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Nigeria

419 Reasons

In two weeks Nigeria will attempt yet another deception by claiming to “celebrate’ 51 years of independence.  There will be the usual speeches, parades and flag waving by undignified dignitaries.  Bloggers and Tweeps will simultaneously rubbish the country, ask for God’s salvation, pray and claim its not really that bad and continue the search for 419 Reasons to Like Nigeria.  Growth is at 7% but there is no national grid and everyone relies on generators; billions have been made from oil yet the region where it is produced is impoverished.

Today the country is faced with daily attacks by Boko Haram; religious and ethnic violence in Plateau State; rumblings from ex militants in the Niger Delta; political assassinations and increasing number of kidnappings; the labeling and abuse of children as witches.   Encircling all of  these is the ongoing corruption and here I am not only referring to politicians and civil servants but religious institutions and just about every aspect of life; the persistent decades long crisis in education, health, infrastructure, environmental destruction and the violence of poverty.  Of course none of these are peculiar to Nigeria and there are countries where corruption, poverty levels and violence are far far worse. But I dont want to get into the trap of comparisons. The point is how do we as citizens respond to our realities?  How do we respond to the gang rape of a young woman which is subsequently broadcast on YouTube or the extrajudicial murder of a young man also broadcast on YouTube?

By launching a campaign on 419 Reasons to Like Nigeria and Nigerians? The campaign takes its name “419” from the financial scams originally associated with Nigeria but copied by fraudsters throughout the world.  The first initiative to “like Nigeria” was the ‘The 419Positive Project’ which invited Nigerians and their friends to come up with “419 positive attributes of Nigerians”.  The “419 Reasons to Like ……..” follows on from this by asking bloggers and tweepers to write positive things about Nigeria which seems to me to be not only a thankless task but given the serious failings and present crises, wholly misdirected.   The energy spent in trying to come up with positive reasons to like a country would be better spent in organising and campaigning around the many problems which are being neglected.    The “419 positives”so far listed such as a Nigerian winning political office in Poland or winning a sporting event, though wonderful personal accomplishments, have no bearing on the shaping of political and economic forces in the country.    There is a political immaturity about the 419 Reasons……. which is little more than a tabloid gimmick with minimal substance in a country which is addicted to corruption, to militarism, to individualism, to religion and hypocrisy.   Though I fully respect her decision to stop writing, how I miss the insight and critical thinking of one of the very few serious Nigerian political blogs, Nigerian Curiosity.

Nigerian leaders have always viewed criticism as unpatriotic or even treason and many a journalist has paid the price for daring to speak out.   We as citizens should not fall into the same stupor of denial.  To be critical is not a betrayal rather it is our duty as citizens to raise the national consciousness and seriously engage with political processes.

Take the gang rape of the young woman and incidentally four weeks on and people continue to watch the video.  Abia State University deny the rapists are students. Neither the police nor the State government officials have come out to even make a statement let alone investigate and hopefully arrest the rapists.  Many of the comments on the Facebook page “Nigerians Against Rape” are voyeuristic as people go into detailed discussion on the video – who said what and did what and when and so the rape goes on and on.

Of course there are positives for instance resistance to violence and militarism or searching for ways to ensure that when women are raped they can expect to receive justice.  Here we can turn to the numerous examples of women who historically have been at the forefront of struggles for social and economic justice such as the market women of Aba and Egbaland,  Ogoni and Ijaw women. But these are not individual achievements they are actions by communities. What would they have achieved by trying to come up with 419 positives instead of facing the colonial state or an occupying army?

There is something disturbing whereby people feel the need to be liked because of their nationality or person which assumes one can be disliked for the same reason – neither is rational.  419 Reasons….. is an obsession with the self – please please like me because I am a really nice person and I can prove it.  It’s the encounters with people and communities and how we experience each other that influences the way we feel about particular people or groups of people.

 

9 Comments

  1. Dear Sokari,

    I can very well appreciate your view on this 419 Reasons to Like Nigeria initiative, however, the impetus for this initiative stems from dealing with stereotypes that link Internet searches for Nigeria with fraudulent activity.

    It gained momentum when a writer for Forbes.com specifically castigated Nigeria and then he apologised and went further to suggest attacking the stereotype head-on with this kind of initiative.

    Our purpose has been directed to dealing with that particular part of negativity, it has no wider purpose of tackling other activist causes you might want to attach to its context.

    Nigeria is hardly a homogeneous society neither are its problems singularly the ones we espouse because we think they are important – our focus is it point out that there is good amongst Nigerians and in Nigeria despite the issues we all face everyday.

    I am particularly disappointed that you failed to appreciate that in writing this blog.

    With kind regards,

    Akin Akintayo

  2. Sokari

    Yes, I do understand that the focus of the campaign or initiative as you refer to it and it is that that is the basis of my criticism. As you rightly state Nigeria is not a homogeneous society and I would add that is hardly unusual so I dont quite see why Nigeria should be specialised in this way.

    I dont even think the issues faced by Nigerians is particularly awful compared to many nations and I said this in the post. It is ludicrous to imagine that ALL Nigerians or ALL any nation are xxxx [ fill in the word]. Why have an initiative to point this out? Surely there are more important issues. Ordinary people – millions of them – across the world are taking to the streets including in Europe and the US calling for an end to the injustices, greed, poor governance etc yet the best we can come up is a campaign to get people to like us better!

  3. KD

    Sokari, you have some valid points…there is so much wrong with Nigeria right now. This is an evidential fact.
    What can we do about these macro and micro dysfunctions of the Nigerian
    state? It is a Herculean task, yet many young people are initiating
    projects in agriculture, IT, community development and societal change. Nonetheless, we cannot stop the detractors and looters directly.

    One of the least things people can do is
    to point the eyes of the world to other positive things about Nigeria.
    While we can’t directly stop the Boko Haram mess,
    neither can we single-handedly change local govt chairmen, we can certainly tell
    the world of the Mambilla plateau, the Obudu cattle ranch, the
    intelligence of the typical Nigerian mind, the beauty and diversity of Nigerian cultures,  etc.

    This is not a denial of issues, neither a white washing of sepulchres, but rather a stating of other
    existing facts about Nigeria, a telling of the other story. There are true, factual wrongs already out
    there, the least anyone can do (for now), is tell the world true, factual
    ‘rights’.
    While the government sorts itself out, this is the least we can do. Otherwise, honestly, there’s no point doing anything for Nigeria…even those trying to create change, face a brick
    wall.

  4. Sokari

    KD@ Why do we have to be so self-centered as to constantly worry about what others think of us to the point of pointing out what is good about us? As I said in my response to Akin, it is ludicrous to imagine that all Nigerians are “bad” that there is nothing “good” about the country etc, its not worth my time to point these out as an “initiative” – people can make that judgement for themselves when they read or hear or meet people that are doing amazing things.

    Rather than wait for the government to sort itself out – I would have thought it was up to the people to contribute to that “sorting out” – the government is not challenged by anyone, there is no civil society, no opposition so what incentive is there to sort anything out.

    What the 419 Initiative and the online vigilantes tells me is that we are a people in a state of “powerlessness”, we are faced with serious new realities and new technologies but we dont know how to use either or rather bring them together. Instead we specialise ourselves and become overly self-conscious and defensive.

  5. Dear Sokari,

    As you very well know, not everyone is given to radical activism, however, what ever little we can do as unwitting ambassadors of Nigeria we will do.

    We do not for once suggest that we are the embodiment of everything Nigeria but I am encouraged with the response to this initiative that we can get off the cynical mantra about Nigeria and work on identifying the issues that make us uniquely different.

    If we all stood back waiting to enter the mainstream of protests going on around the world, no initiative will take off concerning Nigeria. I doubt any government promotion exercise has attracted a wide range of positive views of Nigeria by Nigerians and their friends.

    We as Nigerian Netizens know just how much our internet profiles tend to define who we are just as getting out on the street would – it is your prerogative not to participate, but  to conflate this with your perspective of other Nigerian issues is wrong.

    Regards,

    Akin Akintayo

  6. Sokari

    Akin@ I am suggesting Nigerians take to the streets – [what a shocking thought!] there are other ways of organising through a strong civil society which it is easy for people to participate in – as someone said, revolution is not about changing governments its about changing human nature and everything will follow on from that.

    I do not see genuine criticism as “cynical mantras” – its part of the democratic process though democracy is now so corrupted.

    I dont see my duty to my country as that of “goodwill ambassador” rather, to quote myself

    “[Our] duty as citizens to raise the national consciousness”. We can as you suggest agree to differ on this.

  7. Sokari

    I seem to have lost my response – will try again later.

  8. Hello Sokari,

    Today we got our initiative off the ground and achieved what we desired, getting Nigerians and their friends to express goodwill concerning Nigeria for its 51st Independence Day anniversary in the 419 Reasons to Like Nigeria initiative.

    If and when other activities get off the ground from protests to other actions, we will also join in raising the banner to that cause.

    However little, we are doing something and that at least even from the most unimpressed should draw grudging praise.

    Regards,

    Akin Akintayo

  9. Sokari

    Hi Akin – Thanks for letting me know and good luck with your initiative.