This House Is Not For Sale!

September 10, 2010

By Ugochukwu Ejinkeonye  

“Why do I ever think of things falling apart? Were they ever whole” – Arthur Miller, Late American playwright and essayist    


I am forced by some very discomforting thoughts to remember today Bessie Head, the late South African writer and her 1989 collection of short stories entitled, Tales Of Tenderness And Power. I remember particularly one of the stories in that collection captioned,  “Village People,” especially, its opening lines which reads: “Poverty has a home in Africa – like a quiet second skin. It may be the only place on earth where it is worn with an unconscious dignity.” 


When Will These Embarrassing Notices Stop?

When Will These Embarrassing Notices Stop?

Now, this is one assertion that immediately compels one to start visualizing images of scenes and objects that readily constitute benumbing evidences of “dignified poverty” spread all over Africa, where people try to give some form of shine and panache to a very horrible situation they have somehow convinced themselves would always be with them. In those two brief lines, Ms. Head states a truth about Africa which we may find very demoralizing and objectionable, but which would remain extremely difficult to contradict. 

But is poverty the only thing we appear to have accepted as inevitable component of life in this part of the world? What about crime? How come crime appears to have gradually become too natural with us in Nigeria here, that we even go ahead to put up notices to moderate its operation? We appear to relish more the very unpleasant job of merely alerting people to it than doing anything to stamp it out. Now, if I may ask: what usually occurs to your mind each time you enter a hotel room in Nigeria and on the wash-basin, dressing mirror, bed-sheet or towel you see the following inscription: “Hotel Property, Do Not Remove!”   

If you ask me, this warning simply takes it for granted that guests would naturally wish to remove those items, and so to forestall that, care is taken to advise them not to remove those particular items as the hotel is still in need of them. In other words, the absence of such a warning on any other item should be construed as an automatic authorization any guest requires to move those things together with his personal effects, if he so wishes, at the expiration of his stay.  That’s just the implication.  Or have we not also thought about that? What are we then, by this practice, telling numerous foreign visitors that use those hotel rooms daily about ourselves?  

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Criminalisation of Poverty

August 12, 2010

  By Ugoochukwu Ejinkeonye  

 It was a normal news report in a not too recent newspaper; the type we are used to seeing regularly, but would, most likely, merely glance through before turning our attention to more ‘important’ matters. But when I saw this particular report, confined to a small corner of the newspaper, something about it spoke a very clear message to my heart.   

Under the heading, “Cow Thief Bags 12yrs Jail,” the report said that an Oshogbo Magistrate Court presided over by Mrs. Ayo Ajeigbe had sentenced a certain Mr. Audu Mustapha to 12 years imprisonment for stealing a cow belonging to one Julie Idi. The estimated cost of the cow was N60, 000. The police had accused Mustapha of selling the cow and using the proceeds to purchase a small truck with which he conveyed ‘liberated’ cows to either where he sold or hid them. 

Now, if Mustapha who had earlier served a jail term in Ilorin for a similar offence, does not have a powerful, well-connected godfather, especially, in the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), or other equally criminally powerful places, he should, as you read this article now, be in one of our dilapidated and uninhabitable prison houses enduring the just recompense of his grave sin against the State, and dreaming about his young (and probably beautiful) wife and their three tender children.

Was The Cow ‘Liberated’ By Mustapha As Robust As This?

I must hasten to add that nothing can justify Mustapha’s ungodly action. Even people poorer than he is are resisting the temptation to steal; he knew the dire consequences of his chosen career and still tarried in it, because, it had juicy promises of quick, undeserved wealth. Now, the excruciating day of reckoning is here, and he has no choice but to quietly savour the bitter reward of his criminal endeavours. I will only sympathise with his family if they were unaware that in order to put food on their table, Mustapha was cruelly dispossessing other people of their fat cows. This can only teach one lesson: when crime is punished, deterrence is instituted.  

Now, if that is always how all such cases end, society would really be a better place for all of us. While down here, we, in an impressive show of self-righteousness, may haul condemnations further down on Mustapha with every scorn and unmitigated rage befitting a common criminal, more discerning people would rather view him as an unfortunate victim of a disastrous accident on his way to the exalted circle of the nation’s elite class. I suspect that he did not bother to study the rules of the game very carefully and so may have easily run foul of a very important law of the game, namely: Thou shall not be too greedy 

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A Nation in Crisis and the Urgency of National Reform

December 15, 2009

Being a Communiqué issued at the end of the Chinua Achebe Colloquium in Providence, U.S.A. on December 11, 2009. 

The Achebe Colloquium on Africa at Brown University, recognizing the crisis at the moment in Nigerian history, invited scholars and government officials from Nigeria, Europe and the United States to examine the problems and prospects of the upcoming Nigerian elections and to suggest solutions. The Colloquium was well attended by delegates from around the world. Highlights of the Colloquium included the insistence by the Convener, internationally acclaimed literary icon, Professor Chinua Achebe, “that peaceful elections are not impossible in Nigeria”.

Chinua Achebe: Always Seeking A Better Nigeria

The Colloquium notes the fact that elections in Nigeria have become progressively worse in quality over the years, and that this fact has gravely affected the country’s international strategic significance.  Among the resolutions advanced at the Colloquium are the following:                                                                                                   

1. National Dialogue.

The Colloquium acknowledges the fact that it has taken over three decades to bring Nigeria to the current decadent state. The country is at a critical moment that requires urgent intervention through a National Dialogue to consider issues of constitutional review and electoral reforms. The present crisis is an opportunity for Nigerians to discuss and adopt a new approach to deal with recurrent socio-political problems. Nigeria’s experience in the last ten years shows that the country’s democratic institutions have dangerously retrogressed. Nigerians as well as members of the international community, including other African nations, are deeply concerned about Nigeria’s fading international significance, Nigeria’s crisis of identity, and her future as a corporate entity.

 2. The Colloquium calls for free, fair and credible elections as a way of arresting and then reversing the downward spiral witnessed during the 2003 and 2007 election cycles. The Colloquium notes that the role played by the Nigerian judiciary during this period has been positive but uneven. The forthcoming Anambra elections will be a litmus test of the political will of the Federal Government and her agencies to conduct free, fair and credible elections in 2011 and beyond.

 3. The Colloquium calls on the National Assembly to ensure that the Executive arm of government adopts, as a matter of urgency, the report of the Justice Uwais-led Electoral Reforms Commission (ERC). The set of reforms should be enacted into law in time for the 2011 general elections. The Colloquium notes that the autonomy of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) as recommended by the ERC is paramount for free, fair and credible elections in Nigeria. 

4. The Colloquium recognizes the important role of a credible and accountable political opposition to the survival of democracy in Nigeria, and calls for the emergence of a vigorous opposition in an atmosphere devoid of political violence and intimidation. The Colloquium is concerned by the policy vacuum in the political parties and urges politicians and leaders of thought to begin the process of re-orienting party politics along policy lines.

 5. The Colloquium calls on civil society to engage in robust issue-based voter education, longer monitoring of elections, promotion of democratic institutions and protection of the public mandate expressed by the ballot. The Colloquium recommends credible public opinion polling, conducted well in advance of elections, as one way of monitoring candidates’ performance as well as safeguarding the sacred mandate of the electorate. We urge local and international observers to begin monitoring elections in Nigeria right from the crucial party primaries rather than concentrate on Election Day activities. Our collective experience in Nigeria shows that election malpractices begin from voter registration, through the party primaries, climaxing on Election Day in the theft of ballot papers and other criminal activities.

 6. The Colloquium notes that widespread disregard for accountability and transparency fertilizes corruption and fosters a culture of violence in electoral contests. The Colloquium recommends that the overall financial package for Nigerian office holders should reflect the services they provide as well as the leanness of the country’s resources. In keeping with the practice in many countries, Nigeria should consider tying legislators’ compensation to the days they sit. 

 7. The Colloquium recommends an immediate revision of Nigeria’s immunity laws, with the specific end of ensuring that elected officials who criminally abuse their office are not protected from investigation and prosecution. In addition, the Colloquium suggests that Nigeria should abandon the practice of entrusting governors and the president with huge monthly allocations of public funds under the heading of security votes. In line with the practice in many other countries, such budgets for matters bearing on security should be handled by a body made up of various security agencies, and this body should be required to give periodic accounts to an appropriate legislative committee at the state and federal levels.

8. The Colloquium encourages Nigerians in the Diaspora to increase their agitation for credible elections and responsive governance at home through the use of innovative electronic media that have played such an important role around the world in deepening democracy. Widespread poverty and uncertainty in Nigeria continue to promote a culture of corruption and impunity.

 9. The Colloquium notes the Obama administration’s proactive engagement with Africa based on the doctrine of reciprocity and shared responsibilities. It reviewed the growing danger of Nigeria’s diplomatic and strategic irrelevance, and observed that this decline can be reversed through credible elections. The Colloquium urges the United States of America, in line with its strategic partnership with Nigeria, to further support the cause of democracy in Nigeria by rebuffing any future Nigerian government that emerges through a questionable electoral process.

 10. The Colloquium calls on Nigerians at home and abroad to join hands during this time of crisis and uncertainty and take the necessary steps to build a country of which they can be proud.


December 15, 2009



Providence, Rhode Island, 11th December 2009


Our host; the very distinguished; our own beloved and revered Professor Chinua Achebe, I salute you.

Distinguished Ladies and gentlemen.

I wish to begin this address by greeting everyone who has made time to attend this very important Colloquium. May the Almighty God, the God of the universe, the Omnipotent and Omniscient God, the creator of all peoples of the earth, the creator of Nigerians, the creator of Ndigbo, bless you.

My primary duty today is to welcome you to this conference being hosted by one of the very best that the creator has given to the world from the Igbo stock, a citizen of the world but who is proud to be Igbo; our very own Chinua, Chinualumogu Achebe, we your people love you.

Chukwuemeka Odumeguw-Ojukwu

We salute you today as we did over fifty years ago when you told our story in “Things Fall Apart”. It became the mother of all firsts in African Literature. We salute you today because you continue to make us proud through your values and ideals; and your commitment and courage in standing up for what is right and just in society. We hold that these are true hallmarks of Ndigbo, Nigerians and indeed all sane human beings. We jubilated and today we thank you for spurning the “national honour” to be given to you by then President Obasanjo at the height of impunity and abuse of the Anambra State Government and people. By that action of yours whatever pride was being trampled upon by the powers that be at the time was retrieved by your courage. Ndi Anambra salute you. Thank you. Ndigbo and well-meaning Nigerians salute you for standing tall at the time. More importantly the Igbo soul yearns for more Chinua Achebes, clear thinkers, lucid writers, men of courage, crusaders against injustice, true sons and daughters of their fathers. Today I say to you, dear Chinua that you are a true son of Ogidi, Anambra, Ndigbo, Nigeria and the world. As you wrote more than fifty years ago, “the body of Dim Chukwuemeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu” on behalf of Ndigbo salutes you. Deme, DemeDeme.

Professor Chinua Achebe: Conference Convener

The founding fathers of Nigeria won for us after a bitter struggle with our colonial masters the right to be governed by leaders of OUR OWN CHOICE. Today we must apologize to our founding fathers for our inadequacies, for our lack of courage, indeed for our cowardice which made it possible for us to lose this right to be governed by leaders of our own choice via massive electoral malpractices. This situation just cannot continue. We as Nigerians must resolve today, not tomorrow, to conduct free, fair and credible elections. We cannot afford to fail in this all-important task. And we shall not fail. For it is true that no violence, indeed nothing can stop a people once they have decided to win back their rights. Therefore I say to this Colloquium today that our collective future in Nigeria as one nation under God, lies in our collective resolve to organize free, fair and credible elections.

Let this, our resolve, be impregnable. Let us face the matter of free and fair elections in Nigeria with the same fervor and courage as our founding fathers faced the struggle for Nigeria’s independence. It is that serious; for the future and well-being of our nation depends  on this.  As we seek to accomplish this mission, we must, as a people, be determined to deal ruthlessly with any who obstruct the genuine will of the people.  Such people who benefit from electoral malpractices and the political instability which follow in their wake, must be decisively and summarily dealt with.  In the words of Pandit Nehru, the late Prime Minister of India, a moment comes but rarely in history when we step out of the old, into the new, when an age ends, and when the soul of a nation long suppressed, finds expression.”  The struggle for free and fair elections in Nigeria, which I prescribe at this colloquium today, cannot be avoided.  It should be regarded as an irreversible mission of national retrieval and rejuvenation.  It shall be the last struggle of true and genuine Nigerian patriots to save the fatherland and propel it to greater heights.

Chinua Achebe and Wole Soyinka

Chinua Achebe and Wole Soyinka At The Conference

Let me warn that throughout history, struggles have never been for the faint-hearted.  As we know, struggle by its very nature entails suffering and sacrifice.  However, we also know that suffering breeds character, and character breeds faith, and in the end faith always prevails.  Consequently, we shall embark on this mission to exorcise Nigerian politics of the demons of electoral malpractices, which have stood before Nigeria and greatness, knowing that our future as a nation depends on it.  It will not be easy.  But it has to be won in the Anambra State Governorship elections on February 6th, 2010, and in the nation-wide general elections in 2011.  God being our strength, and with aggressive vigilance of citizens in “community policing” of their votes/mandate, we shall achieve the objective of free and fair elections in Nigeria.

I wish to continue this address by affirming my personal resolve and commitment that Ndigbo shall regain political relevance in Nigeria, in my lifetime.  I am a Nigerian.  But I am also an Igbo.  It is my being Igbo that guarantees my Nigerian-ness as long as I live.  Consequently, my Nigerian-ness shall not be at the expense of my Igbo-ness.  The Nigerian nation must therefore work for all ethnic nationalities in Nigeria.  This is the challenge, the key part of which is nation-wide free and fair elections.

          Good Governance Will Ensure No One Searches For Dinner In A Dustbin

Back to Ndigbo.  They are the most peripatetic ethnic group in Nigeria.  In the words of another great writer, Professor Emmanuel Obiechina, who is well-known to our host, “Ndigbo forgot that they also had a farm of their own to tend and spent their youth and vigor working on other people’s farms whilst their own was overgrown with weeds.”  Now, the weeds have taken over and Ndigbo must engage in two struggles simultaneously – to rid their own farms of weeds while insisting on free and fair elections throughout Nigeria.  It is like jumping over two hurdles, vertically stacked.

Compounding the Igbo predicament are the after-effects of their post civil war political and economic emasculation by the Federal Government of Nigeria.  Their shrill cries of marginalization were ignored by others and by the Nigerian Government, and they have come to terms with the reality of their present position in Nigeria.  But we Ndigbo will never give up.  It is not in our character to succumb to inequity.  Being a very major ethnic group in Nigeria, we will not accept our present marginalized status as permanent and we shall continue to seek and struggle for justice, fairness and equity in the Nigerian politics.

NIGERIA, We Hail Thee

My commitment, because I am seriously involved, is to work with all well-meaning Nigerians to bring about the Nigerian society as promised by the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.  When this happens, and all glass ceilings and other unwholesome practices designed to keep Ndigbo, or any other ethnic groups in Nigeria marginalized are dismantled, I shall feel fulfilled.  When this happens, Ndigbo shall regain their political and economic relevance in a fair, just and egalitarian Nigerian society.  This remains my mission.  It is my commitment to Ndigbo.  It is my commitment to Nigeria, Africa and the world.  And it shall happen in my lifetime.  Not after.  This is both my desire and a promise.  I therefore urge this generation of Ndigbo, especially the youths, to gird their loins to safeguard their votes in the coming elections as to elect leaders of our choice.  We shall either achieve this in the February 6th, 2010 Anambra State Governorship elections and 2011 General elections in Nigeria or forever hang our heads in shame as a failed generation.  Let us not be intimidated by coercive forces of Government.  The mandate belongs to us collectively, and not to government.  As for me, I cannot be intimidated, and I know that together we shall triumph.

Let me hasten to add that some of the glass ceilings have begun to disappear with some recent appointments by the Federal Government of Nigeria.  This gives me hope that previous water tight exclusion of Ndigbo from key national positions is being positively addressed.  One hopes that these positive developments shall be sustained as we continue to sustain the Government that follows.

However, over and above these tokens of de-marginalization, is the central and fundamental issue of electoral reform and the eradication of electoral malpractices in the Nigerian system.  This is at the root of continued marginalization of various groups in Nigeria.  For example, it is no secret that Governorship aspirants of the few Igbo State in Nigeria (the Igbo geopolitical zone has fewer states than the other geopolitical zones ) strive to be endorsed from outside Igboland.  When such a Governorship aspirant gets “elected”, “imposed” or “appointed” as Governor of an Igbo State, he remains loyal and accountable not to the electorate in Igboland, but to the godfathers outside Igboland that endorsed, “imposed” or “appointed” them.

This modern-day enslavement of Igbo politics must end.  And I worry as I see the same scenario about to be re-enacted with the February 6th, 2010 Anambra State Governorship elections.  And I say, God forbid.  Chukwu ekwena.  Already, there are invasions of Anambra State by political heavyweights from outside of the State seeking to foist their preferred “Governors” on Ndi Anambra.  Before then , there was an attempt to politically castrate the political organization – the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) which I lead and which currently enjoys the mandate of the people of Anambra State.  That attempt failed.   And the incumbent Governor remains the APGA candidate for the February 6th, 2010 Anambra State Governorship Elections.  Let me assure all gathered here, and the entire people of Nigeria, that I shall be physically out there in the field to ensure that the mandate of Ndi Anambra is not stolen again.  We shall meet the invaders in the field.

Worst Hit By Bad Leadership

A curious observer may ask, “Why Anambra?”  The answer is there – Anambra State was chosen in the best-forgotten days of “garrison politics” in Nigeria as the entry point for the emasculation and enslavement of Igbo politics.  But like Horatio, APGA stands firm at the gate, refusing to yield.  In case we have forgotten, Anambra State was the only state in Nigeria where an incumbent Governor was denied a chance to seek re-election by his political party, in 2003.  In case we have also forgotten, Anambra State was where the political party which I lead, the APGA, won elections in 2003 but the elected Governor was not allowed to exercise the mandate freely given by the people because of scandalous electoral fraud that became a national shame.  The courts declared APGA as the winner of the election – the legal process taking the better part of three years.  Also, it is only in Anambra State where there have been five “Governors” – one elected Governor and others, in the same period.  The other States in Nigeria have had one or at most two Governors.  It is in Anambra State that no Governor has served two terms of office.  And finally, lest we have forgotten, it was the crass impunity and political happenings in Anambra State that incensed our host, Professor Chinua Achebe, to reject publicly with an admonition, a national honour richly deserved by him, but coming from a Presidential hand that was heavily soiled in the Anambra political mess.

Consequently, my firm resolve this time, with the political party to which I belong (i.e. the APGA), is to undertake a state-wide, grassroots community-based campaign and mobilization of Ndi Anambra against electoral malpractices in the February 6th Governorship elections.  We insist that the votes of the people must count.  We insist that the votes shall be counted, recorded and announced at the various polling centers throughout Anambra State.  The people must elect a Governor of their choice.  Ndi Anambra shall not be dictated to from outside – not from Abia, nor from any other geopolitical zone.  Ndi Anambra will not succumb to intimidation.   The invading forces of politicians must retreat from Anambra State.  The state has bled enough.  The hemorrhage must stop.  Let the February 6th, 2010 Anambra State Governorship elections be canvassed by Anambra people, for the people, so that families and communities shall see the faces of traitors and saboteurs among their own.  In the end, let the TRUE WINNER of the elections govern.  My party, APGA, and I will always respect the will of the people.  That is what gives meaning to my life.  When this happens, that is, when the people of Anambra State effectively resist electoral fraud and ensure that the choice of the people emerges as Governor, I will retire.  As I retire, I expect that other Igbo States and the Nigerian nation will do what has to be done to exorcise the demons of electoral malpractices from the 2011 general elections in the country to ensure that these also become free and fair.

Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen, I thank you for listening.  I thank our host, Professor Chinua Achebe, who in his work titled “The Trouble with Nigeria” diagnosed our national malaise as the absence of effective leadership, for showing effective leadership by convening this conference.  May God bless him and his family.  May God bless Ndigbo.  May God bless Nigeria.



How Nigerians Work At The Passport Office

May 5, 2009


A recent visit to the passport office in FESTAC, Lagos here, did quite a lot to renew my hope that Nigeria may not after all be a totally lost case. Nigerians will always reciprocate with positive responses whenever and wherever there is purposeful, exemplary leadership to show the way and dictate the tempo. Indeed, I never imagined that the Nigerian Public Service still had in its fold such wonderful Nigerians whose industry, dedication and warm, friendly approach to service delivery could constitute worthy, ennobling benchmark even to many private organisations.

My business at the FESTAC passport office was to obtain an E-Passport to replace my old copy which had recently expired. I had arrived very early on the appointed day, as I was advised to, thinking I would wait for ages to be attended to, based on my previous knowledge of what obtained in government offices in Nigeria. But the lady that addressed us before we were ushered to the place we were to sit down to await our turns to take the photographs and complete other formalities was punctual. She was also polite, friendly, but firm and resolute. She simply explained to those intent on obtaining more than one passport or supplying wrong information that the law would naturally take care of them. There was a touch of humour in her speech, but there was no doubt that she meant business. I was impressed.


                                                   The E-Passport

Inside the building, those smartly dressed men and women worked with a sense of urgency, dedication and meticulousness that was rare, peculiar and hope-restoring. They worked with the gusto, cheerfulness and carefulness of people who enjoyed their work. As they fed the information the people supplied into the computers, they displayed remarkable understanding, patience and accommodation that permeated the entire room with soothing warmth and friendliness, reducing every discomfort arising from having too many people queuing at several tables at the same time and having to stand for a long time to complete all the process.

Even though the people were so many, and the lines seemed interminable, these officers managed to convey the impression that they were not bored or tired, but rather derived immense pleasure doing their job. I sought in vain for the slightest hint of irritation or snapping patience towards those who either kept making mistakes or were slow in proofreading their information. I can’t recall ever feeling at home in any government office, but at the FESTAC passport office that day, I really felt welcome and at home. Their seemingly inexhaustible patience was also on display at the thumb-printing and photograph points. Some people, especially children and old people, took their photographs several times before good copies could be obtained. I looked at the faces of the officers to see any signs of exasperation, but saw none. They kept beaming. Even when the persons concerned tried to suggest, after a couple of attempts, that the photographs were manageable and could go in like that, the officers still politely asked them to allow them to try again. And they would help the people to arrange their heads properly until good copies were obtained. Though the work usually dragged through several hours, with   hardly any pauses, the workers remained their cheerful and friendly selves.

But this friendly atmosphere never existed at the expense of thoroughness. They ensured every information is correct before it is posted. They also watched out for people intent beating the system. While I waited for my turn, I observed a scene that would make an excellent comedy. A woman had come with some kids, and one officer who had been sitting meekly on a desk observing everyone insisted on speaking with her before she could be attended to. Suddenly the man was telling her that the kids were not hers. The woman argued furiously, and showed serious offence at such a suggestion. Then the officer asked her to excuse him, so he could speak with the kids. But as the woman went outside, he called the woman’s husband instead, whose number, I suppose, he got from the forms. There and then, his suspicion was confirmed that the woman had come to obtain those passports for the children without the consent of their father, and that the letter of consent she had presented was forged. When the woman was brought back, he confronted her, and as she continued insisting that the letter was duly written and signed by her husband, she was gently led out of the room.



Now, I was thinking that the exceptional work attitude I saw at the FESTAC passport office only flourished there until my wife recently went the passport office in Ikoyi, and came back with even more wonderful stories of how they attended to people there. Please, let’s not just gloss over this. If we are serious about breathing some life into our public service, a close study of the work attitude at these passport offices needs to be carefully undertaken to determine the secret behind the pleasant stories emanating from there. Dates for collection of passports are automatically generated once you are through, and on that day, you would go there and pick your passport without any hassles. I   suppose these exciting stories are replicated at all passport offices across the country. Although, there are still vestigial remains of the Nigerian thing there, like touts crawling about and “helping” people to bring forward  dates for passport collections or get early appointments, what remains clear is that it is difficult to encounter these passport offices and not move away with lasting hope-restoring impressions. With such an efficient system in place, the touts would soon run out of patronage.

What is the secret behind this functional system in the midst of extreme passivity, crippling slothfulness and boundless decay in the public sector? What kind of orientation was given to these men and women to turn them into such shining models of excellent service delivery? The Comptroller-General of the Immigration Service should be given a platform to explain to all of us the secret behind this totally odd situation.


Somebody might say: Ugochukwu, why are you getting unduly excited and praising people for just performing their duties very well, for which they are paid every month? Well, you must pardon me? I have been to several government offices where officials see anyone demanding some modest service as only coming to disturb their peace. They are usually very discourteous, resentful and sometimes outrightly hostile. Your reward for making a simple enquiry could be an angry outburst. People remain idle all day, chatting away or sleeping. At the passport office, I never heard that anyone’s file developed legs and disappeared only to reappear when the person had parted with some crumpled notes. Selflessness and commitment appeared deeply entrenched in all their operations.

So, today, I wholeheartedly pronounce the workers at the passport office, and their leader, the Comptroller-General of the Immigration (I don’t even know his name), the Heroes and Heroines of this column for this month for keeping hope alive that Nigeria is not a lost case, and that Nigerians are capable of being great models of excellence given the right atmosphere, motivation and leadership. Indeed, with focused leaderships at the highest points of power at both the federal and state levels, Nigeria would easily find its way back to the path of recovery and development. No doubt, Nigerians are ready to be led, but alas, where are the leaders?


Dora Akunyili,This Is Becoming Too Ridiculous!

May 5, 2009


f before the end of this year it becomes clear that the sterling performance of Dr. Dora Akunyili as Director General of the National Agency For Food, Drug Administration And Control (NAFDAC) has been completely erased from the people’s mind and rudely replaced with the clearly odious role she now plays as the ebullient head of President Yar’Adua’s misinformation machinery, she would have no one to blame but herself. And it would be very sad indeed. No doubt, the costly, but naïve decision she took to become the image-maker of a passive and rudderless regime must, without fail, exact an even costlier price. 

Never a one to miss an excellent opportunity to strike when the head is still on the block, Mohammed Haruna has stepped forward with the strange theory that the indisputable and widely acclaimed success of Dr. Akunyili in her determined battle against fake and substandard products may have been unduly exaggerated. “The problem with propaganda is that it almost always leads to self-deception. Akunyili may have succeeded possibly well beyond her wildest  imagination in turning NAFDAC into a well-known brand, but the reality of food and drug administration in the country is that her success has been more of image than substance,” wrote Mr. Mohammed in a March 4, 2009 column. He did not stop there: “The fact is that contrary to the image that NAFDAC under Akunyili has virtually eliminated the phenomena of fake drugs and drug abuse both have hardly experienced any significant decline. In spite of all her efforts, the open and illegal drug markets in the country including the three most notorious ones at Onitsha, Kano and Aba, have never really gone out of business. So also have those who openly hawk prescription drugs on our streets”, Mohammed declared.                                                                                          


Dora Akunyili: Attempting The  Impossible?

A few months ago, before Akunyili accepted to work for the very unpopular Yar’Adua regime as Information Minister, Mohammed, despite his sterling reputation in matters of this nature, would have thought twice before launching such an unfair broadside, but now, who would want to fight for a once widely-admired Dora who, for reasons that can only be less-than edifying, has chosen to hasten her self-immolation with her own hands? 

As DG of NAFDAC, Akunyili was regularly celebrated in my newspaper column even though I have never met her.  The same way, most Nigerians who had loved her, prayed fervently for her and had pleaded with her to resist the temptation to soil her shinning reputation by accepting to become the spokesperson of this clearly bankrupt regime, did not know her personally.  And they would regard as gratuitous insult Mohammed Haruna’s suggestion that they may have been hypnotized by Akunyili’s successful propaganda and media hype. 

No matter how revolting we may find Akunyili’s present engagement, we cannot in all honesty deny that she did quality work, as NAFDAC DG, to restore the people’s confidence in drugs and beverages circulated in Nigeria. So, solid was her work that as not a few Nigerians entered shops and confidently bought fruit juice or other beverages, and left with full assurances that their livers would still be intact after they had consumed them, they gratefully remembered Akunyili and thanked God for her life. As a baby suffered from jaundice, and the mother rushed to a nearby chemist shop and purchased the antibiotic prescribed by the doctor, and the drug saved the baby instead of killing him or her, that mother, depending on how informed she was, more often than not, would remember Akunyili. As drug manufacturing firms which were almost forced out of business (many multi-national drug companies actually closed shop and left the country) because their products were being indiscriminately counterfeited returned en masse and began smiling to the banks with their millions and billions instead of singing tales of woes, they remembered Akunyili, and thanked God for such a rare gift. To most Nigerians, Akunyili meant the return of sanity in a society overrun and made unsafe by heartless counterfeiters; the safeguarding of many lives which would have been lost because of the desperation of some devilish souls to rake in blood-stained millions at the expense of precious lives. 

As I read recently the Daily Trust web copy of Mohammed’s March 4 article and saw the comments posted by readers, it dawned on me that Akunyili’s lower descent may even happen faster than I had feared.  But then, it has always been evident that the first thing a public officer acquires in Nigeria is thick skin. That is why the very damaging allegation by one of Mohammed’s readers (which Daily Trust allowed to be posted) may not even bother Akunyili. That may also explain why she is most stubbornly going on with her overly exasperating re-branding campaign despite widespread agreement among the citizenry that it is nothing but a useless and wasteful exercise.   

I have heard that when people enter government they tend to be willingly ignorant and blind in order to survive for too long there. Else, how can somebody with Dr. Akunyili’s intelligence, training, exposure and endowments wake up one morning and convince herself that by attacking my phones daily with the very uninspiring slogan: “Nigeria: Good People, Great Nation,” she will succeed in intimidating me into suddenly forgetting all the indescribable pains tormenting me in this country as a result of the abysmal failure of leadership and character on the part of our rulers, and start grinning from ear to ear? Does a country become great simply because some fellow stood in some cosy office in Abuja and attacked my phones with silly slogans he or she does not even believe?  What do these people really take us for? A population of empty-headed fools? Now, if a father who had wasted his money on wine and women, and, consequently, starved his family sore, suddenly woke up one morning and started reciting: “My Family: Healthy, Well-fed!” won’t his wife and neighbours think he has gone crazy? How can such a useless slogan better the lot of the family he had irresponsibly neglected? How would that secure him the love and cooperation of his family members and make them to stop seeing him as an irresponsible and failed family head? 

I seriously think that this is becoming too ridiculous! There is a disgusting penchant in Nigerian leaders to always throw money at problems and expect a magic to happen – a clearly lazy, insincere man’s option that would always be rewarded with resounding failure.  We always want to seek a shot-cut to glory by seeking to purchase a good image. How can any nation hope to re-brand itself in a vacuum, with practically nothing to showcase? Will the potential tourist or investor simply start rushing down to Nigeria because of one meaningless slogan when the verdict of Country Risk Analysts about this same country remains alarming? Why this indecent haste to re-brand? Why not Yar’Adua now set a realistic date to achieve uninterrupted power supply in Nigeria, for instance, and when that has been achieved, use it as a milestone to anchor a re-branding campaign? 

To clearly underline the fact that the rest of the world is unimpressed by our infantile campaign of misinformation, Nigeria was recently excluded from the G20 Summit of world leaders which it had before now attended as merely an observer. What it means then is that even as an observer, the global community is sick and tired of enduring the unprofitable company of this perennially sick baby. And when this happened, Yar’Adua mourned in Abuja: “I must say that today is a sad day for me. And I think it should be for all Nigerians, when 20 leaders of the leading countries in the world are meeting and Nigeria is not there. This is something we need to reflect upon,” he cried. 

Well, I can only hope that Yar’Adua and his unwieldy crowd will truly reflect upon this, and tell themselves that even if a G40 Summit is holding tomorrow, Nigeria may still be excluded, even if we sink billions to re-brand and re-brand and re-brand.  Somebody should please tell Akunyili what I think she already knows too well, namely, that when a room is horribly messed up with the indiscriminate droppings of a very reckless dog, what you must do is to bend down and carefully wash the place with an active detergent.  Only then would you get back the fresh, pleasant air that makes a room worth inhabiting. But if you take the unhealthy short cut of spraying the dog-shit with heavy dose of deodorant, then you will get a putrid scent that will make the room more repelling than ever before.  Indeed, it is time to discard this unprofitable and ridiculous exercise and roll up the sleeves to work to move Nigeria forward.  Without any re-branding campaign to hoodwink anyone, companies are closing shop here, and relocating to Ghana. Yar’Adua and Akunyili can also reflect on this. A good market, they say, sells itself.


What Is Government To Me?

March 7, 2008

By Ugochukwu Ejinkeonye

As I walked leisurely into my street last Sunday afternoon, trying as much as possible not to think about the obviously enraged sun bathing me with its stinging golden rays, I would have been forgiven if I had thought I had missed my way and strayed into a very busy industrial area. But then, the place I had just gone was a yelling distance away from home, and so, there was just no way I could have missed my way.

I live in a very small street, secured at both ends by two gates manned by some nice Mallams, whose salaries are paid from the Security Levy I unhappily part with every month. As soon as I passed the gate, I was greeted by the tormenting din and clatter of several power generating sets locked in a clearly mad competition to out-roar each other. Every house contributed to the bedlam. Eardrums came under serious threat. Hypertensive cases became more complicated, drawing their victims closer to their graves. Sanity struggled to take leave of several other people, as the roaring noise from every house tore into the very hot Sunday afternoon with violent rage, piercing fierceness and tormenting loudness.

Very lethal thick, black fumes also oozed into the atmosphere, targeting the hearts and lungs of men, having successfully turned the area into one huge fatally saturated gas chamber. Why did everybody suddenly choose to set the machines roaring this afternoon? Maybe, this was what always happened every other afternoon, but because I was not always around in the afternoons, the whole thing now assailed my ears with menacing strangeness.

After sometime, I paused and listened, trying to make some form of meaning out of the whole chaos. What came into my mind was: Yes, this is a failed state! Like Prof Chinua Achebe once said: “This is an example of a country that has fallen down; it has collapsed. This house has fallen.” 

My mind went to Countee Cullen, the African American poet, whose 1925 poem, Heritage, opened with a very significant question that had bugged his mind at time, “What is Africa To Me?” In the same vein, I could not help asking: What Is Government To Me? Or put differently, of what relevance is Government to me in a clearly ungoverned enclave like Nigeria ? If I provide for myself virtually everything Government is supposed to make available to me as a law abiding citizen, how then does Government justify its relevance, or even existence before me?

Take the issue of security that I mentioned earlier, for instance. One of the very basic functions of Government is to secure lives and property. But inNigeria , this has since ceased to be part of Government’s priority. In fact, it is doubtful if those in authority still remember that provision of adequate security is part of their responsibility towards the citizenry.

Government has since conceded defeat in this area and clearly demonstrated its inability to protect Nigerians. In other words, it has since relinquished the monopoly it ought to exercise over the instruments of violence and coercion, and Nigerians have become mere lame ducks before hoodlums and criminals who invade homes and offices, taking their time to steal and even sexually abuse the women with every fearlessness and fanfare. Robbers are no longer in a hurry because they know very well that nobody would dare disturb their operations, and that policemen would rather take to their heels at the sound of their rifles than attempt to repel them.

And so, because we are now “on our own,” we had to, like many other residents of other areas in Nigeria , engage the Mallams to man our gates? But as we all know, our protection is in the hands of God, because, these same Mallams would be the first to beat Ben Johnson’s track records at the first sound of the gun! And where is the Government in this picture? An absentee as usual!

Nigeria presents the best example of how a nation could be in the absence of any form of governance.
What then is Government to me? Darkness, Darkness and more Darkness everywhere? The clatter of generators I encountered last Sunday afternoon was a very sad reminder of the painful and oppressive fact that for several weeks now, power supply in my area has gone down to almost zero. When we could be considered lucky, power would be supplied for an hour or two, and that would be all, in a whole week! But the normal thing now is that week after week, no one sees the slightest hint of power supply, not minding that the agents of that useless body of sadists called NEPA/PHCN would keep sending their huge bills with religious zealousness.

We used to complain of irregular power supply, not knowing that that time was our finest hour. Now, total darkness has enveloped the whole place. I know how much I have spent for some weeks now on fuel to generate my own megawatts for my household. That automatically means that I am my own President and Energy Minster, no matter the idle, unproductive fellows pretending to occupy those offices inAbuja .
If then I am doing for myself what Government is supposed to be doing for me, it can only mean that as far as I am concerned, Government does not exist, having since lost its relevance, the basis for its existence. It might as well be scrapped. A tree that bears no fruits only emphasizes its crying irrelevance.

If anyone needs potable water in Nigeria today, such a one must provide it for himself. Reason? Government is on an interminable recess. In the eighties, one could just walk to any tap, even by the roadside, open it and drink clean water. Whoever tries that now, if at all any liquid gushes out from the tap, could be tried for attempting suicide. And I can guarantee that not even a very large-hearted judge like Justice Ogebe would agree to set him free!

Today, because Government only exists in name, people must sink boreholes in their compounds to provide potable water for themselves. Others must make do with the generous typhoid distributor they call “pure water” (or pure gutter). In fact, it has got to a stage that if my children ask me today the functions of Government, I wouldn’t know what to tell them, because I wouldn’t want to tell them lies. As far as I am concerned, the most inactive and unproductive institution in Nigeria today is the Government. And that is because, I do not want to say that it is useless. Well, Government is not exactly inactive. It has duly distinguished itself as that far-removed, very distantly located band of men and women who only exist to plunder and squander our commonwealth.

They only remember us during election time, not because they really need our votes to acquire power, but it makes them feel good to be able to say that we gave them our mandate – something they had already appropriated long before they came to us canvassing for our votes. They also come to us as occasional sources of irritation, demanding taxes or “more sacrifices” from us in the form of punitive policies like fuel price hikes. We equally encounter them when they run us out of the roads with their blaring sirens.

Today, in most places, if the road leading to one’s house goes bad, the people inhabiting that area would have to contribute money to fix it, or else, it would be there ruining their cars and giving all of them body aches. Public schools which are supposed to be maintained by the Government have since collapsed, so one has to cough out the very high fees charged by quality private schools if one desires that one’s child should get quality education.
Most Government hospitals have long become very smooth expressways to the grave, which only those who cannot afford any other alternatives still go to gamble with their lives. It is sad, so sad. It is most painful and overly frustrating. It is provocative.

And as I think about these things, I am compelled to ask myself again: What is Government to me? I would have compared it to a refuse dump, but I am reminded that refuse dumps serve some useful purpose as they provide manure for farmers to grow their crops. But as for Government in Nigeria , I cannot readily recall what it stands or exists for, or any form of use it presently is to the generality of Nigerian people, except that it has become a dispensable burden too heavy to bear, and a very easy route for a privileged few to gain entrance into the billionaire club. So sad really.

Big Brother Africa: Debasing Self For A Fee

February 18, 2008

By Ugochukwu Ejinkeonye

Recently, Big Brother Africa (BBA2) Reality Show ended in South Africa amidst much din, slimy scandals and lingering controversies, and the only coherent statement it was able to make was that in this our very unfortunate and bankrupt age, money has acquired an even greater and awesome powers, and its capacity to compel otherwise rational human beings to gleefully part ways with every bit of their honour and dignity, be disdainful all considerations for decency and self-esteem, and enthusiastically indulge in several nauseating, self-debasing acts, has exceeded what anyone had thought was possible in decent society.

I am not a fan of the Big Brother nonsense, and all such shows, like beauty pageants, where people are paid and cheered on to throw their honour and dignity as human beings to the dogs, to satisfy the depraved taste of irredeemable voyeurs. In fact, if there were no generous reports about these events in the media, which one occasionally glanced through, I may never have known that anything like BBA2 ever took place. But I am a grateful that I read some of those reports, because, it would never have occurred to me that some murky-hearted fellows, with excess cash to spend, could go all out to turn their fellow human beings into a little less than animals, confined in some glorified human zoo, where the most depraved among them could go as wild and immoral as he or she could, to dishonour and make a very big fool of himself or herself, before millions of TV viewers in Africa and beyond, in order to earn $100, 000.

While this lure of lucre endures, do these fellows ever stop to think that the footage of their disgraceful outing inSouth Africawould survive tomorrow, and that they would have children and grandchildren whose sensibilities would be perpetually assaulted by the awful pornographic footages they were gleefully producing in their blind rush for $100,000?

According to reports, the Housemates took their bathe together during what they called “Shower Hour,” and while the boys stripped to their boxers, the girls bared everything, not just before the boys whom they had never met until they were selected and confined in the Big Brother zoo, but, also, millions of viewers out there, which may have included kids from their households and neighborhoods! (Forget the age-restriction crap). Imagine the kid brothers and sisters or tender nephews and nieces of the Housemates seeing their big aunties they once held in high esteem flaunting their stark nudity on the screen with every brazenness and shamelessness. What in the name of all that is decent and noble can we possibly call this?

Well, some of the girls, however, occasionally bathed with their underpants on, and only bared their chests, but that, no doubt, did not diminish the grave obscenity the whole thing still constituted.

Now how would these clearly bird-brained fortune hunters rejoin and face the same society before whom they had shamelessly and grossly cheapened themselves, by flaunting the pride of their womanhood before every willing eye? Should even $1billion dollars be enough to compel anyone to do this?



Tatiana(Angola): Her debasing immoral acts with Richard ( a married man!) scandalized all persons of decent disposition

Indeed, Feminists and Women Rights activists would never protest this clear debasement of the woman, because this is not the kind of advocacy that attracts grants. This should not be surprising to anyone because it is still from the same cabal that prosecutes these obscene shows that the major bulk of sponsorships flow.

Although virtually everything about BBA was horrible, revolting and scandalous, a consensus exists that the most horrible scandal it yielded, now popularly known as “fingergate,” reportedly, took place on Saturday, 27 October 2007. I first read about it on Nigerians In America, in an article by Ms. Bolanle Aduwo.

Please permit me to quote her account of the obscene incident:

…Biggie had provided plenty of booze (undiluted, Russian vodka) and what resulted was an incident that will definitely go down as one of the most scandalous moments in Big Brother history. The housemates became crazed, drunken zombies and engaged in acts better suited for a porno movie. The evening eventually ended in what many call a possible rape! Or how do you explain the actions of Richard, the 24-year-old Tanzanian film student and the only male occupant of the House fondling and ‘fingering’ a comatose, blind-drunk Ofunneka, a 29-year-old Medical Assistant from Nigeria?…The whole of Africa saw this girl’s “privates”… What happened… horrified viewers as Richard lying between the two comatose women, undressed them and began to fondle, kiss and ‘finger’ both of them!”

This incident had provoked serious outrage across Africa. A Women Rights group in South   Africa had called for the footage of the incident, only to announce later, after viewing it, that it agreed with MNET, that what happened between Richard and Ofunneka was consensual. Nigeria’s House of Representatives, groping for some form of self-redeeming tasks, after Ettehgate, had also waded into the matter, something I had thought was an entirely private misadventure between the girl and the South African prurient millionaires.

But why does it seem Africa has suddenly awakened from its moral slumber just because fingergate happened? Well, if you ask me, the matter is very simple: Even if there were no “fingergate,” all the people who participated in BBA2 had irremediably soiled their honour and dignity? What sort of girls would gleefully strip themselves nude, to bathe, not only in the full gaze boys, but also before more than one million TV viewers across Africa? (If the boys wore their shorts and the girls chose to bare everything, what kind of statement were they making about their gender?) Just the other day, while gathering materials for this piece, I stumbled on a blog where a photograph of Ofunneka was posted holding her towel apart and proudly baring her not particularly appealing chest for all to see! So, even without “fingergate,” was that not self-demeaning enough?



Richard (Tanzania), ‘Winner’ of BBA2: Rewarded for moral irresponsiblity and unremitting waywardness?
On Monday, I visited a website,, where all sorts of hate posts were heaped on the doorsteps of “Richard the rapist,” who “stole the crown.” All sorts of stories were dredged up to rubbish the Tanzanian, as if he did not rubbish himself enough while in the BBA zoo. But while countless sympathizers were out there condemning MNET for the indecent show and calling for Richard’s head for “sexually abusing” Ofunneka, the “innocent, well-behaved, but stone-drunk symbol of decent African woman,” the girl was at the other place addressing a press conference, apologizing for what happened and dismissing reports that she was raped. Saturday PUNCH of November 24, 2007, quotes her as saying: “I will say that I let down my guards a little, but then I am human.”

I am seriously touched by this girl’s predicament. It is painful to imagine that she might carry the shame of her disastrous BBA appearance all her life. It must be clear to her now that whoever counseled her into the BBA folly has done her a grave harm. The most noble job she must engage herself in now would be to always dissuade any other person she encounters to avoid BBA like a plague despite the money.



Ms. Ofunneka Molokwu (Nigeria)
In this internet age, it should not surprise her that countless blogs would spring up tomorrow, attracting serious traffic to themselves with footages of “fingergate” and some of her nude pictures from Shower Hour at the Big Brother zoo. A costly mistake has already been made by going to the BBA house, and a costly price must be paid.

But, if by her own painful predicament, other young Africans are able to learn that it is practically impossible to safeguard one’s honour and dignity in such a morally bankrupt enclave like BBA house, created solely to promote obscenity and depravity, to service the vulgar tastes of prurient men and women, she should consider the sacrifice worthwhile. Who is even sure that “fingergate” was not scripted and directed by MNET, to diminish her rising profile in the media as the symbol of true African woman, which would have created serious problems for MNET when eventually Richard was declared “winner”?

By Richard “victory”, what statement has MNET succeeded in making? That it was alright for a man who was married to suddenly “fall in love” with another woman he had just met on a reality TV show; engage in open and revolting adulterous acts with this new lover or concubine on satellite TV, knowing full well that his wife was at home watching; and then while in the same bed with his new lover, he engages in wild sexual acts with yet another woman, on the same bed! And after it all, according to a report in Namibian of October 29, 2007, he excitedly pronounces: “I have seen the rivers and mountains of Big Brother…I’m going to bump all the women in BBA house.” What a vulgar celebration of hideous conquests!

With all the nauseating exploits of Richard’s, which earned him the prize, what MNET is saying is that for anyone to win the next BBA (assuming this won’t be the last), he must simply become an animal like Richard, because it is only animals that win its price; yes, such a person must regard and treat women as mere playthings.


  Maureen (Uganda) —Another Housemate
Now the point has also been regularly made, namely, why watch BBA if you know it would offend your mind? Indeed, amateur porn channels and websites like BBA abound, but they do not attract generous positive reviews from “serious” newspapers like BBA does. MNET can afford to inflict its violent obscenity only on interested viewers if it could check its invasion of our newspaper pages the way it does.

Nor should the government show more than a passing interest in shows like BBA, as the Nigerian House Assembly or the Federal Government did recently. Now, I have no problems with the Information Minister, Mr. John Odey, offering a job to Miss Ofunneka Molokwu, as he reportedly did the other day, if that would console her, but he has no right to declare that by appearing on that reprehensible show, she has “represented us well” and has, today, become “the Heart of Africa.”


Meryl (Namibia): Relished Flaunting Her Nudity Before The CamerasWhat would her children say tomorrow when confronted with those pictures?

No doubt, it must be clear to the minister that he was speaking himself, and I insist that he makes this clear immediately. In fact, President Umar Musa Yar’Adua must call him to order before he uses the stain of BBA to further rubbish his ailing regime. On no account must the Federal Government appear to endorse such a horribly obscene show that has offended many decent people inAfricaand has even been banned by some African governments.



From left: Maureen,Ofunneka,Tatiana: Debasing Selves For A Fee


Mr. Odey, since he had excess time to squander, should have merely consoled the girl, assuaged her pain over the BBA misadventure, but more importantly, used that opportunity to urge other Nigerians youths to shun such shows no matter the huge prize money they dangle, if they do not wish to encounter such tragedies like “fingergate.” And I think I am right.

English And Its Student

February 18, 2008

By Ugochukwu Ejinkeonye

Perhaps, it is worth stating that in resolving to use the phrase “The English Student” to refer to my subject in this essay, I am quite conscious of the fact that I have chosen to make myself vulnerable to misunderstanding and misrepresentation as to whom I am actually referring, at least, in this outset.  But then, the phrase suits my taste perfectly and I can only volunteer some explanations to clear the ambiguity my choice has already created.


For instance, you would earn an instant forgiveness if you have already concluded that I am referring to a student from England.  After all, does the mere mention of a Nigerian student not immediately leave you with the unmistakable impression that a student from Nigeria is being referred to?  Or is an American student or Kenyan student not simply a student of American or Kenyan origin?  What remains to be done here is to remind us that while English can refer to both a person from England and his language, the same cannot be said of Nigerian, Kenyan or American.  One is yet to hear of a single language called Nigerian or American.  We only have many languages known as Nigerian languages, the word “Nigerian” alone not yet being the name of a single language just as English is.  And there is nothing yet derogatory or backward about it, in either case.

Countless authorities on English and acclaimed English textbooks are unanimous in their statement of what English is and who the English are.  Every definition seeks to re-confirm that English is a people’s nationality as well as their language.  A. S. Hornby’s Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary states that the English are “the people of England (sometimes wrongly used to mean the British, i.e. to include the Scots, the Welsh and the Irish)”.   Further, Hornby declares that English is equally “the language of England, used in Britain, most countries of the British Commonwealth, the USA and some other countries.”  Indeed, various respected English text books do not show any disagreement with Hornby.

Many universities in Nigeria and Africa now have English departments and English has since been engaging serious attention as a subject of study and a language of instruction in our schools and colleges.  It may even be observed that many students in these parts prefer to know English more as a subject offered in schools alongside other subjects like Geography, Igbo, Physics, Sociology, etc, than as any other thing.  And because of this, it seems too natural for us (and we have all become so used to it) to refer to any student offering English as a course of study in any of our colleges as “the English Student” just as we have the “History Student”, the “French Student” or the “Economics Student”.  We have always assumed that no one is left in doubt as to what we mean. In fact, little or no thought is even spared for the semantic ambiguity we are creating.  Again, it is equally assumed that any one hearing of our “English departments” will not be deluded into thinking they are merely centres where researches and studies are carried out on England, her people, language and culture or subsidiaries of English embassies in the countries where they are located.  It may even be added here that Igbo, Yoruba, Hausa and French which also serve to represent a people’s language as well as their homeland enjoy this dual classification and role as English does.  Hence we occasionally hear of “Igbo department,” French teachers” or “Yoruba students” in our schools and colleges.

It would have been so good to proceed with the main issue of this discourse with the refreshing feeling that the initial ambiguity occasioned by the use of the phrase “the English Student” has been cleared if there was not a more worrisome angle to this issue of misrepresenting and misplacing anything with the word “English” prefixed to it.  In fact, this has nothing to do with lexical, structural or semantic ambiguity as any fair-minded person would expect.  One may not even make a strong case for obtuseness.  Rather, it all has to do with an attitude born of colonial hangover and ill-defined owner-of-all mentality which inform the line of reasoning of a certain group of “experts” who are heir to an attractive but specious criticism that insists with temerity that any work done or expressed in English belongs to the English people, i.e., the people of England.  Some have even widened the English constituency to include all Europe and even the entire Western world, deliberately and conveniently forgetting that English also came to some of those “advanced” nations the same way it  came to Africa.  (Merrian-Webster Collegiate Dictionary says that English is the language of “many areas now or formerly under British control,” and this does not apply to Africa or the so-called first world alone).  Indeed, this contrived and simulated misconception which has attained dogmatic status is propagated with even greater intensity and renewed vigour to the utter discomfort of some English students and some African writers.

It is with mild surprise that Africans watch some literary colonizers, who are of completely different and even strange cultures and who possess different values and experiences, as they spread their hands in clumsy attempts to appropriate works and records of other peoples’ cultures, values and experiences because of the lame reason that they are expressed in “their” language.  It is (at least in my view) the same spirit and motive that led to the colonization of the peoples that own those cultures, values and experiences that are now informing the bid to indirectly recolonize them by appropriating their works and records.  In fact one looks forward with bated breath these days to seeing a Ghanaian who knows and speaks only English and whose parents spoke only English while bringing him into this world being declared an Englander with full rights and privileges.  That will perfectly dovetail with Adrain Roscoe’s bold, magisterial assertion in his book, Mother is Gold: A Study in West African Literature, that, “if an African writes in English his works must be considered as belonging to English letters as a whole.”  John Knappert, in an essay, “Swahili as an African Language”, which appeared in the journal, TRANSITION, No 13 (1964), was even more explicit: “In Europe,” he declares, “there is no literature in a non-European language.  Even in India, literature in English would not be called Indian literature. Every piece of literature written in English even if written in Africa, is a contribution to English literature, not to any African literature.  Literary History has always been classified by language: Greek, Latin, Sankrit, not by country or continent.  I do not think there can be any other African literature but literature in African language.” 

Unfortunately, John Knappert’s deductions and conclusions, delivered with dogmatic absoluteness, are amazingly arbitrary and misleading.  Who, by the way, made the law that literature should be classified by language only and not by country or continent?  Who said that the nationality of a writer, his subject-matter, setting, “colour” attitude, environment, professed values, ethos, etc., should not play a leading role in classifying his work?  And why should this law (assuming one exists except in the imagination of the Knapperts of this world) automatically apply to all peoples’ literatures without due cognizance and regard to the diverse linguistic histories of various peoples?  That a phenomenon has always been taken for granted in the imagination of Knappert and his literary ilks does not automatically mean that it is right and acceptable and also binding on all peoples, more so, in a multi-faceted discipline like literature that does not easily admit absolutes and dogmas.  The only lesson here is that those who revel in making dogmatic pronouncements on literature would occasionally find themselves in tight corners.  Ask Ngugi and Wole Soyinka. 

Certainly, one amazing flaw in John Knappert’s much-vaunted logic is that it failed to take notice of the reputation of English as an international language, a reputation English acquired due to colonialism and overbearing meddlesomeness.  That one speaks and writes in English does not make one an Englander. (It is even tragic that vestigial remains of the products of this warped mentality are still being peddled in some literary and intellectual quarters even till today.

Chinweizu& Co. in their thought-stirring book, Towards The Decolonization Of African Literature (1980) have deftly dealt with these appropriation bids based on language claims and I will just be content to briefly summarize their views here.  These scholars called our attention to the distinction “between English as a language used in literature by many outside the British nation, and English letters as a body of works of the British nation.”  They outlined some situations existing in world literature whereby we have regional literatures, e.g. the European regional literature, which include national literatures   in different languages, and then the American regional literature, e.g. U.S. literature (in English), that of Canada (in English and French) etc. Then they talked about the language literatures, “many of which include many national literatures.”  The following are English language literatures: “(a) British national literature; (b) the national literature of those countries where an exported English population is in control, e.g Canada, the United States, Australia and New Zealand; (c) the national literature of those countries where English, though neither indigenous nor the mother-tongue of the politically dominant population or group, has become, as a legacy of colonialism, the official language or one of the official languages, e.g., Nigeria, Kenya, South Africa, India, Jamaica, Trinidad and Malaysia”.

According to these writers (Chinweizu&Co) “Inclusion [of a work] within a national literature is something to be determined by shared values and assumptions, world outlook, and other fundamental elements of culture– ethos, in short.”  Since “language and nation are not the same, and language criteria are not the same as national criteria” especially as some “fundamental differences in values and experience” may often be noticed “between two nations who use the same language” these scholars   insist that the “language employed to carry out larger and more important cultural functions, is hardly by itself to be considered sufficient, let alone exclusive grounds for assigning a work to one tradition or one body of literature rather than another”.  (Pp. 9-14)

What can now be restated here is that English, the language of England, refused to confine itself to its ancestral home.  It is equally true that all those who use English now (beside the Englanders) are aware that they are using a borrowed language.  And this, I am sure, does not apply to Africa or the so-called Third World alone.

 It is possible that the English student on whose head and career this gratuitous din takes place may not allow himself to be bothered by it all.  After all, even if English is not the national language of the country of the English student and writers from his country do not write in English, the serious task of learning to not only speak English well but also to write it well would still have seriously engaged him.  But then, the English student cannot just distance himself from his people whose literature is being appropriated by foreigners.  Unless, perhaps, his studies have compelled him to swallow and internalize imperialist prejudices and dogmas about him and his people.

We may have to see Chinua Achebe’s thought-provoking questions and the interesting remarks which he made in a paper he entitled, “Thoughts on the African Novel”, (Morning Yet on Creation Day, London: HEB, 1975, p.50):  “But what is a non-African language.  English and French certainly. But what about Arabic?  What about Swahili even?  Is it then a question of how long the language has been on African soil?  If so, how many years should constitute effective occupation?  For me it is again a pragmatic matter.  A language spoken by Africans on African soil, a language in which Africans write, justifies itself” (emphases not mine)

As we try to chew over that, let’s attempt some form of stocktaking. In the course of this survey, we saw some of the nations whose literatures appear in English.  Also, it is self-evident that such an awkward situation arose out of contacts and gratuitous migrations that have much, if not all, to do with English-men. But an entirely new situation, which would certainly throw up fresh challenges for language and literary colonialists is quietly emerging, and it is interesting that speculations about this are commencing with by two bright English scholars. Declaring that “Geographical dispersion is in fact the classic basis for linguistic variation”, Randolph Quirk and Sydney Greenbaum in their book, A University Grammar Of English, toyed with the possibility of the emerging dialects of English growing to become distinct languages. This would seem to be true, because, already, American English, for instance, has come to mean more than English spoken in America.  A lot of disparities in grammar, vocabulary and spelling now exist between the American English and the British English. Again, whatever is the history and origin of America, the truth is that it is presently, just another continent, far removed from the home of English like Africa is.  One wonders why the English contact with Africans should not qualify them for a use of English like the others to produce autonomous, indigenous works?  “Is it then a question of how long the language has been present on the African soil?  If so, how many years should constitute effective occupation”, to quote Achebe again.

One trite point we just cannot be tired or ashamed of re-echoing is that colonialism must continue to carry the can for my having, for instance, to address you in this column in English, instead of a “Nigerian language.”  If the colonial intruders had not brought distinct African communities together and imposed on them a language with which to communicate with each other ever before they were ready or tried to achieve such amalgamations by  themselves, all these language controversies and talks of annexing other peoples’ recordings of their cultures, values and experiences just because of the language used in expressing them  would not have even arisen. It is indeed disheartening that these annexation bids have already created undue anxiety in some Africans.  Such anxious states of mind, I believe, gave birth to such outcries like late Dr. Obi Wali’s famous essay, “Dead End Of African literature,” published in the journal, TRANSITION No 10 (1963).  Said Obi Wali: “…until these [African] writers and their Western midwives accept that any true African Literature must be written in African languages, they would be merely pursuing a dead end, which can only lead to sterility, uncreativity and frustration.” I think I can fully understand the worry and discomfort that throw up these kind of outbursts.  It all has to do with the avuncular air and the owner-of-all disposition the European appropriator assumes when declaring any work written in English as belonging to the English people or even asserting that an English student is an Englander in the making.

I may only have to remind us here that one gets a child either by giving birth to one or by adopting one.  Nigeria and some other nations have found themselves with no ready alternative than the English language, forced upon them by colonialism, and so had to adopt it to facilitate easy communication among their multi-lingual people, who were arbitrarily forced to come together by the thoughtless, but self-serving initiative of the colonialists.  Put differently, they have adopted an English solution to a problem created by the English, at least for now, although I do not foresee a credible, workable, acceptable alternative even in the distant future; what with the hyper-politicization of all efforts at facilitating a national language adoption and evolution.   Forgive me if I pitch my tent with what would appear as Achebe’s disarming, pessimistic finality on the matter.  English in Nigeria is simply a child of circumstance, serving Nigeria faithfully as the language of state administration, with our laws and status books written in it.  This adopted ‘child’ or rather, now, acquired slave, has served most faithfully in preventing Nigeria and a section of Africa from re-enacting a modern-day Tower of Babel situation.   Justice demands that even the devil be given his due.

It may be stated here that this essay is not a contribution to the language controversy that has plagued African literature right from its cradle, a controversy, one may dare say, that has almost irredeemably become trite even before it has been successfully resolved.  Nor am I here to emphasize the already over-stressed obvious point that for Africans or even Nigerians, with their multi-lingual and multi-cultural environment to continue to hear each other and ensure unhindered communication and mutual intelligibility, they will have to remain condemned to the use of this language shared by a majority, a language that cuts across the ethnic and linguistic blocks that make up their domain. I think I am only concerned here with the English student, the obstacles that stand between him and his learning of English and the need for him to overcome those obstacles in order to make a success of his learning since he has voluntarily decided to study English.

We have so far secured two re-assurances, namely, that a Nigerian or simply a non- Englander can answer an English student comfortably without engendering any confusion about his nationality; and that if a non-Englander writes any work in English, the mere fact that he wrote in English cannot be a justifiable reason from appropriating his work into the body of the literature of England.  We may then have to insist that the English Student, whether in Africa or anywhere, has no choice but to endeavour to learn to speak and write English well or else, he should not have bothered nearing an English Department of a university or college in the first place. 

But, the belly-aching truth, which has exploded us in the face today is that many English students do not try to go beyond speaking and writing semi-literate English.  What makes this situation so bad is that in this trying era of decolonization and recolonization, cultural nationalism and domestications of foreign languages, the English student may hide under one of these slogans to justify his inability to do well in a course he freely chose for himself.  Achebe’s statement during his famous 1965 lecture at the University of Ghana, Legon, that “The price a world language must be prepared to pay is submission to many different kinds of uses” appears to have opened the floodgate for a lot of crazy experimentations with the English language.  And I am certainly not thinking about Amos Tutuola here!

When Tutuola hit the literary world with his Palm-Wine Drinkard (1952), Western critics decided that he wrote in “young” and “infant” English.  In fact, a certain Tom Hopkinson excitedly spoke of the emergence of a “new ‘mad’ African writing” produced by those who “don’t  learn English; they don’t study the rules of grammar; they just tear right into it and let the splinters fly”. Prof Bernth Lindfors was to observe much later in the book, Critical Perspectives On Amos Tutuola, that “No one has tried to imitate Tutuola’s  writing, and no one probably ever will.  He is not the sort of writer who attracts followers or founds a school….  In this sense he is a literary dead end.”

How untrue!  So many English students have consciously enlisted in Tutuola’s school (innocently founded by him) and Tom Hopkinson’s statement will more appropriately describe them today.  At least, Tutuola never for once answered an English student.  Achebe had observed that Tutuola had “turned his apparent limitation in language into a weapon of great strength — half-strange dialect that serves him perfectly in the evocation of his bizarre world”  (see Achebe, Morning Yet On Creation Day, p.61).  One hopes that no English student aims at being applauded in these, one must say, no less glowing terms!

I want to state here in passing that the din, excitement and even applause the late Ken Saro Wiwa attracted because of the language of his novel, SOZABOY, not withstanding, his rule-less and syntax-less language is the best example of how not to domesticate English.  It lacks an audience and fits in properly as the best false step in the bids to evolve an indigenous language that will replace colonial languages.  The style is escapist since it has no rules.  It cannot even be said to be addressed to the barely literate Nigerians whose ‘language’ the novel purports to use since it may even demand high academic attainment to even understand it.  So, it is a futile, defeatist rebellion against a colonial language, one which is even insidious to the African learner of English since many may now either emulate him or use his paradigm to explain away their ineptitude.  If Mr. Ken Saro Wiwa had not been hanged on October 10, 1995, on the orders of late Gen Sani Abach, it would have been interesting watching Saro Wiwa to also try disorganizing his Ogoni language in his next book in order to see how many people that would understand him?  Or is it only English that is fit for mutilation?   The challenge now is for all those African and European scholars who have made so much din about the book’s astounding literary, linguistic or stylistic merits to go ahead and further the work that Late Ken had pioneered by extending his brilliant model to their own indigenous languages.  We are waiting.

When Prof Chinua Achebe talked about subjecting English to different kinds of uses, it is clear from his works what he meant.  B. I. Chukwukere explains Achebe’s language-use thus, (see African Literature Today vol. 3 p. 19): “Part of the greatness of Achebe, part of the pleasure we get in reading him, lies in the very fact that he has a sure and firm control of his English, exemplified particularly in his rendering of Ibo language-processes  — idioms, imagery, syntax and so forth  –into English.   The characters speak in a manner any Ibo or allied language-speaker would easily recognize as natural to them… Achebe neither rudely shocks nor seriously wounds the basic English sentence-pattern or sentence-structure, and at the same time he does not reduce the fundamental Igbo language idiom, sound and flow, to obscurity.” In short, what Achebe has done was to achieve some local colour for his English without endangering international intelligibility of his work.  In this sense, Achebe is a good model for many learners of the English Language.

Now, the point is that most English students who have failed to perform well in their studies are not just those who have consciously decided to speak and write like the hero of Saro-Wiwa’s Sozaboy.  Complete honesty demands that we concede that many genuine, but clearly avoidable and surmountable obstacles stand on the way of our English students, especially, in this part of the world.  One of these genuine obstacles is certainly not this naïve obsession in some English students today to evolve what they call “Nigerian English”(whatever that means). I wonder how I would feel if some Englishman shuffles onto my presence tomorrow and attempts to address me in what he calls “English Igbo” or “Anglicised Igbo”, which I may have some difficulty in understanding! Please, spare me the joke.

Truth is that for any language to be understood by all who share its codes, it must possess some established set of rules. And once these rules are flouted by any user, whether in the spirit of domestication, decolonization or nationalism, the language automatically loses its capability to be mutually intelligible. We must also concede that the English student is not exempted from the poor background in education which our public schools have become such experts in giving out to their pupils.  Good teachers who write and speak English well are increasingly disappearing from our landscape.

But the student who decides to study English in an institution of higher learning should endeavour to purge himself of the poor English he had imbibed in primary and secondary schools. For instance, for him to articulate literate English speech, he must without delay identify the instances of mother-tongue interferences in the English he produces and try hard to overcome them. It is common knowledge that because of the absence of certain English speech sounds in most Africa languages, the African speaker of English tends to do what linguists and phoneticians have called Sound Substitutions while speaking English. That accounts for the reason the words “tank” and “thank” are not pronounced as different words by many learners of English. Indeed, the target of the African learner of English should be to realize what Anke Nutsukpo calls  “Educated West African Standard English Speech”.  In this “vowels, diphthongs and consonants are accurate in quality, and length (where necessary); sound clusters are fairly accurate, stress, rhythm and voice modulation are accurate.  Intelligibility is of a high level” in fact, this is the closest approximation to what is called the Received Pronunciation (RP) English speech sounds.

Indeed, the English student should not allow himself to be distracted by some ill-defined ideologies about language domestication and make a flourishing failure of his studies.  If the Philosophy or Sociology student is not barred by some pseudo-Afrocentric slogans from making a success of his career, one wonders why the English student should endure such an undesirable, unprofitable and totally needless sanction.  The English student should learn how to resolve the phonological conflicts between his mother tongue and the English langauge. This becomes easy if student makes up his mind to practice the articulation of the speech sounds regularly after disabusing his mind on the impossibility of pronouncing English speech sounds intelligibly by a non-native speaker or the desirability of such an attainment.

The same care and determination should be exercised in all attempts to produce elegant and edifying written English. Here too, genuine, institutional obstacles exist. The course contents designed these days for our English students by our universities do not really offer the students practical solutions to their grammatical problems.  Most English students who have offered the course that go under the name of “Discourse Analysis” are still wondering how the wonderful knowledge they got from it could help them write better English. Yes, the English student has also studied a lot of the history of linguistics; he knows so much about Ferdinand de Saussure, the father modern of linguistics, about his Acoustic Image and Concept theory, also about the Paradigmatic and Syntagmatic relationships he identified in the study of meaning; he also has heard about Ogden and Richards and their Triangle of Signification or Semiotic Triangle and how they disagreed with de Saussure’s tripartite approach to the study of meaning, otherwise, called Semantics.  What of Bloomfield the Behaviourist and Chomsky the Mentalists?  All these the English student has heard about. Yet, he lacks the good grammar to express all these wonderful knowledge!

It is time we get down to meaningful business and begin to formulate curriculum and courses whose contents will effectively address the grammatical malady of the English student in a most practical way.

But this does not excuse the English student from the serious work he has to do on himself. Reading culture in Nigeria has achieved an all time low, and so, if the English student fails to avail himself of the rich literatures, produced by serious writers, which we can still find today despite the literary drought in the land, then, he should have now one to blame for his sickening grammar. The practice of restricting oneself to only the books recommended for the courses one is offering, is one way working hard to fail. There should be that curiosity, that greed to devour and swallow every good book that one can find. And while reading literary works, a keen eye should be reserved for beautiful styles and good presentations, and not just the story itself. In the process, one gets one’s grammar polished without knowing it.

But talking of writing today, how many English students actually write?  How many try to take their time to formulate admirable prose beyond the scope of hurried assignments and barely literate term papers?  Indeed, writing regularly affords one opportunity to improve, mature and produce better materials.

Reading here, by the English student should not be restricted to novels, poems and plays. Granted, there is a lamentable dearth of literary materials nowadays, because, many universities do not consider it a priority anymore to order them, but a serious English student can go into the library and look for the old issues of literary journals gathering dust in some obscure corners of the University library. The old ones are even better, because they were published when serious-minded scholars invested time and rigour in the critical enterprise. Such journals like, African literature Today,  Research in African Literatures, The Literary Griot, Black Academy Review, Presence Africaine, Journal Of  Commonwealth Literature, Black Orpheus, Transition, Okike, Matatu, and several others. Some of these journals are no longer coming out, and the universities have virtually stopped ordering the ones that are still being published.

  It is most unfortunate that we are blessed with a government that parades a noisy army of “intellectuals” yet the government’s apathy towards literary development has reached a nauseating height.  What indeed is this government’s policy on the development sustenance of its literature?  What has it done or plans  to do to promote literary culture in both our schools and colleges, and in our entire polity?  I have once argued that this government has the resources to help re-invent the robust literary culture that flourished in this nation in the 1960s, 70s and even much of the 80s and go on to make Nigeria the centre and rallying point of literary activities in Africa.  This will, to a great extent, exert considerable impact on the English Student and make him infuse a greater sense of purpose in his study.  It will equally provide sufficient incentive for re-enthroning challenging literary scholarship which appears to be lamentably vanishing in our universities.

What is the future of literary scholarship in Nigeria. Indeed, what is the furture of our education? In many English students today, the excitement of academics is, lamentably, at its autumnal stage.   How many English students bother to see if they could get at some of the books and journals cited in bibliographies of some of the books they have been forced to read, to try to get additional knowledge?

The point is that the present teachers of English will retire someday and today’s English students will become tomorrow’s English teachers.   The sooner adequate preparations are made to safeguard that tomorrow, the better for everybody.  Already the public primary and secondary schools are in pitiable states.  The rot may soon become intractable if allowed to eat deep into our university system.  Achebe has already lamented the poor reading habit among many of us in an essay in Times Literary Supplement as far back as 1972 which he called, “What Do African Intellectuals Read”  It is even worse today even among our English students.


Finally a word must be passed to University admission seekers who enter for English for reasons other than that they have a love for the course.  It needs no saying that they may never do well.  The same applies to those who are more interested in reading just for examination purposes while studying English.  That they won’t do well is quite obvious.  They may even end up not passing their examinations well.


 The English student is one who loves to learn the English language and literature in English with admirable enthusiasm and excitement.  He may not be an Englander nor will whatever he writes be appropriated to the body of English letters.  Rather, he is one who makes effort to study English well, in order to speak and write it well. He reads good literature, good newspapers and journals in order to enrich his vocabulary and style.  He is careful in deciding what to believe after reading some declarations like “A novel may be badly written by Western standards, in terms of language, and still portray life vividly and meaningfully for us” (Ezekiel Mphahelele, The African Image (1962) p. 11; or this by the celebrated English novelist and literary theorist, Virginia Woolf,  “any method is right, every method is right, that expresses what we wish to express, if we are writers; that brings us closer to the novelist’s intention if we are readers.”   Whatever choice the English student makes should be influenced by a desire to make a success of his chosen career. 


NOTE: This an old essay, on an equally old debate. A greater part of it was written as an undergraduate, many years ago. I can’t really say why, but I feel compelled to put it out here today. If any information it contains is able to help a student out there, my day would have been made.