Tuesday, 17 June 2014

I'm Back in Love With Chimamanda Adichie Again

Permit me this double-mindedness dear reader.

I know I first espoused my absolute adoration of Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie in  "Chimamanda Adichie, Natural Hair and Me", and she was number one in my list of "6 Nigerians that Make Me Proud", but then I spoke about my disappointment in some of her words and actions in "How Adichie Fell of Her Pedestal".

I declared that to me she was no longer this wonderful being; she had fallen off her pedestal and I now saw that my hero-worship of her was flawed and ultimately doomed to failure because she was human and imperfect.

I'm in love with Chimamanda again

But I've changed my mind. Adichie is brilliant and I cannot lie. She really is. I never totally denied her genius, but I was (temporarily) turned off by the harshness I noticed and her lack of warmth towards fans, as well as her sense of superiority. But I've since been able to reacquaint myself with her poise and wisdom through consuming some of her interviews and speeches, and I have changed my mind.

But was it she that changed? Was she always this fountain of witty, thrilling anecdotes that illustrate her points so succinctly? Was she always this playfully intelligent, erudite and clear-minded sage that never over-did her power to enchant listeners, was often endearingly shy, with her voice sometimes quivering (nerves?); was she always such a delight to listen to?

Or did she sense that she was tipping over the edge in terms of believing the hype and becoming egotistical, and decided to backtrack, repent and transform into this luminous, graceful woman that has audiences rapt in attention?

Was it that I knew she was this impressive and true but that that reality was usurped by the furore surrounding her 'mailbox interview' and calling a fellow Nigerian writer one of her 'boys'?

Well, although I wouldn't go as far to say I regret ever seeing her in a bad light - because when I wrote about her falling off the pedestal of my mind I meant it, and was very sad about it - but I have now been re-awakened to the beauty of her intelligence. I let small slights overshadow the beautiful thoughts this woman continues to pour out, and it is a privilege to be alive when she is 'in vogue.'

Her Interviews in Nigeria vs Her Interviews in England or America

It strikes me as interesting that the interviews she does that many including myself find displeasing are those she does with Nigerian interviewers. The interview where she angrily chided the interviewer for calling her 'Mrs' and declaring that she does not want that title (despite being married) happened in Nigeria. I think she has less patience with Nigerian interviewers- as if they rub her up the wrong way, and she often comes off as a snooty, humourless 'feminist' in all the terrible connotations of the word that scare Nigerian men and traditional women.

However, she is very accommodating, genuine, warm, bright, candid, full of humour and laughter and ever so generous with her informed opinion with British and American interviewers. And they are completely enchanted by her. Her articles are widely published in The Guardian newspaper, and Channel 4 News love her.

Adichie discussing her latest book Americanah on Channel 4 News with Jon Snow

Channel 4's lead anchor, Jon Snow (who I love by the way. And he's married to a fully African woman, a brilliant intellectual type named Precious Lunga from Zimbabwe. Jon Snow is also very progressive, I just love the man) particular seems to be taken by her, and I don't mean in a silly, British-paternalistic-fawning-kindness-to-Africans-out-of-some-misplaced-guilt-over-colonialism way, but in a respectful "I like that you are intelligent and African and a Nigerian and a woman, so please shed some light on Boko Haram. Your type of voice is so rare and so needed right now" way.

My favourite Channel 4 News lead anchor Jon Snow and his wife Precious Lunga

He truly engages with her in these interviews and I love that she repays his trust in her capabilities with searingly acute dissections of Nigerian politics that retains her patriotism but pulls no punches.

I think I'm starting to see Chimamanda not only in a different light, but in broader aspect. Sometimes she has bad days and sometimes she has great days. She is of course always poised, but in some interviews she is more 'switched on' and happy than in others.

Take this interview with Lola Ogunnaike for Arise Entertainment 360 for instance. Her body language is closed (crossed legs, crossed arms and she taps her fingers often, a sign of impatience or nerves), she seems uncomfortable and lacks a certain joie de vivre she often has, although she is gracious in her answers.

Ogunnaike (whose regal tone and confident cadences makes me swoon with admiration; she reminds me of the elegant Ivanka Trump) does overdo the fawning and lashes on the acclaim, and I could see Adichie cringing under the layers of superlatives bestowed upon her; at one point Ogunnaike asks: "What does it feel like to be a literary rock star?"

Compare it to this interview below with Damian Woetzel, where she is much more lively, fierce in wit and delivery and brimming with humour, masterfully engaging and real in relaying her profound feelings of identity, Africa and other subjects; I could listen to her forever. (It's also funny how she sits where the interviewer is supposed to sit by mistake, and I like that the man is gracious enough to allow her, without insisting that they swap.)

Adichie's interview with Damian Woetzel is tremendously entertaining

The interview is particularly wonderful, and! Somehow, she manages to mention Fulani and Fulfude! The last question from an audience member was from a Fulani woman from Guinea, and when Adichie asks her "Do you speak Fulfude?" I was like wow.

Biafra, Feminism and Homosexuality

Adichie is also very brave. She has not only wrote and spoken extensively about the Biafran War, an incident Nigeria wants to forget (the film based on her book Half of a Yellow Sun which tackles the war has been banned from screens in Nigeria), she also focused one of her TED Talks on Feminism (below) and wrote a lengthy piece describing the injustice of Nigeria's anti-gay laws.

Biafra, Feminism and Homosexuality: You couldn't find three more controversial, incendiary, polarizing and hot-button issues in Nigeria today, and she skewered them all effortlessly. You may or may not agree with her, but you cannot deny that she addressed all the points and presented her case well. She is fearless, and exemplifies this famous quote by Marianne Williamson:
We are all meant to shine, as children do
We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us
And as we let our own light shine,
We unconsciously give others permission to do the same.
The clarity of her thoughts, fierceness of her convictions and power of her delivery gives me the freedom to be bold.

My initial reaction to her feminist talk was to disagree, because contrary to the norm (educated, first-generation British-African woman born in the 80s tend to be quite the feminist) I'm a traditionalist and my post titled "I'm a Submissive Woman, What's Wrong With That?" explains my stance.

But I listened to it again and found myself nodding to and agreeing with everything she said. There was no need to insult or demean men to gain our rights, she was saying, but a Nigerian woman (she concentrated her observations on Nigerian culture, much to the delight of the Nigerians in the audience who clapped and laughed generously at her often very funny observations) shouldn't have to shrink from success to enable a man to feel good.

Adichie's is the best modern, globally-sound Nigerian voice we have right now.

I used to imagine the things the great boxer Mohammed Ali would say today if he could talk. The man that was so vocal about race, politics, religion and his own greatness in the past I imagined would have a lot to say about Obama and various aspects of African-American culture today. What a shame that he is unable to inspire our generation with his words, and how cruelly ironic too, that he has had to live his final years voiceless, when he was once celebrated for his exuberant oratory.

Well, Chimamanda Adichie is someone who is using her strong voice to stoke the flames of intellectual debate about the most important issues of our time, and I have fallen in love with her all over again.

Friday, 23 May 2014

Interview with British Fulani Author Munir Bello

Finding out that the author of The Break Up Recipe, Munir Bello is a British Fulani-Nigerian piqued my curiosity immensely. 

Munir Bello, Author of The Break Up Recipe

Sure, his self-published e-book about relationships is hilarious and received rave reviews from publications like The Voice and Female First, and reviews here and here were also glowing, but what I really wanted to know was: what did his parents think about him stripping naked to promote the book (yes, that's his well-oiled physique below)? 

And was his ex-fiancée - the woman that inspired him to write after she broke up with him - Black, Nigerian, Fulani or none of the above? 

Munir strips totally naked to promote The Break Up Recipe. As you do.

Munir also said that he attended a Gay Pride parade to hand out flyers promoting his book, and is happy to attract a gay audience thanks to his hot bod on display. This 30-year old Fulani man's outlook on life is definitely refreshing, so I asked him a whole load of questions, and bless him, he not only answered all 50 (I was very curious) with great candour and humour, he also gave me an insight into how another Fulani Brit thinks. 

Where were you born?
I was born in Lagos, Nigeria in 1983

Where were you raised?
I was raised in Lagos where I went to school until the age of 10 and travelled around Kaduna, Sokoto, Kano and Abuja where I have family. I then moved to England at the age of 10 to school and have permanently lived here since. I used to go back to Nigeria quite regularly during the school holidays, but less frequently now as my immediate family now live in London.

Describe your family.
Like most I am the product of a mother and father. They live in London. My father is a consultant and my mother runs a small business. I have 3 siblings; the oldest is a lawyer,  my younger sister works in sales and my younger brother is a radio presenter.

What is your current occupation?
I am an author. I wrote a book called The Break Up recipe. I am also currently in the process of writing the sequel for the book as well as filming a dating show in London which will be airing in the summer.

What is your family's religion and what is your personal religious belief?
I was born into a Muslim family and I am a part-time Muslim. By that I mean that I do consider myself a Muslim, however I am not fully practising. I fast during Ramadan.

What career did you want to go into when you were younger?
I originally wanted to either be an actor or a journalist. I realised early on that I was not good enough to be an actor so decided to concentrate on something else. As for journalism, it was something that as I got older, I had less of a desire to do.

What is your relationship with Sokoto/Zamfara?
My paternal grandmother lives in a small village in the state and so do some of my uncles, aunties and cousins. I very much do consider it my home and generally when I am asked where I am from I tell people that I am a Nigerian from Sokoto (It has been pointed out to me that it is now Zamfara, but when I was growing up it was Sokoto and that has now stuck in my vocabulary)

What is your relationship with Nigeria?
Nigeria is the country that I am from. Although I am a dual passport holder and have lived most of my life in The UK, I consider myself a Nigerian as my earliest memories are from there. I speak Hausa at home to my family which serves as a reminder to my roots.

Do you have any extended family in Nigeria, and if so, are you still close to them? 
I have plenty of extended family in Nigeria as I come from a very large family, and I am close to them. We communicate regularly online.

What is your view on Boko Haram?
My view on Boko Haram is that it is an organisation that has put our country in the news for all the wrong reasons. I am certainly not in any way a sympathiser.

What is your view on the Bring Back Our Girls campaign and it's popularity around the world?
I am glad that the world is sitting up and taking notice by trying to help us eradicate the problem with the violent attacks. I am sad, however, that the name of my country is seen as synonymous with terrorism which unfortunately is one of the first words that come out of people's mouths now [when they thing about Nigeria]. The campaign hopefully sends out a strong message of support to the families of these girls and I hope that in the end it helps bring them home. I also hope that it isn't just a social media fad that will lead to a swift evacuation if it becomes considered as old news.

What is your view of the Nigerian government?
My view on Nigerian politics is extremely limited as I don't keep up to date with the current affairs. From what I know, we have a president who seems powerless in the face of everything and we have a first lady who delivers many excellent sound-bites that bring a huge smile to my face. In fact, my neighbour and I have been watching lots of her Youtube clips recently. Interesting is a word that springs to mind.

Would you ever return to Nigeria to live long-term?
'I don't know' is the honest answer to that question. The reason is because two thirds of my life have been lived in the UK so I am more used to the way things work over here. I wouldn't rule out living in Nigeria for long periods of time over the course of a year in the future, as when I have children I would like them to know where their father comes from.

Would you want your kids to be strongly connected to Nigeria?
I absolutely would because I have so many wonderful memories from when I was living there. As mentioned previously, I'd like them to know where their father comes from as there is a strong likelihood that they would be raised in the UK.

Are you proud to be Nigerian, given often negative perceptions of the country?
I'm very proud to be a Nigerian because there are values within our people that are very commendable, such as a strong work ethic and an entrepreneurial streak that is unrivalled. We also are very good at adapting and some of the hardest working people I have ever known are from Nigeria. The negative perceptions which are well publicised are to do with fraud, corruption and most recently, bomb attacks. The positives greatly outweigh the negatives. We have the biggest GDP in Africa and some amazing scholars.

Munir Bello: Proudly Nigerian, proudly British and proudly Fulani

What do your non-Nigerian friends thing about the country?
Generally speaking a lot of them would like to visit the country mostly due to the great PR the food receives over here. I do tend to introduce them to some of our foods. The weather also means that it is a natural draw for non-Nigerian friends of mine who spend a lot of their time in cold climates. The lifestyle and pace of life over there also makes it appealing to friends of mine who have visited the country.

What does being Fulani mean to you?
I live with the knowledge that being Fulani, I am part of what was the old ruling class and am sometimes unfairly judged as the son of a rich man who knows nothing about a hard life or hard work which couldn't be further from the truth. At the same time however, it is a fact that we are the best looking people in Nigeria and yes I am being biased on my beautiful family members. Our people are traditionally nomads, hence why it was a seamless transition for me to move to another country.

Do you think being Fulani differentiates you from other Nigerians? If so why?
The differentiation has been touched on in the previous question. It is more apparent in the UK than back home because there aren't many of us here. The majority of Nigerians present here tend to be Igbo or Yoruba.

Would you say you were knowledgeable about Fulani customs and traditions? 
I'm ashamed to say that I am not knowledgeable enough to have a debate about Fulani customs. I know small bits from my time over in Nigerian and from what my parents have tried to teach. Fura da nono is one tradition I am fully fluent in.

Are you proud of your Fulani heritage? 
Without a shadow of a doubt, yes I am.

What aspects of Fulani culture do you most identify with?
Being a nomad.

What are your thoughts on Fulani nomads and their lifestyle?
Very admirable. I have a lot of respect for the discipline it takes to be a cattle herder, which is underrated.

What are your thoughts on the spate of Fulani gunmen that allegedly shoot down many villages in the North?
It is not a subject that I am familiar with but my thoughts on any gunman that would shoot down a village of people is that he is a coward.

How do your family honour your Fulani heritage, if at all?
They've instilled in me not to forget where I come from and always make a point of reminding me that I come from a people I should be proud of which I am.

Do you speak Fulfude?
Sadly not.

Do you know/have met Fulanis from across Africa, and how did you get on?
I met a Fulani from Sierra Leone 16 years ago and we are friends to this day.

What do you think about me: a British Fulani Christian?
I think you're normal, there are lots of people who come from a predominantly Muslim community who are Christians. I come from a heavily inter-married family so although my parents are Muslim, my uncles and aunties are a mixture of different religions. Also my grandmother on my mothers side taught me the Bible and the Quran from a very early age.

What do your British friends think about your Fulani heritage?
They don't know anything about the Fulani.

Have you met many Fulani people in England? If not why do you think you haven't? 
I have only met one from Sierra Leone. I think the reason for the scarcity of a Fulani presence here is because Fulanis either stay in Nigeria or go to America and other parts of Europe.

Does being a Fulani man affect or influence any aspect of your life in England?
None whatsoever.

In some of the interviews for your book, you mention going out to drink with friends and writing when drunk, and you also pose naked with a cover of your book. How do you reconcile your 'Western' behaviour with a (presumably) conservative Fulani heritage?
I'm a product of a Nigerian upbringing in the first third of my life and a western upbringing the rest of it, meaning that the two cultures meet somewhere in the middle and compromise. The picture for the marketing cover was originally met with some resistance by my parents but not outright opposition, the rest of my family have never commented negatively on it.

What's more important to you: being British, being Nigerian or being a Fulani man? 
In order would be 1) Nigerian, as it is where I was born, 2) Fulani as it is my heritage and where I'm from (it's not 1 because of my minuscule knowledge) 3) Being British because it is a nationality I inherited but one that I am nevertheless very proud of.

Does your heritage affect your dating choices or choice of who you will marry?
No not at all; my girlfriend is British and it's not a problem for my family. 

What do your family think of your lifestyle?
Good question. I've never really asked them. I think overall they're happy with it as I've never been taken aside by them and told I need to change my ways.

Whenever you return to family in Nigeria, do you feel assimilated or different from them?
I feel assimilated, the only difference would be my accent but i still remember the customs and the correct way to eat the food.

Are you happy you're in England or do you wish you had stayed in Nigeria?
I'm very happy I'm in England. Had I stayed in Nigeria then I wouldn't have gotten to see as much of the world (cheaper to travel form here) as I have or met the many wonderful people that I have met. All the good people I met back home are either now here or if they are back home we are still in touch. Three letters were worth the move over here: KFC!!

What do you think are commonly-held misconceptions people abroad have about Fulani people?That we are a bunch of uneducated in-breds. Not many people realise what the generation before us did which was that they left the country to get first class education and helped pioneer many things back home.

Would you say you play up or play down your Fulaniness? 
Neither really, it's something I'm proud of but as I don't get asked much about it, I rarely get the opportunity to elaborate on it.

Has your name, because it is Muslim, ever posed any issues for you? 
Oh yes!! Most airports I go to will pull me aside for extra questioning due to "computer generated" reasons. It's the last thing that I need after a long flight but I tend to ignore their stupidity rather than get angry about it.

How do you feel about your Islamic background in a country where Islam is often associated with global terrorism?
I don't hide my Islamic background and so far I've never had any problems because of it. I think I have been very lucky in that respect. I get more irritated by other Muslims from other countries who, once they find out my Islamic background, try to test how much I know, almost as if I need their approval. I find it very pathetic. Muslim converts also tend to do this a lot.

Do you feel completely assimilated into English life or do you feel like an outsider sometimes?
I am an outsider because outside of a major city I am considered a minority. I don't feel alienated, but I am aware that I am not considered as the norm in some quarters, but then that is very normal because if a white person rocked up into Lagos they would be seen as an outsider also. It's never hostile on either side however.

Describe what The Break Up Recipe is about.
The Break Up Recipe is a romantic comedy from the point of view of a man. it contains some funny observations on life and some expletive language. To sum it up, a guy gets dumped by his fiancee and then looks back on his previous encounters with the opposite sex. He comes back to the modern day and creates new experiences with the opposite sex.

What do your family think about your book?
They like it. They have been incredibly supportive throughout. They did initially harbour reservations over the language and the naked image, but were never hostile about it.

You state that you were inspired to write it after a bad break-up with a fiancée; where was she from/what race was she?
Bloody hell you really have done your research! I was wondering when that question was going to come up haha. She was a white British girl.

Did her race pose any problems for you?
Absolutely none. As pointed out earlier, due to the regular intermarriage within my own family, dating outside my race/religion has never been an issue. Come to think of it, it's very acceptable as it's never even been mentioned or alluded to when I've told my parents about someone I'm dating.

Does your Fulani heritage show up anywhere in The Break Up Recipe?
No there isn't any mention of my Fulani heritage in the book.

Do you think the book would have succeeded had it being published in Nigeria?
Time will tell, there is definitely a huge audience in Nigeria that would appreciate it. however due to limited accessibility (It was originally released as an e-Book) it's too soon to say. Now that it has been released as a paperback, we will see. In fact today was the official release day of the book as a hard copy.

What do you think of other Nigerian novelists like Chimamanda Adichie et al?
She is a wonderful author and a great ambassador for our country. I love her books and think that she paints a wonderful picture of our country through words.

Much of the reviews I read didn't focus on your race/nationality, why do you think that is?
The reason for that would be because they were reviewing the book rather than the author, but in some interviews it is something that is referred to. The book isn't set in Nigeria and it has no race references, hence why no reviews would mention it. My bio however states my nationality and my pictures kind of give away my race, especially my marketing picture.

What would you do if the follow up to The Break Up Recipe gets on the New York Times best-seller list?
What I always do when something good happens to me: I'd say a silent thank you to God first, after that I'd probably go on a holiday and enjoy a well deserved rest.

See? Nice guy, great answers, hot bod. So go get the book on Amazon! And also connect with him on Facebook and Twitter.

Monday, 5 May 2014

Nigeria's a Mess & Abuja is Burning, so I'm Back in London

My dear readers, I have relocated to England. I will return to Abuja one day, but boy, Nigeria is in a BIG mess. I can't even begin to tell of what I've been through.

So after the first explosion in Abuja, my family were calling me from England and asking me to reassess my habitation in Abuja amidst the growing insecurity. So I did.

The crazy thing was that I was in Nyanya on the Saturday before the first blast for a wedding, and drove past the scene of the explosion, which is by a very busy motorway. Nyanya is a densely populated, poorer area on the outskirts of Abuja where many civil servants live because the rent is much cheaper there than in the Abuja metropolis (average rent is around N500, 000 a year for modest lodging in Abuja, whilst in places like Nyanya it's around N100, 000 or less).

I imagine myself like I'm in one of those movies where the city is under attack and buildings are erupting in small explosions behind me everywhere as I dock and weave my way to safety, finally I leap in slow motion and grab unto a swaying ladder hanging from a helicopter labelled 'BRITISH AIRWAYS', and as the helicopter veers away the whole city finally explodes in a huge ball of yellow inferno, and I look down on the burning, hot mess with a tear in my eye, all bruised and battered from my two and a half year life living as a returnee to Abuja.

I will write about distinct aspects of my bad experiences in another post, as this post will concentrate on my departure and why Boko Haram is winning the war in Nigeria.

The First Nyanya Bomb
Firstly let me make one thing clear: the official death toll of around 75 for the first Nyanya bombing on Monday 14 April has been grossly under-represented. I was working for an influential publication in Abuja before I left and was responsible for their social media output, and from reports and eye witness accounts, I can confidently tell you that at least 400 people died in that explosion. Yes, 400, and I believe even much more.

One of our freelance journalists who lives near Nyanya called me to tell me he saw four burnt out buses after the explosion, and each of those buses would have been full at the time of the bombing (around 7am on a Monday morning) and each bus carries 50 people. But with the way Nigeria is, I believe if the official capacity is 50, at least 55 would have been on these buses.

I count seven burnt out buses here, and I believe they would each have been full of people that fateful morning. 

Another row of four burnt out buses. Still believe that only 71 people died?

Other pictures from the scene show a row of up to eight burnt out buses, not including kekenapeps, motorcycles, pedestrians, commuters queuing to board buses, street hawkers and cars nearby also loaded with people. A bus park like this is usually heaving with people trying to get into town for work. And remember that some of the injured would have died later in hospital.

So it really pisses me off whenever I see reports from CNN and Nigerian media of the death toll in the 70s, it's a gross injustice to the actual number of people who died, and dangerously underplays the enormity of the blast.

Such unrepresentative figures of the dead in these situations come from eye witness accounts usually from a journalist from Reuters or something who counts the bodies they see before them, but don't take into account bodies in other areas of the scene, the obliterated bodies (human parts were strewn everywhere) or those that die later in hospital. And Nigerian reporters, inadequately equipped to take proper account of the dead, and without a streamlined system for recording those missing, or forensics taking details of bits they find (it usually takes weeks before the final death toll figures are released) and the propensity for Nigerians to regard as correct information from CNN rather than figures from their own people, the initial report stands and is rarely updated.

The numbers injured, officially in the 100s or 200s, should also be much higher.

Some reports also say it was a suicide bomber, then there was a picture of the supposed suicide bomber (with body in tact, is that possible?), then other reports say it was a car bomb. One of my colleagues, who also lives near Nyanya and would usually have travelled to work that fateful morning but was late, says there were rumours that it was a boy with a bomb. The freelancer that called me told me an empty car was seen by commuters parked in front of one of the buses, and as a bus driver horned for the car to get out of the way, it exploded.

But can one car bomb make such an impact, with reports of a huge crater at the scene of the carnage and the rows and rows of burnt out vehicles? Reports of petrol tankers nearby that exploded too might explain the level of impact, but who knows?

This image has been touted all around Nigeria as the suicide bomber. But has there ever been a suicide bomber found intact like this, whilst other victims of the blast were obliterated?

The fact remains we don't know what type of bomb it was, how many people were killed and how many are still missing presumed dead. And nobody will ever find out.

The Second Nyanya Bomb
I heard about the second bomb on Friday May 2 - which occurred right by the scene of the second bomb - after I'd arrived back in England. And judging by what I now know of the first incident, the official figure of 19 dead is most likely 119. I'm serious. People die in Nigeria and nobody knows or cares to find out the details. Again the hospitals were filled, there were calls for people to donate blood, and President Jonathan called another security meeting afterwards to access the issue. Nonsense. But more on President Jonathan later.

I heard reports that the bomb supposedly exploded earlier than planned, and the target was for the following day or Monday? 

Either way, Abuja proper, the central areas that is, are still safe (for now), and Nyanya is quite a distance away. But the point is that Boko Haram have now infiltrated the nation's capital. 

FACT: Boko Haram are Mightier than the Nigerian Army
This is sad but true. Boko Haram not only have better weapons and transportation, they are also united in their purpose and vision, something the Nigerian army (thanks to lack of funds, tribalism and various motives for joining the force) are not. 

And I think the numbers they say Boko Haram have killed in Nigeria in the past five years is 1,500? Well triple it and you'll get closer to the right number. Hundreds have been killed in Borno, Yobe etc, but because these are remote states, no official eye witness is there to count, unlike in Abuja, and see how the numbers there were still under-estimated. My mind boggles at the carnage BH have caused, not just the trail of countless dead, but the maimed, blinded, orphaned, widowed, homeless, income-less and whole communities that have been destroyed. 

And the army, although celebrating a few successes here and there of foiled bomb attacks, and despite the $6bn in funding they receive annually, they are not performing. I've heard reports that the huge funds are siphoned away by the generals and 'ogas at the top,' and the soldier on the ground gets a pittance to live on; they sleep on the bare ground when on duty, have three pure water sachets allocated to each of them and faulty, aged weaponry, some of which are from the Biafran war of the 60s. I have a friend who is a lieutenant who tells me some of their challenges.

And they resort to lying to look as if they're performing, not just lying about finding the missing Chibok girls, but also about catching Fulani militants. The military/police released the pic below, supposedly of Fulani men, but they most certainly are not. They don't look Fulani at all, and rural Fulani men rarely ever wear boxers even. Lies.

These men are not, nor were they ever, Fulani herdsmen in any shape or form

Boko Haram's leader, Abubakar Shekau, in a video claiming responsibility for the Nyanya attack, not only taunted the Nigerian president and said 'catch me if you can', he also boasted that the Nyanya attack was a small one compared to what they're planning. They also confirmed they were behind the school girls' abductions, and said they'll sell the girls off.

His video online was so odious it hurt my ears to listen to the Arabic/Hausa, although I read somewhere there was close to 20 minutes of his rantings, yet I can only find a 1 minute video which was cut mid-sentence. Hmmm. 

The way that the whole world has campaigned for the release of the over 200 girls abducted by Boko Haram men dressed as the Nigerian army (Umm...who supplied them with army uniform??) from their boarding school in Chibok, which is in Borno State, has been astonishing, heartening and wonderful in a sad, uplifting way.

Firstly, the exact number of girls kidnapped remains unknown. it's been 85, 197, 234, 250, etc over the weeks since their abduction, with reports it could be up to 300, as students from neighbouring schools were brought into Chibok at the time for exams. The names of the girls have been released, and the majority of them are Christians, but I believe the number abducted is more than 300. 

Now I'm aware of some in the Muslim community both in Nigeria (see here) and around the world (see here) who forcibly kidnap Christian girls and marry them so that they convert the girl and the eventual offspring become Muslims, and there are reports that the Chibok girls have been married off to the militants, who need both cooks and wives to tend to them in their camps. Some of the girls have also been reportedly taken out of Nigeria into neighbouring Chad and Cameroon.

Street protests in Abuja, Lagos, London and everywhere else have taken place about the issue, the kidnapping is front page news on the BBC and CNN websites, and widespread attention has been given to the issue, with American and British celebrities, politicians etc speaking out on the issue. It's a BIG story. 

Yet am I being pessimistic when I say that, from what I've seen and heard, those girls will never be found? Remember that another group of girls were kidnapped in similar circumstances weeks before these ones in Chibok, and those ones were never found, and they're out of the news.
And everyone knew, after a couple of days, the location of the Chibok girls. They were in the Sambisa forest, as locals saw groups of girls, many still in their school uniforms, been loaded and unloaded unto trucks and driven away. 

Some of the parents of the girls tried to go into the forest themselves to rescue the girls, but failed. I believe the military also knew where the girls were but were afraid to go into the Sambisa forest, maybe due to an agreement between themselves and the terrorists to stay away from that area (this is very possible) or because they are inadequately equipped to go in, rescue the girls, detain or kill the kidnappers and emerge safely. That takes a lot of planning and fire power, all of which were probably beyond the capacity of the soldiers.

I know I sound negative and condescending about the power of the Nigerian army, but dear readers, I've seen these things. It annoys me so much, the way corruption and ineptitude has made fools and wicked men out of a force that should be strongly focused on citizen's safety.

I pray for the girls too, and God bless every non-Nigerian that has lent their voice to the campaign, and the Nigerians whose hearts bleed at the injustice of having children stolen and the government unable to do anything about it, despite it seeming so easy to get them back, and knowing if you lived in a different country such a thing would never happen, and if it did, it would be the government's priority to find them and they would have done so by now. It's excruciatingly awful that the Sambisa forest was off-limits to soldiers because of the might of Boko Haram, who operate with impunity and can kidnap more students again at any time.

This report by the Guardian newspaper quoted a source from Nigeria's intelligence agencies who said: 
“We in the intelligence were ready to penetrate the sect but they [the government] wasted too much time concentrating on irrelevances. Now it is too late, the intelligence guys are not ready to risk their lives any more after all the frustration from the managers in Abuja. We have given them all the information they need including the level of sophistication of the insurgents; it’s up to them to act.”
Those girls should have been found days following their disappearance. Now I fear it's too late. And if BH decide to release some (I've heard reports the Muslim girls have been released), it would be their own decision independent from force or any negotiations.

A Nice But Dim President
President Goodluck Jonathan seems like a nice man. He would have been a great lecturer I'm sure, but putting him in charge of the most populous, richest and most troubled country in the whole of Africa was a big mistake.

Not only because he lacks the 'killer instinct' to be tough on the bad guys in the Nigerian system, but also because his political enemies (mostly the Muslim North) are hell-bent on making his tenure a mess, because they feel that, in the grand tradition of the turn-by-turn Christian/South then Northern/Muslim system of voting in Nigerian presidents, that it wasn't the South's turn yet. (Former President Yar'Adua, a Northern Muslim, died in office, leading to his vice president Jonathan taking over prematurely).

So repeated attacks by Boko Haram have been orchestrated to frustrate Jonathan and make him look inept, and the feeling is that if he contests and wins Nigeria's national elections next year, things will be worse.

His Presidential media chat yesterday in which he answered questions and showed he had no idea where the missing girls were (he told the journalists present that they knew more than he did about the situation) and in which he said that many people were stealing government money in Nigeria but that this was not corruption, was sad to see. (Read more about that Presidential Media chat here).

The powers that be in Nigeria are mostly there to 'chop,' their minions on the ground have become mean due to lack of money and resort to bribery at every turn, and the ordinary man exists in a helpless void of knowing you're all alone, and the government will most probably hurt you rather than do well for you in your life time.

So...I Left
Yup. And as many Nigerians looked upon my decision to opt out of the mess with envy, saying I could never claim to be Nigerian when I can so easily disengage and run off, I say yes. And you would too if you could.

You're proudly Nigerian because you have no choice.

I'm back in England now, where things are so decent it's almost boring, and although there are challenges, I don't have to worry that my siblings could be stolen from their schools never to be seen again, or that my government doesn't know I exist, neither does it care and it could in fact kill me tomorrow and bury the evidence.

The fact that I automatically got an NI number through the post when I turned 16, and if I turn 100 the Queen automatically sends me a birthday card, and my details are on countless systems somewhere, all attesting to the fact that I exist and the government knows me and is watching, is a source of comfort to me. Absolutely.

Nigeria, my Fatherland, I tried to love you, I tried to make it work, but it was just too much of an uphill battle. Adios, for now. I will visit for sure, but I shall never live with you again, even if I become fabulously wealthy and could afford all the trappings of the West in my house.

Two good female friends of mine, born and bred in the UK, relocated to Nigeria (Lagos) recently and are thriving: they've launched successful businesses, enjoy a vibrant social life and are living large. I believe if you have lots of money (which I didn't) and have an entrepreneurial flair (which I don't), you can make it in Nigeria.

But I'm just not built for all that. I don't want to live in a beautiful castle in the middle of a gutter, next to a den of robbers and adjacent to a brood of vipers, knowing that if the outside gets in, I'm on my own.

There's just too much wrong in Nigeria for it to ever be OK for me.

Friday, 4 April 2014

Fulani Killers & Victims and Boko Haram

Ever since I arrived in Nigeria nearly three years ago, a civil war of sorts between Fulani herdsmen and the various tribes they settled among has been brewing, resulting in tit-for-tat mass murders, razing of villages and other brutalities as Fulanis kill and are killed.

Now, were the Fulanis the first to attack? Or were they the initial victims simply meting out revenge? I don't know, but the latest news report of the Nigerian army invading a Fulani village in Nasarawa state yesterday morning and killing 30 people, shooting at every Fulani in sight, was troubling (full report here).

According to the report in Premium Times newspaper, Fulani organisation Miyetti Allah confirmed that over 30 Fulani people were killed, mostly old men who were unable to run when the soldiers started firing. The group's secretary Muhammed Husseini accused the Nigerian Government of complicity in the killing and is planning to sue the government.

“I’m presently in the mortuary receiving corpses. They killed over 30 of our men for no reason. This is genocide and we will approach the International Criminal Court, ICC,” he said.

Some of the dead recovered from the invasion

The military had deployed troops to Nasarawa, Benue and Kaduna following attacks on several communities in the states by suspected Fulani herdsmen, leading to the death of scores of people.

Fulanis in rural areas of the North are often victims and perpetrators of attacks, mostly because of age-old territorial disputes and other slights they feel other tribes had perpetrated on themselves and their cattle and property. Some Fulanis are on the rampage over disputed grazing fields for their cattle, and stolen cattle, whilst the town dwellers are also aggrieved when their crops are eaten and trampled on by Fulani cattle.

Ethnic-based enmity is alive and seething in Nigeria y'all.

So the Fulanis attack, and other tribes retaliate; other tribes attack, and the Fulani retaliate. But it seems the Fulani are the ones doing more of the attacks these days. Also, various unconnected Fulani communities and attackers that may not even be Fulani across Nigeria that engage in violent disputes with their neighbours may be called 'Fulani attackers,' making the situation seem even more rife, and the Fulani even more deadly.

On-going disputes in places like Nasarawa, Zamfara and Benue State have caused many villagers to flee after alleged Fulani gunmen storm their locales at night or early in the morning, shooting and killing at random. Recently, a group of 24 Fulani men were arrested with a truckload of guns, machetes, bows and arrows and knives.

However, for decades the nomadic Fulani lived amongst other tribes in peace, inter-marrying and becoming friends. In this report of refugees fleeing from Benue to Abuja following Fulani attacks, one old man said:

"I had to pack and leave with my whole family because I saw the fighters coming in and my Fulani neighbours told me they cannot guarantee my safety if I decided to stay. I have lived there all my life and I don't have anywhere else to call home but I had to leave because the mercenaries were already forming a base there.
"We (Tiv farmers) have never fought with Fulani herders here before. Whenever there are squabbles, we the elders from both ethnic groups come together and settle amicably, so it was strange when they asked me to leave. But they insisted they don't have a problem with us, that it was their people from Benue that asked them to tell us to leave."

Things seem to be heating up.

A taxi driver, upon hearing I was from Adamawa State, beamed and told me he was also from Adamawa (but he wasn't Fulani), then after some pleasantries, he told me of a horrifying visit to the state recently. The car he was travelling in broke down, and as evening had approached before it was finally fixed, both the other passengers in the car and himself were extremely worried because it was general knowledge that the road at night was patrolled by armed robbers.

They travelled on regardless, and soon came to a road block made of sharp materials that punctured the car tires, manned by Fulani men wielding machetes. I asked if he was sure they were Fulani, and he said it was obvious, as Fulanis have a distinct look everyone is familiar with.

They were forced to alight from the car, lie on the ground on their stomachs and remain silent as the Fulani men ransacked their pockets and car and took away all the valuables: their phones, his bag, money etc. If he had tried to escape they would have been killed, as the attackers were known for chopping people up with their machetes.

He said the men also carried locally made guns and communicated by making clicking sounds to each other, and they looked as if they were 'high.' The taxi driver and the other passengers were forced to sleep in the bush until morning when they walked the rest of the way to their destinations.

Now this conversation happened some months back, and my memory can be hazy sometimes, and I've had similar conversations with a variety of people about such car-jackings, although only the taxi driver specified Fulani attackers. So I'm not sure if the following details were told to me by this taxi driver or by someone else, but is interesting to note nonetheless: one of the passengers was a female who lied to attackers that she had HIV to prevent being raped; the carjackers were wearing amulets and other charms that prevented them from being injured by bullets.

So, certain parts of Northern Nigeria aren't too safe right now, what with the sporadic yet increasingly common 'Fulani gunmen,' and Boko Haram insurgents. I'm loathe to imagine that they could be linked, especially since the attacks are similar in nature: young men (sometimes dressed in black or fatigues) with weapons surround a settlement at night and kill indiscriminately, setting fire to houses before escaping in motorcycles, trucks or on foot.

With Boko Haram, questions have been raised (by Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan even) about who pays for the sophisticated weaponry (AK47s etc) and brand new vehicles (convoys of Hilux trucks, motorcycles and vans) that aide in their terror campaigns.

Northern leaders recently alleged that helicopters have been seen repeatedly dropping weapons, food, medicine and other equipment in areas occupied by Boko Haram, implying that the militant group had wealthy financiers as well as informants in the military, police and other security agencies.

This leads on to another incident narrated to me by a taxi driver (they are excellent disseminators of information in my experience wherever I am in the world.) This one was from Borno State, and although he had the look and demeanour of a Muslim, I was surprised to learn he's a Christian. He told us his father and other family members were killed recently by Boko Haram in Borno. They surrounded his village one night and started killing people shouting 'Allahu Akbar' before fleeing in a convoy of Hilux trucks.

Then a couple of weeks later, he was supposed to pick me up the coming Monday to work (our car was at the mechanic's) but was unable to make it as he had to travel to Borno with his wife and baby girl, as his father-in-law was one of those killed by Boko Haram in this attack in the state.

It was tragically incredible to note that I knew someone who was personally affected by Boko Haram in such a chilling way, and I felt so bad for the young man, whose family had been so ravaged by the terrorists.

Abuja is still relatively safe (except for this shootout recently), but living in a country where people are regularly killed by a group from your tribe in places not too far away from you, as well as the on-going murders of innocents by state-sponsored enemies of the state is certainly unnerving.

But as Leonardo DiCaprio's character in Blood Diamonds said, "TIA. This is Africa."

Wednesday, 12 March 2014

Fulani Comic: Wailing Herdsmen Part 2

Part two Fulani comic Wailing Herdsmen 


Part three coming soon

Wednesday, 19 February 2014

The Little Fulani Cowgirl and other Abuja stories

So I'm still living and working in Abuja, and below I've documented four unique experiences with what some might call 'the lowly' amongst us. In so doing I hope not to make the same mistake US singer Brandy did, of only documenting street kids on dirt-roads from her visit last year to Lagos, and calling it 'Beautiful Africa.' 

Although I joined others in condemning her pictures - what about the fancy hotels, boutiques and plush cars she experienced? Why only show the (overused, clichéd) poverty of Africa? - I now understand her. Coming from her world, the naked poverty in Nigeria grabbed her attention and touched her more than the wealth in the country. She's familiar with luxury hotels and tarred roads, so the unfamiliar is what stood out for her.

So in these stories, which all occurred last year, I describe my encounters with people I'm not used to, often watch from afar and who I'm not able to know very well due to our different stations in life.

The Little Fulani Cowgirl
You could just make out the top of her shaggy head amidst the wide, white flanks of the cows gathered around her. Then she comes into view: a little Fulani girl barely seven years old, with dirt-brown curly hair plaited haphazardly, and the tiny stray strands that escaped forming a fuzzy halo around her little head.

Wearing a blue, oversized T-shirt that reached down past her knees, her thin legs ended in a pair of adult slippers encasing tiny feet caked in the brown dust of the earth that she had no doubt been traversing for hours already that afternoon.
She grasped in her little hand a thin but sturdy stick that was twice her height, which she used as an aid to edge her way past the slow-footed cows and around the side of the road. Now and then she also used the stick to whack a fidgety cow to stop it from heading towards the cars that were waiting for the herd to cross, a scene which occurs periodically on this residential road.

Unafraid, accomplished and proud, the little cowgirl wore a look of experienced calm and maintained an assurance that refused to be intimidated by the animals that were bigger than her or the motorists growing impatient around her.
She wasn’t perturbed by the heat of the sun, the dusty road or the long hilly hike ahead of her, and as I looked she shouted out to the herd with a shrill, tiny voice, and the animals immediately heeded their little mistress and trooped faster past the waiting cars.

She manoeuvred the animals with grace under fire; they trusted her and she understood them. And as she walked behind the last cow crossing, our eyes met and she looked at me for a fraction of a second with cool, haughty eyes betraying little of the innocence no doubt still within.
Here was a little girl in charge of her family’s wealth and pride, single-handedly dealing with the hostilities of the city and the terrain, armed with only a stick and her fierce resolve. She knows the roads, the routes, the hills and the valleys, she probably also knew each cow by name.
Soon she will give up herding and settle into the sedentary life of a wife and mother, but for now it was just her and her herd against the world, roaming wild and free and fearless.
As the proud little cowgirl walked off into the distance with her troop of 15 or so cows trudging obediently behind her, I marvelled at her control and confidence.

She was born to do this.

The Barefooted Prisoner
A barefooted, small-boned man with scraggly hair, a T-shirt full of holes and a hound-dog expression walked up to us one warm weekday evening as we stood in front of a Tapas Bar near the Gudu bypass.

He came to us hesitantly, as if he was a pigeon and we were holding out bread in our palms. We tried to ignore him at first, but the weight of sorrow in his eyes and his obvious vulnerability made us forego our concern that he was a scam-artist begging for money. Like the well-dressed, middle-aged man who alighted from a Jeep and asked us for N10, 000 to pay for his daughter’s medical bills. It was only after we gave him what we could and he drove off that it dawned on us that we’d been swindled.

But this small man was different. He kept scratching himself slowly all over as he told us, in a barely-audible voice, his story. Big tears dropped from his eyes, which he wiped with his shoulder in a move that was so pitiful it was innocent.
Back in Taraba State, he said, he and a group of friends were walking through a market when there was a commotion: someone had been stabbed in a fight. He helped eight others to carry the victim to the hospital, and whilst there the victim died and despite their protests, the police arrested them for murder. They were thrown into jail and later ferried to Kuje Prison in Abuja to complete their sentence. That was nine years ago. He was just released today and wanted to return to his wife and children in Taraba but didn’t know where to go or where to start.

We stared at him in silence. Was this for real? Was this poor man’s life just taken away from him for an instinctual act of kindness?
He stared at the floor whilst we consulted amongst ourselves, now and then shooting more questions at him to ascertain the veracity of his tale. He didn’t even ask for money, he just told his story and kept quiet, waiting for us to pronounce our judgment on him from on high, just like the judge and the police declared their life-changing judgement on him all those years ago.  

He mentioned that one of the friends had died in prison; they were regularly beaten up and hardly given any food. If ever there was an example of someone whose spirit had been broken, it was him.
We pitied him and gave him some of what we had, and pointed to the direction of cars going towards the park where he can get transportation to Taraba. He took the money with both hands, offered a lengthy thanks with more tears, and walked away slowly; a dejected, confused victim of poverty.

If the rage from the injustice he’s suffered caused him to kill tomorrow, I wouldn’t blame him. The depraved amongst us are made so by others, which is why we are told not to judge, for only God knows the full story. It is a wonder more men don’t turn to violence, when such violence is visited upon them daily.

How Much is an Egg Roll?
There’s an instant pleasure one derives from biting into a warm egg roll, especially when the dark brown pastry surrounding it is both savoury and sweet and crumbles in the mouth. With this yearning in mind, I walked out of the office at lunchtime in search of the eggroll sellers, who carry their cheap but sumptuous wares on their heads to many a labourers’ delight.

It was my lucky day: A teenage girl was passing by with a lidded, translucent plastic bucket on her head. I could just about make out the eggrolls inside. As she walked on, skilfully balancing her load on a head, she didn’t even need to use a hand to hold the bucket in place, such was her hawking experience.
One arm hung playfully by her side as the other held a small plastic carrier bag hooked to her wrist, no doubt containing her takings for the day’s sales so far. She walked with an air of confident abandon: “I don’t need to go to school,” she seemed to be saying. “The sun and the breeze and the open road are my education. I know these streets like the back of my hand.”

I made short hissing sounds to get her attention, and when she heard, she turned around and walked towards me. As she reached me, she brought down her bucket and opened it. “Good afternoon madam” she said in a sing-song voice. I greeted her and looked inside her pail. There were eggrolls alright, bigger than average and the rough unevenness of the dark-brown dough glistening with grease testified to the fact that the dough will be sufficiently crunchy. But apart from the rounded eggrolls, there were elongated dough of the same colour, moulded into fat, short tubes.

“What are those?” I asked, pointing at one.

“Fish roll” she replied, her inanimate eyes wondering away and resting on the woman walking by.

They look interesting, I thought. “Give me one eggroll and one fish roll” I said, looking forward to biting into one of the moist flour-casing and tasting bits of fish instead of a hard-boiled egg.

The girl took out one small black carrier bag from the bag hooked unto her wrist, spread it out on her cupped hand and used it to scoop up the delicacies, wrapping the bag up around them.

“How much?” I asked.


I looked back at the snacks in the bag. “Remove the fish one” I said. Knowing that the price of eggrolls ranged from N50 to N80 depending on where you bought them, N200 for two – one of which was a flavour unknown to me – was too much. Plus I couldn’t guarantee that these eggrolls will taste good. Looks can be deceiving. And the freshness of the products, now that it was already 2:30pm and there were only a few left in the bucket was uncertain. Wouldn’t all the oil seep down to the last remaining rolls, making them soggy from the extra grease and the accumulated heat-turned-sweat from the sun?

The doubts raised by the extra N120 was immense. Did my clothes or the fatness of my purse fool this girl into thinking it was full or money? Or did the wholesale price of flour and eggs suddenly increase in Abuja so that it translated into an extra N20 charge for an eggroll?

But I didn’t say anything. I paid with N500, and saw that I collected all her change: eight N50 notes. I wondered where the rest of her money was. But the abundance of N50s proved to me that indeed the rolls did retail at half the price. The young swindler was smart. “Thank you ma” she said, as she heaved the bucket back unto her head.

Those three words turned my displeasure into a shrug. Back at the office, I bit into the roll. It was still fresh and uncluttered by too much grease. My N100 was well spent.

My Maiguard is Getting Married
Our maiguard has one of those faces that is neither old nor young; he could be 18, he could be 38. Small in stature and speaking a dialect of Hausa that baffled us, Aminu is a good, if absent-minded guard.

I remember when he first arrived from Zaria straight to our house; he was hunched and hesitant, with overgrown hair and a furtive, haunted look in his eyes. He used to grunt to alert you to his presence, and he had a permanent scowl on his face. But after a few months with us, he became more self-assured, got regular hair-cuts, wore the clothes we gave him with pride and stood taller. He even replaced his grunts with words; it was like seeing the blossoming of a flower. Soon he started cooking for himself and made friends with the other guards in the estate, and he smiled and laughed more. Even his brand of Hausa became more familiar to us.
Yet he remained our lowly, trust-worthy Maiguard, until he told us his intentions to return to his native Zaria to get married. I was surprised. So Aminu, this young (or old, we still couldn’t ascertain his actual age-range) man who opens and closes our gate, weeds the yard, washes the cars and does other necessary work around the house for which we paid him an agreeable amount, wanted to get married?

He said that the girl had already been chosen for him by his family; she was the sister of a girl he had been dating previously, but that girl had been given out in marriage to another man when Aminu came to Abuja, so his family had accepted her sister for him.
I remember entering his messy Maiguard house to drop something for him, and on the floor was a picture of a light-skinned young woman wrapped in a red veil from head to toe. She was lying down on her side and stared blankly at the camera. So when Aminu said he’d never met his bride-to-be but had been sent her picture, my mind recalled the girl in red.

She was rather pretty, I thought. Will she be pleased with Aminu, a diminutive man/boy with a semi-permanent scowl? He told us her bride-price was N70, 000 and he’d been saving up for months for her. I wondered if N70, 000 was considered the price for a top-drawer maiden in rural Zaria.
Last week, Aminu left to get married, I could sense his excitement as he said farewell to us. But he’ll come back soon, as his family have advised him to return to Abuja after marriage because there are no jobs in their community. But he won’t be bringing his wife with him. So after a few days in Zaria, during which time he would not only meet his bride for the first time, but would have married her, he would bid farewell to his life-partner for a few months until he returned to Zaria again. Aminu will then return to us a married man.

I wondered if, nine months later, Mrs Aminu would have a baby. Would Aminu still stay on in Abuja? Will he take on more wives? Can he look after a family on his modest Maiguard wages?
All these questions cast my Maiguard in a whole new light.