Category Archives: General

Two rather scary tweets

Everyone has been celebrating our ‘Ebola free’ status given by the World Health Organisation. While that is perfectly understandable, and evokes a sense of national pride, it could also be a double edged sword, as shown by this tweet:

Further confirmed by this tweet:

The argument may be that internal checks may not be a high priority, since there are no cases left in the country. However, the creeping suspicion is that this laxity has spread or could spread to the international airport and our land borders.

For as long as the situation in Liberia and Sierra Leone is not brought under control, and the rate of infections begins to decline, we cannot relax on preventive measures for Ebola. For once, Nigeria is in the headlines for something positive. Let us ensure it stays that way.

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Africa in the time of Ebola

With concerns over the Ebola virus increasing daily and cases being reported in the US, it is now clear that if anyone thought it would be confined to West Africa, they were sorely mistaken. Meanwhile, Nigeria is on the verge of being given a clean bill of health by the World Health Organisation:

If the active surveillance for new cases that is currently in place continues, and no new cases are detected, WHO will declare the end of the outbreak of Ebola virus disease in Senegal on Friday 17 October. Likewise, Nigeria is expected to have passed through the requisite 42 days, with active surveillance for new cases in place and none detected, on Monday 20 October.

It is a bit puzzling that more advanced nations have responded in a rather panicked way to Ebola. They have had more time, and their public health infrastructure is much more advanced than what obtains in Africa.

Nigeria’s handling of its own Ebola outbreak has earned it a lot of good press, and rightly so. The sheer amount of work that went into tracking down primary and secondary contacts was described by the WHO as ‘world class epidemiological detective work’.

It had to be. Once the first case of Ebola was confirmed, there was an unprecedented awareness campaign on social media, radio and television, with everyone getting informed and putting the word out. Hand sanitizers became a must-have and the Catholic Bishops Conference of Nigeria (CBCN) directed the ‘shaking of hands’ during Mass in Catholic churches all over the country to be suspended, to reduce physical contact. That directive remains in place.

Even though the strike by resident doctors was ongoing at the time of the outbreak, the Lagos State government was able to put together a formidable response, one which is only now getting its due recognition from outside the country.

Expectedly, in an election season, there has been a mad dash to claim credit for beating the outbreak by the Federal Government. For his part, Governor Babatunde Fashola chose to mention people by name, the real heroes on the ground. Even though there is much that is wrong with Nigeria in every respect, there are still pockets of competence, and examples of what is possible when everyone does their part. The lessons learned here are already being passed on to other countries, lessons which are likely to form the template for responding to infectious diseases in future.

At this stage, however, I have two major concerns. First, I hope that once Nigeria and Senegal are certified Ebola free, that health authorities and the general populace do not just switch off and become slack in their vigilance. For as long as there are such a large number of cases, the chances of one person carrying an infection entering the country through land borders, airports, and seaports is significant. In the midst of intense politicking this election season, we must guard our gates.

My other major concern is for Liberia, Sierra Leone, Guinea and indeed Africa at large. Many African countries have been ravaged by war and corrupt, inept governance for decades, leaving behind little by way of public services. Liberia and Sierra Leone are two of the more extreme examples of this, and now Ebola has come to strip them of whatever claim they had of being sovereign states.

Health workers face risk of infection due to minimal protection, and on top of this are either attacked or bribed to leave the deceased with their families, instead of having them cremated to curb the spread. They have already gone on strike for an increase in their hazard allowances. Put together, it points to the fact that things will not calm down anytime soon. What international agencies are trying to do is become alternate governments overnight, a daunting task. In Nigeria’s case, the WHO and CDC had government officials ready to put in the leg work, and a population that imbibed the message and passed them along quickly. None of this exists in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea. The best neighbouring countries can do is to make sure infected people do not cross over.

In much the same way a weakened immune system makes even a common cold problematic, weak and failed states face collapse under the weight of outbreaks like this, and the longer it goes without Ebola coming under control, the higher chance there is of that happening. Last month in Liberia, some ministers fled the country like rats leaving a sinking ship and were duly fired. It is not impossible that more will follow. The clock is ticking.

Peak oil, US energy independence and geopolitics

Ever since I discovered the concept of ‘peak oil’, I have been fascinated by it. It was put forward in 1975 by an American scientist called M. King Hubbert and he essentially said that since fossil fuels – crude oil in particular – were nonrenewable sources of energy, there would come a time, 1995 in his estimation, when the maximum rate of crude oil extraction will be reached, after which would come a slow, but inevitable decline. It is important to understand when, and in what context, that prediction was made, in order to understand why it was easy to believe that theory.

Until very recently, say the last 10 years, the number of places on earth where crude oil could be extracted viably were a lot fewer due to low prices, and the rate of production from some of the largest existing wells had begun to decline. In addition, the cost of extracting crude oil had begun to go up, because the crude was harder to reach. To add to this, conflict in the Middle East as a result of the Second Iraq War and increasing demand for energy by a booming global economy, led by China, saw prices take off from about $23 a barrel on April 29, 2003, to an all-time high of $140.73 on July 3, 2008, just before the global economic meltdown.

The story of human civilization over the last 150 years would be utterly impossible to tell without the magic of crude oil discovery, and all the uses it has been put to. Without it, much of what we regard as progress would simply not have happened. To name just one example, our ability to move things and people over great distances at the kind of speeds we take for granted today, would simply not exist. So, the spectre of Hubbert’s peak continued to hover, spawning all kinds of theories about the fate of mankind should we run short, or run out, of crude oil.

All this background up till this point is necessary because by Hubbert’s calculations, we should have reached peak oil by now, which means that the price of a barrel of oil should be high, and not reducing, as is currently the case. Since its high point this year of $110.48, the OPEC basket price of 12 crudes has lost 30% of its value. There are a few reasons for this:

  1. Slower global growth, especially Chinese growth.
  2. Libyan oil coming back online after the fall of Gaddafi, as well as Iranian oil (embargo lifted)
  3. Increased output of oil in the US, led by shale.
  4. More oil extracted from existing/hard to reach sources, as a result of better technology.

The last two – better technology and just more oil, period – are things Hubbert could not have foreseen, and while economies can always rebound, it is becoming abundantly clear that there is a lot more crude oil than we thought there was, and the means of accessing it is better than ever. So, while Hubbert’s peak MAY still come to pass, it is quite a bit farther away than we thought.

America’s shale revolution is important because a significant number of American politicians, commentators, and business people have endorsed the idea of ‘energy independence’, and turned it into a bit of a crusade. Since 1973 when America could no longer cater for its domestic energy consumption, it has had to kowtow to and tiptoe around the Saudis in exchange for oil, all through gritted teeth. When it was not doing that, military regimes like Nigeria’s that had oil, were treated rather lightly in exchange for keeping the crude flowing. In short, a lot of America’s foreign policy decisions over the last 40 years have been determined by access to energy, and some have dreamed of a time when Uncle Sam will be free of those shackles.

Commentators like Thomas Friedman and other environmentalists have proposed things like a ‘carbon tax’, the proceeds of which would go to research in alternative energy sources, one or some of which would eventually reduce American dependence on foreign crude, as well as energy efficiency proposals across board. These proposals were also put out due to the very real challenges of climate change. With shale coming on strong, however, that conversation has changed slightly.

There is a lot hurrah-ing over America’s strong oil output, and not just because the need to bend low to the Saudis is now much reduced. Low oil prices are seen by the Americans as a way to achieve geopolitical objectives that appear to be beyond military might or diplomacy. It has long been thought, with good reason, that high oil prices – and high commodity prices in general – often insulate governments from reform. Nigeria is a textbook example of this. Each period of high oil prices in the nation’s 54 year history so far, has passed with even more waste and even more corruption. Karl Marx said once that history repeats itself, first as tragedy, then as farce – to say nothing of the fourth or fifth time.

The sure way to connect a people to their government is through taxes, hence the phrase ‘no taxation without representation’. This link can be short-circuited when the government can simply sell natural resources and carry on life as usual. As such, the phrase ‘taxpayer’s money’ does not really apply in Nigeria: The total non-oil revenue of the entire Federal government – N800 billion – is not quite half of the federal wage bill.

So, the hope is that a prolonged period of low oil prices will bring governments like those in Russia, Nigeria, Venezuela and others in the Middle East out of their bubble and make them behave better. For Vladimir Putin, the alarm bells are already ringing as the Russian economy also feels the effects of sanctions.

America would like nothing better than to keep oil prices low, if it hurts Putin. It will also hurt the Saudis as well, but from all accounts they are prepared for an extended period of lower prices, in order to put shale producers under pressure and preserve their market share. Other OPEC nations are unlikely to agree with this position. Rather than keep spending low in time of surplus and save for a rainy day, countries like Nigeria do what they always do: Spend like there is no tomorrow.

The question is what will happen if prices stay low for a prolonged period, as an increasing number of analysts are predicting. Will it inspire a change in the way the Nigerian government spends, or will they be the last to feel the pinch, while everyone else drinks the harsh medicine? It is safe to assume that fuel subsidy will go next year, but since we import petrol for domestic consumption, the price at the pump may not be significantly higher than it is now.

The Medium Term Economic Framework for 2015-2017 should be submitted in the coming weeks, and all eyes will be on the crude oil benchmark on which much of government spending is based. It is certain to be much lower than the current benchmark of $79, and a major tax drive by the Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS) is already underway to make up for the big hole in government revenues.

All told, the coming weeks and months will be very interesting locally and globally. It will be interesting to see how governments used to huge oil revenues make do with much less, how long the trend will persist, how low prices will go, and the overall effect of these events.

Terrorism and the Nigerian media

For newspapers and television, acts of terrorism inevitably make good copy and compelling viewing. The hijacker and the terrorist thrive on publicity: without it, their activities and their influence are sharply curtailed […] they see how acts of violence and horror dominate the newspaper columns and television screens of the free world. They see how that coverage creates a natural wave of sympathy for the victims and pressure to end their plight no matter what the consequence. And the terrorists exploit it.

And we must try to find ways to starve the terrorist and the hijacker of the oxygen of publicity on which they depend. In our societies we do not believe in constraining the media, still less in censorship. But ought we not to ask the media to agree among themselves a voluntary code of conduct, a code under which they would not say or show anything which could assist the terrorists’ morale or their cause while the hijack lasted?

The above was from a speech delivered by Margaret Thatcher, to the American Bar Association on July 15, 1985. The hijack Thatcher referenced, was the TWA Flight 847 which occurred in June that year. While the situation was ongoing and even afterwards, ABC, an American news network, aired extensive interviews with both hijackers and hostages, giving massive publicity to the hijackers.

The role of the media is to gather information, apply news values and judgement to that information – the ‘gatekeeping function’ – and transmit it onward to the viewer or listener. This is the way by which we are informed of events happening in our immediate environment and even far flung corners of the world, and this information helps us to act accordingly.

However, these roles of the media, when applied to acts of terror and the pronouncements of terrorists, comes dangerously close to furthering their agenda.

In warfare, the control of communication has always been very important, and in the war against terrorism, especially in the 21st century, this is even truer. Terrorists are ambitious people who know how to manipulate the media. They attack targets in a manner that is certain to draw media attention and give them a platform to push their ideology. Radical teachings and propaganda videos are also posted online to win sympathy for their cause. Like Robert Kaplan noted recently: “Passion, deep belief, political protests and so forth have little meaning nowadays if they cannot be broadcast”.

Many of us will remember Osama bin Laden’s use of media organisations like CNN to broadcast his videos, and other terrorist groups like Boko Haram and ISIS have followed this example. ISIS in particular have shown a great affinity for communication channels, using them to recruit disaffected Muslims from the West.

Another thing ISIS love to do is decapitate American and British citizens on camera and put the videos on the internet. The aim of these acts, carefully choreographed, is to project brutality, spread fear among Western citizens and to goad Western governments into taking rash actions.

Some people who have realized this ploy started a hashtag called #ISISMediaBlackout, pledging not to watch or share any of the videos, and it is about time that citizens of other countries battling with terrorism take a similar position.

Over the last two weeks, strong indications emerged that Shekau, or someone masquerading as him for the purpose of making videos, was killed by the Nigerian military. While it may not be an absolute certainty that the real Shekau is dead, it is also true that Boko Haram’s leadership have a vested interest in keeping their leader – or the idea of him – alive, in order not to dent morale.

With this in mind, the value of disseminating videos and statements of Abubakar Shekau is highly questionable, beyond selling papers and generating website hits. For all we know, news outlets and blogs are the life support keeping a dead terrorist leader alive in the minds of Nigerians.

In addition, some of the reportage about the ‘capture’ of several towns in Borno close to the border with Cameroon, last month, failed to reflect the context of a fluid battle situation, and rather gave the impression that Nigerian troops were being overrun, when this was inaccurate.

On the government side, there is a lot more it can do to put its message out there. The use of embedded reporters reporting live from the front lines can be very effective, and I do not imagine it will take that much to ensure their safety. The presence of the Defence headquarters on Twitter helps, but the handling of the account needs to be much more professional, and should include videos of the Nigerian military in action as often as possible, not just tweets.

War is not just fought on the battlefield. It is also fought in the hearts and minds of people, and the media is a key part of shaping perceptions. Our new media age means that all of us are simultaneously producers and consumers of media. We draw from, and contribute to, the stream. The implication of this is that there is a greater need than ever to be conscious of what we view, read, and share. Watching, viewing, and spreading messages of terror means that half the terrorist’s job is done.

Terrorism is theatre, and we must deny the terrorists a stage, whether on our television screens, the pages of our newspapers, and our social media streams.

The Truppr 5k

I love to run, and this may not be a surprise to some people. I often run by myself and though it was hard at first, I have been able to keep up with running on a regular basis, twice a week at least. As the months have gone by, I have witnessed more and more people take up exercise on the streets of Lagos. Some run by themselves, some run in a group. It always makes me happy because exercise confers real benefits, and as many people as possible should enjoy them.

When enough people begin to undertake a particular activity, it is inevitable that communities will form. Bosun Tijani, a co-founder and CEO of the Co-Creation Hub and a prominent member of Nigeria’s growing technology community, is also the founder of Truppr, which aims to create a community of fitness lovers across a number of sports, like football, running, tennis and general aerobics.

The 5k run held today, and being a fan of long distance myself, it was a no-brainer for me to take part. I also knew it would be fun to meet up with good friends and make new ones. A Fitbit Flex was up for grabs too, so that was added motivation, quite apart from the desire to be first and beat my last time. It was a great turnout, and there was some celeb support there too. Kate Henshaw was in attendance and ran the full race. Esta Morenikeji took the pre-race warm up, and by the time she was done, I really couldn’t wait to get started.

The key, as always, is to start a little slowly then storm to the finish. It almost worked, but for Opeyemi Balogun’s resilience to pip me right at the finish line. Oddly, I met him for the first time exactly a week ago, and had no idea he is such a strong runner.

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Answering some questions after the race

So, no Fitbit Flex for me. I am dying for an activity tracker/smartwatch though, and I fancy my chances next time round, which should be next month. The event itself was very well organised, and a big thumbs up to everyone involved in the planning and execution.

The Truppr 5k was a lot of great fun, and I am happy it will be a regular event from now on.  I encourage you to sign up for the next one. The more the merrier.

View all the pictures from the event here.

On resolutions

As the year comes to an end, there is the usual reflection, as well as the vote of thanks. The end of every year increasingly seems like an award speech, especially in this age of social media where everyone has their own platform

“I would to thank (insert name of awesome person in your life here) for making my 2013. Let’s do it again in 2014”

And so on, and so forth. There is something…cute about it. It is said that an unexamined life is not worth living, and it also appears that at no time is a life examined more than at the end of a calendar year. Some people share the lessons they learned and thank those who made an impact in their lives, while others, like me, prefer to adopt a watching brief and dwell on such matters internally.

Along with the reflections and everything else, there are also the resolutions. Lots and lots of them. Perhaps because of the difficulty of keeping resolutions, an increasing number of people prefer not to make any, and in addition, mock those who do. I see resolutions as a recognition by those who make them, that they could be better people, and that they could do certain things better. This is always a laudable aim, irrespective of whether it is reached or not.

Alain de Botton said it best:

“We might be tempted to mock the public nature of resolutions.  Why resolve things at New Year? Why tell people? Precisely for the same reason that we tend to go in for public marriage: because it can be useful to back up our own resolve with the pressure that stems from the expectation of others”.

I also think that the rush of optimism people feel at the start of the year, makes them feel anything is possible, so they make all kinds of pledges to themselves. Again, nothing at all wrong with that. At the very least, some of those who make resolutions will keep them.

In the spirit of resolutions, there is one I have been thinking about for some time. I read a post by someone who said his life changed dramatically when he wrote 1,000 words every day for one week. The post is here. It is the kind of thing that intrigues me because on some days, I feel I could easily knock out 1,000 words, but due to laziness, being busy – and Twitter – I let things evaporate 140 characters at a time.

Ah. Twitter. That most wonderful and dangerous of mediums. An enabler and a trap rolled into one. I opened my account in 2009 and tweeted very sparingly, but in 2011 I did 36,003 tweets. That is 3,000 tweets a month. Or 100 tweets a day. A day. In 2012 it came down to 31,460 tweets, a number still far too much. This year? 16, 920. 2013 has been very busy for me. In between hours and hours in traffic, the second semester of my PGD, first semester of my M.Sc and a couple of projects I played a part in, my time for Twitter dwindled. I am happy about that, but it needs to reduce even more. Even on days I don’t tweet that much, I often just watch my timeline scroll by on Tweetdeck. It takes away time from other things I could be doing. Like writing 1,000 words. Or reading one of the many books I have, but have not yet gotten to. This latter affliction is called Tsundoku by the Japanese. Funny, if you take away the ‘T’ and the first U, you get Sudoku, which is the puzzle.

In an interview with the New Yorker, Clive Thompson, the author of ‘Smarter than you think’ had this to say:

“The one complaint about the Internet that I wholeheartedly endorse is that most of these tools have been designed to peck at us like ducks: “Hey, there’s a new reply to your comment! Come look at it!” And if you don’t develop good skills of mindfulness—paying attention to your attention—it can really wind up colonizing much of your day […] The whole reason these services need to peck at us like ducks is that their business models are built on advertising, and advertising wants as many minutes of your day as possible”.

So, my aim this year is to write and read more. A lot more. And tweet a lot less. I have always admired people like Paul Krugman and Seth Godin, who manage to post every day. I would like to get to the point where I write compulsively, like the way I feel about running 10 kilometers. It will help a lot because since I am going to be a journalist/writer/etc, it makes it easier for me to come up with things. Writers block be damned.

So, I have only managed about 800 words right now, but that to me a good start. Long may it continue.

Big Brother: PRISM edition

A number of you who have clicked the link to this post probably follow Big Brother Africa to varying degrees, or have watched one of the several spin offs which have aired in several countries since the franchise first started in the Netherlands in 1999. It has been a huge success precisely because it exposes lots of us as voyeurs, glued to our TV screens, watching the every move of total strangers.

The Big Brother franchise is essentially a trivialisation of George Orwell’s book ‘Nineteen Eighty-Four’, in which Big Brother is the head of a tyrannical ruling party that persecutes all independent thought with its omnipresent surveillance and propaganda. For a book released in 1949, it is remarkably prescient in the way it shows how governments want to control their citizens, and the Big Brother franchise is a trivialisation because it reduces a very serious issue to what is increasingly soft porn.

As the world becomes more and more connected, we see more and more portrayals in movies of the dangers of governments allowed to violate the privacy of citizens. Films like Enemy of the State, Minority Report and even shows like Person of Interest (a favourite of mine) paint scenarios that once seemed a little far into the future, but no longer.

Some of you may have heard about a $40 million contract given to an Israeli firm by the Nigerian government, to monitor internet communication of Nigerians. The firm called Elbit systems was contracted to deploy its Wise Intelligence Technology, before Premium Times broke the story, leading to an investigation of a contract award that went against all the rules of due process and privacy.

After 9/11, Americans accepted serious incursions into their privacy by their government, via the PATRIOT Act, in order to keep their country safe, as they were told. But like most things this ‘handshake’ has ‘gone beyond the elbow’. On June 6th, Glenn Greenwald broke the story that the NSA was engaging in widespread and indiscriminate surveillance of US citizens by collecting phone call data from the biggest US phone networks. It gets worse. The NSA has apparently also been collecting user information from Apple, Google, Facebook among others since 2007, as part of a program called PRISM, even though the denials have continued.

For some it may not be a surprise, but the sheer scale of it in such a short time, is a cause for grave concern, especially because as Bruce Schneier notes: ’Once a security system is in place, it can be very hard to dislodge it’.

What this means is that for countries like the US, that is becoming a surveillance state, rolling back the laws that enable such behaviour will be an uphill battle. It also means that for those societies in which massive surveillance has not yet become the norm, now is the time to put in place laws that will protect citizens from their governments. As we move closer and closer to an internet of things, which will collect information on virtually everything you do, that information, and the access to it, is absolute power, and the abuse of that power is inevitable.

It is on that note that I want to highly recommend the work Paradigm Initiative Nigeria has done so far to bring attention to this issue. Download their excellent policy brief here (PDF) which gives a good overview of the issues and charts a way forward.

Now, this may all seem very serious, and it is. Right now, as you read this, the future of the internet is being shaped to favour governments and corporations, while we just browse away. We must organise and engage with this process as much as we can, or this future will be defined for us, in lots of ways that will be less than benign. The price of liberty is eternal vigilance.

A different kind of law enforcement in Nigeria.

On the wall at the entrance to Adeniji-Adele police station, the number of the D.P.O. (Divisional Police Officer) is prominent, to enable residents get in touch with him. At the gate and inside the station, the aggression so often exhibited by the police is absent, with people going about their business freely. It is almost as if this particular police station is not in Nigeria, where the brutality of its law enforcement agents is legendary.

A different kind of policing is in operation there, where Monday Agbonika is in charge. He first came to attention in an article by the Wall Street Journal a year ago, for his work in Agege. At his new assignment, which started in March this year, he continues to implement what he learnt from a DFID programme aimed at providing a new template for policing in Nigeria, one focused on forming partnerships with stakeholders in the community to improve service delivery.

Agbonika was part of a pilot programme called ‘Security, Justice and Growth’, which involved 129 divisions from across the country, and used role based training to introduce new policing concepts. The aim, as he explained, was to ‘discuss how we’ve been doing things, discuss problems we have been encountering and how we can do things better. It is like teaching ourselves’. The follow-up programme, called ‘Justice for All’, uses model police stations to implement those new concepts. He admits that ‘what they (the government) expect from us is different from the way we do it here’, but it makes his work so easy that he cannot imagine going back to the old ways. ‘I wonder why anyone should work differently’, he says.

This approach was a success at his former station at Isokoko in Agege area of Lagos, where, in addition to drastically reducing the crime rate, a new police station was constructed through community partnership. Accountability and transparency was key to achieving this, and he even got the governor, Babatunde Raji Fashola to assist. Isokoko was chosen as one of the model police stations in the ‘Justice for all’ programme, and Adeniji-Adele has just been included, apparently because he has applied the tools and principles consistently. ‘Someone said they are following me’, he says with a smile. ‘But I am not complaining’.

Throughout, he gives the impression of calmness, a kind of relaxed focus, inspite of his responsibilities. He deals with several visitors, one of whom was an elderly man who is an old boy of his former school, St John’s College, Kaduna. He communicates with his men a number of times as well, receiving reports from the field.

Just like Isokoko, Adeniji-Adele’s main problem concerned ‘area boys’. He solved the problem by employing a variety of tools like ‘crime mapping’, which keeps record of incidents with the help of notebooks, which are submitted on a daily basis. These reports form the basis for the ‘DPO’s briefing sheet’, submitted by the Divisional Intelligence Officer at the start of the next day. ‘This is how intelligence-led policing starts’, he explains. ‘It’s the small things. It is about collecting little bits of information and putting them together to form a picture. You don’t wait to get high-tech equipment’. The incidents are put on a map, resulting in hotspot patrols and neighbourhood patrols designed to boost police visibility, deter potential criminals and breed trust between the police and the community. Vigilante groups in the area under his command are encouraged and trained in partnership with the DFID and CLEEN foundation. Traditional rulers in communities with restive youth are also involved in warning them to desist from crime and in settling disputes. In the event of any disturbance, response teams are trained to arrive on the scene within 60 seconds of a report to disperse crowds and make arrests if possible. In addition, there is a Prisoners’ Lockup Register, designed to keep track of suspects in custody, and check the excesses of the men on duty.

Taken together, this approach aims to renew the faith of residents in the rule of law and make that the first source of redress. When suspects are charged to court, he notes the reforms going on in the Lagos state judiciary, which make for quicker dispensation of justice.

Another area in which progress has been made is regarding domestic violence and rape, which is a cause he champions. A lot of physical abuse goes unreported and steps have been taken to make victims able to come forward and receive care. ‘Before now, people used to think only about how to prosecute the suspect, but no one cares about the victim’, he says. ‘I have gotten training for them to focus more on the victims, because they are the most important. Some of them will never be the same again’

At the entrance to the station, there is a private area manned by a female officer trained to identify and respond to women in distress. A number of CSOs like Project Alert work with the police to provide counselling and shelter. In cases of rape which are reported within 72 hours, Post Exposure Prophylaxis (PEP) is administered which can prevent HIV infection, even if it is reported at the weekend. ‘More women are willing to come forward, but we still need awareness for them to know we have this in place and their identities will be secure’.

It has not been progress all round, however. A lot of officers have transferred out, because there is a lot less room for extortion. He has about 50 men less than when he took over as DPO. As a result the Ilubirin area is underpoliced, making it a haven for robbers despite attempts to clear the area under that section of the Third Mainland Bridge. He is less upbeat when discussing personnel issues, emphasizing the lonely nature of what he is trying to do. Poorly paid policemen often become corrupt in order to make ends meet, and Adeniji-Adele used to be seen as lucrative. ‘In the past, they used to pay N10,000 to come here’, he said. ‘Now, they pay N10,000 to leave’.

Going forward, a community safety partnership will be developed consisting of relevant stakeholders that will find out the concerns of the people and try to resolve them. Also planned is a solictors’ forum made of lawyers who will have access to the cells, make observations, represent suspects in court and ensure their rights are not violated, serving as checks on the police.

This method of policing which focuses on service and partnership can go a long way to reverse the years of hostility Nigerians feel towards those supposed to protect them, conferring the legitimacy necessary to preserve order, without which society will slide into chaos, as graphically expressed in the ALUU 4 incident and numerous other examples of jungle justice which take place all over the country. Intelligence led policing can also help with combating Boko Haram, winning hearts and minds in order to deliver crucial information, as against the crude and counter-productive tactics of the Joint Task Force.

Lasting reform will take time, but maybe one day, the police in Nigeria will truly be your friend.

Taking notes while Michelle speaks.

One of the things about US politics that makes it so riveting, especially around election time, is the quality of the speeches and the debates. I have always been convinced about the power of words to inspire and rouse the spirit when used appropriately. I was discussing this with a friend yesterday afternoon, and Michelle Obama gave another demonstration of their impact.

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I could have watched the first day of the Democratic National Convention, but I was denied the pleasure by the good people at DSTV. Even though I renewed my subscription before it expired, I was still cut off. It is an annoyance that will be resolved in a few hours, Insha Allah.

Since I couldn’t watch it, I resorted to monitoring the reaction to it on Twitter. As always, it was entertaining stuff. Lots of people talked about how much of a credit Michelle has been to her husband over the last four years, painting him in the best possible light, and how powerful the speech was. I saw people inspired by the narration of how she and the future US president went out for dates ‘in a car that was so rusted out, I could actually see the pavement going by through a hole in the passenger side door’. It was a speech about how they beat early hardships, first separately, then together. It was a speech about how, having beaten those challenges and ‘walked through that doorway of opportunity’ as she put it, their aim has been to uplift others, and not to ‘shut the door behind them’. The entire context was a veiled reference to Mitt Romney and the policies of the Republican Party, but she never mentioned either by name. It is as classy as it gets.

After reading the speech, one is left with many thoughts. It is clear that, just like Hilary Clinton, Michelle Obama is destined for greater things. The nature of that will not be clear for a while, but it does seem she will be in the national spotlight for a long time.

There is something about her and Barack that is the distillation of all that is the very best about the black race. At the same time, it is an unbelievably inspiring image and message that transcends race and nationality. Seeing both of them display such command of a stage, of words, and do it with such smoothness, without seeming to miss a beat, leaves a longing for that kind of ability however fleeting that longing might be.

The urge to compare them with other public figures is inevitable. Of course, there is an innate unfairness about such comparisons, but that really isn’t the point. It is a very human trait to make comparisons, to want to do better, to aspire for bigger and better things. This dissatisfaction is behind every human advancement. As individuals and a collective, Nigerians need some of that.

For years, Bill and Hillary Clinton were the ultimate power couple, the best example of how two people can play on the same high level, while sharing the same bed. Barack and Michelle Obama have followed this template and are arguably improving it. From their story, it is quite clear that they both recognised the potential in each other early on, made the necessary investments and decided for the long haul. Any single man or woman who aspires to something like that must be ready to make similar investments. There are no half measures.

In the end, her speech – which we are told she worked on for a month – was about sacrifice, commitment to family and society, and a life-long journey with an authentic and driven person who is going somewhere.

It is a message that resonates and hopefully, it lingers long after today.

Much ado about Dangote’s truck drivers

A friend of my dad’s, a Ph.D holder who used to lecture in Unilag, went to the United States a number of years ago for ‘greener pastures’. My dad met up with him some time after he left, and he revealed he was working as a security guard to get by. This was before the recession hit, by the way. I am sure much of Nigeria’s – and even Africa’s – aspiring middle class can relate to this story. We all know someone who knows someone who has left Nigeria to the West, and has had to do one odd job or the other to get by in the meantime. That ‘meantime’ may be a few months or several years, and the jobs are of all sorts: washing toilets, dead bodies, and the like.

This reality makes the fuss over the offer of employment to 2,000 graduates by Dangote Industries, as truck drivers, hard to fathom, on so many levels.

First of all, the sheer number of graduates that are churned out by Nigerian universities on a yearly basis, will be difficult for any economy to quickly absorb, least of all a country that has jobless growth like Nigeria. Going forward, in fact, the numbers are even scarier. High unemployment is seen as a major reason why Nigerian youths in all sorts of things, from armed robbery, to Internet fraud, to being used as election thugs and crude oil thieves. If they were busy, they would have no time for such things.

More fundamentally, there is a skills issue. Those who might think that being a truck driver is a waste of a graduate’s mind, may not be taking what graduates actually learn in school into account. Most graduates here are not fit to go into middle management straight out of school. At least, not immediately. Even if they were, the sheer numbers mean not everyone will get in. What happens to the rest?

Dangote’s operations by now are highly sophisticated, and complex operations need sophisticated people to handle them. This is not about setting a low bar. If major improvements in the supply chain are to be implemented, it may mean that first degree holders are the best people to adapt to these changes, as against the more experienced drivers who are used to a particular style. This is even more important as Africa’s richest man takes his business international.

Then of course, there is the issue of remuneration. The number being bandied around is that Dangote’s truck drivers could earn up N500,000 a month. I’m not one to speculate, but it is a figure that seems plausible, given his profits and the importance of the drivers to the success of the business. If that figure is true, then it is right up there with the best salaries in the country, and very good compensation for the long hours. So many, many workers here work equal hours for a lot less. Some will never that kind of money as basic salary. Ever.

Another objection might come: is it just about the money? Yes, it is. The simple truth is, if we didn’t feel we needed degrees to get ahead, to earn more and provide for our families, we wouldn’t bother. We would read novels, and play video games and such all day and night. The first duty of a certificate is to serve as a platform for material advancement. Further to this, working as a truck driver need not be a permanent thing. It can serve as a stepping stone to a better job, either within the company or outside it. He that is faithful in little…

…will be faithful in much. Which brings me to my next point. A troubling tendency exists in these parts, where some feel certain jobs are beneath them and there is something gravely wrong with this mentality. A lot of successful people have had to pick up menial jobs on their way to the top, jobs that were ‘beneath’ them. Any journey has a number of ‘bus stops’ on the way, some less glamorous than others, but it all comes with the territory, as they say. So many of our roles models used to be waiters, waitresses, mechanics, bus drivers, and so on.

In which we come back to the issue raised in the first paragraph. If many of us have friends, family members and acquaintances who have left Nigeria to do all those odd jobs ‘in the abroad’, where we are second class citizens, is it not a tad hypocritical to raise such dust about these vacancies?

On a final note, I just wonder how much of the fuss is because the offer is from Dangote. His growing power means that he is viewed more and more suspiciously, but this doesn’t mean every move of his is immediately wrong. He will be getting even more youths off the streets, and this is the issue here.

On a final final note, trucking is actually a cool job. Discovery Channel has a whole programme for them called ‘Ice Road Truckers’. Many of us drive our parents and girlfriends for free. Being paid well for it is not a bad idea.