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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

As a continent, we must confront the emergency of our failure to learn, By Joachim Buwembo

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“As a nation, we must confront the emergency of our failure to learn!” well-circulated news clips showed veteran Kenyan opposition leader Raila Odinga saying, in reaction to the (lack of) preparedness despite accurate warnings of the floods that by the time he spoke had claimed some 200 lives in the country.

Baba, as Raila is popularly known, must have used the words “as a nation” advisedly for, at the time he was speaking, helicopters were evacuating (wealthy) foreigners from flooded sites as the Kenyan citizens continued drowning.

But Baba might as well have said “as a continent” because of the tendency to watch disaster coming and doing nothing happens in other African countries.

The question then is whether African leaders are doing their best to prevent or contain disasters and, second, the accurately predictable ones occasioned by climate change. The third question is if the best by African leaders is good enough.

If not, then the fourth question is what can be done without alarming the leaders who might become defensive and suspicious of those asking legitimate questions about the protection of life, property and infrastructure. The fifth question is how their capacity to learn can be created by the famous (or notorious) capacity-building workshops.

But, before proceeding, we need to answer a sixth question: Whether failure to learn is an emergency. Failure to learn prevails, otherwise we wouldn’t be acting like the hazards of climate change are unknown phenomena.

I spent a whole year at the beginning of the last decade flying into African capitals from my Nairobi base in service of UNDP and the International Centre for Journalism, training journalists on climate change reporting but, more significantly, lobbying and securing the commitment of chief editors to give priority to the menace threatening humanity.

And there were several senior journalists on the programme, ensuring that the major media in all countries on the continent were reached.

So, even if African leaders were occupied with “more important issues” than climatic threats to lives and livelihoods, if the media had kept highlighting the climate issues beyond reporting about big people periodically meeting in fancy venues to talk about it, the public would be demanding more serious preparedness by their governments. Having to endure senseless but predictable deaths and destruction of infrastructure is, indeed, an emergency.

The seventh question is, who will bell the cat? Who will tell the naked emperors (to be fair some are dressed) that they are naked?

A protocol official who was managing a visiting royal’s schedule once whispered his agonising experience when the foreign monarch overslept after sampling some local somethings, and the mere thought of disturbing the royal sleep was considered sacrilege by the royal entourage, yet the host counterpart was waiting and the clock was ticking away past their meeting time.

The protocol officer had to cause some commotion in the many-star hotel, causing a diplomatic incident to prevent a diplomatic crisis. It takes unusual steps to bell a naked emperor.

Yet the answer to the seventh question already exists: The African Union can, and should, bell the cat. The AU was not created to be a social club for naked emperors; it is meant to make Africa work. But Africa cannot work with the prevailing obstacles to its working: our “Emergency of Failure to Learn!” Don’t abbreviate it, those suffering EFL may think you are talking about a European Football League.

Only last week, Uganda’s National Environment Management Authority (Nema) announced to our largely inattentive public and authorities that the pollution over Kampala is approaching crisis level. The Nema boss reeled off some head-reeling data in particulates per million, summarising it by saying the air over Kampala is eight times above WHO’s permissible levels.

The authorities and public continued yawning.But the Nema fellows dutifully put it clearly that air pollution is now the world’s single leading killer, claiming six to seven million lives annually, about the same number Covid killed in two years, and far more than malaria, HIV, road accidents or anything you can think of.

Nema named Uganda’s top polluters that kill 31,000 a year as vehicles, boda boda, and domestic cooking (charcoal and wood).

When we overcome the EFL and start tackling our EFT (not electronic funds transfer but Emergency of Failure to Think), we may direct the huge electricity quantities we generate but don’t consume to free cooking energy for the urban poor and to mass public transport, thus addressing the identified top causes of death in Uganda.

Nema can talk on but, for as long as we don’t handle our EFL and EFT, their alarm bells won’t move us.

Buwembo is a Kampala-based journalist. E-mail:buwembo@gmail.com

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If I were put in charge of a $15m African kitty, I’d first deworm children, By Charles Onyango-Obbo

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One of my favourite stories on pan-African action (or in this case inaction), one I will never tire of repeating, comes from 2002, when the discredited Organisation of African Unity, was rebranded into an ambitious, new African Union (AU).

There were many big hitters in African statehouses then. Talking of those who have had the grace to step down or leave honourably after electoral or political defeat, or have departed, in Nigeria we had Olusegun Obasanjo, a force of nature. Cerebral and studious Thabo Mbeki was chief in South Africa. In Ethiopia, the brass-knuckled and searingly intellectual Meles Zenawi ruled the roost.

In Tanzania, there was the personable and thoughtful Ben Mkapa. In Botswana, there was Festus Mogae, a leader who had a way of bringing out the best in people. In Senegal, we had Abdoulaye Wade, fresh in office, and years before he went rogue.

And those are just a few.

This club of men (there were no women at the high table) brought forth the AU. At that time, there was a lot of frustration about the portrayal of Africa in international media, we decided we must “tell our own story” to the world. The AU, therefore, decided to boost the struggling Pan-African New Agency (Pana) network.

The members were asked to write cheques or pledges for it. There were millions of dollars offered by the South Africans and Nigerians of our continent. Then, as at every party, a disruptive guest made a play. Rwanda, then still roiled by the genocide against the Tutsi of 1994, offered the least money; a few tens of thousand dollars.

There were embarrassed looks all around. Some probably thought it should just have kept is mouth shut, and not made a fool of itself with its ka-money. Kigali sat unflustered. Maybe it knew something the rest didn’t.

The meeting ended, and everyone went their merry way. Pana sat and waited for the cheques to come. The big talkers didn’t walk the talk. Hardly any came, and in the sums that were pledged. Except one. The cheque from Rwanda came in the exact amount it was promised. The smallest pledge became Pana’s biggest payday.

The joke is that it was used to pay terminal benefits for Pana staff. They would have gone home empty-pocketed.

We revive this peculiarly African moment (many a deep-pocketed African will happily contribute $300 to your wedding but not 50 cents to build a school or set up a scholarship fund), to campaign for the creation of small and beautiful African things.

It was brought on by the announcement by South Korea that it had joined the African Summit bandwagon, and is shortly hosting a South Korea-Africa Summit — like the US, China, the UK, the European Union, Japan, India, Russia, Italy, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey do.

Apart from the AU, whose summits are in danger of turning into dubious talk shops, outside of limited regional bloc events, there is no Pan-African platform that brings the continent’s leaders together.

The AU summits are not a solutions enterprise, partly because over 60 percent of its budget is funded by non-African development partners. You can’t seriously say you are going to set up a $500 million African climate crisis fund in the hope that some Europeans will put up the money.

It’s possible to reprise the Rwanda-Pana pledge episode; a convention of African leaders and important institutions on the continent for a “Small Initiatives, Big Impact Compact”. It would be a barebones summit. In the first one, leaders would come to kickstart it by investing seed money.

The rule would be that no country would be allowed to put up more than $100,000 — far, far less than it costs some presidents and their delegations to attend one day of an AU summit.

There would also be no pledges. Everyone would come with a certified cheque that cannot bounce, or hard cash in a bag. After all, some of our leaders are no strangers to travelling around with sacks from which they hand out cash like they were sweets.

If 54 states (we will exempt the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic for special circumstances) contribute $75,000 each, that is a good $4.05 million.

If just 200 of the bigger pan-African institutions such as the African Development Bank, Afrexim Bank, the giant companies such as MTN, Safaricom, East African Breweries, Nedbank, De Beers, Dangote, Orascom in Egypt, Attijariwafa Bank in Morocco, to name a few, each ponied up $75,000 each, that’s a cool $15 million just for the first year alone.

There will be a lot of imagination necessary to create magic out of it all, no doubt, but if I were asked to manage the project, I would immediately offer one small, beautiful thing to do.

After putting aside money for reasonable expenses to be paid at the end (a man has to eat) — which would be posted on a public website like all other expenditures — I would set out on a programme to get the most needy African children a dose of deworming tablets. Would do it all over for a couple of years.

Impact? Big. I read that people who received two to three additional years of childhood deworming experience an increase of 14 percent in consumption expenditure, 13 percent in hourly earnings, and nine percent in non-agricultural work hours.

At the next convention, I would report back, and possibly dazzle with the names, and photographs, of all the children who got the treatment. Other than the shopping opportunity, the US-Africa Summit would have nothing on that.

Charles Onyango-Obbo is a journalist, writer, and curator of the “Wall of Great Africans”. X@cobbo3

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