Archive for August 2007

Nude video, indecent dressing and other ‘immoral acts’

August 27, 2007

Published: Sunday, 26 Aug 2007

I have been watching some Western movies of recent. This is just to relax my nerves from the stress of academic life. The central themes in most of these videos be it ‘The Rising Sun,’ ‘Hired to Kill’ or ‘Gridlock’d,’ are sex and violence. It is as if without these scenes, there is no film.

In real life situation, people’s attitude to sex and nudity in the Western world is also not rigid. I had narrated some of my personal experiences in this column before. But it seems each passing day brings fresh elements into the phenomenon. In Germany, for instance, two siblings, Patrick Stuebing and Susan Karolewski, are living together as lovers. They already have four children. Although incest is a criminal offence in Germany, this couple is fighting to reverse that law. They believe the legislation is out of date and that it breaches their civil rights.

Earlier this month, about 600 nudists posed for a U.S. photographer, Spencer Tunick, in the Swiss Alps. An environmental group, Greenpeace, commissioned the photo to raise awareness about global warming. In Spain, El Jueves, a weekly magazine, recently carried a cartoon of Crown Prince Felipe and his wife having sex. The cartoon reportedly quoted Felipe as saying sex was the closest he would come to working. The publication followed government’s announcement that it would pay couples about $3,500 for each new baby born.

We are already familiar with homosexuals and their wide acceptance in the West. In Wales, a gay recently won a case he instituted against a Church of England bishop for unlawful discrimination. Mr John Reaney claimed Bishop Anthony Priddis denied him employment in his Hereford diocese because he was gay. The chief executive of the Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement, Rev. Richard Kirker, even asked the bishop to resign.

This same society that welcomes gay, lesbians and other sexual perverts frowns on certain aspects of sexual behaviour of people. Last July, the police launched a manhunt for a man who pinched the bottom of a Channel 4 News presenter in England. Sue Turton was busy reporting live, the devastation caused by flood at Osney Island in Oxford when the culprit walked past her and pinched her bum. Turton found the matter humiliating and disrespectful. However, the police later found the man and cautioned him under the Public Order Act.

A recent report on the BBC News website says almost 8,000 sex offenders have been cautioned across England in the past five years. Some of such sexual crimes, according to the BBC, include rape, downloading child porn, bigamy, sexual offences against animals, incest, exploitation of prostitution and indecent exposure. Offences involving children accounted for over 1,600 of the cautions.

What the above scenario indicates is that your rights as an individual end where another person‘s rights begin. In other words, one is free to believe in anything or have any sexual orientation. But this belief or practice should not in any way infringe on other people‘s rights.

I am not too sure if we have bottom pinchers in Nigeria. But what is certain is that in Kano State, an actress is in trouble because she allegedly acted nude in a home video. People had circulated the eight-minute mobile phone clip of the video, thus causing outrage in the north. The Kano State Filmmakers Association has reportedly expelled the actress, her lover and 17 others. These 17 were allegedly expelled for such “immoral acts” as fornication and drunkenness.

About three weeks ago, 18 men accused of dressing as women were arrested in a hotel room in Bauchi. The initial charge against them was sodomy. In Sharia law, the punishment for this crime is death by stoning. The charge was later changed to indecent dressing and vagrancy. Last week, a Sharia court granted bail to five of these men who met bail conditions. Muslim youths, who felt the men did not deserve bail, started a violent protest. Police had to intervene and there was a clash. This disrupted traffic for about 30 minutes. Some women in the north had also been sentenced to death by stoning by Sharia courts. Luckily, none of these sentences has been carried out. In Lagos, the police arrested over 90 girls a few weeks ago for allegedly wearing indecent dresses.

Some of what we view as immoral acts today are direct result of Western influences on our culture. The world, they say, is a global village. One may be in Germany today, China tomorrow and the US the day after. The advent of the Internet and other electronic communication gadgets has further narrowed the gulf among peoples and nations.

But just as we are disturbed about moral decadence in the society, other nations are concerned as well. The little difference is in the degree of this concern and the punishment meted out to offenders. In the United States, for instance, the Delcambre town council passed an ordinance in June making it a crime to wear saggy trousers (trousers that show underwear.) Offenders risk a fine of $500 or up to six months in jail.

Nigeria also has laws against anti-social behaviour. And it is poised to promulgate new ones. Concerned about a rise in incidents of rape in the country, the Nigerian Law Reform Commission, for instance, is proposing stiffer punishment for rape convicts. Whatever the commission comes up with may not be as severe as what is obtainable in the Czech Republic. There, sex offenders are treated with surgical or chemical castration. The Czech government has dismissed criticisms over this.To her, the practice is in conformity with their law.

This conformity with the tenets of the law should be our guiding principle. We may have the right to speak against the ways of homosexuals. We may have the freedom to condemn nudists and indecent dressers. But our Constitution has not given us the power to either stone anybody to death or cause disruption of public order. That will be infringing on other people‘s rights. And that will be taking laws into our own hands. Until the laws are changed, whatever punishment any rapist or nudist receives must be in accordance with the existing laws of the land. Youths who are wont to go on the rampage because a judge declines to pass death sentence on someone wearing a mini skirt should take it easy.

Reflections on the lamentations of Alison-Madueke

August 19, 2007

By Casmir Igbokwe

Published: Sunday, 19 Aug 2007

Our female ministers‘ emotional expression of our collective sadness as a people is purgative. A few months ago, an ex-Minister of Education, Oby Ezekwesili, shed tears for our decaying school system. Now, the tear glands of the Minister of Transport, Mrs Diezani Alison-Madueke, are almost filled. Recently, the woman experienced the bitter taste of travelling on Benin-Ore Road. She was so moved that she had to apologise to the nation over the deplorable state of most federal roads. 

But, dilapidated roads are not the only problem with our transport system. Most vehicles plying these roads are coffins. Motorists are also subjected to the risk of bumping into the carcasses of burnt cars abandoned for ages on these roads. In Lagos especially, most drivers are impatient. Miscreants (Area Boys) are always on the prowl. Commuters are at the mercy of one-chance, pickpockets and sundry criminals.

The rails are no better alternative. They are not well developed. The Chinese once came to refurbish some of them. When they left, petty traders took over and converted some of them to shops. Water and air transportation have their problems. Even atheists cannot avoid saying a prayer of protection when they are airborne.

We have heard of metro line in Lagos, London taxis in Abuja and Odili taxis in Port Harcourt. Most state governments had also launched mass transit buses in the past. Today, motorcycles (okada) are the major means of transportation in these cities.

We often hear about billions of naira earmarked for road rehabilitation. Most times, some of the earmarks do not translate into ‘eye-marks.‘ Former Governor Orji Uzor Kalu and former Works Minister, Tony Anenih, once quarrelled over alleged misappropriation of billions of naira meant for road maintenance. Today, nobody remembers to ask past Ministers of Works to give account of their stewardship.

There is no need recalling the wear and tear bad roads subject vehicles to. There is no point painting the atrocities armed robbers use these pothole-ridden roads to commit. And it‘s of no use counting the cost of human lives wasted on account of this official negligence. In December 2004, I lost close relatives to the craters on Benin-Ore Road. Some of those who survived the accident now contend with permanent disabilities.

We will soon enter the so-called ‘ember‘ months – the months when luxury bus drivers work almost 24 hours without rest; the months when people bring out more coughing vehicles in preparation for Christmas; the months when more souls will likely perish in avoidable accidents. Why do we place less premium on our lives?

In March last year, a drunk fell asleep on a railway line in Surrey, England. Neither the sounds of passing trains nor the police helicopter could wake him. Consequently, railway authorities turned power off. Trains stopped running. Police and other emergency crews moved in. Happily, Kevin Craswell was rescued alive. Last December the court fined him £560 and gave him 180 hours of community service.

Mobilising emergency crews to rescue one drunk, again, demonstrates the value British authorities place on human lives. This is why intercity bus drivers in the UK, most times, have about 30 minutes rest for a three to four-hour journey. Priority seats are given to the disabled, the elderly and those carrying babies.

Transport companies cannot even afford to misbehave because competition is stiff. And they operate on a franchise basis. This means they pay certain amount of money to the government and have exclusive rights to operate designated routes. Last week, for instance, National Express won the bid to operate the main London to Scotland rail route. The company will pay £1.4bn to the Treasury to operate the franchise until the end of March 2015.

The beauty of the British transport system is that there are alternatives. If you feel that travelling by bus will waste your time, the trains are there. They are faster but more expensive. If you are not in a hurry, it is cheaper to book early online. For instance, a normal journey from Cardiff to London is about £35. But if you book one month ahead online, you could get the ticket for £2.

In all my intra and intercity travels in the UK, I have never bothered to pay the optional fee for insurance. What do I really need the insurance for? The vehicles are well maintained. The roads are all tarred. Even the remotest of villages on mountainsides have tarred roads running through them. No potholes. No gullies. And no armed robbers on road rampage.

If any crack appears on any road, it is immediately marked and repaired. This maintenance culture permeates through the entire system. Houses that need renovation are renovated. Household equipment that have gone bad are replaced. And overgrown grasses and flowers are trimmed.

Maintenance culture in Nigeria lies in taking our shoes to cobblers and torn dresses to mobile tailors every month. To our leaders at various levels, the roads can go bad. No problem, as long as there are allocations and security votes to pocket. In saner societies, the immediate past commissioners and ministers of works will be facing panels of enquiry by now.

That ours is still a developing country is understandable. But instead of progressing to catch up with the developed world, we have chosen to continuously move down the development ladder. Why can‘t the federal and state ministries of works conduct an annual inspection of roads, mark bad portions and repair them immediately? Why should sharing allocations and paying salaries be the main function of local councils? Can‘t they maintain small roads within their territories?

Dear Die (my abbreviation of Diezani), the task before you is enormous. May your positive dreams never die prematurely! May your apologies bring forth tears of joy for our transport system.

Feedback

Hello Casmir, I am an ardent reader of your column and I really enjoy every bit of it. Your articles are very incisive, educating and humorous. The article on the activities of rainmakers sent me sprawling with laughter, especially their disappointment on the day of your grandmother‘s burial rites. Where I stay (Badagry, Lagos State), their activities are very common, but I really do not believe them.

Hundeyin Seyon, Search4amaka@yahoo.com

Worshipping God in nightclubs and forests

August 12, 2007

By Casmir Igbokwe

Published: Sunday, 12 Aug 2007

Last April, the Ararat Baptist Church in Cardiff started what it called church in a bar. Every Sunday, it holds services in a nightclub called Clwb Ifor Bach on Womanby Street. The pastor, Rev. James Karran, 26, reportedly said he liked going out to pubs and into town on nights out and he thought it necessary to combine the two. In her official website, the church says the idea is to make church relevant and accessible to a 21st century, post-Christendom society.

The new bar church called Solace adds that her service “mercilessly strips away everything from church that is mere tradition and endeavours to get back to the core of what church is really all about. Don’t expect sermons, hymn singing, pews and pulpits here.” What visitors should expect are worshippers who drink alcohol at the bar and listen to live bands. Evening “service” starts about 9pm.

The question is, what really does a citizen who doesn’t lack the basic necessities of life want from God? More entertainment of course! Last weekend was nicknamed “Big Weekend” in Cardiff. It was carnival-like. Roads were closed to accommodate different types of heavy entertainment equipment. Musicians like Jimmy Cliff, Soul II Soul, Bobby Kray, the Magic Numbers and many others played live. Entrance was free. Thousands of people had a weekend of great fun. More of such types of entertainment are billed to take place this summer.

Britons don’t joke with their lives and welfare. This is what Hindu worshippers in Wales failed to appreciate last July. The Hindu sacred bullock, Shambo, had tested positive to bovine TB. Hence, the Welsh Assembly Government ordered it destroyed. But when its officials made attempts to remove the animal from its pen at Skanda Vale, the multi-faith community in Carmarthenshire, Hindu worshippers resisted them. They said the bullock was sacred and must not be harmed. They formed a human shield around it. This was after the community had lost the legal battle to save the animal at the appeal court in London. Scores of police and government officials later took Shambo away for slaughter.

Our ancestors also had their own sacred animals. That was when traditional religion was in vogue. Now, Christianity and Islam have taken over. But these two foreign religions have even made Nigerians more passionate about God than our traditional religion. A survey by the BBC three years ago put Nigeria as the most religious country in the world. Ninety-one per cent of the people, according to the survey, said they regularly attended a religious service. Almost every street has a church or a mosque. Never mind that this has not reduced the rate of crime in the country.

Last month, a bizarre twist was added to this religious fervour. Eleven students of the Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife retreated into the forest to await rapture. They are members of a Christian group known as the World Ablaze Fellowship. The students, who reportedly claimed they received a message from God to rapture, fervently fasted and prayed that God should immediately spirit them away from this sinful world.

About a decade ago, a relation of mine had anxiously prepared for this same rapture. She bought such sacramental as crucifixes, medals and candles and had them blessed by a priest. She used masking tape and thick papers to cover every hole or opening in the house. The blockage was to prevent access to a great force that would soon descend on the world and eliminate every sinful being. Only those inside a house, she believed, would survive the purge. Thereafter, God’s guardian angels would come to take survivors to heaven to live eternally with the Lord. She continuously fasted and prayed to be part of the Lord’s chosen. Today, wind has blown away those blockages from the weather-beaten house.

Wrong interpretations of the scriptures seem to have made religion the root cause of many problems in the world. From the crusades and jihads of the past centuries to the incessant conflicts in the Middle East, religion has brought more sorrows than smiles in the world. Just last July, scores of people were killed in a face-off between Muslim militants and soldiers at the Red Mosque in Pakistan. The militants had killed three Chinese nationals seen as infidels in Peshawar. They had kidnapped some prostitutes and branded Western diplomats’ wives immoral for wearing sleeveless shirts. In the US, end-time preachers such as Jim Jones and David Koresh had led their followers to commit mass suicide in the name of religion. In 1996, our own Gideon Akaluka was beheaded by overzealous Muslim youths in Kano for allegedly desecrating the Koran.

The unfortunate thing is that some people see religion as an escape route from the problems of existence. This is why people like Karl Marx thought that religion was an illusion. Religion, Marx had noted, provided people comfort in their miserable circumstances. As he put it, “Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the feelings of a heartless world, just as it is the spirit of non-spiritual conditions. It is the opium (painkiller) of the people.” In other words, religion makes people forget their sorrows and focus on a blissful life to come after death. A 19th century German philosopher, Ludwig Feuerbach, added that religion was human beings’ consciousness of the infinite.

The fact is that most people are Christians because they were born into Christian families. Or they grew up to discover that it is part of their cultural beliefs. It is the same for Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists and so on. Many Chinese I know do not believe in any religion. They were probably raised that way. Communist China does not encourage the flourishing of religion. Their religion is that people should live a clean and straightforward life.

Just as I was about concluding this piece, I got an email message from a church called Praise God Africa International. The message, signed by one chaplain Joluwaseyi Joseph, reads: “For everyone who is passing through a taunting situation right now, the Lord will show up and dumbfound all that are expecting your shame. In Jesus name, the blessings God has prepared for you shall be presented to you. Every evil desire (will) be disappointed in your life in Jesus name. Those who mark a day for evil ahead for you shall be the victims of such day. Every stubborn and disobedient roadblock on your ways (shall) be crushed to powder in Jesus name. This month, you shall have full cause to say ‘HALLELUYAH’ (emphasis not mine) to God in Jesus name, by the power in the Holy Spirit…”

I claim these wishes. But more importantly, I pray for divine transformation of nightclub and forest parishioners in our midst.

Indiscriminate arrests, ritual killers and other stories

August 5, 2007

Published: Sunday, 5 Aug 2007

My plight as a temporary widower almost worsened penultimate Saturday. My wife had told me the previous day that my second daughter, Kosisochukwu, was sick. So, when she called again that Saturday morning, I braced up for the worst. Besides, cheery news from home is as scarce as a hen’s teeth.

But her message, this time, wasn’t about sickness. Rather, she was under detention at the Ejigbo Local Government Headquarters. According to her, she had left the house early that Saturday to attend to some urgent personal matters. Midway into her journey, she was informed that her daughter‘s sickness was getting worse. She decided to go back to the house. But on her way, some officials of the local government picked her and some other people up. “They are threatening to take us to Kirikiri (Maximum Prisons I guess). They have already taken some people there. Soon, it will be our own turn,” she lamented.

“Kirikiri! What have local government officials and Kirikiri got to do with environmental sanitation offence? Could they truly be local government officials?” I wondered. I later spoke with a female official on my wife’s phone. I introduced myself to the woman and pleaded that they should release my wife on compassionate ground. “Oga,” the woman began, “today na environmental. The thing was announced on radio… Anyway, I have told your wife what to do if she wants to go.”

And what they actually asked her to do was to drop N2, 000. I tried to speak to the woman official again. But she quickly handed over the phone to a man she called her HOD. Again, I introduced myself to the man. Just as I was about stating my case, he cut me short and asked me to call back in two minutes. I did. But nobody picked the call. I called one of my sisters-in-law, who is also in Lagos. Again, no response. I quickly shut my computer as my mind went into some meditation.

I remembered the testimony one man reportedly gave at Winners’ Chapel, Ota, on 17 June. Some friends had forwarded it to me. The testimony bearer (name withheld) said he was driving through Gowon Estate in Lagos on 25 May. According to him, he had stopped his car to make a phone call. But six policemen at a nearby checkpoint came and accused him of making a phone call while driving. As he put it, “I stood by the driver’s side of the car raging and ranting… One of them, a corporal, came from behind me and touched my shoulder saying, ‘We are not fighting now’. Immediately, I became weak. As much as I tried talking, my mouth was not responding.” After a while, he said he was instructed to enter the car and drive. Four other vehicles, including a jeep purportedly followed suit. They were all said to be captives.

They later saw themselves in a thick forest. Close to 2000 people, he said, were sitting down on the ground. Every 40 to 50 minutes, he alleged, the captors would come to pick between 70 and 100 people. Eventually, they came for him. And together with 15 others, they found themselves in a room.

He stressed, “In the room, there was this non-reflective mirror on the wall and one after the other, we were instructed to step in front of the mirror. As each person steps in front of the mirror, in three to four seconds, his or her image appears and the next thing is we hear the person’s name…Then the person’s image on the mirror will be covered with blood. The person will then be directed to go through another door, different from the door we came in from. What happens next I do not know.”

But when it came to his turn, there was a problem. As this miracle man claimed, it was “mummy Oyedepo‘s voice” (wife of Bishop David Oyedepo of Winners Chapel) that everybody heard. Thrice, the voice reportedly said, “God is too faithful to fail…” Then, the mirror allegedly cracked, broke into pieces and dropped in a heap on the floor. One confusion led to another. Eventually, he noted, the captors released him together with three people who became his prayer partners there. They meandered through the forest for another six nights or so under the guidance of a strange hunter who gave them mouth-burning yams to assuage their hunger. They later found themselves at Ekeji-Ile in Osun State from where they made their journey home.

I had dismissed this story as one of those questionable Pentecostal miracles. I still have some doubts. My bid to confirm certain incredible aspects of it from the presumed victim (who signed off as a process engineer of a Lagos-based engineering firm), failed. He refused to respond to my email and phone calls.

Nevertheless, my wife’s predicament had drawn my mind to the testimony. My fear grew when she could no longer pick my calls. And you know in Nigeria, especially Lagos, anything is possible. Stories of indiscriminate arrests of people by the police abound. Even when you may not have done anything, they can frame charges against you and dump you in detention until you are ready to drop. I remembered the 90 girls whom the police reportedly arrested for wearing immodest dresses in Lagos. They charged them before an Ikeja Magistrate Court on 26 July for conduct likely to cause a breach of public peace. I became numb. If I had allowed my family to remain in the UK, I thought, this problem wouldn’t have arisen.

Here in the UK, people adore their freedom. They respect their laws. Even when the police have any cause to arrest, they do so in a civilised and mature way. In March, a police officer, Anthony Mulhall, was alleged to have punched a woman outside a nightclub in self-defence. He was immediately withdrawn from public duty. Police authorities launched an investigation into the matter. The police were invited when the woman, Ms Toni Comer, vandalised a car after being thrown out of the club. Mulhall reportedly said he had punched her to subdue her because she had tried to grab his genitals and knee.

As I reflected on these issues, my mind told me to call my sister-in-law again. This was to alert her and tell her to look after my kids while I think of what next to do. I made the call about noon. It was my wife‘s voice I heard instead. Giggling, she said, “They have released me. It‘s a miracle. They had falsely accused me of selling in the market during sanitation. I was the only person they released free of charge. They are about taking the rest of the people to Kirikiri. They said in Kirikiri, those people would pay N5, 000.”

I was relieved, but disturbed that some people were still in captivity. Somehow, my mind told me that they would eventually be released. The Kirikiri story might just be a ruse to frighten them and extort money from them. With exasperation, I mumbled, “See what poverty has done to my people.”