31 July 2019

The Geography Lesson Experience

It was a Geography class in the  fourth year of secondary school. Each subject ran for about 40 minutes. However this particular session was what we referred to as a 'double lesson' as it ran non-stop for 80 minutes. Our Geography teacher was Mr Ojoxxxxx who was notorious for his tendency to be tough and uncompromising.

Mr Ojoxxxxx was very good at teaching his subject and seemed to enjoy doing so. I can still hear his booming voice enthusiastically talking about 'Pampas of Argentina, Prairies of Latin America. My memory of Geography lessons was that they usually take place in the afternoons. The tropical sun would be out with fury and would easily have created a river of sweating students but for the cross ventilation in the classrooms. In the outside sweltering sun, one can make out a lone pupil digging up a large tree or using machete to tackle a sea of very tall grass in one direction. A different direction may show another pupil on their knees.  Both would be under punishment for a misdemeanour which may be as mundane as being two minutes late to school that morning.

Mr Ojoxxxxx was also fond of using what we referred to as 'Black Maria' as his instrument of choice to discipline eering students. A student may err in many inumerable ways including being late to his class, not answering a question correctly, dozing while he teaches, talking in class, failing a test etc.

The 'Black Maria' is a thick round cable of about one inch in diameter with a hollow inside. I suspect they were discarded phone cables which somehow found their ways into the hands of teachers determined to prove their miserable prowess at 'teaching difficult pupils a lesson.'

It was not exactly Mr Ojoxxxxx that we feared, it was the Black Maria and the pain it inflicted when it hits your back, buttocks or hand with brutal force. It wasn't only him that was fond of this instrument of torture, some other teachers including our former principal Mr Faxxxxxxx also wielded it with glee. Those were really difficult days to be a pupil. On a bad day, you could be subjected to 'corporal punishment' from multiple teachers, many of whom picked offences easily and derived a sadistic joy from this form of abuse.

Years later when I briefly taught at a high school, I remember that a fellow teacher publicly flogged a female student widely known to be his lover after their affair had gone awry. These were the different faces of abuse prevalent in those days.

Back to the Geography class that sunny afternoon, we had only just begun the lesson when I felt a deep and pressing need to use the toilet. I approached Mr Ojoxxxxx to inform him, but he rejected my plea to leave the class. I couldn't believe my ears. The knowledge that it was a 'double lesson' compounded my dilemma. It would take almost one and half hours to the end of the lecture. There were no options. I was only 12 and did not have the mettle to walk out of the class. It was not the done thing in those days. I stayed in the class and employed every skill a 12 year old could muster to hold myself back. It must have been one of the longest 80 minutes of my life.

As soon as the class ended, I dashed out of the class towards the school toilet some 150 metres away. As I made my way through the lawns, I could not hold it any longer. I continued to run perhaps faster than Usain Bolt. Although I was not amused, I however felt free from the bondage of Mr Ojoxxxxxx. I was relieved. It was not a good experience. There was no change of clothing. It didn't matter. All I felt was relief. PostcardfromLagos

Postscript - When I wrote this essay on a Sunday afternoon in February 2015, I naturally included the name of the Geography teacher. However, when I decided to publish it recently, I took the decision to protect his name. My intention was not to blacklist him. Perhaps Mr Ojoxxxxx felt it was an attempt to play truant on my part. Or the session that day was so important that he didn't want me to miss out. I would never know but even if there was no justifiable reason for his action, I still consider him a victim of his time.  

27 May 2019


In the opening statement of her romantic novel 'Pride and Prejudice' published in 1813, Jane Austen observed "it is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife." That was in the early 19th Century. In 21st Century Nigeria, we have flipped this statement, and assume that every woman over 20 is in desperate need of a man. It's a stereotype that unleashes the 'poor Ola,' or 'poor Ngozi' look.

Undoubtedly, one of the most shameful characteristics of our society is this unspoken, but widespread grand design to make life unnecessarily difficult for people who are not married. You probably have done so recently without given a thought to it! Although this action is directed at both men and women, it is much more pronounced against young women. The approach includes the subtle, pseudo-religious 'it is well,' 'I am praying for you' phrases, or the pained 'I feel for you' look. Sometimes it is much more aggressive - "When are you getting married?" "Do you have a steady boyfriend?" "When are you settling down?" "If you don't 'package' yourself very well,  you may miss the boat" etc. As we all know, the phrase 'it is well', borrowed from the Biblical Shulamite woman is a popular euphemism for desperate situations in Nigeria. It has become our own version of 'Houston, there is a problem.'

I suppose, it is understandable if this kind of pressure comes from parents. After all, it's in parents' DNA to be concerned (even unduly) about their children. However, what is loathsome is how friends, acquaintances, work colleagues, and sometimes strangers make it their responsibility to impose the marriage rule on innocent people. The fact that this may not be malicious does not absolve anyone of the damage being done to those at the receiving end. Our society makes it look as if an unmarried lady has a problem. We have honed this rule so well that we check people's ring finger to find out where they belong. To us, there are two categories of people - the 'lucky' ones (married) and the 'unlucky' (unmarried).

As stated above, our ladies fair worse in this categorisation. 'Yours will come o,' 'you will not be left behind o,' are more of the pressure phrases we routinely employ to nag unmarried ladies, some of whom are barely out of their teens. 'Naggers' who are not content with these little niceties take things a step further by asking pointed questions about a woman's competitiveness in the bridal market.

Our churches have not helped either! Not only have they not taken a stand against this unhelpful situation, they encourage it by creating the belief that being unmarried is linked to being jinxed. We treat unmarried people as if they have been hexed or are in the throes of a deadly virus. Innocent parents or family members are often accused of being the ones behind an unmarried person’s perceived 'misfortune.' This phenomenon creates fear and a path for naive singles to be controlled and exploited by dubious religious leaders. It also creates an impression of women as commodities that must be traded off before a sell by date. Sadly, this belief is so ingrained that many ladies have become complicit. They get into a panic mode if they are not married at 25. I blame them not! It is difficult to shake off a narrative that has been driven into you from birth. 

The consequence of these hydra-headed pressure is that some ladies, against their better judgements,  date, and in many instances, marry guys they know are clearly not right for them, just so that they could keep the pressure away. Our society thus clearly become complicit in pressuring young women into doomed marriages. That's not the end. On their wedding day, we start to put the newly married couple under a different form of pressure often using the avenue of prayer. 'In nine months’ time, we will come and rejoice with you again.' This generates a loud response of a-a-a-men from un-thinking listeners. What if the couple are not ready to start a family? What if they want to climb mountains, and explore the world first? What if their career plan is not in tandem? Why pile on them the pressure of children when they hardly know each other? What if there are unexplained fertility issues? All of these appear not to matter. To us, what we want supersedes what an individual or a couple wants. I think I might just know what I am talking about as I was married for 16 years before I had children.

I have found that many single people can handle their single status but for the unrelenting pressure of the nosey parkers who make their lives hell. Apart from choosing a wrong partner, some have lost their self-esteem, and many are being emotionally damaged by the ocean of pressure from every corner. 

So, what can we do?

1.       For a start, why don’t we just leave people alone. Yes! Leave people alone! However much you may be tempted, refrain from asking any intrusive questions about marital status.

2.       Given that we are outwardly a deeply religious society,  if indeed you are praying for somebody about marriage, keep this to yourself. There is no need to let the beneficiary know. Shouldn't prayer be between God and the supplicant? "But when you do merciful deeds, don't let your left hand know what your right hand does", says the Lord in Matthew 6:3

3.       Let's stop targeting single ladies in our churches by 'blackmailing' them to come out for prayers so that they may find a husband. These exercises can be humiliating and is downright wrong.

4.       While it is the desire of many people to marry, it is not impossible that some people might have chosen, for whatever reason, not to do so. Their choices should be respected and not in any way impugned. 

5.       The reality of life is such that some ladies that do desire to marry might not have been asked. We should never make it their fault that no one has asked for their hands in marriage. 

6.       We should also note that some young men are aware they are not yet mature enough to marry. It would be criminal to pressure them into doomed marriages. 

7.       Finally, we must become a society where people are treated with dignity whatever their marital status. Life is complicated enough. Let's not make it any harder. PostcardfromLagos

22 March 2019

20 Children, 20 Years; 30 Adults, 30 Months - A Story of Human Dispersals & Change

The Yorubas have many interesting concepts and sayings. As a young boy, I used to ponder on some of them, the clear majority of which were simply a conundrum to my then small mind. With many of these sayings, you would first have to understand the context and oftentimes, you also need to make sense of each word. What is not in question however, is the richness of what is being said, pun, fact or fiction. An example is this saying:

"Ogun omode o le sere f'ogun odun, ogbon agba o le sere f'ogbon osun."

In its simplest form, this proverb is about the dispersal of people, the scattering of hitherto young lives to the far-flung corners of the earth as age, desire to achieve and the quest for life forces them to move. Old relationships are shattered or abandoned as the actors seek new ones in their new schools, universities, workplace or cities. Life happens, and people are transported to new destinations in their beliefs, methods, ideas and even political leanings as they grow older. We shift and change leaving behind fractured relationships.

In its morbid form, the saying is about death. It anticipates, even predicts the death of older people. It makes no pretensions about the fact, that in the spectrum of life, octogenarians are far closer to the grave than the day they were issued from the womb. So, this saying pulls no punches about the decay of relationships and the decay of life itself.

The literal translation of the phrase is that it is impossible for 20 children to be in the same playgroup  for 20 years. There is bound to be some trigger that would see to the break-up of the group. This trigger is usually not negative. As stated above, some would move because of school, university or due to family relocation. Whatever may be the cause, the effect is a dispersal. It is inconceivable that 20 children would still be closely knitted 20 years down the line.

In the same vein, it is hard for 30 older people (we are talking of octogenarians here) to be together for 30 months. Whilst senior citizens are not usually concerned with the need to move frequently, the undertone is that at least one in 30 octogenarians who meet up regularly would have moved to the great beyond within two and half years. It is not impossible that a group of death-defying 30 octogenarians may be able to pull off this feat, the overarching moral of this saying is that there is a time and place for everything. Life is seasonal, so make hay while the sun shines.

Here is a simple exercise to end this essay. Think of your classmates at your first school, how many of them have you seen in the last five years or how many are you still in constant touch with? What about friends from church or the community where you lived 20 years ago. Would you ever be able to assemble 20 of them in one place? Even if you could, you probably can't keep all of them in the same place for a week. Change happens, we follow and adapt. PostcardfromLagos

16 February 2019

Death at Noon & Nigeria's 2019 Presidential Election

Next Saturday, 23 February 2019, millions of Nigerians would turn out to vote in the presidential election. As always, many people are fearful about the process and the outcome. They have every reason to be. The election was postponed earlier today five hours to the opening of polling booths! Besides, in Nigeria, all the major political parties use thugs to scare, threaten and to kill, so it isn't far-fetched that people are understandably fearful. This year, there is a long list of 73 men and women jostling to become our next president. However, the real battle is between the incumbent president, Muhammadu Buhari and his main challenger Atiku Abubakar.

I should be concerned about the elections. I certainly am concerned. But my mind is pre-occupied with a different matter - the killing last Sunday of a young man in his home at Ojota, Lagos, by what appears to be a robbery gone wrong. I did not know the deceased, Adeola Okungbaiye. My link to him is through his cousin, a work colleague who on Sunday evening, sent me a distress message requesting I join her family in prayer as her cousin had been shot. He had just returned home with his young family from church where he was a youth pastor. His father and his younger brother who attend the same church were visiting. Shortly afterwards, he answered a knock on the door. When he realised the person at the door was not known to him, he tried to shut the door but, in the struggle that ensued, the assailant pulled a gun and shot him. An accomplice joined in to strip his wife, father and brother of their phones and a laptop before they both disappeared into the streets. This happened at 2pm.

Seriously wounded, Adeola was taken to a hospital in Gbagada. He was initially refused treatment - a common occurrence in Nigeria. His wife who is a medical doctor prevailed on the hospital to reconsider. They did, but precious time had been lost. By the time a decision was taken to get him to a teaching hospital, he had died.

Adeola left behind a five-month old baby and a wife of three years. He was 32!

The tragedy of this sorry event was not just that Adeola was needlessly killed, leaving behind a young wife, a baby, an inconsolable father who lost his wife (Adeola's mum) to cancer three years ago, the tragedy includes the following:

1. Three family members, his wife, his dad and his brother witnessed the shooting and the traumatic process of his life ebbing away.

2. The fact that the killers could carry out their heinous crime with impunity in broad daylight. Of course, they knew that we dont have a functioning government, and that
the chances of being caught is rather slim.

3. The injustice to the family of knowing that the killers may never be caught or prosecuted for their crime. Ask any Nigerian: where do you report a crime like this? Who would investigate?
4. The reality that in an emergency, no one knows what to do or where to turn. Perhaps Adeola would not have died if an effective medical emergency service had reached him, or if the hospital did not reject him or several other 'ifs'

5. That none of our presidential candidates have been able to articulate a credible security strategy to protect our people.

6. That Adeola's death did not feature in any of our media. It was just one of those things that happen in our country. One of the many injustices. Everyone just moves on.

7. Perhaps the biggest tragedy is that although we huff and puff about Buhari and Atiku being undeserving birds of the same feather; on election day, many electorates would outsource their brains, close their eyes and vote for one of these two gladiators. They would conclude that doing otherwise means their vote may not count. Tragedy!

Unfortunately, I won’t be voting this year as I am away from the country. So, unlike in the past two elections where I voted for Muhammadu Buhari, I would have voted for Kingsley Moghalu in this election. He, in my view, was the only one, amongst the 73 that seems to have been able to craft a credible vision for the future.

What do I want to achieve with this post? I am not sure I gave much thought to it. I suppose it's my own way of dealing with the tragedy, and also an opportunity to remind you that it's your decision who you vote for, I just hope you will think about Adeola when you cast it. PostcardfromLagos