Friday, April 22, 2016

Thoughts on the article: "George Soros on ending the war on drugs"

George Soros on ending the war on drugs

"It is a sad irony that aggressive drug policing and harsh drug laws are often justified by policy-makers on public health and security grounds. Basic economic theory tells us that the criminalisation of mood-altering drugs, combined with overemphasis on supply control strategies, dramatically increases the price of these drugs without significantly reducing production or consumption.

I have never understood the rationale for the criminalisation of drugs...amounts to unnecessary and overbearing state intervention/control. I understand even less how alcohol and cigarettes are legal but other things are not.

From the point of view of 
philosophy of law, it is even less easy to grasp how such laws can be justified. But I suppose laws need not be justified - they are often merely a reflection of the balance of power in a given society.

Thoughts on the article "Sister Outsider" on Nigerian feminism

Sister Outsider

Yemisi Aribisala rails against the new fundamentalism cresting the wave of global feminism sweeping Nigeria. She challenges the gender imperialism implicit in its aspiration to uniform ideas of celebrity, power, erudition and beauty.

I have, for a while, sensed the danger that in a globalised world, a few simplistically-articulated norms will be imposed on a wide array of people via the mass media. And that this can be so powerful that it colours what one can observe in one's own local environment. 

Yemisi Aribisala's piece attempts to re-localise the phenomenon of feminism...which is something that appeals to me. That is, bring the discussion back from the meaningless height at which the likes of Adichie jump on the bandwagon...down to a far more appropriate altitude for a topic that is, after all, cultural in nature!

The truth is that the drivers of the popular feminism movement (Europeans) have a specific historical backdrop that they are trying to redress e.g. in a relatively recent England, a man's wife was effectively his property and huge restrictions existed on aspects of life that women could engage in. In Yorubaland, I see not a discriminatory historical backdrop but one of gender roles (I recognise the types of Yoruba women mentioned in the article). One would be hard-pressed to find evidence of widespread or institutionalised gender discrimination amongst the Yoruba or ancient Egyptians for example.

In short, the article is a phenomenal piece - a logically yet passionately argued position oozing with freedom.  An eminently fuckable piece.  Recommended reading!

Africa’s numerous languages are dying!

An article on the tragic demise of Africa's languages as we continue to speak foreign ones!  Here's an extract. Click the link at the end to go to the full article.

"Today, some languages have become more prominent than the others due to the population and spread of people speaking them. Arabic, English, French, Spanish, German, Portuguese and Manadarin (in no particular order) are the world’s most popular languages. But there are thousands of other languages spoken in some places that bring up interesting statistics.
According to Ethnologue, there are 2, 138 living languages spoken by Africa’s over 1 billion population. Nigeria leads in the number of languages spoken per country with 526 languages. However, the more prominent languages in Nigeria are Hausa, Igbo, Yoruba and pidgin in addition to English which is the country’s official language. Some of the remaining over 500 languages are dying as more indigenous speakers move to urban areas and fail to teach their children their native tongue.  If the 526 languages were evenly spoken, Nigeria would have 342,205 speakers per language (assuming the country’s population is 180 million).
Nigeria is followed by Cameroon with 281 languages spoken among its 22.5 million people. If the languages were evenly spoken throughout the country, 80,194 people would speak each language.
The beauty of diversity of cultures and languages has fascinated the world for ages, but several languages are now going into extinction. As lessaccent rightly puts it; languages are not immortal. They need about 100,000 speakers at any given time to stay alive. But as long as people feel embarrassed for speaking a particular language, the number of speakers of such language will continue to reduce."

Africa's 2,138 languages are dying, but why should we care?

Talk about Babel and language comes to mind. The word which means confusion was actually a city founded by a warrior, Nimrod in ancient Babylonia, according to biblical, Sumerian and Assyrian records.

Of procrastination and the killing of dreams

Procrastination, they say, is the thief of time!

This TED talk by Tim Urban really hits the nail on the head about the debilitating condition that procrastination can be, especially when dealing with something that does not by definition have a deadline.

For many of us, an impending deadline is the catalyst for action and we tend to be able to summon the strength to act...just in time!

But what of hopes and dreams that we never actualize because we have no one chasing us with a deadline?  Tim Urban's hilarious take on the topic is highly recommended.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Response to Ben Okri's lament about "Black Writers"

On 27 December 2014, the UK's Guardian newspaper published an opinion by the acclaimed author, Ben Okri, titled " A mental tyranny is keeping black writers from greatness".  He lamented what he perceived as the monotony of African and Black writers in terms of subject matter.  He noted for instance:

"The black and African writer is expected to write about certain things, and if they don’t they are seen as irrelevant. This gives their literature weight, but dooms it with monotony. Who wants to constantly read a literature of suffering, of heaviness? Those living through it certainly don’t; the success of much lighter fare among the reading public in Africa proves this point. Maybe it is those in the west, whose lives are untouched by such suffering, who find occasional spice and flirtation with such a literature. But this tyranny of subject may well lead to distortion and limitation.

It is a curious fact that the greatest short stories do not have, on the whole, the greatest or the heaviest of subjects. By this I mean that the subject is not what is most important about them. Rather, it is the way they are written, the oblique way in which they illuminate something significant. Their overt subject might seem slight but leads, through the indirect mirror of art, to profound and unforgettable places. The overwhelming subject makes for too much directness. This leaves no place for the imagination, for the interpretative matrix of the mind. Great literature is almost always indirect."

You can read the full article at the link below:

A mental tyranny is keeping black writers from greatness | Ben Okri

Living as we do in troubling times, we look to writers to reflect the temper of the age. The essential thing is freedom. A people cannot be great or fulfilled without it. A literature cannot be great without it either. The basic prerequisite of literature is freedom.


Ben Okri is, as I imagine we all know, an artistic writer - a brilliant one at that. So it is not surprising that he would take a stand for fiction-writing as as an end in itself. However, I have the following objections to his article:
1) The broad-brush generalisations about the aim of literature is nonsensical at best. Literature is itself art, the very crafting of a novel need not have stylistic-artistic appreciation as its sole fact, literature would be poorer if that were the case. Another function of literature is indeed the recording of history e.g. Dickens' portrait of a poverty-stricken England, Achebe's explanation of the impact of colonialism on the colonised.
2) Okri's yardstick of artistic brilliance is mainly the art that emanated in an overly-pretencious European art endowment that was created against the backdrop of tyranny and oppression....and by artists highly-favoured (and, so, commissioned by dictatorial monarchs). That is, art cooked in an anti-freedom kitchen! The fact that these artworks serve as the standard-setters (as opposed to Benin bronzes, Egyptian and Sudanese pyramids, or the likes) in Okri's imagination is itself a product of a mind, however utterly brilliant, unfree!!!
3) Whatever disdain Okri may have for some writers who happen to be African (or "black" which he supposes is a different thing or an acceptable tag!), Okri, as a competitor of these writers, doesn't get to adjudicate literary merit...I don't believe such power comes with winning the Booker prize.
4) Okri's article seems to suggest that once the subject is heavy, the art will suffer. However, writers such as Salman Rushdie and Wole Soyinka (incredible writer even if not primarily a novelist) have produced artistic works that are nevertheless centred on heavy subject matters.
5) Writers, like all artists, need inspiration. And many find inspiration in the things that affect them and matter to them. How then should the fact of colonialism not have weighed heavily on the hearts of colonial and post-colonial African writers? Or slavery to have escaped the attention Toni Morrison? Can Adichie really have ignored the tremendously destructive war fought in the aftermath of Biafra's demand for independence?
Not every African writer writes about the heavy subjects or does so without art. Amos Tutuola wrote about a man intoxicated on palm wine in a book published during Nigeria's colonial days (which Okri himself mildly alludes to)!


Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Buhari v Jonathan: the poverty of leadership

Buhari v Jonathan: the poverty of leadership

Olu Omoyele

16 February, 2015

If we cannot compel greatness in our leaders, we can at least demand basic competence. We can insist on good, educated leaders while we wait and pray for great ones. Even divine leaders have needed precursors to make straight their way.”[1]

- Chinua Achebe


A common saying that I have retained from my childhood is: “let’s call a spade a spade”.  You might ask me what else one would call it.  Well, you could call it shovel I should think, since they are, admittedly, remarkably similar tools.  So, let’s call it what it is.  Nigeria is in a mess institutionally and territorially; and yet it holds tremendous potential promise.  Both these realities are seemingly pulling it in opposite directions, sometimes violently.  It is perhaps no wonder that a country cobbled together and compelled into forced cohabitation by colonialist Britain, continues to struggle against itself half-a-century since apparent political independence.  It is after all, a foetal nation, conceived in the imagination of interlopers, raised by soldiers and run for much of the past four decades by a very small cabal of self-serving gangsters.  Presidential elections have become war-like, and temperatures habitually rise to such an extent that it is impossible to pretend that the candidates or their sponsors and supporters aspire to office either to serve the public good or at least to do a job as set out in the job description or employment contract.

The 2015 elections are no different and it has been as polarising as ever.  Reason has departed many of us; although perhaps that is a permanent condition for a sizeable number of us.  There are a multitude of candidates as usual and, unsurprisingly, two are considered front-runners: the incumbent Goodluck Jonathan and perennial challenger Muhammadu Buhari.  As usual, the public debate has been poor with only a handful of sensible debates going on.  Even the typically impressive input from the former central bank governor, Chukwuma Soludo only managed to elicit an uncharacteristically disjointed rant in response from the office of the finance minister, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala.

Goodluck Jonathan

In the five years that he has been president, Jonathan has shown neither the mental fortitude nor the courage needed to lead this, admittedly complex, country.  Now that the time has come to explain what he has done so far and justify why anyone should believe in what he might do in future, he has predictably come unstuck.  Jonathan, like Olusegun Obasanjo before him, has developed the arrogance of incumbency which, coupled with the collective self-delusion of the ruling political party (with their belief that they have somehow cornered the market for a corrupt patronage system, and that they would inevitably continue to produce the president for decades to come), has made him vulnerable and weak to political attack.  His inability, or unwillingness, to decisively address the issues of electricity, oil and gas, Boko Haram and rampant unemployment as well as his cavalier attitude towards public perceptions of public-sector corruption means that he has failed to deliver on what he promised.  And even in the areas of infrastructural development, industry, privatisation as well as agriculture (where he has made but only token progress), he has been utterly unable to make a case for himself to the electorate.  Instead of seeking to assert what he has done, admit the numerous errors he has made and state what he plans to do, he seems to always be responding from a defensive position.  Jonathan fails to understand that he appears to lack urgency in the very matters on which the public demand the utmost urgency.  He simply fails to lead decisively and fails to listen to the led.  At times, it seems, he fails to think, otherwise the decision to pardon former Bayelsa State governor Diepreiye Alamieyeseigha would have been to him an obvious non-starter.  Carrying on from the Yar’Adua presidency of which he was a major participant, Jonathan has squandered (in addition to tremendous goodwill five years ago) not-insignificant oil savings from the Obasanjo administration, and has failed to save new money despite governing, for the most part, in an era of relatively high oil prices.

The offence that really affects the emotional consciousness of the Nigerian populace has been the story of the shocking kidnap of hundreds of schoolchildren, by Boko Haram.   Although, there were, and are, many political forces at play with regards to this tragic issue, Jonathan’s hapless non-strategy for dealing with the problem has made him appear consistently helpless to confront it.  And yet, just as important and affecting is the sheer lack of progress on electricity despite tremendous promises before the 2011 election; and the manner in which the planned reform of the oil & gas sector has been allowed to stall irrevocably and the draft watershed legislation watered down.

Muhammadu Buhari

Buhari is incomprehensibly ambitious, desperate for an office for which he is clearly incapable.  He has been head of state before so we know exactly what he is capable of.  But, like Obasanjo (successfully) and Babangida (unsuccessfully), he wants to make a triumphant return.  The voters have said No three times already but, still, he asks again, despite declaring in 2011 that he would never do so.

Like Jonathan, Buhari has done what most politicians do: make empty promises.  For example, he promises, in his manifesto, to “Create a Social Welfare Program of at least Five Thousand Naira (N5000) that will cater for the 25 million poorest and most vulnerable citizens”, without stating how he would fund it.  His manifesto also makes some illogical but superficially grand statements, such as a promise to:

create an additional middle-class of at least 4 million new home owners by 2019 by enacting a national mortgage single digit interest rates for purchase of owner occupier houses as well as review the collateral qualification to make funding for home ownership easier, with a 15 to 30 year mortgage terms. This will equally help our banking system migrate from short to long term perspective of their role in sustaining the economy

Buhari, if elected, would fashion out of thin air a new four-million strong addition to the middle class, and the magic tool with which to achieve this would be the compulsion of private-sector banks to forcefully lend at single-digit interest rates?  A significant number of people would become “middle class” simply because they would have borrowed to purchase their homes?  Not that, as a result of greater employment and entrepreneurship, people would be able to afford to purchase their homes, and that economists might choose to tag them middle class?

Promises without a credible way to pay for them or a workable plan to execute them are nonsensical at best! After all, Jonathan promised a lot in 2011, many of which have not materialised! The case against Jonathan is fairly clear i.e. uninspiring and clueless "leadership".  However, the case "for" Buhari remains to be made. It is not simply that it has not been convincingly made; only that it has not been made at all or put more plainly, Buhari appears a thoroughly poor choice for any political leadership position.  Should Buhari win in March, it would only confirm that Nigerians agree with him that leadership requires no preparation, no pertinent skillsets, and no rational policy underpinning. That an un-educated, ostensibly unintelligent, former soldier with no discernible experience of employment or entrepreneurship can, for a fourth time, ask us if he can be president of a ridiculously diverse 180m people, $500bn-plus economy, and receive our assent. And apparently, his only qualification is a disastrous 20-month stint as a heavy-handed, authoritarian military head of state - a position he acquired by forcefully aborting the democratic government of Shehu Shagari and subjugating the constitution (an act of treason no less).  Just to think that but for Buhari’s insolence, we may well have been spared not only Ibrahim Babangida and Sani Abacha but also Obasanjo's second coming.  I wonder what Dele Giwa, Ken Saro-Wiwa and the eight other executed members of the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni people (MOSOP), or the unfortunate, exterminated inhabitants of the communities of Odi and Zaki-Biam would think of that!

A tragedy unfolds

We are watching a tragedy unfold (and, yet, we are “suffering and smiling” our way through it). We have on the one hand, an incompetent incumbent and on the other hand, a ludicrous and ill-suited candidate (one whose very candidacy is shocking enough, talk less of being taken seriously as a leadership contender). But instead of an "Occupy Nigeria" to demand that we want different candidates, that they must meet some minimum requirements e.g. have been in senior leadership positions, no older than, say, 50 years old, and can put forward properly-costed policy objectives and are, yes, degree-educated! After all, Nigeria is a country of mostly young people, who are becoming increasingly technologically savvy, are  (or want to be) educated and who are full of many hopes and dreams!

Now, quite apart from the huge problems that Nigeria faces today, we are also sitting on a time-bomb: a huge and fast-growing population, and unless that size "problem" is converted into an "asset", we are heading for untold chaos over the coming decades. So, in addition to dealing with the immense issues of the day, successive governments need to be planning for the future of these peoples e.g. roads, railway, water, electricity, jobs, education, healthcare, security, housing etc.

The public debate

In our ridiculously low-quality public debate about Buhari v Jonathan (punctuated only by moments of sensible arguments by the likes of Chukwuma Soludo[2] and Jide Akintunde[3]), I have read some people online refer to Buhari as “honest”, “transparent”, “has integrity” and “good record”.  I have even read someone, as shockingly as it might seem, refer to him as having the “best personality” and "loves his neighbour as much as he loves his family and himself”.  Sounds like a mythical messiah to me, but as words to describe the unintelligent, autocratic, heavy-handed major-general who committed treason by aborting Nigeria's democracy in 1983, and under whom $2.8bn of oil money disappeared while he was the petroleum minister and who in the intervening three decades since being deposed has done nothing (not worked, nor run a business nor studied), says more about us Nigerians than it does about Buhari!

I certainly welcomed Soludo's intervention in the debate, especially as it brought the topic of the economy to the fore. Otherwise, I might have been stuck dreaming of increasingly clever ways of keeping myself immune from such base conversations as Muslim/Christian ticket; federal character; "I'm going to eradicate corruption if you elect me"; and whether a candidate for president has formal education beyond primary school!

When the masterful writer, humanist and seasoned anti-oppression campaigner, Wole Soyinka, decided to chime into the debate, I was naturally full of hope that the debate would be elevated even further.  However, I must state categorically that, to a fan of Soyinka, like myself, his opinion piece on the issue at hand, titled: “The Challenge of Change – A Burden of Choice[4] is surprisingly weak on arguments and disappointingly one-sided.  To be frank, I was dejected by the nature of his pseudo-apologies for Buhari’s crimes and otherwise unsuitability.  Soyinka's plea for a “leap of faith” in Buhari's elective favour is, to my mind, entirely baseless. It is without any evidence, even of the circumstantial (and, therefore, dubious) sort.  Soyinka offered no rationale whatsoever for making this leap of faith personally and even less as to justify why the populace should follow suit.   Despite posing the obvious question in reference to Buhari:  “…is there such a phenomenon as a genuine “born-again”?  It is largely around this question that a choice will probably be made”, Soyinka nevertheless proceeds to answer by merely asserting that surely Buhari must-have-would-have changed by now.  If, understandably, the reader still doubts whether our own living legend, the Kongi himself said this, well please read this beautifully-crafted piece of prose-poetry from the article:

It is pointlessly, and dangerously provocative to present General Buhari as something that he provably was not.  It is however just as purblind to insist that he has not demonstrably striven to become what he most glaringly was not, to insist that he has not been chastened by intervening experience and – most critically - by a vastly transformed environment – both the localized and the global.

How exactly has Buhari demonstrably striven to become what he most glaringly was not?  He was not democratic (having bull-dozed his way into power by instigating a coup d’etat against the democratically-elected Shehu Shagari), he was not an inspirational leader able to coordinate a  range of views and skill-sets from others, and he has not been an adherent of secular government in a country of numerous religious affiliations and degrees of non-affiliations.  He was instead an autocratic dictator who stiffened dissent harshly, assaulted and imprisoned thousands of citizens without due process and executed people with retroactive laws.  Have we forgotten how he sanctioned the kidnap, drugging and attempted smuggling of President Shagari’s former adviser, Umaru Dikko, from England?  Or his decision to unceremoniously expel hundreds of thousands of Ghanaians from Nigeria?  So, since there is nothing to suggest that he has striven, demonstrably or otherwise, to become what he most glaringly was not, what proof do we have then that he has been chastened by intervening experience(s)?  He has not been prosecuted or punished for his crimes, and he has never shown contrition for his actions.  In fact, he speaks triumphantly, like a self-appointed saviour, with a natural right to lead us – a reminder of Obasanjo’s messianic zeal.

Is one being unfair to Buhari?  Were his crimes all in the past (even leaving aside the lack of punishment) and has he now been born anew?  Has one under-estimated the extent of Soyinka’s research into this candidate’s present character?  Well, let us examine the evidence.  In February 2015, a few days after Soyinka’s piece, Buhari was interviewed on the American news channel, CNN.  It was indeed illuminating to watch a clear demonstration of the contempt in which this callous candidate holds Nigerians.  When confronted about his past criminal atrocities, and was asked the question: “have you changed or is this what the Nigerian people have to look forward to?”, Buhari mustered a smile and brazenly responded:

Well, all those things you mentioned, with a degree of accuracy of actually what happened, was then under a military administration and while that military administration came under my leadership, we suspended the parts of the constitution that we felt would be difficult for us to operate under in those circumstances.  I think I’m being judged harshly as an individual, that what happened during military administration can be extended under multi-party democracy.[5]

No remorse, no contrition, no apology.  Only that he was a military dictator then and the democratic system we have now wouldn’t permit him to behave like that today; that is, it is not necessarily that he wouldn’t want to.

It seems to one that Soyinka was being pointlessly and dangerously provocative by presenting Buhari as something that he provably was not, and is demonstrably still not.  Otherwise, how do we convince ourselves that a former military dictator of extremely doubtful competence, and yet doubtless heavy-handedness, must have somehow become benevolent overnight?  Such a leap of faith – and since faith refers to blind belief (i.e. belief in the absence of proof), this means a leap into the known-known (Buhari's character), in the hope of a known-unknown (Buhari's reformed character) and on the basis of blind belief – is wilful, wishful-thinking at best.  And yet, comparing Soyinka’s rhetoric now to those which he elucidated in 2007 and 2011 when Buhari repeated his perennial "please elect me" question (having first posed it in 2003), one can only conclude that Soyinka has also (as unpredictable as such may have seemed before now) succumbed to the prevailing irrational condition afflicting a significant and seemingly-growing number of Nigerians at present: that is, the religiously and confidently-held belief that anyone but Jonathan will do.  As though, it could not possibly become worse; and as if Jonathan – incompetent though he is – is the worst leader Nigeria has had.  For the avoidance of doubt, he is not!

In his 2007 article “The Crimes of Buhari - The Nigerian Nation Against General Buhari”, Soyinka was characteristically scathing:

The grounds on which General Buhari is being promoted as the alternative choice are not only shaky, but pitifully naive.  History matters. Records are not kept simply to assist the weakness of memory, but to operate as guides to the future. Of course, we know that human beings change. What the claims of personality change or transformation impose on us is a rigorous inspection of the evidence, not wishful speculation or behind-the-scenes assurances. Public offence, crimes against a polity, must be answered in the public space, not in caucuses of bargaining. In Buhari, we have been offered no evidence of the sheerest prospect of change. On the contrary, all evident suggests that this is one individual who remains convinced that this is one ex-ruler that the nation cannot call to order.”[6]

Then, Soyinka was sure that rigorous inspection of the evidence was required, not wishful speculation or behind-the-scenes assurances; and yet, in 2015, Soyinka says the opposite:

I have studied him from a distance, questioned those who have closely interacted with him, including his former running-mate, Pastor Bakare, and dissected his key utterances past and current. And my findings?  A plausible transformation that comes close to that of another ex-military dictator, Mathew Kerekou of the Benin Republic.”

Now, Soyinka (of all people) indulges in wishful speculation and offers us behind-the-scenes assurances from Bakare (Buhari’s eminently “objective” running mate / vice-presidential candidate in 2011 no less).  Well, one would respectfully suggest that Soyinka make use of the record books to assist any weaknesses in his, admittedly long, memory.  After all as he himself previously asserted, records are kept, in part, to operate as guides to the future; pertinent one might say, now that the future of Nigeria is at stake, the futures of hundreds of millions of hopes and dreams.

Despite this about-turn in favour of the former soldier, Soyinka is nonetheless a deservedly-towering public figure in Nigeria; one that has been willing on numerous occasions to suspend the pen and actually take matters into his own hands to further the cause of Nigeria’s deliverance from the hands of the ruinous cabal that has conspired to stunt its progress.  Recall Soyinka taking over a radio station at gun-point, or spending two years in Yakubu Gowon’s prison for daring to attempt to broker a peace between Biafra and the rest of Nigeria at the time of the civil war, or escaping Nigeria under the threat of death, or his numerous public demonstrations.  So, Soyinka has suffered personally for his bravery, and we must never forget this; we must never let this momentary lapse in judgment detract from a phenomenal life. 

And yet, one must make a mental note of this moment because, hitherto, for half-a-century and much of his adult life, Soyinka has been largely consistent, both in rhetoric and temperament.  As such, his shift in four-to-eight short years is nothing short of seismic, as several commentators have pointed out (see for example Chuks Iloegbunam’s “Wole Soyinka and his seismic shift[7] and Remi Oyeyemi’s “Wole Soyinka v Tokunbo Ajasin: The Ghost of Buhari’s Past[8].

In his defence, Soyinka perhaps mindful that time might yet prove his leap of faith utterly misguided asks us to keep our eyes open:

We must not be sanguine, or complacent. Eternal, minute-to-minute vigilance remains the watchword. Whatever demons got into a contestant to declare the spread of Sharia throughout the nation his life mission must be exorcised – indeed, are presumed to be already exorcised. Never again must any leader ban the discussion of democratic restoration in the public arena. Nor must we ever again witness the execution – even imprisonment! - of a citizen under retroactive laws. This persistent candidate seeks return, but let him understand that it can only be as a debtor to the past, and that the future cannot wait to collect.[9]

In effect, Soyinka cajoles us to make a one-sided pact with Buhari, even when the latter has voiced neither remorse for, nor promises of a non-repeat of, past-transgressions.  Although, just a few years ago, Soyinka lamented Buhari’s lack of remorse and noted the lack of evidence at any type of change in the latter, Soyinka now says we should take a leap of faith…a leap of faith in the hope that Buhari has been chastened by intervening experience, something that was all too glaringly missing from the recent CNN television interview that Buhari did.  Soyinka, a legend in my mind though he remains, has done a U-turn of immense proportions, with no explanation, other than the fact that he has joined the unintelligible “anyone but Jonathan” chorus.

In the event that Buhari “breaks” the one-sided pact that Soyinka recommends, one in which Buhari has played no part or pledged any allegiance (and therefore of which he could, with good reason, argue that non-compliance does not amount to betrayal), Soyinka offers only a meek redress:

If this collective leap of faith is derided, repudiated or betrayed under a renewed immersion in the ambiance of power or retrogressive championing, of a resumption of clearly repudiated social directions, we have no choice but to revoke an unspoken pact and resume our march to that yet elusive space of freedom, however often interrupted, and by whatever means we can humanly muster. And if in the process, the consequence is national hara-kiri, no one can say that there had been no deluge of warnings.”

How can Buhari betray that which he never promised?  After all, as Soyinka himself reminded us in 2007:

Buhari – need one remind anyone - was one of the generals who treated a Commission of Enquiry, the Oputa Panel, with unconcealed disdain. Like Babangida and Abdusalami, he refused to put in appearance even though complaints that were tabled against him involved a career of gross abuses of power and blatant assault on the fundamental human rights of the Nigerian citizenry.

Enough said.


This choice is indeed a burden.  There are no absolutes in choice-making; at least no rational ones.  Choice is about relativity; that is, pertaining to relative merit.  Placed alongside someone even less desirable, an undesirable option would be the better choice.  It is clear that this is what this election had come down to, and therein lays the tragedy for Nigerians being made to submit to a future of woeful leadership and national under-development whichever way they vote.  A real tragedy especially when one considers the moment of historical significance that we inhabit, an era of in which Africa as a whole has a real possibility of a re-birth, of re-rising into being - a chance to recast its own drama, free of the corrosive effects of the heinous actions of Western and Arab interlopers.  A chance, that is, of a recapture of lost lustre.  And, yet, Africa’s most significant economy will, most likely (though I would be most glad if proven wrong), be piloted by wilful incompetence whichever way the election of 2015 goes.  It is this poverty of leadership options, as presented, that the Nigerians, youthful as they are (and, therefore, heavily invested in Future’s outcomes) should be seriously concerned about and should actively cooperate to displace.  Future’s probable theft should bother the Nigerians, should cause them such palpitations that they refuse to acquiesce without a fight.  As the phenomenal Noam Chomsky once remarked:

The smart way to keep people passive and obedient is to strictly limit the spectrum of acceptable opinion, but allow very lively debate within that spectrum.

We are now having a very lively, vigorous even, debate about the relative merits of two candidates with almost equally-perplexing incapacities.  Neither Jonathan nor Buhari possess the emotional intelligence required to govern a country so divided: a nation polarised by wealth, ethnicity, religion, education, access to mandatory resources and language amongst other things.  Admittedly, emotional intelligence does not necessarily come with formal education.  As the ancient Greek thinker, Aristotle, once noted: “educating the mind without educating the heart is no education at all”.

To conclude, let’s call a spade a spade: Jonathan has shown himself to be both clueless in governance, unable to inspire, and also unable to argue his corner in the limited areas of progress under his leadership.  Buhari on the other hand is no better and is, in my view, a worse and regressive leadership option for the position of president of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.  So, what are we to do?  I present three options in order of preference:

Option one: The ideal, in my view, is a wholesale and popular rejection of both candidates and a demand for alternatives from the two biggest parties.  That is, an “Occupy Nigeria” (complete with demonstrations, nationwide strikes and a boycott of the election if the same candidates remain) for an issue that is actually worth the effort, unlike the hugely discredited petroleum subsidy issue. 

Option two:  Since there are twelve other candidates in this election, we should seriously consider one of them, by dispassionately analysing that candidate's merits and vote for him or her overwhelmingly.  That would achieve two things: a) remove both the ineffective Jonathan and the unrepentant Buhari from the fold; and b) bring to the fore someone who genuinely has no connection whatsoever to the small cabal of gangsters that have, for half-a-century, subjugated our nation to their capricious whims. And perhaps, we might get lucky and find ourselves under the leadership of an at-least-average chief executive of the federation. Now, for that possibility, however remote, one is willing to take a leap of faith!

Option three:  However, in the absence of the ideal, and a far-from-ideal choice still needing to be made, then yes, one would keep clueless Goodluck Jonathan in office than risk a terrifically worse version of a civilian Obasanjo, in the form of an even less-tolerant, less-savvy and, yes, less-capable Muhammadu Buhari.

-  Olu Omoyele is the author of the books "Birthing a Nation: Nigeria, A Century in the Making. . ."[10] and "A Plea for Memory", a collection of poetry[11].

[1] Chinua Achebe, “The Education of a British-Protected Child”, Penguin Books, 2009.
[2] Chukwuma Soludo, “Buhari vs Jonathan: Beyond the Election”, Vangaurd, 25 January 2015,  (
[3] Jide Akintunde, “Buhari as Option for the Defeat of Morality and Rationality”, Nigeria Development & Finance Forum, January 2015, (
[4] Wole Soyinka, “The Challenge of Change – A Burden of Choice” Sahara Reporters, 6 February 2015 (

[5] Buhari’s interview CNN's Christiane Amanpour , 11 February 2015, (
[6] Wole Soyinka, “The Crimes of Buhari - The Nigerian Nation Against General Buhari”, Sahara Reporters, 14 January 2007, (
[7] Chuks Iloegbunam, “Wole Soyinka and his seismic shift”,, 9 February 2015, (
[8] Remi Oyeyemi’s “Wole Soyinka v Tokunbo Ajasin: The Ghost of Buhari’s Past, Nigeria Village Square, 14 February 2015, (
[9] Wole Soyinka, “The Challenge of Change – A Burden of Choice” Sahara Reporters, 6 February 2015.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

World Bank Presidency - a question of politics or ability?

As the race for the World Bank Presidency hots up, it occurred to me to drop a couple of lines of my thoughts on the issue. Three candidates emerged for the post:

Jim Yong Kim (United States)

An anthropologist and physician, Dr. Kim emigrated to the U.S. from South Korea with his family when he was 5, settling in Iowa. Dr. Kim, 52, co-founded Partners in Health, a non-profit agency that works in poorer countries, and ran the World Health Organization’s HIV-AIDS program. One of his WHO initiatives successfully treated three million AIDS patients in 2005.

Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala (Nigeria)

A renowned performer on the international economic scene, Dr. Okonjo-Iweala, 57, studied at Harvard University and MIT. Currently Nigeria's minister of finance (a post she held previuosly) and coordinating minister of the economy, she worked many years as an economist at the World Bank, most recently as a managing director.

Jose Antonio Ocampo (Colombia)

A respected development expert, Mr Campo, 59, lectures at Columbia University in New York. He was previously Colombia’s finance minister. He also held senior positions at the United Nations.

Mr. Ocampo withdrew from the race yesterday, Friday 13 April 2012, having failed to win the support of his home government, which reportedly was concentrating its efforts on winning a different international post.

That leaves us with two finalists: the Nigerian, Okonjo-Iweala and the American, Kim.

The American nominee fails on two counts:

a) he's a health expert - whilst health is important to development (development being the purported aim of the World Bank), it is only a by-product, a symptom if you like. Economics is the central aim of the Bank and so an economic expert is required. Further, the complex state of global economics today means that economic policies are what is required at this moment.

b) he's an American. In a world where the forcefully-imposed American economic world order has finally begun its long-overdue descent and several others rising in it's place such as China, Brazil & Africa (note that Africa's economy is larger than even India's despite the latter being larger in size), oppressive organisations like the World Bank and the IMF need to adjust & modernise to maintain relevance or face the alternative: extinction!

That leaves us with Okonjo-Iweala. According to the selection guidelines, which were updated in 2011, the ideal candidate should have run a big organisation and possess extensive diplomatic and multilateral experience. Here, Okonjo-Iweala comes out on top. She has extensive multilateral and diplomatic experience having spent over 20years at the World Bank (most recently as a Managing Director) dealing with economic matters for many south American, Asian, African and Middle-Eastern countries. She has also been finance minister in Nigeria (the 3rd fastest growing economy in the world, after Mongolia and China) twice. As a result, she has a well developed network of academic, political and economic relationships across the world which should aid her in dealing with the challenges an institution like the the World Bank. As a World Bank Managing Director, she led the recent negotiation of the $49bn funding package for the International Development Association (IDA) for the poorest countries around the world. Her credentials for the job are, therefore, outstanding.

Barack Obama's decision to nominate Kim, a non-caucasian person, was predictable and callous. It betrays Obama's subsisting fears and continuing insecurities of being an African in charge of a caucasian-controlled country like the USA. Something that he betrays all too readily in the context of issues pertaining to Israel and Palestine. However, nominating a health expert, as opposed to an economic expert, is disrespectful to the world that the World Bank supposedly serves. If this is the political manner in which the institution will continue to be run going forward, then emerging economies should reconsider their continuing patronage of the institution and consider the possibility of creating an alternative.

Finally, it is time for the World Bank to respond to the major shift in the global economic power (in terms of resources, trade, investment and growth) from the west to the emerging economies of Africa, Asia and South America. The International Monetary Fund must also make this important shift the next time around. The shift is important because the reality facing these two outdated and oppressive institutions is that they must stay relevant (by adapting to the world around them) or die!

- Olu Omoyele

Saturday, January 28, 2012

NAIJA: between progress and chaos

The uneasy and illogical conglomeration that is Nigeria is again, as it has been many times in the past, on the brink of "something big" or as a Lagosian streetsmart person might say, a "big something"!  The question is of course whether what is impending is a big growth spurt fuelled by rapid industrialisation or a big fallout perpetuated in corruption and ignorance and from which a multifaceted and complex war might ensue.

The recent furore surrounding the question of oil subsidy removal or retention has been latched onto by many bloggers & commentators as proof that we, the Nigerians, are standing up for ourselves. That we will no longer tolerate poor leadership. This was of course not the case! People took to the streets because cost of living suddenly shot up significantly as a direct result of the oil subsidy removal. People had to pay a lot more for goods and services which they objected to of course and they blamed the political leadership for it. We did not take to the streets because we suddenly acquired a certain daringness or political savviness. We are a collection of soulful, yet misguided peoples with a penchant for celebration, hyperbole, jealousy, hero-worshipping and acceptance of mediocrity and we are being led, with our consent, by greedy fools.

Some go even further by warning President Jonathan to be cognisant of the recent events in Libya as a lesson and an example of what the people can unleash on his government. It is clear that some of us are suffering from the erroneous impression that popular uprising had anything to do with Gaddafi's assassination.

Please let me merely warn that it is the Nigerians, not Jonathan, who should be most fearful of the fallout that would emanate from an uncoordinated, disparate series of uprisings corrupt in it's very construction & philosophy!

Of course, as I have written previously, Jonathan, like Yar'adua before him, Buhari and the likes, is wholly unsuitable for the office that he currently holds, since he has neither the emotional intelligence nor the courage required for the role. However, since the very counter-productive nature of politics in Nigeria (one characterised mainly by US dollars and gangsterism) only managed to produce a bunch of idiots as the top candidates, the best outcome given the circumstances was a Jonathan victory; and it just so happens that that was what the majority of the people thought at the time.

Nigeria's predicaments must be understood against the backdrop of a complex history, a small but still powerful northern leadership clan intent on making the country ungovernable for Jonathan on account of his ethnicity; growing tensions about a seemingly-faceless but apparently politically-motivated series of bombings; continuing ineptitude in governance; rising socio-economic inequalities; a growing population of exhausted, disenfranchised, hopeless, and unfeeling youth; manipulative power-mad and money-hungry religious cabals and a largely illiterate population forced to operate in the information age.




I want to be all that I can be
To live freely but always on my own terms
The epitome of quiet but lively contentment
Free of ills and insecurities

I want to reach for the highest heights always
Never fearful, nor afraid of my possibilities
To be loved by the world is unimportant
But to be remembered surely is a thing of beauty

The minutes are rushing past like a flowing river
The days are hurriedly melting into weeks
Months morphing into decades
Increasing fear of stagnation amid the rush

I am, of course, but a weary soul
Alternating between irreconcilable firmaments
A mind filled with dreams of glory
Yet littered with lacerations of past pain

I long to become all that I can be
A man with only one limitation
Only one inhibition or bar to greatness
That is, the limits of my imagination

- Olu Omoyele

Friday, April 22, 2011

Post-election violence in Nigeria - what nonsense!

The violence that erupted in parts of Northern Nigeria following Dr Goodluck Jonathan's presidential election victory was truly nonsensical and unbecoming, especially after the election had been adjudged as credible by all independent-minded observers.

The notion that "it must be Buhari or nothing" betrays one of the underlying problems of Nigeria - that individuals and personalities matter and institutions don't. Jonathan should have demonstrated his grip over the affairs of the country, in particular over the safety of the populace, by clamping down effectively on the rioters, not joining the meek responses of the various public figures who have been pleading with the rioters to stop or that Buhari should please call the goons to order. What nonsense! If there was a riot in an area of the South, there would have been an heavy-handed clampdown instantaneously. But in the North, we must tread carefully so as not to upset the sensitivities of the powers that be. Upset them please I say. Otherwise, we are merely saving a much bigger upset for another day - one that none of us is going to find funny if it occurs.

Of course, Jonathan, like Buhari and Ribadu, is wholly unsuitable (having neither the emotional intelligence nor the courage required for the role) for the office that he currently holds. However, since the very counter-productive nature of politics in Nigeria (one characterised mainly by gangsterism) only managed to produce a bunch of idiots as the top candidates, the best outcome given the circumstances was a Jonathan victory; and it just so happens that that was what the majority of the people thought.

So anyone who doesn't like this can go and hug a live transformer!

In any case, Buhari, (like Babangida, Obasanjo, Gowon etc) should be serving a life prison sentence for treason and subjugation of the Nigerian Constitution, not contesting for the most important job in the land.