"WR6_gUnUj-ztiW07KQcOCnTel9A"/> Notes From Atlanta: 03/23/09

Monday, March 23, 2009

North/South Rivalries in America (I)

This first appeared on May 6, 2006 in the Weekly Trust

By Farooq A. Kperogi

Yes, the United States, too, has a North/South dichotomy. But it is all too easy to look at the country and be led to suppose that it is impervious to internal divisions because it prefixes the adjective “united” to its name.

Many people think it is immune from the regional rivalries that we associate with our interminably feuding societies. Even though the regional divide in America is decidedly less contentious than ours, there are nonetheless strong, if subdued, provincial jealousies between the American North and the American South.

The more I get to know about this, the more I find parallels between America and Nigeria. The first indication I got of how the North and the South perceive each other as two separate nations within a country was when, in 2005, I informed an American friend I met at Columbia University in New York, sometime in 2003, that I was now in Louisiana.

He asked how I was adjusting to life in Louisiana. I told him I was still learning to come to terms with many culture shocks.

His response took me by surprise. He said, “I understand how you feel. I also suffer from culture shocks each time I visit Louisiana.” He said he finds the people in Louisiana and the South “weird,” and that they all “talk funny.”

This didn’t make much sense to me. The notion of America I had come here with was of a country that had no noticeable internal differences. I had a concept of America as a country where sub-national identities were so fluid and so flexible that a New Yorker could go to Texas, for instance, and not only be a citizen, but stand the chance of being elected governor of the state, and vice versa. In short, I had thought that in America, there were no “natives” or, as we say it in Nigeria, no indigenes; only citizens.

Why would an American, a white American at that, speak so disdainfully of another part of his country, and even go so as far as to say that he experiences culture shocks when he visits it? I wondered in silence. I soon found out that he was echoing the mutual contempt and distrust in which Northerners and Southerners in the United States hold each other.

One day, one of my professors invited me to his house to watch a basketball competition between his alma mater and another university. After the game was over, the sports station began to show other plays. But my friend took a hard look at the names of the teams that were playing and suddenly changed the station. As he was changing the channel, he murmured, “It’s just a bunch of northern teams! I have no time watching fu****g Yankees.”

That outburst also caught me off guard. First, I used to associate the word “Yankee” with Americans in general. In fact, non-Americans usually interchange “American” with “Yankee” without the slightest hint that they are wrong. At first, it didn’t make any sense to me for an American—again, a white American— to deride another American as a “fu****g Yankee.” I emphasize the racial identity of Americans because Blacks generally tend to be less enthusiastic about their American citizenship than Whites.

Well, I learned that day that “Yankee” actually refers only to an American Northerner. American Southerners don’t call themselves Yankees; in fact, some of them take serious exceptions to, sometimes outright umbrage at, being called Yankees. However, the Northerners proudly wear that label. The word usually associated with the South is “Dixie.”

But what states constitute the South and North of the United States? Well, this is a tricky question. There is no universally accepted delineation of the South and the North. It is a shifty identity. However, it is usual to define the South to include 16 states: Louisiana, Texas, Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Mississippi, Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Delaware, Kentucky, Maryland and Oklahoma.

The 19 states usually considered Northern states are: Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Nebraska.

In reality, however, such states as Delaware, Maryland, West Virginia, Kentucky, Virginia, Missouri, and Kansas don’t easily fit into the North/South divide. Citizens of these states sometimes identify themselves in mutually exclusive regional labels. I have, for instance, two friends from Maryland, and while one calls himself a Southerner, the other calls himself a Northerner. Similarly, people in southern Virginia call themselves Southerners, but it is not unusual for people in northern Virginia to regard themselves as Northerners.

The reason for this ambiguity is that, like in Nigeria, regional identity is not just a cold cartographic expression; it is also a socio-cultural, historical, and geo-political identity that sometimes mocks geography. Just like the Rivers Niger and Benue appear to be the dividing lines between the North and the South in Nigeria, the American North and South are divided by what is called the Mason-Dixon Line. It was, still is, the symbolic dividing line between the North and the South around Virginia and Pennsylvania before the American Civil War.

In many ways, it is like Rivers Niger and Benue in terms of symbolic significance. Such states as Benue, Taraba, etc, for instance, would be regarded as eastern by a cartographer’s unaided imagination, just like Kwara, Kogi and parts of Niger would be considered western. However, these states are both notionally and geo-politically in the North.

The equivalents of that in the United States are states like Maryland and Virginia, which are geographically in the North but are geo-politically in the South. In fact, Virginia used to be the political and military headquarters of the South during the American Civil War.

In many significant respects, the American South reminds me of Northern Nigeria (with a few obvious exceptions) while the American North reminds me of the Nigerian South. In size, the American South, like Northern Nigeria, is a geographical behemoth, while the North, also called New England states, is a comparatively small geographical space. (I have heard the joke several times here that a ranch in Texas is many times bigger than the state of Rhode Island).

Again, like Northern Nigeria, the American South is noticeably religious, culturally conservative, and emotionally attached to its socio-historical identity. The North, on the other hand, like the Nigerian South, is more urban, culturally liberal and less attached to prefixed cultural values.

In the American South, the weather and the people tend to be warm—literally and figuratively. The North, on the other hand, is the opposite. Not only is the weather cold; the people are also cold.

Politically, the South is savvier than the North. It has produced more presidents than any region, including nine of the first 12 presidents of the United States.

However, after enmeshing itself in a four-year devastating Civil War, which pitted it against the North (the next series will address this), it did not produce a president for nearly 100 years until 1976. The rest of the country was reluctant to trust a Southerner with the presidency of the country after the Civil War. This reminds me of the fate of the Igbos. And that is where the American South’s main difference with Northern Nigerian comes in.

In Nigeria, it is the South, or a part of it, that lost a Civil War. It is noteworthy, however, that since 1976, the region has regained status as the “presidential” region of the country.

Next week, I will discuss how regional jealousies manifest in the relations between Americans, and find analogues to Nigeria.

Danish Cartoons and Holocaust: What the World Isn’t Discussing

This first appeared on September 10, 2006 in the Weekly Trust.

By Farooq A. Kperogi

On February 20, the Associated Press flashed a news story about a 67-year-old British professor of history called David Irving who was sentenced to prison in Austria for denying the Holocaust!

He didn’t kill anybody. He merely used his “freedom of speech” to call into question the veracity of the Holocaust. And now he is in prison for that. Curiously, there has been no mass outrage from the patron saints of freedom of speech in the West, not even from Britain, his home country.

And this is happening at the same time that the sacrilegious cartoons against Islam in a Danish newspaper are provoking debates about “freedom of speech” in the West. The apparent contradiction in protesting the right to free speech where the “Other” is concerned and muzzling it where “Jews” are concerned seems to be lost on Europe and America.

Well, I have an experiential encounter with the word “Holocaust” that never fails to amuse me when I look back in retrospect, which I will like to share with my readers.

Sometime ago, when I was a second-year undergraduate student at the Bayero University, Kano, I nearly got expelled from school for using the word “holocaust” in an editorial commentary I wrote for the Parakeet, a publication of the Bayero (University) Literary Society, of which I was editor.

There was a bloody clash between liberal and conservative students in the school over the right of female students to visit male hostels. In B.U.K parlance, it was a clash of “comrades” and “Ustazia”—loose terms to differentiate between chartered libertines and cultural preservationists.

Well, after the clash, the school authority, which had been uneasy with the radical student union government at the time, rusticated most of the vocal student union leaders and banned all student union activities. I was a representative (well, we called ourselves “senators”) of my faculty at the Students’ Representative Assembly. And I was only just beginning to savor the excitement of student politics when this high-handed ban was imposed by the authorities. That was unacceptable to me—and to a lot of students as well.

When we had our literary meeting during this period, I suggested that since our publication was coming out at that period, we write a strongly-worded editorial condemning the rustication of student union leaders and the banning of student union activities since there was no evidence that there was any link between student union activities and the clash.

Nobody opposed me. So I wrote a strong denunciation of the actions of the school authority, with all the intellectual energy and verbal exuberance of a second-year university student. But the sentence that appeared to rile the university administration the most was in the last paragraph of the editorial.

After a long, verbose attack on the administration for its action, and after proffering a long list of suggestions to the senate committee handling the crisis on ways to contain the tension on campus, I wrote: “Any solution short of these, in our considered opinion, would be counterproductive and, what is more, an appealing invitation to chaos, unrest and, Allah forbid, bloodshed and carnage. The Senate should toe the line of least resistance by effortlessly averting an impending holocaust NOW!”

Holocaust? The university was outraged—and understandably so, with the benefit of hindsight.

I would have been expelled outright along with other student union leaders in the executive branch for inflaming passions through my editorial, I was told. But I was given the benefit to appear before the University’s senate committee to defend myself because many of the professors in the committee didn’t believe that an undergraduate student wrote the editorial. They were convinced that it was ghost-written by one of the radical professors in the university—and I was quite close to not a few of them.

But they were completely wrong. No so-called radical professor had any input into what I wrote. When I appeared before the committee to defend myself, I had the good fortune of being able to convince them that I was the author of the article. They said my spoken English had the stylistic imprints of the editorial. But then, they asked me, “What is Holocaust? What do you understand by it?”

At that time, I didn’t know anything about the historic Holocaust other than its metaphoric extension as “an act of great destruction and loss of life.” I didn’t know it was associated with Jews, had never read of gas chambers in Austria, nor did I have any intimate knowledge of Nazi Germany. I was just an innocent, ebullient sophomore (the American word for a second-year university student) who wanted to call attention to himself through linguistic mystification.

The committee members were at once amused and disarmed by my innocence—and ignorance. And I was forgiven. Of course, I was asked to write and circulate a written apology widely—and hope that my editorial would not cause a “holocaust” before the end of the semester!

What has this little anecdote got to do with anything? Well, my encounter with the university senate committee members provoked my curiosity about the historic Holocaust, whose allegorical shadow I ignorantly used to make my case for the need for authorities in my alma mater to avert student unrest. Each time the word holocaust is mentioned, I never fail to experience a giddy throwback to my verbal misadventure at Bayero University, Kano.

Several years after, I am still asking myself why the word Holocaust provokes such deep passions. Why are the people who call themselves Jews (in my over one year stay in the United States, I have not been able to tell a Jew from other white Americans) today so incredibly thin-skinned about the Holocaust?

Why should the prophet of a religion who is revered by billions of people across all the races of the world be caricatured in the most irreverent manner in the press at the same time that a professor is sent to prison for merely denying the historical accuracy of a comparatively recent event? And why is the world not crying out loud against this onslaught on academic freedom?

Professor Irving is the author of nearly 30 books, including Hitler's War. In 1992, a judge in Germany also fined him the equivalent of N840,000 for saying that Nazi gas chambers at Auschwitz were a figment of the imagination designed to swing popular sentiments in favor of Jews.

He is reported to have also written in his books that the number of Jews killed in the Holocaust has been grossly exaggerated (Americans would say “sexed up”), and that, in fact, there is "not one shred of evidence" that the Nazis carried out their "Final Solution" to exterminate the Jewish population as is often cracked up in popular accounts. He argued that deaths at concentration camps were traceable to diseases such as typhus fever rather than mass murders.

I am not concerned about the accuracy or otherwise of the professor’s assertions. (In fact, if he is indeed the right-wing intellectual that the media say he is, he is probably also an Afrophobic white supremacist). My worry is the odiousness of the double standards that are so nakedly evident in the protection of “free speech” in the West.

For instance, in 2000, this same Professor Irving had occasion to sue American Holocaust scholar Deborah Lipstadt for libel in a British court. But the merit of his case was not even considered. The presiding judge in the case, a certain Charles Gray, was reported to have written that Irving was "an active Holocaust denier ... anti-Semitic and racist." And that charge justified the summary dismissal of his case.

In November last year, while giving a guest lecture to university students in Austria, Irving was arrested and charged for what he said back in 1989 under an Austrian law that states: "Whoever denies, grossly plays down, approves or tries to excuse the national socialist genocide or other national socialist crimes against humanity in a print publication, in broadcast or other media" shall be prosecuted.

Note that this professor is a British, not an Austrian, citizen. So it means anybody who denies, ridicules, or downplays the Holocaust in any part of the world (such as Iran’s president recently) is liable to be prosecuted if he finds himself in Austria or Germany.

There may be more European countries with this kind of law. In fact, emerging facts indicate that the Danish newspaper that originated the cartoons, which have provoked mass revulsion in the Muslim world, actually turned down publishing cartoons that were considered “anti-Semitic”—that convenient phrase usually invoked to blackmail everybody into standing in uncomprehending awe before “Jews.”

However, there are no laws to protect other groups on the cultural fringes of mainstream Europe from the perpetually impudent strictures and xenophobia of their press. Freedom of speech is protected only where “other people” are at the receiving end. The hypocrisy of it riles deeply.

But the truth is that freedom has never been absolute anywhere in the world, not even in America, which prides itself on being the leader of “the civilized world.” Here, the media are, for instance, forbidden from publishing or broadcasting pictures of American soldiers killed in Iraq.

Similarly, two journalists were jailed last year for refusing to disclose their sources. While on this topic with one of my colleagues, I was also told of a Black American historian by the name of George G. M. James who wrote a persuasive book titled, Stolen Legacy: How Greek History is Stolen African History. Shortly after the publication of his book, he didn’t even have the “dignity” of being imprisoned like Professor Irving. He was found murdered in the state of Arkansas; his tongue cut out, and his body dumped carelessly by the road side.

In all this, the American legal maxim that states, “One man’s right to swing his arms stops where another man’s right to defend his nose begins,” appears singularly appropriate.

But this holds true as much for others as it does for Muslim demonstrations condemning the cartoons, especially in Nigeria. One man’s right to demonstrate against the caricature of his way of life stops where another man’s right to preserve his life begins. Nothing justifies the mindless murders of innocent Christians in Maiduguri because of an offending cartoon in far-flung Denmark.

The reprisals in Onitsha are just as condemnable. The debate about what constitutes freedom will continue to be a delicate and emotionally-charged one.

Labor Day in America

This first appeared on September 9, 2006 in my column in Weekly Trust, Abuja.

By Farooq A. Kperogi

This week, I want to take the risk of writing on a topic that may not resonate with a lot of readers because of its “dryness” and seemingly highfalutin nature. It’s about the peculiar celebration of Labor Day in the United States and the consequence of this for traditional conceptions of social relations of production in capitalist societies.

Well, do I already sound like a crass bore? I am sorry. But I can’t help commenting on this issue because of my intellectual and ideological biases.

As some people probably know already, Americans celebrate their Labor Day on the first Monday of every September, unlike the rest of us who celebrate it on May 1st.

Until this year, I honestly had no earthly idea that Americans celebrate workers’ day on a different day from the rest of the world even though I was in this country last September. The day simply passed me by. Well, I am not ashamed of my ignorance. You live and learn, as they say.

I have just added to the long list of the things that define the so-called American exceptionalism, a term coined in 1831 by Alexis de Tocqueville, the French political thinker and historian, to capture what he perceived as the cultural, historical, economic, and social uniqueness of the United States among the advanced nations of the world.

The term is also used loosely—especially by political scientists—to, among other things, capture the failure of socialism to catch on with marginal groups in the United States in spite of the fertile social and economic conditions for the growth and flowering of this ideology.

It is this use of the term that, I think, converges with the core of this essay. Why don’t Americans celebrate worker’s day on May 1st like the rest of the world? And how do they celebrate their Labor Day? In fact, why do they even celebrate it in the real sense? Does the celebration honor workers? Or is it just another excuse to take a day off and get a break from the madness that is the American work place?

Last Monday, instead of relaxing in the (dis)comfort of my new home in an Atlanta suburb, I took a ride round the city to have a feel of Labor Day celebration in this city whose past and present is defined by the immense sacrifices of workers. Atlanta, after all, started as a railway town.

My discovery of what Labor Day means here provoked a lot of thoughts in me about the form and content of contemporary capitalism, and challenged me to redefine my erstwhile conceptions of the social relations of production in a capitalist economy like America.

First, Labor Day is one of 11 federal holidays in the United States. Which means it is a holiday that is observed by every state in the country. This gives the impression that it must be very important—or that it demonstrates the respect the government has for its work force. Well, it’s not that straightforward.

Last Monday, when I went round to representative parts of the city I didn’t see any marches by workers. There were no worker political demonstrations. No solidarity songs were sung by a coalition of the oppressed. There were no American equivalents of Adams Oshiomhole or John Odah or Issa Aremu speaking truth to power and waxing lyrical about social justice.

It was just a regular holiday. I saw people having barbecues, picnics, water sports, and participating in public arts events. Others simply stayed indoors. And this was as true of Atlanta as it was of most major US cities, according news reports.

Labor Day, for many people that I have spoken with here, represents no more than the end of summer and the “rise of fall.” (Fall, called autumn in British English, is one of the four temperate seasons in the Western Hemisphere, and marks the transition from summer to winter).

Nobody I spoke with associated Labor Day with all the high-minded rhetoric about workers’ rights and economic equality that you would expect in capitalist economies that survive on the exploitation of workers.

Well, I soon discovered that the choice of the first week of September to celebrate Labor Day in the United States was intended to achieve what I observed here. It was deliberately moved away from May 1st because of the fear that American workers would be “infected” with the virus of “proletarian internationalism” that had shaken the roots of many capitalist nations in times past.

There was a preexisting “Knights of Labor” in the United States, which basically consisted in parades that were designed to honor all “who worked for a living.” It was said to have been founded in 1869 by a group of humble tailors who had their first parade on September 5, 1882.

However, in 1886, the then United States president, Grover Cleveland, quickly conferred official status on the event and officially recognized it as the Labor Day because of the rise in the number of American workers with internationalist inclinations who might celebrate the International Worker’s day on May 1st, the commemoration of the epoch-making Haymarket Riots in Chicago to demand for an eight-hour work day—something that we take for granted today.

It would turn out that the rest of the world would choose that as the International Workers’ Day.

Note that unlike the International Workers’ Day (May 1st), the American Labor Day has no specific, invariable date; it’s merely the first Monday of every September, which means the dates change every year. This de-reifies the day.

While I was thinking about the different attitude to Labor Day here, I stumbled on a survey conducted by Rasmussen Reports—an electronic publishing firm that collects, publishes, and distributes public opinion polling information—on the attitude of Americans toward Labor Day. The outcome of the survey is as interesting as it is intriguing.

According to the survey, only 38 percent of Americans said they took the Labor Day to celebrate the contributions of their country’s labor force, and 45 percent said they used the day to mark the unofficial end of summer. Sixteen percent aren't sure what they celebrate on Labor Day.

The racial demographics of the responses are also noteworthy. A majority of white Americans (48 percent) said they celebrate Labor Day as the unofficial end of summer, while 42 percent of non-white Americans said they celebrate the day to honor workers.

Just 22 percent said Labor Day is one of the most important holidays of the year; 16 percent said it's one of the least important; and 59 percent said it's somewhere in between. Just 19 percent of white Americans view the holiday as one of America’s most important. That view is shared by 26 percent of black Americans and 34 percent of other Americans.

The survey concluded: “Regardless of the reasons behind them, barbeques or cookouts are popular Labor Day activities. Forty-five percent (45%) say they plan to include some grilling with family and friends over the long weekend. That's a fitting way to give summer a send off since cookouts rated as the top Summer 2006 activity in another recent survey.”

The survey may appear trifling, but I think it does give an important indication of the shifting identity of the working class in societies like America. As a commentator pointed out recently, almost a third of the American work force spends the last quarter of their lives as “capitalists” rather than as “workers” due to pension plans rooted in the stock and bond markets. Those who fall outside this bracket are recipients of social cushioning incentives like monthly welfare packages or social security allowances.

In a sense, the system has been reconfigured in such a way that you have a relatively small underclass, composed mostly of Blacks and Hispanics, and a relatively large class of middle-class elements who are so content with the distribution of wealth in the society that they have as much a stake in maintaining the status quo as the real movers and shakers of the power structure.

So you have a situation where it is not a tiny capitalist elite that oppresses a majority (as is true of most capitalist and peripheral capitalist societies), but rather a multiplicity of minimally and maximally comfortable groups that oppress a weak minority.

This is complicated even further by the perpetually changing nature of American economy from manufacturing to “service” economy. Most manufacturing is now “outsourced” to China, Malaysia, India, and other Asian countries. The remnants of manufacturing jobs here are done by illegal immigrants and green card lottery winners who feel so grateful to be in America that they will rather be slaves in capitalist hell than be persuaded that they would be kings and queens in some future socialist paradise.

Now, what implications does this have for traditional Marxian notions of an inherent oppositional social class relation between the oppressed and the oppressors in capitalist society? I think the answer to this question has significant consequences for methods of social change, as well as for critical methods and social theory.

Re: Fani-Kayode: Minsiterial rascality taken too far!

These responses were published on October 21, 2006 in my column in Weekly Trust. They are response to Fani-Kayode: Ministerial rascality taken too far!.

Farooq A. Kperogi
This week, I am reproducing a few of the e-mails I received from readers from all over the world on my article on Fani-Kayode. The volume of responses that the article is generating is clear evidence of how strongly people feel about him. By the way, when I read his response (masqueraded as the opinion of an Abuja-based “freelance journalist”), I didn’t know whether to be amazed or amused—or even bemused—by the factual inaccuracies, logical somersaults, delusions of grandeur—and much more—in that desperate piece of malicious illiteracy. But I will simply leave it at that.

Sorcerer’s apprentices

Thanks for your most moving article on our “culture minister.” (They call him FFK for short)! It was a wonderful one. But can you guess how many of his type are there from the local government level through state and then the federal? They are too numerous to number: wolves in sheep's clothing walking with the sheep until the wind blows. Then they manifest. I refer to them as the sorcerer’s apprentices.

They are only learning from their masters and doing what pleases them or what their positions would not ordinarily allow them to do! Thanks for spending your time to do the piece, but it may not change much as many more are just waiting behind the curtains for the 2007 act!

John Igoli (Ph.D.)
Department of Chemistry
University of Agriculture
Makurdi, Nigeria (igolij@yahoo.com)

We’re all culpable
Your piece aptly describes the moral tragedy in the Obasanjo government as exemplified by the elevation of the Fani-Kayodes of this world to high public office. However, the whole political elite, the media and even the generality of the Nigerian public are culpable for this.

How many people raised objection when his name was sent to the Senate even when his pedigree is well known? Even without a protest, what responsible Senate will clear such a character to become a minister? I commend your courageous effort at analysing that shameful episode for all to see the moral deficit of the Obasanjo junta.

Umaru L. Suleiman

Blame the docile Senate that confirmed his appointment in the first place.

UM (umunnem@aol.com)

OBJ demeans presidency
Thank you, Farooq, for your observation and for speaking out so objectively. Obasanjo has demeaned the exalted position, which is the presidency, by, amongst other things, surrounding himself with nitwits. Any one who is well-meaning but whose opinions differ from that of Obasanjo becomes a public enemy.

Fani-Kayode was appointed minister due to his innate ability to grovel and sycophante [sic] to Obasanjo. I believe that Atiku, when he said that he will continue Obasanjo's decrepit policies, was actually playing to the same Obasanjo gallery in the vain hope that Obasanjo will see him as loyal.

Okorie (Okiriecc@aol.com)

Atiku deserves it
How else do you expect an alleged thief and a looter of people’s funds (Atiku) to be treated? Get over it. I do not even give a rat shit if Obasanjo is treated alike.

Mistique Davis"
I read your article and did not agree with your views on Fani Kayode. We have a saying in Yoruba that if you stay too long in the toilet, different types of flies will be greeting you-- green yellow and brown. In other words, Atiku should know when to resign from a government he is no longer loyal to. But he cannot. If he does, his immunity will not be there to protect him.

I am not in support of Obasanjo in any way and this can be found in most of my writings on Gamji.com. Atiku, along with IBB, played a role in forcing OBJ on Nigeria just to take the shine away from Falae, the Yoruba choice for presidency. Let Atiku quit if he is not a thief. Otherwise he deserves everything.

Kunle I Sowunmi(kshoid@yahoo.com)

You weren’t silent on Atiku
Farooq, so you to can spit venomous fire? Well, there is no art to find the mind's construction in the face. Otherwise, how do I reconcile the fact that your latest notes came from the same "reserved," gentle, ever-smiling, peaceful, seemingly harmless Farooq? But I very well appreciate your anger.

I was reading the piece with a fervent prayer that you would be too emotional and angry to the point of being silent on Atiku's own very filthy side, so that I too may pour out my mild, brotherly vituperations on you. But as usual, you have not failed me. When Garba Deen descended on that leaky basket mouth of a minister, when the latter insulted Gowon thoroughly, I sent him a text thanking him for having made my day then.

For you, I would pray that ALLAH YA BAKA ALJANNAT FIRDAUSI for that piece ALONE.
Muhammad Usman (mainazoorme@yahoo.com)

He brings out the worst in people
Wow! I thought I disliked Femi and his crude methods until I read your write-up .Why does he bring out the worst in people? I have never read any of your write-ups that drips with so much venom like last week's. Even when those robbers attacked you and you lost your precious laptop, you were not that angry.

Thanks to Femi, at least I learnt some classy and sophisticated way of insulting vagabonds like him. CHILL! A word of advice: avoid reading anything that has to do with that filthy person. That's what I do. That way, we can avoid unnecessary anger. After all, some things never change.

Halima Idris, Abuja (htaurean@yahoo.com)

Don’t be another Fani-Kayode
The article was a masterpiece. Its only problem is the fact that you have to restrain your self so that you don’t also fall in the same shoe of Fani. I know how you feel, like all of us, but please attack with moderation.
Aminu Magashi Garba" (gamagashi@gmail.com)

Commonsense trumps book knowledge

If all we get from Fani-Kayode is this kind of uncivil behavior, one needs to think twice about the value of attending these big-name universities. Like Odolaye Aremu, that musician from Kwara State said, "Iwe yato, ogbon ori lo je baba," which literally means common sense trumps book knowledge. Like some of the ministerial appointments by this president, Fani is another square peg in a round hole.

One wonders what a born-again Christian is doing in the ministry of culture. The mere idea of a ministry of culture smacks of waste as nothing has really been done by the ministry that is worth noting.


How did he become a minister?
Truly, Fani Kayode represents neither political diplomacy nor civil interpersonal relationship. How he became a government minister is hardly understood. He appears to be a man of loose temper who speaks like someone suffering from verbal diarrhea.

President Obasanjo has a mix of the best, the good, the extremely bad and the ugly in his cabinet. Maybe, he has a reason for not having only the best and the good. Fani Kayode is not on the list of those to be classified as real intellectuals with earned integrity. It is nothing personal, as I do not know the man, but that is my earnest view of him from what I read of his position, comments and actions.

David Eboh. (davideboh@aol.com).

You’re a promoter of mediocrity!
Farooq is a great promoter of mediocrity and to him Atiku is excellent!! . Fani-Kayode family politics may be unpopular in many parts of Nigeria, but no doubt he has a proud educational heritage, and nobody can take that away. No minister is lowly as long as he is in the FEC which makes policy that affects 150 million Nigerians! Eat your hearts out.

Dr. Adesuyi Ajayi, Texas, USA (adeajayi@aol.com)

Fani-kayode is not lowly
"A lowly, inconsequential minister" -- Farooq is wrong. Fani-Kayode has a good pedigree. Just to remind you, his grand father was properly educated at Cambridge University, so was his father of the "Fani Power" fame, and of course, I believe that he himself went to Cambridge. So what did Farooq base his lowly comment of Fani-Kayode on? Though they may never have stood up to be counted with the common
people, still they are well read.

Dododawa (dododawa@yahoo.com)

We voted for our VP
Cambridge does not change the fact that he is a lowly inconsequential minister of tourism. Cambridge education does not give him any special right to challenge our VP. He serves at the pleasure of the president but we voted for our VP. He rubbished our votes when he insulted our VP. He can take his Cambridge education and shove it under the Queen of England.


Family pedigree rather than merit

Farooq credited Fani-Kayode’s ministerial appointment to President Obasanjo’s mindset of making appointments based on family name recognition rather than competence and accomplishments. Therefore, what Farooq is saying is that Fani-Kayode’s appointment was based on his family pedigree rather than what he has to offer as a standalone candidate.

Please do not discountenance the fact or possibility that Fani-Kayode senior could be a man of noble spirit and the junior an imbecile. If it is true that Fani-Kayode led the ministerial uprising to demand that VP Atiku be ejected from the Executive Council Ministerial meeting, then, Farooq’s conclusions may not after all be written off as erroneous.
Olisa H. Osita
California, USA (bosa_obiechina@yahoo.com)

The last three views above are from a Nigerian Internet discussion group—sent to me by a friend.

There are Fani-Kayodes in all camps

I enjoyed your piece on the above subject. It’s quite an intelligent and interesting write- up. I have a dislike for sycophants that would rather give up their self-respect in exchange for ill-gotten money. I have a serious disrespect for people who will take orders without asking questions, just to keep their jobs. We have men like Fani Kayode in all the various camps, and it angers me each time I read their praise songs and contradictory monologues followed by their unsubstantiated claims of degrees obtained.

I lack the time to do what you just did and hope you will keep it up. By the way, are you from the Kperogi family in Okuta?
Paul Incha (paulncha@yahoo.com)

Yes to the last question.

I agree with your views
I read your beautiful article on Fani-Kayode and wish to state that your views are consistent with the views of most Nigerians.

Suleiman Abdullahi, Abuja.

I doff my hat for the flow of your pen on Fani-Kayode.

Isa Mukhtar, Kano (isamuktar@yahoo.com)

I most respectfully agree with this big "turenchi" guy's opinion. He was very thorough, unassuming and patriotic. Ah! he sabi real grammar o. But will the Balogun of Owu kingdom listen to anybody?


Thank you for the article
Thank you very much for writing this article. Very incisive and timely.
You have expressed in very eloquent and powerful prose what a lot of
Nigerians have been ruminating in contemplative anger since the emergence of that rascal as minister of culture.

Your deep personal knowledge of him ought to make your article a referential point of departure for anyone seeking to understand the moral, ethical and cultural deficits of Mr. Obasanjo's gang. Far from being angry, I think the tone appropriately conveys the outrage that any decent Nigerian should feel about the antics of this character.

I see nothing in the article that does not accurately describe him and his despicable mannerism. And, of course, all this would be funny were it not for the fact that these are the people superintending the key social and political institutions of our country. Thank you for the article.
Dr. Moses Ochonu (moses.ochonu@vanderbilt.edu), Vanderbilt University, Nashville, USA.

Re: Story of a Nigerian visitor in America

What follows below are some responses to my “Story of a Nigerian visitor in America.”

You story speaks to my experiences
I read the above story with keen interest because it speaks to my own experiences. I`m a graduate of Mass Communication from BUK and I now work as classroom teacher.

Initially, I refused to accept any offer to work in Nigeria. I had a dream to one day visit and settle in the USA or Europe by all means, until my friend who was a visa lottery winner came back from America and explained to me that America is not the paradise I thought it was. I was flabbergasted and worried. I thought he was jealous and didn`t want me to `settle my life’ there.

I spent more than five years trying the visa lottery but to no avail. Thank God I`m at present working and collecting my meager salary. I don`t want to migrate to any foreign countries, except on study, invitation or other important purposes.

However, you have to continue through your write-ups to educate people on the consequences of migrating to foreign countries illegally. Keep up the good work.

Ibrahim Musa Gwammaja, (ibraaish@yahoo.com)
No 1297 Gwammaja Quarters, Kano.

You encourage us to read Weekly Trust
I'm regular reader of your fantastic column in Weekly Trust. First, I am writing to tell you that on 26 May, 2007 my wedding will take place Insha’Allah. So I need your prayers. I also want to show our admiration for your flamboyant, eloquent and coherent writing style. It gives us the encouragement to read Weekly Trust. May Allah be with you and guide you.

Nura Gwanda (nuragwanda1981@yahoo.com)

There’s no place like home
You are such a good guy. I like the way you handled your 'neighbour' in "Story of a Nigerian tourist in America". I am impressed. Keep telling them there is no place like home.

Hassan Khalil (khalil742@yahoo.com)
Computer Science Unit,
Department of Mathematical Sciences,
Bayero University, Kano.

You ridiculed your friend
I was surprised when I read your recent article about the Nigerian tourist. You did not only publicise your friend's request for help but you also ridiculed him in the process. I am sure that if your friend reads that article he will not be happy.

Like you said, what he asked for was wrong but you could have told us about it without including all those "deep breaths" you had to take because that only made him more pathetic.

Pearl Squirt (krisis710@yahoo.com)

Nuhu Ribadu exhibited Jahiliyya
All the students who came to my room and read your column agreed that Nuhu Ribdadu is not much of a thinker. But he has guts, and unfortunately guts alone are not enough for his kind of delicate job.

Many see the EFCC as irredeemably compromised because it is scandalously selective. It is a tool of political witch hunting and vendetta. By trying to defend the 'wolf', Ribadu exhibited the 'Jahiliyyah' attitude of supporting benefactors and 'tribesmen' whether they are in the right or in the wrong.

A jahili slogan says "wansur akhaaka zaliman or mazluman"(help your brother whether he be the oppressor or the oppressed). Nigerians need to develop a sense of outrage if we are to curb the excesses of leaders. We have also thoroughly enjoyed the style and diction of the column. I visited my dictionary for 2 or 3 words.

Abdulrahman Muhammad, ABU Zaria (abbakaka@yahoo.com)

Fani-Kayode: Ministerial Rascality Taken Too Far!

The following first appeared in my column in the weekly Trust newspaper, Abuja, on October 7, 2006.

By Farooq A. Kperogi

Twitter: @farooqkperogi

I apologize that I am not able to start my series on Islam in America this week as I promised. Many people wrote to ask that I write on this topic, and I thought the period of the Ramadan was a fitting time to start it. Alas, I am forced to change my topic this week by recent events in Nigeria.

As newspaper commentators, we are prisoners of the vagaries of the events about which we comment.

I read in our online newspapers a while back that Femi Fani-Kayode, Obasanjo’s culture and tourism minister, led a “rebellion” of some ministers to kick Vice President Atiku Abubakar out of the last Federal Executive Council meeting.

According to the reports, Fani-Kayode demanded that the VP leave the Federal Executive Council meeting because, according to him, the VP lacked the moral, legal, and political basis to continue participating in the current government. The VP was said to have been “saved” from the intense fury and caustic barbs of Fani-Kayode by President Obasanjo's grudging intervention. This is just so incredible! I couldn’t help boiling with raw rage when I read the details of what happened.

This, indeed, is not a happy time to be a Nigerian. A lowly, inconsequential minister stood up in the presence of the president to insult and embarrass the vice president and nothing happened to him? Our democracy has truly gone to the dogs!

It’s sickening that our country has degenerated to such a stage that an ignorant, rascally, and harebrained twerp like Fani-Kayode can even be invested with a responsibility as serious as a ministerial position.

But who is this Fani-Kayode that never ceases to outrage our sensibilities and assault the basic decencies of civilized society? Who is this man that has elevated vulgarity, coarseness, and infantilism to an art? Just who is this nonentity?

Many newspaper accounts have hinted at his not-too-flattering mental history as the explanation for his permanent predilection for primitive crudeness. But that is not the issue here. Our worry, I think, should be why any responsible person (this takes for granted that our president is responsible) would impose on a flighty and obviously emotionally damaged stormy petrel like Fani-Kayode a task as grave as holding a public office.

Can’t Obasanjo see that this man has diminished the worth of public office and has become an irredeemable embarrassment to Nigeria?

For the avoidance of doubt, I am not a fan of Atiku. I don’t see him as any better than Obasanjo in terms of his philosophy of statecraft. He is, after all, an integral part of the unexampled venality that the incumbent presidency symbolizes.

In all his disagreements with the president, Atiku is often quoted as saying that if elected president he would continue with Obasanjo’s “reform programme”—a thoroughly discredited program that is ruthlessly robbing Nigerians of their very humanity and deepening their misery in ways never thought possible before.

I will never defend the person of such an accomplice in our collective ruin. I personally think that it would be a monumental tragedy for Nigeria to be burdened with an Atiku presidency. It would be akin to giving Obasanjo a third term—or worse.

That said, recent facts from here confirm that Atiku is merely being witch-hunted for whatever personal grudges Obasanjo may have against him. It is now at least clear that Obasanjo and the EFCC lied, as is now their wont, when they said that their investigation of Atiku was instigated by a request from the U. S. government.

I watched the Congressional hearing on the investigation of William Jefferson, a U.S. House of Representatives member that represents a part of Louisiana very close to where I used to reside until recently. U. S. Assistant Secretary of State for Africa, Dr. Jendayi Frazer, during the hearing, described the probe of Atiku as "the handiwork of politicians who try to smear the reputation of opponents."

"The request by the U. S. was for Nigeria to help furnish information on an American Congressman, William Jefferson, who is being investigated for alleged corrupt practices, and not a case against the Vice President of Nigeria," she said.

But Akin Osuntokun, another irresponsible and rascally upstart who owes his position to the fact of his being the son of a member of one of Nigeria’s hegemonic blocs, issued a puerile, dull-witted, and barely literate response to Dr. Frazer, accusing her of interfering with Nigeria's internal affairs, and of denigrating and disrespecting "the leadership of Nigeria."

These are the same people who said their probe of the VP was the consequence of the request by the American government. So, if the American government requests that the second most important person in our country be probed (even though this has turned out to be false), it does not represent an act of meddling in our internal affairs or of disrespecting our leadership. It only becomes so if the facts change.

How more childish and illogical can a defense get? Anyway, Obasanjo seems to have an uncanny knack for assembling the most perfidious gaggle of mentally subnormal people around him.

The depth of the rot of the Nigerian presidency is truly staggering. The stench that emanates from it is so malodorous it can deaden your nasal sensibilities to a state of virtual paralysis. It has been denuded of the last vestige of honor. It is now an asylum for moral cripples, treacherous thugs, degenerate fools, flyblown sycophants, and nitwits of different shades.

The rise of Fani-Kayode— and others like him— in the current government is eloquent testament to this. Never in the history of our country has a vulgar, noisy, bigoted, foul-mouthed, infantile, and witless twit like Fani-Kayode been made to violate our collective sensibilities with such coarseness, such unmitigated vileness, such invidious impunity. Never!

He rose to notoriety precisely because he was the ill-famed attack dog of a barefaced and self-righteous hypocrite who calls himself our president. For his unprecedented display of ill breeding and rudeness to our elders who had the good sense to call the president’s attention to the perdition he is pigheadedly leading us to, Obasanjo compensated him with a ministerial position.

But what statement is Obasanjo making by appointing a disreputably boorish philistine like Fani-Kayode as a culture minister? Of all the ministries in the country, why did he choose the culture ministry? In other words, what logic can justify the decision to appoint a wolf to keep guard over sheep? Well, go figure.

Of course, it didn’t take long before the man showed his colors. A wolf can only hide for so long among sheep. On two (or is it three) occasions, he evaded— in fact, violently resisted—mandatory airport screening and caused needless scenes. He felt too important to submit himself to civilized conduct. In saner countries, such a shameful behavior would have forced any minister to resign.

But what do you expect from a Femi Fani-Kayode? That is what you get when you undeservedly elevate a backward and thoroughly benighted nonentity to a position that is light-years bigger than his wildest dreams could have ordinarily led him to expect.

This man’s only claim to anything at all, just like Akin Osuntokun, is that his dad was an ex-somebody. He is a mere beneficiary of Obasanjo’s brazen agenda to ensure the intergenerational perpetuation of certain hegemonic blocs in the country. Many of the children and grandchildren of major political players in the country from the past to the present (across regional and religious divides) are employed as Obasanjo’s redundant special advisers or assistants.

Were it not for this hegemonic agenda, this vile and contemptible vermin that is ordinarily not even able to minister to himself, much less be the chief executive of a whole ministry, would not be a minister in any sane country.

My repulsion against Fani-Kayode is not simply born out of newspaper reports of his nauseating theatrics as Obasanjo’s special assistant on public affairs (a position another unprincipled and brainless mercenary thug has inherited); it is informed by my first-hand knowledge of this guy who I think eminently qualifies to be given the title of MON—Most Obnoxious Nigerian.

When I worked briefly at the State House Office of Public Communications, which Dr. Stanley Macebuh headed, I had occasions to meet him. It is these encounters that provide the raw material for the character sketch I wish to draw of him.

This man neither has integrity nor evinces any intelligence when you meet him outside the mediation of the mass media. He is drab, vain, sycophantic, overzealous, scatterbrained, and megalomaniac. And if you are looking for the very personification of ethnic and religious bigotry, don’t go past this character.

His intolerance for people that his warped and barren mind conceives of as belonging to the “Other” is revolting. He is, in short, a detestable personality, an excellent specimen of what a patriotic Nigerian should NOT be! But he has been lucky.

Newspapers report his every inane utterance and, in time, unwittingly constructed a façade of seriousness around him. In fact, when the Atiku campaign group was welcoming Uba Sani as his successor, they said Sani was filling the “big shoes” left by Fani-Kayode. I was disgusted. Big shoes? “Filthy shoes” looks more like it!

But these are the kinds of people Obasanjo likes to draw close to himself: people who have low self-esteem, people who have huge moral deficits, people who are daft, who are filthy, and who perpetually grovel before him in vacuous awe. Examine most of the people who are close to the president and you will discover that they fit this description.

However, when Fani-Kayode was a special assistant (a mere job for the boys), it was easy to tolerate his thuggery and rascality. Now that he is, for God’s sake, a minister— however undeservedly—is it too much to expect him to refrain from, or at least moderate, the reckless and irresponsible juvenile bravado for which he has become notorious?

Chinua Achebe’s Booker award, Nigeria’s glory

This first appeared on June 16, 2007 in my column in the Weekly Trust newspaper.

By Farooq A. Kperogi

The recent international recognition of the literary excellence of our peerless literary icon, Chinua Achebe, and the equally richly deserved crowing of the prodigious literary prowess of U.S.-based up-and-coming novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie have been such comforting news especially for those of us living outside Nigeria who have had the unpleasant burden of explaining (actually, in most cases, explaining away) to our friends all the bad international press we’ve had in the last couple of months.

Since May this year, every well-informed American I have met has asked me about our outrageously fraudulent elections and, of course, about the kidnappings of foreigners in the Niger Delta. These two issues seem to be the only topics people here know about Nigeria when they strike up a conversation with you. I don’t blame them, though. Their news media has had a rather unhealthy fixation with these stories these past few months.

Then first came cheering news that one pulchritudinous and immensely talented 28-year-old Nigerian lady called Adichie has won the Orange Broadband Prize for Fiction for her book, Half of a Yellow Sun. (Incidentally, Chinua Achebe was also only 28 years old when he wrote his magnum opus, Things Fall Apart).

She trounced many better known and more established women writers to win the prize. Although news of her win didn’t do much to divert attention from the negative publicity of Nigeria in the Western media, it did provide a comforting alternative subject matter to discuss with people about Nigeria here.

But perhaps the greatest boost to Nigeria’s image this week is the news of the award of the over 15-million-naira-worth Booker Man International Prize to Chinua Achebe. He beat such well-known writers as the controversial Indian-born British writer Ahmed Salman Rushdie, the eminent Jewish-American writer Philip Roth and the equally outstanding Mexican novelist Carlos Fuentes, among many others.

It is a well-merited but long overdue acknowledgment of Achebe’s pioneering contribution to African fiction writing, a reason he has been rightly dubbed the father of modern African prose.

Professor Chinua Achebe
However, this award, significant and praiseworthy as it is, does more good to the hitherto little-known, two-year-old foundation that conferred it on Achebe than it does to Achebe himself. We are talking about a man who is easily one of the world’s most accomplished authors of all time, a man whose legendary, irreproducible Things Fall Apart has sold over 10 million copies and is translated into over 50 languages (except in his own native Igbo—unfortunately); a man whose book has been recognized as one the world’s 100 greatest classics in the pantheon of literature.

What more can anybody hope for? Achebe has reached the mountaintop of literary achievement— and still sits there with admirable grace and elegance.

So why should we celebrate Achebe’s little award, an award that actually needs him more than he needs it, an award that could use his awe-inspiring, larger-than-life image to inscribe itself in global literary consciousness? I think it is precisely because this award also bestows more honor on Nigeria as a corporate entity than it does on Achebe as a person.

Because of Achebe’s towering international stature, the award is generating fairly robust news coverage and editorial commentaries in the international media. Invariably, Nigeria gets mentioned in some positive light—even if this might end up being a mere flash in the pan.

Achebe is one writer whose literary charm has won him as much affection and popularity at home as it has won him abroad. Call him a prophet who is honored both at home and abroad, if you like. I got my first experiential taste of his popularity here in 2005.

One day I was having a conversation with my thesis director. In the course of our conversation, he made an allegorical reference to Okonkwo, the protagonist in Things Fall Apart. At first I didn’t get what he said both because I didn’t expect him to know Okonkwo and because his white American accent did some phonological violence to the name.

Sensing that I was a bit confused, he said “I am referring to Okonkwo in Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart.” I was amazed. He knew the storyline, the plot, the setting, etc of Things Fall Apart with such effortless ease that you would think he was Nigerian, or at least that he had lived in Nigeria.

He told me that the book was a recommended text in his high school English literature class. I later discovered that many Americans that have at least a high school diploma have encountered Achebe’s works, especially his Things Fall Apart. His works, I have found out, are also widely studied in the English departments of many universities here.

This is not limited to America, however; it’s a worldwide phenomenon. In fact, most of the Chinese students I’ve had the pleasure to relate with here have told me that Things Fall Apart was compulsory reading for them.

I particularly recall a Chinese friend telling me that many Chinese students, especially at the height of the Cold War, often felt depressed after reading the book because “Achebe allowed those damn imperialists to triumph over the revolutionary Okonkwo.” Achebe’s classic response to that criticism is that he wasn’t writing political propaganda but an imaginative recapitulation of the pre-colonial and early colonial socio-historical experiences of his people.

However, in a sense, it might be argued—and with some justification, I think—that the popularity of Things Fall Apart in the West is not so much a consequence of the regard Westerners have for the book’s literary qualities (even though it undoubtedly has matchless literary qualities) as it is because it feeds their anthropological curiosity about Africans. Scenes of human sacrifice, wife beating and other supposedly atavistic practices that Westerners habitually ascribe to “less evolved” Africans—which are actually incidental to the core of the book—are usually the main points of attraction.

This was what motivated me to argue in a paper I once wrote for my undergraduate class in African literature that Things Fall Apart inadvertently reinforces some of the “Conradian” stereotypes it purports to subvert and destabilize. But this is no place for high-minded cerebration about the literary choices of Achebe.

Interestingly, while Achebe is literally a household name in both literary and popular circles worldwide, few people know Wole Soyinka outside Nigeria—at least in comparison with Achebe. Even in Nigeria, we know Soyinka more as a political activist (and a willfully turgid and impenetrable author whose books we grudgingly read only because of curricular tyranny) than as a literary icon in the class of Achebe. In other words, Soyinka is famous only because he is famous!

The same Americans and Chinese people I met who knew a lot about Achebe and his works told me they had never even heard of the name Wole Soyinka. Interestingly, Soyinka himself once famously remarked that while he may the best known writer to emerge from Nigeria on account of his Nobel Prize (this is, of course, not entirely true), Things Fall Apart is the best known literary work to emerge from Nigeria.

He also once pointed out in one rare moment of self-deprecating candor that any time he is introduced as the Nobel Laureate in Literature from Nigeria, he’s always had to contend with the embarrassment of explaining to people that he is not the author of Things Fall Apart.

This reality, for me, dramatizes the tendentiousness of the politics of the Nobel Prize committee, which Chinweizu once called a “gaggle of Swedes” who sit in a yearly conspiratorial conclave to endorse people that reinforce and naturalize Western hegemony.

Underlying the decision to deny Achebe the Nobel Prize in Literature is a subtle, unspoken but nonetheless veridical racial (some would say racist) politics. Achebe has been univocal—and, yes, unapologetic—in his denunciation of the racism implicit in the works of many Western literary and political icons.

For instance, he once called Joseph Conrad, who is worshiped in the English departments of many Western universities, as a “thoroughgoing racist” for his invidious caricature of Africans in Heart of Darkness, a novel that is still regarded as a classic in the West.

He is also on record as having criticized Albert Schweitzer, a 1952 Nobel Peace Prize laureate and a well-regarded apotheosis of Western liberalism. Schweitzer, a German-French theologian who spent a great deal of his life evangelizing the gospel of Christianity in Gabon, died in 1965 at the age of 90. He was well-known for saying that the Christianization of Africans was a historical burden that Europeans must shoulder to atone for the sins of slavery and colonialism.

He was also once quoted as saying, “The African is indeed my brother but my junior brother.” Achebe was piqued, and criticized his paternalism and condescension toward Africans. The Western power structure was silently outraged.

But perhaps Achebe’s more obvious “sin” was that in 1985, a year before Wole Soyinka was given the Nobel Prize in Literature, he characterized the Indian-Trinidadian writer V.S. Naipaul as "a brilliant writer who sold himself to the West.” Then he added: “And one day he'll be 'rewarded' with maybe a Nobel Prize or something."

Naipaul is the 2001 Nobel Prize winner in Literature. Many people say Achebe would have been announced as the winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1985 but for this brutally frank barb at the West— and the Nobel Prize. There is no reason to suppose that this as an idle conspiracy theory.

Thankfully, the Nobel Prize is not the only touchstone of literary excellence in the world, as the recent recognition of Achebe has shown. And Achebe is in good company, too. Such world-renowned writers as Leo Tolstoy, Émile Zola, Henrik Ibsen and so on were also notably ignored by the Nobel Prize committee because of their political views.

So, for whatever it is worth, let us congratulate Professor Chinua Achebe— and Miss Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.

Next week, all things being equal, I will start a long-running series on Nigerian English—its points of convergence and departure from British and American English and a case for its standardization. Have a good weekend.

Is this democracy?

This rumination first appeared in my column in Weekly Trust on April 21, 2007.

By Farooq A. Kperogi

I crave your indulgence to allow me to tyrannize you this week with my desultory thoughts. Since my deterritorialization (as those of us who live by “big grammar” call geographic displacement) to the United States over the past couple of years, I have become more emotionally invested in Nigeria than I had ever thought possible. I read our newspapers online with an almost religious commitment and follow developments in the country in ways I never thought I was capable of.

This is not exclusive to me. People who have left the homeland for a strange cultural habitat often find that they have an unquenchable appetite for news from home and that they are often overcome by an inexplicable nostalgia or, if you like, by a kind of romantic nationalism that they'd probably never felt when they were at home.

I have been following the deeply soul-depressing charade that is passing for elections in Nigeria. I have become what mass communication scholars would call “news drunk” reading all the devious subterfuge and shenanigans before, during, and after the elections. And this has deepened my sense of despair about the future of our country. My disheartenment these past few days has been so nakedly transparent that anybody who merely fixes his gaze on me can almost see, even touch, my depression unaided!

In moments of emotional distress, writing is often cathartic for me; it provides an outlet to vent my pent-up angst.

So I decided to get down to writing my column for the week. And a whole host of ideas, as usual, came jostling for prominence in my mind. Should I write about a friend of mine who, against my well-intentioned caution, came to the United States since last month and found for himself, in a bitter way, that America is no paradise on earth? He will probably be back in Nigeria by the time you are reading this article.

Or should I write about university teaching in America in light of the current ASUU strike? I have had university-teaching experiences in both Nigeria and the United States and since Nigerians love to derive inspirational strength from a contrast of contexts with more "advanced" societies, I thought I would write about that. And I have a whole load of information to share. Are university teachers in America any better off qualitatively than Nigerian university teachers?

Then I thought there is something about our newspaper journalism culture that just isn’t right and that I should comment on. It’s not only that the grammar of our newspapers is often awful and the language annoyingly clichéd; the manner of attributing information to prominent people—and of casting headlines—is often at best unprofessional and at worst downright duplicitous.

Since I teach news writing and reporting here, I thought I would write about that issue and also draw from my experiences with American journalism. Of course, I don’t expect any journalist to read this—or if they read it to take me seriously. But I would at least be on record as one of the people that called attention to this disturbing practice.

All these ideas, however, were drowned out by the profound revulsion that has engulfed me since this dubious “do-or-die” election (apologies to Obasanjo) started.

But then, I said to my self: how could I write about the elections when I have defined the compass of this column to be only, or mostly, a record of my sojourn here? What’s more, so many reasoned and thoughtful commentaries have already been written about the disingenuous chicanery we are being subjected to in the name of elections. So what am I going to say that is refreshingly different?

Certainly not a lot. But, well, I said to myself that I can at least ramble and find emotional release in the process. And that’s precisely what I am doing now.

I think we need to start seriously questioning some of the taken-for-granted assumptions about democracy. Since the collapse of state socialism in the USSR and Eastern Europe, “democracy” has emerged as the unchallenged, unquestioned form of government that every nation is either forced to adopt or aspires to emulate voluntarily.

For us in Nigeria, our nightmarish experience with incredibly venal, reactionary, and enfeebling military absolutism has made “democracy” an even more appealing attraction. Predictably, democracy has now become what scholars of rhetorical studies would call a “charismatic term”— that is, an abstract, often meaningless and empty, concept that nonetheless carries the greatest blessing in a culture and demands sacrifice and obedience.

Today, to be labeled “anti-democratic” is worse than being called a murderer. Politicians now confer legitimacy on their actions—and inactions— by invoking the name of “democracy.”

But is this what we bargained for? No serious person in Nigeria contests the fact that the last eight years represent our country’s worst descent into the low-water mark of despair, hopelessness, and misery. We have witnessed the reversal of our time-honored national fortunes by at least 30 years.

It’s anybody’s guess if we can ever recover from this. For instance, when Obasanjo came to power in 1999, Nigeria generated over 3000 megawatts of electricity. His government actually spent billions of Naira to reverse this to about a thousand megawatts today! Our roads are in a worse state than they have ever been since independence. Security is at its lowest ebb. And poverty now prowls proudly and menacingly in most homes to the delight of Obasanjo and his slew of sinister crooks who call themselves “reformers.”

For eight years, a thieving, hypocritical, and incompetent cabal has held our country hostage, viciously raped our resources, traumatized our people, pillaged our patrimony, and murdered our dreams with reckless abandon in the name of democracy.

And this same baleful, felonious cabal is entrenching institutional structures to guarantee the intergenerational perpetuation of their criminality and the exclusion of other segments of the society through systematic, state-sponsored vote rigging.

Ordinary Nigerians are cruelly denied even the most basic guarantee of liberal democracy: periodic leadership change through the ballot. Last Saturday, Obasanjo and his gang of criminals in government once again manipulated the governorship and state houses of assembly elections and denied us even the luxury to dream sweet dreams about the future of our country.

The Independent National Electoral Commission, which is anything but independent, announced predetermined election results. Now there is outrage and violence everywhere—and justifiably so. We all know that this Saturday’s presidential and National Assembly elections have already been preset even before they have taken place. Why should anybody go out to vote? For good reason, Nigerians are progressively losing faith in the electoral process and, in fact, in democracy itself.

What is worse, perhaps, is that billions of naira that should have been used to fix our decaying infrastructure and institute basic economic liberties for the masses of our people are being expended on these fraudulent elections. And the last thing on the minds of the beneficiaries of this fraud is the common good of the country. Democracy, for many of them, is merely a gateway for easy personal enrichment.

When I think about this, I can’t help wondering sometimes whether we really need this democracy at this stage of our development. It’s a wasteful, inept system that throws up all kinds of mediocre characters and wily murderers in power. It has become a system that only expands the stealing and killing fields.

Think of the president and his numberless coterie of redundant and unproductive assistants, advisers and hangers-on. Ditto the vice president and the ministers. This thriftlessness is replicated at the state and local government levels. Then you have the absolutely otiose legislators at all levels of government with their strings of even more otiose aides, assistants, advisers and so on, all sustained by scarce national resources that should be invested in education, infrastructural development, agriculture, welfare programs, etc.

And then think of the needless deaths and destruction that accompany all elections. Even our president defined elections as a “do or die” affair. In reality, however, it’s a do AND die affair!

The truth is that democracy, all over the world, has never been the cause of prosperity; it’s always the consequence of prosperity. The United States, Britain, and all other Western countries did not become prosperous because they were democratic; they became democratic after they were prosperous.

Recent examples can be found in the so-called Asian Tigers. The current wave of democratization in the region was preceded by what has been called “developmental dictatorship.”

I know my critique of democracy exposes me to charges of advocating the return of the military. But that’s not my point. I will be the last person to advocate that, even though I believe in my heart that what we currently have is not in any way superior to military absolutism.

If the present system had the capacity to invest Nigerians with the power to change leadership through the ballot box, I would be willing to concede that the system at least has a redeeming feature. But that’s not the case. Like in the military era, we are stuck with the same visionless, unpatriotic and larcenous cabal, however much we may hate their rotten guts.

Some people think what we need is a patriotic, transaction-oriented, incorruptible, and developmental vanguard of leaders in the mold of a Muhammadu Buhari of old, or a Murtala Muhammed, or even a Ghadaffi.

But this suggestion is fraught with many problems and contradictions. Who will that person be in the Nigeria of today? And, worst still, how will he or she emerge? Through the electoral process that has already been hijacked by Obasanjo and his cronies? Just how?

I honestly don’t know. These are just the rambling discursive gymnastics of a tormented and frustrated deterritorialized mind. But I feel an emotionally purging sensation after writing this.

I wrote this column last Sunday, a day before the Supreme Court ruling that put Obasanjo and his cronies to shame. The Nigerian judiciary is one institution that is giving a lot of us cause to reaffirm our faith in the destiny of our country.

Story of a Nigerian tourist in America (II)

The following first appeared in my column in the Weekly Trust of May 26, 2007.

By Farooq A. Kperogi

My friend arrived in New York on a notoriously freezing Sunday morning. But the contentment he felt at having the privilege to set his foot in America, wondrous America, that Nigerians curiously cherish to dub “God’s own country,” gave him enormous comfort.

His smug glow of self-satisfaction dissipated as quickly as it came, however, when he called his friend who had promised to “set him up” in New York.

The friend said he was out of town, even though he was aware that Musa would arrive in New York that day. He told Musa that some sudden, unanticipated work-related commitment had taken him to Chicago and that he would no longer be able to honor his promise to be his host.

Musa said his heart jumped into his mouth and then sank back whence it sprang. “In spite of the cold weather and the snow, I was sweating profusely,” he later told me. New York ceased to be the gorgeously scenic city that had registered in his senses when he first stepped out of the airport. “Everywhere and everybody just looked ugly and wicked,” he said. He was helpless.

But he was both reluctant and ashamed to call me for two reasons. First, he didn’t inform me that he was coming on that day because he had vowed to have no truck with me again after I told him some bitter truths about life here. Second, and more important, I had told him that I would not accommodate him if his intention was to immigrate illegally.

He was understandably unsure how I would react if he called me. So he decided to call his other friend who had also promised to accommodate and find him a job. The friend lives in a state somewhere in the southernmost fringes of the United States.

Luckily, the man was sufficiently smitten by the pathos of Musa’s predicament that he invited him over without questions, even though he had no prior information that Musa was coming here that soon. His host was a middle-aged Nigerian who is obviously doing well here.

One weekday, I returned from school in the late evening hours when my phone rang. It was Musa. He had been in the country for the past two weeks and was only now just getting round to touch base with me. I was at once glad and nervous when I heard his voice. His voice sounded expressionless, almost a bit melancholic. He lacked the boisterousness and blitheness that seemed like second nature to him.

After exchanging our conventional courtesies and pleasantries, the first thing he said was, “Farooq, I now know you’re my true friend.”

“What do you mean, Musa?” I asked.

“I frankly thought you didn’t want me to come to America for whatever reasons. I never believed anything you told me when I called you the other day. Now I know better.”

I was touched, even conscience-stricken, as if I had a hand in his plight. His host, he told me, was initially very welcoming and helpful. After a week, however, he said, the entire family seemed to be fed up with him. The man and his wife said they'd thought he had come for only a one-week vacation.

“But I told this man that I sold my car to come here. Which normal human being sells his property just to go for a yeye vacation?” he said, his voice betraying a profound emotional dislocation.

He said the man’s wife stopped greeting him and also stopped answering his greetings. And because the couple went to work in the mornings and returned home late at nights, he hardly ate well.

But food was the least of his concerns. The state of his mind, he said, was such that he, in fact, would not enjoy any food even if it were “brought from al-janah firdaus, the highest paradise,” as he himself put it jokingly. His greatest worry was that his American Dream had crumbled even before he had a chance to sleep. He was seeing nightmares in his wakefulness—and in broad daylight.

His friend said he was not in a position to find him a job with his current immigration status, even though he had assured him that he could do it. He said the man told him exactly the same things I had told him when he called me from Nigeria some months back. But what of the Green-Card marriage? Well, the man said he would help with that.

In Musa’s presence, the man called a phone number in Chicago. Oh, this Chicago again! He was on the phone for over an hour with an “agency” that specializes in arranging Green-Card marriages for illegal immigrants from Africa who want to become American citizens.

Musa said his host told him that a black American lady had agreed to be his “Green-Card wife.” But there were two obstacles he needed to surmount. The first was to pay the professional fee for this “service.” The second was to have the patience to wait for up to two years (it could be earlier) before the U.S. government would recognize the “marriage” and subsequently give him the Green-Card, which is a transitional step to becoming a citizen.

The fee is $10,000, that is, over one million naira! However, he was required to give $5,000 as down payment. The outstanding balance would be paid when he eventually got his Green Card, he was told. But Musa had only a little over $1000 with him inside out.

What was worse, his host said he couldn’t accommodate him for more than a month. So even if he was able to raise the money, he would have to look for a place to stay for two years. Confused, he decided to call his friend in New York again. Perhaps, he had returned from Chicago. But the man said he was still in Chicago.

He ignored Musa’s subsequent calls.

With no place to stay, no money to purchase “Green-Card marriage” and no job, the harsh, cruel reality of life in America dawned on Musa. When he pleaded with his host to loan him $5,000 with interest, any interest, the host said Musa was out of his mind.

“But this man has two brand new jeeps, two new Hondas, a huge house, which he owns, and….” I stopped him because I knew where he was headed. I explained to him that America is essentially a debt society and that people’s material possessions are not a firm basis to judge their real wealth.

Everybody here seems to be in debt. Almost everything that everybody owns is on credit. I told him those new SUVs his friend has are bought on credit. The man probably pays as little as $200 a month for them, depending on his credit rating.

And the house does not belong to him in the sense in which we mean when we say we’ve bought our houses in Nigeria. Here, it’s a mere illusion of ownership. I told him that it is almost impossible for anybody with a middle-class income in America to afford to give a personal loan of $5,000 to anybody.

My friend was disillusioned. Well, the truth is that the American Dream is actually an American illusion for many people. For still others, it’s even worse: it’s an American nightmare, as Malcolm X famously put it in the early 1960s.

Musa spent the rest of his days in America listlessly and anxiously waiting for the day he would return to good old Nigeria with all its poverty, deprivation and chaos.

His only problem was that he was having a hard time coming to terms with the reality of returning to Nigeria without his car and other material comforts he sold off in order to come here. “People can’t understand why I would go to America for a whole month and, upon return, start jumping from Okada to Okada” he said ruefully.

But a worse tragedy awaited him. The day he left for New York from his base here, there was an unseasonably fierce snowstorm that forced local airlines to cancel or delay flights. So he missed his international flight. Airline officials told him he had to wait for three days before he could fly back to Nigeria.

Crestfallen and confused, he decided to call his New York friend again. He merely wanted a place to sleep for three days. This time around, the friend was not in Chicago—thankfully. However, he said he was held up at work and would not be able to see him even in four days. Musa slept on bare floor at the airport.

So, just as he was welcome by a severely cold weather when he arrived in New York, he was now being sent off by an even more severe blizzard that caused him to miss his international flight. Perhaps, these gelid weather conditions symbolized both a literal and a metaphoric rupture of his American dream.

When he got back to Nigeria, he called to tell me that some of his friends and relations were upset that he returned too soon. “If only they knew that I was in solitary confinement for the whole month!” he said in his usual satirical self-flagellation. Even in moments of distress, Musa never fails to throw light-hearted, self-deprecating jibes at himself.

It is all too easy to dismiss this good-natured gentleman as a naïve, impetuous chump who ignored friendly counsel and got himself enmeshed in an avoidable mess. But that would be a wee tot unfair, I think.

I am willing to concede that his indiscretions were actuated by the despair and hopelessness that our leaders have so cruelly democratized in the past couple of years. However, whatever the level of our desperation, it’s not half bad if we can demonstrate a little discernment and caution in our choices.

This story is shared with the kind permission of my friend. However, names, places and some facts have been deliberately changed to conceal his real identity.


Story of a Nigerian tourist in America (I)

This first appeared on May 12, 2007 in my column in the Weekly Trust newspaper.

By Farooq A. Kperogi

Sometime in January this year at 3: 00 a.m. Eastern Standard Time (that is, 5 or 6 hours behind Nigerian time), a shrill phone call rudely disrupted my incipient sleep. I’d retired for the night only about an hour earlier because I stayed up late in order to catch up with my perpetually expanding reading list. I wondered who could be calling me at that time of the day.

I knew the call couldn’t have originated from the United States. No one here would call me at that hour. And I was sure that the call couldn’t have been from my close relations and friends in Nigeria. They all know when not to call me.

So who in the world was calling me at that awkward hour? I was both too weak and too irritated to pick the call. After some time, I went back to sleep. And just when I was in that liminal zone between wakefulness and sleep, the call came again with more vehemence—or so it seemed to me.

I got off from my bed and walked blearily to my living room to answer the phone. (For reasons I will mention sometime in the coming weeks, I have refused to own a cell phone here—at least for now).

“Farooq, guess what?” a voice thundered with the palpable excitement of a little kid who had just got his first toy.

“Could I please know whom I am speaking with?” I said in my dreamy, barely coherent and languorous voice, trying exceedingly hard to suppress my anger.

“Haba, Farooq, don’t you realize that it’s me Musa [not real name]?”

“But I know at least 10 Musas from my immediate and extended family alone, not to talk of my friends and acquaintances. How can I know which Musa is speaking?”

The caller quickly realized that I was in no mood for his air-headed raillery. It turned out that he was my neighbor, my friendly, good-natured neighbor, when I used to live in some state in the far North. I hadn’t been in touch with him since I came here. He got my phone number from one of our mutual friends, he told me.

So why did he call me? And why was he beside himself with so much contagious and wide-eyed excitement? Well, it’s because he had just been given a tourist visa to America. It had always been his dream, he said, to “come and settle my life there,” to quote his hilariously broken grammar. The news that he got a tourist visa to visit the United States excited me, but the bit about “coming to settle my life there” confused, even worried, me.

Because I hadn’t spoken with him in a long while, I thought he had hit some jackpot somewhere and could therefore afford the luxury to spend some time here on vacation. But then I wondered what business a tourist has “settling his life” in another man’s country without the proper documentation. To be sure, I asked again what class of visa he had been issued. He assured me that it was a three-month, single-entry tourist visa. I was speechless.

A tourist visa does not entitle anyone to work legally in the United States. So how could he relocate here permanently on the strength of that class of visa? I expressed my reservations to him and advised him to think through his decision.

He said he called me precisely because he wanted me to help him. Deep breath. How? He wanted me to accommodate him, find him a temporary job and possibly arrange for him to marry an American woman so that he could become an American citizen after some time. (And this man is married with two kids!). I took an even deeper breath. I didn’t know whether to cry or laugh. As we were talking, his units ran out.

I called him back. I said to myself that I had a duty to tell this pleasant gentleman some unpleasant, inconvenient truths about life in this country. I told him his requests were impossible to grant because I would never be an accomplice in the violation of the laws of my country of sojourn.

But most importantly, even if someone else agreed to accommodate him, I said, it would be impossible for him to get a temporary job that would be legal and that would pay him enough money that would make any difference to his life.

For starters, to be eligible to work in the United States, you must have a social security number, and you cannot have a social security number unless you are citizen, a legal permanent resident, a guest worker, a student visa holder (which limits you to work only in the school in which you’re enrolled) or a holder of other categories of immigrant and non-immigrant visa.

In the absence of legal documentation to work, I told him, the best deal he could get here would be to be condemned to menial, denigrating drudgeries like cutting grasses, harvesting tomatoes in some desolate farm or, if he is lucky, washing plates and serving food in a restaurant.

And he would most certainly be severely underpaid because he is an illegal alien, as Americans call such people. The wages he would get from such jobs would not be sufficient to pay his bills. Most importantly, not many people—certainly not me—would be prepared to bear the burden of his upkeep while he works illegally and earns peanuts that condemn him to live below the breadline.

South Americans who work here illegally have the advantage of geographic proximity, numerical strength and a functional social network. An illegal African immigrant with an accent (which sets him apart from black Americans) will stand out like a sore thump here. Of course, such people do exist. But that’s a story for another day.

And Green Card marriage? I told him the only thing I knew about it was that, increasingly, the long arm of the American law had been catching up with perpetrators of this fraud of passion. I have heard and read of many Nigerians, Ghanaians and Kenyans who either are in American prisons or have been deported to their home countries on account of it.

(People who read this column regularly will recall that I once culled a story from the New York Times about the mass deportation of Ghanaians who were caught in the act of this fraud). So I advised him to steer clear of it if or when he eventually made his way here.

My friend was unimpressed. He said he thought the passage of time had changed me, but that I was still the same cowardly, prim and proper person who would not venture to take a risk and would discourage others from doing so.

I grinned and bore the subtle insult. Before we hung up, he assured me that he would come to America, get a decent job, be successful and prove all my dreadful predictions wrong. I wished him luck.

A few weeks after this telephone conversation, he emailed to tell me that an old friend of his who now lives in New York had agreed to “set me up.” He also said he got assurances from another old friend here who pledged to accommodate him, get him a job and arrange a Green-Card marriage for him. So he sold his N700,000 car for N500,000 to pay for his return ticket.

To be continued next week.

Nuhu Ribadu: “Fighting” corruption at home, defending it abroad

Isn’t it a tragic irony that Nuhu Ribadu, chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) who rode to national prominence on the crest of the wave of the popularity of his anti-corruption rhetoric, is the ONLY person so far who has come out in defense of Paul Wolfowitz, the corrupt and nepotistic president of the World Bank who is under intense pressure to resign?

For people who are not familiar with what I am talking about, World Bank President Paul Wolfowitz has been ensnared in a progressively festering credibility crisis over his unethical authorization of astronomical pay raises for his Iranian-American girlfriend by the name of Shaha Riza.

Riza worked for the bank before Wolfowitz took over its leadership in June 2005. But because World Bank rules forbid romantically entangled people to work in the bank at the same time in order to avoid a conflict of interests, Wolfowitz transferred her to the State Department, the American equivalent of our Foreign Affairs Ministry. But her name was retained on the bank's payroll.

Her salary went from close to $133,000 to $180,000 per annum. With subsequent raises, it eventually rose to $193,590, which is higher than the salary of Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Riza’s present boss. It is also light-years higher than what her contemporaries receive at the bank.

A World Bank panel that investigated this scandal found Wolfowitz guilty of culpable ethical infractions and has advised him to resign. The bank’s internal staff association has called on him to step down too, while aid agencies such as Oxfam have criticized him for detracting from the bank’s work on education and poverty reduction in the developing world.

The whole world has been unanimous in asking the man to resign. Except one person: our “anti-corruption” czar, Nuhu Ribadu.

Ribadu took out a portion of the New York Times to defend Wolfowitz. Among other sickening inanities, he said the World Bank chief should be spared because he has apologized for his “mistakes,” and has given the EFCC $5 million to fight corruption in Nigeria.

He also alleged that the man is just being victimized for “his previous role in the United States Department of Defense.” Wolfowitz is the architect of the war in Iraq and of the Bush administration’s policy of “war without end.”

This Ribadu man is clearly an overrated, empty-headed media creation. He even lacks the basic mental capacities to make a logically coherent argument. And he is supposed to be a lawyer!

How can anyone, not least someone who derives the social basis of his reputation on his putative fight against corruption, justify corruption and nepotism abroad on the grounds that the perpetrator has apologized for his corruption and that he has given money to a thoroughly compromised EFCC to “fight corruption” in Nigeria?

If corruption is wrong in Nigeria, it is also wrong elsewhere, including the World Bank.

By the way, who paid for the op-ed (I gathered that it was paid for)?