Tag Archives: police

“My Mercedes Is Bigger Than Yours”

It was a drive from Abuja to Asaba. I was fortunate to be given a free ride in an air-conditioned vehicle by a kind middle aged couple who were friends of friends. The couple (or maybe it was just the man) had requested a service from a taxi driver whose usual airport pick up and drop off services he used quite regularly. I never learnt what this service was. His instructions were not quite followed properly.

Nigerian taxi. Source:www.connectnigeria.com
Nigerian taxi. Source:www.connectnigeria.com

“Such a fool, that man. Simple message, he could not deliver.” He fumed at the wheels.

“Oh forgive him, if he was as smart as you, he won’t be a taxi kabu-kabu driver.” His wife rubbed his shoulder as she spoke the words.

“I know! Anyway, he is lucky I did not meet him when he arrived to deliver the news. I would have slapped him a few times.” He said.

I remember being very still when I heard this. I was outraged and shocked that the people I was travelling with held this point of view. This was over 10 years ago; they were older than me by over 20 years. Therefore, as is the norm with Nigerian traditional values, I did not challenge this outlook. But it came back to me today because I heard this view expressed again, this time about a waiter.

Isn’t it incredibly pompous that that some regard themselves as somewhat superior based on occupation, social standing, wealth, qualifications, or worst still circumstances in life? Nigeria is an incredibly class conscious society. Should the “human-ness” of others be categorised based on these social constructs or just as bad, based on financial standing?

I have found some other countries to be incredibly class conscious societies as well, but at least, there is some semblance of a social system which provides equal and regulated services to all and sundry; whether rich or poor.

Public transport. Source: www.en.wikipedia.org
Public transport. Source: http://www.en.wikipedia.org

These services include great quality healthcare, transport, and security services, although of course having a family name or upper class connections and some wealth, may mean being bumped up school lists, or cutting the waiting lists and paying for private healthcare or flying a private jet to France instead of being stuck at Calais as a result of strikes in France or the “swarm” of migrants attempting to cross the channel tunnel.

However, the police will respond to an accusation of an employer hitting his employee, and justice will follow its due course in the United Kingdom for example. In Nigeria, try reporting your employer to the police. The police, for the most part, will dispense justice to the highest bidder. Good luck to you as the series of events unravel.

Nigerian police force. Source:www.dailypost.ng.com
Nigerian police force. Source:www.dailypost.ng.com

There will always be people who seem to be in less of a social standing than us, or seem less intellectual, or are more qualified, have a higher IQ, are better leaders, better looking or have their lives seemingly together more so or less so, than you. That this man is a taxi driver, so what? Someone has to do that job; he could be more liquid than you are, (not that this matters anyway), with a better quality of life even. How do you know that this is not a two or three year plan to the next phase of his life? This man was a branch manager of some micro-finance bank at the time. But he did not start out as a branch manager. Most people do not come fully formed. What was wrong with being a taxi driver? Everyone has a different goal; I would never work as a branch manager of a Micro-finance bank.

I wanted to say all these as I sat in the back of that car, particularly to the wife for her patronising line. I find that those who seemingly preach “peace” but are only actually being very patronising and institutionalising these attitudes, are just as bad as those who treat those whom they perceive to be in a lower social standing, with contempt or abuse.

I remember feeling annoyed and ashamed that I did not speak up for that taxi man. He failed to deliver on the errand to which he was sent; big deal. The solution is simple; don’t use his services any more. This is the sort of belief system or social system that brings on abuse even in domestic relationships.

I have been meaning to do a piece on the modern day slavery that is the so-called “housegirl” arrangement where women keep children in their homes as housekeepers. These minors are then expected to look after the children and run the home. We are talking about a 10 year old who is barely able to look after themselves. This child will make mistakes because he/she has been given the mandate to supervise a household that they neither have the capacity nor the maturity to manage.

USA Dept of Labour's findings regarding child labour in the USA. (Just a random photo of the publication I found while looking through NAPTIB's documents). Source:www.issuu.com
USA Dept of Labour’s findings regarding child labour in the USA. (Just a random photo of the publication I found while looking through NAPTIB’s documents). Source:www.issuu.com

The result is a lot of physical and emotional abuse and violence meted out on these housegirls by madam. What did you expect? Can you trust your child at that same age with such responsibility? Will you send your child to clean and wash and scrub other peoples’ home and look after babies unsupervised? The fact that women have allowed this to go on is beyond me and quite irresponsible. I hear the National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons (NAPTIB), the Nigerian agency working to do exactly to end all trafficking and child labour related crimes, has developed a massive campaign around this. The agency reported a total of 130 cases relating to human trafficking and other related cases in the first quarter of 2015. Over 20% of that related to child labour. Read the report here.

Our societies are almost obsessed with the idea of respect bordering on fear. This respect is not necessarily earned or extended to all human beings, but is leveraged on the basis of age, social standing, material possessions and religious affiliations, or its hierarchy. It seems to me that everyone deserves to be respected to begin with; young, old, rich, poor, white, black, Christians, Muslims, atheists, humanists, and all the different kinds of people in existence. But this is not true in practice.

The concept of “nkali” is one that is so embedded in our culture that nothing seems to supersede it; not moral obligation, not our overly-religiousness, and certainly not the state with its weak regulations and even weaker enforcement. It is an Igbo word which when loosely translated means “to be greater than another”. In our society, people are treated quite badly depending on where they have found themselves in life and there is no recourse to justice. Anyone who tries to stand up for him/herself is regarded as disrespectful.

Geert Hofstede’s power distance index goes into a little more depth in his work on cultural dimensions. Nigeria (and other countries such as India, Pakistan, Bangladesh) which is struggling with development in spite of incredible resources, features very highly as a country where the power distance index is very high. This “nkali” is quite commonplace in countries steeped in inequality and poverty; the wealthy, elite, political class and the powerful do not want a distribution of power. No surprise there. But also those most affected by inequality, seem satisfied with servicing this inequality instead of standing up and demanding for change and what is rightfully theirs. Nobody wants to be dubbed ‘disrespectful’. We see this manifest in governance in Nigeria.

When I thought about this incident, the one thing that captured the essence or the ripple effect of this “nkali” besides Hofstede was Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Ted Talk “The Danger of a Single Story”. In her talk, she discusses the reality of treating people in a certain way, because we know only one version of who they are, and depending on what that version is, treat them with condescension, amusement, or in the case of this woman who was making peace with her husband, patronising pity.

It is often quite startling to see others treated in a certain way when because we have preconceived notions about them or are more fortunate than them. So we do them “favours”. I hear some of this ‘favour’ when women talk about giving housegirls access to the same pots from which their children are fed, and paying their school fees (in a community school with the worst ranking and the lowest fees nonetheless). As though treating people right was a luxury instead of a necessity.

Another example of “nkali” is the book ‘My Mercedes Is Bigger Than Yours’, written by Nkem Nwankwo and published in the Heinemann African writers series. This book tells the story of Onuma and portrays the wastefulness and opulence seen in the city slicker. However, the moral superiority held by the rural dweller quickly diminishes when the chiefs in the villages are shown to take advantage of the desperate and poorer migrant labourers.

mercedes
There is a chance for exploitation in every human being. This is why one hopes that factors such as teachings of faith, leadership, consequence, or a reform and necessary evolution in cultural norms which have outlived their usefulness, will begin to tip the balance of inequality in our society.

However, the real solution is yet to be seen but may include a steering that boosts economic growth, a social services system and infrastructure development that can close the gap in inequality, and act as a leveller.

The principle of “nkali” breeds human rights abuses, resentment, terrorism, poverty, disease and general instability. Realistically, “nkali” will always co-exist with human nature, but there needs to be fundamental change in us as individuals, our common humanity must be more important than our differences. Most importantly, the government must empower an incorruptible, well equipped and knowledgeable police force and judiciary system to deliver redress and consequence for injustice and abuse.

Is There Such A Thing As Trans-Racial: The Rachel Dolezal Saga

In the last four days, the story of the American woman Rachel Dolezal has been discussed extensively in the media internationally. Rachel was until yesterday the President of the Spokane chapter of the National Association of the Advancement of Coloured People (NAACP). She is also a Professor of Africana studies at Eastern Washington University. In addition, she was the chair of the office of the police ombudsman commission in Spokane, a position which she no longer holds as the Police department has issued a statement suspending all cases being reviewed under her committee. Slowly her life has literally fallen apart and all these positions have gone.

Rachel Dolezal. Source:www.breitbart.com
Rachel Dolezal. Source:www.breitbart.com

Rachel Dolezal, who was previously married to a black man with whom she had a son, was born to white parents and is biologically white. However, she has claimed to be black for at least 10 years, claiming a mixed race heritage through an African American father. Rachel is a very well educated woman who attended Howard University; a historically black college, on scholarship. Her parents leaked the story of her faked identity. They tell of a submitted portraiture as part of the application to Howard University. The submission mirrored an African American identity and earned her a full scholarship.

Rachel-Dolezal-2

Her parents are as concerned and baffled as the rest of the world as to why Rachel chose to denounce her heritage and con her friends and community into believing she was a black woman. She changed her appearance with tan and braids and kinky curls, in order to look mixed race. There has been a cry of outrage from African American women in the United States accusing Rachel of white privilege. She sued Howard for discrimination, saying she was deprived of certain opportunities there because she was a white woman in a historically black University. In the same vein, she reported several racial threats to the police in Spokane, alleging abuse because she was a black woman. The discourse points to a deceptive platform being used to achieve all she has. Her ‘blackness’ seems like a cloak which she puts on and takes off as she wishes.

She is also being accused of stealing opportunities which she did not deserve from the minority on false pretences. Rachel Dolezal is a very accomplished woman and her biography is impressive, even for a white woman in middle class America. It is even more so impressive for a black woman at her age. The furore surrounding the ‘outing’ of Rachel is one which revolves around integrity and identity. There is an overwhelming acknowledgement that she could not have achieved what she did, had she not claimed to be a black woman.

ABC_rachel_dolezal_parents_jt_150613_16x9_992

The question of identity crises is one which is all too familiar to mixed race children and adults. But even more so to women of black heritage in a country such as the United States of America where they constitute a minority. Black women in the US have come through a difficult history of prejudice, deprivation and a struggle for acceptance in a society with stereotypes such as the angry black woman, and mockery or unpopularity of the black woman’s features of thick curly hair, large hips and full lips. These features have only recently become popular. Thus, black women are outraged that this woman has masqueraded as a black woman, yet has not lived the agony, the rejection and the discrimination faced by black women in America, even at the hands of the men within the African American community.

Kylie Jenner who got lip enhancement
Kylie Jenner who got lip enhancement

However, others have suggested that perhaps this is a conversation which the world needs to begin to have. This could be a discovery of an identity crises stemming from what could be a new state of being “trans-racial”. Some members of the transgender community have been outraged by the comparison that somehow being transgender a la the Caitylin Jenner experience, is in some ways one and the same as the having a transracial experience; if indeed there is any such thing. The argument is that gender and race are different, that being a transgender has to do with gender dysphoria, which is an actual condition, whereas there is no such thing as racial dysphoria.

Caitylin Jenner
Caitylin Jenner

One could argue that this is the first emergence of any such public occurrence of one declaring to be the opposite of their phenotypes, and believing very strongly in it. There are already outcries of mental health problems. We do not know this, and this brings to mind the arrest and incarceration in an insane asylum of American Joseph Lobdell (born Lucy Ann Lobdell) who was born a woman in the early 19th century, but believed himself to be a man and lived as such. Perhaps there is such a thing as identity confusion and a certain strong affinity to a particular group of people. If a man can declare “I am a woman” and vice versa, and have the support of the world, why can’t a white woman declare “I am black” and vice versa?

Michael Jackson before and after the change. Source:www.genius.com
Michael Jackson before and after the change. Source:www.genius.com

In any case, Rachel’s lies have ruined the more constructive and enriching discussion which may have come out of this saga. Her parents believe her struggles with identity emanate from their adoption of four black children when she was a teenager. Both of them, whom she cut off from her life and the life of their grandson, for fear of her cover being blown in her community, have said honesty and therapy are the best way forward for Rachel. She may not need therapy, she may just be light years ahead of the world. The debates around identity do not end at gender, they also include psyche, heritage and culture. .

There are people who have come from one culture, but feel a certain affinity or are deeply interested in the cultures of other social groups. This may be considered significantly different from some black women’s love of long luxurious hair extensions which have the same texture as the hair of white, Asian or hispanic people. It may also be different from the butt implants and enhanced pouts preferred by some white women. How then does this compare to Caitylin Jenner’s honest declarations on Diane Sawyer’s show, and Michael Jackson’s bizarre transformation? It may have been easier to expand on the discussion and make the linkages even in the acknowledgement of the differences, had Dolezal presented herself without the associated deception.

Hair extensions. Source:www.puiur.net
Hair extensions. Source:www.puiur.net

Dolezal’s misrepresentation of herself has now put her preference to be called black on the back burner. It has also belittled what seems to be her otherwise significant contributions in the civil rights movement. She has worked in social justice and advocacy for at least 10 years and the NAACP lauded her consistent commitment to the advancement of coloured people in America.

Ke$ha and her cornrows. Source:www.dailymail.co.uk
Ke$ha and her cornrows. Source:www.dailymail.co.uk

There is no question about the serious personal identity issues which she has and it will be interesting to see her and the experts make some sense of this when the furore dies down. The world is a big place and a shrinking community all at once. Self expression in the free world is absolutely important. One can be whomever or whatever they wish to be, with honesty. In reading the summations in the media and speaking to people, one can infer that Rachel Dolzal would have been welcome to be true to an identity she felt comfortable with. If Dolezal had been honest, perhaps she would have been embraced, as long as she was honest, and the transition was done with an acknowledgement that someone who was indeed the opposite of what their visible social construct  was, in that situation cannot necessarily understand the experience of people who have lived it all their lives.

When No Means Yes: The Lines Between Rape And Romance

I was very saddened by a piece of news I read this morning about a teenager who was raped and brutalised and left in a pool of her own blood in Lagos. She was rescued by OPC and taken to the police station. It is my firm belief and hope that Gov. Fashola will ensure that this is investigated and these miscreants found and prosecuted. It made me recall a link to a blog which a friend sent to me on twitter, where the male writer was basically asking his male readers to push on when a woman says no to sex. It was a tournament he said, and women expected to be conquered. His argument was that women would not give in easily and needed to be coerced or taken down like the opposition. In the comments section, many men were extremely pleased with the article while many women were outraged by this worldview. Now I am not certain if the writer was being sarcastic or ironic, it did not seem that way to me. I am writing about this because this is something men commonly discuss in my culture and laugh about. Apparently, women are created to be coy and should show some resistance. I remember discussing this with some guys at a party; and they totally agreed that when a woman says no, she means yes and just wants you to wear her down. I was much too shocked that day to say much.

source:returnofkings.com
source:returnofkings.com

I will say here that giving the rising numbers of rape particularly in developing countries and patriarchal societies/cultures where the laws do not protect women, this just shows why. There is rape of women on streets and in buses and other public areas, and there is domestic rape also where the rapists believe that the fact that the women are in their “space/house” or they paid for dinner, etc, means consent. In countries like India and Nigeria, women are raped all the time and perpetrators go scot free. The recent outcries in India following the rape and death of the young medical student and the prosecution of the men involved has opened up more questions about laws and gender crimes in developing countries. People may remember the rape of the young Nigerian student in Abia State University in 2011; she was raped over and over by five men who made a video and circulated this on the internet. I remember being deeply disturbed by her cries of “please just kill me”.

Rape is rarely reported to authorities in Nigeria, as their handling of the cases are very degrading of the woman and her family. According to federal police statistics which were gleaned from a website called Nigeria Police Watch, only 1,952 cases were reported in 2009. In spite of these numbers, a 2006 Amnesty International report said that those numbers are at best “sporadic, piecemeal and inconsistent” in a country with numbers rising above 160 million people.

I was raised to stay away from potential situations which would put me in a position of violence particularly gender motivated attacks. When I was younger, I thought my mother just did not want me to have fun. Now I understand. If a woman is raped, society judges her; they ask her questions such as where were you, why did you drink, why did you go to his house, that dress you were wearing can cause rape because it is too short. I believe that things can only change when we change as individuals. When a woman says no, she actually does mean no, if she were being coy, she would come to you in no time. Have you ever wondered why men from developing countries tend to serve time in Europe and North America for rape? When one takes the no means yes mentality to a developed country where the justice systems work, then be ready to serve a well deserved time in prison; and rightly so too. I get very passionate when I write or talk about this. Someone even said to me when I was discussing this piece;

“My friend is serving time in Germany for allegedly raping a girl. But this chic went home with my friend, why did she go home with him, and she was moaning too, my friend said so.”

Really? You take advantage of a drunk girl who probably said no, and you think she will fight you? Unless a woman is trained in black belt or some such martial arts, how is she going to fight off a rapist? That will probably make things worse. I always say to people; be a gentleman, actually no does mean no. If a woman is interested in taking it further, she shows it soon enough. I feel that this piece is so small, I feel that I must launch a huge campaign with our police and the people who need to amend and implement the laws to protect women. If the law makes examples of a few people, it deters many others. However, I am confident that there are many groups working on this and trying to make the world a safer place for all vulnerable groups; and it is my hope that this drop can gradually begin to cause small ripples in our mind-sets and legal systems. I shall follow up the story of the teenager in Lagos and hopefully update this post with news on police investigations going forward. While I do that, I urge everyone to work together in every little way possible to make the world safer for our mothers, our daughters, our wives/partners/girlfriends and our sisters. No does indeed, mean no!

Visiting Istanbul Turkey: Sights and Sounds

Nothing prepared my sister and I for the absolute delight that was Istanbul. Granted, we were not too happy at the airport, having flown in at 12 noon local time, and tossed up and down a very lengthy airport because nobody seemed to know where we could pay for and get visas stamped on our passport. We were grumpy, hungry and tired, having been up from 2am to pack and prepare for the drive to London Heathrow airport to catch an early flight. Eventually, we joined a very long line of Iraqis and got our visas in all of one hour. I suppose this does not apply to all countries of the world, there appeared to be a fast-track line for certain countries with certain types of agreements with Turkey; the United States of America and some European countries come to mind.

The Blue Mosque

We knew it would be an interesting trip when four immigration police officers left their desks and came to chat with my sister and I as we sat waiting for the visas to be processed (the second round of waiting after the standing in the queues). I did not see this sort of desertion of duty post in the UK or anywhere else to be honest, and there we were, being told all the lovely places to visit, and how lovely we were, by these really good looking men in police uniform with guns and handcuffs hanging low on their hips. We perked up considerably. You see, in Istanbul, it is quite a novelty to be black as the city is not diverse in that sense. The men were incredibly charming; we were greeted and welcomed everywhere, our bags were carried for us, doors were opened, meals paid for, it was quite flattering, for the first two days. Then it became irritating.

The Blue Skies by Hagia Sofia
The Blue Skies by Hagia Sofia

“Hi Chocolate girls, where are you from?” My sister and I were shocked. Never in our lives had we been addressed in that way. But you move on, because it is such a stunning city, and you are on holiday. Nothing else mattered. Plus to be honest, I don’t think it came from a place where it was intended to make us uncomfortable. So if you are a “chocolate girl” travelling to Istanbul soon, be prepared!

If you plan to go to Istanbul anytime soon, here’s what a great time you could have. We loved it.

1. We got a confidence boost from all the smiles and attention we were getting from all the men. Be careful though, don’t get sucked in, this is just a novelty, keep your wits about you.

2. Stay in Sultanahmet, it is the old city and most of the historical sites are around it, you can walk everywhere. The streets are quite charming, narrow cobbled streets with houses in rows, and balconies. The driving can be crazy though so be careful.

3. Stay in Basileus, a love bed and breakfast place, http://www.basileushotel.com, what a lovely place. The breakfast was amazing and the staff were really friendly and happy to help. There’s turkish coffee and apple tea in the evenings downstairs, the cookies and cakes were amazing. Our room had a balcony and view looking out at an old building from the 15th centrury. They also offer a complementary airport pick-up.

4. Try the fish sandwich in Eminonu, just by the water. Remember to ask for extra spicy if you like it hot. You sit there and eat looking out to the water, with the cool breeze of the evening settling on your skin.

5. Take the ferry to Khadikoy and visit the Bazaar there; everything is death cheap and what a colourful market.

6. Visit the Grand Bazaar and try the dried fruits, turkish delight (traditional sweets), and other keepsakes from Turkey. The storekeepers are fantastic and are very quick to offer you apple tea or turkish coffee. What a huge market. Remember to haggle, or you may end up buying things inflated by 200%.

_MG_3246

7. Visit the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sofia. These sites are so old, that they reminded me of my humanity and the miracle that is our existence. That all these wars were fought, and empires fell, and these monuments remained made me feel so small, but in a very heartwarming way. They are all so beautiful, but remember to wear a flowing dress or trousers and take a scarf to cover your head and shoulders respectfully before you go in. Otherwise, the mosque staff will provide you with a blue shawl which a billion people have used.There is also an Archeological museum and Topkapi palace not far from Hagia Sofia. You will need a pass to go into the last three. Only the mosques are free to view, and there are quite a number of them.

8. Take the bosphorous dinner cruise. It costs about 35 Euros I think. When you are travelling on the water at night, the views of the city are amazing, the palaces (and there are several in Istanbul) are all lit up, there is a stunning bridge which I saw over sunset. You also get to enjoy the henna ceremony. It’s all very romantic as well, something to enjoy with that special someone I think.

9. Listen to the 4am call to prayer. I know. My sister thought I was crazy, but the call to prayer in Istanbul is quite different from the calls that I have heard before. The call which I heard from my hotel room was quite moving, the intoner sang from his heart, he had a lilt to his baritone, and I just sat up and listened. My sister did not have the same experience, but I was moved by his singing. I know what the words mean, although they are always sang in Arabic, and I really have no connection since I am not muslim. But a heartfelt chant is a heartfelt chant. Anywhere.

10. Watch the whirling dervishes, at Hodjapasha Cultural Center. The centre itself is full of history, a 550 year old turkish bath place converted into a cultural centre. At 70 turkish lira per person, the show was expensive but worth it. Very colourful and the acoustics was wonderful. I learnt that a Dervish is a Muslim religious man who is undergoing an apprenticeship of learning the profession that will bestow him with eternal livelihood. So the whirling is one method, which is used by the Sufis to get closer to Allah.

11. Visit Taksim. I was worried about the protesting which I thought was ongoing but by the time we ventured into Taksim, the square was full of tourists and people just having a good time. I have never seen skies more blue! The sun was out, people were having drinks, the food was amazing, lots of flat bread and wraps. We went to lovely club where we danced to loads of Turkish and American music, had a few drinks. It was a blast.

12. Istanbul has dozens of restaurants. Too many. It’s always nice and warm, and in the evening, the breeze comes in from the shores, so dress up and find a lovely place to eat. Remember to do the dinner cruise.

13. Finally, do not leave Istanbul without getting a traditional ottoman Hamam. The one next to Hagia Sofia is very good, the package is lovely and the soaps and creams used felt quite luxurious. It costs about 90 Euros. Take all the time you need after the hamam and the massage and just chill. Lie back, and read, or just doze lightly. It feels great. I got it on the day I left Istanbul and I thought it was an excellent parting gift to myself.

One week isn’t enough though, there is so much to be seen. You can pay for most things in dollars, euros or turkish lira. There’s a ferry, a tram system, a metro, and taxis. If you stay in Sultanahmet, you will most likely not need any of these (ok, maybe the ferry for the experience and the taxi for airport). Oh, and my map reading skills are much improved now 🙂

All photos are mine.