Archive for June, 2017

A Review of Oluremi Obasanjo’s Bitter Sweet: My Life with Obasanjo (From The Archives)

June 25, 2017

December 10, 2008 at 10:25am

OLUREMI OBASANJO: PORTRAIT OF A FEMINIST POSTER GIRL?

By Lesley Gene Agams

A privileged idyllic childhood, a precocious adolescence and a striving dogged socially conscious woman. That is the sense I get of Oluremi Obasanjo from her recently released book Bitter Sweet: My Life with Obasanjo. Although she often comes across as naïve, gullible and coarse there is no masking the raw ambition and sense of achievement lurking covertly like a cunning animal.

Bitter Sweet offers a rare insight into a young girl’s life in pre independence Nigeria. Her story of going off to Lagos with only a female cousin was a surprise, as was her sneaking away from an event in Ibadan to visit her beau’s house. Even more astonishing was her un-chaperoned trip to London to meet Obasanjo before they were even married. It’s rare to hear such honest accounts about young women of that era enjoying such freedom. To hear it told by the social matrons, back in 1950 all girls were on chaperoned lock down till their bride price was paid and rings on their fingers.

Oluremi’s story also offers important insight for the Nigerian women’s movement and victim’s activists all over the world. It provides a rare viewpoint into the psyches of a high profile domestic violence victim and her equally high profile abuser. The question ‘why do victims stay?’ is one of the most contentious in academic and legal literature on violence against women globally. There is no agreement as to the dynamics but there is a growing recognition that victims cannot always exercise agency and walk away. This is a rare portrait of a narcissist, his codependent and their traumatized and troubled offspring.

Here we have the unfiltered voice of a victim and an abuser known all over the world. This isn’t the transcript of a case study interview where the interviewer asks leading questions or a counselor offers culturally biased speculation about the motives behind an anonymous patient’s experience. We have a cultural and social context that provides incredibly rich information. A number of commentators have compared it to a Nollywood script but this is not fiction. Why did Oluremi stay? Why does she still call this man her husband and ‘the only man I have known’?

Her story is significant because of who she was married to, her experience with Obasanjo is the experience of millions of Nigerian women. Thanks to her book we may be able to bring attention to their stories and begin a rational discourse on violence against women and domestic violence, two issues that have failed to enrage the Nigerian public or engage the Nigerian media. Oluremi is just one of the lucky ones. Apollonia Ukpabio endured 25 years of escalating violence till her skull was cracked open with a machete. Miraculously she survived. Her husband is on trial for the attack. Why did she stay? She believed God and church wanted her to protect and defend her marriage no matter what. Others have died.

The challenges of being married to Nigerian elites are especially made obvious in her narrative. It’s the story that does not get told, the male entitlement, the female consent and often the mutual infidelity. It’s really difficult to complain when living a really privileged life in a really poor environment. I know many a Nigerian matron that felt Princess Diana should have put up and shut up. The ‘old school’ belief is that a woman should marry for economic security not love, and if it’s companionship you crave find it with the women and/or your children. The wisdom of the matrons for a woman thinking of leaving her husband is territorial– don’t be foolish, why leave your turf for some other woman to take over? Fight for your matrimonial haven and sanctuary. Oluremi had a lot to fight for.

For me one of the more disquieting revelations of this book is how powerful and rich men are manipulated to accept and expect exploitation through their sexual extravagance. According to Oluremi, Obasanjo’s aunt became one of his ‘pimps’ and weak minded male that he was “he abandoned his Lugard quarters for five days because he didn’t want a divorcee, who was even a mother of two. Later, he gave in and the woman had a child…” I know people like that, they will never go to see a powerful man without ‘an offering’, usually a young pretty girl. The most disgusting personal encounter I recall was a middle aged couple that brought their 15 year old daughter dressed like a hooker to see a certain big man they wanted a favor from. I was there. I’ve often wondered about the ‘powerful’ men that fall for that one.

All families are dysfunctional and some may seem more dysfunctional than others but it seems too much of a coincidence that Obasanjo’s narcissistic, high risk behavior and mood swings only emerged after the civil war. Could he have been suffering from post traumatic stress disorder? This is not uncommon in soldiers, even Nigerian soldiers. I handled a divorce case a while back, the husband, an armed forces man, had just returned from an active mission and was exhibiting classic symptoms of PTSD. The administration couldn’t offer him any help. He refused to admit he had a problem, his wife did not know how to handle it, his marriage collapsed under the strain. He reacted pretty much the way Obasanjo did, contesting custody, refusing to pay child support and becoming increasingly abusive; contemporary Okonkwo figures, tormented, paranoid and insecure, things falling apart around them.

All that being said there is a lot that makes me uncomfortable about this book, it’s no master piece but its not meant to be. I found Oluremi’s total lack of self consciousness very disturbing, she seems to be saying of course I slapped that girl and of course I bit that woman and of course I made embarrassing scenes and even fought a truck full of soldiers, like it’s all normal. I found that eerie. The scene on page 66 where she attacks Mowo Sofowora, like a frenzied mother hen and then having fended off the interloper, clucks protectively around her chicks is totally dissonating and disturbing. All narrated like it’s totally normal, there is no moral debate as to the appropriateness of action. She is not the only female (or male) I know that considers her response to this sort of ‘provocation’ perfectly normal and unquestionably right. I find that frightening and sad.

Even more disturbing evidence of a venal, anachronistic world view was her calling Murtala’s ADC the day after she was informed of her child’s death and being morbidly counseled to see the incident as some sort of answer to her prayers to be back in Obasanjo’s house. Just access to this ‘big powerful man’ who happened to be the-father-of-her-children-who-he-had-custody of had become a goal. Her disappointment and resentment towards her sister in law who precipitated her hasty ouster five days later seemed to coldly over shadow her grief at losing a child. Her insecurity is overwhelming; she is willing to forgive Obasanjo the death of her child but not his sister. Her apparent devotion to him despite everything borders on an obsession. Is she a cold ruthless woman or the traumatized victim of a narcissist?

Then there was the bizarre description of their courtship, she presents herself as a passive and entitled recipient of Obasanjo’s courting. He wrote her letters, sent her books and gifts and eventually she said yes. Surely that’s not the whole story. What exactly did the shoeless son of a village drunk say to the spoilt railway master’s precocious daughter that convinced her that Obasanjo was worth waiting seven years for? It’s obvious he was a man on the fast track to power but Oluremi’s narrative while indicating that does not provide any insight into the motivation for any of his actions. Why did he want to study geology? Why did he change his mind for a military career? Is she absolving herself of all responsibility or did she really not know? Or is she just not telling? Loyal to the bitter end?

Whatever her motives for staying or for telling her story now Oluremi did not deserve the treatment she received from her husband. No man or woman deserves abuse and violence, and all women deserve the right to say to the man they married ‘I can’t live with you anymore’ and still be humanely treated with their children as Nigerian citizens protected by a constitution. We need to stop the abuse. We need to break the cycle of violence.

I have reaffirmed or learnt a number of things from reading this gripping account of lives interrupted;

1. There is an urgent need to review the Matrimonial Causes Act and extend its jurisdiction to women married under customary law; it is an archaic piece of legislation that offers little protection to women considering divorce or separation and their children. The customary law systems that the majorities of woman have access to in Nigeria are heavily biased against women and make seeking separation or divorce traumatic and humiliating.
2. We desperately need to introduce parenting skills to our education curricula. Children are often at greatest risk of long term harm and damage from their parent’s ignorance. Teaching children parenting skills is as important as teaching them to say no, zip up, life skills or whatever else we choose to call sex education. Teaching them religion is not enough.
3. The Nigerian armed forces need to increase their transition support for veterans returning from war, especially the psychological support they provide. Wars are dehumanizing and brutalizing, veterans and their family members need assistance re-integrating after prolonged exposure to the violence and brutality of armed conflict and barracks life.
4. Nigerian media need to learn how to write more sensitively about women and women’s issues. Most of media commentators including female commentators brushed aside her story and condemned her for telling it. Stark testimony to how such tragedies can play out to an inevitably sad outcome while hidden in plain view.

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You Are What You Eat III

June 11, 2017

Breakfast is usually coffee and a cigarette. I know I know. I’m full of contradictions like that. An otherwise sensible healthy lifestyle and then coffee and cigarette for breakfast? Deal with it.  I even wrote a poem about it to capture the feelings of goodwill and joy my breakfast brings me. It sucks when your a poet and writer, because everything is an epic.

I keep a tin of Nescafe in the cupboard as a tribute to days gone by when it was all I knew otherwise its got to be freshly brewed. There’s nothing like freshly brewed coffee but avoid those American blends (like Folgers and Maxwell House). They’re rubbish. Lavazzo is good. Brazilian coffee IS the best in the world. Trust me. And learn how to prepare a Lebanese coffee from Najjar. You’ll thank me. Since my first cup of freshly brewed Lebanese coffee I have been obsessed about coffee and sample coffee from all over the world. (I also sample beers all over the world on my travels.)

While the most popular beverage in Nigeria is probably still Lipton Tea, coffee consumption is on the rise and more variety and competition is arriving on the market. We no longer have to drink Nescafe crystals in the name of coffee. Take a look at how instant coffee is made is made.

Because I’m mostly sedentary, after ‘breakfast’ I only snack on fruits before noon if I feel hungry (usually I don’t), when I mindfully prepare a generous brunch. Then I have a light easily digestible dinner around 6pm. I never eat after 7pm. Dinner used to be my primary meal of the day. It was my reward for a hard days work, and I because I was rarely at home at dinner time I often ate out. That’s all changed now that I follow the Ayurveda energy clock. I also work from home now and have found great joy and well being in cooking for myself. Its a ritual of self love.

I do this every day except at the Full Moon.  Or when I am travelling. Or appearing in court. When I’m travelling or in court I eat a nice filling breakfast, one that pacifies my dosha. I’m a vata and get easily distressed by travel and noisy crowded places so eating a nice soothing meal beforehand makes me less cranky and less anxious. It helps me relax and feel grounded. You can read more about feeding the vata here.

What’s this about the full moon you may be wondering. Well the full moon is the one time a month that I allow myself to eat foods that I enjoy but that are not recommended for my constitution and need to eat less of. Like bread, pasta, a full English breakfast, a double cheese burger with bacon and a fried egg, cheese cake, black forest, red velvet, pizza! Lasagne, a steak. Apple pie a la mode. Egusi soup. Ice cream! You catch my drift. I plan it very carefully. And I choose the accompanying wine (or beer) even more carefully. It is something to look forward to I tell you.

All that said I’m so glad I ate anything and every thing and at any time and had eating disorders during my misspent youth when my digestion was strong and could handle it (although it did fuck me up eventually.) Of course I heard some people age without these problems, good for them. I’m not one of them. If I eat two square meals a day I add weight. One square meal sef. Blame it on the Menopause. I tend to blame all the changes on the menopause nowadays. Must tell you that story.

Its either eat less or spend an hour or two in the gym sweating and huffing and puffing and I do not like sweating and huffing and puffing. Its a vata thing.

I look and feel better than I have in more than a decade. So I must be doing something right.

Photo on 13-05-2017 at 16.50

Travel in Africa – From The Archives

June 10, 2017
NOTES FROM GHANA – June 10, 2008

Having had a day to decompress and a day to catch up on dull routine office matters I can sit back and reflect on the past few days. Ahhhh…what a life! What a rat race. Rushing from pillar to post as my old folks back home would say.

First of all I am moving to Ghana as soon as possible. They took the pill, and now it all seems possible in Ghana in a way it does not in Nigeria. There is a confidence in the air; the desperation of Naija, that hard hungry prowling menacing edge, is absent.

I never could define it before.

There are about 23 million people in Ghana, we last elected a fellow there in 1995, that was 13 years ago, by Ashoka’s formula there should be about 20-26 social entrepreneurs at different stages of their life cycles just waiting for me to find them.

When I got to Ashoka fellow L’s house on my first day the power was out in her neighborhood. She kept on apologizing and saying ‘This sort of thing does not happen here; they tell us if there is going to be an outage’. Turns out there was a breakdown. No body in the neigborhood had a generator. They quickly ran out of candles at the local stores.

There was no lock on my bedroom door, not even a door handle actually. Now that was freaky. I know I sometimes I forget to lock my door at night but to not even be able to close it! And the gates didn’t have padlocks and the door opened to the outside. Eventually I shrugged and went to bed, this is Ghana I guess. Since I’m writing this now I didn’t get attacked by robbers or pyschos.

On the drive to Lucia’s office in the morninng I couldn’t help but notice Guaranty Trust Bank ‘s billboards everywhere, they were the largest on the streets, offering 4 types of VISA credit cards. I bank with them in Naija. I’m still trying to activate my MASTERCARD debit card almost 6 months later.

They even offered a students credit card. I remember some customer service clones at my Naija branch takling down to a teenage student that came to open an account. They were totally unhelpful, I think they sent her away. I remember telling Maya about it.

I find it a bit disturbing to see 21st century Nigerian bank workers, they tend to look like a witches at a murder inc convention or vultures at a feast maybe. Their painted on faces and their conservative uniforms inspire pity not confidence. At least when I worked ever so briefly for a bank we still expressed some individuality of personality and style.

I had scheduled 4 two hour interviews; one called to reschedule for Saturday morning. The first 2 went great then my hostess took me home and over fed me. Yes that’s right she held a gun to my head and made me clean my plate. Thankfully I had an extra 2 hours before my next interview. I took a power nap in her very comfortable armchair.

Site visit on Saturday took me into the market, where ‘the people’ are. The crowds were overwhelming but valiantly I waded through the press of humanity to get to the drug store where I would be shown this great new idea in action. People kept on dumping into me or me into them, I slung my laptop bag in front of me and marveled that no where else in Africa have I felt so comfortable lugging around a laptop.

I didn’t read a local newspaper till the last day, I’m not sure why, Lucia had them delivered at breakfast every morning but on Sunday after a long brisk walk and a cold shower I took one to read. The Daily Mirror had frontline stories of female gospel singers and their marriage troubles.

I was astounded reading the stories, they were woman friendly! They did not condemn these women for not enduring abuse and unhappiness! They did not say or imply that these were selfish women undeserving of heaven and the fruits of wedded bliss that endureth. A father was actually quoted as saying he was happy his daughters marriage was over.

I brought the paper back as a souvenir even though I used it to wrap the ‘black pepper’ sauce that Lucia had made for me. (Delicious!) Framing it might be extreme; one of our candidates this year that is creating exclusive communication platfroms for women to discuss politics and current affairs from their prespective starting in Ghana.

I remember my total frustration when I lived in south east Nigeria and wrote for a local newspaper. I wanted to write articles to inspire and sensitize women. The publisher/editor wanted me to cover the worst and best dressed at social events. I had one regular reader that I know of (she told me she looked forward to my column). She was a professor at the local university.

Another candidate (this time a Nigerian) is using humor in popular lingo, slang and even pidgin English to inform the people about thier legal rights. A lot of them don’t know that …your landlord can’t kick you out on the street without due process or that you can’t be arrested or searched without a warrant or that they can’t sack you becuase you are HIV positive.

Perhaps these candidates can collaborate. Perhaps I can inspire and sensitize in a style accessible to the many. Perhaps we can all acknowldege in deed and word that the majority in the developing world do not hold college or university degrees without treating them like simpletons. Perhaps we can change the world. As a matter of fact, YES WE CAN!

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Accra, Ghana (Photographer: Unknown)

So I Went To See Wonder Woman…I Wasn’t Impressed

June 10, 2017

Fine girl. Fine boy. Lots of reviews hailing it as a feminist revolution. And lots of reviews calling it a feminist flop. So why wasn’t I impressed? I’ve been looking forward to this movie since last year.

Apparently I’m not the only one. Christina Cauterucci at Slate wrote:

I wondered why I’d come into the movie expecting some energizing woke-feminist manifesto instead of a film that stars one sexy woman surrounded by throngs of horny men

Pretty much how I felt.

I was hoping Wonder woman would bring some extraordinary insight into our notions of masculinity  – I mean seeing as she had never seen a man before meeting Steven but all she had to say was ‘Are you typical of men?’ and apparently referring to his penis. Seriously? And then she falls in love with him. Why? Other than his pretty eyes and ‘above average’ penis?

The most feminist thing about the movie maybe its female lead, its female director and its female only screenings. It’s full of sexist comments by male actors while featuring no sex at all, very ladylike fight scenes and apparently it’s fuelling Jewish/Arab conflict because the Gal Gadot is Jewish even if Wonder Woman isn’t.

Diana herself is so naive I’m not even sure that she should be a role model for young girls. It plays to the female saintly but strong trope I find rather questionable and I find it hard to reconcile with the very overt sexualization of her image. Its still the old Madonna versus the Whore narrative, just slightly tweaked.

I read Zoe Williams’ review in the Guardian which promised me ‘a gloriously badass breath of fresh air’  before seeing the movie and I swear I will never read another review BEFORE watching a movie again. I think she set my expectations even higher than they were before.

Nevertheless, the fact I found the movie intellectually disappointing does not change the impact ‘Wonder Woman’ had on me growing up and creating my own female identity. I would have just told the story different.

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Internet Defamation in Nigeria

June 7, 2017

Under Nigerian law defamation can be treated as a tort or as a crime.

Under section 373 of the Criminal Code defamation is any statement, written, verbal, visual including photographic, audio or video recordings whether expressed directly or by implication that is likely to injure the reputation of a person by exposing him or her to hatred, contempt, or ridicule, or likely to damage a person in his profession or trade.

Defamation is either libel or slander, it is  libel when the false statement is published in written form and  slander when it is spoken.

A person, who publishes any defamatory matter, is guilty of a misdemeanour and is liable to imprisonment for one year; and a person who publishes any defamatory matter knowing it to be false, is liable to imprisonment for two years.

The Cyber Crime (Prohibition, Prevention Etc) Act 2015 that became effective on May 15, 2015 also provides as follows:

24. Any person who knowingly or intentionally sends a message or other matter by means of computer systems or network that –

(b) he knows to be false, for the purpose of causing annoyance, inconvenience danger, obstruction, insult, injury, criminal intimidation, enmity, hatred, ill will or needless anxiety to another or causes such a message to be sent:

commits an offence under this Act and shall be liable on conviction to a fine of not more than N7,000,000.00 or imprisonment for a term of not more than 3 years or to both such fine and imprisonment.

The only defence to defamation is that the publication, at the time it is made, is for the public benefit, is true or that the publications was privileged and made only to persons entitled to receive it as held in V. M. Iloabachie, Esq. v. Benedict N. Iloabachie (2005) 5 NSCR Vol. 2).

It has been established that when an individual posts something on social media they are acting as publishers and can be sued for making false statements or defamatory comments.

In order to succeed in a case of defamation, the plaintiff needs to prove that:

  1. the statement, the subject matter of action is defamatory.
  2. it was published to a third person other than the plaintiff.
  3. the words refer to the plaintiff.

Newsbreed Org. Ltd v. Erhomosele (2007) 5NWLR Pt. 979 p. 499, the court outlined the elements of defamation. It held that the words or statements complained of must be untrue, that they were made maliciously (without just cause) and that the plaintiff suffered damage.

In Egbuna v. Amalgamated Press of Nig. (1967) All NLR, 27 at 28, it was held that the statement must be defamatory in the estimation of right thinking members of the society and that the words complained of must refer to the plaintiff, no writing is libel unless it refers to a specific person.

In Dario v. U.B.N (2006) 16 NWLR 1059 p 99, it was emphasised that:

“…there is a publication of the defamatory material to at least one person not being the person defamed. Publication which is the making known of the defamatory material to some other persons is the cause of action in defamation and not the writing of libellous fact.”

Deji Olunlade had this to say on YNaija in 2014

A statement can be said to be defamatory when the imputation of the statement tends to lower the other party in the estimation of right thinking members of the society or cut him off from the society, or expose him to contempt, ridicule or hatred or  injure his reputation in his office, trade, or profession or injure his financial credit. Also, there must be no legally justifiable grounds for uttering or publishing such statement. This statement must be:

  1. Untrue and may
  2. possess the element of imputation of crime to the person referred to,
  3. imputation of certain diseases such as sexually transmitted disease or communicable disease e.g stating falsely that a person has been inflicted with ebola
  4. imputation of unchastity or adultery especially of a woman
  5. imputation affecting professional or business reputation etc.

It should be noted that these defamatory words must have been published either through books, newspaper publications, video or voice recording, social media outlets and must have been read and believed to be defamatory by a third party (reasonable thinker).

In Nigeria, Freedom of Expression is enshrined under section 39 of the 1999 Constitution as amended. Print, online and electronic media operations derive their existence from the fundamental right called freedom of expression. Freedom of Expression, which includes right to speak, tweet, write and publish, does not permit a person to defame another.

The recent decision of the Queen’s Division of the UK High Court of Justice in Monroe v. Hopkins [2017] EWHC 433 (QB) could prove highly persuasive in Nigerian internet defamation.

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