Sunday, 19 February 2017

Beware of the Pharisees and the Sadducees

Yesterday, while on a public transport I overheard two Africans having a discussion. The content of their discussion is not relevant here. However, the accusation leveled by one against the other merits my attention and comment. When his friend, during the course of their conversation refused to toe his line of argument, he got angry and accused him of being too westernized.

In fact, this is not the first time I have heard this type of conversation or accusation. Many times in the past, I have heard fellow Africans accuse other Africans of being too westernized as if there is anything wrong with westernization. I do not think that there is anything wrong with westernization. What I think is wrong is those accusing others of being too westernized. They are like the Pharisees and Sadducees and you must beware of them. Imagine the pot calling the kettle black!

By the way, for these Africans accusing their kinsmen of being too westernized or brainwashed with western ideas, the main question should be: who is actually more 'westernized' and 'brainwashed'? The accused or the accuser? Let us put it this way, is it the one who realized that he has been making a mistake and stopped making that mistake and reformed his views and opinions to be in line with modern thinking, discoveries and advances in science, technology and humanities or the one who refused and who had already abandoned his own religion (African Tradition Religion) to embrace a completely different religion from that of his ancestors?

How about the one who completely rejected the way his people dress (African wears) and now dresses like westerners (suit, jeans, t-shirt, tie, etc.) and even wear western perfumes like Dior, Channel, etc.? They even abandoned their traditional means of transport (walking, animals) to embrace cars and trains and live in pent houses instead of thatched houses, which are all western ideas and inventions. I thought that being anti-western in ideology, they would have preferred living on the trees, walking about naked and saying no to western benefits and inventions.

How about the man who forgot the wisdom of his people and the way they acquire these wisdoms under the tree to embrace western wisdom and education to the extent of acquiring university education up to PhD level and even using product of this way of education like mobile phones, laptops, and other computers you are using now to read this.

How about the man who travelled thousands of miles to come and live in the west forgetting his claim that his culture is more superior and full of morals compared to that of the west? What is he still doing in the west? Africa is a vast continent with huge fauna and flora. Why has he not gone back Africa to flourish and shower in that morality and wisdom? By the way, how did he come to the west? By flying like a bird, walking or swimming across rivers and oceans? He must have come here through one of those western inventions (airplane) he condemns on daily basis!

And this brings me to a very important question: since when did integration become an offence? Isn’t it a good idea to do as Romans do when in Rome? Or do you want the natives to tell us to pack our bag, book the next flight and go home and never come back? I completely support the idea of adapting to a new culture if in the first place you made a conscious decision to come and live in that culture. And this includes respecting the cultures, laws and values of your host country. If you leave Nigeria to live in Ghana, it is a moral imperative that you have to adapt to their cultures by respecting their laws and values. Do not get me wrong. I am not advocating abandoning your own culture. Of course, no culture can claim to be the best. Every culture has got something good, bad and or ugly in them. However, what I am saying is that if you make a decision to leave your country to live elsewhere, you must also respect the cultures, values and laws of your host country. That is my understanding of what a decent, educated gentleman is.

It is actually for this reason that here in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, in order to naturalize as a British Citizen, amongst other requirements, you must also provide evidence of proficiency in English Language by proving that you are from a majority English language country or by sitting and passing English Language to an acceptable standard for immigration purposes. You must also take and pass ‘Life in the UK’ examination. This is to ensure that you are well integrated at the end of the day.

And the moral of this short piece is that my African brothers and sisters should learn how to shut their mouth if they have nothing meaningful and useful to say. A culture rightly said that silence is golden. I am not trying to put down African culture and 'morality'. No. That is not the intention behind this piece. However, I am trying to point out that sometimes it is always good to think out of the box before talking.

The world does not begin and end in Africa. There are other continents apart from Africa. And bearing in mind that there are now close to 200 countries in the world, it is important to borrow from each other. Borrowing from others is not a sign of weakness or lack of civilization but a humble acknowledgment that the other person is doing something better than the way you are accustomed to. It is for this reason that it is said that no man is an island.

Thursday, 16 February 2017

Is it fair to change the rule of a game in the middle of a game?

In December 2014, the then Secretary of State for Home Office Theresa May who is currently the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland quietly and secretly tightened up the criteria for granting British citizenship. She did that based on the recommendation of John Vine the former Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration.

Of particular importance and relevance to this article is the section on 'good character'. There was no prior warning or announcement before this change and it might also interest you to know that no Act of Parliament ever defined the term ‘good character’. The Secretary of State for Home Office is given the discretion to define it. He can include as many things as he wishes. For instance, this new change would see things like parking fines, bad behavior of your children or dependents, not paying council tax or TV licence and many others trigger the good character test.

That rule was tightened retrospectively thereby defying the first rule in law that no law should be retrospectively enacted to catch those who committed an alleged offence when the offence in question was not even an offence when it was allegedly committed. Think of it like making a law in 2017 to punish anyone born in the last 10 years anywhere in the UK on April 21 because it was the birthday of Her Majesty the Queen Elizabeth II. If, however a law is passed making it an offence to punish anyone who gives birth from the next 10 month and onwards (bearing in mind that pregnancy lasts for 9 months) on April 21 then that will be fair since those affected would have been given prior warning or enough notice before that law comes into effect. This is what a just law being prospective and not retrospective means.

When a law is made to be retrospective it becomes unfair, unjust and defies all rules of logic, equity, justice and fairness. This is because those who arrived before a rule or law is changed do have moral and legitimate expectation that the goal post would not be tampered with or changed to their disadvantage. Asylum seekers and refugees are good example of a group that government owes a duty of moral and legitimate expectation. Sadly, they were not exempted in this change of the rule of the game in the middle of the game. Mind you that to seek asylum in the UK you need to be already in the UK to do that and that means that most asylum seekers and refugees would need to break the UK immigration law in one way or other to do that. They would have entered clandestinely and if this were the case they would not meet the 'good character' test. Bear in mind that UK does not allow asylum seekers to seek asylum in any of their embassy or high commission anywhere in the world. It must be done on arrival in the UK.

As Secretary of State for Home Office Theresa May threw caution to the wind and widened the definition of ‘good character’ without making any exception for these asylum seekers and refugees. To be specific, a number of undesirable behaviours were added to the list of disqualifying behaviours including illegal entry, assisting illegal migration and evasion of immigration.

According to the Home Office Guidance accompanying this change: 'In circumstances where an applicant entered the UK illegally, an application for citizenship should normally be refused for a period of 10 years from the date of entry, if it is known. If it is not known, the period of 10 years starts from the date on which the person first brought themselves to or came to the attention of the Home Office’. 

These changes seem to have been made quietly on December 11, 2014 and many people were caught unawares. Even as I am writing, many people are still not even aware of this change of the rule of the game. Sadly, these changes would prevent almost all recognized refugees from qualifying for British citizenship for at least 10 years from the date their claim was finally accepted as opposed to the previous 5+1 rule which is five years of Limited Leave to Remain followed by one year of indefinite Leave to Remain after which the applicant is entitled to apply for naturalization so far he or she has no serious criminal records. Under this old rule whatever happened before the last six years is usually disregarded. Under the new rule, it is now the last 10 years.

The new rule is therefore not just very harsh, unfair and evil but a clear violation of UKs obligation towards the 1951 Geneva Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees. By 1951 Geneva Convention, the United Kingdom agreed not to punish those who entered the territory of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland illegally to seek asylum because their life was in danger. The UK also agreed to facilitate their integration and naturalization without unnecessary burdens. I have therefore no doubt that the United Kingdom is clearly acting in breach of Articles 31 and 34 of the 1951 Geneva Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees.

But the most painful part is that most applicants do not know about this rule. There was no publicity or prior warning before the rule was changed.  Most of the applicants who have stayed in the UK for the required 6 years have gone on to apply for naturalization only to have their application rejected on 'good character' ground and thereby loosing their £1236 application fee, which the Home Office under Theresa May made non-refundable. Actually, they are only refunded £80 citizenship ceremony fee back.

For most of these asylum seekers and refugees, this is a month or even two to three months wages. It defies every logic that asylum seekers and refugees whose life were in danger and therefore had to break the UK Immigration Laws to seek asylum are being treated as a source of income for the government. But what type of application in 2017 would take such amount of money to process? The fact is that this rule is not fair and taking these helpless peoples money is evil that any civilized society cannot condone. Publicizing this change before it takes effect would have been better and refunding them at least £1000 would not be a bad idea either if the government must carry on with the rule change.  But taking the whole money and refunding them only £80 is not my understanding of a fair and just society.

Thursday, 9 February 2017

Bain, Gays And A Battle For Values

I recently read an article by the former Jamaican Prime Minister who is also a college professor. The article in question was published in Jamaican Gleaner and is entitled: "Bain, Gays And A Battle For Values" and I do not agree with his line of argument in that article. It never sounded like an opinion of a college professor. In fact, his argument is baseless and unreasonable and I cannot begin or finish telling you how disappointed I am that a college professor and a former Jamaican Prime Minster could have written that.

It seems to me that there is a truth in the saying that those who undergo oppression end up being oppressors. Think of what the State of Israel is doing to Palestinians today despite what millions of Jews went though under the Nazis. It is sad that history keeps on repeating itself just because we have refused to learn from it.

Many years ago, my forefathers sold our brothers and sisters to the West in the name of slavery. Those caught up in this evil were mainly the minorities and the most vulnerable. The African states of those days never understood the idea that democracy is a government of the majority for the protection of the minority.

Where I come from in Nigeria (I am an Igbo, sometimes written as Ibo and often referred to as 'Red Eboe' in Jamaican Patois), it used to be a taboo to give birth to twins because the Igbo culture then saw it as a bad omen. It took a Western woman called Mary Slessor to put an end to that barbaric act. Sadly, the Jamaicans of today are still doing same thing we did to these twins to their own, the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community and every right thinking person must be asking questions.

There is not justification for how LGBTs are treated in Jamaica and the fact that there is state support for this type of treatment is awful and repugnant and should be a source of concern to every right thinking person. We are not in majority mandated or empowered to victimize the poor, the vulnerable and the helpless. Our lot is to use those advantages for the betterment of the powerless. If my forefathers had known about this, my fore brothers and sisters would not have been sold into slavery. We sold them because of our greed and wickedness. Wickedness of man's heart is at the root of homophobia, which is abundant in Jamaican communities of today.

I am Nigerian by origin and therefore not in better position to advise Jamaicans on how to order their nation and lives, however if they think that the best way to do that is to kill, lynch or imprison their own brothers and sisters who are homosexuals, then as a human I have a moral responsibility to intervene and that is exactly what I am doing now.

It is interesting that this is coming just at the same time the Caribbean nations are asking for compensation from the West for years of slavery which is responsible for the poor state of development in their region but how can you morally ask for that when you are doing same thing done to you by my forefathers and the West?

I can assure you that people do not make a choice to become homosexuals. People are born gay but even if they do make that choice, since when did it become a crime to make a choice that has no negative or adverse social impact on others? Is it a crime to make a choice to become a Christian, a Muslim or to marry the one you like? If it is not, why should it be if someone makes that choice to become a homosexual?

The former Prime Minister Bruce Golding alleged that the reason his government and the Present Jamaican Government could not and should not repeal the Jamaican anti-gay law was because of the need to safeguard the children. I find this claim utterly myopic, not grounded in facts and in fact borne out of prejudice and ignorance. If you are not gay, how on earth could you learn to be gay? And how could children become gay if Jamaican anti-gay law is repealed?

I urge the Jamaican community to rethink their position. You are dealing with your own brothers and sisters. You nation was born out of greed and wickedness of white man and my forefathers. I wonder what my forefathers would say if they come back to life today. There is no justification for still having anti-gay laws in Jamaica and the present air of homophobia in the country cannot be justified either. Jamaican problem today lies with the elites who have refused to allow the dividends of democracy to trickle down to the masses. And situations like this breeds discontent and anger against a section of the community, often times against the wrong section and sadly Jamaican homosexuals in this case.

And to set the record straight, the West is not putting pressure on no one not even Jamaica to do as they do in the West. Rather, what the West is saying is that homosexuality is the least problem facing Jamaican nation today. There is too much killing on the streets of Kingston and elsewhere, low level of education, poverty, illegal drugs, rapes and loads of them in the Island and these are exactly what the West is saying that Jamaica should focus on.

Wednesday, 8 February 2017

The Nature of Injustice.

The nature of injustice is so elusive that we may not notice it in our time. It is such a powerful and elusive concept that it can becloud any sense of rationality and wisdom especially during the period of its operation, even amongst the wise and the learned.

Take the issue of slavery for instance, people's sense of justice were beclouded by injustice that majority even monotheistic believers thought that it was okay for a group of people to enslave and sell others just as you would enslave and sell animals or even houses, or cars and many other commodities that can be bought and sold in the market. This is also the case with the infamous law that forbade interracial marriage till it was struck down by Loving v Virginia [1967]. But if you think we have learnt our lessons, you must then be living in a fantasy world.

Today, the concept of injustice is once again manifesting itself in our time in the form of imprisonments, killings, lynching, persecutions and other forms of injustices against the LGBT community worldwide. Sadly, due to our very poor and short memory majority think it is okay and acceptable to make life very hard for the LGBT community worldwide. And the saddest part is that religion is at the root of this injustice. Members of the three monotheistic religions of Judaism, Christianity and Islam would always cite their various scriptures to justify this act in the ‘name of God’ thereby making fun and belittling the understanding of God as inclusive, all loving God who knows all including our destinies even before we were born.

This phenomenon and lopsided interpretation of the scriptures is a widely accepted not only in Nigeria and Uganda where members of LGBT community have either been imprisoned, lynched or killed lately but sadly in more developed worlds like Russia and even that beacon of modern freedom, egalitarianism, liberty and pursuit of happiness: the United States of America.

This is sad! It is sad for democracy does not mean the victimization of the minority by the majority. It is the other way round: the protection of the minority by the majority! It is for this reason that recent legal developments including HJ and HT v Secretary of State for the Home Department [2010] in the UK and Obergefell v Hodges [2015] in the United States have both stressed the importance of coming together to protect the LGBT community worldwide as the most persecuted group of our time. The word genocide is the only appropriate word that can aptly describe the plight of the LGBT community worldwide today!

It is for this reason that I am standing up in defence of the LGBT community worldwide by strongly endorsing and recommending this anthology by Unoma Azua to all right thinking people on earth! Yes, we must take sides for neutrality and silence empowers only the oppressor and never the victim. Just like Elie Wiesel said: ‘wherever men and women are persecuted because of their race, religion, or political views, that place must-at that moment-become the centre of the universe’.

*This piece is written as an afterword for 'Blessed Body' edited by Unoma Azua.