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A purely analytical perception...

The Check is in the Mail


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Last year brought incontrovertible good things to Nigeria in the award department.  Not only were they awarded the equivalent of the Nobel Prize for Graft and Corruption, but late in they year they moved from the middle of the pack into first place in the run for the annual Hubris award.  Britain banned Nigeria from the Commonwealth Meetings until they straightened their act out.  Nigeria, not a shrinking violet, counterattacked with a demand for reparations from Britain for over 500 years of exploitation.  Nigeria’s Minister of Information and Culture, Walter Ofonagoro, put their position in concise terms when he states, “Britain is known as a major dealer in slave trade, those who colonized us by force can not accuse us of human rights violations.  They should hide their faces in shame.”  We don’t know how they are going to assess or collect damages, but that same day another event occurred.


Jenkins Alumona, the editor of a new Nigerian magazine was picked up after he broadcast a sports program.  He was the editor of an opposition weekly magazine and was hauled off to jail without charges by Nigerian security police.  He will probably find good company in his jail in the person of Moshood Abiola, who was a presidential claimant in 1993 and almost caused a revolution with some of his anti-government statements, or Soji Omotunde, Editor of the African Concord, who was hauled away in the dead of night by government security agents for reasons that have not been made public.  For some unknown reason, his wife was shot to death while campaigning for his release.  In a symbolic gesture, a New York Street on which the Nigerian Embassy is located was renamed after Abiola’s murdered wife.  Lagos was not to be outdone and renamed the street on which the American Embassy sits after Nation of Islam leader, Louis Farrakan. 


Neither we, nor Britain, would disagree with the statement that the British were in the slave trade, which undoubtedly created substantial dislocations and worse among those that lived in Nigeria at that time.  It is hardly tit-for-tat when you arrest your own citizens in revenge for what happened over 200 years ago.  But then again, in today’s Nigeria -- as it was in Alice and Wonderland -- anything goes and time just doesn’t matter, because it is never what you think it is.


The day that Nigeria came out with their vitriolic rapprochement of modern day Brits for things their ancestors did no less than 10 generations ago, Saudi Arabian Airlines suspended flights to parts of Nigeria because of armed assaults on its company officials at those locations.  Incredibly, these people are fellow Moslems!   What is the world coming to when there is no respect for one’s own religious brethren? 


In spite of Nigeria rising ever higher in the listings of the rogue nations of the world, Nigeria is throwing a small party to celebrate the 4th anniversary of the current government’s illegal assent to power, the “World Conference of Mayors.”  Reports out of Nigeria state that mayors will be coming from all parts of the globe, including the United States and China.  General Sani Abach, Nigeria’s despotic leader, has set up the meeting at more than 350 mayors are slated to attend.  Neither the agenda of the conference, nor its purpose were disclosed to outsiders.


The only way these folks could get 350 mayors to set foot in Nigeria would be to give them body armor suits, an armored personnel carrier for transportation and the Swiss Guards for protection.  Furthermore, the government would have to be willing to pay all of the expenses and have enough gold deposited in an offshore bank to set the attendees up for life before any politician would want to committee political “hara-kiri” just for a trip to Africa.  Can you image the local mayor returning to his hometown and trying to explain what could have possibly learned in Nigeria?  “Well, we learned how to increase the city’s revenue base by offering a tax abatement to criminals to induce them to operate their scams right here in downtown Gotham, in exchange for a percentage of their take.” 


Sadly, it all had to come to end one way or the other it seems that Nigeria’s President General Sani Abacha, a Christian, had a bad habit of hanging around with women of the night.  He kind of hung around and hung around and hung around.  Some in the know say that his wife became infuriated with his hanging around and did him in with poison, which is the story our sources tell us is the fact.  On the other hand, some people say that it was his political opponents who poisoned him, and some are naively stating that the poor man died of a heart attack.  In spite of all these contradictory stories, the man was with three young women who were in the business of selling their bodies for a price when he died after drinking a glass of orange juice that had been laced with some very strong stuff.  There was no outpouring of grief at his demise and the authorities announced no national holiday. In the we couldn’t have said it better department:


“Yeah, he’s dead, but his legacy lives on. As Nigeria’s seventh military dictator, Sani Abacha took destitution, murder, repression, corruption and greed to a new stratosphere. This guy made Idi Amin look like a bona fide Berkeley philanthropist. The fat man was unscrupulous, power mad and paranoid. He rarely left Nigeria (who the hell would have him over for a state dinner anyhow?) and was involved in the last three coup attempts before finally taking the government’s reigns on November 178, 1993. His first act was to abolish all democratic institutions, including the senate, the national assembly ad the state councils. As well, he banned all political parties. He swept in military rule and purge the government of all civilians and the army officers loyal to former president Major General Ibrahim Babangida, who himself seized power through a coup in August 1985. Without any political or ideological agenda at all, Abacha, busied himself stuffing his pockets with embezzled cash - and ling those of the brown-nosing northern primroses - and executing dissidents. On March 22, 1999, $75 million in missing state funds was located and recovered from former state ministers, cronies and relatives of Abacha. Those seizures brought the total amount recovered to date from Abacha’s heist to just over $760 million. This guy may have been no Suharto ($15 billion) Mabuto Sese Seko ($5 billion), Haile Selassie ($2 billion) or Marcos ($10 billion) but Abacha could definitely get invited to the same blackjack table as Baby Doc Duvalier - who ripped off Haiti for $500 million.” ([1])


Strangely, Moshood Abiola, a man who had won the Nigerian Presidency in 1993, only to be denied office by the army, also passed away about the same time, and the rioting caused by his death’s suspicious nature has not stopped.  Many have died in the aftermath of both incidents, but there was a great difference between the two.  Abiola was a Muslim from the south of Nigeria whose family had a great deal of wealth; he died in prison, where he had been held since his aborted run at the presidency.  Although he had been terribly mistreated while incarcerated, it is more likely than not his was a case of a heart attack.  This is not going to appease the populous, which will not believe the results of the planned autopsy.  We can only hope that -- in spite of the untimely death of Abiola -- someone else arises to take charge of this racially divided country of immense potential, but incomprehensible record of underachievement. 


Of the immense oil riches extracted from this country, one can ask how much of that has filtered down to the country’s poor; the answer is literally none.  The standard of living in Nigeria does nothing but recede every year, and what is most amazing about this country is the fact that no one has enough oil to provide the energy to keep themselves warm or to even cook their food. However, vast oil pipelines run throughout the country, sending the oil pumped by Nigeria’s wells to tankers waiting at the docks to deliver their cargo for transshipment to oil-starved countries abroad.  Because these pipelines are ubiquitous, they seem to offer a deadly alternative to the inhabitants; cut a hole in the pipeline, drain out some oil and take care of one’s family.


Not so easy, for more often than not, the severing of the pipeline causes sparks which ignites the oil.  Usually, many people are killed as the explosions rock the countryside up and down the pipeline from the point of explosion.  Whole villages have been annihilated, and in most cases the bodies are so mutilated and charred they cannot be identified.  The only loss the government seems to feel is that of the liquid gold.  The people are not worth a second glance.


Vandals, youths and “rebels” routinely tap Nigeria’s fuel pipelines for the much needed gasoline they can’t find anywhere else. On October 17, 1998, at on brick pumping station in Ataiworo, a valve some of the vandals were siphoning from got stuck open. Gasoline came gushing from the pipeline, drawing entire villages packed down with pop bottles and buckets to collect the bounty. Then some idiot decided to play Marlboro Man and lit a fag. In Nigeria’s biggest human disaster, more than 700 people were killed in the ensuing fireball. A thousand more, barely alive, lay hideously charred in the local hospital. Their families snatched them from their beds as rumors spread that the pilferers would be arrested.” ([2])  

Once in a while the damage gets even more severe. Learning from the idiots that were tapping into the oil pipelines, a group of desperate Nigerians attempted to splice the electric transmission lines that brought energy to their area in order to feed some of into a local village. This plunged most of the country into darkness and stopped all electrically dependent businesses in their tracks within thirteen Nigerian States. In spite of Nigeria's substantial oil production abilities, the amount of power it is able to generate is at best described as modest. For example, Nigeria produces only about the same amount of energy as next door Ghana, a much small country with one-seventh its population. Not only are the villagers attempting to tap into the energy lines with disastrous results but scrap cannibals roam the region stealing anything that is movable. Most of Nigeria's energy industry is not protected and is regularly ravaged by bands of thieves that sell their bounty at two or three cents on the dollar. Replacement parts are in short supply in this part of the world, so when the system goes down, it tends to be out for a substantial period. Privatization would work well, but the Nigerian Government has just not gotten around to that concept yet.


Abacha’s demise brought surprisingly brought what many called a better life to one in six Africans ([3]). Olusegun Obasanjo became the new president in May of 1999 and got off to a poor start when during the inauguration of the brand new House Chamber the roof collapsed sending asbestos showering down on the entire legislature. However, in spite of the government’s inauspicious beginning, Obasanjo ran a reasonable uncorrupt government, at least for Nigeria. The country was being led toward democracy by an increasingly free press. One is now seemingly setting Nigeria apart from many of her neighbors is the tremendous interest of her people in what is going on. Historically, in Africa and elsewhere for that matter, the press is only a tool in the government’s hand, which is used to convey the particular “truth” being espoused by the government in power. Newspapers have become an awesome propaganda weapon, which is used to keep the people, confused, afraid and docile.


People in Africa have learned the sad lesson that on that continent, at least, for the most part, these so called newspapers are mere propaganda documents, issued by the government to state a particular point, the truth of the statement is not an issue. The ability of the press to operate freely has become the best signal that things are changing dramatically, and in Nigeria, in spite of the fact that there seems no abatement in their schemes to separate foreigners from their money from their money.  Moreover, this is a far cry from what was called “guerrilla journalism” which was practiced during the reign of Abacha. Printing presses were destroyed by Abacha as quickly as they could be located so that different presses were used nearly every night.


“Before, the goal of newspapers was to fight against the military, and journalism, facts even, were often secondary.” Said Ide Eguabor editor in chief of the National Interest, a daily. “Now we must change. We must get back to the basics of journalism. We must get away from political motives. Our newspapers must be allowed to mature.” ([4])


Today may well be the brighter tomorrow that Nigerians had dreamed about, but there are still so many problems in the country that it could easily slip back into military rule at any time. Poverty is ubiquitous, health care is only for the rich in the large cities, and good food is only available for a price. Now that the people have achieved a modicum of freedom, they may soon be wanting financial health, and that may be easier said than done.


[1] Robert Young Pelton, The World’s Most Dangerous Places, Harper Resource, 1998, fourth edition.

[2] Ibid

[3] The percentage of Africa’s total population made up of those from Nigeria.

[4] Nigeria’s Press Bounces Back From Military Rule, Norimitsu Onishi, The New York Times, February 21, 2001.






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