Archive for February, 2013

Nigerian Women in Politics – When Is It Okay to Play the Gender Card?

February 22, 2013

A story at ThisDayLiveDotCom headlined the ‘Agony of a Woman in Politics’ caught my attention this morning about Zainab Adeniji’s experience in Nigerian politics.  After reading the story several times I’m still unsure how it has anything to do with women in politics except for being the story of a woman in politics. Unless of course there is more that wasn’t reported or she just didn’t say.

The experience Adeniji recounted had nothing to do with gender. So she was asked to pay off the local PDP chair. So was her male counterpart and he did. So she used private funds, all rookie politicians have to. Her experience is typical of Nigerian politicians and politics. Corruption is not gender exclusive or selective. Her claims that men disregard women are nothing new and do not relate to her experience. Unless, like I said already, there is something more to tell.

Quite honestly I was expecting something more salacious than she dished when she said “they warned me not to go to the press.” She didn’t tell me anything new about party politics or Naija. She’s not even the first to tell about payoffs by candidates at the local and state level. We know payoffs go on all the way up to the national primaries.

It seemed to me like she is just a bitter politician crying over sour grapes that now wants to court our sympathy because she is a woman even while she admits she’s not the only one the party treated badly. The reporter tells us she is a widow, her husband was murdered, her children are grown up, and she now needs a permanent healing rest (why does that sound like death?). So what?

Adeniji uprooted herself from her life as a global consulting mental health nurse and came to Nigeria looking for a job without first ascertaining if there were jobs in her sector. There is no demand for drug addict heath care services yet. We’re not so rich yet that we are willing to spend too much good money on drug addicts lady.

Like many repats I guess she thought she could come and ‘create jobs’.  Their idea of creating jobs seems to be lobbying ministers and functionaries, who they bedazzle with flash presentations and fancy language, for  unsustainable ‘projects’ and ‘schemes’ costing millions that sound good on paper but have little if any chance of rooting in the local market place.  I wouldn’t trust Adeniji with my vote.

So the PDP has screwed her over. I sympathize with her as a person and not in this case as I woman. Then again not too much. She invested in a risky business. She lost. So did a whole lot of others men and women. But I take exception to the suggestion that because she is a woman, a mother and a widow whose husband was murdered she deserves special treatment.

That’s not the kind of level playing field Nigerian women in politics need; it just reinforces old gender stereotypes and fuels the Gender Wars. And the Nigerian women’s movement needs to pay attention. We can’t let men, women or the media misuse, abuse or devalue women and gender politics like this.

 

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Practice. Practice. Practice.

February 19, 2013

The Ambassador’s Son

He was young, rich and handsome. He had a big ready smile and a glint in his eye. The ladies stopped him on the street to ask for a strand of his hair. They had never seen anything like him in all their life, not even the adults. He gladly obliged and pulled a strand to present to them.

The ladies were fascinated; and he got more than his fair share of dates and sex. Then one day he fell in love. She was the daughter of one of the local ‘royalty’. She was smart, pretty and the heiress to a fortune. And she was in love with someone the wrong race. Her dad threatened to have her committed. Her mother had to go for a restorative spa to recover from the shock.

They were going to get married. He wrote to his father telling him of his love and his plans. His father, the Old Ambassador, had been recalled home recently; it took 6 weeks for a letter to get ‘home’ and another 6 weeks for the reply to come back. Meanwhile two young lovers feverishly planned their happily ever after.

——–

The New Ambassador and his deputy filled the little love nest with their presence. They faced the young lovers clinging together with stern faces.

“You must go home immediately” the New Ambassador said to Him.

“Why? What’s wrong?”

“It’s your father”

A shock ran through the young man. His father was dead and they wouldn’t tell Him. His father was dead and he hadn’t met the love of His life.  Tears started to roll down His cheeks.

“You must be strong now” the New Ambassador told Him.

That night the young lovers grieved, consoled each other and promised to be together as soon as possible.

In the morning they went to the Embassy. He was handed an envelope with a first class ticket and some cash in it. A chauffeur drove him to the airport.  Dazed he boarded the flight home. He didn’t eat, watch in flight movies or flirt with the female attendants.

He moved desolately through immigration and customs when he landed and walked outside. Suddenly his heart jumped with joy. There was his father at arrivals! He was alive! But just as quickly his heart sank. It must be his mother then. In need of parental reassurance he rushed to embrace his father and walked into a resounding slap that spun him round.

“Give me my passport!” His father, the Old Ambassador bellowed.

“Your passport?” He asked bewildered.

The Old Ambassador snatched away the passport He had just come through arrivals with.

“I sent you abroad to get an education not a wife.”

It dawned on Him why He had been summoned home. His heart sank as he watched his father turn away with His passport in hand.   Without His passport He was a ‘nobody’.

The Young Lovers wrote each other regularly for two years, till it dawned on them that they could never see each other again. He couldn’t go back to Her without his passport and the New Ambassador made sure She could never get a visa to come to Him.  Even the protests Her friends held in front of the Embassy couldn’t make the New Ambassador change his mind.

——–

They met at a class reunion twenty years later. He was married with children. She was still single. She didn’t want to have anything to do with him.  Some of their mutual friends told Him how she had had a couple of unsuccessful relationships after she realized they wouldn’t be together and never had much time for men after that. Even her father had tried to get Him back when he saw how She languished.

He was left with a slight but persistent feeling of discomfort after hearing her story; guilt, remorse, compassion, disappointment, regret? He wasn’t sure. He shrugged it off as best he could, and broke into a wide relieved smile as soon as He saw his wife walking towards him across the room.

Water Water Everywhere But Not A Drop To Waste

February 15, 2013

My first morning in the village and someone decided I needed a bath. One of my considerate cousins took a towel and a tablet of Aesepso and led me to the bathroom which was a large windowless zinc roofed concrete room adjoining the pit latrine set back from the main building.  I was confronted with a full bucket of steaming water to which was added a generous dose of dettol and told to bath.

I closed the door, immediately felt claustrophobic in the gloom, hung the towel on a peg and contemplated what to do. How does one use a bucket of steaming water to bath? It wasn’t big enough to climb into like a tub and it didn’t pour on you like a shower. There was no scoop. I was confounded. I put my hand into the water, it was too hot. But I had been told to bath so bath I will.

I couldn’t speak the language yet and was quite perturbed by the constant entourage of naked black children that waited for me outside every doorway including the bathroom door.  I unenthusiastically emerged some 30 minutes later feeling somewhat cleaner. The bathroom was inspected; the fact that the bucket of water was still almost full but now dirty was noted and commented on with disapproval at how wasteful I was. I had dipped the towel in the water and scrubbed myself down eventually.

I learnt to admire and despise the way the natives use water. The way they would cup their hands to scoop it like a precious liquid without losing a drop while I couldn’t get a sip to my mouth without losing most of it, the way they could use a gallon of water to bath thoroughly while I always struggled to feel clean with two gallons.  How they washed laundry and cooked painstakingly and efficiently on one tenth of the water that I used. Conservation was their way of life.

I thoroughly loathed staying with the various urban dwelling elite and middle class relatives my father used to send me to stay with that flushed their toilets once or twice a day only. They had WC’s and facets but no water. What was the point of that I always wondered. Some still used bucket toilets when I first visited them. At least the pit latrine in the village was kept clean and you peed in the bathroom, and the building was set back so the whole house didn’t stink, just a gazillion cockroaches that live in there to worry about.

Eventually they all realized their various urban water boards were never going to install or restore services and installed boreholes, water pumps, water storage tanks and pressure pumps. I could detect a hint of boastfulness when they announced they now had a borehole in their urban and or rural home or both. It became another status symbol, another acquisition to show off material success.

“We are the elite” they declared as they privatized water resources.

 

Guarara Falls

Guarara Falls

Introducing Agwubuo Duru Abali Pt II

February 14, 2013

The afternoon sun was past it zenith and sinking. The champions danced proudly with the masquerades. They knew they would receive many honors for winning. They had secured the kingdoms bragging rights for next wrestling season. They would be given lands, titles and invitations to join any one the kingdoms influential socio-political orders. They would have first choice of brides during the débutante’s parade.

Debutantes

Debutantes

Lolo Nkwocha was very proud. Her first son, Unamma was one of the wrestlers. He was also the overall champion. She had made sure she apprenticed him early to her kinsman Obinwa, who was a renowned wrestler of her father’s clan. Agwubuo had tried to insist that he train with his cousin, Agumezie but Lolo refused reminding him her kinsmen were ritually bound not to harm the boy.

Agwubuo understood her fear. As a young boy his kinsmen had plotted to sell him into slavery when his father died so they could inherit his father’s vast land holdings.  He was his father’s only son. His mother saved him by running to her kinsmen for refuge.

It was her kinsmen that took Agwubuo, then still called his birth name Achinike to the school where he learnt his magic and paid for his tuition. It is said he was there for seven years in the forest across the river at Owo, attended by his mother and learning the secrets of the cult of Eze Nwanyi.

So when Lolo said she rather their son trained with her kinsmen he understood and let her have her way. Their clan was still a part of his kingdom. His kinsmen grumbled disdainfully that a woman controlled his homestead but only when he was well out of earshot. They feared his anger and his bolts of lightning.

Wrestlers

Wrestlers

Agwubuo watched his son dance with concealed pride. Unamma was a fine young man, strong and bold. The people of the kingdom liked bold men, men that had audacity. The wrestlers danced, the masquerades’ sang, gourds of palm wine were brought in. The lords brought drinking cups out of their raffia pouches, which also usually contained kola nuts, snuff and a charm or two.

Musicians

Musicians

The masquerades finished singing the praises of the gathered men, accepted a goat from the chief priest of the shrine and walked off towards their changing area deep in the forest where they would rest and eat their goat till it was time to make their home visits.  Adolescent boys distributed the gourds of wine to the lords careful to follow the order of seniority; to miss the protocol meant a swift painful knuckle to the back of the head and banishment from the next event.

The shrine priest and his assistants mumbled incantations as they slit the throats of two goats and two chickens, drizzled the blood over the kingdoms symbols of authority, the two ofo’s and at the feet of the market deity, Iziukwo and his female consort Lolo Ocha.  Then the assistants started to clean them right in front of the shrine. A bon fire had already been started.

Royal debutantes

Royal debutantes

The Grinch of Valentine’s Day

February 14, 2013

This year I was the Grinch of Valentine’s Day. I wonder why? Was it because my valentine is far away? Or is it just because we’re older? It all seems like childish foolishness now, trivial, shallow and meaningless. I do remember fondly the heart thumping moments wondering if HE was going to ask me to be his Valentine. I remember the thrill of asking my first Valentine out as I got older and bolder, and the devastating pain of not receiving a card from HIM.  It all used to be cute but I’m old enough to know better now. Besides haven’t I conceded enough of my valuable time and attention to Christmas the biggest annual pageant of consumerism in the world today? Must I endure more of the cheesy insincere crap so soon after?

Right now the only thing that would actually impress me is a very expensive gift since it seems to be just another reason to go shopping. Something very very expensive please, like a diamond tiara, a yacht, a Bentley or a Chateau.  Other than that all this exchange of flowers, chocolates, cards and bodily fluids seems quite pathetic suddenly. We are after all celebrating consumerism.  Chocolates, flowers and cards are the stuff a courting gentleman comes with by the by during his courtship and not just on Valentine’s Day.  And you should have received lots of them on numerous occasions before you even exchange saliva.

Yesterday my Valentine and I had a big blow out over outstanding mortgage payments. Turns out the love of my life conveniently forgot to make his half of the payments for the past 4 months. He probably spent the money for that extravagant Christmas he gave us. Fool! Now the mortgage company wants to repossess. HE wants me to take another advance from my office. I tell him I’m overdrawn already and he gets really mad, and accuses me of hiding things from him. He forgot that he asked me to collect the advance when he needed money to complete the house in the village. How are we going to love each other today?

My Valentine eventually called. HE’s more than 2000 miles and 7 time zones away from here. “Happy Valentine’s my love” HE says. I grunt. “Ah come on baby you know I love you.”

“Yeah, yeah. Prove it. Buy me a chateau in France!”

He laughs. I wonder why he thinks it’s funny. I don’t think it’s funny.

I hang up and wonder if I should go for a drink when the sun goes down. It’s too hot to move before the sun goes down. I know I’m going to get that call, that invitation. I know I’m going to go and have sex after wards and then pray HE doesn’t get clingy or mushy. I like to maintain an aloof composure after casual meaningless sex. I was on my way out the door later when I saw them. I froze and an involuntary sound escaped my lips before my fingers could reach up to silence them. Whether it was in fright or delight I cannot say.

There were ten men and women wearing blue overalls standing on the pathway leading to the front door. Each one held in out stretched arms a huge square box tied up with red ribbon. The foreman stood nearest the door and had been about to ring the bell when I came out.

“O” I cried again as if the sound were being torn from my throat. “From who please”

“From your husband ma’am”

“O!”

 

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Agwubuo Duru Abali (Character Development)

February 13, 2013

The masquerades came towards the market square. Drums pealed through the air, gongs of different sizes boomed, the flute sang their praise as they proceeded. In the green and brown of the jungle their bright feathered costumes and baubles flashed like gaudy birds of paradise. The wrestlers were home from a competition in the neighbouring village. They had represented well proving Umuaka’s superiority to the neighbouring kingdom of Okwudo.

Women and girls hid in doors and cooked.  There would be a feast later. The masquerades after dancing in the square would visit the homes of titled men and had to be offered presents and refreshments befitting of spirits.  Special treats that only they and the titled men were allowed to eat on fear of instant death or madness.

Dancing

   Dancing

 

The hustle and bustle of trade and commerce in the market was absent. In the clearing in from of the market shrine the lords of the land, the titled ozo men sat on stools their pouches slung over knees and backs of their tripod seats brought for them from home by a juvenile male of their homestead. Their bodies twitched to the rhythm.

Only Agwubuo stood out. His pouch was hung from his walking stave which was suspended in thin air. His magic was legendary and he was feared in all the four kingdoms on banks of the Njaba River. He had acquired magic at a young age and had built a fearsome reputation for himself. When he got angry he would cross his ankles and strike the offender dead with lightning. Nobody made him angry if they could help it.

Opposite the lords the wrestlers and their coterie of friends and hangers on danced in the sun. Goats bleated and chickens squawked near the entrance of the shrine. There would be a barbecue after the animals had been ritually sacrificed and the men would eat meat, a rare commodity that only men ate regularly.   The head of all four legged animals sacrificed in the shrine hung from its thatch roof above the two carved deities, one male and one female.

Diety

Diety

There was also at least one human head from the days long ago when the Aro dedicated the shrine and ensured a steady supply of slaves that they sold down the coast. After decades of slave raiding the kingdoms had fortified their borders and their armies and it became increasingly difficult to get the usual quota of fit slaves.

The Aro, who controlled access to the interior by the coastal tribes and held inland tribes spell bound with the magic of their Long Juju, dedicated local shrines that administered justice and spiritual cleansing through the dedication of people as slaves, or Osu. When the slave ships docked in Kalabar or Bonny the shrine priest would predict the need for some sacrifice or other, round up some Osu and send them to Aro with an escort.

The local escort, mostly simple minded folk that followed orders, would be bedazzled by all sorts of magic illusions and tricks. They would report they had heard the voice of the deity accept their ‘gifts’, and the screams of the sacrifices and saw their blood flowing downstream from where they were killed. But all the Aros killed was a chicken and trotted the slaves off to the ships.

As the masquerades came into the square they lunged at the assembled lords and started singing the praise names of each of them accompanied by the flute. Each lord came out and danced to his praises before sitting down again.  They were praised in order of their seniority, the oldest first. When Agwubuo’s turn came he got up and his staff and pouch followed him jerking as if in a dance too. Everybody was in awe.

He knew the magic of the Aro, they had not fooled him.

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Introducing Agwubuo Duru Abali

February 12, 2013

They sat in the Obi or reception hall overlooking the main courtyard of their homestead. The moon was waning. Crickets shirred. Agwubuo leaned back in his recliner while his Lolo perched on a stool close by poking at the local pears she was roasting for her husband in the dying embers of the hearth.  It was late and most people were asleep.

The reception hall was a broad thatched roof on trunk pillars near the gate of his very large walled compound. Agwubuo was a rich man. His household supported many people. Many wives, many children, many slaves and servants; he needed many hands to farm his many lands.  There were a great many huts behind his Obi and personal quarters.

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Lolo, his first wife was his lieutenant, his trusted right hand in the never ending battle to protect what they had from those that would take it away from them in their jungle.  Together they managed his vast holdings, and positioned their children to manage them successfully in the future.

Lolo scooped the pears out of the embers, dusted them off and passed them to her husband. He liked pears very much and he loved Lolo because she knew and pleased him.  Agwubuo was a titled lord of the land. The ritual requirements of his status meant he could only eat food specifically prepared for him by a wife.

This requirement was supposed to reduce the risk of poisoning, a very high risk indeed in Agwubuo’s kingdom where title to land could only be inherited. Big land owners became lords and everyone wanted to be a big land owner. These lords were called Ozo, and members paid a hefty price to join. Only the rich could afford too. The council ruled the kingdom nominally led by the eldest member in an otherwise participatory parliament.

This ritual requirement had presented a challenge when the lords travelled abroad but it was quickly solved and whenever they travelled away from home their hosts would give them a wife for the period of their stay to cook for them. Quite a few of these temporary wives became pregnant. They were quite happy that a lord of the land had sown his seed in them too. They boasted what superior blood their children would have.

None of this worried Lolo of course. She was his first wife. Her position was inviolate. She was the real head of the household, her husband’s roles were farmer, community leader and spiritual healer, the only thing he controlled was the planting of the yams. It was Lolo that ensured the homestead of over 300 people, co-wives, children, refugees, orphans and young male workers indentured to her husband ran harmoniously and everybody knew what they had to do.

Besides because Agwubuo paid no dowry for his temporary wives the children that he may have sired for them did not belong to him but to her father or to whoever had paid her dowry. So there was little chance that they would come and confuse the succession or claim a right to inherit land. Lolo had given birth to both the first son, Okpara and the first daughter, Ada further consolidating her position.

They were both young adults now, long past the danger of death faced by the little children.

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Introducing Lolo Nkwocha, Agwubuo’s Wife

February 9, 2013

I am Lolo Nkwocha. I am Agwubuo’s first wife. When the elders came for the scheduled Afor day meeting my husband called me to greet them and bring him kola to serve them.

I curtsied to Agwubuo and stayed on one knee as I hailed him

“Okwara-Agu my husband, Our Father, may you live long o”

“Right Hand of Her Husband, may you also live long my wife” he responded and tapped me on the shoulder with his staff.

I got up and turned to the council and called each by his praise name.

‘Lolo, Wife of Agwubuo thank you. How are you and the children?”

“They are well my good Husbands”

“Go get us some kola. I do not have enough in my pouch”

“Right away my Husband”

It was a short distance from the Obi, or reception hall to my hut. After all I am the first wife.  I always keep a large stash of kola nuts wrapped in banana inside a small covered clay pot. My husband is an important man and he always has visitors he cannot run out of kola and as a good wife it is my duty to ensure he never does.

After I gave him the kola I took a low stool under the eaves of the Obi closest to my hut. The men couldn’t see me but I could hear everything they were saying. It was the Market Day, most of the other wives and the older children weren’t yet back from the market. I come home early because I sell my wares wholesale.

I listened to the old men of the council talking with my husband. They spoke of how the white man had deposed and exiled King Jaja of Opobo. No one knows where they took him. The rumor is they sent him to the place they sold all the slaves they bought from him.

My husband and the council are worried. The white man has no respect for the authority of the black man. If our kings and elders do not agree with them they kidnap them and send them away from their people. Then they place the slave raiders in authority over the people forcing them to accept their terms and conditions.

Agwubuo wonders what will become of our kingdom? I wonder too. The white man wants to control the people trading, they think our traders profits are too high.  They give the oil traders 4 manilas for a jar of palm oil and slave traders 10 manilas for a fit slave. We don’t know how much they sell them for in their homes far across the sea but we hear they are stupendously rich and live in tall large houses in cities 100 times bigger than the cities on the coast where the Water People live. Why can’t they let everyone enjoy the Market?

The men of the council are sounding more and more agitated as they speak.

 

 

Good Girls Don’t Get Raped

February 6, 2013

As a student at Imo State University in the 80s I used to hear stories of retributive gang rapes of uppity female students. Somehow they always happened to other girls on other campuses. I listened in wide eyed dis-belief.

It was like a morality lesson for young women: rape was punishment for bad behavior, ‘only bad girls get raped’. If you got raped you must have been ‘bad’. It was the boogey man that ‘kept us in line’ and working real hard at appearing to be ‘good girls’.

We weren’t of course. We went to parties, drank alcohol, had premarital sex and wore sexy clothes. I wonder how many of us didn’t resist or report a rape because we thought we deserved it. Some how. And then eventually convinced ourselves that it wasn’t really rape, that we ‘consented’.

You know you didn’t want to, you said you didn’t want to but he just ignored your protests and went ahead anyway. You’ve known him for awhile, maybe you were even thinking of ‘going’ with him. Maybe this was your first date with him. Maybe everyone says he’s great. Just that you weren’t ready.

How many of us went on to date the guy? I read online one girl is engaged to her rapist. I don’t agree with her choice but I do in some crazy way I think I know how she justified it. One of those things you hear. ‘We’ve done it already, we might as well do it again’.

Almost 20 years later a woman reported a rape at the FIDA branch where I was a member . She was a practicing medical doctor in her early thirties. I noticed she dressed conservatively because I don’t. Dress conservatively that is.

She described how she had gone on a date with a man who took her to his house, drugged her and with his flatmate spent the night raping her. The police did nothing. She came to FIDA for help. They asked ‘what was she doing there in the first place drinking alcohol?’ and dismissed her.

If you get that attitude from a bunch of female lawyers what can you expect from the police?  Its really not surprising to hear the Assistant Commissioner of Police in Abia State Mr. Micloth say the young woman we watched getting raped on the internet either ‘deserved’ it or ‘consented’. Outrageous yes, but not surprising.

Good girls don’t get raped.

Is Rape on the Rise? Or Is It Women’s Activism?

February 6, 2013

I’ve lived in NIgeria long enough to be abe to say that the attitudes and behavior on sex, women and rape have been consistent over the past 30 years. What I think is that there is increased reporting and increased outrage from a growing middle class fueled by increased women’s activism.

That’s considerable progress. The efforts of the past 10+ years have not been in vain. The Nigerian women’s movement has had an impact. There is still so much more to be done but we can look back with a sense of accomplishment as we plan a new strategy.

I read that traditionally in some communities the penalty for rape was to compensate the father of the victim or marry her to her rapist.  A lot of research has done by Project Alert and CIRRDOC into the corelates of various forms of violence against women.

Women are beginnig to speak up and speak out, and the media is picking up their stories. Like this one from Enugu about a group of women that said enough is enough to male impunity. The ABSU Rape Walks in Lagos, Abuja and Abia last week were successful despite disruptions. They certainly rattled the police.

Now we need to make the law work for them.  How we do it is the next big challange.