Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Nigerian Owanbe Party: Is it Custom, Craze, or Curse?

Nigeria and Africa have quite interesting cultures and traditions, some of which are not necessarily progressive and plain senseless in my opinion. While many of these regressive traditions have been abandoned over time; however, one has stuck and has even spread like wild fire among Nigerians, particularly those in the Diaspora. This tradition is no other than the infamous OWAMBE parties.

The scene of a typical Owanbe party is aptly captured in a recent Baltimore Sun publication, here is the excerpt:
“At 10 o'clock on a Sunday night, the Nigerian music was thumping and the party, on the outskirts of Baltimore, was still churning.The remnants of a feast - goat meat, plantains, fried fish, moin-moin and jollof rice - littered rows of tables. Some of the hundreds of Nigerians, who had gathered to honor a friend, still swirled in circles on the dance floor in colorful, embroidered African outfits with head ties that regally swept up toward the ceiling. A cloud of paper money, which Nigerians traditionally throw to express appreciation while dancing, fluttered and twisted to the floor…”
To the non-Nigerian readers, an Owanbe is a lavish party that usually last all night. It is usually characterized by the “Aso-ebi” (social attire)- a custom-tailored Nigerian attire worn by some (if not all) guests. The “Aso-ebi” is usually made with not-so-cheap fabric usually imported from Italy, Austria or Switzerland. Another characteristic of this social endeavor is “spraying”, which literally means to “shower” the celebrants and their relatives with bales currency notes just as the article describes.

Historically, Owanbe most probably originated out of the Yoruba culture of celebrating accomplishments and memorable events, particularly weddings and burial ceremonies. The emergence of the Juju music in the latter part of the twentieth century helped consolidate these parties in the psyche of Nigerians. Juju music is the favored music for Owanbes because the exponents of this brand of music typically sing praise to the celebrants and organizers of Owanbes, popular socialites, and whoever is willing (or stupid enough) to shower them with bales of cash during such parties. Juju music artists and the Owanbe socialites and proponents basically feed off each other in a way that mimics a symbiotic relationship.

Now-a-days, there is a wide spectrum of reasons for having an Owanbe party: from the most mundane and frivolous (for example: memorial, child christening/birthdays or house warming) to the more memorable and permissible (for example: burials, weddings and marriage ceremonies) occasions, it is Owanbe all the same. Even for the latter reasons, a good dose of modesty is necessary. I know many Nigerians in the US that have thrown all-night-long gigs just to mark the birthdays of their infant children…or for the remembrance of their long-gone (dead) parents or relatives. After many Nigerians have struggled and toiled to save to buy their homes, it is not unusual to have some throw lavish and outlandish house–warming parties. Where is the sense in all these, I wonder? Is ours a senseless and reason-deprived society?

In the United States where I live, it is not uncommon to hear or be invited to several Owanbe parties in just one weekend. Maryland, Houston, Atlanta and Chicago seem to the most notorious spots for this. It is a sad fact that the meager and disposable income of a sizeable chunk of Nigerians in the Diaspora ( and at home) is consumed by this utterly unproductive endeavor.

Some Nigerians work for pittance in the US, yet they can somehow afford “Aso-ebi” worth hundreds of dollars! I know of a Nigerian socialite in the southwestern region of the US that had an Owanbe that lasted one full week when the going was good!!! The guy even "imported" some well-known Juju musicians from Nigeria to play for whatever he was celebrating then. Outrageous isn’t it? Maybe if he had been more prudent he would have had some reserves to take care of his business and finances when things became rough. The guy is now flat broke and a ghost of his old self.

The Baltimore Sun article on Nigerians in Maryland- though positive in many aspects- is also a subtle criticism of our "Owanbish" social life, and it speaks clearly to this topic and quite poignantly too.

We have institutionalized and promoted Owanbe- an often meaningless, wasteful, and economically redundant practice- to the fore of our otherwise rich traditions and values. It has fast shifted from a craze of some well-oiled individuals and families, to a curse to many oridinary Nigerians. In our quest of doing “Parapo”, (togetherness) “Karimi” (show off) and "holding on to our culture", we have inadvertently demonstrated that Nigerians can be wasteful and have little or no economic acumen. Is this indeed not a fallacy?



Tuesday, November 29, 2005

The Solo Transportable Computer

It seems this is the era of ICT-related contraptions and innovations, from the Simputer to the sub $100 laptop, and they all have one aim: bridge the digital divide.

Given the errant power supply in Nigeria and limited infrastructure, is there any computer that is adaptable to the African/Nigerian terrain?

Is there any computer that can utilize power from a variety of sources- electricity, solar, and lead-acid batteries?

Is there a computer that can withstand the harsh environment of heat, dust and the rough terrain in many parts of Africa?

The answer is a resounding “Yes”- it is the Solo Transportable Computer, developed by Fantsuam Foundation*, a Nigeria-based NGO.

According to the Foundation:
“Solo is a transportable rather than a portable computer. The entire device can be solid state, having no disc drives or moving parts. The base operating system is in ROM, applications in Flash RAM and the usual RAM for workspace. For certain software requiring ongoing disc-access, a 1-inch microdrive replaces the internal Compact Flash.
It uses a TFT Liquid Crystal Display, which may optionally be touch sensitive, removing the need for a separate keyboard and mouse. It may be supplied in a variety of configurations and screen sizes depending on the location of the manufacturer and their intended market.

The Solo is designed to be assembled and supported by manufacturing companies based within Third World countries thereby offering employment within a high-technology industry without moving to an advanced westernised city.”
The computer is not designed for use as a personal computer, according to John Dada, the founder of Fantsuam Foundation: "We're not looking to litter every home with a computer, no. We're looking to have communities having a few computers which members of the community can have access to. That way they can then be in touch with the rest of the country the rest of the world."

There is one major problem though, does all these attributes justify the $1,200 price tag on the machine, one may ask? Even despite Dada’s rationale on the cost, the computer may unfortunately prove to be a difficult sell after all.

More on Fantsuam Foundation
*“ Fantsuam Foundation is a registered charity that works with established women’s groups in rural communities in Nigeria to facilitate their access to micro credit and information communication technology (ICT) services for health and education. Fantsuam Foundation has been a pioneer in promoting access to ICT facilities in rural communities that have no telephones or electricity, and has placed special emphasis on women and youth. One of Fantsuam Foundation's rural ICT projects was awarded the first Hafkin Africa Prize in 2001.”

The Fantsuam Foundation Solo Computer project in Nigeria has been incorporated into a documentary filmed by Television for the Environment TVE See transcript



Monday, November 28, 2005

The Computer For All Nigerians Initiative

Many innovative interventions and initiatives have been designed to bridge digital divide worldwide. With the launching of its first low cost personal computer and Simputer, India is clearly way ahead of the pack of countries that have taken vigorous efforts to increase PC penetration in their respective domains.

Despite being the fastest growing telecommunications market in Africa, and the forage of some indigenous investors- Omatek Computers and Zinox Technologies- into the local production and assembly of computer and its related accessories, Nigeria's PC penetration is at an abysmal low rate of 7 per 1,000 inhabitants, according to data from International Telecommunications Union. The high cost of computer equipment and the grossly under-developed technological base are the major reasons for low PC penetration in Nigeria.

There is a glaring and stong correlation between PC penetration and economic well-being of a nation. The ratio of 7 computers to 1,000 Nigerians is disturbing and embarrassing to say the least. So, what are the plans and strategies of the government to narrow the digital gap in the Nigeria? I've often wondered. There is indeed a plan in the making as I later found out. As I understand, preparations are at the final stages on the Computers for All Nigerians Initiative, a homegrown intervention to bridge the digital divide in Nigeria.

The Computers for All Nigerians Initiatives (CANI) is a government-private sector collaboration aimed at increasing PC penetration in Nigeria, thus creating a more computer-literate workforce. The initiative is also expected to stimulate the Information and Communication Technology sector particularly in hardware and software development. The program is scheduled for implementation sometime in 2006.

Despite the drought of information on this program in the Nigerian mainstream media, Grandiose Parlor is able to discern that private and public sector employees are expected to be the beneficiary of the 500,000 PC units slated for the first phase of the initiative.

It is expected that some form of insurance and credit will be offered to interested employees. According to reliable sources, the National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA), Intel, Microsoft and some local-based ICT firms will play major roles in this program. In fact, Microsoft may have agreed to some form of price discount, according to Technology Times.

The Computers for All Nigerians Initiative is the Nigerian model of Government Assisted PC Purchase Program (GAPP). Many countries worldwide have implemented GAPPs- usually through incentives driven models- to boost their PC penetration, productivity levels and economies of . Intel, a frontrunner in GAPP implementation, offers some description of some commonly used GAPP models on it website.

The implementation of CANI will be a much-awaited step in the right direction for Nigeria, and it is commendable. However, GAPPs fail and have failed in some instances becuase of factors relating to poor planning and coordination between policy makers and business leaders. Other troubling issues such as the incessant power outage, low Internet uptake, and waivers on import duty of computer equipment and software must be addressed.

The role of Open Source Software in the scheme of things is not clearly discernable from the information at my disposal. Likewise, the payment structure and issues relating to credit facilities since Nigeria seriously lacks fully functional credit bureau services.

The issue of OSS is particularly relevant given the high cost of computer equipment and GAPPs. “Concerns about cost—along with requirements for openness, self control, and security—have led to the linking of GAPPs with open source software (OSS)”, writes Mark Stone in his report on Government-Assisted PC Programs and Open Source Software. See also GP’s article on Ubuntu-Linux, an example of OSS. Microsoft, one of the major payers in CANI, has clearly stated its aversion to OSS. Juxtaposed on all these is the endemic problem of corruption and the total disregard for transparency and ethics in the Nigerian bureaucracy.

As events begin to unfold in the coming months, it will be interesting to see how these issues are addressed and what direction CANI takes Nigeria.



Wednesday, November 23, 2005

The Power of Immunity

Update on Alamieyeseigha

It seems all is not well for Alamieyeseigha, even in his own state. There are strong indications that the bail-jumping governor may have been served with impeachment papers by the state house of assembly, and he may have since gone into gone into hiding.

If this is a fact that impeachment proceedings have started, then I tender my most sincere apologies to the members of the Bayelsa State of Assembly for the remarks made about them earlier (see below).

There are also reports of civil unrests in some areas of Bayelsa, with placard-carrying demonstrating youths calling for the impeachment and extradition of the governor to UK. Apparently a good proportion of Bayelsa state residents are not in agreement with their governor as some reports have suggested earlier.

There are insinuations in some quarters that the British authority may have in some ways aided the escape of the embattled governor. See Elendu Reports for more on this story.

A succinct synopsis of some of the postings from the Nigerian Blogoshere is available at Chippla’s Weblog .

The Power of Immunity

Now it should be clear to all including the people of Bayelsa state that their Governor, DSP Diepreye Alamieyeseigha (aka Alams), is a dirty rotten scoundrel, a common criminal of the worst kind, and he deserves to bear the full weight of the law. Just as Joshua Dariye, the Plateau state Governor that jumped bail in the UK last year.

My earlier post on this most shameful saga was essentially a knee-jerk reaction, and I’m sure many Nigerians felt the same going the the various postings on the blogoshere so far.

Personally, I feel hugely slighted by this man’s action. In fact I’m still smouldering from the fury that comsumed me earlier today on reading about his now infamous escape from the UK.

How he did it, only him knows. The possibility that Alamieyeseigha couldn’t have escaped without some assistance from the “London Bobbies” is even more depressing and aggravating. Well that is a different matter entirely.

“So what happens now?” “Is Alams just going to return to his official quarters in Yenagoa and continue with business as usual”? After using all the known expletives on this Governor-turned-thief, these are some of the questions popping up in my mind all day.

This is a litmus test for President Obasanjo and the national assembly. Forget about the Bayelsa state’s assembly; they are a bunch of impotent misfits and sycophants. They are toothless. In fact they should all face prosecution for bastardizing the principles of law and bringing to ridicule their most sacred office.

It appears that the time for partisan politics is over, and it is time for serious soul searching. Alamieyeseigha has brought shame to the all Nigerians particularly those in elected capacities. If Alamieyeseigha was an oridinary person he would be summarily extradited back to the UK for the felonies he has commited by jumping bail, and possibly forgery. But he enjoys a priviledge that only 74 Nigerians have- the immunity clause.

Nigerian elected officials cannot continue to commit felonies with impunity. It is time to expunge the immunity clause from the Nigerian constitution. Under this clause (1999 constitution, section 308), serving president, vice president, state governors and their deputies are shielded from prosecution in the event they commit any criminal offence while in office. They can be prosecuted only when they vacate their office.

As naïve as this may be, my proposal is that the Nigerian Senate and the Federal House of Representatives should immediately commence a joint session to deliberate on the matter of "executive immunity" for the sake of accountability and national image. What Alamieyeseigha (and Dariye) did were grave abuse of power of the worst variety and it calls for a waiver of immunity. Afterall, this so called "immunity" was not intended for instances like these, or was it?

There I go again, lost in my unfounded idealism! Afterall this is Nigeria where some people can literally make the “sun disappear, and turn day into night”. As hopeful and upbeat as I try to be, instances such as Alamieyeseigha’s and Dariye’s end up knocking the winds out of me. In my breathlessness, I wonder if the winds of change that I’d felt somewhere earlier was afterall an illusion- a make believe that has somehow blown somewhere else, but Nigeria.

I'll quietly wait for time to be kind, and prove me and other Nigerians wrong.



Monday, November 21, 2005

Nigerian Day of Infamy- Courtesy of Alamieyeseigha

"The governor of an oil-rich Nigerian state has fled the UK, where he was charged with laundering £1.8m ($3.2m) found in cash and bank accounts.
Diepreye Alamieyeseigha is back at work in his home state of Bayelsa, officials say. He was granted bail in September, on condition he stayed in the UK", according to a BBC report.

It is believed that Alamieyeseigha disguised as a women and used forged documents to escape from the UK.

I am tired of being embarrassed by dirty scoundrels like Alamieyeseigha!

By skipping bail, Alamieyeseigha has indeed demonstrated that he is a THIEF!

Alamieyeseigha has put Nigeria and all Nigerians to shame.

This is a day of Infamy for Nigeria, people. This rogue has to be brought to justice, dead or alive.




Sunday, November 20, 2005

Is a Housing Revolution Imminent in Nigeria?

There is more to the housing industry than just building houses. In advanced countries, the industry includes anything related to real estate and home ownership- from land title preparation and mortgage financing, to material sourcing and manufacturing- the housing industry is an enormous market. In the United States, perhaps the country with the most sophisticated housing industry, it accounts for about 20% (approx. $2.5 trillion) of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

A vast housing market exist in Nigeria given the massive home deficit estimated at about 14 million by the Federal Mortgage Bank. Contrary to the US and typical of most developing countries, the housing industry is grossly under-developed; it accounts for less than 10% of the Nigerian GDP. It is apparent that a ready and huge market exist, and the housing industry can potentially boost the Nigerian economy.

Many factors contribute to abysmal under-performance of the housing sector in Nigeria. The major factors can be categorized under three broad headings namely:

Absence of long term financing- Mortgage financing and mortgage-backed securities are the instruments for long-term lending in the housing industry. These do not exist in Nigeria at the moment. At present, a typical home buyer will have to make a down payment that range between 20% to 50% of the purchase price and then pay off the loan balance within 5 years.

Legal restrictions- A moribund and repressive Land Use Act exist in Nigeria that hinders mortgage financing and creates enormous obstacles to private sector involvement in the housing industry. There is also no strong provision for foreclosure in the Nigerian constitution. This provision creates a strong incentive to lend on long-term basis.

A "dinosauric" land registration system- The present land registration system in Nigeria was instituted by the British well before the nation attained independence. It may have been in place since the late 1800! Thus literally restricting land title registration and other allied processes to the prehistoric era.

The good news is that it appears that the present administration is now conscious to the realization that the housing industry needs a turn-around, and many policy statements have been issued to this effect.

According to the Nigerian Housing Minister, Dr Mimiko:

"...We need long-term funding to ensure that we can have affordable houses that people can buy on mortgage and pay over time...We want a situation where transaction in title deeds would be made easier...We have already concluded our activities at the Federal Executive Council on amendments on housing related laws that would create the appropriate legal and regulatory framework. We hope to keep striving so that the National Assembly would pass those laws as amended, either this year or latest first quarter of next year."
Perhaps the most comforting statement emerged from the Nigerian financial sector last week via a report in The Vanguard that some banks have commenced post-consolidation expansion into the mortgage sector of the economy by investing in the Federal Mortgage Bank's 100 billion Naira housing bond.

I remain hopeful that despite being a daunting task, the institutionalization of a viable and mortgage finance driven housing sector is possible in Nigeria. It is on record that the mortgage market in the US was virtually not existent some 70 years ago. All they had then was similar to what Nigeria has now. But must we wait 70 years to start tapping into this industry? Nah!

According to the opening statement of John Taylor, the United States Under Secretary of Treasury for International Affairs at a roundtable on developing the Nigerian mortgage market held in 2004, and I quote:
"I encourage you to also discuss how the expatriate Nigerian population in the United States might be integrated into the Nigerian mortgage market. The market for expatriate mortgage services could be large as there are currently over 700,000 Nigerians of working age living in the USA. Tapping these expatriates might help develop the Nigerian real estate and mortgage markets and provide business opportunities for both US and Nigerian companies".
Of course this applies to all Nigerians, both home and abroad in fact, the wheels of action seem already in motion going by the housing bond, and the about-to-be-signed Memorandum of Understanding with the UK Land Registry on land reforms (email me for additional information, the posted article has expired online).

Interested parties and investors may also look into owning a piece of the Federal Capital Territory's real estate.



Thursday, November 17, 2005

Spray the Anopheles...and Darn the Consequence Later !

The efficacy of DDT (bis[4-chlorophenyl]-1,1,1-trichloroethane, or Dichlorodiphenyl trichloroethane) as an insecticidal has never been in doubt, and its uses against malaria, typhus, and other vector-borne diseases have been well documented. The eradication of endemic malaria in North America and Europe has been attributed to the use of DDT against anopheles mosquitos.

Philip Coticelli and Richard Tren of Africa fighting Malaria, "an NGO which seeks to educate people about the scourge of Malaria and the political economy of malaria control", in their publications in the South Afrcian Mail and Guardian and Business Day, urged the use of widespread DDT in malaria endemic areas of Africa.

I also recognize and appreciate the well written prose on Chippla’s Weblog and Black Looks further re-echoing and championing the cause on the Blogoshere.

These efforts are understandable given that the insecticide was banned in Europe and North America largely because of ecological considerations, and not because of negative effects on humans. What has not been well documented is the health risk of widespread use of DDT.

It is prudent to consider and examine some of the documented toxic effects of DDT, for its use is not entirely without consequences, even if scientific data has not been unequivocal in demonstrating them.
The widespread use of DDT is toxic and could adversely affect reproductive health in men and women exposed to it?

A prolonged exposure to DDT (even when used at the recommended concentration) increases the risk of pre-term births and earlier weaning of newborns (shortened breast feeding duration)?
These are not trival side effects, but ominous possibilities that are yet to be clearly ruled out by clinical studies. Contrary to what many pundits claimed, a recent publication* in The Lancet , an international medical science journal of high repute, suggests these conditions and others may indeed occur following prolonged exposure to DDT.

If one considers the pros and cons of DDT use, it can be argued that the deaths attributable to malarial infection in Africa far outweigh the deaths that can potentially result from DDT toxicity.

The answer is not without some ambiguity.

Infants and children in general carry a disproportionate burden of malaria mortality (deaths), just as they would if DDT toxicity increases the risk of pre-term births and early weaning. Then what of the potential poor reproductive health component of DDT toxicity? This is an unparallel negative score against DDT.

It is apparent that the countries that successfully used DDT to eradicate the malaria many decades back had some common characteristics: they had the political will, solid infrastructures, and deep pockets to finance the intervention. It is even doubtful, in my opinion, that their intervention would have been so successful if they had not taken a multi-systemic approach that included pharmacotherapy, environmental engineering and control, and extensive publicity and awareness drive, etc.

Malaria endemic regions of Africa should do the same and focus on building sustainable, robust, well-designed, and long-lasting public health interventions against malaria and its vector, and at the same time institute infrastructures to monitor the efficacy and the potential toxic effects of DDT.

The question is: Are we ready to do what it takes to control or even eradicate malaria? Or all we want to do is spray the bloody anopheles mosquitos and darn the consequence later?

Going by historical precedence, it seems more like the latter.


*Walter Rogan and Aimin Chen are Epidemiologists with the United States National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, North carolina. They are the authors of the article mentioned in this post. Their article is a review of 148 publications and studies on DDT.

Here is the full citation to their paper:

Rogan WJ, Chen A.
Health risks and benefits of bis(4-chlorophenyl)-1,1,1-trichloroethane (DDT).
Lancet. 2005 Aug 27-Sep 2;366(9487):763-73.



Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Emeka Okafor of Timbuktu Chronicles Unveiled

The contraption called the Internet has a penchant for throwing surprises in ones path. When I stumbled upon the Z + Partners web site, little did I know what lie buried beneath the maze of web pages.

As I dug deeper, I ran into Ann Marie Healy's post on Emeka Okafor*, the Numero Uno of the Nigerian Blogoshere.

Emeka is perhaps the only Nigerian Blogger that has defied the test of time, and successfully carved a niche for himself as a Blogger.

Since 2003, he has blazed a trail on the Blogoshere; he is the force behind Timbuktu Chronicles and Africa Unchained.

I present below excerpts from Ann Marie Healy's interview of Emeka Okafor.

When did you first become interested in entrepreneurship and technology?
I’ve always had an interest in science and I found a commonality between science and business. I don’t mean making money but rather the ways in which people go about creating something that can sustain itself. I think the context of science, business and creativity is something that has been with me since I was very young.

My mother came from a Nigerian family of merchants. She was born in Nigeria and then she moved to England where she met and married my father. They moved from England to Canada and then back to Nigeria so they started this nomadic lifestyle that has more or less continued.

My parents always forced us to recognize how important our culture was regardless of the other cultures around us. They didn’t do this from the standpoint of, “You have to respect this.” Instead they would talk about our culture and say, “See how complex it is; see how it stands on its own two feet. It’s just as interesting as everything else.”

For example, an uncle of mine, a very famous author, wrote the book Things Fall Apart. When we were young, in Canada, my father always made it a point to say, “This is a book your uncle wrote. See how rich this culture really is….”

The writing in the book feels very self-assured. It wasn’t written the way someone would write about rural England; the writing constantly affirms that this is the way people really live their lives. Knowing that the author was my relative made me feel comfortable with where I came from.

When we moved back to Nigeria, my mother continued along those lines. She always made us eat all the traditional foods. Other people who had “lived overseas” came back to Nigeria and they would try to show that they were upper-middle class or global by “apeing” the lifestyles and attributes of what they considered more civilized parts of the world.

My parents weren’t like that. They made us try everything. At the beginning of the rainy season, we had termite queens filling the sky and they would cluster around light. People trap them in water and then they eat them as a snack. My mother made us try this and it was delicious. We never got the message that it wasn’t worthy.

When I go back and reflect on it now, it feels like all of my work relates back to this attitude about where I'm from...
There is more.

Read the full interview. Enjoy

*Photograph of Emeka Okafor by Alexander Zolli



Obasanjo's Third-Term Bid: The Road to Perfidy

President Obasanjo said one February Sunday morning in an interview relayed on national television and radio stations:
"When they talk about a hidden agenda, it is infuriating. It is annoying. Hidden agenda to do what? I don't do things like that, …what I know is that people impugn to others what they will do if they were in that position. People judge by their own standard. If they are in that position, they will have hidden agenda and we must fight that."
The BBC News reports that a Nigerian Senate sub-committee has proposed that Nigeria's presidents should be allowed a third term in office. The report further states, “The committee's recommendations are likely to be approved by MPs and Senators”, and “…The committee is analyzing their proposals so constitutional changes can be made before the 2007 elections”.

This move by the senate finally validates what has been circulating in the Nigeria media for months. Many news agencies, pundits, opinion leaders have been making statements about a 3rd term agenda (check out this google search). Although the man in the middle of this controversy (I guess it isn’t one any longer) has made some half-hearted attempts to debunk this 3rd term agenda as rumors, but he is yet to made any visible efforts to shut up those clamoring for his third term!

Obasanjo administration has less than 2 years to go, yet the political terrain is still murky and it is unclear whom the likely successors would be. The ruling party (The People's Democratic Party) has been coursed by his cronies and it is now dominated and controlled by those sympathetic to the 3rd term cause. He has successfully coaxed and weakened the national political structures; many are disorganized and are yet to present candidates for an election that is less than 2 years away.

The current events brewing at the highest echelon of power is highly suggestive of a man that wants to remain in power. And by having the Nigerian Senate literally "bulldoze and pave the road" for him is most unethical, highly treasonable, and simply perfidious.



Monday, November 14, 2005

African "Leaders" Fumble Again!

I can see the handiwork of the Nigerian president Olusegun Obasanjo in the recent attempt of some African head of states to form a closer political union. Obasanjo cherishes international endeavors that probably would amount to nothing at the end of the day. Don’t get me wrong, the idea is great and plot is fantastic, but the actors are mediocre and the timing is off.

No one but these rulers (not leaders, please) stand to benefit from this talk because the majority of their people just want the basic necessities of life for now: Enough food to eat so they do not die from famine; a decent abode they can call there own, so that a senile maniac would not wake up one day and “Murambatsvinize” them into the bush; security for their family and business; and generally an enabling environment that allows peace and prosperity to reign.

How basic can it get? Yet majority of Africans do enjoy the most basic things a human being deserves. Yet the wise men don’t get it, they rather “build bridges” across nations, "create an economic and monetary union, establish common foreign and defense policies”, and create an impotent contraption called “United States of Africa”. This is another evidence that our priorities are misplaced.

“Charity begins at home”, and I believe the readers knows what this means. Many African nations suffer from political and socioeconomic afflictions and emanate from within. In Nigeria for instance, basic infrastructures are lacking or in extensive states of disrepair, public health facilities do not exist, educational institutions churn out half-baked graduates that end up rejected or shunned the moment they entered into the labor force. The cost of doing business is one of the highest in the world. Nothing is safe and there is no value or respect for human lives; the very enforcers of the law have turned into crooks, assassins, and bandits, ex cetera, ex cetera.

So tell me how these wise head of states can unite and make prosper a continent full of diverse people, ethnicities, languages, and culture when their very own nations are in dire need of unity and prosperity?


Sunday, November 13, 2005

Pedophilia: A Costly Sexual Perversion

This topic is somewhat outside my sphere of interest, but I have chosen to blog it because of the long-term and damaging consequences of sexual abuse (a form of violence) in children.

There are some “50,000 predators on the Internet prowling for children, and one in five children online have been solicited for sex, according to the United States National Center for Missing & Exploited Children.
What sort of derangement or affliction could make an adult, in full control of his/her senses, approach a minor (someone younger than 18) for sexual favors?

What sort of chemical imbalance could make a man or woman sexually solicit a 12 year old teen?

How do the victims cope with the trauma and how do they fare later in life?"
These were some of the questions that came to my mind after watching MSNBC Dateline’s Catching potential Internet sex predators, a hidden camera investigation involving volunteers from Perverted-Justice, a group dedicated to catching Internet predators.

The Group Media Bust on MSNBC

These volunteers went on the Internet chat rooms posing as teens, and in no time were accosted by adults seeking nothing but sex. The ultimate goal was to get these sex predators to visit their newly found “underage” partners at a location, which unbeknownst to the perverts, is rigged with hidden cameras.

I shocked to see what happened. Nineteen (19) men showed up in 3 days! And not only that, their background ranged from a rabbi, to a special-ed teacher, to a medical doctor! I was speechless!

One of the perverts with screen name “specialguy29”, aged 43, was caught naked on tape! According to MSNBC Dateline:
“…He told our decoy, who was posing as a 14-year old-boy, that he is an 11th grade English teacher (not true).

Then he told the boy that he hates condoms but he’s safe. ”Our decoy asks “specialguy29” to bring beer and then throws in a request— a technique often used by law enforcement to illustrate intent. He types “side garage is open, strip to your underwear and come in, I'll be in mine.”

The man says “I don’t wear underwear,” so the decoy says “then come in naked.” We never thought he’d really do it. But we were wrong. After casing our house, walking up and down the street— here he comes with the beer and you can guess what he does in the garage. He takes his clothes off.”

There he is in the screen shot below, butt-naked! Unbelievable!

Legal red tape

It is illegal in many states of America for adults to intentionally solicit minors for sexual favors. (This is not the situation in some nations, particularly in Africa, sad isn't it?.) It is also criminal to expose or send a minor obscene material, even if it turns out the recipient is an adult posing as a child.

There have been some instances of Roman Catholic pedophilic priests, and teacher-student cases. Probably the most recent case that made headline news happened in Tennessee involving Pamela Turner, a 27-year-old gym teacher. She was arrested on Feb. 2005 for having a sexual relationship with a 13-year old student.

Despite these celebrated cases, however; the prosecution of sex predators, particularly when the Group Media Bust method described above is used is not without legal obstacles. According to data from National Center for Missing & Exploited Children, there were an estimated 2,577 arrests for internet sex crimes against minors in the 12-month period beginning July 1st, 2000 in the United States". This is a tip of the iceberg and should not come as a surprise because the majority of these crimes are not reported to law enforcement agencies, and even many of those reported do not lead to arrest.

Long term consequences of abuse

While there are no clear-cut answers to the questions posed in earlier paragraphs, what is certain and proven in scientific literature is the long-term effects of early onset sexual abuse, and other forms of violence in minors.

The Adverse Childhood Experience (ACE) Study, is a "major American research project that poses the question of whether, and how, childhood experiences affect adult health decades later". Sexual abuse is a component of the ACE, as well as eight (8) other conditions that range from recurrent emotional abuse to emotional or physical neglect.

The ACE study documents "the conversion of traumatic emotional experiences in childhood into organic disease later in life". It reveals the “powerful relationship between our emotional experiences as children (ages 0 to 17) and our physical and mental health as adults…” It further shows that “abused children may use behaviors such as cigarette smoking, heavy alcohol use, overeating, promiscuity, and drug use as a way of coping with damaging experiences much earlier in life…"

According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC):
"a strong relationship was seen between the number of adverse experiences and self-reports of cigarette smoking, obesity, physical inactivity, alcoholism, drug abuse, depression, suicide attempts, sexual promiscuity, and sexually transmitted diseases. Furthermore, persons who reported higher numbers of adverse childhood experiences were much more likely to have multiple health risk behaviors. Similarly, the more adverse childhood experiences reported, the more likely the person was to have heart disease, cancer, stroke, diabetes, skeletal fractures, liver disease, and poor self-rated health as an adult."

My two cents

Pedophilia is a recognized social and public health issue in many advanced nations. Sadly, this is not the case in majority of African nations and other less advanced countries where the victims are often voiceless and have little or no legal backing. So while some many be quick to ask "so what"? or "what is the fuss about"? Let it be known that many of the coping behaviors and long term sequela of this sexual perversion have enormous public health, social and economic consequences worldwide and "one does not ‘just get over’ it, not even fifty years later.”



Doctor's Care Blossoms into a Mother's Love

Every now and then I do come across news item in the Minnesota dailies that just jives so well with my inner being. This post is one of them.

The original story- “Doctor's care blossoms into a mother's love” is written by Maura Lerner of Minneapolis/St. Paul Star Tribune. The characters are Dr Cindy Howard, an American pediatrician, and Loice and christine (photographed*), Ugandan twin girls once conjoined at the chest.

It is a remarkable story of altruism, poverty, and hopelessness. What I found inspiring about the feature is how the interplay of destiny and divine intervention can sometime unravel and sort-out the bleakest of all circumstances…

“Dr. Cindy Howard was getting ready to leave Uganda for the United States when she heard about the twins.

They had just arrived by bus in Kampala, the capital, from a village hundreds of miles away. Everyone was talking about them: newborn girls, conjoined at the chest.

Their family had sold its dearest possession, a bicycle, to pay for the trip to the hospital where Howard was working as a pediatrician. But everyone there knew they weren't equipped to help the twins. All eyes turned to her: Can you take them to America? Howard wasn't sure. She had treated thousands of children around the world, but never any like this. She looked at the two tiny patients. The decision she was about to make would change her life as much as theirs.

Today, the 4 year-old twins are thriving in St. Paul, their new home…Howard, 53, is their adoptive mother.
Read more. Enjoy!
* Picture taken by Kyndell Harkness, Star Tribune.



Friday, November 11, 2005

Cell Phones in Africa: Where is the Logic?


It comes in different shapes, colors and sizes; the smaller the better it seems to the multitude of users in Africa. One of my countrymen, and colleague in the Blogoshere, even has a blog- Phonerism dedicated solely to them. It is no longer a status symbol, or yuppies' toy. It is now a utility tool. So ubiquitous it is that it can be found clutched in many hands and hidden in countless handbags, just to reveal its presence unexpectedly with the characteristic often distracting and annoying sounds. From Ericsson to Treo; this is is the world of the cell phones. Africa is all wired up wirelessly, and for the better too.

So if you ain’t got one, you ain’t nobody. Simple. Many even have two, three, etc- for each network. As crazy as this may seem, it is actually a pragmatic attempt to beat the often epileptic and unreliable network coverage. If one of the network is acting-up, it is just a matter of whipping out another phone rigged to a different network, and bam, the call is made.

With respect to Africa, Cell phones seemed to have defied every logic there is. This is because initial predictions were based “on the typical land-line user, someone with a bank account, a job and a fixed address. No predictions could have been more inaccurate! From the corporate offices in downtown Lagos and Jo’burg to the most remote region in the Congo; cell phone users abound, from the sophisticated banker to the illiterate roadside petty trader", writes Sharon LaFraniere in her New York Times article titled: “Cell phones Catapult Rural Africa to 21st Century”.

Logic versus value creation

The following excerpts from Sharon's article speak well to the issues of logic and value creation in regard to the use of cell phones in Africa.
“On this dry mountaintop, 36-year-old Bekowe Skhakhane does even the simplest tasks the hard way. Fetching water from the river takes four hours a day. To cook, she gathers sticks and musters a fire. Light comes from candles. But when Ms. Skhakhane wants to talk to her husband, who works in a steel factory 250 miles away in Johannesburg, she does what many in more developed regions do: she takes out her mobile phone. People like Ms. Skhakhane have made Africa the world's fastest-growing cell phone market...”
"Executives of the MTN Group, another major African mobile operator, say the company's Nigerian network cost two and a half times as much as its South African network because of lack of infrastructure. But demand is so intense that MTN is adding hundreds of new base stations. Demand for air time was so strong in Nigeria that from late 2002 to early 2003 operators there were forced to suspend the sale of subscriber identity module cards, or SIM cards, which activate handsets, while they strengthened their networks..."
"Villagers in the two jungle provinces of Congo are so eager for service that they have built 50-foot-high tree houses to catch signals from distant cell phone towers. "One man uses it as a public pay phone," said Gilbert Nkuli, deputy managing director of Congo operations for Vodacom Group, one of Africa's biggest mobile operators. Those who want to climb to his platform and use his phone pay him for the privilege..."
"One pilot program allows about 100 farmers in South Africa's northeast to learn the prevailing prices for produce in major markets, crucial information in negotiations with middlemen. Health-care workers in the rural southeast summon ambulances to distant clinics via cell phone. One woman living on the Congo River, unable even to write her last name, tells customers to call her cell phone if they want to buy the fresh fish she sells. "She doesn't have electricity, she can't put the fish in the freezer," said Mr. Nkuli of Vodacom. "So she keeps them in the river," tethered live on a string, until a call comes in. Then she retrieves them and readies them for sale..."
"Congo was in the midst of a civil war when Alieu Conteh, a telecommunications entrepreneur, began building a cellular network there in the 1990's. No foreign manufacturer would ship a cell phone tower to the airport with rebels nearby, so Mr. Conteh hired local men to collect scrap and weld a tower together. Now Vodacom, which formed a joint venture with him in 2001, is grappling with other problems. Its trucks get stuck in the mud. A crane is out of the question; it takes 15 to 20 men to haul each satellite dish into place with ropes. Base stations must be powered by generators. Each morning, executives send instant messages to employees containing the latest rate for the plunging local currency...
The versatility of cell phones in Africa is also captured succinctly by this post titled: Phone Card Currency.

One problem remains even in the age of cutting-edge cellular technology: How does an African family in a hut lit by candles charge a mobile phone?

According to Sharon,..."the solution is often a car battery owned by someone who does not have a prayer of acquiring a car..."

My two cents

So by the end of this decade in the African continent, will the incursion of cell phones signify the greatest technological break-through?

Perhaps the unstated message in these posts may be that business ventures that add value to peoples lives, particularly in emerging economies, will almost certainly prevail over those that focus more on logic. The ability to strike a balance between the two, while difficult, is key to sustainability and success.



Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Introducing "Nigeria International"

Nigeria International is an interesting documentary program on Nigeria. It features the views and experiences of foreigners and Nigerians both at home and in the Diaspora- "the awayrians", as CyBlug (GigiBlog), a newer entrant into the ever-expanding Nigerian Blogosphere aptly tags them.

According to their website, " is a weekly magazine-style television programme to be broadcast around Nigeria, and around the world to Nigerians. It aims to provide a realistic and up-to-date view of Nigerians' fortunes, challenges and opportunities at home and abroad.

The programme will highlight issues that are of particular relevance to those Nigerians abroad that may be considering visiting or relocating home. For Nigerians within the country, the programme will go around the world, portraying the varying degrees of success with which Nigerians have transformed their fortunes abroad"

The program can be accessed via Nigerian Village Square




France: A World of Sheer Hopelessness?

As an immigrant in the United States, I have come to understand one thing about life in the Diasporas: economic break-through is impossible in the absence of societal integration. While the latter is often a two-way traffic involving both the immigrant and the government/society, the impetus lies with the immigrant to learn and understand the ways, lifestyle and culture of his/her new society. This is the beginning of wisdom, then better things will follow.

Bad policies; wrong tactics

Well, maybe it is not that easy. What is going on in France is the cumulative effect of years of bad policies and wrong tactics. The fault lies not only with the French government, but also with the first generation immigrants whose progeny have been rendered into economically impotent social infidels.

France has been living in a make-believe world where race and ethnicity are not relevant issues, and have been treated as if it does not matter or even exist.
In fact, the French government does not keep official records on race or ethnicity; they believe that theirs is a colorblind society, yet there are millions of non-European immigrants in their midst!
They argue that by ignoring “race”, racism and its antecedent problems will never be an issue. The riots have exposed the naivety of the French and the shallowness of their policies.

How can any serious government intervene on socioeconomic issues of employment, crime, education, health, etc, without access to solid data on race and ethnicity?

Line of Least Resistance

On the other hand, the first generation of immigrants, particularly the Africans, towed the line of least resistance. Rather than finding ways to make meaningful inroads into their adopted society, and assimilate the style and culture of their new society to the extent necessary; many withdrew, assumed a minimalist mindset, and existed in a state of self-imposed lockdown.

Today, a sizeable portion of second and even third generation French nationals of African descent can’t even speak proper and fluent French- in a country where the natives are really fussy about their language, and always appreciate well-spoken and articulated speech.

Tell me how these folks can effect any meaningful changes in their lives? How can they set themselves free and loose from the French welfare quagmire? After many years of been trapped in urban ghettos sustaining on welfare stipends, why should it surprise anyone that these youths have resolved to throwing Molotov’s cocktails?

It is only when the immigrants are ready to challenge and change the sociopolitical dynamics of their world that their plight will begin to turn positively. Waiting for the government to act is not enough. And turning Molotov’s cocktails into shot puts is nothing but mere expressions of blind, spontaneous, adolescent rage and frustration that'll frizzle out almost as soon as it begun.

My two cents

The French immigrants should take a cue from the American civil-rights movement. The cause was successful because the artivists were smart, articulate, and well educated; they were able to learn and assimilate the ways and culture of their oppressors. This was partly what made the transition possible for blacks in America then. For the actions and foresight of those great ladies and gentlemen, immigrants like me now get to live in a better society today.

Update: 11/10
This NPR audio interview speaks well to the events in France, and sort of resonates with my view on the riots: Education and intergration for the immigrants



Saturday, November 05, 2005

Tu Face: MTV Best African Artist, 2005

Tu Face, a Nigerian won the Best MTV African Artist for the year 2005.

I love my country, particularly the eclectic mix of musical artists, I just returned from Nigeria, and I must say that it can be quite “rugged” and frustrating in that part of the world. One thing, just one thing, that I found soothing and helped ease the pain during my stay was the music, “the Naija music”, has I’ve dubbed them. From the mediocre, Hip-hop rapper wannabes that always get me going on laughing spasms, to the serious, articulate and legits that would make even Quincy Jones, Jimmy Jam/Terry Lewis, or Dr Dre pause in their tracks.

Yes, Nigeria has them in abundance: gifted lyrists dropping myriad of renditions in all Nigerian dialects. From Mike Aremu- a quite refreshing gospel Saxophonist, to Fela Kuti- the late enigmatic Afro-beat exponent, and from the very vintage Osita Osadebe, to the neophyte Tu Face Idibia, (well, that is no longer accurate, he has cut a niche and solid reputation for himself now!) I just love them all, and have been loading them up in my Nanopod as quickly as I can get them.

Back to Tu Face; he has been prominently featured on MTV Base - the African version of the network, since its debut. According to the Nigerian news daily, The Guardian:
"Tu Face cemented his solo popularity with his catchy, lyrically inspired, heartfelt songs, sung in a mixture of English, local dialect and Pidgin English. A truly iconic status was conferred by the massive success of his hit song, African Queen, a soulful anthem to the beauty of African women, which won fans across the African continent, and was subsequently chosen as the first ever song played on pan-African music channel and MTV's 100th channel, MTV base".
The co-contenders for the Best African Artist were; Zamajobe (South Africa), Kaysha from Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Kleptomaniax (Kenya) and 02 (Angola).

I say that if Nigerian bureaucrats and politicians are half as smart and gifted as the artists and artisans in the country; Nigeria would be far better and advanced than it is at present.

Congratulations Tu Face!

PS: Now that the accolades and dough are pouring in, would you get yourself a well-designed website, please?



Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Rosa Parks (1913-2005): An Ordinary Woman with Extraordinary Deeds

She made history in life when she refused to give up her seat to a white man while riding a Montgomery city bus. Time: Dec. 1, 1955.

"I had no idea when I refused to give up my seat on that Montgomery bus that my small action would help put an end to segregation laws in the south," wrote Parks in the 1992 book "Rosa Parks: My Story."
And she repeated the same feat in death- This time as the first woman* to lie in honor in the Rotunda of the US Capitol. Time: Oct. 30-31, 2005.

"The Capitol serves as a beacon of American liberty, freedom and democracy, and Rosa Parks served as the Mother of the America we grew to be - a rich, diverse nation of all shades, ethnicities and religions" said House Speaker Dennis Hastert
"I only knew that [as] I was being arrested it was the last time I would ever ride in humiliation of this kind," Parks recalled in 1999. Her action triggered a 381-day boycott of the bus system by blacks that was organized by a 26-year-old Baptist minister, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. The boycott ended after the U.S. Supreme Court upheld a lower court ruling that Montgomery's segregated bus service was unconstitutional. But it wasn't until the 1964 Civil Rights Act that all public accommodations nationwide were desegregated.- CNN News

Excepts from Speakers

"Rosa Parks was a woman of great courage, grace and dignity. Her refusal to be treated as a second-class citizen on a Montgomery bus in 1955 struck a blow to racial segregation and sparked a movement that broke the back of Jim Crow. ... She was an inspiration to me and to all who work for the day when we will be one America. May God bless her soul and may she rest in peace." -- Former President Clinton

"I truly believe that there's a little bit of Rosa Parks in all Americans who have the courage to say enough is enough and stand up for what they believe in. She did such a small thing, but it was so courageous for her as a humble person to do." -- Rep. Charles Rangel, D-New York

"The nation lost a courageous woman and a true American hero. A half-century ago, Rosa Parks stood up not only for herself, but for generations upon generations of Americans. Her quiet fight for equality sounded the bells of freedom for millions." -- Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Massachusetts

"I think Rosa Parks was truly a historic figure who singularly on December 1, 1955, tore down the walls of American segregation and apartheid. One of the highlights of my life was meeting and getting to know her ... a gentle woman whose single act changed the most powerful nation in the world." -- The Rev. Al Sharpton

"She must be looked upon as not just the mother of the modern civil rights movement; she must be looked upon as one of the mothers of the New America, of the New South." -- Rep. John Lewis, D-Georgia

"Rosa Parks has shown the awesome power of right over might in history's long journey for peace and freedom." -- The Rev. Jesse Jackson

"She loved people with a passion, and when she took that seat on that bus that day, she took a seat for all of us." -- Clara Luper, a retired teacher who led a group of teenagers in a sit-in at a downtown Oklahoma City drug store counter in 1958

"I remember her as an almost saint-like person. And I use that term with care. She was very humble, she was soft-spoken, but inside she had a determination that was quite fierce." -- Rep. John Conyers, D-Michigan

"She really was a heroine to us. She was an ordinary woman and we were ordinary kids, and it seems we had a relationship. ... For me it opened up the possibility and also instructed me that it wouldn't be easy, but it would be worth it in the end." -- Minnijean Brown Trickey, a member of the Little Rock Nine who desegregated Little Rock Central High School in 1957

"In her own simple way, Rosa Parks changed the history of our nation. She forced us to recognize the dignity of every person. She was a prophet -- a common instrument of God inviting us and challenging us to a new vision of solidarity, equality and justice. We were blessed to have her as citizen of Detroit." -- Cardinal Adam Maida, archbishop of Detroit

"In one single day, Rosa Parks made the world face the cause of equality, civil rights and justice. No words can adequately describe the courage of her actions, the nobility of her character or the impact she had on an entire nation." -- Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger

"I fondly remember presenting her with the Congressional Gold Medal of Honor in June of 1999 in the United States Capital Rotunda. At the age of 86, she stood to accept the medal and sometimes steadied herself on my arm. Rosa Parks said that her legacy of quiet strength was passing to the youth of this nation." -- U.S. House Speaker Dennis Hastert

"I would not be standing here today, nor standing where I stand every day, had she not chosen to sit down, I know that."--Oprah Winfrey

"I think the important message today is that an ordinary person -- a quiet, humble person -- can ignite a movement." -- Marc Morial, National Urban League President

Et cetera

View Rosa Parks' Timeline

*Rosa Parks is the second black American to receive the accolade after Jacob J. Chestnut, one of two Capitol police officers fatally shot in 1998.