Who is a “British Nigerian?”

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This morning, Friday, May 25th, the BBC world service news bulletin had “downgraded” the Woolwich terrorists to “British Africans.” In the mass media industry where every word is carefully chosen and sensibilities and political correctness seriously taken note of, the choice of British Africans as against the initial tag of British Nigerians to describe Michael Adebolajo and Michael Oluwatobi Adebowale is definitive.

When the news of the terrorist atrocity broke in the international media, Nigerians like every other people were shocked at the sheer barbarity of the brutal attack on an unarmed, off-duty British soldier. But opprobrium against the terrorists turned to indignation at the British Media for ‘framing’ the perpetrators as Nigerians and later British Nigerians, when obviously they were born in Britain, hold British passports and were radicalized in the UK. Unfortunately, the Nigerian media, lacking the infrastructure and reach of their British counterparts, where “voiceless.”

In 1980, Sean MacBride, an Irish Nobel Peace Laureate was selected to chair a commission to study communication problems by the UNESCO. The findings, published in a report titled Many Voices, One World and which later became the MacBride Report, detailed the imbalance in the communication and information flow between the developed world and the Third world. The MacBride Commission demanded for democratization of communication and strengthening of national media to stop over dependence on external sources. Though the MacBride Report received a hostile reception from the United States and the United Kingdom, the developing world embraced the ideas espoused in it, and in fact the MacBride report is enthusiastically taught in Communication classes here in Nigeria.

Prior to the advent of the internet and Web 2.0, foreign media had the power to effortlessly dictate the discourse and set the agenda, but in today’s world, with citizen journalism and social media, the feedback loop in the communication model is fully active and instantaneous. Thus the Nigerian social media sector vehemently and rightly rejected the undue tag with all its negative connotations. Correlation was drawn with British athletes of Nigerian descent who excelled at the Olympics and whose African origins were never alluded to. So, Nigerians quarreled with the notion of tagging the British born criminals to Nigeria.  Adebolaja and Adewale are Nigerian names of Yoruba extraction, no doubt, but the media with all their power to set agenda and influence the public discourse have the responsibility to do so without covert insinuations. One can even argue that the slant may have motivated the English Defence League, a neo-fascist organisation, to take to the streets of London.

Thirty plus years after the MacBride Commission “assaulted” Anglo-American ideals of freedom of the press, the structures which MacBride, Fred Omu (the Nigerian member in the Commission) and co complained about are still in place. However, the internet has become a genuine game changer. The web has truly democratized media access and use. Today, the many voices alluded by MacBride are vociferously shouting from the ramparts. I think with the BBC, that bastion of Western mass media, acknowledging that sensibilities were being assaulted by the use of the tag British Nigerian, the Western media is heeding.

@sirwebs

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Boko Haram have torn my English Reader

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Simbi, from the Macmillan English Reader

Back in Primary School – in the late 1980’s – we had this wonderful, nationalistic English Reader (can’t remember the title now), where a family takes a holiday road trip across Nigeria, starting off somewhere in the South and touching the northernmost parts of Borno and Kano. Back then, most Schools studied English with the legendary Macmillan Reader starring Edet, Simbi and co. But I was fortunate to learn my punctuation, grammar and spelling while reading about the many adventures of this man and his wife (cosmopolitans a la Kwame Appiah), who put their two kids in the car and drove all the way to the ancient city walls of Kano so the kids could glimpse that pre-colonial engineering feat while making stops at Jebba, Lokoja and the thousand and one sites along the route. They made it all the way to Sokoto – the heat and the flies brilliantly described – and introduced me (a pre-teen) to the Toureg, with their daggers in their belt.

The ‘expedition’ was exotic and memorable, so that even today, as an adult, the little boy in me (not Robin van Persie’s kind) still screams to see the Kano walls and the palace of the Sheu.  Not even the bombs of Boko Harem has doused my urge to see the ancient Kano market (is it still there?) which, according to my text, drew traders from across the Sahara.

That ‘simple’ Reader has driven my idea of the North for over twenty years now (I have never gone beyond Abuja), even now, after having studied communication and can see the ‘tricks’ immanent in a text written to foster national integration. That is the power of communication and one wonders if enough advocacy is still being deployed in tackling the intransigence evident in the North, which is unfortunately aiding the Boko Haram insurgency.

I fully support the State of Emergency declared in Borno, Yobe and Adamawa. In fact, if I were a President I would have done it six months ago. The BH have upgraded from insurgency to terrorism and since they have started hoisting their own flags, the ‘R’ word might not be far off. Unfortunately, the little boy in me will have to wait a little longer before we see the flat lands and dusty Sahel of the ancient Kanem-Bornu Empire.

In my Reader, the father had friends from across the nation and whichever city they got to they slept in an ‘old buddie’s house, never in a hotel. These were ‘brothers’ he met in University, who eagerly opened their doors, gave them water and food, and acted as willing tour guides for their cities. In one beautifully rendered chapter, the family car broke down (a Peugeot 404?)on the roadside somewhere in the North-East, and while the father went in search of a mechanic, the family, in proper English style, picnicked on the road side, under one of those big trees in the North that seem to have a secret underground water supply. Those were the ‘good old days,’ before Boko Haram and terrorism, and fear. Fantasy? Well, Friedrich Nietzsche once said, “We have art in order not to die of the truth.”

Honestly, can’t remember the title or publishers of that English Reader. Somebody help.

@sirwebs

ACHEBE’S HEIR ON HAIR

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 It is common knowledge that as a country we have jettisoned serious literary reading for frivolities like watching television, the movies and listening to pop music (cold media according to McLuhan). The consequences are evident in the declining knowledge base of young Nigerians who year in year out post pathetic grades in standardized tests into universities and tertiary institutions. For a country that boasts the ‘grandfather of African literature’ and Nobel Laureate in Literature as citizens, we can categorically say that the golden age of Nigerian literature came in the 1960’s -1970’s, during the hey days of the likes of Achebe, Soyinka, Clark, Okigbo, Amadi, Ike, Ekwensi to name  a few of the giants.

 The contemporary Nigerian society seems to affect a nonchalance when it comes to books and reading. Latter day authors have struggled to garner sales, publishing firms have folded up and bookstores have given way to video clubs and viewing centres. The Federal Government’s ‘Back to the Books’ project has seemingly floundered even though it has Wole Soyinka in tow for his ‘star power.’’ For a country that has one of the world’s largest numbers of high school graduates seeking admission into higher education, this is weird. As Mark Twain said, “A man who does not read has no advantage over the man who cannot read.”

The King is dead, long live the Queen

One writer who has bucked the lack of sales even in Nigeria is Chimamada Adichie, the fresh-faced, braids wearing, effusive, media-savvy author, whose three novels and a book of short stories have won a ‘wall full’ of accolades, earned her incredible money and celebrity status and made her a darling of the media and public on both sides of the Atlantic. At her recent reading of her critically acclaimed new novel, Americanah (with a stress on the nah), at the Terra Kulture in Lagos, the hall was packed full of young people, who are always drawn to her realness, her star power and wit. Her novels are written in simple language (story-teller mode), an attribute best exhibited by Chinua Achebe, and that is the reason she is seen as the literary daughter and heir apparent to the late icon. In her interviews (there are ‘hundreds’ of them), she routinely acknowledges the influence of Achebe and how reading his novels inspired her. Like Achebe, the West genuinely thinks her a genius, and this is evident in Americanah being reviewed extensively by nearly all the major newspapers in the US and the UK.

Achebe’s heir arguably is now the marquee literary voice of Nigeria. And she takes the job seriously: refusing to speak like an Americanah, continuously writing about Nigeria and Nigerian issues, remarkably acclaiming her ‘Nigerianness’ wherever she is in the world. Back home in Nigeria she does a round of the media circuit nearly every year and is such a fan favourite – especially with the men – that many were ‘shocked’ when they discovered she was married.

In Americanah, Achebe’s heir writes about hair, race and love. And from the reviews she seems to have hit bull’s eye. Obviously, she’s been hitting ‘the eye’ ever since, as her second novel Half of a Yellow Sun is currently been made into a Nollywood movie.

That Chimamanda has got plenty of star power is not in dispute; The Scotsman described her as “more film star than writer, and is apparently worshiped like one in Nigeria too.” I believe the Jonathan Government could tap her aura and deploy it to galvanise the ‘back to the book’ programme. Konga is a legend no doubt, but a bushy mane and white beard (though gloriously professorial) can hardly compete with the beautiful, movie-star looks of Adichie. Added to her wit and story-telling abilities, and her penchant for tackling post-modern themes, I think she can get the young people back to reading. And she is already doing so; her take on African women’s hair has ruffled plenty of feathers and egos, and obviously whetted the appetite of an army of Nigerian women who are eager to read her take on hair. Well to give them a snippet, Adichie speaking to the Scotsman chides, “In Nigeria now the craze is for Brazilian hair. It’s very expensive, takes hours, and goes down to your waist in huge waves. It looks ridiculous.” I support her.

@sirwebs