Monday, 24 October 2011

After Libya, which country is next?

“We have Plan A, Plan B and Plan C. Plan A is to live and die in Libya. Plan B is to live and die in Libya. Plan C is to live and die in Libya.”

– Saif al-Islam Gaddafi, son of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, talking to CNN on February 26 on the ruling family’s option in the wake of the deadly protests in the country.

By all accounts, Libya has just entered a new era, with the brutal killing of Col. Muammar Muhammad al-Gaddafi last Thursday by the country’s rebels at his hometown of Sirte. My predictions in two previous columns on Libya that the current status in that country would be reached in the months to come have now proved almost prescient. All the ingredients of this tragic end were there – some for decades. Gaddafi’s 42 years in power had made him the world’s fourth longest-ruling non-royal leader since 1900, as well as the longest-ruling Arab leader. No matter how benevolent his regime, his autocracy could no longer be sustained in the modern world.

In my first piece on the Libyan tumult, titled, “Men Without Ears,” published on the back page of Leadership on February 26, 2011, I argued, “As at now, the Libyan conundrum, which the world is watching more keenly because of the high stakes involved, appears to be going the way of the ones that took place in Tunisia and Egypt since January. Which makes it permissible to say that Gaddafi’s days in power are numbered. In spite of his and his son Saif al-Islam’s braggadocio, the president is gradually losing control of the levers of power, with large chunks of the country being taken over by rebellious protesters.”

In my second column on the issue, titled “The Way the Cookie Crumbles,” published in Blueprint two months ago when Gaddafi finally went into hiding, I wrote: “One wonders what becomes of the North African country in the post-Gaddafi era. The West must avoid making its Iraq mistakes after it toppled Saddam Hussein in 2003. Since the purpose of Gaddafi’s ouster is to give Libya a better future, the change should not be geared solely towards serving Western interests. To achieve this, no foreign troops should be allowed in... Libya should become a democratic nation whose Islamic identity is preserved. It should never become a family-centred dictatorship with a tunnel vision for development again if the overthrow of Gaddafi’s superstructure must be justified.”

Now that Gaddafi is gone, Western countries that backed the insurrection against him are lining up to exact their interests with more zeal. The country has the largest oil reserves in Africa. Now we will see if Libya’s National Transitional Council, which is putting together a government, have done what they did out of patriotism. If they mortgage Libya’s sovereignty to foreigners, then it is up to the ordinary people to give them the “Gaddafi treatment.”

This means that it is not over yet in Libya until we see what the new leaders are going to do. Is it democracy or another dictatorship woven around some cabal with pecuniary interests? Are the new leaders, in order to fulfil their pledge of “modernising” the nation, going to build a system based on the cultural and religious values of the people? Or are they, as many analysts fear, going to make Libya the 53rd state of the U.S.? The 51st and the 52nd states are Israel and Afghanistan respectively, of course!
I have other worries. After Libya, which country is next? Syria quickly comes to mind. The country is also in the throes of the so-called Arab Spring that revolutionised Tunisia and Egypt. Beyond Syria, however, the West is expected to be looking around at other “soft” targets where its Dracula could find cheap blood or, if you will, oil. Look around, and you will see Iran in the horizon. Or Nigeria, for that matter, which a U.S. intelligence report predicted would fall apart in a few years’ time.

In a new poll by the daily Kommersant, Russian experts cited Syria, Iran, Yemen, Venezuela and Nigeria as possibly the next in the line of countries likely to follow in Libya’s footsteps. One of them, State Duma Deputy Vadim Solovyov of the Communist Party faction warned that the American economy is in need of inexpensive oil, so the U.S. is ready to wage wars in order to get it. He specifically argued that any country with large reserves of energy resources such as Iran, Syria, Venezuela or Nigeria could come next.

Another Russian expert polled by the newspaper was the deputy head of the Liberal Democratic Party faction, Maxim Rokhmistrov, who said: “What we have been witnessing is a redistribution of spheres of influence, where the United States is the main player.”

Are we ready to play a Gaddafi if such eventuality happens, knowing that we have many rebellious types? My take is that Nigeria’s divisive nature, plus the various militant wars going on, makes us an easier target than Libya or Iran, both of which had resisted decades of Western machinations. Surely for our leaders, the time to be sleeping with one eye open is here. Cold comfort, the Americans are already here.
Let’s pray.


Published in BLUEPRINT today

Tuesday, 18 October 2011

Kwankwaso’s policy on movies

When I met Governor Rabi’u Musa Kwankwaso for the first time last month, I was eager to ask him a question on the policy of his government on movie production. During the final three years of the regime preceding his, there had been a cat-and-mouse contest between stakeholders in the Hausa movie industry and the Kano state government. Many actors, producers, musicians, marketers, etc., were arrested, heavily fined, jailed and or had their offices locked up and their property confiscated through dubious legal processes. Many were forced into exile in neighbouring states. One Abubakar Rabo, notorious for his near-crazy loathing for the movie trade, was heading the state Censorship Board in a Gestapo manner. He committed himself to the emasculation of the industry, using false propaganda and coercive instruments of the state. Consequently, Kano’s huge army of unemployed swelled. (The industry had employed thousands of school leavers and other layabouts for whom government could not provide jobs).

The reason adduced for this reign of terror by Governor Ibrahim Shekarau was that Hausa movies were corrupting morals and that movie industry stakeholders were not practising what they preached. He also claimed, during the last presidential debate, that he was responding to the demand of members of the society for the industry to be chained. Truly, there is a fringe view in Hausa land which holds that movies are sinful and should be banned – the kind of view imposed against women education in Afghanistan under the Taliban.

One of the comical regulations imposed by Rabo was that movies should not be shot at night so that men and women would not use the opportunity to commit fornication – as if those who engage in illicit sex (including top government officials) do so only at night!

The government’s stance wasn’t tenable because it was hypocritical. Many of its top guns were known to be living double lives, morally speaking. Nollywood flicks, which are more explicit, and even smuggled x-rated movies, were on sale in many parts of Kano. Moreover, during the run-up to the 2007 general election, Shekarau himself had exploited the film stars’ popularity to canvass votes. He held a lavish movie awards ceremony in government house where he extolled the virtues of film-making and distributed gifts. In the following months, he courted the industry through all manner of tricks, including donating a new bus to the film-makers’ association and, later, receiving an industry award at Arewa House, Kaduna. But when the Hiyana sex scandal broke out in 2007 and the anti-movie lobby found a louder voice, Shekarau launched his crackdown on the stars. After all, he had won his re-election and reckoned that he did not really need them. The latter view proved suicidal because the industry played a key role in defeating his party in the April 2011 polls when its crowd-pulling members like Sani Danja and Ibro joined the campaign train of his arch-rival, Kwankwaso.

Today, there is a sea change. Dr Kwankwaso is building a bridge of understanding between government and the industry. In response to my question during our interview with him, published in Blueprint on September 26, he said: “The film industry in Kano is very important for obvious reasons. For one, it is capital-intensive and has the capacity to boost the state’s economy. Secondly, and this is very crucial, it has the potential to create mass employment opportunity to the youths - both male and female - and this is one of our objectives: to provide job opportunity to as many people as possible. So, I have made it clear that our administration would give all the needed support to make sure the film industry thrives like any other industry in the real sector.”

In spite of his positive outlook, however, the governor is not blind to the need for the regulation of the business. He explained, “But be that as it may, we also have our religious and cultural values to protect against adulteration in any way by the filmmakers or any group of people.” He is setting up a Kano Film Institute in Tiga “so that the industry will be sanitised.” This is clearly a purposive and focused leadership. There are no frenzied, false claims or pretences. There is simply a clear urge to reduce unemployment while firmly minding cultural preservation.

The movie practitioners should repay this gesture by producing qualitative movies that are also sensitive to culture and religion. They should do away with their Indian copycat impulses and be professional. Hausa movies should be made to appeal to a universal audience through originality even if they have to be modern in outlook. It doesn’t have to take a Malam Rabo to remind the practitioners about this.


Published in BLUEPRINT yesterday

Saturday, 15 October 2011

Suntai and the rest of us

These days it is easy for anyone to get angry over the slightest provocation. The daily grind of life in our country has made most people – “big and small” – to be on a short fuse. Our politicians are arguably the most harrassed, what with the hassle of winning an election and then maintaining “relevance” in the polity, as well as oiling one’s constituency using tons of currency on a ceaseless basis.

Given this background, perhaps Nigerian journalists would find Governor Danbaba Suntai’s diatribe against them excusable. Suntai (‘Pharm.’ to the uninitiated) last week made his true views about news men known to the world. The Daily Trust reported on October 5, 2011: “Taraba State Governor Danbaba Danfulani Suntai has said that he hates journalists and never wants to have anything to do with them.”

It was the kind of story that should make media managers (such as Suntai’s energetic information commissioner Emmanuel Bello) scramble to ‘manage the crisis’ through heated denials. So far, mum is the word from Jalingo, which tells me that the 50-year-old pharmacist-turned-politician was not misquoted after all. Well, well, sigh! So, someone out there in Taraba hates us, the pen-pushers. And to think that it is the chief security officer of the state! Are journalists now safe in Taraba? Now don’t bet on it!

The question is: why does His Excellency hate journalists so much? The report quoted him as saying it is “because they publish lies and are used by canny politicians to fight other politicians.” Journalism ethics in Nigeria, according to the governor, “are based on falsehood.”

Hitherto, Suntai used to strike me as a lover of the media, thanks to the efforts of his spin-doctors. Now I cannot say for sure why he showed his “true colours” in such a burst of anger. However, one can risk a guess that his current impression of journalists is a result of some unsavoury encounter with the media in the past. One of which could be his 2007 battle with Danladi Baido.

It will be recalled that Suntai did not participate in the PDP primaries of that year; the party’s candidate, Baido, was substituted with Suntai by the national headquarters of the party after Baido was disqualified two months to the election. In that strange era in our nationhood, any candidate on the ticket of the nation’s ruling party was favoured to “win” an election. With Baido’s backing, Suntai went ahead and won.

Their marriage of convenience did not last, though. What followed was a war of attrition, with the media being one of their major battle-grounds. With Baido accusing Suntai of plotting to kill him, it was an all-out propaganda war for the hearts and minds of the general public. Now, I don’t know who won the media war, but it is easy to surmise that Suntai was able to not only survive the four years of his first tenure but was also able to get re-elected last April. The media helped.

Suntai was also a victim of another war of attrition early in 2009 when a nebulous group, Concerned Indigenes of Taraba State, petitioned President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua, as well as the EFCC and the ICPC, accusing him of massive corruption. He was alleged to be a freak for foreign cars, that he was also importing foreigners to replace local workers and that he was inflating contracts for road constructions for self-enrichment. Of course, these charges turned out to be false, concocted by his detractors in order to do him in, especially in the run-up to the 2011 elections. But, again, like the cat with nine lives, he survived.

There could more of such encounters.

Clearly, the governor was bruised, even if psychologically, by such brushes with media propaganda. I will not go into disputes with him except on point of his generalisations. One has heard such claims before, that the enemies of politicians – who must also be politicians – use some journalists against their opponents. However, I make bold to say that it is not all journalists that are used that way. And it is not only a Nigerian thing. The love-hate relationship between politicians and the media is a universal phenomenon which has been a subject of study right from the day journalism – or politics itself – was born.

Ironically, Governor Suntai made his assertion when launching his state-owned newspaper, the Nigerian Sunrise, on October 4. In spite of his chest-thumping that he wouldn’t have sunk public funds into the project if not for the trust he has in the management consultant of the paper, Barrister Danjuma Adamu, the mere act of giving birth to a newspaper showed that, somehow, Suntai believes in the journalism profession. The fact that someone like Adamu exists to earn his respect and trust means that there are many others like the consultant.

I’m also persuaded to believe that Suntai hopes to use the Sunrise one way or the other to advance his own causes. Of course, I wouldn’t expect him to use it against his opponents in the state the way most politicians use the media under their control. If he does that now or in the future when he removes it from state control when he leaves offices, as he vowed to do, then it would be the turn of journalists to hate him in return. But for now, we will continue to regard him as a hostile friend.


Published in BLUEPRINT last Monday

Sunday, 9 October 2011

Wangari Maathai was here

‘She only planted trees’: Wangari Maathai talking with President Barack Obama in Nairobi, Kenya, in 2006. Photo: AP

She was not expected to act that way. An African woman is supposed to keep quiet and be deaf and dumb. Speaking out against perceived injustices is not her fort. It is sad that Wangari Maathai, who rejected that stereotype and spent the better part of her life trying to make our planet a better habitat, is no more. The dark-skinned Kenyan professor, who died on Sunday last week at the age of 71, was a true African daughter who channeled her energy towards doing the general good.

Maathai’s milk of human kindness was spread far and wide in the course of promoting her beliefs. This woman, whom some called the Tree Mother of Africa, campaigned for the preservation of the environment for the sustainability of the species. She believed that a healthy environment helped improve lives by providing clean water and firewood for cooking, thereby decreasing conflict. Concerned for the abject condition in which all species live in Africa, she founded the Green Belt Movement, which planted 30 million trees in the hope of improving the chances for peace. This triumph for nature inspired the United Nations to launch a worldwide campaign that resulted in 11 billion trees planted.

Even though the Green Belt Movement started as an environmental sanity group, Maathai expanded it to accommodate issues of peace and democracy. She explained that over time it became clear to her that responsible governance of the environment was not possible without democracy. “Therefore, the tree became a symbol for the democratic struggle in Kenya. Citizens were mobilised to challenge widespread abuses of power, corruption and environmental mismanagement,” Maathai said.

Was she wasting her time? The biggest destroyers of the human ecology – governments and Big Business – didn’t care. But, still, we as individuals – each one of us – have a role to play in making our habitat safe and long-lasting. If we fold our arms, the dangers posed by the depreciation of the habitat and corruption through our reckless activities would soon catch up with us.

Maathai explains this better in the film, ‘Dirt! The Movie,’ where she narrates the story of a hummingbird carrying one drop of water at a time to fight a forest fire, while animals like the elephant asked why the bird was wasting its energy. “It turns to them and tells them, ‘I’m doing the best I can.’ And that to me is what all of us should do. We should always feel like a hummingbird,” Maathai said. “I certainly don’t want to be like the animals watching as the planet goes down the drain. I will be a hummingbird. I will do the best I can.”

Geir Lundestad, director of the Nobel Institute, which awarded Maathai the peace prize in 2004, said: “Many said, ‘She is just planting trees.’ But that was important, not only from an environmental perspective, to stop the desert from spreading, but also as a way to activate women and fight the Daniel arap Moi regime.” He added, “Wangari Maathai combined the protection of the environment with the struggle for women’s rights and fight for democracy.”

Not surprisingly, for this ‘unAfrican crime’ of a woman confronting those big destroyers, she soon began to pay a price. The then dictatorial President of Kenya, Daniel arap Moi, called her “a mad woman” who was a threat to national security. She was beaten up and vilified, and her husband threw out.

Maathai’s determination of continuing to live her beliefs did not go in vain, though. Her work was recognised by governments, organisations and institutions, as well as individuals, all over the world. She received many accolades and awards, including the Nobel Peace Prize, becoming the first African woman to to do so.

Today, her great legacy is that there is more awareness about the ills of corruption, environmental degradation, the capacity of women to empower themselves without having to wait for droplets from men, and the fact that a focused and committed human spirit can never be defeated by repressive regimes. Today, we cannot say that we were not inspired by Wangari Maathai.
The question, however, is whether we will put this knowledge to use. Should we still continue to behave like those silly animals whose forest has caught fire, their habitat being inexorably consumed by the conflagration? Or should we act like the tiny bird which decided to give its widow’s mite towards containing the catastrophe? Your guess about where I stand is as good as mine, courtesy of the fact that Wangari Maathai was once here on this planet.


Published in BLUEPRINT, on Monday

Free Palestine: Not on Obama’s watch

Published in Blueprint recently:

Free Palestine: Not on Obama’s watch

Come Friday, President Mahmoud Abbas is going to table a formal request to the U.N. for the recognition of Palestine as an independent nation. In a televised address three days ago, he declared: “We are going to the United Nations to request our legitimate right, obtaining full membership for Palestine in this organisation.”

This historic moment comes at an odd time for many in the two sides of the divide. Abbas is relying on the goodwill of some nations around the globe – including Britain – that regard the Palestinian Question as an anathema in a fast democratising world.

Israel was created in 1948 following the Nazi extermination of six million Jews during the Holocaust.

As a result, millions of Palestinians were forced out of their land to live in the West Bank, Gaza, East Jerusalem and in exile. For over six decades, Israel has occupied most of the land, using brute force and
snubbing all entreaties and U.N. resolutions.

In arriving at this week’s milestone, much of the world believes that Palestine has a legitimate right to full statehood based on the borders of June 4, 1967, with East Jerusalem as its capital. The talk of an Arab spring and whatever promise it holds for the region rings hollow in the face of the gargantuan injustice being suffered by the Palestinians.

In his TV address Friday, Abbas pricked the conscience of the world when he said: “The United Nations was set up to protect the rights of the people, and to help people’s self-determination and to prevent occupation of others with force... As a Palestinian delegation, we take with us all the suffering and hope of our people to achieve this objective and to end the historic grievances so that we can enjoy freedom and independence inside a Palestinian state.”

The President’s going to New York is not the same thing as getting his wish, though. Already, the United States’ legendary foreign policy hypocrisy vis-à-vis the Palestinian Question is emerging. Uncle Sam is acting true to type, vowing to veto the Palestinian bid in the Security Council.

President Barack Obama has since caved in to the influence of the powerful Jewish lobby, making it clear that there shall be no statehood for Palestine now.

Those who recall Obama’s antecedent without matching it with America’s basic interest in the Middle East would be excused for getting surprised. In Cairo two years ago, the President enchanted the Muslim world when he stated emphatically, in that wondrous watershed speech, that the U.S. was going to enter into a new epoch of understanding and mutual respect with the Muslims wherever they live. Also last year, Obama stated that he hoped to see a sovereign state of Palestine join the U.N. by September 2011.

Though his stance is that Palestinian statehood should be achieved through direct talks, rather than through the U.N. bid, his comment did open a big window of hope for the beleaguered people. That window is going to be banged shut by the same leader of the free world when Abbas takes his case to the world body.

Doubting Thomases like me should not be surprised at this crude volte-face. In Cairo, Obama’s head was in the clouds about what it means to be a U.S. President, hence the lurid promises he made on peace. Two years down the line, he has woken up to the reality of what the Jewish lobby is capable of doing to an American presidency. The lobby has succeeded in arm-twisting him by portraying him as a near-enemy right from when he began to articulate his Middle East vision. At a time when the Republicans are gnawing at his hithero soar-away popularity and even snatching key Democratic enclaves in the run-up to the U.S. general elections, the President is proving his commitment to defending larger Israeli interests – principal of which is the denial of statehood to Palestine and preventing it from becoming the U.N.’s 194th member nation. Obama knows that the two-state solution cannot be achieved through direct negotiations, yet he insists on playing Prime Minister Netanyahu’s card of sticking to that unworkable formula. It is in line with America’s one-sided foreign policy of supporting the Jewish state and keeping the Palestinians in perpetual servitude.

As such, this week is bound to become just another of the many letdowns the Palestinians had seen in sixty years, including the aftermath of the now-foundering landmark 1993 Oslo peace accords. But for the Obama administration, this veto will expose the hollowness of the rhetoric about a new clime of understanding with the Muslim world. Already, many reversals have been witnessed. The veto will simply hit the final nail on the coffin of such deceptive rhetoric. One cringes to think that the world is getting back to square one.