Friday, December 31, 2010

The hegemony of just cause

Hello, my name is Peter Obiefuna, and this is an open letter to you that seeks to capture some of the random reminiscences of my mind as I tumbled in my sleep and bemoan the lost opportunities that characterize the last couple of years in the Nigeria Association of Alberta (NAA) in Edmonton.

Background: The Idowu Appeal

Late in the month of November 2010, a certain young man named Idowu, wrote a letter to the Board of Directors of NAA demanding some of his constitutionally protected rights inter alia, an opening of the books of the association and the tabling of a special resolution at a General Meeting on a future date. This letter was signed by Idowu (for and on behalf of a long list of names).
Incidentally, the NAA Board appeared to have ignored the demands since it did not respond to Idowu's letter, nor fulfilled its demands within the time span mandated by the constitution nor did it insert the special resolution item in the agenda of a meeting scheduled for December, 2010 nor did it bring up this matter during a call-to-order opening remarks at the meeting. This meeting did not continue much longer in the direction the Board had hoped because Idowu raised a constitutional matter to introduce his concern and thus began the improv that culminated in a sudden and unusual end of the meeting several hours later. Following that meeting, an upheaval ensued in the community and more emails have so far been generated on this matter than all other community emails put together since time began. I created and dedicated a forum named NAA Speaks Out to this cause as a way for every one to speak their mind.

Legacy in Indented Poetry

The most significant of the things I hear from the defenders of this NAA Board is that the Idowu appeal was not legitimate in that some of the names on the long list (I told you about) are not even members of NAA. There are many other arguments like this one. There have been abundant conversations, conspiracy theories and innuendoes around the Board's capacity to govern, financial probity and accountability. There have been accusations that tribalism and ethnic dominance is at the root of the NAA problem. We have branched these conversations into so many pieces and fragments that I am uncertain that the main subject has received any attention at all. We are writing a legacy for our children in indented poetry and are lost in the depth of our own indentations. We have lost count and have forgotten how many [SHIFT][TAB]s we need to press to come back up to the root issues:
a. A member requested to see the books of the association (this should have happened within two days of the request) and that has not happened as I write.
b. A member sponsored a special resolution in writing and that motion was not put on the agenda for the next general meeting.

We are writing immortal words of gross miscarriage of justice and we don't care who is listening. In my minds eye, I clearly see our grandchildren and great-grandchildren craning their ears from years far in the future, trying to sift through the rubble of our illogic, hoping to hear the wise words of their hero, the legendary us. And the following is the picture they get:

One of the grandpas who lived in 2010 took his child to his local Hospital and entrusted the child to the Doctor. A few visits later, grandpa not only noticed that the child was getting sicker and sicker. The child who walked in on both legs is now in a coma and is dying. Grandpa looks around and sees that his child is dying, a specially recruited team of 7 doctors was promised but only 1 or 2 remained, and the promised open-book breakdown of how the medication is procured and administered has not been given in a long time. Grandpa appeals to hospital administration to execute a standing agreement to (a) let him see the financial breakdown and (b) set up the right team of doctors, properly hired as stipulated in the contract. To grandpa's surprise, hospital administration was divided. The group that supported the one die-hard doctor played the drum-beat of the doctor, "Some members of Grandpa's family are owing on medical bills and so, we can't even consider the request". The group supporting Grandpa was also playing the drum-beat of grandpa's vocal first son, "The doctor thinks he is untouchable because he is a member of the dominant 'doctors from the eastern border'". In all of this, the main issues remain relatively unaddressed: (i) What will happen to the comatose child? (ii) When will Grandpa see the financial breakdown? (iii) Is Grandpa's family an exception or a whistle-blower microcosm of the predominant sentiment in a colossally ill community?
That is the legacy we are seeping out today like the oozing of the last few drops of sap from a jaundiced breed of ancient trees. And it did not start today.

The Hegemonies

I dare say (for it is a deeply forbidden subject), that the Nigeria of my era (BTW: I will be 50 years old next May) is socialized around hegemonies that often manifest themselves as very dark caucuses of allegiance, protection and conspiracy. A man working in the Federal Ministry of Lands got that job because another man helped him get it. So it is for a man, a man or a man. These hegemonies constitute the dominant operational force behind what projects got done, who got chosen, where you got posted, where you went to school and what course you studied. These hegemonies were the Nigerian mafia that propelled the publicly facing, democratic, documented, due process, equality policies of all forms of the social structures where people my age and over grew up. The operations of these hegemonies are sometimes so complex that a smaller but viciously powerful cult within a larger group uses that larger group as a cover and makes decisions that further the interest of the cult. Then, it rubber-stamps those decisions with the seal of the more politically correct group. Worse of all, because these hegemonies prospered through a passion fuelled by hate, they were easy to pass down to offspring (seeing how hate is so close to the human nature that it is easy to acquire; the hard work being to love unconditionally). Most children that grew up in my time would have benefited or fallen victim to one or more of these hegemonies, and either way grew to think that they are inevitable ingredients of our polity.
So, when a man of my age arrives Edmonton even in the obvious face of relative independence from the shackles and limitations that forced us to bow to hegemony rule, we still seek them out, operate through them and are subject to them. So, it is common to find many of my age in a common discourse among Nigerians pandering to tribal and religious hegemonies. The symptoms can be subtle and overt. The overt may be like a leader of all Nigerians feeling that he is safer in a conversation if it includes more members of his Church or tribe than otherwise, and actually acts out that insecurity. The subtle is like what I call "The Dead Leaf Effect" whereby anytime a member of a hegemony says something, no matter how stupid, everyone in that group echoes the same thing or is at pain to clearly counter it based on facts. I call it The Dead Leaf Effect because to do this, a normally smart person will have to act brain dead, will have to fall where the others are falling and can be blown by the wind that passing by it's base tree, and ultimately the person loses luster and glow in the eyes of the untainted.
This is a serious sociological and historical Nigerian problem. It happens to different degrees elsewhere but the degree to which it happened in the Nigeria of my time was immensely mind-altering. An American parallel of this kind of effect is Slavery. It would be harder for a 65 year-old white American farmer who grew up in the South to vote for a black President than a 21 year-old University student. The farmer grew up in a system that molded him in a way that is not consistent with freedom of thought; fact-based thought. Freedom? I just realize that the slave owner was in as much a shackle as the shackle he put on his slaves. He is in bondage to the extent that he is not free to embrace the resources that abound outside the confines of his prejudices and the fears and uncertainties they bring him.

The hegemony of Just Cause

There's got to be a reason why "youth" and "learning" are some of the quickest catalysts to social change. And that is why the walls of schools are often the breeding ground of great ideals. First, because there's got to be a hope for us in the future, our children will necessarily have to start off smarter and less encumbered than us. Second, young people don't yet have such a long list of people to owe obeisance for finding them jobs, co-sponsoring their wedding, helping to sponsor their immigrant application, and all those things that help to opiate the velocity of an impulse driven primarily by purity of purpose. Some of us can no longer afford to be idealistic but we too were! Remember back in the day when virtually every year students were killed during clashes with government agencies during campus riots in Nigeria because as students, we wanted change? And every year, we marched again, and again and again. Every year, it was us. Not our parents, not the businessmen, not the workers, it was us. The students. The epitome of ideality.. just cause unbridled!
Look what we have become now. We know of the problems in Edmonton NAA. We always knew. The major tribes rally around their key tribal leaders. The minor tribes do too. It's not so demonstrable but they do. Very much so. And they also do exert political influence, at least at the level of The Dead Leaf Effect. When we have issues in Edmonton, instead of putting it on the table and discussing it as Nigerians, the more organized hegemonies call a meeting to evolve a common front; the less organized ones do a phone network and the minority ones do home visit. By and large when NAA meets, it's more like a delegates conference of men in bondage (Of course, there are always exceptions but this post is not about exceptions). Most people don't tell you what they think until they know what their leaders think. When someone from a small group becomes a leader, we present it as a democracy but it works as hegemony. Sometimes, the key leaders of the hegemonies would meet to strike a certain level of balance and provide a code of conduct for keeping the pressure below boiling point. Unfortunately recently, something went wrong with the cordiality among the key leaders of the hegemonies. They are not friends anymore. There's no one to pull the safety cap on the pressure pot and it kept mounting for about 3 years now.
All along, we never thought there would be another hegemony; the one to whose name the title of this post is dedicated: The Hegemony of Just Cause.
When Idowu had a concern, he did not go to a tribal or religious leaning or a secret cult. He went to people that believe in the cause he was proposing and that believe that that cause is just. You don't have to agree with them but you must respect their right to believe; their right to do something about their belief; and their right to get a hearing. Their method may not be as "orderly" as you want but you must stop delegitimizing your own people just because you don't agree with them. They have a wind behind them. And for once in a long time, they are being driven by life and by belief in the cause at stake not the agreement enacted and sealed under a secret handshake, a sign of the cross or star or a tribal chant.
I call on you because somewhere deep inside of you, you used to be like these young people. Even now that you and I are no longer like they are, we like to think that we are. We call ourselves self-glorifying names like, "Straight-shooter"s, "Call-a-spade-a-spader"ers, "stating-just-the-facts"ers. We never call ourselves bondmen of our own negative socializing who have lived in and passed through Canada ("the true North strong and free") without letting Canada pass through us, at least, to adjust our mangled compass to point again to the "True North" of fair play.

The Moratorium on Legacy

Shakespeare said, "There is no art to find the mind's construction in the face".
I cannot tell what you are thinking right now. I cannot tell why you are holding out. I cannot tell why you are taking or giving advice that can only protract the awful days that this association has been plunged into. It appears like you are holding out until the young people just tire and just fall asleep; or they suddenly agree with you. One of the contributors on the forum who wrote in defense of the NAA Board wants us to hang out till March when the board plans to conduct elections. There are a few strange things about this contributor: First, I have reason to believe that this contribution is from a person using a false name to advance this agenda. Second, how does a guy from Auckland NZ already know when this Board has "slated" elections when even date has not yet been announced? I don't know if this is what the board wants to do ... just buy time and string this out till March, conduct an early election and then go. Somehow, this must represent some kind of victory for someone. Apparently, the purported early January meeting notice is yet to be sent out and the notice of special resolution has not yet been communicated to all members (meaning that the 3-week countdown may not have started). And would that be Victory over what? Over your own people? Young people, our own children who are trying to be what we were proud to be in our days?
I can assure you that there is no victory to be won in this thing other than the victory of being on the right side of Legacy. To record your stand for or against a desire by these young people to be heard, a desire to be respected as equal members of NAA and citizens of Nigeria and a desire for their concern to be addressed is the challenge we all face. You don't have to agree with them. You only have to support and help to create an arena for their views to be heard and given due consideration. Do it for your own children. These young people are older than your children. When your own children grow up, they will also want to be heard and respected. Here is your chance to teach these young people of today how to respect your own children of tomorrow.
Please do not let your advisers overrate March/April/May 2011. That day only represents the latest day of the best case scenario for people who don't even want to consider listening to these young people. It is not the day that all these concerns go away. Beyond that day, motions could still be moved and passed that would characterize and record for all eternity, everything that the General Assembly deems appropriate against the names of persons both within and without the Board who are helping to keep NAA in coma. You will be immortalizing a Legacy. You will be refinancing 3-4 months of self-pride for an eternity of whatever you leave behind after that.

Beast of No Nation: Man of All Nations

My name is Peter Obiefuna. I am a Nigerian Canadian. I am a software architect in a company that boasts about 31,000 employees. My office building in Edmonton has 19 floors and I only see 2 of my kind in there. I studied MS computer science in North Carolina and was the only one of my kind in that class ever (as in, the history of mankind). I have worked in Universities in the United States and Jamaica, countries not my own.
My parents are from Umudike Ukpor in Anambra State of Nigeria, a very diminutive village by comparison. I was born in Aba, Abia State; Went to primary school in a village not my own; Went to Church at Salvation Army a minority religious denomination; Went to secondary school at Oraifite, a town not my own; Went to University in Benin for first degree and Masters (not Nsukka in my cashment area); Did Youth Service in Sokoto, lived and worked all my working life in Calabar, Cross River State; Did a PhD in Unilag, Lagos State, married Idongesit from Akwa Ibom State.
When Fela Anikulapo Kuti sings the song, "Beast of No Nation", I feel it is speaking of me in a positive sense as "Man of All Nations"!
I recount these for you to see that I am acquainted with being in the minority. I know that ordinary people can do extraordinary things by just defining a good cause, believing in it and just going for it with all they've go. They don't have to go bow to thrones and dominations to get endorsement from the stalwarts and the revered. They don't have to enmesh their soul in inextricable alliance and so mortgage away their right to have an opinion. I know that all the allegiance bondage by which ploy people are held back from speaking up for justice does not have the power to hold you down forever. How can you be free if you are not free to even have an opinion?
I stand here to declare that I have enjoyed the love, friendship, and generosity of peoples of all callings. My success is traceable to the support and challenges from every shade of person. I have also faced perils from all shades of person. So, my greater passion is to align with a cause that will let me sleep well at night and that my grandchildren will be proud to read about. And when I die, I don't want to be judged for helping to suppress the cause of the just. When my children are up and about and the cup with which I measure out today is used to measure out to them, I don't want to shudder in my sleep.

Don't shoot the messenger

Shooting the messenger is easy. He is standing right there in your face; you are angry at the message, and he's right there. It's easy and requires no special discipline. But please don't do it. It makes you so ... ordinary. Let's address the message instead. I admire Idowu's passion. I admire his style and that of the people that support him. There are people of all cultures in there. There are people of all religions (or none) in there. They are young people and have an interest in making things better, in my opinion. Whatever side you sit on this divide, you will agree that this zeal should be encouraged and harnessed even for bigger and more visionary exploits. You will agree that we need to start getting organized around ideas rather than creed.
It will be cowardly to intimidate, alienate or attack their persons in any way. I know that several persons will assume that I will vote a 'Yes' on that special resolution. I probably will, but that misses the point of this post. My point is that even if I would vote a 'No', I should still write this post with the same passion asking that we prevail on this NAA Board to open our books to any member who asks for it according to the constitution and to not deny any one member the right to sponsor a special resolution including those ones they don't like.
It sounds like bravery but it really is cowardice to shoot the messenger. It sounds like a definitive response but it is a non-response to shoot the messenger without addressing the message. You may just want to shut off the message but often when you shoot the messenger, the message grows louder!
NAA should be a platform for Nigerian brotherly community strength and a source of identity for our children. If we allow NAA to become a platform for fostering hate, insensitivity and the worst of the baggage we brought from where we came from, the next special resolution will predictably be calling not just for a dissolution of the Board on grounds of the unconstitutionality of its composition but the entire NAA on grounds that everyone is tired of whitewashing the tomb.