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As Unhappy As We Are

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An attractive married couple with all the badges of mid-life success — jobs, car, private school, nice apartment — have lost their love to stubbornness, resentment and the grinding duties of a demented elderly parent and a pubescent daughter under the same roof. None of that will keep them together.

The characters in writer-director, Asgha Farhadi’s new film, A Separation, are a modern, urban every-couple, except that their D-I-V-O-R-C-E is spelled in Farsi. What is surprising is how much these people are like us, despite living in Tehran, home to the Ayatullah’s virtue squads and dictator, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s crisis-provoking nuclear ambitions.

Farhadi’s fifth movie, A Separation, is also about gender politics — no surprise in the land of the chador — but even that theme is eerily familiar. The wife is a modern woman obliged to cover her head in public, and she wants to get her daughter out of Iran.

Her husband would not consider leaving because his elderly father needs him. As their initial separation leads to disaster, it becomes clear that official female repression is not the deal-breaker, as much as the clash between man and woman, recognizable to anyone who has ever been married.

Inaugurating the film’s American release, Farhadi screened it in New York recently to a small crowd of notables, including the chief of Sony Classics, which is distributing the film in the United States., filmmaker Michael Moore and author Erica Jong.

In an interview session, Farhadi, speaking Farsi, spoke about state censorship, and said Iranian television has never shown any of his films, though it has broadcast pirated versions of Michael Moore’s movies. Moore admitted he gets emails from Iranian fans. “You touted me as the Ayatullah’s favorite filmmaker,” he noted. “I know they show my films because they show the dark side of America. But my films are also about rising up against authority.”

In its own subtle way, A Separation does for Americans what Moore’s films do for Iranians. While Moore’s films argue that Americans are cursed with bad leaders and policies — something Iranians can understand — A Separation reveals the equivalence between us and them.

Even officialdom looks like ours: Apparently, Iranian family court and criminal judges are just like our harried bureaucrats (not the Inquisitors we expect) and everyone, even women, moves around with a freedom many Americans cannot imagine in security-state Iran. Can Iranians “just get in their cars and drive?” an audience member asked Farhadi. “There is a difference between the people of a country, and its politicians,” he replied.

After decades of national distrust and rumours of war rumbling as predictably as the seasons, it is almost impossible for Americans to believe that Iranian people share the vicissitudes of modern life, whether it is watching their love dissolved or getting in their cars to drive.

With the US government sanctioning Iran and the Iranian regime threatening to close the Strait of Hormuz, this quietly powerful movie is like the lone man or woman standing in front of the inevitable tank, reminding us that domestic sorrow is impervious to national borders, peace and war.

Aside Farhadi’s film, the political firmament in Iran is as turbulent and uncertain as the cloudy sky. So unpredictable is the nation’s leader and his spiritual mentors that the citizens are rudely opaque in determining their future.

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s government has openly declared its intention to pursue an ambitious nuclear programme, which it claims is directed at improving the power generation capacity and other development imperatives in the country. Ahmadinejad has viciously campaigned for the international community’s understanding of Iran’s desire to move beyond its peripheral status as a developing nation, depending on oil and gas as major sources of revenue.

Ahmadinejad has repeatedly called the bluff of the United States and the entire United Nations on the issue of nuclear programme and its development. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has severally challenged Iran to open its nuclear facilities for unfettered inspection. But the regime continues with uranium enrichment programme and tightly controls the way it conducts business with the international community. Indeed, Iran, under Ahmadinejad, does not want any Western organization to come close.

For its recalcitrance, the IAEA recently pulled out of Iran, alleging the country’s leaders’ unwillingness to allow its personnel unrestricted access to the secret nuclear facilities for inspection. Even as IAEA has pulled out, complaining of Iran’s violation of UN directives on inspection of the facilities, Russia and China appear indifferent and continue to look the other way.

While that is going on, the Iranian people are daily inundated with the difficult realities of life in a country crammed by an avalanche of sanctions from the West, especially the United States. And the Barrack Obama administration is hell bent on slamming on sanctions on Iran until its leaders comply with the many UN resolutions giving vent to the IAEA inspection and control of the strategic programme.

However, the fear over the unpredictable intentions of Ahmadinejad is rising. In Israel, both the government and the people are committed to countering the Iranian force. And the Jewish nation has left no one in doubt that it has the capacity and capability to roll off the Iranian might and level the Persian great to dust, if and only if Ahmadinejad provokes any tension and crisis in the region.

Now back to the issue of social lives of both the Iranians and the Americans. It is now common knowledge that the Iranians are as engraved and unhappy as most Americans are today. In fact, the rate of divorce in American homes is rising just as the rate of films churned out daily from Hollywood. The number of single mothers and single fathers has increased over the last decade.

But unlike Iran, the cultural differences and lifestyles in America are fast shrinking. The dark border of colour and creed are fading as fast as the rate of integration is speeding as light wave. Even at that, Americans are still as unhappy as the Iranians, with no sanctions to contend with.

Is this meeting point the aggregation of Ahmadinejad and Obama? No. It is only the faint order of our social semblance. The culture of contemporary lifestyle has brought both Iranians and Americans together on the same table.

Burleigh is a journalist and the author of five books, including The Fatal Gift of Beauty.

 

Nina Burleigh

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Opinion

Short, Sharp, Shock-Treatment

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There was a recent allusion from the Nigerian President, or the Presidency, about the possibility of some impending shock, meant to restore sanity in the country. It came as a warning to those who were alleged to be intent on destroying or destabilising Nigeria via insurgency, agitation and causing mayhem. Therefore, it has become needful to alert Nigerians about Nature’s Standing Order of Short, sharp, shock treatment (SSST), as a mechanism of restoring order when humans allow disorder to grow too high. In truth, there is such mechanism in the scheme of things.
Those who are familiar with Jewish cosmogony via the Kabbalah, would know that there is a flow of Divine influx, also known as Zazahot or lighting flash, which is an up-building and a restorative system. The 5th anchorage of that Divine Circuit system known as Geburah or Judgement has the duty or responsibility of restoring order and bringing about a balance, when disorder and imbalance become overwhelming in creation or a section thereof. Disorder and imbalances usually come from humans.
Being endowed with a free will and the freedom to make personal decisions and choices, which are often mis-used, humans bring about disorders and imbalances which distort the beauty and harmony of creation. Accumulation of massive impurities would necessitate a cleansing process to reduce the results of human engagements in acts of impunity, shamelessness and irresponsibility. Before catastrophies come there are usually warnings.
In the case of Nigeria, the warning signals have been persistent and loud enough even for obtuse persons to be aroused to a state of alertness. Nature has a process of educating human beings through bitter personal and collective experiences. No one can say that such warning signals and bitter experiences have not been there for quite some time. As a process of ensuring justice, there are watchers and weavers whose activities in the 100m of destiny entail monitoring the deeds of everyone with utmost accuracy. There are also provisions for deep reflections and possible redressing of imbalances.
Nigeria has been brought to its current sad state of affairs through many follies and deliberate acts of mischief. From Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala’s book Reforming The Unreformable, we are told that more than 5,000 board seats existed as sinecure, with political leaders having enormous patronage powers. We are told that a bad public service is certain to produce bad governance, even if the right accountability and other mechanisms are in place. Thus, there is a spiral of malfeasance.
From public service system, to tertiary education, we are told that “a systemic rot has befallen Nigeria”, apart from “inflating the budget by doubling or tripling the allocations…” Even with the Nigeria Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (NEITI) bill which was approved in May 2007, there was no transparency or accountability in Nigeria’s oil and gas sector. In both physical and process audit there are deficiencies in management and utility.
Okonjo-Iweala advised that “special care be taken to ensure that oil revenues are spent wisely to build up durable long-term assets whose benefits can be shared with future generations”. Nigeria’s great dependence on oil and gas whose vulnerability to global volatility of commodity market are important factors in the country’s need to reshape its economic structure and growth based on diversification. With regards to corruption, Okonjo-Iweala said that “cynicism about the fight against is greatest when allegations of corrupt acts on the part of the elite are not investigated with any vigour even when investigated …”
If human verdict is reflected in the dismal and sad score card available in the public domain, then the verdict of the watchers and weavers of human destinies must also be far worse. There are indications globally that visibly gathering dark storms would surely result in some catastrophes whose true nature no one can tell accurately. For Nigeria as an individual nation in the global family, it is obvious that the shock alluded to by the President is an omen of things to come.
However, no one is in a position to predict exactly the nature and intensity of the shock the president had in mind. Reacting to the President’s statement, a number of Nigerians expressed sadness that it was a warning to agitators who allegedly are trying to destabilise and disunite Nigeria. But the situation obviously goes beyond current activities of political agitators and bandits.
Normally it takes a long time for storms to amass such power that would result in a destructive shock. Therefore, it would be myopic and wrong to judge the Nigerian situation from a one-sided perspective. Across the globe, Nigeria features as one of the delicate zones where some shocks are most likely to arise. Already harbingers of warning signals include activities of Boko Haran and other agitators for Islamic states and sharia laws, spate of kidnappings and demand for ransom, etc. The commando-rescue-style of an American farmer held hostage in Northern Nigeria placed Nigeria as a vulnerable nation.
Prelude to any coming shock usually includes complacence arising from gluttony over loots. The fact that a few highly-placed Nigerians tried to exonerate late General Sani Abacha of accusations of looting, despite exposures of such deeds, is another evidence of a nation which needs a shock to regain sanity. It takes the collaboration of humans through various activities, to serve as agents in the fulfillment of the mechanism of destiny. Such human agents rarely know that they are serving the course of Nemesis.
Unlike the Nigerian Civil War (1967-1970) with its attendant miseries and woes, SSST comes as mechanism of Divine intervention, to ensure that those who deserve to die, die the death they deserve. It is fast and thorough, with long-lasting effect. It is a weapon of sective elimination.

Dr Amirize is a retired lecturer from the Rivers State University, Port Harcourt.

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Corporate Begging In Nigeria

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I went to an office two days ago for a business transaction and at the gate was a well-dressed, cheerful security guard who zealously ushered me into the compound. I wanted to park my car at one end of the compound and he insisted that I should go another direction which truly was more spacious. And in my mind l was like, “what a dutiful staff”.
He was not done yet.  As soon as I switched off my car ignition and was about to open the door to come out, he rushed and did it, smiling from one side of his mouth to another, offering unsolicited information and a guide on my whereabouts in the facility. I sincerely thanked him, hoping all the VIP treatment will not be a subtle way of begging for gratuity.
Behold, I was wrong. As l made to step into the building, he whispered “Madam, no forget the favour way l do you oo”.  I had just encountered another corporate beggar. A day before, l had a bitter encounter with one, a pump attendant, at a petrol station who called me names for refusing to part with my hard-earned money. Having inquired about the well being of my family, admired my car and showered all unasked encomium on me, he expected a monetary appreciation which was not forthcoming and the next thing I heard was “stingy woman”.
They are everywhere. At petrol stations, banks, offices, both public and private hotels, you see a lot of people begging while on duty. At the airport, train station and in practically all-important offices in the country, “anything for the boys, your boys dey loyal oo”, seems to have become part of the official language.
Of course, this shameful attitude did not start today but it has taken a more serious, disturbing dimension in recent times. Many people, particularly the security personnel, front desk officers, customer relations officers have turned their duty posts to begging offices. They would always blame the current economic downturn for their unbecoming attitude which cannot be totally true because, at least, they are working and earning salaries no matter how little.
What about the millions of people who are jobless and have no means of livelihood? Have they all taken to the streets to beg?
One thinks it is a social malaise which has a lot to do with our ethical values. A lot of people in the country value money and other material things far and above integrity, self-respect and self-dignity and so, they will do anything, no matter how shameful, to acquire them.
A teacher once made an analysis of two families, one has four members and the other was a family of 11 people. Both families were given N200,000 each to spend for a month. According to her, half way into the month, the family of four almost exhausted their money and could hardly pull through till the end while the other family of nine comfortably made do with the amount they had and even had some balance. What was their secret? Prioritisation and prudent management.
Therefore, it is not so much about how much we make through our salaries, begging and other means but how we manage the money. There is hardly anybody in the country today that is not feeling the economic bite and the only thing that will help everybody both the low- and high-income earners is to set their priorities right and learn how to live within their income instead of hoping on tips from some “big men and women” and doing all kinds of ridiculous thing to attract their attention and the crumb. And we forget that the so-called big men most times also have loads of financial responsibilities.
On the national level, we also have to consider the damaging impact of officials begging and do something about it. Obviously, taking little tips from people would make officials skimp on their responsibilities, thereby making some unscrupulous elements have their way, exposing the country to avoidable vulnerability.
It is, therefore, imperative we must begin to build a new ethos that places emphasis on self-respect and dignity of labour. As part of the country’s 60th Independence celebration, the National Ethics and Integrity Policy was launched. It contains the nation’s core values of Human Dignity, Voice and Participation, Patriotism, Personal Responsibilities, Integrity, National Unity and Professionalism. All these values and how they will be practised to make for a better country and more cordial relationship among the citizens are thoroughly spelt out.
For instance, section 4.5.2.5, talking about Honour under Integrity states, “We shall at all times maintain uprightness of character, personal integrity and pride in ourselves as individuals, as one community, and as one nation. Therefore, in all spheres of life, we shall do what is demanded by our common values and laws that we hold to be true, in accordance with our national identity and in accordance with the values enshrined in our national laws and practices as one country. As Nigerians, we shall stand up to challenge those vices that impede the pursuit of our existence with uprightness. We shall celebrate those Nigerians who are upright”.
But then the big questions are, how many Nigerians are aware of this policy? What efforts are being made to educate the citizens on these core values? We  have the National Orientation Agency, the Ministry of Information at various tiers of government, what are they doing to educate people about these code of conduct so that the people internalise it and it becomes a true guide for the citizens,
It is not enough that time, energy and resources were spent in packaging the booklet, let adequate sensitisation be carried out, using the media, both conventional and social media and other means of communication to reach to people at every nooks and crannies of the country because many Nigerians are losing it when it comes to integrity and the time to get them back on the right track is now.

By: Calista Ezeaku

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Opinion

Helping Local Poultry Curb Protein Deficiency

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The Third National Development Plan in Nigeria (1975-1980) envisaged accelerated agricultural growth as being essential for future nutritional growth and emphasized the need for qualitative rather than quantitative food output. This was followed by the publication of a national food balance sheet by the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Natural Resources which revealed the critical extent of essential foods deficiencies in the country.
The target was the improvement of production management, the breeding and feathering of livestock as well as the provision of veterinary services.
From the period of the plan till date, the dream of attaining the required nutritional growth for the Nigerian populace had remained a far cry as outputs of animal products still fall below the minimum nutritional requirements.
Poultry, which involves the domestication of birds (fowls, turkeys, ducks and geese) kept for egg or meat production, is the quickest source of meat and its production process involves the least hazardous and arduous in relation to other livestock enterprise.
Hence, increased poultry production is one of the surest and quickest ways of bridging the animal protein intake gap in the developing countries of the world and in Nigeria, most importantly.
Although the task of bridging this protein intake gap appears formidable in view of the present economic and technological constraints besetting the livestock industry, its importance and the need to make it a reality must not be overlooked.
Known for its significant contribution to human nutrition and economic development, the poultry sector, according to Alabi and Osifo (2014) constitutes more than 57% of the total livestock production in Nigeria with many going into it for either meat, egg or both production.
With the ever increasing population of Nigeria, the poultry industry has not been able to meet up the animal protein need of the populace even as it has all the potentiality of providing the protein need of man. Many people still find it difficult to eat an egg in a year against the recommended average of 240 eggs in a year per person.
This indicates that despite several actions by both the government and few individuals, the chronic deficiency in qualitative food output still yearns for solution.
However, talking about solution, the problem of insufficient supply of hatchable eggs and day-old-chicks must be addressed. It has been observed that at certain periods of the year, hatchable eggs and day-old-chicks (DOC) go out of supply even with substantial amount of import, a situation that subjects peasant poultry farmers to booking for order and waiting for weeks without result.
Worst still, when these orders are eventually made available, almost all the farmers end up brooding birds at the same time and the result is an eventual egg glot in the market. Therefore, egg production calendar is now marked by glot and scarcity periods, as a result of irregular supply of the source of chicks and eggs.
For farmers in Rivers State, what can be a worse experience and set back than lack of adequate qualitative feed appropriate to the ages of the birds?
While farmers in the West and North, who have the privilege of proximity to source of raw materials are at liberty to formulate their feeds to desired standards, the Rivers State farmers see it as a very critical factor in poultry management.
They remain at the mercy of the commercial feed producers from the West who are more concerned about their profit even when the quality of the finished feeds tends to undermine the health and eventual performances of birds.
Moreso, the transportation cost of these feeds from the west to Port Harcourt, in no small measure, increases their cost of production high above what farmers from other states incure. The result is that the farmer in Rivers State is unable to compete favourably with his counterparts elsewhere .
Port Harcourt thus becomes a dumping ground for poultry products from neighbouring states which must be sold before products from within due to a downward slash in the price of the outside products, because of cost advantage.
Suffice it to say that for farmers in the state to meet up with the protein requirements of the state, a provision of functional feed mill that will formulate standard feed to serve the farmers within the state will be a great boost to the local industry.
Apart from the afore-mentioned, the problem of the poultry farmer in Rivers State, could be purely managerial and skill-based.
Like every field of endeavour, poultry farming is one sector which requires more than any other, a careful application of managerial expertise, if one’s capital investment is to be safeguarded and profitable returns expected.
The usual orientation of backyard poultry predominant in the western region of Nigeria has left many with the psyche that poultry business is an all-comers affairs, that could be started at any time without adequately counting the cost of commitment.
This has not just led to the abrupt abortions of many such ventures, but had in most cases devastated some homes who had put in fortunes, probably their retirement benefits just to make ends meet through poultry farming.
The later therefore, poses great concern as to the right attitude towards poultry farming.

By: Sylvia ThankGod-Amadi

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