Thursday 1 October 2020

Nigeria at 60 — Where do we go from here?

For many Nigerians, Independence Day is another reminder of the harsh realities of life in Africa’s most populous country. A country that, on paper, has everything needed to be a great and prosperous nation is instead shackled by bad governance, poor infrastructure, rampant youth unemployment and a range of other issues.

Despite being Africa’s largest economy, the wealth of the country does not seem to be reflected in the bank balance of many of its people. We can spend the next few hours talking about these challenges (as many often do) and this would be justified. There are more than enough challenges to talk about but too often, many Nigerians do not have time or headspace for any other conversation about the country.

We all know the issues and we are very happy and comfortable offering every kind of analysis and explanation possible for why things are the way they are. However, when it comes to conversations about actually doing something about the issues, there seems to be a poverty of interest. Too many people only seem to be interested in talking about the problems.

As we celebrate 60 years of independence, Nigerians have a very clear choice to make. Do we continue to focus all our energy on merely talking about our problems and challenges or do we choose to nurture and support the green shoots of recovery that are beginning to appear?

“What green shoots of recovery?” you may ask. Well, here are some:


Nigeria has one of the most exciting tech ecosystems in the world today. From fintech and biotech to ecommerce and IT, Nigeria has some of the most innovative entrepreneurs that are using technology to drive solutions and create opportunities across the country.

Between Kobo360, the logistics startup equipping African businesses to take advantage of the new continent-wide free trade agreement by enabling effective and efficient movement of goods and 54Gene, the healthcare startup that is trying to unlock the African genome by building the world’s first and largest pan-African biobank, there is no shortage of innovation. There is also TradeDepot, an end-to-end distribution platform that aims to connect the world’s top consumer goods companies directly to informal retailers on the streets of Africa’s cities. 


Publications like Zikoko, Techcabal and Stears are re-energizing Nigeria’s once stale media landscape. Whether you are looking for in-depth, data driven analysis of the Nigerian economy, the latest technology and business news or you just want a light piece to unwind your mind after a long day, there is no shortage of publications with content written by Nigerians, for Nigerians.

We are now taking the issue of telling our own stories seriously and the millions of readers, social media shares and wider endorsements suggests that this space is only going to get bigger and better.

Arts and literature

Nigeria has a long tradition of world class artists whose works are coveted across the world. These pieces do not only adorn galleries and private collections but they also provide viable means of employment and income for many artists. For example, Nigeria’s army of hyperrealist artists are arguably the best in the world and many of them are increasingly showcased alongside other artists in galleries across the world. At home, places like Nike Art Gallery are now as much of a tourist destination as anywhere else.

This piece by Ben Enwonwu sold for £1.2m in London in 2018

Plays by Nigerian playwrights are regularly performed in theatres across Nigeria (COVID-permitting), on Broadway in New York and in the West End in London. Novels by Nigerian writers are on bestseller lists across the world. From Chinua Achebe and Wole Soyinka to Chimanada Ngozi Adichie and Adaobi Tricia Nwaubani, Nigerian writers are revered and respected across the world for their work to this very day.


Nigeria’s greatest asset is its people. We are a unique, energetic and entrepreneurial people. Our resilience is without question. Our love for life is second to none. We have certainly had our share of tough times but you wouldn’t know by the smiles on many of our faces.

Virtually every major university in the English-speaking world has a cohort of Nigerian academics. There is hardly a hospital anywhere in the world where you wouldn’t find Nigerian medical personnel, many of them shuttling between Nigeria and the country they’re based to provide world class service on both sides. Nigerians, both in Nigeria and abroad, have been notably successful in business and finance, and across a range of histories.

The list goes on

It is important to emphasize at this point that I am not trying to say that Nigeria is perfect or that things are generally ‘good’. That is not the case and certainly not the point I am trying to make. My point is that while it is crucial to identify and challenge the issues that abound, we should not starve these innovators and change makers of the attention and support they deserve.

Nigeria’s fortunes will not improve because we ‘complained’ our problems to submission. Our fortunes will only change when we begin to seize the opportunities (however limited) that do exist to drive our nation forward.

Happy 60th Independence Day my people!! Today, we celebrate 

Saturday 6 June 2020

To end racism, we must first abandon the myth of race

In the last few weeks, a lot has been said about the need to fight racism. The disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on black people in the West as well as the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis has breathed new life into the conversation about inequality and racial injustice.

This newfound impetus is much welcomed but we will be wasting our time if we fail to acknowledge how we got here in the first place. To truly tackle racism, we must face the inconvenient truth of why we categorise ourselves using skin pigmentation so that we can not only understand the gravity of what we are dealing with but also that we may seek change in other aspects of life that have been impacted by this great ill.

The myth of 'the curse of Ham'
Theories and notions of human worth based on skin colour are not entirely new. Many people may point to medieval models of race, which mixed classical ideas (the suggestion that factors such as geography and climate played a significant role in the physical appearance of different peoples) with the idea that humanity as a whole descended from the three sons of Noah (Shem, Ham and Japheth), producing distinct Semitic (Asiatic), Hamitic (African) and Japhetic (Indo-European) people. This theory dates back to the Babylonian Talmud, which states, "the descendants of Ham are cursed by being black, and depicts Ham as a sinful man and his progeny as degenerates."

However, this theory was widely discredited as early as the 9th century, with many thinkers pointing to the fact that different human skin colours, particularly black skin, were the result of the environment and climate, rather than the myth of ‘the curse of Ham’.

No scientific basis
There is no scientific basis for race as a differentiator, either. And this is not for lack of trying. This idea was invented and popularised for one reason and one reason only - to create a hierarchy of human beings. The scientific racism that was the accepted norm between the 16th century and the end of World War II presents an interesting case study. The 16th century saw the rise of scientific racism, a belief, which is now widely discredited, that suggested that empirical evidence exists to support or justify racial inferiority or racial superiority and any discrimination that may result from that. Historically, scientific racism received credence throughout the scientific community, but it is no longer considered scientific.

Scientific racism used methods such as craniometry (the measurement of the cranium) and other pseudoscientific methods to support the classification of human populations into physically discrete groups, that might be asserted to be superior or inferior. It was on the basis of this principle that Adolf Hilter built the concentration camps, with the sole purpose of cleansing humanity of the weaker races for the furtherance of his supposedly superior Aryan race. This was resoundingly truncated by Jesse Owens, a Black American athlete, who won four gold medals, broke/equalled nine olympic records and set three world records at the 1936 Berlin Olympics that Hitler had orchestrated to make his point about Aryan superiority.

Othering and ordering
Glorifying your own attributes as signs of superiority is also not new. In many great civilizations across the world, from Rome to China, the norm was to equate physical characteristics, such as hair and eye colour, with psychological and moral qualities, usually assigning the highest qualities to your own people and lower qualities to the "Other", either lower classes or outsiders to the society.

In the same way, modern western society has identified skin colour as a tool for ordering and ‘othering’ the world. The world, as a result is not ordered based on character, morals or any other tangible traits, but on skin pigmentation and other intangible traits that will always be out of reach for many.

Difference can be a dangerous tool in the wrong hands. It is an easy way to turn people against one another and create conflict where it doesn’t naturally exist. We cannot pretend that skin colours are not different. That would be ignorant. However, if we really want to end racism, we must recognise that the idea of separating ourselves, for any reason, according to skin pigmentation has no scientific basis and must be fought against as much as the structures of oppression that it upholds.

Sunday 18 August 2019

'All black people love chicken' - the myth that came home to roost

For those that didn't already know, London is in the grip of a wave of violent crime. In 2019 alone, there has been at least 86 violent deaths in London. In 2018, the number of violent deaths reached 132.

Despite various statements from experts and community leaders urging the government to invest in deprived communities and address the many longstanding issues that are known to lead people into criminality, the UK government's genius solution was to commission a campaign to share 'real life stories' of people affected by knife crime on chicken and chips boxes.

On the surface, this might seem like an honest attempt to share much needed information via a platform that the target audience is familiar with. However, when you look beyond the surface,  you will find that this was at best a lazy attempt to use a tired stereotype to address a serious problem. Or worse, a crystal clear sign that the UK government is out of touch and doesn't care about issues affecting minority communities.

This tone deaf campaign has been widely criticised. And rightly so. And please don't mistake this as an apology for a campaign that is a monument to ignorance but if we want to make sure this doesn't happen again, we have to unpick the entire episode and ask ourselves where the idea of using chicken and chips boxes could have come from.

There are obviously many factors that led to this point but since I first heard of the campaign, I haven't been able to shake the idea that it was based on the popular idea that all black people (ethnic minorities, in general) love chicken. Some people think this is a harmless statement. Some even think it's a statement of fact. However, I think it's an ignorant statement that is laced with all sorts of prejudiced undertones.

Growing up in Nigeria, the country with the most black people in the world, I never heard anyone mention anything about black people loving chicken. To be honest, in a country where you shared the same skin colour with more than 190 million people, 'being black' was of no real consequence. Beyond that, people were exposed to a wide variety of meat options and preferences were more likely to be associated with tribe and social class than phenotype. It wasn't until I relocated to the UK that I was told that black people basically had a genetic predisposition to chicken.

Not knowing better, I subscribed to this idea for some time and found myself choosing chicken ahead of other meats I had known and loved my whole life. This myth thankfully began to unravel when I found myself in situations where chicken wasn't available and I found myself loving the taste of whatever else I found myself eating. 

I also found out that chicken was the cheapest meat on the market in the UK, which explains why it is so universally available and popular. Don't get me wrong, I don't mind a drumstick or thigh from time to time but that's often because nothing else is available.

It's also worth noting that the people that I personally know that LOVE chicken the most are all white. And they are not the white people that grew up on the estates either. These are people that grew up in comfortable suburban surroundings and will be found eating chicken nuggets at all hours and routinely devouring buckets of KFC. It's not a matter of what's available for these guys. It's a matter of true love.

I've heard so many people (and ethnic minorities, generally) voice their dissatisfaction with the #KnifeFree campaign. I am not trying to make excuses for the campaign but if we want to avoid a repeat, we need to stop peddling these stereotypes. They are never helpful and will always work to our disadvantage.

Stereotypes are a lazy way of getting to know people. It is a cut and paste approach that doesn't consider the intricacies and nuances of the person or people you are trying to know. Even worse, it invalidates the unique qualities that makes us all who we are. For these reasons alone, we should do our best to avoid stereotypes. 

And if we all agree that stereotypes are not very useful for getting to know people, we can also agree that it's not a great idea to stereotype yourself. It may seem like an innocent thing to do in the moment but stereotyping yourself is a chicken that will always comes home to roost.

While we are at it...

Not all black people can dance
Not all black people can sing
Not all black people can run fast
Some black people like skiing 
Some black people don't like hip hop
And...some black people don't like chicken

Friday 20 July 2018

We need to talk about 'African won the World Cup'

The conversation around the ‘ethnic diversity’ of many European football teams is not new. I recall seeing internet memes comparing the identical ethnicity of other football teams with the diversity of the French football team as far back as 2014. However, France’s recent World Cup win has brought this topic back to the fore.

On one side of the conversation, you have people from the far-right claiming that the diversity doesn’t represent France. They claim the country is losing its identity. On the other hand, you have Africans claiming ‘Africa won the World Cup’ and using the World Cup win as an opportunity to talk about the inequality Africans in France are subjected to on a day-to-day basis.

However you look at it, it’s difficult to deny that Africa won France the World Cup. 15 out of the 23 players in the squad were either children of parents born in Africa, grandchildren of Africans or born in Africa themselves. Many of these players identify with their heritage and still practice elements of the different cultures. You can see it in the music they listen to, the clothes they wear and many other aspects of who they are. To argue that this connection to their roots did not directly impact the World Cup win would be denying the blatantly obvious.

However, this connection to their roots was not the main topic of many conversations. For many, especially those on the far-right, the conversation was about whether or not these ‘African men’ could truly be called ‘French’. I think they can and should.

For starters, it was the French that traveled across the world to rid Africans of their culture and language, and force them to speak the French language and observe French traditions. They also maintained the notion that France was a metropole and the countries many of these young men’s families come from were just outposts. If they see themselves as French, you cannot look beyond colonisation.

Also, this is not the first time an African has played a pivotal role in a European football teams’ World Cup success. Just that last time it happened, there was a little less drama. Take Eusébio da Silva Ferreira (or Eusébio to most people), perhaps Portugal’s greatest ever player. During his career, he scored 733 goals in 745 matches (41 goals in 64 matches for Portugal). Born in Mozambique, he was one of the first world class African players and was pivotal to Portugal’s run the semifinals of the 1966 World Cup, scoring six goals in nine matches. When he died in 2014, the Portuguese government declared three days of national mourning. His body was buried in the National Pantheon, bestowing him with the honor to rest alongside Portugal’s most distinguished national heroes. Interestingly, the people of Portugal called him The Black Panther or The African - an acknowledgement of his heritage and physical prowess.

Eusébio was African and Portuguese. In the same way, these players are both French and African. They boldly embrace both elements of their cultural identity, regardless of the grief that they often get for it.

We also need to bear in mind that nationality isn't always as black and white as many make it out to be. Most countries are made of various people groups, many of whom don't see eye to eye on most things. The only thing that binds many of them together is geography. So to take the position that certain people cannot be allowed to identify by a particular nationality simply because they or their parents were born outside the geographical confines is simply ridiculous.

As an African, I was personally happy to see France win the World Cup. With none of the African countries making it past the group stage, the significant African representation in the team gave me something to cheer. It was a nod to conversations in many circle about what African countries can achieve if we got our house in order. Hopefully, when that glorious day comes, our success will be in our name. Not someone else’s.

Thursday 12 April 2018

Why the West still needs to stay out of Syria

Why the West needs to stay out of Syria

Almost five years ago, I wrote a blog post that argued against any involvement of the US, UK and its allies in resolving the conflict in Syria. Along with the painful reality that the conflict is still going on, another painful reality that has persisted is the fallacy that Western intervention will make a positive difference.

The argument behind the latest wave of calls for Western intervention is based on allegations of chemical attacked by the Syrian government on innocent civilians in Douma. The argument is that the use of chemical weapons crosses a line, and that the West, with its considerable military force, is well placed to step in and dish out justice.

While I readily agree that the use of chemical weapons crosses a line, I still maintain that Western involvement in Syria, especially at this point in time, will do nothing else but further damage an already broken country.

In my previous post, I argued that the perceived normalcy that Western interventions often leave behind can be as strange as the chaos that the intervention intended to fix. As far back as anyone can remember, the pattern of Western interventions has very rarely resulted anything positive for the people on the ground. Or even the residents of the countries that go in to intervene. Think Libya. Think Afghanistan. Think Iraq. We walk away thinking we've resolved the issue but we are more likely to have messed things up even further. But for some strange reason, we still insist on charging around the world to dish our our own version of justice and install our own version of order.

Another reason for caution and hesitation is the current state of world politics. With heightened tensions and the potential for severe consequences beyond Syria, we cannot afford to storm in with the same half-baked approach that has resulted in catastrophe in other parts of the Middle East. Particularly with the current government in the US and the noise that has been coming from Washington since the Trump government took office, the consequences of the inevitable misdeeds that will come as a result of any intervention will be quite simply catastrophic.

And instead of respecting the delicacy of the matter and the need for a sensible solution, we have the supposed leader of the free world threatening war via Twitter. The Russians are also no backing down and are threatening to shoot down missiles and sink ships. Sometimes I wonder if Syria is no more than a front for the real conflict.

Ultimately, we have to ask ourselves what the end game for dropping bombs on Syria? Whatever it is we are trying to achieve, what confidence do we have that it is line with the will of the majority of the Syrian people. And if the West does succeed in overthrowing the current Syrian government, what do we intend to replace it with?

The ongoing conflict is nothing short of a disaster. More than 500,000 people killed and many more displaced. On top of this, there is no sign of the conflict coming to an end and instead of getting the people that truly understand the conflict to work out a solution that works, the conflict has been turned into a political football. We have a bunch of arrogant Westerners demanding military action as a "moral duty" without truly considering or understanding the consequences for the Syrian people most affected.

My insistence that the West stays out of Syria is not because I don't think it means well. It is because it has consistently shown a misunderstanding of the Middle East and how it operates. It has consistently been drawn in to add its considerable weight in a way that skews the balance of the conflict and often giving undue credibility to factions that are undeserving (often because these factions serve their purpose, not that of the people on the ground). And until this trend changes, I will continue to maintain that the West should stay out of Syria .

Sunday 28 January 2018

The problem with #BlackExcellence

The problem with #BlackExcellence

For most black people, or people that have enough Black friends and acquaintances, the concept of Black Excellence should not be foreign. It's an attempt to celebrate achievements of Black people who are perceived to be doing well or portraying qualities and abilities that make the black community proud. For example, there's the recent case of Dr Oluyinka Olutoye of the Texas Children's Fetal Centre, who removed a baby from its mother's womb at 23 weeks old, successfully operated on the baby to remove a tumour and returned it back into the mother's womb. The baby was then delivered healthy and naturally at 36 weeks.

Now, there is no doubting that this achievement is excellent in every sense of the word. It is an astonishing accomplishment and one that should be celebrated without hesitation. And as you can expect, this story has been shared all over social media and in various WhatsApp groups as example of Black Excellence.

Now, my issue is nothing to do with whether or not this is indeed excellent or to be celebrated. My issue is with the assumption that the convergence of excellence and Black people is something that should be celebrated. Like we have to point it out for the world to see. Like Black people from all corners of the world have not consistently been excellent at as wide a variety of activities for as far back as time goes.

There is no denying the fact that many people with questionable motives seek to underplay the achievements of Black people or even conspire to blot out these achievements from the record books. I am very aware of the prejudice Black people face on a day to day basis as they endeavour to establish themselves at work and in life in general. However, I don't believe playing fools at their game is the way forward.

A wise man once said "it's not what they call you. It's what you answer to". There is no need to prove excellence or show proof of excellence for any reason whatsoever. Excellence always speaks for itself and is its own validator. It doesn't need any fanfare and certainly doesn't need any hashtags. Also, answering to every provocation never converts the naysayers. All it does is open up an unnecessary conversation about a non-issue. It is tantamount to stooping to the level of the racists and trying to play them at their game.

Another wise man said "don't argue with fools, because people from a distance can't tell who's who". If the purpose of #BlackExcellence is to change minds, then it's a loosing battle. These people are not interested in being reasonable or giving credit where it's due anyway, so why expend energy on them? They are so far away from reality that engaging with them will not lead to anything productive. Why stoop to their level, especially when you know they're probably not interested in anything you have to say?

My biggest issue with #BlackExcellence is actually that it is a norm, should be expected and should not be treated as anything "special". Just because some are unable to recognise this shouldn't mean we have to start jumping through hoops and pretending like its "special". Excellence is the standard. It has always been and always will be. Until we all start to behave as such, we are just wasting our time with the hashtags.

Tuesday 3 October 2017

Thoughts on another American tragedy - Why the Vegas machine gun massacre won't change anything

By now you’ve probably read multiple news stories about the massacre in Vegas on Sunday night/Monday morning. A ‘lone gunman’ opened fire on revellers at a music festival, killing 59 (at the last count) and injuring more than 500 before turning the gun on himself.

The reluctance to call this massacre an act of terrorism is perhaps the most widely discussed issue. Many have voiced disgust at the benefit of the doubt that seems to be abundant for white perpetrators of mass violence compared to the readiness to label similar acts carried out by other races as terrorism. "Local individual", "licensed pilot and hunting enthusiasts with no criminal record" and "accountant that played $100-a-hand poker" are some of the headlines. Anything but "terrorist". And you all know why.

Nevada state law is clear on its definition of terrorism - "Any act that involves the use of violence intended to cause great bodily harm or death to the general population." But clearly that isn’t clear enough for some. You must either be religious or overly political and not white for your act of mass violence to get that ‘terrorist’ tag.

Las Vegas shooting

There is also the topic of gun control, but I don’t even think it is necessary to spend too much time on this given the current political situation. President Trump is in the NRA’s back pocket and didn't even mention the issue of guns and gun control in his speech. Even if something miraculous happens, the fact that gun sales usually increases after these sort of incidents (out of fear of a change in the law and fear of similar incidents) means there will be next to no change in the availability of guns. There’s also the possibility of a black market, which will probably be worse than the current situation.

Also, if the Sandy Hook massacre, which killed 20 6-7 year old kids couldn’t force a change in US gun laws, this massacre certainly won’t. Americans seem to be ready to let everything crash and burn before they even consider a change.

Perhaps the biggest reason why I don't think anything is going to change is because too many of us are ready to normalise people like Stephen Paddock and their actions. We are quick to apologise for their madness and try to explain it all away. To many of us, regardless of our desire for greater gun control or our dissatisfaction with media coverage of these events, are not disappointed by these events. Too many of us will say 'we don't know his motive so we can't be sure that he's a terrorist', like whether he killed because of religion or any other issue makes a difference to the fact that his acts were violent and dangerous to human life and intended to intimidate a civilian population.

There is so much that can be said about the Vegas machine gun massacre and the reactions (and non-reactions) it has sparked. We will, of course, show remorse and wonder why this always happens but soon we will move on and the necessary steps needed to avert future reoccurrence will not be taken. Unfortunately, many will forget about this incident and will not remember that things needs to change until it happens again. 

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