Sunday, 20 January 2019

RTC Park, Port Harcourt : A Model of Modern Nigerian Motor Park

Have you been to the RTC (Rivers Transport Company Ltd) park in Port Harcourt? If you have not yet been there then you are missing a rare sight in Nigerian Motor Park History. One can literarily eat from the ground in that Port Harcourt motor park. If one wants to understand better what I mean, one should simply try taking a look at any motor park in Nigeria. Cleanliness is one of the rare words one can find in their dictionary. 
But this very park is particular. More to numerous dustbins placed in every corner of the park, at every waste unknowingly thrown on the ground, there are two cleaners struggling to remove it. It’s so glaring that those who care for that, might even be tempted to see the park, almost “unnigerian”. Brief, from my personal perspective, the park merits a kind of award to encourage other transport companies and localities to emulate that great job. 
But curious enough the ITC (Imo Transport Company Ltd) park opposite to it is so different that one can see them as day and night. The RTC Port Harcourt is so organized that even their car arrangement is really something you hardly see in any ordinary Nigerian motor park. 
However, their knowledge of business still runs on the windows 97. They still do not really grasp the power of social media. And the consequence is that they are still suspicious of all those who take picture of their park. Initially I thought they were of the opinion that the person might take the picture to a native doctor to hex them, but what I later discovered blew my mind.
When I arrived at their park, I quickly discovered something was odd. I took few moments to recover from that sense of what’s going on here? I was like, am I at the right place? Is this a (Nigerian) car park? In fact, I was so moved that I wanted to do one of those things I like doing to make this park known to the public. I wanted to take a 360° picture of this park to make it viewable on the Google Map. But once I started, I saw two men approached me asking me to stop taking the picture of the park. Being used to such reactions in our lovely home, I simply stopped and tried to explain to the security men what I was really doing but though they seemed interested, they thought the manager would be better placed to take that decision. I was like, are we really in the 21st century ? 
Few minutes later, the manager approached me wanting to understand my “dogo trinchi” - long grammar. I took my time to show them few of my over 430 different 360° pictures. I tried to show them how Google professional photographers and in my case with over 4.5 million views and trusted by Street view make places visible to the whole world just by simple clicks on the Street View app, but their system was still booting so low to comprehend my stories. I even went as far as showing them some of the pictures I took in different continents and how through a simple click one could have a tour of their park sitting in ones Kampala office but to no avail. When I finally discovered that we were not speaking the same language I gave up and just let them remain in their analogical age. 
I later asked myself what is the essence of trying to convince those who are not interested in making their business known? And I thought it would great to underline the fact that there are so many beautiful and successful stories in Nigeria which are not selling enough. 
And I share this here because I feel there is need to encourage young Nigerians to understand that social media is not just about Facebook, Instagram and snapshots. Google, for example, has so many beautiful applications that could do great service to our society. All those who know about Google Map know that Nigeria still has a lot to do on that platform. Any slightest correction you make take ages to be approved as there are no much local trusted contributors in that area. We, Africans, in general, and Nigerians in particular need to tell our stories if we don’t want others to do that on our behalf. 
Finally, it would be fun if someone let the RTC see this and better still understand that making their park more visible on the Google Map and other social media platforms would be a very important business advantage to them. 

Tuesday, 15 January 2019

What Story Does Your Local Church Tell? by Alisonomi

Nigeria is very rich in churches and prayer houses. We have different categories from mushroom churches to internationally acclaimed architectural structures worth of billions of Nigerian Naira. The diversity of these churches leaves no careful observer indifferent. Each person might surely has what attract more of his or her attention. Some old be the magnificent alters, the great paintings, the quality of the marbles or the arrangement of the sits, etc. 
When I visit any church, I personally, look at what story the Christian community is trying to portray through their church paintings and structurisations: how are their sits disposed, what are the stories told through paintings and in which language are the messages conveyed. These, from my understanding, communicate the model of the Church and the theology which are being expressed therein. As a Catholic, my experience is basically on the Catholic Church but what I’m going to express here could be applied to any giving Christian church. 
Those who have visited places with old Christian tradition understand that there exist numerous church structures.  Early Christian Church structures differ from the churches inspired by the Vatican II theology. And here, the differences are not just based on a church having one alter instead of those sideline alters denouncing the individualism that existed even in the mediaeval age of our dear mother church.
Of course, one might not understand what I mean, if ones knowledge of a church structure is only based on that small village church built in 21st century with an architectural model dating back to the XVIth century. Yes, that church in your village that is said to be an ultra-modern church may be a copy of that church where Martin Luther posted his 99 thesis. So, when I say modern Churches, I might be implying such churches where the people and the clergy are on the same level, with the possibility of the alter being at the centre of the church in certain cases. They are modern because they try to avoid the dismemberment and hierarchization of the church members. 
Anyway, my problem is not even on the structure of your church for that is a trivial matter! My problem is on how our – and here I mean Nigerian in particular – churches are afraid of telling her own story of Christianity. Nigeria has over 150 years of Catholicity but in non of its churches would you see that history clearly expressed, even implicitly. Already she is doted with a Blessed in the person of Blessed Michel Iwene Tansi but hardly do you see any black face among the myriads of Saints that populate her grottos and church paintings. 
Any time I visit a church, I hardly find myself represented in their history of Christian pilgrimage on earth. No fresco or paintings with my skin colour, no saint with my kinky hair and nothing sacred of my own identity is visible. I feel basically estranged and disconnected with the story they tell. I look for someone who knew what it means to be a black Christian, someone who understood what it means to come from a society with black colonial history, someone who knew what it means to be once known as uncivilized but all I see are perfect faces with wrinkle-less smiles and in many cases people who abandoned their riches to embrace Christ. 
How can I easily imitate someone who never knew what it means to be hungry? How do I aspire to be a saint who was born into abundance and had to renounce his riches to follow Christ when, in reality, all my prayer is how to see my family come out of indigence? How do I access a way of life far from my social realities and far-fetched from my indigenous spirituality? 
Where are the saints with kinky hairs? Where are the saints who went to church hungry even when they were observing no fast? Where are the saints who came from families of two wives and houses where extended families all navigate through the same door and call each parent “papa and maman” independent of their biological tie to those fathers and mothers? Where are the saints who had to fight their parents and village elders to attend church services on traditional sacred days? Where are the saints who passed from one slave master to the other? Where are the models that when I can’t imitate I know the fault is mine and not based on their privileges lives? 
Where are the Saint Martyrs of Uganda? Where is Saint Josephine Bakhita, Saint Iwene Tansi, Blessed Isidore Bakanja, Blessed Anuarite Nengapeta, Blessed Jacques Berthieu, Saints Felicity and Perpetua, Gabriel Ngeza, Ali Arkanjelo Konogo, Bishop Eneje, etc. Where are all these prominent men who did great things to implant the church in our continent? Where is the history of our own participation in the Christendom? 
Why is it so necessary to have St Theresa of Lisieux, St John Paul II, St Francis of Assisi, St Anthony of Padua, St Rita, etc., in our churches but non of our own indigenous saints? If the statues and the painting of the saints still have, among many others, the role of presenting us with models to emulate, why then do we not believe it will be easier for our young boys to emulate St Kisito and our young girls to emulate Blessed Anuarite Nengapeta than St Rita and Maria Goretti who died centuries even before our villages became known to the world? 
I am convinced that the catholic Bishop Conferences are not making enough effort in that aspect. And, if it has ever occurred to the bishops that something should be done to promote that and they remained unmoved, then it is either they are unaware of the need of their local churches or they have been indoctrinated to belittle their own history, culture and identity. 

Saturday, 22 December 2018

La Ville Fantôme de la Côte-Nord - Alisonomi

Ceci est l’histoire d’une ville de la Côte-Nord. Les gens l’appellent la terre rouge, mais avec ses sept mois d’hiver, il serait mieux de l’appeler la terre blanche. C’est un lieu qu’on croit, à tort, bâti par deux peuples — un, blanc et l’autre, rouge. Pourtant, il y a toujours eu un peuple nomade qui suivant le cours d’eau courante et de déplacement des animaux saisonniers parcourait cette terre nordique depuis des millénaires.
Je ne nommerai pas cette ville, mais vous la reconnaitrez sans doute, car c’est en réalité une ville d’une renommée étonnante. Certains la disent oubliée, mais je pense qu’elle a été plutôt abandonnée. Mais comme ses occupants sont tous faits en durs, ils portent leur situation comme manteau d’hiver. C’est peut-être parce que le froid et la poussière s’y alternent comme le Yin et le Yang.
Cette fameuse ville, dans les années 50, a poussé de nulle part comme le champignon lorsque le monde a découvert la richesse de son sous-sol. Construite de toute pièce, elle fut une plaque tournante de l’économie du fédéral et de deux provinces — Québec et Labrador-Newfoundland. Les gens de tout continent chantaient la gloire de cette ville. Ils y entraient et retournaient la poche pleine de la richesse du sous-sol de cette terre.  
Pourtant, à la veille de la pénurie de cette richesse, tous se sont sauvés en vitesse, à pas de lièvres poursuivis par un renard affamé. L’hôpital, l’église, les écoles et même des complexes sportifs tous furent rasés, voie même brulés sans gêne.     
Aujourd’hui encore, cette ville est la vraie incarnation d’une ville fantôme avec des traces semblables à un lieu visité par une catastrophe naturelle. Et tout ce qu’y reste aujourd’hui, ce sont des traces des années de gloire et des carapaces de véhicules de services et de machineries lourdes parsemées comme l’ornement de fleur dans un temple hindou. Elle est pleine d’appartements et des maisons abandonnées par-ci et par-là avec un air de tristesse digne d’un oiseau sauvé d’une marée noire.
Ne parlons pas de ses lacs et ses montagnes artificiels car on est toujours abasourdi de constater que dans ce lieu qui célèbre sa nordicité par ses nombreux lacs et montagnes, les humains se sont aussi livrés à en créer d’autres. À regarder le nombre des montagnes de résidu minier dans chaque coin de ce territoire ou encore à observer des trous vertigineux créés lors de l’exploitation non réhabilitée, on se croirait au XVIIe de notre planète. Car, comment comprendre qu’au XXIe au Canada, on puisse encore entretenir un pareil degré d’abus de l’environnent ?
Si c’était dans un pays où Dieu était encore responsable de l’évolution du temps, on pourrait l’accuser, ou du moins, essayer de lui demander s’il a, par hasard, oublié les habitants de cette terre. Le pire c’est qu’il semble que les gouvernements ont, depuis longtemps, oublié cette population. Sinon, comment se fait-il que la ville ne soit visitée qu’au temps des élections ? Même des fermes sont visitées par des politiciens, au temps des élections, pourvu que cette visite leur rapporte quelques bulletins de plus aux urnes.
Pour mieux cerner jusqu’à quel niveau cette situation est dégradée, il suffirait d’observer même les œuvres d’arts de cette ville fantôme. On dirait qu’on a ressuscité un faux Picasso pour faire la caricature de ces peuples. Son bonhomme qui, selon moi, incarne le nouveau Priapus et sa structure en clou sans nom que des années de la photographier ont fini par me laisser avec la conclusion que la lucidité de leur auteur reste encore à prouver.
Je vous épargne le drame humain que subit cette ville, mais je ne pourrais pas finir sans souhaiter que la cause des habitants de ce territoire nordique soit prise au sérieux. Ils ne sollicitent pourtant pas que la protection de la terre mère et des infrastructures nécessaires pour sortir sa jeunesse de la situation de tiers-monde. 

Sunday, 2 December 2018

The Place of Myths in our everyday Religious Expressions

Recently, a friend made a Facebook post that links our – African in general and Nigerian in particular – crave for extravagant religious manifestations to our world-view. And though I have always believed that every religious view is informed by the sociocultural background of the people, I have never had much reason to see them in the day-to-day practice of religion. But since that post, I have not stopped seeing that relationship in most of our daily religious activities.
Let me state, ab initio, that though what I am going to state here might be a personal opinion, it is far from being either biased or emotional. It will be to some extent scientifically – and here I mean experientially and not experimentally – verifiable. And also, that I am also a product of what I am questioning here. I am going to concentrate my discussion on only one aspect today.
Have you wondered why the Catholic Charismatic Renewal members in Nigeria, for example – and I have been in the movement since I was 15 years old – and most of these Pentecostals use the expressions like ‘Holy-Ghost Thunder’, ‘Holy-Ghost Fire’, Holy-Ghost Chain, etc., during prayer? Has it always been in our prayer jargon? Do we have such practices among other societies as it can be observed among (African) tribes? Has it ever crossed your mind to ask what makes believers find joy in the invocation of thunder and lightning?

Monday, 26 November 2018

Give us Barabbas - The Trouble Maker (John 18:33-40) - Alisonomi

Are you the King of the Jews? 
Asked the exasperated Pilate to Jesus
For in his appearance was nothing of royalty 
And so deserved no time of the romain officer

Is that your own idea or that of my compatriots
Asked the intrepid and undaunted Jesus to Pilate
Of coursed I’m not blind to take you for any king
Remarked unflinchingly the roman representative  
But what crime did you commit, you poor fellow
Why are your brothers and sisters forcing you on me
Why against you teamed up even the religious leaders 
What type of King do they say you really are 

Of course replied Jesus, my Kingdom is of another type
And it is, actually, neither in this world nor of this world 
For if not so, my subjects would have surely intervened  
But my kingdom is not from here but from another place

So you are a King then, exclaimed Pilate
You said that I am a king, replicated Jesus
But for me, I was born to testify to the truth
And everyone on the side of the truth listens