Monthly Archives: November 2012

Abia’s T.A Orji as best governor?

Standard

Ndi Igbo” is a very popular facebook page especially among my Igbo brothers. It gives regular updates on topical issues with photos and sometimes good graphic designs. It is one of the pages that attract most comments on any post. As at the time of writing this piece, Ndi Igbo page has 109,153 “Likes”

The page called for votes on who people think is the best governor in the South East?” As usual, there were several hundreds of comments with people making case for their preferred governor. I glanced through the comments and the names of Peter Obi (Anambra), Owelle Rochas (Imo) and Iheanacho Chime (Enugu). Of course Gov. Theodore Ahamefule Orji got more mention as “worst governor”  I rarely post comment on posts on the page but sometimes read up the ones posted by others when I wanna get a sense of humour or ‘online idiosyncacies’.

To the consternation of many, the administrator of the Ndi Igbo page announced the result with this statement, “THE CRITERIA ARE: . Security: how well are the people in his state faring concerning the security of their lives and properties. Have their been any concrete measure to stamp out kidnappings, robberies etc and has it worked. . Infrastructure: Since he became a Gov, what has changed in his state? What has he built, are the civil servants in his state working in good environment? Has he built anything worthwhile, like markets, civic center etc. And the all important ROAD…how are the road networks, has he build new roads and rehabilitated old ones ETC. And then general assessment on everything else. ….  IGBOISTS have spoken. The winner of the Igboist Award for THE BEST IGBO STATE GOVERNOR IS TA ORJI OF ABIA STATE! Security is the most important criteria and right Abia state has managed to rid their state of almost everyone criminal elements especially kidnapper and armed robbers. It is one of the safest states in Nigeria today. CONGRATULATIONS, ABIA STATE!”

Gov. T.A. Orji

The naming of Governor Orji as the “best” was greeted with a spontaneous expression of outrage from bewildered followers on the page. Below are some of the comments, posted unedited; (I will use the initials of the authors)”Admin… U shld apologise to us Abia state indigens for humiliating, riddicling us in dis manner nd to d general house, members of dis page 4 deceit n provocation… Dis is our page we av akceptd to b our own, so we arnt leaving!!” – K.N

“I always know that this admin is receiving money from TA Orji.  The way she always say good thing about him. Chai politics have come into this page…..” – P.D

i tink dis page hv becum page 4 joke n play…if u guys wnt b fuckin serious i wil unlike dis mudafuckin page..fuck u” – U.U

“Now i understand the origination of this page. Pace setter is an Abia state radio station and is like they are the founder of this page that is why the award was given to T. A. You talk of security while the security men are complaining abt bad leadership of T.A. You better withdraw that statement before is too late” – K.C.E

“Admin, u r and Idiot! U no get conscience at all.  Am highly disappointed. I have not seen something like this on this page!! I can’t believe it” – D.A.O

“TA should be remembered as the most hated and foolish governor abia ever produced. Can’t wait to watch him go to jail” – D.A

And on a lighter note, one posted “B*R*E*A*K*I*N*G! EFCC set to probe Ndi Igbo forum over allegation of bribe taking frm Abia state Gov.
  :/Admin on d run!” – K.O

I was only able to read through 102 out of 726 comments (at press time) and no one seemed to have agreed with Ndi Igbo admin. I come from Ebonyi State. My governor’s performance is widely believed to be terribly poor but when compared with Gov. T.A Orji , I think the word “better” to be used repeatedly for Governor Elechi.  In southern part of Nigeria,  many believe that comparing any governor with T.A. Orji in terms of performance in office would make him a saint.  Several months ago on same Ndi Igbo page, photos of “ongoing/completed roads” in Abia were splashed profusely with superlative descriptions. Most comments that followed were everything but pleasant. The question is, why would ‘Ndi Igbo Admin’ adjudge Governor Orji as the best in South East?

Click here to view Ndi Igbo facebook page.

Advertisements

Breaking the Dynasties of Poverty in Nigeria – by Chukwuma Soludo

Standard

Poverty is the summary measure of the state of well-being of a people, and hence the effectiveness of governance. Embedded in the measurement of poverty are such variables as income, education, employment, and access to basic necessities of life such as housing, clothing, food, water, etc. Breaking the vicious circle of poverty and inequality vis-a-vis insecurity, low savings – low investment and low and fragile growth traps constitute a central concern of public policy. In Nigeria, most people can FEEL the poverty burden – on the streets and the high level of dependency.  A deepening crisis which receives little attention is the breakdown of the social ladder, values, and networks traditionally used in our society to climb out of poverty. Poverty is consequently becoming an inheritance – a dynasty – whereby the children of the poor will, in all likelihood, end up poor. Increasingly, the rich won’t be able to sleep because the hungry and angry poor are awake!

If the statistics released by the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) on the state of poverty in Nigeria in 2010 and 2011 at 69% and 72% respectively are correct, then there is a state of emergency. The previous poverty survey in 2004 put the index at 54% and by 2011 it has jumped to 72% despite an average 7% annual growth of income, said to be led by non-oil sector (largely agriculture where the majority of the poor are). No other comparable oil exporting country has a similar record.  If the numbers are correct, Nigeria would not only miss the MDG goal in 2015 but would probably hold the world record as the country which rather than reduce poverty by half, actually almost doubled it. All these despite the plethora of public interventions to reduce poverty, including NAPEP and MDG funds!

From the NBS result, much of the Northern Nigeria is still in a poverty trap, although the rate of worsening poverty has slowed down. An interesting puzzle is the South, (especially the South-east which previously had the lowest poverty rate) but now shown to be on a high speed lane in the race to the bottom to catch up with the North. While poverty is declining elsewhere in the world, the states in Nigeria are reported to be competing to see which one wins the trophy as the poorest state.

I have decomposed the relative contributions of each state and geo-political zone to the worsening poverty, using the NBS figures, and the results for the zones are: North-central (4.7%); North-east (10.2%); North-west (15.6%); South-east (37%); South-south (14.3%); and South-west (18%). In total, the 19 Northern states contributed about 30%, while the 17 states in the South contributed 70% of the deterioration in the national poverty index. At the state level, the five states with the worst deterioration (in percentages of deterioration compared to 2004) are: Anambra (238%); Bayelsa (189%); Abia (185%); Oyo (152%); and Enugu (132%). The states with the most improvement in reducing poverty (percentages of improvement) are: Niger (32%), Kogi and Jigawa (17%); Kwara (13%), Kebbi (10%), and Lagos (7%). The full results show that compared to 2004, poverty worsened dramatically in all Southern states except Lagos in 2010, whereas in the North, it worsened in 11 out of the 19 states. A very interesting symmetry is the fact that except for Adamawa and Zamfara States, every state where poverty declined in the 2004 survey, it increased in 2010 and vice versa. Can this be true or a typo? The statistics are quite intriguing. To be honest, I have serious reservations about the NBS figures. As I argued in an earlier article, the flaws are so much that neither the arithmetic nor the economics makes sense. The NBS needs help to give Nigeria credible national income and social statistics.

If the figures are correct, they raise a very important issue pertaining to the size of government spending and poverty. Interestingly, some of the states that spent the most money also had very high deterioration in poverty between 2004 and 2010: Ogun (117%), Edo (119%), Imo (109%), Rivers (101%) and Akwa Ibom (80%). The results challenge the thinking in some quarters that the more money states have, the more likely they are to reduce poverty. They also raise issues about value for money spending in the states as well as the composition of the expenditure. These and the issue of how we measure performance are issues for another day.

While we can dispute the exact figures or their distribution, what is not disputable is that there is pervasive poverty in the land. Many factors determine poverty but we focus on three: size of the household, educational level, and occupation of the head of household. The least educated are likely to be in the informal sector or peasant agriculture with low income, and probably with a large family size. It is shown in Nigeria that 90% of households whose family size exceeds 10 are in poverty. It is not difficult to see why some parts of the country are trapped in poverty. To escape the trap, our political and religious leaders must have the courage to educate the people that the number of wives and children anyone decides to have is a choice, and not destiny. If you have children that you cannot train in school, you have condemned them and perhaps their own children to a life of poverty. In one of the organisations I worked, I was told of a driver who had 32 children.  Clear and sensible population policy as well as a credible programme for demographic transition can no longer be ignored. For the large army of people eking a living in the informal sector and peasant agriculture with very low productivity and incomes, public policy must explicitly target them. Productivity per hectare of land is very low in Nigeria. While aiming to raise the productivity of the existing peasant farmers, Nigeria needs a long-term strategy of transition from peasant agriculture to commercial farming. Most of the existing, ad hoc skill acquisition centres do not work well, and cannot reach many in need.

The key to sustained poverty reduction is access to opportunities by all. Access to qualitative education is the foundation and provides the social ladder that enables the children of the poor to break out of the cyst. In my primary school at Nigercem Nkalagu, I was in the same class with the children of the General Manager of Nigercem. For the secondary school and university education, we were in class with children of the super rich and taught by the same teachers.  Most successful people I know today had humble beginnings and the only magic that happened in their lives was access to qualitative education as well as opportunities to demonstrate their talent. In that world, if the children of the poor were more brilliant and hard working, they had a chance of doing better in life than children of the rich. Not anymore! Today, the children of the rich would be in elite private schools or abroad, while the others are condemned to a bleak future in the collapsed public schools.

Professor Soludo, former CBN governor

My estimate is that the poorest 40 per cent of our population (which NBS says are also food poor), with their children in the poorest of schools, if any, are getting a raw deal, and their children will likely end up in poverty. A vicious circle ensures, thereby creating dynasties of poverty. The middle group which manages to enter the largely public higher institutions end up with estimated 60% being unemployable because of the poor quality of education. With no structural diversification of the economy, the labour market is tightening relative to the supply of labour force from our youthful population, and hence very high unemployment. A tiny one or two per cent are able to offer their children world class education abroad. We are creating multiple enclaves of Nigerians, with the hungry, angry but rugged bottom 40% on the one hand, and the ‘managing to get by’ middle as well as the upper, elitist but fragile top likely on a collision course.One of the consequences of the oil resource curse in Nigeria is the creation of a culture of easy money, with no correlation between effort and reward. Everyone sees hundreds with no daytime jobs ‘making it’, and no one cares to ask what you do for a living. The millions excluded must survive one way or another. A sizeable number are now engaged in the underground speculative and criminal economy including prostitution, kidnapping, armed robbery, 419 scams, oil bunkering, drug trafficking, smuggling; dealership in fake and substandard products; etc. As the informal sector, especially trading shrinks, millions (largely uneducated) are migrating to all parts of the world and Africa in search of ‘opportunities’. Social networks based on kinship and trust, especially in business, are also breaking down. Without trust, most of the interventions to help the poor, including non-collaterised loans, break down.

Perhaps a more dangerous development is the poverty of the mind especially among the bottom 40%, and the impact of religion in keeping them down. I was brought up to ‘work and pray’. In my secondary school, some of us had on the cover of our notebooks the quote by Albert Einstein that “genius (success) is 1% inspiration (luck) and 99% perspiration (hard work)”. Another popular quote we had was: “success is when preparation meets with opportunity”. When I mentor young ones, I emphasise three keywords: focus, hard work, and prayer. Especially among the trapped 40%, and increasingly also among the ‘educated’, people now want opportunity without preparation.

Success is seen to be all about ‘luck’ and no personal responsibility in terms of effort. No wonder there is a boom of all kinds of spiritual and religious groups promising ‘miracles’, and there is a booming clientele.  If the promises of instant miracles don’t materialise, the clergy will see visions for their ‘captives’ about some relatives or friends who have ‘taken their luck’. A friend of mine in the oil and gas sector told me an interesting story. For several years during Christmas, he would buy rice and kill cows to share to the destitute in his village, as well as give scholarships and credit for micro entrepreneurs. After some time, he noticed that the number that came dwindled dramatically. He was happy and thought that it was an indication that less number of people needed help. It took a courageous close relative of his to tell him that the reason was that people said that he was ‘collecting their luck’ through his philanthropy, and that was why he was a successful oil magnate. I have heard several such stories. The import of this is that private charity will decline. How do you get millions with this kind of mindset to work their way out of poverty? Our imams and pastors have to help us with this!

Nigeria suffers from an illusion of affluence. We are a poor nation. The proposed Federal Government budget for 2013 comes to about $180 per Nigerian. There is a whole lot that government can and should do to break the poverty traps. But there is a lot more that the society must do. Perhaps a national summit to focus on this emergency is the starting point!

 

Culled from: ThisDay Newspaper (26/11/2012)

Awo vs Achebe: “We Remember Differently”, By Chimamanda Adichie

Standard

Chinua Achebe turns 82  this week;  in this article Chimamanda Adichie  celebrates the renown author and puts her voice to the raging controversy on Achebe’s book ” There Was A Country”  I could not resist the urge to “copy and paste” it here: 

I have met Chinua Achebe only three times. The first, at the National Arts Club in Manhattan, I joined the admiring circle around him. A gentle-faced man in a wheelchair.

“Good evening, sir. I’m Chimamanda Adichie,” I said, and he replied, mildly,  “I thought you were running away from me.”

I mumbled, nervous, grateful for the crush of people around us. I had been running away from him. After my first novel was published, I received an email from his son. My dad has just read your novel and liked it very much. He wants you to call him at this number. I read it over and over, breathless with excitement. But I never called. A few years later, my editor sent Achebe a manuscript of my second novel. She did not tell me, because she wanted to shield me from the possibility of disappointment. One afternoon, she called.  “Chimamanda, are you sitting down? I have wonderful news.” She read me the blurb Achebe had just sent her. We do not usually associate wisdom with beginners, but here is a new writer endowed with the gift of ancient storytellers. Adichie knows what is at stake, and what to do about it. She is fearless or she would not have taken on the intimidating horror of Nigeria’s civil war. Adichie came almost fully made. Afterwards, I held on to the phone and wept. I have memorized those words. In my mind, they glimmer still, the validation of a writer whose work had validated me.

I grew up writing imitative stories. Of characters eating food I had never seen and having conversations I had never heard. They might have been good or bad, those stories, but they were emotionally false, they were not mine. Then came a glorious awakening: Chinua Achebe’s fiction. Here were familiar characters who felt true; here was language that captured my two worlds; here was a writer writing not what he felt he should write but what he wanted to write. His work was free of anxiety, wore its own skin effortlessly. It emboldened me, not to find my voice, but to speak in the voice I already had. And so, when that e-mail came from his son, I knew, overly-thrilled as I was, that I would not call. His work had done more than enough. In an odd way, I was so awed, so grateful, that I did not want to meet him. I wanted some distance between my literary hero and me.

Chinua Achebe and I have never had a proper conversation. The second time I saw him, at a luncheon in his honor hosted by the British House of Lords, I sat across from him and avoided his eye. (“Chinua Achebe is the only person I have seen you shy with,” a friend said). The third, at a New York event celebrating fifty years of THINGS FALL APART, we crowded around him backstage, Edwidge Danticat and I, Ha Jin and Toni Morrison, Colum McCann and Chris Abani. We seemed, magically, bound together in a warm web, all of us affected by his work. Achebe looked pleased, but also vaguely puzzled by all the attention. He spoke softly, the volume of his entire being turned to ‘low.’ I wanted to tell him how much I admired his integrity, his speaking out about the disastrous leadership in my home state of Anambra, but I did not. Before I went on stage, he told me, “Jisie ike.” I wondered if he fully grasped, if indeed it was possible to, how much his work meant to so many.

History and civics, as school subjects, function not merely to teach facts but to transmit more subtle things, like pride and dignity. My Nigerian education taught me much, but left gaping holes. I had not been taught to imagine my pre-colonial past with any accuracy, or pride, or complexity. And so Achebe’s work, for me, transcended literature. It became personal. ARROW OF GOD, my favorite, was not just about the British government’s creation of warrant chiefs and the linked destinies of two men, it became the life my grandfather might have lived. THINGS FALL APART is the African novel most read – and arguably most loved – by Africans, a novel published when ‘African novel’ meant European accounts of ‘native’ life. Achebe was an unapologetic member of the generation of African writers who were ‘writing back,’ challenging the stock Western images of their homeland, but his work was not burdened by its intent. It is much-loved not because Achebe wrote back, but because he wrote back well. His work was wise, humorous, human. For many Africans, THINGS FALL APART remains a gesture of returned dignity, a literary and an emotional experience; Mandela called Achebe the writer in whose presence the prison walls came down.

Achebe’s latest work: There was a country

Achebe’s most recent book, his long-awaited memoir of the Nigerian-Biafra war, is both sad and angry, a book by a writer looking back and mourning Nigeria’s failures. I wish THERE WAS A COUNTRY had been better edited and more rigorously detailed in its account of the war. But these flaws do not make it any less seminal: an account of the most important event in Nigeria’s history by Nigeria’s most important storyteller.

An excerpt from the book has ignited great controversy among Nigerians. In it, Achebe, indignant about the millions of people who starved to death in Biafra, holds Obafemi Awolowo, Nigerian Finance Minister during the war, responsible for the policy of blockading Biafra. He quote’s Awolowo’s own words on the blockade – ‘all is fair in war and starvation is one of the weapons of war. I don’t see why we should feed our enemies fat in order for them to fight harder’ and then argues that Awolowo’s support of the blockade was ‘driven by an overriding ambition for power for himself in particular and for the advancement of his Yoruba people in general.’

I have been startled and saddened by the responses to this excerpt. Many are blindingly ethnic, lacking in empathy and, most disturbing of all, lacking in knowledge. We can argue about how we interpret the facts of our shared history, but we cannot, surely, argue about the facts themselves. Awolowo, as de facto ‘number two man’ on the Nigerian side, was a central architect of the blockade on Biafra. During and after the war, Awolowo publicly defended the blockade. Without the blockade, the massive starvation in Biafra would not have occurred. These are the facts.

Some Nigerians, in responding to Achebe, have argued that the blockade was fair, as all is fair in war. The blockade was, in my opinion, inhumane and immoral. And it was unnecessary – Nigeria would have won anyway, it was the much-better-armed side in a war that Wole Soyinka called a shabby unequal conflict. The policy of starving a civilian population into surrender does not merely go against the Geneva conventions, but in this case, a war between siblings, people who were formerly fellow country men and women now suddenly on opposite sides, it seems more chilling. All is not fair in war. Especially not in a fratricidal war. But I do not believe the blockade was a calculated power grab by Awolowo for himself and his ethnic group; I think of it, instead, as one of the many dehumanizing acts that war, by its nature, brings about.

Awolowo was undoubtedly a great political leader.  He was also – rare for Nigerian leaders – a great intellectual. No Nigerian leader has, arguably, articulated a political vision as people-centered as Awolowo’s. For Nigerians from the west, he was the architect of free primary education, of progressive ideas. But for Nigerians from the east, he was a different man. I grew up hearing, from adults, versions of Achebe’s words about Awolowo. He was the man who prevented an Igbo man from leading the Western House of Assembly in the famous ‘carpet crossing’ incident of 1952. He was the man who betrayed Igbo people when he failed on his alleged promise to follow Biafra’s lead and pull the Western region out of Nigeria. He was the man who, in the words of my uncle, “made Igbo people poor because he never liked us.”

At the end of the war, every Igbo person who had a bank account in Nigeria was given twenty pounds, no matter how much they had in their accounts before the war. I have always thought this a livid injustice. I know a man who worked in a multinational company in 1965. He was, like Achebe, one of the many Igbo who just could not believe that their lives were in danger in Lagos and so he fled in a hurry, at the last minute, leaving thousands of pounds in his account. After the war, his account had twenty pounds. To many Igbo, this policy was uncommonly punitive, and went against the idea of ‘no victor, no vanquished.’ Then came the indigenization decree, which moved industrial and corporate power from foreign to Nigerian hands. It made many Nigerians wealthy; much of the great wealth in Nigeria today has its roots in this decree. But the Igbo could not participate; they were broke.

I do not agree, as Achebe writes, that one of the main reasons for Nigeria’s present backwardness is the failure to fully reintegrate the Igbo. I think Nigeria would be just as backward even if the Igbo had been fully integrated – institutional and leadership failures run across all ethnic lines. But the larger point Achebe makes is true, which is that the Igbo presence in Nigerian positions of power has been much reduced since the war. Before the war, many of Nigeria’s positions of power were occupied by Igbo people, in the military, politics, academia, business. Perhaps because the Igbo were very receptive to Western education, often at the expense of their own traditions, and had both a striving individualism and a communal ethic. This led to what, in history books, is often called a ‘fear of Igbo domination’ in the rest of Nigeria. The Igbo themselves were insensitive to this resentment, the bombast and brashness that is part of Igbo culture only exacerbated it. And so leading Igbo families entered the war as Nigeria’s privileged elite but emerged from it penniless, stripped and bitter.

Today, ‘marginalization’ is a popular word in Igboland. Many Igbo feel marginalized in Nigeria, a feeling based partly on experience and partly on the psychology of a defeated people. (Another consequence of this psychology, perhaps, is the loss of the communal ethic of the Igbo, much resented sixty years ago. It is almost non-existent today, or as my cousin eloquently put it: Igbo people don’t even send each other.)

Some responses to Achebe have had a ‘blame the victim’ undertone, suggesting that Biafrians started the war and therefore deserved what they got. But Biafrians did not ‘start the war.’ Nobody with a basic knowledge of the facts can make that case.

Biafrian secession was inevitable, after the federal government’s failure to implement the agreements reached at Aburi, itself prompted by the massacre of Igbo in the North.  The cause of the massacres was arguably the first coup of 1966. Many believed it to be an ‘Igbo’ coup, which was not an unreasonable belief, Nigeria was already mired in ethnic resentments, the premiers of the West and North were murdered while the Eastern premier was not, and the coup plotters were Igbo. Except for Adewale Ademoyega, a Yoruba, who has argued that it was not an ethnic coup. I don’t believe it was. It seems, from most accounts, to have been an idealistic and poorly-planned nationalist exercise aimed at ridding Nigeria of a corrupt government. It was, also, horrendously, inexcusably violent. I wish the coup had never happened. I wish the premiers and other casualties had been arrested and imprisoned, rather than murdered. But the truth that glares above all else is that the thousands of Igbo people murdered in their homes and in the streets had nothing to do with the coup.

Some have blamed the Biafrian starvation on Ojukwu, Biafra’s leader, because he rejected an offer from the Nigerian government to bring in food through a land corridor. It was an ungenerous offer, one easy to refuse. A land corridor could also mean advancement of Nigerian troops. Ojukwu preferred airlifts, they were tactically safer, more strategic, and he could bring in much-needed arms as well. Ojukwu should have accepted the land offer, shabby as it was. Innocent lives would have been saved. I wish he had not insisted on a ceasefire, a condition which the Nigerian side would never have agreed to. But it is disingenuous to claim that Ojukwu’s rejection of this offer caused the starvation. Many Biafrians had already starved to death. And, more crucially, the Nigerian government had shown little regard for Biafra’s civilian population; it had, for a while, banned international relief agencies from importing food. Nigerian planes bombed markets and targeted hospitals in Biafra, and had even shot down an International Red Cross plane.

Ordinary Biafrians were steeped in distrust of the Nigerian side. They felt safe eating food flown in from Sao Tome, but many believed that food brought from Nigeria would be poisoned, just as they believed that, if the war ended in defeat, there would be mass killings of Igbo people. The Biafrian propaganda machine further drummed this in. But, before the propaganda, something else had sown the seed of hateful fear: the 1966 mass murders of Igbo in the North. The scars left were deep and abiding. Had the federal government not been unwilling or incapable of protecting their lives and property, Igbo people would not have so massively supported secession and intellectuals, like Achebe, would not have joined in the war effort.

I have always admired Ojukwu, especially for his early idealism, the choices he made as a young man to escape the shadow of his father’s great wealth, to serve his country. In Biafra, he was a flawed leader, his paranoia and inability to trust those close to him clouded his judgments about the execution of the war, but he was also a man of principle who spoke up forcefully about the preservation of the lives of Igbo people when the federal government seemed indifferent. He was, for many Igbo, a Churchillian figure, a hero who inspired them, whose oratory moved them to action and made them feel valued, especially in the early months of the war.

Other responses to Achebe have dismissed the war as something that happened ‘long ago.’ But some of the people who played major roles are alive today. We must confront our history, if only to begin to understand how we came to be where we are today. The Americans are still hashing out details of their civil war that ended in 1865; the Spanish have only just started, seventy years after theirs ended. Of course, discussing a history as contested and contentious as the Nigeria-Biafra war will not always be pleasant. But it is necessary. An Igbo saying goes: If a child does not ask what killed his father, that same thing will kill him.

What many of the responses to Achebe make clear, above all else, is that we remember differently. For some, Biafra is history, a series of events in a book, fodder for argument and analysis. For others, it is a loved one killed in a market bombing, it is hunger as a near-constant companion, it is the death of certainty. The war was fought on Biafrian soil. There are buildings in my hometown with bullet holes; as a child, playing outside, I would sometimes come across bits of rusty ammunition left behind from the war. My generation was born after 1970, but we know of property lost, of relatives who never ‘returned’ from the North, of shadows that hung heavily over family stories. We inherited memory. And we have the privilege of distance that Achebe does not have.

Achebe is a war survivor. He was a member of the generation of Nigerians who were supposed to lead a new nation, inchoate but full of optimism. It shocked him, how quickly Nigerian fell apart. In THERE WAS A COUNTRY he sounds unbelieving, still, about the federal government’s indifference while Igbo people were being massacred in Northern Nigeria in 1966. But shock-worthy events did not only happen in the North. Achebe himself was forced to leave Lagos, a place he had called home for many years, because his life was no longer safe. His crime was being Igbo. A Yoruba acquaintance once told me a story of how he was nearly lynched in Lagos at the height of the tensions before the war; he was light-skinned, and a small mob in a market assumed him to be ‘Igbo Yellow’ and attacked him. The Vice-Chancellor of the University of Lagos was forced to leave. So was the Vice-Chancellor of the University of Ibadan. Because they were Igbo.  For Achebe, all this was deeply personal, deeply painful. His house was bombed, his office was destroyed. He escaped death a few times. His best friend died in battle. To expect a dispassionate account from him is a remarkable failure of empathy. I wish more of the responses had acknowledged, a real acknowledgement and not merely a dismissive preface, the deep scars that experiences like Achebe’s must have left behind.

Ethnicity has become, in Nigeria, more political than cultural, less about philosophy and customs and values and more about which bank is a Yoruba or Hausa or Igbo bank, which political office is held by which ethnicity, which revered leader must be turned into a flawless saint. We cannot deny ethnicity. It matters. But our ethnic and national identities should not be spoken of as though they were mutually exclusive; I am as much Igbo as I am Nigerian. I have hope in the future of Nigeria, mostly because we have not yet made a real, conscious effort to begin creating a nation (We could start, for example, by not merely teaching Maths and English in primary schools, but also teaching idealism and citizenship.)

For some non-Igbo, confronting facts of the war is uncomfortable, even inconvenient. But we must hear one another’s stories. It is even more imperative for a subject like Biafra which, because of our different experiences, we remember differently. Biafrian minorities were distrusted by the Igbo majority, and some were unfairly attacked, blamed for being saboteurs. Nigerian minorities, particularly in the midwest, suffered at the hands of both Biafrian and Nigerian soldiers. ‘Abandoned property’ cases remain unresolved today in Port Harcourt, a city whose Igbo names were changed after the war, creating “Rumu” from “Umu.” Nigerian soldiers carried out a horrendous massacre in Asaba, murdering the males in a town which is today still alive with painful memories. Some Igbo families are still waiting, half-hoping, that a lost son, a lost daughter, will come home. All of these stories can sit alongside one another. The Nigerian stage is big enough. Chinua Achebe has told his story. This week, he turns 82. Long may he live.

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is an award-winning writer and the author of Half of the Yellow Sun and Purple Hibiscus

Source: Vanguard Newspaper, Nigeria

Presidential Media Chat: Neglect of Health Issues Disappointing – HAPPYNigeria

Standard

President Jonathan during the media chat

HAPPYNigeria noted the total neglect of health issues during the November 18 presidential media chat. We, and many other Nigerians, tweeted questions on health issues but none was read to the president. Is it not a paradox that in a country like ours with neck-breaking burden of disease and terribly weak health system, none of the journalists involved in the chat asked any question to President Goodluck Jonathan about what his government is doing to improve and strengthen the health system of the country? We find this very disappointing.

It is a well-known fact that most of our leaders do not utilize the services of health facilities within the country because they can afford to travel to Germany, Britain and other countries with stronger health systems. Millions of Nigerians still die from preventable and curable health conditions.  About 70% of total health expenditure is still out-of-pocket for a country with 56% of her youths without jobs. Over the last one week, international days for pneumonia, diabetes and prematurity were marked and Nigeria occupies unenviable positions in terms of burden and deaths from those conditions. World Toilet Day was just marked and UNICEF estimates that 34 million Nigerians defecate in the open and leading indirectly to deaths of about 500,000 children from diarrheal diseases and respiratory infections annually. Environmental pollution by frequent oil spills and gas flaring in Niger Delta regions has continued to worsen the health of many residents of the region. These and many more make it criminal for health to be ignored in any national discuss.

Nigerians deserve a good quality health care that is made accessible and affordable to everyone irrespective of where they live and how much they earn. Life is a fundamental human right and only requires good health to be assured. It is very important that we as a people give it the importance it deserves because it is in everyone’s interest to do so.

We hereby call on the Nigerian press, government at all levels and all citizens of the country to become more proactive than reactive when it comes to issues related to health. On our part, we will continue to educate and inspire young Nigerians to taking actions towards health development.

God bless the Federal republic of Nigeria.

Signed by:

Dr Laz Ude Eze

Director of Advocacy & Communications,

HAPPYNigeria.

leze@happynigeria.org

Health Advocacy, Promotion and Partnership by Youths in Nigeria (HAPPYNigeria) is a national youth-led not-for-profit non-governmental organization.  We envision a just, humane and healthy Nigerian society with a strong health system that guarantees high quality, affordable and accessible health care for her people. Our mission is to inspire the Nigerian youth to continuously challenge and expand the role of both the individual and institutions in addressing Nigeria’s health and developmental needs in order to foster health care quality improvement. >> www.happynigeria.org