11 July 2014

Road Intersections Sacrifices & Poverty

I wrote this piece in November 2010.  I came across it recently and I have decided to publish it. Enjoy.
As I drove to speak at an event last Saturday, I noticed a pot of food at a road intersection close to  where I live. Growing up in a small town, these fetish ‘meal sacrifices’ were quite common. They were usually placed at three-way road intersections apparently for the benefit of demons who 'the presenters' hope will grant the desires of their hearts. So I was a little surprised to see that this phenomenon also happens in big cities like Lagos. No doubt many three-way road intersections in the city would regularly host this type of ‘meal sacrifices’ including the intersection as you climb the bridge leading to Ikoyi from Third Mainland Bridge.

During my college days, many students, no demons themselves, routinely devoured these sumptuous meals on their way back to campus from late night parties. I was always amazed at their audacity. The subtext is that demons hardly eat the meals, hungry students with no care in the world do. 

You may then wonder, why in this modern age do people still engage in such practices? The simple answer is the spate of hardship, poverty and problems that daily confront many Nigerians. Whilst this is no excuse for engaging in occultism and the deceit of fetish specialists, the truth is that things like this thrive where sick people have no recourse to medical help; where women are subjected to traumatic experiences by their husbands’ family; where people can see no escape from overwhelming poverty, and where societal expectation is choking.

Every human being wants to be free. They are often prepared to do anything, even the absolutely ridiculous, including meal sacrifices at road intersections, and enslaving themselves to medicine men if they believe any of these will deliver to them the freedom they crave. It’s a vicious cycle for many, a classic case of the wicked prowling because vileness is exalted. 

I feel that a good percentage of this vileness, and ‘meal sacrifices’ will disappear when we deliver good roads, justice for the oppressed and quality education for our people.

What do you think?


31 May 2014

James - a special staff, a unique person

At a time when almost all the news coming out of Nigeria was bad, this is a personal, somewhat refreshing story from inside Nigeria.

It is not often that you read or hear of anyone speaking well of a staff in Nigeria. James was different. Reluctantly I had to let him go last Sunday week. It was one of the most difficult discussions I have ever had.

James was neither the staff tasked with coding our online presence nor the effective marketer that brings business. He couldn't even read and write. However, he was equally important in our lives. James was the cook-steward that made our lives easy. He knew how to make efo with ample supply of thick peppered sauce the way I like it. He could predict the type of meal he should prepare to suit a particular mood or match a particular dish. He was also the one that switched off the generator when power is restored late at night and back on when there has been a power cut.

James didn't come to us with much skill, but the pace with which he learned was rapid. From cooking us mushy rice in his first few weeks of employment, he graduated to become one of the best makers of fried rice, moin-moin, sponge cake and a host of other delicacies.

James is very versatile and knowledgeable. He has a brief on almost everyone in the estate where we live. He also seems to have the map of Lagos on the back of his hand.

I admire James’ brains enormously; he is a great example of one who more than compensated for the lack of formal education with generous common sense. He is a living proof that we are only limited when we fail to push ourselves.

Unlike many domestic staff, James is not at all interested in what does not belong to him. This meant that nothing ever went missing in the house - a very rare feat in most homes.

James is also a good manager of resources. He may not always know when to replenish dwindling stock in the kitchen, he was however not wasteful or greedy – even more rarer attributes amongst domestic staff in Nigeria.

He took up many roles that were strictly not in his job description. And he did everything with joy. He was also the first point of call whenever we try to find things. He has a fantastic memory and would fish out a needle even from the bottom of a haystack.

In terms of level of productivity and sheer usefulness, I have no doubt that he is the best staff that ever worked for us.

Perhaps, the most important attribute of James was that he had our back. He is fiercely loyal to us and he passionately and genuinely protected us, and our interest. We will forever be grateful to him for this.

I have believed all along that getting an inverter (used in storing and supplying electricity from batteries) was the best investment I made in Nigeria; now I know that employing James topped that. James is a special man. And he proved conclusively that though we may not be special all the time, we are all special in our own ways. We will miss him in our household, and we wish him well. PostcardfromLagos

29 April 2014

Remembering The Chibok 200

We do not know the exact number of girls that were abducted from their school in Chibok on the morning of 15th of April 2014. Two weeks after, our governments, local, state or national have not been able to carry out a thorough audit and come up with the right figures. What we know however is that after the ‘Ides of March 2014’, came what will probably be a watershed for this country, the forceful abduction of about 200 young, innocent teenage girls from their school in Chibok by Boko Haram. We also know that, two weeks later, we do not know where they are or what has happened to them.

We know that a day before their abduction, Boko Haram planted a bomb at a bus garage in Abuja that killed about 80 people and maimed many more. (We have no exact figures of the killed and maimed either). We know that after these terrible killings, our president visited the site of the bomb blast. Less than 24 hours later, and in what will go down in history as probably one of the most insensitive moves of all time, he flew into Kano for a political rally where he danced, sang and made political jibes when the mood of the nation was that of mourning. He also visited Ibadan for a birthday celebration along with the Senate President. We were aghast and found no words to explain this utter disrespect for the dead and their families. We also know that whilst the President was dancing in Kano, the girls had been abducted and were being forcibly driven to Sambisa Forest.

We know that there is no national mourning for the bomb victims, or a coherent, sensitive and galvanising strategy to handle the abduction of the girls beyond the empty, cheap and emotionless rhetoric from the lips of the cheap, clueless politicians we have come to painfully bear. We are probably the only country in the world where the abduction of 200 school girls would not call for a national emergency. It is not rocket science to realise that this is probably the most incompetent and heartless government in our history.

But this is not the point of this essay. The tragedy of the current situation in Nigeria is that our mindless government has somehow infected the populace with the mindlessness virus. It appears Nigerians in all walks of life have gone to sleep over the abductions. Just like the government, our newspapers and media do not have a strategy to continue to place the issue at the forefront of our national discourse either. Parties and partying have continued unabated and many of our churches have gone ahead with their mindless ‘wealth transfer’ and other ludicrous seminars. Our youths are more concerned about the sacking of David Moyes and the exploits of Chelsea in the Champions League. Perhaps, we behave this way because most Nigerians feel inadequate and powerless to do anything. Whatever the reason may be, our mindlessness is mind-blowing, and it is a tragedy that we have degenerated this far.

So this essay is about the girls. It’s an appeal not to soon forget them. Let’s not infect our children with the same virus of indifference and insensitivity that has eaten us up. Let us do what we can. Let us, in our schools, churches and mosques organise programmes that will keep the girls to mind until they are found. Let’s do the same in our companies and organisations. Let us show Boko Haram they have gone too far this time. Let us show our incompetent leaders and government too that, unlike them, we are sensitive to the families of the abducted. Let us concentrate our minds on the Chibok 200 even if our government, media, political and religious leaders do otherwise.

Somehow, I have this very funny feeling that the abduction of these girls is going to be a watershed that will define Nigeria in a way we cannot fathom. Things are never going to be the same again. 

I sincerely hope and pray that the girls, whatever their number, are found safe and well. PostcardfromLagos

31 March 2014

The Ides of March 2014 and Goodluck Jonathan’s Deathly Body Language of Indifference

I didn't vote for Goodluck Jonathan in 2011. I didn't see anything ‘there’ for which to vote. I wasn't fooled by his impassioned speech of “I was not born rich” (which by the way, he pronounced the ‘ch factor’ way). I wasn’t prepared either to go with the argument, that he should earn my vote because, like me, he is a Christian from Southern Nigeria. Although the music for his expensive 2011 TV adverts was excellent, l knew leaders are not elected on the strength of their TV plugs.

I suppose people vote to elect leaders for various reasons.  Mine is very simple; you win my vote by being a visionary. It was evident Goodluck Jonathan couldn’t articulate one, and that to me meant he was not qualified. Interestingly, I was not hopelessly disheartened after he won the election. I retracted to the Nigerian pseudo-religious type that no one could be king without the knowledge of the Almighty. As a result of this, I began to hope that he would succeed, I hoped he would pull up a surprise and put people like me to shame.

So here we are in March 2014, I am still hoping, but unable to rid from my mind the stare-you-in-the-eyes fact that Feb/March 2014 witnessed Boko Haram’s fiercest and probably most vicious attack on Nigeria’s young, women and vulnerable. It was this period that the dreaded terrorist group slaughtered 59 students in their school in Yobe and killed hundreds in the markets. In most decent societies, the President would lead the country in mourning the dead, especially because the killings happened close on the heels of each other. Not so in Goodluck Jonathan’s Nigeria. A few days after the massacres, our President proceeded with a lavish gala to celebrate the centenary of Nigeria’s amalgamation. He invited ‘the great and the good’ perhaps, one should say ‘the ugly and the bad’. They dined on the graves of the students killed in Yobe and those of the mothers and children beheaded in the villages surrounding Maiduguri.

March was also the month that the President honoured every dictator who had ruled Nigeria including the despotic Abacha who reigned with terror between 1993 and 1998.  It was at the same event that Babangida, who institutionalised corruption in Nigeria, had the effrontery to suggest that young people of today should emulate people like him.

March was the month that 16 young Nigerians died when hundreds of thousands of Nigerian youths, like lambs being led into slaughter, were inhumanely invited to stadiums across the country, ostensibly, to sit for a qualifying examination into the Nigerian Immigration Service (NIS). We now know better. 710,000 applicants were processed for a derisory 5000 places. At 1000 naira per head, the people who oversaw the exercise made 710 million naira. Add to that 3000 naira per head that participants were made to pay to buy white shorts and vest that they had to wear at the event (heavens know why), that’s another 2.3 billion naira that lined their pockets. This was the real reason Abba Boro, the Minister for Internal Affairs would risk the lives of many vulnerable, unemployed Nigerians. Worse still, and typical of this presidency and many Nigerian leaders, the heartless Minister came on television and announced that the young men and women died because they were impatient. What a cheek? Goodluck Jonathan of course is ‘monitoring’ the situation. His best reaction was to announce automatic employment for victims’ family. Less than two weeks later, he’d gone to Rome to visit the Pope. We all know that Italy had had its fair share of economic and political turbulence in recent years. We also know that after the fiddling of Nero, Italian leaders knew better to stay in Rome to fix things. However, in Nigeria, Nero Jonathan goes to Rome to see the Pope whilst the country burns.

March 2014 was the month of three different fuel scarcity periods, each lasting almost one week. Fuel scarcity means long queues, long traffic, and long-suffering masses.

March was the month that Fayose - disgraced from office in 2006 for ruining Ekiti State and still facing corruption charges was selected as the governorship candidate in the upcoming election for the same state by the President’s party. PDP wants to win the state at all costs; all the better even if it takes an alleged fraudster and known thug to do this for them.

March 2014 was the month Diezani Allison Maduekwe’s 10 billion Naira jet scandal broke. Apparently the Minister of Petroleum, one of the closest allies of the President had been spending €500,000 monthly to maintain an aircraft for her personal use. 

It was the month 23 people were thankfully freed from kidnappers in Soka community along the Lagos-Ibadan expressway. Human skulls and body parts were discovered in and around the premises, evidence, they say, of ritual killings and dealings in body parts.  One inmate, an old lady, had been held since 2008. The disused building had witnessed gory details of others who met a worse fate than those freed.

I am saddened not only by the situation of things in Nigeria, but more so by the indifference, sheer incompetence, and impudence of the president.  The questions that come to mind are:

  1. 1.     Would President Jonathan have proceeded on his lavish gala if his daughters were amongst the Yobe students massacred by Boko Haram?
  2. 2.     Would he have prevaricated if his son was amongst the 16 massacred by the greed of the Interior Minister to make 710 million Naira from vulnerable, young unemployed Nigerians?
  3. 3.     Would the President have honoured Abacha if like the Rewanes, the Yar-Aduas, the Abiolas, the Onagoruwas, the Ibrus and many more, Abacha had killed or maimed his family members?

Last December, the Speaker of the House of Representative, a member of the President’s party said quite rightly, that President Jonathan‘s body language appears to encourage corruption. With these deadly ides of March 2014 in Nigeria, my observation is that the President’s body language to the needless deaths and sufferings of Nigerians is that of indifference. This to me is heartlessness. PostcardfromLagos