Gendered Poverty, Inherited Debts and Structural Adjustment Policies

Research Question: What are the gendered impacts of “structural adjustment” policies in the developing economy that is Nigeria?

 

“The earth has enough for everyone’s needs, but not for some people’s greed”. – Mahatma Gandhi

 

Inherited Debts – IMF and World Bank Strategies and Policies:

Inherited debts are the bane of developing nations’ current financial woes, and Nigeria is no exception. Nigeria, though oil rich and prosperous, owes over US$60 Billion to international and local creditors, with US$953 Billion extra for debt servicing in 2015 – 21% of the national budget for that year (Vice President Osibanjo 2015), and 35 kobo of every naira collected by the Nigerian government is used to service external debts (Christine Lagarde 2016). The history of said debts and who acquired them, and for what purposes, are shrouded in mystery. Being of Nigerian descent, I was born into a never-ending debt circus that spirals out of control with each government administration; I was denied basic amenities because of those debts. As was rightly put by the New Internationalist: “the poorer the country, the more likely it is that debt repayments are extracted from people who neither contracted the loans nor received any of the money”. Going further on analysis of the global debts, the New Internationalist also noted:

“Most of the increase in debt during the 1990s was to pay interest on existing loans. It was not used for productive investment or to tackle poverty. In six of the eight years from 1990 t 1997, developing countries paid out more in debt service (interest plus repayments) than they received in new loans – a total transfer from the poor South to the rich North of US$77 Billion.”

To ensure repayments of loans and servicing of debts, the creditors – IMF, World Bank, IDA – set up a system of policy adherence – structural adjustment policies – that propels indebted countries to pay back what is owed. Many critics of the policies have called this system blackmail. The policy adherent system consists of debt seeking and owing countries preparing and signing policy papers – referred to as Poverty Reduction Strategy Papers – stating that they are willing to promote free market trade and commerce, privatize state owned enterprises, cut down government spending on subsidized services like healthcare, education, energy, agriculture, etc., deregulate their economy for international investments and devaluate their national currency. The nations are then required to submit the papers to the IMF or World Bank, who has the final say and signs off on whether or not to grant the loan application.

At present, Nigeria faces a growing problem of economic instability caused by fall in oil prices, decline in agricultural exports and years of looting of national coffers. The latter, unsurprisingly, was caused by years of neglect of its once majestic agricultural sector, following the oil boom of the 1960’s. Thankfully, it is a redeemable sector, albeit one that will require and take years of effort and renewed interest to redeem. Despite, the economic gloom Nigeria – and many of the world’s developing economies – faces, its debts continues to rise along with its citizens poverty levels. However, this appears not to trouble the International Monetary Fund (IMF), one of Nigeria’s creditors, as earlier this month, Christine Lagarde, the Managing Director of IMF advised the Nigerian government to remove the subsidy on fuel, create flexible monetary policies (read: devaluation of the naira), and increase value added tax (VAT) (Vanguard 2016). All of which, if adhered to, will worsen the situation of Nigerians, especially those living below the poverty level of US1.25 a day – of which an arguable percentage are female. In a country where welfare equals only access to primary education, IMF’s ill advice and continued interference in political processes, does not bode well for the Nigerian women and girls who will bear the brunt of the decrease in household incomes. Many women will have to increase their labor productivity, even as they juggle the reproductive responsibilities at the home front. Many girls, especially in the northern regions of Nigeria, with the concentrated population of Nigeria’s poorest, will have to drop out of school to help out at home or farms; many other girls will be married off in return for bride prices that will supplement the families’ incomes. In industrial cities like Abuja, Lagos, Onitsha and Aba, female prostitution statistics will spike as more women will flood the cities in search of survival, thereby increasing rates of sexually transmitted diseases, sexual abuses, sex worker deaths, illegal and risky abortions by quacks, child trafficking through illegal adoption channels and survival sex.

Thankfully, the current President of Nigeria, President Buhari and the IMF agree that requesting for more loans as bailouts is not a feasible option, but rather, with good, stable governance and diversification of the country’s economy, Nigeria will be on the way to development thereby putting an end to poverty. However, many Nigerians are of the view that IMF’s visit, although annual, is a reminder to pay debts and is of a kind of supervisory nature of the country’s political and economic affairs. The National Labour Congress has released a statement calling for the Nigerian government to disregard IMF’s advice to remove fuel subsidy, citing increasing poverty levels and reliance on kerosene for cooking by majority Nigerian homes (All Africa 2016)

Poverty and Gender:

Poverty is defined according to its relative or absolute effects on people’s lives, but generally it is defined by one’s access to the necessities of life. In 2008, World Bank announced a new poverty line as living under US$1.25 a day, even though poverty is still classified as absolute or relative. The European Anti-Poverty Network (EAPN) defines relative poverty as: “where some people’s way of life and income is so much worse than the general standard of living in the country or region in which they live that they struggle to live a normal life and to participate in ordinary economic, social and cultural activities”. While absolute poverty is defined as: “when people lack the basic necessities for survival. For instance they may be starving, lack clean water, proper housing, sufficient clothing or medicines and be struggling to stay alive” (EAPN). Classifying national poverty along extreme/absolute or relatives is done by calculating a household’s or an individual’s income and the level of expenditure (food and nonfood) in relation to the standard of the living in that country (Anyanwu 2010:5-6).

Poverty in Nigeria is multidimensional and seemingly intransient, more than 46% of Nigerians currently live in absolute poverty, making Nigeria the third largest country with the highest number of the world’s poorest (World Bank). Like its counterparts in China, India, Congo, Somalia, etc., Nigeria’s poverty has been linked to and influenced by income inequality as a result of: (a) one’s nature of employment, level of education, and geographic location, gender, age and disability discrimination in the workplace; (b) absence of a working welfare state in a populous nation of 177.5 million people (World Bank estimates); (c) poor governance borne of political instability, ethnic rivalry and tribalism, and corruption. And like its aforementioned counterparts, poverty in Nigeria is gendered, affecting largely women and girls (Anyanwu (2010); Brundtland (2000)). The majority of Nigeria’s poorest are of polygamous households in the northern and middle zones of Nigeria, zones with little or no oil resources, limited service sectorial engagement and manufacturing output. These zones are however doing well on agricultural outputs. This concentrated poverty can be linked to the disparity in salary earnings of agricultural workers who are usually female and are considered ill-educated, often living in technologically backward and rural villages, as opposed to the more respected, educated and well paid oil and gas workers – often male – in the southern zones of Nigeria. It is trite to note that despite oil and gas proceeds favoring only a reported 1% of Nigeria’s population, oil and gas contributes only 32.4% of Nigeria’s gross domestic production, while agriculture contributes 22% – a more than 10% decline over the last decade; the service sector contributes 52% of the national GDP, with telecommunications – privatized – packing up a whopping 8.7% (CNBC Africa). All the progressive sectors mentioned above are patriarchal in organization, sexist in employment tactics and choices and are dependent on skilled labor; all of which negatively affects the females trying to make a living in the urban areas but are hindered by lower education – compared to the males living in Urban areas – and “the double burden of production and reproduction” (Momsen 2016:193). It is not surprising that female headed households in urban areas of Nigeria are more likely to fall victim to poverty than their counterparts in the rural areas (Anyanwu 2010). The female headed households in rural areas, found Anyanwu (2010) & Momsen (2010), are less likely to be subjected to poverty, because: (a) they do not bear the pressure of expensive city living, (b) their subsistence farming practices enable them feed their families, (c) they have formal and informal wages from the agricultural sector as they dominate in agriculture and market sales, and (d) they have the support networks of their community. However, these rural women are often regarded as “non-productive and economically inactive” and are often excluded from (inter)national economic and developmental aggregates (Vandana 2000). Researching gender and poverty, Anyanwu (2010) also found that male headed households in rural areas are more likely to be victims of absolute poverty than their counterparts in urban areas, due to lower education and absence of job opportunities in the rural areas. Conversely, majority of rural to urban migrants are male, as such the statistics for females residing in rural areas tend to be higher. One fact stands out: “poverty is higher in rural areas households, whether headed by a male or female” (Anyanwu 2010:46).

Gendered poverty is not a new concept in humanitarian and development studies. Giving a lecture on Health and Population in the BBC Radio’s publicized Reith lectures in 2000, former Director General of World Health, Gro Brundtland noted that “poverty has a woman’s face; of the 1.3 billion poorest, only 30% are male”. This is an overarching result of society’s continued gender discrimination against women. Still, the dynamics of poverty as it shifts and changes face and gender from one geographic location to another is an interesting angle from which to tackle gender and development issues. Increasing access to education for both genders cannot be overemphasized, as well as eradicating cultural practices and norms that feminize and masculinize certain agricultural labors and enable workplace discrimination. Also, an encouragement of a welfare state that combats poverty – relative and absolute – is essential to social and economic development in Nigeria. Seeing as “older women are increasingly overrepresented in the populations of rural areas” (Momsen 2010:145) and poverty increases with the advancement of age – one’s productivity decrease with age – it is wise to assert that poverty is rife amongst the older generation of Nigerian women residing in rural areas, who have limited or no access to social welfare benefits – healthcare, pension, housing, etc. – and/or savings.

Modernization plans that encourage erosion of traditional economic practices will also have to be curtailed. In Nigeria, where women fall back on community assistance – for homecare, childcare, and agricultural farming – and use the commons (roadsides, riverbeds, etc.) for subsistence farming, eroding these practices in favor of big, mechanized, technologized practices will not only discourage women from economic empowerment, it will also encourage income inequality and gender discrimination, as only the richest, brightest and educated (read male) will have access to jobs in the free market economy.

Stakeholders in Nigeria – government, civil society, and citizens – must (continue to) denounce structural adjustment policies that endeavor to deny vulnerable groups access to the bare necessities of life, affordable energy resources, for e.g.,. Stakeholders must continue to approach development issues from a gender and development perspective, bringing together both males and females, even as they address the varied issues that are specific to women and girls. This is most assuredly the only way to achieve sustainable development, i.e. development that is persistent and feasible. Otherwise, it will all be in vain. For, when nations’ poorest are denied access to basic amenities like healthcare, electricity, kerosene, cooking gas, and clean water, because of Poverty Reduction Strategies and Policies that undermine independent political processes and engender socioeconomic harm, what the world has only succeeded in doing and maintaining – after decades of talks of, and campaigns for, sustainable development – is sustainable poverty. A gendered poverty that wears a woman’s face, per Brudtland (2000), and is steadily on the increase; a hostile poverty without end.

 

REFRENCES:

All Africa, 2016. “Nigeria: NLC Tackles IMF Chief Over Subsidy Removal, Naira Devaluation” <http://allafrica.com/stories/201601110983.html>

Anyanwu, J. 2010. “Poverty in Nigeria: A Gendered Analysis”, in Journal Statistique Africain, Numéro 11, Novembre 2010.

Brock, J. 2013. “Nigeria hands State Power Assets to Private Buyers”. Reuters USA, 30 September 2013. <http://www.reuters.com/article/nigeria-power-privatisation-idUSL6N0HQ2AF20130930>

Brundtland, G. 2000. “Health & Population”, in Reith Lectures 2000 (Radio) – Respect for the Earth; BBC. < http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio4/reith2000/lecture4.shtml>

CNBC Africa, 2015. A Closer Look at Nigeria’s Rebasing. 12 February 2015. <http://www.cnbcafrica.com/news/western-africa/2014/04/11/a-closer-look-a-nigerias-gdp-rebasing/>

Davis, G & Tilton, J. 2005. “The Resource Curse”, in Natural Resources Forum 29 (2005) 233–242.

European Anti-Poverty Network (EAPN). Poverty: What is it? <http://www.eapn.eu/en/what-is-poverty/poverty-what-is-it#ftn1>

Hopper, P. 2012. “Understanding Development”. Polity, Cambridge.

Lall, S. 1995. “Structural Adjustment and African Industry”, in World Development, Vol. 23, No. 12, 2019-2031, 1995.

Lourdes, B, Berik, G, & Floro, M. 2016. “Gender, Development & Globalization: Economics as if All People Mattered”. Routledge, New York.

Momsen, J. 2010. “Gender and Development (Second Edition)”. Routledge, New York.

New Internationalist, 1999. “Debt – The Facts”, in New Internationalist Issue 312 – May 1999. <http://newint.org/features/1999/05/01/facts/>

OPEC, n.d. “Nigeria facts and figures”. <http://www.opec.org/opec_web/en/about_us/167.htm>

Premium Times, 2015. “Nigeria Owes $60 Billion, Says Osibanjo”. 21 May 2015. <http://www.premiumtimesng.com/news/top-news/183396-nigeria-owes-60-billion-says-osinbajo.html>

Shivana, V. 2000. “Poverty and Globalisation”, in Reith Lectures 2000 (Radio) – Respect for the Earth; BBC. <http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio4/reith2000/lecture5.shtml#top>

Sparr, P. 1994. “Mortgaging Women’s Lives: Feminist Critiques of Structural Adjustment”. Zed Books, Washington.

Umoru, H, Eboh M & Erunke, J. 2016. “How Nigeria can get out of economic crisis – IMF boss” Vanguard, 7 January 2016. Accessed 10 January 2016. <http://www.vanguardngr.com/2016/01/how-nigeria-can-get-out-of-economic-crisis-imf-boss/>

World Bank, “Data – Nigeria”. <http://data.worldbank.org/country/nigeria>

World Bank, nd. “Nigeria: Poverty in the Midst of Plenty: The Challenge of Growth with Inclusion” <http://web.worldbank.org/WBSITE/EXTERNAL/TOPICS/EXTPOVERTY/EXTPA/0,,contentMDK:20204610~menuPK:435735~pagePK:148956~piPK:216618~theSitePK:430367,00.html>

World Development Movement, 2005. “One Size for All: A Study of IMF and World Bank Poverty Reduction Strategies”. Accessed 10/01/2016 <http://www.globaljustice.org.uk/sites/default/files/files/resources/onesizeforeall01092005.pdf>

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On Nigeria’s Indigenous Cultures and Postcolonial Feminism

 

I was raised as a member of the Roman Catholic Church. I was baptized when I was three months old and named “Loretta” after a noble European saint, but the church secretary or catechist got the spelling wrong, he/she wrote “Lorrita”. The mistake was not corrected and I didn’t care to correct it – even though, later in my teens, my father wanted me to. Anyways, I didn’t need the certificate until I was in secondary school and was required to provide my full names including my “English name” for the school’s records. So, I provided the baptismal card, I became Lorrita (don’t call me Lorrita, though. I no go know say na me you dey call). In 1994, aged 11, I had my first Holy Communion and was confirmed as “God’s child” on the same day. I remember that Easter vividly, the fanfare that preceded, accompanied and followed our – mine and my immediate older brother’s – ceremonial and spiritual initiation into the Catholic Church. It was a white affair: I wore a beautiful, fluffy, white gown, my brother wore a white “native attire” of white trousers and shirt made from brocade or muslin, all the celebrants wore white. The church was a sea of white and aglow with lit candles. I remember wondering what the fuss was all about. I remember, also, hyperventilating about eating the body of Jesus Christ and drinking his blood that I accidentally burnt the sleeve of my beautiful gown, and spent the rest of the night hiding the mishap from my mother – she would have freaked! However, I never thought to question why wearing white to eat the body of God’s son and drink his blood was acceptable behaviour, whereas wearing white to break kolanut and greet the ancestors before a clan’s shrine was decried an evil behaviour, until nearly two decades later. Granted I grumbled when my mother banned me from attending the aju festival in her village because it was ungodly, but I never questioned the inconsistencies in Nigerians’ attitudes towards our indigenous religions as opposed to our receptivity towards Christianity. Until 2012-2013, the intervallic period between my father’s death, his burial and funeral rites, I did not fully comprehend how Christianity had pervaded Nigeria’s cultures to the detriment of our indigenous  cultures and religions. It was during this period that I had my first full-on contact with the Umuokpu – daughters of the kindred, of which I am one; I danced the traditional dance of a grieving daughter – an Igbo custom – to Christian songs sang in Igbo amidst drum and ogene beats. It was during this period that I witnessed the unabashed contest for supremacy between traditional religious practices and modern (read: Christian) religious practices. Our Umunna and the Osili masquerade association wanted to pay their last respects to their fallen son in accordance with tradition – ergo, tradition in the sense they remember and practice it. It involved the attendance of a dreaded masquerade at the burial, killing of he-goats and cocks amidst prayers and incantations. However, as a Christian – albeit it a partially committed one – it was also expected that my late father would be buried by a Catholic priest, in accordance with Christian practice. Thus, a compromissory balance had to be struck: the parish priest of the Catholic Church at Enugwu-Ukwu will conduct a mass, bless the grave before and after the burial, and leave the premises before the funeral rites proper. Afterwards, the masquerade and his – it is a patriarchal belief that masquerades are spirits of male ancestors so all attendants are usually male – followers will attend to pay homage to the fallen icon. My oldest brother danced the dance of Diokpala accompanied by the masquerade and his followers while my mother prayed her heart out against “evil forces”. It was during this period too that I attempted to rewrite, creatively, via a fiction short-story, my taught knowledge of indigenous religions as faux and evil. Relying on folktales, stories and events I had witnessed and/or heard about, I delved into the world of precolonial Nigeria. Because Ogwugwu Said So was my first foray into historical narratives that are not tainted by the Europeans’ – Outsider-Inside – accounts of Nigerian cultures.

On encountering Frantz Fanon and Aime Cesaire during my first year at Utrecht University, I knew instantly that my passion as a feminist scholar was of the postcolonial model. Thus, I would like a Nigerian world wherein our Umuada/Umuokpu continue to be powerful institutions for women’s agency. I want a Nigerian world wherein the worship of Ogwugwu does not = evil or witchcraft. I want a Nigeria wherein our ancestors are not demonized and blamed for all the mishaps that befall us. I want a Nigeria where children are not branded witches because a Christian pastor said so. I want a Nigerian world where people think critically instead of swallowing everything a religion spews out. I want my Nigeria back, untainted by European falsehoods. Thinking back, the period between December 2012 and March 2013 shaped my quest for historical narratives and a retelling of Nigeria’s historiography. The quest for a presentation of our indigenous cultures not as evil but as relevant to Nigeria as Christianity became to England. Reading John Orji’s (2011) accounts of Nigerian cultures, I am propelled to agitate for a sustenance of Nigeria’s traditional cultures, for the preservation of our heritage. I ask that the government of the Federal Republic of Nigeria bring back the study of our History in our secondary schools’ curricula, lest we become strangers in our own lands.

 

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Raising Sons in Patriarchal Nigeria

My younger brother – younger by 11 years – cannot cook any Nigerian soup and that’s troubling. It’s troubling not just because cooking and being able to carter to one’s basic needs is a necessary survival tool. It’s troubling because I helped raise him – in the African sense of big sister = second mother – and I’m a feminist. Granted, I only owned my feminism a few years ago, but deep down I’ve held feminist ideals of gender equality and justice for a really long time. These ideals manifested when at 11 I began to question why the house chores are left to me because I’m a girl; when I began to question polygamy and deride and detest sexist customs that treated my beloved grandmother unjustly; when I began to ask for equal treatment between me and my male siblings. So, I am worried that as a feminist mother, I’ve failed one son; I don’t plan on failing the others. But, how do I navigate the raggedy terrain that is patriarchal Nigeria? How do I guide my Nigerian sons towards the path of gender equality? How do I raise them to be gender sensitive (aware of their male privilege), fair-minded (dissing sexism and male privilege with gender equality as the goal and ideal)? How do I raise feminist sons/men in a society that teaches them from primary school (age 5) that “father is the provider”, “mother is the homemaker”, “boys play football” and “girls help mothers in the kitchen”? A society that raises daughters to be less than sons? A society that teaches Simba-like pride to sons and shame/humility/submission/obedience to daughters. How do I raise feminist sons in such a gender-biased society? 
My son (aged 7 then) once remarked that one of his female classmates often hit him during an argument but he doesn’t hit her back because she’s a girl and boys are stronger than girls. I was proud he knows not to beat a girl, but worried because the reason ought to be that violence is not the answer to dispute resolution, irrespective of your opponent’s gender. I was worried because the mindset that boys are stronger than girls once again reinforces/re-engages/reproduces the Nigerian societal belief that boys are “better”; a belief that privileges Nigerian males – much like majority males the world over – over Nigerian females. In bearing this mindset, the Nigerian son grows up a man who thinks his female colleague/political opponent/wife/sister/friend is lesser than him by virtue of her “weak” sex. He grows up to expect his girlfriend/wife/partner to cook and serve his meals, do his laundry and care for his home, all because she’s female. This mindset, I argue, is the bedrock of gender discrimination, of inequalities that continue to oppress, subjugate and deny the Nigerian woman of equal opportunities alongside the Nigerian man. It is necessary that we, as Nigerian mothers, for the love of humanity – if not the equal love of our children, raise our sons the same way we raise our daughters. We must raise our children – irrespective of sex and gender – to abhor violence, embrace peaceful resolutions to disputes and treat one another with equal love. We must raise our sons, as we raise our daughters, to cook, clean and launder, thereby equipping both with domestic skills necessary for survival, knowing how to cook egusi soup, for e.g. Unless and until we do these, our sons will grow up to be men so mired in patriarchy, sexism and enjoyment of their male privilege, they treat our daughters like shit.

Of course, you are free to take this post as feminist psycho-babble, for I am no Freud. But, as Sylvia Wynter (1994) asserts, societal injustice is the product of our (formal and informal education. That is, our children’s actions, the cankerworms in our societies are the products of our education. Let us be wise and educate/raise our children wisely. 

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Diary of a Black Feminist

“My feminism will be intersectional or it will be bullshit” – Flavia Dzodan
The first time I came across the above quote from Amsterdam based writer and media analyst, Flavia Dzodan, I nearly squirted feminist joy. Finally, here was someone voicing my thoughts on feminism and the global sisterhood. I once wrote about feminist standpoints (Read here) – way back in Nigeria, before I came to Europe and encountered White privilege. Back then I sincerely thought White women who define and approach feminism from the orbits of their White privilege were pardonably ignorant of Black culture, of the lived experiences and struggles of Black women. Back the, I was sincerely ignorant, naive even, of racism and racial prejudice. Living in two powerful, European countries – The Netherlands and The United Kingdom – have since cured me of that naivety. Suffice it to say: I’ve been schooled. And what an education.
To elaborate… I tweeted earlier today about writing of the exclusionary attitudes of my White and Brown classmates. When I hit send on Twitter, I was genuinely hurt. Hurt because once again my presence doesn’t count in White and Brown circles. Hurt because I am invisible in a world where people write and lament of the ills of human invisibility. By world, I mean the world of Women’s and Gender Studies. By exclusionary attitudes, I mean that I am often excluded from parties, drinks and get-together-without-names. I was excluded in NL and I am excluded in the UK. Recently, my feminist classmates threw a “class” party and nobody deemed it fit to notify me. FYI, I am very “visible” on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Whatsapp, but not one person requested for my presence at that gathering. It stung even though it wasn’t the first or second or third time. I often wonder if my inability to pay £4 for a glass of wine and chitchat all through the night was the reason I was excluded, but that’s my African hospitality making excuses for their White and Brown rudeness and privileges. I say this because I have been blatantly disrespected and discriminated against by women who claim to be in pursuit of gender equality. Women who profess to be feminists furthering women’s causes. Here one is reminded of Flavia Dzodan’s powerful position on intersectionality in feminism. Of what use is feminism if the struggles of one group are excluded/ignored/degraded? A coursemate once told me I was too old to still be pursuing a Master’s degree. True, when you consider that European women bag PhDs at 26. But, I’m not European, and while it’s admirable that my European mates have their shits together and are securing mortgages on houses I can only drool about, it is discriminatory to downplay my struggles for independence, my efforts to rise above the patriarchal structures of my country to pursue my dream of becoming a feminist warrior. As if that comment was not ageist and totally lacking in intersectionality, the same coursemate told me she hopes I get a job soon and it better not be cleaning. Sorry, Hun, I come from a developing country, my govt. doesn’t approve loans and grants for feminist research and the pursuit of gender equality. Sorry, Hun, I was able to enroll in this reputable program because so many friends and family pitched in and made it possible. I’m sorry, Hun, that my mother earns the average of what you spend on groceries as monthly pension. I’m sorry, Hun, that I’m a self-funded single mom with bills to take care of back home. I’m sorry, Hun, that that cleaning job which you deem beneath your white, privileged self paid for my rent – with change – while I was studying in the Netherlands. I’m sorry, Hun, that you’re ignorant of your privilege, and does not understand what it takes for my Nigerian, self-funded self to leave my continent to study in yours. 
When I look back on that first essay on feminist standpoints, I am tempted to give myself a hard knock for my foolery. Majority White and Brown feminists are plain blind to their privilege, and blind to the presence of Black women, and they simply don’t give a damn. It is 2016 – 165 years after Sojourner Truth confronted a room full of White women with their privilege – and I am Sojourner Truth asking my White and Brown classmates: “ain’t I a woman?”

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Of Nigerian English And All The Linguistic Ties

Yesterday, I told a friend and colleague of mine who’s working as a Research Assistant at the university, that I’m proud of her accomplishments and glad that she’s now “working class”. She took mild offense to being referred to as “working class” and corrected me accordingly, since her salary is quite good. It got me thinking of the many uses of the English language which Nigerians have turned on their colonial heads and inflected with new meanings. If I had referred to a fellow Nigerian as “working class”, he or she would’ve understood it to mean “salaried”, in  the sense of “oru oyibo” – English/official job and not working class in the proletariat sense of labourers toiling under the sun for meager wages. This Nigerian understanding of “working class” is a relic from colonial times when villagers/natives were employed by the colonial administrators to work as “houseboys” – butler + housekeeper + cook, clerks, secretaries, interpreters, teachers, soldiers, etc. In those days, to work for/in the colonial administration entitled one to certain privileges and a claim to membership of the working class. My grandfather was a court clerk, a “privileged” native; he was of the working class, and he was proud of it. His family to date are proud of him. 

Back to linguistic turns and ties. You know a fellow Nigerian by our use of certain phrases. Like when you pass by a Black man on the phone and hear him say: “make sure to…” Or when you come across Black parents talking to their little boy and the mother says: “let me hear word”. It’s not their accents that gave them away, for many Nigerians living abroad having taken to a meticulous erasal of their Nigerian accents. They’ve joined the “innit” and “gonna, wanna, fucking” squads. No, it was the phrases “make sure” and “let me hear word.” Those are the little things that give us away. We learnt the English language from the masters themselves, but we understand it differently and have styled it to suit our needs. If those needs still ring of colonial separatism – the term “working class”, for eg.  – it is because we are still finding our way out of colonialism. We are yet to be decolonized, in Ngugi Wa Thiong’o speak (Decolonizing the Mind). 

  

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Onye oku n’agba be ya, o na achu oke…

I like to think of myself as apolitical. I am of the breed of young Nigerians who are currently sitting on the fence, watching the aged titans play Politricks. I’m not pro-Buhari/APC, neither am I pro-GEJ/PDP. Yes, I yay’ed when GEJ lost because I (like many Nigerians of various ethnicities) have had enough of the cluelessness and corruption that permeated that administration. 

I am pro-development; pro-accountability; anti-corruption. That is why, I can say what I am about to say, without fear or fervor. 
It is time for the Nigerian youth to drop alignments with political parties. Alignments borne of tribal love and ethnic hatred; alignments that feed egos and enlarge pockets. It is time we call it as it is. PDP and APC have failed us, and are failing us. GEJ was a clueless President and Buhari is doing no better. It is time for us to call our leaders out for serving us beans that is half-done. Beans that has sent us, stomach rumbling, nauseous, sick, to the loo to vomit and excrete the poison of their selfishness, deceit and betrayal. Lamenting over PDP’s loss (or gloating over APC’s victory) while forgetting the years of impunity and corruption from the Nigerian leaders is stupid and shortsighted. Shortsighted because we fail to see that our future is gloomy. Nigeria is a heavily  indebted poor country (HIPC). A tag we willingly applied for and received with huge relief because our past leaders have stolen us blind. A tag that is not for fancy, but one that makes us puppets to the Westocentric IMF and World Bank. In simple terms, those organizations own our Black asses. The Loans, Grants, Structural Adjustment Policies they give and we receive all fall under the umbrella of neocolonialism. The West is still sucking the Rest dry, decades after the supposed end of colonialism. Who is the master? Who is the fool? 

We are the fools, because we are not free; we are not the decolonial beings we think we are; we are not developing; we re not progressing. We are bound up in a never ending circle of poverty; we are regressing. And, it is time to be adult like Late Zik, Macaulay, Belewa. It is time to focus on our freedom and development. We have to focus on what any given administration is doing to better our economy, develop our urban and region areas, enhance our amenities. We have to focus on our very many losses and demand vociferously for better and transparent leadership. We have to do all these because we are human beings, citizens with rights and obligations, not goats or sheep that can be fed dry oats and grass and still be led to the butchers table for profit. We have to demand for better leadership, for a better Nigeria for our children’s sakes, if not for ourselves. 

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Dear Diary…

Today, I’m not disgruntled. Far from it. Today, I’m reflective, if a tad confused. I think I’m in love and it scares the shit out of me. You see, I’ve always considered myself a strong woman, albeit a romantic one, who doesn’t believe in instant love. For me love at first sight equalled lust, or, to take it up a notch, infatuation. I often rebelled against feeling mushy about a new love interest. To me, that mushy feeling is/was weakness; going on new dates, I felt I needed to have my wits about me. Men are afterall heartbreakers. So, I got to be 32 years on Earth, active on the dating scene and I have never had my heart broken, because I have never been in love. Okay, I have had my heart and pride bruised a time or two, but I have never felt so intense about a guy that if he breaks up with me I would be so morose as to call mum and weep up a bucket. 

A very good friend of mine often told me that when I do fall in love I would fall like a ton of bricks. Uju, you really do know me. I fell in love at first sight and I fell hard. It was on a sunny day in October, Nigerians were celebrating our independence from colonialism; I saw him smiling at me and my heart literally skipped and my tongue suddenly got tangled with my teeth amidst an ocean of saliva. I believe I stuttered. I cannot remember what I said. I don’t know if I said anything articulate in those first few minutes. He must’ve wondered what was wrong with me. Suddenly, I was conscious of my modest skirt and long jacket. I should’ve dressed sexy, I berated myself. Forgetting that I don’t have sexy attires in my wardrobe, because I like to be taken seriously. I spent the date talking what I cannot now remember, while rejoicing inwardly and thinking “he’s the one”, “God, let this be my last bus stop (in Nigerian speak)”. A man I barely knew and I was already envisioning 50 years with him. How fickle the heart is! Sigh! 

So, when he asked me out at the end of the evening, I jumped and shouted “yes” inwardly, even as I said I have to check my schedule and get back to him. What schedule! I was so tied up inside I was inventing schedules. Fast forward to 3 weeks, We’ve been on 8 fantastic dates (who’s counting?) and I still go starry eyed thinking about him. And I wonder what it is in particular that have me dreaming about this guy and has me telling my mum how I met a guy I like (never been done by me). Maybe, it’s the long, dark hair tied back like Tarzan, or the confident way he strides towards me, or the charming way he has of making me feel adored, or the easy way he has that makes me spill my guts while talking to him. Whatever it is, dear diary, it is exhilarating and scary as hell. 

I’ve tried to tell myself it’s a passing fancy, an infatuation, but then I find myself languishing in loneliness, with bated breath, waiting for his call or text. As if that isn’t bad enough, I find myself googling signs that he digs you. Really! I cannot remember ever feeling this strongly about a guy before, and that feeling scares the bullocks out of me, because for the first time in my life a man has the power to break my heart. And how loudly it will break! 

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