macroafricaintel | INEC has a trust problem

By Rafiq Raji, PhD
Twitter: @DrRafiqRaji

There is a raging controversy about the familial relationship between Amina Bala Zakari, a commissioner at Nigeria’s Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), and President Muhammadu Buhari. The main opposition People’s Democratic Party (PDP) alleges she is a niece to Mr Buhari. Quite swiftly, the administration refuted the claim forcefully. Amidst the back and forth, INEC chief Mahmood Yakubu also waded in. In response to a question by a journalist, he wondered how the embattled commissioner could be considered a blood relation of the president if their states of origin are different. Her family also came out to declare that their daughter is not related to the president. They did not lie. But they also did not say the entire truth.

She is family
A thorough investigation by Premium Times, an online newspaper, reveals there is some affinity between Mrs Zakari and Mr Buhari. True, there is no blood relationship like the PDP alleges. And clearly in this regard, the PDP exaggerated a great deal. Still, it has been established, even by the admission of the presidency, that Mrs Zakari and Mr Buhari are related by virtue of inter-marriage between their extended families. And at some point during Mr Buhari’s younger years, he reportedly resided with the family of the electoral commissioner. It has also been reported that Mrs Zakari and Mr Buhari worked together in the past. In the African context, and especially in the Northern tradition, Mrs Zakari would be considered family in Mr Buhari’s home and vice versa.

That said, it has also been revealed that the president had little or nothing to do with Mrs Zakari’s appointment to the electoral commissionership. Contrary to popular discourse, she was not recommended to the position by Mr Buhari. A respectable member of civil society revealed to a reputable television station that he was privy to the proceedings that led to her appointment. According to him, it was Kaduna state governor Nasir El-Rufai who recommended Mrs Zakari for the commissionership and in fact personally handed her resume to him for submission to former president Goodluck Jonathan, who was head of state at the time. The same civil society luminary also insists that as far as he understood the meaning of the word “niece”, Mrs Zakari was indeed a niece to Mr Buhari via the marriage bond. In any case, the close association between Mr El-Rufai and Mr Buhari, and the history both gentlemen share with the unassuming Mrs Zakari, makes her conflicted.

But what was the cause of the initial uproar? And why now? After all, Mrs Zakari was appointed by Mr Jonathan of the then ruling PDP, which is now in opposition. Eyebrows are raised now because Mrs Zakari was recently appointed to the headship of a “collation centre committee”, supposedly tasked with ensuring that all the logistical needs of the “collation centre” for the upcoming elections are adequately taken care of. My view on hearing the news of the appointment was that it was a brazen and insensitive move. And even after the revelations and investigations that ensued, my view remains unchanged. Mrs Zakari is a controversial choice for such a potentially influential role. It is also highly unlikely that the INEC chief was caught unawares by the controversy the move generated.

Mr Yakubu, a professor of history, likely knew the implications of appointing her to what ordinarily would be a logistics function but could be misconstrued to mean more; and could in fact be more. Besides, as the commission already has a proper organisational structure which covers operations and the like, there was really no need for the creation of an adhoc “collation centre committee”. True, as the INEC chief insists, Mrs Zakari would not be involved in the process of collation itself. That job is exclusively his as the chief returning officer. But this is Nigeria. And since the experienced Nigerian academic rose through the complicated Nigerian system, he is certainly not naïve to the point of not knowing the potential interpretation and consequences of the controversial appointment.

No guarantees
It is important to point out at this point that this controversy is raging against the backdrop of Mr Buhari’s refusal to sign what has been adjudged a superb amendment to the current electoral law that would make our elections better. And while the Zakari controversy was still raging, INEC’s Yakubu revealed there would not be a full electronic transmission of results. Why? A backing in law is required. A pilot electronic collation would be done, however. As it stands right now, so much flexibility has been built into the electoral process that incumbents, should they choose to, would be able to steer the process in their favour.

Do the needful
In light of the foregoing, can INEC be trusted to deliver free and fair elections? No one can say for sure. There are a couple of things the electoral body could do to reduce fears of potential bias, however. There should probably not be a collation centre committee in the first place. It should be disbanded. As Mrs Zakari is clearly conflicted albeit largely adjudged to be competent, she should be assigned to a commissionership that would not involve direct participation in the electoral process or put her in a position to affect the outcome, if she chooses to, in a material way. Should she resign? No. And considering the commission has decided the transmission of results would not be electronic, it should do its utmost to ensure that the collation of results at each stage of the electoral process is done in the presence of all relevant stakeholders such that a parallel collation of results by non-INEC bodies would be no different from its own.

Also published in my BusinessDay Nigeria newspaper column (Tuesdays). See link viz. https://businessday.ng/columnist/rafiq-raji/article/inec-has-a-trust-problem/

macroafricaintel | INEC has a trust problem

By Rafiq Raji, PhD
Twitter: @DrRafiqRaji

There is a raging controversy about the familial relationship between Amina Bala Zakari, a commissioner at Nigeria’s Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), and President Muhammadu Buhari. The main opposition People’s Democratic Party (PDP) alleges she is a niece to Mr Buhari. Quite swiftly, the administration refuted the claim forcefully. Amidst the back and forth, INEC chief Mahmood Yakubu also waded in. In response to a question by a journalist, he wondered how the embattled commissioner could be considered a blood relation of the president if their states of origin are different. Her family also came out to declare that their daughter is not related to the president. They did not lie. But they also did not say the entire truth.

She is family
A thorough investigation by Premium Times, the online newspaper that publishes this column, reveals there is some affinity between Mrs Zakari and Mr Buhari. True, there is no blood relationship like the PDP alleges. And clearly in this regard, the PDP exaggerated a great deal. Still, it has been established, even by the admission of the presidency, that Mrs Zakari and Mr Buhari are related by virtue of inter-marriage between their extended families. And at some point during Mr Buhari’s younger years, he reportedly resided with the family of the electoral commissioner. It has also been reported that Mrs Zakari and Mr Buhari worked together in the past. In the African context, and especially in the Northern tradition, Mrs Zakari would be considered family in Mr Buhari’s home and vice versa.

That said, it has also been revealed that the president had little or nothing to do with Mrs Zakari’s appointment to the electoral commissionership. Contrary to popular discourse, she was not recommended to the position by Mr Buhari. A respectable member of civil society revealed to a reputable television station that he was privy to the proceedings that led to her appointment. According to him, it was Kaduna state governor Nasir El-Rufai who recommended Mrs Zakari for the commissionership and in fact personally handed her resume to him for submission to former president Goodluck Jonathan, who was head of state at the time. The same civil society luminary also insists that as far as he understood the meaning of the word “niece”, Mrs Zakari was indeed a niece to Mr Buhari via the marriage bond. In any case, the close association between Mr El-Rufai and Mr Buhari, and the history both gentlemen share with the unassuming Mrs Zakari, makes her conflicted.

But what was the cause of the initial uproar? And why now? After all, Mrs Zakari was appointed by Mr Jonathan of the then ruling PDP, which is now in opposition. Eyebrows are raised now because Mrs Zakari was recently appointed to the headship of a “collation centre committee”, supposedly tasked with ensuring that all the logistical needs of the “collation centre” for the upcoming elections are adequately taken care of. My view on hearing the news of the appointment was that it was a brazen and insensitive move. And even after the revelations and investigations that ensued, my view remains unchanged. Mrs Zakari is a controversial choice for such a potentially influential role. It is also highly unlikely that the INEC chief was caught unawares by the controversy the move generated.

Mr Yakubu, a professor of history, likely knew the implications of appointing her to what ordinarily would be a logistics function but could be misconstrued to mean more; and could in fact be more. Besides, as the commission already has a proper organisational structure which covers operations and the like, there was really no need for the creation of an adhoc “collation centre committee”. True, as the INEC chief insists, Mrs Zakari would not be involved in the process of collation itself. That job is exclusively his as the chief returning officer. But this is Nigeria. And since the experienced Nigerian academic rose through the complicated Nigerian system, he is certainly not naïve to the point of not knowing the potential interpretation and consequences of the controversial appointment.

No guarantees
It is important to point out at this point that this controversy is raging against the backdrop of Mr Buhari’s refusal to sign what has been adjudged a superb amendment to the current electoral law that would make our elections better. And while the Zakari controversy was still raging, INEC’s Yakubu revealed there would not be a full electronic transmission of results. Why? A backing in law is required. A pilot electronic collation would be done, however. As it stands right now, so much flexibility has been built into the electoral process that incumbents, should they choose to, would be able to steer the process in their favour.

Do the needful
In light of the foregoing, can INEC be trusted to deliver free and fair elections? No one can say for sure. There are a couple of things the electoral body could do to reduce fears of potential bias, however. There should probably not be a collation centre committee in the first place. It should be disbanded. As Mrs Zakari is clearly conflicted albeit largely adjudged to be competent, she should be assigned to a commissionership that would not involve direct participation in the electoral process or put her in a position to affect the outcome, if she chooses to, in a material way. Should she resign? No. And considering the commission has decided the transmission of results would not be electronic, it should do its utmost to ensure that the collation of results at each stage of the electoral process is done in the presence of all relevant stakeholders such that a parallel collation of results by non-INEC bodies would be no different from its own.

macroafricaintel | What did Melania Trump’s visit to Africa achieve?

By Rafiq Raji, PhD
Twitter: @DrRafiqRaji

Melania Trump’s staff briefings before heading to Africa in early October are not too hard to imagine. That is even as her staff revealed she had her mind set on the trip at the very beginning of her husband’s presidency. It would certainly not be derisory to reckon there was more talk about clothes than culture, policy or politics at the pre-trip meets. Reminiscent of the colonial era, the American first lady chose to wear khakis with a pith helmet to match while on Safari in Kenya. The television screen could very well have been black and white to make the act complete. Expectedly, she visited some schools and went around to the usual places to affirm some of the misery she was likely told to expect to see. Her comments during the trip were inevitably about her husband. Choosing the African backdrop as the stage for her first substantive public comments on any major political issue, Mrs Trump defended her husband’s controversial choice for the American Supreme Court Brett Kavanaugh, and inadvertently revealed she was of the same ilk as her husband. This would not be considered a compliment in most circles. It is probably too mean a characterisation. There was likely a genuine desire on her part to see the continent. And to help. But for someone who was once an international model and travelled the world, it was a little striking she was only just visiting the continent for the first time. But at least, she visited. Her husband has never set foot in these parts before. Did she leave a favourable impression though? And is she likely to make her husband more favourably disposed to the continent? It could be argued that Mr Trump was already beginning to pay attention to goings-on on the continent beforehand. And that perhaps a consequence of that was how the continent was brought to the attention of his still glamorous wife. The visit by two British royals, Prince Charles of Wales and his wife, Camilla, the Duchess of Cornwall, to the continent about a month after her trip probably provides the perfect contrast; since just like her, they do not formulate policy but can influence those who do. Prince Charles, who was travelling in his capacity as the new head of the Commonwealth, visited The Gambia, Ghana and Nigeria. With no formal power of his own, being as that is the forte of 10 Downing Street, African governments were not unaware of his ceremonial purpose. But they still took him and his wife seriously, not only because they are royalty, but also in recognition of their palpably genuine interest in the continent’s progress.

Find a problem to solve
Another example is the recent trip to Uganda by Kanye West and Kim Kardashian, a globally recognised celebrity couple. Social royalty in their own right, they were received by President Yoweri Museveni in grand style at his residence. While many were and remain sceptical about their supposed tourism-enhancing value, it is an example of how a visiting dignitary need not have formal power to be influential. In any case, Mrs Trump is royalty in her own right. After all, it is very obvious she has some influence over her husband. And she would clearly be able to guide aid and development finance to causes dear to her while doubly seen to further the interests of the American state; if she chooses to. The problem with her recent visit is that there was no sense that she would do all these things. There was the feeling that she really does not have much interest in the matter. For some, she could as well have declared she was going on a vacation. Simply put, her purpose for visiting the continent was not well-defined nor did she use the purported long time in preparing for the trip to decide what she really wanted to achieve from it. It could be rightly assumed that maybe she did not know much to get on with. That is fine. But now that she knows the extent of the problems, it would be sacrilegious for her to come ill-prepared next time. That said, there was certainly palpable excitement in her circle at the announcement of her first solo foreign trip as first lady. It was as if she had finally found something to do with her position via her “Be Best” charity which she says aims to shine “a spotlight on successful programs and organisations that teach children the tools and skills needed for emotional, social and physical well-being.” This is too wide a focus in the African context. Thus, focusing her humanitarian efforts on a few key issues would be a good start. In this regard, the approach by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation might be a good model for her to follow.

Bring him along next time
Should it be hoped that she would succeed in changing her husband’s views about the continent? It seems she was already beginning to do so even before she stepped on the plane: Mr Trump told everyone who was of good hearing how much he loved Africa ahead of his wife’s trip. Afterwards, in an interview with Fox News, Mr Trump revealed how eye-opening the trip was for his wife. And clearly for him. “She saw some things that were very eye-opening and tremendous poverty. Tremendous poverty. So we’re trying to help.” Let it be hoped then that just as she visited Ghana, Kenya and Egypt, she would find time to travel widely around the continent soon. Better still, she should hold her husband’s hand as she does it. And hopefully, the couple would get to know about the many positive things also happening on the continent and the tremendous boost greater American engagement could bring about. And yes, her summer clothes would do just fine.

An edited version was published in the December 2018 issue of New African magazine

Also published in my BusinessDay Nigeria newspaper column (Tuesdays). See link viz. https://businessday.ng/columnist/rafiq-raji/article/what-did-melania-trumps-visit-to-africa-achieve/

macroafricaintel | Shagari: Lessons for Buhari

By Rafiq Raji, PhD
Twitter: @DrRafiqRaji

In the concluding days of the year just past, former Nigerian president Shehu Shagari was put to rest in the Islamic fashion. Some fellow Muslims wondered about the filming and photographing of the humble man’s grave. They were speaking from the pedestal of what they knew. Most Islamic clerics take on the responsibility of censoring their pronouncements to avoid the risk that should the wider and bigger picture be presented as it is, there might be misinterpretation.

Broaden your understanding
To the extent of my understanding, the privacy that was the former president’s right were those rites that were not done in the public eye. A camera is analogous to a pair of eyes. The proper context is whether the rites that were filmed are allowed to be seen with the naked eye in the Islamic context. There is no argument there. The other potential misunderstanding is about the propriety of pictures. I do not subscribe to that interpretation. That which I subscribe to is whether what you are viewing is good or bad. And what you do with pictures. Besides, the sobering effect of how death equalises the high and the low epitomised by the Islamic mode of burial is of greater consideration than any other.

There is tremendous utility to be derived from the recent death of the former president. And the manner in which he was buried. Mr Shagari lived a simple life. And he was buried in the simple Islamic way. If he had lived an opulent life, as a Muslim, he would still have been buried in the same simple Islamic manner. The lesson is for our current leaders who do all sorts of despicable things to acquire and wield power. And judging from our developmental evolution thus far, they have not done so entirely for the benefit of our Commonwealth.

Unfortunately, many of them would not take the lesson. They are likely to continue their nefarious ways.

The parallel
The history that Mr Shagari and President Muhammadu Buhari share is well-known. I do not suppose there was much angst between them as is publicly perceived. The strife that leaders must endure to rise to their elevated positions grants them unusual insight and understanding not available to most people.

What Mr Shagari and Mr Buhari share is simplicity. Judging from all that is evident, Mr Shagari was clearly a man of meagre means. In other words, the pilferage of our Commonwealth that occurred under his watch in the 1980s were not likely to his benefit. But as leader, he was responsible. And I suppose this was likely a source of tremendous regret for him later in life.

Those who desire a comfortable life in the hereafter know to run away from positions of authority. This is because the likelihood that you would make heaven is tremendously diminished in the aftermath. Mr Shagari was severally investigated by the incumbent president while a military head of state. If something could be found, General Buhari would have found it. But like he probably thought, that did not vindicate him from any responsibility for the sheer malfeasance that occurred back then.

But that is history; the only benefit of which is to learn from past mistakes. Incidentally, there is a bizarre parallel between Mr Buhari’s current stint in government and Mr Shagari’s back then. True, there is relatively less corruption now. But to simply dismiss murmurings about some level of ‘business as usual’ under the current goverment would be tantamount to not learning from our past mistakes.

Make heaven
My point? Should Mr Buhari win again, he should devote all of his energy towards leaving a lasting legacy where in a Nigeria, institutions matter more than the individual, due-process is taken for granted, and anyone, low- or high-born, can aspire to the greatest heights and succeed.

macroafricaintel | The experience of female Uber drivers in Lagos

By Rafiq Raji, PhD
Twitter: @DrRafiqRaji

The odds that you would happen on a female Uber driver in Lagos are slim. Still, Nigeria is not Saudi Arabia; women are free to do whatever they like here. Well, mostly. And if you make the error of thinking they could not drive any better than their male counterparts, kindly try fighting for right of way with a woman in Lagos traffic. Needless to say, you may hesitate to do so next time. There are probably as many women as there are men on Lagos roads. Women at the wheel of public transport vehicles are not as many. It is not the norm. So even as there are many of them driving all sorts of vehicles in their private capacity, from those with little engines to the ubiquitous sport utility vehicles (SUVs), it is still a novelty to find female chauffeurs. If there are, they would certainly be reluctant to work for men. And their fellow women are not likely to hire them. Wives would certainly shudder at the thought in these parts. And even Uber itself found out all too quickly how difficult it was to secure cars from “partners” (car owners) for their few female drivers. That is, when the firm used to facilitate the connection. Now, it does not. At least, that is what Blessing Onuh, one of the ride-sharing firm’s first female drivers in Lagos says.

“I was actually the first female Uber [driver] that went for the exams…there were more than hundred guys and I was the only lady…they actually thought I was one of the officials.” A few years ago, having just arrived from Abuja, after being let go at a government job over there, Blessing took an interest in being an Uber driver after taking a ride with one. She applied, did the training and eventually got a car. That last bit did not come about easily. Many of the car owners she approached turned her down for no other reason than she was a woman. “Women have issues”, was the typical refrain. As Blessing herself admits, many potential riders would cancel their trips the moment they see her picture. When asked how she knew this, she says since she is able to tell from the app if she is the only driver in an area, if a potential rider cancels a trip persistently, there could be only one reason why. Turns out a couple of those who did choose to take a ride with her sometimes did so for mischievous reasons. One was “laughing and touching my lap” during a trip, she vouchsafes. Even as she stood firm against his advances, he persisted. Eventually, she stopped the car and confronted him. He got the message. Even then, the male rider was furious. He wondered how she could be indifferent to the “dollars” he was flashing, his long custom that day already and so on. “If you don’t want it, you say you don’t want it”, was his final remonstration. Turns out male drivers also get sexually harrassed. Some female riders, upon reaching their destinations, would instead of paying the fare, offer to pay in kind, Blessing reveals, confirming views from an earlier interview with one of her male colleagues, who says he never took anyone of them up on the offer.

But surely she must have liked some of the riders who made advances at her, and perhaps dated one? After a while, she admits to having dated one. He was not like the others who would say “come to my house!” at the slightest chance, she says with a chuckle. “That ‘come to my house’ is so annoying”, she adds. Let us just say she thought this one was a gentleman and was vindicated afterwards by how he treated her; going on interesting dates and so on. It did not last, though. What happened? “I did not have time for that relationship” On a date one time, while watching a movie at the cinema, Blessing glanced at her phone and understandably, perused an ongoing chat in the Uber group (there are many) on Whatsapp she was a member of. Something caught her attention: a driver announced he had just made a huge sum from a trip. She stood up and left for the door. “I just told him I’m coming I want to use the restroom”. She did not go to the bathroom. Blessing went back to work. Of course, she lost the gentleman. Like her male colleagues, she has mouths to feed, school fees to pay for siblings and so on. And like everybody else, her fixation on her economic goals have come at a personal cost. But how safe is it for a female Uber driver in Lagos? Has she been attacked before? “I have been harrassed, they blocked me. But they didn’t take anything because I fought back. I lost a fingernailWe got to Yaba, an isolated area, so I told him the price, 2000 something, he was likegive me your phone,’ I laughed, I thought maybe now, maybe he is trying to crack me up or scare me”. No, he was not. Her friends told her she should give up her phone next time. Blessing insists “anything that has to do with my money, I have to fight for it.”

Apart from driving for Uber, Blessing also drives clients to locations outside Lagos. Asked if she is ever worried about the risks. She takes precautions, working only with people she has known for a while or referred to by trusted acquaintances. And at the destination, she lodges at a different hotel from the client. As many females would admit, most men in Lagos would make advances at women they find attractive; especially one whose details they already have via the Uber app. Harassment is rare, however. But with their phone numbers in hand, Blessing and the other few female drivers get a barrage of calls. Solution? She keeps two phones. And for the business line, she blocks the errant male callers. Ironically, it is the female riders that tend to be more problematic. “I don’t talk to drivers”, goes one. And when making requests, some do so at the top of their voice, barely hiding their disdain. “Transferred aggression” is what Blessing calls it. Cash in hand afterwards, Blessing could care less. It is a hustle. It must be a lucrative venture, then. Not as much as before, she admits. Uber used to take a lower cut of their earnings before. But yes, it still pays the bills. In a good week, she could earn as much as 100 thousand naira. A bad week is when she earns half as much. Out of that amount, she makes a weekly payment of 30 thousand naira to fulfil her hire purchase agreement obligations. The car would be hers after she completes the payments.

Any future plans? Wouldn’t she rather do something else? Does she not want to settle down? And clearly there are not many Nigerian men, if any, that would allow her continue as an Uber driver after taking their vows. Most female Uber drivers are single or divorced with kids. She would not mind being a housewife if she finds a good husband, Blessing admits. As the retail business interests her, a supermarket might be something she would try her hands on. She could also buy cars for drivers to make payments to her, become a “partner”, that is. Does Uber provide any support for its female drivers? There is a “Woman week”, Blessing says. But she believes they could do much more.

An edited version was published by New African magazine in December 2018

Also published in my BusinessDay Nigeria newspaper column (Tuesdays). See link viz. https://www.businessdayonline.com/columnist/rafiq-raji/article/experience-female-uber-drivers-lagos/

macroafricaintel | What did Melania Trump’s visit to Africa achieve?

By Rafiq Raji, PhD
Twitter: @DrRafiqRaji

Melania Trump’s staff briefings before heading to Africa in early October are not too hard to imagine. That is even as her staff revealed she had her mind set on the trip at the very beginning of her husband’s presidency. It would certainly not be derisory to reckon there was more talk about clothes than culture, policy or politics at the pre-trip meets. Reminiscent of the colonial era, the American first lady chose to wear khakis with a pith helmet to match while on Safari in Kenya. The television screen could very well have been black and white to make the act complete. Expectedly, she visited some schools and went around to the usual places to affirm some of the misery she was likely told to expect to see. Her comments during the trip were inevitably about her husband. Choosing the African backdrop as the stage for her first substantive public comments on any major political issue, Mrs Trump defended her husband’s controversial choice for the American Supreme Court Brett Kavanaugh, and inadvertently revealed she was of the same ilk as her husband. This would not be considered a compliment in most circles. It is probably too mean a characterisation. There was likely a genuine desire on her part to see the continent. And to help. But for someone who was once an international model and travelled the world, it was a little striking she was only just visiting the continent for the first time. But at least, she visited. Her husband has never set foot in these parts before. Did she leave a favourable impression though? And is she likely to make her husband more favourably disposed to the continent? It could be argued that Mr Trump was already beginning to pay attention to goings-on on the continent beforehand. And that perhaps a consequence of that was how the continent was brought to the attention of his still glamorous wife. The visit by two British royals, Prince Charles of Wales and his wife, Camilla, the Duchess of Cornwall, to the continent about a month after her trip probably provides the perfect contrast; since just like her, they do not formulate policy but can influence those who do. Prince Charles, who was travelling in his capacity as the new head of the Commonwealth, visited The Gambia, Ghana and Nigeria. With no formal power of his own, being as that is the forte of 10 Downing Street, African governments were not unaware of his ceremonial purpose. But they still took him and his wife seriously, not only because they are royalty, but also in recognition of their palpably genuine interest in the continent’s progress.

Find a problem to solve
Another example is the recent trip to Uganda by Kanye West and Kim Kardashian, a globally recognised celebrity couple. Social royalty in their own right, they were received by President Yoweri Museveni in grand style at his residence. While many were and remain sceptical about their supposed tourism-enhancing value, it is an example of how a visiting dignitary need not have formal power to be influential. In any case, Mrs Trump is royalty in her own right. After all, it is very obvious she has some influence over her husband. And she would clearly be able to guide aid and development finance to causes dear to her while doubly seen to further the interests of the American state; if she chooses to. The problem with her recent visit is that there was no sense that she would do all these things. There was the feeling that she really does not have much interest in the matter. For some, she could as well have declared she was going on a vacation. Simply put, her purpose for visiting the continent was not well-defined nor did she use the purported long time in preparing for the trip to decide what she really wanted to achieve from it. It could be rightly assumed that maybe she did not know much to get on with. That is fine. But now that she knows the extent of the problems, it would be sacrilegious for her to come ill-prepared next time. That said, there was certainly palpable excitement in her circle at the announcement of her first solo foreign trip as first lady. It was as if she had finally found something to do with her position via her “Be Best” charity which she says aims to shine “a spotlight on successful programs and organisations that teach children the tools and skills needed for emotional, social and physical well-being.” This is too wide a focus in the African context. Thus, focusing her humanitarian efforts on a few key issues would be a good start. In this regard, the approach by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation might be a good model for her to follow.

Bring him along next time
Should it be hoped that she would succeed in changing her husband’s views about the continent? It seems she was already beginning to do so even before she stepped on the plane: Mr Trump told everyone who was of good hearing how much he loved Africa ahead of his wife’s trip. Afterwards, in an interview with Fox News, Mr Trump revealed how eye-opening the trip was for his wife. And clearly for him. “She saw some things that were very eye-opening and tremendous poverty. Tremendous poverty. So we’re trying to help.” Let it be hoped then that just as she visited Ghana, Kenya and Egypt, she would find time to travel widely around the continent soon. Better still, she should hold her husband’s hand as she does it. And hopefully, the couple would get to know about the many positive things also happening on the continent and the tremendous boost greater American engagement could bring about. And yes, her summer clothes would do just fine.

An edited version was published in the December 2018 issue of New African magazine

macroafricaintel | The experience of female Uber drivers in Lagos

By Rafiq Raji, PhD
Twitter: @DrRafiqRaji

The odds that you would happen on a female Uber driver in Lagos are slim. Still, Nigeria is not Saudi Arabia; women are free to do whatever they like here. Well, mostly. And if you make the error of thinking they could not drive any better than their male counterparts, kindly try fighting for right of way with a woman in Lagos traffic. Needless to say, you may hesitate to do so next time. There are probably as many women as there are men on Lagos roads. Women at the wheel of public transport vehicles are not as many. It is not the norm. So even as there are many of them driving all sorts of vehicles in their private capacity, from those with little engines to the ubiquitous sport utility vehicles (SUVs), it is still a novelty to find female chauffeurs. If there are, they would certainly be reluctant to work for men. And their fellow women are not likely to hire them. Wives would certainly shudder at the thought in these parts. And even Uber itself found out all too quickly how difficult it was to secure cars from “partners” (car owners) for their few female drivers. That is, when the firm used to facilitate the connection. Now, it does not. At least, that is what Blessing Onuh, one of the ride-sharing firm’s first female drivers in Lagos says.

“I was actually the first female Uber [driver] that went for the exams…there were more than hundred guys and I was the only lady…they actually thought I was one of the officials.” A few years ago, having just arrived from Abuja, after being let go at a government job over there, Blessing took an interest in being an Uber driver after taking a ride with one. She applied, did the training and eventually got a car. That last bit did not come about easily. Many of the car owners she approached turned her down for no other reason than she was a woman. “Women have issues”, was the typical refrain. As Blessing herself admits, many potential riders would cancel their trips the moment they see her picture. When asked how she knew this, she says since she is able to tell from the app if she is the only driver in an area, if a potential rider cancels a trip persistently, there could be only one reason why. Turns out a couple of those who did choose to take a ride with her sometimes did so for mischievous reasons. One was “laughing and touching my lap” during a trip, she vouchsafes. Even as she stood firm against his advances, he persisted. Eventually, she stopped the car and confronted him. He got the message. Even then, the male rider was furious. He wondered how she could be indifferent to the “dollars” he was flashing, his long custom that day already and so on. “If you don’t want it, you say you don’t want it”, was his final remonstration. Turns out male drivers also get sexually harrassed. Some female riders, upon reaching their destinations, would instead of paying the fare, offer to pay in kind, Blessing reveals, confirming views from an earlier interview with one of her male colleagues, who says he never took anyone of them up on the offer.

But surely she must have liked some of the riders who made advances at her, and perhaps dated one? After a while, she admits to having dated one. He was not like the others who would say “come to my house!” at the slightest chance, she says with a chuckle. “That ‘come to my house’ is so annoying”, she adds. Let us just say she thought this one was a gentleman and was vindicated afterwards by how he treated her; going on interesting dates and so on. It did not last, though. What happened? “I did not have time for that relationship” On a date one time, while watching a movie at the cinema, Blessing glanced at her phone and understandably, perused an ongoing chat in the Uber group (there are many) on Whatsapp she was a member of. Something caught her attention: a driver announced he had just made a huge sum from a trip. She stood up and left for the door. “I just told him I’m coming I want to use the restroom”. She did not go to the bathroom. Blessing went back to work. Of course, she lost the gentleman. Like her male colleagues, she has mouths to feed, school fees to pay for siblings and so on. And like everybody else, her fixation on her economic goals have come at a personal cost. But how safe is it for a female Uber driver in Lagos? Has she been attacked before? “I have been harrassed, they blocked me. But they didn’t take anything because I fought back. I lost a fingernailWe got to Yaba, an isolated area, so I told him the price, 2000 something, he was likegive me your phone,’ I laughed, I thought maybe now, maybe he is trying to crack me up or scare me”. No, he was not. Her friends told her she should give up her phone next time. Blessing insists “anything that has to do with my money, I have to fight for it.”

Apart from driving for Uber, Blessing also drives clients to locations outside Lagos. Asked if she is ever worried about the risks. She takes precautions, working only with people she has known for a while or referred to by trusted acquaintances. And at the destination, she lodges at a different hotel from the client. As many females would admit, most men in Lagos would make advances at women they find attractive; especially one whose details they already have via the Uber app. Harassment is rare, however. But with their phone numbers in hand, Blessing and the other few female drivers get a barrage of calls. Solution? She keeps two phones. And for the business line, she blocks the errant male callers. Ironically, it is the female riders that tend to be more problematic. “I don’t talk to drivers”, goes one. And when making requests, some do so at the top of their voice, barely hiding their disdain. “Transferred aggression” is what Blessing calls it. Cash in hand afterwards, Blessing could care less. It is a hustle. It must be a lucrative venture, then. Not as much as before, she admits. Uber used to take a lower cut of their earnings before. But yes, it still pays the bills. In a good week, she could earn as much as 100 thousand naira. A bad week is when she earns half as much. Out of that amount, she makes a weekly payment of 30 thousand naira to fulfil her hire purchase agreement obligations. The car would be hers after she completes the payments.

Any future plans? Wouldn’t she rather do something else? Does she not want to settle down? And clearly there are not many Nigerian men, if any, that would allow her continue as an Uber driver after taking their vows. Most female Uber drivers are single or divorced with kids. She would not mind being a housewife if she finds a good husband, Blessing admits. As the retail business interests her, a supermarket might be something she would try her hands on. She could also buy cars for drivers to make payments to her, become a “partner”, that is. Does Uber provide any support for its female drivers? There is a “Woman week”, Blessing says. But she believes they could do much more.

An edited version was published by New African magazine in December 2018