National Honours (Laid Bare)

Today’s national newspapers, especially ThisDay, were quite bulky. When my copy was brought to me, I thought, judging from its thickness, that it was probably another political titan’s birthday or their daughter’s wedding celebration, and the minions were falling over themselves giving praise. I was wrong however. The several extra pages (which were indeed congratulatory messages) were to convey felicitations to various recipients of this year’s Presidential National Honours; men and women who are being honoured for “distinguished public service.”

I know that’s what they’re being honoured for, because that’s what the National Honours Act (see here) prescribes for inscription on the obverse side of the honours medal.

It’s probably going to be useless information, but here’s some more information the National Honours Act provides:

  • There are 2 Orders of Dignity – Order of the Federal Republic and Order of the Niger.
  • Each order comprises four ranks, namely – Grand Commander, Commander, Officer and Member

It seems the Order of the Federal Republic is the more distinguished one, because the Act places a lower limit on the maximum number of persons that can be appointed to its ranks in a calendar year. The maximum number of people that can be conferred with the different categories of honours each year are as follows:

  • GCFR – 2; GCON -10
  • CFR -20; CON -30
  • OFR – 50; OON – 100
  • MFR and MON have a maximum of 100 recipients each.

To be eligible for an award, the recipient must be a citizen of Nigeria. However, non-citizens can be honorary holders (not sure I get the distinction, or why it’s necessary then, but that’s what it says). The Act appears to be silent on whether or not honours can be conferred posthumously, but, to borrow the words of Brutus, Dr. Doyin Okupe is an honourable man. So it is possible that an amendment has since been passed and the copy of the Act that I consulted is dated.

A person is appointed to a rank when (s)he receives the insignia for the rank and an instrument (i.e. a document, letter, etc) signed by the President, sealed with the public seal of the Federation, conferring the rank. The President is however allowed to direct conferment on a person in any manner he feels is expedient.

When a person is promoted, (s)he is no longer entitled to hold [or use the insignia of] the lower rank. The government may request that insignia of the previous rank be returned upon promotion.

The President also has the power to deprive of rank anyone who has behaved in a manner not consistent with the dignity of the rank. I was unable to find any record of this power having ever been used.

And that’s it. Congratulations to this year’s recipients, deserving or otherwise.

Music and Lyrics

music

Music has always been a time-stamp for me. Most songs that bubble to the surface of my consciousness remind me of very specific places and times. Panam Percy Paul’s Bring Down Your Glory reminds me of the most devout time of my life, in secondary school. When I hear Diana Ross’s Touch Me In the Morning, or Do You Know Where You’re Going To, I see my mum a much younger lady in my mind’s eye. I hear Dynasty’s Holiday or Midnight Star’s No Parking on The Dance Floor, and I see my dad, who’s pushing 70 now, busting moves. Maroon 5’s Songs About Jane was the soundtrack to my NYSC. Missing You, the Puff Daddy tribute to the Notorious BIG puts me firmly in Kuti Hall, UI, when you would hear at least five different rooms blasting different portions of the song at any one time. Michael Buble’s Home reminds me of my bittersweet time as a perpetually broke masters’ degree student in Southampton. And so on.

Perhaps the way I consume music has also contributed to the time-stamping factor. I want to hear the layering of the instruments and vocals and hear how the producer changed the beat at the hook or the bridge. Most of all, however, I want to hear each and every single lyric and try to figure out what was going through the composer’s mind when he wrote the song. Since we got Google, rather than merely looking for the words, I also search for the background to the songs, and you’d be surprised how much history you might come across in that endeavour.

For instance, if you research the song Layla, made popular by Eric Clapton, you will find that it was inspired by his love for Pattie Boyd, who at the time he met her was married to George Harrison of the Beatles. Boyd would later divorce Harrison and subsequently marry Clapton, although the latter union did not last either. Boyd is also said to have inspired another of Clapton’s critically acclaimed hits, Wonderful Tonight. More surprising though, was the fact that she did not really return Clapton’s love, reportedly leading him into the spiral of acute drug and alcohol addiction. With some other songs, like Don’t Look Back In Anger by Oasis, you find that the composer was so spaced out of his mind during writing, he had no idea what the song was about.

And, contrary to what the preface might suggest, older local music also held its allure. Kris Okotie (now Reverend), Felix Liberty, Harry Mosco, Majek Fashek, Sunny Okosuns, all wrote enduring songs. Music was an art, that required dedication, nurture, time and talent.

Advances in technology have democratised everything however. And, armed with nothing more than the same laptop on which I’m publishing this piece to an international audience, anyone can make and publish music much more easily today. It is not certain whether this dilution in production requirementsalso led to the dilution in song writing but Nigerian music is in a song-writing crisis. Of course, it wasn’t always so.

After Nelson Mandela was freed and conscious music died in Nigeria, we all just trudged along for a while. Blackky, Alex O and Alex Zitto flew the flag for a while, Emphasis’s Which One You Dey? and Junior & Pretty’s Monica probably set the tone for indigenous rap around that time. Eedris AbdulKareem of The Remedies then took “rap” to the twilight zone but redemption, for me, came in the persons of Styl Plus. Personally, I don’t believe the story of today’s music in Nigeria can be told without mentioning the absolute game-changers that Styl Plus were. We once again had real lyrics, unprecedented vocal harmony and cutting edge music production. Their Olufunmi remix featuring Da Capo was without doubt the reset button for Nigerian hip-hop and rap.

I’d like to say the rest is history, with all the international superstars we now have but the lyrics lover in me says no. If we had charts in Nigeria today, I don’t think very many songs would be top 10 for more than 2 weeks. The very generic sound of most songs, poor production, similarity in lyrics and gimmickry all make for a very short-term hits market. And, at the end of the day, it seems most artists want to make a hit rather than good music. Now, I’m not naïve enough to think that music should not pay its creators but hit music here is frequently not very good music, and I think this is why most songs have a 2-week top 10 shelf-life or perhaps even less.

The music mostly doesn’t even sound great unless one is intoxicated either by the ambience of a crowd or the infusion of alcohol and I would argue that it isn’t distinctive enough to stamp anyone’s time or memories. Too many artistes are either asking the girl to “whine am down low” or “follow me go” or just stringing words together in unnatural sequences.

I have argued before that this sort of music isn’t the type that will pay artistes into their old age. Music doesn’t always have to make sense but it should sound original and artistes cannot be releasing albums where 7 of 12 tracks sound alike, or 4 tracks out of 11 sound lie you’re recycling your old hits.

Or perhaps the reality is that age brings with it a growing disconnect from the music of the day. I remember my dad not getting the point of expletive-laden rap, with its monotonous basslines, but you try throwing on a few Biggie and Tupac joints at a wedding reception or stag do today and see what happens.

Let’s encourage artists to pay more attention and devote more effort to writing, and let’s support those who make the effort by buying their music. If the legend that is 2face Idibia could finally give in and include a Go-Down-Low line in Go, the opening track to his latest album, I would suggest it’s because we did not reward him enough for Only Me, Rainbow and all the other lyric-laden smash hits on his previous one. There’s no greater incentive than putting our money where our mouths are.

Where will your kids be on September 22?

“If Ebola hits schools” my friend said, “this country will die. Will children stop playing with each other, or parents stop hugging their children?”

 

My friend is not a doctor, so the medical accuracy in her assertion may not be 100%, but she is a parent who has decided that her daughter will not be going back to school on the 22nd of September. And she is not the only one. Many other parents have expressed concern at the government’s hurry (or caving under pressure from private school proprietors) to bring back resumption of school by 3 weeks. This is especially puzzling, coming at a time when the WHO has raised the alarm that the window for containing the virus across is West Africa is closing, and the number of confirmed cases across the country recently rising to 19.

 

When Mr. Index Case, Patrick Sawyer, came over from Liberia with his deadly cargo about 50 days ago, the consensus amongst parents was that it was a most fortunate, almost divinely ordained thing that schools we’re already on vacation at the time. The government deserves every commendation too, that we’re discussing only 19 and not the several hundreds of cases that have been confirmed in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone. However, we are clearly not yet in the clear.

 

The Nigerian Medical Association, from whom the government really ought to be taking guidance on this issue, has rejected the September 22 resumption date. Hear them –

 

“We are not happy with this decision on the resumption of schools. Schools should be shut till the last suspected case or patient is certified free of the virus… We can shift the resumption date till next year or in the next three months if that is the time it will take. Government should have enough time to follow the standard procedure for containing   the virus. Parents have no reason to be in a hurry because if Ebola should enter any school, it will assume another dimension. Children cannot survive isolation like adults.”

 

You can see that my friend was not too far off in her assessment if the NMA agrees with her. The Lagos State House of Representatives has also indicated that it will review the proposed resumption date. Instructively, that last-referenced piece describes how “private school owners had vehemently opposed the [October 13] resumption date, compelling the Federal Ministry of Education to bring forward the date for schools to reopen to September 22, after a meeting with stakeholders in the sector.”

 

One can see how the disruption is unfavourable to private school owners. They need to continue to pay their staff full salaries, but most parents were unlikely to agree to pay a full term’s fees for only a half-term’s tuition, going by the previous October 13th date. There is also the prospect of losing out on projected income completely if schools are shut indefinitely as the NMA has recommended. Furthermore, one branch of the national association of private school owners has suggested that if tertiary institutions, churches and mosques, etc., were not closed, then there is no reason for primary and secondary schools to stay shut. 

 

However, kids cannot be trusted with their own hygiene and with 2 school-going children of my own, I have come to know a thing or two about in-school cross-infections. During term time, there’s always a cough or cold going around. My kids have been home for 3 months or so and have been sniffle-free the entire time. When you remember again that a lot of these schools also run daycare services, and that babies are constantly drooling, barfing and pooping, you kind of want to be really sure that there’s no chance of the virus embedding itself in all those bodily discharges. 

 

In the meantime, another infection has been confirmed in Lagos, with the situation in Rivers State seemingly still in a state of flux. A new case has also been reported at the Obafemi Awolowo University in Ife. So the virus is still very much with us and amongst us, and I’ve read that Nigeria also runs the risk of being seen an El Dorado of sorts by our siblings further west; that they’ll flock here to be nursed back to health or to be safe.

 

I’m for erring on the side of caution. I would rather schools were shut until January, if need be, for the assurance that our children will be safe.