad of forex to pay their fees, essentially telling those who in his words ‘cannot afford it’ to perhaps withdraw and come home to study. This (and many other faux pas in the said interview) has naturally been generating quite a buzz on social media with some commentators pointing to the insensitivity and ‘unpresidential’ tone in which the president spoke while others marveled at how a president who claimed just a little over a year ago that he was broke and had to take a loan to purchase his nomination form was actually at said time, and even currently, sponsoring his children’s education abroad.

Not much have been said, about the real reason many Nigerian middle and upper middle-class families who are barely scraping out a decent living (majority of who can now no longer afford to pay the fees at current parallel market exchange rate) are desperate to send their children abroad to study. The answer simply is that our universities are glorified secondary schools and we have for so long kept up the act that they were really universities, even establishing new ones by the day like our very existence depended on it.

The students in our universities pretend they are learning. They resume every semester, pay their fees, which fulfills the requirements of their part in this giant theater of deception, and then they settle into character. They sit in classrooms that look like party rallies and pretend they hear and understand what the lecturer whose voice is not even aided with a microphone is saying. They live their lives out of hostels fit only for animal habitation and pretend their character is being molded. At the end of the semester, they pretend they have become more knowledgeable. When they graduate, they pretend they have achieved a feat and update their resume with the pretense then they appear at a job interview and reality sets in.

The lecturers help to keep the show going. They pretend they are actually teaching and passing knowledge across. They pretend they carry out any real research. They pretend they have the funding, that the labs are well equipped, that the libraries are stocked. Once in a while when they feel the need, they down tools, roughen the government up a little to add few coins to their take home pay and then the pretense continues. For the show to go on, they package whatever ‘copy and paste’ publications they have into journals published by their friends and with it secure promotions to professorship without adding an ounce whatsoever to knowledge. Every year they grade and graduate a new batch who they pretend know jack about the degrees they are being admitted to.

classroom

Crowded university lecture room

The university authorities pretend all is well. They even go about boasting about the schools they head. Being a vice chancellor is the apogee of an academic career here but it is also a very sensitive job that requires a great measure of skills in pretending. Like every other political appointment (forget that governing councils nominate, it is the Visitor that says yes and, believe me, the politics involved is unbelievable) the VC must pander to many interests while walking the tightrope of balancing relations with the students, his staff and the governing council. He certainly cannot be the one screaming about the deplorable state of things in his school. So he pretends all is well while grabbing as much as he can and praying his tenure ends without any major crisis. Annually (and this is rare, many graduates don’t see their certificates until many years later), he signs off thick pieces of paper that pretends to find students worthy in character and in learning and the show goes on.

The Ministry of Education and the Universities Commission gives this game of pretense an official seal. They pretend the allocation to education in the annual budget is adequate. They pretend the universities are not overcrowded and the facilities obsolete. They pretend the teaching staff are improving themselves as they ought to. They even rank the universities and when one of our universities makes the top 100 in Africa, they roll out the drums and give themselves high-fives. Meanwhile, all their children are either in private universities or abroad.

The visitor, (President or Governor as the case may be) is the chief pretender of the lot. Education is always prominent in every manifesto, in every campaign speech but that is as far as it goes. When the budget is read, the story is different. The universities awards them honorary doctorate degrees, they accept it with both hands and pretend that it is right to do so. When the teachers down tool, they hurriedly reach an agreement they know they will not keep just so the show continues. From time to time, they create new universities in line with the political exigency and record it as an achievement then they use the appointment of vice chancellors and governing councils to oil the wheels ahead of the next election.

The end result of the above is that we have universities that are so in name alone hence the desire of Nigerians to ship their children to places where education is taken seriously. I will expect that beyond putting up a cautious mien when speaking about Nigerians who demand forex to pay school fees (and in the process making those who cannot afford it feel less Nigerian), Mr president and his team should sit down and ask themselves the hard questions on why our own universities are so undesirable and how they can work to change their fortunes. The alternative is to pretend as we’ve all been until their tenure ends and another bunch of pretenders arrive on the scene.

@nzesylva

First published here on 8 March 2016

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bahati logoSo yes, its done. I am excited to announce that I am now a Bahati Books author. Today, in a series of tweets, I was unveiled as the latest member of #TeamBahati. The publisher will be releasing my debut novel later this year as an ebook. A print version is planned and will be released shortly afterwards.

Bahati Books is an eBook publishing company that aims to bring to global readers captivating and well written African literature by African authors. See more about this innovative and forward thinking publishing house here. Follow them on twitter @bahatiBooks and like their facebook page here

In signing onto Bahati, I am excited at exploring the potentials of digital technology in telling stories especially in Africa. I am convinced that digital is the future and even-though we might not be there yet,  there is a steady move in that direction and I am happy to be among those to herald it.

Whats the novel about? Well not so much details now (I am superstitious like that lol) but just to say the work  is very much engaged with issues of migration and trafficking and the pressures that influence the decision  of  young people to ‘check out.’ Bahati

Following the announcement, my profile is now listed on the sites ‘author page’, do check it out. And while you are at it, I am pleased to also inform you that I have a brand new short story “The Confession” published on the site which you must hurry now to read.

Tweet me @nzesylva and let me know what you think of the story.

So now the count down to the release. I cant wait!

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