Showing posts with label Mingi XII. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Mingi XII. Show all posts

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Your Majesty, The Flat Face Of The Naira

In this chapter from Royal Mail, his twelve-part epistle to Queen Elizabeth II of England, the renowned Nigerian poet, King Nengi Josef Ilagha, Mingi XII, Amanyanabo of Nembe, suggests that the name of the Naira be changed to Turinchi, the Hausa-Fulani word for English, to reflect the national heritage of Nigeria as it marks 50 years of political independence from Britain.


The Flat Face Of The Naira

No one can make you a slave without your consent
- Eleanor Roosevelt

YOUR MAJESTY, I am a living witness to just how round the pound is, even as a coin, and how prestigious it is in hand. There’s no dirt on the face of the Queen in the fifty pound note. It is the strongest currency in the world, and has been so for so long. The dollar bows to it, and so does the yen. The euro does not compare with the sterling by a yardstick, which is why the average British citizen would rather not have any kind of political merger that might spell a drop in value for the sterling.

By the way, how does it feel to have your face on your own national currency, to know that wherever the pound is, there you are as well? Today when I tell my children that, once upon a time, this same pound was the national currency in Nigeria, they find it hard to believe. It has become the stuff of legend that every pound and every shilling was mopped up by the Central Bank of Nigeria only in 1973, three years after the civil war. It is hard to believe that the naira, the Nigerian currency, was swapping on a cozy ratio of two naira to one pound at that time; that the naira indeed was on a comfortable one to one exchange footing with the American dollar.

Things have since fallen apart for the Nigerian naira, Your Majesty. The central government cannot hold it in place, not along the roadside market, not on the stock exchange. Recently, I had cause to change a huge pile of naira notes, all two hundred thousand pieces of them, and was suitably embarrassed to receive a sum under one thousand pounds in exchange. In the batting of an eyelid, I had finished counting. Before the imperial pound, the naira simply falls flat on its face, a willing slave on the fiscal calculus. I am still at a loss as to how this happened, Your Majesty, and why we haven’t been able to rise to our full height for so long.
At the recent Isaac Boro day celebrations in London, the special representative of the President at the occasion, Braeyi Ekiye, was telling the packed audience about the progress being made at the home front with regard to the proposed electoral reforms. Even though I was familiar with the figure that had been approved for the electoral commission towards the 2011 elections, the explosive sound of eighty-seven billion naira still reverberates in my ears -- and it has nothing to do with the burp of the microphone before Ekiye’s lips.

In times past, I thought, that figure would amount to the overall budget of a number of states for one year. Now, it is one of many approvals that the President is obliged to endorse within a space of four months. As the days unfold, my fellow country men and women seem to lose sight of a geographical verity, that the higher you go the cooler it becomes. With regard to the naira, in this particular case, the higher the figures the lower the value of our currency in the international money market.

Once upon a time, the naira was the leading and most liquid currency in all of West Africa, so much so that it was proposed as the legal tender of the sub-region. That’s because the Ghanaian cedi as well as the West African CFA franc were underlings, so many thousand units exchanging for a handful of naira. Not so anymore. We now count our funds in mouthfuls as well, and the more high-sounding the amounts, the more gratifying in the ears of the average contractor and his political collaborator. Every day, so much money is voted for, and so little gets done. Chinua Achebe testifies that “we have become so used to talking in millions and billions that we have ceased to have proper respect for the sheer size of such numbers.” He was writing in 1983, mark you. Today, twenty-seven years later, the tendency to proclaim billion naira figures is far more manifest, in the private calculations of individuals as in the official pronouncements of government.

Let me bring you up to date on this, Your Majesty. One of the most hopeful road projects in the fifty-year history of Nigeria is the Nembe-Brass road. It was first proposed by the Niger Delta Development Board in 1962. Then it came on the Federal Government's drawing board in 1971, and was first awarded by the General Yakubu Gowon regime, evidently in millions. The same project was re-awarded in 1983 by the Shehu Shagari government but was botched by the coup that was to follow. It was awarded a third time in 1990 by the Babangida regime only to be conveniently abandoned. In the wake of the presidential amnesty granted Niger Delta militants, the contract was awarded for a record fourth time in November 2009, just before the late President Yar’Adua took ill.

Today, the entire forty-two kilometer stretch of the road commencing from Yenagoa and cutting through Oloibiri and Nembe right down to Brass on the fringes of the Atlantic Ocean, is estimated to cost one billion naira per kilometer. That would be forty-two billion naira, only. Professor E.J. Alagoa, chairman of the Nembe-Ibe Group Road Project, laments that forty-eight years after the idea for the road was first mooted and the commitment of the Federal Government was spelt out on paper, the road is still a future prospect. Given the penchant for cost variations in Nigeria’s construction industry, to say nothing of kick-backs and side kicks, it shouldn’t come as a surprise to Your Majesty if the road swallows all of eighty-four billion naira, if not more, by the time it gets to destination point.

Nigeria is an odd country, Your Majesty, at cross purposes with itself. Even in the development of literature and the arts, Nigeria is deficient. The writers weep for lack of patronage. Values are turned upside down and inside out. Nigeria is the only country on the face of the earth where an enlightened panel of judges decides the best nine books of poetry out of 163 published in four years, and yet cannot declare the winner. And then -- surprise, surprise! -- the prize money goes to the panel. It happened on the night of October 10, 2009, at the Nicon Noga in Abuja.

Former Heads of States were there, business tycoons were there, politicians came in all their pageantry. Only conscience was in flight. None of the eggheads on parade could ease the microphone from the Master of Ceremonies, and tell the panel of professors and their sponsors on the spot that it was wrong to advertise a prize for one full year, and demure when it mattered most. The prize money in question was not in naira. It carried greater value. It was fifty thousand United States dollars.
As Dan Agbese, one of Nigeria’s most perceptive journalists, would put it: “What distinguishes Nigeria from other countries is not our wealth but the way we use it. Other countries spend money to solve their problems. We turn money into missiles and shoot them at our problems.” He couldn’t have put it better. The poets in question are still reeling with shock in the aftermath of that unnecessary coup.

Even so, Your Majesty, you were no less unconscionable in your bid to exploit the resources of Nigeria. I dare say the British Crown built a good part of modern Britain on the wealth you colonized from our groundnut pyramids, our cocoa pods, our palm produce and our oil wells, in much the same way that Babangida built Abuja with the wealth derived from the Niger Delta. You will do well to wipe your conscience clean of this imperial misdemeanour.

It is time to own up to what you took by force and guile, time to return every artifact in your National Museum at Bloomsbury, every artistic piece that bears the signature of Nigeria, beginning with the sixteenth century Ivory Mask from Benin which was the mascot for the Second African Festival of Arts and Culture, FESTAC ‘77. And that is just in the cultural sector. It is time for restoration on a pervasive scale, time for conscience to have the right of way in your dealings with our nation and its long-suffering people.


If you were to throw a question over the heads of the Nigerian multitude, and ask all those who do not think that Jesus Christ can conduct free and fair elections in the country to raise their hands, only one man is bound to do so. That man is Olusegun Okikiola Obasanjo, OOO for short, a farmer from Ota who has since lost his hoe. It is like an obsession with him to utter offensive statements. Obasanjo is prone to blasphemy, Your Majesty. Like Prince Phillip, he has a risqué sense of humour. As Professor Charles Nnolim would say, “every time he opens his mouth, a big fat toad jumps out.” You want to hazard a bet? No need for that. OOO is my fellow country man. I know him better than you do. Never mind the show he put up for you when you visited Abuja seven years ago.

On the eve of the 2003 elections, Sam Aluko, one of the foremost economists in the country, had cause to compare the Abacha and Obasanjo administrations side by side. He scored Abacha far higher than OOO. At the very next press conference the farmer attended, the question came up for air. What’s your reaction to what Professor Aluko said about your government and its mismanagement of the naira? Obasanjo’s retort went right off the mark.
“That one whose son is a thief in the Senate?”

Talk about effrontery, Your Majesty. The man left the substance of the matter altogether and stalked the shadow instead. How fallacious can he get? Ask me another question. When approached for comments, Aluko chose not to join issues with the farmer. If he were to oblige him, he would have probably underscored the fact that, under Abacha, the naira exchanged for twenty-two to one dollar. But by the time Obasanjo left office on May 29, 2007, following his failed bid to make a third term, the naira had fallen to a sprawling low of one hundred and fifty to one dollar.
Mark you, I am not holding brief for General Sani Abacha. He was the most mindless, the most rabid, of all the dictators that ever governed Nigeria these past fifty years. His personal record of corruption and graft ranks as the most brazen in the annals of our history. The Swiss Bank is my witness. In fact, the government of OOO took it upon itself to investigate Abacha’s wholesale looting of Nigeria's coffers, and declared that $4 billion or £3 billion worth of foreign assets were traced to Abacha, all acquired at the expense of the tax payer. In 2002, out of $2.1 billion demanded by the government, Abacha's family agreed to return $1.2 billion that was annexed from the Central Bank. In many ways, Abacha was the last Nigerian military dictator. It is now twelve years since he passed on. We don’t need another.

It so happens that Bayelsa, one of the five states created by Abacha on October 1, 1996, remains something of a baby in diapers, practically exploited to retardation by its politicians and contractors, suffering under the malignant shadow cast by Abacha’s corrupt antecedents. Only recently, the current governor of the state earnestly promised on national television that he would build the first hanging bridge in Nigeria, so that the rest of humanity could come from far and near to see this construction engineering wonder.

Your Majesty, he spoke as one who has seen the drawbridge across the River Thames, and therefore that may not cut ice with you. I merely mention this as an indication of how imaginative our politicians can get. For fifty years of our sovereign nationhood, we have been coping with grand dreams conceived to hoodwink the hopeful voter and to buy time, while the treasury is systematically plundered for the selfsame prospect of the proverbial hanging bridge that never would be. And for ingenuity, for sheer creative bravado, a special prize must go to the chairman of the environmental sanitation authority in the state who stuffed four hundred million naira of tax payers’ money into an empty water tank, and left the criminal sum hanging high above his roof in what may well qualify as the modern-day equivalent of the Akassa Raid. That is how bad the scramble for the naira has become in the country you once ruled, God save the Queen.

What is even more ludicrous is that, on the eve of our country’s Golden Jubilee anniversary, a retired military dictator you may have heard about, a veteran coup maker with pretensions to decent civilian conduct, has declared his intentions to run for the presidency in the forthcoming elections. The Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, of course, gives him sufficient leave to contest for any office of his choice, as well he might. He believes he can lay the flat face of the naira on the negotiation table, and buy up every Nigerian conscience that may be up for sale ahead of the elections. By and by, we shall know just how far his bidding goes.
In the meantime, I suggest we change the face value of the naira, and opt for a more acceptable currency that would reflect our national heritage. Let us change the name of the Naira to Turinchi, the Hausa-Fulani word for English. After all, the English language has been our lingua franca in the last fifty years, and is likely to remain so for another half a century.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Nengi Josef Ilagha Writes Queen Elizabeth II on Nigeria’s 50th Independence Anniversary

Majesty Nengi Josef Ilagha, Mingi XII, Amanyanabo of Nembe

News Flash

As Nigeria prepares to celebrate her Golden Jubilee anniversary on October 1, 2010, the London-based Nigerian poet, journalist and broadcaster, Nengi Josef Ilagha, forwards a Royal Mail to Queen Elizabeth II, the constitutional monarch of England who will be marking her Diamond Jubilee anniversary on the throne in 2012. In twelve gutsy, friendly, sober and soul-searching epistles, the author takes the Queen on a revealing ride into the corrupt character and unwholesome habits of a nation on the verge of rebirth, and invites her to push for the restoration of the values that make England a stable and prosperous model.

Told through the perceptive lenses of a poet with a knack for refreshing imagery, the book is an incisive and harrowing testament on the state of the most populous African country, fifty years into its life as a nation, laying bare its shameful inadequacies, and underscoring its hopeful impact on world affairs. Delivered in a lucid, winsome and personable style which dollies in from time to time to undertake a dramatic exposition of the British colonial mentor and life in London, Royal Mail is inspired by Her Majesty’s efficient postal delivery service.

The book promptly finds its place beside Chinua Achebe’s popular 1983 commentary, The Trouble With Nigeria, with the added advantage that it extends its critical antenna to England and finds the colonizer culpable of the political rot in present-day Nigeria, no thanks to the divide-and-rule ethic enthroned by the British under Lord Frederick Lugard’s pioneering tenure as Governor-General of the West African nation. The following is the opening epistle from Royal Mail, published by Treasure Books, Nigeria.


City Boy

The men who succeed are the efficient few
- Herbert N. Casson

YOUR ROYAL MAJESTY, I am glad to make your acquaintance. I am led by none other than the hand of God to address this humble epistle to you. I have no doubt that your efficient mail delivery service will bring these words before your eyes in the fullness of time. As you will soon come to understand, I have quite a lot to say to you, and I will say it as the pages flip by, so help me God.

Allow me to begin by congratulating you on your fifty-eighth anniversary in office. That is quite a long time to serve your land and people as Queen. You have been monarch of England for as long as Ron and Don, the world’s most famous conjoined twins have been together, bound by flesh from day to day, minute after minute. I happen to have seen them for the first time on BBC 4 television on the night of March 4, 2010, and it got me thinking. They were born one year after you ascended the throne at Sandringham.

By all accounts, you will be marking your Diamond Jubilee in 2012. I find myself suitably equipped and qualified, therefore, to address you in the twelve epistles that make up this small loaf of bread, even as you come to understand that two of my sons go by the names of Diamond and Jubilee. But let me not get ahead of my story. Let me take one letter at a time, one word at a time, one line at a time, one paragraph at a time, one page at a time, one chapter at a time.

You have been at the head of government for so long, witness to the policies and programmes of Prime Ministers as varied in temperament and carriage as Anthony Eden was from Gordon Brown. Not too long ago, I saw pictures of Winston Churchill, Eden’s predecessor, upon the satellite clouds, delivering excerpts of his famous speeches in the finest manner of a war-time hero. Quote. Let each man search his conscience and search his speeches. I frequently search mine. Unquote.

Your Majesty, do you mind taking a look at your speech to Nigeria on October 1, 1960? Remind yourself of the things you said to the new nation, the promises you failed to keep. I say this advisedly, because I have before me your speech to the Commonwealth delivered on May 8, 2010.

Today’s societies are constantly seeking ways to improve their quality of life, and science and technology play a vital part in that search…Experimentation, research and innovation, mean that more opportunities for improving people’s lives exist today than ever before. Take long distance communication, where the obstacles of time and geography have been dramatically reduced: people can now use mobile phones to be in instant contact virtually anywhere in the world, be it with a medical centre in the Himalayan mountains in Asia, a Pacific island school, a research facility at the South Pole, or even the international space station, beyond this planet altogether.

I share your sentiments, Your Majesty. I look forward to your next speech, the one you will address to the President and good people of Nigeria on their Golden Jubilee anniversary, the one that will pronounce restoration to a long-suffering nation. Suffice it to say, for now, that Nigeria is not some space station beyond this planet. It is a country you once ruled with pride and honour. By virtue of modern communication devices, we can still be reached by phone, in spite of frustrations with the network. But anyone you call up in our beleaguered country will assure you that conditions of living could have been better than they are today. Take it from me.

By and by, it should strike you as a sign that Sir Anthony Eden was the first Prime Minister under your watch. I shall have a lot to say about Eden, the parcel of land upon which the first man and woman were moulded from the mud of the earth. Of course, as a fervent Christian, I take my bearings from the Bible. Now we dwell in the present, listening to the rhetoric of David Cameron and Nick Clegg, to say nothing of the Miliband Brothers. I am a witness to history in the making. I abide with you. I can only say it is your portion to have been so blessed, so revered, so adored for over five decades of your life in prosperity and opulence.

I have no doubt that you have questions of your own bubbling within you right now, questions you wish to direct at me. Verily, verily, I will be only too glad to give ear and hearken, to say nothing of answering them as the days unfold, but I suppose you will let me exhaust myself on the subjects I have set out to address in this long epistle to Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II of England. Even so, I cannot proceed without running the full course of the pleasantries which I must not fail to offer, from my meek and gentle self to every member of the Royal Family, acting on behalf of the President and people of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.

How are you today? How is the Queen Mother? How is Prince Phillip? How is Prince Charles? How is Prince William? And how is Prince Harry? O, how is Princess Anne, the one you sent to represent you at Tafawa Balewa Square in Lagos on October 1, 1960? How did you find Nigeria on your maiden visit in the first week of December, 2003? What gift do you have in mind for the country you once colonized, as it marks its Golden Jubilee? These questions popped up in my mind in that particular order on February 6, 2010, when I read in the internet rather belatedly that you were marking your anniversary in Sandrigham. It was remiss of me not to have put my thoughts on paper at the time and date in question, on account of the poor weather. As the saying goes, however, better late than never. I have never been at home with the cold, and I will tell you why. I am a child of the sun, that’s why. At any rate, I have no doubt that your family is in good health and excellent spirits.

Your Majesty, I will do well not to hold back what I have to say to you. If I have rambled round and about the subject up to this point, put it down to a royal habit I acquired since I became king. That last bit of information, indeed, should give you a fair idea as to how I summoned the audacity to extend a few words of hope in conversation with Your Imperial Majesty, as Nigeria marks her Golden Jubilee. Do allow me to whisper this detail in your ear, if you don’t mind coming a little closer. I am His Royal Majesty Nengi Josef Ilagha, Mingi XII, Amanyanabo of Nembe Kingdom. I am also the author of twelve books spanning the full calendar, from January through December, as you may have noticed from the Pope Pen Library that prefaces this book. Glad to meet you.

Time does fly, Your Majesty. Don’t you find it amazing that you have ruled Britain for all of fifty-eight years, that in a couple of years you will be marking your Diamond Jubilee? Isn’t God wonderful to have kept you through the storm of eleven Prime Ministers? Before David Cameron showed up, I was wondering who would be your Twelfth Prime Minister. Now we know that you are overseeing the first coalition government since 1945. May God give you the fortitude and grace to undertake the assignment to the glory of his name.

Lest I forget, let me promptly invite you to my coronation ceremony in the selfsame critical year of transition which marks your Diamond Jubilee. I shall be formally ascending the throne in that capital year, 2012, as King of Eden, better known as Nembe in modern geography. I have no doubt that your entire entourage will be on hand to demonstrate to our land and people what the imperial ceremonies are like, and should be, even in a former colony such as Nigeria. Do bring along your beefeaters, your buffeters, your bagpipes, your puppeteers, your horses, your Metropolitan police and your Imperial Guard of Honour.

Come and stage a carnival as colourful, as grand, as magnificent, as brilliant, as vintage as the one I just witnessed at Nothinghill. Come with your trumpets, come with your bugles. Come and stage a lavish party in Nigeria, beginning from Bayelsa. Come to the Glory Of All Lands. You must come and set a new standard, or at least, revive the memory of our people as to what it means to be part of the British Commonwealth. What is more, I believe you will do well to send word to your worthy counterparts in Spain, Denmark, Jordan and such other countries where the monarchy is still respected as a timeless institution, to grace the coronation ceremony of Pope Pen The First.

There we are! The proverbial cat is out of the bag, out of the proverbial bin, in spite of all the efforts of the Mary Bales of this wicked world. My friends call me Mingi Nengi XII, the Lion King of Nembe. So now you know why I am so conscious of the year 2012. What are your earnest plans for your Diamond Jubilee celebration in 2012? I want to be a part of it all. Well, now we have our bearings right, let us get down to brass tacks, so to speak. But let it not be that I am being presumptuous. It is possible that you cannot quite place Nembe on the map of British history, so I will go so far as to help you.

Fifty-eight years is a long time indeed, Your Majesty. So much has happened. So much more is happening, even as we speak. You may have forgotten certain matters that called for your urgent attention in times past. You may at present be preoccupied with A Journey, the memoirs of Tony Blair. I have my copy in hand as well. I will read it on the Tube, from Golders Green to Finchley, from Finchley to Baker Street, from Baker Street right through to Aldgate. Up and down the Jubilee Line, I will read from Stanmore to Stratford and back, my all-day travel card in my pocket, like a typical City Boy. But let me not digress.

As I was saying, Your Majesty, certain incidents may have become mere figments from the past, as if they never happened. Certain faces may have become blurred in memory. Certain names and dates may escape you from time to time in the course of conversation. I don’t blame you. After all, none of my royal predecessors kept you in remembrance of our abiding relationship as colonizer and colonized, certainly not the last Mingi of Nembe. I do hope that the language you left behind in my country will avail me with the right and proper words to express myself to the fullest, and to extend the great expectations that my subjects back home want you to consider, without let, without hindrance.

From time to time, I shall consult Daniel Ogiriki Ockiya, the reverend gentleman who extensively documented the historic Nembe-British War of 1895 in The History of Nembe, and E.J. Alagoa, Emeritus Professor of History, University of Port Harcourt, author of The Small Brave City-State. The credentials of these noble sons of the soil lie in the fact that they had the presence of mind to record the events of the day as faithfully as they could manage. They deserve trophies from Her Majesty The Queen, as much as many gallant Nigerians who have contributed to the grandeur of England in no small way.

As Nigeria turns fifty, Your Majesty, it is tempting to undertake a comparison of the country you once colonized and check it for critical differences with yours, from the time Britain annexed our parcel of land after the partitioning of Africa in 1884, right up to 1960 when we returned the Union Jack to you through Princess Anne of Kent, right up to the present -- and to see just how far we have come as a nation. I shall promptly fall for this temptation. The internet is my witness. I shall consult it for facts. I shall also do well to conduct a cursory parade of your queenly parks, your royal gardens, your busy highways, your underground network of rails and its workaday population, in order to put in fair perspective the disparities between Lagos and London, between Brass and Brighton, between Nembe and Nottingham.

I want to hail Nigeria, Your Majesty. But I find it hard to do so. I want to hail the profound ideals expressed in the inaugural national anthem composed by Flora Shaw, Lord Lugard’s companion, who first gave us the name Nigeria in an article published in The Times of London on January 8, 1897. Nigeria is not quite the same country you granted political independence in 1960. Take it from me. In the words of one of your famous political theorists, Thomas Hobbes, life in present-day Nigeria is “short, nasty and brutish.” I will tell you why. I am obliged, indeed, to bring you abreast with developments in my beloved country, with particular emphasis on the state of my domain. But if the matters I bring before you in the intervening pages sound confusing, if this epistolary journey upon which we have embarked, qualifies as a mosaic of sentiments trussed up together, without form or order, don’t blame me too much. Put it down to the chaotic temper of my country, the haphazard scheme of existence under which we have laboured, these past fifty years.

Even so, I assure you that our nation is on the verge of rebirth. Good luck has come to Nigeria. There is an inevitable tectonic shift in the political order. I invite you to push for the restoration of the values that make England such a prosperous and stable example, that we might take our cues afresh. I have no doubt that you will give me your fullest attention. I will do well not to bore you, but if I do so at all, put it down to my second-hand acquaintance with the Queen’s English.
I will do well to be reasonable. I will do well to uphold the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, so help me God. I pledge not to insult your royal intelligence. I promise to remain faithful to the picture I have studied of my country since I was born into it on December 18, 1963. I am, Your Majesty, a full-grown child of the Federal Republic of Nigeria in the best sense of the expression. I will do well to grip my country, literally by the scruff of the neck, and yank it for faith.

Verily, verily, I say unto you, no one can take that divine right away from me.

By His Majesty Nengi Josef Ilagha
Mingi XII, Amanyanabo of Nembe
Bayelsa State, Nigeria

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A Profile of Goodluck Jonathan, Vice President of Nigeria
"Tattoes Are Forever": A Discussion of Nigeria's Social Ills
Epistle to Maduabebe:A Fictional Portrayal of Corruption in Nigeria