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I Went To The War Zone and Instead of Racism, I Saw Love by Reno Omokri

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THE ALTERNATIVE

By Reno Omokri

I was moved by the plight of Nigerians who were affected by Putin’s invasion of Ukraine. The human suffering involved moved me. Knowing our government, we could not expect a quick resolution of their issue (although I must commend General Buhari for approving $8.5 million for their evacuation).

However, what troubled me the most were the continental wide outrage at the alleged racism that was said to be going on in Ukraine against Black Africans. I could not just watch helplessly.

I personally went to Hungary, Romania, Slovakia, Poland and The Czech Republic. I am a civilian. I am not in government. Nobody gave me a dime to do it. But I did it. Do you know why? Because it is not enough to use your mouth to complain, if you can’t use your hand to help!

Nigerians are trapped in Ukraine and its neighbouring nations because of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Without understanding that in war times, you prioritise your own citizens, you sat in your living room, complaining of racism. I went there myself. In all of these places, the so called racists have been helping Nigerians. The Ukrainians had a policy in place for war time evacuation. Ukrainian women and children first, Ukrainian civilian men next, then foreigners. That is not racism. It is pragmatism.

If I were Nigerian President and Nigeria was fighting a war, I would do the same thing for my citizens. I will not prioritise foreigners over my own countrymen and women.

Complaining will never help Nigerians abroad or in Nigeria. What will help us and change our country for the better is if we take individual action to create the Nigeria we want to see. Talk is cheap. Actions are not!

Not only was I in Eastern Europe, by the grace of God, my team and I were able to raise money for to get stranded Nigerians out of the war zone.

Let me quickly say here that because I know my countrymen, it is important that I establish that nobody donated money to me to go to Eastern Europe. I went there to help. While I was there, I did a video appeal and asked my supporters to donate directly to Pastor Edward in Ukraine. I flew here with my money. I used my money to help. And I returned with my money. If anybody on Earth gave me a penny directly, I authorise them to expose me.

I am just being proactively transparent, because, like I said, I know my people!

Having said that, let me now explain to my fellow Black Africans what our unwarranted cries of racism will do to us. Yes, BBC, CNN, Al-Jazeera and MSNBC will carry such stories with glee, not because it is true, but because it is sensational and will drive traffic to their sites, which is what they need to command huge advertisement revenue.

But those stories were false and the Eastern Europeans are now more likely to be unwelcoming to Black Africans after this this crisis has blown over, because at a time when they faced a calamity, we did not show understanding. Rather, we whipped up false sentiments that had the capacity to turn the world against them at a time when they needed all the help they could get.

I ask my Black brothers how many Black Africans have been killed in Ukraine by the Ukrainians since this incident began? How many have had their property looted? How many have been attacked by mobs?

Not one single Black African.

Meanwhile, in South Africa, we have seen repeated waves of xenophobia and Black on Black racism, by South African Blacks against Black Africans from other African nations, whom they christen ‘Makwerekwere’.

In multiple waves of these xenophobic attacks, hundreds of Black Africans have either been killed, maimed, had their properties looted, or frustrated out of South Africa by their own fellow Black Africans, who are now raising a hue and cry against the beleaguered Ukrainians and their neighbours.

Within Nigeria, various Northern groups have given quit notices to people of Southern descent to leave their region, which was immediately reciprocated by some Southern groups. And we are the ones shouting that Ukraine is a racist country.

Meanwhile, back home we are more intolerant of each other than others are.

I give a good example. The largest church in Ukraine is the Embassy of the Blessed Kingdom of God for All Nations (also known as Embassy of God). It was founded by a Nigerian-Mr. Sunday Adelaja.

So, Ukrainians are so racist that they gathered and worshiped in large numbers at a church with Nigerian roots? What is more precious to a man than his connection to God? Where are human beings most open and sincere? Of course that is in a house of worship.

Now, imagine that the Embassy of the Blessed Kingdom of God for All Nations wants to help poor people, who would they help first? Members or non members? Mind you, scripture says “Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all, especially to those who are of the household of faith”-Galatians 6:10.

So, even Scripture and common sense dictates that the church should prioritise its own members first before others. If they do that, is that discrimination? Of course not.

Then why would we as Black Africans accuse Ukraine of racism in their weakest hour and time of need, when they need good media the most, simply because they prioritised the evacuation of their own citizens before foreigners? It would have been delinquent of their government to prioritise foreigners over their own citizens.

No serous country would ever doing. But it is us. We must be emotional, rather than rational. We must antagonise rather than empathise. We must react, rather than pro-act. And we wonder why we are where and how we are!

What we have done to Ukraine and Eastern Europe is not yet clear to us. But the war will be over. The dust will settle. It is only a matter of time. And when that time comes, they will remember how we stoked the media against them in their darkest hour.

Sadly, we Black Africans have a victim mentality. We need to change that mindset. We need to acquire a victor’s mindset. Yes, racism does exist. But when we cry wolf even where there is clearly no wolf, time will come when nobody will listen to us, even when the real wolf comes.

Reno’s Nuggets

Dear wife,

Your husband is not irresponsible because he refuses to carry your siblings and your parents welfare on his head. Rather, it is your father and mother who are HIGHLY irresponsible for collecting bride price and still want your husband to collect bills! The ideal situation is for your husband to use his money to care for you and your children. However, if he has extra, then he should invest for the future, not on your parents and siblings. Marry and leave your father’s house. Don’t extend your father’s house to your husband’s house!

#RenosNuggets #FreeLeahSharibu

Prof. Ibiyemi Olatunji-Bello, Vice-Chancellior, LASU: My Vision for LASU Is Unique and Focused

Prof. Ibiyemi Ibilola Olatunji Bello is an eminent scholar of great pedigree, reputed to have won several laurels, breaking records of attaining great heights. For her, it has been a record of first among equals all the way. She is the first professor of Physiology in the Lagos State University College of Medicine (LASUCOM), having been an associate professor at the University of Lagos, College of Medicine between 2005 and October 1 2007. She was the first female acting vice-chancellor of LASU between July 2010 and October 2011. She was also the first female deputy vice-chancellor of the university between December 2008 and December 2010. She was the first substantive head of the Department of Physiology Lagos State College of Medicine between October 2007 and December 2008. In addition, she was the pioneering director of Lagos State University Directorate of Advancement (LASUDA).   Prof Olatunji-Bello grew up in Lagos under excellent parenthood. She attended the Anglican Grammar School in Surulere between 1970 and 1974 and later Lagos Anglican Grammar School also in Surulere. She also attended the Methodist Girls High School in Yaba and Lagos State College of Science and Technology Ikosi Campus for her ‘A’ Levels in 1982. After graduating From the University of Ibadan with a B.SC Hons degree in Physiology in 1985, she proceeded to the University of Lagos for her National Youth Service Corps (NYSC). Apart from her victorious intellectual exploits leading to being awarded an MSC degree, she also deepened her academic and research breakthrough leading to being awarded a PhD at the University of Lagos in 1998. For so many years, she has been so versatile in the issues regarding leadership and management configuration perspectives in LASU, having been the state government’s representative in the university’s Governing Council between 2004 and 2008 and Senate representative in the council. In 2012, she was nominated by the National Universities Commission (NUC) to attend Course 34 at the National Institute for Policy and Strategic Studies in Kuru Plateau State. She was awarded a ‘Member of the National Institute’ (MNI) Certificate. She was awarded a fellowship by the Physiological Society in the United Kingdom (UK) in 2007, which led to a similar fellowship of the Physiological Society of Nigeria. During an interview with THISDAY newspaper on the commemorative edition on Women’s International Day 2022, she bares her mind on many issues, including the takeaway lessons from the race to become LASU vice-chancellor. Excerpt:

In retrospect, how would you describe your growing up years and the impact of your upbringing?

Growing up was interesting. I was brought up to be a very curious person about my environment. I am also a goal-getter; when I’m determined to do something, I will do it. By the grace of God, I rose very fast in life, and in fact, I seem to be in a hurry to achieve everything. Sometimes, I ask myself: ‘where are you hurrying to’? Everything about my life happened so fast. I went to secondary school at age nine going to 10. I left secondary school when I was 15. When I graduated from university, I was barely 21 years. It was as if I needed to be in a hurry to get all those things done. My vision was to be a professor before the age of 40, but I couldn’t make it. I became a professor at the age of 43, which was still ok by all standards. Regarding my childhood, I had very influential parents but God-fearing. And they brought us up well. I became born-again in my secondary school days. I love God and serve God all the time. By the time I entered the university, I didn’t think I had free time. I was focused on myself and my goal of becoming a professor. It wasn’t as if I wanted to try my luck. From day one, I knew I was going to get a PhD. I went to UNILAG for my National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) after I had graduated from the University of Ibadan. Before I got to UNILAG, a lot had been discussed about me based on recommendations and reports from the people at UI. So everybody was interested in meeting me. However, when I got there, I was just myself. Although we were two serving at UNILAG then, I was the only one retained initially on a part-time Demonstratorship. While at UNILAG, I did my master’s and registered for my PhD. And immediately there was an opening, I was employed on a full-time basis. So my trajectory was quite fast. However, while I was in a hurry during my growing up years and as a young adult, God used this vice-chancellor’s race to stabilise me. From lecturer to HOD to professor to DVC to acting VC, everything happened in quick succession, but becoming a VC took time, and I thank God for it.

Has there been any time during your earlier career that you have been limited by gender? Or, you couldn’t get something because you are a woman?

I never saw myself as a woman. I saw myself as a colleague with my contemporaries. From my days in school to work, everyone was my colleague. We discussed everything together, shared jokes and did things as colleagues. For the guys, I knew their girlfriends, and they knew mine. Their girlfriends know me. It was all like a big family. When they have challenges, they inform me and vice versa. We usually gist during the practical classes, so no limitation. But I realised later that I’m in a male-dominated environment. It dawned on me that I have to publish or perish, and if I have to publish, I have to do as much as twice my male counterparts. As a married woman, I do my school work, take my children to school and pick them up. I make sure dinner is ready for everybody in the evening and get the children ready for school for the following day. In those days, the computer was not as prevalent today. Hence, we kept writing and writing. That was the situation. From the onset, I never saw myself as a woman, but while rising up, it dawned on me that I was in a male donated profession. And I have to prove a point. And I thank God I was able to be a challenge to others.

Being a professor at 43 years is a feat. Many could have fallen off the line along the way. What did you do differently that helped you to succeed over the years. What were your strategies, the philosophy, or your benchmark growing to the top level?

As I said earlier, I worked twice as hard as my colleagues. As a young academic, I had mentors and role models. I would always go to the senior ones and ask, ‘Prof, how did you do these things?’ And at meetings, I was always talking. I believe that as intellectuals, we should debate things. Whether your point is taken or not. You should debate it. In the end, the person that has larger support would have his way. I also saw University meetings and Conferences as a way of expressing myself. Even now, I will always say my mind. I may not win the argument, but it will be on record that I have said my mind. You must not shy away from speaking the truth; it may not pay at a particular time, but in the long run, when you look back, history will justify you. So I had role models who encouraged me. Mention can be made of Prof. Shofola, Deputy Vice-Chancellor University of Lagos. Prof. Tolu Odugbemi, former Vice-Chancellor, University of Lagos. Former Vice-Chancellor of Ondo State University of Science and Technology. Also President of the National Postgraduate Medical College. Prof. Odugbemi would always ask me, ‘Yemi, bring your CV’, and I will give it to him. Three months later, he will ask again, and I will say, but I gave you three months ago. And because I knew he would ask of me every three months, I would make sure that there was something new added to the CV before he would ask for my CV again. That was the push. Prof. Sofola will tell me, ‘if we push you, you will move’. They were pushing me because they had great belief in me. Some other people would have run away, but I did not.

What are the lessons regarding the contest in your appointment as LASU vice-chancellor?

There are two lessons. One, believe in yourself. The vision I had for the university was the same I submitted during my first contest for the position. People will say go and look at the way they did this or that. It is not done this way. They will ask me to go and read other people’s visions and model mine after theirs. But I realised that what I have is better than what they are saying, and I stuck to it. The only thing I added to the first one I did was the decision to create new faculties. It was the same vision during the first, second and third contests. I would have entered into the Guinness book of records as the only person that vied for the same position five times. The second lesson is never to give up once you believe in yourself. The competitions were stiff, and the oppositions were strong, but I continued, and I never gave up.

I have said it in different churches where I have given my testimonies that I was focused mainly on becoming LASU vice-chancellor. I never applied to any other university. It was not that I was desperate to become vice-chancellor of LASU, but I was called (by God) to be vice-chancellor of LASU, so I never attempted to be vice-chancellor elsewhere. Most of the others that contested with me since 2011 have gone somewhere else, but I am here. I’m maybe the only person who didn’t go elsewhere despite seeing many opportunities.

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Strictly Personal

‘He’s one of our own’ is a crippling mindset for nation by Tee Ngugi

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Recently, a new senator listed on his Twitter account the number of tribesmen and women he was able — through his influence — to get appointed to various high government positions. The post made no reference to their competency or integrity. What it was celebrating was the ethnic character of the appointees.

The post, innocent on the surface, indicates that Kenya, and Africa by extension, has never really moved away from a virulent and crippling mindset. This mindset gauges an ethnic community’s progress by the number of tribesmen appointed as Cabinet ministers, principal secretaries, and heads of parastatals. In the logic of this retrogressive mentality, it does not matter whether the tribesmen run down a ministry through incompetence, or bankrupt a parastatal through thievery. That is beside the point. The point is that the person running the ministry or department is “one of our own”.

Here is the problem with this mentality. When a person runs down a ministry or bankrupts a parastatal, everyone, including the community from which the managers belong, suffers. When a public hospital no longer functions due to mismanagement, the fallout does not spare the communities from which the health PS and minister hail. When one celebrates the award of a road tender to a tribesman who is not qualified, the resulting shoddy work affects all those who use that road.

Forget easily

The problem with Kenyans is that we forget so easily. We have forgotten that Kanu-era mismanagement and thievery hurt everyone. When Kenya was under Jomo Kenyatta and Daniel arap Moi, their communities did not have the freedom, denied to others, to criticise their regimes. All who dared to do so ended up in jail, or worse, irrespective of their ethnic nationality. By contrast, when the economy improved under Mwai Kibaki, it did not only improve for his community but for everyone.

So the lesson we should have learnt from history and experience is that an ethnic community’s progress is best served by competent and qualified persons, irrespective of their ethnic background. From this viewpoint, it is possible to have your entire community in government and yet have dilapidated schools and hospitals. It is also possible to have no one from your community in government and enjoy a growing economy and quality services.

There are two competing ideas that will determine whether we remain a backward nation characterised by poverty and dysfunction. One proposes that competence and integrity be the drivers of the development process while the other situates ethnic kinship at the centre of the development project. What if the senator had boasted about the number of women, youth, IT specialists, and progressive thinkers he was able to bring into government irrespective of the tribe?

Tragically, we still have a long way to go before we make that mental shift.

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Strictly Personal

For 133 million poor Nigerians by Lasisi Olagunju

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The National Bureau of Statistics in January 2012 released its ‘Nigeria Poverty Profile 2010’ report which contained data covering the previous 30 years. It showed that 17.1 million Nigerians were in poverty in 1980; 34.7 million in 1985; 39.2 million in 1996; 67.7 million in 2004 and 112 million in 2010. The same NBS a few days ago (November 17, 2022) launched the results of its 2022 Multidimensional Poverty Index (MPI) Survey. It returned a figure of 132.9 million poor people in Nigeria. That figure represents 63 percent of people living in Nigeria. In 1999 when we retrieved Nigeria from the jaws of the military, we danced and rejoiced. We were sure that with the breath of fresh air had come prosperity, the safety of self, family, and property. The Yoruba among us hit the street and sang ‘bye bye to jatijati.’ Now, look at the figures and the depth of a people’s misfortune: Democracy grows in years, poverty and insecurity grow in leaps and bounds; the Nigerian elite stay firm; they count their blessings. They continue to grow big and powerful and exponentially rich; their giant cocks muffle the crow of the poor and they give no damn.

This democracy is filthy water; it cannot be washed. Democracy is supposed to give freedom and prosperity and security. Nigerians have gained none with this experiment. What they have is the evil hen that lays poverty – the Somali definition of slavery. The difference between what we want and what we get is leadership. Our ancestors always desired good leaders because they wanted to live the good life. They knew that choosing a leader is like choosing a spouse; it has consequences for the well-being of the parties. And so, people of the past travelled from ocean to ocean in search of good governance. They paid attention to the details in the leadership selection process; wealth and its corrosive properties had no influence in the conclave where kings were chosen. A former vice-chancellor of the University of Ife (now Obafemi Awolowo University), Ile Ife, Professor Wande Abimbola, offered an insight in an interview published by Saturday Tribune two days ago. He told us that: “In ancient times, there was a vacancy in the stool of the Alaafin. In those days, Ifá would choose from among the princes. So they had the list of all the princes; they presented all to Ifá and Ifá rejected all of them. After exhausting the names of all the princes, the kingmakers were worried about what to do next. One of them said: ‘there is one person who lives in a village far away. He carries his load of firewood to the town once a week. He goes to the bush, cuts firewood, and takes it to the town every week to sell. After selling, he would go back to the village. His name is Otonpooro. Why don’t we try him?’ So they consulted Ifá if Otonpooro would be fit for the throne and if the Oyo Empire would be prosperous under his reign. Ifá said yes. At that time if Ifá had chosen you as the new Alaafin, the kingmakers would meet you in the house wherever you were. Otonpooro had just put his heavy load of firewood on his head, coming to the town. They met him as he was leaving his abode in the forest. They shouted: ‘Otonpooro, da’gi nùn; ire ti

dé’lé kokoko’ (meaning ‘Otonpooro, throw away your firewood; great fortune is awaiting you in the city.’) He ruled for a long time. He was a successful king….” You see how all princes failed the test and no one in the metropolis merited the throne. It was a poor villager with a promise of good governance that got the crown. The professor’s story fits into my thoughts as I reflect on Nigeria’s poverty of governance and the billionaires campaigning and abusing one another because they want to inherit us next year. The present line-up should tell us why the poor sink deeper in want and why Nigeria gropes in this dank alley of ineffectual democracy.

The 2022 NBS poverty report says that 83.5 percent of Nigerian children under five years are poor “due to lack of intellectual stimulation needed for childhood development.” The report adds that “school attendance is particularly problematic in the North-East and the North-West.” And these are zones with a cumulative 65.96 million poor people, about half of the national total of 132.92 million. Ironically, these two zones, with very huge voter populations, will determine the next leader and the direction the nation faces, going forward. How do you help such a country? Educating the children of today secures the future for the community. The Zulu say a tree is bent before it gets dry. The Yoruba say no wise person bends a dry fish and complains that it breaks. The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) in 2020 (two years ago) said there were 10.5 million out-of-school children in Nigeria; the most recent figure from UNESCO is 20 million. These are not just numbers; they are human beings wasting away like millions of others before them. I don’t think those kids want to grow up as limbless cripples, useless to themselves and to their clan. The truth is that their dog does not prefer bones to meat; it is just that no one ever gives it meat.

Unless Nigeria’s jungle of demons is deforested, its foliage will continue to kill the soil. There is an instructive quote credited to Chief Obafemi Awolowo in Kole Omotoso’s ‘Just Before Dawn’: “Look at it this way. All over the country, you have farmers and peasants, fishermen and labourers barely earning a living. They have millions of children who cannot go to school because their parents cannot afford the fees. If somebody does not do something about it, there is going to be trouble in this country in another decade or so (page 220).” Omotoso did not put a date to that quote, but the understanding in it apparently informed Awo’s free education programme. It is tragically ironic that the sage’s Western Nigeria today suffers literacy poverty almost as much as the other parts that paid scant attention to education. It is a catastrophic failure of the present. The ancestors did not create ragged, unschooled children in search of hope. That is why we proudly parrot our father’s saying that it takes a village to train a child.

Amidst its crisis of mass poverty and ignorance, Northern Nigeria last week celebrated the mining of crude oil in the desert. How is that wealth (if it is true wealth) going to wean the bandit of his banditry and educate the uneducable millions? A Cameroonian tribe says knowledge is better than riches. Grand old Yoruba musician, Haruna Ishola, lyrically celebrates education as the “chord of wealth that endures forever (okùn olà tí kìí já láíláí).” Somewhere else in Nigeria, people tell themselves that wealth diminishes with usage; learning increases with use. My own people say it is sweet to be wise, educated, and knowledgeable (Ogbón dùn ún gbón; ìmòn dùn ún mòn). Yet, if there is an age that despises, deprecates, and devalues wisdom, learning, and schooling, it is this age of dirty, unwashed leaders. Yet, we complain that nothing works. Were you not told that what you give you get ten times over? The untrained child won’t ever escape poverty and society will not escape the consequences of that abandonment. There is an apt proverb here: The child who is not embraced by the village will soon burn down the village to get warm. You cannot nurse millions of children with the waters of poverty, illiteracy, and hopelessness and

dream of peace and prosperity. North to south, the road to the farm and the pathway to the stream are strewn with terror and terrorism. Who is not afraid to venture out anywhere today? People can’t work; the poverty queue lengthens; the odious cycle remains unbroken – because of the choices we made yesterday. We are set for another round of mischance.

Greek philosopher, Plato, wrote about his ‘cave’ and the people’s fascination with darkness. Before Plato, there was his teacher, Socrates with his profound analysis of power and politics. Socrates’ dialogue interrogates the eternal contest between good and bad; between what is just and what appears to be just. We see a world in perpetual competition “between the perfectly just man who shall appear to others (because of their ignorance) as supremely unjust and the perfectly unjust man who is absolutely ruthless, observing no moral constraints in attaining what he wants, and who possesses a magical ability never to get caught but always appears to others as supremely just.” A brilliant writer once described Nigeria as an unusual country of destructive intrigues; a nation where what one person wants is negated by what another person wants and what eventually prevails is

what no one wants. In 1998/99, we were eager to replace the military with just anything, and we did. In 2014/2015, we were proud to insist that what we wanted was “anything but Jonathan.” And we did just that. Today, we can’t wait to see the back of bleak Buhari and his aura and we are toeing exactly the same path that led to today’s ruination. What is coming is what no one wants.

In Plato’s ‘The Republic, Socrates states why democracies fail and leaders without sense rule. He asks us to imagine a ship in which there is a captain who is stronger than any of the crew, but is deaf, dumb, blind, and drunk and is disastrously incompetent in navigation. In addition to the tragic combination, the crew members are quarreling with one another about the steering and about who holds the wheel. I have a feeling that Socrates had Nigeria in mind when he constructed that ship of confusion and entitlement where “everyone is of the opinion that it is his turn to lead and that he has a right to steer the ship though he has never learnt the art of navigation and cannot tell who taught him or when he learnt.”

 

 

 

 

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