December 10, 2013


May 2, 2013


January 26, 2012

Monday, January 16, 2012
The Nigerian Strike: the Good, the Bad and the Ugly

I came back from Nigeria yesterday evening, after some 8 days of stay. I arrived on Saturday the 7th.. in the heat of “there may be a strike next week” talk. And strike there was.. the whole week. By Saturday 14th, someone had named it “the mother of all strikes” in Nigeria. He is correct.

For me, the protests were on three levels. First, I was a complete stranger to the whole of it. Since I dont live in Nigeria.. and fuel costs 1.5$ in my residence country for a was interesting for me to watch the outcry. On a second level, as a Policy Adviser, I was listening a lot: about what my relatives were saying. I watched a lot of news on TV, followed the #OccupyNigeria and #FuelSubsidy tags on Twitter and tried to process all the public policy issues that were flowing through all of that. On a third level, when I had to hit the road from the Eastern part of the country to the Western part on the Thursday,despite expressed fears from my mother and close family members, then I became one of the actors.

From my end, here are a few of the things I saw as the good, the bad, and the ugly of the strike.

The Good:

The citizen mobilization. Oh yes! In Yinka’s article, Social media was hailed as a magnifying force of the protests. The photo shot by Sunday (which I borrowed for this post) also shows how huge certain crowds got. Since the Arab Spring, millions of Africans having been desiring, hoping, scratching for a similar occasion.. to out their issues with the powers that be. In Nigeria itself, the OCCUPYNIGERIA movement had started before the fuel subsidy saga. So it was not a surprise that that the citizen mobilization was huge.

Corruption to the fore: Everybody says there is corruption in Nigeria. I am not in the secret of the gods and cannot say what strategy the Nigerian President – Goodluck Jonathan – may have put in place alongside the fuel subsidy removal one, but for once, the big question of corruption in Nigeria became a national agenda. Government says it wants to tackle corruption by removing subsidy and citizens insist corruption needs to be tackled while subsidy is maintained.. which ever way.. the strike has made it clear.. everyone in Nigeria agrees that corruption is THE problem and needs to be confronted.

Rise of critical questions: I listened to radio and TV programmes during the entire strike. I read the tweets and web posts. I have been impressed by the number of critical questions raised during the strike period. What happened to the subsidy money from diesel? Is kerosine subsidized or not? How does government spending in fuel subsidy actually add up? What are the exact costs? Where does the spending go? Who makes decisions in key energy issues? What about earlier promises made by government on energy-related issues? What is the role of the Bretton-Woods institutions on this? When are the refineries getting back to work? What does it take for Nigeria to get them started? What real mechanisms is government putting in place to REALLY tackle corruption? How come government is quick to remove fuel subsidy when it is so slow in fighting Boko Haram (The Militant Islamic group). So many questions..

Mutual respect: In the history of Nigeria, I am not sure that such a strong-willed confrontation has happened. The way the government took the citizens by surprise.. and the way the citizens reacted with a resilience that took decision makers by surprise as well. At first, the citizens thought the government will back out entirely after 2/3 days of strike.. and the government also thought that citizens will back off after 2/3 days of protests. It is now comfortable to say that there is that healthy respect; in which the government respects the power of the citizens and the citizens become aware that the present government has a strong will. Now that everyone is aware that everyone is aware.. things may never be the same again.

The Bad

The loss in productivity: This is the huge loss. There are figures that are flying around about how much the government was losing in productivity for each day of the strike. But the loss is incalculable. The economic, yes. But the social, the political and the personal. Simply put: Almost everyone in Nigeria lost.

No clear way out of the corruption quagmire: Though the question has risen to the fore and the need to tackle corruption has become a national agenda, the strike does not seem to have paved a way for it. Will the Nigerian government put more emphasis on transparency and good governance? Not sure. Will individuals adopt a less corrupt behaviour? No signs.. The strike may have been the “River Niger” of an anti-corruption move, but the “pacific ocean” of corruption remains cool, calm and undisturbed. Like the novelist Ayi Kwei Armah says: “The Beautyful Ones are Not Yet Born”.

Issues with information: As in such cases, one thing was the strike, the other was the information management. It is not clear that the Nigerian government has put in place a strategic government information channel that takes into consideration the Web 2.0 era. Rumors had a field day. When I was setting off from Aba to Lagos, those in Aba had information that there was zero movement in Lagos and those in Lagos were under the impression that because Lagos was crippled for the major part, all parts of the country were. In truth, Aba and some other Eastern Nigeria cities were going about their businesses. Granted, banks were not open but transport was okay. In Lagos too, apart from the designated meeting areas, there was movement in town. If you add those to hackers who took the opportunity to hack key institutional sites.. the misinformation of both parties, and especially the international community was on “high level”.

Lack of proper citizen education: In many of the responses to the fuel subsidy removal, almost all pointed to one key factor: there was not enough public policy education of the Nigerian population. The education of the mass did not happen. Some claim consultation did not also happen. Those who could quickly educate themselves “saw the point” in what government was “trying to get at” but not everyone can educate him/herself.

The Ugly

Greed. I think it should be called by its name. Owners of fuel stations who had products delivered at the initial price were happy to sell the same at the new price. In Aba, stations sold PMS for 150 Naira!! Somewhere in Lagos, people had to beg to buy at 138 Naira. It is easy to point at the corruption of others.. but for the owners of the fuel stations.. mhmm! There was also the “Okada” bike riders who doubled their prices. The airlines who were collecting 100$ each for ticket changes. The women at the market.. greed had a field day

Extortion: I had to send out a tweet when my driver panicked. He got news that youths armed with clubs were breaking windshields of vehicles at Ijebu Ode junction of the Benin-Abeokuta express way. On arrival, the sight that met my eyes was a very worry one indeed. At least 1000 youths had mounted road blocks at every 20 meters on either side of the highway and were collecting cash from every single vehicle that drove by. My driver paid in at least 12 points for a 500 meters stretch of road. It was sickening!

Deaths: Labour may have called off the strike, but the fact still remains that people died during the strike. Some from one kind of violence or another, and others as collateral. Like my mother will say, “it is only after the race that we will calculate the distance”.

In years to come, Nigerians will look back to the second week of January 2012 and point at the many firsts..

I do hope that the good, the bad and the ugly of the week will serve us in a positive way.

For Nigeria, for Africa, for the world.
Posted by Nnenna Nwakanma at 6:54 PM
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go_ada said…

You have made quite a good summary of it all. There have been lessons learnt. Very many, indeed.

Personally, I think the 1st big issue is TRUST. Do we trust that the government will do what they say they will do? Did the NLC really take cognisance of the peoples’ views or were they bought over? This strike thing and the way it has played out has become a recurring act for each government desiring a price increase in fuel: take it up, strike, bring it slightly lower! Was it subsidy removal or just increase of fuel price?

The second is SURVIVAL. How will the average Nigerian fare, considering that there is no salary increase, yet the fuel increase has a ripple effect on all areas of his/her life, increasing his cost of living by at least 40%? Before now, I use N3500 to fill my tank. Now it costs me N5000. The prices of everything in the market has gone up, even childrens’school fees! The only people who seem like they would not feel the pinch are the politicians, enjoying very fat allowances from the government (actually, the people’s) money.

The third issue is EMASCULATION. We were just told by the SSS & the Police IG (on Channels tv interview of 16th Jan) part of what constitutes treason. To my surprise, calling a president names is one of them. Military personnel with armoured tanks and guns on the streets forcefully stopping from engaging in a peaceful protest were said to be ‘maintaining the peace & security’ of the nation. Its rather ironic. It is infuriating and believe me, that’s putting it mildly. These were the same people who were invited to dance and cheer on those same streets to support and vote ing the mandate of this present government. It hurts if a person you place your hope in betrays that trust.

There are other issues. I believe though, that the above-listed three throws a man into a state of ‘retreat, ruminate, react’.

God help Nigeria
January 17, 2012 11:45 AM

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Is @Twentyfeet now sending daily summaries? I thought it used to be weekly! Mhm about 3 hours ago
What can you do when you have an 11-hour wait before your flight at MMA, Lagos, Nigeria. Without a computer, Internet. My brother is there about 3 hours ago Technical tracks: LPI exam, LPI training; Internet Governance, FOSS Business Models, Localisation, Ethical Hacking, CMS about 3 hours ago
@Abocco Mhmm. We had that debate in this here country.. we did not get to a common conclusion. So some are using the ci225 and others not about 3 hours ago
Checking on #233moments as @Abocco suggested. Not much #vim there. Wish I could do some meetups when in Accra this weekend. But overbooked about 3 hours ago

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September 28, 2011

PublicMrs.Yeye Akilimali Funua Olade
Eri maa je mi n so.Akojopo oruko Yeye gbodo mu royiroyi okan wa nipa n’ibo la ti bi won.Ibi ti a ti bi Yeye ko ja bi ise Oodua ti won gbe l’owo ti iseda ati awon alale Ile Yoruba si n fun won se.
Oro asa ati ise Yoruba kii se awada rara fun omo bibi Amerika ti eje adulawo fi ago ara re se ibugbe.Ko si ohun to ba Yeye l’okan je bi amulu…mola ede Yoruba.Bi Yeye se tutu ni iwa bi adaba to, won ko ri ara gba adalu ede Yoruba ati Geesi.Ede Yoruba ponbele je won l’ogun jojo.
Yeye k’apa okanjuwa won nipa oro(wealth) ati yodoyodo aye.Ko r’oro bee ko r’aago.Igbagbo ninu adura ni igba iponju mu won duro sinsin ninu Olorun.Bee won ko fi esin Kristi t’ako isese ati orisa.
Iranti iwa amunisin ati eleyameya ilu abinibi won ti da ogbe adaajiina si Yeye l’okan.Ikorira naa ga.
Ayafi ti ojumo ko ba mo ni Yeye ko ni ko si t’oke t’ile ofi ati ileke oniruhunru bi ojo iyawo.Ti ide owo ni ka so tabi t’ileke orun?T’ibadi nikan ni n ko mo.
Awon elerokero tile ro wipe imura yi ba amodi wa ni.Amodi l’ara taani?Opolo Yeye t’ohun ojogbon Fasiti egbera ni.Agbekale ati irori Yeye se apeere Alosi(leftee) gege bi olopolo pipe.
Yeye kii se aniyan ola bee ko fi ife awo dudu pamo.Ana Yeye meteeta l’okunrin dudu bi koro isin ni.Ibalopo ako ati ako ohun abo pelu abo ko Yeye ni irira ju ipaniyan lo.
Yeye ni ife aisetan.Olojuaanu ati onirele okan “Akata” ni.Bee alaafia won p’eye.Leyin odun kerinlelogota, irin ibuso ogorun ko jo Yeye l’oju.Ko m’eya, ko m’esin.Yeye f’eran iwe iroyin alaroye ati Tiwa n Tiwa ni kika.Won a si tun ra bun eniyan fun akagbadun.
Ni akotan, onkowe, onkawe, agb’asaga, olutunu, atunluse, ajajagbara, abiyamo ati oluko ni Oludari Ile iselojo iwe nipa ogun ati iwadi Adulawo to t’edo si aarin gbungbun Aba Adeyipo, Igbo Elerin, Ibadan.
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January 5, 2011

this copy

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

A ‘Priscilla’s Homecoming’ Journal
A week with ‘Priscilla’s Posse’
By Jeanine Talley
Freetown’s history
Antawn and Thomalind PoliteAntawn and Thomalind Polite
I spent a week in early summer 2005 with Priscilla’s descendant, Thomalind Martin Polite, her husband, Antawn, and an entourage of about twenty other Americans (and one woman from Britain) touring and experiencing the spirit and welcome of the “lion mountain” country of Sierra Leone. The small nation rests on the curve of Africa’s west coast, encompassing the continent’s farthest western point and its largest natural harbor. Its capital, Freetown, with a population of 1.2 million, rests just outside that harbor.
Freetown was founded in the late 1700s by a group of newly freed slaves who fought on the side of the British in the American Revolutionary War. These black soldiers came mostly from South Carolina and Virginia plantations. At first the British evacuated them to Canada but later decided to return the Africans to their homeland. A large, ancient cotton tree in Freetown is said to have started life when these settlers first arrived and remains a source of pride and nationalism to this day. Sierra Leone continued to exist as a British colony for another 169 years until it gained independence in 1961.
Who is Pricilla?
As the last notes of the uniquely composed narrative song written and performed by the Freetong Players, a local a cappella group, drifted through the large meeting room, the speechless crowd scarcely knew how to respond to such an emotional musical experience. Only a few moments ago, I watched Polite’s face shake with emotion as the song’s words embraced her almost as if the spirit of Priscilla was sitting in that very room. For the audience, it was an incredible, euphoric moment. Priscilla was a child of strength, resilience and determination; and after years of living in a foreign land, her descendant had brought her spirit home.
But Polite experienced an extra surprise. As JMU professor Joe Opala later said, “It wasn’t until that night at the embassy [when] the Freetong Players performed, singing [Priscilla’s] story, [that Polite] really believed that they were welcoming her home [too].” So the event honored not only the ancestor who was kidnapped from her land so many years ago but also the living descendant who, too, was returning home.
Priscilla’s Posse
A traditional dance A traditional dance
Our seven days spent as “Priscilla’s Posse” included a full schedule of meetings with Sierra Leone’s president, vice president and other high ranking governmental officials; presentations at the American Embassy and National Museum; theatrical performances at Fourah Bay College; boat trips to a traditional Susu village and slave castle; and a reception at the American ambassador’s residence.
It is not possible to describe all of the details or accurately capture the awe we felt during our visit. We witnessed hundreds of Susu village dancers and musicians compete for Polite’s attention and recognition in a Yeliba performance; we sang “Amazing Grace” to the beat of African drums during an early morning service honoring women (Polite included) in the Star by the Sea Catholic Church; and we laughed with Sierra Leone’s president when he joked that it may take parliament a while to “pass the paperwork,” after offering Thomalind and Antawn Polite dual citizenship to his country.
Nothing compares to the chartered bus ride through the country as children screamed “Priscilla! Priscilla!” and slapped the vehicle’s sides if they were close enough or to the experience of standing on the last piece of land where thousands of captured Africans last touched their beloved home. We finally understood the strength that the 10-year–old Priscilla must have had to withstand every imaginable obstacle and return home after 249 years.
Meeting Sierra Leone’s president
The Polites sat close together on a stiff, overstuffed couch; Antawn’s large frame seemed uncomfortable in his suit jacket and tie while Thomalind, looking even more petite when next to her husband, sat quietly in a black suit dress accented by a giant pearl necklace and bracelet. She absentmindedly occupied her restless hands by patting down her already perfectly set hair. It was obvious that she, too, was nervous. Or perhaps it was some kind of anxious expectancy, an emotion similar to that Priscilla must have felt when she finally reached her new home in the ‘Land Across the Big Water’ –– an experience completely new in every sense of the word.
But on this day the Polites were not starting an entire new life in a land unknown to them, they were waiting to meet the president of Sierra Leone. President Kabbah must have sensed their nervousness because as soon as he spoke he put everyone at ease with his laughter, wit and charm. The Polites were presented gifts of traditional clothing, jewelry and handicrafts and thanks from the amazing country that welcomed them. They immediately eased back into their seats and the atmosphere returned to what it had been all week –– that of comfort and family.
Bunce Island
Abandoned slave castleAbandoned slave castle
To a small crowd of American and African journalists, the U.S. Ambassador to Sierra Leone, and a few Sierra Leoneans from the neighboring islands, Opala described the slave castle as it would have looked in its prime operational years –– gravel walkways; 40–foot high fortress walls; iron cannons wth the crest of the king of England; offices, workshops, and storeroom providing space for the guns, cotton cloth and rum offered in exchange for slaves; and strong rooms to keep the gold and ivory bought from the Africans.
This place was indeed a “bizarre, inhumane juxtaposition of a rich man’s estate, prison and fortress” said Opala. Although a small space physically, it housed a huge Georgian–style two–story home, complete with a fireplace that was never used because of the region’s tropical heat and an upper level veranda where the commander of the castle could entertain guests. Directly behind the house were the slave yards. The prison’s enclosed spaces were divided –– men were in the wider, larger yard, and women and children were in the smaller, cramped one.
The African sun beat down, and the high prison walls and the towering “factory house” cut off the river’s breeze. The suffocating heat made the space feel smaller than it already was. “Overcrowded” could not justifiably describe these yards where crowds of people suffered.
Walking around the small fortress, one felt a depressing weight at the thought of such a misuse of land and resources. Awe for the obvious human ingenuity in creating such a magnificent physical space gave way to massive disappointment and rage for its purpose.
Polite was overwhelmed; her face reflected pain, sorrow and horror as the tortures the captive Africans would endure were described. She said that standing on Bunce Island was “the most incredible moment” of the entire trip. Despite the sadness and the history, or maybe because of them, she felt nearer to her great, great, great, great, great–grandmother than at any other time during the homecoming. “Just knowing that Priscilla was there 249 years ago, and there I was standing on the same ground made the cycle complete.”
Welcome home
Traveling with Priscilla’s Posse, indeed being in Africa itself, was one of the most privileged experiences I’ve ever had. It was more than a historical trip back to slavery times, and it was more than time spent honoring a determined survivor of the era. Priscilla’s Homecoming was the kind of welcome home many black Americans can only dream about. It embraced not only Thomalind Polite but also everyone else setting foot on the country’s white beaches and invited them to stay awhile so that they might hear the story of the many children whom Sierra Leone, “Mama Salone,” lost and those who have returned.
About the Author
Jeanine “Nina” Talley, daughter of JMU professor Cheryl Talley, worked with the JMU Honors Program and Furious Flower Poetry Center. She now lives in San Francisco, where she is a research and administrative assistant at the National Senior Citizens Law Center, Oakland Branch, located in downtown Oakland, Ca.

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