The KABAFEST Dilemma

Our usually polarised literary community was chaotic this week as a tribe of writers entered the final lapse of its campaign for boycott of Kaduna Book and Arts Festival holding in Kaduna from July 5 to 8, 2017, with US-based book reviewer and irrepressible humourist, Mr. Ikhide Ikheloa, describing the proposed event as “debauchery” and the participants “rented” to deify Governor Nasir El-Rufai of Kaduna State. The campaign was instigated by their assertion that Kaduna under El-Rufai is an unresolved “murder scene” and that it’s against the intellectual tradition for supposed scribes and voices of the society to accept funding from, or be hosted by, its government.

Ordinarily, there’s nothing wrong with writers attending an arts festival organised by the government; it’s mischievous to equate that to legitimising the politics and infractions of Malam el-Rufai. KABAFEST isn’t morally out of place, so faulting the state government’s financial support for a festival designed to promote literature in a society stalled by poor reading culture and dwindling relevance of books, is personalising this antagonism, taking our political differences too far.

El-Rufai is organising the festival with public fund, and I do not see where it’s written that a taxpayer must be indebted to a politician for benefiting from a government’s use of resources for a beneficial public project. It’s his or her (country’s) money. Even if one doesn’t like E-Rufai’s handling of a political situation, calling for the boycott of the festival undermines the protester’s civic education. One does not owe a government anything for participating in an event it sponsors. It’s a fundamental right. The same event, I emphasised, can be a platform to address the December 12, 2015 extrajudicial killings of those Shiites in Zaria, which was the central argument of the boycott advocates.

 

Governor Nasir El-Rufai

My attempt to explain this centrist perspective to them has made me a target of misapplied counterpoints, with my excuse interpreted as a hungry writer’s sycophantic alignment. It didn’t matter that I shared with them a certain view of the Governor, which is enough to join them in calling for the boycott. It’s not only that I’m yet to forgive Governor el-Rufai for his hard-hearted handling of the massacre in Zaria, it has to be for the amusing pettiness of a key member of the organising team, Lola Shoneyin.

Ms. Shoneyin and I had a fallout on Facebook – a cause of which is embarrassing to share here – sometime in 2011 and then, being Wole Soyinka’s daughter-in-law, she also couldn’t stomach – or misunderstood? – my satire on the Nobel laureate. She’s not only blocked me on all social media platforms, she blocked me from following the Twitter account of Ake, another arts festival she manages. In fact, she once revealed her hatred of me to a mutual friend and the messenger indeed delivered that “Lola said if she catch you eh…” caveat. That amused me. When I eventually saw her at a session of the Lagos Black Heritage Festival in 2012, she left a group photograph when I was invited to join. She was 38 then!

This experience of Ms. Shoneyin’s peculiar courtesy should’ve been a guise to ridicule her event. Only that I don’t operate that way. That she blocked me from following the Twitter account of her event, even though I’ve no memory of engaging with the account, is a scary syndrome I elected to take as personal, instead of allowing it to guide my assessment of her art and public engagements.

The same Ms. Shoneyin once had me, along with writers B. M. Dzukogi and Ahmed Maiwada, delisted from a cliquey Yahoo listserv of Nigerian writers, Krazitivity, for airing dissenting views. And it did not come as shock that neither of these two influential writers received invitations to KADAFEST, an arts festival in a region they have high stake in. In the past two years, no Nigerian writer, north or south of the Niger, has promoted literature among teenagers as Dzukogi has, as co-founder of Annual Schools Carnival of Arts and Festival of Songs (ASCAFS) held in Minna since 1995, and founder Hill-Top Arts Foundation dedicated to mentoring aspiring young writers, poets, painters and thinkers. The foundation organises the Nigerian Festival of Teen Authors (NIFESTEENA), a new literary festival for teen authors and artists from all the states of the federation and the FCT. But I was impressed that both Dzukogi and Maiwada, a foremost arts patron, poet and novelist, have also disagreed with the boycott advocates.

I also explained my opinion of Ms. Shoneyin to the boycotting writers, and restated my support for her event despite that. We need more attention to these dusty shelves of our society, and philistine perception of literature as an inessential luxury by our policymakers. When a diseased citizen boycotts a hospital funded by the government he or she disapproves of, what’s misapplied isn’t emotion, it’s wisdom.

Writing may be a vocation of cliques, but their politics shouldn’t determine one’s participation in literary events. One can only be rattled by being a persona-non-grata if a proposed event had been declared open only for members, or strictly by invitation. A grudging event planner only matters to those idle, what should really do is convenience. And it’s this that determined, just this week, my confirmation of an invitation to the prestigious Iowa International Writing Program, “the oldest and largest multinational writing residency in the world,” a competitive three-month residency annually hosted by the University of Iowa, United States. This year, as though the organisers had tracked our conversations – and pettiness – the program, as hinted in the letter, will also explore our dilemma: ‘Vital Role Writers Play in Civil Society.'”

So, Ms. Shoneyin or Malam el-Rufai shouldn’t be the reason for your absence at KADAFEST, the reason must be convenience or interest. Even Fela Kuti, who lived a life of perpetually uncompromising rebellion, was more practical about government-sponsored arts festival than the impulsive hardliners. When, in 1976, he was invited to a meeting of the national organising committee set to by the military government to deliberate on the hosting of Second World Black and African Festival of Arts and Culture (FESTAC ’77), he didn’t decline. He went all the way to Kano to attend the meeting, which took place at Bagauda Hotel.

His resignation came later, and not for the fact that government shouldn’t host a festival to promote arts, but his realisation, having interacted with the organizing committee, that “FESTAC was just one big hustle, so a whole lot of little military men and useless politicians could fill their pockets. They chop plenty-plenty naira.” This was a legitimate excuse for his boycott.

Though under Mr. Ikhide’s Facebook post, a commenter called KADAFEST too a “hustle,” called Ms. Shoneyin a serial contractor for government after government, and cited her role in former President Jonathan’s short-lived Bring Back the Book project which he dismissed as a profligate propaganda, none has come as hard as Fela, and with an evidence, in charging the organising team of self-enrichment.

By Gimba Kakanda

@GimbaKakanda on Twitter

Why I’m Afraid of Nigeria’s Break-up

Regions of Nigeria 1960–1963/ Wikipedia

A few days ago, a friend asked me to explain my aversion to the idea of secession as championed by the neo-Biafra advocates of Southeast Nigeria. He had assumed it was the fear, as simplified in a certain series of propaganda, of the North’s foreseen inability to sustain itself economically post-breakup.

Since it was a private conversation, I elected to present my actual reason bit by bit, some of them I can’t express in public, and offered him a mirror which, when we were done, reflected a possibility that scared him too.

He saw that I was afraid of the break-up for the very reason a part of Nigeria seeks to leave. For cultural hegemony. This calculated domination of our diverse society by the elite using ethnicity, religion and all the binary identities, sentiments, affiliations and values available, to hold on to power, and to forestall criticism of them and revolt of the masses.

Founding fathers of independent Nigeria (L — R): Chief Nnamdi Azikiwe (Eastern Region), Sir Ahmadu Bello (Northern Region) and Chief Obafemi Awolowo (Western Region)/ Tori.ng

How has cultural hegemony held Nigeria together? The reason Nigeria hasn’t degenerated into full-blown autocratic regime is because of these conflicting cultural hegemonies that exist like a tripartite coalition government – an ethnic arrangement that restricts the tyranny of the three parts, the “Hausa-Fulani,” the Igbo and Yoruba. And as a diarchy constituted by the “Muslim North” and “Christian South.”

So, yes, there’s a mechanism of checks and balances of cultural hegemony as Nigeria stands today, along the ethnic lines of these three dominating ethnic groups, as there is along the lines of Islam and Christianity. This multiculturalism is, in my estimation, our most undermined stabilising factor.

What happens after the breakup? I’ll address the question of struggle for power in the North instead, even though this danger of political monolithism applies to the other two ethnic nationalities and geography. The region’s cultural hegemony, which the federating South has tackled, albeit not successfully, levers around Islam and the so-called “Hausa-Fulani” super-group.

A dissolution of this religious diarchy or ethnic tripartite government means, in Northern Nigeria, an unrestricted evolution of this cultural hegemony. The masses left deprived for too long and denied privileges of quality education are ever around to serve as willing foot-soldiers of perpetual manipulations that only serve as conduits to political power and relevance.

This arrangement favours characters like Senator Ahmed Yerima of Zamfara state, who as Governor introduced a gimmick he called Sharia simply to protect his political capitals. His friends, realising the success of such arrangement in building and sustaining a political force and financial aid pouring in from oil-rich Arab nations, joined him in that smokescreen to enrich themselves. Some of them are parties to pending cases of corruption at the Court or still under the radar of our anti-corruption agencies.

What saved Nigeria then was the existence of a member of another cultural hegemony, a Christian and Yoruba from the political South, as head of the national government. He was not only opposed to the northern political chessboard that was alienating him, he was challenged to protect the interests of the Christian, the Yoruba, the Southern and, very importantly, the minorities, in the political “coalition.”

The Yerimas of Northern Nigeria may be local champions now, but the moment their allies from other cultural hegemonies withdraw, a new order of tyrannical rule, in connivance with religious clerics and socio-cultural “ambassadors,” will manifest. And there won’t be a balancing part to protect the minorities in this outright distortion and manipulation of Islamic jurisprudence, an Islamo-fascism, to institutionalise oppression and enable corruption. One can only imagine the extent of its devastations with personality cults forming around some ascetic criminals.

I think this fear explains the convergence of some self-elected leaders of northern “minorities” who, calling themselves “Middle Belt Leaders’ Forum,” met last week in Abuja to debate their place and prospects in Nigeria, now and later. It’s not a coincidence that the Professor Jerry Gana-led gathering was dominated by Christians (and “other minorities”) out of political offices, and gasping for attention.

As a Muslim, there’s nothing that scares me like an attempt to police my private moralities in a secular political arrangement, especially when it does not evaluate and redeem the pseudo-religious Police. It’s fascism manifesting, and I’ll rather die fighting it than be consumed in silence.

So, my dear friends from the South, it’s not untrue that I do not want you to leave. But it’s not for your resources. Having assessed the welfare of my people, it’s sad to declare that these natural resources are inessential to us. We, and I include you too, have neither access to decent hospitals nor schools, neither good network of roads nor security. I only want you to stay to sustain the checks and balances of this hegemonic order. May God save us from us!

By Gimba Kakanda

@gimbakakanda on Twitter

The Misinterpretation of Muhammadu Sanusi II

 

Sarki3There is a reason the North of Nigeria is yet to be “on top of the situation”, as our policymakers tend to say even when a crisis is out of control, in the quest to redeem the escalating social problems that abound there. It is because we are in denial of the origins, starting from our manipulation and misapplication of religion in governance to the stark deficiencies of our ruling class, and its implications on the present.

The North is a generation or two behind the South. Critics of this underestimated tragedy have been quickly made persona-non-grata in their constituencies by a class of people one can only understand as the Conservatives. Some have been severely cited as bad examples for “speaking ill” of their people or region. One of the prominent characters in the Black Book of the Conservatives is Sarkin Kano, Muhammadu Sanusi II. He wasn’t a recent entrant into that book though, having first become a recurring figure in “embarrassing the North” as a sharp-shooting, cerebral social commentator then known as Sanusi Lamido Sanusi.

His emergence as Sarkin Kano, after a historic disapproval of the Jonathan-led government he once promoted, catalysing the nation’s rush to replace that infraction of an administration, was the advent of a revolution long overdue. Why? Because, whether as Sanusi Lamido Sanusi or as Sarkin Kano, he’s a vastly well-informed and cosmopolitan thinker in a society awaiting revolutionary overhaul of certain socio-cultural, political and pseudo-religious thinking and practices. The road to revolution is an uphill one because he’s bound to stir the rage of anti-intellectual and robotic characters programmed to reject even the rumour of changing an institutionalised cultural malpractice.

If nobody foresaw the ongoing rage from familiar quarters over Sarki’s method of addressing the region’s social problems, it only means he or she had been a truant in the study of an aspect of the region. Radical confrontation of defective norms in this region has always been interpreted as “girman kai” – arrogance – or an effort to impress “’yan kudu” – southerners. A radical critic is either portrayed as spoiling for a fight with the subjects of his or her frank observations or exhibiting “iyayi” – know-it-all disposition – instead of unsentimental rebuttals.  I should know. In my little corner of Minna and in my little sphere of Nigerian literature and political discourse, I have been confronted with this bewildering reality.

But Sarki’s problems didn’t even begin with the so-called Conservative elements who accuse him of desecrating the throne of the Kano Emirate for simply rousing the consciousness of the region. It was the pro-Buhari partisans who first launched a volley against him, for his critical remarks on the government’s mismanagement of the economy. And what these legions of critics expect or have proposed is, Sarki is intended to serve as unheard and rarely seen advisor, like the other hundreds of  “monarchs” playing the same role in the region and all over the country.

Before Sarki’s remark in Kaduna, at the summit hosted by the Kaduna state government between April 5 and 6, Zamfara state Governor Abdulazeez Yari attributed the meningitis outbreak in his state to the wrath of God, that the implication of his inability to provide primary healthcare facilities in his state was in fact due to divine punishment for the Zamfarawa’s deviation from the way of God. Sarki addressed this rather devastating clowning in Kaduna, offering that “we have adopted an interpretation of our culture and our religion that is rooted in the 13th century mindset that refuses to recognize that the rest of the Muslim world has moved on.”

At the Mo Ibrahim Forum in Marrakesh, Morocco, a few days later, he shattered the glasshouse that is Zamfara state, faulting the gimmick the politicians impose on the people as sharia and that, despite which, “(Zamfara state) has the highest rate of poverty in the country today.” His diagnosis of sharia as a mere conduit for political power can be corroborated not only by the economic mess that is Zamfara state today but the legacy of corruption left behind by its past leaders, especially the primal Senator Ahmed Yerima, perhaps the most successful political scam artist amongst them.

This brutal honesty polarised public discourse, pushing the angry to resort to publishing false claims of Sarki’s private life, some already refuted, including a photograph of him and his wife presented as that of him and a mistress. This is the style of shallow intellectualism and incomprehension we are reduced to in northern Nigeria, amused by how even holders of postgraduate degrees interpreted his commentary absurdly differently, describing it as an affront to the region and to Islam, when it’s only an indictment of their literacy.

That the North builds its cultural and religious practices and formations with the thirteenth century mentality is an overrating of our culturally unadventurous spirits and rearward growth. The thirteenth century, noting its ideological conflicts, was actually the peak of the Golden Age of Islam, an era of ground-breaking scientific breakthroughs and intellectual pathfinding by Muslim scientists, philosophers, artists, scholars and clerics which began in the eight century. If Northern Nigeria had adopted that period as a model and its achievements as inspiration, we would have been somewhere around the front rows in this modern civilisation.

We are, as Sarki also said, in denial, and the whys are an everyday eyesore: “The north-west and the north-east, demographically, constitute the bulk of Nigeria’s population, but look at human development indices, look at the number of children out of school, look at adult literacy, look at maternal mortality, look at infant mortality, look at girl-child completion rate, look at income per capita… The north-east and the north-west Nigeria are among the poorest parts of the world.”

It’s heartwarming that someone who heads an agency of our traditional institutions has the courage to serve as mirror to the unsightly society we have built. What Sarki has been saying, again and again, isn’t strange to us. What we have had in short supply over the seasons past are leaders who combine knowledge and audacity as he does. And if I had not been a witness to his audacious confrontation of topical issues, I would have predicted his eventual taming by the conservative establishment.

The idea that a turban should serve as a rein is pre-medieval era mentality. To say a monarch must act like a deity, by avoiding or limiting interactions and associations with the public, only shows we are yet to erase our memory of the master – slave relationships our forefathers fought to abolish. It’s even more troubling when such position is being promoted by those who have previously ridiculed the redundancy of our traditional institutions as a waste of human capital and public funds.

The difference between Sanusi Lamido Sanusi and Muhammadu Sanusi II is the latter had no effective platform to match his words. The similarity, however, is both are the subjects of scathing attacks and damaging labels, dismissed, at various points, as Shiite, westernized, apostate, ignorant, arrogant, Zionist mole and more—empty labels from those incapable of appealing to reason, only sentiments. It’s a pity to have one’s faith and personality questioned by a generation mis-educated by this anti-intellectual system of ours. There’s no challenger of a malpractice or flawed thinking based on a perception of religion or culture, who hasn’t been labelled. It was so with Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, as it is with Muhammadu Sanusi II.

Our delusional Conservatives are worried that the Sarki fraternizes with “peasants”, shaking hands and posing for selfies, destroying their pre-medieval era perceptions and portrayals of the monarch as a deity. What they highlight as a fault is, in actual sense, a praise. But that’s a mere telling of their ignorance of the happenings around the world, of humanising monarchs and the implications of such laudable fraternity. We must choose what we want, a redundant Sarki or one who rouses our consciousness. A few months ago, the visionary ruler of Dubai, Sheikh Muhammed Al-Rashid Ibn Maktoum and his son, Hamdan, were seen on a public train in London, interacting and posing for selfies. They were all in T-shirts. It didn’t make them small, it only made them human. Their idea of monarchy isn’t to pretend to be deities, as promoted by a people with slave mentality in my part of the world. Royalty shouldn’t be confused for divinity, but embraced as an opportunity, an opportunity to serve as the cultural visionaries and revolutionaries of one’s society. Even if without constitutional powers to execute one’s proposals, as is the case with ours.

Imagine the reaction of the so-called Conservatives here if constitutionally restricted Sarkin Kano or any monarch from the North of Nigeria is spotted in that way, in T-shirt and in public transport. Yet, the T-shirt-wearing monarch isn’t incapable of procuring the entire Northern Nigeria if the region, with its seventeenth century infrastructure, were a public enterprise. The world has evolved and so should our thinking – of solutions to tackle these fast-evolving problems that breed almajiranci, Boko Haram, poverty, illiteracy, and mentally unfit leaders of Yari’s class.

The way out of this cultural entrapment is a mental revolution. “We must wage an intellectual war,” the Sarki proposes. “Because Islam is not univocal; there are many voices, there are many interpretations, there are many viewpoints, and we have for too long allow the ascendancy of the most conservative viewpoints. The consequences of that is that there are certain social problems.”

By Gimba Kakanda 

@gimbakakanda on Twitter

The Room President Buhari Really Needs Now

At first, like every sane Nigerian, I took President Muhammadu Buhari’s response to his wife’s criticism of his government as a joke. And even agreed with Malam Garba Shehu’s description of it as as such on Twitter, that “(President Buhari) was obviously throwing a banter.” But the President’s unnecessary restatement of that misogynistic caricaturing of his wife in a subsequent interview, clarifying that indeed “she belongs in my kitchen, my living room and the other”, was devastating. And this was done as guest of Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel, a woman that manages a country more prosperous than his and ranks higher than him in the global political equation. Yet that wasn’t a clue to keep his patriarchy to himself.

The tragic thing is, what Mrs. Buhari said wasn’t even damaging. It was an explicit praise of the President, which was why I attempted to understand her interviews on BBC in Hausa and then in English as a PR stunt developed to exonerate the husband. For what’s a more convenient inference than her claim that the government has been hijacked by strangers and opportunists? I even likened her guts to that of her fictional American counterpart, Mrs. Claire Underwood, reputed for audacious ambition and manipulation of events to secure her husband’s political capital. House of Cards fans will get this analogy.

For a President serially accused of nepotism and parochialism, Aisha’s interviews, in those initial interpretations by me, seemed like strategic PR for President Buhari. Her criticism only portrayed him as he once described himself, that he “belongs to everybody…” All the things she said, intended to be a criticism of her husband, only projected a favourable image of the man.

For a fact, Aisha wasn’t speaking for me, probably not for anyone outside her circle of partisan elite. She’s speaking for those who deserved or expected rewards for supporting Buhari. The hunger addressed in the BBC interview isn’t really that of the masses, but that of a part of the Nigerian elite who aren’t eating as they had anticipated. So, following her logic, democracy is intended to be a grand house party for friends and family of the celebrant – the President.

Shouldn’t this have been explained by the President’s media managers as validation of the man’s famous declaration of belonging to nobody even though he belongs to all? Aisha Buhari’sargument could’ve been valid if she hadn’t based a point on Buhari inviting strangers and opportunists to his government. She painted her husband as a naïve, and that his government has been hijacked. Before him was an opportunity to describe her outrage as a misunderstanding of his magnanimity.

Perhaps the President was not disturbed by the media backlash that trailed his initial degrading response to his wife because patriarchy is a way of life in his country, and expressions as his aren’t interpreted as wrong and unacceptable here. We shouldn’t be fooled, millions of us like this male-privileging social order even if we can’t make the delusion of that grandeur public. Amongst ourselves, and deep within us, there’s a maddening patriarchal tendency seen in our reactions when we see a car badly driven, a lady living alone, a lady over 30 unmarried, a lady heading a big public institution. Like all privileges, men see this patriarchy as birthright, something hard to unlearn. Like that racist who can’t imagine a world of all equal. And it would be foolish to praise the President for publicly shaming us all.

Buhari has goofed by degrading his wife in the eyes of the world, and he should apologise to her. But her outrage over his approach to governance was harmless. There’s nothing wrong with the President of Nigeria appointing citizens he didn’t know, or had never ever met, which seems to frighten his wife the most. That’s a partisan concern, not a national problem. If anything, we should commend the man for refusing to reward only those who supported him as expected by his wife and her ilk. It’s one thing to say Nigeria isn’t functioning as promised by the APC, it’s another to say it’s so as a result of existence of “strangers” and “opportunists” in the government.

As we await the next episode of the first family’s rumble, the President needs a retreat to reflect deeply on the legacy he intends to leave behind, and the impact of this politically incorrect example he advertised in his reaction to his wife. Buhari used to be a flawless model to some partisans, and their intellectual allies could have written the story of his struggles and named it “The Best President Nigeria Never Had” if he had lost the 2015 Presidential Elections. Today, he’s falling down the popularity bar, and the speed with which this is happening is the only motivation he needs to sit up. It’s likely he may not have company in the “other room” soon, so what he really needs is a space to reflect—a Reflection Room. May God save us from us!

By Gimba Kakanda

@gimbakakanda on Twitter

The Partisans’ Portrayals of the Critic as a Hater

buhari-4

Perhaps it’s sub-clinical, but partisanship as exhibited by Nigerians appears to be no more than just uncritical loyalty to a political party. It’s a psychiatric dilemma. Perhaps again this is only my lack of an explanation for, or an understanding of, the kneejerk reference to critics of the government as “haters” by those who were themselves “critics” before entering into political office.

The Critic-As-A-Hater— attention-seeker and most definitely “disgruntled”—is the perception being popularised by the legion of former critics. And they have really invested a lot in this shamefulness, such that even political appointees whose offices aren’t recognised by the Government (with creative portfolios as insignificant as their principal’s promises, only sustained by hand-outs), have joined the legion to taunt citizens who have voiced discontent with government.

This diseased mindset has been applied in their criticism of the #BringBackOurGirls campaign. If there’s a medal for hypocrisy, zealous supporters of President Muhammad Buhari will bag the prize and millions in cash, without a challenger from any other political front. Some of the cheerleaders of the campaign have suddenly become its critics. This points to one thing, that their participation in this long-lasting campaign for the rescue of the girls of Chibok was not a show of humanity. It was just a restatement of their hatred of former President Goodluck Jonathan. And that’s why they are unwilling to accept that people can actually be legitimately critical of a style of governance, for they see everyone in their own image – as sycophants. To them, an apposition has to be rooted in an unrevealed interest. To them, an opposition has to be sponsored, any agenda has to be driven by bigotry or vendetta.

This justifies my advocacy for the development of Civic Education in Nigerian schools. Our understanding of government and the place of civic vigilance is dispiriting. Whatever is being taught right now clearly isn’t effective. And it’s funny when government appointees interpret civics as hatred of the government, even funnier when their partisan allies agree with such a pedestrian acknowledgement of the appointees’ inability to play their designated roles beyond serving as attack dogs. That those appointed to advise our politicians routinely identify critics as haters explains why our governments fail.

But since we survived the Jonathanians, we are strong to tell their successors, the Buharists, that praise songs don’t build a strong nation. A government is only as good as the people manning it and those that surround it. And if this holds any truth, now then is the time to speak the truth to power. This is the time to praise those still standing, those who have refused to compromise on their values, those immune to blackmail.

The political zealots have even resorted to blackmail as a part of their scheme to shut critics down. The latest victim is the US-based columnist, Professor Farooq Kperogi. In a bid to disrupt his scrutiny of the government, as he did to governments before this, his personal life was made a subject of public ridicule. The intent was to distract and dissuade him. First he was charged with bitterness for not having been given an appointment. It didn’t matter to them that he’s a highly regarded scholar at an American university, and evidently loved there for his service.

When it was obvious that the columnist was high above that shallow stream of mischief, a fiction was woven around his academic scholarship – that he was sponsored by a Nigerian university, and that it is a moral low to stay back in the United States even after benefitting from Nigeria’s largesse. “That’s flat-out false,” he wrote in a reaction to the blackmail on his Facebook. “My Master’s degree was paid for entirely by the University of Louisiana. I got a full tuition waiver and a monthly stipend for my duties as a graduate teaching assistant while I was a student there.” And then, “For my PhD at Georgia State University, I also had a full tuition waiver and a monthly stipend, and was a graduate teaching instructor.”

That they are frightened by the columnist’s commentary to the point of blackmailing him is itself a moral validation of his critiques of the President’s reluctance to lead the change he promised, to plagiarise the right things from Obama (like getting rid of the many presidential jets), to run a frugal government in view of the lean economy of the day, amongst other discontents. Kperogi isn’t a government spokesman, one of whom he’s even had a decorous exchange with over the veracity of a report in the Vanguard newspaper the Presidency didn’t refute, who yet expected the columnist to know it was false. But if It took a Farooq Kperogi column to have an official clarification on that report of the extravagance of our governing elite from Garba Shehu, then the critic achieved his aim. Ironically, the same partisans who, allying with Garba Shehu, questioned the credibility of Vanguard, rushed to share and quote Barack Obama’s praise of the President’s handing of the Boko Haram insurgency reported by the “useless” newspaper they have asked us to stop reading.

We must learn to see positive assessment of the government as recognition for the moments it fulfils electoral promises. Or, as encouragement to do more and better. This making governance look like a humanitarian service, as these shameless, shame-inducing legion of jokers insist on doing, is barefaced sycophancy. The politicians are not doing us a favour by patching up roads and rehabilitating other infrastructure. It is EXACTLY what they were elected and overly paid to do. And these aides of theirs, who criticise citizens upon civic dissent with their principals, even when the livelihood of both they and their principals are maintained by public funds, might just be in need of a psychiatrist to see the irreconcilable irony of their position. May God save us from us.

By Gimba Kakanda

@gimbakakanda on Twitter

Change Does Not Begin with an Empty Slogan, Mr. President

Change

Last Thursday, the Federal Government, obviously terrified by the burden of expectations on it, launched what is without doubt an exercise in propaganda. It is a social orientation campaign named “Change Begins With Me”. Introducing the campaign, the President said, “Our citizens must realize that the change they want to see begins with them.” And then, “Before you ask ‘where is the change they promised us’, you must first ask how far have I changed my ways, (sic) ‘what have I done to be part of the change for the greater good of society’.”

This is an audacious attempt to alter the definition of “Change” the APC proposed when it approached us in selling its beautiful ideas for Nigeria.  The governing party’s idea of change has been widely archived, and it’s just impossible to convince the people that the change they promised isn’t creating three million jobs yearly, providing free meals for public primary school public, offering N5,000 stipends to unemployed youths, adopting Social Welfare Programmes to cater for the poor, free maternal and children healthcare services, amongst similar visions as laudable as they were popular.

This is why the definition provided by the President is a contradiction of what the APC told us, that it would lead the way to our redemption. The Change promised Nigerians was framed as institutional and systemic, not this grand campaign for exceptional individualism. The problem, as I’ve repeatedly said, is not the person, not the Nigerian. It’s the institutions, stupid, to creatively quote an exceptional American who also came to power chanting Change. Institutions aren’t made by people, they are made by rules, fair rules impartially administered, hard to bend. That is the Change we were promised, it was the Change we expected and voted for, it is the Change that is demanded.

Have you ever paused to ponder why Nigerians beat traffic lights in Abuja but obey traffic rules in London? It’s because the UK institutions are strong. So, the change we anticipate must begin with institutions changing people. Telling some people that change begins with them is like telling a robber to stop stealing. No, you’ve to build a strong Police to change him, and strong social services so that petty theft for survival is diminished. Citizens are often only as good and as incorruptible as the country wants them to be, through its institutions.

An expatriate friend, an Australian, beats traffic lights in Abuja and he actually once described it as fun. He’ll never try it in his country. Why? It’s not patriotism. Words like “change begins with me” will never stop people from disobeying traffic rules. To achieve this, you need surveillance cameras and strong penalising institutions. Wait, why do you think Americans are afraid of evading tax? It’s the horror of having to deal with IRS. It’s not patriotism. Who’s afraid of FIRS? Definitely not the Nigerian big man who’s sure of his ability to make phone calls and get any case against him dropped! So, change should begin with the President addressing institutional lapses like those employment scams at CBN and FIRS, and apologising to the nation for condoning such nepotism.

Truth is, this “Change Begins With Me” campaign may only further give the President more excuses to skip electoral promises. He and his handlers will claim they failed to deliver as promised because the citizens didn’t change. Our President may go down in history as just another politician if he does not stick to the dream he promised which got him elected, with honest apologies or explanations where necessary.  He’s to lead and inspire a generation by giving them a functional nation to strive to change their realities. Change begins with having stable power supply, equipped and upgraded hospitals, developed road infrastructure, rehabilitated schools, countered nepotism, defeated crony capitalism…

Yes, you don’t need a witchdoctor to understand that the change promised by the APC means overturning our social conditions. Our people are hungry, forex is unstable, businesses are collapsing, and instead of changing their conditions, the government is shamelessly telling them that change begins with them. What the hungry citizens need isn’t an empty slogan, what they need is a favourable socio-economy to stay alive and thrive in. To say #ChangeBeginsWithMe when inflation is on autopilot is an understating of the nation’s reality, it’s a state-authorised insult. To deploy a slogan as facile and silly as #ChangeBeginsWIthMe in 2016 is an insult to the intelligence of even the dullest of the Nigerian electorate. Change means an improvement in the quality and responsiveness of our institutions, and we will never let the President CHANGE the CHANGE!

If Nigerians had not changed, they wouldn’t have volunteered to campaign for Candidate Muhammadu Buhari who, addressing delegates at his party’s National Convention before the elections, said, “I can’t give you a pocketful of dollars or Naira to purchase your support.”  What he offered in place of dollars was a beautiful dream. In that dream, the people saw a Nigeria where they don’t need a “connection” anymore to secure a job. But that has happened under his watch. This is why I suggested #ChangeAlongWithMe as a more sensible slogan elsewhere, because the President was elected to pave the way for the change by, for instance, installing functional streetlamps and establishing strong penalising institutions for citizens to obey traffic rules, and by stopping recruitment scams at our federal agencies for the citizens to get the sense and essence of a Nigeria without nepotism. Psychologists call these conditioning!

But the usual governmental praise-singers, in their serial bid to endorse the campaign, say its critics are ignorant, revealing their amusing misconception of Civics. Some have written that Nigerians have a sense of entitlement. They miss, of course, embarrassingly, that Nigerians are not requesting effective institutional change from the President. We are demanding it as he promised. It’s our right, paid for in blood and votes, it is not a privilege to which entitlement and too much of entitlement can be attached.

Nigerians are waiting for the President have them conditioned into what he wants them to be, possible only through his policies and actions. He has access to the public treasury and administrative machinery to shape the destiny of this nation. That the government is resorting to psychological propaganda to hoodwink Nigerians into embracing a contradiction of its promises and capabilities, is dispiriting. Change begins with action, and with the President not abdicating his responsibility to champion it. May God save us from us.

By Gimba Kakanda

@gimbakakanda on Twitter

Happy Recession, Nigeria!

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We do not know the exact starting date of this historic festival, nor are we in the know of its end date. I mean this festival of inflation and hunger, unemployment and job cuts, liquidation and crime, mental health crisis and despair. There’s something savagely beautiful about celebrating our misery, about refusing to see it as a danger, preferring to call it a mere “word”, for example, since it does not threaten the existence of those in the political house – elected politicians and their allies in and out of the corridor of power.

Some think the decision to celebrate our misery was taken on our behalf by our foreign-sounding Minister of Finance, Ms. Kemi Adeosun. It’s a fact that she called the decline in our Gross Domestic Product by -2.06 %, a recession, a mere word. And it’s also a fact that she has not told us why a decline in one sector – which contributed only 15% of the GDP, according to her professional colleagues – has resulted in a recession. This is somewhat strange for an administration that claims to have been diversifying, contradicting reports that our non-oil exports have dropped by 43%.

Adeosun’s denial of our threatening reality is a familiar trend amongst our governing elite. Reacting to the ranking of Nigeria as one of the five poorest countries in the world by the World Bank, then President Goodluck Jonathan said, “Nigeria is not a poor country. Nigerians are the most travelled people. There is no country you go that you will not see Nigerians.” And then, “I visited Kenya recently on a state visit and there was a programme for Nigerian and Kenyan business men to interact and the number of private jets that landed in Nairobi that day was a subject of discussion in Kenyan media for over a week.”

This disheartening yardstick of measuring poverty was actually that of a President of a nation “with almost 100 million people living on less than a $1 (£0.63) a day” – according a 2012 data. So, it didn’t come as a surprise reading the similarly elitist delusion of Mr. Bayo Onanuga, a journalist whose class suicide as a firebrand critic of elitism and military brutality to a former senatorial candidate and now head of the government-controlled News Agency of Nigeria is as intriguing as it comes. He pandered to Jonathan’s thinking, that the luxurious lifestyles of beneficiaries of the nation’s most corrupt class represents the realities of a blacksmith in Potiskum, a roadside yam seller in Ogbomosho and a vulcaniser in Onitsha.

To Mr. Onanuga, a text message from his London-bound daughter – “Daddy, my flight is filled up o” – was a confirmation of his belief that reports of economic hardship in Nigeria were untrue and the true situation exaggerated. His reaction to the threatened existence of citizens who may go to bed tonight without any means is Denial. It is a style of engagement widely adopted by other government appointees, all understandably immune to hunger.

On various social media platforms, other outspoken political appointees have been publishing statistics that not only repel our realities but attempt to create an imaginary paradise for Nigerians. In line with the festive nature of the times, of course. Even the President’s media managers seem to believe their bogus statistics and grandstanding on Twitter will redeem the growing inflation and hunger nationwide. But the truth is that it is even their confrontational and combative style of communicating these alternate realities that will multiply the army of displeased citizens. It’s unfortunate that our friends who used to be critical of the government suddenly are now quick to say to say, “You guys are too critical” on finally jumping ship.

Like our politicians, the trappings of political power have confused the conscience of our former civic allies. They have become even worse than the Establishment they once antagonised. Instead of delivering on their roles of advising their principals, they are becoming intolerably obnoxious, giving the managers of our economy illusions of good performance and misleading public perception.

The governing elite have succeeded in recruiting the Bayo Onanugas into contradictions of their old values, so that they now see the civic vigilance they were once known for as a social nuisance. It has got to the point that when a critic points to a snake the politicians were given power to hire able hands to kill, he’s asked to tell the government how to kill it. And this, unfortunately, is the mentality of the praise-singing brigade stationed to defend our politicians. The critic highlights shortcomings to get the government’s think-tank ticking. You can’t be in possession of a fire extinguisher and ask the man who alerts you to fire to quench it for you!

If a leader expects more from critics after being shown a flaw in his idea, he’s either incompetent or his lieutenants are due for the sack. The similarity between a critic and a politician is that both have ideas. The difference is what matters. Only one has access to popular political legitimacy, administrative machinery and the public purse. But since we are in reality being asked to celebrate this severe economic downturn, let me kindly wish Nigerians toasting to national misery a happy recession. May God save us from us!

By Gimba Kakanda

@GimbaKakanda On Twitter

Dear FCT Minister, this Centre no Longer Holds!

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I was dissuaded from writing to you, from alerting you to things you are likely too busy to see. The main reason given for this was that writing to you is futile and, in some cases, there was the added collateral argument that you do not exist. My stubbornness is informed by my having seen your photographs hanging on the walls of several offices in this Abuja, enough to object to the mischief of They who shall remain nameless. I know it’s not easy serving as escort to a jet-setting President, accompanying him to the airport whenever he travels and receiving him there on his return. When I brought this up, They dismissed even that tasking role as a proof of your existence and love for us. They refused to see that you’re Agent Double O Seven, protecting the President with whom we are still in love. In fact, and forgive me for saying it, They said you’re a ghost worker. I have no interpretation of this other than your perception – by them, that is – of you as ceremonial administrator.

I gather that the FCT Budget for the 2016 fiscal year has just been signed by the President. This has moved me to point out some of our problems you don’t seem to have acknowledged. I want you to see the things we see the way they are, this city’s gradual fall unto ruin under your watch. Over the years, we dealt with the horrors of the city’s urban slums, how such monstrous poverty managed to find an incubator in this city of limitless wealth and billionaire policymakers. Outside the city were even more dehumanising evidences of poverty fed fat by years of elitising public policies. Aside from Abuja Municipal, which was fixed to serve as paradise of our criminally rich politicians, the other five Area Councils – Abaji, Gwagwalada, Kuje, Bwari and Kwali – have been an eyesore.

As a man of piety, to which those who know you have testified, the de-elitisation of public policies and reforms is expected from you. Even though your background as former head of an organisation tasked with managing religious activities, the National Hajj Commission of Nigeria, was cited in your early days to question your capacity, I am indifferent to such an allegation. But it’s devastating now to see you not only seem to lack plans for the five neglected Area Councils but further seem incapable of keeping Abuja Municipal in shape. You have to prove us wrong, Sir.

The metaphor of the decay of this capital of Nigeria, once proclaimed “the fastest-growing city in Africa” by a drunkard I’m yet to identify, came to me around 5 PM, on August 26. The epiphany happened in Maitama, arguably Abuja’s most beautiful district. In the course of the day’s rain, Nile Street attempted to become the river it was named after. The street was flooded from up to the Nile delta at Alvan Ikoku Street. And the message I got was a loud cry for intervention, for simply a working drainage system. I assure you it’s worse elsewhere. It should frighten you that rain causes flooding, damage and safety risks even in Maitama.

You may want to go for a lone tour of FCT. You don’t have to fear for paparazzi or kidnappers, since you’re really not known outside your office. Do this at once and see what this city looks like when it rains. Do so at night too, and see the dysfunctional streetlamps. My cousin assures me that half of the streetlights between Berger and Kubwa do not work. Go out for a walk in the afternoon and note that there are no signposts to alert your citizens to the death traps that are the missing manhole covers along our streets. Sewage runs across the street regularly in Garki and Utako. Sir, there’s far more to city management than taking over the role of Mr. President’s Head of Protocol.

Yet, you’re a lucky man. You seem to be under no pressure to deliver because your office isn’t elective, and is thus protected from the outrage of a disappointed electorate. But no matter what, there should be a channel for communicating your development plans and how you seek to take us by surprise by outperforming even your worse predecessors. You’re appointed to serve the people, and isn’t it weird there are no explanations for these perpetual risks of flood, health hazards from open sewers and traffic mess as a result of malfunctioning streetlamps and stray herdsmen who, some have said, mistake the city for Federal Cattle Territory?

A friend once observed that it’s the “dormant” chairmen of FCT Area Councils that made your own inactivity too obvious, and I’m wondering why there seems to be no communication of the reasons our five other Area Councils look like big villages of a country emerging from a decade-long recession. These people are economically downtrodden, denied basic social amenities, and forsaken. I was once a part of an NGO that navigated places with no motorable roads, no healthcare centres and poorly equipped schools, in this Abuja. The pupils couldn’t even afford books and uniforms. Isn’t it disgraceful that small NGOs build boreholes and schools for communities just a thirty minute drive from your office?

If you’re ever allowed to join the President’s jet to one of his trips overseas, how would you respond to questions around the state of the nation’s capital by potential investors? Because it will be sheer fraud to deny, in Washington DC or London, that Abuja is neither dysfunctional nor even convenient for investment or habitation. An existence threatened by flood, traffic lawlessness, power outage, sanitation systems not maintained, disorganised and unreliable intra-city transportation, amongst others, is too much baggage for any serious investor seeking to migrate to Nigeria’s supposedly most organised modern city.

Malam Mohammed Bello, Abuja residents don’t have to wake up and find themselves floating in water before you intervene. While you’re deciding what to do with the budget, respond to these collapsing features of the city. At least, embark on fixing the drainage system, restore the missing manhole covers, have streetlamps fixed at strategic places, stop the shit from getting on the streets and make the placing of signposts a priority of your administration. Be creative, court private partners. These things don’t cost a fortune. May God save us from us!

By Gimba Kakanda

@gimbakakanda on Twitter

Dilemma of the Nigerian Youth

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These past weeks, I’ve had reason to reflect more on the place of the Nigerian youth in politics and public service. The inspiration for this was the hypocrisy I witnessed all the times our gerontocratic political establishment opened its door for the young join to them. The strangest dilemma is this: the youth advocate inclusion in governance and participation in politics yet any time a young person is offered an appointment, the first argument is over his or her “lack of experience”. Further, how an “experienced” person ought to occupy such an office. “Experience” has always been a code for age, it is gotten by years and not competence or experience. Just be old enough, ergo, you are garlanded with “experience” as well.

This near predictable trend of reaction was witnessed most recently with the appointment of Ms. Hadiza Bala Usman as Managing Director of Nigerian Ports Authority. The loudest and, to me, the only known, critics of her appointment were members of her constituency: the political youth. She was portrayed as not only a creation of opportunism, but one lacking requisite experience and age to manage an organisation that complex. 

One may then wish to know what our generation means by advocating inclusion in government. How is that a logical demand when one of us is suddenly seen as unqualified, by us, on the basis of her age? One may also wish to know whether those older were chosen based on track records earned in an extraterrestrial world. I mean, whether those older have always been older. It didn’t matter to them that Hadiza has had fair experience working with the current Governor of Kaduna State, and has been involved in some of the nation’s most effective administrative reforms and political and social advocacies. This is what some of her detractors chose to miss—that she understands the architecture and intricacies of the Nigeria the same youths have been furiously asking for. 

Some of us who support the “Not Too Young to Run” bill and campaign aren’t doing so in agreement with the view that the youths are (potentially) smarter administrators or possess extraordinary traits no longer exhibited by the older generation. A friend of mine, in the period running up to the 2015 presidential election, promoted Candidate Muhammadu Buhari as the most qualified, citing age as his reason. I dismissed that as an affront to younger Nigerians, because such insidious and dangerous thinking only justifies the very gerontocracy our generation is allying to demolish. One may be tempted to ask the youths to come together and form a strong political alliance or a party in a bid to restate their relevance, size and actual capacity to govern. The youths, according to a National Bureau of Statistics data, make up 70% of the nation’s population. But the same youths that ought to champion a campaign for good governance, inclusion and relevance are divided in defence of their oppressors on social media and various fora, virtual and offline. The same youths are betting to meet at Sofa Lounge for fisticuffs!

It’s hard to determine the ratio of conscious youths to the nonchalant. Our problems require strategic and gradual alliance and inclusion to eventual correct this systemic exclusion. The advocacy shouldn’t be that the youths are smarter, but that they are capable, and shouldn’t be wasted as inconsequential errand boys, which is what some of these PAs, SAs, SSAs are. Because if youth comes with exceptional vision to lead, the newly independent Nigeria, managed by youths, would’ve been a good foundation for us. Similarly, if old age means a thing in governance, Nigeria would’ve been a model nation, from the youths who took over from colonialists to today’s grandpas.

We may allow the idealists to go with their divergent theorisation of the youths as sharper visionaries or as symbols of new new idea. What we know for a fact is, past attempts to unify the youths and establish a strong force in our political equation have failed. Woefully. Today, we remember promising youth groups and advocacies we once embraced as our salvation, with troubling nostalgia. From 20MillionYouthsFor2015 campaign to Generational Voices, the hope was high, and down it came crashing.

Dazzled by the composition and vision of Generational Voices, I wrote then: “I’m happy that I was not a distant witness of Generational Voices. Having been closely involved, and in deep thought, I see a movement about to be built on the foundations of OccupyNigeria, that deferred revolution. But as beautiful as its grand visions are, we have to resist ideological indoctrination and correctly understand that GenVoices is not OccupyNigeria. This is where our task commences.”

Unfortunately, like all before it, it didn’t go as anticipated. Perhaps we were too hungry to recognize its essence. Perhaps our partisan allegiances frustrated its growth into required force. Whatever, we need to restate our political will by overcoming this seemingly genetic political skepticism. Affirmative action from the Establishment may be frowned at by some, but that, and not our polarization, is really what we need, to defeat perceived marginalization of the youth. May God save us from us!

By Gimba Kakanda

@GimbaKakanda On Twitter

Nigeria Army’s Three Wanted Friends

Ahmad-Salkida

Last week, the Army declared three people it suspected of having “links with the Boko Haram” wanted and this became a subject of intense debates especially as the trio—Mr. Ahmed Umar Bolori, Mr. Ahmad Salkida and Ms. Aisha Alkali Wakil—promptly expressed their shock. The military institution, they wrote, knew them and how to contact them yet they hadn’t been informed or invited in any way before the public notice.

On Facebook, not long after the declaration went viral in the online media, stirring up divisive interactions on social media, Ahmed Bolori published a screenshot of his SMS correspondence with a top military officer. “Salam General,” read the text. “This is Amb Ahmed Umar Bolori. I got the news that I and other 2 are declared wanted (sic). I’m bringing myself. Where do I come to? Thanks.” 

The General asked him to report to “Provost Marshal Army (sic)”. His next Facebook updates, later that day and the following day, was of his 10 AM appointment and struggles to be attended to by the Army. It’s amusing that someone declared wanted, purportedly a threat to national security, was literally pleading to have an audience with his supposed hunters. 

Ms. Wakil released a statement to confirm her relationship with the security agencies, and that she had had meetings with the Chief of Army Staff and had even given the Army conditions for her involvement in any dialogue between the terrorist group and the Federal government. “(T)hey know where to find me,” she wrote in her own expression of shock at her declaration as wanted person, and then “but wonder why I had to be declared wanted on national news even mentioning my husband’s name alongside (sic).”

The most popular of them is the journalist Ahmad Salkida who, for fear of his safety, has long been in exile. Salkida had reported extensively on the activities of the terrorist cult, being a witness to their emergence and evolution into the nation’s deadliest group. Some of the nation’s exclusive reports and breaking news on the Boko Haram were presented to us by Salkida. His publication of the Boko Haram’s video of the abducted girls of Chibok instigated the hunt.

Writing from his Dubai base, Salkida noted his contributions to reporting terrorism in Nigeria. “Clearly, my status as a Nigerian journalist who has reported extensively, painstakingly and consistently on the Boko Haram menace in the country since 2006 is an open book known to Nigerians and the international community,” he stated.

This got us to the obvious question: why declaring citizens who weren’t on the run wanted? What’s wrong with an invitation being sent first before, if declined, publishing such damaging notice about people who were previously not tried for a crime in question? This and similar unprofessional conduct by our security agencies are piling up, day by day, and it was the same recklessness that got the EFCC operatives going after the blogger Abusidiq without notice. They are yet to even publish what exactly he did wrong. The risk of declaring somebody wanted without any established evidence of his culpability or invitation to hear from him or her one-on-one is grave in a country where jungle justice is an everyday tragedy. I’m sure the Army itself is aware of this, and yet it went ahead.  Somehow, it has succeeded in putting the lives of these people in danger, and somehow a misinformed mob might spot them and move to lynch them in their own understanding of patriotism. All for a “crime” yet to be determined.

Our security agencies need to restore professionalism in their dealings with civilians. Showmanship seems to stimulate them, but obsession with this approach to crime prevention and control will only embarrass them and ridicule what they stand for. The two home-based citizens have already submitted themselves to the military, and inferring from the Channels TV interview of the Spokesman of Defence Headquarters, Colonel Rabe Abubakar, the declaration was hasty and misleading. 

“Declaring them wanted was not our intention,” he was reported to have said on Channels TV. “We are inviting them to come and shed more light on Boko Haram so that collectively we can achieve the desired goal.” 

This is the essence of civic vigilance. But this retraction isn’t enough. Their hurriedly prepared and dispatched blunder has already jeopardised the lives and prospects of these people. What’s expected is a clarification through the very medium it employs in damaging the trio. Seeking partnership, which is what the spokesman means by “collectively” by declaring your would-be partners wanted is akin to publicly harassing a woman and then asking for her hand in marriage. 

One is tempted to agree with the conspiracy theory drawn by the popular public affairs analyst, Dr. Aliyu U. Tilde. He sought to see a link between the media trial of Ahmad Salkida and General Tukur Buratai’s Dubai property scandals. When the Army said the Boko Haram were responsible for the leaks of Buratai’s ownership of properties in Dubai, he pointed out that the convenient inference was Salkida would be roped into it. May God save us from us!

By Gimba Kakanda
@gimbakakanda on Twitter