By CHIKE FRANKIE EDOZIEN
Growing up in Lagos, I don’t remember our contemporary leaders ever conceding that perhaps they just might have got something wrong. Often our leaders prefer to focus on what they feel are their positive contributions to Africa’s largest economy.
So when Goodluck Jonathan, Nigeria’s most recent ex-president showed up in London in June 2016 to defend his governance record to the international community, I only expected a spirited defense of his stewardship of the country.
And of course more bluster from his surrogates. After all, his successor, Muhammadu Buhari accused Jonathan and his team of leaving behind an empty treasury.
As I watched Jonathan go on about how that was not possible at a roundtable organized by Bloomberg News, I started to reminisce about how I found my métier. Story telling.
It seemed like just yesterday I was crouched on floor of the old English colonial in Ikoyi, reading a stack of newspapers. I devoured them every time Dad returned from work carrying the bunch. The newsprint had a stale smell that I couldn’t get enough of.
In truth it was four decades ago that I was asking mum what those words in the Daily Times meant. I knew big words before my classmates knew the complete alphabet. So naturally I wanted to write stories. I wanted to be a journalist.
Like many Nigerians I abruptly found out telling stories could be fatal when I was sixteen. Dele Giwa, a writer for Newswatch, had a letter bomb sent to him at home. My folks talked about it for days and fear gripped the city. It was 1986.
Few years later, I left that increasingly politically charged climate and gallivanted abroad, holding on to my love of storytelling, particularly the African ones. As the years passed my frequent visits to Lagos provided occasions for me to write about us. But, as I was no longer a young man I would steel myself for the inevitable question.
“When are you getting married?”
I didn’t always know how to answer truthfully. Do I open up a can of worms with strangers and say ‘I’ll get married when marriage equality is the law of the federation?’ Or do I continue with my boilerplate response; ‘when I find the right one I’ll let you know.’
One of my Nigerian pals, Dike, is over 40 and gay. He now lives in London and it’s unlikely he will ever move home for good. But on his last visit to his hometown, Owerri, he told me how an aunt worried so much that he hasn’t brought home a bride. He thought he’d escaped the dreaded question until he went over to give her money before departing and she fell on her knees wailing.
“Please, please find a wife. Please I am begging you in the name of God, please.”
Dike replied: “Please Aunty, get up. I have heard you. I will see what I can do.”
Suddenly hopeful she says: “Oh, are you looking for one over there in England?
“Ah, ah Aunty, does it matter where she comes from?” Dike said.
“That’s true but it is better if she hails from these parts,” she replied.
“But aunty at my age, I don’t think I want to get married any more.”
“Eh?!” she screamed;
“Don’t say that oh. There is a 70-year-old man in the next kindred, who is looking for a young wife. You are a man. You can even marry at 70. I have been praying for you. I prayed for you this morning that a good woman will come your way, In Jesus Name.”
I feel Dike’s pain.
Recently a friend from secondary school called me up to ask I that donate to a fund to refurbish the school’s kitchen. He expected a substantial donation and said: ‘you are not married and you have no kids.”
His reasoning was I ought to have more to give since I’m only responsible for myself. I was flabbergasted since my friend knew of my long-term relationship and I had to gently remind him that my male partner of close to a decade is my family. And no, I may not be conventionally married, but I’m not single.
Sometime ago I decided to try and tell the story of folks who are either burdened by the weight of the dreaded question or work around it by jumping into unhappy matrimony. I began researching in Accra, Ghana. I found, men who were so in love with each other but then married women because it was what was expected. I found women who were routinely dating other women who were married to men.
Was this clandestine living the best they could hope for?
“This is Africa. Why are you asking questions you know the answers to,” one told me. I moved on to Lagos, where I wanted to get answers to the same questions.
But earlier that year, January 2014 to be precise, the president, (Goodluck Jonathan) had signed into law a bill criminalizing gays, adding even public displays of affection.
Clearly it was an Election Year gambit that while popular, yielded few votes for him. He lost by a landslide. But his actions opened the floodgate to beatings and harassment by police and unscrupulous citizens. Just the suspicion alone could land one in trouble. And who wants to risk a 14-year-jail term?
So even though I’d had high hopes for good reporting, my writing was stalled by the paranoia in Lagos and the sheer refusal of folks to speak on the record, or even off sometimes. Those who did were so afraid, it seemed that shadows freaked them. I could barely hear their whispers.
Still I found men and women in love or looking for love despite the cultural anchor on their necks. Jonathan’s action spurred open homophobia and shaming in spaces that ought to have been safe. Violence spiked and it was easier to be scornful and derisive of sexual minorities in polite company. All of this in a country that often condones pre-pubescent brides marrying elderly men.
No Nigerian space was truly safe.
In 2015 my sister had a milestone birthday party and all my brothers and a trove of cousins gathered to celebrate. My cousin Henry was there with his wife. I’d never met her but knew of her. I eagerly asked him introduce me.
“I’ve heard about you, she said. I smiled big and said ‘Good things I hope.’
But all that came my way was a small, tight, cold, smile that ended at her lips: ‘Not really.’
Then she laid into me.
“Where is your family?”
“Where is your wife?!”
“Where are your children?!”
It was aggressive. Menacing even.
In full view of my siblings and even my mother, she tried to shame me. I was dealing with an angry emboldened homophobe. (Thanks to Goodluck Jonathan, women of her ilk feel no compunction to go on the attack in public and I wish I could say it was an isolated incident but others have told me similar tales) So I smiled and said my partner was at home. ‘He couldn’t make it.’ And I left her company.
So I was truly caught off-guard when Jonathan, in the middle of his defending his government from corruption allegations and bilking the Nigerian treasury he told Bloomberg that the anti-gay bill he signed into law may have to be revisited.
“When it comes to equality, we must all have the same rights as Nigerian citizens,” Jonathan said at a forum at Bloomberg’s European headquarters. “In the light of deepening debates for all Nigerians and other citizens of the world to be treated equally and without discrimination, and with the clear knowledge that the issue of sexual orientation is still evolving, the nation may at the appropriate time revisit the law,” Jonathan said.
That only took thirty months. But from 2015 to 2016 he may have evolved but being out of office he’s not in a position to stop carnage.
Days after his pronouncement there was a grisly massacre of 49 gay people by a deranged gunman in Orlando Florida. Jonathan, who as president ignored his gay constituents, sent out a condolence message to the grieving families via twitter.
I condole with the victims and I pray that Almighty gives us the wisdom to deal with terror whether in #Florida or in any part of the world – Goodluck E. Jonathan (@GEJonathan)
But even that message also prompted controversy from the Nigerian ‘twitteratti.’
Jonathan cannot undo the damage caused by that law, but stories from those affected matter, and could change the reflexively antagonistic environment in Nigeria. Every Nigerian story will be told. And I have to do my part to tell our collective story. And that includes those who some want to shame and shunt aside.
I can start by answering the marriage question honestly. When will I get married? Maybe when we have marriage equality in our federation. Or maybe just when Scott, my partner wants to.
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“To the concern that not enough African voices are represented here, an obvious rejoinder: “More, please.”
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By FRANKIE EDOZIEN
While Nigeria’s 2015 presidential elections have largely been acknowledged as a victory for democracy — with the first ever victory of an opposition candidate –it was also a model in how social media brings transparency to the electoral process.
President-elect Muhammadu Buhari’s All Progressive Congress party lead in the vote last month quickly became apparent a few hours after polling units closed thanks to technologically savvy Nigerian voters using social media to share each step of the process.
Locally developed voter monitoring applications, Revoda and Nigeria Elections were in robust use during the entire weekend. Long before the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) shared any official polling numbers, Nigerians who had volunteered among the 700,000 electoral officers shared the voter numbers from their units. While nearly every tweet and Facebook post came with the ‘unofficial’ caveat it was a good indicator of the trend. By Sunday evening Nigerian social media had turned into a land of ‘Nate Silvers’,
In some senses it’s not a complete surprise that social media was accurately reflecting a trend. Nigeria has one of the fastest growing Internet penetration rates. Last year alone it added 10 million new internet users to have around 75 million Internet users now. Nigerians who voted last month were about 30 million.
People displace by Islamist militants display their voters card.
Ever since the #OccupyNigeria nationwide anger strike in 2011, when the Jonathan administration suddenly removed fuel subsidies and set off inflation, social media has played role in the national discourse.
Its national prominence rose a year ago when the over 200 schoolgirls were kidnapped in Chibok by the ultra violent separatists group, Boko Haram. The #BringBackOurGirls campaign reverberated around the world and even found its way to the White House. Before the vote, through Facebook posts, Twitter usage, and even sharing video through the messaging the application ‘WhatsApp,’ it often seemed that the campaign of President Goodluck Jonathan was playing catch-up in the lead up to the vote.
A senior person inside the Jonathan camp, speaking on condition of anonymity, told Quartz the president’s re-election campaign had been caught flat-footed on social media. “The APC campaign was consistent with their message on social media, they completely shaped the narrative there,” said the Abuja-based source. “By the time people here started to throw money at the social problem it was already too late.Then there was multiple messaging which was confusing for voters.”
And it was the same in this #NigeriaDecides campaign influencing both leading parties respective campaigns. As Techcabal noted, every trick in the book was in play even online polls with surprising results. On Election Day, everyone with a social media account played a role in disseminating results. #NigeriaDecides was the top trending hashtag on Facebook and Twitter on March 3oth as Nigeria and the rest of the world eagerly anticipated the results.
“Many people who stationed themselves at the polling centers until the close of election were able to know the results of those centers, record events and also photographed copies of results pasted,” Tony Okeregbe, a professor at the University of Lagos told Quartz.
“Then, they connected, via social media, with friends at other centers who did the same thing with other friends. At the end of the day, a rough estimate of what the results would look like was known before hand.”
BENUE IKURAV-TIEV1 WARD,LGEA SCH SORNYI POLLING UNIT REPS PDP:58 APC:158 SENATE PDP:62 APC:165 PRESIDENCY APC170 PDP: 53 #NigeriaDecides
— That Igbo Bae (@stephi_cartel) March 29, 2015
Ona Ara LG, FCT Minister Jumoke Akinjide’s polling unit: Senate: APC 101, PDP 88, SDP 7, LP 21, Accord 65, Void votes 27. #Nigeriadecides
— Y! Online (@YNaija) March 29, 2015
— The Unknown Genie (@grandespinale) March 29, 2015
The consensus from all sides is that while social media didn’t decide the vote it had a significant influence on perception, expectations and a demand for transparency. All in all it seemed that social media was a winner with the #NigeriaDecides hashtag resulting in citizens proclaiming that Democracy is alive and well in Africa’s most populous nation.
Some people are happy because APC won. Some are happy because Buhari won. But most of us are happy because democracy works. #NigeriaDecides
— AYO SOGUNRO (@ayosogunro) March 31, 2015
And as Nigerians tweeted, the victor isn’t always the winner.
— Bisi Alimi (@bisialimi) March 31, 2015
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By FRANKIE EDOZIEN
On the surface, Lagos, Nigeria’s commercial capital, seems to be an opposition stronghold for those seeking to oust President Goodluck Jonathan from office in two weeks.
After all, state governors here for the last 16 years have been members of the All Progressive Congress (APC), the political party that has fielded former dictator Muhammadu Buhari for president.
The party leader and power broker, Bola Tinubu, was the governor of Lagos between 1999 and 2007 and is often referred to as the political godfather of his successor, Babatunde Fashola, who is himself coming to the end of his second term.
Across this African mega-city of 20 million residents, there seem to be more APC flags flying, but Jonathan and his People’s Democratic Party (PDP) are by no means ceding Lagos to Buhari and co—even though APC’s predecessor party, ACN, won Lagos with 81% of the vote.
The president visits often from the federal capital, Abuja, and sometimes that includes campaigning with Lagos-based voting blocs. It’s easy to know when he’s in town: Air and road traffic jams snarl up the city, even worse than the legendary daily Lagos traffic gridlocks. It’s also easy to understand why he’s been here so often. Lagos state is the most populated state and will likely be decisive in who wins the presidency.
As the Washington Post put it:
Not only does Lagos state have more people than many African countries, its gross domestic product (estimated at $91 billion by the current administration) dwarfs even Kenya’s ($55 billion)
While Lagos is dominated by Yorubas from the southwest, it is a melting pot of people from all over the country. Buhari is a Muslim Hausa/Fulani man from the north of the country. Many here have told me that APC could win the state in parliamentary and governorship elections but Jonathan could carry Lagos for the presidency as he did the last time he ran.
“My man Goodluck”
“I will vote for my man Goodluck,” Lawrence Oshiobe, 45, a chauffeur, told me. Buhari, he says, is out of the question. “I don’t want the Hausa man to go in. I look at him as Boko Haram, so let me cast my vote against Boko Haram.”
It’s not an easy process to vote. First you have to register. Then you go back to collect the permanent voter cards (PVCs) so you can vote on March 28 and April 14. Lines to pick up the PVCs in Lagos have been long and Oshiobe waited on his weekends off to ensure he could cast a vote.
Others told me that APC’s media savvy and social-media presence could make one assume they had this locked up. But many young people are apathetic here. Enough to eat away at Buhari’s support considerably.
For instance, Sadik Anifowoshe, 27, a clerk/delivery man, immediately mentions APC as his party; he says his uncle is a politician and predicts victory. But then he admits he’s not voting in two weeks.
He didn’t even bother to register.
“No I didn’t. I don’t like to vote. I’m not interested,” he said. “If I had time I would have [but] and I’m not interested. I don’t like it.”
Kate Okporuanefe, 28, also isn’t voting, but not because she isn’t interested.
“There was one time I went to register the queue was much, so long so I couldn’t wait. I tried somewhere else if I could register but there was a queue also,” the receptionist said.
She works all week and her time on the weekends is precious. “The only time I could register, I’m at church or doing one thing or the other.”
No fresh faces
Raymond Bernand, 33, didn’t register because none of the candidates appeal to him, so he’s consciously and proudly sitting it out.
“I’m tired of seeing the same old faces wanting to rule the people. We should elect new people. I think we should do something different, something fresh,” the office manager said.
These sentiments, plus the fact close to 2 million Lagos residents—40% of eligible voters, who queued to register have not yet gone to queue again to pick up the voter cards—emboldens Jonathan’s PDP supporters that Lagos is in play for the presidency and possibly the governorship. Some of them went on an unruly rampage on the streets this week.
Even though PDP party officials said they had no role in what those supporters did, APC bigwigs warned this was a harbinger of violence in less than two weeks. They have threatened to go to the International Criminal Court.
Bernard said APC would have gotten him to go register if they had recruited a new candidate not tainted by a history in politics. Plus he believes in one term per candidate, so Jonathan wasn’t going to get his vote anyway.
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BY FRANKIE EDOZIEN
For all the whispers of ‘change’ from the ‘everyman’ in Abuja who would like to see Nigeria’s President Goodluck Jonathan, sent packing on election day on March 28, there are loads more vociferous supporters who want him reelected.
Miles away from the arid sun-scorched Abuja federal capital territory, here on the banks of the River Niger and the entry way to the delta riverine area it would be wrong to say Jonathan’s opponent, the former military dictator, Muhammadu Buhari has no support.
But it feels negligible. Barely detectable.
Few here believe Buhari, and his party, All Progressive Congress (APC), are actually agents of change. Here, and across the other five states that make up the so-called South-South, geopolitical zone, Jonathan is ‘The One’ even though he is much-maligned in other parts of the country.
“There’s no two ways about it. The man has performed creditably well and they love him,” said Obi Kingsley Adimkpaya, 35, a native of Asaba and a lifelong resident of the Delta.
“If you ask a common man on the street, he will tell you the household name is Goodluck Ebele Jonathan.”
And that holds for much of the myriad of smaller ethnic communities in the entire area.
Many point to Jonathan’s quelling of the youth restiveness among the Niger Delta militants who for years blew up oil pipelines and kidnaped foreign workers.
Adimkpaya added: “He engaged them to services, they started training them and they are gainfully employed. We are experiencing maximum peace in Delta. We don’t have the crime and kidnapping like it used to be in those days.”
Jonathan’s People’s Democratic Party (PDP) is firmly entrenched here.
It is impossible to understand the dynamic patterns of Nigerian voters without looking closely at their ethnic and geopolitical leanings.
Even if they feel Jonathan has public policy failures, south-easterners and mid-westerners in Nigeria will vote for Jonathan because of the perception that northern politicians, in particular those of Hausa-Fulani origins have had more than their fair share of occupancy of the Aso Rock Presidential Villa. Since independence in 1960 nine of Nigeria’s 14 heads of state have been from the northern part of the country.
Sticking with your own
Most people here feel a ‘south-south’ candidate should have an opportunity for two terms as president. And many believe that northerners have tried for years to sabotage and undermine Jonathan from the get-go.
It has angered and galvanized some, who say said they weren’t inclined to participate, are voting for Jonathan now.
“Number 1 is geopolitical fairness,” said Jude Mordi, 46, a shrimp distributor. “There seems to be this whole thing about power belonging to the north, that’s basically why I decided to vote in the first instance.
He added: If Nigeria is one country I don’t see why someone should be bamboozled out of the presidency because of where his from. It would be a real contest, had APC picked anyone from the south-south.”
That is the thinking among many and the system Nigeria operates under, Mordi told me asking then why he shouldn’t vote for his kinsman.
Even when folks whisper, it’s about how terrible Buhari would be.
One retired civil servant, a septuagenarian, remembers Buhari’s 20-month reign from 1984 to 1985 for shutting down progressive projects such as Lagos’s plans to build a metro rail line that might have eased the commercial capital’s endemic traffic problems. She also praised Jonathan for finally funding a second Niger Bridge, the sole road gateway to the South-East from Asaba after decades of outcry to replace the 1960s bridge which has fallen into bad disrepair.
Others point to what they see as Jonathan’s strong handling of Boko Haram in the early days which led to northern politicians coming down on him hard with some accusing him of genocide.
Phantom Boko Haram
“They called Boko Haram a phantom. And afterwards Buhari said it was the first time he sees a president declare war on his own people. We have selective amnesia,” Mordi said.
This is, of course, in stark contrast with the narrative in the north of the country where Boko Haram has killed nearly 20,000 people and displaced over 1 million from their homes. The president has often been accused of being weak and ineffectual in dealing with the terrorist insurgency – though recent Nigerian military successes are finally changing that narrative.
But in this part of the country, Jonathan’s heartland, they blame northern politicians for allowing the insurgency to fester in a bid to destabilize the president.
The bigger issue, one high-ranked military officer told me in Abuja last week, was that very large parts of the north remain underserved with primary and secondary schools for basic education, leading to the kind of environment that allows anti-Western education movements like Boko Haram to fester.
With all the northerners that have been in power, why is this the norm? he asked. “Can you imagine this in the South?
No I can’t. Especially nearly 55 years after independence.
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BY FRANKIE EDOZIEN
So now we know where Nigeria’s president Goodluck Jonathan is getting his new found swagger.
In recent months, the extremists who have wrecked havoc on the country’s northeast—killing thousands and displacing about one million people – finally seem to have been pushed back.
The regional force made up of soldiers from Chad, Niger and Cameroon as well as Nigeria’s own military have all claimed to have scored victories against the dreaded Boko Haram.
Chad’s president Idriss Derby has said he knows where the group’s fearsome leader Abubakar Shekau is hiding (perhaps in the vast Sambissa forest) and he’ll exterminate him.
Jonathan himself has said he’ll have this insurgency under control before the elections at the end of the month.
After five years of bloodshed and Boko Haram pledging allegiance to their equally blood thirsty cousins in extremism, Islamic State, why is Mr. President suddenly so confident?
Well it turns out he’s gotten himself Russian, Ukrainian and… wait for it, South African mercenaries. Mercenaries for hire, or rather technical security advisors as Mr. President would have the world believe.
On Wednesday Jonathan told Chris Stein, reporting for the Voice of America that these companies were simply providing “technical support” for newly acquired weaponry and other military equipment.
“So we now have these technical people who are trainers and technicians, who are to train our people on how to use them, and technicians that help the maintenance, at the same time training our people how to maintain this equipment,” Jonathan said from the presidential villa here, near the gargantuan Aso Rock.
But up in north east Nigeria’s biggest city, Maiduguri, there are hundreds of foreign soldiers from South Africa and Eastern Europe who are engaged in the fighting. Mercenaries.
It was these kinds of foreign mercenaries, white soldiers who attempted for years to crush the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa. They bombed and killed many black South Africans for decades.
These soldiers are the ones who know how to operate the rocket propelled launchers and the South Africans like to work on their own not alongside the Nigerian soldiers.
Then there is the strange scenario of foreign ‘soldiers’ in night goggles flying fighter jets with Nigerian military equipment to attack the Boko Haram from the air. One foreign contractor has already lost his life, but gains are being made it seems
Jonathan must feel he’s got to try something different after all Boko Haram razes entire villages, straps bombs on children and kills with abandon.
Jonathan believes they have trained with Islamic State though he wouldn’t say which country this training took place.
“So we know the links are there. … we may not know the degree of linkages as to how much funds are coming in from them, the kind of volume of weapons coming in from them, the nationalities coming from them,” the president said. “But the training, because some of the Boko Haram members go to have their training in the ISIS camp and come back.”
But even if this new round of foreign military contractors succeed in killing many Boko Haram members, how will this play in two weeks when Jonathan is up for reelection against a surging Muhammadu Buhari?
In the shadow of the Aso Rock presidential villa, I chatted with a few blue collar workers. The ones who make this beautiful city work.
Unlike the chaotic nature of traffic in many Nigerian cities, Abuja is still fairly orderly, highways still have bright street lights and roads tarred immaculately.
On the surface it seems Goodluck is the man, but still a chunk of people here lowered their voices to me and whispered conspiratorially ‘We want change.’
Joseph, a launderer and sometime gardener, is a 41-year old Christian from the Jos area in the middle-belt of the country. He supported Jonathan for years. But now, back home in his village, people sleep in the bush at night, too afraid to sleep in their homes in case they are attacked by Boko Haram insurgents.
“There is no security. Our people dey sleep for bush. People are dying, he said mixing in Nigerian pidgin English.
He told me he was disappointed because working class folk supported Jonathan and put him in office last time but now all the poor are with Buhari.
Parking lot attendants, roadside traders all whispered some version of the same sentiment. This was hardly surprising after all people with little economic heft would of course hunger for a better life.
But then civil servants and friends in the private sector here also whisper the same thing, with one telling me that the galling thing about Jonathan and his cadre of ministers was that corruption was rampant and had become the norm. In the last year there has been an on going debate about whether as much as $20 billion really went missing from the treasury.
Could security and corruption issues, derail Jonathan’s bid to remain office? Despite the slick TV ads from Jonathan’s campaign urging voters to keep him in office ‘for the love of the country’ pollsters say it’s still too close to call.
The dour and conservative Buhari, in many people’s minds, would tackle Boko Haram and publicly punish the thieving.
As a child, I remembered the former dictator’s ‘War Against Indiscipline’ and his drive to root out corruption over 30 years ago, civil liberties be damned. But in a country with 60% of the population under-30 memories of his controversial reign are dim.
Yet support for Jonathan remains strong in the mid-western and south eastern parts of the country where he hails from. As I head out to that region, I wonder if the public vociferous support for him will be the same in private.
Nothing in Nigeria is ever what is seems.
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