Saturday, March 29, 2014

Kenya: Polygamy more African than "Gay Marriage"

"When you marry an African woman, she must know that a second one is on the way, and a third wife ... this is Africa", words probably repulsive to certain sensibilities and recently credited to Kenyan MP Junet Mohammed in an address to his country's parliament. 

Over decades past, and especially since the post-colonial/neocolonial era, it has been on record that countless villains and other characters of dubious popularity have used the clause "this is Africa" to justify crimes of a heinous and dehumanizing nature, as well as actions as demeaning as they are disgusting. These people may have contributed in no small measure to the underdevelopment of Africa, but their legacy is quite without the bounds of this short piece.

Junet Mohammed was speaking to his East African nation's parliament in support of a (supposedly controversial) bill that seeks among other things to legalize polygamous associations. This bill has received legislative support and is now awaiting presidential assent to acquire the force of law.

Of course a lot of people have been upset. Several women MPs walked out of deliberations when the bill passed (or perhaps their walk-out helped it pass). But the opposition to the bill has probably been louder from without the borders of Kenya, nay Africa itself.

A United Nations spokesman is said to have voiced the concerns of the UN with respect to the development and to have stated the opposition of the UN to polygamy as it purportedly violates the rights of women anywhere and everywhere. Perhaps. Or not.

I seem to remember however that the United States, along with its Ministry for the Control of Foreign Lands (which we like to call the United Nations), criticized African governments which are opposed to the legalization of same-sex marriage in their domains. They said that these African governments were institutionalizing the violation of the rights of gay men and lesbian women to be together. They said that African countries had a duty to legalize same-sex unions, to protect the rights of men who have sex with men who choose to live with their partners in a "civil union". They said this was a moral imperative because some people are born with absolutely no sexual desires for people of the opposite sex but with raging desires for people of the same sex, and that these people also deserve human compassion, etc. They went ahead to "discover" new realities in the field of human psychology to back their claim that some people are born that way. And I agree. Some people may be born that way. But we have not redefined a normal human being as one who is born with cataracts simply because some otherwise normal babies are. Why redefine marriage as union of (two) persons rather than union of a man AND (a) woman?

It is hypocrisy of a very sophisticated order, is it not, for Western powers to insist on the "need" for African countries to legalize same-sex unions which are a very strange concept to us Africans, but deny the "moral imperative" that we have to legalize polygamy which is a marriage form recognized everywhere in the world and practised everywhere in Africa.

While it is the right of every man (and woman) to choose freely who they have sex with, it is also the right of society to be spared the details of the identities of all his consorts. It is the right and obligation of every society to uphold the institutions that define that society, including the institution of the family, defined as a man, his wife (who is a woman), and their children (who are humans of both sexes). 

The hue and cry over the legalisation of gay marriage in Africa is an attempt by a minority of individuals to foist their sexual preferences on the consciousness of the majority who do not care for those preferences. I do not think that a man's productivity gets any better because all of society deliberately develops a formal document that allows him to spend some or all of his free time caressing another man, or that a lady's productivity develops any less because society fails to formalize her "union" with another individual who also carries ovaries. 

In fact, the level to which this campaign is ridiculous can be likened to a similar hypothetical campaign in which organizers call for society to legalize extramarital affairs, and for "sexual orientation" (whatever that means) to include 'extramaritals mainly'. Because after all, if we must recognize the rights of a few men and women to have sex with themselves and elevate those rights to the status of institutions, why may we not extend the same courtesy to the much larger percentage of the married population who are thoroughly into extramarital affairs?

What makes so much more sense to me is a drive by African countries, led by Kenya in this instance, to recognize polygamy as a form of marriage, to legalize it, and to give it equal standing with monogamy. That is logical because it is practised by many, desired by many more, and distorted as extramarital "affairs" by even much more. That is not to say that polygamy does not have its own problems. The problems of polygamy, though numerous, are not the focus of this piece. And for every problem polygamy has, gay marriage has much more.

If African countries consider it necessary, they may decriminalize homosexual acts so that people do not get reviled or even jailed for "headbutting" people of the same sex. In fact, I am quite in support of decriminalization of homosexual acts with consenting adults everywhere on the globe. Even in outer space if necessary and/or possible. But that is as far as it should go. We have no business equating our sexual preferences with marriage. In our aggressive balkanization of timeless values, we have separated sex from marriage, made divorce a common phenomenon that society tolerates and even applauds (in the case of some celebrities), and insulated ourselves against the natural revulsion one should feel at the thought of single parenting that has not been occasioned by death. We have no business dehumanizing ourselves any further. We have no business redefining marriage in a way that makes a jest of our humanity.

Gay people have a right to exist. Lesbians can cuddle all they want. But being gay should lead to an extramarital gay affair, not to a sorry imitation of marriage - which is a heterosexual union.

The concepts of sex, sexuality, and marriage may overlap in the scope of their meaning, but that does not make them synonyms of the same idea. That other phrase "sexual orientation" belongs to the dustbin of the infamous parts of human history and should be kindly allowed to go there and remain there. Because even if a man prefers to fuck a donkey, his grand joystick was first and foremost designed for parking in that natural garage that every woman has been provided.

So I am happy that Kenyans are leading Africa in telling the world that we have our own ideas when it comes to marriage; that although we all love monogamy because we are Christians and because it presents less complications, we understand monogamy to be marriage between ONE man and ONE woman; and that if we must have an alternative marriage to monogamy, it will be polygamy.

When will Naija follow suit, I wonder?

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Funke Egbemode: Is this the end?

I have a number of friends who have decided to be blind to everything that is going wrong in this country because the country's president is a Niger Deltan and these people are eager to show that the insecurity is an attempt at sabotaging his government,  and not an indication of its ineptitude. Well, they may be right. Or not.

In what follows, seasoned writer Funke Egbemode shares her thoughts regarding the siege that we are undergoing from the insecurity and from government's campaign of disinformation.

I am scared, very scared. Of all my friends, I am (or was) the most optimistic about Nigeria. I was the one who thought Nigeria is the best country on God’s own earth, a country though moving at snail’s speed but one on its way to greatness nonetheless. I am the one who always rushed back home from every trip abroad. I simply couldn’t feel at home anywhere else after 10 days. But today, right now, I am scared for my country. I think we have lost it. We are in trouble and it does not matter how long and how vehemently we deny it, this country is about to slip down the slope.
There is blood everywhere, death every day. Terror has taken over our sleep. Terrorists have taken over our hallowed places. When these dreaded men first invaded our space, they bombed markets and viewing centres. They graduated into mosques and churches. They made an evil tragic move on the UN Building and the Force Headquarters as if daring us to come out and fight. They thumbed their noses at us. Then they punched us in the chest and while we were trying to stagger back to our feet, they kicked us hard in the groin.
Since that first kick in the groin, terrorists in Nigeria have hit us repeatedly in the most life-threatening spots: double punches to the temple, calculated ones to the throat and the stomach. Yeah, we kicked back a few times and the terror boys retreated. We foolishly brought out champagne, toasted to a victory that was uncertain and gave incomplete testimonies in churches. We are winning the terror war, we sang. It soon became a refrain. All the time we were chanting ‘we don win’ like drunken princes, the terror boys were honing their bloody skills and oiling their guns. They perfected their evil act and developed new strategies. While we bandied political press statements and spoke ‘big big grammar’ on television, the terror boys bought up motorcycles from states where their use had been banned and recruited more men to show us who is in charge. They made more police and army uniforms while we traded blames and passed bucks.
While we were busy waving the constitution in one another’s faces and trying to outdo the next person on who had a longer list of adjectives, the terror boys built bunkers, located all entry and exit routes at our borders. They took over our forests, found chinks in our armours and told themselves, they would finish us.
In the kingdom of these terrorists, there is no APC or PDP. They are not preparing for an election. They speak with one voice and work in one accord. Nobody wants to take over from anybody. They just want to kills us in our sleep, behead our children in their hostels. They are determined to win. And we are still speaking English, dogon turenchi, fighting new wars with old weapons and tactics. I am close to tears as I write this because all I can see is a cul de sac. All I can hear are political scientists analysing what they think they understand. All I can see are human rights human beings and pro-democracy people reciting figures and quoting philosophers who never lived in the kind of hell we have found ourselves. Watch out for them on AIT, Channels, Silverbird and TVC from Monday morning. I have stopped watching them. I now watch African Magic in the mornings. The movies help me escape into another world and prevent me from smashing my own television screen. It is so sad that we think we can win this terror war by not doing something different.
Since the dawn of 2014, the terror attacks had become a daily thing, spreading like wild fire. This war we are supposed to be winning is the reason we are weeping every day. We now have a factory assembly line churning out widows, widowers, orphans and the handicapped daily. And the media aides of our political office holders have a ready template for press statements ‘condemning the evil attack, dastardly acts and bombing of innocent Nigerians.’ They just change a few lines to reflect the venue and casualty figures. Then the politicians carpet one another. Hasn’t anybody told them we no longer find their comic performances funny? Do they know the implication of not fixing this problem? Do they know there are Nigerians who think their leaders can’t do anything about this evil ravaging our land? And they may be right, you know. Maybe our leaders have run out of ideas. I dare them to do something. These terror boys have us by the jugular. We are gasping. Our eyes are popping out of their sockets.
If these terrorists have moved from weekly attacks to daily attacks, successful ones too, does that not mean they have changed strategy? If they have become daring enough to attack a military base twice in 24 hours, what does that say about us, our leaders? I am not worried about whether we are at war or winning the war. I am not impressed by the terms and terminologies deployed by both the military and articulate lawyers. I am just tired of the heap of corpses.
Very many times, this nation has danced back from the edge of the precipice but right now, this minute, I feel totally hopeless. But I am just a frightened mother, a distressed Nigerian. Maybe the governors know something I do not know. Maybe the President has an ace up his sleeves.  Maybe the National Assembly will dig in its creative bag and fish out the cousin of ‘doctrine of necessity’. Maybe not. Maybe they can’t do anything and that is why I’m so scared. What if nobody can do anything? Is this the end?
We are counting bodies as I write this in Kaduna. The peaceful Katsina where I spent Valentine last month is still counting corpses. And now there is a new set of terrorists we are stupidly nauseatingly calling Fulani herdsmen. Have we all gone bunkers? Fulani herdsmen wearing army uniform and handling AK 47? Where is our sense of shame? How can security operatives, government officials, leaders who were born and bred in Nigeria actually believe that those murderers moving from village to village are herdsmen? How? We have called and treated them like cattle rearers for three years or so now and capitalising on our security naivety or foolishness, they have moved from Plateau to Benue to Nassarawa. And that is too close for comfort.
Think back to the Fulani families in your village and community when you were growing up. They were peaceful, almost docile as long as you do not tamper or trifle with their cattle. They were friendly. My mum bought (still buys) cocks and hens from the ones who live in a neighbouring village. Their chicks which we call ‘adie gaa’ are a different breed. They are taller, bigger and grow fast. Herdsmen wear long flowing robes, turbans, rubber sandals , not camouflage. Their wives sell ‘wara’ (cheese). They have lived everywhere with us, across the country in peace. If demons have sneaked through our borders in the night and we are all thumbs about what to do to exterminate them, can we try not to insult our collective intelligence by calling them Fulani herdsmen?
Now that we are no longer safe anywhere and our governors can’t count on their security details to protect them, can we do something because this is all so scary. Or am I the only scared one?
Funke Egbemode is a backpage columnist for The Sunday Sun Nigeria. This article appeared in the March 16, 2014 edition of the paper.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Know your wines - and your drinks


Whatever you know, know it well, thoroughly, totally, and go even further.

In an alcohol factory on Obalende, the regular tester died and the director started looking for a new one to hire.

A seeming drunkard with a ragged, dirty look came to apply for the position.

The director of the factory wondered how to send him away. After all, he was a drunkard, a product of their production. He decided to have him tested anyway. His drunken state would most likely rat him out.

They tested him for quality control. They gave him a glass with a drink and asked him to identify it. He tried it and said: ”It’s red wine, a muscat, three years old, grown on a north slope in the Americas, matured in steel containers.”

“That’s correct”, said a surprised and obviously impressed boss. "Give him another glass". ”It’s red wine, cabernet, eight years old, a south-western slope in Western Europe, oak barrels," the man answered in an almost off-hand manner.

“Correct.” The director was  now a mix of astonishment and wariness, for he was a shrewd businessman, but not big on integrity. He winked at his secretary - who was like-minded - to suggest something.

She winked back to show she got the cue, gingerly stepped out, and shortly after returned, bringing with her a glass of urine mixed with Pepsi.

The alcoholic tasted it, winced, hesitated, tasted it again, and said with a broad smile: "I am sure you are not interested in the Pepsi so I will just talk about the other constituent. It’s an Ijaw lady, 26 years old, three months pregnant, made inside the office; And if you don’t give me the job, I’ll also tell who’s the father!”

The boss collapsed…

...and the secretary typed and delivered his appointment letter to him  at his house personally, at his house, at midnight, on his express request.

Know your stuff thoroughly, totally. That knowledge may bring you dividends.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Protecting your manhood - by Funke Egbemode

I was born on International Women’s Day, yes March 8, some years ago. And no, I’m not doing any age declaration. I assure you that I’m still young, very young. So, it’s another March 8 and women groups all over the world will be talking about women issues at seminars and workshops and summits in tandem with this year’s theme: Inspiring change. It’s an annual event, a ritual,  but I am not going down that road today. I am looking at the mothers and how they have fared or failed in their duties to their sons and how what we have left undone is undoing our societies.

Every year, for years, we have concentrated on themes and tips to empower women. We have gone round the world to teach women how to get to the top, survive in a man’s world and break every glass ceiling. It has been a long journey, a hard task and it has been rewarding. All those years, all those trips have yielded wonderful fruits. Today’s women are everywhere: boardroom and corridors of power. And we still hold sway in the bedroom, our primary constituency. The number of women CEOs have trebled in the past decade and we are still pushing every frontier. We want more and we will get more. We will produce a female president for Nigeria too! Oh yes, let PDP,APC, APGA and Labour Party take this as served notice. They can check their blood pressure regularly or pee in their designer boxers but that is the truth, we are on our way. But that is not really the matter at hand today.

Today, I am worried about our sons, today’s young men. I am truly worried and every mother should pause, take a closer look at her sons and daughters and answer this question: are you empowering your son for the journey ahead of him? Answer truthfully, after all you are alone and you don’t have to let anybody hear you. I think Nigerian mothers have not done well raising future husbands and fathers. Let’s admit it, we have not scored above average, that is if we achieved average at all.

Take a closer look at your beautiful daughter and your handsome six-footer son. Who is better prepared for the task ahead? I know some of us had realised this and have done better than others but most Nigerian mothers need to buckle up. Our sons are not what they should be and we cannot have the society, the country we desire when we put unprepared men and overgrown boys in positions of authority. I’ll explain myself.

In too many homes, the wives are the bread winners. Too many women are paying the rent and picking bills that make a man the man. We do not need figures from the Office of Statistics because I know every woman in this country knows at least one family where the man is not truly the head. He is just a figure head. And every man who is a figure head is a sad commentary on his mother. Every young husband who waits for his wife to draw her monthly check before the monthly shopping can be done is a figure head, a proceed of a failed mother. That is harsh, right? Yeah, I know there is a place for God in what man becomes in life. It is from Him all blessings flow and only He gives power to make wealth. But did you, madam, even teach your son that simple fact or are you too busy preparing your daughter for marriage in addition to her getting the added advantage of attending the same Ivy League schools like his brothers? A son attends Babcock University in Nigeria or Imperial College in United Kingdom with a daughter but the daughter is trained to cook, pamper a man, be nice to in-laws and bring up children, all while she’s getting a degree. The son learns how to play basket ball and wash a car. The daughter learns how to bake and how to make hair and do make-up. Girls with Masters degrees see nothing wrong in going to learn dress making . Boys dust their CVs and write glowing stuff about themselves and send out thousands of job applications.

After two or three years of fruitless search for non-existent jobs, don’t our boys start  ‘processing visas’ to travel to even the most ridiculous places, countries with no pastures, least of all green ones? Meanwhile, the girls set up make-up studios, start ‘mixing cream’ making hats and dresses and everything  that makes money. The boys wait for the big time to arrive in one day. It doesn’t, rarely does. So the girls begin to grow  in age and in bank balance. Ripe for marriage but no man is plucking because they are still waiting. See why girls are marrying late? They acquire degrees and cars, some even properties while waiting for Mr Right to come along. By the time he eventually comes along, the girl is already doing well in business, entrepreneurial skills honed. For a while, love covers the gap but men are not wired to be anything but the head. That is why most men quote how Sarah calls Abraham ‘Lord’ in the Bible. But Abraham was stupendously rich by Bible accounts. He also spoilt Mama Sarah silly. In other words, every Sarah needs an Abraham.

Inadequate, angry and frustrated, a man whose wife picks the bill soon finds avenues to vent his ire. Violence is one of those avenues. Shamelessly philandering to belittle his ‘richer’ wife is another, like impregnating the maid or a restaurant assistant. Are you linking the rate of failed marriages to what mothers have failed to do? There is a limit to a woman’s endurance and our millennium daughters  have no threshold for suffering. In any case, a woman who bought herself a car is not the one her husband can threaten with ‘if you touch any of my cars…’ A woman who picks heavy bills in the home is not the one who will notice that her husband is not bringing his income home. These girls are liable to walk out of marriages too easily, too quickly.

And there is this ever present trouble of a bitchy daughter-in-law and her monster-in-law. If our sons have not earned the respect of their wives, how can we be free and happy and welcomed in our sons’ homes? The poor wife is simply going to see a visiting mother-in-law or sister-in-law as added disadvantage and a further drain on her patience, energy and finances.

It does not matter if women produce the next president and Central Bank Governor and 20 state governors, the achievement of Nigerian women and indeed women world over will continue  to be marred if all we do is churn out half-baked and ill-equipped fathers and husbands. We cannot have a great society with just great women and less than good fathers and husbands.

We’ve got work on hands , girls. We’ve got to pay more attention to the quality of sons we are raising. Are we teaching them the right values? Have you sat your boys down and told them only impotent men beat their wives? Have you told your sons a man is not man if he cannot provide for his wife and children, that the ‘dangling modifier’ in between his legs is not really what proves his manhood in his home? Have you told your son lately that he needs to  have extra skills to survive in Nigeria and that there is no big deal about having a first degree? We all should teach our sons to follow what they have a passion for and not sit at home waiting for the six-digit salary job. The young men that we all wish were our sons are most of the time those who made money early and you cannot make money early if you romance your CV for 10 years waiting for a telecommunication job. A few guys get lucky but we must prepare our boys for life without good luck.

Since this year’s theme for International Women’s Day is ‘Inspiring Change’, let us change the way we have brought up our boys. Let us teach them the skills that will protect their manhood beyond using the right condoms.

This article appears on the BackPage of Sunday Sun, March 9, 2014, and was written by Funke Egbemode.