Friday, February 27, 2015


Nigeria is an important country for many reasons. First there is the jihadist group Boko Haram which has engaged in a expansionist campaign, freaking out everyone in the free world. Then there is the fact that Nigeria is Africa’s largest economy. Most recently however, everyone is interested in the upcoming elections with analysts predicting everything from widespread violence to a breakup of the country. Expectedly, every major news organisation around the world doesn't want to be somewhere covering the escape of Llamas when this sexy, maybe-conflict story is unfolding in Nigeria. So most of them are putting boots on the ground. 

Some journalists have had to wait long periods for their visas while others have come and gone in the wake of the six-week postponement of the elections from February 14 to March 28. As a local, I keep getting  contacted for interviews and pointers. Consequently, I have decided, at no cost, to provide a fairly detailed list of tips for foreign journalists coming to Nigeria for the first time:

NOTE: Most of my advice is for the white or light-skinned foreigner. If you are black and cannot be visibly identified as a foreigner, then I am sorry, you will have to work as hard as every other local journalist. 

  1. There is no protocol for the foreign journalist.
    You may think, I want to interview a high profile politician and I am not sure a foreigner who just flew in to cover the elections will be able to get access. Nonsense! There are no access issues for the foreign journalist in Nigeria. You know the saying “man proposes, God disposes”? Well, here it is “foreign journo proposes, foreign journo disposes”.  Especially if you are white, there is hardly any door you cannot walk right into and be greeted with a smile. If you cannot enter, then rest assured that no one can. 
  2. You are white. Don’t fight it.
    Like I said above, this article is for the light(er)-skinned journalist. In Nigeria, all light-skinned foreigners are referred to as white, or “oyibo”. Up north, where Hausa is the main language, you will be called “bature”. It does not matter if you are Algerian, Mexican or Chinese. Do not try to argue or explain that you are not white. The tag comes with a lot of perks like the one in 1. above. You will experience more love and attention than you have ever received since the nurse first showed you to your parents. 
  3. Don’t be shy to ask personal questions
    Sure there are taboo questions, but because you are foreign, most of these will not apply to you. Do not be shocked if you find people telling you their most intimate secrets. You will not need to be very influential for a public official to share sensitive government information or for a random stranger to tell you the crimes they have committed. There is something about your skin that makes us trust you. Milk it.
  4. Prepare for the beer gardens
    Especially in Lagos and Abuja, you will find that there are dozens of beer gardens or bush bars in any one area. Feel free to explore these lively places but please do not wear those hideous shorts that foreign journos like to wear in tropical countries. Along with the general population, mosquitoes converge there and will not hesitate to feast on you. Especially you. If you have never had malaria before, trust me, the first time is not good. Plus, you don’t want to be delirious with fever while your colleagues are out covering electoral violence. An African election report without some violence is like a man with erectile dysfunction. You don't want that.
  5. Love is a dangerous game
    Everyone needs some loving. While you are in Nigeria, there is nothing wrong in some adventure of a sexual nature. Again, it doesn't matter how you look - old, fat, sun-burnt - you will be treated like a local celebrity. Sex (transactional and otherwise) will be fairly easy to find. People will tell you very quickly that you are beautiful, or even, that they love you. Especially if you are no longer in your prime and it has been years since someone last said those words to you, it can be quite intoxicating to hear them. Enjoy the attention, but be careful. You may end up sponsoring someone’s trip abroad. Love at your own risk.
  6. The gay shall not inherit the earth
    If you are gay and you need some action while you are in Nigeria, you might want to be extra cautious. It is a crime to show any same sex amorous affection. We can talk about how this is against human rights and all another time. Today it is a crime, and you can get in trouble. Plus, the open playing field for the gay foreigner in Nigeria is a minefield. To scam you, we will pretend to be gay. Don’t use the internet for hookups. I am not recommending abstinence (that can be frustrating), but you might want to think about it. 
  7. We stare at exotic people. Deal with it.
    You will find out very quickly that as a foreigner, you stand out. People will stare at you, nonstop. No, they will not look away when you look back. Yes, they will call out to you in the streets, referring to you by race. Calm down. This is not racist. It is endearment. Deal with it.
  8. You will pay more. Deal with it.
    Will you be charged higher prices when you go to the market or take cabs or pay for sex? Yes. Yes. Yes. If you ask me, it is a small price to pay for all that love. Deal with it. 
  9. The devil is in the spices
    Especially if you are from places with bland food, the first time you eat a Nigerian dish will be followed by reactions that will require a long period of recovery. If you do not like hot spices, you might want to mention that several times before the food arrives. 
  10. Vegans can go to hell
    I am sorry but if you are vegan, food will be a challenge for you here. If you will not feel too guilty about it, you might want to take a vegan break in Nigeria and enjoy the meaty culinary delights for the one or two weeks you will be here. Trust me, the one or two kilos of meat you will eat in the period will not destroy the planet. However, to deal with any extreme guilt when you do go back home, you can volunteer at a homeless shelter, donate to Oxfam or to one of those animal rights organisations.

I hope you enjoy Nigeria as much I hope Nigeria enjoys you.

Love and peace. 

Wednesday, February 25, 2015


I like to begin with definitions. 
An African gatekeeper is an important intermediary between the kind white world of saviours and Africa enthusiasts on the one hand and Africans on the other. You might think, why do you need an intermediary? That is a good question. Let’s just say Africa is a big, complicated place - a minefield for otherwise well-meaning foreigners who want to help but may end up being accused of racism or ignorance. The answer to this question will become clearer as I explain the reasons why Africa needs gatekeepers. 

1.  White people shouldn't have to deal with all of Africa. 
Like I said, Africa is complicated. It can get confusing for the well meaning white person who wants to assist poor Africans, whether they are orphans or struggling writers. You need a knowledgeable African who can help select deserving Africans for foreign assistance, from grants to fellowships. It is like when you go to a new country and head to the fruit market. There will be fruits you have never seen and want to try. Because you have never had the fruit before, you need a local to help you pick the good, ripe ones. 

2.   Africans need order, someone to set agenda. 
I can say this because I am African: sometimes we need people to put us in line. Look at Nigeria, the largest African country. The most popular candidate in the presidential elections due on March 28, is General Muhammadu Buhari, who, as dictator in 1984, declared a war against indiscipline and forced people to stand in orderly queues. When he left, we all went back to fighting at bus stops. So, yes, we need smart Africans who can set the agenda for us all and tell us what new thing we should be doing, fighting or talking about. An African gatekeeper writes nice articles about what Africans should be doing with their lives.

3.   Someone needs to determine the validity of African ideas and identities
It is important that we have Africans who can curate African ideas and shoot down unintelligent anti-African ideas. Because sometimes we have these rogue Africans around the world who come up with weird ideas about Africa and about who they think they are. Like when someone African who has a foreign passport decides to call themselves Afropolitan. The duty of the African gatekeeper is to tell the misguided African why it is not up to them to determine their own identity. African gatekeepers know these things.

4.  Someone needs to protect Africa from ignorant white people who try to get cheap glory.
Sometimes foreigners think they can just come into Africa and help people. The job of the African gatekeeper is to make sure ignorant white people are mobbed and humiliated until they come to their senses. Like that white boy, Jason Russell, from California who tried to catch the Ugandan rebel leader, Kony without knowing anything about the local context. God bless African gatekeepers. In the end he had a public breakdown and was even hospitalised for psychiatric evaluation. 

5. Someone needs to protect Africa from ignorant black people who try to make Africa look bad. 
Sometimes you find some Africans writing about the things which make white people think we all need charity. Like poverty, wars and shit like that. Traitors. People who spend time writing novels and stories about African suffering, as if they missed the memo about the continent rising. An African gatekeeper denounces such people, because it is important to have one unified image of what Africa is, what it really is like: the bright lights, azonto music, lively bright-eyed people, intellectuals arguing in beer gardens, great safe sex, flourishing businesses, fantastic internet connection, Skype calls…all that shit. That glorious Africa. 

Now, you might as a white person who loves Africa and doesn't want to get in trouble with these African gatekeepers who set the agenda ask, how do I engage with the minefield that is Africa? I have tips for you good white people:

1.   Good white people do not argue with African gatekeepers.
Especially on Twitter, when an African gatekeeper tweets something you do not agree with, do not go down that foolish path where you challenge or argue with them. You can’t win. A good white person retweets an African gatekeeper. 

2.   Good white people do not intervene when two African gatekeepers argue.
When two African gatekeepers argue about something integral to African identity or race or hair or even whether croaker is better than catfish, a good white person stays away. Very far away. Because it is a trap. If this happens on Twitter, favourite the tweets of both gatekeepers to show you are loyal to them both (and ultimately to Africa) without taking sides.

3.   Good white people can handle criticism.
When an African gatekeeper gets upset or criticises white people, especially after being treated badly at an airport or embassy, never, ever try to defend white people. A good white person shows solidarity with an African gatekeeper and apologises for the actions of other white people. Empathise. Retweet the criticism. It shows you are not racist.

4.   Good white people take photos with African children. 
It is important to pose with black children and use those photos on social media. Nothing says you love Africa, like a photo of you with a black child wearing an oversized T-shirt. But be careful. African gatekeepers get suspicious when you have too many of those type of photos. One on your profile is enough.

5.   Good white people support African products.
You know those cheap African fabrics and African arts, crafts and jewellery? Most of them are made in China, sabotaging the local industries. Always make sure your African fabric and Afrocrap is made in Africa. Mention to your African gatekeeper friend that you know the difference between the shit made in China and the ones made in Africa. Say how Chinese counterfeiters destroy African businesses. They will respect you. And who knows, one day, they may even come to love you.
Now wouldn’t that be grand?

Saturday, February 21, 2015


I used to have a little respect for Governor Rotimi Amaechi. Mostly because he has for the last few years been standing up to my political rival, Goodluck Jonathan and his loving wife Dame “Mama Peace” Jonathan. It is not easy to fight the president, I know this. However Amaechi recently claimed that Christian leaders in Nigeria had been given 6 billion Naira by Jonathan to campaign against Buhari. I do not like people who do not verify their facts before they go to press. More recently, a Borno-based cleric who is in a better position to know this by virtue of his membership of the Christian Association of Nigeria, has made a contrary assertion. Kallamu Musa-Dikwa, who is the Executive Director of the Voice of Northern Christian Movement said that “it was N7bn that was given to the CAN leadership by President Goodluck Jonathan”. Not 6 billion. He has exposed Amaechi as a liar. And if you think 1 billion difference is nothing, go and steal just 500 Naira in the market and see what will happen to you. One billion naira is no joke. If I had 1 billion I would not have been writing weekly columns begging Nigerians to vote for me. 

This week I contemplated temporarily joining one of the rival political parties. Like PDP. Or APC. Let me explain. You know how as children we used to enjoy watching American wrestling on TV? Hulk Hogan, Ultimate Warrior, The Undertaker… One of the things we used to live for was to see the young, burly Hulk Hogan tear his shirt just before beginning a match. We just knew that once that shirt was torn, Hulk Hogan was going to win that match, no matter the beating he took from his opponent. Obasanjo made me feel that same way this week when he tore his PDP membership card. All I could think was Hulk Hogan. I was envious of how cool he looked. Of course he didn’t tear it himself. A big man doesn’t do things himself. Just like if I say I built a house, it doesn’t mean I mixed concrete and did the German floor myself. What do I know about German floors? 
Anyway, I was jealous of that Hulk Hogan move. In fact, to make matters worse, a Special Assistant to the governor of Gombe State Abdullahi Babangida Muhammad also did the same this week. This is why I wanted to quickly join APC or PDP so I could also hold a press conference and tear my membership card. But all attempts to reach the APC and PDP leaders in my ward proved abortive. 

I like Babatunde Fashola, even though he refused to follow my advice and convert to Christianity to run with General Buhari. But sometimes he does not think things through. I just read that he has acquired 100 mass transit buses - air-conditioned, and equipped with video, music and WiFi internet. In Lagos! Who does that? I will tell you exactly what will happen. People will get on those buses and pay for 3 or 4 routes - and knowing Lagos traffic that will be anywhere between 2 to 8 hours - just so they can use internet in an air-conditioned environment. It will become cheap office space for many people - from legitimate business men to people trying to lure old white women to the Ikeja Marriage Registry. But then, maybe that is the idea and he only wants to boost business and interracial, intergenerational love. Who knows?

Now that it seems highly likely that Malam Nasir El-Rufai will become governor in my state, Kaduna, I keep wondering which of his three wives he will make first lady. By his own admission, Kaduna is one of the most indebted states, so surely he is not planning to have three first ladies at the same time. Any one who knows Malam El-Rufai knows that he will develop Kaduna and bring a sense of decency to governance. We cannot have distractions while that is going on. He needs to clarify now who the first lady will be, to avoid any in-fighting. If you ask me though, I think he should do a four-year timetable and rotate the office between the three wives. Of course he will have to publish it and make it available to us all so that there is no doubt as to who is first lady at any given time. It will be colourful, especially if you add a handing over ceremony, presided over by the Chief Justice of the state where at the end of each first lady’s term, she hands over to the new first lady. It would even boost tourism as I am sure that many will be interested to come and watch this spectacle. El-Rufai should think seriously about this. I am only sharing this with him, because I care. 

Saturday, February 14, 2015


I am terribly disappointed. Saying any less about the recent postponement of the elections would be dishonest. Everything was in place for my victory on February 14 but at the last minute, Jonathan sent soldiers to tell INEC to shift the election.
When Jonathan used the army to change the dates he reminded me of those boys in secondary school who would go and look for trouble and when they got afraid would go home to call their older brothers. That is cheating. Stay and fight. Our people say you do not invoke the rain if you do not have an umbrella. And it is not as if Jonathan does not have an umbrella. 
Jonathan should have been man enough to tell us the real reason for this postponement instead of hiding in the villa and sending his soldiers. I am not married but I can understand if he did it to save his marriage. Wicked Nigerians have been spreading rumours about Jonathan sneaking into some house in Abuja to see another woman. Some evil people have even suggested his relationship with a certain Minister is more than official. I hate rumours and gossip and when anyone brings these wicked stories to me just because he is my political enemy I often rebuke them in the name of Jesus. I told the last one: Get thee behind me Satan. 
But like I said, I can understand if Nigerians and their wicked rumour mongering have driven a wedge between Goodluck and Mama Peace. If I was Mama Peace (and I am not saying this is what happened) and my husband was sneaking off to see other women, and then decided to fix elections on Valentine’s day, I would be very suspicious. Only a man with a woman on the side fixes anything else on that day. So, yes, if I was Her Excellency Mama Peace, I would make trouble until Goodluck realizes the error of his ways. As a woman from the grassroots, the First Lady knows very well how to handle the situation of a goat that is always eating a person’s yams. She knows that the only way of stopping a goat from eating yams is to separate the goat from the yam. I am not saying her husband is a goat. I am just saying he could have called or sent me a WhatsApp message to tell me the problems he was having instead of hiding behind soldiers.
While I want the Jonathans out of office on May 29, 2015, I wish them well in their marriage as they find their way back to monogamous love. I hope Jonathan, after inconveniencing the entire country, will at least use February 14 to mend things on the home front. Mama Peace deserves it for being patient all these years. 
I am only concerned about all the other Nigerian relationships that this postponement will endanger. No one planned anything spectacular for the Valentine celebration because of the proposed election. People did not order huge cakes or red roses. All the couples I know had bought extra dry food, water and gas so that, just in case there was any violence on the election weekend and curfews had to be imposed, they would not starve. So instead of preparing for love they were preparing for war. It is not easy to suddenly start preparing for love. The least Goodluck Jonathan could have done after postponing the election was to declare a subsidy for cakes and weaves and phones and all the other gifts Nigerian couples buy for Valentine. If he had a problem with that, he could have simply shifted Valentine along with the elections to March 28. He didn't. Imagine all the quarrels, failed marriages and broken relationships that will result from this. 
In spite of all of this however, I am calling on Nigerians, especially my supporters, not to let their frustrations push them into angry protests. This is not the time to play into the hands of those who do not want to leave power. There is a time to shout and there is a time to keep calm and sip moringa juice. Collect your PVCs if you have not collected them and prepare to go out on March 28. Remember that no matter how strongly you feel about a candidate, no matter how much you want to be part of the process, all you have is one vote. Others are equally entitled to express themselves no matter how foolish that expression may be. And in the end democracy is about how many votes count. Sometimes after the count, it emerges that stupidity wins. But the beauty of democracy also is that stupidity, once elected, lasts only four years. 
Democracy is no guarantee for good governance. We must be part of the process of making Nigeria change before, during and after elections. So let us allow Jonathan enjoy this Valentine with his wife while we wait for March 28. If you had bought dry food stuff for the election weekend, keep it for March 28. Raw rice will not spoil in six weeks. 

Sunday, February 1, 2015


You can tell it is the collection centre because of the people pressing in against the gate, waving their temporary voters cards in the air, some new, some yellowed from age. There are two sets of people: those who registered in 2011 and those who registered in 2014. And there are others like you who have lost their temporary cards.
You will have to get used to the dust on this narrow dirt road where almost two hundred people are milling about, complaining, about the inefficiency of the INEC staff handing out permanent voters cards (PVC).
“Are you the last person on the queue?” you ask.
When he scrunches his face, you realise he doesn’t understand what you asked. You switch to Hausa.
“Kai ne na karshe a layin?”
His face relaxes. He is the last person on the queue.
Ten people are allowed past the gate at a time to search through piles of cards. One hour passes and not a single one of the ten has come out. The queue breaks into groups of people discussing, cursing, laughing, arguing.
“See eh! Make I tell you, if I get like one billion, I no go change…”
“Na lie!”
“Na big lie!”
“Money get spirit make I tell you. You go change.”
“I swear to God I no go change. See, I go keep de money first. Comot like 100 thousand. Go find beta woman, go hotel, go rest small.”
Everyone bursts into laughter except the fair plump woman. She is not amused.
“Why I go vote? Person wey don win election don win. Na so Nigeria be. Why I go waste my time?”
“Me I register for town but my house dey inside Kapuwa. Why I go suffer myself. Shebi dem talk say no movement dat day.”
“I just wan collect de PVC because dem talk say anytin you wan do now you need am. Weda bank o, even to go abroad now, if you no get PVC you no fit go. Das why I still dey here o.”
It is 2 pm and the sun is high in the sky. The queue has moved only a little bit for the past three hours. People are leaving to eat and return. People are returning to discover they have lost their place on the queue.
A small police car attempts to drive into the premises with a woman at the back. The crowd at the gate is suspicious and reluctant to move. The policeman in charge of security speaks with the policeman driving the car and suggests that the woman get down and enter on foot. People realise the policemen are trying to smuggle the woman past the hundreds who are outside into the PVC collection centre. The women grumble and slowly the men join in too.
Chants of “No!” ring out in the air.
“We no go gree!”
One policewoman tries to punch her way through the crowd of mostly women who have formed a barricade. She makes her way through but is unable to drag the civilian woman across. The policeman in charge, first tries to threaten, then plead with people to let the woman in. No one agrees.
He back down when he sees the resolve of the crowd. They drive the woman away in the police car.
“For the last election I sell my sef, dey tink say, maybe na dat one go beta for me. Election finish, na me regret. Dis time, e no go happen to me again.”
“As you don see de light dis time, e get plenty people wey still foolish like you.”
People burst into laughter at an old man’s retort to a repentant young voter.
The young man continues: “Me I don tell my guys say, if politician bring money, we go collect, shout im name. But if e turn im back, we go vote wetin we like. We go chop de money.”
Another young man nods vigorously.
Everyone seems to agree that this is the way to go. Take the money. Vote the candidate you really believe in.
At 5 pm most of the people who were at this Garki PVC collection centre have still not collected their PVCs. 
The officials declare they have closed.
You are exhausted but you have enjoyed listening to all the banter.
“Na wetin dem want be dis,” an old man complains, “dey wan carry all the PVC go do wetin dem want wit am.”
“I get business to do. I no go come here again. I no fit suffer like this.”

As you listen to this middle aged man swear he will not return, something tells you, if you come back here tomorrow, you will find him standing.