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Nigeria’s New “MINTed” Hope By Okey Ndibe.



Okey Ndibe

During a brief trip to London last week, I was intrigued to realize that part of the news buzz pertained to Nigeria’s inclusion in a list of countries with prospects of becoming four of the world’s biggest emergent economies. The so-called MINT countries are Mexico, Indonesia, Nigeria and Turkey. Jim O’Neill, an economist at the international investment firm, Goldman Sachs, popularized the acronym. He earlier coined the term BRICS countries, denoting Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa, which he rated a few years ago as some of the globe’s emerging economic giants.
On Thursday, Peter Okwoche of the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) ended a short interview on my new novel, Foreign Gods, Inc., by asking what I thought about Mr. O’Neill’s rosy prediction for Nigeria.

Lacking the time to offer a detailed and nuanced response, I stated that Nigeria is endowed with extremely bright people, that the country is full of energetic and industrious men and women. By contrast, I added, the country has never been lucky in the department of leadership. To sum up, I invoked Chinua Achebe’s dire—but hardly contestable—conclusion that Nigeria has an amazing facility for snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.

Nigeria’s economic policy makers are understandably giddy about Mr. O’Neill’s flattering prognosis. I’d caution the infusion of a high dose of chastening realism into the premature celebration. A sense of history demands nothing less than a sober—and sobering—confrontation of the facts. Achebe was no economist, but the central fact of Nigeria’s journey, as far as economic development is concerned, bears out the late writer’s dim take on his country. In a sense, we could say that Achebe was the sounder economist and Mr. O’Neill, in inflating Nigeria’s odds, the fiction-maker.

This is not the first time Nigeria has been mentioned enthusiastically in prognoses of dramatic economic growth. Again and again, experts, foreign and homebred, had foretold that Nigeria was on the cusp of becoming a stupendous economic miracle. Each new prediction or declaration would trigger its own surge of elation. Nigeria’s policy makers and their sometimes over-pampered partners in the private sector would go into a spree of premature celebration, as if the word potential was interchangeable with reality, as if promise were the equal of performance. Each time, in the end, the outcome was embarrassing. Rather than rise to its potential, Nigeria always somehow found a way to stay stuck in the mud of failure and mediocrity, continuing to romance its worst nightmares.

Nigerians are all-too aware of their country’s missed opportunities. Many years have been lost to wasteful, visionless squander mania. Rampant, unchecked corruption has smothered many a promising grand idea. For many discerning people, Nigeria has become a huge graveyard: a cemetery littered with betrayed dreams, dashed hopes, and asphyxiated aspirations. We’re all too familiar with many dud promissory notes that came with such flamboyant names or phrases as “Green Revolution,” “Consolidating the Gains of SAP,” “Vision 2020-10,” “NEEDS,” “Dividends of Democracy,” and “Transformational Leadership.”

Read Nigerian newspapers or watch any Nigerian television station and you’re bound to realize that there’s zero discussion of the things that matter. It’s all about one empty-headed politician decamping from one political party to another; one squabble or another between two politicians or two political parties; one hireling or another warning that presidential power must stay where it is, or must be transferred to a person from a different geo-ethnic sector, or it’s hell-in-Nigeria; some pastor or imam declaiming that God whispered into his/her ears that Nigerians must fast and pray more (even though most of the populace is already on poverty-enforced fasting). Much of Nigeria’s public discourse is taken up by a tizzy of political rants and faux piety.

Greatness never comes by accident, nor is it imposed by divinity on an unwilling people. A country, like a person, must prepare—be prepared—for greatness. It starts with dreaming greatness, imagining it, contemplating what it must take, and deciding that the venture is worth the risk, that we’re willing to invest the time, intellect and material resources to translate the dreamed into reality.

Do Nigerians dream big? In words, they do, but not in deed. In the 1960s through the 1980s, Nigerian “leaders” used to speak of “this great nation of ours.” But even they have abandoned that species of bad joke! Now, they speak of “moving the nation forward” or “delivering the dividends of democracy.” But the rickety molue they claim to be moving forward is in reverse gear, headed, any moment, for a jagged gorge. Ask any Nigerian official what “dividends” they have delivered and you’re bound to hear such fatuous lines as, “I purchased 100 tractors to mechanize agriculture,” “I don’t owe civil servants any arrears of salaries,” “I bought chalks for all elementary schools in my state,” “I have commissioned 500 water boreholes,” etc, etc.

It’s the 21st century, but very little of the language of those who run (that is, ruin) Nigeria suggests that they are aware of what time it is. They’re conscious of the world, of course, but only in a slavish, opportunistic way. They, their relatives and cronies are at their best when they travel in style to the world’s most dazzling cities: New York, Paris, Dubai, Tokyo, Hong Kong, London, Amsterdam, Brussels, Beijing, etc. Once in these cities, they unleash their rank consumerist impulse, eager to bask in the most garish of each city’s sensual offerings. But it never occurs to them that the goods that make them swoon, the services they lust after are products of other thinking people’s imagination and work.

Meanwhile, back home, the masses are steeped in grim lives, trapped by ignorance and disease. Last week in London, a friend showed me a Youtube video of a brackish lake in Nigeria swarmed by thousands of sick, desperate Nigerians who believe that the stagnant body of water has healing powers. I was incensed by the spectacle, the hysteria of ignorance. Then it dawned on me: this is what can happen—what happens—in a country bereft of any healthcare system.

I’d like to hear Mr. O’Neill stipulate a recipe for Nigeria’s emergence into economic greatness. Nigeria has a high supply of thinkers, of experts in every field, including economic policy. But the hordes of unthinking, grub-obsessed politicians who dominate the political sphere are consistently threatened by expertise.

I don’t know of any country that rose to economic powers via fasting and prayers. And yet that’s the formula most treasured by Nigerian politicians who exhort their victims to fast and pray. Luck can only carry a person or a nation so far. And Nigeria has long exhausted its stock of luck, even if it somehow keeps borrowing some more.

The “N” in Mr. O’Neill’s MINT will become yet another mirage unless Nigerians find a way to reverse the toxic culture that validates corruption and venerates mediocrity.

Please follow me on twitter @ okeyndibe



Sharia court orders expulsion of 5 Christians from Jammu & Kashmir.

Muslim womenA local Sharia court on Jan 19 issued a decree seeking the expulsion of five Christian clergymen from Jammu and Kashmir.

Nasir-ul-Islam, a deputy of grand Mufti Bashir-ud-din, told reporters that the Sharia court had found the pastors guilty of alluring Muslim youth in Kashmir to Christianity.

Senior pastor of All Saints Church in Kashmir Rev C M Khanna, Dutch missionary Jim Borst and Gayoor Messah, pastor of the Noor-e-Hayat (Light of Life) evangelical church are among the five Christian clergymen whose expulsion the Muslim court has sought.

The court has also asked the State government to monitor the activities of Christian missionary schools in the Valley.

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According to the Sharia court, the 5 Christian workers were found ‘guilty’ of attracting Muslim youth to Christianity through monetary allurement.

“Khanna and his associates have been found guilty of spreading communal disaffection and were involved in immoral activities. They are ordered to be expelled from the state,” deputy grand mufti of Jammu and Kashmir, Nasir-ul-Islam said while reading the verdict of the Sharia court.

The grand mufti, however, failed to name the ‘immoral’ activities that the Christian workers were purportedly involved in.

The court said it had conducted a trial after a video clip showed Rev Khanna baptising seven Muslim youth at a church last year.

The pastor was subsequently arrested by police and is currently out on bail.

“Since the majority of students in these schools are Muslims, Islamic studies should also be included in the curriculum,” the court said. The court also called for the inclusion of local scholars and educationists in the governing bodies of these schools.

An investigation is also probing the principal of Tyndale Biscoe School, Parvez Samuel Koul. The school, serving people in the rural area of Tanmarg, belongs to Church of North India (CNI) and serves some 500 students, all Muslim

“These schools should include a period for Islamic education in their daily teaching programmes and a prayer written by poet Iqbal should be part of the school assembly prayers at these schools,” the decree said.

Rev Khanna had earlier clarified the young men converted of their own will and without his persuasion.

Earlier, Bishop Pradeep Kumar Samantaroy, head of the Diocese of Amritsar for the Church of North India, expressed that the allegations were fabricated and no material benefits were offered to anyone desirous of baptism.

Bishop Samantaroy said the Muslim youth were coming to the church for over a year and they had voluntarily expressed their desire for baptism.


Christians in Kashmir, India Increasingly Fearful, Report Says.


 persecuted church(AP Images/Dar Yasin)

A fact-finding mission to India’s Kashmir Valley found that Muslim leaders’ increasingly shrill opposition to conversions has instilled fear among the Christian minority, which has been threatened as Christmas nears.

Christians in Srinagar, the summer capital of India’s northern-most state of Jammu and Kashmir, are “really scared,” said Dr. John Dayal, a member of the National Integration Council and part of the fact-finding team: “Christian men, women and children are in a state of panic, fearful of their security, uncertain of the future, uncertain of their jobs.”

The Rev. Chander Mani Khanna, pastor of All Saints Church in Srinagar, was arrested on Nov. 19 on charges of hurting religious sentiments of Muslims after several youths were baptized; he was released on bail on Dec. 1. But the pastor of the Church of North India denomination, who is due to retire early next year, may never be able to go back to his church due to security concerns, Dayal said.

“There may be no proper celebration of Christmas in the church if the bishop does not send a new priest immediately,” he added. “The church [in Srinagar] needs to get its act together in how it faces such religio-political persecution.”

At the same time, a Shariah (Islamic law) court has reportedly summoned the Rev. Jim Borst, a Dutch Catholic missionary, to appear on charges of proselytizing and “forced conversions.” Borst runs two schools in Baramulla and Srinagar that are said to have aroused jealousy in area Muslims.

Sentiment against Christians was evident when a member of the Kashmir Bar Association disrupted court proceedings as a lawyer was seeking bail for Pastor Khanna.

“Their behavior tested the patience of the judge, who remarked, ‘Do you want me to hang him?’” states the fact-finding report, entitled “Dealing with Islamic Groups in Kashmir on Christian Persecution.”

The investigative team was headed by Dr. H.T. Sangliana, vice-chair of the National Commission for Minorities, and included the Rev. Dr. Richard Howell, general secretary of the Evangelical Fellowship of India. The team noted hostilities toward Christian workers, churches and Christian educational institutions in Kashmir.

Jammu and Kashmir state is 67 percent Muslim, 29.6 percent Hindu and 0.2 percent Christian, but the Kashmir Valley region is 97 percent Muslim, according to Operation World. Christian organizations run schools where many state leaders have studied.

Veiled Threat
Muslim leaders in the Kashmir Valley began to rally against Christians after a video recording of Muslim youth being baptized at the All Saints Church was posted on YouTube in late October. Kashmir Grand Mufti Bashir-ud-din Ahmad told the fact-finding team he would prove that “we are men, not impotent persons.” The highest authority in Islamic law in Kashmir added that the sharia court he heads will soon come out with its “judgment.”

The sharia court has no legal authority for non-Muslims in India, but the mufti hinted that the “judgment” could include demands such as a halt to further baptisms and morning prayers in schools run by Christians. He accused Christian schools of encouraging drug abuse among children, though the only evidence he offered was the statement that “it is well known.”

Though generally polite, the mufti issued a warning, saying, “We will do what we have to do, and others will have to do what they have to do.” He also said he was keeping an eye on the schools, their principals and staff, and that they would hear from him soon.

The report said it was clear that the mufti was “contemplating a denunciation of the church, if not actually calling for mass action,” though he had asserted there would be no violence.

Sharia courts deal only in local civil matters applicable only to Muslims. But the mufti summoned the pastor to appear for a hearing held on Nov. 17 concerning allegations of fraudulent conversion. Bishop Pradeep Kumar Samantaroy of the Church of North India has said the mufti’s allegation that Pastor Khanna had converted Muslims by offering money is “totally baseless and untrue.”

The pastor earlier told Compass that the Muslim youths had been coming to the church on their own initiative and wanted to take part in Holy Communion. Pastor Khanna told them they had to follow a procedure if they wanted to join in the sacrament, and they expressed desire to be baptized in due course.

The fact-finding team, which visited Kashmir from Nov. 29 to Dec. 2, criticized the role of local media in helping vested interests to create tensions.

“The reporting and editorializing have been one-sided and without any reference to the truth as seen by the religious minority,” the report states.

The team also concluded that the state administration was making concessions to the Muslim majority for political reasons, and that police had “acted on behalf of the political leadership.”

Article 370 of the Indian Constitution grants considerable autonomy to states, where many Indian institutions and laws have no jurisdiction.

With India and Pakistan frequently fighting over Kashmir, local complexities have given rise to extremism and a rigid politico-religious Islamic clergy that seeks to carve out space to challenge the state government, political groups and the Indian army, according to the report.

“The vast majority of Kashmiris are peaceful and adhere to a soft and melodious Sufi Islam, far removed from the stridency of Wahhabism espoused by the extremist groups,” the report notes.

Local residents told the team that some extremist groups and other vested interests have been seeking to use the issue of conversion in their confrontation with the state government, political parties and moderate Islamic groups. They were “looking to score political points against each other, and any excuse was good enough to foment trouble,” according to the report.

This dynamic was why the state government was quick to arrest Pastor Khanna, and it will go to any extreme to ward off trouble from Islamic groups, the report said.

As Christmas approaches, the government has moved to its winter capital in Jammu, and there is no senior officer in Srinagar to give any assurance of security to the Christian community, the team pointed out. There is also a “total absence” of human rights organizations in the region, the team reported.

Barring a few sporadic incidents of communal violence, Christians and Muslims had had good relations in Kashmir, as elsewhere in India. Tensions in Kashmir began in March 2003, however, after local newspapers alleged that Christian missionaries were converting Muslim youth; the allegations were based on an article on a U.S. evangelical news website that local Christians say was fictitious.

The fact-finding team said Kashmir’s Muslim groups were not concerned that, in the rest of India, Christians and Muslims are both minorities that need each other and civil society at large in order to face the challenge of Hindu nationalists, who see the two communities as “outsiders.”

The report called for the formation of a state minorities commission and assurances of security for Christians from state and federal governments.

There is also a need for introspection within the church, the team reported, regarding the spoken word, the language of evangelization and the translations of various Biblical verses.

“We have seen many verses whose local translation entirely mutilates the real meaning and lends itself to misinterpretation,” the report states. This exercise must be carried out “as early as possible, not just for the sake of the Kashmir Valley, but for the country as a whole.”

By Compass Direct News.

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