Don’t write off the happiest nation on earth
By Brendan Walsh
Here’s an odd one for you. Which country regularly heads the “world’s most corrupt” chart and is invariably written off as a hopeless basket case by every visiting journalist? And which country always comes top whenever they do one of those surveys to discover where the happiest people in the world live? It’s 40 years since a brutal and bloody civil war began in Nigeria. A young colonel in the Nigerian army, Emeka Ojukwu, declared the independent Republic of Biafra on May 30, 1967. After two and a half years of fighting, he finally surrendered to the federal forces. A million civilians had died, either from their wounds or from famine. Ojukwu is now in his seventies, long-since pardoned, an almost avuncular figure who has made cameo appearances as a candidate in recent presidential elections, picking up few votes even in his Igbo heartland. And now, on May 29, 2007, one of the generals who defeated the Biafran army, Olusegun Obasanjo, longsince retired from the army, will, please God, formally relinquish the presidency in the first peaceful and constitutional transfer of power from one civilian president to another since Nigeria gained its independence from Britain in 1960. The April elections were, as almost everyone seems willing to admit, a brazen stitchup, although some are prepared to argue that since the intimidation and rigging were universal the candidate with the largest popular support probably won anyway. Poor government, corruption, vote-rigging, gangsterism and insurgency have replaced civil war and famine. One cheer for democracy. Eight years ago, on a visit to my cousins in Calabar, a convivial harbour town in the south east, a few days before the military rulers handed power over to Obasanjo’s elected civilian government, I was having dinner with a young lawyer, Victor Ndoma-Egba. Victor introduced me to a wonderful word that was used in Calabar to explain everything that goes wrong in our lives. “When a child became ill or the cooking pot cracked over the fire,’ Victor told me between mouthfuls of egosi soup, “our mothers and fathers would sigh and say, ifot .” Ifot ? Victor explained that whenever something bad happened it would be put down to the revenge of an ill-tempered spirit for some accidental breach of
cosmic etiquette. Perhaps the sick child’s mother had stepped on a snake the previous day, or she had worn a headdress of the wrong colour at a friend’s wedding. Part of the comprehensive explanatory power of ifot was that you could never pin it down precisely. In spite of our wonderful dinner, we agreed that in the years of military rule Calabar had witnessed one bad thing after another. The roads were pitted with craters, the verandahs of the surviving colonial buildings around the old harbour had buckled with neglect. Victor reached for a beer and said: “We have a new explanation for why things have gone wrong. We no longer blame everything on ifot . Now we sigh and say: ‘It’s all the fault of the military. Why is the power supply cut for several hours every day? Because we are governed by greedy and incompetent soldiers. Why do we have to queue for petrol? Because the generals
Top: young Nigerians face a much brighter future than the children of Biafra, left, who were caught up in the disastrous war of independence 40 years ago this month
have spent all our oil revenues on polo ponies.’ ” A few weeks ago I was back in Calabar. The cousins are older, and Victor again is now a senator in Abuja, the federal capital. Although the army has long since returned to its barracks, the power supply is worse, much worse. No one seems to be reaching for capricious spirits as the explanation for the lack of light. The greedy and incompetent generals have been exchanged for greedy and incompetent civilians. But I am struck by the transformation of Calabar. The streets are clean and paved. The transport system is impressive: brand-new buses and plentiful motorbikes (known as akauka – “where are you going?” in the local language) for hire, all painted yellow and with every driver and every passenger in a blue helmet. Most remarkable of all, the surest sign of a city that has recaptured its
natural self-possession and élan, Calabar has a botanical garden, well-kept, neatly laid out, in which handsome couples make their evening passeggiata . Calabar has had two strokes of good fortune. It has had a hard-working and honest governor. But its greatest blessing is that it does not have any oil. Its leaders have had to rely on their imagination to generate alternative sources of income. An hour or so’s drive from Calabar there is a stunning scene that recalls Fitzcarraldo’s heroic dream of building an opera house in the remote Peruvian jungle. Tinapa is a huge, new shopping and office complex, with a luxury hotel and film studios, carved out of the swamp and arranged around a vast artificial lake. The freshly painted buildings gleam in the sweltering tropical sunshine. The interiors are being fitted out, some of the shops are starting to stock up, the opening date is being advertised. A security guard gives me the thumbs up: “This is Dubai in Africa,” he says. Nigeria is such a complex reality that it isn’t terribly enlightening to describe it as sliding backwards or edging forwards, or gingerly moving sideways for that matter. The causes that lay at the roots of the Biafran conflict – ethnic rivalry and mistrust, deep resentment at the unfair division of spoils – still fester, and in the oil-producing regions have degenerated into armed insurgency. But to a large extent Igbo and Yoruba and Hausa rub along in Lagos and Abuja more as less as the Scots, the Welsh and the Irish do in Leeds or in Cheltenham. Although Western journalists describe the country as “a tinderbox”, I’m struck by how many sparks seem to have failed to ignite the blue touch paper. The preference is for noisy rants in the newspapers, for commissions of enquiry, for court injunctions and appeals, rather than for another civil war. What amazes me about Nigeria is not its fragility but its resilience. Any fool can see that Nigeria is in a mess – but if you look a bit harder you can see that the mess is not as intractable as is invariably reported by Western journalists. I am full of hope!
Brendan Walsh is the editorial director of Darton, Longman and Todd (brendanw @darton-longman-todd.co.uk)
MAY 25, 2007 THE CATHOLIC HERALD
Fr Ronald Rolheiser The Last Word
Measuring ourselves in love
When I was younger, I was pretty confident that I knew what love meant. After all, we all experience love in some way: being in love, loving someone, being loved by someone. Virtually everyone has known the love of somebody, a friend, a family member, an acquaintance. But the older I get the more I wonder sometimes whether I, or almost everyone else, has much sense of what that over-used word –love – really means? If we are honest we sense our own distance from its full meaning. Why? Because the older we get the more we also begin to know love’s dark side. Too common are these experiences: we fall in love and think it will last forever, but then fall out of love, feel love go sour, feel love grow cold, see love betrayed, feel ourselves wounded by love, and wound others. Finally, even more upsettingly, we all find that there are always people in our lives who are cold, bitter, and unforgiving towards us so that it is not always easy to feel love and be loving. In the light of this reticence I would like comment on Jesus’s most important commandment: “Love one another as I have loved you!” We too easily read that simplistically, romantically, and in a one-sided, over-confident manner. But this command contains the most important challenge of the whole Gospel and, like the deepest part of the Gospel to which it is linked, the crucifixion, it is very, very difficult to imitate. Why? It’s easy to consider ourselves as loving if we only look at one side of things –namely, how we relate to those people who are loving, warm, respectful, and gracious towards us. If we rate ourselves on how we feel about ourselves in our best moments among like-minded friends, we can easily conclude both that we are loving persons and that we are measuring up to Jesus’s command to love as he did. But if we begin to look at the skeletons in our relational closets our naive confidence soon disappears: what about the people who hate us, whom we don’t like? What about the people whom we avoid and who avoid us? What about those people towards whom we feel resentment? What about all those people with whom we are at odds, towards whom we feel suspicion, coldness, anger? What about those people whom we haven’t been able to forgive? It’s one thing to love someone who adores you; it’s quite another to love someone who wants you dead.
But that’s the real test. Jesus’s command to love contains a critical subordinate clause, “as I have loved you!” What was unique in the way he loved us? Where Jesus stretches us beyond our natural instincts and beyond all selfdelusion is in his command to love our enemies, to be warm to those who are cold to us, to be kind to those who are cruel to us, to do good to those who hate us, to forgive those who hurt us, to forgive those who won’t forgive us, and to ultimately love and forgive those who are trying to kill us. That command –love and forgive your enemies –more than any creedal formula or other moral issue, is the litmus test for Christian discipleship. We can ardently believe in and defend every item in the Creed and fight passionately for justice in all its dimensions, but the real test of whether or not we are followers of Jesus is the capacity, or non-capacity, to forgive an enemy, to remain warm and loving towards someone who is not warm and loving to us. We shouldn’t delude ourselves on this. It is easy to rationalise this away and, if we do, no doubt there will be more than enough false friends around who will furnish us with both theological and psychological arguments that will justify us in not loving our enemies. But the Gospel is uncompromising: we are loving or non-loving not on the basis of how we respond to those who love us, but on the basis of how we respond to those who hate us, and are cold, hostile, and murderous toward us. That’s the hard, non-negotiable truth underlying Jesus’s command to love and, when we are honest, we have to admit that we are still a long way from measuring up to that. There’s a sobering challenge in an old Stevie Nicks song, “Gold dust Woman”: She suggests that it’s good that, at a point in life, someone “shatters our illusion of love”, because far too often, blind to its own true intentions, our love is manipulative and self-serving. Too often, the song points out, we are lousy lovers who unconsciously pick our prey. What shatters our illusion of love is the presence in our lives of people who hate us. They’re the test. It’s here where we have to measure up: if we can love them, we’re real lovers; if we can’t, we’re still under a self-serving illusion.
By Chris Feetenby
QUICK ACROSS 1 Cook in oven (4) 3 Waterfalls, obscurers of vision (9) 9 Say sorry; sepia logo (anag) (9) 10 Extreme (5) 11 Lever worked like a kind of pedal (7) 12 She appears in “Hamlet” (7) 13 “A ghost has no --- as you see I have” (Luke 24) (5,3,5) 16 Test on unborn baby (13) 20 Hawaiian guitar (7) 21 As a (large) group (2,5) 23 Accommodation specially for car drivers (5) 24 In which one is object of attention (9) 25 Bring back to life (9) 26 Tolkien’s tree creatures (4) QUICK DOWN 1 Start (of rocket) (5,3) 2 Monetary unit in Denmark and Norway (5) 3 Native of Santiago (7) 4 “Peter set out with the other disciple to go to ---” (John 20) (3,4) 5 Scuffle (5-3-6) 6 Means of improving chemical reaction (9) 7 Programme in regular instalments (6) 8 Head of judiciary of England and Wales (4,10) 14 Assesses (9) 15 Bone inflammation (8) 17 Be in charge of (7) 18 Remove wrinkles (4,3) 19 Complain (6) 22 French writer Francoise --- (5)
CRYPTIC ACROSS 1 Just found in expression lyrically (4) 3 Get the upper hand concerning state (9) 9 In position of having scored four? (9) 10 Features of negative voters round square (5) 11 To dish up meal again could be the speciality of the unforthcoming (7) 12 A hundred pounds gets warning colour on scale (7) 13 Uses inflected changes hiding
true meaning (13) 16 Church woman left digging in line of communication (7,6) 20 Particular South American church to which I incline (7) 21 Graduate concerned with sound of secret society (7) 23 Showing some guts in juvenile accidents (5) 24 Calling to mind English case in grammatical terms (9) 25 Order top hotel to conserve energy, seeing the larger picture? (9) 26 One fading, we hear? One is
certainly changing colour (4) CRYPTICDOWN 1 Take control getting on top of dire changes (8) 2 Section of tree thus reflected in symbols (5) 3 Making son flee? That's a person emphatically (7) 4 The changes I mostly call of a moral nature (7) 5 Flat day of celebration before Lent? (7,7) 6 Used to be a type of pencil as in bathroom fitting (9)
7 Apply to put things in order again? (6) 8 Gale at 4pm is nothing? (5,2,1,6) 14 Dried insects could be found in cochlea (9) 15 It indicates it's safe to have nothing in code? (3,5) 17 Unacceptable thing about the woman, a person not to be admired (3-4) 18 African river seems feeble to old one in Italy (7) 19 Writing that is torn up, we hear (6) 22 Loud and inquisitive about one (5)
By Chris Feetenby
Use digits 1-9 to complete all rows, columns and 3x3 boxes
6 4 9 9 6 9 1 2 7 2 4 5 8
Cryptic answers to No. 3039 Across : 1 Courthouse, 6 Ramp, 9 Fricasseed, 10 Oppo, 11 Mountain ash, 15 Ousel, 16 Apartment, 18 Emaciated, 19 Reins, 20 Allegations, 24 Ruby, 25 Hereditary, 26 Wren, 27 Broadgauge. Down : 1 Cuff, 2 Unix, 3 Trammelling, 4 Obscurant, 5 Sheet, 7 Alphameric, 8 Prophetess, 12 Interesting, 13 Bone marrow, 14 Assailable, 17 Andromeda, 21 Their, 22 Tabu, 23 Dyke.
5 8 3 9 6 7 1 4 2 2 4 7 1 5 8 9 6 3 1 9 6 2 3 4 5 7 8 6 3 4 8 7 1 2 9 5 8 7 2 6 9 5 3 1 4 9 1 5 4 2 3 6 8 7 7 6 8 5 1 2 4 3 9 3 5 1 7 4 9 8 2 6 4 2 9 3 8 6 7 5 1
Quick answers to No. 3039 Across : 1 On the level, 6 Menu, 9 Imprimatur, 10 Spam, 11 Inattention, 15 Earls, 16 Instigate, 18 Lamb of God, 19 Ellie, 20 Stereoscope, 24 Envy, 25 Clydesider, 26 Pane, 27 Starry-eyed. Down : 1 Obit, 2 Taps, 3 Epidiascope, 4 Emanating, 5 Exult, 7 Explicable, 8 Unmannered, 12 Noiselessly, 13 Fell asleep, 14 From heaven, 17 Side order, 21 Splat, 22 D-day, 23 Arid
Winners (3037 Cryptic): Bill Hutchins, London, Mr F Church, Reading Winners (3037 Quick): Mr K Few, Uppingdon, Miss P Scott, Stoke, Winners (3038 Cryptic): James Slowey, Hemel Hempstead, Gregory Porilo, Upper Tooting Winners (3038 Quick): Mr M Axon, Truro, Mrs Barratt, Kent
To win a book of the Editor’s choice, please send completed crosswords by Thursday to the address below. There is a prize for both the cryptic and quick crosswords. Please mark envelopes either “cryptic” or “quick”.
All crossword quotations are from the Jerusalem Bible (1966), as used in the Lectionary
Editor: Luke Coppen; Deputy Editor: Freddy Gray; News Editor: Simon Caldwell; Arts Editor: Mark Greaves; Reporter: Anabel Inge. Published by Catholic Herald Ltd, Herald House, Lamb’s Passage, Bunhill Row, London EC1Y 8TQ. Tel: 020 7448 3600. Printed by West Ferry Printers Ltd, London E14. Registered at the Post Office as a newspaper. A one-year UK subscription to The Catholic Herald costs £52.