Sweet and Sour

August 14, 2020

Foreign affairs


A map of Nigeria

By Donu Kogbara

THINGS ain’t looking good on the home front. To put it mildly.

According to the World Bank, thanks to the oil price collapse and COVID-19 pandemic, Nigeria is likely to plunge into a severe recession – the worst economic decline we have experienced since the 1980s.

Meanwhile, the nation is being governed very inefficiently, drowning in numerous corruption scandals and sinking under the weight of scary security nightmares that the big boys who run our security agencies are either unwilling or unable to eliminate or mitigate.

This terrible status quo is so unbelievably depressing that I have decided to remove my mind from the rubbish that is going on around me this week and focus on what is happening in other countries.

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When I was growing up, Lebanon was politically stable, prosperous and known as “the Switzerland of the East”, and its capital, Beirut, was so famously stylish and sophisticated and safe that it attracted tonnes of tourists and was described as “the Paris of the Middle East”.

Nowadays, the story is somewhat different.

Lebanon is still more cosmopolitan than many places on this earth; but it went through a bloody and destructive civil war in the 1970s and has been dangerously wobbly on various critical levels since then.

In recent years, sectarianism, poor governance and venality in high places have been norms; and Lebanon is currently struggling to cope with the grim fallout from a tragedy that could have been avoided.

Last week, there was a huge explosion at the port in Beirut; and it tore through the city, flattening buildings and killing and injuring people. Nearly 200 died, thousands are in hospital and homeless.

On Monday, the entire cabinet, led by Prime Minister Hassan Diab, resigned in response to the public’s rage over this disaster in particular and the government’s multiple failings in general.

Despite wanting to forget about Nigeria for a while, one cannot help but compare the Lebanese authorities to their Naija counterparts.

I applaud Diab and his subordinates for stepping down when it became obvious that they were not performing adequately.

Most VIPs here – whether they be politicians or army chiefs or whatever – are performing even less adequately than Diab and Co. But will they ever shed their shamelessness and step down?

Of course not!


United States

I just want to briefly congratulate Jo Biden, the presumptive presidential candidate of the American Democratic Party, for choosing Senator Kamala Harris to be his running mate.

Her parents are of Indian and Jamaican extraction. She’s clever and feisty and will be a great representative of ethnic minorities and women. Fingers crossed that she and Biden comprehensively crush Trashy Trump when Americans go the polls in November!!!


Sri Lanka

The newly-elected Sri Lankan President, Gotabaya Rajapaksa, has just named his brother, Mahinda, as prime minister.

Mahinda, a two-term president himself (he ran Sri Lanka for a decade that ended in January 2015) is certainly qualified for the job. Some might even say that he is over-qualified!

But even if your brother or sister happens to be super-talented and extremely experienced, can it ever be acceptable to insert your sibling into such a key position within a system you are in charge of?

I don’t think so!

As far as I’m concerned, this kind of naked and unrepentant nepotism is an unfortunate Banana Republic move. And it doesn’t only happen in developing countries like Sri Lanka either.

The late US President, Jack Kennedy, made his brother, Bobby, his Attorney General. The current UK Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, has just bestowed a House of Lords peerage on his brother, Jo.

I’m sure the above siblings are competent. But it still doesn’t feel right for them to so obviously benefit from their brothers at the top. As far as I’m concerned, they should go work elsewhere.

And you know what? I feel that (for once!) I should say something positive about Nigeria and point out that crudely cronyistic appointments of siblings to major government positions has never happened here and will probably never happen here!!!


We Are Watching O!

Last week, I sang the praises of Olu Akpata, the new President of the Nigerian Bar Association.

I said I knew Akpata personally, that I was convinced that he would display integrity and that I hoped that he would restore the floundering reputation of the legal profession…which like every other profession in Nigeria, has been badly tarnished by mercantile members who will do anything for a buck.

Much to my surprise, I’ve received a few complaints from seemingly credible lawyers who are keen to “set the record straight” and assure me that Akpata is not as honourable as I think.

Are these complainants simply jealous? Is bad-belle their only problem? Or are they genuinely concerned about Akpata’s ethics?

Who knows? I would love to shout from the rooftops that Olu, as I fondly call him, can do no wrong. As in ever. But journalists are not supposed to be blindly partisan, so I will maintain an open mind.

Akpata comes from a respected family that isn’t poor, so I’d like to think that he can never be an amoral, money-grabbing desperado. But we have seen massive misbehaviour from other Nigerian officials who also come from respected and affluent families.

Pedigree is no guarantee of anything nowadays. Rich kids are just as liable to steal as kids from impoverished backgrounds. All I can say at this very early stage is that time will tell whether Olu will prove his critics right or live up to my high expectations.

In the meantime, I wish him luck with his challenging new job.