Monthly Archives: February 2011

Daula Hotel Workers Report Not Being Paid for Four Months

(c) Carmen McCain

[NOTE: This blog post my own follow-up to a Daily Trust article by Abdullahi Yahaya Bello published on 11 December 2010. I report what I have been told by the striking staff of Daula Hotel. I have not interviewed the Kano State government. Where I quote, I am reconstructing conversations I had in Hausa and jotted down as notes in my notebook. I did not tape record the conversations, so they are not exact quotes]

[UPDATE: 18 March 2011. When I stopped by Daula Hotel this morning, the sign on the gate had been taken down, and people were working. When I asked them if they had been paid, they told me they had been paid for two months, and had stopped striking but were still waiting to be paid for three more months]

Daula Hotel, the Kano State owned hotel built in 1974/5, was once one of the nicest hotels in Kano. You can see it in the lines, in the airy covered walkways lined with trees and flowering bushes.

(c) Carmen McCain

It is no longer. I took these photos exactly a month ago 13 January 2011, after a growing curiosity about the closed gates and the handwritten banner flapping outside I saw every time I passed. The hotel lies in ruins, as if in an abandoned city, after a war.

(c) Carmen McCain

Daula Hotel has 140 staff. The few that were standing around in the hotel compound when I visited told me that they had not been paid since October 2010. In addition, they said they haven’t been getting their annual leave, and for ten years haven’t recieved their NSITF trust fund or retirement benefits. The families of those who have died, they said, receive no pension.

(c) Carmen McCain

The 11 December 2011 Trust article reports:

Weekly Trust findings show that since Daula Hotel, owned by the Kano state government was commissioned in 1975, there have been no major capital injection or rehabilitation work carried out apart from the cosmetic facelift given to the hotel in 1999 when Nigeria hosted the Under  17 World cup.  Mismanagement by successive governments and appointed managers of the hotel, Weekly Trust learnt, also led to the present state the hotel found itself.

According to Comrade Sadeeq Suleiman, branch chairman of the National Union of Hotel and Personal Services, the workers and the hotel are dying gradually. “To say that Daula Hotel has collapsed is an understatement as you have seen after going round the place. We think that there is a deliberate attempt by government to kill this hotel. If not, how can the Kano state government allow this hotel to decay while they have retainership in other hotels in town where they pay bills of nothing less than N350 million for accommodation, feeding and other sundry matters monthly? Yet when they send their guest here, they don’t pay.  It will baffle you to know that it takes more than six months for the government to settle just N2 million they owe Daula. If they give us half the amount they spend in other hotels, we won’t be where we are today.  They say we are a parastatal but they don’t treat us like a parastatal. Every month we have to go on strike before we can get our salaries. We don’t have service charge and above all, our pension contribution for 10 years was not remitted to the NSTIF. We are suffering. Those who retired have died without pension. We are hounded by landlords all the time and even children school fees are a problem”, he lamented.

For Comrade Dickson Aya, Assistant- General Secretary, National Union of Hotel and Personal Services, one of the pioneer staff of Daula Hotel, it beggars believe that Daula could be so ruined. “I was one of the pioneer staff of Daula Hotel in 1975. This hotel was not just the best hotel in Kano, it was the pride of the north. At its peak up to the late 1990s, we operated at full capacity. If you don’t book in advance, you can’t be sure of getting a room. We had about 300 staff strength then; we generated nothing less than N10 million monthly. Salaries were paid on the 20th of every month and service charge was 15th of every month.  We had the best laundry in town. Other hotels liaised with us to send them guests when our hotel is filled up. Weekends were something else. I cannot imagine that the same Daula today can’t operate 30 rooms successfully. It will shock you that we now generate sometimes about N40, 000 in a month.”

(c) Carmen McCain

He said the Shekarau administration is the worst thing to happen to Daula Hotel. “Seven years ago, things were not this terrible. At least, we were still patching things. But today, we are at a standstill. Governor Ibrahim Shekarau came here two years ago and saw the condition of the place. He met everywhere leaking and promised to address the problem in two weeks. Up till now, we have not seen anything from him.  We know that those in government have connived with other hotels in town where they inflate hotel bill to get their share. We are aware that if government bill is N5 million, they add another N5 million as their own share. I am a seasoned hotel administrator and I know what I am saying. What we are saying is that we are tired. If they don’t do something fast our frustration has gotten to a level where we can burn down this hotel. The cheating is too much,” he threatened.

Isa Umar, another staff of Daula Hotel said government has politicized Daula Hotel. That most of the people they post as managers to the hotel don’t know anything about hotel management. “Over the years, most of the managers they brought just came and connived with people in the Ministry of Commerce, the supervising Ministry to run the place down. The so called senior managers who are there don’t help matters either. On a monthly basis, they write all kinds of requisition that they never buy. Requisition for food, diesel, drinks, beddings and so on. Why can’t the government come and check all these things they claim to be buying. Today, it is Mai-ruwa (water vendors) that supplies the hotel with water. No borehole. Do you know that rats and snakes have chased guests out of their rooms in this hotel? Those in the laundry now use their leg and soda to wash clothes because the machines are bad. Look even those who have turned Daula into short service centre no longer patronize us because things have worsened. We are appealing to the government to come to the rescue of the staff and the hotel”

(c) Carmen McCain

A source who prefers anonymity, told Weekly Trust that the government has retainership with Tahir Guest Palace, Hotel Horizon, Royal Tropicana, Kano Guest Inn, Niima Guest Palace, among others. None of these hotels, according to him, is up to Daula but yet government neglected the place and prefers spending millions with these hotels. He said if government can give Daula N50 million every year, it will save huge resources they are expending on hotels and Daula too will generate profit for the government.

I delayed writing this blog post right away because they told me they hoped to be paid in the next few days. I did not want to post all these photos if they were about to be paid. Several told me that the governor had approved for them to be paid, but the ministry of commerce was delaying the payment. Today, when I visited Daula again, several asked me, “What happened to those photos? What happened to the piece you were going to write?” It has now been four months since they have been paid, three months since they’ve gone on strike.

(c) Carmen Mccain

 

Striking staff took me around the hotel, through the lobby, footprints marked in the deep dust and then layered over again. We walked through the overgrown gardens, and up the stairs into rooms where the doors hung off their hinges. Insulation dripped from smashed ceilings, and spider’s webs screened broken windows.

(c) Carmen McCain

Of the 192 rooms in the hotel, only thirty-five are functioning, they tell me. I ask them to take me to a functioning room. Dirty mattresses hang off of old bedframes, the walls are stained. A light bulb dangles from a wire in the bathroom. “How much would this room be if I want to stay?” I asked. “N5000,” they tell me.

The habitable room. (c) Carmen McCain

“How are you surviving?” I ask, “not having been paid for so long? How do you eat?”

“We try to manage,” they smile, grimly. “We ask relatives for help. We live on what little bit we’ve been able to save.”

“I have five children,” one man told me. “They have kicked them out of school. I haven’t been able to pay their school fees.”

“We’ve gone to the Public Complaints Commission, but they didn’t do anything. Daily Trust, Freedom Radio, NTA has reported it but nothing has come out of it. We are fighting for our rights, but the ministry of commerce says we don’t want to work. We want to work but how can we when we are not being paid? There are old people who have been working at the hotel from the beginning who are dying without seeing their pensions?”

“How long has the hotel been like this,” I ask?

“We’ve been needing renovations for a while,” they told me, “but we were managing. For the past seven years it has been worse. For the past five years, we have had to strike in order to be paid our salaries, but this time it has been three months. The governor came to inspect the place around 3-5 years ago, but nothing changed.”

(c) Carmen McCain

As they took me around the hotel, I could see that the place could be beautiful. The bones are all there. The garden is overgrown but alive. The fixtures, though broken, are attractive. I could imagine it a pleasant place to stroll on a cool Kano evening. But, for now, with its layered over footprints and shattered glass and dusty lion fixtures, it reminds me of C.S. Lewis’s description in his fantasy novel The Magician’s Nephew of an abandoned planet where everyone has died.

(c) Carmen McCain

The pool at Daula has an apocalyptic feel about it, drained of water, lawnchairs scattered haphazardly, a random couch, backless with the stuffing coming out.

(c) Carmen McCain

Once they had taken me around to the pool, the workers thanked me and left me to make my way back out.

The light had nearly gone by then, and the photos came out dull and gray.

(c) Carmen McCain

Sharon Stone in Abuja, Nollywood in New York

I am very much behind in posting photos of my columns here. I’m hoping to catch up in the next few days. I had hoped to get this up before Zina Saro-Wiwa’s “Sharon Stone in Abuja” gallery show at Location 1 in New York ended on 22 January 2011, but I obviously didn’t…. Here is my column, “Sharon Stone in Abuja, Nollywood in New York,” published in the Weekly Trust on 11 December 2010.

To read the article in its original version, click on the photo below. It will take you to a large photo on Flickr that you should be able to read comfortably. Enjoy.

Nigeria’s educated elite have a fraught relationship with Nollywood. Nigeria’s film industry may be identified by UNESCO as the second largest film industry in the world but talk to many Nigerians abroad, and they find the films embarrassing in their departure from Hollywood aesthetic norms or the theory-driven ideology of much European and African cinema. Recently while I was back in New York on a quick visit, several Nigerian artists at a dinner party told me they “hated” the films, finding them “unrealistic and excessive.” I’ve received similar feedback in emails responding to this column, one reader remarking that Kannywood films “are poor in artistic quality and lack originality.”

Yet, for every Nollywood snob you come across, there are dozens of avid fans who may laugh a little at the melodrama and the low budget quality of the films, but who love them all the same. What is it in these films that draws an audience of millions? This is one of the questions asked in the art exhibition “Sharon Stone in Abuja,” named after the 2003 Nigerian movie of the same name, on display from November 5, 2010 to January 22, 2011, at the New York gallery, Location 1. Notes on the exhibit, which is co-curated by Nigerian filmmaker Zina Saro-Wiwa, point to the “power and energy in these films, […]  Through our visual narratives, we hope to reveal the psychodrama of Nigerian life beneath Nollywood’s breathless and voluble hyperbole, […] and to explore the power in the home grown amateur aesthetics that Nollywood presents.”  The gallery features the work of Nigerian photographer Andrew Esiebo, American portraitist Mickalene Thomas, South African photographer Pieter Hugo, Kenyan artist Wangechi Mutu, and three experimental film installations by Zina Saro-Wiwa.

During my brief New York trip, I walked into the gallery forty-five minutes before closing time, so what I write here will be more a first impression than a studied review. The exhibit invites a self-conscious reflection on the creation of Nollywood art, audience, and fame. One of my favourite pieces is a large strikingly intimate portrait, by James Esiebo, of Nollywood stars Aki and Pawpaw, displayed in the corridor across from a wall inscribed with the names of thousands of Nollywood films. At the end of a corridor, the gallery opens up into parlour space created to set off Mickalene Thomas’s portraits of Nigerian actresses. On pedestals are “video sculptures,” looping Saro-Wiwa’s twenty minute segments of Nigerian actresses staring into the camera while crying.

The parlour space was carefully arranged into a kind of anthropological display of how Nigerian audiences watch films, using couches and chairs that could be found in many Nigerian homes, end tables piled with stacks of vcds. The only bizaare note in the room were the zebra-striped and leopard print throw pillows, reminding the visitor that this was not a home in Nigeria but a gallery in New York, where animal print is often the easiest visual shorthand for Africa. Nollywood may be the creation of Nigerians, the set up of the parlour implies, but it is received and reinterpreted by audiences all over the world.

These ideas of representation, authenticity, and appropriation are particularly evident in several of South African photographer Pieter Hugo’s photographs, taken from his Nollywood series, that hang on the wall opposite the parlour. I dislike Hugo’s work. The photographs in this show, the most striking one of which shows a woman dressed in lace sitting beside a man in monster makeup, take elements of Nollywood horror films out of context and flatten them into the blank stares of a freak show. While technically quite beautifully composed and lit, his photographs remind me of early 19th century exhibitions of the “Hottentot Venus,” in which a naked Khoi woman with large buttocks was put on display for the “scientific examination” and titillation of European audiences. They also remind me of the portrayal of Nigerians as savage gangsters in Neill Blomkamp’s film District 9. As with the Congo in Joseph Conrad’s novel Heart of Darkness, Nollywood becomes the not-so-blank slate onto which these artists project their own psychological hang-ups. Nigeria through a South African lens reveals more South African stereotype of Nigeria than anything else. This is not Nollywood, or Nigeria, but perhaps it is what an outside audience wants to see.

Zina Saro-Wiwa’s short films Phyllis and The Deliverance of Comfort, which for me were the heart of the exhibition, had a similarity to Hugo’s work in their artistic appropriation of Nollywood. But there is an affection and intimacy to them, I also felt in Andrew Esiebo’s portraits of Nollywood stars, that was lacking in Hugo’s photographs. Saro-Wiwa’s art films, likely to be watched and appreciated by a much smaller audience than those who watch the Nollywood films to which she pays homage, make a profound intervention into intellectual discussions of Nigerian film. Of the two short films, I was most struck by Phyllis, a surreal portrayal of a day in the life of Phyllis, a woman who watches Nollywood films all day long in an apartment filled with Christian calenders and Nollywood posters, marking time by changing into multicoloured European wigs. Whenever she removes a wig to replace it with another, her eyes roll back into her head, indicating spiritual possession. The techno heartbeat soundtrack played in these moments reminded me of similar sounds indicating spiritual presence in Cameroonian filmmaker Jean Pierre Bekolo’s science fiction film Les Saignantes, which won the Silver Yennenga  Stallion award at the 2007 FESPACO film festival. In Les Saignantes, the director’s voiceover, asking self conscious questions about filmmaking in postcolonial Africa, structures into sections a bizaare tale of two Cameroonian prostitutes and their use of spiritual powers to appropriate the body of a powerful government official. Both Les Saignantes and Phyllis interact with the popular imagination of spiritual power, linking it to ideas on the communicative power of film.

In Saro-Wiwa’s film, Phyllis, who has seen herself appear on screen, goes out into the streets of Lagos, hawking her multicoloured wigs on a tray. She lures another woman into her possession cult when the woman strokes the hair of the wig and then tries it on. Phyllis grips the woman in a vise as the initiate’s eyes roll back into her head, and then releases her to wander off dreamy-eyed. At the end Phyllis returns to her apartment, changing her wig again, and sits under a clock of a white Jesus with outstretched arms. She laughs while crying tears of blood.

There’s too much to untangle here in a short review. But in the visual metaphors of wigs and reoccurring motifs of Christian paraphernalia, Saro-Wiwa seems to be making a critique similar to those who complain of cultural imperialism in Nollywood’s unthoughtful adoption of Western standards of beauty and who question the Christian solutions so often proffered in the films. What are we being possessed by? Saro-Wiwa asks. One reading of the film could be that both Christianity and movies are the “opiate of the masses.” Yet Saro-Wiwa’s critique is far more sophisticated than most, affectionately acknowledging its own creative inspiration as dependent on Nollywood. As with Bekolo’s film, for Saro-Wiwa, ritual becomes metaphoric for possibilities in film that, while at times quite harmful, seem to offer particular power to women.

It is just this sort of thoughtful engagement that is needed in intellectual discussions of the world’s second largest film industry. Nevertheless, the exhibition may be flawed by its over-reliance on a Western audience. I would be interested in seeing the same exhibition brought to Lagos and Abuja and hearing what a non-expatriate Nigerian audience would make of its tropes of alienation and self-representation.

UPDATE 15 March 2011:

I just came across another great review of Pieter Hugo’s photographs here at Isaac Anyaogu’s blog Nollyverse.

#Jan25 Egypt: “We know freedom is the answer, the only question is, ‘Who’s Next?’

I’m sorry I have been absent from this blog for almost a month. Have been overwhelmed by many, many things.

But tonight, I had to write. I’ve been toggling between AlJazeera and CNN, laughing at the way the journalists are swallowed up in jubilant crowds. People grab their hands and lift them up in a salute, dance around, women in head scarves at midnight, bareheaded teenage girls, and little boys on their father’s shoulders, young men waving flags.

 

A woman standing through the moonroof of a car in Alexandria held up a flag. (David Degner for the Wall Street Journal) (click the image to be taken to original WSJ photo blog)

 

I have been marvelling at getting to see in my lifetime a moment this beautiful. How powerful ordinary people can be when they come together and say they’ve had enough. 30 years of the Mubarak regime. 17 days of committed protest.

 

(c) Nevine Zaki posted on YFrog "A pic I took yesterday of Christians protecting Muslims during their prayers #jan25" Click on the photo to be taken to the original.

And tomorrow all the sensible practicalities will settle in, and the complications of what comes next, the plans on how to transition from military to election, from decades of emergency rule to the law of the people, but tonight is a celebration.

 

 

A man in Cairo held up a laptop displaying an image of celebrations in Egypt after hearing the news that Mr. Mubarak was resigning. (Guy Martin for the Wall Street Journal) (to see original photo on WSJ photoblog, click on the photo)

And, if they can do this in Egypt, where else can we do it? If the young and old come out together, and insist, no, no, no, you wax faced old men, no, no, no, you vampires in your Ilmorog competition of thieves and robbers, who drone long speeches about responsibility to the nation, while tucking away millions into your pocketed bellies,  no, no, no, we facebook, we tweet, we take to the street. We’re gassed, we’re beat, we sleep in the street. We die, we shout, our mother’s cry, but we do not go home, we do not go in, we stay, we stay, we protest, we pray.

 

(c)Euronews

It’s shocking, it worked.

Yesterday, the old man rambled about how he was Egypt, and today he left. And Egypt is now this collective person, this person who has filled the streets, the laughter, the tears, the shouts, the flags waving.

Was it the passion? Is that what it is? Can we do that? Or we all too content to complain, and keep managing?

On Facebook, this video has been going around. It is the voice of the young. Questions. Dreams. Imagine this, they say

First they ignore you.

Then they laugh at you.

Then they fight you.

Then you win.

The song was apparently posted on YouTube a few days ago, but, as music and art so often is, it was prescient, confident of success, yet reflective on the anxieties of revolution: “We know freedom is the answer, the only question is, ‘Who’s Next?’

 

On YouTube, the info on the song is listed as follows:

Inspired by the resilience of Egyptian people during their recent uprising, several notable musicians from North America have teamed up to release a song of solidarity and empowerment. The track is fittingly titled “#Jan25″ as a reference to both the date the protests officially began in Egypt, and its prominence as a trending topic on Twitter. Produced by Sami Matar, a Palestinian-American composer from Southern California, and featuring the likes of Freeway, The Narcicyst, Omar Offendum, HBO Def Poet Amir Sulaiman, and Canadian R&B vocalist Ayah – this track serves as a testament to the revolution’s effect on the hearts and minds of today’s youth, and the spirit of resistance it has come to symbolize for oppressed people worldwide.

Artist Information:
Omar Offendum (MC #1) – http://twitter.com/Offendum
The Narcicyst (MC #2) – http://twitter.com/TheNarcicyst
Freeway (MC #3) – http://twitter.com/PhillyFreezer
Amir Sulaiman (MC #4) http://twitter.com/AmirSulaiman
Ayah (R&B Vocalist) – http://twitter.com/AyahMusic
Sami Matar (Producer) – http://twitter.com/SamiMatar
Artwork by Ridwan Adhami http://www.ridzdesign.com

And as the night grows old, and the morning is near, look at the faces again, and pray for the days ahead.

 

Many families joined in the celebration in Alexandria. (David Degner for the Wall Street Journal) (To view the original photo blog, click on the photo)