DOWN THE EGYPT ROUTE

Sphinx

“Woe to them that go down to Egypt for help.” – Isaiah 31:1

Egypt is a country that has always been looked on with admiration and awe throughout human civilization. The land of the Pharaohs, the Pyramids and the Sphinx, it has been dubbed the ‘cradle of human civilization,’ and its exoticness and prosperity has over the ages drawn the likes of Abraham, the Hebrews, the Greeks and famously the Roman generals Julius Caesar, Mark Anthony and Octavian (Emperor Augustus), who came not only to conquer Egypt but to ‘subdue’ the beautiful Ptolemaic Pharaoh, Cleopatra. Even Mary, the mother of Christ, fled to Egypt with the baby Jesus to escape the wrath of Herod, yet the Bible categorically cautions against going down to Egypt for help.

Watered by the floods of the Nile, Egypt has been an irresistible attraction for people since about 10,000 BC. The indigenous Pharaohs, some of the most popular being Tutankhamun, Horemheb and Rameses II, created ‘wonders of the ancient world,’ alongside building up a strong, proud dynasty, and Egyptian culture, and became literarily ‘Sons of Ra’ (gods).

One of my favourite movies of all time is the 1998 DreamWorks animated feature, Prince of Egypt. Based on the Book of Exodus, it depicts the relationship between Moses and Rameses: brothers and later enemies. But most importantly it showed the technological and infrastructural advancement going on in Egypt as far back as then, some of it actualized on the back of the Hebrew slaves. And in a kind of revolution, the Hebrew slaves become emancipated and leave for home, led by the Prince of Egypt, Moses.

Modern day Egypt has become good at revolutions. Maybe it is as a result of several thousand years of foreign domination: from the Ptolemaic Pharaohs (Greeks), the Romans, Persians, Kurdish, Ottoman and British. For a country whose history dates back to before Abraham, it only became ‘independent’ in 1922. And this independence, reluctantly acquiesced to by the British, came after Egypt arose in revolt against the exiling of Saad Zaghul, the leader of the then populist party Wafd by the British overlords. Or maybe it is the ‘never-say-die’ attitude of the famed ‘Arab Street.’

Fast forward to 1952 and there is another revolution, or coup d’etat if you like. This time led by officers of the armed forces, the most famous being Gamal Nasser, the iconic Egyptian leader. The revolution toppled the British backed King and scraped the constitutional monarchy and aristocratic priviledges. This action inspired the rest of the Arab world and the subsequent conflict with Britain, France and Israel in 1956 helped cement Egypt’s status in Arab affairs.

Having usurped the aristocracy, the Egyptian military since 1952 entrenched themselves as masters of the Nile. That is until Tunisia ruptured in revolution and birthed the Arab Spring. But as the uprisings cooled down across the Middle East, Egypt has continued to sputter and shake, like an old volcano, erupting now and then – inspiring and infuriating – and reminding the world that the land of the Pharaohs, the kingdom of Cleopatra Ptolemy, never ceases to fascinate.

In the Prince of Egypt, Moses and Rameses (played by Val Kilmer and Ralph Fiennes respectively) are a rambunctious pair enjoying the freedom and priviledges of Pharaoh’s sons. Always engaged in practical jokes and games, the boys become a worry for Pharaoh Seti, Rameses’ father, and in one delightful scene, Seti (Patrick Stewart) blurted out in frustration: “Be still! Pharaoh speaks. I seek to build an empire and your only thought is to amuse yourselves by tearing it down! Have I taught you nothing.”

While Morsi’s vanity was certainly not as huge as a Pharaoh’s, Egyptians should hearken to Seti’s (there was a real Pharaoh Seti) words and concentrate on building their nation instead of tearing it down. For those dreaming of copying from the Egyptian “Book of the Revolution,” I refer you instead to the Holy Book: Isaiah 31: 1.

@sirwebs

Of Obituaries and Mandela

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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.

@sirwebs

MIKEL AT CHELSEA, BAD FOR NIGERIA?

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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?

@sirwebs

 

 

 

Big Brother and the cult of voyeurism

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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

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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?

 

AN AFRICAN WEDDING

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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?

@sirwebs

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

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

Saka, the thrift collector don port.

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Back in 2003, at an NYSC orientation camp somewhere in the Niger Delta, Corps members who arrived from Lagos with their ‘cool’ Econet Wireless lines found out that their SIMS were useless. Econet network was barely available outside of Lagos and there was no chance of ‘porting.’ By and by, they reluctantly purchased new SIMS, a herculean and expensive feat back in those days.

The ‘porting season’ has opened with a bang with MTN stealing the ‘marquee’ face of Etisalat, Saka, who has ported to the South African owned company, Kiripata! Hafiz ‘Saka’ Oyetoro, whose popularity has been rising since appearing in the UNFPA sponsored TV sit com, The Thrift Collector, surprisingly appeared in an MTN ad singing, I don Port Go and ‘Kiripata Kiripata’ (Centrespread is that phrase not trademarked?).  

The sheer genius of Saka in a comic role has propelled the ad, available on YouTube and TV stations, into immediate cult status, a la My Friend Udeme in recent times, and for all intents and purposes is proving to be a masterstroke. Of course, the popularity of the ad is also being driven by the connotative meaning inherent in ‘to port’ referring to Saka’s move from Etisalat to MTN. I Don Port internet memes are already up and running including ‘Harlem Shake’ styled flash mob dances and Twitter hash tags. Whether consumers will join Saka to Port to MTN is another business all together. ‘Mad Men’ across the nation and legal luminaries are pouring over the ads and contract agreements to see if laws and ethics were breached. The guys at Etisalat and Centrespread are acting cool but heads will roll as this is turning to be an advertising coup d’etat.

A watershed moment in Nigerian advertising, the I don Port ad went viral just hours after release on YouTube, creating such a buzz and hoopla that MTN can as well stop the TV ads and not feel it. The internet video ad (read YouTube) has finally trumped traditional TV ads and since the big multinationals already favour satellite TV stations over local stations, many a Nigerian TV station will be in dire trouble over falling ad revenues.

I have had my MTN mobile number since 2003 and though sorely tested have stuck with them because I couldn’t bear a number change. But the inauguration of the number portability scheme by the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), which allows for a subscriber to switch networks and retain their number, is tempting, sorely tempting.

I hope the number portability system would spur the mobile networks operational in Nigeria to sit up. Yes, Nigeria is a difficult place to do business but these guys are getting away with a lot and the fear that customers can easily port may scare them to become more effective. MTN potentially has got a lot more to lose: having the largest subscriber base and its consequent network congestion, many MTN users feel pastures might be greener across the fence. Obviously they have figured this out too and thus have come out firing on all cylinders because the I don Port commercial is indicative of cutting edge competition, Kiripata Kiripata!

@sirwebs