Monday, November 22, 2010

The Maradona in Me

*Arthur Nzeribe

‘If another civil war breaks out now, I’m more than eager to sell the latest weapons of mass destruction to both the federal side and the new Biafrans’

“I have a President nicknamed ‘Maradona’, who has done everything he said he would not do, and has not done everything he said he would do. My President set out initially trying to be loved by all and to please all but ends up being doubted by all for being unpredictable and contradictory… He dribbles and joggles Nigerians better than Maradona does with football players, but does he score with the ‘hand of God’ as Maradona does? My distant view and assessment of my President is that of a consummate soldier, leader, strategist, ruthless and selfish politician whom we believe to be a humanist, an opportunist in the political arena, a good manipulator of men and circumstances, by his own admission ‘a law breaker,’ having participated in all but one of the illegal acts of coup-making in Nigeria.”

Wait, Arthur. You mean you once wrote all these about the new president-in-waiting?

Sure. But you haven’t seen or heard anything yet. Just let me continue reading out my views about him… “He is a man who does not completely break with his enemies, nor completely embraces his friends, there is an iron fist inside the gloves; thus a winner in the deadly game of power. The only Nigerian leader so far, both from the military and civilian folds, who appreciates what power is all about and uses it effectively for his own ends as do most rulers…”

Wait a minute. I still don’t understand why you have chosen this portion of your book to read to the audience during the literary fiesta for Kongi’s birthday.

How na├»ve can you be? Open your eyes and read between the lines… “Like Maradona, my President is the best in his chosen trade, to wit, soldiering, and by public acclaim, the best juggler and dribbler in the art of governance and politics in the Nigerian scene since independence. I admire certain qualities in my President. In fact, I see a bit of me in him. My President is bold, courageous, fearless and full of enterprise. He is cunning and foxy. I am. He knows what he wants, plans for it and goes for it deliberately, believing that the end justifies the means.”

Wayo, Allah! Chei!! So, this is why you have chosen to read from your last book — Nigeria: Seven Years After Shehu Shagari? You mean you want to launder the image of this man again?

If the price is right, why not? After all, after revealing all the skeletons in Maradona’s cupboard in 1990, I was still readily available to serve the self-interest of the military president and his henchmen in aborting the June 12 election. But, actually, that’s not my motive for reading those excerpts from my book. If you read between the lines, you’d see Maradona’s character sketch, and my own self-portrait as a cunning, foxy businessman. This is not meant as self-advertisement but as an attempt to explain my roles so far in the polity. Since 1999, you’d have seen my finger in every controversial, if not stinking pie in the House. Wherever the beef was you were likely to see me as the butcher. If you want to cut any senator or representative down to size, or pieces, you can always count on my dexterity with the knife. And this, perhaps, explains to you why I am the vulture-in-waiting, ready to perch on the carcasses and corpses left on the battle field after the gun smoke would have cleared from the Panambra crisis.

Ah! You mean you are the hawk in the proverb who feeds fat on sacrifice? That is immoral.

Imo-what?! There is no morality in business and don’t forget that I am first and foremost a businessman. Everything I do is an extension of my business frontiers and, like the Maradona in the script, the end justifies the means. If another civil war breaks out now, I’m more than eager to sell the latest weapons of mass destruction to both the federal side and the new Biafrans. Whatever each party does with the goods bought is not my headache. Mine is to sell and collect my own money.

So, you live on blood money?

Stupid man. In business, there is no blood money. Profit is both the watchword and the password or have you ever heard of anybody who goes into business with the aim of going bankrupt?

No, but, at least, there should be a little bit of morality and rationality.

My friend, you are cunningly dragging me into the realm of ethics and I can assure you that I’m not one to shy away from arguments. If you have read my other books, you’d realise that I depend on the power of logic to canvass my views and opinions. I don’t dance to suit anybody’s drumbeat and rhythm. Neither do I play to the gallery. I am a businessman through and through. By the way, do you know how I secured my ticket to this destination? I had to fight my political opponents right from the NPN days, thug for thug, naira for naira, rice for rice, garri for garri, okporoko for okporoko and ogbono soup for ogbono soup, and my voters, sorry, my people, love me for this. They see me as the Oyibo (white man) of business and Enyimba (elephant) of cash-and-carry politics. So, they combined the two and gave me the title of Oyi-nba of Okuta. My people are as creative as the blacksmiths of Awka.

Which means you truly have a pedigree of creativity. Which other titles are we expecting from you and how soon?

The first one is Obasanjo: Another Hope Betrayed. This is meant to prepare the ground for the next president, the way Buhari and Idiagbon were shoved aside from the political scene. Don’t ask me who commissioned the book because I don’t want to be accused of being a double agent. The second is Maradona: Return of the Political Nymphomaniac while the third is Nigeria: A Nation in Captivity, a major book on which I have been working since the military seized power in 1966.

I hope these are not satanic verses?

How can? Will you call The Prince, by Niccolo Machiavelli, a satanic write-up? They are just products of my creative imagination. No more, no less.

Arthur, the Prince!

Ummh, yes, but call me the Maradona!

*This Opilogue was first published in TELL on February 23, 2004.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

I'm a Lesbian! And So What?

*Ms Garner and partner Ms. Johnson (photo by GettyImages)

“…Being gay or lesbian is no crime. They should always tell anybody heckling them over their sexuality to shut up or go to hell”

Eh, you intern, come here! Tomorrow you are going to the City Hall to talk to Ms Darlene Garner, the new director of the Commission for Sexual Minorities, CSM. I hope you know what that means.

What's that, Mr. Wood? I am at a loss.

You don't have to be. Ms Garner is a lesbian and you must talk to her about the activities of her commission and, if you like, for your own personal consumption, you can ask her questions about her sexual preference.

And she would not take offence?

Why should she? This is an open society. Moreover, you are covered under the First Amendment...

You don't mean it! In Niagara, you dare not ask any lady that kind of question. She would slap okro seeds out of your mouth!


Homosexuality is a taboo!

Well, there are no taboos or Talibans here. This is America. Just go ahead and ask her any question under the sun and we expect a good story from you. Good luck.

*** *** ***

Good morning, Ms Garner.

Hi, are you the guy from the City Metro?

Yes, madame.

Cut that crap. You can call me Darlene.

Darling? Sure! That’s great!!

No, D-A-R-L-E-N-E, like in Helen.

Oh, I see. It's a pleasure meeting you, all the same.

'Xcuse me!

I said I'm happy to be here.

Youuu... welcome.

Can we start this interview by having you tell our readers what the Commission on Sexual Minorities, CSM, stands for.

Thank you. Let me start by giving a brief background of the commission. The CSM came into being by executive order from the mayor shortly after winning the mayoral election in 1984. Actually, the idea of the commission came from other members of the gay/lesbian community who expressed, during the mayor's campaign, that there are a number of issues and needs that were of particular interest to the gay and lesbian community that had been ignored by previous administrations or, at least, that had not been dealt with effectively. So, one of the campaign promises that the mayor made was to, indeed, create a vehicle for the gay/lesbian community to have a voice within the city administration. Going back to your question, our concerns are on behalf of those people who, indeed, are or are perceived as gays, lesbians and bisexuals.

Precisely, how many gays and lesbians are there in this city?

It is impossible to determine the precise number of gays and lesbians but a number of studies have been conducted in various parts of the country that have projected that at least 10 per cent of any population group is gay or lesbian.

If I may ask, are you a lesbian yourself?

Yes, of course. I am a lesbian.

Does it run in the family?

As far as I know, I am the only one of my siblings who is a gay or lesbian.

So, when did you become conscious of your being a lesbian?

Within our community, we call it "coming out". I was... hmmm... I first became conscious of my lesbianism in the early 1970s... Actually, I have pinpointed the year 1972 as the time I acknowledged to myself, my family and the public, whoever the public might be defined as being, that I am a lesbian. I told my family "I want you to meet the rest of me" and they have been very supportive. I was 24 then and single. Since then, I have had two marriages and subsequently two divorces, though not as a result of being a lesbian. I now live with a partner, a fellow lesbian.

This, indeed, must be God's own country. You have a supportive family and a caring government that sets up a commission to take care of the interest of sexual minorities. In Niagara, the issue of homosexuality is a closet affair. Woe betides people suspected of being gay or lesbian. They dare not come into the open and this explains why those labelled gays or lesbians can go to any lengths to deny their sexuality. An ex-beauty queen has denied being a lesbian many times. A popular actress has done the same. A successful lawyer, believed to be a homosexual, has used all the legal jargons in the statute book to deny his sexual orientation. A famous male artist also denied sleeping with fellow men. Not only the ordinary folks have been so labelled. Military officers, ex-military governors and, even, a former military head of state had been fingered as homosexuals but they all denied because of societal repercussion. My question is this: Is there anything you can do to help these people who, afterall, did not create themselves homosexuals?

My greatest ambition in life is to be able to do ministry fulltime because people of faith who are gay or lesbian suffer certain social and political realities by virtue of their sexual orientation... By taking to the pulpit, I can have another avenue to influence their lives.

But don't you foresee the kind of crisis that arose over the consecration of a gay clergyman in the Anglican Church?

No, I do not. This is because I'm in a church that is not opposed to having a gay or lesbian as a clergy. Almost all of our clergy are gays and lesbians. It is called the Universal Fellowship of Metropolitan Community Churches. It has over 200 churches in the US as well as in Mexico, Canada, Niagara, Indonesia, Britain... with its headquarters in Los Angeles.

You mean there is a gay church in Niagara?

Oh, sure! In fact, the church there is growing, if it hasn’t had more branches already.

What message, then, do you have for fellow gays and lesbians?

They should believe in themselves and be proud of the way God has made them. Being gay or lesbian is no crime. They should always tell anybody heckling them over their sexuality to shut up or go to hell. Yes! They should say: "God made me me and made you you. I am not you; you are not me. I can never be you and you can never be me. So, why not let me be me because you are not God?".

I'M A LESBIAN! AND SO WHAT? is a surreal presentation of an interview the writer had some years ago with Ms Darlene Garner, co-founder, National Coalition of Black Lesbians and former executive director of the Mayor's Commission on Sexual Minorities in Philadelphia, PA, USA.

*This Opilogue was first published in TELL on February 5, 2007.