United States: Back in the belly of the whale

6 mins read

THE circumstance has made it almost impossible to write this week’s piece. I am in Las Vegas, in the US state of Nevada, to attend this year’s NAB Show. NAB is the National Association of Broadcasters, and the show brings broadcasters and the industry together annually, in a showcase of content and the cutting-edge delivery modes.

Unlike last year, during which the run up to the April elections slimmed down Nigeria’s attendance; this year has seen a full complement of Nigerian broadcasting individuals and outfits. And for me, it was another opportunity to re-connect with my professional origins in radio and television broadcasting.

I spent a better part of 25 years working in radio and television broadcasting; in fact, most of the people who knew me in previous decades always directly connect me with my years as an announcer, DeeJay, newsreader, producer/presenter as well as correspondent for international broadcasting outfits.

I often describe myself a broadcaster on sabbatical, in print journalism, when I became Editor and Chairman of the Editorial Board of DAILY TRUST.

I did say that the circumstance almost made it impossible to write this piece; this is because I have been travelling since Easter Sunday, first to England for a couple of days and then the long intercontinental flight plus the intricate and tiring connections within the United States, which took me through Los Angeles; Phoenix in Arizona before the late arrival in Las Vegas.

I got to the hotel tired with the body’s clock in utter confusion. I have desperately sought for space to follow Nigerian life with great difficulty.

I haven’t rested well nor found the space to read newspapers. So the daily grind that we take for granted back home, takes on surreal proportions when away. For me, travel has different sides to it, which remind me of my origins.

I come from a nomadic Fulbe root and I honestly think that I carry the gene of travel; that must be where I found the fascination with seeing the world. I am a child of historical migrations, with deep root in the old history of West Africa.

But when I travel, I re-affirm firm links to our beautiful country. One of my favourite, younger Nigerian poets is Olu Oguibe, and I always remember his poem, “I am tied to this land by blood”, when I travel out of Nigeria. Warts and all, Nigeria means everything to me, and I am an incurable optimist about the possibilities for change and liberation in our homeland. The more I see the world, the deeper becomes my convictions about our homeland.

Romance with the media

I spoke about re-connecting to my roots in broadcasting, and in the past few days, in the harmattan-like coolness of Las Vegas, I have reflected on where my love for broadcasting and the media came from. Events in our lives leave a deep imprimatur on our consciousness and their effects can take us to places that we might not even envisage. I grew up being encouraged to become a doctor later in life.

Learning is deeply ingrained in our history, as my forefathers were scholars for generations, in the context of the evolution of the societies of the old empires of West Africa, what in the Middle Ages was called in Arabic as BILAD As-SUDAN.

So if I was not a doctor, then I probably would have ended up following the family tradition of studying law. But I was farmed out at the age of eight to live with my great uncle.

This was during the Nigerian Civil War of the 60s. Every night, he listened to the news on the Hausa Service of the BBC; once the signature tune for the news came on: “LONDON TAKE KIRA; BBC KE MAGANA”, everybody was obliged to be silent!

Then something else followed; my great uncle translated the news into the Yoruba for a small group of people who were always around each night, but did not speak the Hausa.

I was part of that drama for years, and the mischievous twist to the tale, was that I would listen for mistakes in his translation or omissions in the narrative. At first I was severely reprimanded, but after a while, he discovered I had a better recollection and would ask me to do the narrative. Many years later, my mother became the first woman to present a women’s programme on radio in Ilorin, during the early 1970s.

This was apart from the fact that I would be told to read pages of Nigerian newspapers aloud by another uncle who was a judge. So without consciously thinking about it, I had begun a love affair with the media from the age of 8! When I reflect on the sequence of events, it seemed destiny that I ended up a broadcaster and journalist.

It is therefore not altogether surprising, that I have re-traced my steps back to broadcasting that I never stopped loving despite the decade that I have worked in newspaper journalism. Broadcasting remains my first love and Nigeria gave me a tremendous opportunity, when I was hired by the defunct Nigeria Broadcasting Corporation (NBC), as a Studio Manger in 1977, during FESTAC ’77.

I subsequently became an announcer, earning some fame as a disc jockey. We were young men of our times, and the backdrop was fortuitous: the struggle against apartheid in Southern Africa and Nigeria’s central role; a booming economy which allowed us access to books and music; a vibrant and radical tradition in the universities and the labour movement.

I ploughed head-on into the social events of my early years, and as I said somewhere else, we subverted the idiom of the disc jockey, to post socially relevant messages.

I grew up in a Nigeria which was still caring for its peoples; and I came into adulthood absolutely convinced about the need to be part of the struggle for the liberation of our country.

This is a conviction that has never waivered over the decades. It is equally interesting for me, that I am making these reflections in the United States. I have an ambiguous relationship with this country. I came out of the strong anti-imperialist tradition, critical of the reactionary role of the United States in contemporary world affairs.

Yet, I admire the dynamism and kindness of its peoples; the more I have travelled in this most powerful imperialist country in human history, the more enamoured I have become of the essentially human links which bind us. There is good and bad in the United States as much as everywhere else.

Yes, it is the largest imperialist whale in the sea of our world; and returning to the belly of this whale as I do annually, allows me to learn ever newer lessons that I always hope can impact positively, on what I give back to our fatherland. This narrative is personal, yes; but there is no Chinese wall dividing the personal from the social.

Humanity and shared social experiences

A few years ago at DAILY TRUST’s annual dinner, I was greeted by a guest from Kano, who told me he was really moved by a story I had told about my children and their argument about the issues of life, growing old and dying. The oldest of my children, Innawuro, was just 7 years old then, while her sister, Zainab, was also getting to 5 years.

As they argued about whether Baba would one day grow old and look like a man in a picture one of them held, I made an effort to explain the cycle of existence to them: being born; growing, including getting old and the inevitability of death. I was not too sure I succeeded in the clarification, but the man from Kano said the illustration touched his heart, because he had wrestled with the same issues with his own children.

It is in that sense, that I ask your pardon this week, that I have not writing about the politics of Nigeria. But as Leon Trotsky once wrote, problems of everyday life speak to our shared humanity and our personal experiences become part of the collective social experience of being human.

So Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala didn’t get that position?

A FEW hours ago, I saw a breaking item of news on Sahara Reporters, that Nigeria’s Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala did not get the position of World Bank President.

Not a few Nigerians and indeed supporters of Ngozi’s eminently qualified bid around the world, would have been disappointed. I announced the story to people gathered at the NAB show in Las Vegas and a French broadcast executive was visibly disappointed.

A lot of hope and hype built up, especially in the media, in the lead to the choice of a new World Bank President. But frankly, I was not caught up in the hype. I agree that it would have been an interesting departure if Ngozi was elected. But I am suspicious of what is essentially an imperialist institution; the Bretton Woods institutions came in the wake of the Second World War, to help entrench the hegemony of imperialism, especially American imperialism. Its policies have largely compromised our sovereignty and were responsible for the worsening conditions of existence in developing countries. In what ways would Ngozi’s presidency have changed the nature of the organisation? I cannot see them! Besides, she is completely wedded to those policies of the World Bank, which have devalued our existence.

So if our Ngozi had become World Bank President, it would have been the pinnacle of a career which served imperialism so faithfully, but was unlikely to fundamentally change our lives for the better. Yes, the Nigerian ruling class would have found some lift, but that is not the basis to liberate our country.

Alas, the token of Ngozi’s presidency of the World Bank was not even acceptable to the imperialist powers. That is the nature of the contemporary world!



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