Sunday, 25 November 2012

If a Wild Jungle will not evolve from Nigeria --by Funmi Ajala

In his most popular thesis on the theory of Social Contract, Leviathan; British free-thinker, Thomas Hobbes described the state of nature as a “war of every man against every man”, and one in which life is “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.”

In his trials at explaining the Social Contract, the seventeenth century philosopher was of the opinion that mankind is naturally wicked and egoistic. Thus, the crave for power and prominence which arguably are tools of perpetual suppression and oppression on the vulnerable weak by the domineering strong. He therefore recommended that men should not enjoy absolute privilege of solely taking decisions without recourse to some measures of restraints. He strongly advocated for state control, through an authoritative sovereign, possibly a King. His beliefs were seen by many as anti-democracy and have over the centuries managed to remain at the centre of discourse among scholars in political science across societies the world over.

In as much as the globe has moved-on from the age of Hobbes as evident in the propagation of representative governance in many fragments of the universe, it is also equally germane to note that some propositions of Hobbes’ theories are still haunting mankind, even in the 21st century. In actual fact, men seem to have graduated in wickedness and cruelty beyond any imaginable bounds in recent years as the enunciated legal rope around man’s undue exercise of power appears completely loosened.

Where and what best suites the reincarnation of Hobbesian era than Nigeria, having in mind, events which transpired in different parts of the country over the past months. Perhaps, it would only be tantamount to a testament of emphasis to posit that not all is well with the country, and more importantly, her over 150 million population at this moment. For, the only time in which the country’s 52 years statehood history recorded anything close to what she is facing presently would probably be the dark days of the civil war of 1967-70; though the only noticeable difference being the erudition with which some Nigerians now perpetrate wickedness, with all ease, calmness, and indeed, passion.

In the early hours of Tuesday October 2, 2012, some agents of evil surfaced and struck in Mubi, a town in Adamawa state, northeastern Nigeria, leaving behind them everlasting memories of unprecedented carnage, unjustified deaths, and vicious extermination of innocent Nigerian souls. The venue was a nearby community of the Federal Polytechnic located in the town that had prominently featured in the news for all the wrong reasons of late. In particular, Mubi has been tagged a volatile community due to incessant eruption of violence between insurgent terrorists and government military outfit: the Joint Task Force (JTF) which had led to several deaths. The months-long curfew that the state government slammed on the town was only lifted some days before these life-executioners arrived. But more worryingly, what left Nigerians and the rest of the world awed is the commando-like style of the attack, and the happenings that surrounded it.

Accounts from many eye-witnesses recalled that the Student Union Government (SUG) election was held in the institution on Sunday September 30, 2012; a contest that reportedly pitched two candidates from the north and south regional divides of the country against each other. It was learnt, the gunmen who appeared in military uniform stormed the students’ private hostels at Wuro-Fatuji, a suburb of Mubi, a day after the election and lined-up scores of students, seen as supporters of a certain faction before they were gruesomely executed; some with their throat slit-open with knife, and others were axed to death in cold blood. When the dusts settled, not less than 30 bodies of young Nigerian students were deposited in the morgue. Even the police spokesman in the state, Ibrahim Mohammed, who described the incident as a “mystery”, said the force could not rule “out the fact that the killing was carefully planned and executed.”

As one would ordinarily anticipate, utter condemnations followed from prominent individuals and notable bodies –religious and social –including the Christians Association of Nigeria (CAN), and the Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF), while the school, which became a ghost town in the immediate aftermath of the horrific event shut its gates, till only God knows.

With the nation still riddling in the cacophonic effects of the Mubi massacre, additional pathetic news filtered in and Nigeria suddenly seemed a country in the eyes of a raging storm; this time around in far-away Umuokiri-Aluu, a community in Port-Harcourt, Rivers state, in the south-south region of the country. It was reported on Saturday October 6, 2012 that dwellers of the community captured four male undergraduate students of the University of Port-Harcourt (UNIPORT) who were allegedly involved in robbery earlier on Friday. The ‘suspected robbers’ were said to have been apprehended in possession of a computer laptop and mobile phones belonging to another student in the vicinity. The four: Biringa Chiadika Lordson, Ugonna Kelechi Obuzor, Mike Lloyd Toku, and Tekena Erikena were all subjected to torturous treatment as they were paraded naked round the community before being severely beating and lynched to death by some of the villagers. But unfortunately, this was only half-depiction of what indeed transpired when the orgy lasted.
A graphic video footage, filmed with a mobile handset, soon emerged on the internet showing full-account of the suffering the four young men endured from their fellow countrymen. The gory video, which can only be watched by individuals of no meek-mind, showed how the alleged ‘thieves’ were mercilessly hammered with different heavy objects like stones and tree planks while blood gushed-out of their massively bruised and mutilated bodies. They were drenched with petrol and roped with car tyres before being lit to die in inferno, all to the delight of the perpetrators and gleeful-looking crowd, both male and female.

The ‘horror movie’ sparked wide outrage among Nigerians and on the international scene as popular media dissect ‘Mubi massacre’ and ‘Aluu-4’ mob justice simultaneously. Images of these two incidents became synonymous with Nigeria, at least as far as the first week of October was concerned. To further deepen the controversy, a counter-accusation emerged in contrary to the reference of Aluu villagers. It was alleged the students only went to the community to forcefully demand money owed one of them by another student, whose laptop and mobile phone they later seized due to his inability to pay; they were subsequently accompanied with chants of ‘robbers.’  The rest was history for them.

The sad story refused to go away, even as national tabloids continued to feed the general public with latest updates on the matter day-in day-out. The institution was temporarily closed down as students, in protest, reportedly torched some buildings in the community in an apparent vengeance mission.

At this juncture, it is only prudent to look beyond media-hype and reportage of these disastrous episodes in examining some knotty issues attached to them. Once again, the pro-activeness - or lack of it - of the country’s security agencies, most primarily, the police was called into question by the ‘twin-disasters’ of wholesome proportion. The police never intervened in both attacks, notwithstanding such ordeals took considerable period of time to execute. One would imaginarily expect heavy security presence in a restive environment like Mubi; so, how come nobody tried to stop the slaughtering of over 30 people when it lasted? Was a police station not situated within walkable distance to Aluu for some unscrupulous elements to have burnt fellow human beings to death, even in broad daylight? Or better still, was there no hint or clue to the police that some individuals have taken laws into their hands when the four were being humiliated before being killed eventually?

Another question that begs for answer is the mystery of the proliferation of military regalia, basically uniform viz-a-viz sophisticated ammunitions in the custody of faceless persons. This, in particular, is in direct reference to Mubi extermination. It was reported the assassins appeared in military uniforms and used assorted arms which should not be in the hands of ordinary civilians. The unguided spread of military paraphernalia is a major disturbing trend in Nigeria. The arms have been engaged to execute various nefarious acts in recent time and Nigerians genuinely appear very perturbed, premised on their inability to decipher criminals from crime fighters. Therefore, stakeholders must identify the roots of the malignancy as soon as possible if this senseless serial killing of Nigerians on mundane and irrelevant basis like regional cum ethno-religious alignments would stop anytime soon.

For Aluu murderers, it has been argued in some spheres that the slow process of the nation’s judiciary nay apparent distrust in the police to effectively do justice to apprehended culprits might be the reason for the ‘over-zealousness’ of the mob in the arbitrary and disgusting execution of the four lynched UNIPORT undergraduates. Such a flimsy alibi - it must be stated – has no place in a civilised society which Nigeria claims to be. The extent of the so-called ‘mob-justice’ nullifies whatever pro-argument anyone might want to lodge in explaining the stone-age-like atrocity.

To conclude, one can only expect the reported arrest of some persons in connection with the two incidents yield timely results. Everyone involved in these must be made to dance to the harsh rhythm of the law accordingly. The reign of these felons must terminate now if the optimism of any future guarantee of Nigeria as a cultured entity and not a jungle of blood-sucking vampires would enjoy any iota of belief among the populace.   

Funmi Ajala studied International Relations at Lead City University. He is a prolific writer whose regular insights elucidate topics related to governance and politics.

Sunday, 18 November 2012

The August Lessons of 2012

I always try to update a personal journal of lessons learnt. This year, few days after my birthday in August, I wrote a couple of lessons for the month and thought I should share some of them here with Africa and our friends from other continents.

We never know it all
Knowledge is always evolving and what we need to know keeps increasing everyday. If we choose to stop learning at any point, we are prone to miss out the details. There is always a tendency to think that because we belong to a kind of profession and have read and heard a lot about a particular subject, we know everything about it. For instance, if you took time to considerably study the subject of youth lifestyle five years ago, what you read back then might not be reasonably applicable today. The least we should do is check again or review the previous study. Probe to know more, do not just assume.

Understand where people are coming from
The experience of other people matters. It is a major determinant of who you see in them. The kind of upbringing they had, friends they keep and decisions they have made all contribute to the definition of their personalities. As a person, the next set of goals shapes my persona. Beyond that, my experiences, the churches I have attended and lessons learnt from other people and various books influence most of my decisions today. For someone else, it could be primarily their childhood experiences or a counsellor’s advice that inform their decisions and form their personae. Take time to observe people and discover where they are coming from before forming solid impressions about them.

When to keep it short & simple
When having formal conversations, try to keep it short. Mention the details in a brief and effective way. Except for a few compulsory cases, people do not have the time to read short stories, in your formal memo or internal communiqué. When communicating informally with people whose behaviour has not been ascertained (people who do not know you beyond the radius of a small social circumference), avoid big talk. Keep your grammar and divulgence simple. Flow with the communication structure of the group. Even if the sanguine part of you wants to create verbosity, try your best to cut it short. If you are not comfortable with it, change your group.
Try to keep your sentences short and simple. These days, people can be relatively self-seeking and silently critical. Those who need to read what you write or hear what you say usually ignore it. They either think they do not need it or simply prefer to engage in other entertainment activities.”

Kindly confrontation works
When people do something that you think they should not do, correct them kindly or at least, ask them why they do it in a respectful way. It always pays to find out why rather than just judge people. Unless your job description says you should decry people, do not engage in open or absolute criticism as a problem-solving tool. Nobody likes it and really, it hardly works. Spare the allocation of blames for the jobless and turn your focus to problem resolution. Attack issues not persons.

Assess yourself & your friendships
Evaluate your performance within the context of your plans and justify your progress. If you have had principles about the way you welcome intimate friends into your life and it is working for you, do not stop it. If you do, it might just create a BIG MESS. However, you may seek ways of improving the process and enlarge your network. Screen everybody with the same measure regardless of their status. But, be sure to act humbly. Probe to know why they are getting so close. Do not compromise unnecessarily; human beings are nothing more than who they really are –imperfect creatures consistently seeking perfection through imperfection. Define and regulate your friendships; it is a means of regulating yourself too. As humans, we need upholding structures in our lives. Given the right circumstances, anybody can become a devil.

Confidence is not pride
CONFIDENCE is not equal to PRIDE. Really, I do not know how else to explain this. If you are a confident and meek person, let people see both sides of you and make their choice. If convinced that you are a good person, do not always try to be who you are not because you want to please people. If you do so too often, you will have regrets. Besides, in formal settings, people increase their perception of your efficiency when you exhibit panache and aplomb. No one wants to entrust resources into the hands of a person that cannot wordlessly convince them about their ability to deliver.

Family members should knit
Everybody needs family. Asides friends whom you have tested and truly trust, family is all you can ever trust. If your family does not knit, talk about it and do something about it yourself. Take the initiative. But, if all efforts fail, create a family amongst your good friends. You will always need backup emotionally, socially or financially. If the devil has a family of demons, principalities and the rest and Jesus had a clique of James, Peter and John, then having one or a combo of family and friends is not a bad idea.

Another door will open
If a door you deeply need (not want) to keep open is closing, try your very best to prevent the closure. If the door eventually closes, cry like a baby if you will. Wail like a child if it helps. But, do not do either action forever because time is against you. Time does not understand the meaning of pain; it expects you to heal as early as you can. So, sit up & get over it. Outgrow it and pour your energy into something else. Many times, something much better is always ahead. So, forge ahead. If you don’t, you may lose your chance to find something better. There is always something better ahead. Try to regain your confidence and move on. Let time fade it out.

Give your friends time
As a regular practice, I criticise my closest friends constructively but I never do so without a clear objective. You may be good at something and bad at something else. You do not know everything yourself so, do not put the weight of perfection on someone else. Sometimes, people make promises and break them repeatedly until it becomes a habit. As a friend, it is your job to ensure that your friends are doing what they should do. The job description of friendship includes watching out for other people. Sometimes, friends do what they do not want to do. Be understanding. Challenge them to become better through example. Do not put on your friends, the kind of weight you know they cannot bear. Instead, inspire them. Everyone has a learning curve to undergo. Give them time to outgrow the initial challenges. One day, when they realise your worth, they will thank you for it.

You reap what you sow
Do unto others what you would have them do to you. If you have not been in a person’s situation before, you might judge them wrongly. One size does not usually fit all; everyone has their own size. So, if you seek commitment from others, be a committed person too. You will mainly reap what you sow. When you sow mangoes, do not expect to harvest potatoes. If you sow sex before marriage, you should not be surprised if your spouse gives you a harvest of infidelity later on. When you loot public funds, do not be surprised if in future, theft and robbery consistently befalls some of your offspring. The sow-and-reap theory applies to almost every situation. Oftentimes than not, people reap fruits after the nature of what they sow. Be careful of what you do to affect other people.

Sunday, 11 November 2012

Your Difference is Your Strength (2)

After ending the first part of this article with, the next thing is to play ethical politics…, I was inclined to start this sequel with, playing politics without working hard is tantamount to glorified laziness. While it is possible to increase one’s influence without working hard, the legacy of diligence and purpose of work are defeated when laziness prevails. Hard work here does not mean working laboriously; rather, I refer to the performance of activities that justify the receiving of rewards. It is only when we work hard and politicise (engage our influence, the influence of other people or God’s influence) to obtain better results that we leave a moral legacy. Morality is important because it is a societal system for ensuring equity and common behavioural pattern. However, the evolution of human values is making morality a less promoted ideal in this age. Unlike morality, politics is less important because it naturally exists where people are. Even without conscious promotion, politics will incessantly exist among people. Hardly does anyone live without having to interact with colleagues, relatives or some sort of neighbours who may or may not possess the same level of financial power.

Now, the income factor is a major source of challenge to many. To earn a good income today, we tend to work harder than our grandparents and their own parents did. According to some schools of thought on religious history, Pa Adam was the first man to live on earth. He laboured hard by tilling the soil enduringly, awaiting his harvests amidst fallen sweats and hunting some wild animals in the harshest woods. He had to make his own discoveries. He had to learn that snakes and scorpions are dangerous organisms and millipedes should not be cooked with fresh vegetables. Adam had to differentiate crops from weeds. He even had to discover that before plunging into a river, one should know how to swim and watch out for hungry crocodiles. The man had to be a curious workaholic. But I do not know if he really worked as hard as many adults do these days. Comparatively, my parents had busier lives. My Dad used to leave the house before 8am and hardly returned before 8 o’clock in the night. My Mom’s work was more flexible; she worked from 8am to 4pm but got posted around the country frequently. I know folks whose work involves shifts of more than 12 hours per day or night. Though they are given some break from their work intermittently, the off-periods are usually exhausted on some other kind of work. This particularly happens when they need to increase their earnings or meet up with various financial responsibilities. In Nigeria, for instance, where basic amenities are either absent or poorly available in many communities, individuals have to spend extra money to provide and use them at subsistence levels. These needs further increase their financial responsibilities and arouse the desire to work beyond average levels. Pa Adam was a hardworking farmer, no doubt. But today, there are industrious farmers who triple as marketers and transporters. Now, that’s more hard work.

There is dirty politics and ethical politics. Dirty politics is characterised by desperation, force, misuse of authority, clear-cut deceit, belligerence and mendacity. It is the kind of politics practised by many partisan mafias within and outside Nigeria. Dirty politics exceeds the boundaries of equity, righteousness and order in its approach to attaining core objectives. Contrastingly, ethical politics is qualified by fairness, due use of authority, applied intelligence, confidentiality and regard for law and order. You can combine ethical politics with hard work and leverage on these for increased value and productivity. But first, you must identify your strength from your pool of differentiating characteristics.

Your difference is a lead to your place of strength. Exemplifying with board games, chess is my place of strength relative to my Dad. My Dad beats almost anybody that plays with him in the game of draughts. But, I beat him in chess. I beat my Mom in scrabble anytime but I do not bake as smoothly as she does. So, relative to my Dad and Mom respectively, chess and scrabble are areas of strength for me and they differentiate me.

You must find your difference and think of how you can add some value to your family, friends and the community or nation through it. Create value around this difference and it will become a strength. Find more information about this strength and develop yourself at it. Reverting to games; that I can play chess fairly does not mean I should become a chess player. I have friends who are far better at it. But my ability to play chess fairly suggests that I can think strategically and write in a unique way. Of course, there are ways to create value around these.

Think outside the range of what people who possess your kind of strength have achieved. Create or do something similar or totally unique. Make people realise that they need your product or service. Do it for free at first. But do it as though you were well paid for it. Do it in a way that will make people talk about it. Add some elements of difference and uniqueness to it. Be proud of it. Propagate it. Be the chief campaign manager for the electoral candidacy of your product or service. Continue to seek ways of developing it. And remember to combine all these with strong ethical politics. You will see positive results. As you progress, create a journal of work done (activities, experiences and outcomes). Study it and find ways of improving the interconnecting processes. Share the knowledge with other people. That is how to create a strength out of your difference.

If your place appears in many places, then find a place to call your place per time. Highlight all the things you want to do and identify the specifics involved. As humans, we grow and evolve with time. We discover more about ourselves unendingly. So, asides the things you can do, recognise the things you cannot do and exclude them. Also, identify the things you have to do but do not like to do. Point out the things you may have to change. Then, reconsider the things to be done and create a time line out of them all. Connect the dots between them. Start with the first phase and complete it. Document the lessons learnt. Move to the next phase and complete it. Document the lessons learnt. Go over the subsequent phases in this same manner.

If, for example, you are a medical doctor (or student doctor) who loves creating artworks and writing computer applications, you could create a time line that allows you to observe your responsibilities as a student or practising doctor on weekdays and incorporate it with weekends of artwork creation and vacations and national holidays of writing computer apps. Another way is to start with what brings you the fairest income first before delving into what matters to you most. You can do this by working for a good income on the short term and going for fulfilment later on. Or, you can choose to start with what matters to you most from scratch upwards and fight your way through to breaking even and breaking forth. But you must start at your own level and go at a productive pace. You will face challenges and must be ready for them. The most important thing is to start with a commitment to never give up.

Sometimes, the need to make changes will arise. When necessary, change your plans and update your line of actions. Network with people who can be of help to you within your area of strength and learn from them. They will be of help in challenging times. So, connect to them.  Leverage on your difference and add value to other lives through it. In the end, you will see your difference emerge as a strength.

Sunday, 4 November 2012

Your Difference is Your Strength (1)

Have you ever wondered what the world would be like if everyone was either a farmer or hunter? If we all had to go to the woods in the early hours of each morning to set traps and cultivate something? I mean, what if you were all crop farmers in your nuclear family? Perhaps, your dad would own a cutlass and machete, your mom would own a hoe and digger, you would have a rake and your siblings would have one out of a basket, shovel and sickle each. 
The family living next door would probably be into hunting. They would set traps for bush rats, squirrels and rabbits. Sometimes, your dad and their dad would exchange angry words over the short garden fence, because their dad set a killer trap near the doorstep of your house. He says he wants to kill a black chummy squirrel that often visits the steps in your garden.
Maybe your favourite cousins would be rich fish farmers. They would rear long catfishes and sell to the politicians in Nigeria at exorbitant prices. One day, your younger siblings would tell your dad about their desire to become fish farmers in future.
Your dad would get angry and shout at the top of his voice, “That is an insult! Are you insinuating that we are not doing well in this family? Are you not eating good meals and attending the best school of crop farming? What nonsense!” However, these what-ifs are not the goings-on and we should all drink some gingered zobo to that. If they were to be the case, there would be no doctors to treat the sick, no engineers to build infrastructures, no teachers to instil knowledge, no lawyers to defend you in court, no architects to plan and design and no bankers to keep your money for you. It is therefore obvious that each person bears an element of advantageous difference; a symbol of hereditary uniqueness; and a reason to be respected.
As a human being out of the billions living on earth right now, your strength lies in your difference. It is mainly because we are not exactly the same that we enjoy a variety of services from diverse professionals. From a single neighbourhood, children may grow over the years to become doctors, lawyers, defence personnel, administrators, scientists, artists and engineers. This is a function of career choice influenced by individual difference. However, if they all grow up into just farmers and hunters, who would take care of their medical, infrastructural, social, economic and legal needs? Surely, there was a time when the lucrative job was not an oil and gas job. It was simply farming and perhaps, hunting that made people rich. If I had the chance to time travel backwards and ask folks from the pre-medieval age, I think they would confirm this hypothesis. There was also a time when industrial business and cross-continental merchandise were the most influential job you could have. That happened during the industrial revolution. Those who manufactured and sold steel grew wealth that seemed immeasurable. Andrew Carnegie was one of them. Today, the most influential job you can have is tied to politics or what some writers call "social intelligence". Everything revolves around that subject in this era. If you are a successful person in whatever occupation you are doing, your success is tied to one form of politics or the other. It could be politics in the nation, around the world, among the citizenry or based on religion.

Politics in the nation refers to your influence on the nation or its government. In the world, your cross-border politics allows you to have influence in several countries. Among the citizenry, your politics relates to your influence in winning customers, securing market shares and making people want to or have to buy your products and subscribe to your services. In religion, your politics mainly deals with your ability to win the heart of your object of worship or establish a godly relationship that gives you an edge over shoals of other people. If you doubt any of the foregoing political definitions, leave this weblog awhile. Go and grab a readable newspaper. Find all the influential names it contains. Do some findings about their political relationships and decide whether or not they fall within one or more of the categories mentioned above. I am not trying to not do a wish-wash when I say that the twenty-first century definition of a genius or someone aspiring to be called one is almost inadequate without some form of participatory politics. In this age, if you will find your strength, you must consider the things that constitute your difference. It could be the difference between you and your siblings, your difference within your family, your difference among friends or even within a group as large as a country. Whichever one it is, you must find it and seek one or more means of projecting it in exchange for value. Once you have done these, the next thing is to play ethical politics –the kind that increases your value and adds value to other lives.

To be continued