Naija: Perennial violence, intractable imbecility and audacious hope

When Abdulmutallab burst onto the international scene, Nigerians of every walk of life were quick to label him an aberration, an anomaly in Nigerian life. But the continuing violence in Nigeria makes a mockery of our protestations; the only difference between Abdulmutallab and our Nigerian violence being location and race of intended victims.

Terror can be defined as “Violence committed or threatened by a group to intimidate or coerce a population, as for military or political purposes.” To deny that violence is not a part of Nigerian daily life is to deny life as a Nigerian.

The violence of NEPA officials or MOPO or Student Unionists, or Student forces of darkness is undeniable. Our roads are violent; the government’s refusal to make our roads motorable is a case in point. Some years ago hundreds were killed in Lokoja, when a dangote lorry ploughed into the market place. This is not the only danger, some time ago, highwaymen asked for a luxurious bus to drive over impecunious commuters crushing them beneath its wheels. The resulting carnage, is reminiscent of hell. I imagine that the terror those people were placed in was more than the instant combustion of a jetliner, though neither is defensible.

Our homes are violent, each day a new set of gory pictures of dead spouses are published on social media. These are met with curses and indignant cries blaming everyone but ourselves. We are the ones that have created a society in which one is expected to abide with violence in the streets and in the house.

And then there are the images from across the country, images that show that one human being knowingly and without compunction decimates another than sets him/her/them alight remorselessly reducing the worth of human life way below the worth of cattle. Let us not forget the Niger-Delta where human life has been reduced to bargaining chips by the militants and collateral damage by the oil companies. The idiots in government gleefully hold on to power, scampering for booty like mentally deficient fowls chasing a mirage. Their demented eyes rotating in their diseased heads like a one eyed man organising a rave, seeking for more loot to appease their flatulent, gluttonous and insatiable greed, blood dripping from their malevolent lips as they devour the life-blood of a people.

No! Terror is not an anomaly in Nigeria and each day we live is a gift. Violence is not an aberration, but each moment we are free from it is a blessing. Despite all this I still have cause to celebrate, for despite the carnage, hope remains, despite the violence, some peace remains and despite death we remain, unresting, questing, hopeful. I celebrate Nigeria’s people and I ask that we do not give up hope. Let us rejoice in the pockets of human generosity, let us delight in the kindness of strangers and let us retreat from violence. I ask that we be proactive in changing Nigeria. I ask that we choose peace, I ask that we choose charity, I ask that we choose life.

I Don’t Want to Talk about Race & Racism

The victims ask the hardest of all the questions: How is it possible that the person I loved so much lit no spark of humanity in you?”
Antjie Krog, Country of My Skull: Guilt, Sorrow, and the Limits of Forgiveness in the New South Africa

I do not like writing about race and racism, so I write this reluctantly. I believe labels are prisons which we use to deny each other and ourselves of the luxury of a nuanced identity. However, from reading people’s ideas about race I begin to realise that many myths exist. There are scripts and narratives entrenched in our subconscious that define our thinking. Because they are so entrenched we refuse to allow contestation, even when these narratives are patently false.

What is Racism?

Racism is difficult to define, however, it transcends mere hate or prejudice. I believe that the criminalisation of racist acts requires an objective definition of racism. So for my purposes as a legal scholar, I recognise the following definitions for my discourse.

According to the online Oxford Dictionary racism is ‘Prejudice, discrimination, or antagonism directed against someone of a different race based on the belief that one’s own race is superior.’

The Merriam-Webster online Dictionary defines it as ‘a belief that race is the primary determinant of human traits and capacities and that racial differences produce an inherent superiority of a particular race.’

There is a really detailed definition from the Cambridge online Dictionary which defines racism as ‘the belief that people’s qualities are influenced by their race and that the members of other races are not as good as the members of your own, or the resulting unfair treatment of members of other races.’

Three things connect all these definitions: ‘difference’, ‘inherence’ and ‘subservience.’ Racism is based on the idea that one race is inherently inferior and another is inherently superior. All oppressions and discriminations and oppression flow from these beliefs. The outcomes of racism include exclusion, prejudice, hatred, inequality, and injustice. Without the impression of inferiority racism lacks definition or objectivity. Stereotyping is unfair and mostly unfounded, but is not in of itself racist. Racial attacks are horrible, but when not predicated on hierarchical motives and ideas, these are not strictly racism. It is the outcomes of racism that are the most significant in this discourse.

Myths and Misconceptions about Racism

‘You cannot say certain words lest you be accused of racism.’ Mentioning someone’s race is not racism. The human race is beautiful in its diversity, recognising and celebrating that diversity empowers us. Patronising diversity is racism, because it is predicted on a narrative of inferiority.

‘S/he deserved that racist response.’ Racism is not justifiable and has no excuse. The idea that someone had done something to deserve racism is immoral. The need to demonise people who have been subject to racism goes back to the ideas of inherence and inferiority. If a person is a ‘thug’ then it is ok to be racist to them, right? Is it ever ok to be racist? This shows how deeply entrenched racism is in our psyche; it is easier to justify it than repudiate it.

‘Unintentional racism is not bad, also known as good people cannot be racist’. The problem with unintentional racism is that it is insidious, it is based on misinformation, ignorance and misrepresentations that are so deep-seated that confronting them will disrupt our understanding of the world around us. ‘The American Journal of Public Health reports that subtle racism is more psychologically damaging than overt discrimination. Whereas recipients can “shrug off” overt discrimination, subtle racism is more likely to be committed by colleagues, neighbours, or friends.’ Unintentional racism shows us that eradicating racism is an arduous and world-changing task that may not be finished in our lifetime. Josephine Kwhali talking about unintentional racism says “if it still is unconscious, there really is something worrying about what it will take for the unconscious to become conscious.” Millennia of campaigning?

‘Only a racist can do racist things.’ Racism is not an action. Identifying people as ‘racist’ is unhelpful and pointless. It is a label that is obtuse and opaque. Very few people believe that difference indicates inferiority deserving of exclusion. This does not mean that our actions cannot reflect the mores of the society which we live in. It is quite disconcerting to see people defend themselves against racist actions by saying ‘I am not a racist.’ The fact that you are not a tree does not mean you will not shed leaves if you have been walking through the forest. If you swim in effluent matter, you will smell, this does not make you human waste. The problem is that you can only legislate against an idea in societies where thought is crime. None exist…yet.

‘Racism is inherent in certain races.’ Not according to the above definitions of racism. The direction of racism in a society depends on the receptacle of power and privilege in that society. We cannot define the capacity for and character of racism solely by the experiences of our existence. Racism exists as difference, inherence and subservience. Any suggestion that a particular race is incapable of projecting these may itself be considered racist.

‘It is 2016, we are post-racial.’ The only thing that stops the narrative of the post-racial society from moving forward is the voices of victims who cry ‘No!’ Yet these are often called ‘playing the race card.’ Is it so difficult to believe that these cries may be true? Is it really, REALLY easier to believe that all, ALL people who complain of racism are lying?!

The Resulting Emotions of Racism

Rage: Rage is instinctive, it flows naturally from the offence. The feeling of powerlessness that racism inflicts results in rage and anger. The idea that one human being can take one look at another and consign the other to oblivion for no other reason than the colour of their skin has become so pervasive and unconscious such that the fact that this still happens induces rage. But wrath is destructive. Rage builds nothing. Anger tears apart the foundations of humanity.

Denial: The idea of racism is uncomfortable. The discomfort of the reality of the generational injustice makes us subconsciously reject the magnitude of its existence. But we cannot conquer what we do not face up to. This world belongs to us all. The good and the bad things are all ours to embrace or repudiate. Denial is futile and counterproductive.

Guilt: Guilt is universal. It arises out of a feeling of responsibility. We feel that by not doing more we have retrenched from our own high standards. But guilt is ineffective if we do not do more than feel guilty. If I have done/not done something that I should rightly feel guilty about, then it is my responsibility to change and not do or do. If I take no responsibility, then my guilt is self-serving.

Love: Love can never be too much. Love can be defined as ‘the unselfish loyal and benevolent concern for the good of another.’ Love and racism cannot cohabit. Love is like a candle that loses nothing by lighting another candle. Every action predicated on love that is pure will yield unselfish results. If we can look into to face of any human being and feel love, than the world will heal itself.

But indifference is not an emotion. It is the absence of emotion.

Remember that racism cripples us all, it objectifies the victim and deprives the world of the beauty of our dynamism and complexity.

Remember that victims are not saints and perpetrators are not monsters.

Racism exists and continues to be widespread because of the unconscious fear in accepting the existing level of racism is accepting that you could be a racist – that much racism cannot possibly exist without us all being complicit, overtly or covertly.

We have created the myth of the racist monster and the saintly sufferer. We need to avoid denying the humanity of monsters and the monstrosity inherent in all humanity. We need to repudiate hate and ignorance, and embrace positive change and love, accepting love, expansive love, for all.

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Oro yii yio ma l’ehin


Oro Agba as sung by Adebayo Faleti in Saworoide


Won ma le o 2x

They are wicked

Awon ijoye yii ma le o

Our leaders are wicked



Won ma le o

O They are wicked


Won so f’ara ilu

They told us


Pe ti’won l’awon o se

That they will help us fulfil our dreams


Won gba’gbara tan

When they became leaders


Won din’wo oniru

They make locust beans scarce


Won din’wo alata

They caused pepper to disappear


Won gbehin gba bariba

They use their position to enrich themselves


Iya n je ara ilu

And so the people suffer



Yio ma leyin 2x

They will reap the evil consequences of their actions

Oro yii yio ma leyin

They will definitely reap the evil consequences of their actions


Yio ma leyin 2x

They will reap the evil consequences of their actions

Oro yii yio ma leyin

They will definitely reap the evil consequences of their actions



Why I do not Watch Nollywood: the paralysis of stereotype

“A good story lets you know people as individuals in all their particularity and conflict; and once you see someone as a person—flawed, complex, striving—you’ve reached beyond stereotype.”
― Hazel Rochman

Nollywood, is probably one of Nigeria’s best loved exports. In terms of volume of output, the Nigerian film industry is the second biggest in the world, behind Bollywood; though its capital generation places it third behind Hollywood and Bollywood. Nigerian film-makers receive almost no governmental support, so the size of the industry is a source of pride for the people of Nigeria. Furthermore, it is much easier to identify with the characters in Nollywood films than any other film industry – they speak our languages, have our names, look like us.


Nevertheless, I have found it very, very difficult to develop any affinity for Nollywood’s products. Nigeria has the highest concentration of black voices anywhere in the world, Nollywood is the best opportunity to tell black African stories, but we fail miserably at it. The stories in our film industry are basic, simplistic and largely superficial. Most of the characters are not given the luxury of depth and subtext. Yet we complain that international media portrays us as two-dimensional, ‘single story’ subjects! No-one else has a responsibility to tell our story but us. Everything else is hearsay. We have told the world that we are concerned only with money, food, witchcraft and male children. They hear and believe what we say.


I would love to see the Bechdel test being applied to Nollywood films. The Bechdel test asks whether a film features at least two women who talk to each other about something other than a man. According to Nollywood, all women think of is how to get a man, how to keep a man, how to get rid of a man, how to get a new man, how to keep the new man from finding out about the old man, how to have man children for one of aforesaid men…

Representations are important. They have been at the centre of so many of the recent social media campaigns like #oscarssowhite #Rhodesmustfall #whyismycurriculumsowhite. The decolonising movement is also fuelled by questions of mis(representation). ‘If you cannot see it, you cannot be it.’ We need to see ourselves reflected in the media, anything infrequently reflected is perceived as undesirable. Nigeria is a complex country with different groups and classes, for many the only member of another group they will see will be on the television. Nollywood underrepresents and stereotypes very, very badly. The result is to make certain groups of people in Nigeria voiceless and invisible – women, ethnolinguistic minorities, people living with disabilities, survivors of traumas… people with principles. When someone tells you everyone is doing something, they really mean everyone on television is.


So we need Nollywood movies that have stories or plots… a script at the very least, something written down. A plot is meant to organize information and events in a logical manner. Many Nollywood films defy logic and have the power to lower the IQ. A suitable plot emotionally connects the viewer with the characters and their story. So we need characters. A character has to be multidimensional and logical. We need to know the driving force behind each character. A character has to be true to type. A character that starts out highly principled cannot halfway through the fifth part go and steal money without the plot giving us good reason to belief this great shift in character. And the explanation cannot be ‘everyone is doing it.’ We are human beings not moths. People would have us believe that great stories require money – in that sense Nollywood is a self-fulfilling prophecy. Great stories require patience.


We are bombarded with the same misrepresentations night and day; our subconscious imbibes what we see and it becomes reality. Our imagination is held captive by what we have already seen. Nollywood denies us the luxury of a many-textured existence. For our future, for our tomorrows, we need more complex and sophisticated imaginings; stories that explore the intricacies of our lived experiences, stories that engage with the full spectrum of Nigerian dreams and desires, sorrows and sadnesses, limitations and languishings. The colonisation of our intellect transplanted the colonial picture of Africans into our psyche. Achille Mbembe says that the representation of the precolonial Africa was that of:

‘a simple, unambitious creature who liked to be left alone. It was felt that the extraordinary simplicity of his or her existence was evidenced, first of all, by his/her manner of speaking: “no complicated sentence constructions; no tenses, no moods, no persons in verbs; no gender or number in nouns or adjectives; just what is required to express oneself: infinitives, nouns, adverbs, adjectives that are tacked on to one another in simple direct propositions.”’’

Valentin Mudimbe noted that the foregoing misrepresentations had disadvantaged Africa, he suggests that:

‘today Africans
themselves read, challenge, rewrite these discourses as a way of explicating and
defining their culture, history, and being.

But we do not, not enough. If we continue to permit representations of ourselves as people of low intelligence, no principles, people consumed with lust of the flesh and the pursuit of ill-gotten gains, this is what we will become. It is what we are becoming.


Humanity 101: Labelling not Helping

Labels are prisons. They deny us the dignity and the luxury of multiplicity of existence. Yet multiplicity is inherent. I am many.


If you follow the news in the papers and on your screens,

You will see that Humanity seems to have a new creed…

Before you help someone,

Before you give them your hand,

Before you look them in the eye,

Before you give them a shoulder to cry


It seems You have to first find out what their race is,

You have to know where they come from,

What is their background?

Are they male or female?


It seems you need to know,

Are they anything like you?

Do they share your faith or have none?

Are they beachbody ready or couch potato?

What is their politics?

Left or right or could not care less?


It seems to me that before you touch someone,

Before you look them in the eye,

Before you reach out and help,

You have label them,

It does not matter whether they are hungry, hated, dying, distressed,

Suffering adult running from war, or sorrowing child fleeing being poor,

You have to label them anything but…human.

Lessons by Boko Haram on the Right to Education

(This post is based on a paper I wrote last year)

On 14/04/2014, the world suddenly realised that over 200 Chibok girls had been in captivity for two years. To darken the picture further, Amnesty International suggests that over 2000 girls and women have been abducted by Boko Haram in the North of Nigeria during this period. Boko Haram is the sobriquet for a group whose activities are predicted on a violent abhorrence for ‘Western’ education. Their vicious campaigns have kept an estimated 120000 students from attending school of any kind. Obviously, if any case is to made against them as regards the abductees, a cause of action would properly lie within national criminal laws or for crimes against humanity. However, due to the ESC nature of the right to education, the 120000 students who have been excluded from school seem to have very little recourse to contest the violation of their right to education. This is because ESC rights are largely seen as non-justiciable. Also, the demarcation of rights into ESC and civil/political rights does not reflect the historicity and needs of the populace. An interesting approach to this incongruous distinction is taken by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACrtHR). What lessons, I ask, can we learn from this?

Lesson 1: The history of northern Nigeria should not be ignored in discussing education in the region. Islamic education was introduced in 700, colonial education around 1900. During British colonialism, to avoid internal resistance, very few missionary schools were established in the North. In 1912, Southern Nigeria had 36000 students, while Northern Nigeria had less than 1000. This unequal development has resulted in uneven levels of poverty, disease and illiteracy. It should be noted that colonial education was a vital tool of control and oppression, resulting in the erosion of African languages and precolonial identity. These tensions still fuel resistance to the state, which is sometimes seen as nothing more than a colonial successor.


Lesson 2: The demarcation of rights into two covenants does not cater for the needs of African post-colonial states characterised by influential cultural communities, powerful non-state actors, and direct international community activity. In SERAP v NGR (2009) the ECOWAS Court confirmed that the right to education was justiciable. However, citing available resources as a distinguishing mark of aspirational ESC rights ignores the fact that every right requires some sort of resource provision for implementation. The right to fair trial cannot be implemented without a judiciary. Therefore, the aspirational nature of a right depends on the nature and extent of deprivation, the needs of the community as well as the importance of the right. This categorisation also falsely relies on a strict Westphalian understanding of the relationship between individual and state as well as a linear concept of state development.

Lesson 3: Different approaches to implementing human rights should become mainstream. The IACrtHR has formulated and enforced the right to a ‘project of life’. The court’s jurisprudence reflects this in its ‘Panchito López’ v Paraguay, judgement where it held that violating the right to education destroyed ‘life plans/projects,’ thus violating the right to life.

panchito lopez

Lesson 4: A right to a project of African life may help resolve the tensions between culture and human rights. Boko Haram (and similar groups) feed on these tensions. However, the purposes and content of education have to be regionally analysed, especially in light of the revival of decolonising movements. The content of education needs to reflect the needs of the society, presently it does not. Schooling is done in English, creating a sense of ‘foreignness’ of education, also the curricula is externally assessed for suitability. By focusing on the mechanism of state and bypassing cultural communities IGOs show that they misunderstand the nature of African states. Note that appropriating culture as a human rights tool does not presuppose its primacy, nor remove contestation. However, it is impossible to mitigate the negative effects of a force with which you fail to engage and which forms a key part of a people’s identity.

Boko Haram has taught Nigerians many things –

To live in fear, knowing that any day, your home may go up in flames and your time on earth would be remembered by nothing more than charred remains not even fit to fertilise the soil on which you lived…

To stare into the face of darkness; to know that you can imagine the worst depravities on earth and know that those horrors are being experienced by girls who should be in school…

The deafening sound of silence from a non-functioning government, which seems to grow fat on the tears and blood of parents, sisters, brothers bereft of hope…

But there IS hope, there is always hope.

boko haram


Three Key Questions for ‘Decolonizing the Academy’


‘there is something grossly problematic when a Tanzanian student knows more about Shakespeare and Beethoven than he does about Shabaan Robert and Bi Kidude, the ‘Father of Swahili’ and the ‘Queen of Taarab’ respectively… it is essential we start with the premise that decolonizing academia is not about excluding anyone. It is about including everyone… It is not about what is in a curriculum but it is about what is left out. It is about broadening a history curriculum to include the history of Roman Empire and the Malian Empire. It is about expanding a language curriculum that has French, Italian and German to also include Mandarin, Hindi and Kiswahili. It is about challenging the cherry picking of history curriculum that has William Wilberforce ‘stopping’ slavery and an empire ‘giving’ independence to a colony without affirming successful anti-slavery and anti-colonial insurrections by the enslaved and the colonized. It is about ensuring students are conversant with the 50 states of the United States and 55 countries of Africa and hopefully putting to bed the widespread prejudiced misconception that the second largest continent in the world is a country. ‘

Source: Three Key Questions for ‘Decolonizing the Academy’