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Sunday, 28 August 2011

Lessons from Libya

Early on Sunday morning August 21, I was glued to my tv set watching with mixed feelings the unfolding war in Tripoli, which brought a climax to the 5-months conflict to oust Col. Gaddafi after 42 years in power. I have followed the Libyan conflict that started as a protest as part of what we now know as the Arab spring which started in Tunisia. On one hand part of me was happy for the Libyan people achieving their quest for freedom and on the other hand sad to see killings of people and destruction of their country.

I drew some contrasts between what was happening in Libya and what Nigeria needs. Nigeria is similar to Libya in some respects. Libya has been ruled by a dictator for over 4 decades, while Nigeria has been ruled by different dictators for the best part of 30 years since independence. Libya and Nigeria are multi-tribal like there are in many African countries. Both countries have oil in abundance but both have only succeeded in using it to enrich a few. Both countries have fought a civil war; whilst Nigeria's civil war was based on perceived injustice by one section of the country, Libya's ideology was based on removing one man and his family from the power of political and economic oppression.

Freedom comes at a cost and sadly human cost is a huge price they are paying to 'liberate' their people from the shackles of dictatorship. However, most of the country, judging by the events of the last few weeks seem to have kept their tribal differences aside to fight what they see as a common cause. Interestingly, this is where the similarities between both countries end. Whilst I accept we have our fair share of tribal differences but our biggest enemy is corruption perpetrated by the ruling class over the years. The perpetrators cuts across all tribes in Nigeria and you wonder why we have yet to galvanise into a potent force to fight this common enemy. I'm not advocating for people taking up arms and killing innocent people like we have witnessed with the wicked bombing of the UN building in Abuja by the Boko Haram group and similar atrocities committed recently.

What I advocate is a popular peoples' uprising similar to the Arab spring, demanding an end to corruption, respect for the rule of law, job creation and massive infrastructural development that our country lacks. Hanna Azare, the Indian anti-corruption campaigner recently drew lots of nationwide support and in the process drew the world's attention to the endemic corruption in that country. Where is Nigeria's Hanna Azare? When will our Arab spring moment arrive? Maybe I'm being naive or just living in my little bubble but I believe the road to Nigeria's future is littered with great danger as long these questions remain unanswered.

I worry for Nigeria, I really do, with the senseless killings and the lack of leadership response that is expected in times of crisis. Yes, people will say talk is cheap especially when I'm writing this in the comfort of my living room in the west. But let us not forget the power of social media that is increasingly becoming a driving force for change. Let us not forget people power that is driving changes we see around the world. That drive needs to start in earnest in Nigeria unless future generations are doomed to a life of poverty and hopelessness in the midst of plenty.

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Monday, 22 August 2011

Virtues, Values, & Morals

The words values, virtues and morals are fast becoming endangered aspects of our changing society that seem to have more time for what my wife would describe as 'bread and butter', a euphemism for material things. I was having one of those weekend with a bit of a writer's block having being busy working on a research work, but then I took time off to read some of my favourites blogs, with no particular preference I went on to NIL and it didn't disappoint to reawaken my writer's instinct to reflect. Without repeating the story that generated a lot of interest on the blog, it exposed the fading values of contentment which made me to also reflect about the message of the sermon in church on Sunday. The priest reminded us about having a moral compass that is based on faith.

The trouble with morality based on faith is the church itself is becoming morally bankrupt and you wonder how it can continue to be a custodian of a moral code. I'll shed more light on how I think the church seem to be losing the plot ~ it is common knowledge that some churches are in the vanguard of promoting 'prosperity' to a level that has never been seen before. I have nothing against anyone seeking or doing things to have a 'better' life but I have an issue when it is not done in a way that puts things into perspective. I have difficulty reconciling the fact that a man will live in affluence at the expense of some of his followers who live in poverty. Is there not a danger that the messages of values, virtues and morality could well be diluted to promote a more populist message of get-rich or die-hard trying? Sometimes it reminds me of Guyana Tragedy, a movie I watched many years ago based on the November 1978 mass suicide of 913 people at the South American religious "colony" of Jonestown. Perhaps a topic for another day but the point I'm trying to make is that if a part of society that is supposed to be a beacon for moral compass is itself fast losing ground then we do have a problem.

It would be unfair and simplistic to lay on the door steps of the church all of society's problem which is clearly not what I'm doing or intend doing been a christian myself. This is where family and individual responsibility becomes very important. Unfortunately the challenges of modern times leading to increasing breakdown in family values; schools that have been stripped of any power of discipline and good behaviour; and society, both western and Nigeria, I have to say that celebrates mediocrity, have meant that personal responsibility is sadly a commodity that is in very short supply these days.

But I'm hopeful ~ hopeful that we are gradually reaching a tipping point where we need to undo the many wrongs that has led us to where we are. I say this as a father of two young children and also for every child out there, for whom I constantly worry about the world they will grow into. A world on one hand that preaches hardwork and education as pre-requisite for success and on the other hand turns a blind eye to ill-gotten wealth, reinforcing the mantra 'the end justifies the means'. The words of the holy scripture which states  "Train up a child in the way he should go; and when he is old, he will not depart from it." (Pr22:6) are very much still there as a starting point to act as a springboard in restoring values, virtues and morals but ofcourse only if we are prepared to use them.

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Saturday, 13 August 2011

Consumerism: Friend or Foe?

The London riots or what is now known as the UK riots has come and gone but it has left behind more questions than answers for commentators, politicians, pundits and society in general to ponder. A lot has been said and written on the aftermath of the four days of madness that lit up the streets of London with flames of violence.

The focus of this piece is not to repeat what has already been blogged or commented about in various media. However, I want to take a look more deeply into the issue of a consumer culture that was a constant recurrence in most of the debate I watched and listened to. A culture that over time has led to a consciousness to demand and foster an undying desire to purchase goods and services in ever greater quantities. This in turn has created a society where people are increasingly being judged by what they can consume and own. I watched one particular debate where a pundit raised what I consider a valid point; he asked, why wasn't a bookshop raided? Well we now live in a society where what you know is not so important as to whether you own an iPad or the latest 3D large flat screen TV.

In Nigeria, this consumer culture which we often describe as materialistic culture has been around for a while now. There's now the blackberry craze, whereby owning a 'bb' today in Nigeria has now become some sort of status symbol. In fact there was a Nollywood movie made this year I think to reflect this blackberry culture and in stereotypical fashion, women where cast as the villains. Despite my self-imposed protest about what I consider a movie industry that has refused to grow up, I managed to watch this film and couldn't stop laughing. But seriously, I haven't got an issue with new technology, fashion, cars and all the goods and services that are driving this push in a way perhaps we have never seen before, at least in my lifetime.

I have an issue with society's response to the behaviour of people in the way they embrace the sorts of lifestyle that are fanning the embers of consumerism. Like always, I'm more concerned about what we teach our young people and the moral values we set them. I find it hard to understand why some parents are buying very expensive gadgets for children as young as 11, something I see around me all the time. Don't get me wrong, I'm not trying to be judgemental or educate people on what they should or should not buy for their children. The point I'm trying to make is that if we keep giving young people the wrong idea that they can be given whatever they want, what happens when mum or dad are no longer able to do so? Your guess is as good as mine.

We could use these life's luxuries to motivate our young people, making them understand that if they work hard they could stand a chance to own those goods they crave for. I remember sometime last term some of my students saw me using an iPhone and they were like 'sir, how come you own an iPhone?' and I was like, 'I own one because I work hard to able to save up and buy one'. I understand young people are now born into a generation where more than ever before they are constantly bombarded with consumer goods but I think society has a responsibility to make them understand they cannot get something for nothing.

Whilst there is nothing wrong in my view for people to look forward to enjoy these luxuries of life, we should never fail to let the values of hardwork and contentment to get lost in the scramble for what modern day consumer culture seems to be throwing at us all the time.

Consumerism, no matter what side of the fence we sit, is here to stay. It can be our friend but at the same time could be our foe depending on what we make of it.

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Saturday, 6 August 2011

On Domestic Violence and Failed Relationships

I don’t normally write about things to do with relationships and marriage but after watching a recent edition of Insideout by Agatha this morning, I was compelled to do so. They showed a video clip of a woman with severe burns because her husband threw a burning stove on her following an argument.
My heart goes out to this lady and I hope she recovers and get the justice that she deserves. But I want to look at the underlying issues that are challenging relationships and marriages in Nigeria today. I will try as much as possible to avoid viewing it from the prism of one gender or from the blame game that normally characterises discussions of this nature. Where has it all gone wrong for us that after all the fanfare of a colourful wedding what seems to follow is emotional and physical abuse on both sides; perhaps more on the women than men.
My take on this very thorny issue is that we need to look at it from the cultural perspective. Let me make it clear that this is not an attempt to blame culture for where we find ourselves but we can no longer be in denial and continue maintaining our myopic view on an issue that threatens the future of our children’s future relationships. In most Nigerian cultures (if not all), children are raised to think that there is a particular role for the female child usually to do with domestic chores like cooking, cleaning etc while the male child does so called masculine chores like washing the car, mowing the lawn etc. So from an early age we are raising children with the psychological notion that they are different with an emphasis that the female child is subservient. That may have been ok 50 years ago but we now live in a changing world. In a world where we want to embrace western culture whilst keeping hold of the part of our culture that suits us. Unfortunately, that would always going to lead to conflicts and horrible stories like the one at the start of this piece.
We need to change our attitudes if we are ever going to make progress and that needs to start at an early age in the way we raise our children and what we teach them in school. There is no point getting very hysterical or hypocritical when we hear news of domestic violence when it is happening everywhere around us.
A lot of work needs to be done in families. Top on my list is communication. Do we as parents talk to our children about their relationships? How many mothers talk to their young daughters about their boyfriends? Or do we pretend that they don't have one? Even if they don't have one they will eventually do so. How many fathers talk to their young sons about girlfriends? Or are male children given the impression they can do what they want and get away with it?
Our young girls need to be taught that they don't need to look up to a man to shower them with gifts, because in my view that is not the essence of relationships. Relationships are built on love, trust and respect for each other. But sadly, there are far too many young women in Nigeria who are growing up in a society that makes them believe it is a man's responsibility to look after them. Self-worth is lost when individuals are made to believe it is somebody else's responsibility to buy them body cream for example when they need one, I don't think so.
Our young men on the other needs to be taught early on that a woman should be treated with respect and dignity. They should be made aware that a woman is a symbol of love not sex like seems to be the case these days. These messages need to be reinforced in schools, it shouldn't stop in the home. Let us not underestimate the value of schools as a force for social change. To achieve this, I will advocate for teaching of relationship education in our schools. One that is based on a curriculum whose core input are made by parents in its formulation to ensure that the good works that is started in the home is not undone in school.
What is happening today is that some people are under this wrong illusion that when they get married, marriage will change them, no it won't. If your would-be husband is a cheater or abuser, chances are he will continue to do so even in marriage unless ofcourse you are prepared to put up with it. If your would-be wife is a nag or the type that expects you to foot every bill, chances are she won't change any time soon when you marry her.
We need education not blame on both men and women if we are ever to succeed and halt this disturbing but nonetheless growing trend of domestic violence. Women need to be empowered but empowerment doesn't need to start and end at giving them opportunities and education alone. They need social empowerment to  understand they can look after themselves when in a relationship with a man; a point I cannot stress enough. Men also need social empowerment to understand women cannot only be seen but heard and it doesn't make them any less a man if their views are challenged.
The time has come when we need to have an open and honest debate about how we can move forward in our marriages and relationships. The endless blame, accusations and counter-accusations has led us nowhere. Waiting until people get into marriages is a no-no because by that time it is too late. We need to target our young whose future relationships will also be in great danger if we fail to act now.

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