Dear MTN, I Am Nigerian. Don’t Mess With Me.

Hi. My name is Ashiwel, and I am a Nigerian, just like you. I have dreams, and fears, and insecurities, and hopes and wishes, just like you do.

I do all the regular things young Nigerians do: I blog (ashiwel.wordpress.com), tweet (@iamashiwel), have a facebook account, and bash the government when they misbehave.

I also complained about the quality of service delivery but did nothing about it…until now.

But I am a Nigerian consumer, just like you, and I had no idea how much power we had…until now.

These are the facts:
Nigerians run many African economies. We run many foreign health systems. The UK’s Educational system depends to a huge extent on Nigerians for survival; (can I get a witness?)

We are the largest market in Africa, and the world knows it. They recognize it and they fall over themselves to market to Nigerians.

Think about it: Nokia, Blackberry, Toyota, Honda, Microsoft, and a host of others recognize Nigeria as a crucial market. If we the Nigerian consumers sneezed, I promise you, a lot of people all over the world will freeze to death.

For instance, Nigeria is arguably Nokia’s largest market. If all Nigerians decided not to buy Nokia until they reduced their prices by 20%, will they pull out their phones from the Nigerian market, or will they reduce their prices?

But then, I wanted to talk about MTN Nigeria, Not Nokia. With the connection at a really low point, Blackberry services down on a regular basis, and yet another apology to it’s “numerous” customers, I just wanted to show you, one of the numerous customers, what you have done for MTN.

As at June 2011, MTN had 40.5 million subscribers, and between March 2001 and December 2010 MTN Nigeria made a total of N2.988 Trillion (twelve zeros). After taxes and other deductions, they declared a profit of N857.655 Billion.

So let’s do the math. If you exclude the first year, in which they declared a loss, then the company makes a profit of nearly 100 Billion Naira every year. Profits are what they take home after paying taxes, staff salaries, directors salaries and allowances, and all the deductions for running their cars, network infrastructure, buying diesel for their generators, etc. N100 Billion.

Over 52 percent of phone users in Nigeria use MTN. They operate in 21 countries including South Africa, Iran, Ghana, Cyprus, Liberia, Côte d’Ivoire and Britain, and yet Nigerian subscribers alone make up 26.6 percent of their subscriber base in all these 21 countries put together.

So we ‘dash’ MTN Nigeria N100,000,000,000 every year to get crappy network, poor service, dropped calls, erratic blackberry internet subscription, some of the most expensive call rates in the world, and apologies to their numerous customers? Is that how foolish they think us? Is that how insignificant we are?

I am a Nigerian consumer, and I deserve the best I can get, especially if I am paying for it. And if the CPC won’t do something, or would rather enrich their coffers while you the Nigerian consumer continues to suffer, maybe we can make our own voices heard.

So, this Saturday, 7th July 2012, for five hours, from 10am to 3.00pm, I will be switching off my MTN phone in protest. I just want them to know that I can take away that 100 billion.

I know, some might be tempted to brush this aside and say it’s not their problem. I know I may be a drop in the ocean; just be one lonely voice, but imagine if 40.5 million MTN subscribers switched off their phones for 5 hours. Imagine what message we would be sending to them. Imagine what we could do with this new found consumer power!

We would be saying: “Dear MTN, I am Nigerian. Don’t mess with me.”

If you join me, we can, and will make a formidable consumer force. Because we don’t need MTN to apologize anymore. We don’t need them to be sorry. We need them to be different.

We need them to give us the service for which we pay them a hundred billion each year.

A Million Reasons

A Million Reasons

A Million Reasons

There were a million reasons why I loved her, but I couldn’t say one, just one. They say true love has no reasons, and the love that we had, it was like no other. My friend Minnie, she used to say from the bottom of her heart, “I like the way you love her.”

But that’s another chapter. History made, history forgotten. There were a million reasons why she loved me, and between our two million reasons, we couldn’t find one to make it work.

And it’s the same with you, is it not? You have tall dreams too, and pretty plans for the future, and fights, and make-ups, and poetry, and you make disney valentines too, and endless phone calls, and have miss-you-nights, just like we did, don’t you?

I remember the gradual introductions; first, we met the friends, then we spoke to some of the family over the phone, then we met the closest sibling, and after that, the understanding parent (whose approval would be subsequently conveyed), and we made an eternity of memories, and had more fights, and talked about marriage, and argued about how many kids we wanted, and whether to have or not to have maids. Just like you have.

And we said “I love you” every day just to remind each other the love was still there, and then we broke up, just like you’re about to.

And when you do, you will find a million reasons to justify the break-up: maybe we weren’t meant for each other; maybe we weren’t in the same social class; maybe we needed someone more mature or more understanding. And you will definitely use the all-time breakup classic: it’s not you, it’s me. Just like we did.

You will dig up sins that had been forgiven, and unforgivable ones. You will play emotional and social politics with it, and tell the story in a way that makes you look good. Just like we did.

And after a while, you will move on, and look for “someone better” (or wait for one to find you), and you will find a new set of reasons, a million of them. You will tell yourself that you’ve found ‘The One’ this time…again. But there will be a nagging, small voice in the corner of your mind, tugging relentlessly at your heartstrings, asking, “is this going to be it?” But you won’t answer because we never really know, do we? Or maybe you will answer, but it’ll be a whispered prayer: “I hope so…God, I hope this is it.”

So as I watch you stand on the threshold of your own version of our forgotten forever, heading down the same road we went, I just thought I’d tell you a few things, the real reasons why we recycle lovers, and relationships. And why you’re about to recycle yours.

They say love never dies, it just grows cold. But is cold love not an euphemism for dead love? A cold fireplace has no fire because the fire’s dead. Cold water has no heat because the heat is gone. To keep the heat, or the fire, or the love hot, you’ve got to stay committed to keeping it hot. You’ve got to stoke the fire that warms it. You’ve got to fan the flames, you’ve got to get smoke in your eyes. I’m just saying, the only reason it doesn’t work is because we either do not understand what it takes, or are not willing to give what it takes to make it work.

We base relationship foundations on the hollywood-derived notion that love should be easy and effortless, and smooth. And it is. But human nature is not. It is fickle, and fundamentally flawed, and full of behavioral and character imperfections. People come from different backgrounds, and have different world views, which have been shaped by different experiences.

And they all interpret life, and love, and loving differently, based on their own unique experiences. Even two people from similar backgrounds will respond differently to the same set of interpersonal relational stimuli.

But getting to understand a person who interprets life based on a different set of experiences is a long, sometimes frustrating but worthwhile chore, and we often give up half-way to the goal because we lack the strength of character and the determination to commit to the task. So we begin to make mountains out of mole hill mistakes. We magnify flaws, and blow up differences and make it look like they grew up overnight, but they were always there, we just didn’t notice because, at the time, we were too committed to loving to notice anything else. And when you finally get to the point where you say, “it’s not you, it’s me”, you have no idea how true that usually is.

There are as many interpretations of love as there are fingerprints on the planet. People love according to their understanding of what love is. People relate romantically according to their understanding of what romantic relationships are and sometimes you have to say, “What does it mean to love you? Teach me to love you. I don’t know how. I don’t know because loving you is new to me.”

I’m only just trying to say that broken relationships are not as much a failure of love as they are a failure of commitment, as well as a lack of understanding, or an active or passive unwillingness to give what it takes to make it work, either on the part of one or both.

Understand then, that in relationships, you cannot make yours work off of the same set of rules by which your friends make theirs work, for every relationship is as individual as the parties that constitute it. I agree that there may be certain generally applicable principles, but hold none to be axiomatic, or general-fit. There are no templates, no directional signs, no maps to your intended destination. This is virgin territory, a frontier waiting to be explored and mastered. You have to find your own way, to make your own path, to create your own intertwined destinies. There are no prefabricated parts and you have to build your relationship from the ground up. You have to improvise as you go along and make your mistakes into life lessons.

And a relationship founded on love is not a meet-me-halfway alliance. It is not a 50-50 contract of romantic relational give and take. True love gives everything until there is nothing left to give. Then you find some more to give. You don’t love because you are loved in return. You don’t need some sort of justification to love. You love, just because.

I know, I know. Your friends keep telling you that what is yours is yours and it will come back to you no matter where it goes. And somehow, that mentality seems to have forged a lackadaisical attitude towards the relationship. I see how you become infested with the spirit of “see finish”; that nonchalance that creeps in when you take for granted that someone will always be yours. But you know it’s not true right? You know it’s not true because what is yours can be stolen, or lost to carelessness, and while you may forever consider it yours, it doesn’t change the rather apparent fact that it’s gone.

And because we always give a little bit of ourselves to every real relationship, when it breaks, a part of us breaks with it.

But let’s not get too distracted; we were talking about you, right? You remember that time in the beginning, that time when you would’ve gladly caught a grenade for him; those early days when you would have died a million slow deaths for her?

You remember how, before the “see finish” thing set in, before the novelty wore off and you let the freshness go stale; you remember how colors seemed to fade when you missed your love for too long? Remember that time, how when they asked you what love is, and you had said, “Love is what I feel for my baby”.

And there was that time too, when they asked you why you loved him like that; why you loved her like that? You had a million reasons, but the smile said it all.

It’s not like it’s my business much, but I was just wondering, before you waste all that love on trivial things; before you throw it away or trade it in for the brokenness of another failed relationship; I was just wondering, where have all your reasons gone?

Angel Eyes

I don’t know but
It must have been
The residual hurt in her eyes
Beautiful and half-sad,

It must have been the eyes
That made me listen.

There was a soul crying out,
A soul half-broken,
Cured but not healed,
A wounded, lonely soul calling out,
Love me, don’t I deserve it?

But it wasn’t the cries I heard,
It was the silence,
The many unspoken words
In the pregnant silence,
And those eyes.
Those dark, longing eyes.

So I reached out
And tried to glue together the
Shreds of her torn soul
But the pain wouldn’t let her let me.

And as I turned to leave,
The dark longing eyes said,
How can you leave like that?
Stay a little longer, please?
Don’t I deserve it?

The Brokenness Of Longing

dawn broke
and my heart broke with it.
suddenly i become empty
and my soul aches when
i call your name.

the sunrise feels your absence
and the sofa mourns.
dawn is beautiful like a sad virgin,
you’re not here but i call your
name.

i glow with longing
as the roses lose their color
and angels came to comfort me
but they cried when they
heard our song.
did you know angels cry blue
tears?

all the words i should’ve said to you
the love songs i should’ve sung.
they echo in my head tonight,
and the sun fades with our promises.

dawn breaks and the beauty
reminds me of sadness.
gold rays become monochrome blue,
and i’d give up poetry for your
presence.

my senses perceive you,
in the wind, in the air, the fire;
your scent is in the breeze tonight
and maybe if hope strikes heaven’s
chords right,
tomorrow my longing will end.

silence hurts.
words hurt too.
i’m stuck in the middle and
the middle hurts too.
i confess that i long for you.

My T-Shirt’s Got An Attitude Problem

So, I was wondering what it’d be like if I could tell a story with my dressing; if I could make people laugh, or cry, or smile, or encourage them; if i could help them find strength for one more day, one more hour, with the clothes that I wear.

This isn’t dressing the way I want to be addressed. It’s dressing to address people, issues. I did it just because I can. No. I did it because everyone needs a t-shirt that can speak to their soul. And they need to see that t-shirt sitting smugly on the crazy-in-a-good-way, slightly eccentric Teenage Church teacher who won’t just let them have a bad day in peace! Lol.

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Never Broken

So. This poetry thing and everybody carrying on about publishing a book of my poems and letting the world see my incredible talent, (thanks); I decided to give myself some motivation and design the cover for my book  – if I ever get around to publishing one.

I did this all day today. And now, I have too many choices to choose from, so I’m hoping if you dropped by, you could hep me choose. And remember, you can always find my poetry online by pointing your browser to http://soulbrother.gather.com. Here we go:

Protesting To Keep What We Don’t Want

Perhaps, the last thing any Nigerian expected was to be handed a petroleum subsidy withdrawal announcement on New Year’s Day. As Nigerians will say on local parlance, the President “fell our hand”.

Things have quickly spiraled out of control since President Jonathan made the announcement; a litre of fuel is currently being sold from between N140 to N250, transportation prices have doubled and commuters are stranded in villages and cities where they journeyed to spend the holidays, and the ripple effect caused by the increase in the cost of transportation is beginning to make itself felt in marketplaces and shops. At least twenty to twenty-five people have died in connection with or in relation to the protests that greeted the announcement, and as Nigerian protesters gear up for another day in the mother of all Nigerian protests, there’s no telling what could happen.

But on the positive side, we have seen unprecedented levels of unity take root among the protesters, and in what is almost a mirror of the Egyptian Tahrir Square protests, Christians in Kano State have stood watch over their Muslim brethren as they pray and the Muslims have watched over the Christian churches as the Christians worshipped. And even as Nigerians find their humorous side and take to social networks and blogs to make conversation on the issue and trade status updates, cartoons and pictures, they are also finding slowly, the camaraderie and brotherhood that, up until this moment seemed to have eluded the “north-south dichotomy”.  And in London, Nigerians are showing that they can speak with one voice. So maybe the protests are a good thing.

Or maybe not. Because if we take a step back from the teeming subsidy removal protesting crowd and attempt to comprehend the big picture, it becomes apparent that most of the protesters may not exactly know why they are on the streets protesting. It may also become apparent that we may all be unwitting puppets in the clever hands of the very puppet masters we are attempting to defeat.

Of course, the majority of the protesting masses are not aware of the political wrangling and intrigue leading up to the withdrawal of petroleum subsidies. It seems that the stakeholders in the matter have taken it personal, turning the issue into a battle of egos. There have been unsubstantiated claims that the Coordinating Minister of the Economy, Dr. Okonjo-Iweala threatened to resign if the decision to withdraw the petroleum subsidies was reversed. Amidst all of the talk of hired thugs, a collapsing, heavily oil-dependent economy, the imprudence of governmental spending and the distrust it breeds, we need to ask ourselves, what do we really want. Why are we protesting?

I support the removal of the subsidy. I always have, always will. So as long as that remains the primary reason for the protest, I shouldn’t be protesting. Now, I’m not in support of the way and manner of its removal, but I am in support of its removal because the issue is not whether or not it should be removed, the issue is that relevant infrastructure that would cushion the effect of its removal have not been put in place to ease the pains of its removal. So are we asking for the fuel subsidies back, or are we asking for the infrastructural developments that will ease the hardships occasioned by the removal of subsidies or are we asking for both? Are we asking for the government to find a way to reduce the prices of petroleum products without restoring the fuel subsidies?

If we’re protesting class inequalities and injustices, I’ll be on the frontlines waving a bloodied placard. A cursory glance will seem to reveal that the organizers of the protests aren’t protesting a lack of infrastructure. I stand to be corrected if I am wrong. They want government regulating the price of PMS which doubled overnight as a result of the Federal Government’s unwillingness to further subsidize fuel. But if prices had stayed stable, no one will care ’bout the removal.

Think about it. If government found a way to make fuel N65 per litre without bringing back the subsidies, will they still be protesting? Do you see now, why we all need to agree on what we’re protesting?

I fear that if we are protesting the removal of fuel subsidies, we have become unwitting pawns in the hands of the very people who benefitted from the defunct subsidies. We are protesting for the free monies they loot from our country to be reinstalled in their accounts. We are protesting to give them back the free monies they loot from us the protesters. Either way you look at it, the protester is screwed. The government claims it needs the subsidy money to build refineries and other social infrastructure that will make life easier for the protester. The protester wants cheap fuel. The government says we can’t have both the fuel and the infrastructure. They want us to endure the fuel prices for a short while until they can provide us infrastructure with the recovered subsidy monies. But we are not going to give them a chance are we?

I have read an article making the rounds on Facebook and Blackberry about not trusting a financially imprudent government with more money but I beg to differ. That is just lip service. I believe that if we offer the government a chance to invest the recovered moneys towards all of the purposes which they claim will benefit from it and we see no tangible results within a certain time frame, then we can bring down hell. But first, we must give them a chance. What we are doing right now is tantamount to condemning the accused before his trial.

If we choose to have the subsidy replaced, no infrastructure is going to be forthcoming for a while and the government is going to have an illegitimately legitimate excuse to disappoint on all of its election promises. If we choose the removal of the subsidy for the sake of future infrastructural growth and development, we are going to be facing a tough period in the days to come. We will have to brace up as a people and endure the hard times. We will have to brace the night in order to be able to sing, along with future Nigerian generations when morning comes, and I believe that this is the call for compatriots that the national anthem speaks about.

But either way, the protester on the street will have to endure deprivation of some sort.

That said, there are a million ways the government could have handled this better, and I am not a fan of Madam Subsidy’s modus operandi. But the damage is done. And we can choose to move on or dwell in it, or fight for the rights of the corrupt and the looters to stay corrupt and keep looting. I can see why the oil cabal will support the protests and pump resources into fueling it. I can see how they might want to manipulate the protests and fuel the anarchy it will breed. I can see how they will incite the benefitting masses to call for the restoration of subsidies. It’s already transforming itself from protests into a huge street party in Lagos. And we are just beginning.

A wise man once said a prudent person is swift to hear and observe, slow to speak, and weighs all of the options carefully prior to choosing a course of action. Tomorrow’s Nigeria is our decision to make. Now I need to get back to work, these are just my thoughts.

OKANG ASHIWEL OCHUI

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