Saturday, 18 July 2015

Senator Shehu Sani and his politics of camels

The cat enjoys both cooked and uncooked fish. But there is wisdom in the man who makes his cat endure hunger for a while in other to make a whole and nutritious meal for the cat.
Senator Shehu Sani representing Kaduna Central Senatorial District last Thursday reportedly distributed twelve camels, eight cows and other food stuffs worth over N15 million. The senator who also is the president Civil Right Congress of Nigeria claimed his office was involved throughout the month of Ramadan in programme of feeding the poor in seven local governments in his zone.
However, Senator Shehu ought to be ashamed of his misplaced, illogical philanthropic gestures to the people whose governor is working hard to redefine their lives through functional government policies and institutions. But he cannot be more ashamed than I am, finding that this charade actually came from a man of his repute; that this is what he thinks is expedient for his people at a time of dwindling economic fortunes of the nation. It is even more saddening to see how he took to his twitter handle and bragged about it: “some shared chickens, some shared rams, some shared goats, some shared pigs, some shared nothing, I choose to share camels!!!”
When I told my friend about the story and my dismay that Senator Sani could stoop so low, he simply made a direct poignant remark: “…all politicians are the same.” But I do not share this.
I am an advocate of real democracy; a government whose primary objectives are the welfare and security of the electorates. But not one who in their political and administrative shallowness and venality impoverish the people only to returns with his pitiable handouts to the same people who voted him and claim messiah. I am happy that the people of Kaduna Central enjoyed the Eid El Fitr with the freebies from their senator. But am dispirited at their common complacency and impressionable, or is it ignorant status. Still, my sadness grows with Senator Shehu’s witless generousity if not sycophancy. Will there be more camels and food stuffs before the next Ramadan? I doubt.

The saying “do not give me fish rather teach me how to fish” is a timeless dictum; and it is a maxim common to most of us. But it’s not so much of what you know. It is what you do with what you know. Senator Shehu told his people: “…for now, my very important focus is to see how I can use the opportunity of my senatorial seat to serve my people in conformity with the pledges and promises I made to them before 2015 election.” He should have known that this is not how best to serve the people, especially considering the economic situation of the country.

Kaduna state, like most states in Nigeria is a river of opportunities. I expected Senator Shehu not to shower his people with fishes so they don’t forget to learn how to fish themselves, and endlessly wait on him to drop fishes at their doorsteps every now and then; I expect him to make the river more conducive for the fishes to live and grow, and then empower the people with fishing net and irresistible baits. It is a simple economic principle.

Wednesday, 15 July 2015

New Service Chiefs: Probing Saraki’s witles claims

By appointing the Service Chiefs, President Mohammadu Buhari exercised his constitutional prerogative. But failure of the National Assembly to screen and consequently approve or disapprove such appointments, as the case may be, is a monumental legislative blunder.

President Mohammadu Buhari earlier this week relieved the Service Chiefs of their duties and almost immediately appointed new ones. This shake-up in the nation’s security department has been anticipated since Mr. President’s assumption of office. The absence of which many claim is responsible for the dawdling in the nation’s military assault on the belligerent, infamous sect called Boko Haram.

Following Mr. President’s recent actions, it was expected that the National Assembly would return from their recess to screen the candidates nominated by the president. But the senate leadership did not consider it expedient. What we got rather was a shocking claim by the senate president, Senator Bukola Saraki.

Mr. Buhari understands that screening of political appointees by the National Assembly is a constitutional process. Thus he had reportedly told the new Service Chiefs shortly after their appointment on Monday that their nomination would be sent to the National Assembly for approval. “Legally you are in acting capacity, until the National Assembly accepts you…” Mr. Buhari told them. But this long-standing legislative process was unabashedly brushed aside by the senate.

The senate president, Senator Bukola Saraki took to the twitter and delivered a stunning charade that unveiled his ineptitude as the senate president. “Appointment of Service Chiefs is an exclusive function of Mr. President. Senate can only approve ministerial, parastatals etc,” he claimed. But in this claim I see the height of ignorance.

In July 2013, Justice Adamu Bello of the Federal High Court in Abuja ruled as “illegal and unconstitutional any appointment of Service Chiefs by the president without approval of the National Assembly.” And till date, this judgment has not been appealed. It was on the  heels of this judgment that former president Goodluck Jonathan sought the approval of the National Assembly in January 2014 when he appointed Kenneth Minimah, Usman Jibrin, Alex Bade, Adesola Nunayon Amosu  as Chiefs of Army Staff, Naval Staff, Defence Staff and Air Staff respectively. Incidentally, Senator Saraki was already a senator during this period. So am I really right to say he is ignorant of the legislative processes? Or is it a deliberate ruse to incubate President Burari’s dream Service Chiefs? Or are their other political calculations to this?

Whatever it is, Senator Bukola Saraki, and of course the senate leadership has failed in a simple legislative task. One of the secrets, or is it attributes, of success is to be brilliant in basic, ordinary things. This is not the kind of system Nigerians want to see. Senator Saraki must sit up and be seen to be ready to anchor every legislative proceedings and not trivialise any of it.

However, it will be in the interest of the public for the senate president to explain why he claims the National Assembly has no role in the appointment of service chiefs.

Friday, 3 July 2015

Abuja Writers Forum: Celebrating talents, honing skills

You have heard that readers are leaders. How about readers being writers? You heard that too. Now, AWF is a convergence of writers…and thinkers. And writers, for the most part, is the clan of a people you call “intellectuals”. Seen a nation without intellectuals? It must be a doomed one. Hmmm!

The June edition of Abuja Writers Forums’ guest writers’ session saw the duo of Paul Sawa and Asma’u Baikie read to an enthusiastic literary audience while guitarists Tokumbo Edward and Blessing Tangban spiced the event with live soothing cadences. It was pure bliss. My only surprise, as I rejoined the literary family, was the level creativity and immense intellectual spectacles produced by the guest writers, and the artistes. This edition of AWF’s guest writer’s session is something to rave about. I do not lie.

The AWF is more than just a meeting of people. By design, it is intended to encourage creative writing potential of Nigerians and of course Africans. But more interestingly, I found, it is home to radically creative thinkers. So if you are a writer of any sort, or even more particularly, a budding one, Abuja Writers Forum is your place: Ideas. Inspiration. Motivation. Plus the commensurate verve needed to carry on in your literary odyssey. Is it not said that iron sharpens iron? I didn’t learn to write until I was close to books, and consequently, my interest grew the closer I got with writers and people of like minds.

And still, today my creative appetite, to a great measure is whetted. God is alright.

Whoever thinks Paul Sawa is just an environmentalist needs to think again. But then there is no twisting it, professionally he is, just  that there is something phenomenal about this enigmatic young fellow; a man whose dreams and vision extends far beyond the peripherals of environmental issues. Paul Sawa is such an eccentric muse, a powerful thinker and writer whose brilliance defies all shades of naivety. He read few pages of his “soon coming” book (to be called) Green musings. It is amazing how Paul cautiously draws from his background to compares Nigeria to “a poorly tended garden.” He makes deliberate collocation of his profession and the socio-political realities in Nigeria. So, it is understandably not surprising that his writings appear, more or less, as parables, and then broken down into bits and pieces for easy assimilation. The desire to hold the Green Musings in my hands has since enveloped me, and kept me musing…until that day…

Asma’u Baikie, the dark, chatty, elegantly tall lady is author of four novels: Kabira, Kabira’s Friends, The Father’s Love and Father’s Sunbeam. Baikie is a story teller, I make boast to say. There is more to a writer than mere ability to scribble words on plain papers. A writer is a creator, a little god; he looks around his environment, observes something, forms it into meaningful ideas and translates them into relevant story. And he does this in a manner that raises questions or even proffers solutions to the issues. M. K. Asante, the award-winning author, filmmaker and professor was right when he said: “if you make an observation, you have an obligation.” Asmau Baikie, reading from the last of her books, Kabira’s Friends x-rayed the vulnerable female gender in northern Nigeria and captures the ordeal of young helpless girls who in their ignorance suffer pains of the dreaded obstetric fistula. Asmau’s exposition as seen in the book raises doubt of government commitment to girl child education in the north and the extent of local health campaigns to ensure that young women don’t go through avoidable health challenges.

The June guest writers’ session wasn’t just all readings and readings. It was adequately flavored with a touch of live music performance, and this time, like I told you, Tokumbo Edwards was handy to water the raining words down our literary bowels, with Blessing Tangban, the American based guitarist treating the audience to several quiet numbers of soul searching songs. It was just like heavens.

This piece is not just about Paul Sawa, Asmau Baikie, Tokumbo or Blessing; however, discussing the guests, these busy mind and hands, I believe is a necessary distraction. The idea however, is to bring you up to speed with what AWF represents.

By every measure, it is clear that AWF is particular about appropriately redirecting energy, encouraging creativity, and of course celebrating achievements. If you are a good writer, it is time to get better. And if you think you just have the potential, it’s time to take a leap. After all, as Paul Sawa would say, “what use is potential which perpetually lingers…?”

Wednesday, 24 June 2015

THE FIDELITY EXPERIENCE: Memories of the past

                                (For my friends, the "privileged twenty")

The 2010 Fidelity Bank Creative Writing Workshop has come and gone. Our expectations were not cut off.  “You made it to this workshop not because your stories are in themselves artistically perfect and flawless but because we find great potential in them,” Helon Habila, moderator of the event told us. I do not say we were lucky. No, we were privileged - the privileged twenty. Today, I am like a farmer; the ground is fresh and soft. I sow my seeds.  They will germinate. They will grow and blossom, because the soil is rich.

Invitation to the workshop was a big surprise and indeed my first literary outing. Even after I printed the invitation, I was still like a man that dreamed, and so it was, until the cab pulled up in front of Grace Point Hotel, venue of the workshop.

“Check the hall downstairs for your registration.” The silky voice of the receptionist fell on me.

I am inside Ajanwachukwu Hall, a theater of dream for me, and for many of us whose literary dreams, aspirations and appetite would in a short while be whetted. There is a near tendency that I develop some sort of eerie feeling or emotions. I hold firm. There are few strange and plain faces. I can only measure the anticipation in them. I made for acquaintance with each of them: Stanley, Esther, Ebele, Seun…. We shook hands and managed a faint smile.

At Brick Land Residence (our new home for one week) we met the gentle man called James. He congratulated us and unveiled the program schedule to us, telling us what to expect. But I already had great expectations. I watched him speak with utmost prudence and clarity, producing his words with little effort. His broad chest divided into two halves by an orange tie, exactly the way an opening divided his upper teeth. His address was simple and precise, like a news lead. This is the beginning of the journey, I said to myself when everyone dispersed. I have a room to myself. Tomorrow the workshop begins. God is kind.

April 16th, 2010. Today we return to the theater of dreams, to be tried, burned and beaten, like gold; to be molded and straightened, to be formed and informed. I longed for this day. I pined for it. I am full of hope. My state - I suppose - is appropriate for the occasion.
I recall these days with sheer reminiscence.  Remarkable memories of friends and events, of places and people I do not want to forget. I write this, that if you love it, like I do, you keep and guard it with joyous abandon. This memory of meeting with great mind and busy hands; we started as individual participants and facilitators and ended up as friends. Now I remember them with a huge sense of pride.

I know I had met Helon Habila before, but that was on the pages of a book and over the cyber wavelength. This morning, I am the privileged one. The hall is quite simple and modest, befitting a conference room. Helon is already seated at the far side of the table, patiently waiting as we arrive periodically. He is not overdressed - simple and plain in that green collar T-shirt and black jeans, I still remember. I walk up to him, bold and proud. “Christian is my name.” He pulls a charming smile and extends a handshake. There is something about this moment of handshake. You do not understand.  I am sure. It is a special occasion when I surrendered my head and hand and say:
Take, master, I submit to you
Like a piece of clay in the hands of a potter
I avail myself
Like paint and brush in the hands of a painter
I obey
Like a piece of gold
I offer myself to be burnt
I belong to you, oh master
I surrender.

It is a landmark. Perhaps because it reminds me of my literary dream and ambitions to be like him. Now my hope is coming alive, the night is giving way to the day. I see the sun rising in its beauty and splendour. The radiance is breathtaking and the world is wrapped in great hope and anticipation. I follow the sun, like the wise men followed the stars, stardom my destination. Holding my breath I gaze at his hand, his busy hand; this hand that write so beautifully and creatively, as if with no effort. I pause and ponder. I want to run off with it. But no, I should have my own hands, my busy hands. Now the trick is here – to listen to my master, to obey, and learn.

So it was that Fidelity Bank did not let us down, not with such moments when Helon would stand before us, our heads tilted towards him like curious children listening to moonlit tales. He made us think like him.  Hunched over our computers, we listened to him. We believed him. We obeyed him. Sometimes we forgot our real selves – as starters, and felt as though we had arrived, like him. But that’s just him; always creeping subtly into your subconscious and making you see and be what you dream. This is what we have become: our dream selves or at least on a sure path to our dream selves.

I do not forget other busy hands as well. They were co-facilitators with Helon. I find it extremely difficult to talk about Tsi Tsi Dangaremgba, the one whom I love so much to call her name even though it made my tongue twist in my mouth. It is hard not because she is not worth to be spoken of but because her personality, as I perceived, in that one-second-week is so unique that I  am at war finding words fit for her description. But there are remarkable things that I cannot forget about her: she took me to Zimbabwe. I saw it in her appearance – calm, true and original. She was always different; her hair, intricately plaited in long, fairly brown ropes, grazing her backside. I love this originality in her person, I do not lie.

In front of us she stood, African, traditional. Now I miss her subtle smile. When she talked about the middle of stories and the mid-point reversal she opened up the dormant part of our heads. Tsi Tsi had her ways, though a little fast, she always made her point. At other times we sat close to her as if in heart to heart talk, and like a mother she attended to our individual literary difficulties. She could tell a story with a chat. “Your story should have this…; you must be able to show when the beginning of a story ends and when the middle begins…”

There are just no memories without those of the memorable Maddie. Over here, the night is cold. I bow my head, my lips kiss the table. I close my eyes in prayer – God please keep Maddie; a friend so simple, graceful and true, a rare gem.  Madeleine Thien, was (and still is) to us - and perhaps more particularly to me – a great friend and companion. So doting, she made us feel like little children.
 Her face ever without smile, she stood in our front, confident, and read in that tiny voice that permeated our hearts. She was patient with us. Elias, can bear me witness and Stanley wouldn’t disagree. When the time for an exercise elapsed and we were yet unfinished, she asked us in that filtering tone, “Does anybody need more time please?” Then we chuckled. Oh, Maddie.

There are just no memories without that of my friends, great friends. Twenty is not a small number to mention, but I will talk about Elias Chukwuemeka, the one I call “Emmy Hills”. I have this sentimental attachment towards him, maybe because we hail from the same place and perhaps more because we share the same surname. My brother from a different mother; I love his eloquence and activism. His visual imagery and originality in ‘The pot of life’ amazes me. I also love to think about High Chief’s gratified grammar pattern and how we laughed our heart out during his presentations. Good as his works were, he had a comic touch to his presentations, and it was fun. Beautiful moments.  Stanley Azuakola got himself stock on my heart, like a piece of metal on a magnetic object. Please don’t ask me how; I don’t even have an answer, a friend whose departure that hazy morning left me broken. Cold and forlorn, I gathered myself, dried my tears and counted my steps down the street, the rain behind my back.

There are more stories about us – memories. Although I am constrained by strength and capacity, I have been able to make out one simple and unbeatable truth: that we are all wonderful people; the privileged twenty, my people, and my friends.

There are other moments of pleasure and of course pain and sometimes mixed feelings. These are memories of time, now our past – one whole week gone in a second. One week that made us one people and gave us a common identity. In hours we measured our length and breath, our strength and weaknesses. Then, gradually we learned to live and accommodate ourselves. We had begun to live like a family, hatching the egg of our dreams, so often gathering to talk in groups, sometimes round the table, talking and chatting over clattering spoons.

I think about the tours. I close my eyes. I hold my head, calling memories back: the beautiful art pieces at the craft villages; the serene lush green park. I still have pictures of them.

Swept by the fun and undeniable emotions of hope, we thought less of an end coming, creeping slowly but steady and sure. It did. Now, like pages of a blank book, everything is bare. We have walked away, so sure of where we are headed but unwilling. We have set off, everyone to his way. I saw tears. The back of our hands did the job– wiping rolling-salt-water off our heavy faces; faces once wreathed in smiles and glorious laughter, now trails with wrinkles from the root of the emptiness that has befallen us. Such was the pain inflicted on us by time and widening distance.

Together as friends, we dread the swiftness of time, this time that we prayed and pined for when we received our invitation to the grand occasion. It has come and gone, leaving us pale and frail, like orphaned children. This is the scar. I can show you if you can touch my heart, the scars of friendship and love.

There are more pictures that I can paint of those moments with Fidelity. But like I said, I am constrained. I will write again if you need to refresh your memory of this fabulous experience.

One big hug to the literary family.

Yours, always.

Wednesday, 17 June 2015

This is not "change"

It has been said that the only reason someone or people are voted out of power is because people found better person or persons. Have Nigerians made mistake? If the 8th National Assembly members in the hallowed chambers receive N8.64b as wardrobe allowance, then the change we seek must be at best imaginary.

Few months ago, when we (some of us, who believe that Nigerians have been victims of mercenary politicians for long) defied the odds, endured “name callings” to cause and vote for a change of government, it was because we believed that change was due, not necessarily because the All Progressives Congress came with it as a campaign slogan. It has been a long way coming, many Nigerians have hoped for it. Nigerians did not just want a change of government. Not just, as some critiques called it, a “change of baton” between political parties. No, it was something more: government with a human face; one that recorgnises and identifies with the people and their many challenges. In a sense, we asked for a total departure from the old ways of corruption and impunity, polarised governance, and political, religious/ethnic bigotry. We wanted a government run by altruistic humans and not some materialistic and overzealous politicians. And so we joined, and made popular the change mantra. And it happened.

Thankfully, or is it fortunately, the people (not Buhari or APC) won and saw a former opposition party take charge of government. The new and traditional media have been agog ever since, celebrating our victory and congratulating the new governments. The new president, governors and legislators have since been sworn in and swung into action. And following the growing level of hope, anticipation and expectations, as raised by the APC during the campaign period, organisations and individuals have warned that the anticipated change may not come so easily and called for patience and prayer. President Buhari himself has said that he does not possess a magic wand to perform any magic. The crux of the matter is that time is needed if we must experience significant changes in the system. But president Burahi and the APC government would have to show us that they are willing to give us the change they promised. A body language, even, will suffice.

But the drama in the National Assembly that produced Senator Bukola Saraki and Hon. Yakubu Dogara as Senate President and Speaker of the House of Representatives respectively served a great concern as to the possibility of APC producing the expected change we expect. In any case, the fight for the soul of Senate and House of Representatives has been fought, won and lost. Senator Saraki is the senate president and Hon. Dogara is the speaker of the House of Representatives. The rest is history. But can we expect a credible representation in the 8th National Assembly?

The 8th Assembly is to receive N8.64b as wardrobe allowance. And this is where my hope is beginning to wane and my fears on acceleration mode. What kind of shoes, clothes … are they going to have? I actually thought it’s time to be show empathy with Nigerians, for the many years of hardship they have endured under our past leaders. But this development is practically disapproving. How can a government allocate nearly N9n as clothing allowance to a senator in a country where many states owe workers for months? And considering the fall in oil prices, our major earner, one would naturally think that the ideal thing is to cut down on government expenditure and save money for developmental projects. The National Assembly must reconsider and review their stand on this and many other issues if they must retain the confidence of the people. This, certainly, is not the change we asked for!