29 June 2017

Why Your Children Should Not be Your Pension

Disclosure - Before anyone sics their dog on me for being tight-fisted, I must first disclose that for many years, my siblings and I placed our parents on a monthly allowance. The idea behind this was to provide them with regular income they could look forward to. We also cover all their medical expenses, and retained the services of a cook/butler to look after them. That settled, now I can say my mind.

A common prayer in Nigeria is 'wa jeun omo.' Loosely translated, this means that parents will derive financial and other benefits from their labour over their children. Ordinarily, this is not a bad prayer track to travel. It isn't essentially a good one either, partly because, on close inspection, it exposes the entrenched intent of the hearts of many Nigerian parents. When it comes to securing the future, I see a clear blue sky between our culture and that of the West. In Nigeria, many parents see their children as the key to their financial future. However, most Western parents see themselves as the key to their children's financial future. As basic as these two opposing propositions are, they influence the approach to money, spending behaviour, and the financial/savings culture of each of the protagonists throughout their lifetime.

No doubt, parents everywhere in the world feel they must not only educate their children, but also give them the best start in life. What makes Western parents to stand out, in my view, is that they often do not ask for anything in return. They almost always do not expect to be taken care of by the children at their old age. Rather, they prefer to make their own provisions and shy away from becoming a burden to their children. Yet, and most importantly, they have a lifetime commitment to their children that continues even after their death. Many Western parents see it as their duty, almost in a messianic way, to make their children better off on their own death. In order to achieve this, they scrimp on food, what they wear, the car they drive, holidays and even heating of their homes so that they may leave a substantial inheritance for their children. I once worked with an English lady who was probably in her forties at the time. Although she had no known illness, she set up a payment plan to pay for her funeral. She did not want to burden her only daughter with any expenses whenever she dies. As far as I know, she is still alive and kicking. In many parts of Nigeria, the converse is the case.

I must admit that African parents often work harder than Western parents to secure the education of their children. However, African parents also see their children as a means of shoring up their own future financially. The effect is seen in reckless spending on cars, ostentatious living and hard partying, which means that many parents leave their children with nothing when they die. This ordinarily would not have laboured my mind but for the entrenched and acceptable belief that it is the right of parents, having worked hard over their children, to sit up and enjoy the fruit of their labour. Some parents would place a curse on their children if this so called 'fruit of their labour' is not forthcoming. Some demand the type of car, clothing or regular gifts they want their children to buy for them. I have heard of parents who threaten fire and brimstones if their children do not give them a debt-imposing 'befitting' burial when they knock it off. Others prefer certain children to others depending on the largesse they enjoyed from each one. Few have any strategy for their grandchildren.

Am I suggesting that Western parents are better? Not in the least! But their approach to money and securing the future for the generation after them certainly is.

I must say that I have a huge respect for many of our traditions and I appreciate the efforts of my parents over my siblings and me. I also feel that children must show courtesy to their parents and ensure that they live their old age in joy and comfort. However, my advice to my generation and readers is to begin to act responsibly. While children should give parents the respect, dignity, care and love they need in their old age, it is the responsibility of parents not only to give their children a good start in life, but also to ensure that at their passing, their children get another generous stab to financial security. In other words, children are not a financial insurance for the future. Parents must in fact see themselves as the financial security to their children's future.

For parents who do not have the means to provide for their old age, it is of course the responsibility of their children to ensure their twilight years is generously taken care of. This, in my view, should be the exception, and not the rule as is common in our culture. We must desist from 'eating' the present, and then having the future for dessert.

Perhaps, I should end with this very clear instruction from Proverbs 13:22 "a good man leaves an inheritance for his children's children." This suggestion may not only refer to money, but it is a good principle to adopt. As Paul suggested: "after all, children should not have to save up for their parents, but parents for their children" (2 Cor 12.14) 

11 May 2017

I am a Feminist

I am male. African. I am a feminist. And there is nothing wrong with me.

I am not interested in a war of the sexes. Not even vaguely. I am not a traitor either. I have no ambition to emasculate men. My journey into feminism began with the desire to fight the injustice of women subjugation and oppression. And I take the view, very strongly so, that men must be at the forefront of this fight.

Firstly I must say that while I believe in equality, I am equally aware that the two sexes are different, be it in terms of anatomy, physiology and emotions. In my view, we are equal but not the same. Because we are different, I accept that there are things that women can do that men can’t, and vice versa. For example it would be ludicrous to suggest that a man can carry a child for nine months. I therefore approach my feminism with clear heads and wide-open eyes. Also, for me, feminism isn't a fad, or a passing fancy to be embraced. I come into it from a deep and well-thought-out conviction that just as it is unacceptable for one people-group to dominate another because of different skin colours, it should also be morally reprehensible that a difference in anatomy or physical strength should be reasons for centuries-old subjugation.

I accept that many would argue that culture and tradition play a huge role in determining what is acceptable. I can see their point. But only to an extent; because culture and tradition, as we all know, is not always sourced from fairness, but often, self-preservation. For example, it took over 400 years to eradicate slavery in the United Kingdom, not because of want of trying by the likes of William Wilberforce who presented the abolition bill for 19 consecutive years, but because those who supported the evil trade justified it on the basis of tradition, status quo and even religion. And they vigorously presented their views in the same way some men justify their misogynist ideology today. Come to think of it, it was tradition to kill twins in some parts of our country only a century ago. It was also tradition to bury the king with some of his servants, presumably so that they may serve him in the hereafter. Thankfully we have moved forward from these barbaric acts. So, culture or tradition is not enough, certainly to the extent that they are used to usurp the rights of more than half of human population.

So I am a feminist for the following reasons:

1.    Because all humans are born equal and have been given rights by God to live and fulfil their potential. What is wrong with this? Why should one gender feel the need to lord it over the other to fulfil its own potential?
2.     Because being a feminist to me simply means standing against injustices to women. I have witnessed too many of this in the name of religion, culture, tradition and societal norms. To stand aloof would be tantamount to collusion with perpetrators.
3.     Because being a feminist does not diminish in any way the fact that I am a man, any more than fighting for the rights of children make me less an adult.
4.    Because I believe men should be at the forefront of fighting for equality for women, particularly in Africa where misogyny is rife, and where women are routinely enslaved by their husbands, and his family.
5.    Because I believe it is the duty of those whom nature and society (rightly or wrongly) have placed in a privileged position to underwrite, preserve and protect the rights of others. I can’t deny that adult males have many privileges. These must be employed for the benefit of all people.
6.     Because I accept, that though men and women are not the same, we are equal. The rights of any woman should therefore not be trampled upon.
7.     Because the subjugation and ill treatment of women is the civil rights issue of our time.
8.     Because men, and women bring something to the table. Both are indispensable, and interdependent.
9.     Because I believe it is the right thing to do.
10.  I am a feminist today so that there would be no need for feminism tomorrow. What I do today will hopefully shape the future. 

No doubt, there would be raised eyebrows; others may turn their nose up “How can a man be a feminist?” “Is feminism not an attempt to change the status quo?” “Why contend against nature and tradition? My answer to all these questions is Why not! Do I have to be female to fight against injustices? Why not confront nature or tradition where either has been found wanting. Nature didn’t easily give us the ability to cook, travel across the globe, longevity and lightning communication. We confronted all these by making fire, designing air/ocean vessels, through medical advancement, and telecommunication. Humanity is still confronting nature everyday through technology, education and innovation. It has also confronted the evil traditions of slavery, ritual killings and the killing of twins. We certainly can and must slay the Goliath of ill-treating women. It is the right thing to do. It is what must be done. And that's why I choose to be a feminist. PostcardfromLagos

07 April 2017

Deaths on the High Seas and the Far East - People Trafficking & Drug Trafficking

Seven people died on Monday 05 September 2016 on the Mediterranean. What made this peculiar was that their deaths were live on Sky News. The tragic event was filmed and broadcast by a crew from Sky embedded on a mercy ship that rescues migrants from the coast of Libya. For viewers, it was high drama on the high sea, except that on this occasion, it wasn't fiction.

Earlier that day, all the migrants on a separate dinghy (over 100 people) were successfully rescued. However migrants on the second dinghy failed to follow instructions. In attempting to rush for safety, their overcrowded vessel capsized and seven of them lost their lives in the water. As would be expected, it was heart wrenching to watch.

Immediately after the ordeal, Sky News interviewed some of the migrants, and it turned out that three of the four survivors interviewed were Nigerians. With this statistics, it is easily conceivable that many of the migrants on this human cargo including those who lost their lives were Nigerians. According to the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), 37,500, which is a fifth of migrants who arrived in Italy last year are from Nigeria. One of the rescued migrants gave his name as Obafulu and said he left Nigeria 15 years ago drifting from country to country. His adult life mostly wasted on a nonsensical nomadic rendezvous. Why would people risk their lives to go on this horrendous journey? More of that later.

Just over a month earlier, in a separate incidence in faraway Indonesia, three Nigerians, Seck Osmane, Humphrey Jefferson Ejike and Michael Titus Igweh were among the four people executed for drug trafficking on the 28 of July 2016. A further 10 convicts expected to be executed had a last minute stay of execution. Four of these 10 are Nigerians. In 2015, half of the eight people executed in one day (29th April) for drugs offences were Nigerians.

The question is: Why are Nigerians in the forefront of both drug trafficking in the Far East and people trafficking on the High Seas of Europe?

It is easy to dismiss the predicaments of these two sets of Nigerians. However, apart from the obvious reasons, I see an important similarity between Nigerian migrants on the high seas and Nigerian drug merchants to the Far East: it's ignorance fuelled by illiteracy. From my past experience of working with Nigerian migrants in Spain, I found out that an overwhelming number of them believed that it was easy to cross the Sahara. Further, they believed that once in Morocco, they only needed to jump to make it to Spain just as it seems on the map. None was prepared for the perilous journey through the Sahara where women are repeatedly raped and the men are often killed. Some did not realise that the Sahara has extreme temperatures and can be unbearably hot in the day and freezing at night. One of them narrated how only two of them woke up from the four that slept one evening in the desert. The other two had frozen to death before the next morning, as they didn't have enough clothes to keep warm. For many of these migrants, their gullibility is galling but sadly it is an evidence of their almost total illiteracy. Poor education means they are incapable of logically processing most things, which leaves them as suckers for any and every stupid theory. The reality is that many Nigerian migrants are not fleeing from war, they are simply gullible people preyed upon by evil people.

In the same vein, the vast majority of Nigerians caught trafficking drugs to Indonesia, Thailand, and Singapore are oblivious to the penalty that awaits them if caught. Those who may be aware might have been promised invisibility (through black magic) by their handlers. Both of these situations reveal the total ignorance of drug traffickers. Just like the migrants, the root cause of their misfortune is illiteracy.

So what could be done? We might not be able to save those who have been caught in Indonesia or those already on the Sahara route. What we must do is stop those contemplating these deathly trips. It is believed that over 400 migrants have died crossing the Mediterranean this year already, while over 5000 people lost their lives in 2016. It is now time for our government to be conscious of the fatal consequences of people smuggling and drug trafficking. It is time that we arrest these two evils.

Of course, we must own up to the fact that a disproportionate percentage of migrants, particularly young girls who end up as sex workers in Europe are from Edo State. Save the Children estimates that 90 per cent of Nigerian girls entering Italy are victims of sex trafficking. We need to look at why this is so and how to prevent it.

Given that ignorance and illiteracy play a major role in young people being sucked into these trades, we need a structured and enduring programme of education. This should be pushed at schools, on TV, at religious and social institutions, and using every means possible. We should use traditional leaders, local, state and federal governments and agencies. 
We can end this evil and we must. PostcardfromLagos

 photo credit nationalturk.com; newsposts247.com

28 March 2017

Back to the Future – My Link to the Past 200 Years

I had my 91-year old dad stay with me last month for almost two weeks. My intention was to go and visit him upcountry. However, my wife wisely advised bringing him to Lagos so that I could have quality time with him. I am glad I took her advice. Typically, my visits to see him were flying visits lasting anything between two hours to a maximum of one day. So bringing him to Lagos, although a valued break for him became an invaluable opportunity for me to be around him for a considerable length of time. It was certainly the first time in many years that we would stay under the same roof for that length of time.

Unusually for a person of his age, my dad is in remarkable good physical and mental health. He has a sharp mind and excellent memory. He is also quite sprightly for his age, he still drove himself around town until I put my foot down late last year.

During his stay with me, we talked morning and evening and every time in between. Just before retiring to bed on the first night of his arrival, he asked that we pray together, and proceeded to recite from memory five chapters of the Book of Psalms - 130, 91, 24, 23 and 99 - without as much as taking a breath. Those Psalms, particularly the 99th chapter were part of my life story. It was Psalm 99 that introduced me to the awesomeness of God as soon as I could think and reason. As a young boy, I used to picture God seated on the throne, the earth quaking and peoples trembling. The English language does not do sufficient justice to this Psalm; it's definitely much more dramatic, and certainly makes more sense when read or said in Yoruba.

My dad’s two little luxuries were warm water for his bath and hot chocolate with breakfast. Once he comes downstairs in the morning, he stays until the time to go bed at about 9pm or whenever I suggested. I was always worried he would miss a step on the concrete stairs, but he descended and ascended without any incidents. Once he had his meals, he would sleep and wake up intermittently. Sometimes I had the TV on Yoruba channels for him. When I tried to get him a newspaper, he told me he could no longer read well, as one eye is redundant. I should have known. A few years ago my sister brought him to Lagos to see an ophthalmologist who diagnosed glaucoma and placed him on eye drops. But all is not lost; I noticed that he could accurately check the time on his mobile phone. It appears that he feels reading may be too much of a strain. On many occasions, he would sigh and say 'agba soro da' - growing old is no child’s play.

As often as possible, we went for walks around the estate which he really enjoyed. We also attended church together on Sunday. I initially didn't want to trouble him about Sunday service, not realising he had already laid out the clothes he was going to wear. In church, he sang the Yoruba songs like ‘Alagbara lOlorun mi, alagbara ni Jesu mi', ‘E gbe Baba ga,’ E gbe Baba ga, E gbe ga,’ and 'Oba lori aiye,' during worship and he appreciated the fact that the Pastor and practically everyone else came to speak to him after the service. He’s probably the oldest person ever to worship at our church.

I am fascinated by history so I spent a good chunk of my time asking him questions and recording our discussions. Although I have interviewed and recorded him in audio form in the past, this time I made sure I captured some of our discussions on video. I am trying to find out the past although my focus is mainly on the future. I want my children's children to be able to have a glimpse of their great grandfather. I hope they would thank me for it.

I did not just captured his own personal stories, I recognised that my father is my link to the last 200 years. So I have gleaned from him information about his parents, grandparents, even his great-great-grandfather. He repeated stories I have heard in the past but were now archived in my memory. For example how as a leftie, his parents tried every trick under the sun to relieve him of this 'bad' trait. They built a cage on his left hand to prevent him from eating with it. So they thought! He went around this restriction by using his right hand to place food on the cage before putting it in his mouth. He told me of how he lost a sister in 1937 placing it a year before the then reigning king, Olagbegi I died. And how it was believed at the time that an uncle was responsible for her death.

We also spoke about the many tenants who lived in our house when we were growing up. Many were soldiers, brave men who because of the heat of humid tropical evenings slept in the open courtyard at night. 

My father’s Christian faith is central to his life. We reminisce about how I would go with him on the trip he made on New Year's Day to pray at a large limestone deposit (ori oke) near Clerks Quarter. We also used to go to yet a different ‘mountain’ on Good Fridays to re-live the sufferings of Christ. Those were tough times. I remember being chased out of the shade on a scorching Good Friday afternoon, along with some others, by an ignorant elder of the church. He was appalled that we were enjoying the shade whilst Christ was suffering. Years later I realised Christ had suffered once, and for all, so that I may be free.

My dad and I also had frank but humble discussions on faith. We agreed that some practices have no place in the body of Christ. I am glad we had these discussions. On one of the days, I played the piano and we sang some worship songs together. Heavenly!

Like a typical Yoruba man of his age, his words are peppered with proverbs. They come so naturally and contextually. When I commented that he was quite lucky to still maintain a slim frame, he responded "eran gbigbe niden" (a well-roasted meat houses no maggot). When one evening, he felt he was served too much stew by the cook, he opined 'oma yo gbepan ma f'ona oja sin' (a baby on his mother's back has no idea of the length of the journey). In other words, the baby in this case is the cook who could afford to be wasteful.

When my sister visited, my dad's eyes lit up at the sight of four of his grandsons. After a meal together, he said he was grateful to God for the opportunity to eat with his grandchildren. He also thanked God for, in his words, "flowing into the third generation" i.e. becoming a great grandfather a couple of months ago. When the boys were leaving, he shot up to his room upstairs and came back bearing money for each of them.

Each night, I would go up with him to settle him into bed. Not that I had to do anything. I just watched as he gently and neatly laid out his clothes. On one of the evenings I noticed some spots all over his upper body. I found out later that these are known as age spots.

I was incredibly blessed having my dad with me. I was blessed by just watching him, mesmerised by his age and what he has seen and experienced. I often wonder what was going on in his mind. Only one of his closest friends is still alive but he has adapted well with the current generation although I know he feels our ways are weird. He is constantly talking about teaching children to speak our language and he believes everyone should have a house in their hometown. I hope to live up to be 91 and also to see my children's children.

What has been most interesting is how our roles have been reversed. In the past, it was my dad that told me what to do. Now, he listens and takes my suggestions. When the Yorubas say ‘aiye nyi’ (the world swings), they are not far from the truth. PostcardfromLagos

My motivation for this essay is to encourage readers to mine the wisdom of their parents before it is too late. There is no excuse in this modern age to be reckless with and lose our history because we fail to act. Get a recorder, use your phone, whatever and get your parents talking about the past. Act now before it is too late.

photocredit: 1. digest.bps.org.uk; 2. lornshillacademy.com, 3. tagxedo.com