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Op-Ed

Challenges Ahead as Nigeriens Decide

Nigeriens went out to pick a President in Historic Runoff on Sunday. A peaceful transition of power is crucial in the country’s ability to combat economic woes and insurgency along its borders.

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Niger’s 7.4 million registered voters went to the polls on Sunday in the second round of the country’s presidential election. The historic runoff is expected to pave the way for Niger’s first democratic transition of power since independence more than six decades ago.

Two political juggernauts looking to clinch the slot of the presidency are Issoufou’s man Friday and the ruling Nigerien Party for Democracy and Socialism Mohamed Bazoum and Mahamane Ousmane – the country’s first democratically elected president.

Niger President Mahamadou Issoufou casting his vote

Widely regarded as the outgoing President’s favourite, Mohamed Bazoum led the first round of vote by 39.3 percent of votes in the first round of voting on December 27 2020.

He seeks to maintain Issoufou’s policies focusing on overhauling the economy and providing all-inclusive security. He has the endorsement of the candidates who came third and fourth in the first round.

His challenger Mahamane Ousmane was first elected in 1993 as the country’s first democratically elected president. He was toppled three years later in a coup. He won 17 percent of the votes in the first round and has the support of about a dozen smaller parties. He has vowed to implement change and tackle corruption.

In spite of Mahamadou Issoufou’s efforts towards political stability and economic growth, conflict in neighbouring countries has hindered serious development and worsened its internal security.  In 2019, the World Bank estimates 41.4 percent of the population is living in extreme poverty.

President Issoufou’s gesture of extending the olive branch to many rebel leaders helped stabilise the country for a while and caused the billowing calls for secession to ebb.  

Niger’s recurring famine, incessant floods festering insurgencies on its flanks has impacted its socio-political spaces in recent times.   With the exception of Benin republic, at least Al-Qaida-backed terrorist operate in six of the seven countries surrounding Niger.

They have carried out several attacks near Niger’s western border with Mali and Burkina Faso, while Boko Haram has killed hundreds of people along its south-eastern border with Nigeria.

Members of Niger’s Electoral Commission (CENI) ahead of national polls

Uranium, its major export has tanked in price over the years and source of coronavirus has held the country’s economy down.  Although turnout is expected to be high, the election’s final outcome is highly unpredictable seeing as the process has been shown to be largely transparent. Both candidates stand the same chances. 

Although there was relative calm in the South East of the country and no reported incidences of voting fraud, there were reports of armed persons who arrived to seize ballot boxes in the interior of the country.

At least seven people died and many others injured after a vehicle belonging to Niger’s electoral commission hit a landmine some sixty miles from Niamey in the rural community of Dargol.  

Whoever emerges as President faces a daunting duty of surmounting the three critical issues of insecurity along its borders, alleviating poverty among its hoi polloi, and fighting corruption to a hilt.

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Central Africa Sports News

CHAN2020: Africa’s Festival of Football, Music and Culture

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When the African Nations Championship kicked off at the Ahmadou Ahidjo Stadium, Cameroon showed the world a glimpse of what Africa deeply entails.

Beyond football, Africa’s beauty is richly defined by its excellent culture and art.

Africa stands out for its glitz and glamour, and when football, the most followed sport on the continent comes knocking, expression becomes compulsory – a watchword.

COVID-19 has denied the world of many things, but 2021 has shown it may come with a difference. And in the first month of the new year, Africa is treating the world to the spectacle it missed months ago.

Like the opening ceremony of the African Nations Championship was not enough, competing national teams, fans and players have shown the cultural strength of the continent, and you can’t but admire it.

From the most beautiful local drums, to the rhythmic dance steps and music, Africa has shown itself through CHAN.

As teams score, there is a clear elucidation of the wealth of artistic beauty the continent possesses. While players’ hairstyles are a form, their celebrations are another show of undisputed cultural creativity and credibility.

On green-lush grasses, jerseys blend with music and style as players toil with swivelling arms and legs, chasing the round leather, sweating to bring glory to their nations. Realistically, the glory doesn’t cost an arm and a leg, as their cultural suaveness keep stealing the headlines.

The first six games of the competition produced four goals, in what showed how tough, and sometimes, drab football can be on the continent, but fans had been treated to a cultural spectacle, beyond the round leather.

Tanzanian players sing from the dressing room as they match on to the pitch, and just when you think they faze their opponents, Congolese players are in a queue-like fashion, passing on the dance steps from front to back. It’s a festival of art and culture for Africans.

Cameroon is treating the world to a carnival of football, with beautiful displays mostly seen so far. However, beyond the game is the serene and tranquil ambience brought by fans and players, who have taken every opportunity to show why Africa is the seat of entertainment.

What you may not see in the AFCON is the cultural diversity and understanding shown by players, as many European-born footballers represent African countries.

It is a sight to behold for the many players of dual nationalities who are not yet exposed to the full bloom of Africa’s flowers, but these African-based players dueling for the CHAN prize, are themselves, a sight to behold- the flower itself.

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Op-Ed

Nigeria: Skydiving Without a Parachute Albeit Hopeful

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The polarization in Nigeria today is akin to that of the sixties-the very kind that left a scar in our history.

Besides the polarisation, the standard of living have worsened, heightened by the effect of coronavirus and other sundry economic issues. Sadly, it reminds me of Fantine in Les Miserables who sold her front tooth to buy food-I pray we don’t get to that point.

When Victor Hugo wrote his famous book, it was in reaction to societal happenings. My reactions to the state of Nigeria today, is comparable to a skydiver skydiving without a parachute yet counting on gravity’s grace.

Nearly everything is against us; the economic indices and the general state of play. It makes me more sad when the presidential spokesperson says “wailers should calm down”.

I wail for God and country and I want the best for my country. I will constantly wail until things get better. Perhaps Nigerians can give the leadership a chance at redemption, just so we see if they would turn a new leaf, a new page.

Let’s see how they will fight Covid-19 in 2021. I’ll also like to see how hitherto proposed infrastructural project will help the people. Maybe, somehow the CBN will work at harmonising forex. Maybe, just maybe the security situation will get better.

Perhaps a record number of people will move into middle class in 2021 after living on less than a dollar daily for years. These are my hopes as a Nigerian and if these are what qualify me as a wailer, I will continue to wail for God and for country.

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Op-Ed

Watching America Unravel: A Nigerian’s Perspective

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Watching America Unravel

For some people, Aaron Sorkin’s The Newsroom was their first experience with the idea that America may not be the greatest country in the world. The gaspin the room when Will McAvoy (played by Jeff Daniels) expressed his doubt about it hints at how Americans may feel about the idea that something they’ve been told all their lives and one that may have formed the basis of sneering at people from other countries, may, in fact, be untrue. It’s how I feel when confronted with the facts that gnaw at the assertion that my country – Nigeria – is the giant of Africa. 

Granted, Nigeria is so called mainly because of her population, but also because of its political power and wealth back in the day. It may be hard for many people to fathom this, but the Naira did not always cower at the sight of the Dollar. 

For some of us, we’ve always felt we are way better than many of our neighbours in other countries; yet today, I have seen Ghanaians, who were once learning filmmaking from Nigerians, produce such beautiful pieces that Nollywood – Nigeria’s film industry – can barely match. That is just one of many examples. 

Here is another – according to internetworldstats.com, Kenyans have an internet penetration of 87.2% while Nigeria has 61.2%. While some would raise intelligent arguments about population and other factors, one truth stands out; the average person in Kenya has better access to internet service than I do and that doesn’t help me when I’m in the middle of those very interesting and engaging Twitter wars between Nigeria and Kenya. So, we may lag behind most countries in the arts, tourism, internet penetration, healthcare, and infrastructure, but the Giant of Africa, we are.

Much like Nigeria, America’s might lies in numbers and stories. According to ‘the media’ (we’ll catch up with this guy later), America is the greatest country on earth. When I watch American movies, I can see why and how Americans would believe that. Americans always save the day. American superheroes save the world and the American SWAT team can do all things; but these pale when held against real news stories and statistics that mirror the realities of the American experience. I still cannot get over the fact that conversations around gun legislation are so polarised. To me, it is probably the most interesting thing about America – that people would worry more about guns than life, even their own lives. I know that I may be biased because I live in a country where people don’t just own guns. Apart from that one incident where a distant relative strutted out of his house with a dane gun and fired it into the sky to mark the new year, I have never been in doubt about how guns make me feel – threatened. Even at the hands of my country’s law enforcement officers, guns are a source of trepidation. So, I know that they are not playthings and I find it baffling that Americans don’t mind the risk of putting guns in the hands of “unstable people”; especially because they are notorious for this. According to the American Center for Disease Control, 39,740 people died from gun violence in 2018. Americans are supposedly smarter and this sounds like a no brainer, but what do I know. “The second amendment was put there for a reason” and every gun needs a home.

Well, a country where people have so many unchecked security loopholes would not be my first choice. Nobody wants to leave his house thinking, “if I drive carefully and no drunk person runs me over, maybe someone will hit me during a mass shooting at the mall; but thank goodness for 911. I know help will show up in time”. As a Black person, this is heightened by the thought that anyone – even the police – may hurt me just because they feel threatened by my existence.

But why do I care at all, you may wonder. I am Nigerian and I live a safe distance from white supremacists, greedy pharmaceutical companies, and trigger-happy white people. All these should not be my business especially because I have many problems of my own. In an episode of ABC’s Boston Legal a citizen sued the United States for the ethnic violence in Sudan. The argument was that America’s declaration of interest in the fight against terrorism “wherever it thrives” made other countries that would have stood up to help Sudan, to hold back. Shirley Schmidt (played by Candace Bergen) the prosecuting attorney, asked that if America couldn’t rise to the occasion, it should say so. That’s how I feel about America in many ways.

As we wade through this pandemic, one can hardly quantify what the mixed signals from America have caused governments and individuals outside America, who still look to her as the greatest country in the world. One day, COVID-19 is a small fly and the next, it’s a serious issue; one day Hydroxy-Chloroquine is the answer and the next, it isn’t. One day, bleach can probably work to clear the human system and the next, it resumes its seat on the table of substances that are unfit for ingestion. In the words of Shirley Schmidt, “maybe as a compromise, we can get the US government to declare ‘hey, not our problem’. That way, the world will be on notice that someone else can “play hero” and we can turn our attention to a country like New Zealand, that is swift with a response to gun violence and pandemics and has a better healthcare system. 

One may also ask, if all these are true and America is not the greatest country in the world, why are Africans still flooding U.S. embassies to get visas? Say hello again to our friend ‘the media’. Good stories make good believers and the American media does a fantastic job. I also believe that for most of us, it’s the devil we know. Our family members are there, we’ve learned their culture through movies, etc., we know the language and even if Black people are sometimes killed for no reason, we know we’ll find our own there as opposed to searching for countries that are even more welcoming of immigrants. The rules are more explicitly spelled. The risks too.

Americans complain about their current president so bitterly. I understand we are watching the deterioration of her democracy under his leadership, but I know this man. His kinsman has been my president since 2015 and will remain so until 2022, all things being unequal. If he berates women, embarrasses his state and office, has been part of efforts to oppress certain parts of the population, is uncouth with his words, and lacks empathy; he is pretty much my current president. The only difference is, Trump seems to love pressers but we haven’t had one with our President for years. It doesn’t also help that ours isn’t tech-savvy enough to handle his own Twitter account. 

We know your demons, America and even if our issues are louder than yours, we can risk living with them. We can also live with the fact that, according to one of your journalists, Will McAvoy, America is “7th in literacy, 27th in math, 22nd in science, 49th in life expectancy, 178th in infant mortality, 3rd in median household income, number 4 in the labor force and number 4 in exports.” 

I will confess that beyond all the justifications I have given for my interest in America’s unraveling, there is a more interesting and selfish truth: while I live with the realities of my ailing country, I watch with an embarrassing amusement as Americans wake up to their problems and cry out so loudly over things like health insurance, dwindling respect for democracy and value of life; because as it appears, you are warming up to things my friends and I have lived with, and thrived in spite of. Over the years, we have tried to say that we who go out of our way to do honest work in this country deserve respect in the way you write about us in your movies and books, but all you have always chosen to hear and see is that we are all corrupt alms-seeking beggars. 

Well, what if all I know about America is racism, drug addiction, a corrupt government, mass shootings, and the Capitol take over?

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