"WR6_gUnUj-ztiW07KQcOCnTel9A"/> Notes From Atlanta: June 2009

Friday, June 26, 2009

Our image as a nation of scammers (II)

By Farooq A. Kperogi

This first appeared in my column in the Saturday, July 15, 2006 edition of Weekly Trust, Abuja, Nigeria.

If you think it’s only financial crimes that Nigerians are involved in, you will be shocked to know that even a few of the people that have been publicized and elevated as our intellectual icons in the United States are also soiled in disgraceful intellectual frauds. The most shocking cases are those of Philip Emeagwali and Dr. Gabriel Oyibo.

Emeagwali was etched into our national memory when President Bill Clinton, in the course of his speech to a joint session of the National Assembly during his first visit to Nigeria, called him the “Bill Gates of Africa.” As will be shown later in this column, Clinton was duped, and he became an inadvertent medium for the popularization of a well-knit intellectual fraud.

Dr. Oyibo got national visibility when he claimed to have dislodged Albert Einstein as the world’s greatest physicist with the “discovery” of his oddly named “God Almighty’s Grand Unified Theorem,” or GAGUT for short. He even makes a ridiculous pretence to omniscience by labeling his GAGUT “the theory of everything.” He also falsely claims that he is a three-time Nobel Prize nominee in physics. The Nigerian media uncritically bought the fraud and undeservedly celebrated the man to high heavens.

It has now come to light that Emeagwali and Oyibo are high-profile impostors. Emeagwali, praiseworthy as his contribution to supercomputing is, did not invent the supercomputer as he claims, nor is the Gordon Bell Prize he won for supercomputing on which he stakes his claim to genius nearly as significant as he cracks it up to be.

The real “Nobel Prize for computing,” as he misleadingly calls his award, is the Turing Award. The award has been around since 1966, and has a monetary value of $100,000. The Gordon Bell
Prize, on the other hand, was instituted only in 1987 and has a cash value of $1,000.

In fact, Emeagwali did not complete the Ph.D. that he started at the University of Michigan, yet he attaches Ph.D. to his name and even sometimes calls himself a professor. Inquiries from the University showed that he failed his Ph.D. qualifying exams twice and wrote a doctoral dissertation that fell short of the standards of the Graduate School there. He was therefore not awarded the Ph.D. He filed a racial discrimination suit against the university, but it was thrown out for lack of merit.

A search on his name in all the peer-reviewed computing journals in the world often yields no matches. It is his wife’s name that manages to show up in three places. Yet the man claims to be one of the “fathers of the Internet.” Apart from the fact that his name is absent from the list of the true fathers of the Internet, a feat such as he claims to have achieved in computing cannot merely be limited to word of mouth and self-promotional Internet sites; it has got to be published in a peer-reviewed scientific journal. It’s an inviolable article of faith in inventions and scholarship.

As for Dr. Oyinbo, his GAGUT is just as cranky and nonsensical as it sounds. It is pooh-poohed by his colleagues because it has no basis in any known province of knowledge. What is worse, it is not published in any peer-reviewed journal in his field. All he has is a vanity, self-published book, which a U.S. professor in his field characterized as a “Nigerian 419 scam-within-a-book.”

Again, he is only a visiting associate professor at a nondescript U.S. college. Any scholar who is truly a three-time Nobel Prize nominee will certainly be a much sought-after researcher/professor in all the major universities in the United States. He will not be vegetating in some backwaters.

As for whether he is a three-time nominee for the Nobel Prize, the Royal Swedish Academy, which administers the Nobel prizes, told a U.S.-based Nigerian citizen reporter that it does not reveal the names of its nominees, even to the nominees themselves, until after 50 years. It is therefore clear that Oyibo merely elevated his wishful thinking to “reality,” and got gullible Nigerian reporters to publicize this fabrication. In time, the fraud captured the imagination of a Nigerian public that is more than eager for such oases of glory in our desert of national despair.

But it was easy to know that the man was a fraudster from the beginning. Physical science and spirituality are two mutually exclusive provinces of knowledge, and anybody whose scholarly activity pretends to reconcile these provinces can only either be an intellectual fraudster, a deranged person, or a joker—or all of these!

Physical science is hallmarked by its search for precision, by the implicit admission of the provisionality and tentativeness of its findings, by the amenability of all its ontological and epistemological resources to review, and by its concern with the known and the knowable.

Spirituality, on the other hand, thrives on faith without proof, on the celestial, on the imprecise, the unknown and the unknowable, the mysterious and the transcendent. It dispenses with rationality and formal logic because these apparatuses are considered too self-limiting in its quest for eternal verities. None is wrong, and none is necessarily superior to the other.

The foregoing, however, does not mean that a scientist cannot be spiritual. But it does mean that science and spirituality not only deploy different methodological apparatuses to appropriate their realities but also have almost mutually exclusive preoccupations. Their existence encapsulates the rich multiplicity and complexity of our humanity.

Well, so much for pontification. Now, what can we do to repair our image? Or, more appropriately, what drives many of our compatriots to crime, and what can be done to stop or lessen this? How can we replenish our severely depleted international reputational capital?

These are soul-searching questions that we should all chew over if we are still interested in salvaging what remains of our badly soiled international image.

It is all too easy to blame our proneness to criminality on poverty. It is a well-worn, all-too-familiar excuse, but it is one that is weakened by the reality that we are not the poorest people in Africa. Why are citizens of nations that are poorer than Nigeria not as criminally-minded as many Nigerians are?

Perhaps, an explanation can be found in the form and content of many Nigerian cultures. We have cultures that celebrate wealth, however ill-gotten, and scorn modesty of means. A U.S. writer who investigated the 419 phenomenon in Nigeria described our country as a “land where con is king.”

However, we all know that there is also a regional and ethnic dimension to Nigerian fraud. In fact, 419 refers to a section in the (Southern Nigerian) Criminal Code that criminalizes the impersonation of government officials for fraudulent financial gains. I remember that when we watched the CNN documentary on Nigerian fraudsters in the U.S. sometime ago one fellow Nigerian remarked to me that he wished Biafra had seceded from Nigeria. “What is now called Nigerian fraud here would simply have been called ‘Biafran fraud’,” he said in obvious reference to the preponderance of Igbos in 419 frauds.

Perhaps if an Igbo man were present when he made the comment, he might have reminded my friend that the people of his own ethnic extraction, the Yoruba, are the geniuses in credit card and identity frauds.

But it is unhelpful to dwell on the regional and ethnic content of Nigerian fraud because non-Nigerians cannot tell a southerner from a northerner. No non-Nigerian who is a victim of “Nigerian” scams is impressed or even persuaded by the fact that 419 and credit card frauds are perpetrated largely, if not wholly, by southern Nigerians. The shame and embarrassment of these scams affect us all, irrespective of our regions of origin.

This is an issue that should concern any government deeply. The restoration of civilian rule may have brought our government officials back to the official circles of the so-called international community, but we are still pariahs in many ordinary circles because of our image as a nation of scammers.

Instead of worrying their corrupt little heads about this serious image problem, our president and our state governors are held prisoner by a childish obsession to “attract foreign investment” into the country.

With our current severely battered image and culture of fraud, only three kinds of foreigners can be persuaded to come and invest here: a naïve person, a criminally minded investor, or a masochist with an exuberant taste for self-violence.

Our image as a nation of scammers (I)

By Farooq A. Kperogi

The following first appeared in my column in the Weekly Trust of July 19, 2006

This week, I will attempt to recapture what I wrote in my now stolen laptop. It is about Nigeria’s increasingly unflattering image as a nation of con artists and ruthless criminals. In fact, the phrase, “a nation of scammers” was actually first used to refer to Nigeria by Colin Powell, the immediate past Secretary of State of the United States who is Black (well, “Black” according to America’s strange racial typology).

Even with the most liberal stretch of the imagination, it is difficult to conceive of the utter scorn and resentment with which Nigerians are viewed abroad until one experiences it first-hand. Nigeria and all the inflections of this name, such as “Nigerian,” have now become synonymous with fraud, especially in the United States and the United Kingdom.

The ubiquitous 419 email propositions that pervade the inboxes of email account holders are now called “Nigerian scams” or “Nigerian letter fraud” in official U.S. and U.K. government documents. However, the association of Nigeria or Nigerians with fraud is not limited to official government communication; it has also made a creeping incursion into the demotic speech of many ordinary Americans.

My experience is that being identified as a Nigerian in the United States almost always automatically exposes one to suspicion and distrust. Of course, polite and politically correct Americans who are sensitive to potential charges of racism and xenophobia against them may not show this openly. However, the more frank ones will always ask questions about what drives Nigerians to commit 419 and other financial crimes. I have also been asked countless times if I knew people back home who became millionaires overnight.

I am not suggesting, however, that there are not many Americans who know enough to know that not all Nigerians are scammers. But the growing connection of Nigerians with all kinds of fraud in the American public consciousness puts a question mark on every Nigerian.

At a point I thought to myself that we should change our country’s name from Nigeria to something else—to anything but Nigeria! I thought we should adopt the name of some pre-colonial African empire in the fashion of Ghana, Mali, Benin, etc. And Songhai usually comes to my mind. What is the wisdom in clinging to an indelibly soiled dress, I often thought.

But I knew I was being escapist and reductionist. It is not our name by and in itself that is exposing us to so much international scorn and ridicule, even though I personally have serious objections to the name Nigeria; it is the criminal activities of our compatriots that have globally made us objects of suspicion, distrust and disdain.

About the biggest reason why Nigerians are resented in the United States is the deadly havoc that 419 email frauds, which the FBI calls “the Nigerian Letter Fraud,” are wreaking on their economy. The United States loses over $250 million dollars every year to 419 frauds. And these are only conservative official estimates based on self-reported cases.

Many American victims of 419 frauds don’t report their losses to law enforcement agents either because of embarrassment at being sucked into what, in retrospect, turns out to be cheap confidence trickery, or because of the fear that their misfortunes may be worsened by being found guilty of intent to aid and abet in the commission of fraud. Some people guesstimate that the actual losses that Nigerian 419 frauds inflict on the U.S. economy annually could be in the neighborhood of one billion dollars.

Nigerian 419 scams have ensnared not just ordinary, struggling Americans but also well-placed politicians, professors, pastors, and socialites. A former U.S. Congressman from Iowa, for instance, famously fell prey to Nigerian 419 swindlers, lost millions of dollars, and is now manic-depressive as a result. I have read of at least two professors from the state of Florida who were enmeshed in a distressing 419 swindle that stripped them of the entire money they had saved all their lives. One of them committed suicide.

Just three months ago, a highly respected psychiatrist in California also fell victim to a ruthless gang of con artists from Nigeria. He lost millions of dollars. But he didn’t believe that he was entrapped in the vortex of a carefully executed 419 racket until his son took him to court to stop him from sending more money to his “Nigerian business partners.”

The 419 scammers don’t merely bilk their victims of their resources; they also persuade them to visit Nigeria or other West African countries where the victims are further extorted and then murdered. There is a long list of such cases.

Nigerians are also the masters of high-profile credit card and cheque frauds in the United States and elsewhere. This was the subject of a recent CNN documentary that I made reference to in my last article on this page. Houston, the fourth biggest city in the United States, located in the state of Texas, is the place where most alleged Nigerian 419 scammers and identity thieves now live.

The consequences of these well-publicized cases of 419 frauds on innocent Nigerians are many and varied. They expose Nigerians to life-threatening dangers, such as when victims of 419 frauds in two eastern European countries invaded the Nigerian embassies in their countries and shot to death all Nigerians they set their eyes on.

The consequences of 419 also hurt genuine Nigerian businesses. For instance, no Internet merchant in the United States or the United Kingdom agrees to ship goods to a Nigerian address, or honor a credit card with a Nigerian billing address. Recently, some Nigerian banks, in conjunction with MasterCard—a major U.S. credit card provider—issued credit cards to Nigerian customers to enable them to participate in online transactions. No online merchant honored the credit cards. No one ever will. That’s how low our reputational capital has depleted abroad.

But more than anything, all Nigerians are now labeled as criminals until they prove themselves otherwise. Our reputation as one of the most corrupt countries on earth further helps to lend credence to the notion that we are a country of criminals.

I once narrated my experience in Daily Trust of the harassment that Nigerians face in international airports. When I traveled to the Republic of Ireland sometime in 2004 I was a victim of this. When we got to Amsterdam International Airport, our green passports gave us away as Nigerians, and we were stopped by the immigration officers. We were all thoroughly searched and put through all kinds of gadgets. Our passports were also tested to establish their authenticity. In spite of the thoroughness of the search, two Nigerians were still detained, and they missed their flight to Dublin.

I had a similar experience late last May when I was coming back home from the United States. I was flying from Memphis International Airport in the state of Tennessee. In the process of boarding my plane, I had cause to bring out my passport. The immigration officer who had hitherto looked listlessly as passengers boarded the Amsterdam-bound plane immediately got excited upon seeing my passport, and asked that I leave the line for some “routine” questioning.

I knew it was my Nigerian identity that provoked the man’s curiosity. It wasn’t racial profiling. Other Black people had boarded the plane without any incident. And shortly after I was invited for “routine” interrogation, another Black man who could easily pass for a Nigerian was also invited. (White Americans can’t tell a Black American from an African, but we can sometimes tell one from the other). When it turned out that the man was American, he was spared the catechismal rigor that I had the misfortune to go through.

Armed robbers in my bedroom!

By Farooq A. Kperogi

The following first appeared in my column in the Weekly Trust of June 10, 2006.

I apologize that this week I am compelled to share my personal tragedies with readers of this column. In the early hours of Thursday, June 8, a gang of ruthless and mean-spirited armed robbers invaded my room in Abuja. They prized open the door of my bedroom with the fiercest, rawest and most cold-blooded show of crude rage that I have yet seen in my entire life.

The first words the robbers uttered when they gained entry into my room were: “Where are the dollars!” They threatened to kill me and my family if I didn’t produce the dollars they said I had brought from the United States. As anybody in my situation would do, I gave them free access to the recesses of my room. And they thoroughly ransacked and stole everything that came within their sight.

They carted away my phone, my money, including the money I had withdrawn from my bank the previous day. They also took my laptop, which contains so many things that I can’t begin to recall in my present state of shock. The column I had written for this week’s edition is in the laptop. Incidentally, the subject-matter of the write-up is the fraudulent activities of Nigerians in the United States and my first-hand baptismal encounters with bank and airline frauds upon my arrival in Nigeria.

As I write this column a few hours after the robbery, I am still too much in a state of shock and disbelief to afford the comfort to be coherent in my thoughts. And I hope that I will be excused for the rather slapdash and jumbled fashion that my thoughts will be presented in this week.

Of all the personal losses I have suffered in this devil-may-care robbery, it is the loss of my original credentials that troubles me the most. The original copies of my bachelor’s and master’s degree certificates from Bayero University, Kano and the University of Louisiana, USA respectively were kept in my laptop case. My U.S. Social Security card, I-20 forms that I need to renew my visa and to re-enter the United States with, and my U.S. bank cheques were also in the laptop case. So were my admission letter to the U.S. university that admitted me for my doctoral studies and letter of financial assistance from the same school, including my certificate of induction into the Phi Kappa Phi Academic Honor Society—one of the oldest and most respected academic honor societies in the United States.

I had never experienced armed robbery first-hand all my life. Now that I have experienced it, I can only say that words are miserably inadequate to capture the inner dislocation, hopelessness, rage, and emotional torture that are the natural after-effects of this ugly encounter.

Just last week, I lamented on this page that the near-sightedness, ignorance, unimaginativeness and thoughtlessness of the gaggle of bandits invested with the delicate, all-important task of managing the affairs of our country is rapidly pushing Nigerians to the crushing heights of unimaginable suffering and severe deprivation—-and the nation to the precipice of self-annihilation.

What happened to my family and my neighbours today is just a sample of the practical collapse of the Nigerian state, and our consequent descent to social anomie. There is nothing to inspire belief that there is a government in this country.

The robbery went on for one full hour uninterrupted—-as if we are living in some anarchic jungle. And when the police finally arrived—-of course, after the deed had been done—-their presence was heralded by shrill sounds of siren. It doesn’t take much intelligence to know that only two types of people will attempt to catch a thief through an exhibitionist show of their presence: a man who is encumbered with an unbelievably subnormal intelligence quotient or a criminal accomplice who is warning the thief to leave the stage.

I suspected the latter, not least because the robbers were communicating with each other during the robbery in the all-too-familiar lingo of officers of the Nigerian Police.

My suspicions were strengthened when my neighbours told me that they saw four of the robbers in police uniforms. These suspicions were confirmed when I discovered that the robbers left their police boots by my door! They apparently mistook my black cover shoes for theirs—-or, better still, in their haste to steal my shoes, they didn’t have the presence of mind to take away the shoes they had brought along with them. And when a bunch of miserable police officers came to take inventory of the losses we suffered after the robbery, I could detect a subtle, even suppressed, but nonetheless perceptible glee in their eyes as we told them of the things that were stolen from our room.

As my wife correctly observed, the police officers’ main reason for coming to us was probably to have an idea of how much loot their accomplices were able to extort from us—-to help them in their negotiation for the division of the loot. The officers’ excessive, almost unnatural, concern with the monetary value—-or naira equivalent of the monetary value—-of the valuables stolen from me appeared to redound to the notion that the officers merely wanted to have a sense of how much to expect as share from the operation of their co-conspirators.

This suspicion may be entirely inaccurate and misplaced, even unfair. I could very well be paranoid. But how can I help being paranoid when I was robbed by people who wore police uniforms and left police boots in my room, people we pay to protect us? How can I transcend the urge to be neurotic when I have the misfortune of being the citizen of a country where life is short, cruel, brutish and chaotic? How can I afford the luxury to be dispassionate and clear-headed in a country where the faintest evidence of the presence of government has evaporated, where thieves and crooks and despicable beasts are our rulers, and where untrammelled anarchy defines our national existence?

What happened to me this week was just another addition to a long string of personal tragedies that keep elongating since I returned to the country. First, my carry-on luggage, which I was forced to check in at Memphis International Airport in the United States, was missing upon my arrival. And when it did arrive five days after, I discovered that it had been forcibly opened and all the valuables in it—-video, web and digital cameras, portable digital radio, books, even my toothpaste and many other things I will rather not bore you with—-stolen.

In the heat of the intense passion that my discovery of the theft provoked, my brain almost literally shut down, and I was only able to file a complaint on the disappearance of my video and web cameras. I discovered the disappearance of the other valuables after I got home. The airline officers are still investigating this detestable pilferage as I write this column.

Again, sometime in March this year, I sent a cheque to my sister in Lagos by mail. Up to the time my plane touched down in Nigeria, my sister said she had not received it. My first temptation was to conclude that the mail had got lost in transit. So when I returned to the country, I went to my bank—-a major Nigerian bank—-to cancel the cheque. But it turned out that some disreputable vermin had actually intercepted the mail, stolen the cheque, and cashed it without exciting any suspicion—-or so I think for now—- from the cashier who paid him.

The fraudster jerked up the original cash worth I wrote on the cheque by about 100 percent (which added up to a lot of money—-at least by my standards—-that almost drained my entire account), changed my sister’s name and replaced with his, and used a fake Nigerian Ports Authority ID card to confer false authenticity on his identity. (My sister works with the Nigeria Police). The case is still being investigated as I write this column.

I am profoundly disillusioned, crestfallen, and enraged. I don’t know what further tragedy awaits me. Given the rapid succession of travails that have been befalling me since I returned to my country, it is not entirely out of place, I think, to fear for my very life. If I survive till next week, I will attempt to recapture what I wrote earlier this week on Nigerian fraudsters in the United States.

Sometime last month before I set out to visit home, the Cable News Network (CNN) aired a hugely controversial documentary titled, “How to rob a bank,” which essentially chronicled the strategies Nigerian criminals in the Unite States deploy to steal people’s identities and empty their bank accounts—-and many other scandalous frauds that have come to be associated with Nigerians.

Nigerians living in the United States were understandably outraged by what they said was the racial profiling implicit in the documentary. In truth, the documentary made subtle, subliminal extrapolations that suggest that Nigerians, because of the culture of rampant fraud in which they were born and bred, have a natural predisposition for criminality. This broad stroke is undeniably untrue and invidious. But who can blame anybody for calling Nigeria a nation of scammers?

We have a tainted external image because of the high-profile criminal activities of some (perhaps many) of our compatriots abroad and at home.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Conservative Republican Activist Calls Michelle Obama A Gorilla

By Farooq A. Kperogi

The American mainstream is pretending to be in shock over the invidious racist slander against Michelle Obama by a prominent South Carolina conservative Republican activist identified as Rusty DePass who described his country's First Lady as being descended from a "gorilla."

DePass, a former Republican state senate candidate and early supporter of George W. Bush in South Carolina in 2000, remarked on his Facebook status update that a gorilla that recently escaped from Columbia's Riverbank Zoo is "just one of Michelle's ancestors - probably harmless." (Columbia is the capital city of South Carolina).

Rusty DePass: The face of a racist

But what actually shocks me is that people are shocked at all that a Southern conservative Republican harbors such sick and virulent anti-black gall. South Carolina, for starters, has the dubious honor of being the first Southern state to secede from the United States in the 1800s on account of its desire to keep black Americans enslaved in perpetuity.

And this state, which ironically has the highest percentage of American blacks in the entire United States, has since been one of the most depressing outposts of racial intolerance in America. But, well, to be fair, this isn't merely a South Carolina problem; it's a southern United States problem.

Usually, any Southerner who is conservative and Republican is more likely than not to nurse deep-seated historical and personal grudges against American blacks for any number of reasons, chief among which is that they dared to set themselves free from slavery and Jim Crow segregation with the active help, of course, of white liberals, especially white liberals from the American North whom conservative Southern whites derisively called "carpet baggers."

So, for me, to be shocked that a Southern (and, for that matter, a South Carolinian)conservative Republican activist is racist is the real shock. What did mainstream America expect?

I have pointed out in this blog many times that my own experience living in (southern) United States is that Republicanism and conservatism have now become almost synonymous with and indistinguishable from racism, xenophobia and other vile forms of intolerance.

But DePass said his “comment was clearly in jest." Jest, my foot! Well, perhaps his is right. "Conservative humor" is often no more than the ventilation of undisguised bile against weak, historically marginalized minorities in the American society--blacks, Hispanics, women, non-Christians, the poor, etc--whom hate-filled white conservatives perceive as constituting a threat to their privilege:

This knowledge explained why when one of my good American friends who describes himself as "conservative" (but who often strikes me as too decent and too broadminded to be conservative) forwarded to me a "conservative joke" sometime ago, it took me weeks before I could summon the courage to open it.

I didn't want another gratuitous insult at my humanity in the name of "conservative humor." It is hard enough to be uprooted, even if voluntarily, in a strange land away from one's family and the familiar sights and sounds of the land of one's birth; it's intolerable to have to suffer the denigration of my human worth by socially insensitive wimps whose stock in trade is to perpetually crack "jokes" at the expense of the humanity of the weak and the disadvantaged.

Thank goodness, it turned out that the "joke" was merely a simplistic and uninformed jibe on the poor and the disempowered. Well, since the bulk of poor and disaffiliated people in America are, in any case, American blacks, perhaps the joke could be called racist on the sly.

And, believe me, many will consider this racist-on-the-sly joke from conservatives gracious. American conservatives have no reputation for being sly about their intolerance and hate; they are often, for the most part, unapologetic, even aggressive, about it.

So when the South Carolina Republican activist "joked" on his Facebook status update that a gorilla that escaped at Columbia's Riverbank Zoo is "just one of Michelle's ancestors," he was merely repeating a familiar, well-worn (southern) conservative Republican so-called simian "jokes" about black people. These guys still call our humanity into question--in this day and age!

Any typical conservative web site you visit will not fail to provide you with limitless examples of references to black people as monkeys, gorillas, apes, etc. In fact, "King Kong," a fictional giant ape in a 1933 movie of the same name, is the favorite nickname for Michelle Obama in conservative blogs and web sites.

Well, the best response to DePass and his ilk is to remind them, for whatever it's worth, that a "gorilla" is their First Lady and the wife of their president who is also part "gorilla." Now, what does that make them?

The original story is reproduced below:

GOP activist says escaped gorilla was "ancestor" of Michelle Obama
Posted: June 12, 2009 07:19 PM
Updated: June 13, 2009 05:07 PM

By Ben Hoover - bio | email

COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - A state Republican activist has admitted to and apologized for calling a gorilla that escaped from the Riverbanks Zoo Friday an "ancestor" of First Lady Michelle Obama.

A screen capture of the comment, made on the Internet site Facebook, was obtained by FITSNews, the website of South Carolina politico Will Folks.

The image shows a post by an aide to state Attorney General Henry McMaster describing Friday morning's gorilla escape at Columbia's Riverbanks Zoo.

Longtime SCGOP activist and former state Senate candidate Rusty DePass responded with the comment, "I'm sure it's just one of Michelle's ancestors - probably harmless."

DePass told WIS News 10 he was talking about First Lady Michelle Obama.

DePass has been involved in state politics for decades, and helped elect Republican Governor Jim Edwards in 1974. He was an early South Carolina supporter of former President George W. Bush in 2000.

We asked some of DePass' political allies and rivals what they thought about the comment.

"Even if it was taken out of context - its not something that should have ever been said. It's sad, disappointing, and unfortunate," said former SCGOP Chairman Katon Dawson.

Columbia Mayor Bob Coble also condemns the comment.

"You know, I think the comment is inappropriate. It's a racist comment," he says. "I think Mr. DePass should apologize."

We spoke with DePass over the phone Friday night. He said, "I am as sorry as I can be if I offended anyone. The comment was clearly in jest."

"You know, I don't think there's anything funny about that comment," says Coble. "That is the First Lady of the United States. We've had a long tradition of wonderful first ladies, and I don't think any of them deserve that type of comment."

DePass took his apology a bit further. He also said, "The comment was hers. Not mine," saying the first lady made statements in the media recently saying we are all descendents of apes.

But an Internet search for those comments turned up no news articles of the like.

"I don't know of any," says Coble.

All of that aside, the mayor wants a clear-cut apology.

"Rusty DePass is well known in the community, and I know he's done very good things in addition to his political work," says Mayor Coble. "I don't want a comment like that coming out of Columbia, South Carolina for the world to comment on."

The comment has been removed from Facebook. DePass' Facebook page has also been deleted.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Obama Goes to Ghana

By Farooq A. Kperogi

The following is a news analysis I was commissioned to write for the Weekly Trust newspaper,Abuja, Nigeria. It first appeared in the print and online editions of the paper on May 30, 2009.

In 1972, President Richard Nixon defied the prevailing Cold War-inspired national sentiment in America at the time and made a bold (and, with the benefit of hindsight, an immensely politically consequential) visit to the People's Republic of China, currently America’s second biggest trading partner after Canada.

This momentous visit, which became the single most important defining moment in altering the hitherto adversarial bilateral relationship between the United States and China, gave rise to the expression "Nixon Goes to China" in America’s political lexicon, and underlines the significance of certain American presidential visits—how they define and redefine the foreign policy of the United States and, in some cases, modify the course of history.

Of course, not all American presidential visits are this historically significant. Nor are all American presidential visits political instruments to make statements in foreign policy. For instance, President Bill Clinton made 54 overseas presidential trips during his two-term presidency (and this is considered a record) but none of them has been adjudged as either politically consequential or history-altering.

However, given the historic nature of Obama’s presidency and his ancestral affiliations with Africa, Africanists and watchers of African politics had waited with eagerness to see which African—or, if you like, sub-Saharan African—country President Obama would first choose to honor with a presidential visit.

And, if the eminent American scholar and philosopher Kenneth Burke is right that “any selection of reality must, in certain circumstances, function as a deflection of reality,” people are also interested in knowing what country or countries he has “snubbed” in his choice of a country to visit in Africa—and what this selection and deflection might foreshadow in his relationship with African states.

Ghana’s reward, Nigeria’s punishment
Pundits familiar with the politics and symbolism of American foreign presidential visits posit that Obama’s choice of Ghana as the first country to visit in black Africa could very well be a signal of the tenor of his relationship with Africa, about which he is yet to articulate a well-defined foreign policy.

It will be defined, they say, by a show of enthusiastic approval for countries that are adjudged to be making noticeably measurable progress towards democracy and good governance and of “tough love” to those countries, such as Nigeria and Kenya, that are adjudged as squandering their potential and being mired in the mud of corruption and inept leadership.

This much became apparent in the May 16, 2009 three-paragraph statement by the Office of the Press Secretary in the White House on Obama’s upcoming three-nation tour. "The President and Mrs. Obama look forward to strengthening the U.S. relationship with one of our most trusted partners in sub-Saharan Africa, and to highlighting the critical role that sound governance and civil society play in promoting lasting development," the statement said in reference to Obama’s forthcoming two-day visit to Ghana scheduled for July 10-11.

The reference to “sound governance” and “lasting development” as a justification for visiting Ghana is decidedly a tribute to the country’s successful, relatively rancor-free democratic transfers of power over the past couple of years and a thinly veiled indictment of Nigeria and Kenya (Obama’s late father’s home country which many people had expected he would visit first), which have attracted international notoriety for their conduct elections that are fraught with massive voter fraud and internecine violence.

Peter Lewis, senior associate with the Center for Strategic International Studies and director of African studies at the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies observed that Obama’s choice of Ghana for his first presidential visit to a black African country conveys a "sense of optimism about Ghana's economic and political direction, particularly their recent completion of peaceful and credible elections."

He argues that Obama’s apparent disdain for Nigeria’s leadership is a consequence of the "lingering problems from the badly flawed 2007 elections, including the recent electoral travesty in Ekiti".

Darren Kew, an assistant professor at the University of Massachusetts who studies and writes on Nigerian politics, agrees. "Yes, I believe that the Obama administration is definitely sending a message to the Yar'adua government that Abuja has dropped the ball regarding their own promises of democratic reforms—and praising Ghana for its leadership in these matters," he said.

He located the Obama Administration’s lukewarm attitude to Nigeria in "the refusal of the Yar'adua administration to implement the main recommendations of the Electoral Reform Committee for sweeping change at INEC, as well as their refusal to work toward the removal of the discredited Maurice Iwu—and now the most recent election fiasco in Ekiti." These events, he points out, have led the Obama administration to conclude that President Yar'adua has "no intention of cleaning up INEC before the 2011 elections."

The Ghanaian Black Star News, in its May 18, 2009 editorial, rubbed it in. “Ghana is being rewarded for good governance, good economic management, and the rule of law, with a visit by President Barack Obama and Michelle in July,” the paper said. “Nigeria… was eliminated because of the rigged elections that ushered Umaru Yar'Ardua [sic] into office. The country also has terrible PR as a result of the ongoing conflict in the oil rich Delta region--the millions of dollars spent on ‘rebranding’ will never be a substitute for good leadership.”


Other understated reasons Obama is visiting Ghana
Observers of US-Africa relations point out that Obama’s choice of Ghana may be more than mere presidential acknowledgment of Ghana’s progress; it may also be an oily affair.

Ghana just found oil – estimated at over 600 million barrels -- making it one of Africa's largest future producers. Production hasn't started yet, but when it does, oil industry experts say, it will bring in an estimated $1 billion in revenue annually.

As editors of Foreign Policy, America’s influential foreign policy magazine, wrote in a March 19 editorial, “Who knows if this is really part of the reason for the visit, but it does seem like something that could figure into that ‘range of bilateral and regional issues’ the White House plans to discuss with Ghanaian President John Atta-Mills.”

Nigeria currently exports 40 percent of its oil to the United States, but the ever-present crisis in the Niger Delta has been a source of concern for Americans. “Wouldn't it be nice to buy oil from a country with a relatively clean record in human rights, governance, and economic management?” the American Foreign Policy magazine enthused in an editorial. “That's a far cry from the United States's third-largest current supplier, Nigeria.”

Obama denies snubbing Nigeria
In the midst of growing insinuations that Obama has chosen, for any number of reasons, to deflect Nigeria by selecting Ghana, high-level officials of the Obama administration have issued tongue-in-cheek assurances that America’s respect for Nigeria has not diminished.

At a world press conference this month, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton assured that the exclusion of Nigeria from Obama’s itinerary in Africa in no way implies a change in America’s policy toward Nigeria. “Our relationship with Nigeria is an important anchor in Africa, and Nigeria has a central role to play in its own democratization and development,” she said.

But that’s mere diplomatese. Clinton’s subsequent statement betrayed the Obama administration’s nascent ice-cold disdain for the Yar’adua administration. She declared that the Obama administration’s relationship with Nigeria “will no longer be limited to government to government, but will now include more and more government to people and people-to-people.”

Foreign policy experts have interpreted this statement as a ringing expression of loss of confidence both in the legitimacy and competence of the Yar’adua administration, especially because Clinton also added that the factors that would determine the Obama administration’s warm relations with any country would be good governance, social inclusion, transparency in government, fight against corruption, and tolerance for opposition—factors the Yar’adua administration is accused of being sorely deficient in.

A history of “dissing” Nigeria
However, although the Yar’adua administration’s unflattering record is the immediate trigger of the Obama administration’s serial diplomatic snub of Nigeria, Obama’s dissing of Nigeria predates his ascension to the presidency of the United States.

His first notable affront on Nigeria occurred in June 2005 when he tied his support for debt relief for Nigeria to our government’s release of Charles Taylor who was then in Nigeria’s protective custody.

When the world's wealthiest countries clinched a deal to wipe out more than $40 billion of poor nations' debts in 2005, Nigeria was one of the few countries that was noticeably absent from the list to win an automatic debt relief.

At a time former President Olusegun Obasanjo was working hard to get Nigeria included in this list, Obama, who was then a senator, said debt relief from the United States is not automatic and that in the past, debt relief has come with conditions, including making progress in fighting corruption and on economic reform. In the case of Nigeria, Obama said, "this means turning over Charles Taylor--an indicted war criminal who has the blood of thousands on his hands and threatens, once again, to destabilize the region--to the Special Court.”

"No nation,” he continued, “should be permitted to willfully ignore an indictment issued by the special court.” Never mind that his own country, the United States, habitually ignores UN-appointed special courts.

Then again, on May 2, 2008, in the heat of the presidential campaigns, Obama made a gratuitously insulting reference to Nigerian email scams in response to a question about mass smear emails questioning his patriotism. According to the Chicago Sun Times, Obama’s hometown newspaper, a farmer in an Illinois village asked Obama if it's true that he refuses to say the American Pledge of Allegiance. Obama told the man not to believe that internet rumor:

"That is bogus. These e-mails being sent around, each state, depending on what state I'm about to go into, suddenly you start seeing this smear campaign,” he said. “I lead the pledge of allegiance when I'm presiding in the Senate …. I've been saying the pledge since I was 3 years old. If you get these letters from Nigeria saying, 'We've got a lot of money for ya, don't give 'em your bank account number."

What have “letters from Nigeria” got to do with the question? Perhaps the answers are becoming apparent in the contempt Obama has continued to show toward Nigeria.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

From My Mailbox

Over the past couple of months, I have received numerous responses to issues I have raised in my column in the Weekly Trust newspaper and in this blog. As is my practice, I have chosen to publish some of these responses.

Re: Can you tell an African from a Black American (II)?

I really enjoyed your latest piece. I am eagerly awaiting the concluding part.

“This mofo is a nigga like me! He ain’t no Arab!” None can doubt that fact. Yet dark- skinned people across the world revel in claiming superiority over the other because their skin texture is just a degree lighter than that of their fellow brother/sister who is unmistakably black.

Even in Nigeria, Fulanis call Hausas slaves. I am not sure if that is as a result of the domination of Uthman Danfodio (Fulanis) over Hausas or something else.

Best regards.
Mohammed Haidara

Re: Confronting misconceptions about homosexuality in northern Nigeria
I wonder why you attached Yandaudu and Yanbori. These two subcultures are parallel in every sense. The Yanbori claim to possess supernatural powers to control a Jinn for medical purposes and other usages. Of course they have nothing to do with homosexuality. Also they are not easily recognized because they are close-mouthed, but for Yandaudus, they are easily identified by their transsexual appearances

Your ardent reader,
MG Maigamo,
ABU Zaria (justwe247@yahoo.com)

You’re right. The mix-up is regretted

Re: A "Saudi Obama" Emerges
I have always enjoyed your column in the print edition of "our" paper -indeed it is one of the reasons I keep buying the publication.

I have been hunting for an opportunity to remind Muslims of the exhortation that they are "the best of mankind" and should therefore be above idiocies like judging people by the color of their skins when I followed the lead to your blog.

I was blessed with the opportunity to perform the hajj twice: in 2003 and the immediate past hajj. The experiences, as far as tolerance among Muslims was concerned, was to say the least disappointing. Only the few instances when you meet a true Muslim [how rewarding those instances are!] give one the courage to believe the lot of the black is not all grief.

This open aversion to blacks is noticed even among Bengalis who prior to the experience one considered as kin.

The behavior of black Saudis towards black Africans is even more galling. It makes one appreciate King's [Malcolm X's?] crack about house niggers and plantation [field?] niggers!

Among all the peoples of the world performing the hajj, Muslims from the Far East show the best tolerance. Turks and Saudis are at the other extreme.

Finally, congratulations on your successes. I wish you many more.

Goldoun Jumble, Kano.

Past articles
Good day sir. I am an undergraduate at the Department of Political Science, Bayero University, Kano. Please, sir, in appreciation of your works, I am pleading with you to send me all your write-ups in Weekly Trust by post.

Magaji Sa’adu Usman (magaji_usman@yahoo.com.ph)

My response
Most of my write-ups are now archived in my blog: www.farooqkperogi.blogspot.com

Goodwill messages
I had been reading your write-up in Weekly Trust. When you left unceremoniously I thought that was the end, but thanks to technology and blogging.

I use you as a yardstick to measure people's achievement. My friends tease me for that. Now I feel like your award is my personal achievement, not yours, because I shall personally call my friends to celebrate with me. I’m looking up to you. Don't get yourself involved in Nigerian politics. It’s the most degrading, selfish and stupid thing to do. Congrats and may Allah be with you.

Mohammed Sani Kaduna

The award given to you for Outstanding Academic Achievement Award in Graduate Studies is well deserved. Congratulations!!!

Abba Muuhammad Jibril, School Of Management studies Kano (m.abba75@yahoo.com).

Please do accept my big congratulations for doing what you know best: being the best. It is not a surprise. For me, you are already a professor. Congratulations once more.

Ibrahim Mustapha (mustya1@yahoo.com).

It was with pleasure that I heard about the completion of your PhD [coursework], and naturally, the award. That is what we have come to expect from you.

Please keep up the good work!

Salisu Suleiman (ssuleiman@gmail.com)

As one of your readers, I rejoice with you on your recent award as the best PhD student in your field.

Balarabe Alkassim (tsakuwa08@yahoo.com)

Assalamu alaykum!
For quite a long time I’ve wanted to write to you but could not. I want to commend you for your inspiring articles in Weekly Trust. I am a regular reader of your column and am enjoying it very well. May Allah guide and bless you. Ameen. Wassalam.

Abdulkadir Yuguda (abdulkadiryuguda@yahoo.com)