Posts Tagged ‘Nigeria’

Oluremi Obasanjo – A Feminist Icon? (From the Archives)

July 9, 2017

November 27, 2008 at 6:28pm

While stuck at the airport this morning waiting for my ride to Ado-Ekiti I bought a copy of Tell magazine. A headline caught my eye, ‘Oluremi Obasanjo tells all in her book Bitter Sweet’ I turned the pages to read Fidel Bam’s review. There are a lot of unflattering adjectives to describe his review ladies. He calls it a book of vengeance I call it a book of revelations. Oluremi Obasanjo has shown great courage in writing this memoir. I’m not nearly as brave; I’m planning to write a faction because I’m totally terrified of the fall out if I print ‘the truth’ about my experiences with my ‘husbands’. Please note I use the term husbands here not to mean that I have had multiple spouses but in recognition of the Igbo-Nigerian point of view that all a woman’s in-laws are her ‘husbands’ and requiring the same amount of submission and ass kissing.

Bam in his ‘review’ keeps going on and on about how family secret’s have been made public. The first thing I learnt as a neophyte women’s rights activist was the importance of bringing things out n the light of day. Secret places are where abuse happens. I disagree with him totally as to whether posterity will forgive her, some of us already have. She has done a great thing for women’s rights in Nigeria; whether by design or accident she has become an inspiration for physically, emotionally and psychologically battered women all over the country to speak out honestly about their experience. She has punctured the stigma and shame. She has changed the public discourse on domestic violence.

Bam’s review was insensitive, unfair and prejudiced. ‘No matter the extent of Obasanjo’s humiliating his wife, is that enough reason for Oluremi to out Herod Herod?’. I remember as a young wife and mother complaining to an older woman about my husband’s womanizing, I was already considering a separation. Her advice? ‘It’s no reason to separate, my husband used to bring women into our bedroom and I served them.’ And why was I advised to endure such humiliation? For the sake of the children. She knew that the children would become the pawns in a horrible battle. She knew the rules. I didn’t, I still had my undiluted American beliefs about rights, rule of law and liberty of person regardless of gender.

I admire Oluremi! She has shown fortitude in raising her kids well despite the overwhelming odds against her and in giving her man chance after chance after chance to reform, repent and change. Although Oluremi sometimes comes across as aggressive, coarse and self righteous, I can sympathize with her having been pushed to shrewish dementia myself by a self centered husband and pesky in laws, pushed to violently and crudely reject the powerlessness imposed by the violent dominance of an outdated ideology based on paranoia, suspicion, and male privilege. Perhaps the structures for peaceful resolution exist but what do you do when they are corruptly manipulated or even ignored? Or when you don’t have the resources to access them, they’re not free after all.

Why should women go through debilitating and humiliating experiences like this just because we have decided that we can no longer live with the man we married? We can and should do something to end these abuses. Access to children after a divorce or separation is one of the biggest issues. Why should a woman be denied access to her children or denied financial support to raise them simply because she has decided to no longer accept humiliation and abuse passively? How do we stop this from ever happening to another woman again? This is not an isolated case; it’s just the most high profile one by far. I have worked with abused women for more than 10 years and no matter the economic class the story is the same.

Just last week I met a woman I’ve known for years. She separated from her husband when her kids were toddlers, she was denied access and had to go through all sorts of subterfuge to see her kids. Her husband bribed the court officials for years to stall the case she brought against him. When we met she proudly told me how her son now in his early twenties fights to protect her rights and ensure her unrestricted access. Why should her access to her children have been denied all these years? Why was she denied interaction with her children all these years? Why should her children have been denied their mother’s influence all these years? Because she could no longer live with the man she married? Why did she have to wait all these years till her son could give her justice? Why should her son, or any child, who should be focused on creating a life and starting a family need to go to battle with their paternal family to stop a mother’s abuse?

While all families have varying degrees of dysfunction and some may seem to have more than others it seems too much of a coincidence that his narcissistic, high risk behavior and mood swings only emerged after the civil war. While it’s not popular to accept that Africans also experience psychological trauma and its long term behavioral consequences it sounds to me like he was 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 marriage collapsed under the strain. He reacted pretty much the way Obasanjo did, refusing to pay child support and becoming increasingly abusive.

Obasanjo may have had PTSD after the civil war and it may have been further aggravated by his experience in Abacha’s gulag but it is still obvious that he is a highly controlling alpha male. He seems to have won Oluremi’s heart through his sheer persistence and determination, it also seems obvious that he totally controlled her; he dictated her clothes, her education and her career. He fits the profile of wife abusers that we have identified over the decades, these are some of the traits and our high machismo society encourages them. Poor woman, it seems from her narrative that everyone just expected her to shut up and stop embarrassing her husband the big man war hero, commander in chief and Head of State, no different from what thousands of Nigerian women experience just because the man is ‘commander of chef’, ‘head of household’ and a local champion. Money and power just magnify the issues.

Some may accuse Oluremi of herself being a conniving, manipulative and scheming woman who was herself intoxicated by her husband’s power and rising profile but that would ignore very complex dynamics and be mere speculation. Oluremi’s devotion to her children is evident throughout her narrative, her own fulfilled, content and stable childhood seems the standard she sought for her children. I don’t get the impression she was as hurt by her husband’s treatment of her as she was by his treatment of their children. He wrested custody from her only to leave the children unprotected and uncared for in his house, one of the children even died despite the fact that he was second in command at the time. Her aspirations for her children were met with a rebuke that she wanted to spoil them. I empathize completely, that reflects my experience so totally, and all the while I was being accused of being a gold digger. Oluremi fought to the bitter end, I got fed up with the drama in my case, forcibly took my children and tried to do the best I could on my own.

Oluremi’s story does not necessarily impact my opinion of Obasanjo’s real and imagined achievements what it does is reveal a tormented and driven man, a career soldier with invisible psychic wounds he would never admit to and memories he would obviously prefer to forget. I was almost moved to compassion for the man, I certainly understand his leadership style better. He was not the first powerful leader to sacrifice his family for the dysfunctional and illusionary trappings of power. Powerful men through out history have chosen to indulge their vanity and act with impunity and entitlement. He was an autocrat in his home and an autocrat in government; he may have had good intentions and noble aspirations but democracy and respect for human rights and the rule of law set new requirements and expectations. He fought for his equality as a black African and cannot understand the aspirations of his women for equality as human beings. Equality is not a male prerogative, just like power is no longer the prerogative of wealth. Recognizing your wife as your partner and treating her with dignity, respect and inclusion is really not a choice, it’s a requirement for a happy fulfilled and balanced life in the modern world. Could this be why so many want to keep the masses and women stuck in the stone ages, uneducated, unemployed or under employed, superstitious and naïve?

I have reaffirmed or learn a number of things from reading this gripping account of a life interrupted;

1. there is an urgent need to review the Matrimonial Causes Act, it is archaic and it is not gender sensitive at all. Not only does it make it difficult for a woman to seek divorce it makes it expensive to pursue. The customary law systems that the majorities of woman have access to in the north and in the south of Nigeria are heavily biased against women based as they are on archaic world views where women and children were merely chattels and expose women seeking divorce and their to extreme exploitation, trauma and humiliation.
2. the Nigerian armed forces need to review their transition support for veterans returning from war, especially the psychological support they provide. Wars are dehumanizing and brutalizing, veterans need assistance re-integrating into society after prolonged exposure to the violence and brutality of armed conflict.
3. Nigerian journalists still need to learn how to write sensitively about women and women’s issues. Fidel Bam, would you have advised your sister or your daughter not to share her experience because her husband is a big man or simply because he is a man? And if yes, to what goal? To protect the image of the man that is abusing her? Or because her plight is not really that high up on your list of priority issues to deal with?

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Brrinnng brrinnng! Answer Your Phone Please

June 30, 2017

Once upon a time not so long ago there lived a small little king in a small little kingdom in the hot tropical jungle somewhere near the equator. Even though the king and his kingdom were very small the king had a very big ego. Ever heard of the Napoleon Complex?  The king never answered his mobile phone unless someone richer than him was calling and really rich people didn’t call him very often which meant he almost never answered his phone.

“The only people that call me are people who want something from me” he explained if anyone asked him why he didn’t answer his mobile phone “I’ll call them back when I’m ready.”

The little king had a poor court jester who had been with him and served him loyally for many many years. The court jester had many many children and the king through the years had helped the jester to pay school fees and things like that. When the jesters children grew up they worked hard and became rich men and took care of their father while the little kings children still expected the king to take care of them.

One day the little king was hungry and called the jester on his mobile phone.

“I hear that all your children are doing well now and taking care of you. You know I helped you raise your children. You are not a loyal servant, you are eating your children’s money all by yourself and not sharing it with me.”

And the jester who was a good man with a conscience felt very bad indeed even though his children didn’t give him that much money because they were still young men and building houses and families and empires of their own and didn’t have a lot of discretionary income yet. So the jester took the little savings he had and bought a smelly he-goat and some overnight palm wine just like he knew the king liked it and took it to the little king.

He got to the little kings gate and called the little king on his mobile phone but guess what? The little king didn’t answer his phone! The jester called and called and called and even sent a text massage but the king didn’t answer his mobile phone. So the jester took the smelly he-goat and the overnight palm wine and went away.

Some days later the little king called the jester.

“I just read your text message. Where is the smelly he goat and the overnight palm wine that you bought for me? Bring it over immediately” he roared at the jester over his mobile phone.

“My king! That was many days ago. I was ashamed to return home with my offerings for you least my wife and children see it and laugh that you have rejected me so I went to the fat king who is your friend so he would call you but he seized it and had a barbecue and feasted all night.”

And the little king was very angry. And still very hungry.

And the moral of the story is – every body may be calling you because they want something from you but one person maybe calling you to give you something you asked the gods for so stop being an arrogant little prick and answer the damn phone.

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Sleep by Salvadore Dali 1937

Notes on George Orwell

June 28, 2017

I spent much of the long weekend recovering from my trip to the village (blog post coming shortly) and reading George Orwell. Thank you to BrainPickings who shared several delightful posts on Orwell’s birthday a couple days ago. Just what I needed to end my quarterly holiday.

His writing put me to mind of long nights in my village as a child reading Oliver Twist, Mill on the Floss and Agatha Christie mysteries. Like theirs, his writing transported me to England, a country I came to love through books long before I ever went there. Despite a predominant mental image of England as wet and grey most of the time (I saw a picture of London when I was 16, the sun was shining and I couldn’t help asking “You mean the sun actually shines in London?”) it always felt cosy.

Orwell wrote an essay comparing American and English crime writing – ‘Raffles and Miss Blandish.’ Growing up in the village I must admit my literary image of America was mostly built up by James Hadley Chase and the same can be said for many of my peers. Who doesn’t remember ‘No Orchids for Miss Blandish’? If you are my age anyway.

Orwell calls James Hadley Chase’s writing ‘realism’ – “the doctrine that might is right.” I think that’s the world view dominant in Nigeria. We worship “ power and successful cruelty.” That is why in Nigeria a Buhari can win a Jonathan and an Obasanjo and a Babangida and even an Abacha can be hailed as hero’s.

Orwell wrote –

English books glorifying crime (modern crime, that  is–pirates and highwaymen are different) are very rare. Even a book like RAFFLES, as I have pointed out, is governed by powerful taboos, and  it is clearly understood that Raffles’s crimes must be expiated sooner or later. In America, both in life and fiction, the tendency to tolerate crime, even to admire the criminal so long as he is success, is very much more marked. It is, indeed, ultimately this attitude that has made it possible for crime to flourish upon so huge a scale.

It’s obvious we are more like the Yanks than the Brits in Nigeria. At least some of us. And then there IS a whole section that are very much like the Brits (all the way down to the hypocrisy.) So in Nigeria one could say the Yanks and the Brits are again at war, for the hearts and minds of the people of Nigeria. The final battle ground? Who will win?

Orwell himself is so old fashioned and so proper, a purist defending all those British values I read about – courtesy, good manners, restraint, honour – a stiff upper lip. His nostalgia for that bygone time oozes through to me as surely as Agatha Christie’s did. I was infected with that nostalgia and a love for that empire even though I have no experience of that time in the early 20th century before it crumbled. Or a political thought in my head.

Living in the village in south east Nigeria with no library, no plumbing and no electricity reading about life in turn of the century Britain, the British Empire seemed like a conquering civilising force just like the Roman Empire. And to be a Commonwealth citizen was like being a Roman citizen (that was before they spoiled it all by introducing visa and immigration restrictions.)

The innocence of youth. But I digress.

Orwell’s ‘1984’ was not one of the books I read.  The tamer ‘Animal Farm’ was on our reading list. Hard as it is to admit I read it for the first time this weekend. I kept seeing images from Pink Floyd’s ‘Another Brick in The Wall’ with the words. And when that wasn’t enough I started mentally illustrating the words with dark gothic Marvelesque pictures.

In ‘Raffles and Miss Blandish’ Orwell wrote:

The inter-connexion between sadism, masochism, success-worship, power-worship, nationalism, and totalitarianism is a huge subject whose edges have barely been scratched.

He definitely did more than just scratch the edges in ‘1984.’ O’Brien seems to sum up that inter-connexion. I wouldn’t be surprised if O’Brien isn’t Big Brother. Wait a minute. Is he?

Orwell doesn’t completely absolve English crime writing of sadism and power worship.

But it is sadism after the English fashion: that is to say, it is unconscious, there is not
overtly any sex in it, and it keeps within the bounds of the law. The  British public tolerates a harsh criminal law and gets a kick out of monstrously unfair murder trials: but still that is better, on any account, than tolerating or admiring crime. If one must worship a bully, it is better that he should be a policeman than a gangster.

So we are back to the comparison with Nigeria. In Nigeria our policemen ARE gangsta’s and it would seem the people would rather worship the real gansta’s so much so that they elevate them to elective office. And make the police worship them. How is that for an Alice in Wonderland hypothesis?

Who won? The Yanks or the Brits?

The Yanks and the Brits are allies anyway (like Oceania and Eurasia or maybe Oceania and Eastasia but it can all change, who knows.) The battle isn’t between the Yanks and the Brits, its between Nigerians.  More than 200 tribal and linguistic groups, just 5 or 6 large ones and everyone is struggling to enforce their truth as the only truth.

“Might is right” or “the end justifies the means” politics, that is what Nigeria has turned democracy into, even the Americans are copying us now. Orwell would have hated Trump’s regime but he would have hated the cold war between the left and the right even more I reckon. They have squared off in a classic good vs. evil battle.

The common people, on the whole, are still living in the world of absolute good and evil from which the intellectuals have long since escaped. But the popularity of NO ORCHIDS and the American books and magazines to which it is akin shows how rapidly the doctrine of ‘realism’ is gaining ground. The average man is not directly interested in politics, and when he reads, he wants the current struggles of the world to be translated into a simple story about individuals.

Orwell seems abandon intellectuals and join the ranks of he common man when he excoriates Salvador Dali and surrealism in another essay titled ‘Benefits of Clergy: Some Notes on Salvador Dali.’

What he clearly needs is diagnosis. The question is not so much WHAT he is as WHY he is like that. It ought not to be in doubt that his is a diseased intelligence, probably not much
altered by his alleged conversion, since genuine penitents, or people who have returned to sanity, do not flaunt their past vices in that  complacent way. He is a symptom of the world’s illness. The important thing is not to denounce him as a cad who ought to be horsewhipped, or to defend him as a genius who ought not to be questioned, but to find out WHY he exhibits that particular set of aberrations.

That gave me a good laugh. See shade.

Obscenity is a very  difficult question to discuss honestly. People are too frightened either  of seeming to be shocked or of seeming not to be shocked, to be able to  define the relationship between art and morals.

At least Orwell was honest in his revulsion at Dali. Just as he was honest in his praise of Gandhi. At least as honest as you can expect a hypocritical Englishman to be (his words, about English hypocrisy, not mine.)

“How clean a smell he has managed to leave behind” Orwell wrote in ‘Reflections of Gandhi’  even though he described much of Gandhi’s philosophy as inhuman and atavistic.

My favorite quote from this weekend reading –

Sainthood is also a thing that human beings must avoid. Many people genuinely do not wish to be saints, and it is probable that some who achieve or aspire to sainthood have never felt much temptation to be human beings.

It has freed me from the chains of sainthood. There are too many wannabe saints in Nigeria already. As an Igbo-Nigerian I can tell you that our hero’s and leaders are no saints. They are more like the licentious Roman gods than saints. Our hero’s, gods and leaders have flaws – like lust or temper or gluttony. That way we can relate to them. And avoid hypocrisy.

“People worship power in the form in which they are able to understand it” – Orwell.

Sometimes its hard to remember he wrote all this in the 1940’s. I swear.

I had to look up the dictionary definitions of realism and surrealism. It is the difference between things as they are and things as bizarre. Well, we live in pretty bizarre times right now and have to accept them as the times as they are. And deal with them. They are not opposites. Neither one is good or bad. Neither are Dali and Gandhi.

I’m also more a Dali than a Gandhi. And thanks to Orwell now I know that’s alright too.  I wonder why Orwell hated Dali so much? I wonder what he would make of me featuring Dali’s work in this blog post about him?

“Every morning upon awakening, I experience a supreme pleasure: that of being Salvador Dalí.”

Fortified and inspired I can go about being my awesome self – Lesley.

Carry on.

(Find a collection of Orwell’s work including ‘1984’ here.)

 

Soft Watch At The Moment Of First Explosion Salvador Dali

Person at the Window by Salvador Dali

Some Highlights of Nigerian Labor Law Act Cap 198 Relevant for Small Business Owners

April 28, 2017

 

  1. Employees must be paid in cash
  2. Payment by check can only be made with the prior consent of the employee
  3. Employer cannot impose conditions on how or where an employee spends his wages
  4. Any advance on salary cannot exceed one month salary and minimum recovery time is 3 months
  5. If there is an outstanding advance employer cannot make a new advance except in necessity
  6. Employers can only make deductions in respect of fines for willful misconduct or neglect if employee has been previously notified and agreed in his contract
  7. Pension scheme deductions must be consented to by employee
  8. Overpayment deductions can only be made if discovered within 3 months
  9. Total deductions from employees salary cannot exceed 1/3 of monthly salary
  10. Contracts required to be signed within 3 months of employment
  11. Any change in terms of contract must be communicated within one month to the employee
  12. Employment contracts terminate on death of employee, expiry of notice or expiry of fixed term contract
  13. Statutory requirements for notice
    1. 1 day if less than 3 months
    2. 1 week if more than 3 months but less than 2 years
    3. 2 weeks if more than 2 years but less than 5 years
    4. 1 months if more than 5 years of continuous service
  14. Conduct that would enable employer terminate contract without notice

a. Gross misconduct such as fraud, theft, insubordination or criminal neglect

  1. Either party can waive the right to notice or to accepting payment in lieu of notice
  2. All wages are to be paid before expiry of notice
  3. Employer not liable to pay for days employee absent
  4. Payment in lieu of notice only applies to salary not overtime or allowances
  5. Normal working hours are fixed through mutual agreement
  6. Work in excess of working hours constitutes over time
  7. If employee is to work more than 6 continuous hours he/she is entitled to 1 hour aggregate break/rest interval
  8. Worker entitled to one day of rest in 7 days
  9. Workers entitled to up to 12 days of paid sick leave for temporary illness if certified by a registered doctor nominated by the employer
  10. After 12 months of continuous service employee is entitled to 6 working days of paid leave
  11. Sick leave and annual leave pay only includes salary (not overtime or allowances)
  12. Women are entitled to 6 weeks leave before birth and confinement and 6 weeks of leave after birth and confinement at 50% of salary
  13. Employer not liable for healthcare costs of said woman
  14. If you have more than 25 employees you are required to set up a pension scheme (Pension Act Cap 346)
  15. Employees in hazardous occupations (mining, heavy machinery etc) must be insured against injury (Workmen’s Compensation Act Cap 407)

The Gospel According to Lesley: The Evil Step Mother

February 23, 2017

Since I have introduced My Evil Step Mother let me say something about her.

She didn’t stand a chance. My Mother is a Goddess. Which woman can compete with that? My Evil Step Mother lost the popularity stakes before you even began. And she didn’t make it any better when she decided to comb my matted dreadlocked hair instead of just cutting it off when she first met me. Dreadlocks? You may wonder. Yes. I had dreadlocks at the age of four because my father didn’t comb my hair in the one year after we absconded from the Soviet Union before she joined us.

Her name was Lilia. I’m still trying to find out if she is dead or alive and whether maybe she left me something in her will. Because I have an enduring fantasy that somewhere somehow I have a long lost relative that will leave me something in his or her will. Being remembered in a will, inheriting something, is like being affirmed or validated, its like saying ‘you belong.’  Agatha Christie’s characters were always left something in someone’s will.

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Lilia wasn’t all that bad really. I know she crossed the road once rather than walk on the side walk in front of a Jewish centre and that she regularly made fun of my father’s nose, our fat lips and our kinky hair. I know she had a racist opinion about every thing from black sexuality to black crime which she shared freely with me even when it wasn’t age appropriate. I know she only married my father to escape The Soviet Union. My Mother would never have considered doing such a thing. Like I said, a goddess but she didn’t know that my father would take me when he left. She didn’t even know that he could.

I also know that Lilia Nikoliayevna Zviaglosky did not sleep with my father. We’ll come to that later.

In my imagination Lilia was evil because she made me sit to learn sewing, knitting and crocheting when I would rather be outside playing in the woods behind our estate or swimming or something. I was a bit of a feral child. She did evil things like comb my hair, which hurt. She tried to make me learn the Russian alphabet and how to read and write in Russian. She even made me go to bed at 8 o’clock on Summer nights when it was still bright outside. I would lie in my bed listening to children playing outside in the sun and hate her. She was so evil she cut up my beautiful white synthetic leather boots that were all the rage in America in 1974. Then she stitched up the cuts and made me wear them to school! (I was too young to own it and it was too long before Michelle Pfeiffer popularised that look in 1993.)

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I thought she was a real evil bitch. Unlike The Goddess, my real mother.

There is a price to pay for everything. Lilia paid the price. Eventually she divorced Dr. Agams and last I heard married some guy named Fred G. Paradin. Fred used to take her to Vegas on dates. The Divorce was epic. Dr. Agams filed a cross petition and included the CIA, FBI and KGB as co-respondents but not Fred. Shortly after that Dr. Agams brought me to Nigeria. (Specifically to Umuaka, a Mediaeval Little Kingdom on the banks of the Njaba River in rural south east Nigeria where I was to send the second decade of my life.)

After living in Nigeria Lilia doesn’t seem like such an Evil Step Mother after all.

You haven’t seen or heard about Evil Step Mothers till you come to Nigeria. Nigerian women seem to think that being nice to their husbands offspring by other women is a crime. Its like the default setting is Evil Step Mother Mode. I think maybe it has something to do with loyalty to your mother’s hut in polygamous homesteads. A mothers primary responsibility is to protect you from abuse. Children without mothers were targets and little better than orphans. Men never raised kids.

Evil Nigerian Step Mothers will starve you, beat you, cut your prick off if your a boy, or your eyes and tongue, shave your head if you’re a girl, especially if you are a pretty girl, make you do all the house work like Cinderella,  make you sit on the dining room floor to eat while her children ate at the table and generally make your life so miserable that you eagerly marry the first person that asks you when you are 15. Just Google ‘step mother Nigeria’ and see for yourself.

I can hear you saying “Not me! Never.”

So long as you know that your step children will never like you and will never be grateful for whatever kindness you show them. A Nigerian woman spent years raising her step children like her own. When her husband became terminally ill these step children manipulated her and her three children out of her home of over 20 years and brought their mother, who was married to someone else by then, to bury him when he died. The poor woman and her there children got nothing from the estate.

So I still call Lilia, My Evil Step Mother. I’m The Ungrateful Nigerian Step Child. And I’m still hating on her for what she did to those boots.

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What Lessons Can We Learn From Anna Nicole Smith’s Life?

February 19, 2017

Last week was ten years since Anna died. I guess if you’re still news worthy ten years after your death you are a cultural icon. There were stories all over the internet about her daughter and how she is doing now. Larry Birkhead the baby daddy and caregiver made a few tasteful appearances and interviews. Nothing overtly exploitative even though we all know he must have been paid. He kept on saying that Dannielynn was not inheriting any millions and that it wasn’t Anna’s estate supporting them. He said it often enough for me to doubt him. When asked how he made a living Larry said he earned money through photography and ‘flipping houses.’

Anna did not die without assets and her assets have been quietly going up for sale over the past few years. Her LA house was sold, as were some of her personal effects and memorabilia. Dannielynn remains her only heir. Her second husband Howard Marshall gave her quite a few gifts including jewellery and art work. Just before she died she was reportedly paid $1 Million for footage of her birth and an exclusive interview with Howard K Stern her lawyer and best friend.

I’m not sure if I care, I’m only commenting because Larry made so much effort to deny he is profiteering from her estate. I guess like Anna he is intent on proving that he is not a gold digger. Does that phrase even apply to men?

Anyway I was intrigued and dug into the story a bit more than I did when it was breaking. I first became aware of Anna as the new Guess? jeans girl back in 1993. She was beautiful and she was being hyped  as the new plus size super model wanna-be. As a young woman obsessed with her weight and resentful of the super thin models that bombarded me every time I opened Vogue and Cosmopolitan, Anna was a refreshing image. It was refreshing when media hyped larger models Cindy, Linda Evangelista and Naomi. Come to think about it this hyping of plus size models is becoming kinda of tired. They have been touting bigger models since the 1990’s and still present them as a new trend. So how long before its accepted as main stream?

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I was only vaguely aware of her return to the spotlight as the Trimspa spokesperson. It was a story about a woman losing weight after all, like all women that obsess about their weight those kind of stories tend to catch our attention. It wasn’t until she got pregnant and ran off to the Bahamas that I really started to pay attention and followed the story till she died.  But not so much that I can remember where I was when her death was announced on 8 February 2007.

As the drama played out and videos started emerging of her obviously medicated and frequently  incoherent my knee jerk reaction was that Howard K. Stern was an evil Svengali manipulating her. And when she finally died, 5 short months after the death of her son and the birth of her daughter, it became just another tragic footnote in celebrity history.

“Don’t make me trade one baby for another” she reportedly said.

A lot has been written about Anna Nicole. In my quest for a new angle I watched a documentary by Lisa Ling on ‘Sugaring.’ Sugaring is where younger women hook up with older men with the understanding that the men take care of the women financially. Dr. Phil asked them “Are you hookers?”

“No more than a woman that chooses to be a full time homemaker financially dependent on her husband” one of the women replies.

Lisa Ling keeps suggesting that the women are cheating at life by trying to ‘skip some steps’ or taking a short cut. She looks at them bemused throughout the documentary.

“I pay for myself, I always go Dutch” she says. I cringe for a second. I don’t. Especially not if I’m invited out.

Growing up in Nigeria it was accepted that men invite a woman out  and pay. Mostly because women didn’t just go out on their own anyway, unless they were ‘working girls’ and charged at the end of the night. It wasn’t till the 90’s that a new breed of financially independent middle class women started going out with the ‘girls’  and each girl paid for herself.

It would seem a bit cliche to rant about an invisible patriarchy that limits a woman’s opportunities for self actualisation. Or to point out the obvious differences in mind set and access to available opportunities for poor vs. rich and educated vs. uneducated and rural vs. urban women.

In my digging around I come across ‘White Trash Nation’  a 1994 New Yorker cover story by J. Friend. “Welcome to the age of white trash” he wrote. Anna’s picture accompanied the cover headline. The article is uncanny in its prescience. Reading it I realise that Trump is the new White Trash Hero. And deja vu, in a 20/20 show they dredge up an early quote from Anna admiring Trump and suggesting he become president and make her his First Lady. Knowing Trump Anna wouldn’t have been his style. He likes ‘classier’ women – European women.

The parallels between her and Melania can’t be ignored.

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Both from small town lower class families, both turned to ‘modelling’ to get out, both took off their clothes for money and both married rich older men that they met through their work. The comparison ends there. Melania is European and Anna is ‘white trash’ a racial slur used to describe poor white Americans that were ‘poor as slaves’ and lacked ‘social grace.’ In Europe ‘white trash’ or the most economically disadvantaged whites are the gypsies or the Roma as they are called now. Demonised, excluded, discriminated, rejected.

Anna met Marshall her second husband and ‘never danced again’. ‘My husband threw money at me’ she infamously said. ‘Its very expensive being me.’ And she didn’t curb her hard partying jet setting lifestyle after she married him. Melania on the other hand played hard to get, was discreet, financially prudent and convinced Donald that she was immune to poaching. In an interview with Larry King shortly after their wedding in 2007 Donald very proudly announced that Melania is like the  fortress in Song of Solomon. Powerful men like that kind of thing, its probably one reason Donald would never have considered marrying Anna. She was too available.

Anna was actually the more successful of the two in their chosen career. She made the cover of Playboy, was Playmate of the Year and landed a multimillion dollar ad campaign and even appeared in a couple of movies before her hard partying ways crashed her career almost as soon as it took off. She also seemed to think she could have her cake and eat it; marry Marshall and claim half his estate without actually cohabiting with him.

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Watching Melania I can’t help think she played her cards well. She never contradicts Donald, doesn’t nag, massages his ego and infantalises him. ‘My boys’ she calls him and her son Barron. Its like watching Carla coo at Nicholas. It’s weird to watch. Beautiful women confidently and brazenly patronising powerful men. It’s like watching public sex, too intimate and uncomfortable.  A display of power, a challenge to all those morality stories about the evils of leveraging your feminine charms in relationships with powerful men and the world. And a validation of all those other stories about ‘bottom power.’

I think a lot of violence against women might be fuelled by suppressed male rage against this reported male powerlessness and vulnerability to female sexuality. Even Anna’s second husband Howard Marshall is quoted as saying that a man in love does stupid things. Adam, Samson and Julius Caesar might agree. And while Anna may not have seen any better options for upward mobility she doesn’t strike me like a victim as some people would like to portray her. No more than Melania is a victim. These are women that made choices and exercised agency.  We all have to face the choices we make.

When I left my first husband and became a single mom in the city of Lagos in the late 1980’s I was about Anna’s age. But I was also a graduate. I came to Lagos to study for the Nigerian Bar exam and never went back to the village I spent the past ten years in. I never overcame my personal values against transactional sex of any kind.  This often brought me into conflict with female members of my clan who considered male patronage (of the financial kind) just one more perk of being a pretty woman and what a waste of pretty and yellow if you didn’t cash in on it.

“I won’t look this way forever” one of the young women tells Lisa Ling. The young women all express sentiments I heard often growing up in the village.

“Why waste your time on a poor, abusive and inexperienced boy who will not appreciate you or treat you well, when you can be with an older richer man who will take care of you and spoil you?”

In Lagos I declined offers to be a cocktail hostess, the fourth wife to a 70 year old polygamous millionaire with a penchant for ‘half castes’, some bad-o’s mistress and the Venus De Milo campaign girl. Venus De Milo was the biggest skin lightening  brand in Nigeria at the time and the Venus De Milo girl was bigger than Miss. Nigeria. I declined the campaign offer because the fee wasn’t big enough, not because I had anything against modelling.

“What do I care about the fee?  I’d do it for the exposure” one of the strippers Anna worked with in Houston said about after Anna’s Playboy and Guess campaign appearances. The fee I was offered for the Venus de Milo campaign felt inadequate for the massive exposure it would have brought. I wasn’t looking for a husband or a sugar daddy, I wanted to be a successful lawyer. I wanted to be appreciated and respected for my mind. I was excoriated by friends and family.

I tried to talk to my oldest aunt about love once. She was unable to grasp the very western concept. Women married for security, not love. Another aunt regularly and vocally upbraided me for ‘giving it up for free.’

“Since you’re giving it up at least get paid for it’ she always said. ‘Free’ sex was the height of irresponsible. And inconsiderate. “After fucking all those men you expect me to give you money?” she asked her daughter. And once her daughter became sexually active she never gave her another kobo. Her daughter made her proud eventually. I’ll never forget the last time I saw my aunt. She took delight in recounting for me all the things her daughter, who eventually became the not so young fourth or fifth wife of a rich polygamous Nigerian man, had bought for her.

“Two freezers, two refrigerators, a generator, a pick up, a washing machine.”

My aunt owned a beer parlour.

The marriage didn’t last.

“At least she got a lot out of it before it collapsed. What did you get out of your own marriage? Foolish girl.”

It wasn’t that a man was a woman’s only opportunity to a better life. Rather it was the waste of a good opportunity by a beautiful woman. You could fry chicken and flip burgers for minimum wage all your life or you could land yourself a rich boyfriend, sugar daddy or husband and live easy. What’s love got to do with it?  Or appearances?

While Anna’s and Melania’s rags to riches stories are cliche they might not draw the same criticism in Nigeria they do in the west. In Nigeria they might be seen as symbols of feminine success. It’s Anna’s hard partying ogbanje lifestyle that forms a cautionary moral lesson for women in Nigeria and Africa. Melania on the other hand is, for a certain type of woman, the epitome of how to do it right. Get the man, and keep your head down.

Ask Bianca Onu Ojukwu, Halima Diende Fernandez, Shola Okoya, and Frances Iwuanynwu or even Emir Sanusi’s new teenage wife.

😉

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Child Custody in Nigeria FAQ: Who Owns The Child? II

February 9, 2017

‘Ownership’ of children is a feature of many customary laws in Nigeria.

Customary laws vary from one tribal group to the other. In some Igbo-Nigerian communities payment of the bride price determines ‘ownership’ of children. In ‘An Anatomy of Female Power’ Chinweizu has previously argued that the payment of bride price in Nigeria does not entitle the payer to the woman but rather to the fruit of her womb and I agree with him.

Among some Igbo-Nigerian groups and in Umuaka where I come from and grew up in particular under tribal laws where a marriage is not formalised and a bride price is not paid any child a woman bears ‘belongs’ to her father’s house and enjoys full inheritance rights. Likewise, if a woman left or divorced her husband she had to repay him the bride price her paid or any children she had thereafter ‘belonged’ to him, no matter who was the biological father. However, these tribal laws have been held to be repugnant to natural justice, equity and good conscience and are not usually enforceable by the customary courts anymore. Likewise, tribal laws that deny mothers access or custody without a consideration of natural justice, equity and good conscience are repugnant. However, it takes a good knowledgable lawyer to make that argument before the court.

In Yoruba-Nigeria the practice was that a child could claim a right to inheritance so long as the father had acknowledged him during while the father was alive. Sharia law, which is classed as a customary law in the Federal republic of Nigeria, apparently privileges mothers in custody issues whether they were married or not.  Customary courts just like statutory courts have a lot of discretion and it all depends on the arguments they are presented to them.

Lagos State is the only state in Nigeria that has created a family court procedure to deal with disputes relating to guardianship, custody and adoption that is not related to matrimonial causes in its Child Rights Law 2007. So if you are in Lagos and are unmarried and have a custody matter that is the law to refer to.

Nevertheless there is still a lot of confusion regarding children that are born to parents that were never married under statutory or customary law. There is also an increase of children born to parents that are not married under statutory and customary law. There seems to be a presumption that once a father is named on a birth certificate as such it secures his ‘rights’ to the child. I figure the courts will be busy untangling those complications for a few decades to come.

I’ve heard from a lot of people that the Social Welfare Office’s, which are increasingly called upon to decide questions of custody and maintenance in cases where the parents were never married have been ruling that once a child is 7 years old the father can take custody. This is wrong and dangerous and needs to stop. The law remains clear that the best interest of the child is paramount in deciding custody and neither parent  is entitled to automatic custodial rights. Both must show that they can meet the best interest of the child and not only that the other parent cannot.

In a decided case the father when asked what arrangements he had made for the children whose custody he was seeking said they would stay with his ageing mother in the village as opposed to staying with heir mother on the university campus where she lived and worked. The judge despite his conservative leanings ruled the children live with their mother even though he could not bring himself to grant her custody.

Perhaps the confusion lies in the meaning given to the word ‘custody.’ Custody is not ownership. We’ll consider ‘custody’ in my next post. I’m already over my 500 word limit. Or guideline.

Chao

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Child Custody in Nigeria FAQ: Who Owns The Child?

February 7, 2017

First of all we really need to stop thinking in terms of ‘ownership’ of children. Children are not chattel. You do not own a child. They are little people. Dependent little people and adults are parents, guardians, care takers and providers. Not owners.

That said what people usually mean when they ask that question is who gets ‘custody’ when the parents of a child are separated, divorced or even never married. Or who the child lives with because the parent a child lives with will influence the child’s future behaviour and personality.

Both parents have an equal right to raise, influence and make decisions for their juvenile offspring. (Nwosu vs. Nwosu [2012] 8 NWLR) Where the parents are cohabiting there is no usually issue and in many households the father assumes the role of head of household and makes decisions for everyone else with or without consulting his wife, the mother. It all depends on their personal dynamics.

Custody issues arise where either party wants to leave or end the relationship between the parents of a child or children. In Nigeria most men seem to think that they ‘own’ the children and presume that they will get custody especially of male children. Then again most men seem to think they own their wife too.

Both the Matrimonial Causes Act and the Child’s Right Act are clear that issues of custody are to  be decided in the best interest of the child and the courts have held that neither parent has an automatic right to custody.

If you are in a statutory marriage (that is one registered at the Marriage Registry and issued a Federal Government Certificate) and want a divorce, judicial separation or nullification of that marriage and believe that the best interest of the children is served with you or a woman in a violent abusive marriage that stays because you won’t leave without your children here is what your lawyer needs to do;

  1. After drafting and filing our petition for judicial separation, divorce or nullification and being assigned a court BEFORE serving your spouse your lawyer should file an exparte motion (known as an interlocutory relief) for temporary custody pending the determination of the petition AND a motion on notice for temporary custody simultaneously.
  2. The court will hear the ex parte motion and make a ruling which will be served on your spouse (The Respondent) with the notice of petition and the motion on notice for the same interlocutory relief asked for in the ex parte motion. The court will set a date before the exparte ruling expires in 7 days to hear the motion on notice thus giving the respondent a chance to challenge your request to the court for custody pending the determination of the main petition.
  3. After hearing the motion on notice and the respondents answer the court will either uphold its previous ruling or make a new one. This ruling is only binding till the matrimonial matter before the court is decided and then the issue of custody will be considered again and a final ruling be made at the end of the trial.
  4. Either party to a matrimonial petition can apply for an interlocutory order for custody.

The court will seek to determine what is in the best interest of the child and will consider the child’s age, gender, special needs, living environment, child care arrangements, plans to further the education of the child, financial ability of parent proposing arrangements, and the parents temperament and lifestyle. However, financial privilege alone is not enough determinant of a child’s best interest. (Nwosu vs. Nwosu)

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Armed Forces Remembrance Day: We Need To Talk About Biafra

January 16, 2017

It was Armed Forces Remembrance Day in Nigeria yesterday. Our big brass and the politricksions went and laid wreaths for unknown soldiers. Wouldn’t it have been nice if they had speedily passed legislation for the payment of veterans entitlements instead of creating entitlements of themselves instead?

Let’s look at this Armed Forces Remembrance Day anyway. It started out as a commemoration of the soldiers that fought in the First World War in which Nigerian and African soldiers fought and died with the rest of the global community. Whether they went voluntarily or not is irrelevant if you ask me. They represented.

Then Obasanjo, that wily fox, went and changed it to commemorate the ‘surrender of Biafra troops’ effectively ensuring that the end of Civil War itself is not specifically commemorated or the events discussed. And discussions about the civil was and Biafra are drowned out in a natural outpouring of communal patriotism and and nationalism. To speak about the Civil War and Biafra on such a day would seem sacrilegious as Femi Kani Kayode no doubt learnt.

Of keen interest to me is the change in the tone of the media. Since the administration of Obansanjo the military has mostly been under fire from the media for their human rights violations. Amnesty International kept up a relentless stream of reports and Nigeria was unable to buy arms under some United States act that they invoke on a need to basis.

Now we are talking about the sacrifices that the soldiers are making and there is absolutely no single credible media report about the situation in the militarised zones of the north east, south south and south east. Has our military reformed over night as if by magic? But I thought Buhari keeps them busy chasing cattle rustlers and training in animal farming techniques in Argentina. It is a public relations victory?

I suggest to activists in the Niger Delta to consider the use of drones to capture footage. The activists at Standing Rock, the Native American protest against encroachment on tribal lands used drones to record footage that showed the real picture to the world. Watch the video. The drone pilot said he is completely self taught by the way.

Why do we need to talk about Biafra and why do our rulers want us to forget it? Because we need to heal the physic wounds that continue to haunt nation building in Nigeria. And to heal those wounds we need to listen to each other and accommodate each others points of view – and then find common ground to agree on. Instead what happens is every time the topic is raised there is a still a winner and vanquished mentality – the one saying “You tried to exterminate us, we do not feel safe” and the other saying “You lost the war, deal with it.” Even Chinua Achebe’s account was vilified and divided the national debate. Neither is productive.

The patriarchal old men that have been making decisions about Nigeria’s future learnt well the lessons of the jungle. Control information, only write down stuff in an elaborate code, control access to the code and who can read it. The masses will forget.

The old were revered as living encyclopaedia’s. Imagine what it must have been like when life expectancy was even lower and even fewer made it to old age. All that remains in the common memory is the idea of an injustice inflicted once upon a time, brought out and dusted off by old men (and young) when they need to whip up the crowd.

In the era of new media its tricky to pull off a scam like that. And video IS the new frontier for credible news delivered via the world wide web. It becomes both a record and an account and dilutes the influence and power of those wily old men that would keep their subjects ignorant and malleable. It would be great to see some female leadership too.

 

While, it is appropriate to remember and support our troops, those gone and those risking their lives, media coverage needs to be balanced and consistent to keep the government institutions on their toes and to keep citizens informed. We need to ask questions and investigate their allegations. And we need to whole heartedly celebrate the end of the Civil War and stop making it about the ‘defeat’ of Biafra and sweeping it under the carpet.

The men of the Nigerian Army sure do need our support right now. They’re spread pretty thin – north east,north central, south south, south east, cattle rearing, oil & gas security, Liberia and about to go off to Gambia. And they face formidable foes. Lets keep praying my praying brethren that trouble doesn’t erupt in the north west and south west.

Sadly, stories coming from the front lines seem to suggest they maybe as inadequately cared for as ever. Even in the military Nigerian women  are left to pick up the slack.

 

 

 

 

Are You Required to Produce Husband’s Consent For Passports?

January 7, 2017

The Federal High Court sitting in Port Harcourt decided you did not when they gave this judgement in 2009 in Dr. Priye Iyalla_Amadi vs The Director General of the Nigeria Immigration Service.

I think the NIS said they appealed the matter. I wonder where they are on it so far. Can’t find anything about the status. Whats the composition of the appeals court and the supreme court? Just thinking out loud.

The defendants did not really dispute the facts adduced by the plaintiff in their counter_affidavit but sought to justify the requirement of a letter of consent from the husband of a married woman who wants to be issued a Nigerian passport on the basis that Nigerian married women are classified alongside with minors by the government as persons who require consent from the head of the family. NIS argued that the requirement for consent was put in place to perpetuate the authority of the man over his wife, no matter the status she had attained in society. It also stated that the requirement was set to avoid unnecessary breakdown of marriage institution in the country.

Its important to pursue legal precedents expanding women’s rights all  the way to the Supreme Court. And those cases should attract support from women, women’s groups and women’s funds.  If you have any current information about this case could you drop an update for me? Or steer me towards someone who knows? I’d appreciate it.