"WR6_gUnUj-ztiW07KQcOCnTel9A"/> Notes From Atlanta: 03/20/09

Friday, March 20, 2009

How Black People Became White!

This first appeared in Weekly Trust on December 22,2005.

By Farooq A. Kperogi
Since its début about a month ago, this column has enjoyed an enthusiastic reception from readers in ways that have exceeded my anticipation. I have got several laudatory emails and requests for me to comment more on African Americans, the place of religion in the United States and so on. I’m at once flattered and honored by these responses.

In deference to the requests of my readers, I had intended this week to start a series about the astonishing and, in the opinion of many people I have spoken to here, unexampled ascendancy of religion in contemporary American public life, but a report I read in the Washington Post of December 16, 2005 concerning a research on human evolutionary history inspired me to change the topic.

I personally have an enduring curiosity about race, and my sojourn in the United States (unarguably the most racially sensitive society in the world) has only heightened this interest.

Why are some people black and others white, and yet others brown or red or yellow? What accounts for what appears to be the widely variegated physical differences between the races of the world? Is race a biological construct or a social construction of biology?

These questions are especially relevant because both science and religion (which have otherwise widely and wildly different views on the origins of the human form) have converged on the notion that the emergence of the human form is traceable to a single ancestor. If we all have a single ancestor, why are we so different? Or is our difference only skin deep?

Scientists at the Pennsylvania State University here in the United States said they have found answers to these ultimate, soul-searching questions. They said they have “discovered” how black skin mutated and evolved to the first white skin in the world.

(Never mind that no human skin can truly be white, else it will be spooky and ghostly! The adjective “white” was appropriated by Europeans and people of European descent to describe themselves because of the word’s association with purity, peace, holiness, innocence, power and beauty in the popular imagination.)

“The work suggests that the skin-whitening mutation occurred by chance in a single individual after the first human exodus from Africa, when all people were brown-skinned. That person's offspring apparently thrived as humans moved northward into what is now Europe, helping to give rise to the lightest of the world's races,” the Washington Post reports.

Ignore the reluctance—indeed the failure—of the Washington Post to admit that the humans that left Africa were black, or dark if you like, and not “brown”— whatever “brown” means, and that is assuming there is literal truth to the notion that Africa is the birth place of humanity.

However, the work provokes a flurry of new queries—not least of which is why white skin spread so widely in northern climes once it emerged among hitherto dark-skinned people. The research claimed that lighter skin offered a strong survival benefit for people who wandered out of Africa because it heightened the intensity of their bone-strengthening vitamin D in the new sunless clime.

It also conjectured that the “novelty” and “showiness” of the white skin made it more “attractive” to those in search of mates, what the researchers called “sexual selection.”

And how did they arrive at these definitive conclusions? According to the Washington Post, the “discovery” was a fortuitous offshoot of research on inch-long zebra fish! After finding a gene in the fish that, when mutated, impedes its capability to make its distinctive black stripes, the team scanned human DNA databases to see if an analogous gene exists in humans.

To their astonishment, according to the Washington Post, they found practically the same pigment-building genes in humans, chickens, dogs, cows and many other species, a clue of its genetic utility. When they reportedly looked in a new database comparing the DNA sequence of four of the world's main races, they found that whites with northern and western European ancestry have a mutated version of the gene.

This study stretches my credulity to the limit, perhaps because I do not have the scientific sophistication to understand it. (I’m only a journalist/journalism educator—and a numerophobic one at that!) But I not only have issues with the methodological soundness, even propriety, of the study; I also have issues with its implicit assumptions and presumptions—and what it left out.

Let’s begin with what it left out. Why do Arabs, for instance, who live in the hottest hemisphere of the world, have light skins? What of light-skinned aboriginal Africans like the Fulani and the Igbo and several others? How did they come about their relatively light skins?

Why do Papua New Guineans in Polynesia (near Australia and Indonesia) have dark skins even though they have been living in the Northern Hemisphere probably for as long as, if not longer than, the first whites? What of the Aborigines of Australia who are native to Australia? How did they get their dark skin?

Again, one might ask why black people who have been in the United States and Europe for over 400 years still remain black. Well, the research has a tacit answer for that. It said it’s because most of the food people now eat has Vitamin D, so late arrivals to the North have no need for “evolutionary” vitamins!

Remember that it is the search for Vitamin D to adjust to the new Northern clime that supposedly led the black gene to mutate to produce the first white person.

The implicit assumption that effortlessly flows from this is that black people—or brown people, if you will—are less evolved humans than whites, and are only a degree (maybe some degrees) away from monkeys, our so-called evolutionary cousins. This endorses the long-standing racist notion that the purported subnormal human intelligence of blacks in relation to white people is the result of our being stuck in the infancy of the evolutionary process.

Similarly, the claim that the white skin spread in the Northern Hemisphere because of its “attractiveness” subliminally privileges “whiteness” over blackness and reinforces the racist mythology that black is ugly, which unfortunately some self-loathing Africans have internalized.

It is conceivable that these “findings” will redefine discussions about race in America—and the world. The study is particularly noteworthy coming on the heels of recent scientific revelations that all people—black, white, brown, red, yellow or other—are more than 99.9 percent genetically identical, which vitiated the biological validity of the concept of race.

That is why this study strikes me as no more than right-wing pseudo science to intellectualize white supremacy and perpetuate the myth of the innate inferiority of blacks. The Ku Klux Klan (a fringe, white supremacist, racist group whose goal is to eliminate all non-white, particularly black, people from the United States; the white American equivalent of OPC in Nigeria) has been armed with pseudo intellectual armory to justify their advocacy for the mass murder of “less evolved” blacks from the Western Hemisphere.

My intellectual orientation and socialization predispose me to have a skeptical disposition toward the grand cosmological and ontological questions of life. I think the world is too complex to be reduced to a simple set of binaries and conjectures.

An ancient Persian philosopher, whose name I cannot remember for the life of me, once compared the world to an old manuscript of which the first and last pages are irretrievably missing; no one can say with certainty how the first page looked, nor can anyone say with any precision the nature and form of the last page.

I have often been persuaded by this pithy and instructive analogy.

Islam in America (III)

This first appeared in the print edition of Weekly Trust on November 11, 2006.

By Farooq A. Kperogi
What is the state of Islam in America in the age of the “war on terror”? How have the September 11 attacks affected Islam in America? These are some of the concerns that some readers of this column wanted me to address.

I don’t pretend to be in a position to do justice to these questions since I have only been to about 16 states out of the 50 states in this country.

Nonetheless, it seems to me that the September 11 attacks both hurt and helped the growth of Islam in this country. In a rather paradoxical way, 911 at once expanded and constricted the social distance between Islam and Western ethos by simultaneously inviting attention to Islam from those who had never given it a thought and by outright repulsing others.

Those who were invited either found surprising doctrinal affinities between Islam and Christianity and had a reason to convert—or at least be more sympathetic— to Islam or had a reason to reinforce their prejudices against Islam.

For instance, I have a white American female friend who converted to Islam in the aftermath of 911 while trying to find out what drives Muslim resentment against the West. She decided to study the Qur’an to get a sense of the doctrines of Islam, which are believed by some to be the inspirational springboard for Muslim hatred of and violence against the West.

In the process of her search, she not only disproved her presuppositions; she was enthralled by the message of the Qur’an. And after deep ruminations and inner battles, she converted to Islam. There are many like her.

The September 11 attacks, of course, also provided a rich rhetorical staple for hatemongering against Muslims by people who resent Islam, not out of ignorance of its teachings, but out of a visceral aversion to anything that has been socially constructed for them as different; anything that dislocates their habitual perception of reality and that upsets their settled certainties. People with that kind of mindset exist in all regions and religions of the world.

But these are not the only effects of September 11 on Islam here. The backwash of the attacks has also inspired a lot of self-censorship among some Muslims. Many Muslims, afraid of being unfairly profiled because of their faith, routinely conceal their Muslim identity. This concealment often takes one of two forms: outright name change or the twisting of Muslim names to make them sound Western—or anything but Muslim. This appears to be more common among certain Muslim immigrants than among indigenous American Muslims.

I remember my experience with a Sierra Leonean Muslim in Washington, D.C. in 2003. He worked as a clerk at a hotel where I lodged. While he was checking me in, he introduced himself to me (and other guests at the hotel) as Mo Abby. However, when he saw my first name, I noticed that he took an unusual interest in me.

After a while, he came to my room to ask if I was a Muslim. When I answered in the affirmative, he then told me that he was also a Muslim. He said his actual names are Mohammed Abbas, but that he changed his names after September 11 because he didn’t want to be stereotyped— and perhaps fired from jobs.

His example is not an isolated one. I have heard of many Rayans who changed their names to Ryan, Faruks who changed their names to Frank, Bilyamins who introduce themselves to people as Billy, etc.

However, while there are occasional cases of extreme Islamophobia (that is, the irrational fear of or aversion to Islam and Muslims, which can sometimes manifest in violent acts) many Muslims in America, at least from my experience, basically enjoy wide latitude to practice their religion without molestation.

There are several beautiful mosques in many major cities. And many people, including Samuel Huntington (that man who predicted a “clash of civilizations” between Islam and the West), say that Islam is the fastest-growing religion in the United States. Of course, some non-Muslims contest the accuracy of this claim.

Especially from the period President Bill Clinton became president, Islam has also been steadily enjoying official recognition in ways it never did previously. All Muslim festivals are now accorded presidential recognition. A postal stamp with Arabic inscriptions to honor the end of the Ramadan was approved by the U.S. Postal Service last October. Many cultural and religious conservatives who are scandalized by this gesture are campaigning for a boycott of the stamps, but the stamps are in circulation nonetheless.

Again, Muslim prayers are now said in many formal governmental occasions. Warith Deen Muhammad, Elijah Muhammad’s son that I talked about earlier in this series, became the first Muslim to give the invocation in the U.S. Senate. In 1993, he also gave an Islamic prayer during the first Inaugural Interfaith Prayer Service of President Bill Clinton, and in 1997 at the second Interfaith Prayer Service.

W.D. Muhammad (as he’s popularly called), by the way, is still alive and now heads a well-respected Muslim organization called The Mosque Cares, which is a mainstream Muslim group that propagates the message of Islam to America. He and Louis Farahkan recently embraced in public and settled their age-long differences, but Farakhan remains married to the doctrines of the Nation of Islam.

This concludes this series.

From my mailbox
Because of the constraints of space, I have decided to reproduce only two of the responses I have received to this series. I am reproducing these two because of their informative content.

I read an article you wrote that I really liked titled “Islam in America (II).” I read your article on one of the Islamic yahoo groups, kanoshia to be exact.

Please forward me any further articles on the subject as well as any past articles and/or webpage where there are more of your articles. I am living in Providence, Rhode Island, USA.

I was born in America and have been a Muslim for 23 years. I remember the different stages of Islam in America as I was growing up but would love to know more about Islam prior to and in addition to the Nation of Islam.

To my knowledge, it was the NOI [that] introduced the masses of black people here in America to Islam, even though it wasn't true Islam. Prior to that, most Americans (especially black) had never heard of Islam.

There [were] the followers of Nobel Drew Ali prior to the NOI but that was only a handful of people and not widely known. I first came to know of Islam through Malcolm X and the NOI, then from various black nationalists who broke off from various secular movements to become Muslims after Malcolm left the NOI.

I then saw these Muslims practicing the concepts of piety and charity that really touched my heart...

Mikaeel Abdu Al-Wadood (mikaeel05@yahoo.com)

I read your article on “Islam in America.” I really appreciate all the evidences you provided therein. They are all accurate. I would suggest to you to visit Boston Port in Massachusetts.

There you will find the ship that brought the first African slaves to this country. On the ship, they wrote their names in Arabic. They were all Muslims. There was a will left by one of them, which he wrote in Arabic, and he concluded it with chapter 110 from the Holy Qur’an!

Thank you.

Mustapha Maikudi (ktn75ng@yahoo.com)
Oklahoma City, USA.

Islam in America (II)

The following post first appeared in my column in the Weekly Trust newspaper, Nigeria, on October 28, 2006.

By Farooq A. Kperogi
I pointed out last week that the notion that the early presence of Islam in America is traceable to the rise of the Nation of Islam is not faithful to the facts of history. To what, then, can we attribute the early presence of Islam?

Many popular and scholarly sources date the presence of Islam in America to as early as 1776—the year America got its independence from Britain. However, the most definitive evidence of the presence of Islam in the United States, according to recorded history, started when Muslim slaves, especially from Senegal, the Gambia and Nigeria, were brought here.

The names of two such slaves often feature prominently in the discussion of early Islam in America.

The first is Ayuba Suleiman Diallo, a Senegalese prince who was “wrongly” sold into slavery. He was renamed Job Solomon when he arrived in America. Being a sheltered child accustomed to the luxuries of royalty, he was unable to endure the rigors of physical labor on the slave plantation.

So he ran away but was recaptured by the slave masters. It was soon discovered that he was literate in Arabic and was, in fact, a prince. After two years of servitude, a lawyer by the name of Thomas Bluett who was traveling around Maryland where Diallo was in prison for escaping physical labor bought his freedom in 1733 and took him to England where he learned English before returning to his native country.

Bluett’s fascinating account of this intriguing episode was published in book, which is now available online through this link.

The second most prominent Muslim slave was Omar Ibn Said, a Wolof, or perhaps a Mandingo man from present-day Senegal. He was captured as a slave and brought to the state of North Carolina in 1807. According to records, he lived into his mid 90s and remained a Muslim—and a slave— until his death around 1864.

He resisted all attempts to convert him to Christianity. His name was changed, or corrupted, to Uncle Moreau and later Prince Omeroh. Because he was a very learned Muslim, he wrote at least 14 manuscripts in Arabic, including his autobiography, most of which are now preserved at the library of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

He was not as lucky as Diallo. Nobody bought his freedom on account of his profound learning and robust scholarly productivity. These two figures are just representative samples of the scores of Muslims who were brought to America as slaves, and who retained their faith in spite of intense pressures to renounce it. Others were not this resilient, of course.

However, early Muslims in America were not all slaves from Africa. There is the well-known case of Alexander Russell Webb, regarded by many accounts as one of the first white Americans to embrace Islam. He converted to Islam in 1888.

In fact, the title of this series, “Islam in America,” is borrowed from one of his hugely influential books on Islam. He was born a Presbyterian, but recanted his faith in his received religion and was areligious for 15 years. Then he studied Buddhism, hoping to find spiritual fulfillment in it that he said his received faith lacked. But he was disappointed.

Then he studied Islam and became convinced that it answered all the nagging cosmological questions he had been grappling with. He converted to Islam without having met any Muslim in his life. He later toured the Indian subcontinent to meet Muslims.

President Stephen Grover Cleveland appointed him American ambassador to the Philippines in 1887, even though at that time he had become the most outspoken representative of Islam in America. There was no contrived “clash of civilizations” then. He died on October 1, 1916 at the age of 70.

If the presence of African slaves in America can be called the first noticeable wave of Muslim presence in America and the efforts of Alexander Webb the second, the third wave could very well be the immigration of Middle Eastern and European Muslims from Syrian, Lebanon, Jordan, Palestine Albania, Russia, Poland, Lithuania, etc between the late 1800s and the early 1900s.

But this was still insignificant in comparison with what I call the fourth wave of Muslim immigration into the United States from Asia and Africa from the 1960s to the present.

Since the U.S. Census Bureau does not collect data on religious identification, the actual number of Muslims in the United States is the subject of a lot of disputation. Various institutions and organizations have given widely varying estimates about how many Muslims live in the USA. The Council on American-Islamic Relation (CAIR) estimates that there are up to seven million Muslims in the United States. Other non-Muslim groups put the Muslim population in America between two and three million. For a country of 300 million people, that is not a significant numerical strength.

According to a recent survey by the Faith Community Today (FACT), regular mosque attendees come from the following backgrounds: South Asian (33%), African-American (30%), Arab (25%), African (3.4%), European (2.1%), White American (1.6%), Southeast Asian (1.3%), Caribbean (1.2%), Turkish (1.1%), Iranian (0.7%), and Hispanic/Latino (0.6%).

The FACT survey also states that converts make up 30% of the U.S. mosque participants. Of those converts, 64% are African-American, 27% are White, 6% are Hispanic, and 3% are classified as Other.

There is not a lot of associational bonding between African-American Muslims (and I mean the orthodox African-American Muslims) and Arab Muslims. This is not the place to discuss that, however. A silent issue that has been plaguing the immigrant Muslim population is the reluctance of children of Muslim immigrants to embrace Islam.

A famous white Muslim convert and professor of mathematic at the University of Arkansas, Dr. Jeffery Lang, captured this problem in his widely read book titled Losing My Faith: A Call for Help. While Muslims here are busy attracting converts, they are losing their children from the fold. However, they are not losing the children to Christianity or to other competing religions; they are losing them to no religion.

Muslim in America are reluctant to confront this reality and Dr. Lang argues that American Muslims should invest as much energy in Islamic propagation as they should in retaining their children’s enthusiasm about Islam.

Islam in America (I)

The following post first appeared in my column in the Weekly Trust newspaper, Abuja, Nigeria on October 21, 2006.

By Farooq A. Kperogi
I had just finished teaching an undergraduate class in news reporting and writing and was about to close the lecture theater when a young, light-skinned African woman in her late teens, or perhaps early 20s, approached me.

She was clad in what you would call archetypal female Muslim attire—hijab and all. When I fixed my gaze on her, I was almost sure that she was a Fulani girl from Nigeria. As you can expect, I greeted her in Hausa with all the enthusiasm and eagerness that I could muster.

“What’s thaat?” she responded, with a sassy African-American accent. I was jolted back to reality. I apologized and told her that I was greeting her in a Nigerian language because I had mistaken her for a Nigerian.

Why did she come to the classroom? She wanted me to allow her to use a portion of the lecture room to say her Zuhr prayers. Of course, I gladly obliged her. After her prayers, out of curiosity, I asked her when and why she converted to Islam. “I didn’t convert to Islam,” she said. “I was born into Islam. My parents, too, were born into Islam.” She dislocated my preconceptions about Islam in America in more ways than one.

On the second day after this encounter, I met another African Muslim man at the metro station. He was dressed in resplendent white robes—the kind that you see everywhere in northern Nigeria and almost nowhere in America— jump-up trousers, a skullcap, etc. He kept a long, luxuriant and shiny beard, which he fondled repeatedly. And he was holding a copy of the Holy Qur’an.

He looked markedly different from everybody around. Nobody could persuade me that I was not looking at a DanIzala from Zaria or Kano or Ilorin. My previous misadventure with the black American Muslim woman was not sufficient to tamper my overconfidence with caution.

“Assalam alaikum,” I greeted him. His eyes almost literally popped out with excitement. “Wa alaikumus salam,” he responded with a fluency and vim that reinforced my conviction that he was definitely an African, and most probably a northern Nigerian Muslim in America.

So I proceeded to speak to him in Hausa. Then there was stupefied silence from him. “I am sorry, but are you by any chance Nigerian?” I asked, thinking he was probably a non-Hausa-speaking Nigerian Muslim.

When he spoke, his American accent at once indicated to me that I was wrong again in my assumptions— and presumptions.

He was a New Yorker who came to Atlanta to visit his relations. He, like the woman I had met earlier, didn’t convert to Islam; he was born into it. He went to Arabic and Islamic schools as a child, he told me. He speaks Arabic fluently and reads the Qur’an with a perfect, even musical, Arabic accent. He is also an itinerant preacher when he’s not at work.

As soon as we got into the train, he started preaching to people who cared to listen to him, copiously quoting verses from the Qur’an in Arabic and translating them into English with a remarkable ease. He was dispelling common misconceptions about Islam through scriptural evidence and challenging his listeners to open their hearts and minds to what he called the real message of Islam.

I thought he was unusually bold—preaching Islam inside a metro train in a country where Islam and terrorism have become, or are becoming, synonymous in popular consciousness.

It is not every day that I encounter these kinds of people here. But I have met people like that with a regularity that I never had when I lived in Louisiana. I have since found out that there is a sizable population of indigenous Muslims in America, especially among black Americans in big metropolitan areas.

But given the enormous spatial and historic gulf between Muslim nations and the United States (until recently, that is, thanks to immigration and technology), how did America have third- and sometimes fourth-generation Muslims among its indigenous population?

It is customary in popular commentaries to attribute the early presence of Islam in America to the rise of the Nation of Islam. However, as I will show next week, this is a wee bit historically inaccurate. While the Nation of Islam is far and away the best-known Muslim group in America, courtesy of the high-profile controversies it has courted over the years, several efforts antecede it.

But, first, what is the Nation of Islam? How did it emerge and spread? And how is it similar to and different from mainstream Islam?

The Nation of Islam is basically a black American Muslim organization. Some of its teachings, as you will see shortly, will strike any orthodox, mainstream Muslim as heretical, even blasphemous. It was started in 1930 by a man whose real identity is still shrouded in mystery and controversy. He is known to us as Wallace Fard Muhammad. But alternative names on record for him are: David Ford-el, Wali Farad, Farrad Mohammed, W.D. Fard, and F. Mohammed Ali. Within the Nation of Islam, he is simply known as Master Fard Muhammad.

While the Nation of Islam insists that Wallace Muhammad migrated from Saudi Arabia to the United States, official U.S. records say he was originally a New Zealander of mixed Polynesian and European ancestries. Two different versions of his photographs are kept by U.S. official records and by the Nation of Islam. It’s not clear where the truth lies.

Wallace Fard Muhammad taught that Islam was the original faith of black people in America before their enslavement. He also taught that blacks were the original people that Allah created on Earth, and that white people were a race of devils created on the “island of Patmos” by a wicked scientist named Yakub. Black people, he claimed, were inherently divine, created by Allah from the dark substance of space, and that a spacecraft was waiting to wipe out all white people from the surface of the Earth when the appointed time came.

Upon his death (his followers believe he only ascended to Heaven), a certain Elijah Poole (who was renamed Elijah Muhammad by Wallace F. Muhammad) took over the leadership of the Nation of Islam and immediately conferred divine status on Wallace F. Muhammad.

He taught that Wallace Muhammad was not only the “long-awaited Messiah of the Jews and the Mahdi of the Muslims” but was, in fact, Allah in human flesh! His birthday, February 28, is still celebrated to this day by the Nation of Islam as the “Savior’s Day.”

However, it is important to note that members of the Nation of Islam believe in all the five pillars of Islam.

The group rose to national and international spotlight when the inimitable Malcolm X became its spokesman. He held the world spellbound with his admirably charming oratorical brilliance and penetrating wit.

He elevated the Nation of Islam from a cult of a few hundred adherents to a veritable spiritual and political mass movement. In spite of its heretical teachings—from the perspective of an orthodox Muslim—it played a significant role instilling racial pride in black people, in ennobling erstwhile criminals, and in encouraging American blacks to embrace the philosophy of economic self-sufficiency.

In time, however, Malcolm X’s phenomenally growing national and international profile would invite the envy of both Elijah Muhammad and other members of the Nation of Islam, including Malcolm X’s erstwhile protégé, Louis Farrakhan. But two decisive incidents led to a final, irretrievable rupture in the relationship between Malcolm X and the Nation of Islam.

The first was Malcolm X’s discovery that Elijah Muhammad was a lewd old reprobate who had impregnated several teenage girls. Malcolm X was shattered by this discovery. He had trusted Mr. Muhammad with every fiber of his being and had thought of him as the very epitome of moral rectitude.

The second event was Malcolm X’s press conference, in 1963, during which he described President John F. Kennedy’s assassination as a case of “chickens coming home to roost.” Elijah Muhammad was utterly mortified by that statement. So he suspended Malcolm X as the spokesman for the Nation of Islam.

When it became clear to Malcolm X that the suspension would not be lifted, he broke away from the Nation of Islam. That breakaway would mark the first step in his journey to the discovery of mainstream Islam.

He went on pilgrimage to Mecca and met many orthodox Muslims. It was an epiphany of no mean proportion for Malcolm X. He also visited Nigeria, Ghana, Egypt, and many other African and Muslim countries.

(When he visited Nigeria, the Muslim Students’ Society of the University of Ibadan hosted him and named him “Omowale,” meaning the son has returned home, a name he cherished profoundly).

Upon returning from Mecca, he changed his name to El-Hadj Malik el-Shabbazz and became the symbol for the spread of orthodox Islam among American blacks. Of course, he became too dangerous for both the white power structure in America (a phrase he was very fond of in the last years of his life) and the Nation of Islam. And so he was murdered in cold blood at the behest of Elijah Muhammad and Louis Farrakhan with the alleged connivance of the FBI.

Muhammad Ali, the famous American boxer, and Elijah Muhammad’s own son, Wallace Muhammad, were among people who were persuaded by Malcolm X’s message that the Islam that Elijah Muhammad taught was counterfeit, and they continued with the process of reforming the doctrines of the Nation of Islam in conformity with orthodox Islam. For this, they were suspended from the organization for “dissident views.”

However, in 1974, a year before his death, Elijah Muhammad reinstated his son to the Nation of Islam. And after his death in February 1975, his son was unanimously appointed as the Supreme Minister of the NOI. He used this position to dislodge the teachings of the Nation of Islam that were in conflict with orthodox Islam.

He also renamed the Nation of Islam to the “American Society of Muslims” and changed his own name from Wallace Muhammad to Warith Deen Muhammad.

Louis Farrakhan was outraged by these changes and he quietly dissociated himself from the new American Society of Muslims. In 1978, however, Farrakhan revived the Nation of Islam under its original, unorthodox teachings.

This means that the current Nation of Islam still believes, among other heretical teachings, that Fard Muhammad was Allah in human flesh and that white people are devils who are inherently incapable of being Muslims.

This article continues next week.

CNN, Niger Delta and Western Media: Readers’ Reactions

This first appeared in the print edition of Weekly Trust on March 24, 2007.

Farooq A. Kperogi
I have received many thoughtful reactions to the series I just concluded on the above topic. My responses follow in italics.

Specimen of investigative journalism
Your series on the Niger Delta report by CNN is a magnificent specimen of investigative journalism. You have taken advantage of your proximity to the CNN centre to do a thoroughly rigorous work.

The sophistication of your article lies in the fact that your disagreement with some of the actions of the Nigerian government has not beclouded your sense of judgment, and your convincing rooting of a seemingly isolated case of misrepresentation to the larger issue of the unjust, racist, imperialist Western caricature of Africans and Africa.

I can't hide the fact that I relate better with and prefer your write-ups to the articles you sometimes reproduced even as I perfectly understand how busy you are.

Abdul, MAIDUGURI (abbakaka@yahoo.com)

My Response
Thanks for your kind remarks. I understand why you relate better with my personal narrations than the articles I occasionally republish from other sources. I do that because I want my readers to benefit from other perspectives. However, I will try as much as I can to write articles based on my personal experiences.

I’m appalled by your article
In reading through your article, I could not help but wonder what your priorities actually are. You seem to care more about the cosmetic outlook of Africans as seen by Westerners than the traumatic and enslaved poverty that has riddled the common citizen of Nigeria.

I am a Nigerian, born in Michigan, USA, but follow voraciously the events and plights of the common citizen of Nigeria. You wonder why the Western world degrades Africans? Well, for starters, Nigeria has enough resources from oil and other sources to be able to cater for the needs of its citizen. Yet, the government seems not to be concerned about this, and people like you, who have the opportunities to make a change, waste them in crying racism.

I am appalled by your article. It makes me cringe. Nigeria is responsible for how it is seen by the rest of the world. We made our bed. We must lay in it.

DANIEL OTOMI (dannydevito98@yahoo.com)

My Response
You probably missed the first part of my series. In it, I talked about our government’s criminal insensitivity to the desperate conditions of the Niger Delta.

While I perfectly agree with you that many of our governments since independence have sustained conditions that lubricate and provide raw materials for the kinds of media caricatures we are made of in the Western media, I think it is reductionist and simplistic to attribute Western racist fantasies about Africa solely to our relative state of underdevelopment. It’s more complex than that.


Why does the West like negative pictures of Africa?
I read your article on Niger Delta in Weekly Trust (Feb.26-March 3). I really appreciate your point of view. I can't understand why the West is always negative about Africa, though sincerely there are lots of negativities in Africa.

Please if I may ask you, of what benefit is it to the West to view Nigeria with such a negative picture (false drama)? I am a youth corps member serving in Abuja.

Baba Usman (baba_smn@yahoo.com)

My Response
Well, since I’m no clairvoyant, I can’t say with certainty what lurks in the minds of Western journalists when they portray Africa in negative lights. But I can conjecture what might be the motive force behind this—and I made passing references to this earlier.

First, in portraying Africa as the nadir of human civilization, Westerners narcissistically affirm their self-delusion of racial superiority. In the case of America where about 12 percent of the citizenry is Black, this achieves a second purpose: it makes the Blacks here feel so grateful that their ancestors were enslaved and brought to America that it rhetorically renders impotent their agitations for reparations over slavery. The possible reasons are legion, but I guess that’s a topic for another day.

The West has exported misinformation about Africa to Arabs, too
I am glad you are bringing this deliberate misinformation by the American media and the West to some of us who are ignorant of this conspiracy. Being a regular visitor to the United States, I know of the kind of closed world Americans are living in. Access to global information is reduced to music, fashion, sex, etc. Any another topic outside this is new to an average American.

I thought I knew the level of this disinformation until I met a female undergraduate friend of my friend. We went out for dinner, and in the course of our discussion, I brought the topic of my brand new Honda Accord, which I bought in Nigeria few months ago.

Our American friend was shocked by this story. She had to ask me again where I said I bought a brand new Honda car. I told her Nigeria. She confessed to us that all her life, she had been made to believe that we all live in huts without access to electricity and pipe borne water, much less a brand new Honda Accord.

She confessed to wondering why I always come to America and go back to Africa after my holidays. Her assumption was that all other African brothers of mine in America are running from famine and disease, and couldn’t believe why I don’t want to save myself as well.

The West has also succeeded in exporting this misinformation to other parts of the world. I found myself in the midst of Arabs, mostly from the Gulf region whilst attending a workshop in Dubai. We became very friendly to each other in view of our religious and social inclinations. One of the participants from Azerbaijan extended an invitation to me and one of the participants from Saudi Arabia, whom I consider a friend, to visit Azerbaijan.

I accepted to go to Azerbaijan on the condition that they will reciprocate the visit by coming to Nigeria. Expectedly, none of them was willing to come to my country because of the horrible stories they hear about Africa. In fact, I shifted a bit by suggesting a visit to South Africa, but none of them was ready to oblige.

Their reason was that we kill and rob visitors of their possessions because of our poverty. It is amazing how these people perceive Africa. Another thing I realized from the Arabs was their interpretation of Africans as SAUDAS (blacks). To them, Egypt and other Maghreb countries beside Sudan are not part of Africa. Africa to them means poverty, disease, insecurity, underdevelopment, famine, etc.

Babangida Dangora, Kano, Nigeria (babangidadangora@yahoo.com)

My Response
I’m glad you have brought the Arab dimension into the racist construction of Africans. But I think Arab anti-Black racism goes deeper than Western media portrayals of Africans.

Historically, Arab intellectuals have portrayed Africans as man-eating, subhuman creatures. The worst culprit is Ibn Khaldun whom I used to “worship” intellectually when I was an undergraduate. Sample the following quotes from Arab/Persian intellectuals about Blacks and see what I am talking about:

"Therefore, the Negro nations are, as a rule, submissive to slavery, because [Negroes] have little [that is essentially] human and have attributes that are quite similar to those of dumb animals, as we have stated."--Ibn Khaldun, Muqaddimah, 14th century AD11

"Beyond [known peoples of black West Africa] to the south there is no civilization in the proper sense. There are only humans who are closer to dumb animals than to rational beings. They live in thickets and caves, and eat herbs and unprepared grain. They frequently eat each other. They cannot be considered human beings." --Ibn Khaldun, Muqaddimah

"There came to sultan Mansa Sulaiman (of the Mali Empire) a group of these blacks who eat human beings accompanied by one of their amirs... They cover themselves in silk mantles... The sultan was gracious to them...They...came to the sultan to return thanks."--Ibn Battuta, 14th century

"[Inhabitants of sub-Saharan African countries] are people distant from the standards of humanity…Their nature is that of wild animals..." --Persian geographer Hudud al-`alam, 982 AD8.

"We know that the Zanj (blacks) are the least intelligent and the least discerning of mankind, and the least capable of understanding the consequences of actions." --Jahiz (d. 868 AD), Kitab al-Bukhala (The Book of Misers)9

And if you think these disturbing racist characterizations of Africans were only in the dim and distant past, here is a recent, unedited email a friend of mine received from an Arab in response to an article he wrote about Arab mistreatment of Black Muslims in North Africa:

“I came across a funny article of yours on Arab racist attitudes toward blacks and I found your idiotic comment that many of the North African population is mixed Ha Ha Ha. If it were the case, we would have exterminated them all! In your dreams, black bastard .The mixed are the most despicable of bastards and are unworthy of breath! Typical of an ignorant, inferior black. In North Africa, the only blacks we have are of slave descent and will remain that way, though they have raped some Bedouins. In the north of Africa, the majority, which is white, will not tolerate blacks and will fight to the death to eliminate all blacks from the region. We are not your brothers, we are your enemy and we will not accept you out of pity because the Europeans exploited you and don’t want to be responsible for the mess they have caused. All politicians who are pro-black or push for Arab-Afro relations shall perish, as shall all blacks from the region. The southern Mediterranean will never succumb to primitive savagery! Stay out. The Sahara serves as a barrier greater than a sea! If anyone crosses it, they shall be hanged! Go back to your savage forests, savages! Uncivilized swine! You pose the greatest threat to the region! The greatest threat, greater than any plague!

Sara Abdulaa"

CNN, Niger Delta and Western media portrayals of Africa (III)

This first appeared in the print edition of Weekly Trust, Abuja, Nigeria on March 10, 2007.

Farooq A. Kperogi
As I have been saying for the past two weeks, the CNN report on the Niger Delta is only a representative sample of the kinds of reports about Africa to which those of us who are sojourning in the West have become habituated.

It almost seems as if the media here have an abiding psychic need to affirm themselves only in opposition to us. The mainstream media here, of which the National Geographic is the undisputed leader, permanently create Manichean racial binaries in which Africans are the bad and the lowly and Europeans and their descendents are the good and the mighty.

I have learned to develop a thick skin to the pervasive media distortions of Africa and come to terms with the fact that people here simply can’t transcend the perceptual consensus of Africa that their media have imposed on them.

I know I am exposing myself to charges of crude media determinism—that is, the idea that the mass media solely orchestrate our everyday consciousness, attitudes and points of views. I am no media determinist. I know enough to know that a multiplicity of factors conspire to construct our perceptions of the world. It cannot be denied, however, that the mass media are the major sources of information about, and explanation for, social and political phenomena in the society.

People, especially in Western societies, are conditioned to rely on the mass media for images and perceptions of “other” people. These images color how they relate with “those” people. The anecdotes I will narrate shortly illustrate these points well.

One day, an incredibly good-natured, liberal white friend of mine asked me to suggest to him a place he could go for a vacation. I suggested several places, but somehow it occurred to me that he probably wanted me to suggest an African country. So I said he might consider Kenya, which is noted for its exquisite safaris. (I won’t suggest Nigeria as a vacation spot to anybody, truth be told!

) With thoughtless, dismissive, almost insensitive ease, he said, “Yeah, I have never seen a jungle before”!

Another day, I was conversing with yet another good friend of mine and, in the course of our conversation, we had reason to discuss Arkansas, the state of which Bill Clinton was a two-term governor before he became president. I asked my friend if the state is a nice place to live.

His response shocked me. “That’s the worst state anyone can ever wish to live in America,” he said. “I would rather live in Africa than live in Arkansas.” He appeared to have forgotten that I was African.

Well, it was a reflex knee jerk. From a suggestible age, Africa has been inscribed into his consciousness as the lowest common denominator of everything, as an uninhabitable jungle where only sub-humans dwell.

Again, during one of my graduate classes at the University of Louisiana, a professor was giving examples of the various motivations and “lacks” that inspire people to migrate across vast national borders.

He used me as an example of someone who is in the United States because “there are no universities in Africa”! I had already become impervious to such brazen ignorance. I simply asked him how I could enroll in the graduate program if I didn’t have an undergraduate degree from Nigeria. His response was even more staggeringly ignorant. “I thought you went to college [i.e. university] in England,” he said.

Illogical as his reasoning was, he had sympathizers among many of the students in the class, including, to my greatest surprise, the closest friend I had then. My friend said he too had honestly thought that I was educated in England. His politically correct but nonetheless ignorant explanation was that my English was too good for a non-native speaker who learned the English language in his native non-English-speaking country.

But I had told this fellow about Nigeria’s British colonial history, that English is our official language and the language of instruction in our schools. He knew the name of the university I attended in Nigeria and even knew what countries I had visited, England not being one of them. How could he, in spite of this knowledge, think that I went to school in England, more so that I don’t have a British accent?

Well, blame it on media-inspired, deep-seated prejudice. A philosopher whose name I can’t recall now once said that prejudice distorts what it sees, deceives when it talks, and destroys when it acts.

Sometime last year, an African-American whose news magazine I used to contribute to when I was in Louisiana told me of her experience in Senegal. She said when she got an invitation to visit Senegal she was elated at the prospect of seeing Africa, the continent where her ancestral roots are located. But she couldn’t help carrying with her the baggage of prejudice and bigotry that the American media had inspired in her about Africa.

So, as she prepared to travel, she told me, she decided against taking many clothes with her. Africans don’t wear clothes, anyway, she thought. Why should she wear expensive clothes and turn herself into a needless spectacle among naked, poor savages?

“To my amazement, I saw people in colorful attires in Dakar and I was put to shame,” she told me. “I had to rush to the nearby shop to buy clothes.”

The ignorance of and prejudice against Africa in the West is deeper than words can express.

One day, I almost succeeded in disabusing the minds of a group of Americans about the media stereotypes of Africa. I almost convinced them that the images that accompany most news stories about Africa are stale pictures about wars and famine in parts of Africa that don’t represent the reality of the whole continent. This was in a hotel where we lodged for a conference.

Just when we were about to finish the conversation, one of them switched to a popular Black entertainment station called the BET (Black Entertainment Television). And what did we see? A disconcerting “disaffirmation” of all that I had said. Some white do-gooder and his wife were soliciting donations from people to help starving and “AIDS”-infested children in a Kenyan slum.

The couple filmed their video in a notorious Nairobi slum—with stinking gutters and all. My colleagues all fixed a inquiring gaze on me that said, “You’re just a proud liar.”

I had a similar experience at a journalism conference in March last year. We had just discussed the unfair portrayals of Africa in the American media. A short while after that, a CNN editor presented a paper on new technologies for reporting. He told us that a new pocket camera that can record video and audio with perfect fidelity was now in use at CNN.

And he demonstrated a recent use of the technology. Guess what he showed? Jeff Koinage’s sensational report of the outbreak of the bird flu in Kaduna—showing a horde of almajirai unburying the infected chickens that had been slaughtered and buried the previous day by health officials.

Again, no houses were shown. Everything took place in the bush. The people he interviewed spoke halting, comical English. They were ragged and rough. All eyes in the conference room turned to me.

It is not only the traditional broadcast media that are invested in the project to show “Black Africa” as a wild “uninhabited” jungle. Even Google Earth, a new program that can show live pictures of many parts of the world from the comfort of your computer, deliberately refuses to show pictures of houses in “Black African” countries.

The only African countries that Google Earth captures are countries in North Africa, South Africa, and small portions of Zimbabwe where whites live. I have tried to get Abuja on Google Earth and, to this day, all I see is wilderness.

With these ceaselessly negative images of Africa in the American media, it came as no surprise to me when a recent research found out that the first thing Americans think of when Africa is mentioned is AIDS, war, famine, starvation, jungles in that order. Mandela is the distant 10th item that comes to their minds.

So the CNN report on the Niger Delta was merely the performance of a familiar script. I will borrow Malcolm X’s memorable satirization of the 1963 civil rights “March on Washington” to characterize the report.

“It was a circus, a performance that beat anything Hollywood could ever do, the performance of the year,” Malcolm said of the March during which Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. gave his unforgettable “I have a Dream” speech. “Reuther [a white man] and those other three devils should get an Academy Award for the best actors 'cause they acted like they really loved Negroes and fooled a whole lot of Negroes. And the six Negro leaders should get an award, too, for the best supporting cast.”

I will rephrase that and say the CNN report on the Niger Delta was a performance that beat anything Hollywood could ever do. I am not sure it is the performance of the year, though, because the year is still too young and Koinage’s capacity for staged, performative journalism that ridicules Africans is boundless.

But I think CNN and its affiliates should get an Academy Award for the best actors because they really acted like they loved Niger Deltans and fooled a whole lot of Niger Deltans. And Jeff Koinage should get an award, too, for the best supporting actor.

Concluded.

CNN, Niger Delta and Western media portrayals of Africa (II)

The following first appeared in my Weekly Trust column of March 3, 2007.

By Farooq A. Kperogi
Over the last week, I continued my conversation with my colleague. I forwarded to him the transcript of the email correspondence between CNN’s Jeff Koinage and MEND’s Jomo Gbomo. He was astonished. Or so it seemed to me.

Neither he nor any CNN editor had ever seen the correspondence before, even though it’s all over many Nigerian Internet discussion groups and Web sites. “This is interesting, Farooq,” he said. “It confirms the Nigerian government’s allegation that the report was staged.”

Unfortunately, I have read many Nigerian newspaper editorials defending the CNN report and dismissing our government’s objections to it. The consequences of imperialism on its victims can indeed be deep and complicated. Or how else does one explain the Guardian’s uncritical, even slavish, support for the CNN?

It is, of course, true that our information minister’s handling of the controversy was childish and gratuitously over-dramatic. It is also true that his protest was long on suspicions and short on evidence. But the government, and for that matter MEND, have a valid, unassailable claim that the report was not only “fraudulent” but purposively “staged” and deliberately “arranged” for effects.

Another top CNN editor confided in me that an African producer at the CNN headquarters here in Atlanta had had occasions in the past to charge that many of Koinage’s reports are often “staged.” He said they had taken the producer’s claim with a pinch of salt because Koinage cuts image of a decent, ethical, go-getting reporter. Now they have a reason to investigate him, he said.

However, my concern in this essay is not to hang Koinage for doing what his employers expect him to do anyway. I merely want to use this report to instantiate my point about the opinions and images that the Western media collectively cherish about Africa.

For instance, when the report was aired on the domestic CNN here, the anchorperson, Anderson Cooper, introduced it by saying, “CNN’s Jeff Koinage takes us to the heart of darkness.” I have no idea how the report was introduced on CNN International since I only have access to the domestic CNN, which is completely different from the international version.

The phrase “heart of darkness” has a lot of associative significance. It is a historically racist phrase that has been central in the discourses of Western negrophobia. As any student of African literature knows, the Heart of Darkness is a 1902 fictional representation of the Congo, and by extension Africa, by Joseph Conrad, an English novelist whom our own venerable Chinua Achebe famously described as a “bloody racist.”

Achebe’s inimitable Things Fall Apart was, by his own confession, a response to Conrad’s racist denigration of Africans in the Heart of Darkness and Joyce Carey’s equally condescending characterization of Africans in Mr. Johnson, another racist fictional work set in northern Nigeria.

I do not want to bore readers with the storyline of Conrad’s novel. It suffices to say, however, that Conrad deployed the motif of “darkness” to encapsulate his sense of the barbarism, backwardness and spiritual death of Africans whom he portrays as inhabiting a dreary, lifeless and colorless jungle in contradistinction to the “civilization” and spiritual light of Europe.

Since Achebe called global intellectual attention to the racist underpinnings of the phrase “heart of darkness,” most careful academics, journalists and public commentators don’t use it to refer to Africa lest they should be accused of racism.

But CNN’s Anderson Cooper, in 2007, called Nigeria the “heart of darkness” using Jeff Koinage’s tendentious report on the Niger Delta as a convenient cover. And no eyebrows were raised from the plethora of anti-racist and anti-defamation groups in America!

When I called the attention of a CNN editor to this, his only response was that he didn’t watch the domestic version of the report and could therefore offer no comment.

The truth is that the report fits perfectly well with the mental pictures Americans are made, even forced, to have of Africa. A report that was supposed to highlight the plight of Niger Deltans under the tyranny of oil companies and the Nigerian state became, in reality, an informational staple to feed the ever ravenous racist fantasies of Americans about Africa.

In the video, we see menacing, hooded “militants” dancing themselves to a state of “trance,” aiming their guns at poor kidnapped Pilipino oil workers, and insisting that they would only grant CNN an interview in the middle of the river for “spiritual” reasons—and such other racist banalities that are irrelevant to the core of the story.

And then you have naked children walking in fetid refuse dumps, and half-naked men in filthy, begrimed makeshift huts fishing on the bank of the river. We all know these are atypical scenes.

But the object of the report is not to highlight the desperate state of the Niger Delta, but to provide a journalistic endorsement (by an “African” journalist) that Africa is indeed (still) the “heart of darkness” where people are notoriously superstitious and backward; where people live in a state of nature, wear no clothes, live on trees or at best in mud houses, are untouched by the faintest sprinkle of “modernity”—and maybe in need of a white “savior.”

This caricature of Africa achieves two ends: it reminds white Americans how truly racially superior they are, and makes the Black American population feel so grateful that their ancestors were enslaved by white brutes and brought to America that demands for reparations for slavery not only seem unreasonable but also preposterous. And these calculations have worked perfectly over the years.

The image of Africa (Africa is, of course, invariably presented as if it were a country and not a continent made up of over 50 countries) as an uncharted mass of land dotted with naked or barely clothed savage cannibals is an enduring component of the popular fantasies of Africa in this country.

Because of the persistently, (I would add compulsively) negative (for want of a better word) portrayals of Africa, many Americans (and I imagine Europeans as well) have deep-seated and ice-cold disdain for our continent. The mention of Africa conjures up the image of a backward, primitive, starving, war-torn, disease-infested hellhole. Africa is now a byword for poverty, hunger, disease and everything that is objectionable.

My American friends have told me that as children each time they were scolded by their parents for wasting food, they were almost always reminded that, “there are people starving in Africa who need it.” It is still the case today.

As an undergraduate in mass communication, one of my intellectual interests was media and cultural imperialism. But my exposure to the literature on the portrayals of Africa in the Western media did not prepare me for what I have been witnessing since I’ve lived in this country.

My first shock came when one of my students in Louisiana—a Black student—asked me if we live in houses in Africa. Before I recovered from my disbelief, she said she asked the question because I—and most Africans she has met in the United States— didn’t fit the stereotypes of Africans she had seen on TV and in movies.

“You don’t look like a person who just started wearing clothes and living in houses in America,” she said. “I just want to know the truth about Africa.”

Several other Black people have asked me similar ignorant and bigoted questions. Being Black insulates the questioners from charges of racism or xenophobia. (It’s for the same reason that Koinage is such a perfect person to do the kinds of reports he does about Africa).

White people ask the same questions in less direct ways. But, in a sense, these people really have no option but to nurse these unflattering stereotypes about Africa. A lot them have never been to Africa. Their only experience of Africa is mediated by their national broadcast media, which perpetually show invidiously stereotypical portrayals of Africa for all kinds of reasons.

There is, for instance, a deliberate policy in the American media never to show our real homes and towns and cities in almost all their news reports. The visuals that accompany stories about Africa are usually library pictures of flyblown slums, makeshift huts of refugees in war-torn countries, and naked, starving children with sunken eyes, protruded stomachs and flies hovering around them.

Sometime early last year or so when the president of the World Bank visited Nigeria, I was hoping that, finally, the U.S. broadcast media would be forced to show Abuja in its beauty and splendor. I thought they would at least show the World Bank president and, in the process, show parts of Abuja. I was wrong.

The only visual that accompanied the story on the domestic CNN was that of President Obasanjo and the World Bank president inspecting local farms. The impression was created that the farms were Abuja and the bedraggled farmers in the background were Abuja residents.

Nobody whose sole knowledge of Africa is mediated only through these kinds of images will ever think there are houses in Africa—or that the people who live in Africa wear clothes.

This column will be concluded next week.

CNN, Niger Delta and Western media portrayals of Africa (I)

This post first appeared in the print edition of my column in the Weekly Trust of February 24, 2007.

By Farooq A. Kperogi
Although I promised last week that I would start a series on the state of Black America in the spirit of the month of February, which African Americans have dubbed the “Black History Month,” I am compelled to change my topic because I feel an irresistible urge to share my thoughts on the ongoing controversy over CNN’s recent report on the Niger Delta.

However, I want to transcend the banalities that have enveloped the issue so far—such as our information minister’s ludicrous, almost infantile, hysteria and CNN’s insufferable condescension and haughtiness—and locate it within the larger context of the old but nevertheless enduringly relevant debate about the Western media’s compulsively predictable, xenophobic and all-too-familiar eagerness to portray Africa as the “heart of darkness,” as the handy proverb for superstition, backwardness and primitivism.

My inspiration for this week’s column actually sprouts from an ongoing debate and conversation I am having with a senior editor at CNN who is also my colleague in the doctoral program in communication here in Atlanta. At the end of one of our seminars during the week, the man walked up to me and asked of my opinion on what he called Jeff Koinage’s “wonderful report on the Niger Delta,” which is causing so much discomfort to the Nigerian government.

“It’s a tastelessly trashy piece of journalism, but an artfully staged performance,” I said calmly, knowing that I had stirred the hornet’s net.

“What!” he exclaimed.

“Jeff merely packaged for you guys what you expect him to do,” I said.

“That’s bullshit! What do you mean ‘what you guys expect him to do’”?

The otherwise amiable gentleman was getting all hot and worked up, but that did nothing to alter my emotional equilibrium. However, just when the conversation was getting animated, he realized that he had to leave for the CNN headquarters, which, by the way, is only a walking distance away from my department—one of the reasons my department prides itself on being a huge laboratory for media education.

Before he left, however, he adjured me to tell him why I thought the report was a grand simulation. I told him I had read the email correspondence between Koinage and MEND’s spokesperson, which showed that Koinage knew that he was not capturing the activities of the real MEND but of some mercenary ragtag and bobtail, and that the wild gyrations and exaggerated, even theatrical, show of militancy and bloodthirstiness of the people in the video are simply out of step with the image of a people who are angry.

After our brief encounter, the man appeared to have sobered up considerably. I am not sure about this, though, until we meet again to discuss the issue. I have an invitation to visit him in his office and to meet with other senior editors. When I do have the time to honor the invitation, I will report back to my readers here. But before he left, he looked at me calmly and said, “If we have proof that Jeff staged this report, he will be in trouble. Trust me.”

However, I am not one to put an African brother in trouble for doing his job, however crookedly he did it. At any rate, it is unlikely that a Western news organization will fire any reporter for filing a report that merely reinforces dominant caricatures of Africans in the Western imaginary, especially if such a report is only “sexed up” and not an outright fabrication.

As I will show later, the institution of deep-seated negrophobia (that is, the irrational fear of and aversion to people of African descent), which the Western media habitually perpetrate for various reasons, is more blameworthy than this poor Kenyan fellow who simply wants to survive by cleverly locating and appealing to the sentiments of his employers and viewers. But let’s leave that for a moment.

What evidence sustains my conviction that the report was all willful theater—or even a borderline fib? My first evidence is from the text of the email correspondence between Koinage and Jomo Gbomo, the spokesperson of the Movement for the Emancipation of the Nigeria Delta (MEND). The correspondence was leaked by MEND to a Nigerian Diaspora online news outlet called the Times of Nigeria. I think the correspondence is worth reproducing in full for the benefit of those who didn’t have the opportunity to read it. It is reproduced here unedited:

“From: "Koinange, Jeff" < Jeff.Koinange@turner.com >
To: "Jomo Gbomo"
Date: Mon, 22 Jan 2007 08:45:16 -0000
Subject: RE: CNN trip....
In that case, my Brother, I shall wait for your WORD and will only come when you are ready for us…..please try and make it soon as I’m getting a lot of pressure from my headquarters in Atlanta to come and do this story…..if it’s possible for us to come next week (the week of Jan 29th), that will be GREAT!!!!
Thanks for your candid reply and for your suggestions.
Jeff
From: Jomo Gbomo [mailto:
Sent: 22 January 2007 08:42
To: Koinange, Jeff
Subject: Re: CNN trip....
Hi Jeff, do not waste your time with those criminals who are in touch with george esiri. They are representing a group called fndic in warri that has been misleading the nigerian government and oil companies into believing they have a relationship with us. They can arrange a few boys who will take you on stage trips through delta state alone. They do not represent mend or the people of the niger delta.
If youre satisfied with that, its fine by me. If not, kindly wait till i give you the green light to come down here. The nigerian government has been working through such traitors to infiltrate and destroy our group.
"Koinange, Jeff" < > wrote:
Hi Jomo,
I received a phone call from my good friend, George Esiri and he said he’d been contacted by your colleagues and told that CNN is been given the GREEN LIGHT to come into the Delta. I wanted to check with you first and make sure this is a legitimate ‘invitation’ from you and that your aware of it.
If this is the case, we’re like to come sometime this week…..possibly get to PHC or Warri by Friday and spend the weekend with your ‘boys’…..
Please let me know if this is possible and I look forward very much to meeting you and doing this VERY IMPORTANT story.
Bests.
Jeff”


Notice that Koinage acknowledged, in this correspondence, that the group that initially gave him the “green light” is actually counterfeit. The MEND spokesperson even called the group a bunch of “criminals” who can only “ARRANGE a few boys who will take you on STAGE TRIPS through delta state alone” (my emphasis).

But because Koinage was “getting a lot of pressure from my headquarters in Atlanta to come and do this story,” he dispensed with the pesky MEND and preferred to “arrange” a “stage trip” with “criminals.” The result was the disreputably histrionic journalism that you saw on CNN. When Koinage was interviewed on CNN—at least on the domestic CNN here—he lied that he had no reason to believe that he wasn’t talking to the real MEND.

Perhaps, it is important that I make my position very clear lest my motives should be misconstrued. First, I am not holding brief for the Nigerian government—a thoroughly irresponsible and incompetent mob of savage thieves. Second, I am not in any way suggesting that the situation in the Niger Delta is not tragically lamentable enough to deserve global media attention, not because expatriate oil workers are now daily being kidnapped, but because the vast majority of the people in the Niger Delta vegetate in morally reprehensible penury in the midst of the stupendous wealth that the Nigerian state and its foreign accomplices extract from these hapless folks’ ancestral land.

I know this from experience. In 1999 when I worked for this paper as a reporter and later news editor, I wrote a cover story titled, “The Wretched of Nigeria,” which took me to the Niger Delta for about a week. In fact, I spent a day in Bane, Ken Saro-Wiwa’s natal village, and had a meeting with his dad, his relations and a number of other people in the village.

The despoliation, poverty, desperation and exploitation that I witnessed in the Niger Delta were simply beyond the resources of journalistic description, but I recounted my experiences nonetheless. Many readers of Weekly Trust still remember the cover story as one of the best that the paper ever did. Well, so much for self-congratulation!

But my point is that I have tremendous sympathy for the plight of the people of the Niger Delta, sympathy that is nourished by my experiential and vicarious familiarity with their pains, their anger and their hopes.

My concern, however, is the appropriation of the misery and legitimate wrath of the people of the Niger Delta to further a time-honored xenophobic Western media agenda against Africans.

This series continues next week
.

Re: Nigerian Green Card holders: Catching hell in paradise?

The following post, which is a selection of reader responses to my column and my answers, first appeared in the Weekly Trust on January 20, 2007.

Farooq A. Kperogi

In my tradition of allowing my readers to speak back to me—and to other readers of this column— I have decided to publish some of the responses I have received to my last series. Some of them are edited for space and clarity, but the opinions are untouched. My editorial interventions in the letters are indicated in square brackets and my responses, where they are provided, appear in italics.

Northern and Southern pronunciations
I very much enjoyed your piece on the Green Card holders you have met. It’s unfortunate for the man who is a graduate of OAU, Ife. You know [Americans] are right. A Third World country must definitely produce a Third World degree.

And one thing [about] the people of southern Nigeria is that their spoken English is not very good. However, they keep thinking that they are the best. [They are] very ignorant until they happen to be in the white man’s land when they know [the truth]. A southerner here will pronounce “mother” as “murder” and “occur” (correctly pronounced as something like “occa”) as “occo,” “doctor” (pronounced “docta”) as “docto,” and so on.

On many occasions, you will see President Obasanjo addressing the English-speaking white people who most times resort to using translators fixed to their ears [rather] than listen to him directly. I really don’t understand. What is the factor governing the difference in [pronunciation] between the North and South of Nigeria when it comes to English Language?

Dahiru A. Raji (draji@spemail.org)

My response
Good observations, Dahiru, but you will be surprised to know that most Nigerian accents sound alike to most Americans. An accent is the unique, phonologically specific, culturally determined, and sometimes unconscious, way we orally express ourselves.

Pronunciation is only part of the story of an accent. You can have a perfect English pronunciation (in any case, there is no such thing as a perfect pronunciation, and that’s why pronunciation is not an ingredient of Standard English) and have the “wrong” accent.

As far as most Americans I have met are concerned, all Nigerians—whether they are southerners or northerners—have fairly the same national accent with only insignificant variations. In fact, it’s customary for Americans to talk about not just a “Nigerian accent” but also an “African accent.” Ignorant? Yes! But that’s the reality.

I have met northerners here who equally lament that Americans have difficulty understanding them when they speak “naturally.” I am not immune from that, too. No Nigerian is. So it’s not a peculiar southern Nigerian problem. It seems to me, though, that it is easier for the Brits to understand Nigerian accents than it is for Americans to do so.

As for the Simultaneous Translators (STs) that you see Western heads of state affix to their ears when our president is speaking at international forums, I don’t think your interpretation is correct. People who have STs affixed to their ears are often non-English speakers.

Well, as I have once pointed out in this column sometime in 2005, the most basic guideline to navigate the contours of American accents is to learn to roll your “r” wherever it occurs in a word (as in muRdeR), dispense with your “t’s” when they are in the middle or the end of a word and pronounce them as if they were “d’s”—or anything but a “t” sound. Which means RiTa will be pronounced as “ReeDa,” twenTy will be pronounced as “twenDy” or simply “twenNy,” thirty will be “theRDi,” etc).

Then speak slowly and enunciate clearly. Of course, in spite of this, Americans will still remind you that you have an “accent,” (as if their own accent is not a corruption of British accent, which is itself a product of multiple corruptions over generations), but you will at least be reasonably comprehensible.

This advice works for all Nigerians I have met here who have concerns about the comprehensibility of their accents. Of course, there is no such thing as a person who has “no accent.” As phonologists often remind us, “a person without an accent would be like a place without a climate.”


America, too, has homeless people
I decided to write in order to show my deepest and whole-hearted appreciation and gratitude to you for your write-ups in the Weekly Trust which I have been patronizing unfailingly for over seven years now. In fact, my weekend is dull without it!

I was particularly moved and touched by your piece(s) on the so-called Green Card, which is a new form of trans-Atlantic slavery in disguise. Those of us blindly craving to go to America should know that, that country is not a land flowing with honey and milk.

I once saw a film about the plight of homeless American couples, and at the end of the film, it was announced that there were over 3 million homeless married couples in America then. What about now? [We] should not be deluded by what is portrayed in American [movies].

Yahaya Umar, Kano, Nigeria yualgezawiy@yahoo.com

My response
Thanks Yahaya. There are still homeless people here, especially in the urban areas. According to the most recent statistics (released early this month), there were 744,000 homeless people in the United States in 2005.

California (home to Hollywood and some of the world’s richest people) was the state with the most homeless people in 2005, followed by New York, Florida, Texas and Georgia, according to the report.

The state of Nevada (of which the incredibly flashy Las Vegas is the biggest city) had about 0.68 percent of its population homeless, the highest in the country. It was followed by Rhode Island, Colorado, California and Hawaii in that order.


You’re not patriotic
I do feel compelled to respond to the article published in your column [in] the Weekly Trust of Dec. 30 to Jan. 5 titled “Nigerian Green Card holders.” It portrays the bad political, economic and social state where Nigeria is today.

However, permit me to add that it also betrays some lack of patriotism on your part. That Nigerians are rushing to get the “God given opportunity” of traveling to your so-called God’s Own country does not guarantee an automatic “better” life for them, just as you have rightly pointed out in the same write up.

Moreover, what appalls me most and, which will do any patriotic Nigerian youth, is the way you went on and on praising a country in which you are just a sojourner, and in turn castigating your country of origin, a place where you take your roots.

Have you ever paused to think of juxtaposing Visa Lottery and brain drain? Or have the goodies in the US made you so myopic that you cannot see that neocolonialism has another face now?

Our fathers were carted away at the time when they were supposed to realize and wake up to the scientific and technological challenges in their world, just like their contemporaries in other parts of the globe.

It is therefore about time Nigerians in [the] Diaspora woke up to the fact that the question of neocolonialism has changed; just as Africans are about to find some answers.

Shola Babadiya (activistshola@yahoo.com)

My response
I honestly don’t get the point of this email. It’s mere juvenile and incoherent rant, but I guess even misguided pubescent exuberance deserves to be given an outlet for ventilation, too. By the way, Americans don’t call their country “God’s own country.” Only Nigerians do. No American I have met—from the North to the South, to the Midwest—has ever heard of that phrase.

Most of them, in fact, are often amused when I tell them that Nigerians think Americans refer to their country as “God’s own country.” The favorite phrase Americans cherish about their country is: “the land of the free and the home of the brave.” It appears four times in their national anthem.


Informative effort
I was so happy reading your piece a few minutes ago titled, “Nigerian Green Card holders: Catching hell in paradise? II. It was such an interesting article. I was just browsing and looking at some of the Nigerian newspapers online, and for some reasons while I was going through the archives, I came across it and it was very interesting. Thank you so much for such informative effort.

Jumah Ibeagbazi
Chicago, Illinois, USA (jumahstudio@yahoo.com).

A collection of your columns
I was trying to create some sort of a collection of your articles in the Trust since when you were writing from Louisiana. It [will be] a beneficial exercise. The contribution of the guest writer last Saturday was both captivating and educating, even though he employed too many hard words.

Musa Sule Damagun, musasuledamagun@yahoo.co.uk

Appreciation
I really appreciate what you are doing in your write-ups. You inspire us academically. My heart’s desire is to get to where you are and get a Western education. I wish you the best.

Emma Auta
Kafanchan, Kaduna State, empra2004@yahoo.com
2348020891644

Related Articles:
Nigerian Green Card Holders in America: Catching Hell in Paradise? (I)
Nigerian Green Card Holders in America: Catching Hell in Paradise? (II)
Nigerian Green Card Holders in America: Catching Hell in Paradise? (III)

A reader’s response—and more

This first appeared on January 6, 2007 in Weekly Trust, Abuja, Nigeria.

Farooq A. Kperogi

After reading my series on American Green Card lottery winners, which ended last week, a reader wants me to give audience to his thoughts on what he called the “new slave trade” that once again brings pains to Africa but brings gains to the West. It’s an insightful and thoughtful rumination on the history, nature, pattern and consequences of Africa’s brain drain and the West’s brain gain.

I will like to point out, however, that there are not as many Nigerians in the United States as the writer claims. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, there were 164, 691 Nigerians in the United States as of the year 2000. Even if this number has doubled between 2000 and now and we take into account the possibility, indeed the reality, of illegal Nigerian immigrants, we still cannot have more than a million Nigerians in America at the most.

I have also decided to share with you an Associated Press story on the decision by America’s first Muslim Congressman, Keith Allison, to use the Qur’an for his swearing-in ceremony.


The New Slave Trade
By Salisu Suleiman (ssuleiman2004@yahoo.com)

As usual, your style has kept us gripped to Weekly Trust. Your series on the state of some Nigerians in the US reminds me of an essay I wrote some time ago which is attached. You may publish if you wish to.

In the 400-year period between 1500 and 1900, perhaps 30 million Africans were forcibly taken from their homes and sold into slavery. It is estimated that of these, 17 million were sold into slavery on the coast of the Indian Ocean, Middle East and North Africa; 12 million were taken to the Americas; 5 million across the Sahara and East Africa to other parts of the world. Some estimate that 20 percent of slaves chained in the holds of the slave ships died before reaching their destination.

The slave trade formed part of a lucrative triangle developed by European countries. It involved exporting manufactured goods to the west coast of Africa where they would be exchanged for slaves (often forcibly obtained). The slaves were then sold for huge profit in the Americas where the money was used to buy raw materials such as sugar, cotton, coffee, metals and tobacco that were eventually shipped back to Europe for more profit.

While I do not want to digress by pointing out how the slave trade developed Europe and the Americas (particularly North America) while leaving Africa short of human and material resources necessary for development, it is worth noting that slavery created and then relied on a large support of shipping services, ports, finance and insurance companies. New industries were created, processing the raw materials harvested or extracted by slaves in the Americas.

Before the Industrial and Commercial Revolutions (which partly resulted from the slave trade), wealth was measured in terms of agriculture. The quantity of land and the amount of labour available to work on it was the major determinant of wealth. In this area, Africa was denied the opportunity to maximize its human and natural resources to any appreciable level because the strong and able bodied people who would have done so were being evacuated to develop strange lands.

Thus, the marriage of land and labour never quite happened in Africa except at the sustenance level.

In fact, so vicious was the slave trade that it is estimated that at least 4 million died in slave wars and raids before ever leaving Africa. In West and Central Africa, it led to huge population upheavals.

Coastal tribes fled slave raiding parties and captured slaves were redistributed to different regions in Africa. (The civil wars and genocide of today bear historical link to this artificial relocation of people).

At any rate, when the Industrial Revolution made human labour (slaves) uneconomical, the Europeans (and later Americans) began to look for what to do with them and eventually arrived at the idea of abolition. (Was there any other option?) It is fanciful to claim that the abolition of slavery was predicated on humanitarian grounds, but the reality is that slaves had become an unwanted liability. With time, following political and sometimes military (U.S. civil war) developments, the slave trade was finally abolished. Or so we thought.

Incidentally, the creation of Liberia and Sierra Leone as settlements for former slaves was not for humanitarian reasons. It was done to reduce the Black population in America. (Without the resettlements, there might have been an African American President of the US?) Meanwhile, I will not belabour readers by taking them through the arguments on how Europe underdeveloped Africa.

Walter Rodney has more than taken care of that. But the fact remains that this barbaric cruelty of man to man significantly explains the reasons behind the strife, poverty and underdevelopment of Africa today (Very easy to blame somebody else for your problems?). Sadly, that is beside the point. The crux of the matter is: There is a New Slave Trade today. Oh, it is subtle and called by different terms, but at the end of the day, it will have the same consequences as the slave trade.

The world today is faced with the realities of integration of trade and capital flows facilitated by the rapid growth of information technology and hitherto closed societies and economies in Russia, Eastern Europe and China. Globalization has triggered a development revolution that includes mobilization of human and material resources across the borders of an increasingly seamless world. And as usual, Africa is once again at the receiving end. (We also receive toxic wastes too dangerous for other parts of the world).

The world is moving rapidly into the knowledge society where capital is measured not in terms of agricultural or industrial capacity, but in terms of knowledge, expertise, professionalism or simply, information. To create wealth today, what is required is not vast quantities of agricultural land and labour, or huge stacks of industrial goods. (Perhaps China is an exception?.

Today, information is wealth. It is no coincidence that the two richest people in the world today are Bill Gates and Warren Buffet, none of whom is a farmer or industrialist. Their wealth is based not on what they produce but on the ideas and information they have and use to manage their businesses. The issue at stake is that today, millions of Africans are once again on the move to Europe, Middle – East and the Americas.

Highly skilled African professionals in every field are leaving the continent for other parts of the world, some call it Brain Drain and of course it is! Since brains constitute wealth and it is the mass movement of trained and skilled Africans that is the new slave trade. Unfortunately, this new slave trade has the capacity to stunt African development far more than 400 years of the Old slave trade ever did.

Today on a daily basis, the trained personnel required to help keep hopes of African development alive are on their way to different parts of the world. Doctors, pharmacists, lawyers, scientists, university professors, nurses, dentists, IT specialists, finance, real estate and even sports professionals are all moving out in droves.

This time, it is not the crack of whips, nor the clang of chains that compels them to move into foreign lands. Nothing as dramatic as that. It is the lure of the greenback. And as practical reality has shown, it has a more convincing drive than the slave raiders ever possessed.

In the new triangular modem (the language has to be in tune with the times), we do not see chains and guns nor sorrow in the faces of those leaving their homes (at least, not at first). But the consequences remain the same. And the gap between developed and African countries has widened and continues to widen, further accelerated by the vast movement of the continent’s best trained professionals. (The more things change, the more they remain the same?).

According to latest figures, there are 3.25 million Nigerians living in America today, counting 4 generations. Of this number, there are over 115, 000 Nigerian medical professionals, 87, 000 pharmacists, 49, 000 engineers, over 250, 000 legal, financial, real estate and related business professionals. These figures relate only to Nigeria out of Africa’s over 50 countries. Who cares to compile the data?

And predictably, their destinations remain the same: Europe, The Middle East and North America. While the slaves of yonder years were chosen because of their physical strength, those of today are chosen because of their intellect and professional expertise. The consequences for Africa are the same, or worse.

Whoever said the slave trade was over? For when the consequences of what we euphemistically refer to as Brain Drain begin to be felt in 50 or a hundred years from now, who shall we blame? Cry, Africa.

Congressman to be sworn in using Quran
By FREDERIC J. FROMMER, Associated Press Writer
WASHINGTON - Rep.-elect Keith Ellison, the first Muslim elected to Congress, will use a Quran once owned by Thomas Jefferson during his ceremonial swearing-in Thursday.

The chief of the Library of Congress' rare book and special collections division, Mark Dimunation, will walk the Quran across the street to the Capitol and then walk it back after the ceremony.

Ellison, D-Minn., contacted the library about the book last month, Dimunation said.
Some critics have argued that only a Bible should be used for the swearing-in. Last month, Virginia Rep. Virgil Goode, R-Va., warned that unless immigration is tightened, "many more Muslims" will be elected and follow Ellison's lead. Ellison was born in Detroit and converted to Islam in college.

Ellison spokesman Rick Jauert said the new congressman "wants this to be a special day, and using Thomas Jefferson's Quran makes it even more special."
"Jefferson's Quran dates religious tolerance to the founders of our country," he added.

An English translation of the Arabic, it was published in 1764 in London, a later printing of one originally published in 1734.

"This is considered the text that shaped Europe's understanding of the Quran," Dimunation said.

It was acquired in 1815 as part of a 6,400-volume collection that Jefferson sold for $24,000, to replace the congressional library that had been burned by British troops the year before, in the War of 1812.

"It was a real bargain," Dimunation said.

Nigerian Green Card Holders in America: Catching Hell in Paradise? (III)

The following post first appeared in my weekly column on December 30, 2006 in the Weekly Trust newspaper, Abuja, Nigeria.

By Farooq A. Kperogi


Given the volume of private inquiries I have received on immigration matters since I started this series, I feel compelled to preface my column this week with the disclaimer that I am no expert on U.S. immigration. I do not have the experience, the knowledge, or the authority to give advice on immigration issues.

What I have been writing in this column are no more than mere anecdotal accounts of my experiences with Nigerians who are here by virtue of winning the Green Card lottery. And, as with all anecdotal accounts, they are limited, even superficial, and unworthy of being used as a sole basis for any firm conclusion. People who need professional services on immigration to the United States should go to the public affairs section of the U.S. Embassy in Nigeria.

Having said that, I will proceed to conclude this series. I stated last week that not all Nigerian Green Card holders here are beset by tales of woes. I have been told that there are many Nigerian Green Card lottery winners who are “doing well” here.

I have neither the space nor the inclination to give a catalogue of these people because I have not personally met any of them. It seems to me, nevertheless, that there are four categories of people that have the potential to benefit most from possessing the Green Card.

The first category is composed of people who are already here on non-immigrant visas: students, researchers, visitors, etc. Because of their prior knowledge of the workings of the society, they are usually able to make the best use of the opportunities that the Green Card offers. Of course, having a non-immigrant visa is no guarantee that you will win the Green Card lottery.

The second category is made up of young people who are either fresh out of the university or are about entering the university when they come here. The advantage of age makes it easy for them to go back to school and arm themselves with American qualifications with which to entrench themselves in their new society.

The third category comprises people who possess scarce professional competencies. Such people as IT professionals, nurses, engineers, doctors (if they are ready to retrain), well-published scholars, etc often find it easier to make inroads into the American middle class than people with everyday qualifications.

The last category is people who have nothing to lose by leaving Nigeria—and nothing to hope for by remaining there. I am talking of people who, even if they come here and end up as “maiguards,” are still better off because they couldn’t be any better if they remained in Nigeria.

This is, after all, the most prosperous country on Earth. The worst services and infrastructure here are light-years better than our best. Sad but true. In spite of all the reality checks that jolt you to the disjunction between the lavish glamorization of this country in the popular imagination and the reality on the ground, this is still one of the best places anybody can ever hope to live in the world.

If for nothing, you can at least wake up every day and be sure that there will be electricity. Millions of people here can’t conceive of the kinds of power outages we endure in Nigeria—and with equanimity most of the time. It’s trite to say that the regular and unfailing functioning of modern conveniences is taken for granted here. And there is no fuel scarcity here!

Many of my American friends simply can’t fathom why we suffer from perpetual fuel shortages when we are the fifth largest suppliers of oil to the United States. An exasperated American once asked me if our leaders are actually retarded. I think they are not only retarded; they are also greedy, incompetent, narcissistic and insensitive.

Which leaders would create the condition for the kind of tragedy that befell Lagos this week? In the midst of severe fuel scarcity, criminals, apparently associated with the government, burst open a pipeline and siphoned tanker loads of petrol. In the wake of their criminality, poor people reeling from the effects of fuel scarcity swooped on the leaking pipes, thinking it was their own “Christmas gift” before tragedy struck.

Needless to say, law enforcement is incredibly efficient here. And the majority of the people are honest. In fact, it’s honesty that sustains this society. It’s its engine. The credit system— which is the backbone of the American society—and Internet commerce are sustained by trust and honesty. If not, how can you purchase items worth thousands of dollars on the Internet from people you never know and will probably never know and your order gets delivered to you? That is impossible in Nigeria.

Of course, there is also security of life and property. Where such assurances are breached, you can be sure that the law enforcement agents will come to your aid. I often wonder why people choose to be criminals here. It seems to me that you have to have two things in excess to choose to be a criminal in this country: stupidity and pluck.

The law enforcement here is so efficient that very few crimes go unresolved.
Again, this is a society that gives every citizen—or almost every citizen—an opportunity to succeed. Not everybody, of course, takes advantage of this opportunity. But the society is structured in such a way that people don’t necessarily have to be rich to afford the conveniences of life.

All they need to have is a good credit history and a decent, regular job. Credit history is a record of an individual's past borrowing and repaying, including information about late payments and bankruptcy. When a customer fills out an application for credit from a financial institution, their information is forwarded to a credit bureau, along with constant updates on the status of their credit accounts.

This information is used by lenders to determine an individual's credit worthiness; that is, determining an individual's means and willingness to repay an indebtedness.
This helps determine whether to extend credit, and on what terms. If they have a good credit rating and a decent job, they can usually get mortgage from their banks to buy any kind of car, house, etc even if these things are ordinarily well above their means.

If they don’t get to repay the whole mortagege in their life times, their children or named beneficiaries will continue from where they stopped. That’s the origin of the expression, “mortgage the future of your children.” In sum, this is a country that WORKS. And this compensates for any disappointments that some Green Card holders here may experience.

Nevertheless, there are three kinds of Green Card lottery winners I will always advise to think twice before coming here: (1) people who are already doing well in Nigeria, (2) people who have only modest educational attainments with little chances to improve themselves here, and (3) people who are so advanced in age that they will find it difficult to adjust to a new, strange cultural and social setting.

Many Nigerians here who work several menial jobs to survive, especially at a fairly advanced age, are literally living in hell. They have enmeshed themselves in a vicious trap. They grow premature grey hair and permanently look frazzled because they can’t afford to rest. It’s a hard life. They remain here because they can’t live with the “shame” of returning home as “failures.”

But even the so-called successful ones here all wish that they had their success in Nigeria. I am yet to come across any Nigerian here who didn’t wish he could stay at home and not be a glorified economic refugee in another person’s land.

There is something about one’s land of birth that is difficult to completely dissociate from. However well you are doing in another man’s country, and however integrated you may be in your new society, you still feel a nagging sense of alienation, an abiding homesickness.

Perhaps, if we didn’t have a bunch of criminal rulers who have ruined our present and are ruining our future, America would not be such a huge attraction for our people. I read somewhere this week that Nigeria has the second highest number of applicants to this year’s edition of the Green Card lottery. We are second only to Bangladesh, another impoverished and corrupt country with which we always compete for first position in Transparency International’s annual ranking of the world’s most corrupt nations.

Gani Fawehinmi at his inATIKUlate worst
It was one of my American students who first called my attention to the “sack” of the vice president by the president. After taking my class in news reporting and writing, my students now easily relate with news from Nigeria.

My student was alarmed that our president has such enormous powers that he can unilaterally fire his deputy without recourse to the Congress. I thought this was a joke until I read the details in our newspapers myself.

It does not require someone with a legal education to know that Obasanjo’s purported sack of Atiku is a crying, culpable rape of the constitution. And you don’t have to like Atiku to acknowledge this.

However, the most disconcerting thing for me is Gani Fawehinmi’s well-publicized stamp of approval on this barefaced executive banditry. He is reported to have said that Obasanjo’s action has basis in law. It is obvious that this is merely the product of Fawehinmi’s whimsical legal interpretation, an interpretation that is balanced on a very scrimpy strand of constitutional evidence.

For people who had seen in Fawehinmi the model of a person who has transcended petty ethnic allegiances, this must be a distressing time for them. Just the other day, he again stamped his imprimatur on the notorious subversion of our laws in the impeachment of the thieving ex-governor of Plateau State, Joshua Dariye.

I think Fawehinmi should be frank enough to accept to serve on Obasanjo’s legal team. He can even replace Afe Babalola as Obasanjo’s main lawyer. He should stop deceiving people that he is a pro-democracy activist. He is not. In fact, he has never been. With the benefit of hindsight, is it possible that Fawehinmi’s exuberant opposition to the military was actuated more by primordial animosities than by a desire to protect the rule of law?

But many people had cause to point out that this man is basically a media creation. People who know him closely say his modest intellectual endowments are scandalously out of step with the larger-than-life public perceptions we have of him in the media.


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