14 March 2017

Between Bournvita & Milo

I grew up on Bournvita. At the time, we referred to everything that was taken with hot water as tea. So my father drank tea (Bournvita) every morning. My mother also made sure that tea (Bournvita) was part of our staple.  However, l longed for other cocoa brands especially Ovaltine. I felt Ovaltine was smoother, and tasted better than Bournvita, a case I suppose of what you don’t have becoming exotic. So as soon as I had my way, I opted for anything but Bournvita.

In England, the cocoa drinks have a different taste to the Nigerian brands, and are mostly salty and useless. On the other hand, Nigerian Milo was pretty accessible, so Milo it was for me until...

About three years ago, I was now living in Nigeria and planning a trip to England. An English lady requested for me to bring her some Bournvita from Nigeria. Of everything in Nigeria, she only wanted Bournvita! As we say, "Can you imagine that?" She also told me it was her husband’s favourite too. So still confused about the request, I bought two packs of Bournvita for her, and picked up a pack for myself too. Then I re-discovered the richness, the texture and beauty of Bournvita. I was lost but now found. I definitely could taste again.

Porting back to Bournvita made me realise what I was missing. Whether taken hot or cold, Bournvita sits in a class of its own. When taken cold, which is what I do in Nigeria,  Milo, due to its smoother texture is definitely easier and faster to make than Bournvita. However there is something  fulfilling about using a spoon to marsh or 'smash' Bournvita grains into submission in cold water. It takes a reasonable degree of both dexterity and resilience. If not the grains would float on the surface, and distort the composition and taste of the drink.

Growing up, Milo had the better advert. Everyone remembers the Mi—lo clap clap clap song although I have been informed the proper pronunciation rhymes with ‘mailo’.

However, I definitely love the coarseness of Bournvita, the subtle aftertaste of real cocoa that it leaves in your mouth whether you drink it hot or cold. Even the horrible design of its current packaging does not diminish the taste and beauty of its content.

Final word. Far too many people mistakenly believe beverage is synonymous with Bournvita, Milo or other hot chocolate/cocoa drink. The reality is that practically almost everything we drink apart from water is a beverage including alcohol.

So Milo or Bournvita, to which camp do you belong? PostcardfromLagos

03 March 2017

The Cocktail of Smoke and Dust that Chased me Away from Lagos

Last week, I ran away from home for two days. Less than a week later, I ran away from Lagos. I had no option but to do the former. I was glad I did the latter.

It all began last Wednesday when after a hard day's work, I drove home through the dreaded Lagos traffic. Truth be told, since the middle of last year, traffic on Third Mainland Bridge now flows smoothly on most days, thanks to the special lanes created where the bottlenecks used to be. 

I arrived in my estate in good time only to find a section of it enveloped by a foul-smelling smoke. It was already dark so I couldn’t make out the thickness of the smoke. At home, I tried everything to minimise the effect of the smoke. I closed the windows, got the generator on to power the air conditioners. It was still rather terrible. Somehow I managed to catch some sleep for the night. The following morning I left home at 5am to beat the usual early morning traffic.

I had concluded that the smoke that evening came from the sprawling residential and commercial settlement of Ketu and was a one-off. Many residents of adjoining estates who can’t afford proper waste disposal often burn their waste in their backyards. Though our estate is gated and manned, the fume from this burning activities make their way past the gates and security to our estate with impunity. Everyone suffers in Lagos irrespective of where you live. What I did not know on Wednesday was that it was not an isolated individual burning their refuse, but fume from the dump that welcomes you to Lagos at Ojota. 

I have always been fascinated by the creative irony of being welcome to Lagos by a well-manicured hedge that reads 'Welcome to Lagos, Centre of Excellence' directly opposite the biggest dump I have ever seen. The smell from this 100-acre dump is the ever reigning presence in Ojota, Tollgate, Motorways, Ketu, Magodo, and Ikosi areas of Lagos - probably well over 10,000 hectares of heavily populated residential and commercial area.  In a normal society, such a massive dump would not be sited so close to where people live. Certainly no development would have been allowed within miles of it. 

The following day, I came home without a thought to the smoke of the previous evening. I was soon jolted out of my complacency. This time around, the day was still bright so I could see the thick smoke writhing majestically over the sky and engulfing about a mile of the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway close to the dump. I realised this was no one-off from an individual burning their waste in Ketu but a serious environmental disaster snaking its way from Olusosun dump and consuming everything in its path. Within minutes of arriving at home, my next door neighbour on the right, a very fantastic man, rang to discuss the smoke. He told me of the baby in the next house to him that cried all night because of the discomfort of the smoke.

Exhausted as I was, I knew I could not stomach another night of this exposure to danger and serious discomfort. I packed a suitcase and drove to my sister's house in Victoria Island. I was lucky I had somewhere to go. But my nagging thought was about the baby, several other babies and children, older people who, unlike me, did not have the luxury of a sister on the other side of Lagos.

I didn't come back home for two days. When I did, the air was still foul but not as rampaging. This was probably due to favourable wind movement. But there was another problem. My neighbour on the left had decided to knock down his house. This was being done manually with nothing to hold back the dust. The smoke from the dump, and the dust from the house next door became a lethal cocktail that hung over the area for the next few days. I had had enough. 

The smoke has now continued for seven days non-stop. The greatest surprise was that there was no mention of this on TV, and in the print media. It hasn't made national news either. Although, thousands of people are being exposed to serious health risks, no attempt has been made to address the matter. It was time for me to shift base altogether. I am now over five hours into my flight to London. It's truly a classic case of good riddance to 'bad rubbish'. But what about the babies, the children, old people and everyone else who do not have the privileges I have. These are my thoughts as I conclude. PostcardfromLagos

Picture credits:
1. mistykeasler.com
2. imgur.com

12 June 2016

Misogny, Domestic Violence and Nigerian Men

Two reasons account for this article. The first was the brouhaha generated when the Sunday Telegraph chose to headline the appointment in 2014 of Rona Fairhead to lead the BBC this way - “Mother of Three poised to lead the BBC”. Commentators argued that the Sunday Telegraph failed to take into consideration the fact that she was a former CEO of the Financial Times with profits of £55 million a year, that she holds a double first in Law from Cambridge, and MBA from Harvard. She had also worked at ICI, Bain Consulting, Morgan Stanley and serves as a non-executive director in large corporations such as HSBC, The Economist Group and PepsiCo. It is difficult to determine whether the Sunday Telegraph was trying to be disingenuous with its headline; I suppose this was probably their way of celebrating the first woman appointed to lead the BBC. However, what is not in doubt is that the headline would have been different had a man been selected to head the BBC.

The second event that propelled me to write was the release of the video that showed Ray Rice, the Baltimore Ravens player hit his then fiancée, now wife, Janay with a ferocious punch that made her pass out inside a hotel lift. What was more galling about the video was his indifference to the almost lifeless body of the woman he professed to love.

These two incidents got me thinking, not about American Ray Rice’s behaviour or a British newspaper’s subtle chauvinistic headline, but about the very serious level of misogyny and domestic abuse in Nigeria. I have no doubt that this is not uncommon to other countries, but in many of them, the law protects women. Almost in every culture and sub-culture in Nigeria however, there is a subtext that encourages putting women in their place. There appears to be a vicious and routine habit of de-personalising women and stamping on their rights. This subjugation of women has been successfully perpetuated partly because, from childhood, we let boys know they are more important than girls. Girls on the other hand are made to believe their worth is measured in their ability to cook and take care of their husband and children. For example, in some parts of Nigeria women still do not have inheritance rights to their father or husband’s assets. Incredibly, in some tribes, a wife is made to drink from the bath-water collected from washing her dead husband’s body. Worse still, family members often chase a wife out of her marital homes soon after a husband’s death.

Knowingly or unknowingly, we consistently send out the message that women are primarily objects, first for men's gratification, and secondly their possession. Because of this tragic narrative, our society is rife with wife battery, domestic assault, child marriage, extreme control and rape. Talking about rape, if a woman should visit a man, it is generally accepted that he is within his rights to force her to bed. Many people would not consider this as rape. What was she doing in his house if she did not want it? The twisted logic is that a woman that visits a man must be morally bankrupt. In that case she deserves whatever happens to her, never mind the horror and emotional damage of being raped. In Nigeria, rape happens everywhere. Male students rape female students in our universities and schools, male domestic staff rape female domestic staff. Because of our sheer indifference, neither of these two is ever taken seriously. This creates the mind-set that women are for the taking. The victims also usually do not know what to do or where to report.

As you can see, the scales are heavily weighed against women in Nigeria. We treat the unmarried ones as if they are diseased. We define the married ones as someone’s wife, not usually by their name or personal achievement. This is an institutionalised phenomenon that is often done impulsively, even by women. Among the illiterate male, women fare even worse. A friend’s driver derogatorily referred to women as ‘people who pee from behind.’ Apparently this, in his view, makes women sub-human and certainly inferior to men. I was stunned, and forced to admit we have a big problem.

Many of our men take decisions without consulting their wives, because unlike siblings, a wife is not fully considered as family. These men love the respect from their wives, but could never countenance their wife calling them by their first name. For many men, the exchange of animism or idol worshipping for Christianity is acceptable, the exchange of patriarchy for equality is however beyond the pale. They just cannot stomach it. Incredibly, many of these men are leaders in their churches and mosques. How a person derives fulfilment from the misery of a fellow human being is beyond me, none the least a woman he marries.
In my opinion, five things stand out in the systematic way women are subjugated in Nigeria:

  • ·       Ownership - Women are psychologically abused by their husbands and are often kept in the dark about assets and properties. Their views are also totally disregarded because wives are themselves regarded as part of their husband’s chattels.
  • ·       Violence - Nollywood films routinely show women being beaten by their husbands – a tacit admission, and one may add, approval that beating a wife is not out of place. Some men are quick to say ‘I have never laid my hands on my wife’ as if they should be awarded the Nobel Prize for being different from the norm.
  • ·       Control - Women who are lucky to escape physical abuse suffer from aggressive control by their husbands. This includes what they can wear or not wear, whether they should take up a job or not, the type of business they are permitted to do, who they talk to and friends they could keep etc. Some children suffer too in the process of their dad trying to ‘teach’ their mum who is boss.
  • ·       Sexual Exploitation – Many of our anecdotes, stories, proverbs, sayings and actions promote and encourage the objectification of a woman’s body, and the chronicle that they are to be sexually exploited.
  • ·       Workload - Many men hide under the covering of culture, and sometimes religion to overwhelm their wives with excessive work, not minding if they are  able to cope. almost as if they are slaves

Other behaviour that we instinctively adopt without realising to be misogynistic include:

  • We instinctively call a woman 'asewo' (prostitute)
  • We instinctively do not trust women with driving, leadership, emotional intelligence, and we are unable to see that this is linked to our treatment of women.
  • We instinctively suspect women when their husbands die.
  • We instinctively demand that a wife appease her husband even when it is clear she had been wronged and her husband is blatantly being nasty. The belief is after all, men would always be men.
  • We instinctively blame a woman for the misdemeanours of a wayward child.
  • We instinctively task mothers with the educational progress of their children.

In our society, the subjugation of women is worse than racism. It is ever present, it is rampant and as stated above, condoned by religion, tradition, culture, and very sadly, even by some women. For example, in certain parts of Nigeria, it is culturally acceptable to ‘give’ young girls, like mere presents, as wives to men that are much older; men they neither knew nor love. It has also become an existing part of our culture, partly as a result of our inefficient economic system, that a huge number of our young girls have become sexual preys to ‘moneyed’ men, old enough to be their grandfather. Our political leaders have buried their heads in the sand and feign ignorance of this injustice, forgetting as the Yorubas would say that the person who helps a thief to bring a keg of palm oil from the rooftop is an accomplice in thievery.

We are all aware of the former governor turned senator who brazenly married a 13 year old in flagrant disregard to the law of our land. Even our highly educated and ‘polished’ Senate President, Bukola Saraki doesn't’ see anything wrong with this. We know of southern obas and northern emirs in their seventies and fifties who accept teenage girls as gifts into their ever expanding harem. We turn a blind eye too. On the rare occasions when these are reported, Lamido Sanusi comes up with a sobbing and pathetic pontifical riposte of co-operation between kingdoms, as if the 18 year-old girl he married at 54 really has a say in her marriage. It is clear from the ‘respected’ emir’s statement that the young lady is a mere trading item in the rapprochement between two ancient dynasties.

Regrettably, some of the greatest proponents of misogyny and abusers of women are religious leaders. We hear pastors who preach the subjugation of women and the need for them to know their place in society. The undertone of this assertion is highly disturbing. If it's ever possible to check the mindset of some of the most respected and outwardly gentlemanly Nigerian, one may find he probably harbours the belief that women should be put in their place.

Even agencies of government and some of our laws and regulations are complicit. Until recently, a woman has to seek her husband’s permission before she can obtain a passport in her name. She also has to go all the way to Abuja to obtain a new passport in her married name irrespective of where she lives in Nigeria. We kept quiet about this too.

Given the status quo above, many of our men find it very difficult to respect any woman irrespective of her position in society; after all, a guy once opined about a woman  'is it not a man that mounts her?' I have no doubt that we need to start lancing this festering boil of dehumanising women.

It is highly concerning that we fail to see that the violence and abuse perpetrated against women in our country has roots in religious and cultural bigotry. I am personally concerned by the increasing ruthlessness, wickedness and anger directed by our young men against women. Only four years ago a husband brutally murdered his young banker wife in Lagos. This received widespread media attention because it happened in Lagos. The reality is that there are probably several cases all over Nigeria, aided and supported by a society that sends the message, clearly and repeatedly, that women are sexual objects for men’s gratification and possession.

It isn't that Nigerian men are necessarily worse than others, what is shameful is our inability to acknowledge what happens in our midst, our shamelessness about it and the fact that we are not doing anything to redress it. This sin of indifference is almost as bad as the evil itself.

Given the pervasiveness of this evil, the rights of women in our society must certainly become the civil rights issue of our time and I believe, we men must be in the vanguard of championing this cause. We must begin to speak up for our daughters, sisters and mothers. The injustices they suffer should incense us all and at the same time energise us to want to do something about it. We must preach it from our pulpits, teach it at home, enshrine and enforce it with our laws. We can no longer pay lip service to this anymore. Our obas, emirs, and igwes must teach their people. No doubt, some men have a vicious and maniacal hatred of women and may not want to change easily. Our lawmakers must ensure that our laws are employed to protect women from the hands of such people. 

The following are a few steps that can help us on the way to fight for our women:

  • The defence and rights of women should be enshrined in law. This will cover harassment, rape, female inheritance, education, inheritance for wives, child marriage etc.
  • We should set up a fully equipped enforcement agency present in all the states and local governments with the powers to prosecute offenders.
  • We must prosecute all forms of domestic violence
  • Given that many of our men do not see rape as a 'big deal', we must urgently develop a process of education on rape and its consequences.  This process should also cover what rape victims should do and where they can get help and support.
  • All schools, universities, companies, religious, corporate and social organisations, churches, mosques must be made to develop policies on sexual harassment, rape and gender discrimination. This should cover how they wish to educate their members, and what they would do in the event of any contravention. A quarterly report on any incident should also form part of the submission to their respective boards of management.
  • We must include respect for women rights in our school curriculum to ensure that we develop a new generation not tainted by the past.
  • We must develop laws that punish revenge porn and its publication.
  • We must ensure all Nigeria girls go to school and have quality education at least up to secondary school level.
  • We must set up a domestic abuse register for people who have been convicted of the crime. Women would be able to find out if their boyfriend or husband-to-be has a history of domestic abuse.
  • We must develop a system of educating society through our homes, school curriculum, and religious bodies about women rights. 
  • We must stop forthwith the very discriminatory practice by the Nigerian Immigration Service that forces women to have to go to Abuja to change their passport to their married name.
  • We must definitely stop using religion, tradition and culture to mask our bigotry.

Women rights must become the civil rights issue of our time. Although many will raise eyebrows, however the defence of women should not be seen as a destruction of men. It is not a zero sum game.

Finally, I would like to borrow the words of Jesus encouraging us to ‘do unto others as you want them to do to you’. Let us therefore treat our women with the same dignity and compassion with which we want to be treated. We must do right by ourselves and for the sake of our daughters and sisters by turning away from the hatred and subjugation of women. Whatever your justification, it is evil and it must be stopped. It is time to stand up for our women and their human rights. 

I enjoin you all to start from your respective homes. PostcardfromLagos.com

Picture 1 of Susan Peters courtesy of Nigeriamovienetwork.com 
Picture 2 courtesy of Romancemeetslife.com 

09 April 2016


It is unpardonably hot in Lagos. There is hardly electricity. Fuel is scarce too. This unholy triad of heatwave, lack of electricity and no fuel means that life, at the moment, is unbearably difficult for most Nigerians. The queue at petrol stations can be miles long making traffic impossible everywhere. Electricity would have mitigated against heat, the same way availability of fuel would have lessen the burden of lack of electricity. Sadly, we only get one or two hours of electricity in a day if we are lucky.

Apart from the above issues, economic activity is at a record low nationwide. Companies are laying off staff left, right and centre. Many who still have their jobs have not been paid for months, including some government employees and pensioners. I know of two companies that have not paid their staff for more than one year. The naira is in free-fall translating to expensive imports. Given that we import most things, the effect on the average man on the street is monumental.

You will expect that with all these multifaceted problems, our government and its agencies would be busy devising strategies to make life a little bit easier for people. Not so in Nigeria. A responsible government should for example be advising its citizens on how to handle the heatwave - what to wear, how to keep hydrated, perhaps even sending out water tanks to assist in cooling people on the streets. Not so in Nigeria.

It is at this hard and uncertain time that the Nigerian Police Force suddenly realised that tinted window permit issued to motorists needed updating. Although they came out with the usual nonsensical security reasons behind this, everyone knew that it's yet another extortion strategy for the police and its sister evil agencies – the FRSC and VIO. To obtain this new permit, which is ostensibly free, you need to have your biometrics taken. Guess what! This can only be done in one centre in Lagos, a city of over 10 million people. If this sounds like a joke to you, wake up! It isn't. The reality of Nigeria is that practically every public agency including the police, the passport office, FRSC, the civil service, conspires to daily frustrate Nigerians. And the government stands idly by. Our government and its agencies appear to be crudely but determinedly contemptuous of the people.

This is not the first time Nigerians are witnessing this type of shadow chasing and criminal injustice. A few years ago, I watched the then head of FRSC, Osita Chidoka argued on television that migrating to a new number plate system for the second time in three years will reduce road accidents by 5000 a year. I felt he was having a laugh, but the suckers at the national assembly fell for it. Everyone else knew the change was an outlet to enrich his pockets and those of his powerful sponsors at the expense of hapless citizens.  After all, this is Nigeria.

There are so many questions that begs for answers about the new tinted permit exercise:

·       Why is there any need for tinted window permits in the first place? The argument could be made for totally blacked out vehicles (tinted windscreen and front windows), but not for factory fitted tint on back seat windows. 
·       Why does the permit have to be renewed once it has been issued? The only plausible answer is that this is a money making exercise for some people at the top.
·       Why is there a need to capture biometrics for this type of permit?  In any case, the FRSC, INEC, passport office, banks, mobile phone companies have already captured our biometrics. Is there no way all these agencies could talk to each other? What about the security implications of having peoples data everywhere?
·       Why is it that we have to renew our driving licence every three years? By the time you go through the FRSC process and eventually obtain the licence, it is usually only valid for a maximum of two years.
·       Similarly, Why do we have to renew our passports every five years when it is 10 for most countries? Again an opportunity for corruption at the detriment of poor citizens.
·       Why is our government indifferent to all of these state-sanctioned extortions and corruption?
·       Why do our so-called representatives at local, state and federal levels allow these agencies of government to terrorise citizens?
·       Why are our churches, religious bodies, obas, emirs and igwes silent at the predicament of poor Nigerians?

I have a sneaky feeling that nothing will happen and that the police and the FRSC will get away with this exercise. The story of Nigerian is one of disappointment and betrayal. There is a conspiracy of silence from the media, politicians, the church and civil society. It isn't an organised conspiracy but often that of indifference and ignorance. Like every other Nigerian, I suspect that, in grappling with the challenges of the country, it may not even cross the minds of these groups that they have a duty of care. For some, it is a conspiracy of survival. They do not want to be labeled so they close their eyes to the suffering of the people. Others benefit from the chaos, so why change it. In our inefficient system, some people get their fuel, driving licence and passport delivered to them at home. Why bother about everyone else? I have observed that Nigeria turns people into heartless creatures. It is hardly surprising therefore that most Nigerians distrust and detest every agency of government.

This is my own attempt at shouting for an intervention from those in authority. Please act! Not just regarding the permit, but also on the wider matters raised above. These things do not make sense. Help us to build trust in our public agencies and institutions. We are in such a difficult situation that people are losing faith in Nigeria. I have never observed this widespread despair and hopelessness in people. I was surprised today when the pastor of my church who usually was an advocate for staying and building Nigeria changed tune. He said, he is grateful he had no options. If he did, he would not hesitate to leave the country immediately. I understood him.

Finally, I do not believe that the president should have to resolve all problems, but in this case, I have no alternative than to say, Mr President, can you please have a look.

28 March 2015


Your vote is the rare opportunity you have to determine, to some extent, your destiny and those of your children. So before you vote, these are some of the questions you should ask yourself:
  • Is your life better today than four years ago?
  • Are the lives of Nigerian children better today than four years ago?
  • If there were to be a medical emergency in the middle of the night, would you or your family member be able to call an ambulance to get you to a hospital where you can be guaranteed quality treatment that is free at the point of need?
  • Do you know the federal government's policy on education or health?
  • Do you feel that the President, the Governor of your state, your constituency senator, your constituency’s member of the House of Representative or your local member of the House of Assembly represent your interest?
  • Apart from during elections, do you have any means or opportunity of holding any of these people to account?
  • Do you believe that any of the above people have ever been involved in corruption or shady activities that would have led to their resignation or perhaps landed them in jail in other societies?
  • Do you think any of the above people i.e. President, Governors etc see themselves as servants of the people or behave as such?
  • Do you think any of them are consumed by the passion to fight for your cause and for the poor and weak in our society?
  • Are old people in your family entitled to government pension though they have never worked for any government body, agency, school or civil service?
  • Do you feel the police protect you from criminals, and uphold justice?
  • Have you found it easy to renew a passport, obtain a drivers’ license or any other benefits of citizenship in the past four years?
  • Has your Senator, member of the House of Representative, or House of Assembly member campaigned for the funding of the hospital in your local area?
  • Has he/she vigorously fought for a new hospital to be built in your ward or city?
  • Have new primary and secondary schools been built in your locality as a direct result of the effort of any of the above politicians?
  • Has your representative helped to improve the transport situation in your area? 
  • Can you mention one policy or issue that your constituency’s senator, member of the House of Representative or House of Assembly member has helped to bring to the statute book? 

If the answer to any of the above questions is ‘No’, then use your vote to get rid of them in this elections irrespective of the party affiliation or any ethnic or religious sentiments. This way, the next lot would learn to better represent you.