Becoming a Stateless Nigerian..!

Adeola Aderounmu

Around 1989/1990 I applied for the Lagos State Scholarship Board Award /Grant. The intended study would have allowed me to pursue a medical career at foreign University. When I was invited to the interview there were strong indications that I was a top candidate because I had scored 6 distinctions in all the subjects that I took in the GCE exams.

Backed by strong recommendations from two of my secondary school teachers added to 6 more distinctions and 2 credits in my WASC I was confident of my upcoming sponsored academic trip abroad.

As the interview progressed it seemed that all was well until one woman on the panel of interviewers asked me what became the critical question. I know one Aderounmu at the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and you are actually a carbon copy of him, do you know him, she asked?

I answered in the affirmative because she was referring to my dad’s cousin Bukola Aderounmu whom I’d hardly met. I cannot even describe the man in 4 sentences yet I was being told at this interview that we look alike. By asking that question, the woman was actually trying to let everyone know that my family is from Ogun State. The interview ended and I never heard a word again from the LSSB.

To give a clearer picture: I was born in Lagos and when I started primary school my father always made it clear to me that my state of origin is Lagos but I discovered later that my parents are actually from Abeoukta in Ogun State. It became a tedious routine to always make those trips from Festac Town to Agege Local Government at the beginning of each school year.

I had to collect proof of origin every term and of course tax clearance certificates of parents. Was my dad avoiding this trip to Abeokuta to obtain evidence of origin? How convenient it was to say that we were from Amuwo Odofin Local Government when the local governments became proliferated just like that!

I remembered that at a certain point when we could make our own decisions, the children all reverted to Ogun State. But what do I know about Ogun State? Before I left Nigeria in 2002, I can count on my fingers how many times I have been to Abeokuta.

In 1986 age 14 I went to Abeoukta to attend a chieftaincy title ceremony of some family members. I was held spellbound to discover that we even had a McGregor in our extended family! I cannot remember any other time that I went to Ogun State before then.

Around 1988 or thereabout I went to Igbogila to visit my grandfather who had left Abeokuta and relocated to this quiet town perhaps even before I was born. Up to this day, I don’t even know if Igbogila is in Oyo, Osun or Ogun State.

My third memory of Ogun State was when I went as a tourist taking along with me the members of NAZS, UNILAG chapter. It was during this excursion in 1994 that I re-discovered places like Lantoro and Olumo rock. We went to a famous abattoir but I don’t remember where.

Interestingly in December 2001, I went to Abeokuta with some colleagues from MEDILAG. We attended the wedding ceremony of a friend and co-researcher. While the wedding ceremony was in progress, I quickly dashed out of the church and waved down a taxi. I told the driver that I was going to the house of the Produce Buyer.

Apparently, my mother’s father Fidimaiye Majekodunmi was a famous merchant in his days. He died in 1972 just before I was born but in 2001 the taxidriver could still take me to his house unhindered.

I had no address with me and my mother just told me to mention produce buyer to any taxi driver. It worked like magic! I arrived safely in front of the house and my grandmother was shocked but overwhelmed with joy that her grandson came. My grandmother died a few months later and I was already in Europe at that time.

I am still happy that I saw her that fateful day sometime in Dec 2001 and it was very shocking to see that my mother’s family house is just next door to Olumo rock. From my grandmother’s room, I could almost touch Olumo rock that I had climbed as a tourist in 1994. I was moved to tears. I mean, I came as a tourist to my parents’ homeland.

But I remain worried about my present Nigerian status. Lagos is still the only place that I know. In fact, I can get lost once I go outside Festac Town. My conscious and unconscious trips to Ogun State are definitely less than 10 occasions-of which I remember 4. I almost did my youth service in Lagos but I was contented with knowing Ibadan for those 10-12 months.

During my service year I was always back to Festac at least once a month. While I studied at UNILAG, I went back home every weekend. I could fall sick if I missed any of those Saturday or Sunday football games on our stony field. It was almost criminal to even miss the church service before the Sunday games.

I am afraid that I actually don’t have any (political) constituency in Nigeria. Lagosians will be quick to tell me that my name is Ogunish and tell me that I look like one Aderounmu or Majekodunmi, that my family houses are in Abeokuta and Igbogila-and where is Igbogila for goodness sake?

Ogun State will not forget to tell me that I don’t know my way around the state. I don’t even know the size and economic strength of the State. But I can read those in the books. I’m good at that. In both situations, the segregation and discrimination in our society will be exposed and exploited.

Nigeria is a society that is seriously segregated and divided. We go abroad and complain of racism but we are more racist to one another in Nigeria than the Americans or Europeans are towards us.

My father must have had one Nigeria in mind when he decided to tell us that we (his children) are Lagosians. We were all born in Lagos. We went to school in Lagos and had very little contact or connections with Abeokuta.

Even my grandfather made Igbogila his home, owning houses and farmlands. My father did not even bother to inherit any of those materials. He wasn’t bothered with parental possessions/inheritance. So who inherited my grandfather’s landed property? My father’s mother was based in Agege for all the years that I knew her. There were no Ileya Festivals without a traditional visit to Iya Eleja. She would have sponsored the Aso Ebi well in advance. Oh my God, how we dressed in uniforms-children, grandchildren and great grandchildren!

My mother’s mother was called Mama Onifade because she settled and lived on Onifade Street after she returned from her several years of business sojourn to Ghana. She went back to Abeokuta towards the end of her life. As a Medilag student/employee, I was excited to rediscover Onifade Street near the second gate exit of LUTH. It was nostalgic when my mother told me that was where we went visiting Mama Onifade.

Here I am paying huge taxes in Stockholm and contributing to the development of Sweden and not even certain of where exactly I belong in Nigeria. I know my way around Europe but I can easily be declared missing if I take a trip within Nigeria. Where is my constituency in the federal character system? Have I become a stateless Nigerian? I think so.

But I would rather serve on merit than on federal character-a subtle licence that has destroyed the foundations and efficiency of the nation. I would love to be taken for what I am and the principles that I radiate rather than where I come from. I long for home but please give me a state or even a constituency first!

This article was published in the Nigerian Punch Newspaper onb April 11 2009

On Becoming a Stateless Nigerian

Corruption Rebranded

By Adeola Aderounmu.

On March 17 the project to rebrand Nigeria was launched in Abuja. At the occasion where Yar Adua was represented by Goodluck Jonathan, Dora Akunyili likened her pet project to WAI of the military era. It is shocking that this launching became a reality less than one week after Dora was sweating and lamenting at the National assembly where she was summoned to defend the funding for the project.

At that hearing she lied when she said that the rebranding is by Nigerians and for Nigerians. Which Nigerians was she talking about- mama Risi who is selling rice on the street or Papa Victor who does not know how to get to work tomorrow? Could she be talking about the loads of unemployed Nigerians?

Prior to this launching which would have gulped millions or billions of naira on its own, I have read with dismay the call to rebrand Nigeria. It is one of the most inappropriate calls I’ve heard in recent time which unfortunately and tragically has now been realized.

If Dora Akunyili and the pro-branders are not aware, then may I humbly tell them that Nigeria cannot be rebranded? The obvious brand-able things in Nigeria since 1959 are corruption, underdevelopment and massive looting.

It is true that some countries go for branding in order to promote their national businesses and trade. But at this point Dora and her protagonists (especially those seeking political favours) must be told that branding or rebranding as being loosely tagged in this case is not the same as tourism promotion.It is also absolutely not the same as Idiagbon’s WAI.

Malaysia-truly Asia is one of the most popular tourism promotion slogans on CNN. That is not branding. To bring people to Malaysia for tourism, the country has done a lot of work to raise the country from being under-developed to a growing world economy. Malaysia boasts one of south-east Asia’s most vibrant economies, the fruit of decades of industrial growth and political stability-(BBC)

Nigeria does not need rebranding. This project will amount to another white elephant project that will drain the treasury. Even the lazy lawmakers in Abuja were shocked as they do not even know where the money for the project would be coming from. Their fears cannot be described as genuine anyway because as political jobbers/opportunists, they will not let any amount of money fly in their faces without their own cuts. But after Dora’s visit the deal was sealed and delivered!

Dora should have diverted her “informative” energy inwards. She should be informing the concerned authorities about the urgent need to provide this country with constant electricity, good roads, security of lives and property, good schools for all, employment opportunities, sense of belonging, human dignity, respect, voting rights, rewards for labour, and dividends of (true democracy).

The Nigerian leadership has an obligation to ensure transparency in governance, prosecutions of corrupt people in both public and private offices and preservation of the institutions on which the unity of the country resides. After doing these things and much more to improve the standard and quality of lives, the branding is then complete.

There is no greater branding than the quality of lives that the people have. If Dora Akunyili is representing Nigeria at a global fair say in Canada for example, how would she rebrand Nigeria to the business community? Should they start their businesses in Nigeria and import electricity from Europe or America? I have no doubts in my mind that rebranding is the making of a shallow non-creative mind.

Elusive Electoral Reform

Probably the most important proposal on the recommendations of the Electoral Committee set up by Umaru Yar Adua was overturned by Yar Adua himself and his co-travelers. The ideology behind the FEC decision is to promote dictatorship rather than preserving the constitutional roles of a president. Nigerian politicians in their myopism do not always see the need for positive changes and progress.

Nigerians should insist as they have done now on the retention of all the recommendations of the Electoral Committee. Total expunging of the operations of the present Electoral Commission is one of the several useful steps towards building a true democracy for Nigeria. We are yet to democratize Nigeria and the longer we wait, the lower our standard of living drops. All forms of dictatorial tendencies should be vehemently resisted.

The electoral committee gave a landmark proposition in suggesting that laid down procedures should be followed in the appointment of an Independent Electoral Commission chairman. My interpretation of the procedures is that the process should rest on an institution and not on a person.

That institutions, and not persons, do function is paramount to building a successful society or nation. Many institutions in Nigeria including the office of the presidency have failed because they depend on people rather than viable blueprints and guidelines.

What is about to be taken away from Nigerians yet again by Yar Adua and the FEC is the golden opportunity to build one of the outstanding pillars on which the survival of this nation should rest upon. For as long as our elections do not work because of our malformed behaviours and absence of credible electoral institutions, then hardly will anything work out well.

The temporal man in charge of Nigeria learned too quickly the national mentality of Nigerians and obviously he is riding high on that belief that Nigerians have short memory-they forget how things should be done the right way. Perhaps they don’t even know how things should be done because since their colonial master left in 1960, they have not put one right step forward, democratically. Goodluck Jonathan was right; rebranding Nigeria will not work like Big Bang. However, only a Big Bang can put Nigeria on the world 20 by 2020.

Nigeria: An Elusive Electoral Reform

By Adeola Aderounmu

After spending weeks and months touring the country in search of a genuine and workable electoral process, the electoral reform committee had their most important proposal overturn by the FEC-Federal Executive Committee.

A sitting president in Nigeria wants to keep the constitutional right to appoint the head of the Electoral committee. This overturn is not actually to suit Yar Adua. It is meant to suit anyone who finds himself in that maximum position.

Nigeria is ruled by a cabal and they are the ones that have actually rejected that proposal. They are making it clear that an incumbent (legally or illegally bundled into power) should hold on to the most viable source of self-perpetration.

True, it is the constitutional right of the president but who says that the constitutional cannot be amended? And what is even wrong for once to abandon such an ego-boosting function and allow a free flowing form of democracy? Everything is wrong with that in my country where the winners of political offices are the men and women with most money to spend and much more to loot.

And after listening to the views of some political gladiators I know that democracy is far from Nigeria. Nigerian politicians are ever selfish and those controlling the instrument of governance are the least people in search of change.

There is nothing wrong, to hand over the process leading to the emergence of the electoral chairman, to the National Judiciary Commission. If the NJC is controlled by the presidency, then the control should be removed. Nigeria and Nigerians must allow institutions to work.

Nigeria will not work until the institutions start to function. We must eliminate the reliance on people and leaders-they have all failed and that is why probably 40% of Nigerians are unemployed and more than 90m people are living desperately on less than 1 dollar per day.