A conference of Hell

A conference of hell.

Nigeria between Corruption (of an outgoing government) and Terror camouflaged under the name of the terrorist Boko Haram

A short true story

I remember during my training on conflict resolution when we had those role-playing on particular battle scenarios, and somehow they were always in Africa. The experience I have been encountering for the last week was as unreal as those role-plays we performed. And as always said reality is way better than imagination. Well, this was a situation when reality was way worse than imagination. That point where an average imagination cannot reach.

I was invited among more than a hundred peace scholars, educators and researchers from around the world for what seemed like a high level conference in Abuja, Nigeria. The first international APREA (Africa Peace Research and Education Association). APREA is an regional affiliate of IPRA (International Peace Research Association), a renowned institution that has been in the peace business since the 1960s. As with most of the invitees, I was invited by an IPRA associate… and I received the invitation with great enthusiasm and appreciation. First, because such settings are an excellent opportunity to meet real intellectuals that are devoted to peace promotion, and second, I wanted to break my pre-set taboos of Nigeria by learning first hand from Nigerians themselves and see the people and the place without free or judged ideas.

The best way to put what happened is to just describe it according to days;

Day one; Good Friday: I was preparing myself to depart from Jerusalem when I saw a message on the AFPREA Facebook page that said that our hotel has changed from the Nicon Luxury Hotel to a better one, thanks to the great and generous support of the UNDP, with sincere appreciation to them. I was thinking, “great; this would make the experience even better.” I was starting to get anxious, as I was about to lose connection while between flights without not yet knowing where I will be staying.

Of course, I had a backup plan for my emergency situations by asking help from my Nigerian friend Ibrahim who happened to be out of town.

Upon arrival, I met two colleagues who were on the same flight, and it was a huge relief.

The first warning everyone tells you about Nigeria is corruption. We had an immediate direct experience with that when the man I met on the flight, a Lebanese businessman living in Nigeria, assured me that all would be great, “Nigerians are kind and friendly, and all will run smoothly and quickly.” He took my passport along with his and my two colleagues when a woman in customs uniform approached. She took our book passports and the completed forms and showed us to our luggage while she stamped our documents. Then she came to the man and gave him returned his passport while he placed some money in exchange for her hand.

A taxi (a car) was waiting for us where we miraculously squeezed the three of us and the luggage inside it, and off we went to our first step to paradise. I mean the Afri hotel.

Upon arrival, a huge smiling brown woman came to greet us. She was the all sweet, workaholic, devoted Margaret. She said we would be here until tomorrow because she was waiting for the UNDP approval for the hotel, which is probably the Hilton. And it will be likely the next day.

The hotel seemed deserted, and we were assisted to the rooms and sweet Margaret gave us complimentary rubber slippers that we may need in the chambers.

I entered the room, and I was thinking, “I think I can survive the night. It is only a few hours”.

Left till the morning. There was no Internet, and I thought it is a good opportunity to take my obsessive self from the Internet and the kids wouldn’t yet panic if I didn’t get in touch.

A dead cockroach greeted me.

I was afraid to leave my luggage on the floor. The sheets seemed as if the last time they have been changed was on the eve of the final day of the Second World War. The smell of damp and humidity was strong and an old TV with a channel that I realized later was the Christian channel was on. At first, I thought it was something related to the elections, but then it was all about preaching and praying, hope and salvation.

Every single thing was awfully disgusting, I had to use my clothes as sheets, and I hardly slept, feeling terrified. Both from the filth I was sleeping on, and from the strange place itself.

That was the Nigeria everyone warned me about.If this was the standard of a hotel, then no wonder diseases are spread in this country.

I kept consoling myself with the use that it will be only until tomorrow.

Saturday; Saturday of light, Shabbat in the UNDP. I should have understood better. A warm agitated face came rushing to greet me while sweet smiling Margaret was figuring out some Internet connection with a USB connection. I thought I met him in Istanbul 2014, so I rushed back a Warmer greeting. He turned out to be the chairman of APFREA, Dr. O.O., who is also a renowned ‘Reverend Father’ and Pastor. He was so sweet, his smile kept stretching in his agitated face, until the last moment of the conference. I was, of course, happy to respond and elaborate on his questions on Palestine.

Soon a darker face came with a certain presence that I admit scared me with his fierce red eyes. He was making cynical jokes and welcoming me, letting me know that he was Professor MM, an IPRA Executive Committee member, a Professor of Journalism at an American university. I was blaming my judgmental side for making preconceived assumptions. The man was always making jokes and sarcastic remarks that were fun. We were invited to the hotel’s restaurant for breakfast, and, like the rooms, it felt like those brothels in movies set in the nineteenth century. We talked and laughed and waited and waited and waited and waited for coffee and waited and waited and waited for breakfast. We discussed how understaffed the place is and how Poor those young waitresses were while we were still waiting. Some people appeared and joined, and it was starting to get fun. A woman, Ouisseina from Niger, who will later turn out to be the sky gift of this week. Ouisseina, a renowned African Studies scholar, and Professor from Rutgers University.

By noon more people were temporarily arriving and checking in, and we were supposed to receive a call from the UNDP at any moment to tell us to move.

In between the conversations, it was always about the great effort that poor sweet glorious Margaret had to put all on her own to make this happen.

I heard so much about how great Margaret was I almost started to see her with her long distinctly designed dresses with wings. I felt like going to pray in front of her each time she passed by me to thank her for this tremendous work … But yet, I was praying, even more, she would come with the news that UNDP called and we are moving hotels.

NK, IPRA Secretary General, Ouisseina and I decided to go to make a tour around. Margaret kindly dedicated a driver to our service for the price of fifty dollars. Later I learned that the five-minute drive usually costs much less than that when Margaret is not the go-between; in fact, other colleagues paid $2.50 for the same journey on the same day! We went to a great nearby place called arts and crafts village. A few hours that turned out to be the best times of that week regarding sightseeing, and only real free time.

We were promised an overnight trip to Benin City which I learned later was nothing special except it was Margaret’s hometown.

At the Arts and Crafts Market, we had so much fun bargaining on everything from money changing to buying crafts, SIM cards, and Internet connection.

By five in the afternoon more people were checking in at the grungy Afri Hotel, and anyone daring to ask about the new hotel seemed to irritate Margaret. We were invited for dinner, at our expense, in a fish market where we were seated in the middle of the market eating HUGE fresh fish in the dark. It was fun and genial, and even the Star beer was refreshing in the dark humidity of the night.

Another night in the hotel was becoming an inescapable fact, so I bought a sheet so that I can at least put it on the part of the bed where I sleep. I was still unable to use the bath. Nothing was usable, not the tap or shower, aside from the disgusting filth it had. I bought some toilet paper to cover the toilet but the place needed to be taken down, demolished, not to be cleaned.

Third day: Sunday. Easter surprise eggs…. We will move today … Yes. No. Not yet. The UNDP. Weekend. Signature. Reimbursement. Check in. More check in … Over a hundred of us checked in, and we are waiting to move any moment. Was it just bad management or simply spoilt cooperation money? I was starting to wonder.

Another adventurous trip in town between changing money and re-charging the Internet cards. I was spending and giving away money like an Arab princess. After all, we will be reimbursed, probably tomorrow.

In the evening, we went in the organization van for dinner at a Chinese restaurant in a mall. It was nice, and we decided to stay and not take away. After all, where can we make the takeaway and eat?? That was the moment when I realized that there was a Margaret world and then the other world. Whereas in the Margaret world places close at eight thirty because security has to go home. And in the other world, we were for God sake in a mall that has a cinema and restaurants, and the last order was taken at ten thirty.

We stayed. The group was getting more interesting; Vaughn, a Professor from South Africa, and John S, a Professor from Britain, was on my side of the table. We were all talking about the remote management and the unhealthy and inhuman situation at the hotel. I bought the pharmacy products to clean and sterilize to survive another night.

It felt like adapting with Israeli checkpoints as if this is how life is. I was trying to discuss with IPRA executives who seemed like upper-class people. Somehow it was a human condition. How can anyone sleep in that place?

I was still fighting stigmatizing when the westerners of the group, mainly the IPRA seniors and executives, said that they were okay with the conditions saying here and there and in the way or another that this was an average level of African hotels. I felt naive as usual, thinking I was disillusioned by a fantasy of a scene that doesn’t exist. These people must know better.

Paying for dinner turned into an unsolvable conflict that was so scandalous (I have to save this word for later events). Only God knows where this started and how. What happened was Margaret yelling and screaming in that seemingly decent restaurant. We looked like a bunch of outlaws who bragged in a regular place. And somehow most of our seemingly intellectual looks served to keep the confusion. I was almost on the edge of believing that Margaret is just a Nigerian woman and these people seem to only communicate by screaming (imagine me talking about that!!!)

The situation was turning from funny to cynical. From sarcastic to disbelief.

Going back to the ‘hotel’ turned into a conflict management operation room. Every few gathering is taking reasoning arguing with one or two IPRA and APFREA member or whoever has a word on this situation. And the magical word was always Margaret. Margaret became the only existing connection between us and Nigeria in those days, even those who needed a plumber to fix the taps or those who needed to change sheets .she was multitasking and beyond. If we wanted to order a taxi, it should be through her. But urgencies were accumulating and by tomorrow when the conference starts she will not have time for anything including solving the hotel issue.

As people were complaining about the taps one was still not daring to turn it on. I refused even to allow myself to imagine that I can put my Leg into that tub. I was getting anxious and nervous as everyone else except the IPRA AFPREA whatever people continued to look relaxed.

I realized later that working with peace normalizes people and put them in a freezing mode. They practically stop receiving. Each of that Dr. So and Prof That were so passive prepared to give you a long lecture on peace management and you get out roaming around yourself feeling how pathetically passive people can get. As the delays evolved, it was not just about passivity. There was this ingredient of being cheap and lacking empathy. All there to perform a role and make new connections with potential new politicians or funders, what a laugh! Selling all those free pretentious smiles that day after day start to look like a mask on their faceless images.

Sunday late night until early hours of Monday’s dawn, around ten of us spent hours and hours discussing with Margaret chances of that some clarity. We begged her into helping us to help her sort out this situation before it gets into a real explosion. It was the first time the issue of the reimbursement was raised when she confirmed that it would only be on Tuesday, which seemed improper because many came with the limited amount of money knowing they will be reimbursed. Margaret took some time to berate Bernadette, who was helping a colleague, nicknamed the Hun, who had just flown in from Hungary. Margaret spent a lot of time berating Bernadette furiously, with Bernadette at first trying to explain, and later merely ignoring her belligerence. Given the situation that there is no hotel, something Margaret insisted would be sorted by the next day, we started searching for a new place. This Afri Hotel was simply a human disaster. When people warn about health issues in such countries, and with the ongoing Ebola threat. One would think that Ebola is generated in such a place.

We were all traumatized sticking to our seats in the only possible place to sit in that place, waiting for exhaustion and tiredness to win us over until we can make sure we will immediately fall asleep when we get into those rooms.

As naive as I usually am, I still believed that the woman/those people were just unprofessional.

We agreed that those of us who can help would try finding another hotel the next day, while also check in a way to push forward the promised UNDP money.

“Believe in miracles.” Those were the closing words of Margaret with her happy flat smiling face.

Monday, the first day of the conference. We were all unmotivated; we even forgot why we were there. I brought a Palestinian embroidered dress that I felt ridiculous to wear not knowing what was going on. So I grabbed a dress and made sure to take the opportunity to change in the conference center. I was just missing the water.

I was already regretting not making a decision on the first day, but I didn’t want to be the snobbish person who just walked out of the group. And I still wasn’t sure what is normal in Nigeria anymore.

The conference was held in a major international conference center and as I entered the atmosphere was filled with excitement and everyone was happily posing for pictures in his and her folklore dress. Many people and lots of security and many “ask me” people (helpers). As our expectations were minimizing gradually to the basics; Internet connection to most was a god given gift. The fact that Margaret said the night before that we will not get the internet from the conference venue made the request for internet connectivity seem like a major and unreasonable demand.

People were talking among themselves about the no hotel changing and an apparent no reimbursement.

I joined the opening in the breathtaking hall, and I was missing the presence of Bernadette, Anita, and Husseina. I thought that they decided to boycott.

On the plenary Margaret was glorified and crowned by OO and MM who was taking the microphone as the welcoming moderator making jokes between every given sentence which as well included the word, Margaret. Margaret was the queen of the show, and the hour of that show continued among that mob, and I noticed some people entering and calling Margaret first out and then each of the organizers. It was evident that something was going on. Margaret’s very round fat smiling face was fading somehow. Later Anita and Bernadette, as well as Husseina, came and the first thing Anita said: “It is a fraud. There is no UNDP grant”. The UNDP Director has just left after confronting Margaret and the AFPREA organizers and also requested the removal of his name and organization from the program. He said that the only time he met and spoke to Margaret was last Tuesday when he expressed openly that the UNDP doesn’t have this miracle box that it opens and give money from. He only promised to talk to the Nikon Hotel to give help Margaret to get UNDP discounted rates for the rooms without any obligation to funding that is, by all means, impossible in the specific situation and on such short notice.

So she was hoping for a miracle!!!! I thought.

Anita told me that she was going to take the microphone and publicize it. I suggested she shouldn’t. It would be a real blow. I was mistaken.

Rumors were just going on right and left; the hotel was now officially a bluff. The good news was that the women found a hotel and decided to leave. People have split into two groups automatically, those rebels that included us, and those who belonged to the organization that included the elders of IPRA, and those who didn’t have any money at all. An issue that kept me wondering about those elders of a seriously refined background both in academia and society I believed, who didn’t have any problem in staying in that place that each passing day proved it more and more to be closer to what is a ‘brothel.’ The whole issue of brothel occurred when an envelope was slipped under the door of one of the people from the group saying something like: “I will be there at ( a particular time).” And some chat with the ‘waiters’ in the ‘restaurant’ brought more with the understanding that this is what this place is used for regularly. It explained in many ways the anonymous filth, the used condoms in some rooms, the strange dirt on the walls, the exceptional ill-treatment by the staff that looked dirty, worked out, uncaring.

At this point, I remember one intervention for Margaret the night before when she said that the manager of the hotel has just arrived and he was surprised that there were many people and that tomorrow he will be making them all clean and fix everything. Excellent idea, never fulfilled. Like Margaret’s many promises.

The first conference session went on and on with what seemed unnecessary glorifying to Mother Margaret now. I almost imagined her with wings.

The news about reimbursement kept roaming in all directions. The payments will be made in Naira’s not in dollars. They will only reimburse some or maybe none for the new hotel. The conference registration fee of $100 will be deducted from the total … Discussions as well went into objecting to such suggestions. The Naira exchange rate will result in a minimum twenty percent loss. Not to mention that the Naira wouldn’t be needed as we were approaching the last days of our stay in Abuja.

We remained, however, thankful to Margaret’s efforts as one of the senior IPRA moderate personnel reminded us that we were provided with water and hit meals.

Should I discuss food? I prefer not. Things were about to take away drastic curb whereas having been fed seemed like a real luxury. One participant had food poisoning that very night.

I was still crossing my finger on the fact that we found a new hotel where we will move to. I found a roommate, Husseina, who thanks to her lots of the positive memories reserved in my mind were because of her unconditional support, humor (well I have to say I forced it, but she was an excellent recipient to my cynical, dark jokes often), patience, maturity, and love.

I was thinking that sharing a room would still leave me on the safe side if things got tougher.

We went to the new hotel, and I swear it felt like Eden. I just couldn’t believe that there is a place that has the clean floor, I even felt like touching it. The bed… God. White clean sheets. Real clean. I was overwhelmed with just feeling that I can move the water. Just basic nice and clean felt like heaven.

This hotel will be the best place for me ever each time I think of the trauma I was experiencing from that filthy places.

I slept for the first time for real.

Tuesday, Husseina and I woke up like honeymooners, enjoying the luxury and comfort of clean sheets and proper air conditioning and water …towels of course as well.

We went to the conference, and we exchanged our feelings about the new hotel, as well as our confirmed anger about where we were situated. The fact that there are hotels out there that are utterly average and clean. Basic and affordable, practically cheaper if sharing double rooms. There could have been many ways to make it all go on better.

As I was wearing again the mask of Zorro this time, I found it a patriotic cause to save the face of poor Abuja and Nigeria. I was still fighting all those ideas and thoughts and questions I will have to answer when I am back home and still insisting it cannot be the situation. So like a real human rights activist and advocate I went to the Chairperson of AFPREA, whom I thought was a man of God and will get it. Now we know that things can be different and can be changed and it was not yet late. But instead, he kept answering me with the same tone of voice and the same perfect drawn smile of apologies and happiness that we know the difference now. I was practically embarrassing him trying to provoke a patriotic side of him towards his country as a Nigerian local with a Lexus car medal was joining him, but it all went with the same tone of nonsense and good non-care. It was that moment that I felt disgusted. Because since that moment I started to believe that it wasn’t just about bad management, lies and misinformation. It felt like this is exactly what these people wanted us to see in their country. As if the enormous poverty that strikes you on each sidewalk and middle of the street wasn’t enough. As if the word corruption that stigmatizes Nigeria and brought that outgoing government down wasn’t enough proof to see it in every single transaction we went through. Taxis, black market money exchange, the Internet, electricity power outages every couple of hours, beggars, and that hotel…they wanted to confirm to us that it is what they are showing us.

I didn’t give up of course; Anita and I spoke to the European LR, a former Secretary General of IPRA, who seemed anything but dissatisfied. I was wondering as I saw the top of his Mont Blanc pen, of how he puts it or where in that dirty room. If his pen was a Mont Blanc what would be his shirt … But yet he was just relaxed, taking everything in his stride, with no harm, no image, no deception, just a way of being to whatever it was. Talking about fraud…ah who cares, it is just a pity the UNDP Director didn’t make it present on the plenary. He’d rather listen to what he has to say to enrich the conference. Anita and I felt like shaking him and dropping him down from the comfort of his imaginary cloud where all seemed just ok… Was he also naive? I don’t know anymore.

Words and discussions became less meaningful by each passing moment. My demand along with others to just make a clear announcement, a meeting where things will be discussed openly and decently was taking a higher voice.

Moving from one AFPREA / IPRA representative saying the same things and hearing the same passive responses was what marked every and any discussion along the “we don’t know, only Margaret does” and by each passing day it became from “don’t worry, it is all under control and in the worse case scenario WE IPRA are here to save the moment” to “let’s see how we can try to get something”.

No, moving to another hotel was now history…

How and who will pay the other hotel became the question, as suspicions kept rising about the reimbursement we were supposed to receive at the end of that working day which Margaret was expected to bring from the bank. Bags of money. Security around the money. Some say they saw the money. I felt we were about to write the novel of “the journey of the none-arriving money.”

The AFPREA Congress for AFPREA members took place after all the pressure for a meeting kept being raised by conference delegates. Non-IPRA members like me were not entitled to be there, out of which we were many. But Bernadette, as Deputy Chairperson of AFPREA, insisted we stay.

And that was a meeting…

The Chairperson, the very Reverend gentleman from Nigeria, seemed as if seated on a throne between the clouds, some of how great things were and how splendid it’s been, until John S, from Britain, asked the open-ended question. “Since when did they know there were no funds and what is the reality of the situation.” John was invited to make what should be a Feasibility Study to the upcoming Sierra Leone Conference next year!!!!

As I am writing these conclusion thoughts keep rushing to my head on how much of fools we have been all collectively been? It was an unbelievable situation that kept deteriorating like a snowball…

The answer to the question was, of course, a long non-answer from Margaret explaining to show how things are in Nigeria as if we were all aliens who are about to be given a course in “how to be corrupt and get away with it.” This went on and on in nowhere of course until Bernadette opened her mouth and asked a question that had the words financial report in it. Bernadette posted in two simple, calm sentences who donated funds and services, in part to thank the donors, how much funds were donated, how much funds were spent, and how much funds were still to be spent, a brief verbal financial report of sorts. She said it is ordinary governance, not even good governance, to have this simple financial report, presented at such a meeting, named a Congress in the program, no less.

It was one of those incredible moments that one only sees on TV scandal in Parliaments such as Jordan when members start attacking. With Margaret filmed by all those cameras, images projected on the huge screen above the stage, as she roared to the stage where Bernadette was quietly seated, like an outraged monster with her somehow selective angelic Margaret dresses to be stopped by many male and security people who with great difficulty succeeded in taking her away from ramming on Bernadette. It was too late of course since she assaulted Bernadette physically for the second time in the last two days, this time even more publicly than the first. Not to mention the unlimited verbal curses, accusations, and threats. Of course, anyone who doesn’t follow her order becomes a racist even if he/she are black /colored South Africans and spies…. In this case, as I will soon become….

The outcome of that meeting still didn’t give answers. However, it aroused the suspicions on the no reimbursement that was supposed to be done many hours before.

Things were just becoming more and more critical, and I was just thinking of how much money I had left. I was afraid to go to an ATM that will make me realize that I can withdraw money, and I kept positive thinking of the assurances of my friend Ibrahim who kept telling me that money is the last thing I should worry about. The idea of being with no money in a Margaret land became hollow each passing moment.

Wednesday; via de la Rosa. Last day of the conference. It was unofficial that there will be no money. But yet officially they kept saying it will be at the end of the day. Margaret, of course, was in the bank or coming with the bank, suitcases of money… All on the way.

Panic was the word of the day as some participants not only didn’t have money to pay the hotel but also had only one-way ticket flights. They were practically locked in.

The conference was still adjourning when John decides to go and check and in a way put some pressure. We were all now thinking of what we will be doing for the next few days, which we were promised to make some sightseeing to Benin, which luckily didn’t work because it was going to be another journey to revisit hell.

Driving for six non-stop hours to see Margaret’s hometown (of course she didn’t tell us that) with all the checkpoints and people crossing in the middle of highways like foxes appearing suddenly from the sides of the wood wasn’t the best thing that could have happened to our already overwhelming experience. Not to mention that, despite its ancient history, there was simply nothing left in that state, not only that, it was one of the worse places known for human trafficking and mobs.

John came back with a face that suddenly aged ten years at least older. With almost a physical attack by Matt who roared on him as he was complaining receiving the final affirmation that there was no money.

He called his wife to change his flight for early Thursday, the only thing that kept him holding himself from exploding and having a heart attack probably.

The final closing session was the last chance to exploit matters. Just in between I also had a steaming argument upon asking the forbidden question. I was actually stunned when IPRA veteran UO was hushing me as if I was in an anger management class telling me with a sarcastic tone, “I said from the beginning, you should have understood better, this is part of the social culture of Africa”, and I was practically struck by her racist sentence especially after hearing her devoted presentation on rights in Developed countries. She just insisted on reminding me on all that that business was about. A colonialist platform for continues same attempts of making sure that the world is black and white. And white is the superior race, and this is the best you can get from a place as dark as Nigeria.

Back to the closing session, it was as scandalous as it could get, with Margaret disappearing and the Chairman string up there talking about the success and Hope. The Pastor was still selling the foolish audience of Academy hopes of reimbursement that may or may not fall from the sky and as he precisely put it: “what should I do? Crucify me?”

It was a demonstration of nonsense for the coming hour in which any hope for money dissolved in the air of hope with the prayer for peace (yes, the Prayer was real with a hallelujah song all holding hands and making peace, smiling wildly for photos to be used later for the enormous successful event) and yet all were praying for money that should cover the uncovered disasters that are about to happen.

Continuous scenarios of men crying helplessly not having a clue what to do with no money for a hotel or flights. Rage persisted with not a single sign of empathy or a solution for the ‘mother’ organizers who were all seated passively cheering the success of the spectacular event.

Not a single attempt to relax or assure lost feeling people was even mentioned. However, it was the first time I was sympathizing for all villain Margaret for being the only one crucified and stoned for that final fall of a disaster.

However, they insisted that money would be there, especially when one sponsor NBC (Nigeria Broadcasting Corporation) announced that they would make a transfer of money early tomorrow. The man there showed me the message he was sending to the CEO who was in France at the moment and finally responded by another promise. Promises promises…

By that time many who could change their flights changed and were even ready to rush to the airport and get away from that country forever. Some didn’t have any options. And me, who insisted on not changing the flight because I didn’t want to leave with such a negative view. I could also admit that there was this sense of feeling shame. I was thinking of the fool I was (luckily with every single more than a hundred of us) and what would I be saying when I am back home. I was even unable to wear a smile. I felt cheated, deceived and conned.

Husseina’s Nigerian friend Meiru kindly and generously invited me along with her to stay with her and the family. In a way insisting on showing that Nigerians were not necessarily or at all those bunches of people or like Margaret. It was an emphasis, however, to say by each of the people I later talked to that this is the Nigeria that Nigerians voted against recently.

The coming few days were another face of Nigerians that were entirely different from what I initially experienced. As I entered this country fearing Boko Haram with many sessions dedicated to that conference to the ultimate threat of those terror group, to just realizing that we were in the warehouse of Boko Haram sarcastically being monopolized by another religion, actually preached under the name of God that wasn’t Muslim in that case.

Thursday, Resurrection day. Well, I just cannot finalize with my final part of involvement, as Husseina and I decided not to check out before making sure that other colleagues’ issues were resolved, so we went in convoy to the Afri hotel. I cannot deny that being accompanied by Meru with her governmental car (the now winning party) empowered us. Not knowing yet that I will be the next victim of the physical and verbal assault that was about to take place.

As my memory still refuses to recollect the details, as well as my camera, I undoubtedly entered a state of trauma I wasn’t eager to experience. Margaret’s enormous body with a wild uproar was the last thing that took place, as I was trying to make a video of her latest lies and threatening to whoever was left in the group. As she was jumping over me and separated by the fearful students, she was using them saying that I was a Palestinian nothing and a spy among many other insults I cannot recall, with an injured arm and more.

In the airport, I caught up with some of the remaining participants who assured that some are still there with an unclear solution. They were, in the end, reimbursed 15 % of the original amount and with more promises that they would still compensate people through bank transfers (the 15%).

It remains however that the remaining days with also the non-stop overwhelming happenings were what will mark my visit and hopefully (maybe) again. The real Nigerian people that made sure to pamper me by all and every possible attempt to prove once again that it is all about people and always remain beyond good and evil … That, as Nietzsche also puts it, human… All too human being that classifies us. Not our religions or colors … It is about those sets of morals and values that define our behaviors, not necessarily our degrees and education .it was however and remains invaluable, those relations we made together as people. Many that I am proud to have met and hopefully will continue to call friends. Those whom we shared together all those times and despite the entire trauma that occurred managed to hold to one another with a word of support and a sincere pledge for a proper outcome.

In such a setting when people were gathered in an academic setting under the title of peace-building, it was shameful to each and every one of us to witness as well as be part directly or non-directly in such a scam. I left carried away with a feeling of shame worried about the explanations I had to give my kids and friends after such an experience.

And even though viciousness, cruelty, corruption, lack of empathy, the diverse behavior of people overshadowed the whole week. It was impossible to see any light and positiveness especially in the reality that one cannot but see on the street. Nigerians seemed to know well that it is time for a change and the elections said it all. However, people like Margaret and Co seem still in the illusion of the power of their immense corruption that included terror. Terror is not arming some outlaws and gangsters and scream Allahu Akbar. It is every aspect of the experience we faced in that week under this woman, trying not stop to use her influence in her job that is in the (former) President Office that clearly explained to us why Nigerians were fed up, and undoubtedly terror is originated there by such people who jeopardize the reputation of a whole country under such a scam, knowing that people are not just fools enough to be taken by such a fraud but assured that the focus of the world is on Boko Haram and that they can get away with it.

As I am landing home, well … I don’t even know what home is, and while waiting for the regular worse of being under (Israeli) Occupation. I was feeling gratitude that I am here, despite the harshness and cruelty of being occupied. Yet … I was home, despite the saluting face of a statue of Ben Gurion. Another terrorist that in many ways resemble the rule of terror in different causes and under different religions.

Hopefully, Margaret and her partners will be prosecuted, but somehow I am hopeful because their era is over.

Many will write to their Embassies to protest what happened officially. Another sarcastic encounter I felt myself in when she was threatening to call the SS (secret service) to deport me (I guess). A flash of thought came to my head, while the Sudanese students who were trying to make me calm down and be obedient to her orders since they were worried she could hurt me because I am Palestinian. (She made an announcement that morning saying that if any of them protest or something, they will face the destiny of Bernadette who was stopped by the immigration police, detained and deported (another false story she invented as well but succeeded in scaring the students off). Bernadette, in fact, is a widely respected scholar from South Africa, an IPRA veteran, and co-founder of AFPREA, despite the attempts by the patently corrupt Margaret and Friends to tarnish her reputation. I thought what would come of me, I cannot go to the Palestinian embassy, I don’t even know if it exists, and I don’t have a Palestinian passport. The Israeli embassy cannot be my refuge as I am not an Israeli, given the fact that I carry a travel document that says I am Jordanian. And my Jordanian passport (that I wasn’t carrying) wouldn’t be recognized, as I am not Jordanian.

Another reminder of the complication of reality. Maybe, a reason that made Margaret believe that she can attack me because of that vulnerability. In my vulnerability resides my strength. Like my Palestinian people, I shall never surrender. India overthrew the might of the British Empire. South Africa defeated Apartheid. Palestine shall prevail. And Justice in this instance against Margaret shall take precedence.


  1. I am the ‘John’ the professor from England that Nadia refers to in her brilliant blog and I can vouch for every single word of her account being accurate. This was the most cynical exploitation of overseas attendees to a conference that I can recall (and I am 65 years old !). AFPREA – the organisation which ‘organised’ this travesty of an event – is a total joke and should be disbanded immediately.

  2. Brilliant narrative, Nadia, every word so true! This is an event that promised much but delivered very little. As an African I am embarrassed beyond words. This is no way to treat one’s guests from around the world. I never thought I would fall for a scam. It had to take a sophisticated 419 scam of this nature for me to become a victim! How did a gathering of some of the most educated people in the world end up being hijacked by one culturally-insensitive person?. It leaves a very bad taste in the mouth. It is the lies, the blatant lies, and the amateurish cover ups that makes it so galling. I am still traumatized and scarred by what transpired in Abuja.

    1. the part where we all ,collectively fell into a scam makes it easier))). it has nothing to do with being an african. I strongly believe it was personal behaviour of an unprofessional, unsmart, insensitive group of people led by a monstrous figure)). it was also an important reflection of what Nigerians have been living under , with people who claim to represent a nation.. it is true it was traumatising , still is. the fact that we are so far now makes it less painful and safe. but , that was a great opportunity meeting exceptional people in our lives.. that will stay hopefully … hugs from jerusalem ))

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