My Limericks (…so far)

A beloved central banker

Was alleged to be a wanker

He squeezed the send button

To another’s man mutton

Alhamdulillahi,Love u,he thanked her

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A hippo came from the delta

And spoke, all ran helter skelter.

A virtue, her name

Like Helen, a dame

Her logo, a big umblerra.

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A soldier named AlMusty

15yrs on trial grew dusty

One week out jail, promoted, all hail

Their consciences are rusty.

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The Nigerian Civil Service: Reforming the Unreformable

I am usually scathing in my remarks about the Nigerian civil service. In addition to the service being overly bloated, most of its staff have absolutely no manners and are unapologetically corrupt. Reforming the civil service will be a tall order, but I would like to think about reform in this piece.

I think the civil service is designed to have too much interaction with the public and this is a huge contributor to the gargantuan corruption in the system. Anyone who wants a regulatory approval needs to go to three separate departments, in each of which five people fastidiously check documentary compliance and the absence of any whom can delay one’s application indefinitely. Then, periodically, the head honcho (in what is usually no more than a “golden parachute” arrangement) decides to revamp the entire system, requiring everyone who ever obtained a permit in the history of the government ministry to “revalidate” his or her permit for a “token fee” plus stress, frustration and hardship.

Each government office one visits has a big notice discouraging Nigerians from patronising touts. However, the system is yet to be designed that is easier than using touts. Who are the touts anyway, if not staff of the ministry or their agents?

Then, there’s supposed to be a customer service initiative called SERVICOM. There are SERVICOM posters at all government departments, telling you that you have the right to be served courteously. Those posters are just as effective as the ones at police stations that tell you that bail is free.

Let’s accept that the Nigerian Labour Congress will never permit the downsizing required to make the civil service a leaner, meaner, more efficient machine. No problem. Here are a few suggestions for reform (if anyone is listening, or cares):

  1. Reduce the number of steps required in getting a permit or approval – typically, an applicant should be able to (a) pay the administrative fee; (b) submit all his documents at one desk; and (c) collect the permit or approval, without fail, on a pre-announced date. As the Palm Pilot in Special Agent Oso sings, “Three special steps, that’s all you need; three special steps and you’ll succeed.
  2. Automate processes – many government departments now accept online payments but they’re not cutting turnaround times. Paying the official fee for a permit is usually the easiest part of the process, to be frank. It’s the paper-checking and paper-pushing components of the process that come with all sorts of kinks and extra tollgates. If there was a system to check when an application is submitted and whose responsibility it is to approve within a given timeframe, the process might speed up a bit. But this is our civil service we’re talking about – this would require a permanent secretary or director that isn’t a product of the cankerous system to enforce.
  3. Ban Religiosity – the greatest problem religion in the workplace – the greatest paradox of the filthily corrupt civil service – has brought, is that no one is afraid of earthly sanctions anymore. We leave everything to God, because God is control and everyone’s reward, whether good or bad, is in the metaphysical. We need physical, immediate consequences for dithering and slothfulness – it will be too late to change the civil service when we reach the afterlife.
  4. Outsource to the private sector – even with as many actual foot soldiers as there are in the public service, it is safe to assume that efficiently performing some tasks will always be beyond them. The best contemporary example of this is the Federal Road Safety Corps’ inability to arrange timely data capture for the incoming revised drivers’ licences. Nigerians are generally happy to pay a little extra when they see the value for what they’ve paid. Own the software, control access to it, licence it to third party private sector companies, and simply send the licences by courier to the owners once pictures and fingerprints have been taken. The integrity in the process is maintained and there’s “something for the boys” on the back end.

This is 2013, only 7 years before we pretend to be disappointed when we don’t enter the elite league of the 20 most developed economies in the world. We cannot be a top 20 economy with a bottom 20 civil service – who do we think is supposed to drive and institutionalise the quantum leaps we need to make on this journey to the big league?

I truly apologise for the cynicism in this piece but we all know our country. This piece won’t even be a footnote in anyone’s consciousness in a week’s time.

The Roof, the Warriors and the Chocolate Teapot

STORY ONE

Once upon a time, there was a man who looked up and saw the roof of his house crumbling. “This roof will surely fall in,” he thought to himself. The next day, he thought about calling in a builder to take a look but decided against it. At any rate, the pressure from the external water tank, on the ground next to the kitchen was really poor. So he called a plumber instead, and the moved the tank from the floor and installed it on the crumbling roof. “This roof will fall in a few months’ time if you don’t reinforce it immediately,” the plumber warned the man. “I know.” the man replied. But the next week, he installed a large satellite dish on the roof and then moved his sofa right under the fault line in the ceiling. Damn, he thought, as he looked up from the sofa one evening into the widening crack in his ceiling, this collapse of this roof is imminent. And then he turned back to his program.

STORY TWO

The villagers at Poposhinshin village were in the middle of their daily feast, when a young man ran into the village square, panting. “Quick,” he said between pauses to gulp in air, “they warriors of Alajeju village are on their way here to attack us. They are still about two days away. What do we do?”

“Hmmm,” said the village chief, stroking his chin very slowly, “this calls for a meeting of the council of elders. We shall meet after the feast today.”

“Forgive me, my elders,” said the breathless man, now much more composed, “but what is there to meet about? They outnumber us 5 to 1, their weapons are far more advanced than ours. They are a village of giants. We must either flee or send an emissary with a peace offering to beg them.”

“You have spoken very well and we will consider all this at our meeting.” The chief replied.

At the meeting later on, the chief divided the council into two committees, one to look into the obvious and remote causes of the pending invasion, the other to propose ways of appeasing the Alajejus. The committees deliberated until sunrise the following day, when the spears, arrows and swords of the would-be conquerors could be seen glistening in the sun, just over the horizon.

All over the village, the mood was surprisingly calm as the glistening metal cluster drew closer to the village. One man decided to leave with his family that day, for Animashaun village. The Animashauns were more powerful than the Alajejus.

As dusk approached again, the people of Poposhinshin had begun to hear the stomping of the Alajejus. “We are doomed”, they casually remarked to one another. “When our village falls, these people might enslave our men and take our women as their wives.” Still very visibly unperturbed, they carried on as normal. The council of elders continued its meeting.

STORY THREE

Once upon another time, the people of Doofus discovered the gift of tea. The tea was brought to their village by a travelling European explorer, who was temporarily their king but was deposed when they decided they could rule themselves. They figured this tea was desirable, for the European had described to them all the wonders of this tea and how it made his own village so much different from and better than Doofus. While the European explorer was king, he dispensed this tea to them in small portions from his nice metal canister. After he left, they decided they needed this tea in much larger amounts.

But they didn’t know how to make tea. They had the fire, they had water, they had tea leaves. But they weren’t sure what to boil the tea in. The European explorer never showed them how he brewed his tea. Their day of triumph came when the council of elders proudly announced that they now knew how to boil the tea. The people of Doofus gathered and watched in amazement, as the elders produced a chocolate teapot and put it on the fire.

STORY FOUR

The people of Nigeria, when looking at the indices and benchmarks of a functional nation, have for a long time predicted the implosion (in a calamitous conflagration) of their nation. They do not flee. They do not fight the forces of the impending doom.

THE GROWING NEED FOR A DATA PROTECTION LAW

This article was first published in the Trenchard Partners Newsletter, in January 2010.

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The Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) at the end of 2009 issued a directive mandating mobile operators to register SIM cards prior to activation. The telecoms operators have cited many reasons not to proceed with the scheme, including the high cost of any such exercise and the likely aversion of subscribers to SIM registration. However, the NCC has stated that the measure will be useful in the prevention and the prosecution of crime, and the compilation of a national database. This article articulates other reasons which suggest that further thought needed to have been given to the matter before a directive was issued.

The question that immediately came to my mind when I heard of the directive was that of data protection and what measures, if any had been taken to protect subscribers’ privacy. Anyone who has ever filled a form in the UK requiring the entry of personal information will confirm that such forms, regardless of the nature of the business of the data collector, contain a statement of the data protection policy of the company and informs the person providing the information of the limits within which the personal data can be used.

Unlike the UK, Nigeria does not have a Data Protection and Privacy Act. However, embedded in the Schedule to the Consumer Code of Practice Regulations 2007, are provisions relating to data protection. The relevant sections of the NCC regulations (ss. 34-38 of the Schedule) adopt the basic principles of data protection, as follows: “…the collection and maintenance of information on individual Consumers shall be – (a) fairly and lawfully collected and processed; (b) processed for limited and identified purposes; (c) relevant and not excessive; (d) accurate; (e) not kept longer than necessary; (f) processed in accordance with the Consumer’s other rights; (g) protected against improper or accidental disclosure; and (h) not transferred to any party except as permitted by any terms and conditions agreed with the Consumer, as permitted by any permission or approval of the Commission, or as otherwise permitted or required by other applicable laws or regulations.”

Currently, SIM registration requires the subscriber’s photograph and fingerprints to be taken in addition to the name and address of said subscriber. If data collected is meant to be relevant and not excessive, one must surely question the relevance of biometric information (particularly, fingerprints) to a subscriber directory. Given the garb of crime prevention with which the exercise has been cloaked, is it the intention of the NCC for such details to be handed over to the law enforcement agencies? I suspect that the response of the average reader would be that if the writer is not a law-breaker, then he should have nothing to fear. However, section 37 of the 1999 Constitution of Nigeria guarantees the right to privacy of Nigerian citizens. Furthermore, there are no obligations on any non-telecoms operator (e.g. the Nigerian Police or the State Security Service) to deal with personal data according to the same standards as the telecoms companies. Again, as the NCC initially proposed a uniform gatherer of this information, who is the custodian of the personal information taken from subscribers? The NCC or the telecoms companies?

Sub-paragraph (h) of the regulations should also give subscribers cause for concern. It provides to the effect that a subscriber’s personal data may only be transferred to other parties in accordance with the terms and conditions agreed with the customer or otherwise permitted by law. The registration form that subscribers are required to complete for the SIM registration exercise (I have been to two of such centres) do not contain any terms and conditions upon which personal data is being processed. Neither of the terms and conditions displayed on the websites of either of these two companies have any terms pertinent to the collection and maintenance of subscriber data. This is notwithstanding the fact that section 37(1) of the Commission’s guidelines requires each operator’s policy on the protection of consumer information to be made available in an accessible and easy to read manner. The question is also relevant whether authorities, who are permitted by their enabling laws to enter into premises and seize documents, can lawfully seize the devices on which subscriber records are stored. Normally, these agencies would require warrants to search and seize. Under what circumstances would they be able to obtain biometric data of suspects? Only when the suspects’ telephone records are relevant? Or at any time at all?

One must also examine other companies and organisations that collect and process data. This sub-set would include banks, stockbrokers, utilities companies (e.g. PHCN, Water Boards), the Immigrations Service, the Federal Road Safety Corps and even, one might argue, embassies. Everyone of these companies now has an ‘e-solution’ to their companies’ products and services. The question is not how likely it is for these entities to share our personal information with third parties but rather, whether such a possibility exists, and what the ramifications would be if they did. Apart from sharing our personal data, if it is proved that personal data has been misplaced or dealt with negligently by a custodian to whom we as consumers have provided this information, what should be the consequences be? There have been adverts in newspapers by some cable companies advertising direct debit as a means of payment. Direct debit would require the subscriber to entrust his bank details to the broadcaster. Should there not be a minimum legal standard for the handling of such information?

Recently, social networking website Facebook came under fire from many of its users because its privacy settings stopped working as they were designed to. Ordinarily, particulars of and updates to a user’s profile should only be visible to other users designated as ‘friends’. However, due to a glitch, these restrictions temporarily failed to work, removing the restrictions to users’ personal information and communications. The incident left many users weighing the usefulness of the network against the security of their privacy and many users considered this such a grievous breach that they stopped using the website altogether. The rationale for this was quite clear – a website can no longer be trusted if communications and information that were meant and believed to be private and confidential turned out to be the opposite. Likewise, there was a huge public outcry when British civil servants misplaced flash drives where details of millions of British residents were stored, as well as when the British Government lost a truckload of brand new passport booklets.  We live in an era when access to personal data provides ample opportunity for identity theft and if this concerns residents in countries where law enforcement has the technological wherewithal to combat electronic theft, it should most certainly concern residents of such a country as ours.

It is my suggestion that the SIM registration directive is premature, because the telecoms operators do not exist in a vacuum. They interact and transact business with various companies and it is not inconceivable that some of these companies may come into contact with the data gathered by the telecoms companies. As long as there is no statutory obligation on these third parties to treat subscriber’s personal data with the same standard required of telecoms companies, the system is inherently compromised. The National Assembly needs to enact a law regulating the protection of data gathered by service providers. Failure to do this, instead of helping to stop crime, could lead to the next generation of cybercrime and identity theft. For the system to work properly, all gathering and potential sharing of personal data must be regulated.

Our government and its agencies must also adopt a broader approach as they seek to modernise and keep up with current trends. Privatisation and deregulation are laudable, but everywhere else in the world, they are accompanied by competition/antitrust laws. The NCC does have competition regulations, but competition/antitrust issues are certainly not the exclusive preserve of telecoms companies. Likewise, telecoms companies are not the only bodies required to register customers, and the attendant privacy and data protection issues must be addressed.

 

“Submission” is a Myth

submission-pat-robertson

When we discuss the submission of a woman to her husband, in accordance with the instructions of the Apostle Paul, the picture I see many painting is of a lowly woman, who mustn’t speak unless she is spoken to; who must wait hand and foot on her husband; whose sole purpose in life is to seek her husband’s approval and yield to him on everything. Luckily for me, my parents were largely equal partners, with Dad’s word prevailing mostly only when it came to disciplining us, their four boys. Most other things were as a result of mutual consultation and compromise.

Where does this instruction to submit come from and what exactly does it say? Let us look at scripture:

“Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church: and he is the savior of the body.” – Ephesians 5:22-23

“Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands, as it is fit in the Lord. Husbands, love your wives, and be not bitter against them.” – Colossians 3: 18-19.

“Women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the law says.” – 1 Corinthians 14: 34

One of the things that has struck me as a Christian, growing up in church and listening to sermons over the years, is how much of an effort modern day preachers (both orthodox and Pentecostal) make to provide as deep insight as is possible on scripture. It is now very common for preachers to discuss the Hebrew or Greek etymology of the original words from which the English translations were derived. It also frequently happens (although most pick and choose when this is acceptable) that the preacher discusses the cultural context in which certain instructions were given.

For example, see the following text from the 1st letter of Paul to the Corinthians, Chapter 14 –

5 But every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head—it is the same as having her head shaved… 13 Judge for yourselves: Is it proper for a woman to pray to God with her head uncovered? 14 Does not the very nature of things teach you that if a man has long hair, it is a disgrace to him, 15 but that if a woman has long hair, it is her glory? For long hair is given to her as a covering. 16 If anyone wants to be contentious about this, we have no other practice—nor do the churches of God.”

Most conservative churches/Christians still frown at women with uncovered hair in church and during family prayers. However, many “charismatic” preachers explain that this admonition was necessary in ancient Corinth because prostitutes used to come into the temple to solicit men. Covering one’s hair as a woman was primarily to distance one’s self from women of easy virtue.

Both extremes of the Christian spectrum however appear to still fully embrace the doctrine of submission, at least where it comes to one’s husband. Women are no longer silent in church, as this was also apparently issued within the context of a cultural construct. *Shrugs*

Being logical, what this suggests is that if culture no longer supports a Biblical instruction that was not expressly declared a sin, we ought to reconsider how much importance we attach to strict adherence.

Some may argue that submission, or deference, of a woman to her husband is part and parcel of most indigenous cultures and this is probably true. However, culture is nothing, if not fluid.

From ancient times probably till about 50 years ago, the husband was undoubtedly his family’s sole breadwinner and protector. Perhaps this is even why (going back to the Bible)  a man was required to take his deceased brother’s widow as his own wife. Most wives were homemakers, ensuring the family was fed and the children looked after. She would be utterly defenceless without a husband and the man’s word simply had  to be yea and amen.

Then came this beautiful thing called education, recalibrating our civilisation. Families, on the whole, began not needing to decide which children would go to school and which would stay at home. Girls began to have the same education as boys and what we have today are men and women, husband and wives, standing on very similar footing with regard to earning power. Today’s woman is lifting a lot more weight, on the average, than her counterpart half a century ago. Today, some women even earn more than their husbands and it is said that many men in this position assume control of the wives’ salaries, deciding how much of it she should receive as an allowance. Why should such women be subordinates?

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And let us even abandon cultural logic and examine the dynamics of romance and coupling. The great majority of women were chased, intently, by their husbands, with gifts and words and persistence and promises.  As a man, you go through all that and reward her by insisting she be your doormat?

The truth, as I see it, is that submission is a two-way street. In functional, happy marriages, wives submit to their husbands and the husbands submit right back. Otherwise no one would be looking furtively at the their wristwatches at bars and hangouts, for example. Today’s marriage needs to be built on a lot more mutual love and mutual respect for each other. In some matters the husband is boss. In others, the woman is the boss. Besides, with the admonition for the wife to submit comes the one for the husband to LOVE his wife. Loving and walking over one’s wife are irreconcilable, to my mind.

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Let me end with an anecdote I first came across on the internet many years ago.

At his 50th wedding anniversary celebrations, a man was asked by one of his guests how his marriage had lasted so long. “Oh, that’s easy”, the man replied, “We decided very early on that she would let me decide all the big stuff and she would decide the small stuff.”

“Small stuff like what?” the guest asked.

“Oh, like where we would live, what colour we would paint it, the kind of furniture we would have, where the kids would go to school, what sort of car we would drive and so on.”

“That was the small stuff?” his guest asked incredulously. “So what did you get the final word on?”

“The really serious stuff, like who our country should go to war with, who we should elect as president and how the owner of the team I support is an absolute donkey.”

AMEBOR TALES FROM THE MATERNITY WARD

So, Mrs Tex recently had a baby. Habemus nueva Texina  – dodgy Latin for we have a new Texina. After delivery, we were moved into a recovery ward. 6 women in the room, with their baby-daddies (“partners” is the politically correct term in England) and frequently wailing babies, each couple with its unique story, from my perspective, at any rate.

The couple beside us on the first day (we were there for 48 hours or so), appeared to be a (British?) man of Arabic descent and a woman who sounded eastern-European. They stood out, not because I am xenophobic, but because I noticed after a while that they were communicating in heavily accented English, like in Maria de Los Angeles or one of those Hollywood movies set in Germany, in which all the officers of the Reich speak in a thick German accent, the thickness being directly proportional to the proximity of the officer from the Fuhrer. The other foreign couples only spoke English to the nurses. It was for this reason that I noticed them and started paying attention to their conversations. Their most remarkable exchange was when he asked her, for the umpteenth time apparently, “Are you alright?” She retorted angrily in her thick accent “Every time you ask if I alright!! What you want me to say??? Ugh!” And then she walked out and left him with the baby for a bit.

Then there was the Yoruba couple, like us, across from us. Except that the just-delivered mum wasn’t too happy with her partner. How could I tell? Well, she had this very loud conversation on the phone, in Yoruba, complaining bitterly. Husband’s name has the same intonation as Rotimi, Kayode, Bidemi. Shall we call him Deremi? Conversation and a contextual translation for non-speakers of Yoruba are provided below.

E wo, inu mi o dun si Deremi joo. O ti lose  spark e as a husband. Look, Deremi’s bloody pissing me off right now. Carries on like he has no clue about being a husband anymore.
Ko ki n ba mi se anything mo. Ko ti e ki n help mi rara. The man does nothing to help me around the house. Nothing!
Shebi bi mo se n s’ise l’oun naa n s’ise. Meanwhile, ko ni fun mi l’owo anything. We both work, don’t we? Yet he doesn’t give me a bleeding penny.
Maa lo si’bise, maa s’obe fun’le, maa we f’awon omo then, to ba d’ale, a wa ni ki n lie down s’ori bed I go to work, come back and cook, bathe the kids  and then at night the plonker wants a shag…

Yeah, very colourful. Moving on now to the most interesting couple we shared the ward with. I shall use their real names because they sounded middle-class (why then were they in a public hospital?) and the chances that they’ll read this blog post (it’s not from the Economist or Horse & Hound) by an inconsequential African are slim. So, meet Matthew and Alice of posh street, South Kensington.

Matthew and Alice had twin girls, who we shall call Bethany and Margaret. Having Matthew and Alice in the next cubicle was  like being next to Boris Johnson and Lady Thatcher. Strong, affirmative, cultured language and, to my constant amusement, the most officious (almost pretentious) manner of speaking to each other. When they arrived (they took over from the Arab/Romanian couple), they came in congratulating each other.

“I do say, Alice, that was quite a stunning, five-star performance, you having the twins. Well, done!”

“No Matthew, indeed, it is you who are the star of the show, with your unwavering support for me these past months.”

 

Ho, Hum, La, Dee, Da. Then they settled in and Matthew picked up Bethany, who apparently was already his favourite, as he never really mentioned or spoke to Margaret. “I simply adore you Bethany, you precious little sausage, you. A priceless sausage you are!” And then he proceeded to call her a sausage for the next hour. Lovely sausage this, pretty sausage that, Ho, Hum, La, Dee, Da.

Eventually, Matthew’s upper-crustedness kicked in and, unlike us plebs and foreigners, he wouldn’t spend the night on a hospital chair beside his wife. “I feel awful at leaving,” he said, “but I don’t think I really could stay, could I? I’ll be back first thing in the morning. A million thanks again for being such a smashing champion.”

“No Matthew”, she replied, “I would like to reiterate my appreciation of your care and attention. You’ve been wonderful.”

I swear she said reiterate. To her husband. Reiterate. Ho, Hum, La, Dee, Da.

When he arrived the next morning, she said “I’m afraid I’ll have to put you on nappy duty straightaway.”

“Grrrrrrreat! I thought so. Ah, Bethany’s done a poo. A super poo! She’s a super pooper. Super pooper, super pooper.”

Later, the doctors gave the twins their first physical exam, after which Alice informed Matthew “The twins have passed their first tests with flying colours!”

“O!M!G! Smashing!!!” said Matthew. I saw him do the running man, in my mind’s eye.

Alas, we were discharged and saw no more of the diamonds in the rough. I could probably do 500 more words on Matthew and Alice.