Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Gun Violence Choice Review


The following review will appear in the January 2015 issue of CHOICE. The review is for your internal use only until our publication date of 01 January 2015

Social & Behavioral Sciences
2013-48555 CIP
Squires, Peter. Gun crime in global contexts. Routledge, 2014. 400p bibl index ISBN 9780415688598, $155.00.
The author identifies "weaponization" as a symptom of neoliberal globalization or Western domination of the world system, characterized by the widespread availability of largely Western-manufactured small arms and light weapons used to perpetrate mass killings and rampages, mostly by men whose gender identity is threatened by a postindustrial political economy based on knowledge rather than force.  Squires (criminology, Univ. of Brighton, UK) contrasts the UK policy response to the Dunblane school massacre (stricter gun control) with the US response to the Columbine school massacre (resistance to any stricter gun control policies).  Synthesizing five communities of academic interpretation in the gun proliferation and violence debate—criminology of gun violence, conflict studies of failed states, studies of weapon proliferation or trade, ethnography of violence and peacemaking, and the inter/national politics of gun control—Squires concludes that the metaphor of the authoritarian Western game of chance—rock, paper, scissors—may be used to illustrate the concept of the separation of unequal powers in liberal democracies that permit the hegemony of the powerful gun lobby, despite overwhelming evidence that the gun is a defective product that does more harm than good to the social contract.
--B. Agozino, Virginia Tech

Summing Up: Highly recommended. All levels/libraries.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Headless People and Head Hunters


By Biko Agozino

According to Achille Mbembe, in his book, Postcolony, Europeans tend to see Africa as "a headless figure threatened with madness and quite innocent of any notion of center, hierarchy, or stability ... a vast dark cave where every benchmark and distinction come together in total confusion, and the rifts of a tragic and unhappy human history stand revealed: a mixture of the half-created and the incomplete…in short, a bottomless abyss where everything is noise, yawning gap, and primordial chaos".

The exhibition of Mbembe sculptures from a ‘Nigerian community’ of that name at the New York Metropolitan Museum (until September 7, 2015) appears to follow Achille Mbembe’s  script by suggesting that the wooden sculptures from the 15th century Africans ‘with human heads’, including one ‘without a head’ can be cleanly classified into polar opposites of ‘killers and nurturers, All Surprisingly’ or into ‘Warriors and Mothers’, according to the New York Times reviewer, Holland Cotter who narrates how a Malian arts dealer sold those images of African ‘gods’ to a German collector in the 1970s and then vanished when the collector wanted to buy some more of the astonishing sculptures.

Such a Cartesian way of thinking in rational grids that compartmentalize complex reality into mutually exclusive categories that make them easier to master is typically a Western obsession compared to the chaos principles of African Fractals with emphases on interconnectivity, fractional dimensions, infinity, self-similarity, recursion, and scaling that characterize Africana designs compared to the authoritarian lineal geometries of Western designs or hierarchical Euclidean three-dimensional designs of American Indian Native arts, according to Ron Eglash in his African Fractals book. Achille Mbembe might be mistaken in believing that chaos is always negative – the internet is designed as a web with chaos theory to defy the dictatorial will to control, for example.

The reviewer of Mbembe sculptures, Holland Coitter, simply assumed that the Mbembe community exists only on the Nigerian side of the border with Cameroun and ignored the fact that Cameroun and Nigeria used to be administered as one country once upon a time in recent history with the National Council for Nigeria and the Cameroons as a liberation party campaigning for the restoration of independence under the leadership of Azikiwe; or that a Cameroonian theorist bears that communal name, Mbembe, as a testimony against the arbitrary division of interconnected African communities by lineal colonial boundaries; or that Congolese communities use the exact same name to identify a river monster believed to be capable of stopping the infinite flow of the river.

The structuralist division and compartmentalization of interconnected phenomena is also evident in the gendered division of labor between ‘killing and nurturing’, or between ‘warriors and mothers’ as if men are incapable of nurturing and women incapable of killing or as if only men are capable of being warriors in the African landscape peopled with ancient warrior queens and Amazons or even modern crusaders and jihadists of both sexes. One of the sculptures of a ‘nurturing mother’ is apparently that of a loving father with a flat chest just enjoying the blessing of carrying his own offspring on his laps for an ancestral blessing imperceptible to the patriarchal western eye, despite the rise of the culture of stay-at-home dads in western countries today.

When the Westerner sees a sculpture of the African holding a ‘human head’, the rush is to conclude that this must be a headhunter with the severed head of an enemy despite the fact that headhunting is now a non-violent practice of executive recruitment in capitalist industries. Of course, this is a common meme in colonialist anthropology to ideologically suggest that decapitation is a universal human trait found not only among genocidal imperialists but also among the Africans who gave to the world the gift of the philosophy of non-violence and whose democratic communal organizations were dismissed as ‘headless societies’.

According to the New Zealand legal theorist, Moana Jackson, colonial anthropologists went to the ridiculous extent of suggesting that the Maori have something they called a ‘warrior gene’ that justified the genocidal policy of wiping them out under British colonialism, despite the fact that the Haka remains a harmless trading of insults by ‘warrior’ performers. Similarly, American anthropologists identified Venezuelan tribes as being naturally warlike in line with a supposedly universal human trait by coincidence at the very same time that the Americans were vainly trying to persuade the Vietnamese with the aid of napalm bombs that mass murder was indeed a human trait, only to discover that the Venezuelan tribes, just like the Maori and the Mbembe and even Americans themselves, are better characterized as a peace-loving people instead of being ideologically mischaracterized as people with mythical warrior genes to justify militarism.

Sculptures of human heads do not necessarily depict ‘killers’ contrary to the ideological interpretation of the New York Times reviewer. Sculptures of human heads or masks are rather common tropes found in many cultures around the world for the performance of non-violent human cultural traits of spiritualism or in the realm of entertainment. In the case of the Mbembe, the sculptures of ‘warrior gods’ were actually appendages to drums that the people played not just for killing or warfare but obviously for fun or for the burial of their dead and the celebration of birth. But to western eyes familiar with the frequent contemplation of ghastly scenes, sculptures of human figures holding ‘human heads’ can only represent the literal figures of ‘killers’ or ‘warriors’, perhaps to justify the genocidal history of the killings of the ‘killers’ by the killer-killer master race from the west.

A more nuanced interpretation of sculptures of mythical heroes ‘holding a human head’ on the carving of a drum is to see them as the harmless depiction of the fact that the people are holding their own lives in their hands; that they must hear the messages of the drum with their own heads or risk the dismemberment of the Mbembe into separate colonies when they should unite across artificial colonial boundaries to ensure the reproduction of their pan African culture by men and women who must nurture the future generation together rather than be deceived into the limited typification of the men simply as ‘killers’ or ‘warriors’ and the women simply as stereotypical ‘nurturers’ or ‘mothers’.

Dr. Agozino is a Professor of Sociology and Africana Studies at Virginia Tech and the author of Counter-Colonial Criminology: A Critique of Imperialist Reason.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Liberty Can't Breathe

By Biko Agozino
Professor of Sociology and Africana Studies,
Virginia Tech

Policing emerged in America from the slave-catching posse of the 19th century and so it is hardly surprising that Grand Juries rarely indict white police officers who kill African Americans even today. 

Any grown ass man, six feet two inches tall, armed to serve and protect the people, who tells the Grand Jury that he shot someone dead because he felt ‘like a five year old struggling with Hulk Hogan’ and that he saw the unarmed college-bound teenage Michael Brown as a ‘demon’ must have been drunk on absolute power or on the prejudicial fear that forced him to cowardly quit his job afterwards.

The official toxicology report on Darren Wilson did not test his blood for ethanol but indicated an abnormally high level of creatinine that researchers say is usually an indication of alcohol in the blood.

Given that 86% of the 179 people who were killed by New York police officers since that of Amadou Diallo in 1999 were colored people like Eric Garner but with the grand injury of hardly any indictments by Grand Juries, Liberty Can’t Breathe!

No sane or moral society can breathe easily when the air is frequently polluted with the race-class-gender articulation of repression by agents of authoritarian populism. Sadly, moral entrepreneurs continue to support police homey-cide disproportionately against African American men because ‘when you carry the corpse of another, it feels like the carcass of a dog’, according to an Igbo proverb. Michael Vick’s dogs surely got more justice than poor African Americans.

The war on drugs must end so police officers cannot claim as ‘probable cause’, the testimony by Darren Wilson that Mike Brown’s stockings had the images of green marijuana leaves painted on them. Marijuana remains medicinal and much safer than alcohol and tobacco that kill hundreds of thousands annually while 800,000 Americans are arrested yearly for marijuana possession but no one ever died from marijuana use.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Epidemic of Blindess

By Biko Agozino
 "We are pleased to announce THE IKEOHA FOUNDATION Four Days FREE Medical Eye Outreach for over 50,000 people in Enugu West Senatorial Districts and beyond. The Ikeoha Foundation FREE Eye Treatment Project is designed in line with the vision 2020 mandate of World Health Organization which is “prevention of avoidable causes of Blindness.”After a thorough research in the five Senatorial Districts of Enugu West by our partners, it was discovered that a wide range of eye related issues like Glaucoma, cataract, Pterygium which are all blinding cases , were quite prevalent in the zone and the causative factors was attributed to unhealthy habits, dusty environment, untreated systemic diseases , epidemics etc. Based on these traumatic findings, and the urgent need for intervention, Ikeoha Foundation in partnership with Community Eye Savers to the occasion by organizing this Four Days FREE Eye medical Treatment Project for the 5 Local Government Areas in Enugu West. The project is packaged to include: FREE Eye Treatment , FREE Drugs , FREE Medicated Eye Glasses ,FREE Surgeries and FREE Counseling. The project will be officially flagged off on Monday, 17TH of November 2014, by the Chairman of Ikeoha Foundation Senator, Ike Ekweremadu CFR. The programme Will continue through Oji River/ Awgu on the 18th, Ezeagu on the 19th and will be rounded off in Udi Local Government Area on the 20th"

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Liberation Criminology

By Biko Agozino

When I was writing my doctoral dissertation, 'Black Women and the Criminal Justice System', some people thought that I was crazy for embracing abolitionism with special reference to the re-legalization (it used to be legal) of marijuana based on the fact that the majority of black women in British prisons were there for drugs offenses. I successfully defended the dissertation in July 1993 and looking back, I believe that I took huge risks but also got a lot of help with the dissertation as is always expected.

In January 1994, I started my first job at Liverpool John Moores University and found my colleagues, Professor Joe Sims, Professor Pete Gill, Professor Steve Tombs, Professor Nigel Evans, Professor George Mair, Dr. Alana Barton, Shirley Rawstone. Marion Price, Gill Hall and others sympathetic to my work as I made the corrections demanded by my external examiner, Professor Toni Jeffeerson of Keele University, and I resubmitted within the year. In 1995, I was finally awarded the doctorate and my work was validated in the same year when an international panel of judges chaired by Professor Ian Taylor selected an extract from the work as the winner of the Mike Brake Memorial Prize in Radical Social Policy and Social Work. 

Eventually, it took two years before I found publishers (Ashgate) willing to take a chance on a relatively unknown author and a topic that had attracted no other book before then. The bonus was that I was also appointed as the Series Editor of the Ashgate Publishers Interdisciplinary Research Series in Ethnic, Gender and Class Relations which was launched in 1997 with my book, Black Women and the Criminal Justice System: Towards the Decolonisation of Victimisation. I continue to edit the series and dozens of other authors have since been published in it.

In the work that a colleague, Dr. Ihekwoaba Onwudiwe now a Professor at Texas Southern University, credited with founding the 'decolonization perspective' in criminology, I recommended that we should join our popular musicians as activists and demand the legalization of marijuana so that our women and men can grow it, sell it, or use it responsibly as they see fit to care for their families without risking incarceration. Three years after the bold thesis was successfully defended in Edinburgh, the first states in the US authorized medical marijuana in 1996. Soon afterwards, I arrived in Pennsylvania in 1999, writing on arrival, writing for survival (apologies to Bob Marley) and I immediately marched to the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania and told the public inquiry on race and gender bias in the law to legalize the drugs that they were using as the main excuse for criminalizing black and minority or poor kids. In 2014, the city of Philadelphia decriminalized the possession of small quantities of marijuana - making it a civil offense like a driving or parking ticket. Dr. Shaun Gabbidon, a Distinguished Professor of Criminology at Penn State University, found Black Women and the Criminal Justice System to be among the top ten most frequently cited works by black criminologists and an anonymous author in Wikipedia claims that this is my most influential work but my follow-up book, Counter-Colonial Criminology: A Critique of Imperialist Reason, appears even more influential if the number of rave reviews is anything to go by.

I relocated to the Caribbean in 2006 with the same message of liberation criminology but some Trinidadian colleagues pulled me aside and said that I should watch my back because the clergy were preaching sermons against me for saying something that was not expected from a professor. I returned to the US in 2009 but was invited back to Trinidad and Tobago in 2012 to present a plenary at the International Conference on Penal Abolitionism with a friendly warning to be ready because law-enforcement officers were preparing to challenge my talk, 'against control-freak criminology'. I told them to bring it on and my speech, which was chaired by the Chief Justice of the Caribbean Court of Justice, was reported in a national newspaper; prompting a popular talk-show radio host to interview me on air with most callers agreeing with me. In October 2014, Jamaica authorized medical marijuana as was recommended by the Dr. Barry Chevannes-led official government Ganja Commission in 1996 and I hope that the entire Caribbean and Africa will follow through with full legalization soon. 

In the US, I swung into action advocating against what the NAACP called the war on African Americans but my draft press release as the Chair of the Social Policy Committee for the Association of Black Sociologists (later published in their newsletter, The Griot, as a personal opinion) and for the National Council for Black Studies failed to be adopted officially. Only the African Criminology and Justice Association had the intellectual courage to adopt the statement, 'Against the War on African Americans', in 2011 and published it in their African Journal of Criminology and Justice Studies which I founded and still edit for the association. 

Today, the Obama administration has already reduced the 100:1 disparity between the punishment for crack cocaine and powder cocaine to 18:1 and pushed through legal reforms to authorize the release of hundreds of non-violent drug offenders from prison. 35 states in the US  have either authorized medical marijuana or legalized it all together, just like the country of Uruguay that did so in 2012. That is a validation of my work as a contribution to what is known as Liberation Sociology, the influential book by Dr. Joe Feagin and colleagues which will highlight my work in the 3rd edition, as Feagin told the Southern Sociological Society during his plenary speech in 2013! 

This semester, I am teaching a special topic class on Marijuana Legalization to explore how laws are made and how We The People change laws democratically. The class is designed as a Problem Based Learning class that requires students to volunteer for organizations that are active in the policy debate and write up their observations in favor or against the policy changes. Students in Communication Studies heard about the class and invited me to their first ever video-taped talk show to debate the pros and cons of legalization with the chairperson of the Young Americans for Freedom, the Republican youth wing on campus. I think that I succeeded in getting the young lady to agree that Young Americans for Freedom should be against the deprivation of freedom of fellow citizens by a nanny state just because they chose to consume a substance that is 1000 times safer than alcohol and much safer than tobacco. She later said that there are people in her group in favor of and against the ending of prohibition. Freedom is indeed a bipartisan issue and we can definitely use education to get young people to say no to all drugs while relying on public health to reduce harm but just say no to incarceration and say yes to those who need marijuana as the medication recommended by doctors. 

Looking back on my career, I could not have succeeded in making any intellectual contribution without the direct and indirect support of many others. Some fellow students negatively reinforced my approach by telling me that if they were my supervisors they would have flunked me but I was lucky to be working in the Law and Society interdisciplinary field that treasured theoretical innovation. My main supervisor, Dr. Peter Young, now a Professor and Dean of Social Science at Hull University, deserves a lot of credit for tolerating some of my bold assertions and for permitting me to go ahead and defend the dissertation. Professor David Garland (now at New York University) also advised me for a term while Dr. Young was on leave and I actually submitted my draft before he returned from leave in Australia. Dr. Beverley Brown was also helpful to me in the initial stages when she co-supervised me but she dropped out from my committee because she found me a bit 'stubborn' in sticking to my topic rather than take the advice to change to a less challenging topic. My family and friends were very supportive of me throughout. Dr. Colin Sumner, now a Professor in Ireland, supervised my Masters thesis in Cambridge University on the same topic and indirectly encouraged me by awarding me the highest grade in all the papers that I wrote at Cambridge but it was Dr. Allison Morris, now a Professor in New Zealand, who gave me the recommendation that I needed to continue my graduate studies at Edinburgh University.

At the University of Calabar in Nigeria where I started my graduate studies after graduating from the same institution with First Class Honours in Sociology, it was Professor Victor Chikezie Uchendu (now deceased) and Professor Stella Ogbuagu (later Deputy Vice Chancellor of Abia State University), Professor Joseph Ottong, Professor Abasiekong, Dr. J.C. Nwankwo, Dr. Ugal, and others  who mentored me in the classroom. Dr. Bene Madunagu, now a Professor of Botany and Director of Girl Power Initiative at Calabar; Professor Eskor Toyo, now Emeritus Professor of Economics; Professor Akpan Ekpo, later Vice Chancellor of the University of Uyo and currently Director of the West African Financial Institute at the Nigerian Central Bank; Dr. Princewill Alozie now a Professor of Philosophy at Lagos State University; Professor Yakubu Ochefu now a Vice Chancellor of a private university in Nigeria; and Bassey Ekpo Bassey (former Chairman of Calabar Municipal Government) who mentored me in community organizing and advocacy skills through the faculty union in which we were all active officials and through the Directorate For Literacy, an NGO which ran free literacy classes for the public. Ogbuagu and Madunagu were the co-chairs of the Calabar branch of Women In Nigeria and I was a member of the organization, WIN, through which women and men campaigned for women's rights as human rights. That was what prepared me to be sensitive to the over-incarceration of black women in the UK and I chose it as my research topic despite warnings that it would be challenging for a man to do research on women. I love challenges.

Professor Stuart Hall urged me on after I bumped into him along Kilburn Highroad, near the home of Len Bloom - a former lecturer in Calabar who kindly allowed me to stay in his London apartment and who read some of my early drafts with useful comments - during my fieldwork. Dr. Rosemary Galli, another Calabar former lecturer also read drafts and offered useful advice during my fieldwork. Hall invited me to his own nearby home and introduced me to the theory of race-class-gender articulation that continues to inform my research till today. Many thanks to all these mentors who supported me despite my risky research paradigm. Of course, all the errors are mine alone and all my mentors do not necessarily share my policy preferences.

I share this testimony as a tribute to my mentors and as a guide to graduate students who may be struggling with their own topics. I advise students to choose a topic that they are passionate about and to pursue their research with the goal of contributing to their disciplines and to the liberation of their fellow human beings rather than to the continuation of the repression of the innocent or to mere careerism. A survey of any field of study will show that there will always be colleagues who will disagree with your perspective and those who will agree with you but if you believe that your work could contribute to human freedom while making theoretical innovations, persevere and no one can keep a good scholar down.

Today, many people still find it difficult to believe that my far-sighted recommendation of marijuana penal abolitionism is gradually becoming mainstream in the US, though not yet in the UK where I did my research, nor in Africa where I grew up reading about the cruel brutalization of a law abiding patriot like Fela Kuti along with his numerous wives and his iconic patriotic mother. With more liberation criminologists contributing to the research and advocacy to advance social justice, we may yet witness the withering away of the control-freak state violence and excessive punitiveness along with the violence that prohibition and the death penalty breed in peace-loving communities around the world.

Monday, September 29, 2014

The Poverty of Sycophancy

By Biko Agozino
Say that Chime did not say! (Shikwanu la Chime ashivo!)

While reporting that the Vice President of Nigeria, Namadi Sambo, brought the generous campaign promise from President Jonathan that Turkish Airlines will now fly to Enugu from Ankara, Governor Chime of Enugu was quoted as making the following unfortunate sycophantic assertion that he should repudiate as a mis-speak or misquotation:

"Chime urged the president not to waste energy and resources campaigning in Enugu State, rather the president should channel the resources to other states where there is need for campaign.

“You can go to neighboring states but not Enugu, Enugu is hundred percent for Jonathan and PDP, we started this journey in 2011, we have been doing it and we will be ready to deliver PDP in the forthcoming 2015 Presidential election” he stated.

Anambra State Governor, Chief Willy Obiano, who also spoke at the occasion, assured President Jonathan that the All Progressive Grand Alliance and Anambra State would deliver him hundred percent in 2015.

Obiano noted that APGA adopted Jonathan even before the ruling People’s Democratic Party and further called for collective support from the people of the South East Zone to ensure absolute realization of Jonathan’s reelection bid."

What was Governor Chime thinking when he said that devoting campaign resources to win Enugu was a waste of energy? With the state as the second to last in Federal allocations, we should be making huge demands on any candidate for president. The Promise of Turkish Airlines is an indication that the candidate will not take Enugu seriously if he wins. It is politically immature to promise 100% of the votes of Enugu to any candidate in a democratic election unless there is a plan for wuluwulu.But it is up to the electorate to prove this hubris wrong when the time comes.

The Jonathan administration commissioned the construction of seven new multi-billion dollar hydro electric power plants with none in the South East (which gave the administration the largest proportion of votes in the previous elections without much to show for it). The administration also established nine new universities with only one in the South East (which incidentally leads the country in educational attainment). The administration is also reported to have promised a coal-fired power plant in Enugu without any of the environmental health evaluations that have forced industrialized countries to increasingly rethink coal as a safe source of energy. Chime could have asked for a wind farm to be sited along the hilltop across the state to enable us to harvest energy from the wind more sustainably and supplement with solar for homes in more remote villages. 
The South East states should support the presidential candidate who commits to the implementation of the National Confab recommendation for a sixth state in the region to make it equitable with all the other five regions with six states each. Enugu state should insist on being classified as an oil-producing state because the state has oil and gas deposits in commercial quantities especially in the Awgu Shale Formation that is identified as part of the Niger Delta Basin in the geological maps but the state receives no derivation revenue while that oil is probably being siphoned down the river under our feet where it probably flows like an underground river. Only a presidential candidate who commits to paying reparations for the Igbo genocide deserves to expect overwhelming support from the South East.

Similarly, instead of Governor Willy Obiano of Anambra state beating his chest to announce that APGA was the first to endorse President Jonathan for re-election even before the PDP adopted him, he should have been demanding that PDP should endorse APGA for the governorship of Imo State in return, at least because his party won that state but the sitting governor chose to decamp to the APC. Azikiwe did form alliances with other parties but his own party also always fought to win the national election too.Why are the governors of the South East shying away so brazenly? Perhaps because the minority parties are not living up to their tasks.

What? Are they thinking at all? Uwawa (No)!

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Education State Of Emergency

By Biko Agozino

The annual embarrassment of news of mass failure by High School students in Nigeria, especially in English language and Mathematics examinations, calls for concerted efforts by all to improve the success of our students. Although the South East states continue to emerge as the leading successful region with 53% success this year, the South East results are still less than satisfactory and need a lot of improvement.

Awgu Community USA is taking up the challenge by fund-raising to buy SAT study guides and run workshops for the secondary schools in their community in Nigeria. Since SAT tests are based on Mathematics and English, preparing for the SAT should contribute to transferable knowledge that could improve West African School Certificate examination performances in these subjects while offering the candidates a bonus chance to earn admission to top universities in the US.

This summer, I traveled to Awgu community for my mother’s funeral and I took with me, copies of the SAT and GRE study guides. On arrival, I worked with teachers in several secondary schools to set up workshops on successful study skills for the students. Surprisingly, none of the students had ever heard of the SAT exams but many were eager to register for the tests after the workshops.  Some of them went ahead to check with the SAT test center at Government Technical College (GTC), Enugu, to see if they could register but could not find out how to register.

I went to the GTC and met with the principal who gave me the phone number of the staff of the West African Examination Council in the Enugu office who invigilates the SAT tests at GTC. I called him and he gave me the phone number and address of the office that handles the SAT registrations in Enugu. I passed the information to the students and their parents. Here it is: Prize Winners, Independence Layout, Enugu, Cell: 07039023193.

Finally, I placed the copies of the SAT and GRE study guides in Awgu Zonal Library for the students to consult. I found that the library was in bad shape with leaking roof sheets, cracked walls and crumbling pillars (just like the walls of some of the halls in the secondary schools that I visited). I emailed the Senator representing the constituency (Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu) about the condition of the library, hoping that he would intervene to secure funding for the maintenance of the library for the safety of the students. The community members praised him for attracting the library and other projects to the community.

Previously, following complaints from some students that they were frustrated by the alleged closing of the SAT test center in Enugu, Awgu Community USA mandated me to find out from the College Board which organizes the tests, what it would take to reopen the Enugu test center. I wrote to the head of the international division of College Board in January 2014 as follows:

“Dear Dr Judith Hegedus,

May I know if you have any plans to re-open the SAT center in the city of Enugu, Nigeria? I understand that you used to have a center in the city but it was closed for some reason.

I have received numerous requests to appeal to you to consider re-opening a center in Enugu. Your representative, GIEVA, only operates two centers in Nigeria - Abuja in the North and Lagos in the West. This leaves numerous high-achieving students from the South East handicapped because the cost of traveling all day to Lagos or Abuja for the exam discourages many poor parents from supporting their children.

It may interest you to know that the South East of Nigeria is a leading region in academic achievements with the rare exception of having more female students participating in higher education than their male counterparts, compared to other regions in which their male participation do not equal or exceed the records of the South Eastern states in male participation. Moreover, the residents of the Eastern region are renowned globally for their traditional democratic institutions, entrepreneurship, sporting excellence and willingness to venture into distant lands in search of opportunities. This will make them ideal candidates for admission to US colleges to help to increase diversity and excellence if given the chance to access SAT exams more easily.

It may also interest you to know that Enugu was the capital city of the former Eastern Region and remains a central city easily accessible to residents of the region. It has an international airport and there are highly reputable institutions of higher learning that your representatives could collaborate with to provide a venue for the SAT exams. These include The University of Nigeria, Enugu Campus; The Nigerian Law School, Enugu Campus; Enugu State University of Technology, Enugu; University of Nigeria Teaching Hospital, Enugu; Institute of Management and Technology, Enugu; and the Federal Leadership Training Center, Awgu.

Please let me know if I can be of any assistance to facilitate the urgent re-opening of the SAT center in Enugu.

Yours truly,

Dr. Biko Agozino”

In February 2014, I got the following reply from Kerry Quin, the International Program Specialist at College Board:

“Dear Dr. Agozino,

I hope this finds you well. Thank you for your email and for bringing this to our attention. The SAT test center, Government Tech College, in Enugu, Nigeria is currently opened and offers the SAT in January, May, and June.

We hope you find this information helpful to you and the students in Enugu.

Kind regards,

Kerry Quin”

Myself and Dr. Augustine Agu (an educationist who had more than 20 years experience as a senior program officer with UNICEF) had earlier developed a Successful Study Skills manual and presented it during a conference at the UNICEF headquarters in New York in 2009. We have shared our strategy with many officials but we are yet to receive any expression of interest for the implementation of our proposed action research for the possible improvement of the academic success of students. If you are interested in supporting this work, please contact us.

Saturday, May 31, 2014

The Africans of Tobago

By Biko Agozino

An African Tobagonian sister once took me on a trip from Trinidad to the beautiful island of Tobago to learn more about the culture and traditions of the predominantly African people who live there (Trinidad and Tobago is probably the only country that officially identifies people of African descent as Africans). I was expecting to stay in a hotel but similar to the African tradition of hospitality, I was given a bed and home cooked meals in the home of a then 81 year old artist aunt of hers who raised ten children in that three bedroom house the way many African parents do raise large families back in Africa.

When I asked her how she could raise so many children in the home that size, she explained that it was not just her ten children but also the children of others who were sometimes dropped off by their parents for all of the summer holidays and she would care for all of them as if they were hers. Once, an immigrant from a different island stayed with her for one month prior to delivering her baby and then left the baby with her for a week but never returned until eight months later to pick up the baby just because the host herself was due to deliver her own baby in the hospital. All this sounds very familiar to an African like me who grew up in the Nigerian countryside.

The sister that took me to the island advised me to have a heavy breakfast because I was going to walk until I dropped but I smiled knowing how much I walked while growing up in Africa. In the end, the sister was the one complaining of being tired from all that walking. First, we walked up to upper Scarborough where the Tobago House of Assembly was located. In front of the Assembly I saw the monument to Mr James, a nationalist politician who allegedly committed suicide after he lost the first independence election. We walked up to the top of the hill to enjoy the breath-taking views of the coastline and view King James Fort which was started by the British in the year 1777 but completed by the French after they defeated the British only to lose the island to the British again around 1831. In those days, the British administered Tobago and Grenada together as one colonial territory until 1854 when it became linked administratively with Trinidad. The hospital that was located at the fort was said to be manned by mostly Nigerian medical doctors at the time of my visit in 2008.

In the evening, a retired son of my hosting mother volunteered to drive us to meet a 91 year old school mate of his mother to hear more about the culture of the Africans who live there. First of all, we stopped to speak with Mr Wendell Buckley, the local member of the House of Assembly who was also the Assistant Secretary for Culture. Although it was a Saturday evening and his constituency office was closed, he invited us to his office and gave an informal interview that I found fascinating. Again, this reminds me of the concept of African time which is known as Trinidad time over there, the idea that time can be flexible and so office hours do not have to run by the clock, that the office can be opened at odd hours to serve the people without demanding for overtime payment or any other reward other than the joy of sharing your own culture with a visiting brother.

Mr Buckley (the name of the Irish priest in my home town, Awgu) told me that he returned recently from a visit to Guinea where he went to study Balenke drumming and where he wept to see the misery and poverty in which his fellow Africans were forced to live in this day and age. He wondered how the chief of the village could be allowed to suffer from leprosy in his 700 year old hut when there is medication in the world to eradicate the disease, why a woman was left to wander about with open lesions on her chest, why the people are made to live in such little huts decades after winning their independence from France under the inspirational Sekou Toure, and whether there is anything his country could do to help his fellow Africans back in the motherland?

But he also wondered how the people could suffer such material deprivation by day and still find the joy to celebrate and honour their ancestors with drumming, singing and dancing by night. Just as I was not allowed to lodge in a hotel during my visit, he was also provided accommodation in the hut of one of the families during his visit to Guinea. He wondered why our ancestors suffered such unimaginable cruelty during slavery only for their descendants to enjoy a much higher standard of living than many of their fellow Africans back in Africa today.

Then he described in detail, the ‘salaaka’ feasts honouring the ancestors that I am so familiar with in my Igbo culture. He said that you will find similar feasts throughout the Eastern Caribbean where it goes by different names like Communa festival in Jamaica and Congo festival or salaaka in Tobago. The people of Tobago known as Congo people originated from Igbo, Ashanti, Congolese, Mandinkes and Dahomey enslaved people. He proudly asserted that his grandfather was a ‘Congo Boy’ - a reference to the belief that he was a pure African who did not mix with the other ethnic groups unlike the ‘red people’ who descended from Igbo women that the Europeans raped while they worked as enslaved people in the houses of the masters. He suggested that most enslaved people in Barbados were Igbo and Congolese while Jamaicans were mostly Ashanti but Tobago is more diverse.

Part of their cultural tradition from Africa was the strong belief in ‘obeah’ or protective rituals and invocations that are done under the strict guidance of elders. The water for libations is usually left for seven days in the dew and then taken to a crossroad with four junctions to pour libations to the ancestors. Anyone who grew up in the African countryside will be familiar with the significance of the cross roads as a preferred site of ancestral offerings while the symbolism of the number four in Igbo cosmology with four market day week was not lost on me. From the road intersection, the ritual moves to a sacred compound where some animals are slaughtered and sometimes the blood is poured down a hole in the ground although some no longer allow the sacrifice and insist only on the feast.

There is drumming and chanting until the spirits of the ancestors seize someone and makes the person to ride with them until the person is exhausted and drops. The person speaks in tongues, as many Africans back home continue to do even in churches today, to reveal the wishes of the ancestors who might counsel against a certain course of action or support it as the case may be. Following that, the people would give thanks to the ancestors for their guidance and feast on roasted pork until the morning.

Mr Buckley later took us to see the 91 year old woman who lived above Congo Hill but we traveled along a road called Top Hill Road which translates literally to Enugu, my home state in Nigeria. The English would have said Hill Top but the Africans were probably translating from their own language when they named it Top Hill or Enugu. As soon as we got there, the old woman asked us to show some love by giving her presents and the politician explained that Africans consider it rude to visit an elder without presents. What amazed me was that as soon as I put my hands into my pocket, the old woman correctly mentioned the amount of money I was going to give her!

She offered us something to drink and we each had a glass of water. Brother Buckley brought out two drums and gave one to the elder. They both started playing and chanting and I was almost convinced that some of the words were Igbo words that I could recognize and the words meant the same thing in Igbo (although the sounds could mean something different in other languages too)! For instance, in a fertility chant in which women were supposed to call for salt water (sperm) to be given to them while gyrating and the men were supposed to follow by chanting ‘Mama Kalukalu (penis in their local dialect) Keliwe (erection in Igbo), I was simply amazed. As if reading my thoughts, the old woman launched into the most energetic drumming that would shame many young men, chanting ‘Igbo lele’ or simply; be vigilant. the Igbo, in my language or something like that (and I understand that this was one of the rallying chants of the Haitian Revolution). Her final chant was about Jonah surviving in the belly of the beast on his way to Nineveh and Mr Buckley explained that the enslaved used such metaphors to deceive the slave-holders into thinking that they were worshiping the white man’s God while they were performing their ancestral rituals.

Finally, the old woman told the story of Gangan Khan who is a mythical figure in Tobago and who was said to have flown from Africa to the island but could not fly back because she ate too much salt. The symbolism of this for excessive salt consumption by the enslaved who were fed salt-fish by the Europeans and the high incidence of hypertension among people of African descent was noted. They said that there is a grave where Gangan Khan was buried but I did not visit it on that occasion. Mr Buckley said that he regretted that he could not learn how to fly when he visited Guinea and I told him that there is always the airline. When next I visited I planned to try to see the grave of Gangan Khan and perhaps attempt a documentary film about the narratives or the people.

Fuss a August: Emancipation Day Commemoration

My hosting mother told a story about an old African woman, Mamu, who lived on Congo Hill and who did not speak a word of English. She always celebrated Emancipation Day on Fuss a August (August First) every year by dressing in royal African garbs and running down the streets only to put the clothes away until the next Emancipation Day commemoration. This sounds like a scene out of a movie and I was amazed that an island with such magical tales does not have a thriving film industry. I was tempted to start filming all the wonderful scenes that I encountered there but I did not have a camera that time around. Sadly the then 91 year old drummer passed away before I could return to film her.

Dr Biko Agozino was a Professor of Sociology and Acting Head of Department of Behavioural Sciences, The University of the West Indies, St Augustine, Trinidad and Tobago, at the time of writing in 2008.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Sweet Mama Africa

By Biko Agozino

 Inoakamma Agozino (nee, Ile) 1934-2014 (approximately) R.I.P.


"To my mother, Inoakamma (or the enemy does not say your praise), who was once charged to court by the colonial administration in connection with an alleged breach of the peace when she rallied the community with a poetic tonal cry for the arrest of a stranger who was fishing in Omala, our ancestral stream. The fish in Omala symbolized happiness for the villagers because they were never threatened and it was believed that if the fish was killed, the stream would dry up. Proof of this is found down stream towards the distant farms where Omala merged with streams in which we could fish and where the stream dried up during the dry season. Omala was sacred to us as the route through which new born babies return to us from the land of the ancestors. Mothers of new born babies were expected to visit Omala and have their ritual bathe with a troop of young children singing a dedication of the new born to Omala. The mother usually returned with water from the stream that she would feed to the new born so that s/he would learn the tongue of our ancestors with ease. I once accompanied my mother alone in sorrow when she had a still birth and while watching her bathe with a stream of tears down her face, I pledged silently to live and dry those tears from her face. The man who was caught fishing in Omala was given a good beating by the villagers before the police rescued him. My mother conducted her own defence in court and won the nick-name, leyo-maji, or Lawyer Magistrate (stipendiary as opposed to lay Magistrate), from her fellow peasant women. However, my father allegedly rebuked her for using the 'male' art form of tonal poetry, iti mkpukpo, to rally the community and so since then, according to her, she lost the talent for this kind of performance poetry. Knowledge of this case that happened long before I was born, must have sensitized me to the fact that what is crime and what is justice are not given but are contentious and are contested."

Quoted from Biko Agozino, Black Women and the Criminal Justice System: Towards the Decolonization of Victimization, Aldershot, Ashgate, 1997, p. xii.


Friday, April 25, 2014

The Broken Pot of Wisdom

By Biko Agozino

'They finally broke the pot of wisdom' (2011), by El Anatsui, 'New World' exhibition, Mount Holyoke College Museum of Arts,  21 January - 8 June, 2014

According to Plato, in his ideal Republic where philosophers should be kings because it is more difficult for kings to become philosophers (democracy being out of the question in Greece as Aristotle also argued), '... the meaner desires of the many are held down by the virtuous desires and wisdom of the few.'

El Anatsui, the Ghanaian Professor of Studio Arts at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, for more than 35 years, debunked the above undemocratic philosophy of government and insisted that wisdom is never a monopoly of the few who have to hold down the masses. He uses the Africa-centered philosophical folklore of Anansi, the trickster, to challenge the Eurocentric idea that any individual can ever set out to collect all the wisdom of the world in a pot to be monopolized by him or her alone. Fortunately for the world, according to the folklore, the pot of wisdom proved too heavy for Anansi to carry up a tree for hiding; it fell and broke into pieces so that the wisdom was broadcast all over the world for all to share. 

Selfie: Viewing and discussing the exhibition with my daughters

Ichie Obinkaram Echewa, award-winning author of I saw the Sky Catch Fire and How Tables Came to Umu Madu, among other acclaimed novels, just reminded me in a phone call that the Igbo variant of the story features the sophist, Mbe the tortoise, who conducted a social survey to collect all the wisdom for hoarding but he ignored the goat because everyone knew that the goat was stupid. Yet, when he was carrying the calabash up the tree to hide it, along came the goat to ask him why he was climbing a tree when everyone knew that the tortoise did not know how to climb and why he chose to carry the calabash in such a clumsy way between his stomach and the tree. That proved that even the goat had some wisdom that was not collected by the sophist who decided to climb down and ask the goat to add his wisdom to the collection. In the process, the calabash fell and smashed and spread the wisdom all over the world.

In his previous discussions with Chika Okeke-Agulu, his former assistant at the University of Nigeria and now a Professor at Princeton University, El Anatsui told him repeatedly that he allows his curators and the viewing public, along with his students and colleagues, to interpret his works with fresh eyes, to hang them as they choose and to reconfigure the shapes according to the space available at any exhibition because he believes that we are all artists, contrary to the elitist assumption that (artistic) wisdom is held down by only a few professional 'artists'.

By using the aluminion tops of liquor bottles that he buys from traders in Nigerian markets to make elaborate colorful sculptures with philosophical messages, El Anatsui is always trying to challenge the viewers of his work to think deeply about what may be regarded as useless materials that form part of our landscape especially when linked together with metal strings as metaphors of the interconnectedness among groups and individuals in society. 

The isolated bottle tops assume new meaning when linked together with other bottle tops of different shapes and colors to create fractal images that suggest strength and diversity in unity. Using the same medium of aluminum bottle tops, he made a golden 'New World Map' with Africa at the center, 'Tiled Flower Garden' that covered much of the floor of the exhibition hall, and 'Alter Ego', all part of his New World Exhibition that subtly critiques the culture of consumptionism and alcoholism worldwide but with special reference to Africa.

As Olu Oguibe, another former student of his and now Professor of Art History and Africana Studies at the University of Connecticut pointed out in a review essay, the metaphor of the broken pot is indicative of resilience rather than mere risk of trash in the work of El Anatsui because the broken pot is not completely useless in African culture. Oguibe says that Anatsui presents a transformation of the materials he works with and does not simply exhibit everyday objects as sculpture unlike the found arts genre of some European artists. Anatsui makes sculpture, not magic or optical tricks.

It can also be argued that the whiskey bottle is actually useless until its top is 'broken' and the contents poured out. Similarly, the 'broken' English of West Africa with which El Anatsui titles some of his works is not indicative of the corruption of English but remains a vibrant testimony to the creative juices of the masses who would proudly say that their pots of wisdom are leaky but insist that 'we go dey patch am' or we will never stop patching the leaks.

Given the WHO warning against alcoholism as a public health hazard, El Anatsui may be indirectly challenging Africans to be cautious about the intoxicating contents of the bottles that have been shipped from Europe to Africa to fuel the slave raids and the continuing genocidal violence across Africa since then perhaps to hold down the 'meaner desires' of the many with the 'wisdom' and profit 'desires' of the few in Plato's ideal monarchical republic. 

To El Anatsui, the more valuable part of the whiskey and rum bottles are the discarded tops that would be melted by artisans to fabricate cutlery. He successfully bids to buy them from unionized traders and, with the help of studio assistants, breaks the tops down further before joining them together to make sheets of colorful fabric-like shapes that become works of art every bit as beautiful as his earlier sculptures made of wood and of clay. It is an artistic breakthrough many decades in the making rather than an 'overnight sensation' as some critics tried to suggest.


Africa has added a feather to its cap with the April election of the artist , El Anatsui, to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. The Academy is one of the US's most prestigious  honorary societies. Members of the 2014 class include winners of  the Nobel Prize, the Wolf Prize , the Pulitzer Prize, the National Medal of the Arts , MacArthur, Guggenheim and Fulbright Fellowships and Grammy, Emmy, Oscar and Tony Awards
The only African besides Anatsui to become a new member  is the Kenyan novelist and English and Comparative Literature scholar, Ngugi wa Thiong'o. Former members include George Washington , Thomas Jefferson, Alexander Graham Bell, John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King, Jr , Charles Darwin, Albert Einstein, Winston Churchill, Laurence Olivier, Mary Leakey and Nelson Mandela.
Last March, Anatsui was appointed "Honorary Academician" of the Royal Academy of Arts. This permits him to affix the title "Hon RA" to his name. The late Nigerian artist, Ben Enwonwu, is the only other African to be conferred with the title "Honorary  Academician" of Britain's most prestigious art body. This was in 1948.
In honouring  El Anatsui, the Academy's President, Christopher Le Brun said :"... this appointment (is) reserved for artists of distinguished  reputation, which marks the respect and admiration  felt by the Members of the Academy for your outstanding services to the Arts" .Current Honorary Academicians include artists such as Jasper Johns, Jeff Koons and Ai Weiwei.
Last November, El Anatsui made the list of the world's most rated people in the  Art World. The list is named "2013 power 100" and is a ranked and definitive guide of the contemporary art world's most powerful artists, curators, collectors, critics and gallerists driving the international contemporary art scene. Those listed are ranked in order of influence in the often invisible structure of today's art world. Anatsui , a new entrant, is the only African artist to make the list so far.
El Anatsui's sculptural work can be found in scores of private collections globally and continentally, and in the permanent collections of more than 40 major international museums; 13 of America's  leading museums included. Some of these are The Metropolitan Museum of Art, N.Y; The National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washignton ,D.C; and The Museum for Modern Art, N.Y. Other public collections include Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Seattle; The British Museum, London ; Centre Pompidou, Paris; Royal Ontario Museum, Toronto; Setagaya  Art Museum, Tokyo; Jordan National Gallery of Arts , Amman; The World Bank  Art Collection , Washington ,D.C; UNAIDS  Geneva ; Ghana National Art Collection, Accra; and The National Gallery of Modern Art, Lagos. Anatsui's work, which is now accepted globally as a "hard-to-categorise" art form, has featured more than once at The Venice Biennale , the most prestigious  event in the international art calendar. He has exhibited on six continents.
El Anatsui, who is the subject of numerous reviews, articles, art books, biographies, videos and films, was, until 2011 when he retired, Professor of Sculpture at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka (UNN) and a former Head of Department of Fine & Applied Arts.  Professor Anatsui , who is Ghanaian, has lived and worked in Nigeria since 1975. He has won various honours and prizes in Italy, Japan, Germany, the US, Britain, The Netherlands and Ghana; among which is one of Britain's most significant art prizes - The Charles Wollaston Award - by the Royal Academy of Arts. This was for "Tsiatsia", Anatsui's monumental winning piece, which came first over 13,000 entries worldwide. Only two Africans have so far won this award in the exhibition's 245-year history:  Anatsui in 2013 and Yinka Shonibare, the Nigerian-British artist in 2010.
To mark the 70th birthday anniversary of this globally acclaimed contemporary artist, the Centre for Contemporary Art, Lagos, recently hosted a series of events in his honour.

Therese Nweke
(5th Avenue, D Close, House 6, FESTAC Town, Lagos)

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Choice Review

The following review appeared in the April 2014 issue of CHOICE.

51-4519                 GN380           2013-19759 CIP
Walter, Maggie.  Indigenous statistics: a quantitative research methodology, by Maggie Walter and Chris Andersen.  Left Coast, 2013.  158p bibl  index  afp ISBN 9781611322927, $84.00; ISBN 9781611322934 pbk, $24.05; ISBN 9781611322941 e-book, contact publisher for price

A fascinating contribution to what is known as the decolonization paradigm in multidisciplinary fields, Indigenous Statistics encourages researchers to question the ideological practices that are routinely encoded in quantitative analyses.  This ideological character of statistics as properties of the state is even more crucial for indigenous peoples, given the way such records serve to increase the subjugation of the colonized to enhance domination.  The book surveys the complicity of statistics in the colonization of indigenous peoples, like those of the authors in Australia (Walter is Trawlwoolway) and Canada (Andersen is M├ętis).  They present the epistemology, paradigm, and practice of indigenous statistics in accessible language.  Sociologist Walter (Univ. of Tasmania, Australia) and Native studies professor Andersen (Univ. of Alberta, Canada) reflect what is known as the centered and critical scholar-activist paradigm with specific reference to indigenous studies, but with applicability to every discipline that takes methodology seriously.  The book demonstrates that the statistical objectification of indigenous peoples is a project with global implications in societies structured in dominance.  The authors challenge all researchers to consider decolonization methodologies.  Summing Up: Highly recommended.  Undergraduate to faculty and professional users. -- B. Agozino, Virgina Tech

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Fractal Motifs in Africana Arts

This clip of my Seminar at the Harrison Museum of African American Arts in Roanoke, 2 March 2014, (as part of 'The Spirit That Knows Beauty' Exhibition that runs until June) may interest you:

Let me know what you think of my inclusion of the sixth principle of inter-connectivity among the elements of fractal designs. Let me know also if you have any tips on how to improve the quality of the video before I upload other clips of the presentation.

Biko Agozino