Emeka Nweze is an autodidact, a writer and media ecologist. He holds a Bachelor of Communications from University of California. He presently resides in Abuja, Nigeria and is completing the national youth service program.
September 6, 2012
Brain Drain in Nigeria
This entry pertains to the brain drain phenomenon that is crippling Nigeria.
I would like to begin by apologizing for the long bout of silence. It is poor taste to for anyone discuss in purple passages his or her jeremiads so I’ll leave it at that and transition into the topic at hand.
There are lots of three dollar, academic definitions for the term Brain Drain. I know this is asking much but please discount what you have heard about this phenomenon so far. Brain Drain is simply this:
Competent person: “This country sucks. I know somewhere else where my abilities are appreciated.”
Competent person 2: “This country sucks. I know somewhere else where my abilities are appreciated.”
Competent person 3: “This country sucks. I know somewhere else where my abilities are appreciated.”
Competent person 2000059: “This country sucks. I know somewhere else where my abilities are appreciated.”
And so it goes. Sooner than later the country’s labor force, the very thing that it is married to its purchasing power, gradually seeps away until nitwits become the dominant element. This is what is happening to Nigeria. If you have had the tremendous fortune of being graced by the material in my earlier entries, you will have no trouble recalling that this region of the world is littered in ethnic conflict, religious conflict, political conflict you name it. And just now the fair citizens of this pale blue dot are just recovering from one of the worst economic recessions in recent history.
The focus of any beast sporting a brain cell is cohesion, deregulating deregulation, willing to bend over backwards to resolve conflicts that are bad for business (war lords are naturally excluded), etc. And yet…for some reason, that doesn’t seem to register. As far as I can tell, most people carry on as if China hasn’t become a serious super power in the space of seven years. They passively accept the soaring food prices, spike in regional conflicts and sharp decline in currency value precipitating longer working hours as all “part of the plan.” How comes it pray tell, that a civilization capable of cloning sheep, sending representatives to the moon, split atoms is having trouble feeding ten percent of its population?
The aforementioned are related, but the following can conclude the subject of Brain Drain. When Einstein fled Germany after years of extreme persecution due to his advocacy of non-violence (yep, you guessed it fighting non-violence with violence) a popular Berlin German newspaper sported the following headline: “Good News from Einstein – He’s not coming back.” That we ostracize and denigrate the best of us and honor and decorate the worst of us has been the calling card of humans since time immemorial. If current events are a testimony of some sort, humans always know precisely what to do with wisdom, courage and moral imagination. Oh and on the off chance that the reader finds this entry too grim, may I recommend some non-engaging mindless form of entertainment we use to distract ourselves?
July 24, 2012
A Case Against Race
History was made in the year 1967 when the United States Supreme Court finally decided the Racial Integrity Act of 1924 was pretty stupid and ended all restrictions on marriages between “races”. Less than fifty years ago, a “person of color” could be arrested, detained and even imprisoned for marrying or “engaging in sexual relations” with a “white” person. Now that we have a “person of color” sitting in the “white house”, one might believe that times have changed for the better. But here too, appearances can be deceptive. Only three years ago, while working in Berkeley California, my boss (a “white” man) described how his home was relentless vandalized night after night simply because his wife was black. In retrospect, having a polysyllabic, “ethnic” name like Chukwuemeka Obinna Nweze on my resume probably shot the very foot I was trying to get in the door, but I digress. The point I was trying to make with my boss’s story is that most people really do remain tied rather steadfastly to the delusion that there is such a thing as race and color. Before I definitively demonstrate that “race” and “color” are simply ways of thinking (i.e. of imagining), a brief sketch of the “race-dream” a staggering majority of people unwittingly participate in is in order.
Hypo descent, the automatic assignment of children of a mixed union between socio-economic or ethnic groups to the group with the lower status, was adopted as law first in Tennessee in 1910.
“Almighty God created the races white, black, yellow, malay and red, and he placed them on separate continents. And but for the interference with his arrangement there would be no cause for such marriages. The fact that he separated the races shows that he did not intend for the races to mix.” – statement made in 1959 by Loving versus Virginia trial judge Leon M. Bazil. According to an April 2008 article in a Pakistani newspaper, Pakistani senators defended the practice of burying young women alive who were judged guilty by tribal elders of having engaged in a relationship with men “not of their tribe”. It is crucial that people don’t see my election as somehow a sign of progress in the broader sense, that we don’t point to me any more than you point to a Bill Cosby or a Michael Jordan and say, “Well, things are hunky-dory.” There is certainly racism here. – Barack Hussein Obama on his election to be the first “black” president of the Harvard Law Review.
Now that we have some context, let us examine the terms “race” and “color”. Lest our opponents accuse us of obscurantism, let us be clear about what it is we are asserting. Race and color are simply products of the imagination. Let us commence with the latter. Color, denotes how things affect this or that human body. For instance, the color of irises actually vary with external conditions. But if the property varies then it is not inherent to the thing as it truly is. A square for instance, does not stop having four equal straight sides and four right angles. The redness or blueness of the square we are examining is what Aristotle called an accident. Simply put, an accident is a property of a thing that is not essential to its nature. The sky for instance, can be imagined as blue, grey, or even red. These properties tell us very little about its nature. At best, it tells us how external conditions affect it and our bodies. Our demonstration, like all clear demonstrations, has universal application. Therefore we can confidently conclude that if the redness of squares is a product of our imagination, so is the conviction that God created whiteness, blackness, yellowness, malayness and redness in this or that object. That is it for color.
Race is a lot trickier because the truth is, most definitions were and still are, loaded with political agendas. For instance, “blacks” were classified as the accursed sons of ham to justify slavery. As soon as science usurped organized religion’s throne of authority, political hustlers with agendas sought to paint their assertions with the veneer of authority by claiming to have amassed “data” proving that the “races were quite distinct and different from each other. Then we have the demonization of this or that group to invoke war like sentiments (yellow peril and the red scare remains a personal favorite). As I warned earlier, most if not all arguments that “race” exists have their footing on irrational grounds. Nonetheless, given the tendency of those who sleep fitfully to lash out blindly, I am hesitant to conclude that “race”, like color, is a product of the human imagination. So please allow me to clarify that I am black and proud (for no due cause mind you) to be so. This is where this entry ends. Some dude hacked my laptop and added these last lines so as a proud black man I can’t be held responsible for what follows:
Don’t believe what your eyes are telling you. All they show is limitation. Look with your understanding, find out what you already know and you’ll see the way to fly.
July 6, 2012
Conservative estimates place the national literacy rate at 57 percent. A disturbing percentage of teachers across all levels are unqualified. The infrastructures aren’t inadequate, obsolete or in disrepair: it is simply non-existent. No doubt, some will take umbrage with my candid castigation. If you, my reader, are indeed one of the “some”, then before launching into a frenzied rebuttal, please stop and think for a second. Yes, Einstein: there it is. You can read. Your umbrage is proof of such. A majority of Nigerians do not have the privilege (yes, yes Bacon got it right: knowledge IS power) to be offended. The reason is simple if depressing. They cannot read.
There are several culprits we can charge for this disgraceful state of affairs. The dismal government expenditure on education (well below 10%) sounds like a prime candidate. It certainly ties in rather well with the incessant corruption perpetually stagnating Nigeria’s socio-economic development. However, my entries always have brevity as an ingredient. Ergo, our focus will be on what I consider to be the two most salient culprits: ethnic conflicts and religious convictions.
The first miscreant, ethnic conflict is no small fry and almost excuses the debacle that is Nigeria’s education system. With over two hundred and fifty ethnic groups and five hundred living languages, Nigeria is not “culturally diverse”. It is a mind numbing cacophony of tongues, customs, marriage rites, and inevitable “preferential treatment”. This particular perpetrator in our line-up is most certainly responsible for the miserable condition of this nation’s education system. But…can we really pass sentence in good conscience? If Americans, with just one language and hope (American dream), are prey to internal conflict and misunderstandings, what chance does a nation with over a thousand different dialects and customs stand?
The second crook is a heavy weight of some repute. Its influence even extends to Nigeria’s international image is such that even foreigners that couldn’t point Nigeria out on a map if their lives depended on it associate the word Nigeria with religious. Usurping the phrase “Nigerian letter” is no small feat. But the seemingly relentless bombings and the blood-curdling collateral damage in the form of innocent children is a testament to just how deep-seated problem the problem actually is. Naming your terrorist organization “western education is sin” only substantiates my argument. Understanding is viewed as evil in this part of our pale blue dot. On the other hand the accumulation of items you lose interest in as soon as you get home is exalted. Spilling gallons of innocent blood to preserve ignorance is the noble path to securing one’s place in the limited theater called afterlife.
June 21, 2012
Most of my readers are no doubt aware of the airplane that crashed into Nigeria’s most densely populated city on June 4, effectively killing all one hundred and fifty three passengers on board. What most of my readers are most likely unfamiliar with is the fact that the ill-fated airplane was over twenty years old.
This catastrophe, unfortunate as it is, remains a mere a symptom of a graver illness. The diagnosis in brief is this: ALL (as in not some) modes of transportation in Nigeria are in a state of horrendous disrepair. I can provide easy to substantiate statistics concerning Nigerian-based airlines and fatality rates, or I can proceed with my signature technique of providing you, my reader with an “on the ground’ perspective. I’ll opt for the latter.
The transportation system of a country populated over one hundred and sixty million people is expectedly large and convoluted. So let’s keep things simple and examine three modes I’ve actually used: the okada, the keke napep and the bus.
If you ever find yourself in a city in Nigeria and fancy the okada (commercial motorcycle) as an expedient solution to arriving at this or that location on time due to its ability to weave through dense traffic…don’t. There are no words to describe the strange “cargoes” I have seen this tiny machine carry from one point on this planet to another. I loathe taking the lord’s name in vain, but even HE must have done a double take at the sight of some “fares”. I’ve seen goats, half a cow, a gate (yes the gate of a house), building equipment, two passengers, three passengers, three passengers and a sack of garri…but it is not just the cargo that makes one pause for thought (by thought, I mean standing with my jaw grazing the ground). In times of desperation and despite my better instincts, I have gotten on one of these contraptions. The driver must have been very new at his job because we crashed into three pedestrians, a car and after grazing my shoulder against a passing car, the machine finally spun at a funny angle and flipped us off. We were still quite far from my destination, but I paid the driver handsomely, thanked him for not killing me and limped (my big toe was…never mind) all the way.
The keke napep (commercial trycicle, or motor rickshaw)is considerably safer than the okada. It is supposed to seat three passengers. But the good lord gets carried away sometimes and some people end up with more “people” than is necessary. This one passenger took up space meant for three. I summed up the situation in nanoseconds and the thought of pain led me to convey two words to the driver: hell no. But there was an impending rainstorm and the perishables in my backpack drove me towards becoming a sardine if only for a few minutes. It is strange how those few minutes felt like hours though. Pain usually works that way. Pleasure on the other hand always seems ephemeral. Despite being incredibly slow, unhygienic and unreliable, this mode of getting around DOES get you to your destination in one piece (don’t think about the toe) so I guess that’s something.
The bus is probably the safest mode of transport in Nigeria. To be sure, it is slow, tends to break down, never on time, unhygienic and so on. What it has going for it is that when it flips over and explodes, roasting its passengers like suya at some beer parlor, it does so very quickly. I for my part love the bus for one reason: it is a microcosm of Nigeria. The passengers ask for change without actually giving the conductor any money, nobody really seems to know or care what the driver is doing and when the bus passes close to a road safety unit, the driver and passenger in the front seat pretend to wear their seatbelts, only to let go and resume not pretending to be safe after passing the road safety check point. There is always someone on the bus peddling the last thing anybody ever needs (no sir. I don’t need a spare clock for my house) and arguments about the most unimportant things gain credence with uncanny swiftness. Yes, it is VERY interesting how vultures are circling this part of town today. No! It is ok! I don’t mind your leaning closer to yell more important facts about vultures in my ear as we careen over potholes. I can’t think of a decent way to end this entry because my missing…body part is hurting again. So I’ll end it by saying I’ll end it here. “I’ll end it here”.
June 8, 2012
Nigeria’s Security Intensification Program – Will it Stop the Violence of Boko Haram?
The attacks of the group known as Boko Haram have escalated dramatically. In this seemingly endless cacophony of pain, confusion, bitterness and fear, the response of most major institutions in the country has been to intensify and extend security at its headquarters. Now, most major institutions in Nigeria have their headquarters in Abuja. As I live and work in Abuja, I am therefore in a unique position to observe with the utmost dispassion what a couple of billions’ worth of “security intensification” actually amounts to.
The tight schedules most of my readers sport is the primary incentive for the succinctness of my entries. In that spirit, I’m keeping my expose on the so called “security intensification” to just three items. They are:
- The state of the art flexible mirror for spotting incendiary devices.
- The “open the trunk of your car” foolproof system.
- The “ open your bag/briefcase/purse and “inspect” the contents method.
The first system is a personal (yet dispassionately so) favorite. Here’s how it is supposed to work. Upon arriving at the entrance gate, the driver of the vehicle stops, turns off his engine and waits patiently. As he sits with his hands clearly visible on the steering wheel, one of the highly trained, experienced security officers carefully pulls out a flexible mirror and inspects the mirror for smudges. If satisfied that the device will perform its function efficiently, he will then peruse every inch of the vehicle’s underside. He has absolutely no qualms about backtracking. The driver’s time and his or her social status do not outweigh the importance of security to this most diligent officer. When the search is over, the entrance gate is opened. That is what is supposed to happen.
What actually happens is that upon arriving at the entrance gate the driver of the vehicle slows down and honks impatiently. As he continues to murder any clear, intelligent thoughts this or that passerby may have been having at the time, an untrained, inexperienced, security officer strolls beside the still moving vehicle with the flexible mirror in one hand. His ability to inspect the mirror for smudges is hampered by the fact that he is other hand is carrying a cell phone that is glued to his ear as he continues with the phone-call his duties dare not interrupt. Due to aforementioned cell phone, he is regrettably unable to cock his head to examine the mirror and thus, the image of the vehicle’s underside. Any beeps or ticking are lost in the sound of the blaring horn. Blinking red lights go undetected. The car is waved in.
The “open the trunk of your car” foolproof system is also practiced in some residential districts. I actually have a story about how a colleague got into an empty cab only to have two armed men come out from the trunk steal all his money, and throw him out of the moving vehicle. In the spirit of brevity, let’s table that for a future entry. Here is how the “open the trunk of your car” foolproof system is supposed to work. The car comes to a complete stop. The guard examines the backseat carefully before asking the driver to open the drunk of his or her car. Upon thorough examination he signals his partner who opens the gate. That is what is supposed to happen. What actually goes down is that the vehicle comes to a partial stop. That is to say, it is still moving, but you know what? We live in the age of Einstein’s relativity. ALL MOTION IS RELATIVE. The guard pops the trunk open and without so much as a quick glance, signals his partner to open the gate. In one instance, I simply said: hey! What’s up! I hope Sunday (the equivalent would be John in the West) is ok? And the guard seemed to understand perfectly because he waved me in without opening the trunk.
The “ open your bag/briefcase/purse and “inspect” the contents method is quite popular at banks. Here is how it is supposed to work. The person in question opens his or her bag. The guard examines the contents carefully. If satisfied with his or her investigation, the person is dismissed. That is what is supposed to happen. What actually happens is that the guard tells the person his or her bag is to be inspected. The person screams ethnic discrimination. A melodramatic conflict involving fists and in the case of females, hair-pulling and ancestor summoning ensues.
So that’s a microcosm the country’s security intensification program.
May 17, 2012
Why Solar Power Won’t Work in Nigeria…
NEPA is acronym. It stands for National Electric Power Authority. Upon completion of this entry however, it is my intention to use all means necessary to contact this “organization”. The formal complaint I intend to lodge is a simple one. The acronym is a misnomer or, at the very least, a poor representative of the service provided by this organization. How many books have been cast aside in frustration, how many social engagements foiled, how many pounds of melted food-stuffs dumped into the garbage, how many movie endings ruined, is a number I dare not contemplate lest the despair I’m plunged into cannot be clawed out of.
Actually, the power/electricity debacle that seems exclusively endemic to Nigeria makes for a perfect representation of just how markets work in this part of the globe. Unlike say the Scandinavians, we have been blessed (or cursed; it depends on what weather suits you) with a continent that is almost constantly bathed, saturated even, in sunshine. It is so hot here that one wonders, upon arrival and initial struggles with the infamous services of NEPA, why the idea SOLAR PANELS never popped into the noggin of some progressive entrepreneur. A few days of observation should answer this query, but since you may not have that long, I am more than happy to fill you in.
There are many excuses given for a solution as simple as solar panels. The most salient of them are cost, implementation, maintenance. I will show the absurdity of these excuses in alphabetical order.
The cost is ridiculous! Solar energy simply isn’t feasible for Nigeria! Actually, the reason why solar energy isn’t practical for certain regions such as Finland for example is the tendency for the sun to play “hard to get” during certain periods of the year. In a region such as say…Nigeria with no snow and occasional showers, solar energy would be a pushover. Unfortunately, solar energy would put manufacturers of fuel based generators out of business in a year.
How are we going to set it up? It would be a nightmare! Billions would be wasted converting the energy culture of a 160 million strong country! Are you insane! Actually, solar panels would be easier to implement for two reasons. Firstly, it would make each consumer dependent only on maintenance/customer service NOT power transfer from some distant dam or plan. Secondly, if a financial agreement were reached with a company, it would be a question of logistics (how to maximize, focus and direct electromagnetic radiation). The setup would be the least of our worries. Unfortunately, solar energy would put manufacturers of fuel based generators out of business in a year.
How are we supposed to maintain these things? Actually, solar panels can be designed in categories that fit with the energy requirement of the residence/building in question. It would actually save the billions spent on the implementation of power lines to people living without power. Plus, contemporary design of these panels eliminates constant maintenance. They rarely fall over, are built to withstand snow (which we don’t have), hail (which we don’t have) tornadoes (which we don’t have) and even earthquakes (which we don’t have). Unfortunately, solar energy would put manufacturers of fuel based generators out of business in a year.
I could go on about the man hours lost, the unnecessary casualties, the friction this problem brings to our economic growth. Unfortunately, well…you know.
May 1, 2012
The THISDAY Bombings in Nigeria – Reflections on the Roots of Violence
My dear readers, I would like to commence this entry by proffering my sincerest apologies for the tardiness of this particular post. My commitment to this project involves a minimum of one entry per fortnight. Unfortunately, recent turn of events have been…sigh.
Most of you are familiar with the bombing of one prominent newspaper called THISDAY. The locations targeted were branches in Jabi, Abuja and Kaduna. This is the latest in a streak of wanton pain and cruelty perpetuated by the group known as Boko Haram. As is the case with unnecessary violence, there are no words that can do justice to the carnage wrought when wisdom abandons men. How does pen, ink, paper, or electronic images adequately convey the screams of people flushed out of buildings by makeshift incendiary devices, only to be gunned down as they pled to be spared?
A possible knee-jerk reaction is to assume the problem is regional. While it is certainly true that Africa, taken as a whole has more ethno-religious conflicts, genocides and corruption scandals, can our western counter-parts truly claim to be honest Abes? Africans did not invent concentration camps. The British did, and the Nazis fell in love with the notion. The perfect answer to the “jewish question”. The final assembly line! Be it death marches or mass rape perpetuated by the Chinese, Japanese, Americans, Russians, please add your nationality here, humans seldom seem to run out of methods for inflicting unnecessary pain and misery. While I consider suicide an irrational decision, I cannot help but sympathize with the likes of Iris Chang, who strove to shed light on our nightmares in the hopes of rooting out what instigates them.
Given the seemingly insatiable urge to annihilate that which we do not understand, much less create, is a career in arms dealing really such a bad idea? The earliest humans skeletons had spearheads in their rib cages. I have yet to hear of a weapons manufacturing company file for bankruptcy.
To switch gears or a second, is Africa really an anomaly in a globe jam-packed with “clean money”? Companies such as Tyco, Enron, global crossing, Halliburton come to mind. It certainly was not a corrupt African politician that perpetuated the greatest ponzi scheme of the information age. Prior to his confession, Bernard Maddoff was educated, highly respected and last I checked very white.
So we can safely conclude that despite the intensity of the situation in the heart of Africa, the Dark Continent is not unique in this regard. I for my part have come to realize that the absurdities and confusions of others are beyond my control. What is within my competence is working through my own confusions and absurdities.
March 22, 2012
March 5, 2012
Breaking the Bubble
Media theorist Neil Postman gave a symposium a couple of years back. It was titled “informing ourselves to death.” In this symposium, he argued that one side effect of the information age is that the average person is beset at all sides by information. Assaulted. Glutted. Drowning in it. Postman’s dominant jeremiad was that this tidal wave of trivia has given rise to an unexpected yet ruthless obstacle for an individual keen on seeking news about the concatenation of things, which is unprejudiced and free of agenda.
I for one concur with the late Neil Postman. It is a lot harder to acquire news that is sincere, dispassionate, candid and not festooned with commercials. If you are bored, looking for a distraction or trying to kill time at work but can’t visit certain websites due to IT department restrictions, please seek your jollies elsewhere. On the other hand, if you seek news not covered by major media giants for fear of scaring off advertising dollars, welcome to Valhalla.
This entry shall be updated fortnightly with news about Nigeria, the largest and most influential nation in West Africa. In addition to providing news that most networks are unlikely to air, I will be updating this entry with queries from readers about specific issues in this region of West Africa. An example of such would be the consequences of the fuel subsidy removal for the average Nigerian, the country’s present pandemic of STDs, the state of education, the prevalence of ethnic and religious conflicts and so forth.
While a student at University of California Davis, I was struck by just how misinformed most students were. During a formal survey I conducted on behalf of a professor, a disturbingly large portion of the students attending were not even aware what country the United States was presently at war with, much less why and how many lives had been lost by either nation.
As a former classmate remarked, “in addition to living in what seems like an invisible yet impregnable glass bubble, there is the ubiquitous problem of missing context. When a reckless queen in the financial industry such as Bernard Madoff is exposed, the attitude is that he represents an anomaly to an otherwise well-oiled system. Countries attack us because they hate our freedoms. Why does our country or that country’s people not throw out dictator X?
California was and is still one of the wealthiest places in the world. Almost every individual on that campus had some means, however rudimentary, of procuring information. What they did not have in that sea of data was the unbiased context for their intellects to sink its teeth into. The forthcoming entries will aim to provide the means for any critical thinker to step out of the bubble if they wish to.
Nigerians do not enjoy freedom of speech and other privileges Americans fought, bled and died for. Ergo, there is a definite risk in the undertaking of this endeavor. But life is short and truth lives long. So let us speak the truth.