Thursday 29 March 2007

Any drone will do - The search for Joseph

It worked before

I closed my eyes and when I opened them again, there was another of those talent shows to be featured on the BBC.

Only in July last year, the hills were alive with the sound of croaking such that a telesales girl, Connie Fisher won the role and the professional star of the proposed show smartly pulled out for this talented girl to take the role fully as the lead and star.

The BCC reality show - How Do You Solve A Problem Like Maria? - looking for a lead for the Sound Of Music - Can be termed a resounding success, so why not try the format again on some other musical?

The wolfpack

Meanwhile, yesterday was the airing of another reality show, the cut-throat, Machiavellian, brown-nosing, back-stabbing and utterly "nice" The Apprentice (Series 3), I could only watch parts of it because some of the machinations just make you cringe - I am no trader, salesman, door-stepper kind of person, the driven ambition work for Sir Alan Sugar is unique, rare and interesting, but I set my terms for taking opportunities and I wish those people great success.

However, I could not help but notice the business disruption that Sir Alan introduced into the game when after each team of boys and girls had selected a project manager with whom they were beat the other team to smithereens, the team leaders were switched - that made compelling viewing.

For all this?

Unfortunately, the real-life car salesman - Andy Jackson - who had built his own business was what the losing team surmised as exchanging a tiger for a teddy bear - he was stitched up by the boys and he failed to lead the girls, the tiger however, did have her hands full marshalling the egotistical boys - it would be a funny episode.

Both winners of the first two episodes have since left the employ of Sir Alan, the first, Timothy Campbell was bid Godspeed, the second, Michelle Dewberry seems to be a long story - one wonders, after all that brouhaha and headache the winner might not even want to work for Sir Alan after all - no interview is perfect.

The person who gets fired does not walk out of the project scot-free, do not miss the spin-off The Apprentice: You're Fired hosted by Adrian Chiles immediately after the main programme in BBC Two, where the fired gets a complete autopsy of their time with The Apprentice.

Any prick will do

However, what gets my rattle is the new talent show to be called Any Dream Will Do, the main song from the musical Joseph and His Amazing Technicolour DreamCoat, the most contemporary performance of the lead role was by Jason Donovan.

Joseph is to make a return to the WestEnd and with it a new lead from the masses of the great unwashed is needed to croon or drone to enthusiastic family members first, then to the television public and finally the winner gets a dream to work like a dog making a name for himself.

Thankfully, from the run for The Sound Of Music, the judges are of a considerable of a higher standard of decorum and reserved expression than Simon Cowell who as judge on Pop Idol is utterly successful but no English Gentleman. In fact, it was interesting when Anderson Cooper interviewed him on CNN to learn that he cannot sign, write music, play a guitar properly and does not produce either, he just has an eye for good talent and helps them along - so much for being skilled.

I was Pharaoh of all Egypt

I in fact remember that I did not have to audition for the part of Pharaoh in my school's rendition of Joseph some 32 years ago; Mrs. Third with her amazing artistic talent bedecked me with a majestic crown of imitation jewellery - rubies, agates, turquoise mounted on the head dress and a shimmering golden vest.

The pictures show the detail, yes, I still have pictures of a lot more that happened before I could write. The format was such that the school choir did all the signing and we mimed, there went my opportunity to become a tenor, though I have sung baritone in the church choir.

Where it matters for me, I made Joseph my deputy when apparently I had been having bad dreams and Joseph was able to interpret those dreams and ensure that my people did not starve to death, it was one of my descendants that enslaved the Jews, you cannot blame me for that.

Anyway, Baron Lloyd-Webber, the impresario and panel of judges which includes the dashing John Barrowman and the compeering of Graham Norton would be selecting a Joseph who can sign, dance and interpret dreams. In tandem would also run a talent show for a school choir to accompany Joseph in A cappella Ah-Ha-ha's.

It would seem we are running out of talent for something original in reality shows, however, whose dream would come true and commiserations for the many who would be a dream short of a nightmare.

The memories of stardom long ago

The Pharaoh in all his glory

The Pharaoh in all his glory - the choir below

Joseph interpreting my dreams

Joseph interpreting my dreams

Pharaoh's court

Pharaoh's court

Wednesday 28 March 2007

Nigeria: They were burnt like tinder to cinder

The tragedy of the scoop

The tragedy that has befallen Nigeria which does not seem to feature that well in any of the forums that matter in the country is that of bravado.

Some might venture to call it ignorance, others might hazard suicide, the smug will say stupidity and the experts will say poverty, the politicians however might say something sympathetic but never do anything.

We are all too familiar now with deaths from petrol fires, usually these affect those who have been scooping petrol from fuel pipelines that have been tampered with or have suffered some sort of maintenance-deficient structural damage.

Maybe in some other cases, some explosion has gone off wiping out hundreds creating headlines of gore and charred remains unrecognisable as once being human.

However, in a remote village in what is really North-Central Nigeria (Kaduna being the capital city) rather than the BBC's North-Western description, there was a tanker crash with the possible loss of 33,000 litres of highly flammable fluid, let's say petrol for instance.

The driver survived the accident but it would appear the people who gathered did not congregate to help the driver, rather they gathered to scoop petrol from the crippled tanker as the driver warned of the grave danger of a bigger accident or tragedy, like an explosion or possibly fire.

Many did not heed his warnings and eventually the tanker exploded killing 98 of which only 3 were recognisable by their relations, what a tragedy - Again!.

Reasons to be sorry

Herein is the great lament of this episode, contemporariously, an accident like this happened on Monday night according to the BBC but on Tuesday according to DissDayOnline and news of it did not break out till Wednesday morning.

Everyone knows that petrol is flammable, maybe that is too broad a generalisation - you do not have to see an obvious source of ignition before it catches fire and consumes anything that as much as has just the fumes.

The largest oil producing country in Africa cannot provide sufficiently the energy needs of its people that they are overcome with need to the detriment of their safety and consequent loss of life.

The driver knew full well that petrol can ignite unexpectedly and tried hard to warn people off this danger, but possibly ignorance of the dangers, coupled with lack of basic education and obvious destitution could not dissuade the people from such a largesse.

This was a village where everyone would have known each other too well, 98 souls perished but only 3 were identifiable when they were buried in mass graves - no greater indignity can befall another in these circumstances.

What exactly would those contesting elections really do to ensure that these tragedies become things of the past?

This is the third reported case of death by petrol incineration in less than a year, it is just not on.

Tuesday 27 March 2007

Global Warming paused for Professor Obasi

All weather stopped

Professor Obasi

Courtesy - US Climate Change Science Program

I would like to think that on the third of March 2007, Global Warming paused for a minute of silence to acknowledge and pay respects at the passing of the Secretary-General Emeritus of the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO).

Professor Godwin Olu Patrick Obasi, a Nigerian by birth had many times been elected the Secretary-General of WMO serving from 1984 - 2003, a period of 19 years in which his last election in 1999 still had him garner two-thirds of the votes from a group of three prospective candidates and making that in the first round of voting.

However, the Professor was special and unique in many ways, a Nigerian worthy of emulation who commanded such great respect amongst his peers that all organisations with meteorological interest contributed a press release to announce his passing.

An amazing achiever

His biography reads thus - he first earned a BSc in Mathematics and Physics in 1959 then went to MIT where he excelled with a distinction M.Sc and then a rare D.Sc (Doctor of Science) in Meteorology in 1960 and 1963 respectively winning an award for the best Doctoral thesis.

Now, MIT sets itself apart by being one of the very few exclusive universities that does not offer honorary degrees, you work for and earn your degree at MIT.

Serving Africa with distinction

When he returned to Africa, he managed the Meteorological Department at the University of Nairobi maintaining the position of Dean of the Faculty of Science from 1967 to 1976. He belonged to the breed of seemingly pan-Africanist Nigerians who used their talents to help brother African nations flourish.

One such person was The Honourable Justice T. Akinola Aguda who was the first Chief Justice of Botswana; he established a legacy that still has Botswana as one of the few African countries that does pay heed to its judicial rulings in letter and in spirit.

What however sets this extraordinary achievers and geniuses apart is the fact that little was known of them, apart from what they had to do professionally; they shown unusual humility and left people in no doubt of their integrity, they drew praise and accolades from peers and leaders but none went to their heads.

They understood that they talents were for service rather than hedonistic showmanship exemplified in shameless garrulous self-publicity and the vulgar show of luxuries earned from inordinate pursuit of wealth to the abandonment of principles, values or dignity.

These role models are few and many have gone, however, somehow the technologies of today would not let them be forgotten as we seek that little gem of wisdom about what made them men of achievement, honour and great respect - and they were above all great Nigerians.

Rest in peace - Professor Godwin Olu Patrick Obasi.

Monday 26 March 2007

The long Sabbath of English football

Crinkled at cricket

One is now sometimes at a loss at describing England as a sporting nation that excels at any team sport.

As we compete in the West Indies in the Cricket World Cup Kevin Petersen is now top of the world rankings of one-day batsmen, but how does that reflect on the performance of the team as a whole?

We started off with results of being beaten by New Zealand then got the better of Canada and then Kenya - hardly world class competition but we scraped through.

The first game became serious when the vice-Captain (the vice of drunkenness) was rescued off a pedallo at sea, having been out drinking like fish with other mates of disrepute, even some coaches were fined for indiscipline, this is no winning team, this is an apology to cricket.

Now, Duncan Fletcher, the England coach believes we can win the Cricket World Cup, well, that would mean that a few teams would have to rollover and play their legs in the air like happily tickled dogs. Sometimes aspiration over reality makes certain commentary just too laughable to hear a second time.

Uninspired to perform

Then football where the last time we won something big, I was just a few months old, that was 1966, people born then would probably have kids just finishing secondary school.

We were away in Israel to redeem the flagging England performance that has left us with no wins for at least 4 matches and third in a table that would only let the first two into the next round.

One could just say that every footballing prowess England had evident in the individuals when they play for their clubs went on Sabbath that we had a goalless draw with Israel.

A boy in a man's job

Steve McLaren who for years was assistant to Sven Goran Erikson before he got promoted to head coach after the German World Cup of 2006 has been unable to fox me with his ever-present smile either with his enthusiasm before matches or his excuses after failure to perform.

The Telegraph has probably been too kind in suggesting that a natural No. 2 has be assigned a No. 1 position or a complimentary drill sergeant now has a general's duties.

The clamour that he should now go is not loud enough in my view, despite the fact that he negotiated a fine deal that would cost the Football Association (FA) GBP 2.5million if the contract is severed before it reaches full term.

This would mean that Steve McLaren would also be leaving with the scalp of the chief executive of the FA - Brian Barwick, both of whom would have done our great footballing country a great service in being voluntarily pensioned off, the money is not too high to pay for our football integrity.

Managing to fail as expected

The rumours that the team manager has fallen out with the star striker Wayne Rooney does not bode well just as despite the jealousy the team had for the currently locked-out David Beckham, he was still able to inspire them to great things - though not great enough to satisfy the dearth of silverware.

To end it all, after the poor showing in Israel, McLaren says of our qualification - "At the end of the day, however you get there, you get there." Methinks Fletcher and McLaren have been drinking from the trough of stupid optimism, if he expects Croatia and Russia to rollover and be walked over, he is in for a rude shock.

England has to go out there to win those games by playing inspired football that yields results and brings back worthy praise, if not, we might as well be supporting another country - guess what - Scotland is top of Group B and Northern Ireland is second in Group F, we could not suffer a fate worse than football death if we end up cheering other good and performing UK teams.

I am beginning to look forward to the European Championships of 2012, and that should not be hard, I had enough practice with the Netherlands out of World Cup 2002 and then Nigeria out of World Cup 2006, England out of Euro 2008 should not hurt too much - get me a pain pill.

And I am telling you

The Queen

The weekend was eventful enough; I went out to see another film, the second in as many weeks. I enjoyed watching The Queen; being a monarchist, Ilyena Vasilievna Mironov (Dame Helen Mirren) made an excellent portrayal Elizabeth Regina II though I was not sure if it was really deserving of the accolades considering other performances like that of Dame Judi Dench.

Cherie Blair no doubt was seriously caricatured, her curtsies looking like she was about to break a leg, well, someone had to look silly in the film and only Helen Mirren really looked the part. Three hearty cheers for The Queen.


So, yesterday, even though I have not been that much of an Eddie Murphy fan, I had to see Dreamgirls and it was only showing at one cinema in the centre of Amsterdam.

We chose the 17:45 slot which happened to be a time when bubblegum chewing girls with voices louder than a freight train were free to roam the streets, Never Again! Said I.

As luck would have it, every automatic thing in the cinema had broken down, the ticket machine, the tiller machines, the cash registers at the tills and the pop-corn stands everything was lines and crosses on paper - what an evening, but it turned out right.

Jennifer Hudson as Effie White was a star and her rendition of And I am telling you I'm not going was a class act that brought the house down. Strangely, I first heard this song performed as a mime by a drag queen in London called the Skinny Bitch some 15 or so years ago, it was quite a spectacle, but the energy in the song was all-empowering, you could not but be moved.

Deserving accolades

In fact, being nominated for 24 awards on your debut as a film star and winning 16 including the Golden Globe, BAFTA and Oscar is testament to the fact that some of these so-called musical talent shows have no eye for pure and raw talent. Or rather like Curtis Taylor, Jr. played by Jamie Foxx said of the other star in the show, her voice had too much of a personality such that it could not be moulded into commercial success rather than a showcase of talent with genius and sonorous quality.

One other thing about Jennifer Hudson that should not be missed is her gratitude to her fans, the people who stayed true to her abilities as it all blossomed into what everyone now wants a part of.

Pause for deep thought

In her words quoted from the IMDB record of her quotes, I read this.

"In a recent interview, I was asked how I reconciled being a Christian with performing at events for my gay fans. I find it upsetting that some folks equate being a Christian with being intolerant of gay people. That may, unfortunately, be true for some, but it is not true for me.

I have talked often of my love and support of the gay community. I have said again and again that it was the gay community that supported me long before and long after American Idol, and kept me working and motivated. It is the gay community that celebrated my voice and my size and my personality long before Dreamgirls.

Yes, I was raised Baptist. Yes, I was taught that the Bible has certain views on homosexuality. The Bible also teaches us not to judge. It teaches us to love one another as God loves us all. I love my sister, my two best friends and my director dearly. They happen to be gay. So what? While some search for controversy, I hope that my friends and fans who know me, know where I stand."

There are probably a few big sermons, a call to humility and a moving message in there.

However, moving on, Dreamgirls was based on a Broadway show of the same name that first ran in the year Ms. Hudson was born and this was loosely based on the story of the Supremes, the rivalry of Florence Ballard with Diana Ross and the influence of Berry Gordy in the whole matter.

Birthday wishes

Somehow, I find that my outrageously handsome babyface kid-brother shares his birthday today with Diana Ross who is 63 and believe it or not, The Rt. Hon William Hague who clocks 46, once the leader of the Tory Party. I wish them all, many happy returns.

Friday 23 March 2007

Ban Ki-moon ducks for dear life

The natural occurrence of mortars

The UN Secretary General was in no doubt that he was in Baghdad yesterday when during a press conference he was greeted by phenomena that is a natural as the tremors of Tokyo and as constant as night follows day; a mortar bomb attack.

Ever since the photogenic, articulate, decorous and intelligent Sérgio Vieira de Mello was bombed out and killed along with 22 UN staff in August 2003, I have had issues with the UN sitting inside the cauldron of Mesopotamia getting roasted by matters once avoidable.

Unannounced but known

However, it was in some way important for Mr. Ban Ki-moon to be welcomed in this manner, and at least realising that the pejorative "Gringo" Zone with all its boulders and reinforcements can still be under siege.

More interestingly Afghanistan and Iraq probably remain the two countries where important dignitaries cannot pre-announce their arrival, it does not then mean that the insurgents and terrorists cannot read the signs that some Very Irritating Ponce, sorry, I meant VIP, is visiting and in need of a welcoming bang.

No class at all

Then the matter of reflex, class and decorum; I have many times seen instances where in a restaurant or at a banquet table, a chair is being adjusted for the lady to sit down and she reaches down to feel for the chair before sitting down - it betrays a lack of confidence if not class and breeding - no gentleman or servant would allow for the seat not to be where the lady should be sat, those who know just sit, knowing what should be known - tapping my nose.

In Baghdad, one could see Mr. Ban Ki-moon duck with ruffled self-preservation before he recovered his composure, in fact, the way security did not immediately rush to his aid and bundle him out showed just how too ordinary this mortar thing was, that Prime Minister Nouri Al Maliki hardly flinched.

Bad briefing and the loss of mien

I would surmise that Mr. Ban Ki-moon was poorly briefed of what to expect in Iraq and hence how to conduct himself in a situation where a typically large firework goes off unexpectedly and diplomacy is losing that stiff-upper lip Englishness where aristocracy continued to dance even when the hall they were in was collapsing upon their heads - at least, finish that piece of music before seeking refuge.

One might just lament that diplomacy has now been pared down to being able to speak many languages with a forked tongue, being able to recognise or exude airs and graces is now only to be seen in the Courts of Louis XVI of old - Alas!.

Cricket World Cup 2007 - lbw - Ligature Butchers Woolmer

Making up the numbers

It is an open secret that cricket hardly has the demographic following to truly be a world sport. Beyond the seemingly shared colonial heritage shared with England, we have India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri-Lanka, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Canada and West Indies - political interference in Zimbabwe cricket left it on the verge of dropping out of the elite - six minnow teams are needed to create a world event.

What is even interesting is that once cannot get a worthy representation from Scotland, Wales or Ireland, I take that back, Ireland has caused ructions in the current World Cup event taking place in the geographical expanse of hop-scotch islands that make up the West Indies.

The Netherlands prepared for the World Cup in the cold winter of the Northern Hemisphere made up of amateurs who probably just like English tea and have graduated to having cucumber sandwiches as a sign of anglophilia demonstrated by swinging a bat must have envied the elite teams that crowded down to the Southern Hemisphere for summer tans and practice where England dumped the ashes back in Australia with a whitewash.

Obfuscating cricket

For many, the rules of cricket are as inscrutable as the rules of American football which rarely sees the foot near the ball; and really, when the scores are toted up, who is Extras and when did he bat and I did not see him run?

However, the danger of the Cricket World Cup 2007 tournament coming and going as a non-event has passed with the death of the English Pakistani coach who was found unconscious on the floor of his hotel room in Jamaica after Pakistan was dumped out of the World Cup by Ireland the previous day.

The passion for cricket in the sub-continent cannot be overstated as effigies of the players were burnt by fans back home, disappointed by the performance of their team, but the death of Bob Woolmer has overshadowed the whole episode.

An English Murder Mystery

Now, the World Cup might just be remembered for being the one in which the coach of a team was asphyxiated by strangulation, though no other person implicated or ligature has yet been found - we have a murder mystery, one that would be a difficult one to solve.

All we now need to complete the Englishness of a game that probably can only be understood in English language is a Miss Marple or the nuisance of an Hetty Wainthropp, whilst a budding novelist might just be penning the first lines of a life as the new Agatha Christie with the Hercule Poirot of 2007 putting clues together for Sherlock Holmes and Dr John H. Watson to unravel.

Who cares about wickets, bowling, googlies, creases, fours, sixes or boundaries when the plot thickens to solve a Murder, most horrid?

Seriously, there is a serious crime to be solved about a nice man who has been tragically murdered for reasons we might yet never know, leaving a family behind in South Africa and a game that would miss a much loved man.

Thursday 22 March 2007

Shame on you! Sagamu

Literary day

When I was in secondary school (Remo Secondary School) just about 30 years ago, we used to have a day of social events called the Literary Day.

Really, I must say, I never saw anything literary about that day apart from people trying to get dressed up to the nines and each prepubescent male trying to get dance with that girl he has had his eye on since he knew he could blink.

I would say, I was never trendy, not by apparel, ostentation nor shoes, but I still tried to look my best and hoped that all that time of practice with my two friends who seemed to be better dancers than one would shine on the day.

There usually was all sorts of entertainment and though we were in Sagamu, Ogun State, the traditional Eyo parade was imported from Eko (Lagos Island), it allowed boys to dress up in white hoods, hats and white masquerade wraps holding a long branch of a shorn palm frond as a beating stick, they made whooping sounds hopping about on one foot, any female who strayed into their path got whacked on the shin.

Menace and violence

The bad side of the Literary Days was evident in Lagos where groups of students would assemble as thugs and hooligans accost other students and guests to these events and by menace strip the hapless kids of their shoes, valuables and designer wear.

In my last year at school, we were off-campus and I remember that the class after ours had planned to menace and harass with violence anyone who appeared in a particular style of fashion which was called Pinto - basically it was like the Pied Piper's costume in a variety of garish colours - an unhealthy development, one must say.

Let's dance

The highlight of the day was from the early evening when we gathered in the main hall and danced to the reggae music which was the rage of the late 70s till Boney M took on and then other American fare.

Within the campus, the girls were quite astute in accessorising themselves, never did one look like the girl in class, however, only a few wore trousers, there had always been this thing about women in trousers, the chauvinistic outlook of men feeling emasculated meant females in trousers could be harassed or even worse.

The trouser thing

When we were invited to the Literary Days of sister schools, most of the other schools in Sagamu were across town. The girls who wore trousers had to wear a full wrapper over the trousers just in case they came across nasty old men whose only mission was to curse girls who strayed from the "norm".

In fact, we did learn that there was a rule in Sagamu, large as it was and it probably having the largest community of Hausas from the North in the South, women were forbidden to wear trousers.

So, imagine my surprise 30 years on, learning that the local authorities have outlawed the wearing of trousers by women in Sagamu. It makes me feel that the cocoon of my secondary school which was on the outskirts of town then, just on the edge of a forest was oasis of freedom of expression and the emancipation of the rights of women.

Sagamu is a town of quite learned people, one does have doubts about its sophistication in the light of this development and obviously the misconception that education can bring enlightenment to people steeped in the tradition of dominating not only their wives but extending that mantle of domination to cover everyone of the female gender, it saddens and it is shameful.

This is a human-rights issue, but I would not be surprised if a bible-thumping person comes up with one verse about women in men's clothes but none about men in 40% cotton and 60% polyester shirts. Shame on you! Sagamu.

Wednesday 21 March 2007

John Backus - invisible face of FORTRAN dies

Punch cards like a hole in the head

I remember my friends who were studying Computer Science at the University of Lagos in the 1980s as they rushed to get their Hollerith punch cards of programming code to the Computer Centre ensuring the cards were in a certain order.

My first few lessons on Computer Science talked of those cards and the lecturer did in many ways lament the way he never got to touch the computers, but as we got to the topic of key-to-disc systems, the polytechnic acquired a number of Apple IIc and Apple IIe computers and we started programming in BASIC.

Formula Translation

Then in the second year we moved to FORTRAN 77, with the restriction of 80-column lines and the inability to compile our code because the lecturer who should have known better gave us a Pascal compiler instead of one for FORTRAN, it was well into the second semester when that error was noticed and corrected.

In the end, at examination time, we still had to write code on paper rather than offer a fully functional programme compiled on computer - my interest in computers however was helped by programming first and not having to do punch cards - FORTRAN was such good fun, sometimes, I wish I had the opportunity to do more after I left school.

A good friend and classmate went on to teach himself Cobol then won a scholarship to study in Russia, I dabbled with Pascal, took C courses and lately completed a module in my Masters programme using Java in Object-Oriented programming, but my enthusiasm for programming never matched the days when I was at the Federal Polytechnic, Ilaro.

Nameless but groundbreaking

What I even find quite interesting is that we always knew the prime movers behind most programming languages, Cobol - Grace Hopper, Pascal - Niklaus Wirth, C - Dennis Ritchie or C++ - Bjarne Stroustrup - of FORTRAN, it was developed within IBM but no face really appeared behind it, somehow, the innovation has been subsumed by the corporate personality.

So, I read this morning about John Backus, the developer of FORTRAN who died at 82 on Saturday and realized the name was not in anyway familiar, however, the obituary reads like someone who changed the way we use computers by simplifying the way to program computers.

He was a wayward student, he got his act together, formed an eclectic team and came up with something radical, then still worked for IBM all his career and in the tight computer circles he was recognised for the work he had done.

The FORTRAN interview

Then, I do remember when I was interviewing at the British Consulate in Lagos to visit the UK and the consulate officer asked me to name three programming languages since I worked with computers, I said, FORTRAN, Cobol, Basic and for measure added Algol.

He laughed and then shared a joke with me about asking the same question of a computer consultant running projects for a major bank in Nigeria, the consultant answered English, German and French, he was denied a visa, but my interview became a general discussion as we laughed and joked about other "consultants" and their funny answers, the ice had been broken and FORTRAN played a part.

Tuesday 20 March 2007

Four years of shock and awe

The Iraqi government marked this inauspicious day with another hanging.

We stop and think about the evil that has been visited upon this country in pursuit of a goal that was built of false pretences (WMD) and the establishment of a dream that barely works in countries of the Coalition (Democracy).

The use of force to impose order and peace where the government is doing nothing to heal and reconcile; offering sacrifices of evil men with callous revenge in the hope that vengeance would assuage the insurgency is unhelpful and the continued occupation that only fuels the determination of those who wreak such horrific tragedies leaves us with a gambling hand and not an assured outcome.

In all, it has been shock and awe since the 20th of March 2003, the shocking numbers of the dead and the awful ferocity of violence that makes the tyranny of Saddam Hussein's regime look like their world at peace.

The presence or absence of our troops in Iraq is unlikely to result in any triumphant parade of the occupation forces; the shame of misadventure latches itself to the history that would be written of the belligerent leaders whose determination beclouded judgement in the face of stiff opposition and flawed ideologies.

I pray that peace might come upon Iraq, but it would require more than men to see this happen in our lifetime.

Another black day is marked with more Shock and Awe, the rapid dominance of death, carnage, violence, sorrow, despair and despondency in the life an everyday person who just happens to live in Baghdad.

The Yar'Adua website - not impressed

The invitation

My write-up about Yar'Adua's illness, rumoured death and celebrated resurrection has caught the notice of the seemingly forward-looking and emancipated webmasters of the Yar'Adua/Goodluck "Talk to Us" website; I got an invitation to interact with the gentlemen as a comment in my blog.

I wasted no time in signing-up to the forum and going through the site only to find that the only issue up for discussion was that about a Power Outages and Fuel Scarcity, and I am supposed to be impressed?

In fact, I feel like a happy dog that has just been commanded to fetch a bone - Woof! Yap! Yap! - Bunkum!

Cut the crap

Let us remove the iron curtain of the encumbrance of patriarchy, which some people might call "respect" and that of unnecessary incipient sycophancy and get down to the basics, these men have a job to do and they would be well paid for it, we have expectations and they like interviewees for a job should show why they are the best candidates for the job at hand.

So, I made my contribution to the matter of power generation, liberally using a good few of the ideas that Chippla discussed with me a few weeks ago, gas-fired power stations in the Delta areas, wind farms in Northern Nigeria amongst other things.

Maigadi sanu (Gateman Hello - Hausa)

I had my questions and thought the forum allowed you to post questions directly, no, there is a gatekeeper mechanism in place, I have to email where it probably would be filtered to present suitable questions for public discussion and difficult questions get the Pending Basket treatment - that is usually under the table and gets cleared out by cleaners at dusk.

This might explain why questions about health trips abroad and healthcare in Nigeria are not available for discussion; the educational system; difficult infrastructure issues like transportation, aviation and communication, the abuse of constitutional and due process might just get short shrift.

My Question

You and your opponent recently enjoyed at great cost (transportation, bills, ridiculing of Nigeria) the services of European health facilities to deal with benign medical conditions; have you considered that after 8 years of PDP, not being able to avail yourselves of this kind of service in Nigeria is a dereliction of political service if not criminal?

What are you going to do to ensure that moneybags - I mean, people of privilege like yourself can get these treatments in Nigeria and then develop the healthcare delivery infrastructure to an accessible, affordable, effective and efficient service available to every Nigerian citizen worthy of the status of Nigeria primarily and then in Africa, since you are making comparisons with democracies in Africa?

Old-Style current style

Maybe, I am just being cynical, but I do hate being patronised, as I read in the comments posted, "The ideas behind this site are probably a first for an African democracy. And it represents a departure from old-style Nigerian politics. By telling your readers about our web site you will be contributing to the development of democracy in Nigeria."

Now, I am just as irate as a bull snorting out red jets of smoke, we have not even had access to the site three days and they are already praising the uniqueness of the venture in Africa.

I am not interested in some African version of democracy, I just want the simple access to the people who want my vote without inducement or coercion, the ability to address them freely without hindrance and the opportunity to hear about the real solutions they have to implement having properly listened to and understood what I have to say.

Who cares if it is the first or the last idea? This is simply commonsense democracy and the sooner it is ingrained in the minds of those seeking political office anywhere in the world, the better for all concerned.

Do not piss me off

Yes, I am telling my readers about this site, but No, I do not think I have seen how this contributes to the development of democracy in Nigeria, in fact, I think old-style Nigeria politics still prevails - mass cacophonous rallies, vacuous promises, inane policies and now to crown the depressing event that insipid telephone conference that took place from the campaign grounds between the President and Yar'Adua as he recovered from breathlessness in Germany.

These people are clueless about what Nigeria really needs, the Latest News portion of the site does not cover bread-and-butter issues, rather it is about visiting a church and curbing corruption, then Obasanjo's legacy, which with time, if these guys deign to perform might just read as the abject failure that it is.

As I spit out the bone and go play with a ball amongst strangers that know what a dog needs, a mere website does not a decent campaign strategy make. One is just not impressed at all.

Monday 19 March 2007

Royaume Uni null points

I don't watch that

The EuroVision Song Contest is one of those shows that no one would confess to watching but it could as well be a long night, a pyjama party with old friends only allowing for wine or beer as opposed to orange squash.

The preparations which include a contest to sing the song for Europe in the UK does involve a lot of fanfare, however, it is rare for any of the winning songs to show the promise of winning anything out there.

This year, we had a number of has-been stars who had once before had commercial success and won music awards, but there is this self-defeating under-current of trying to expose unknown artistes rather than successful artistes , this left-wing and dogmatic stance just means that we would end up agreeing on the day that our song is no match for the competition.

Anyway, one did not watch the selection show and for the many of us of an unnoticably snobbish disposition, we missed out on the farce that would make the show compelling viewing in May and next year.

Gaffe results in farce

As the contest came to an end, considering the ongoing phone-in scandals that have engulfed The UK and The Netherlands lately, the announcement was made of the winner by Sir Terry Wogan as Cyndi meanwhile the little voice of the co-host annouced Scooch had won.

One thing I have against these telephone voting contests is that not much of it looks transparent, their might be adjudicators and observers but we are not told the total number of calls made and consequently the number of votes each contestant has won before arriving at the suspense-ridden announcement.

This is obviously convenient because it is then difficult to ascertain from a public perspective how much money has been made from the premium rate calls besides other pertinent information.

Bubblegum silliness

Scooch have modelled themselves on the winners of the 1981 song contest - Bucks Fizz whose winning song was the title of the selection show called Making Your Mind Up - But Scooch are what is known as a bubblegum dance group and they lived up to that expectation, the dancing was smarmy, the singing was silly, the lyrics would make the worst nursery rhyme for kids without humour and it will win nothing.

Europeans surely do not want to be aurally assaulted with namby-pamby music when more exciting talent exists, but all gets stifled but officialdom that has its musical trends fossilised in the 1970s - that was 3 decades ago, for crying out loud.

No points no please

Just like the results, if they do make it past the semi-finals in Helsinki, Finalnd on the 10th of May, expect more British humiliation on the 12th of May where Royaume Uni null points would be the chorus from far and near.

There might be one instance of being given 12 points and then that restated as zero points; it so happens, when it comes to the Eurovision Song Contest, we have perfected the art of performing for failure and the only real contestant winning anything is Sir Terry Wogan and his snide and humourless comments which somehow provide for entertainment to many.

Assuredly about Eurovision 2007, I would not be eating my words.

Sunday 18 March 2007

Zimbabwe, a serial nightmare

Pictures too disturbing

The pictures coming out of the despotic enclave of Zimbabwe where a gerontocrat holds sway like a boat caught in a storm makes utterly disturbing viewing. The cartoons in the Economist or Financial times this weekend have no patch on the horrific bloated faces, partly shaved heads and bloodied bodies - these are the visible parts, the internal damage could be worse, the psychological scars would even be deeper, my prayers are definitely with those people.

For all sorts of reasons Robert Mugabe still gets revered by too many on the basis of what he did about 3 decades ago, the struggle for independence, it is unlikely that ordinary people like you and I can really rest on our laurels of 30 years without improving and updating our skills.

Breaking bad records

The time for commendation for that struggle has passed, we have stark realities on the ground now; Zimbabwe is setting record inflation levels of almost 1800% and the projection is that it would hit 5000% by the end of the year.

In established economies we cannot countenance a percentage increase in inflation without some serious macro-economic decision taken to stem the tide, everything is thrown in keep it below 3%, Zimbabwe's case it is seemingly beyond control or mere mortals.

Such inflationary levels mean that money becomes like dust, no amount you have can buy anything worthwhile, it lead the head of the teacher's union to comment that teachers are being paid the equivalent of 4½ bananas a day.

That is exactly the point, the ordinary and probably middle-class Zimbabwean earns less than what a monkey in the forest would gnaw into in 5 minutes or less. The leader is making monkeys of his people and getting away with it with impunity.

Mugabe is a blind visionary

The police brutality meted out to the members of the opposition cannot ever be acceptable in the West, it beggars belief that such brazen barbarity can still exist and the ruling authorities can condone it at all.

But Mr. Mugabe earns praise for kicking out the whites, people who are more or less as indigenous as their fellow black citizens, who for the sake of record keeping can probably trace their ancestry back a lot longer than any African either in Africa or back to Europe - he missed a crucial point in this ideological stupidity that would probably parallel the Cultural Revolution of China.

Those whites were the engine of the Zimbabwean economy, they probably had an unfair share of the wealth, land and resources of the country; that was a detail of history, the snatch and grab to place in the hands of incompetent cretins who could hardly manage their principles; well, that is to give them more credence than is deserved, they probably could not manage even their own bowels talk less of businesses was utterly foolish.

Now, if Mugabe had taken those so-called war veterans and put them through management school, had some major in horticulture, agronomy, economics, international trade and put some through vocational training as able farmhands then had them understudy the farm-owners before negotiating a market-value proposition to transfer the business to budding blacks, probably Zimbabwe would have been an utterly different place.

Herein is the problem with African leadership, they have crazy ideas, crooked execution strategies and foul up the whole thing without taking an iota of responsibility - they have ideologies but lack a mission and have no vision.

Mr. Mugabe would have us believe that Zimbabwe is under some sanctions regime, well, nothing could be further from the truth, it is the despotic leadership that is under sanctions, travel bans and restrained banking access, Zimbabwe as a country can trade if she had the goods to trade.

Feeding out of bins

One other story speaks of early morning joggers finding their rubbish being rummaged, not by dogs or foxes, but by fellow human beings, Zimbabweans who maybe 10 years ago had the world as their oyster.

Couple to this the ineffectiveness of the African Union, the silence of neighbouring countries, South Africa especially that would have to do something in order not to make the 2010 World Cup their hosting the least attended of that event in modern times, they might just begin to speak up and do something, they cannot continue to absorb one third of Zimbabweans making up on sixth of their population.

Zimbabwe, the diplomatic graveyard

Now, Mr. Mugabe says the West should "Go and Hang", it really does not bother the West apart from the civilised humanity of having to witness the destruction of jewel thrown to pigs, the Economist cartoon shows him sitting on the carcass of a rhinoceros with the comment that Zimbabwe is standing still, and it cannot even go backward. The Financial Times shows him saying "Go and Hang" whilst ignoring every aid to get him out of the quicksand he is sinking into and the West stands on firmer ground.

He has threatened to kick out foreign diplomats, again, why anyone would want to further their diplomatic career in Zimbabwe escapes me except for where the person needs to get some training on how to handle despots in Myanmar or North Korea - for all intents and purposes, diplomats would be assaulted with images that are too distressing for comfort, a posting to Zimbabwe has to be the elephant's graveyard of an undistinguished diplomatic career, frankly, every self-respecting country should recall their diplomats and send the Zimbabwean mouthpieces of that savage back to the bush that Zimbabwe has become.

As he said those words about diplomats getting kicked out, people applauded, the people who prop up this unconscionable apology for all that is wrong with patriachalism in Africa, the inability to speak the straight truth out to our elders for the fear of disrespecting them and then getting cursed. Yes, they really did applaud him, they did.

Not proud to be African

In all, the decline of Zimbabwe, the savagery of their law enforcement, the tragedy in Darfur, the terrorism in the Niger Delta, the impending chaos being visited on the Nigerian elections, the simmering uncalm of Western Sahara, yes, it exists, the ineffectiveness of the African Union, the lack of moral rectitude of our African leaders and the second slavery of the African people to bad governance, poverty and repression by their own people leaves me not very proud to be African today.


Chippla's Weblog - Whose Zimbabwe?

FT - Mugabe tells critics to ‘go and hang'

FT - Zimbabwe sinks into hell of hyperinflation

FT - Zimbabwe teachers earn 4½ bananas/day

BBC - Zimbabwe stops activists leaving

The many tragedies of Sally Clark

Experts indeed

The function of an expert is not necessarily to get it right, but to get it wrong for more sophisticated reasons. This should be attributable since I read it from I think the Economist many years ago, I cannot remember who made the statement.

I am sure there are many who have lived that credo when met with a situation they as experts are supposed to offer some authoritative opinion and the client ends up being baffled with science, confounded with jargon and assuredly made to feel inferior for not appreciating or understanding that opinion, in the end, obfuscate with atrocious statistics skewed to validate your point.

The death of Sally Clark

This comes about when I read with sadness that the mother who had been convicted and then acquitted of killing her two baby sons had died suddenly and unexpectedly.

This woman can only have been Sally Clark, and so great a tragedy had befallen her and her family too many times to mention, but for those who followed her travails, she died a victim, a martyr, a crusader and a sacrifice; sacrificed to appease the gravitas of an expert.

Cot death theories

As fate would have it, this woman suffered the death of two children within weeks of their birth just about 2 years apart in what has become known as cot deaths. Now cot deaths have been attributable to all sorts of circumstances but no clear indication as to why babies suddenly die in the comfort of their cots, the more scientific term is Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS).

Sadly, in Sally Clark's case, this happened to her twice, where experts should have dispatched their sense of duty and ethical responsibility to represent the truth fully without reservation, they suggested that she might have murdered her sons.

The case for the prosecution was then built on corroborating this suspicion and creating the seeming judicial fact that she had in some evil concupiscence shook her babies violently till their lives could no more abide their bodies and they died.

The expert witness

Enter the Expert Witness - Professor Sir Roy Meadow, a consultant paediatrician who had gained prominence from the seminal study of cot deaths which he postulated were mostly caused by child abuse through that he termed - Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy - a situation where a person makes a victim of another to gain attention, usually their wards or children.

Certain coincidences allowed for this theory to take hold and become part of the assessment of understanding why certain families lost their young children as the professor postulated with statements like "There is no evidence that cot deaths runs in families but there is plenty of evidence that child abuse does". This sealed Sally Clark's fate such that other evidence that one of the children might have died of a bacterial infection never got to the police, the defence or prosecution.

Debunking the expert

The weight of professorial gravitas allowed for incredible statements which suggested that the possibility of two cot deaths happening in one family was 1 in 73 million; this got the Royal Statistical Society quite miffed that they contended that there was no statistical basis for this assertion.

However, these assertions lead to a number of convictions for murder where the children had suffered cot deaths which might have been related to other un-researched phenomena, but everyone bought the expert opinion of Professor Sir Roy Meadow who had been knighted for his services to child health.

Sally Clark spent 3 years in prison, lost her first appeal because the overwhelming evidence of the professor was indisputable but such was the confidence of her family in her innocence that they appealed again and this time with new evidence and the debunking of the professor's statistical whammy.

With her release came the review of other similar cases especially where the professor had been called as the expert witness making those cases and convictions unsafe, as the women were freed the professor's reputation began to unravel.

Of sorrow and sad most despairing

One cannot begin to imagine the amassed tragedy of having lost a child and then having the ordeal of being accused of killing your child, leading to a trial, conviction and prison.

I am sure there might have deep dark times when Sally Clark might have almost believed that she did indeed kill her sons, despair, despondency, dejection and depression all colluded to weaken her resolve, which in the end could have contributed to her death at 42 even though she had been freed for prison for quite a while.

The expert however, whose intellectual arrogance allowed him to project postulations and suppositions as realities fights for his reputation having been struck of the list of doctors had to seek legal redress to be reinstated, he however is yet without remorse about how he completely destroyed the lives of grieving mothers to the enhancement of his career.

The expert's cardinal responsibilities

An expert has a duty of care to be honest, frank, informative and truthful, the ethical dimension to this expects that the expert understand that there is a responsibility when entrusted with listening ears for your opinion whilst that should be tempered with understanding the consequences of the proffered views and how that impacts on people and circumstances.

I would not be moved if the professor's profession titles are rescinded and his knighthood revoked, his handiwork has done nothing for the promotion of child health, rather he created a branch of study that allows the subjective assessment of circumstances to visit great misfortune on hapless grieving mothers.

The professor is an example of what an expert should not be, very much like the many Nigeria professors in ministerial positions doing nothing.

The disabling ignorance of experts

The words of Peter Drucker come to mind about what an expert should meditate on - discover where your intellectual arrogance is causing disabling ignorance and overcome it - it is sometimes difficult to appreciate intellectual arrogance in oneself, it is also a sign of strong character, principles and humility to accept your expertise is not all so encompassing that you have answers to everything or cannot go back and review your data and fact before offering an opinion.

An expert offers an opinion, that opinion has authority, with authority comes influence, usually indirect influence because someone else has to make decisions which might be solely based on this opinions, decisions that affect direction, strategy, missions and purposes, consequently, lives and livelihoods.

If you thinking you are just part of the chaos continuum, a butterfly flapping wings here and unsure of where the earthquakes would occur, think again, you might just be that extra force to push on either the brake or acceleration pedal.

Think before you pontificate

For every responsibility, there is a matter of consequence, you have to be ready to face up to the consequences especially if what you have proffered would surely destroy people's lives, Professor Sir Roy Meadows was the expert from Hell for Sally Clark, Trupti Patel, Angela Cannings and the Gays - I hope those left do get help beyond a gross miscarriage of justice being judicially restored; for Sally Clark, they say, she never really fully recovered from her ordeal, not many people can.

Rest In Peace - Sally Clark; if you do find the good life in the thereafter, I hope that you are comforted with seeing your sons again.

Friday 16 March 2007

Mind-bending yesterday, mind-mending tomorrow

The doctor prescribed

In the early Seventies when we lived in Rayfield, Jos, my mother took me to see our doctor having had a bout of cold and cough that was getting a bit worrisome.

The doctor, an eccentric bon-vivant bow-tie wearing middle-aged virile predator with the penchant for sowing his wild oats in wayward or naïve secondary school girls prescribed Actifed.

I could see the horror laced with revulsion on my mother's face when she said pig medicine? It so happened, Actifed was under-going trials in pigs in the late 1960s when my parents were in the UK, she wore her mind as a picture on that day.

I eventually had my pig medicine which worked a treat, and it was a lot better than Liquifruta which was liquid alright but definitely not fruity, it had the most revolting taste, I almost remonstrated with my mother when I discovered that my sister's dislike of the rotten drug made her cry the roof down, any baby would if as much as a whiff passed their noses.

The psychedelic doctor prescribes

Beyond that, it was interesting to read in last week's Time magazine under the byline "Taking a trip for your mental health"; that hitherto mind-bending social drugs are gaining acceptance as medical mind-mending treatments.

Ecstasy (MDMA 3,4-methylene dioxymethamphetamine) is being tested in patients with posttraumatic stress disorder and anxiety - one wonders for the Iraqi war veterans; magic mushrooms (psilocybin) is helping obsessive-compulsive patients and Special K (Ketamine) is helping ones with major depression - what would now be used to put the cat to sleep?

If pigs could fly, their medicine might just make you want to jump too.

24 self-serving presidential aspirants

Uphold the law without flying out

Two recent comments left on my blog about the situation in Nigeria concerning the fly outs for health checkups and the antics of the Independent National Electoral Commission leave me in such great indignation, I hope I find words to express myself with clarity.

The whole matter centres what all those contestants are doing in the light of these developments, none took advantage of the fact that getting treatment for breathlessness or a knee injury abroad simply highlighted the fact that we had a health system no one was proud of and hence the opportunity to do something about it.

It made Nigeria an international laughing stock, almost irredeemable slight as an oil-rich country that could pay to fly out its stinking rich ruling class but not address ever-present social and development issues that could propel Nigeria further than we have ever dreamt possible. Our shame and they who seek to lead stood dumb.

The silence of the ambitious

However, the most grating one is how these self-serving, selfish, inordinately ambitious, indifferent and unconcerned contestants can even deign to offer themselves to lead talk less of serve when they cannot rise up against the abuse of process, the egregious impugning of the rule of law and the flagrant misinterpretation of the constitution.

The 24 eligible candidates who can for now contest the presidential elections in Nigeria are so ensconced in their comfort zones, having not been disqualified or made ineligible, a seeming injustice meted against a stronger contestant is best left unsung lest their personal ambitions be thwarted by the possible success of this contestant who to date has successively won 11 court battles challenging his ability to run.

If they cannot be bothered about this, how on earth can they sincerely be bothered to ensure that Nigeria is properly run and it begins to achieve like it should have or should be working towards when we celebrate the 50th year of independence?

Dishonourable and disgraceful

These are no people of honour and neither should they be offered the privilege to rule in Nigeria, if before they have attained power they cannot raise their voices in protest against unconstitutional activities, how can they when in power swear an oath to protect the same?

Fearful people who have no principles left in their sinews, such that the fear of being tarred with the instruments of vindictiveness that the Presidency had converted the EFCC and INEC into leaves them forgetful of the fact that they would be powerless to rule if they are beholden to organs that terrorise and castigate personalities to achieve ends inimical to the development of Nigeria.

Instruments of presidential vindictiveness

I do hear that the EFCC and INEC are now being made more independent of the machinations of the presidency, I cannot say however that the damage that has been done to their reputations can be recovered and made right so soon. Reference.

However, one thing is clear; these 24 candidates which include intellectuals, former military leaders, ones with delusions of grandeur and unproven criminals do not deserve to be presented to the country for election.

A case to postpone elections

If Atiku Abubakar does eventually get his name onto the ballots, there is a possibility that he might but to only some places in Nigeria, a pre-rigged election looms and this must not be taken lightly, the leaving president must not in anyway be absolved of complicity to stealing the opportunity to choose from his fellow countrymen.

If however, the election would need to be postponed to ensure that justice and fairness is served, then both the sitting president and his vice president should and must resign their commissions at the end of this term and a constitutional precedent that allows the Senate President to be caretaker leader/President for 3 months must ensue, where none of those who had been in power can influence the will of the people till elections take place in probably June or July 2007.

The Impudent Notional Electoral Complicitors in Nigeria

Sowing for a harvest of unrest

Does one begin to consider the possibility that Nigeria being the most populous in Africa might in May 2007 begin to produce refugees because the dare-devilry of people who just want to create the most untenable situation in relation to our elections?

The list of eligible presidential candidates was published today with the convenience of the Vice President having been out in London getting his knee bandaged.

The Vice President who is running on a ticket quite different from the party in which he was elected to be the running mate of the out-going President Olusegun Obasanjo has had woe betide him since the time he refused to support the president's seemingly reluctant but no doubt aggressive to utmost corrupt bid for a third term.

The rule of law and lawlessness

The rule of law prevailed on this folly of assuming ones leadership presents the best brains, mission and vision that can be afforded by the great country of Nigeria, unfortunately this folly persists in Zimbabwe where patriarchy, gerontocracy, megalomania, outright mendacity and exuberant dementia of a rare strain prevails to the destruction of a once prosperous country because they are getting back at the once white leaders - Chippla's World best exemplifies this state of affairs.

However, in Nigeria, the rule of law has been assailed by instruments of the executive branch claiming independence but fomenting chaos and fudge to perpetrate an enthronement of a frail successor to the president who intends to meddle well beyond when he should pre-occupied with throwing grain at his pigs on his piggery in Sango-Otta.

Organs of discord

First, it is the EFCC which is an anti-graft organisation that is supposed to investigate and present findings for prosecution exceeding its brief that offering a list of presumably corrupt politicians to parties without having exercised due process of law. This most got rubbished by the courts.

Now the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) that has once been told by the courts that it cannot disqualify candidates, has gone beyond itself to exclude the presidential candidate who has merely been accused but hardly been convicted or even tried for any of the so-called charges which no court has been able to accept as evidence that passes the muster of admissible for judicial deliberation.

Do not be fooled by the moniker of Independent, none of the so-called independence bears the semblance of impartiality and probity apart from trying to exercise independence of the court rulings to meet a particular end that does not serve the best interests of Nigeria.

Lest I forget, another one of our learned Nigerian professors is in charge of the commission whose acts of commission and omission leave the title of academic professor open to derisive mockery.

Hook and crook is the game

It would appear the ruling party would rather not put their breathless candidate against the crippled vice President just in case the election garners enough votes to spite the out-going president who now thinks he can decide who can best rule Nigeria after him.

This all does not augur well such that Nigerians might have to prepare themselves for a time to go out and get their votes and universal suffrage recognised even if it involves hitting the streets with whatever colour of revolution they choose.

I would hope we would not have to undergo a Bush-Gore electoral debacle where a good 60 million votes get tossed up in the legal submissions of an odd number of judges not numbering 10.

The unrecognised Nigerian English

As usual the poorly edited ThisDay Online witnessed the arrival of the Vice President from London walking with the aid of crutches and wearing a black trouser rather than a black pair of trousers.

Suddenly, I find that I might need both the spelling and grammar checkers for English (Nigeria), at least if South Africa and Zimbabwe are featured, the Nigerian version needs to be recognised, until then, any usage outside internationally accepted usage of English is incorrect and subject to ridicule.

Before the exuberant and facetious take issue with this by commenting illiberally, I am not perfect, but ThisDay Online should really have employed proof-readers to sort these misuses out.

English Spelling

Tuesday 13 March 2007

Healing on a jet plane

Running for president

This is beginning to look like some sort of amusement, a comedy mating with a farce to produce the utterly laughable.

Only last week, the obituary was written of the rather sprightly and seriously healthy presidential candidate of the PDP when he was carted off (flown) to Germany for a checkup related to "breathlessness", which he fully recovered from, he would shortly be back on the campaign trail.

Now, it seems the Vice President was over-doing his daily workout on his treadmill and has in the process acquired a torn tendon - Go figure! Those things have emergency STOP controls. He was then flown out to the UK to his "local" hospital on the presidential jet - was that the magnanimity of Jekyll Obasanjo or Hyde Obasanjo at play? - For surgery. He was literally running for president, one chuckles.

My frustration at the fact that there are no health services capable of handling breathlessness or surgery in Nigeria is really disheartening.

Another opportunity for excellence

The Vice President for instance has established a seemingly reputable university in his home state of Yola which from all appearances would be a centre of excellence. - [Late edition - I stand corrected by Chippla, the home state of the Vice President is Adamawa, whatever happened to the good old North Eastern State? Thanks Chippla]

One wonders why one or two teaching hospitals cannot be selected to be groomed as centres of medical excellence where resources are not spared in bringing the best medical brains, equipment and means to serve as the incubators for raising health and healthcare expertise in Nigeria.

The people who have then built these institutions can from there become ambassadors or evangelists of administrative prowess and development for other hospitals such that we do not have to run off to Europe for anything as mundane as a sneeze.

One can only wish these men well, but if in the 47th year of our independence we cannot fulfil basic health needs beyond primary health care and international NGO-sponsored immunisation programmes; Nigerians now need to demand of their leaders better stewardship of health along with other infrastructure needs as electricity, transport and communications.

For anyone who aims to lead Nigeria, these should be no-brainers, Obasanjo failed to see the sense of duty to handle these issues, maybe of the crop of the crippled (Abubakar), breathless (Yar'Adua), smart-arse (Utomi) or non-charismatic (Buhari) choices we have to make, a surprise might arise before we suffer the fate of Goodluck as president - and that would a fate equal to Armageddon.

Sunday 11 March 2007

Skype to the rescue

Scratch cards and phone cubicles

The first time I got one of those telephone scratch cards to make International calls to Nigeria, I was completely clueless about what to do, then I once walked into one of those international telephony shops in Antwerp, the system did not work for me and the support was dire.

A number of those telephony shops on the Antwerp main street in front of the Central Station now have Police Notices, one can only wonder why - the suspicion is that they might have been havens for all sorts of nefarious activities from Advanced Fee Fraud to Money Laundering.

Anyway, I have had the comfort of my landline to call anywhere I want in the world without worrying about the bill. There have been times that I have made those calls on my mobile phone if situation requires that I do.

The loss of the international telephony service from my landline is definitely not good, most of my contacts are in the UK and then I have friends all around the world including Papua New Guinea (PNG), you say Papua What? Well, he went there and I would only visit to rendezvous at Darwin in Australia - the whole thought of natives picking their teeth with my bones is not in the least endearing.

That is what happens if your knowledge of faraway lands is based on fable, folklore, generalisations and rumour.

Skype, it is

So, I have got me Skype - Internet Telephony, the whole works - ability to call landlines - €0.017 per minute - over most of the globe, call forwarding to my mobile, private phone number in the UK such that with Skype Pro all national calls are free and a Sitecom Skype-compatible USB handset.

Since, I always travel with my laptop and I always try to get online anyhow, Skype is an added capability that means, I do not have to pay exorbitant hotel phone bills or outrageously rip-off mobile roaming charges.

I think I have adopted this technology at the right time; for those who really do need to have completely free calls, get on Skype and get your friends on Skype too, that way, you create networks of free communication for as long as you want.

My fingers - scalded to the bone

Back at WaZoBia

I find myself returning to the Nigerian restaurant (WaZoBia) in Antwerp even though it has never had the best of reviews from me. This is because, for now, it is the only restaurant I know serving that cuisine as a business.

The ones I hear of in the Netherlands are housed in seemingly ghettoised locations in people's homes and are completely out of the reach of food safety just in case something untoward happens.

I do like goat meat pepper soup, however, I have never been able to source meat properly for that recipe, I have been too supermarket trained to packed meat treated with carbon monoxide to keep its redness.

The cubes of beef and heart that would have been a good improvisation have now been dual-labelled human and pet food, I really cannot handle dual-purpose foods that cross the species barrier like that.

All meat is dog to me now

Then there is the unintended consequence of the dog meat story that the BBC ran about Nigeria during the week. I usually get lots of fried meat from the African store at the Amsterdam Central Station, but that and the meat that was in the pepper soup yesterday all tasted different.

I have never had dog or horse meat before, somehow and strangely, none of the meat seems to taste like beef, goat or lamb anymore, they all taste different, I suddenly feel I am going to bark - this is not good, I think I am going off meat for fish - this can take a long time to recover from. Now, some might say I am fussy, you bet, when it comes to food, you have not seen a fuss-pot yet.

I gave up on my fish and chips the other day when I saw an eyelash embedded in the batter of the fish; these company canteens sometimes go out of their way to poison us.

Some cow in the hide

Anyway, I picked out the cowhide (ponmon) and left everything else as the tripe and beef chunks, I would not know what horsehide or dog-hide is like, do not get me wrong, I am not accusing the restaurant of any untoward activity, it is my sensibilities that are a bit fragile.

Then, the main course arrived, pounded yam, melon stew and assorted pieces of meat, very good when the appetite is there. This restaurant always seems to mar the whole thing by heating the stew with the meat in the microwave oven at full power.

The result is like rock-climbing the mount Vesuvius, a rock comes loose as you clamber and you are faced with molten lava about to scald your whole being, you are almost about to face a death too hot to contemplate.

Scalding my fingers

In the many times I have been to that restaurant, I have only been able to touch the meat in the stew twice; most West African foods need to be served piping hot but definitely not scalding hot.

When food is warmed in the microwave oven, the food needs to stand for a few minutes for the heat generated in the core of the food to properly dissipate through - better still, cook on medium-low power where the heating activity is better controlled.

I had a few bites of the meal such that the waiter was quite discouraged that so much as about to be thrown away, I could not help it, I had thoughts of dog meat on my mind and feelings of scalded fingers to contemplate, I was going no further.

All I had to endure

The drama however got interesting when another African "brother" walked in looking as if he had been drugged beyond a stupor, sat at my table in front of me aggressively spouting out incoherent babble about being a Gambian with a Nigerian girlfriend and the consequences of living in Belgium.

Half the time he was talking in some Reggae-ish genre, not helpful in a restaurant you are trying to feel comfortable in, so, the owner of the restaurant came round to eject him from the restaurant on the premise that he was not buying drinks not so much for the fact that he was a nuisance annoying other customers.

He even remonstrated at the waiter for not ensuring the man was buying something, and I did not get any notice for having to sit and listen to a drugged up person on a licensed premises - so much for service and ambience - we need some decent Nigerian restaurants on continental Europe, I hope there is more custom than myself to frequent the new places.

The design of the birdcage trolley

My hotel in Antwerp
In many ways, I have taken a liking for Antwerp, not for any particular reason than the fact that it is easy to get to and a generally nice place to be.
It has also become one of my pet luxuries to stay only at the Astrid Park Plaza Hotel which is directly in front of the Central Station, in fact, if I cannot get a room in this hotel, I strike Antwerp off my list.
I have also noticed that the staff might have cottoned on me being a regular such that I now always get a 7th-floor room overlooking some part of Antwerp, some spectacular others so dreary.
So, as I arrived at the hotel on Friday night and tried to negotiate the 10 or so steps that looked like I was about to walk up the steps of the Basilica of Sacré Coeur – two bags, cane and all – I have not mastered the art of travelling light; the bellboy came to my rescue and I was parted from the luggage as I checked in at reception.
Once that was done, the bellboy, hardly a boy really; helped me up to my room as I wondered aloud why a bellboy’s trolley was designed the way it was, a bit camp, a bit overstated and almost impossible to reason out.
But when I saw how he manoeuvred the trolley, taking advantage of the 4-wheel drive, the horizontal bars, the possible holds and the cage structure that allows for heaped baggage without the danger of spilling the luggage, it began to make sense.
Then I found out, it is not called a bellboy’s trolley, but a birdcage trolley – sometimes, these names are just as camp as Christmas – feast your eyes.