All posts by richardalijos

Lawyer, Poet, Author of the novel City of Memories.

On Meeting Imam Ashafa

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Richard Ali with Imam Ashafa today at the Search for Common Ground Multi Stakeholder Joint Planning & Development Process meeting.

As part of my governmental/non-governmental engagement, I attended this meeting today where we workshopped and networked with various groups engaged in peacebuilding in Nigeria. The height of it all was getting to meet and greet Imam Ashafa, one half of the world famous Nigerian story of “The Pastor and the Imam”  which centres on dealing with conflict. In these times of hate speech and tensions, it’s important to salute people who have shown there is a different, better way out that insists on putting people at the centre of all actions. The idea that human life is important to be preserved always and the best course of action is the one that leads to greater happiness of the greater number of people. That all people are brothers in humanity.

“In the 1990s, Pastor James Wuye and Imam Muhammad Ashafa led opposing, armed militias, dedicated to defending their respective communities as violence broke out in Kaduna, northern Nigeria. In pitched battles, Pastor James lost his hand and Imam Ashafa’s spiritual mentor and two close relatives were killed.

Now the two men are co-directors of the Muslim-Christian Interfaith Mediation Centre in their city, leading task-forces to resolve conflicts across Nigeria.

The Imam and the Pastor tells how they made this remarkable transition. It is both a moving story of forgiveness and a case-study of a successful grass-roots initiative to rebuild communities torn apart by conflict.”

One must remind oneself, sometimes, why one does what one does and how even when our idealism is not-understood and unpopular, that we are not alone in this, this foolish, important, crucial fight for an idea that should win.

– Ra.

 

On the Shape of this World 


Shape of this World

By

Richard Ali
I’ll teach you to trace a line

On the scales of fish

How words curve in a parabola

And detonate

How the word bomb so new

Is the single idea shaping this world

—here, palm my palm, hear
Laila thirsty and old by the wishing well

Qais dissolved to dust already
There, when the woman said

We need no umbrellas from the rain

And Bakunin nodded in his sleep
Armah wraps arms around Ngugi

A thing that blows up between them
There is a gated city of lovers drowned now by the sea

—You. Have. No.  Right. To. Be . Listened. To—

Off Cape Town where a tortoise carries all our tears
And we throw our lives away each day

Emphasis dies in a heart beat
Here’s the secret

The heart is the shape of the world

The world is the shape of the heart

And the universe keeps on expanding, will not

Forget the explosion of creation nor the implosion

Of full stops, shit goes to shit inevitably
Trace this line on fish scales in your sleep

It will all be gone by dawn.

On the Rape Culture in Nigeria

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Reverse descent of Man

 

On the issue of the rise of rape in our societies and its current popularity on social media, I have chosen an engagement. There will be no emotive post about it from me. I have instead accepted to join the board of trustees of Karniel’s Next Generation of African Men’s Initiative (KNEGAM Initiative) based here in Abuja. Its stated objective is to “empower boys so they overcome challenges as they transition from boyhood to adulthood”.

I see no justification for rape at all except a disregard for the sanctity of a body that is not yours. Yet, everywhere I see various cop-outs that more of less justify this traversing of another’s body. Whether the victim is male or female, a child or an adult, there is only one implication. I believe that the point of 5000 years of civilization is the privileging of the human body as being above that of any other animal from which it is, in fact, indistinguishable. The implication of a rape culture is to turn us all back 5000 years and more, so we are no different from any “lower animal”. We thus become lower animals. This eventuality I will not accept.

So, I will do my little bit to work with kids so they have a balanced sense of self and know where they stand as inheritors of many centuries of advancement and civilization and thought. The initiative is targeted at male kids because they are most in danger of inheriting bad assumptions as a result of the current power relations in society.

KNEGAM Initiative is run by a friend of a friend, Uchenna Idoko, in the name of her son. I thank them for asking me on their board. I am certain it will be a platform to fight bad ideas that threaten to send us all back to the times of pre-history. I hope my contribution will be concrete.

 

– Ra.

On Narratives and Leaving Venice 

Venice as seen from Plaza Romana

I’ve been away for a week to Vicenza, a town in northern Italy about an hour’s drive from the Venice proper (the island). 

Purpose was to attend a training on crafting narratives (and alternative narratives) in countering violent extremism particularly as it relates to the police force. A necessary aspect of this is, or course, the concept of community policing. 

I’ve left with a greater understanding of these ideas and techniques which will find even further application in other roles outside my small one in a small corner of the government. Roles I hope to announce in the coming days.

It has been a pleasure learning from the faculty from the United States Institute for Peace, the State Department and Hedayah. And to be among my new friends from Kenya, Uganda, Senegal, Tunisia, Morocco and Kosovo who have shared in my education. Our hosts, the Carabinieri, particularly the Centre of Excellence in Stability Police Units (CoESPU) did and okay job.

Many thanks to my colleague and the MoI MSG, Hajja Falmata Gaji, who shared the group work and the pasta with me. And, of course, gratitude to our superiors who insisted on our attendance. 

I hope the things we have learnt will be of use to the country as they have been of value to us personally. 

Ra. 

On Why I Will Attend @KabaFest

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The class of people who knock all initiative while doing nothing at all are curious.

In the last days, I’ve seen posts disparaging the export of 72 tonnes of yams. The most curious was on the grounds the yams could have been turned into some pharmaceutical syrup. The yams have always been there. The industrial chemical process to produce the syrup does not need pioneering research. Yet these geniuses did not act. That Audu Ogbeh’s action signals a shift in public policy, a shift in which they can fit, escapes them by the length of two stadia.

Then there has been a call for a boycott of the Kaduna Books festival, ostensibly either because of the perceived character of the State governor or extrajudicial actions of the Nigerian State, the massacre of Shias, in Zaria. That the festival is a private initiative of Lola Shoneyin ‘s Book Buzz Foundation, leveraging on available public sector spending at the time of Kaduna State’s golden jubilee, misses these activists by stadia as well. Nor the fact that there will always be complaints about the State, endlessly pressed into service, for whatever purpose yet there are no alternatives to collaboration, from policy to projects, if the Arts is to be moved forward in this country.

The class of people in these two examples really do not want anything.

How the country moves forward will be decided by those of us, whether Audu Ogbeh or Lola Shoneyin or a few hundred others, who not only want things but are willing to work and act to bring what we want about.

If we are to survive and thrive, it will be because of those who summon platforms out of thin air and not those who wonder why things they have not done are not done differently or in a manner that pleases them.

These curious little bundles will always be marginal. My aim has always been to sit across the board from the history of my times and make my moves. Where can I do this, with all the knowledge and experience I need, other than at an arts festival that will draw other writers who share my vision for my times? This is why I stand with those who act. There must be purpose. There must be something one, as an individual artist, wants.

To the entrepreneurs amongst you, the Minister of Agriculture has given you a wink. To the art lovers, there is a city next week where your thought and presence is welcome.

– Ra.

On The Trick Against Stereotypes

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Dali's image of a Titan tearing itself apart

What’s the great trick? To know the stereotypes about other people yet treat each of them as an individual. Even when the stereotype proves itself right time and time again.

For me, it is an insistence that people are people, subject to flaws but also capable of the highest accomplishment. It’s hard sometimes. But that’s why it’s an insistence, isn’t it?

The Ijebu guy who cheated me cheated me, not all Ijebu people. The Igbo girl who jilted me jilted me, only she did. The Hausa chap who manipulated me over a commission did so, him alone.

I’m not saying we should be blind to ethnicity or nationalism or any categories. I don’t think that is possible. Even I have to catch myself on occasion. What I’m saying is we should not insist all individuals must square into these phoney boxes just so we can be “offended” and “angry” and feel better at not having given each of them a chance.

I’m from central Nigeria. This is our ethos. As I understand it. Rest of my countrypeople, can we not at least try this? Hard as it is but still try?

The hideous lies you’ve told about each other in the last weeks frightens me. Because I know these are informed by the worst examples. And that these slanders do not hold true for most people. Give each person a chance to err or to impress. Equally.

Ugo belu, egbe belu. As my new fried, Danda, would say, “He who feels what is good is not good for him should put his head in a mortar and see how he likes it.” This putting our head in a mortar, let’s not do it.

– Ra.

On Baldwin Again

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“…a very complex country which insists on bring narrow-minded…”
– James Baldwin.

As an African, I have often thought of Baldwin as being central to understanding the African-American experience. The biopic/documentary, I Am Not Your Negrofurther underscores this and makes his position accessible to a new generation. I have been fascinated by him because to be an African, which is my insistence and protest, is to aspire to be the heir of all that is Africa, from Egypt to the Genocide in Rwanda to the African American population in the United States and elsewhere. That these experiences are organic and umbilical to mine.

This quote struck me.

And I think how the more things change the more they stay the same. In surveying the inter-African intelligentsia of which I am a part, the seemingly deliberate desire to be narrow-minded cannot be missed. In the argument for component countries, for example, or in the intelligentsia’s arguments for the ideological fruits of poststructural, globalised world of which the African people are the victims. In the desire to be accepted by members of a frame of reference based on excluding you.

Africa as a country is my argument. And this Africa is immensely complex. And it requires a broad based engagement with it, in its triumphs and catastrophes, its vagaries and variations. I am black. And everything black, to the precise extent of its blackness, is organic to me. And I will not say no to any of it.

I think that only when we have defined for ourselves the scope of what to be African means and accepted the reality of our descent and the validity of our dreams can we then become anything in global terms.

Hiding behind things, as adjectives and adverbs, is self defeating when what we are are nouns and verbs.