I left Nigeria 25 years ago—but America just sees me as black

It stings, but doesn’t surprise.

No criminal charges were brought yesterday against the New York City police officer who tussled with a black man and the latter ended up dead.

I wasn’t even mildly surprised.

By now, I know better. I moved to New York 25 years ago and spent most of that time as a reporter covering the city. I have investigated stories on corruption and the misuse of funds that have resulted in some serious consequences for people, including getting fired.

The death of Eric Garner—placed in a chokehold by an officer in a fight over loose cigarettes— was caught on video, though. I saw it and knew nothing would happen. Perhaps I am jaded.

Journalists hold up the mirror to our societies. We don’t have to like what is looking back at us.

New Yorkers have reacted with demonstrations. More than 30 people were arrested yesterday. More protests are expected today. Thousands are tweeting and Facebooking their fury.

America is having another racial moment. I’ve covered these before. And yet I’m still left wondering why, in 2014, black men scare the bejesus out of white police officers.

I suspect most Africans of my generation aren’t conscious of race until we have this awkward dance with her after we’ve settled in the first world.

Growing up in Nigeria, I was an Asaba man first. My ethnic identity was a source of pride. While I grew up in Lagos, Nigeria’s commercial capital, I wasn’t Yoruba.

And Lagos might have been home, but Asaba was and is where I come from.

For me, and those of my ilk, our whole identity is wrapped up in our ethnic identity. You are a Yoruba, Ibo, Hausa or Fulani first, then Nigerian.

But once you set foot in America, you are Black.

It’s a shock to the system but then you get with the program, assimilate or remain fiercely African.

Or Nigerian. Not just the catch-all “black.”

I was just beginning my career around the time of the vicious Rodney King beatings at the hands of white police officers, also videotaped, and the riots that followed in 1991. I can still remember the shooting death of an unarmed African son, Amadou Diallo in 1999 in the Bronx. Forty-one shots fired, and none of the shooters, all Caucasian, got any jail time.

Even after Diallo, in 2000, Patrick Dorismond, a dad of two, brushed off an uncover officer who inquired about drugs, was shot killed outside a bar in midtown Manhattan.

That officer got off with no criminal charges.

It was 50 shots that were fired at Sean Bell in 2006 on what was to be his wedding day. At least the shooters lost their jobs.

I didn’t grow up with the indignities that my African-American brothers endure daily—but they came eventually.

I’ve learned to put white fear in its own box when coded language like “angry” is used to describe hard working black professionals.

It really stings, but it no longer surprises.

It’s not just an American issue. Years ago, I walked past a blonde guy in a bar in Amsterdam. Instinctively, he reached back to grab me and held me—making sure his wallet was still in his pocket before letting go. This was in supposedly enlightened Europe.

It stung, but didn’t surprise.

Just last week, a young Liberian woman had to school much older white people in Britain that the entire African continent isn’t infested with Ebola. That she had to ask them to check their white savior complex in 2014 was shocking to me.

I spoke on a panel about newsroom diversity right after Ferguson erupted. I told the large group of New York University students to embrace all the things that made them different, whether it was ethnic diversity or ginger hair.

One student asked me what needed to be done to make changes in our world.

I responded that I thought it the responsibility of the powerful, the majority, white folks in general, to embrace and demand fairness for those who are not like them.

And it doesn’t have to involve money. Or maybe, it does have to in these cases.

New York City has paid millions in taxpayer dollars to settle civil cases of the families of minority men that police have killed. We all deserve better than what we are getting. Black lives matter and should be everyone’s concern.

I’d like to be pleasantly surprised soon.

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Nigeria’s president may finally do what he should have done all along: bring back the girls

By FRANKIE EDOZIEN

One big long failure. (Reuters/Afolabi Sotunde)

Perhaps it was too good to be true. And indeed many thought, prayed, and hoped it wouldn’t be.
When the administration of President Goodluck Jonathan announced last week that the government had reached an agreement with the militant Islamist group, Boko Haram, to free the 219 kidnapped schoolgirls, their parents rejoiced.
“We were jubilating. We had every reason to be happy,” Lawan Abana, a parent of the one of the missing girls, told Reuters. This “agreement” even called for a ceasefire. What a feather this would have been in Goodluck’s cap. Right on on the heels of his country beating back the Ebola outbreak.
But in Nigeria, past is always prologue. Jonathan’s government has said in the past that it killed Abubakar Shekau, the group’s leader, only for him to pop up in new videos, taunting the government. So when more gruesome attacks on five towns took place one day later, it just seemed like the government was toying with the parents and the world, who have waited for six months for tangible results of a release.
Jonathan, it seems, cannot tame Boko Haram. The Islamist separatist terror group has wreaked havoc on the Nigerian government with its bombing and kidnapping campaigns. It is probably now the biggest threat to Africa’s largest economy.
Boko Haram has killed thousands in its attempt to create an Islamic state in a country with millions of Christians and others who practice African traditional religions. The militant group is so well armed that Nigerian soldiers have been accused of refusing to fight them, with a large group being charged with mutiny just before the “ceasefire agreement.”
Yet Jonathan never projects a sense of urgency where these girls are concerned, rarely acknowledging the worldwide #bringbackourgirls campaign. After all, it took him three months and the urging of activist Malala Yousafzai to even meet with the parents. Would this have been his response if those children were of his ilk? Children of his friends? Or his coterie of ministers?
Since Jonathan never made it to Chibok, where the abduction happened, it’s not hard to surmise he’s ceded the territory to Boko Haram. A release now would have been perfect, making him a winner, projecting the strength and resolve he can’t seem to muster—particularly after six months in captivity, and just before he’s expected to formally announce he’ll seek another term at Aso Rock, the Nigerian seat of government in February 2015 when the elections are scheduled. It would be his moment to shine bright in the eyes of the world.
Others who seek the presidency can lay the failures of resolving the Boko Haram crisis firm at his feet. He has, after all, failed to protect the citizenry in northeast Nigeria and the girls remain captive. But right after Saturday’s attacks, doubt began to set in. The alleged negotiator for Boko Haram was dubbed an imposter. And by the one person who could know.
Ahmed Salkida, a journalist who once shared a cell with Boko Haram’s founder Mohammed Yusuf and has been close to the group, set the Twitter world afire when he pooh-poohed the agreement in a series of tweets over the weekend.
Salkida now lives in Dubai, but he’s rarely been discredited on Boko Haram information.
Jonathan can still pull off an October surprise though. Without fanfare or announcements, he can and should do whatever it takes to recover those abducted—then return the boys and the girls to their families—and then blow his own trumpet.

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Don’t Forget Conakry: Ebola is getting worse in Guinea and no one’s paying any attention

(AP Photo/ Youssouf Bah)

By FRANKIE EDOZIEN

When the Ebola outbreak began March it started in Guinea and soon spread to neighboring Liberia and Sierra Leone overwhelming hospital systems there. Monrovia has American boots on the ground, Sierra Leone is leaning heavily on her colonial mistress Britain as well as Cuban doctors, but Guinea has received minimal attention.

Of the nearly 9,000 cases, Guinea has had the smallest amount, at 1,472. Yet it needs just as much help as its neighbors. Guinea, which is ground zero of this outbreak, is now the one country with the least amount of resources or even attention.

This week Doctors Without Borders or Medecins San Frontieres (MSF) warned that Guinea’s capital Conakry is seeing “a massive spike in cases.” The president of Guinea, where 843 people have died, has just begged retired doctors to come back and assist in the treatment effort.

When I first visited Conakry in 1999 to report on the funeral of Amadou Diallo, the unarmed Bronx resident shot 41 times by New York City cops who mistook his wallet for gun, I saw firsthand how beautiful, but impoverished the entire country was.

Even though Guinea’s bauxite exports ought to make among the richest nations on the continent, it was lacking basic infrastructure. The major city seemed like a very small town in any other country in the region.

From Conakry to the Fouta Djallon mountains, France’s colonial legacy was visible everywhere.

Yet in 2014 the French government has not given the commitment that Britain has given to Sierra Leone in the Ebola fight.

The healthcare system is still crumbling.

“It’s still the same or even worse now,” Diallo’s mother, Kadiatou Diallo told me Thursday.

“We don’t have any good hospital in Guinea, we have no infrastructure. Trust me Guinea is the worst (of the three countries healthcare systems).” The Maryland resident has been working with others in the diaspora to bring democratic principles to Guinea under the umbrella group Pottal Fii Bhantal, but also to build a world-class hospital in Conakry.

“One good hospital built in Guinea with solar power would go a long way. Even if someone wants a test they have to send it elsewhere. One good hospital will be a good start,” Diallo added.

Of course the few Guinean elite can fly to Paris or Morocco for their check-ups. The rest of the 10 million folks are the mercy of the government hospitals, which may not always have running water.

While the US military handles logistics and builds treatment centers in Monrovia, Diallo and others who form part of the Justice in Guinea group wish that was also the case in Conakry.

President Barack Obama has leaned on France’s president, Francois Hollande to step up.

“This is not simply charity,” the president. “Probably the single most important thing that we can do to prevent a more serious Ebola outbreak in this country is making sure that we get what is a raging epidemic right now in West Africa under control.”

It appears that Obama frustration with France is now public knowledge despite the administration’s refusal to ‘name and shame.’

But some Guineans in the US have not refused to name and shame pointing to their own leadership for failing them.

“The Guinean government has shown the worst leadership. The outbreak started in Guinea and they don’t know how to handle it,” said Bashir Bah, 60, a computer engineer who now makes Washington DC his home.

He says the reason the Guinea is lagging behind its neighbors is because President Conde, let go of qualified healthcare workers when he took over as president in 2010 in favor of cronies. “When Alpha Conde got into power one of the first measures was to total purge the health care staff and all the cronies took over. That’s the fundamental explanation. The root cause is ethnic,” Bah said.

Conde is from the Malinke ethnic group and they are about 35% of the population. He’s been accused of sidelining other ethnic groups including the Peul who comprise 40% of the Guineans.

MSF is building two new treatment centers with one in Conakry to tackle the influx of new Ebola cases after months of instability.

The Atlanta based Humes-McCoy Aviation will fly medical personnel to and from the region for aid groups who want it. They will do it at no cost as long as fuel is paid for.

Guineans in America will join other West African groups to hold a fundraising concert next month to raise funds for the hospital when every one leaves eventually.

And after Obama’s push, the French government said it would kick in some funds to build two treatment centers, but not before implementing stringent temperature checks from travellers jetting in from Conakry at its airport.

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