Got Puku?

Puku is a stylish, high-powered, high-capacity USB charger for mobile devices that has been garnering a lot of buzz in the tech world. The company was started by Meck Khalfan and Abraham Merishani who are Tanzanian, and Ani Onuorah who is Nigerian.

I had a chat with Ani Onuorah, who is the president of the company about the journey so far.

Read the full interview here.



Resuming Oil Production in Ogoniland is a Mistake

Despite how the above video is presented, there really isn’t a big division about resuming oil production in Ogoniland. Most in “favor” of resuming oil production in Ogoniland are those who will gain something from it. They are motivated solely by greed, and they don’t care if poor people suffer, or if it creates more environmental damage. What we have here are individuals who want the oil to flow again because they are the vassals and stooges of foreign investors and multinationals. They are being put forward, as if their voices hold weight with the Ogoni masses who have to live with pollution.

Cleanup in Ogoniland will take at least 30 years. Ogoniland isn’t a place onto itself. The pollution left behind by Shell affected neighboring communities. Pollution flows through waterways, and poor air quality isn’t static. Anyone in close proximity to Ogoniland will be affected, as they were the last time.

As noted in the video by Young Kigbara, before you start talking about extracting oil again, clean up the previous mess first. This is the responsibility of the Nigerian Federal Government and the foreign multinationals (Shell primarily) who created the mess in the first place. Local leadership cannot do it. They have neither the means or the capacity. This cannot be emphasized enough. 

The masses aren’t clamoring for oil and gas exploration in Ogoniland without cleaning up the previous mess that they are still dealing with. Presenting anything else as fact is disingenuous. Why wouldn’t they want their community clean first before some other multinational starts drilling again? It doesn’t make sense. 

A community still reeling from the previous environmental disaster that hasn’t been addressed by the Nigerian government and Shell would be making a monumental mistake if they resumed the practice that destroyed their land, waterways, and air quality. 

If oil production resumes, the only losers here will be the Ogoni people and the communities in close proximity to the Ogoni. It stands to reason that if the masses gained little to nothing when Shell was there, then they stand to gain little to nothing if another foreign multinational resumes oil production. Multinationals aren’t in the business of empowering poor villagers; they are in the business of maximizing profits, and profits are maximized via exploitation.



Some Nigerians Don't Get It

It is deeply ironic how some Nigerians till this day will gather around and laugh at the mass deportation of Ghanaians by the Nigerian government in the 80s. “Ghana must go…hahaha.” They will laugh non-stop about how those poor people had to hastily procure those flimsy bags to gather their belongings. Their lives were completely uprooted and they stuffed whatever they could into those bags. Many left behind the creature comforts of life they had like furniture, appliances and other things that couldn’t easily be packed or sold off in time. Much of it was quickly gobbled up by locals, but no one likes to talk about that. Nigeria is a place where the injustices of the past go to die.

Nigerians will defend the mass deportations and say that Ghanaians were a drain on the Nigerian society and that mass deportations in this instance was good. Many Nigerians were in favor of it. Some of your parents were probably among those clapping and jeering from the sidelines as helpless immigrants trying to eek out a living were unceremoniously given the boot.

If not that, they will continue to joke about it. These same people will rail against the immigration policies of the west, yet the mass deportations of Ghanaians remains a punchline to them. It’s easy to demonize the white man, but it’s hard to recognize the devil that looks like you. This is why they laugh at the suffering of others. Isn’t it funny to uproot lives? “Ghana must go…hahaha” they chuckle. “Look at them in their Ghana must go bags. Off to the boat with you Kofi and Kwame! Get out from our country!” These same people will be the ones ranting against UKIP and tea party policy towards immigration. Rant at the foreign devil, ignore the local one. Nothing to see here, business as usual.

Sometimes you’ll get a history buff who will try to rationalize their xenophobia. They’ll say something like “Well Ghana deported many Nigerians in the 60s and 70s.”

After they’ve chuckled at what happened in the not so distant past and said all they had to say to their heart’s content, these same Nigerians will be lining up with their green passports looking to emigrate to other parts of the world because like everyone else, they too want better opportunities for themselves and their families. Opportunities not readily available to them at home. We all want our children to have a good education. We all want access to proper healthcare. We all want to be gainfully employed or to be able to start a business. We all want uninterrupted electricity. We all want to be comfortable and secure.

Today, Nigerians don’t just emigrate to the west, they emigrate to other parts of Africa as well, including Ghana. The irony in having contempt for yesterday’s immigrants in your country while trying to be an immigrant in someone else’s country today misses them entirely. Many Nigerians are rushing to go to school in Ghana due to the dilapidated state of tertiary education in Nigeria. Boy how the tides have turned.

Imagine if one day, a leader somewhere decided to mass deport Nigerians. How would Nigerians feel about that? In Indonesia and Malaysia, the authorities are executing Nigerians left and right for petty drug crimes, and this isn’t sitting well with many Nigerians. Suffice to say, if we are upset at the measures sovereign nations use to punish criminals who happen to be Nigerian, we wouldn’t like it if we were deported for merely existing and for being an “other.”

Yet many of us continue to laugh at unfortunate events from three decades earlier. Many weren’t even alive when the mass deportations of Ghanaians happened, but they too will laugh. We laugh as their country supersedes us, the so called “giant of Africa.” This so called biggest economy in Africa that can’t provide uninterrupted electricity to the masses. Good luck getting an ambulance to come get you when an accident happens. You’ll die before any help arrives. In fact, you’re on your own. Someone accused of a petty crime? Why not toss a tire around them and burn them to death on the streets? Jurisprudence? Innocent until proven guilty? Yeah right. You’re thinking like a westerner. Burn them to death where they stand. Strip them naked. Beat them lifeless with a piece of plank. They deserve it. Jungle justice, Aluu 4 style. Watching people being beaten to death isn’t enough, make sure you take cellphone pictures of their bloodied, battered, lifeless, naked bodies for wide dissemination on social media and blogs.

You see in Nigeria, we have a heavy hand for the layman accused of petty crimes, while the oligarchs and monsters among us are celebrated. That petty thief who stole food stuff at the market or a pickpocket should be beaten to death in public view. The mass murderers and political leaders sucking the country dry will become elder statesmen. Hey, did you hear? Obasanjo has a new book. Let us go and buy it. Let us entertain and indulge him as he parades himself around as a symbol of virtue. Meanwhile, common thieves should be beaten to death. Former despots? By god, we should shower them with praise. Why just the other day, Babangida said he was a saint and an angel.

This is how we operate. Squash those on the bottom and champion those who ruined our lives. We can talk about bad leadership, but part of the problem is the populace. They too are cruel. A hungry man starving that stole a loaf of bread to eat? Beat him senseless in public view. Hell, why not burn him? Immigrants trying to make it? Get rid of them. People in Sabon Gari districts just surviving? Use religion as a pretext and at any slight provocation, by all means proceed to kill, maim and inflict bodily harm. Burn their shops. Seek and destroy. After you do all that, start talking about “one Nigeria.” Callously joke about situations that destroyed people’s lives, laugh about their war dead, mock genocide, then be bewildered as to why many are apprehensive around you. Show no empathy at all. Be inhumane. This lack of empathy is why “Ghana must go” is still so funny for many. They don’t see how hurtful they are.

I wonder whether these Nigerians who are always joking about the misfortunes of others consider themselves to be a drain on the societies they emigrated to. I suppose everyone else is a drain on society, except them. Everyone is a user and taker, except them. In their minds, they’re always an asset wherever they go, but everyone else is a liability. They think that people in a host country should be thrilled to have them, and that they should be accepted.

Meanwhile, Nigerians aren’t even thrilled with other Nigerians of a different ethnic group in their midst and they certainly aren’t accepting of many other Nigerians. Sabon Gari districts don’t exist because of Nigerian hospitality. The concept of “one Nigeria” is largely a myth and telling people the truth about it upsets them. They don’t want to hear it. I can understand their annoyance. When you believe in fairy tales, snapping you back into reality is a shock to the system.

As usual, many Nigerians expect behavior from others that they themselves are not willing to put into practice. They will decry the xenophobia in South Africa towards other Africans and will ask “Are we not all Africans?” They will invoke Pan-Africanism whenever it is convenient. After doing that, they will go home and insult a fellow Nigerian from a different ethnic group. They want no part of them. They truly despise other citizens in their country on the basis of their ethnicity. They will vehemently disapprove of their child becoming romantically involved with a fellow Nigerian from a different ethnic group.

Are you as a Nigerian offended by anything I said here? Good. If you are offended by anything here, then I was definitely talking about Nigerians like you. Maybe you need to be offended. Being offended doesn’t make you right or beyond reproach and criticism. We need to arrive at a place where your offense isn’t central to a discussion. Weaponizing your offense as a tool to silence important critiques is the last bastion of the scoundrel. Righteous indignation towards those who tell the truth is absolutely pathetic. People who do this are manipulative cowards who are not used to hearing the truth, so they try to silence those who object to their barbarism. The truth can sound insulting and offensive when you don’t hear it often. Maybe everything you know is a lie. Maybe the foundation of your beliefs are built on lies. Perhaps you’re living a lie. Can you surmise such a possibility? Alas, many people can’t. This is why hearing things that makes them uncomfortable is so bothersome. It challenges the very fabric of their being.

You see, it is more comforting to go forth with the lie you know intimately than to charter the unknown waters of honesty and truth. This is why there is always pushback against people who tell the truth. Show me someone who stood for justice and the truth throughout history, and I will show you someone who was persecuted and flailed by many in the populace. Truth tellers are not popular people. They will only be venerated after they’re dead. This is because the blade of their sharp tongue has been dulled. Oftentimes they’re venerated by those who maligned, tormented and abused them. They will be venerated by those who uphold the systems that the truth tellers wanted to dismantle.

My dear Nigerians, when you get over your offense and fragile egos, maybe then will you be able to self-reflect and perhaps practice some introspection. Come to terms with why the truth is so unpalatable to you.

Consider this “tough love.” I reserve the right to criticize. I criticize because I care. The truth is not your enemy. Learn to embrace it, no matter how painful it is. Also learn to be empathetic to people’s pain and suffering. It really is the mark of the beast when you can laugh about persecution.



The Malawi Mouse Boys Come to NYC

Africa is a grand and diverse continent. I am continually amazed at the sheer brilliance, ingenuity and talent that are seldom seen outside the continent, particularly in countries that don’t have much visibility beyond their borders. As a Nigerian, the world knows us. Perhaps not in a nuanced manner, but they know of Nigeria. As the most populated country in Africa, Nigeria has visibility. Nigerians are seemingly everywhere and in every sector. In contrast, Malawi is the opposite. Malawi is a landlocked country in Southeastern Africa, and it is a country seldom discussed.

In my years documenting African musicians, I had never documented any Malawians. This all changed when a quartet of young men named ‘Malawi Mouse Boys’ performed in NYC on October 7th, 2014. The Malawi Mouse Boys are Zondiwe Kachingwe, Nelson Muligo, Alfred Gavanala and Josephy Nekwankwa. All four are self-taught musicians and they have been singing and making music together from childhood. Not having access to top-tier instruments was not a hindrance for them. They fashioned four-string guitars from scrap and used tin cans for percussion. This stripped down, back to basics instrumentation highlights what is truly charming and extraordinary about these men; their voices.
The Mouse Boys made their living selling skewered mouse meat kebabs to passing motorists on the side of the road, while singing, whistling and playing instruments. While in Malawi, it was here that the Grammy-award winning producer Ian Brennan spotted them during a roadside performance. Brennan was so impressed, he brought them to the WOMAD World Music Festival.
The Mouse Boys recently embarked on a short fall 2014 US tour which saw them playing dates to a sold out crowd in Los Angeles, at the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass festival in San Francisco, Oakland, and a final stop in New York on October 7th as part of Live@365’s Fall 2014 series at Elebash Hall at CUNY’s Graduate Center. This was their first performance in New York City, and I was looking forward to it.
The Mouse Boys took to the stage at the Elebash Hall quietly. They started playing in a calm and subdued manner. I read that they played songs of praise and worship, and indeed this sounded like that. It was tender and beautiful. I don’t think anyone would have been upset if the rest of the show went on like that. I certainly wouldn’t have minded. Alas, it didn’t. Things became supercharged as the Mouse Boys took turns dashing through the audience, much to the audiences delight. This wasn’t just a show for quiet spectators. As the Mouse Boys worked their way through the crowd, they wanted participation from the audience and routinely put a microphone in their faces to repeat what they were saying.
The ingenuity of the Mouse Boys cannot be overstated. Sure, they were using coke cans for percussion, but I saw a cardboard box on the stage. I thought surely a cardboard box isn’t going to be played as an instrument. How would it work? I thought wrong. The cardboard box was played superbly with gentle, but firm taps.When was the last time someone told you that a cardboard box was played superbly? Better yet, have you ever envisioned a cardboard box being used as a makeshift instrument?
As the show went on and sweat drenched the stage, the Mouse Boys disrobed until they were all shirtless. This is not gospel and praise music like in your grandparent’s day. The Mouse Boys were in their zone and the audience didn’t need much coaxing to get on their feet. The seated show became standing room only as the Mouse Boys once again made their way through the crowd, playfully encouraging audience participation. The Malawi Mouse Boys will embark on a tour in Australia and New Zealand this spring. If you’re around those parts, do yourself the favor and see them live. The band is an absolute delight. You’ve never seen anything like them before. I guarantee it.

The Ahistorical Problem Nigeria Has

When I discuss politics with fellow Nigerians, the discussion always starts post-independence, as if things post-independence happened with no connection to the past and like Nigeria has been controlled without western influence after 1960.

When I try to explain that the issues Nigeria faces stem from the formation of Nigeria by British colonialists and that Nigerians have not seen good governing for a lengthy period of time post-independence because of it, it doesn’t register. This is in part because many Nigerians are ahistorical. We don’t look back to the past to see how we got here, and what we can improve and learn from. Unless you have a passion for Nigerian history, many Nigerians know next to nothing about Nigerian history. They will tell you the latest Wizkid jam, but talk about the assassination of Abubakar Tafawa Balewa and Ahmadu Bello and it’s all crickets. Learning our history isn’t cultivated by Nigerian leaders or in the education system. Nigerian children will learn about Shakespeare in English class and the French Revolution in world history class, but Biafra and the Nigerian Civil War and the 1966 coup that led to the war is a “no go area”. It isn’t part of the curriculum. This is something that happened in their own country. Leadership just wants to pilfer money and give access to western interests for a few crumbs and kickbacks, and bolster their own kin and ethnic people. When you don’t learn from the past and practice tribalism, kleptocracy from bad leadership occurs. The Half of a Yellow Sun film is something the Nigerian government wants to bury. As Chimamanda Adichie says, we are hiding from our past. Nigeria has a problem with not only refusing to acknowledge history, they don’t want to teach it. The expunging of history curriculum in schools is already happening.

Here are 10 points to consider.

1. We can’t just look at Nigeria from 1960 and forward. That’s a scant 54 years. The British had been in what we now call Nigeria since the early 1800s. You cannot look back at 200 years of your history and throwaway 75% of it. I hope I don’t need to explain why that is foolish.

2. The British never left. Their hand is still in the cookie jar. Colonialism was replaced with imperialism. The British didn’t impose over a century of their colonial imprint in Nigeria to simply give it away because of independence. I sincerely hope we aren’t that naive. They still have their hands on Nigeria. It’s not just the British, it’s the entire west. The west has a parasitic relationship with the entire African continent. Africa is the host body that feeds the parasites. Africa feeds them well. Whether it’s oil in Nigeria, uranium in Niger, gold in Ghana, copper in Zambia or diamonds in South Africa, they all come to suckle at Mama Africa’s teats. Apart from the west, the Chinese are getting a piece of the action too. The Chinese are all over Africa because Africa has the resources and mineral wealth they need. They aren’t in all these African countries for diplomacy, friendship and warm weather. The world needs African resources and Africa is topless for all to enjoy her bountiful treasures.

3. From our resources to the IMF and World Bank, Nigeria serves western interests first. How much has the Netherlands alone pillaged via Royal Dutch Shell? Over half a century of unabated pillaging and destruction, and it continues to this day. They crush those who rise up and speak out against their greed, corruption and blatant disregard for the Niger Delta and its inhabitants. See the murders of Ken Saro-Wiwa and the rest of the Ogoni Nine. That’s just one multinational. You also have US multinationals like Chevron that personally flew in armed soldiers to open fire on 100 unarmed protesters in 1998. These are the entities controlling Nigeria and they have controlled the Nigerian government post-independence.

4. These last 54 years post-independence have been terrible. Since independence, it’s been coup after coup and assassinations and hostile takeovers, rinse and repeat. In 1967, the secessionist state of Biafra happened. Identity politics, disenfranchisement and ethnic warfare happens when you colonize and force people to share borders. You can’t discuss our history without discussing our amalgamation as a nation by British colonialists. It’s strange to me when people want to discuss Nigeria without discussing this extremely relevant and related history as if it doesn’t matter. Post-independence, we’ve had decades of kleptocratic military regimes. You cannot ignore this because we now have civilian rule. These issues brought the rise of many of the insurgents you see today, who often use the guise of religion because religion is a tie that binds. It’s a common denominator, even with people from different ethnic groups and nations. Previous uprisings and riots led by people like Maitatsine did not garner a following by accident. His message resonated with disaffected, marginalized young men. After Maitatsine’s death, his ideology didn’t die.

5. Many Nigerians fail to see the continuum in all these issues, especially Nigerians in the south who think that since this is happening in the north, it doesn’t affect them. When you don’t address issues, sooner or later it will come knocking on your door. This is a national problem, but Nigerians tend to think regionally and tribally. Maiduguri is pretty much on Mars to the average person in Port Harcourt or Yenagoa.

6. Boko Haram has evolved over the years. Years ago they were shooting from okada bikes and lobbing grenades. In other words, very pedestrian stuff. They then started attacking places of worship and markets. Today they are kidnapping hundreds in one fell swoop, killing hundreds in coordinated attacks, razing entire villages, destroying schools and detonating bombs in the capital. They have changed their tactics. To say they have ramped up would be an understatement. They now have armored vehicles. Nigeria hasn’t done much to counter them. Like many Nigerians, our leaders are ahistorical. They let things escalate. Need an example of this? In the 90s, there was a small ragtag group called the Shabab Youth Organization. A lot of them were loyalists to Maitatsine ideologies. Those same people under Mohammed Yusuf later became Boko Haram in 2002.

7. The borders in northern Nigeria are not secure. When your borders are not secure, anything and anyone can enter. The free flow of weapons and foreign fighters in Nigeria happens because Nigerian borders in the north are wide open. Fighting terrorism cannot be paramount if your borders aren’t secure. Some of the Boko Haram insurgents in Nigeria aren’t even Nigerian, they are imported fighters. Boko Haram’s leader Abubakar Shekau isn’t Nigerian. He’s from Niger. When he speaks English, you can hear that he is not a Nigerian. Hear Shekau speak English in this short video.

8. In a nation plagued with subpar internet speeds, Boko Haram that is hiding out in the Sambisa Forest have no problems uploading things online. What kind of amazing internet connections do they have in the bush and remote caves that allows them to keep uploading hour long videos online? Are we to believe that these guys camping out in the bush have better internet than most Nigerians? They are clearly getting outside help. Why can’t the Nigerian government do an IP trace or track down the person uploading these videos? Someone is doing the graphic design, Arabic subtitles, splicing, cutting and editing of these videos. Boko Haram is also making bombs and explosives. You don’t learn things like this reading the Koran in the bush. The fact is that a lot of these guys are educated. See here. This isn’t all what you’ve been led to believe.

9. If Nigeria took out Boko Haram today, the problem won’t be resolved. Boko Haram isn’t the only militant group operating in Northern Nigeria. Someone else will take Boko Haram’s place in due time. When Maitatsine died 34 years ago, Nigerian leadership said it would be the end of this sort of thing. They were obviously wrong. You won’t end these problems until you fix the very real infrastructure problems Nigeria has, particularly in the north. Nothing will change when there is crippling poverty, high unemployment and poor education. Nigeria must also secure its borders immediately.

10. Whenever Abubakar Shekau is captured or killed, which is inevitable as the previous Boko Haram leader Mohammed Yusuf was captured and killed in 2009 - just know that this problem won’t be over with his demise. This problem goes beyond Shekau and Boko Haram. As previously mentioned, Shekau will be replaced by another “Islamist” boogie man when he gets captured or killed. The fact is that these people are in Nigeria and the failings of the Nigerian government post-independence is why they are flourishing. Nigeria has become a hotbed for these activities. The porous borders and lack of security make it even easier. If you’re a young, impressionable, jobless pauper with no property or prospects in life and nothing to lose, come to Nigeria and wage “jihad”. It’s lucrative. You will get money, food, shelter, weapons and women. Some politicians and elected officials will even have you on the payroll. At this point, Boko Haram is a brand that is working with some in the Nigerian government. It is clear that they are in bed with some politicians.

Ultimately, this is a Nigerian problem and Nigeria has to fix it. Western governments lining up to “help” cannot flush out those within the Nigerian power structure who are secretly supporting Boko Haram. Only Nigeria can do that. I’m just not convinced that they really want to. Nigeria certainly has the money to acquire the weaponry and training necessary to fight Boko Haram, the leaders aren’t just putting the money towards beefing up the Nigerian military. They are lining their pockets instead. Nigerian soldiers are demoralized and unmotivated. It’s a big problem. Villagers armed with sticks and machetes have been more successful in repelling low level Boko Haram fighters than the Nigerian military in recent weeks. That speaks volumes.



Seun Kuti at the Highline Ballroom: Music Fueled by Activism

The last time I spoke to Seun Kuti, he was coming off the heels of his “From Africa with Fury: Rise” album and was about to embark on the US leg of his tour with a stop at the Highline Ballroom in NYC along the way. This was at the height of the Occupy Nigeria protests, and Seun was in the thick of things organizing and galvanizing people to take a stand against bad leadership.

Two years later, Seun returned to the Highline Ballroom with the Egypt 80 in tow and a new album titled “A Long Way to the Beginning” on Knitting Factory records. He has been at the forefront of the Stolen Dreams demonstrations, and his music reflects his activism. For Seun, this isn’t armchair activism, this is a way of life. His music embodies a sense of urgency. He speaks plainly and openly. The first single off the new album is titled IMF (International Motherfuckers). It leaves no ambiguities or innuendos. Nothing is left to interpretation. You know where he stands. The track is a scathing attack on the lecherous, predatory and imperialistic banking practices of the International Monetary Fund that only benefits Europe. He highlights the parasitic relationship Europe has with Africa.

Seun always begins his shows with a nod to his father by playing one of his songs, and the show at the Highline Ballroom was no different. He started out by playing V.I.P. (Vagabonds in Power). The show was frenetic, energetic and fast-paced. Like most of his shows, Seun usually takes a few moments to pepper the crowd with commentary. While afrobeat is music you can dance to, it also comes with a message. If you aren’t listening to the message, then you have missed the entire point.

One point Seun hammered home was about the disrespect of the black woman. He chided Pharrell for his “Black Marilyn Monroe” song, taking umbrage with watered down blackness being promoted as the ideal image for black women. Seun asked “Why do we need a black version of a white woman? Why can’t black women just be black women? What’s wrong with Angela Davis? What’s wrong with Maya Angelou? What’s wrong with Nina Simone? What’s wrong with black women that look like them?” This brief social commentary was followed by the slower paced track Black Woman.

Later on in the evening, Robert Glasper sat in with the band much to the delight of the crowd. The 2 hour set didn’t seem long enough. Thoroughly drenched in sweat, the band came out for an encore to satiate the cries from the audience. The encore only prolonged the inevitable; this brilliant show had come to an end. If you were in NYC and weren’t at the Highline Ballroom to witness it, then you missed a hell of a show.

Click here to see more pictures from the show.

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