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The other side of policy

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Photo by: Ron Dyar

Policies are used to govern a society, a people, an organization etc. Policies are never set in stone. Or rather, they should never be made with the intention of being permanent. As time passes and as natural and unexpected changes occur, policies in turn need to be refined.

Systemic racism exists in large part, due to lack of governments and other institutions, re-evaluating the limitations of old policies. Path dependency is easy. It probably even saves money, since no change is made. However, certain kinds of path dependencies can have long-term destructive impacts.

Path dependency can be fatal. Kalief Browder (an African-American) was imprisoned as a teenager, based on allegation of crime. At some point, he was transferred to solitary confinement. There was never a trial before his imprisonment. Not too long after his release from prison, Browder committed suicide. Imprisonment of a teenager, without trial. If you may, let that sink in. The prison industrial complex in the United States (US), as well as in Canada has enabled the over-representation of certain minority groups.

Alarms are currently being raised about the significantly high rates of mortality for Black women during childbirth, regardless of socio-economic status. What kinds of past or maybe, recent policies are causing this anomaly? What are the new policies that need to be adopted in the US healthcare sector, to curb the mortality of Black women during childbirth? These are only a few of the questions that the government, doctors and other health care workers need to be brainstorming seriously.

On the note of health care, Nigeria continues to experience a serious brain drain of doctors because the latter, want and deserve fairer treatment. The catastrophe of this loss will boomerang on the welfare of the masses, as well as on the purse of the Nigerian state. Why not the state, negotiate better pay policies with doctors and save several lives? Why not the state, negotiate better working condition policies with doctors, so that Nigerians who do not have money to go abroad for healthcare can stand a chance at survival?

Policies are made to be changed.

The Uighurs of China are a religious and ethnic minority group who are currently experiencing surveillance and incarceration by the Chinese government. They are not quite free to practise their faith in a secular nation. China’s human rights stance is an aspect of the nation that has been quite unchanged, even amidst its huge economic accomplishments. Systems, policies, standards should constantly be up for debate by those in power.

Failure to consider who and what are constantly being marginalized by policies (whether written or unspoken/convention) will boomerang. Whether through protests, increased government/institutional spending on a preventable issue, high mortality rates, violence, shortage of labour etc.

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Nigeria and democracy

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Photo by: Dami Akinbode

May 29 marks Democracy Day in Nigeria, annually, so this past Tuesday, the nation commemorated it. As a military-rule recovering nation, we have really come far in moulding the frameworks of our democracy. Every four years, Nigerians have the right to vote, in order to choose a president. The election of 2015 saw a rare act of swift, peaceful conceding by a now-former president, plus the 2015 election and its results were hailed as free and fair. These were rarities for Nigeria and certainly, for the continent of Africa. Internet access in Nigeria is not regulated by the government. In fact, it was majorly through social media that many Nigerian youths championed for the signing of the Not Too Young to Run bill, into law.

Our democracy has come a long way.

There are still challenges that have made Democracy Day bitter-sweet for me. Can anyone else relate to this feeling? It often seems like the idea of democracy halts, to many politicians after elections. The idea of democracy is that the public has the right to vote for people that will represent them in government offices. So, it is absolutely wrong to enter into power and turn away from the concerns of the public. For Nigeria, what we often see is democracy that births some milder form of authoritarianism. It is like when a generous act is reciprocated with disdain.

Is it really a democracy when there is limited dialogue between political leaders and their constituents? Is it really a democracy when employment is often not based on merit but on nepotism? Is it really a democracy when there is an epidemic of parents not being able to send their children to school? Is it really a democracy when the masses see no end in sight to terrorism in the nation?

Perhaps, this is what it means to be a young democracy? To some extent, probably. But, the Nigerian child has always been taught to dream big and break barriers. These values should not be abandoned by our politicians.

Our leaders should imbibe that: “For unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required; and to whom men have committed much, of him they will ask the more” ( Luke 12:48 KJV). (Note: him or *her; men or *women).

Peace,

Chiamaka

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My full speech at the ‘Women of courage’ talk (Vancouver, Canada)

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Image by: The Vancouver Women’s Library 

Fellow speakers, volunteers of the Vancouver Women’s Library, ladies and gentlemen, everyone — goodafternoon. It is an honour to be speaking here, today. The Vancouver Women’s Library has been around for a year now and in this timeframe has become a vibrant hub for women and our art — like open mics, West African Dance classes, Spanish classes etc. It is also a space for all who choose to explore books in a comfortable and friendly space. It is an honour to be here celebrating with the library and everyone of you.

I have been asked to speak on the theme — Women of Courage. So much can be said on this but I will try to keep my speech concise and very importantly, I will try to keep you all awake.

Since I moved to Canada from Nigeria at age 14, I have never been to an event that gives as much diversity in representation as we are all witnessing in the speaker line-up for today. This is not a Diversity and Inclusion panel or a panel on the Future of Multiculturalism in Canada etc. No. It is just an event celebrating all women and look at the diversity of this panel. Today, the Vancouver Women’s Library has set a great example, for which we must all strive to embrace in our own works as activists, employers, organizers, CEOs, human resources managers etc.

A woman of courage believes fiercely in the power of her dreams. I was born and raised in Nigeria and moved to Canada for my post-secondary education in 2011. The more I reached into my late-teens, I had a passion to do my own part to make my nation better. For a beautiful nation where good governance is often pushed down with an iron fist, it is usually so hard to have any faith. Anyway, in the summer of 2016, a new graduate at the time, I had the vision for the Initiative for Inclusive Dialogue in Nigeria (IIDN). I wanted to create an organization that gave marginalized people in Nigeria, a voice in the governance operations of their communities. I had no clear vision of what the end would look like. I just wanted to start. So every day that summer, in-between online job hunting, I was drafting the contents for the would-be website of this organization. I eventually got a job working with the Canadian Red Cross on its largest domestic disaster response at the time – the 2016 wildfires of Fort McMurray. Even then, I was working on the IIDN project with a tech expert. I just knew I shouldn’t stop chasing the dream. On July 18, 2017, the Initiative for Inclusive Dialogue in Nigeria (IIDN) was launched. Our official mission is that: “through our assistance in areas of good governance education, engagement with different community groups/social classes and awareness raising, more Nigerians will feel interested, confident and qualified to engage in the discourse and actions centred around how Nigeria is governed”.

I was blessed to be able to live this mission in our very first workshop with youths of the Makoko, water-side and slum community in the megacity of Lagos. Makoko is a slum and neglected in terms of governance. The youths at this workshop were very smart and driven. What struck me during my presentation to them was when I asked: Who wants to be a politician? I got facial reactions and sighs of disdain. I asked if it was because of how their communities have been treated. They gave nods of affirmation. This broke my heart. I will never forget that day. But it affirmed our mission. Those youth too will be the future leaders of tomorrow, so it is critical that they learn that better is possible. This is what IIDN did that day. This is what the organization will continue to do. Shout out to the whole IIDN team which I am so grateful to have working alongside me, in this journey.

Women of courage realize that if the table doesn’t fit everyone, we can buy new tables and expand the room space. Women of courage see each other as potential collaborators and not as threats or unequals. In the late 1980s, an African-American woman, Kimberlé Crenshaw introduced to the world, the notion of intersectional feminism. Intersectionality displays good neighbourliness. It is often said that Indigenous women in Canada are thrice at risk of violence than any other group in Canada. Yet, in many critical dialogues, Indigenous women are left out of the table. Where is the intersectionality in this? Well, Fay Blaney does not fail to bring those voices to the table. Madam, it is an honour to be here with you today.

Women of courage are women who have survived civil and inner wars and have dared to pick up the pieces of themselves that survived, and then, achieve great heights. I honour those that have survived inner wars like a woman from Nise in Anambra State, Nigeria who too untimely, became widowed and the bread-winner of six children (not including the eldest who was already established and helping his mother train the younger ones). One of her sons lost a leg during Nigeria’s civil war. One of her daughters today is a PhD holder who has worked tirelessly to advance environmental sustainability in Nigeria. That matriarch is my late maternal grandmother. The beloved child injured by a weapon of war is my late uncle. The PhD holder is my real-life super-heroine, my mother. I give thanks for my grandmother.

There are so many women who have survived wars. I have heard of a book by an author who is “Reclaiming” her life. I want to recognize that Evelyn Amony has shown enormous, enormous courage as she shares her story and advocative spirit with Ugandas and the world.

It is true also that some women of courage do not survive their wars – whatever the wars look like. Marielle Franco was a vibrant, Brazilian advocate for the Black community, women, the poor and many at the margins in Brazil. She grew up in one of Brazil’s most impoverished areas. Franco rose to the rank of politician and did not forget the causes for which she entered politics. About two weeks ago, the voice of Marielle Franco was silenced, by assassin(s)’s bullets. Women of courage are women in Northern Nigeria who embrace education despite social and economic restraints to their pursuit of education, only to be kidnapped by a terrorist group at their schools. In 2014, over 200 Chibok girls were kidnapped from their school by Boko Haram. It is our duties to honour such women that did not or may not survive their wars, by doing our part to make the world a fairer, safer, more equal place.

Finally, women of courage celebrate. They celebrate the little joys, the big blessings and the tragedies overcome. They celebrate the future unknown. And as my mother advised me very recently, I say to you too: “Be very bold”.

Speaking at VWL

Chiamaka Mọgọ speaking at the ‘Women of courage’ talk organized by the Vancouver Women’s Library (March 25th, 2018)

I thank the Vancouver Women’s Library for honouring me and the work that we do, at the Initiative for Inclusive Dialogue in Nigeria. I will also like to share that the organization is looking to welcome new volunteers. You can learn more from the IIDN website — www.iidnigeria.org.

It has been an honour to speak at this occasion. As we say in my native language of Igbo — Daalụ unu. Ya gaziekwara unu.

Thank you and all the best.

~ Chiamaka Mọgọ

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Community

Making a case for self-governance

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Photo credit: Patrick Fore

Governments wait to see stark crime and inequalities, before they take action on issues that were voiced, earlier on. White people want non-White people to first inspire them on anti-oppression. People in Management, stay silent about issues of sexual violence in their workplace, thus, forcing victims to push courage through their trauma and spearhead the search for justice on their own.

This is the world as we know it. This is human nature as we live in and partake in it. As we live in and partake in human nature however, we see that it is not static. Human nature means different norms for different societies and peoples. What is in my acquired or self-constructed nature, may be opposite to yours and vice versa.

So, let me make a case here, for something that I will call – self-governance. This is not in the sense of politics. Self-governance as, seeing our individual self as something that can and should be refined by intentional effort. A view that privilege – whether it is by race, gender, sexuality, country of origin, social status, education – should not limit one from seeing clearly, the realities of someone opposite to you.

Certainly, if you are not in a particular situation, you cannot be an expert on what is it like to be in that situation. Perfection is not the goal.
Privilege is centrally tied to the few issues which the first paragraph of this post started with. Between love and privilege (two great things), I wonder which blinds the more. Perhaps, they are on a par? Privilege tends to make people, governments, organizations – to ignore. Privilege allows systems and people, to take advantage of the non-privileged.

If we all take an inward look at our own life and challenge ourselves to be open to redefinition – to deliberately read more, to deliberately have humble (not scientific, inquiry-like) and meaningful conversations with our seemingly-‘opposites’, to live with an open mind whose biases and prejudices can be changed – this world will be a much much better place.

Human nature is not static. Live aware. Make effort. Live open-minded. These are things that I am personally, constantly trying to improve on. In a world so beautiful, yet marked with so much unnecessary troubles, a sense of self-governance beyond the political meaning can always come in handy.

Love & peace,
Chiamaka

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Language as resistance

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Photo by: Kai Pilger, on Unsplash

Oppression based on language which was birthed from ancient colonial times, still remains overt. I live in Canada (for the most part) and have seen and heard, how people are maltreated and even lose jobs because of a so-called language barrier – you know, because a person speaks English with “an accent”. The Indian Residential school system (stopped in 1996) dissuaded, by use of force, Aboriginal-Canadian children from speaking their languages.

Language as resistance is a factual matter. As someone who comes from a nation that was colonized, I am just thankful that a majority of my Igbo ancestors’ language and dialects were stored. I will not lie that I can speak my language (Igbo) fluently. I can however, write, understand and speak enough, to impress those who speak it excellently. I have often replied Igbo with English. As I mature, I am learning that in a world dominated by languages like English and French – which were forced on Africans (and others), I must not let my own native language die. These days, my sister and I speak more of our language, I listen to Igbo music, I dance to Igbo songs. Also, I will start teaching West African dance classes at the University of British Columbia, come January 2018. This is resistance, this is owning my language, this is safeguarding one of the major things that gives me pride in my blackness and in my Igbo-ness.

Language as resistance is beautiful. One of the highlights of the time that I spent working in Fort McMurray, Canada, was the vibrancy of Aboriginal languages, there. It was beautiful. Dene was spoken. Cree was spoken. Past efforts to strip Aboriginal-Canadians of their languages and cultures have resulted to severe inter-generational impacts. So, to see what I saw in Fort McMurray was again, beautiful.

I once heard an African man say – I never heard that someone died of knowing too many languages.
How true! Friends, let us keep our languages alive. Shout out to the people that had no other choice and learned English or French etc as a second language. How hardworking, brave and inspiring you are, to have learned a language that wasn’t your first. When your “accent” is challenged, it might be helpful to ask your oppressor, how many languages he or she managed to know 🙂

To celebrate language, I will be closing this post with a greeting in my own language. I invite you to also comment on this post, in your native language.

Ifunanya na udo,
Chiamaka

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The discourse on gentrification is growing: But, of course

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The popularity of discourses on gentrification as it relates to public health and certainly, social justice, have been very enlightening to me. It is very important that the discourses on gentrification are getting so widespread and that it is a huge topic for public policy and public health scholars, and others too.

During my most recent trip to Nigeria, I met up with a child rights and social justice advocate, who works consistently with children growing up in slums, in Lagos. We were discussing the issue of State-sponsored evictions and demolitions of such slum areas. From her perspective, she noted that gentrification leads to a cycle of hurt and broken dreams which then results in crime. That really stood out for me. I mean, gentrification is an action that destabilizes communities, families, in more than one way. It is most often aimed at the poor and in Western nations – at visible minority communities, especially.

In this post, I am taking the advice from the advocate in Nigeria and my concern on this matter, to address what is a destructive global issue. Gentrification happens worldwide. It happened with the Hogan’s Alley of Vancouver, Canada. Historically, it has happened in several parts of the United states. In Nigeria, it happens often in Lagos and even, very recently, with the Eke Ukwu market destruction in Imo State.

Gentrification puts the poor and disadvantaged groups at a far-reach to success, at the centre of the causes of dismal health (pollution, fast foods chains, over-populated housing etc) and in a cycle of lack. Of course, with all such ills often comes, for some, an almost-inevitable susceptibility to crime.

A major step to solving the problem of gentrification is for state actors and their networks (businesses, lobbyists etc), to understand and take very seriously, the implications of what they often deem to be ‘urbanizing’. You can urbanize without leaving disadvantaged groups and the poor behind and cutting away from communities, the ties that held them together in health, success, socialization and other ways. Gentrification cuts such ties apart and it is without a doubt, a human rights violation.

I encourage readers of this post, to also dig deeper on the literature on gentrification as it cuts across the fields of social justice and public health. It has been very worthwhile for me. I will end by saying: SPEAK UP AGAINST GENTRIFICATION!

Please. If we keep speaking up against it, I am sure that we will make, even just a little difference.

Love & Peace,
Chiamaka

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Nigeria: Asking for More

It is never certain what we will achieve, after we make demands. This is what makes the skill of questioning and curiosity, in some sense, admirable and courageous.
Sometimes, one may make a request and the response is for bad and other times, it is for good. Either way, in the end, we tend to think, “At least, I tried”.

I very much admire those who question the political status quo, especially when that status quo is not good enough. When it is causing more harm than good.

On Saturday last week, I watched on TV, the glamour, merriment and energy that was used to welcome President Buhari of Nigeria, after he his plane landed. This was after being away from Nigeria for just a little over 100 days, due to medical reasons. I watched this and was laughing, with sarcasm, of course, while I could also feel tears start to form in my eyes. I do genuinely sympathize with President Buhari on the state of his health that led him to England, and hope that he is much better now.

My disappointment is that a President who before election, campaigned on the promise of change and who came in with a mandate of tackling corruption, would find it okay to leave Nigeria for that long, while bearing the privileges of Office.

This is not a personal opinion attack on President Buhari. It is an analysis response of what it means to do the right thing. President Buhari was away for over 100 days and in that time while away from office, still bore the title and privileges that come with being the President of Nigeria. Is this not a form of corruption on the masses? It is not enough to have an Acting President, while in absence. In Africa, we seem to have a huge problem of politicians who see power as a means to enrich and better themselves and their families, way more than the people that voted for them.

Who paid for the President’s medical costs during that length of time abroad? While away, what efforts were being made by members of his Cabinet and or the then, Acting President, to improve healthcare facilities nation-wide? These are important questions to ponder on – for the President, his cabinet and members of the public celebrating the President’s return.

Perhaps, my fellow Nigerians, we all need to ask for more, for more than mediocrity. A first step to this may be to support grassroots movements that fight for our rights. I read and watched, how Charles Oputa a.k.a. Charly Boy was assaulted during his protests for the Resume or Resign campaign. Those campaigners asked for more. We should thread along their footsteps or at least throw in support, not tear gas or fists.

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Love & Peace,
Chiamaka

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