Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Dessert: Banana Cake

“Dera, please pass me the baking pan. Thanks.” Nonyem says, folding the rest of the flour into the cake batter.

“What are you making?” Nkem asks, peering into the mixing bowl.

“A banana cake.”

“Hmm, banana cake? Have you ever baked one before?” 

“Um, no, but I like to experiment.”

“OK.” Nkem responds in a tone suggesting skepticism.

“Nkem, are you currently working on another blog entry?” Chidera asks.

“Yes. My next entry will be on the rule of law in Nigeria. By the way, did you guys see the embarrassing footage of lawmakers scaling the gates of the National Assembly this week?”

“Yes, I did. Embarrassing doesn’t even begin to describe how I felt. I mean, I wasn’t shocked when I saw the footage because nothing is beneath our lawmakers,” Chidera replies, shaking her head. “Aren’t these the same lawmakers who exchange blows with one another? Even the title lawmaker is a misnomer when attributed to Nigerian House of Representatives and Senators.”

 “Don’t mind them. Rather than draft or pass meaningful bills, like the Petroleum Industry Bill, they spend their time drafting senseless ones and fighting like children,” adds Nkem.

“Why are people surprised at our legislature’s childishness when the basic entry requirement to the National Assembly is a secondary school certificate?” Nonyem asks mockingly.

“I agree,” concurs Chidera. “There are several anomalies in our system that need to be addressed. What right has the Inspector General of Police to the bar the Speaker of the House from accessing the National Assembly? And why should legislators defect from one party to another capriciously when they’ve been voted on a particular party’s ticket? Imagine if after the current mid-term elections in the States that House Republicans decamped en masse on the assumption that the next occupant of the White House might be a Democrat. They would have made a mockery of the elections since the electorate, having voted mostly Republicans for a reason, would have still ended up with Democrats in the majority.”

Nonyem slides the baking pan into the oven. “Elections and politics in this country are a joke. Politicians keep decamping from PDP to APC and back for nothing more than where they can find enough butter for their bread. In my opinion, a typical APC member is a disgruntled erstwhile PDP member. If he feels his voice isn’t heard, or that he doesn’t have a chance of winning a post with PDP, then he cross-carpets to APC. And since there’s no manifesto that remotely differentiates PDP from APC, it makes defection all too easy.”

Banana Cake
Photo: Shayera
“That’s right,” affirms Nkem, “all parties are the same, unlike in the States where Democrats and Republicans have distinct agendas. By the way, per the constitution, shouldn’t the Speaker of the House and the others who decamped have vacated their seats since they did so before the expiration of their tenure?”

“Yes,” nods Nkem, “that’s what the law states, but hey, laws are flouted in this country. When you have our so-called police breaking the law with impunity, venal judges and a weak legal system, what do you expect? This is a lawless country where anything goes. I bet the Wild West was better governed.”  

Chidera chuckles, “Will you be voting in next year’s presidential election?” 

“What for? Am I crazy?” Nkem replies with indignation. “Remember Malcolm X’s advice on voting - ‘A ballot is like a bullet. And until you see your target, keep your ballot in your pocket’? Well, that has been my mantra, so I won’t be voting until I see a credible candidate.”

“From what I’ve read, the PDP presidential nomination form costs 22 million naira, that’s roughly 132,000 dollars, while the gubernatorial nomination form costs 11 million naira,” notes Chidera. “Why should political parties charge exorbitantly for nomination forms? These outrageous fees drastically narrow the playing field, allowing only the rich or those which rich patrons to run. This is the reason godfathers exist - they purchase these forms and fund election campaigns (if we can call them that) in the hopes that if the aspirant wins, they can ask favors and pull the strings. Essentially, the electorate doesn't really have a voice.”

“Yep, and that’s wrong. Maybe presidential aspirants should be interviewed and partake in public debates. That way, the public can see what they stand for, and those who aren’t worthy of the Presidency are rooted out early in the game,” Nonyem suggests. “There are so many people who are blinded by their allegiance to a candidate, and if you asked them why they supported such-and-such a person, they wouldn’t be able to tell you.”

“I agree. Most people would vote Jonathan simply because they feel Muslims and the North have ruled Nigeria far longer than any other group,” remarks Chidera. “It doesn’t matter that his administration has been marred by corruption scandals – like the missing 20 billion dollars the NNPC has yet to account for, or that he hasn’t been able to rescue the missing Chibok girls, or annihilate Boko Haram. Plus, who can forget the controversial Presidential pardon he granted to Alamieyeseigha, the ex-governor of Bayelsa State who was convicted of money-laundering?” 

“If Obama was plagued by the same problems during his re-election campaign, there’s no way he’d have won a second term,” Nkem opines. “By the way, why is it that in Nigeria, one can’t differentiate one administration from the other, unlike in America, where, for instance, the Clinton years were markedly different from the Bush years?”

“That’s because there’s been only one party or set of people ruling Nigeria, and with each change of government, things have gotten progressively worse – not better. It’s insane,” acknowledges Nonyem. “Getting people’s votes in this country doesn’t take much. There’s no need to impress anyone with campaign speeches; no need to state your views on relevant issues or discuss solutions to Nigeria’s problems. All you need to do is bribe the masses with bags of rice and they’d sheepishly vote for you. That’s the problem with Nigerians – we’re so myopic in our thinking. What use is a bag of rice when you’re forced to run your generator from morning to night, because power supply is unreliable? Of what use is a bag of rice when you can’t get clean running water at home or find gainful employment?” 

“The problem with Nigerians is that we complain and complain, but won’t admit we’re part of the problem,” quips Chidera. “I won’t be surprised if some Nigerians believe Nigeria’s status as Africa’s largest economy is as a result of Jonathan’s leadership.”

“Oh, yeah, I saw something like that in The Guardian recently,” Nonyem says, walking towards the oven. “I think the ad was paid for by the Transformation Ambassadors of Nigeria. Only people with half a brain will believe that rubbish, because with or without him in power, the rebasing of our GDP would have yielded the same result.”

“Umm, that smell emanating from the oven...” Chidera licks her lips animatedly. “I’m salivating.”

“Nonyem, your cake smells heavenly. I just hope it doesn’t disappoint,” taunts Nkem.

Setting the cake on a cooling rack, Nonyem faces Nkem with a look of feigned annoyance, “Em, Nkem, if you keep talking, your tongue will not taste any of it.”

Nkem smiles and pinches her lips in attempt to stop herself from talking.

“What would you like to drink? I have freshly squeezed pineapple and orange juice, soft drinks and there’s green tea.

“I’ll have juice,” Nkem replies.

“Same here,” chimes Chidera.

“OK. So juice it is.” 

Monday, November 3, 2014

Chicken Suya Parley

Fiery Suya
Photo: Losgiddy '13

There is a knock on the door.

“That must be Nonyem,” Nkem says, rising from her seat.

“Hey,” Nonyem blows air kisses at Nkem.

“Hi. What have you got in your hand?”

“Chicken suya. I’d been waiting for WHO to declare Nigeria Ebola-free before venturing to buy it.”

“Ah ah,” Chidera protests lightly as she hugs Nonyem, “did they tell you Ebola can be contracted from suya? May I remind you that suya is traditionally made from chicken, goat or cow meat.”

“True, but you can never be too sure. Besides, don’t you recall that story about Nnamdi’s brother who had ostensibly bought suya only to realize after biting into it that he’d bought blankets covered in spice? Come to think of it, vultures don't patrol the skies like they did when I was growing up. Can it be ---?”

“Oh, come on, Nonyem!” Chidera and Nkem groan in unison.

“But think about it?” Nonyem grins mischievously as she sets the suya on the wooden coffee table.

“We don’t want to think about it, so quit talking and let us eat in peace. Or is this a ploy to stop us from partaking in the suya? It will not work!” Chidera jokes, throwing a sideways glance at Nonyem prompting her to laugh out loud in return.

Chidera picks up the remote control and starts channel-surfing.

Ugh, it is Ebola mania on CNN. There are more Ebola experts commentating than there are patients in the US,” Chidera comments sarcastically. “I wonder why they and other media outlets enjoy whipping the public into a frenzy with their excessive reporting on Ebola.”

“Well, TV networks care about their ratings because that translates to profit for them. Right now, Americans are hooked on the thriller that is Ebola, and TV networks are all too happy to oblige them by constantly rehashing the same story,” explains Nkem.

“It’s crazy. Some states have imposed mandatory quarantine on returning health workers. In my opinion, this is just a ploy to deter medics from volunteering,” says Chidera. “Meanwhile, I heard Australia was criticized for banning travel from Ebola-stricken countries in West Africa and also for not sending medical personnel.

“Yep, but who can blame Australia?” Nonyem responds nonchalantly. “They’re scared they won’t be able to contain it if someone with the disease shows up there. Plus, they don’t want to deal with the risk of having Australian medical personnel returning with the disease either. I mean, you can’t force them to help because it’s not really their problem.”

“Really?” Chidera hoots incredulously.

“Yes, really. Look, I’m sick of hearing people say the West isn’t doing enough to help. Why should they? If our governments did their jobs, there would have been enough qualified West African health workers at hand to handle the outbreak, and we wouldn’t be waiting for foreigners. Also, there’s a chance African scientists would have developed an Ebola vaccine if our leaders saw the importance of investing in R&D. African governments need to sit up and stop acting like they’re impotent!”

Nkem nods her head in agreement. “I think we should start taking education seriously. If I’m not mistaken, I read in an article that there were only 50 doctors in Liberia prior to the outbreak.”

Fifty!” Chidera ejaculates in disbelief. “Wow, that’s shocking. I guess a lot of them who left during the civil war haven’t returned. The truth is, if we don’t invest heavily in infrastructure and the training of teachers, doctors and what have you, we can never build a strong and progressive nation.”

“Tell that to your politicians,” Nonyem says drily. “I’m surprised the Nigerian government got its act together and contained the virus.”

“Of course they had to, or it would have found its way to the National Assembly and Aso rock in only a matter of weeks,” Nkem adds. “Ebola is not a respecter of persons. It doesn’t care if you’re a millionaire. And since there’s no cure for it, hopping on a private jet to consult a Western doctor isn’t going to help you. That’s the reason the Nigerian government got off its ass and did what needed to be done.”

“The Nigerian government and medics did a good job,” says Chidera, “though the Western media doesn’t give them enough credit. Instead, they chalk our success up to luck and talk about how the CDC and the polio control center financed by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation helped in halting the spread of the virus. While there’s some truth to it, the competence of the Nigerian medical team shouldn’t be overlooked or downplayed seeing it was their first time encountering the virus.

“True, true,” affirms Nkem, now sniffling from the pepper. “By the way, I wonder if all appropriated funds were used up for the containment of the virus, or if the remainder ended up in someone’s pocket.”

Pausing, Nkem glances at Chidera and Nonyem.

“Oh, please, you two shouldn’t look at me like I’m some die-hard cynic,” Nkem shoots back, rolling her eyes. “You guys know no one does any fund-raising for election campaigns in this country. So don’t be surprised if the remaining funds go into that. Besides, The Guardian recently published a report stating the Ministry of Health had allegedly misused funds for the immunization kids that had been provided by GAVI. Now, the organization has suspended cash-based support and frozen unspent funds that have been disbursed. If there’s one thing our government is quite adept at, it is the misappropriation of funds.”

“Anyway, I still think Nigeria should have shut its borders,” Nonyem volunteers, throwing the last piece of onion into her mouth. “I hear a lot of people saying it’s not a good idea, but think about it: If Liberia and Sierra Leone had shut their borders, the outbreak wouldn’t have spread beyond Guinea’s borders and would have been easier to contain.”

“You’ve got a point,” Chidera concurs pensively. “But now that it has spread, shutting the borders wouldn’t be effective considering the fact that medical personnel need to go in to help the sick and be allowed to leave at will. I’m not even sure taking temperatures at the airport is effective since people can develop a fever long after arrival; plus not everyone will come into Nigeria by air.”

“That’s scary. We all have to be extremely careful and take personal hygiene seriously,” Nkem muses.

“Hygiene?” scoffs Nonyem. “Have you been to a public toilet lately? I visited a restroom at Radisson Blu the other day, where I witnessed some lady sashay away without deigning to wash her hands after peeing. 

“That’s gross!” Cries Chidera.

“And to think that she touched the door with her hands. Ugh. So you see why I ALWAYS carry and use my hand sanitizer wherever I go?”

“Germophobe!” Nkem exclaims jokingly to the amusement of her friends. 

“I gladly accept the moniker – rather be that than a germophile. But seriously, people ought to wash their hands after using the toilet - and stop spitting and urinating in public. Both activities are unpleasant to watch and the latter stinks.”

Nkem and Chidera laugh and shake their heads.

“Anyway, I’ve got to take my leave. Need to head to the gym.” Nonyem says while walking to the kitchen to wash her hands. 

Nkem and Chidera follow suit after which they walk Nonyem to her car.

Although the sun still cast shadows on the ground, the heat had subsided giving way to a balmy afternoon breeze.

“I love the weather!” Nonyem says.

“Yes, it’s cooler than it was earlier in the day. Thanks again for the suya. It was deeelicious,” Chidera says smiling.

“My pleasure.”

Then the friends embrace and wave goodbye as Nonyem drives off.