Thursday, November 27, 2008

Pentecostal Christianity, infanticide and Child abuse in Nigeria

Abandoned and abused children in a shelter (all photos courtesy of The Guardian, London)

In Nigeria (especially in Akwa-Ibom State) families now routinely abuse, maim, banish and kill their blood children on the grounds that these innocent souls are "WITCHES." And, according to reliable reports, we are not talking about rare incidents but what amounts to an epidemic, a descent to new barbarism sponsored by new-age Christianity.

In recent decades, the mixture of material poverty made worse by the depredations of the political leadership and predatory dogmas of new-age Christian pastors, have led to a tremendous altering of cultures and societies in Nigeria and many parts of Africa. Built around a theology of fear, these fundamentalist Christian churches (much like their medieval counterparts in Europe) earn their relevance by spreading the fear of infernal forces--the scope of which is determined by the Church elite--as the basis of religious and social life. I daresay that not even that racist tribe of European Missionaries of yore, for whom my postcolonial self feels no charity, have done as much damage in the social life of communities in Southern Nigeria. You only need to see the physical abuse of old men and women declared "pagan" inhibitors of communal progress by their kin; or burning and looting of cultural heritage sites and art forms, and general onslaught against anybody or group perceived to be promoting "paganism," which often refers to anything related with indigenous social and cultural practices.

Etido (9) with nail driven into his skull, now brain-damaged

Udo (12) victim of machete attacks by his own community

What makes these developments so dangerous is the apparent complicity of the political leadership in these matters, especially in cases where there ought to be criminal prosecutions. Like in these infanticides and gross child abuse, for instance. Frequently, children are doused with acid, impaled with nails, slashed with knives, buried alive, or poisoned because a so-called Christian pastor diagnosed them as "witches"! In one pathetic if not diabolical instance, a popular "prophetess" made a film, in which she declared the symptoms of a Child-witch: high fever and late-night crying, which as any parent knows is the same symptom for virtually every childhood illness. And this coming from a mother of three children! Can someone tell me why these so-called pastors, including one who declared on camera to have killed more than 100 "witches," should not be prosecuted for mass murder. While the children-killer's action may not be as spectacular as Jonestown, it is no less serious, and should be investigated. At best he would be found a liar (which should serve his congregation well); at worst he may found to be one of the world's worst child killers (which should be a blight on humanity).

Gerry (8) with petrol burns inflicted by father

Given the mandate bestowed on Akwa-Ibom state and Nigerian federal governments, to guaranty life and safety of each and every citizen of the land, including and especially the most vulnerable, I cannot understand why scores of parents, and their conniving pastors have not yet been prosecuted for abusing the human rights of these innocent children. If Nigeria cannot acknowledge and aggressively move against these terrible crimes, pressure must be applied from outside to put a stop to this madness. It is not enough to pass Child Rights Act, as the Nigerian government did some years ago, when child murderers, torturers and abusers regale in their crimes in their churches, in documentaries and public programs.

If the government and civil society organizations in Nigeria cannot save these children from the tyranny of new-age Christianity, and if the Christian Association of Nigeria (the umbrella Christian organization) does not take the initiative to bring the perpetrators of these growing crimes against our children to justice, or actively work against the socio-religious and economic basis of these crimes, they cannot claim any moral justification for the existence of both Church and State.

A society that sacrifices its children to religious faith, is a damned, cursed society.

Monday, November 24, 2008

David Hammon's "Six Projects in Alexandria"

Left: David Hammons, Elephant Chair, 2008; Right: Pink Tree, 2008 (photo:

David Hammons' Six Sites in Alexandria, a new series of site specific work in the Egyptian city of Alexandria opened two days ago, making it--I believe--the third project this master conceptual artist has created in the African continent since the past couple of years, most of it as a result of his productive relationship with my dear friend Salah Hassan, the Goldwin Smith Professor of Art History at Cornell University. Hammons was one of the three artists (with Magdalena Campos-Pons and Pamela Z)Hassan showed in 3X3: Diaspora, Memory and Place, the US official participation at the 2004 Dakar Biennale. And he also has collaborated with the Zoma Art Center in Addis Ababa.
Six Sites in Alexandria, is as compelling and radical as any of his signal works. Where in Dakar he conducted raffle draws during the Biennale, the prize being rams--the invaluable sacrificial animal for the Muslim Eid festival, in Alexandria, he disappointed his hosts at the Alexandria Contemporary Art Forum who had hoped he would produce some work in the gallery. Which makes you want to suspect that the Forum never got the memo about Hammons' work, or about the full implications of what it means for the artist to be one of the most radical conceptual artists of the past several decades. As it turned out, his work consisted of "things" he encountered in the streets of Alexandria: A chair chained to a post became "Elephant Chair" and an enigmatic tree with blooming spherical foliage and intensely green trunk turned into "Pink Tree," and an electronic shop with unruly, raucous noise morphed into a "Sound Installation", and so forth.
With these new series of work, and the twenty pages of "spirit writings" Hammons published in Hassan and Finley's new book (Diaspora, Memory Place, 2008), one appreciates all the more the profundity of that first statement in what one might call the 25 commandments of Conceptual Art, Sol Lewitt's 1969 "Sentences on Conceptual Art": "Conceptual artists are mystics rather than rationalists. They leap to conclusions that logic cannot reach."

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Ms. Okere and the Nigerian Navy

Recently, a young woman Uzoma Okere was severely beaten and stripped naked in the streets of Lagos by junior officers (ratings) traveling with Rear Admiral Arogundade, the officer in charge of the Lagos Garrison. Why? Because she, apparently, did not clear her car from the traffic to allow the military royalty right of way. What is astonishing is the attempt by the Navy to cover up this event, by inventing their own rather stupid, ridiculous and pathetic narrative all intended to exculpate the Rear Admiral's mad dogs for a crime against Ms. Okere's humanity. We are now told that she was the aggressor--having, according to the Navy, forcibly retrieved the WHIP with which one of the ratings menaced her while she was inside her car. Moreover, we are told that Ms Okere's father, himself a retired colonel in the Nigerian Army and currently the Sergent-at-Arms in the House of Representatives, begged the Rear Admiral for forgiveness on behalf of his daughter. The bullshit from the Navy goes on.

This barbaric, shameful event would have been another reason to cry for my country Nigeria for its continuing failure to protect its own citizens in the so-called democratic dispensation we have had with us for almost a decade. The Navy has yet to explain what its men were doing with Whips in an otherwise normal Lagos street. Did they not get the memo about the end of military dictatorship in Nigeria?

But I am hopeful that Ms. Okere's public humiliation will become a signal event marking the refusal of Nigerian civil society to allow remnants of the culture of military dictatorship to fester. I am encouraged by the response of Ms. Okere herself, her father, the Lagos State Government, and various Women's and Civil Society organizations across the country to Ms. Okere's encounter with Naval bestiality. As I understand it, Ms. Okere has rightly refused to let the matter go away, unlike countless other victims of military voilence in the past. Her case must help inaugurate a reversal of the culture of civilian traumatization by the military in Nigeria. Thankfully, her father has exposed the lie in the Navy's crappy story; not only did he not apologize to Rear Admiral, the retired colonel also declared Arogundade unfit to be a ranking naval officer, as he bears full responsibility for the action of the ratings attached to him. For once, it seems, Mr. Okere's concern for his daughter's safety and defense of her integrity against the lies and intimidation of the Navy has trumped the pernicious esprit de corps responsible system corruption within the military.

But I must thank the Lagos State Governor, Babatunde Fashola, for declaring the state's condemnation of the violence visited on Ms. Okere. By providing the victimized woman full legal support, the governor and the state have taken a firm stand against military exceptionalism. But what about President Yar'Adua who promised the nation that he will defend the rule of law? Why has he not dissociated his government from this terrible, criminal action by the navy against a citizen? The least he could do is to advice the navy to dismiss Rear Admiral Arogundade from the military services. In the meantime, the court case now instituted against the Rear Admiral and his ratings by Ms. Okere must be allowed to take its full course. Nigerians must say with one voice: NEVER AGAIN!

Tuesday, November 4, 2008