Of Obituaries and Mandela


Even as Mandela lies in hospital hooked to life support systems,  print media organisations all over the world have already written his obituary. This is not sheer wickedness but standard practice. Haven’t you ever wondered how well researched and extensive obituaries of public figures are available even while news of their death is still ‘breaking?’ So a furtive look into the computer folders of media editors around the world will give one a glimpse of the life and times of Madiba, baring the all important line stating the date of his death.

Speaking of obituaries, there was once a case of mistaken identity. In the late 19th century, Alfred Nobel, a Swiss Chemist, business man and entrepreneur, who invented the dynamite and gelignite, and made a fortune from explosive and armaments was fortunate (yes, it’s good fortune) to read his own obituary in the newspapers. The editors had made a mistake and written his obituary instead of his brother’s who had died.

Nobel, obviously sitting in his patio with a glass of vintage in hand, was shocked to read what people thought of him. The obituary, captioned, The merchant of death is dead, said, “Dr. Alfred Nobel, who became rich by finding ways to kill more people faster than ever before, died yesterday.”

Though the error was finally spotted and Alfred apologized to, Mr. Nobel got a hint into how people really felt about him. Most importantly, he resolved to mend his ways and that birthed the Nobel Prizes as Alfred who had no children willed his vast fortune to the award of the prizes for outstanding work in various fields. Today, the Nobel Peace Prize, which has become the marquee category “is to be given to the person or society that renders the greatest service to the cause of international fraternity.” And, that helps to reduce standing armies.

Inspite of the French newspaper in Cannes making an error over Nobel’s death, newspaper and magazines still take the publication of obituaries of public figures seriously. Organs like the Economist and New York Times have raised the writing of obituaries to an art, and I must confess they will outdo themselves in the event of Mandela’s passing. For such media whose home governments once thought Mandela a socialist and terrorist, it would be an intriguing read.

Most Western based newspapers have regular obituary columns (not anecdotes) and use it to celebrate the lives of not only public figures like politicians and celebrities but also lesser known individuals who have made a resounding impact in their niches: actors, scientists, authors, teachers, etcetra.

In a country where we fashionably forget ‘heroes past’ or fall foul of giving national honours only to people active in certain prestigious categories, newspapers and magazines could pay more attention to obituaries and scour the nation to eulogise departed men and women of repute and acclaim, presenting an unbiased, uncoloured portrait of a person’s life in a thousand words or more.

Such a column if raised to quasi-editorial status, non-commercialized and given a pride of place can, if not bag a Pulitzer, raise the awareness of the average citizen to the need to celebrate ‘our heroes past,’ aside from archiving permanently the life and times of such notables.

For Madiba, the ‘father of Africa’ and inspiration to humanity, it is not yet adieu.





For about forty minutes during the first half of the Nigeria vs Uruguay match at the 2013 FIFA Confederations cup,  the clock was rolled back, the spell was lifted – albeit short lived – and Mikel John Obi, the former teen prodigy, ‘fought’ over by the greats of modern football, Chelsea and Manchester United, displayed the panache and skills we first knew him with, capping it with a well taken goal resplendent of Kanu Nwankwo’s ‘golden goal’ against Brazil at the Olympics in Atlanta. At half time we poured encomiums on Mikel, but alas, in the second half he reverted to type – defensive minded, non exuberant cautious play, which Mourinho, that self-declared Special One, turned him into.

Mikel Obi, as a teenager, was highly endowed with inventiveness and composure on the pitch. His football was far ahead of his mates, and at barely 16 years old he was playing in the Plateau United first Team. The best player to emerge from Nigeria since Jay- Jay, he was hailed as Okocha’s successor – the attack minded, creative midfielder, with flair, and vision for the game changing pass. And he lived up to the hype, single-handedly inspiring Nigeria to a second place finish at the 2005 FIFA U-21 World Youth Championships, behind Argentina and Messi (the greatest footballer of all time). He was on the path to becoming a legend of the game and to redefine the Super Eagles, until Chelsea crashed the party, paid off Manchester United and Lyn Oslo FC, and turned our budding maestro into a master ‘water carrier.’

Kudos to Mikel he was a good student, and to the detriment of Nigeria he mastered the skills of defensive midfield, literarily wearing the shoes of Claude Makalele (the best modern day defensive midfielder). At the Champions’ League final in Munich, where Chelsea defeated Bayern on home pitch to lift the cup, Jamie Redknapp, the Skysports pundit, described Mikel’s game thus: “a performance that I didn’t think he had in him; he was putting out fires everywhere.”

And therein lies my grouse. I want Mikel to be on fire when he plays for the Super Eagles not putting out flames. Against Uruguay, he sparked a bit – the first time post Chelsea – and the difference was clear. But old habits die hard and in the second half he lapsed back to old ways. Chelsea blunting Mikel’s attacking instincts has impacted negatively on Nigeria’s national team. At the African Nation’s cup, the Eagles triumphed through graft and Sunday Mba’s ‘Vieiraesque’ performance. At the level of the Europeans and South Americans, we need more than graft. We need flair, guile and vision. We need a proper number 10 or as the Brazilians say ‘Numero dez.’ We need Mikel Obi to actualise his promise.

As I pen this piece Jose Mourinho has returned to Chelsea. The architect of Mikel’s conversion from attacker to defender, and a proponent of ‘containment’ football and ‘parking the bus,’ his comeback will certainly not favour the young man nor the Super Eagles. So I say, Galatasaray where are you?





Big Brother and the cult of voyeurism


The eight season of Big Brother Africa (BBA) is already a couple of weeks old and several of the original housemates already evicted as part of the game. The BBA show, run by Multi-Choice the premier satellite TV provider in Africa, has become unequivocally the biggest show on TV in the continent, galvanizing and holding spell-bound viewers across the DSTV universe of Africa.

Modeled after the world-wide Big Brother franchise developed in the Netherlands in 1997, and styled after the infamous ‘Big Brother’ from George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four, the reality TV show – which Nigeria has dominated in recent years with three winners – always creates a pan-African buzz that has united the continent towards a common goal, sometimes more than the AU. Purists can dismiss this assertion but in all eight seasons of the BBA, I don’t think I have heard a cry of protest or perceived a notion of inequity when the winners are announced.

As a programme that is steeped in pop culture and promotes the concept of ‘cool’, one can surmise categorically that come to the African continent, Nigeria is the capital of ‘cool’ (3 winners in 4 years). As we say in the local parlance: “Naija get swagger.” The Nigerian candidates have always got a cult following, akin to the type accorded to the national football teams. So much so that Prezo, the Kenyan ‘wannabee’ from season 7 did not do his chances of winning any good after his romantic tryst with the late Nigerian housemate and pop star, Goldie Harvey. For the records, the Nigerian votes are usually impressive and influential.

The simple ‘peeping Tom’ structure of the Big Brother reality show makes it addictive and also lends it to instant popularity. As curious beings, humans have an insatiable voyeuristic instinct and want to know “what the Joneses are up to?” The Joneses being a number of Housemates whose ‘survival’ is in the hands of the viewer cum voter. Social media has created a multiplier effect with the show leveraging on the online social networks. Each new year continually returning massive viewer numbers. Each new media serving our voyeurism.

Africa being a conservative continent, the success and popularity of the BBA is indicative of the changing scenes in the continent. Young people have enthusiastically embraced this, to use a cliché, Western themed programme, that promotes laissez-faire attitudes to sex and nudity. Critics have lambasted the ethics and etiquette of the show, forcing the providers to initiate measures like requesting specifically for access when the show begins and moving the bathroom scenes online, to the DSTV website for a fee. And here lies the conundrum as observers have queried the notion of paying a fee to access female (who else?) housemates taking their baths. Paradoxically, feminists have remained mute at this blatant take of unadulterated male voyeuristic chauvinism.

Many countries have versions of the Big Brother show, usually tilted to fit the sensitivities and cultural innuendos of the viewing society. The African version has tilted towards a liberal, post-modernist direction. Maybe, it reflects the sensitivities and ideologies of the average DSTV subscriber: the well-educated, middle class, upwardly mobile urbanite with post-modernist aspirations.

The BBA show has been a runaway success providing well orchestrated entertainment and sheer glee, with only the nerve wracked housemates suffering a bit of genuine tension. The feel good nature of the show negates the fact that Orwell’s Big Brother was a monstrous, authoritarian icon, whose omnipresence was as illusory as it was real, with an all pervading influence that bestrode Oceania like a colossus and struck fear in the hearts of citizens of that dystopian society. If Orwell were to magically come back to life, he will see that the African iteration of his fearsome creation, Big Brother, goes by the pet name ‘Biggy’ and now fully engages in doing diary sessions and marketing bathroom scenes for a ‘dollar a minute’ online. If this is not utopia, what is?

Rise of the Twitter Aristocrats


When the Bolshevik revolution swept through Czarist Russia, it had the aim of sweeping away the old order of aristocratic priviledge. Fueled by the intoxicating rhetoric of Marxism, the reputation of Lenin and the murderous intent of a Stalin, the Proletarian revolution actually ended up replacing one aristocracy with another. Aristocracy, simplistically defined as privileged class with a sense (self-styled usually) of importance and superiority. Merriam-Webster aptly defines Aristocracy as “the aggregate of those believed to be superior.”

On the Nigerian Twitterverse an unhealthy trend is developing were a certain clique of persons – residing in a certain locale of the country and attributing solely to themselves ‘revolutionary and patriotic ethos’ – have assumed the airs of social media aristocrats, looking down from their ‘digital’ noses at lesser digital mortals. These aggregate believe themselves to be superior to all others, disparaging fellow citizens and organisations and dismissing alternative methods of social dissent, just because they played a ‘pivotal’ part in mobilizing the Lagos crowds during the fuel subsidy ‘occupy Nigeria’ logjam of 2012.

The role of social media in forcing the hand of government is debatable. Some have argued for, many have argued against. What is pertinent is that aside from the Arab world, Twitter and social media have rarely upended any governments. And before you shout ‘Eureka,’ remember that the famed ‘Arab Street’ have always been active, aggressive and revolutionary since before the computer was invented. The Iranians overthrew the Shah without one ‘byte’ of help. In media studies, the normative theories highlight how the media always take the colouration of the society it operates in. Consequently the Arab Twitterverse will easily overthrow a government, the Nigerian Twitterverse rarely. Like the Nigerian public, social media in this country will always mirror the fractious, parochial tendencies immanent in the larger society.

Our Twitter aristocrats see themselves as messiahs with the true gospel and the only true way, fervently backed by a fellowship of water carriers.’ They harangue and cuss, view opposing perspective as ‘haram’ and crucify any government supporter on the altar of corruption. Yet the ‘aristocracy’ is peopled with individuals with unclear histories, extreme ideologues and indiscernible motivations.

In Mass Media studies, ‘silver bullet’ theories died over 40 years ago. The media are not omnipotent but instead media effects are determined by a pot-pourri of social class, education, motivations, culture, affiliations and the plain old individual differences of the recipient. As is often said today, the media is overrated: true for television, true for Twitter and social media. That you have 5000 Twitter followers may elevate you to an agenda-setter but definitely cannot make you super-influential (nor refer to people as scum). As a change agent, the media is useful in introducing and keeping issues on the front burner, but the conversation must be engaging and encompassing for change to happen. Nobody or section of the media owns the right to the monopoly of ideas and solutions.

The advent of social media democratized media access and participation. The traditional media lost sole grip and citizen journalism came to the fore. It is unfortunate that certain citizen journalists of the new media who have been in the forefront of the social media revolution in Nigeria are ascribing to themselves aristocratic status. Have some animals become more equal than others?




Now Bola Tinubu, the effervescent politician and former Governor of Lagos state has the title of Asiwaju. Though his politics has always been dogged by controversy, his Asiwaju title is not in doubt. But Wole Soyinka, that doyen of African literature and Nigeria’s only Nobel Laureate, once had a controversial Asiwaju spat with Chinua Achebe, the father of African literature, when the latter remarked,  “The fact that Wole Soyinka was awarded the Nobel Prize does not make him the Asiwaju (Leader) of African literature.” Soyinka, ever ready for an argument, sarcastically retorted: “It is not my intention to be the Ogbuefi (leader) of African Literature.” 

Well, unless you’re not Nigerian, it is obvious that Asiwaju and Ogbuefi roughly connote the term leader in Yoruba and Igbo respectively. The two sages have held us in untrammeled awe since bursting on the stage decades ago, inundating us mortals with their quarrels, their poetry, and their stories. Stories, of which my most famous the Ogbuefi himself narrated in his epochal Things Fall Apart, of guests who were demolishing a mound of foo foo – that staple Nigerian food – so high they did not see their fellow eaters until the mound had come down. A nonsensical story at best, but Achebe spun it a la Lewis Carroll and the ‘everything is nonsense saga.’

So I arrive at this traditional Igbo wedding last Friday, and modernity, that evil Rousseau warned us all of, has reduced the mounds to wraps (in polyethylene). Foo-foo eating has become personal, eschewing the communal effort at Umofia. Maybe that is the bane of all ills in society. Maybe, you think am joking? No I am not. If the Jews can raise a hullabaloo over the spelling of the food Knaidel, maybe I can pontificate on the cause of the ills of Nigerian society.

An African traditional wedding is not the right place to theorize. The music is loud – pretty loud tunes of high life and Afro Pop, and the dancing is vigorous, styled after whatever is the latest step in the dance clubs. But the colours…vigorous, variegated and va va voom. Very few sights are as rich as middle class Nigerian women decked out in aso ebi – read George, Ankarra and the other funnily named but beautiful Dutch Wax prints that have become more African than its origins.

Igbo Weddings are dramatic. And not only because of the hip swaying and money spraying that goes on, but the theatrical and sometimes fractious negotiating which goes on with the men before the bride is handed over. The bargaining – best seen with your own eyes –  is over the exact number of yam tubers or kegs of palm wine, the quantity of stock fish and right amount of tobacco powder. Since stock fish (dried cod) and tobacco came with the Europeans, one wonders at what point such items sneaked into the ‘traditional’ marriage rites. Just like asking, how did Okonkwo get the gun that cost him the Ogbuefi title?