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« As Nigeria turns | Main | Controversial Adisa Dies in London Hospital After Auto Crash in Nigeria »

February 24, 2005

An Open Letter to Baroness Lynda Chalker

by Uche Nworah Dear Baroness Chalker

I hope this letter meets you well. How was your recent trip to Nigeria? I believe Uncle Sege (the president) rolled out the red carpet for you as usual as an old ally; you must have been treated to the best of African hospitality of which Nigeria is known for, if so, Glory be to God.

I had wanted to address you as Mrs Chalker instead of Baroness Chalker because in Nigeria, the word Baroness has other negative connotations; it is usually associated with big time drug pushers, knowing your track record in the public and now private sector, I know that your grace will not engage in such trivial pursuits, even so at least not openly.

Also, as a traditional Igbo man, I am inclined to respect your own tradition and if that means addressing you by your preferred title (Baroness) then I will do so gladly.

You probably may be wondering why I am writing you this letter; well it is just to register my displeasure with a statement which was credited to you during your recent visit to Nigeria, in the statement made at the Nigeria Investment forum in February 2005, you were reported to have berated Nigerians for always picking on their government, to quote your exact words:

Many good things have happened in Nigeria in the last 18 months than in any other country in Africa but the outside world needs to know this to be able to take positive investment decisions on the country… “But often all that we see outside Nigeria are the negative things. The media and Nigerians in the Diaspora must take the challenge of telling the world that good things are happening here. Nigeria stands a good chance of attracting foreign investors if they have adequate knowledge of the real situation rather than the perception which is often wrong.

My dear Baroness Chalker, I feel indeed disappointed that a woman of your standing will make such remarks, knowing that the fundamental freedom of speech has been the foundation upon which your country (The United Kingdom) and the other developed countries of the world were built.

It is also as a result of the need to defend this freedom that your government, the American government and their allies invaded Iraq in a war that is still ongoing, with escalating human and material costs.

It has also been widely said that bad men thrive because good men watch and do nothing, remember the 6 million Jews that were killed by Hitler? Remember Sarajevo? Remember Idi Amin’s Uganda? Remember Biafra? Remember Abacha’s Nigeria? Remember Rwanda? Remember, Baroness Remember!

Baroness, have you ever been poor? Have you ever lacked? Have you ever had to look for a job? Have you ever had to dodge armed robbers bullets? Have you ever had to sleep at night with one eye open, and your heart pounding in fear? Have you ever worried about your next meal? Have you ever struggled to pay your children’s school fees? Have you ever lost a dear one to police stray bullets? Have you ever been denied treatment at your local hospital in Wallasey for lack of money? Have you ever had to go months and years without water (yes, water!) and electricity? Have you ever been homeless? I could almost go on with my list of have you evers.

You probably may not have experienced any of the above, but in Nigeria these problems have become our way of life. What would you do if you have to go through any of these problems? Will you simply close your mouth, smile and salute those who should be doing something to alleviate your suffering?

Aha! Now you see why we can not leave our government alone, how could you even think of denying us of this one freedom that we still have? We have variously been told in Nigeria that education is not for the poor, that telephones are not for the poor, that flights are not for the poor. We have even been made to believe that garri (the staple food) and the poor man’s strongest ally is no longer for the poor, so should we now assume based on your remarks that speaking out against our oppressors and complaining about their inaction is now also not for the poor?

Your recent remarks make me want to believe the more, Karl Marx’s statement a long time ago that ‘the executive of the modern state is but a committee for managing the common affairs of the whole bourgeoisie’

I will simply beg to disagree with you Baroness Chalker on this matter. Not a lot has changed since your days as the United Kingdom’s Minister of Overseas Development, during which time you must have visited Nigeria frequently, rather things have gotten worse.

I am beginning to suspect your intentions and motives at this stage in your career. I understand that you are the owner of Africa Matters Ltd (a business and investment consultancy), you also serve as an advisory director at Unilever, a company with huge interests and investments in Nigeria, our president (Olusegun Obasanjo) has also made you the chairman of Nigeria’s International Investment Advisory Council. It is quite clear on whose side you are on and who butters your bread.

With your busy schedule, I do wonder what time you have left to even market Nigeria to potential investors, and if I may ask, how many investors have you brought to Nigeria since your appointment by the president? Would you justify your huge consultancy fees with your performance so far? Or are you carefully building a safe net for yourself to defend your failure by blaming Nigerians?

We can no longer give much credibility to some of your remarks because you have crossed sides; you are no longer on the side of the over 200 million Nigerians who continue to suffer dwindling fortunes.

Dear Baroness Chalker, could it be that you are basing your judgement only on the peaceful and serene Abuja environment, the venue of the Nigeria Investment forum where you made the reported remarks? I want to remind you that Abuja is only a city of a million residents, think about the rest of the citizens and in what conditions they live. I suppose you were taken in by the serene Maitama and Asokoro surroundings, the dream mansions and state- of- the art cars which you probably did not know were funded by stolen public money or from over invoiced contracts. You may also have been quartered at the prestigious 5 star Nicon Noga Hilton Hotel, the venue of the investment forum. To remind you once again, my dear Baroness, these are not the true pictures of Nigeria.

I have attached this picture of a section of Amuwo in Lagos for you to see. Yes, it is Nigerians that you are seeing, in their flooded streets and mud houses, does this picture which was taken in this year of our Lord (2005) not spell poverty for you? it is just to give you an idea of the other side of Nigeria which you and your fellow ‘advisers’ and consultants don’t get to see, now if you were living in this kind of environment, will you close your mouth and not complain? Especially after reading about all the huge oil revenue that Nigeria earns, not to talk about the additional revenues from the Iraq war oil windfall.

While in Abuja, I guess you must have ridden in El-Rufai’s black taxis which were recently imported from London, did you broker that deal as well Baroness? If not, what did you think of that ‘beautiful’ idea? Or were you thinking to yourself that the taxi project was a misplaced priority; could you not have advised them to think long term and build for the masses the underground train system of which your country is famous for?

Somehow I think that you should praise Nigerians at the civility we have displayed so far in our ‘dialogue’ with our leaders, we have not yet resorted to attacking them with pellets nor with eggs, as is done in your country. You will remember that even your Prime Minister (Tony Blair) has suffered such attacks in the past, and so has his deputy, ‘two jags’ John Prescot. The UK House of Parliament has also witnessed different types of abnormal protests but we have refused to go down that road, we have continued to maintain our decorum by only discussing our issues amongst ourselves, in our media and homes, and yet you complain about us.

Now for all these nasty forms of protests to occur in a stable, democratic and developed country like the United Kingdom, does that not indicate that we in Nigeria should chase our so called leaders away with hoes and machetes?

Without doubt, you know very well our battle with corruption in Nigeria, of course you do, afterall you are the Chairman of Transparency International (UK Chapter), you know very well about Nigeria’s ‘eminent’ positions in the past years in the league and table of the most corrupt countries in the world, you must have heard about Tafa Balogun (the ex- police Inspector General) and his stolen billions.

How can we not complain about these issues, Baroness?

I am willing to pardon this slight error and misunderstanding of our situation from you, but I hope that in the future you will make better and more informed judgements and comments about our conditions.

On our parts, we will continue to open our mouths; we will stand on rooftops and even climb the highest mountains to declare the bad works of our leaders, nobody except God can deny us of this our most basic of rights.

Please, when next you visit Nigeria, give my regards to Aremu (the president), I am sure you must have at one point or the other discussed the issue of migration and brain drain with him, please keep on reminding him of the true reasons why his countrymen and women are leaving in droves for better economic opportunities in other countries.

I know this because I live in your country, although I was not born in your country but I have been given opportunities here to prosper and excel, these opportunities were denied me in my country by our corrupt leaders, the same as the hundreds of thousands of Nigerians who have left or are planning to leave. It would not be good if you make comments that hedge us (the Diasporas) against our people (Nigerians). It is only because we care, that is why we speak out, because we have been out here and know how great our country Nigeria can be, if our leaders can put their acts together.

I am still an ardent fan of yours and will keep on following your achievements in Nigeria as Aremu’s point man (woman) for foreign investment.

Finally my dear Baroness, please do not misinterpret the true intentions of my letter, it is neither intended to insult nor ridicule, it is just that as a public person, you should know that you are also a gold fish, remember also that those that live in glass houses do not throw stones.

In all your journeys to Nigeria, have any of the elders (Aremu included) ever explained the true meaning of this Igbo proverb to you? That he or she who proudly gathers ant infested firewood (yes, we still use them to cook as millions of us still do not have cooking stoves or gas cookers) also throws an open invitation for lizards to come and feast.

May God continue to guide your every action and may you fulfil the purpose for which He sent you to Nigeria.

Yours sincerely

Uche Nworah

Posted by Administrator at February 24, 2005 01:25 PM


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