Saturday, March 30, 2013

Azikiwe's Strange Prophecy About Jonathan

By Biko Agozino


Sail on, my trusted ship,
Over this murky creek,
Bound for Amassoma,
In Ijaw land;
To forge the link of love
That blinds the fatherland
-Nnamdi Azikiwe, (On board the "   " sailing from Yenagoa to Amassoma, 1st March, 1957).'

About nine months later, precisely on November 20 that very same year, 1957, a little hungry baby boy was born stark naked (like even the Queen of England, as the Ethiopian-Eritrean-UK-based poet, Lemn Sissay, would say) in those same creeks. And he was named after the great Zik of Africa - Goodluck Ebele Azikiwe Jonathan was the exact full name given to him by a perceptive grandmother.

That shoeless creek boy, with a nose as red as that of Rudolph the under-estimated reindeer of Santa later chosen to guide the sleigh, that boy whom very few gave any chance in life, went on to become the 14th Head of State of Nigeria, following in the footsteps of the statesman-poet, Azikiwe, the First Head of State. 

Was this a mere coincidence or was Nnamdi Azikiwe being prophetic as he was known to be by his friends and foes alike? Zik bu agbara (Zik is an oracle) as the Igbo used to say!

Was the nameless 'trusted ship' alluded to in Zik's poem a metaphor for the ship of state, the ship of Nigeria that continues to sail (or drift) over many murky creeks across the country but amazingly sure of its destination nevertheless? I mean, how has the country survived so much lack of clarity while sailing on such murky waters that lack any of the certainties in navigational charts characteristic of other nation states? We dey manage am so!

'Bound for Amassoma' as in bondage and not just in terms of a destination; the same sado-masochistic bondage written large into the national anthem: instead of 'one nation born in unity and struggle' as Cabral would insist, we are compelled to chant the macabre anthem to 'one nation bound in freedom, peace (for where) and unity'; as if we are hypnotized to chant of a beloved nation in bloody bondage rituals while we are all being screwed by sadists. Did the great Zik prophesy that too? You bet, it was predictable.

'In Ijaw land', he said, not Igboland or simply the Oritentalism of a geographical East that he could have claimed imperialistically as the Premier of the Eastern Region that he was. Rather he chose to respect local identity and simply seek to forge a 'link of love'. But wait, what kind of love was that?

The kind of true love that is blind - 'That blinds the fatherland'. Maybe that is why Oga Jona is bumbling and stumbling like a blind man from one foot in the mouth to another dissastrous pardon for his ruling class of pirates, sailing the murky creeks and chopping billions of naira in food alone while those same creeks that litter the country continue to be bloodied with the murky juice of the innocent shed by terroristic robbers and kidnappers. They have sobered up sufficiently from their ogogoro stupor, we are told.

So maybe we should pardon Jonathan as one brother recently urged; it is not his fault that he was prophesied to blind the fatherland with love. Jonathan was reported to have said that it was God that asked him to forgive those who are robbing us blind! Someday another prayer warrior will chop bribe and command bro Jona to kneel down and obey because God wants him to pardon ghosts, ghost workers and ghost projects as Baba Soyinka has hinted recently, long after he alerted us (in Ibadan: The Penkelmese Years) that Azikiwe was one of the 'bombastic poets of nationalism' that obviously influenced his own bombast (unknown to even some poetry professors in Nigeria - that Zik was among the poets).

Of course, the phrase, 'That blinds', could have been the printer's devil at work, the bent nail of the carpenter's apprentice (editors) mistaken for a new style. Maybe Zik actually wrote that the love 'binds the fatherland' (in bondage) rather than blinds it. Who knows? Professor Michael Echeruo certainly thinks that it is 'binds' as he cited the poem thus in his introduction to the collection. We are in a bind, it seems; ours is a binding freedom, an oxymoron.

The very next poem in the collection, Thoughts in Retreat: Further Compilation of Poems, compiled by his widow, Profesor Uche Azikiwe and published in 2003 by Triatlantic Books International, New York, however suggests that Azikiwe must have meant every word of this strange prophecy - the poem, 'Transformation', starts thus:

Before I was blind
But now I see...

'Glory glory', goes the chorus! Glory? Forgive me if I am reading too much meaning into a short poem here. After all, poems are open to as many legitimate interpretations as there are readers.

In There Was A Country, the everliving Chinua Achebe chronicled how the architecture for peace, reconciliation and rehabilitation that was presented by Zik as the framework for ending the Biafra war on the basis of no victor-no vanquished was rejected out of hand by those who were bent on crushing Biafra at all costs (precisely millions of lives) only for that same framework to become the blueprint for UN interventions in conflicts around the world. Achebe, nna anyi (our father), tell Zik of Africa that his beloved Africans are still living in the land of the blind in the bondage that he foresaw. 

Let us urge Goodluck Ebele Jonathan to shun deliberate jaundice and see the need for reparations to be paid to the Eastern survivors of that genocidal war as a signal to all the thieves and political abiku or ogbanje (changelings) that Zik, Clark, Okigbo, Achebe, Soyinka and Okri fingered in their self-fulfilling prophetic poems and prose; that the lives of our people are precious and should not be wantonly wasted without appropriate reparations being made by the authorities sworn to protect and to serve

Otherwise what exactly will be Jonathan's legacy after six years as the Executive President of Nigeria if he fails to attempt to deliver reparative social justice?

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Today na Today

Today Na Today By Biko Agozino
Paperback: $20.50
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Today Na Today is a collection of mostly lyrical poetry written mainly in Nigerian Broken English as a popular medium for social, economic, political and cultural critique of local and global events. 

Friday, March 22, 2013

Immortal Achebe Lives Forever

Enyi o
Enyi o-o
Enyi o
Enyi o

Remember our papa Achebe
Our papa Achebe bu Enyi Afrika Enyi (Elephant)
Let him go and change and return
Agaracha must come back
Meanwhile, let us feast on
the inexhaustible harvest of wisdom
that he saved for us in his barn.

Things Fall Apart
Eriwe agu-agu
Arrow of God
Aguwa agu-agu
No Longer at Ease
Eriwe agu-agu
A man of the People
Eriwe agu-agu
Girls At War
Aguwa agu-agu
Chike and the River
Akowa agu-agu
Anthills of the Savannah
There was a country
Eriwe agu-agu
Chinua Achebe
Dike anwu-anwu
Chris Okigbo
Dike anwu-anwu

Chetakwanu Chris Okigbo
Chris Okigbo bu enyi Afrika enyi
Chetakwanu nna anyi Achebe
Nna anyi Achebe bu enyi Afrika enyi
Chetakwanu nna anyi Aziki
Nna anyi Aziki bu enyi Afrika enyi
Chetakwanu ochiagha Ojukwu
Ochiagha Ojukwu bu enyi Biafra enyi

Nna o! Ewuuu! 

Du Bois nna anyi 
Garvey Nna anyi
Aziki Nna Anyi
Chinua nna anyi
Ojukwu nna anyi
Okigbo nna anyi
Fela bu nwane m
Marley bu nwane m
Chris Hani
Tosh bu Nwanne m
Malcolm bu nwane m
Martin bu nwanne m
Nkrumah Nwanne m
Gaddafi bu nwanne m
Hugo Chavez nwanne m
Steve Biko nwanne m
Aminu Kano nwanne m
Tubman bu nneanyi
Sojourner bu nneanyi

Onye na-ero unu iro
Onye ahu nolu onwu
Onye ga-ako unu nsi
Ruth First bu nwanne m
Onye ahu nolu nsi
Ma unu nolu ndu
Ndu bu ihe uto
Onwu bu ihe aru
Onye bu nwanne m?
Onye a bu nwanne m. 

Enyi Afrika alaala
Enyi Afrika alatala
Obiakwa, welu ya gawa!
Agaba! Ogbamgbadike!

Nna o-o!

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Chavez and Non-Violence

By Biko Agozino

As the whole world mourns the passing of a person of African descent, brother Hugo Chavez of Venezuela, it must not be forgotten that although a peace lover, he initially tried to seize power by force through an abortive military coup. When he was pardoned and released from prison for that felony by the successor to brutal dictatorship that he tried to overthrow, he and his group adopted the African philosophy of non-violence which the great Gandhi claimed that he learned from the war-like Zulu in South Africa.

The result was that Chavez won state power through the ballot and not through the bullet (even Malcolm X appears to favor the ballot over the bullet in that eponymous speech of his). Chavez went on to successfully defend the peaceful revolution against a military coup that removed him from power for four days with the explicit approval of the US under George W. Bush.

Chavez subsequently used state power to begin the radical transformation of Venezuela from high levels of illiteracy towards the elimination of the illiteracy with full publically funded education from the barrios up to university level, from mass landlessness to land re-distribution, and from exclusion to increased political participation by the masses, leading to the appointment of a bus driver as the Foreign Minister.  The chief error of Chavez is not that he failed to build the world’s tallest building as the AP reporter sniggered recently, but that he repressed oppositional journalists when he could have battled them with his effective weekly television broadcasts.

Internationally, Chavez did not invade any country or drop bombs on perceived enemies, he did not try to overthrow any country but spoke up for less powerful countries being bullied by the international community and gave subsidized oil to poor neighbors and even to poor citizens of rich countries. He may have helped to inspire similar social democratic revolutions across South America in preference to the fruitless decades of violent armed struggles. The revolutionary theorists from the North are slow to learn from this legacy of the African philosophy of non-violence that could be scoffed at but never completely debunked as a viable alternative to the ‘infantile disorder of left-wing communism’.

On Friday, February 22, Professor Jodi Dean visited Virginia Tech from her New York state college to present an Alliance for Social, Political, Ethical, and Cultural Thought (ASPECT) – sponsored lecture about her 2012 book, The Communist Horizon, published by Verso. The publishers stated on their blog that the book is a new Communist Manifesto for our time and indicated that the book seeks to unshackle the left from its accommodation with capitalism by challenging the Occupy Movement to transform itself into a political party.

Dean’s lecture started with reference to Garcia Linera, the Vice President of Bolivia who served time in prison for participating in the Tupac Katari Guerrilla Army before running for office and from whom she borrowed her title, 'The Communist Horizon'. The recent turn towards left-wing victories in elections in South America, according to Dean, are without significant impacts on the living conditions of the poor probably due to the accommodation with capitalism by those leftist regimes. Venezuela and Chavez were not mentioned in her speech nor in her book but they are relevant to her arguments.

With colorful slides ranging from Barack Obama (portrayed as a communist leader) to Black Panther Party members marching, with pictures of mass protests in Bangladesh and shots of the Occupy Movement in between, Professor Dean argued that neither Obama nor the Occupy Movement, nor the Third World movements could be said to be communist in any sense. She concluded that what needs to be done is for the left to organize a party to seize power by force, reject the illusion of democracy and institute a 'supremacy of the people'.

And how do you plan to do that without an army, navy or air force? One student interjected. It was good to hear the doubts that the students expressed regarding the rejection of democracy under any ideology. As Churchill would put it, democracy is the worst system of government except for all those other alternatives. I agree with the students that we must strive to recover the concept and practice of democracy from their distortions as Chomsky advocates: The anti-globalization movement is more accurately, the global democratization movement whereas a crisis of democracy is exactly right-wing Political Correctness for when the people get involved en-mass as they are supposed to do in a true democracy.

Dean did not deviate from a Eurocentric conception of Marxism that exclusively privileged Western theorists while almost completely ignoring theorists from the global South who made original contributions to that perspective and by ignoring the extent to which Marx himself was influenced by struggles for freedom outside Europe.  Her introduction of her lecture with the phrase borrowed from Bolivia should have encouraged her to go beyond the icons of the Black radical tradition to take seriously the theoretical contributions from that tradition especially because she lectured during Black History Month. But she said, in answer to a question, that her book could not cover every detail and that she deliberately left details of the example of the Black Panther Party for future projects and for other researchers. Hmmm.

Dean's error is not just with the neglect of theorists and unique contributions from the global South but more with her avoidance of what some colleagues at her lecture characterized as the racism of the left in the global North. In her feisty self-defense, she complicated the charge by saying that she felt safe in her city in the state of New York but that poor blacks in the same city did not feel as safe. It is not just poor blacks; poor whites too, in fact all the poor, feel relatively unsafe in what Stuart Hall theorized as ‘societies structured in dominance’.

Dean’s mantra that she (and her non-existent party alone) must seize power by violent means is ridiculous because all she is doing is write tens of books non-violently, and I am happy that the students challenged her on what appeared to be her agent-provocation. As some colleagues insisted, the African philosophy of non-violence has proven more reliable as a revolutionary political strategy, given the decades of guerrilla warfare in South America with nothing but genocidal body-bags to show for it until they turned to electoral social democratic strategies that Marx and Engels called for in the Manifesto of the Communist Party (build a party they said, not an army). Dean answered that the reason why Marx and Engels called for social democracy was because democracy was non-existent in their day.

However, Lenin can be said to have practiced the exact strategy of Marx and Engels by naming his party the Social Democratic Party. While Lenin acknowledged that his movement had a military wing, he resolutely defended the correct strategies of social democracy against the “infantile disorder of left-wing communism” which opposed participation in bourgeois electoral politics. Lenin also answered his own question that “What is to be done” is to set up a newspaper to organize and educate the people, not a suicide squad, for instance. Dean countered that Lenin was for the dictatorship of the proletariat and could not be called a democrat.

Yet what Lenin called the dictatorship of the proletariat, following Marx, was more likely the democratic mobilization of the people through the exercise of what he called hegemony or intellectual and moral leadership but not by force. Gramsci recommended similar strategies with emphasis on intellectual and moral leadership or hegemony but with the originality that he attributed the same strategy to the ruling class which has too few members to rule by force alone. Joe Slovo also defended a similar strategy of national democratic revolution under the leadership of the ANC/CP coalition in South Africa.

Although her book never mentioned South Africa, Dean may counter that the South African revolution leaves a lot more to be desired by retaining capitalism with the consequence that the people continue to suffer but there is no doubt that South Africa achieved a lot politically through non-violent dialogue under Nelson Mandela who was serving a life-sentence for leading the military wing of the African National Congress (the dialogue was opposed by ANC militants who insisted on the defeat of apartheid militarily; “one settler one bullet”, they chanted). However, the dialogue succeeded remarkably compared to the situation in 1980 at the height of the armed struggle but the armed struggle could be said to have contributed indirectly to the success of the dialogue. Surely, no one would like to take South Africa back to the white minority reign of Botha in the 1980s, no matter how imperfect the country remains today.

Similarly, African Americans have been in the vanguard of the moral and intellectual movements to deepen democracy world-wide through non-violent means. Despite a million mutinies and maroon uprisings culminating in the glorious Haitian revolution that CLR James documented, the struggle against slavery was mainly non-violent until the enslavers declared a pro-slavery civil war in an attempt to extend enslavement nationally in the US.

During the Civil Rights revolution, WEB Du Bois was nearly jailed for advocating global peace and he stated in his autobiography that although he was able to defend himself in court against the trumped up charge, the railroading of thousands of innocent African Americans into jail is to blame for the fact that they tend to return to the community with resentment and anger, resulting in more violence in the community. Mohamed Ali was nearly jailed for refusing to fight Vietnamese who had never abused him racially and Martin Luther King Jr. was repeatedly jailed for advocating non-violent resistance to injustice. It is interesting that Dean did not mention the prison-industrial complex during her lecture nor in her book where she only referred to prison camps in the Soviet Union on page 29 and to the prison experience of the Vice President of Bolivia on page 2.

Whereas Malcolm X advocated the principle of ‘By Any Means Necessary’ in the struggle for freedom, he himself adopted non-violent intellectual and moral strategies, just like Martin Luther King Jr. As Dean conceded, the Eastern European revolutions were remarkably non-violent and it could be added that the hijacking of the Arab spring by armed groups has produced worse results compared to what was possible through non-violent resistance. An American trade unionist, who died in 1993, C├ęsar Chavez, was also a strong advocate of non-violence and was quoted as saying that non-violent struggles can never be defeated because they are patient. Did he influence his name-sake, Hugo Chavez?