Wednesday, 9 May 2018

ANATOMY OF THE FEMINIST MIND


   This is one topic in which you might not possibly fail to court controversy, it is a path of toes and you cannot walk without stepping on them, and since I intend to run here, surely toes will be crushed. Need I also say that diplomacy would demand that I say my mind without hurting anyone? The analogy of this would be to cut a pound of flesh and yet spill no blood. No, not with any surgical precision can this be guaranteed, and now I proceed in good company.

   Perfection does not exist in the same world as improvement, for one would always kill the other, more so in a topic as complex, maybe complicated, as to do with women. Here, I admit my imperfection, at best I am a decent improver.

    Long before Shaggy sang it, I had always thought that God was a woman. For the Jamaican musician, he ‘wondered’, but for me as a little boy whose definition of care, protection, fondness and warmth could hardly be found outside his mother’s embrace, I KNEW God was a woman. It presented itself as a rude reprimand when it began to get clear to me that God isn’t a woman (and isn’t a man too), and though my lifetime wouldn’t be enough a time to know who God really is, it has been a schooling knowing women all these years, but with knowledge, perhaps nothing can be entirely known.

   Women have held the world in place, birthed the home, the house and its builder, the porter and his clay, the artist and his brush. For every human who has walked this Earth, a woman pushed, yes, the pangs of childbirth, a painful experience some compare to immolation: women burn themselves to bear others. They are the first teachers of the child, the first guide of every human in this blind world. But soon this baby, a girl named Nnedi, is introduced into the harsh realities of feminine existence in our world... She is the first child, she sees her mother put to bed five more children in the next eight years, all daughters. she notices her father's increasing disappointment with the continued birth of daughters. On a very bad day, she comes home to her crying mother, the woman had been beaten for not having a male child. It is still not coming to this girl,  she has encountered boys at school and there doesn't seem to be much fuss about them, or such hype that her mother should be crying for not having a son. It hasn't come to her how much of no value her father held his six daughters that he is now considering getting another wife just to give him a son.
    Finally, her mother gets pregnant and over the next few months would go from one prayer house to another asking God for a son. Nnedi is growing bigger and is gaining the basic understanding that comes with age, so amidst the celebration when her mother put to bed a baby boy at the end of nine months, Nnedi is in much reflection and wonder. She is wondering why her father killed a big ram to celebrate, she is wondering why visitors wouldn't stop coming and she is wondering why none of these happened at the birth of any of her five sisters. Nnedi sees that the boy is treated with special care and honour, such that any of the girls isn't getting. Nnanna, the boy, wouldn't have to do house chores because they were meant for girls and he would just have to be groomed to inherit their father's legacies and wealth. However, Nnedi and her sisters wouldn't need much investment, as, in the words of their father, they would still be married off to other men, to breed and nurture children. He believed that his daughters should learn how to keep a home so that they wouldn't be problems to their husbands' homes.

   Nnedi is soon getting uncomfortable, she can't understand why she should one day leave her father's house to another man's house, drop her surname and pick up the man's, and live the rest of her life at his pleasure, subject to all his desires, demands, whims and caprices. She can't understand why even the reverend at Church would spend his sermon teaching women to be subject to their husbands and call them Lord like Sarah. She can't understand the profiling, why female sexuality is often the subject of ridicule: 'Beware of strange women, the daughters of Jezebel'. She can't understand why a woman's worth is sometimes screened through the lens of what value she adds to a man's life, yes, if she cannot cook she is not a wife material, if she can't do this or that she is not this or that, and if she is not married she is not complete.
   Nnedi remembers Linda, the senior business executive, a frontline entrepreneur who before her engagement  had been judged for years in the jury of public opinion and her only blemish was not having a man in her life. Nnedi looks North,  and sees Aishattu living with the other women in her father's harem. They are mostly covered up, and often denied education which is haram. And their entire existence is for the purpose of satisfying a man. Nnedi gapes as Aishattu is being married off at thirteen years to Mallam Nuhu, she whimpers as Aishattu puts to bed at fourteen and is soon down with VVF. Nnedi can't understand why this should be, why the men in Al Jannah would get seventy two virgins as reward: seventy two women whose eternal purpose would be to serve one man. Who would serve the women? Nnedi asks.

   Nnedi has a case,  a good case, a feminist case. She wants to see the dignity of a woman recreated. She wants the role and position of a woman redefined. That is as far as it goes with Nnedi.

  In several cultures, liberal and conservative alike, we would always find women who are dissatisfied with the status quo, women who believe that the stereotypes and profiles under which women have been made to live should be dismantled and a new framework established. Often times we find them engaging in different aspects of activism to demand for a better deal. However, method, is as important as purpose, and when undefined purpose cannot tell a spear from javelin, in method, sports becomes war. Here we find perhaps the biggest problem with feminism, no not the men, who are often erroneously considered the enemy, but rather feminism itself, what it means to one and to all. It doesn't need an extensive research to discover that many feminists do not even know what they fight for. Some are because their friends or heroines are, and when it is not mob mentality it is plain misandry.

   The problem continues, that even for those who believe they know and can properly define their own feminism, what feminism is to one is different from what it is to another to the end that there is hardly a consensus anywhere in the world on what feminism is just as 1+1=2. That is as far as theories go, but beyond theories, by their fruits we shall know them and we can see the invisible winds in the dance and sway of palms and branches. A person's actions speak volumes and so has militant feminism. There are some whose mindset empties entirely into actions that show more loathe for men than love for women, like in the words of Golda Meir, Arabs who would know no peace until their love for their children is more than their hate for Jews. This breed of feminists cannot differentiate between sameness and equality, and would oftentimes infer that women are same as men, consequently rolling over several fallacies as they try to argue out their points.
   The difference between men and women spread from emotional to physiological details and understanding and appreciating these differences have created high cultures where women are treated as ladies and men as lords. Yes, it is by understanding these differences that men open the car door for their ladies and walk them down the stairs. It is in that same understanding that we say 'ladies first' almost as an article of faith.
   Yes, chivalry isn't dead, and it was born by this understanding. Yes, ideally, men should treat women with such honour and respect that this understanding demands, and more importantly respect is reciprocal. But, somehow, a certain feminist orientation would rather have men and women struggle on the same queue for train tickets, or bread ration during a famine, bearing in mind the physical strength advantages that the man possesses over women and undermining them. Anything outside of this would suggest to her the obvious relative physical weakness of women, which is as clear as the sky on a bright day. At the same time, this breed of feminists would criticize the man for having no shame for raising his hands to hit a woman. 
'Coward,' they would say to the man, 'you dare hit a woman.'

   Talk about eating one's cake and having it back. It’s all militant feminism, all guns and thorns until it’s time to pee, and she says ‘ladies first’, or rebukes the man for being ungentlemanly because he didn’t open the car door for her, again we fetch the ground with questions; should women be relieved of their traditional responsibilities but men retain theirs and all the trappings of chivalry? Does the woman become a King (not Queen) and the man remain the King’s guard? If things change should things not change with them? 

   Another aspect of feminism found among another certain breed is a chronic victim mentality: the idea that the system has singled women out for mockery, marginalization and damnation. Why should women do the chores? Why should women be sexually objectified? Why should women drop their surnames for their husbands'? Why this and why that? And while some of these concerns are legitimate others are plain sick.
  I once came across a feminist who questioned why women should give birth, saying that child birth is rape, in her words 'the baby rapes the mother from inside out'. Such are the thoughts of these ones, 'We are victims, everyone despises us, everyone uses us, even babies rape us.' Just negodu. Of the legitimate concerns, it should also not be forgotten that men could ask 'Why should men work at the mines? Why should men pay the dowry? Why should, especially in the Nigerian context, a man be considered not fit to marry if he has no job but no one raises an eyebrow when a jobless girl walks into a wealthy man's house by the certificate of marriage?' For almost every legitimate feminist concern, men have got there struggles too. It is the system, it is the table bending here and there.
   However, truth must be said that this table seems to be tilted to masculine advantage. While chivalry isn't dead yet, male chauvinism is alive and well, and it stares us in our faces almost everyday. We are at a fancy Night club in Benin City, a group of boys walk in, rich and spoilt, they park their fancy cars outside the establishment and walk in with swag. Then they order for costly alcoholic beverages, and then one roars with a hoarse voice 'Where are the ladies at?!' Yes, there is that smack of entitlement in his voice, that arrogant exclamation at nobody. Soon a group of girls catwalk in, their skimpy clothes would go off one after the other till almost nothing is left to the imagination, each boy takes two or three of them for himself, he spends the night between gulping his wine, sucking his shisha and groping the girls' generous bodies. To him they are almost not human, they are almost the playthings of his hormones, almost as useful as a bottle of André or a shisha pipe, basically they are things to him.

   But who do we blame? The boys that need the girls to make their nightout complete or the girls that would so generously throw their bodies around the boys? Who should complain? Is it Iti Mpataka, who is typically minding his business or the feminist who is angry at the boys for having no respect for the girls and their bodies but would say nothing to the girls for having no self respect?
  Yes, we should talk of how Europe underdeveloped Africa but we should also talk of how Africa underdeveloped Africa. We should talk of male chauvinism but we should also talk of how women have helped it survive. How often in the university campus does a boy invite a girl over to cook for him and how often she doesn't say no? How often would he overtime make such demands? How often would he thus believe that he can always make such demands of any other girl? How often do girls get invited to hotels and they would gladly go, often times taking their friends with them? How often does this make the man believe that women are cheap and willing? Truth is ideas are fed by realities, and most women have not helped these realities. Most men believe in the superiority of men because most women have acted out inferiority.

  Here I should say that discussing feminism is very difficult when what it is is different from what it should be. Again I suggest that mission is as important as vision, and that the mission of feminism for the most part is deceptively detached from what the vision should be. The vision should be to balance the table and not to turn it. It should not be for women to have the table tilted to their advantage and to the disadvantage of men, that would be inheriting the load side on the lever of a skewed system, it would be a turned table but still a table. Yes under that system women would become kings and men would become palace maids, it would be revenge but like feminism now, it would be a matter of time before men start 'masculinism'.
    History has shown that oppressed puppies become the vengeful hounds of a turned table, imagine the early days of Nazism in Germany, or the Bolsheviks in Russia and the Fascists in Italy, the picture at the beginning often contrasts with the picture at the end. In all a turned table is bad news, a balanced table is not. Feminism should be able to design a vision and mindset that is realizable without man-hating. It should pursue a balanced table, a system that recognizes and respects our gender differences, it should pursue a system where men are lords and knights and women are no less ladies and amazons, not whores.

   In its mission feminism should love women and not hate men, it should work on the self-esteem of women. A woman who starves herself because she doesn't want to be 'fat', as defined by trend, is as much at home with low self-esteem as a woman who feels intimidated by a man, they are both the same all the same. Feminism should teach women to be hardworking and to strive to succeed on their own as it is odd putting on a pair of shoes, blouse and skirt, jewelry and undies all bought by a boyfriend or sugar daddy and remaining a feminist as we know it. Hardly would people treat you better than you treat yourself, thus feminism should also teach women to have respect for themselves first so that others can respect them so.

   Redefining the woman's position in society has gone a long way over the years, and this is an ongoing process which may never end. For example, in Christianity, for years women were not allowed to hold certain positions or participate in certain things, but the lively hands of continuous reformation have allowed women more freedom in Christianity, whereas two thousand years ago Saint Paul was saying that women should have no authority over men in the Church and should be in silence, two thousand years after women are pastors and bishops, presiding over men. Sudden change is often calamitous. Gradual change is often effective and with less casualty, but most times people are impatient to let a season run its course. We should all be patient as we seek a balanced table so that we may eat upon it with malice towards none and goodwill towards all.

   A question persists however, the sameness of man and woman has been addressed, but to what extent can we say that they are equal? I would say that they are equal and opposite like action and reaction, one the king of his world, the other the queen of her world, and both worlds existing together would always have clashes. My firm belief also is not that what a man can do a woman can do better, but that what a man cannot do, a woman was designed to do.


 ***Okwy

Thursday, 3 May 2018

PMB: SAVIOR OR THE FIFTH HORSEMAN OF THE APOCALYPSE?


   To many in Nigeria the needs of man are food, food and food. Anything outside of food is luxury. It is the reason they live, move and have their being, and bless the Lord, o my soul that I live in luxury. Under this category of people are categories, castes, creeds, races, and humans on both sides of literacy, from the plate-clutching Almajiri on the streets of Kano to the file-clutching unemployed graduate on the streets of Lagos (a proverbial mimicking of circumstance), both united by blinding sunshine and searing heat from the unforgiving sun, both haunted by the crowd of millions of colleagues awaiting water from Moses’s striking of the same rock and both united by their nagging desire for elusive food. To those as these (basically, majority of Nigeria’s population) the scariest picture in the Bible would be the third horseman of the apocalypse whose advent would usher in severe food scarcity. But chaos is a ladder, and severity a tool-to destroy men or put them in line, and Nigerians have learnt to live with both, but more than that one man, Muhammadu Buhari, has for the umpteenth time seemed to be the poster boy of severity in Nigeria, it has seemed to be his answer to chaos, his carrot and stick, his smacking right arm and cuddling left arm. But severity, in whatever synonym or for whatever intention is no less severe, and Nigerians, again, have learnt to live with it.

   The worst of his haters would agree that on every occasion the circumstances that lead to the emergence of Mr. Buhari as leader have always been circumstances that demanded the emergence of a deliverer or a hero, and that the popular emotion that follows his ascension is always something short of a Budhist monk watching the Lord Maitreya descend upon the Himalayas, or a Marian apparition to a Catholic faithful. At this point many would repeat the holy phrase ‘a new sheriff is in town’, they would raise their expectations of the man in whom is no guile and in whose cup is no strong drink, for wine is a mocker and strong drink a destroyer, but Buhari was always a reformer. With sanctimonious promises piling up many would say that of a truth this would be the rider on a white horse, crowned by the goodwill of Nigerians and his bow ready to conquer every ill of society. However, on each occasion the circumstances which have led to Mr. Buhari’s emergence have proven insurmountable, at least by him, and in most cases worsen under his watch. 

   His first coming on the last day of 1983 was as timely as it could be. The preceding administration was replete with all manner of corruption. The General made the world believe that his coming would be a departure from the larceny of the Shagari years, and that the indiscipline in the system could only be smothered by brute force. Alex Ekwueme was put in prison, while Shehu Shagari was put under house arrest, the ethnic import of their respective treatment was probably lost on observers who were either too busy adulating over the new sheriff who had come to clean the mess that they didn’t notice when the new sheriff began to add his own mess to the potpourri. Draconian decrees saw backdated judgements passed on people and folks sentenced to decades or life in jail, whichever came last. For the first time, we saw the government plot and almost successfully execute the kidnap of her own citizen from another country, yes, who remembers Umaru Dikko? We wouldn’t say there was no war against indiscipline, but this war was soon expanding its syllabus, it was soon becoming a war against everyone. As economic severity festered we queued to buy milk, bread, and just about everything. The slightest default from order was met with brute punishment, minor offences carried long sentences; exam malpractice was punishable by a 21 year prison sentence, and counterfeiting and arson could lead to death. We were disciplined but more than that we were humiliated. Also Decree Number 2 of 1984 saw to it that strikes and popular demonstrations were banned, and those who broke the interdiction on strikes were intimidated, harassed and jailed. Prophet Fela Kuti, a vocal critic of the government was arrested and jailed upon the most spurious of allegations. Things had become so unbearable that when the ‘Evil Genius’ IBB took over in August of ’85 the jury was out on a stressful task determining how severe history should be in vilifying the ousted General. Was he the rider on a white horse who rescued us from the corruption of Shagari’s era or was he the rider on a black horse with his pair of balances who rationed our food and hiked their prices? Or was he the spirit of both riders, the allotropes of same carbon?

   Not much was heard of or from the man of Daura till General Sani Abacha came to power in 1993, and in 1995 appointed him the chairman of the Petroleum Trust Fund, a body that was created to pursue developmental projects around the country. Buhari’s PTF was transparent, and deserving of some ovation especially from the education sector as the body subsidized textbooks and aided the purchase of school equipment and infrastructural development. Yours sincerely cannot possibly forget having to purchase highly subsidized textbooks with the label ‘PTF Edition’ boldly inscribed on the front cover. But as with everything something, nothing is hardly ever without blemish, Mr. Buhari’s PTF has at some point or the other been criticized for covert corruption and questioned for allocating 20% of its resources to the military. In all Mr. Buhari’s performance at PTF was A+, and made not a few review their view of the man whose previous outing in government was nowhere near pleasant.  

   Fast track to the fourth republic, and we find our man casting different shades at different times, if he wasn’t declaring his dreams of a nationwide implementation of Sharia, he was questioning Lam Adesina, a Yoruba governor for, in his view, the unjust treatment of ‘his people’ in Oyo State. Was he coming into the new millennium, an ethno-religious warlord ready to speak out at all times for ‘his people’ be it creed or race? Whichever the case, his people loved him, and saw him as a defender of the weak, the champion of the Talakawas, a pious upholder of the faith and the truth: and upon the ground of these virtues, Sai Baba was born. Throughout his years of failed presidential contests, he was always the other guy in a two horse race, and when election time was over, he was that man that always had a better idea how things could have been done, the one man who knew the problem with Nigeria and who believed that the solution to all the problems had taken flesh in him. 

   Coming into the 2015 General Elections Mr. Buhari’s cult followership was building more and more among a demography of young northern youths, politically, the North had become his ‘conquered’ territory. For one, this was a homogenous region, more united than any other region in the country, and would always remain faithful to their own, come what may. And in this election more than ever before, Mr. Buhari was their own and the easy going man of Otuoke, GEJ, wasn’t. Add to that the fact that like Shagari’s, GEJ’s tenure was drowning in the sea of its corruption, with GEJ’s stealing is not corruption statement being a historic own goal and the classic highlight of impunity. Side by side with GEJ, many southerners were soon beginning to believe that Mr. Buhari was fit for beatification; and with a very efficient PR machine oiled by the political mastery of the Jagaban Borgu; Bola Tinubu, Sai Buhari became Saint Buhari in the South. Soon we were made to forget the ills of Mr. Buhari’s first coming, and to believe that a coupe plotter would be the champion of democracy. With proper alignment from the south, Mr. Buhari defeated GEJ, and Nigeria would never remain the same again. 

   The proverbial repetition of history, we were back at December 31, 1983, only that this time GMB was PMB. Expectations were high, people began to adjust to these expectations. Suddenly there was stable power supply, there was news of recovered loot here and there, and these without a cabinet, we were told the famous body language was working, and it worked but only for a time. The announcement of a cabinet, and several other appointment raised many eyebrows, as the lopsided nature was inconsistent with expectations of a multi-ethnic and religiously bipolar Nigerian state. We were seeing the first prances of prebendalism but we didn’t want to believe it. It was still too early for Mr. Buhari to be wrong. Oil prices fell and Mr. Buhari followed up on the legacies of GEJ in the area of agriculture: with the highlight being that 'local rice' became 'rice' especially as importation reduced. One silver lining on the dark cloud under which the country sat. Then fuel subsidy, whose existence had been notoriously doubted by you-know-who was removed by you-know-who and fuel pump price rose, dragging the price of everything along with it. More appointments followed, and as before it was evidently lopsided. Charges of bigotry and cronyism by the opposition were shouted down with excuses of ‘the President appointed those he trusts.’ A lame excuse it was,  but we swallowed hard and offered our benefit of doubt. Then the war against Boko Haram was intensified and not long afterwards the terrorists were declared technically defeated. IPOB who had been a nagging pain in the president’s behind was dealt a fatal blow in that bloody day at Umuahia and Aba. But a monster was feeding fatter in the middle belt, inspired by the third horseman, the rider on the red horse, the horse of bloodletting, (the victims saw Fulani Herdsmen, so I wouldn’t be politically correct here) Fulani herdsmen went on rampage destroying farms, and communities, plants and humans alike. The horror was spreading its fangs, over a hundred persons were killed in Agatu, Benue State, and about a similar number in Nimbo, Enugu State were killed. What followed was silence, a deafening silence from government. And as this silence lingered, many began to quote it as a tacit support of the herdsmen. Was this the height of PMB’s weakness; a total allegiance to his kith and kin, come what may? Nigerians waited for a brute response, relative to what was done to IPOB but when a response came, it was nowhere near the response Nigerians wanted. And true to our fears, the army of the dead have continued their march south, and the response still is relative silence. On another hand (there are several hands), nepotism and ethno-religious bigotry are alive and well in the polity. Corruption cases involving perceived political opponents are pursued with vigor, while that of cronies are pardoned or ‘cleared by the presidency’ like in the case of the relieved but yet to be prosecuted SGF. Corrupt elements with the broom are overlooked while those under the umbrella are hunted down, and any man who managed to swap the umbrella for the broom, to him it would be said ‘when I see the broom I will pass over you.’ On another hand, there is severe hunger in the land and on this we are made of questions. What have we not seen? Is it a cauldron of weak porridge stolen gallantly from the fire place? Is it a father strangling his son over half a loaf of bread? Is it a mother borrowing a measure of rice with her baby as collateral? More than our love for food is our love for survival but now we have been dealt a huge hindrance to both. We ask more questions, are we getting a free lesson, an introduction to primitive severity? Why should tales not suffice for we the progenies of those who witnessed his first mounting of a horse? Yes, it is an introduction to primitive severity but have we not met the introduction halfway? Yes, we have staggered, and we have fallen, fetching the ground with out skinny bums. He that is down now needs fear no fall, but who knows of this ground soaked in blood, the blood of Agatu people, and all other people slain and burnt while the rider rode along with especial disinterest.

   In the face of all these, good and bad, there are those who would exculpate Mr. Buhari from the issues that Nigerians have witnessed under his tenure. Some believe he is a saviour always coming back to dig the country out of mess, and that he has simply been unlucky: unlucky to have become the president just at the edge of a recession (based on the thesis that GEJ's government was about throwing the country into recession just before Mr. Buhari took over). These also believe that the global fall in oil prices, and not Buhari's government, worsened the recession. They believe also that Mr. Buhari is unlucky for being the president at a time desertification had forced herdsmen to migrate more than ever before downwards and thus leading to a 'clash' with their southern hosts. Some in this category of Nigerians would always absolve Mr. Buhari of any responsibility, and would even help purvey the infamous 'the president is not aware' excuse. They, however, would not agree that Nigeria can as well do entirely without a presidency that is either unresponsive, 'not responsible', or for the most part unaware, that we can as well switch to autopilot and achieve as much success as Mr. Buhari's regime.

   As 2019 approaches Nigerians prepare for another election year. The question on minds that are not yet made up is 'who really is Mr. Buhari?' Yes, another four years from 2019 might be his last ride, we might see it out and either forget he ever came or wish he never had to leave, but in the event of another four years of Mr. Buhari's presidency who does he ride as? The first and second horsemen that we saw in 1983-85? All four horsemen, (adding the grim reaping second and fourth horsemen) that we have seen so far in his second coming? Would he ride as a savior, a true deliverer? Or would he ride as a fifth horseman, his horse covered in surprises and colours that we haven't seen before? 

   Sadly, many Nigerians do not care what he would be in his last ride, to them there should be no last ride, or Mr. Buhari may end up handing over to his successor the ashes of Nigeria and Nigerians. 

   But still among many of those who share faith or race with Mr. Buhari, 'Sai Baba' has become an article of faith, an emblem with the permanence of a forehead scar from excessive prayer, unaffected by sun or rain.

   Whichever way things go, scribes would pull out their pens to write about a man who ruled Nigeria twice and the question would remain: 'Who really was Buhari?'.

Iti Akwu is a dry cleaner based in Marrakesh, Morocco.