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Today is Independence Day

Today is Independence Day. A day to once again reflect on the fragments of the promise upon which we thought a country was born. On the violence that has tainted our journey and the oasis of joy and euphoria we occasionally stumble upon. On the cycle of disappointments that has continued to revolve with dizzying familiarity. Today is a day to ask: when shall we ever get it right? When shall we rise beyond 10-kobo sentiments and be the people and country we are capable of being? When shall we stop being silent about the disappearance of our people in the bloodstained hands of the government and in the dust of the insecurity that has grown on their watch? Today is a day to reflect. On how we transitioned from a business enterprise that serviced a colonial power to one that services men who bear names like ours, carry faces that are familiar and speak in our own tongues. Men who have been there when the British left before we were born. Who have been there when we were born, were still there when we became men and women, when we became fathers of children. Men who would not go away and would not make things right. Because they don’t know how to make things right. Because they don’t know how to let go. Because they don’t want to. Because these failure and failed dreams and broken promises profit them. Men who come from different corners of the country and call God by different names but become a clan. A Tribe of Corruption. Of exploitation. Of bloodsuckers and money guzzlers. An unbreakable clan of thieves.
Today is a day to reflect. On the little things we could do to make a difference. To change the narrative. To stop preying on each other. To do right by each other. To understand that we are not each others’ enemies because of the circumstances of our birth or the language of our divinities. Today is a day to realise that a country is not built by looters on high tables behind high fences but by men and women and children who through little words and gestures string together their hearts and destinies and become a people. Today is Independence Day.

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Men of Anointed Rods

Rapists

Pastor Biodun Fatoyinbo, Alfa Abdulsalam Salaudeen and Malam Aminu Musa have all been accused of raping minors entrusted to their care

Religious leaders, imams and pastors, are humans and therefore fallible. But they have been ascribed, and some more than gladly have taken on a responsibility of being guardians of moral values. When allegations of moral infringements, such as the rape allegations against the likes of Biodun Fatoyinbo come up, we must realize several things:

1) It is an allegation until otherwise proven

2.) There is a need for these allegations to be investigated impartially, and that people are within their rights to demand an investigation into them.

3.) If found guilty, the perpetrator must be made to face the law.

Our rush to stifle investigations by branding the allegations as “an attack on the body of Christ”, or an attempt to “pull him down” is ludicrous, to say the least. All this is a counter attack on a man alleged to have viciously attacked the chastity of a child. The issue here is that for long, the cloaks of the religious order have been used to hoodwink the world from the atrocities men in the garbs and turbans have been committing.

Some months ago, 40-year-old Aminu Musa, who taught Qur’an memorization in Kano was caught, to borrow a recently remodeled expression, crimson-handed in the act of defiling his eight-year-old pupil. In his defense, and this was in a confessional video, the father of two blamed the devil for using him, blamed God because He decreed that such a thing would happen. Then he blamed the girl, because every time she didn’t understand her lessons, he would go over to explain and she would lean into him. He did not blame himself.

It is unnecessary to discuss my urge to do grievous violence to this man, who at that time was already in police custody.

Some months back in Lagos, Alfa Abdulsalam Salaudeen, 43, was caught on tape raping his five year-old pupil. He too has been arrested and is facing prosecution. In his confession, he admitted there was a prior allegation against him for raping another pupil in a place he used to live in. He blamed his enemies for casting spells on him. He too, like his colleague in Kano, did not take responsibility for his crime.

Because religion and religious institutions demand a higher moral standard from us, it is natural to expect more from them in return. And because people have always trusted these institutions and the individuals representing them, often without supervision over their children, the likelihood of such cases happening are very high. Get the scale off your eyes. This is a social problem, not an attack on the body of Christ or the sanctity of a mosque. This is not something to be hushed, not in this age.

Recently, I visited Germany and learnt how the Lutheran church in Berlin has taken measures to regulate conduct of its clergy and to provide a safe space for its members, especially the children. They investigate allegations of abuse, put measures in place to prevent such cases and created a channel where people who have been abused can safely and quietly report these cases to the committee. The pastor heading this committee is married to a woman who had been abused by a priest and is very passionate about this fight.

Our belief in religion, is principally driven by emotion and then logic, which is why the initial reaction to allegations of “men of God” committing such savagery is often an emotional, not rational, attempt to defend the faith with comebacks like “attack on the body of Christ or attack on OUR faith by enemies of God.” It is not.

Until religious institutions stop protecting culprits and start siding with victims, until they put in place measures to protect their members, and their clergy too, investigate rationally all allegations of abuse, desist from hushing these cases, suppressing the victims and allow justice to take its cause, we will be at this loggerhead for a while. Eventually, reason will prevail and religious institutions and their representatives will lose all relevance and reverence. Their futures are, as they say, entirely in their hands. Act now or live with the consequences.

Winter is coming, and it is going to be a long and complicated one.

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Nigeria’s Quadrennial Hunger Games

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A youth corps member carrying an injured colleague while policemen watch during Nigeria’s 2019 elections.

Every four years we offer a sacrifice of peasants and dreamers, gilded maidens and prized fellows, young ones in their prime on the altar of our politicians’ avarice. Every four years the leaders we (s)elect dance over the casket of our country’s children, our dreams and our hopes to sit on thrones too high for our cries to reach, too sturdy for our anguish and grief to shake, too fleet for our wrath to catch. Every four years we bleed to choose a leader.

Every four years our (s)intellectuals bleed their brains and senses, their own sacrifice in our quadrennial ritual. They are afflicted by verbal diarrhea, desperate to seek, remain relevant. Our sheikhs and pastors preach hate, not love. Professors of journalism champion fake news, and the PhDs peddle cheap propaganda like charlatans. Every one sacrifice their senses to become SM analyst who can’t look beyond their keyboards. Fake prophets mistake the voice of their own pervasive minds for the voice of God and rise chanting, “He will die! He will die! He will die!”

The only ones dying are us.

Every four years half the country, this time this half, the next time the other, offer a sacrifice of disappointment, of long faces, broken hearts, stained thumbs, tainted sentiments and resentment.

When they ask you why there is no winter here, know that it exists in the collective cold sigh we heave at the end of every Hunger Games.

Before the stains on your thumbs disappear, there will be calls for breakup, a permanent divorce from a marriage contracted in a white man’s shrine. These calls will echo and fade. The professors and priests and failed politicians will realign, they will find their voices, and we will gift some of them back their honour even when they have no rights to them, because we don’t know how to hold them in shame. We groan for another four years and cheer when the bells toll for another Hunger Games. Again we will send our country’s children into the arena, to die for a country and leaders who will not remember their names or what they died for. And we will sit and hope that someday we will learn to vote without spilling blood and hate and our senses.

The only thing we have in abundance here is hope. Not even the mad priests, looting politicians and the river of blood we shed can steal that from us.

Return to your senses. Return.

 

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Of an Igbo Man, a Mosque and a Sheikh

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Today, in light of the “mugun Inyamiri” diatribe, I am going to tell you a story of one “Inyamiri”. His name is John, and his brother owned a bakery on our street at ‘Yan Trailer in Jos. It was called Oxford bakery and so we appended the name of the bakery to him and so he became John Oxford. The bread they made wasn’t particularly great but John Oxford was a hell of a great guy. He cracked jokes that made your belly ache. He was always laughing. And always being laughed at. Often he would stand in the middle of the street, naked pot belly hanging over his belt, laughing and talking. Since he was vertically challenged, that belly was the first thing you noticed about him.
But funny as he looked, John was often seen in the company of young, beautiful women. Turns out he ran an elaborate army of exam mecenaries. If you want to pass your JAMB or WAEC, pay John, go home and he will know what to do. His scheme was so elaborate I don’t know how he never got in trouble for it. But that is just by the way.
On September 7, 2001, when the devil wailed and everyone, or nearly everyone in Jos went mad, violence started and neighbours turned on neighbours because they called God by different names. The neighbourhood was tense, but there was more shock than red mist. No one believed civil violence was possible in Jos, where you walked the streets and strangers from the opposite faith offered you their mats, their food and their water.
Anyway, the first sign of trouble on that street was when some Christian boys from somewhere else invaded the area and made straight for the mosque that was directly opposite Oxford bakery. They had a gallon of fuel, and machetes and clubs. There was really nothing standing between them and burning down that mosque.
But there was John. He ran out shirtless, as he often was, big belly flopping, belt dangling, and grabbed hold of the boy with the gallon. He pleaded for the boys to not burn down the mosque. The marauders insisted.John wouldn’t let go. They dragged and tussled, but John held on. This went on for quite a while that the marauders got irritated and raised their machete to strike John. But still that Igbo man wouldn’t let go. The Igbo people in John’s compound came out. Some asked the marauders to leave, others asked John to think of his safety and let the boys do what they came to do.
But his resolve was greater than that of the marauders and in the end, they gave up and retreated. John, with his glorious pot belly, stood in the light of the setting sun in the shadow of the mosque he had saved, panting. And then he started laughing.
Why am I telling this story today, nearly 18 years after?
Well, because I saw the video of a Jos-based sheikh speaking of “wicked Igbos” and advising his followers not to vote for any candidate with an Igbo running mate because their tribe killed Sardauna and Tafawa Balewa. I just want to tell this story so we remember that an Igbo man named John put his life on the line to save a mosque that belonged to this sheikh’s faction, a mosque that sheikh had been to preach in. I don’t think the sheihk knows this story of how John saved his mosque that day but I think he should have known that you don’t lump people and judge them over something some individuals did. I have many stories to tell of the many wonderful Igbo people in my life, but I will just leave this here, just so people know that an “Inyamiri” saved the sheikh’s mosque one evening in 2001.

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A Carriage of Loneliness

New York Metro

 

Curly hair, black Adidas jacket, pale jeans and snickers. She seemed happy, or maybe not, maybe it was just the apparent absence of grief or distress. Or maybe she was just in an ok mood as she sat opposite me on the train, typing into her phone. There were people in the coach, men, women, standing and sitting.

When someone started crying, I didn’t think it was the girl on the phone. But it was. She put aside her phone and cried, shuddering as she sobbed.
The other people on the train looked at signs in the carriage, they looked at the advertisements, they looked at their shoes. No one looked in the direction of the crying girl.
Eventually she stopped and wiped her eyes. She picked up her phone and continued chatting, face set halfway between crying and refusing to.
I got off the train, wanting to say some words of comfort to her, but I am a stranger here. I don’t know how the natives deal with the people who manage to be lonely in a crowd. She has stayed with me, this girl, whose loneliness filled a carriage filled with poeple.
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2018 Michael Elliot Award Acceptance Speech

Acceptance Speech presented by Abubakar Adam Ibrahim on receiving the Michael Elliot Award for Excellence in African Storytelling, awarded by the International Centre for Journalists and The One Campaign on May 24, 2018, in New York, USA.
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Abubakar, flanked by Emma Oxford, widow of Michael Elliot (in Yellow) and Joyce Barnathan, president of ICFJ in New York during the award ceremony

 
Ladies and Gentlemen,
 
I have often found myself asking what it means to be a journalist today, in this age of technology and social media where everyone with a smart phone can tweet, blog and post about things happening in their communities, where journalism has been subjected to the fluidity of the times.
My attempts to answer this question have led me on a journey back to when I was a pimply 18-year-old who decided not to become the medical doctor his parents were hoping he would become, but instead to train as a journalist who collects the stories of other people and inscribes them in the sky for the world to read and understand.
What did I hope to achieve then with the decision I made? For one, there was the little mater of conquering the timidity that characterised my early years, to meet all sorts of people and experience the world through their eyes. But most importantly, the recognition that I could lend myself to a service greater than myself, the cause of humanity, by asking tough questions and documenting the stories that matter the most. This of course implies taking a moral position, for, as Marguerite Duras said, “Journalism without a moral position is impossible.”
This position is pertinent to journalism globally, but on a continent like Africa, where notions of social responsibility and the urgency to hold leaders to account are the rule, it takes on a special significance.
So we report about the billions looted by public officials, of the hundreds killed in various senseless attacks, of the two million people that have been displaced by Boko Haram.
In our eagerness to do this job we often forget our other roles as journalists; that of reminding ourselves of our collective humanity, of the fact that news sources are not just numbers or statistics or faceless entities on the front pages, but that they are humans with names and dreams and stories. That in the final analysis, they are just different versions of us.
We forget that within these two million displaced persons there is Saadatu Musa, a mother of nine, who is still waiting for her husband’s return, two years after he was taken by soldiers after he had led his family to safety when their village had been attacked.
We forget that amongst these two million there is Zahra Mohammed who was seized by Boko Haram from her sick mother’s bedside, and that her heart was broken when her two-year-old daughter fell from her back and snapped her neck while trying to flee her captors.
So journalism for me is identifying brave women and men like these from those numbers and sharing their stories with the world, to remind ourselves of our failings, the people we have failed and the lives they had and lost. It is our obligation to not only hold leadership accountable, but also to remind ourselves that we are accountable for the privilege of our humanity.
It is clear that Michael Elliot felt this sense of responsibility as a journalist and acted on it. He also took this moral stand and went beyond the call of his duty to alter the human condition through his humanitarian gestures and championing storytelling as a tool for empowerment.
It is for this reason that I am extremely delighted and genuinely honoured to stand before you tonight to receive this award which bears the name of this distinguished gentleman. It is tremendously gratifying to be recognised for the work one does. I hope this will inspire other African journalists to take ownership of our stories, the ones that matter to us the most, and how these stories are told.
 
Thank you.
 
 
 
 
 
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On the Transmission Video

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Nigeria’s Inspector General of Police Ibrahim Idris has been widely derided for a viral video in which he is seen struggling to read his speech.

Whatever happened, and what has followed since, I think is rather unfortunate. It has highlighted many things that have informed the kind of people we are. Those who laugh because it is fun to laugh at the incompetence of one of Buhari’s chosen, those who laugh because it is an opportunity to deride a group of people they consider intellectually inferior, or those, like me, who think there should be some kind of explanation for whatever happened that day in Kano. On the other hand, there are those who think the video was doctored. If that is the case, and I doubt this very much, whoever did it is a smart bastard and deserves an Oscar for cinematography (shows the range of talent we have in this country). But the irony is that those who argue that the video was doctored have not produced an original version. The bit of the clip they show, seems even more doctored than the one they suggest was doctored to start with. Clearly, in the first clip, the man was reading from a prepared text, in the second he was speaking off the cuff. It definitely seems like this was the bit where the IG decided to ditch the prepared speech, after it became too problematic. I am shocked that some people want everyone to take this short version of an obviously longer speech as the truth. It says something about us. Remember the story of the four blind men and the elephant? We choose which truths we want to believe. But more distressing for me is that someone has chosen to let people wonder endlessly and needlessly debate this when the truth is just a matter of releasing the original video. This shows the disregard in which Nigerians have been held. First lesson in PR we learnt is that in the absence of truth, rumours thrive. And if my Inspector General of Police, for the benefit of whom many senior officers were retired at great expense to the public, whose performance has so far not justified that sacrifice, whose competence is being questioned and undermined by this video, is in a situation like this, I would want to clear the air about this and share the original video or present a logical explanation. What is wrong with saying he suffered a health episode or something. We are not dumb, we will understand. After all he has read his speeches before without drama. But the silence suggests something worse. It says, I really don’t give a shit what you think about this. Have your fun at the expense of the man who is supposed to ensure you sleep peacefully at night, before the next scandal comes. If our leaders have paid any heed to rumours and the opinions of people, January ’66 would not have happened. July ’66 would not have happened and every catastrophe that has happened since would probably not have happened.
In the end, when you look at it critically, there is a lot to learn from this episode, about leadership and the opinion of people and about us and how we relate to national tragedies like this. These things say a lot about us.
(In case you don’t know what I am talking about, the video is here)

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