22 March 2019

20 Children, 20 Years & 30 Adults, 30 Months - A Story of Human Dispersal & 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

30 January 2019

Does a Male Child Matter?




I have always wanted to have two children. I have always wanted to have two girls. I have always wanted to have twins. I am lucky I had all my desires met at one go. Therefore, it is possible that I may be a little biased in penning this essay. However, my peculiar story also means I can write dispassionately about this matter. 

I do not know how the desire to only have daughters came. But it is probably not unconnected with the fact that I felt there was so much more that could be achieved with them than male children. For a start, you could plait their hair, and buy them all kinds of fancy dresses. I have also been regaled with colourful stories of how girls are closer to their fathers. No doubt, I would have been equally grateful if I had boys.

I am sure we all agree that every life is a gift. An important gift with limitless potential. Every life is also an image of the Creator, bearing the breath, imprint and blessings of the Almighty. So, every life matters as each person has an assignment to fulfil. Some assignments may be big, some may be comparably small. Some people may become popular; some may not. However, as it's often the case, the people that have the greatest impact are not always the most popular or easily recognisable.

I decided to write about this issue because I have seen the way male children matter to men and women alike in Africa. For many women, it is because a male child legitimises them in their 'husband’s home,' and hopefully in his heart. For many men, a male child is proof of their virility and, by extension, a badge of honour before friends and family. Because of these factors, the quest for a male child is relentless for some. I know of couples who had a fifth, sixth and seventh child in the pursuit of that elusive male child. Ignorant of the fact that it is the man, not the woman that is responsible for determining the sex of a child, some men 'condemn' their wife for what they consider as the ultimate sin of not 'having a male child in her.’ Some men take mistresses and break their homes in the search for a male heir.

While I do not want to begrudge any man for having the desire for a male child, some of the reasons behind the desire do not stack up when closely inspected. The most important reason for having  a male child at all cost is the need to have someone to 'continue their name'. I have however seen examples of men who have two or three children, all male, but by an irony of fate, do not have male grandchildren. Would a man who had two or three sons not have thanked his stars believing his name is secure forever? Yet it appears that the stars don't always align to our personal preferences. Evidently, it is futile to attempt to determine the future when none of the levers are in our hands.

What about the many instances when a male heir invested with the hopes and aspirations of his parents fail to live up to that expectation, and in some cases, even destroying the name. Would it not have been better to have a female heir who made the parents proud?

In any case, of all the important things in life, why should one be overly concerned with what happens after you are long gone? Is it not enough to give a good education and a fantastic legacy to all children irrespective of whether they are male or female? Why bother when the future is not in your hands to control?

Perhaps, it is wise to consider another interesting angle that is increasingly common. Many young men now alter or change their family names altogether for religious or cosmetic reasons. Rather than the Ogun, Ifa or Sango prefix, they prefer new improved versions such as ‘Oluwa’, Ola or ‘Ade.’ Some adopt a different surname entirely. I can imagine their fathers churning in the grave for this unpardonable ‘sacrilege’. Who knows; their own children may want a more improved version in 25 years.

Does a male child matter? No doubt! However, if you consider the above arguments, you may want to challenge the extent to which this is the only truth. Perhaps the truth is: Don’t all children matter? What we need to do is to educate people on this fact and strengthen our laws to ensure male and female children are equal before the law. PostcardfromLagos


photocredit: traditional games

22 November 2018

Is Blood always Thicker than Water?

I jealously, intensely, guard my relationship with my siblings. Whilst years ago I might have been forthright, spewing out what I thought without restraint, nowadays however, I try to play the fool even on occasions when a brother or sister has behaved badly. The reason I do this is simple. I have seen many families disintegrate over flimsy things. I have seen so much bile and hate between siblings. I refer here not to the much vaunted, and sometimes, acceptable sibling rivalry of wanting to be the smartest or the 'finest' during adolescence, but a deep-seated hatred for a sibling even to the extent of wanting them to be down on their luck whilst you are up on yours. I have also seen many brothers and sisters who just tolerate one another. There may not necessarily be a full-blown war quite alright, but there is no love lost between them either. 

From my observation, when sibling relationships break down, it's almost similar to, if not worse, than an acrimonious divorce. Two or more people who have hitherto loved each other very passionately are now driven into a situation where their hatred for one  another is equally passionate. I have come across people who are so bitter that they wish their sister or brother dead. Some come to this unfortunate position because their brother or sister is nasty to them, because he/she doesn't care about them, or because the sibling reminds them of their own mistakes. Sometimes, these situations are worsened by unhelpful spouses who may fuel the situation rather than help to keep the peace.

Not for a second do I suggest that there are easy solutions to these unfortunate situations, other than everyone making the effort to guard their sibling/family relationships jealously.

As terrible as the above analysis may be, there is a flip side. I have also found many people who have shown considerable care and attention to people who they are not related to. This could be a friend, a neighbour or someone whom they feel they owe a duty of care. In some cases, this person may not even be deserving. In the Jane Austen's romantic book, 'Mansfield Park,' Fanny (Frances) Price was in every practical sense a daughter to Sir Thomas and her aunt, Lady Bertram than their own children. On a personal level, I have watched how someone who has no blood relationship to my dad cares for his needs and often make roundtrip journeys of over 6000 miles to check on his welfare. No doubt,  to my dad, this individual is worth more than seven sons.

In the same vein, I have also seen people who met at school or workplace and have gone ahead to forge lasting relationships that often supersede the ones they have with family members. 

So, the questions is this: Is blood always thicker than water? Probably not! Whatever your opinion may be regarding this puzzle, my one piece of advice is this - do everything you can to protect your relationships with your siblings and family members even if it means you feel cheated. PostcardfromLagos

20 September 2018

Yoruba Demons & The Dearth of Good Young Men - What Must be done!

I got to know about Yoruba demons sometimes last year at a training session I facilitated in Lagos. With lightning speed, I immediately got the gist of the phrase. It probably  would not have been easy for me to grasp the meaning that quickly were it not for the context within which it was mentioned. "This one; he is a Yoruba demon," a lady remarked. It was clear to me that she meant she could not contemplate dating the guy in question.

If you are still lost, consider the way  the meaning of certain words have changed over the years. So Yoruba demon does not mean 'Obatala,' 'Sango,' 'Ogun' or some spirit running around at night to do evil. Yoruba demon is the euphemism for men who date several girls at the same time, or men whio date women with the single purpose of ruining them. They usually have a good job, are sweet-tongued, often bearded', and wear good clothes, but just like the evil spirits of old, these earthly demons prey on single girls.

It is not untrue to suggest that some men, Yoruba demon or not, have always preyed on women, but what is different nowadays is that the current crop of young men not only have eyes with a lot of lashes, but they deceptively, manipulatively and often mindlessly act on them. Why today's men make serial dating the standard is anyone's guess. It appears that more young men are onto this despicable game and they also do not care about the impact of what they do. These kind of men would start a bogus relationship, with their victims, engage in perfunctory sex, and eventually discard them with ignominy. They are essentially predators who seduced women only to break their hearts. Although, this itself, may not be a crime, yet, the experience can be intensely damaging to their victims.

While it is inconsiderate in any form to betray trust, people often have affairs because they fall into it, or they have a momentary lapse of judgement and action, but to go out seeking bogus relationships with  several young women at the same time is beyond redemption. We must therefore question why an increasing number of our young men derive pleasure from playing on the emotions of ladies.

Is there a disconnection somewhere?
Could there be a socio-economic link to this problem?
Is there a crisis of a dearth of good men?
Do we need to train our boys from an early age to respect and value women?
Why do more ladies fall for the sob stories of these liars and cheats?
Could it be that the women are not perceptive enough?
Do our places of worship need to do more to train our men, young and old?
Could this be a demand and supply issue? 

On the last point, there is clearly a huge disparity in the ratio of young men to women, so the demons appear to be exploiting this demographic problem. 

I have chosen to write about this because while the issue of Yoruba demon may seem inconsequential to many people, it is however a matter on the lips and minds of most Nigerian ladies in their twenties and thirties. It is a social issue of our time that requires our attention particularly because the damage the so-called Yoruba demons do to young ladies is a corrossive on their self esteem, and ultimaltely far more damaging to their long term well being than we care to admit. 

Two things to note. Although this phenomenon is common amongst Yoruba guys, the perpetrators are no longer exclusively of Yoruba extraction. Also, this is not an attempt to demonise young men. Not all young, bearded, and upwardly mobile men, Yoruba, or not, are guilty, only that a significant number of evil guys, some even middle-aged, use their gender as a weapon to degrade, debase and destroy women. And this must be stopped.

So what can we do?

Firstly, there is an underlying problem which we must address - that's the issue of men's indifference to the feelings of women. Perhaps we need to start training our boys early in life about the importance of commitment, and respect for women. The culture of taking women for granted must be exorcised from an early age. I cannot stress it enough; this training must start from the home, and it's a responsibility for both dads and mums.

Secondly, it makes sense too that we support our young women to value themselves and not give in to time wasters. We must teach self-esteem to our girls at an early age. This must start at home, and it is a responsibility for both parents. Fathers particularly have the broader responsibility to affirm their daughters, to spend time with them and to treat their mothers well. I know that women are intuitive and can sense predators from a thousand miles away. The deficit that must be bridged therefore is to equip our ladies with the self esteem, and ability to stand up to this deviants and prevent the so-called Yoruba demons from taking advantage of them.

Thirdly, if you are a lady, and have fallen into the snare of a Yoruba demon, make the decision to run. Don't stay with him, don't fall for his sob stories, don't  be fooled by his money and his well manufactured  and practiced sincerity. Just run! And don't look back.

Finally, if you are a man that preys on the emotions of young women, here is a simple advice, stop and seek help! It is not normal to derive satisfaction from hurting other people. The fact that you engage in this type of wickedness is an indication of some inner inadequacies which if unchecked will create future problems. If this is not enough to convince you to change, perhaps you may want to consider this: "whatsoever a man sows, he reaps!" PostcardfromLagos

30 June 2018

It Wasn't Me! - Why We Must Feel Responsible for the Injustices & Evils of our Nation





I am not supposed to know about Shaggy. Yet I do. I didn't go out looking for him. Somehow, I stumbled on a video of the song 'It wasn't me' on TV in the early noughties, and it stuck. This, I must say, is a good reason why you must be careful about what you watch. I cannot remember how the song/video went, but the gist of it was that, although he was caught red-handed in an improper situation, he consistently claimed "it wasn't me."
Many of us are, for all intents and purposes, like Shaggy. We either feign ignorance at what is happening around us or convince ourselves that we are not responsible. So, we blissfully ignore injustices and live our own lives without hindrance. For example, if the educational system is faulty, it's a case of it wasn't me, so long I can send my children to boarding school in England. After all, it wasn't me that made it not to work. 
What about the poor state of our health care system? Of course, it wasn't me. And the number of women who lose their lives during childbirth? Am I a doctor?  We would say. Honestly what can I truly do about it?
What about the sexual exploitation of undergraduate students in our universities, the parlous state of our roads, corruption in the civil service and the political system? We don't even think about the condition of our prison inmates or the poverty of our pensioners. So long as we have a way of immunising ourselves and our family from the deplorable state of our nation, then all is well.
We sure know all is not well. But the approach we take is 'What could I possibly do?' However, what we do aplenty is to talk and argue about the issues. But talk, as our people say, cannot boil yam. The way to change our nation starts from the conviction that we are all responsible. In fact, the conviction that I am responsible! Once you feel no responsibility, you feel no obligation to be part of solving the problem. You then become one of the people that pontificate blaming politicians, doctors, lawyers, teachers, everyone else but yourself. 
Admittedly, the ideal case is for our government to conceive, plan and execute policies that benefit the public. But we must understand we do not live in an ideal country. So whilst things may be top down in some countries we must start to implement our own development bottoms-up. We must feel responsible when things don't work. We must feel responsible when schools in our community fail. We must feel responsible when our local hospital is bereft of drugs, we must feel responsible when our local councilors or representatives fail to perform. We must feel responsible to call people out who are not pulling their weight in serving the people, whether they are politicians, civil servants, police or public servants. We can plan these through community organisations like residents’ associations, religious bodies, social clubs. If we don't, we would not be any different from Shaggy, the singer, who absolved himself of all guilt when caught red-handed. Arguing that it wasn't us would certainly not absolve us of guilt from future generations, and definitely not from God whose injunction is whoever is not involved in building is in cahoots with wasters. In other words, people who are indifferent are as dangerous as vandals. After all, 'it is inconceivable that a baby on its mother's back would have a wonky head when there are responsible adults in the market.' The question is: Are you responsible?
Postscript - Although I wrote this piece in December 2017, I decided to publish it this month given the avoidable tragedies of the past few days. I refer here to the 86 people killed by herdsmen in Gashishi, Plateau State last Saturday, the container that crushed two danfo passengers at Ojuelegba in Lagos on the 19th of June, and of course the inferno at Otedola bridge two days ago. 
We must continue to keep these issues in the public domain. We must petition the different governments until something is done about murderous herdsmen, container-laden trucks and defective fuel tankers.

31 May 2018

Baba Woodwork - Reminiscing About a High School Teacher


He was one of the teachers that every student had to notice in high school. This wasn't because of any peculiar features of 'fineness' or stature. He was of medium built, slightly shorter than average height, and much older than most of the other teachers. He also had two of his children in the school, Rotimi who was a few years ahead of me and Ronke who was my classmate. 


Although his real name was 'Mr Adeniyi,' however, he was popularly known as 'Baba Woodwork'. He was the only woodwork teacher in the school, and every student had to take the subject in year three, therefore no student could escape his tutelage. Baba Woodwork had his own little empire, one of three large rectangular rooms in a secluded building far removed from our usual settings. Nestling among green shrubs and seasonal maize farm, the building was divided into three sections - a wood workshop, a metal workshop and the technical drawing studio. Together, these three were the technology subjects of that era. 

At the wood workshop, 'Baba Woodwork' held sway with a mixture of steely discipline and plenty wit. He was unorthodox and it was apparent he enjoyed the topic he taught. We learned about the 'cross section of a log'. This was a 'sure-banker' question in every examination. We had been told by our immediate 'seniors' who were told by their own 'seniors,' and we made sure to inform the class below us of this hot topic. Everyone passed his subject too. I got a 90 and I am sure most people in my class got similar scores. 

From him, we  also learned the different types of trees. Obeche, Iroko, Mahogany are some of the ones I can remember. He also taught us how to use saws, shavers, chisels, grips, drills, braces and plumbs to shape wood and make basic furniture. 

Although I remember those days with great fondness, I was not particularly good with making things, so I dropped the subject at the earliest opportunity to do so. Still, no one could ever forget or get away from the clutches of Baba Woodwork. 

Apart from his teaching peculiarities, Baba Woodwork was a member of the white garment 'Aladura' sect. On the rare occasions that he conducted morning assembly, he would depart from the normal Anglican Songs of Praise hymns. Instead, he would go for the fast tempo Yoruba Aladura songs. A favourite of his that I would never forget is:

Ore mi kilo se o t'o fi d'aladura
Jesu l'ope mi sibe
B'iwo na ba fe ko mabo

The English translation is:

Why my friend did you join the Aladura sect?
Jesus beckoned me to come
You too can join if interested

He would lead the chorus and also improvised. We, the pupils heartily created the accompanying music with loud synchronised hand-clapping. Those occasions were a huge but enjoyable departures from the stiffness of singing 'He who would valiant be' which, I must say, remains one of my favourite hymns.

Baba Woodwork was also the teacher in charge of commissioning and distributing the school uniform. His responsibilities included the selection and engagement of the team of tailors that designed, measured each student and sew the uniform. He used that office to great effect too.  He banned side pockets from our school shots and trousers. His reason was that students disrespectfully put their hands in the side pockets whilst addressing teachers. So we only got a back pocket.

My enduring memory of Baba Woodwork was his waspish rejection of the moniker 'Baba woodwork'. Given that he is a Yoruba man, it appeared he chose to believe the literal translation of the appelation as 'father of woodworks', rather than as a  honorific courtesy to his age and work. So at one point, he began to react to anyone who referred to him as Baba Woodwork with this withering but witty refrain:

"Emi ni mo bi Ronke, emi ni mo bi Rotimi, baba yin la b'igi", meaning I am Ronke and Rotimi's dad, your dad is the father of wood.

For his commitment to work and his witty unorthodox approach to teaching, Baba Woodwork, sorry, Mr Adeniyi was one of the greatest teachers of my early life. PostcardfromLagos



23 April 2018

Why the Gragra? Why Wear Body Armour as Standard Clothing?


It's almost a given that 100 years from today, none of us would be here! This means that everything; Yes, everything, including land, expensive yachts, sky-high buildings, exquisite mansions, holiday homes, exotic cars, jewelry, shares, everything owned by everyone living at the moment would either be gone or owned by other people. So why the fuss? Why behave as if we are going to be here forever? And why the pretence that we actually own anything?


This is neither a call for people to do away with creativity, or cast aside personal ambition, nor is it a call for a pity party to mourn our impending mortality. Rather, it is a call to the admission that life is temporal, so we need must put things into perspective and change our way of life. It's a call not to take life too seriously, and to the understanding that while we may use the things of this world such as wealth and position, we must not be engrossed in them.

The Yorubas from whom I have borrowed the title of this essay are very dismissive of people who behave as if they have the future all buttoned up. Although they may hail you because they had to, the Yorubas are equally scathing of people who cop an attitude, mistreat others and those who are ostentatious with their wealth. Why the 'gragra' they would say? Why adopt a body armour as standard clothing when life is temporal? Why the braggadocio? 

Certainly no one wears body armour as their everyday clothing. Not even Roman soldiers these days. The subtext however, is that even if you wear a garment made entirely of iron, it doesn't protect you from the certainty of death. So what is the strutting about? Why put on airs of invincibility. Truth be told, How long do we have on this earth to put down so much roots as if this is the ultimate destination.  

Life is temporal. While this should not necessarily scare us; what it should do, is to get us thinking about how we live our lives, how we treat others and the impact of our actions on people. These ideas are certainly worth a consideration. PostcardfromLagos

31 March 2018

Has Your Smartphone Hacked Your Brain?



How many times a day do you check your phone for messages and notifications?

Do you take your phone to bed at night?

Is your phone the first thing you check when you get up in the morning?

On average, how many hours a day do you spend on your phone?

How many social media apps are you actively engaged with?

These are a few questions every smartphone user need to answer with ruthless honesty. Maybe, they might just be able to start extricating themselves from being a stooge of their phones. Is this not unnecessary scaremongering you may ask. Perhaps we should look at some facts. 

It is increasingly apparent that many people are trapped by their smartphones. Victims of this phenomenon are active on several social media platforms, sending jokes, uploading selfies, and reacting to other people's posts. It is not impossible that these activities provide some psychological reward to the smartphone users, and that a clear majority of them enjoy chatting and uploading selfies. However, does immediate satiation equate to a good use of time? Is derived gratification a justification for the hostile hijack of our brains, our behaviour and social interactions? I mention social interactions because chatting with people via social media or admiring people's picture on Instagram is not a substitute for face to face interaction, any more than reading Mills & Boon novels equip an individual with the ability to negotiate a successful marriage relationship. In fact, statistics show that young people are losing the ability to relate face to face with other people. Furthermore, an increasing number of them are known to suffer from sleep deprivation, and lack of focus due to their exhausting activities online. In the same vein, bedroom etiquette is out of the window for most people. In the UK, it is believed that 79 per cent of the populace go to bed with their phones. They are almost certainly posting pictures and comments online into the wee hours of the morning. With this statistic, it is apparent that there is truth to the suggestion of a correlation between selfies, narcissism and psychopathy - the dark triad of personality traits. 

As terrible as these are, they are just the storm-clouds of a more serious and systemic problem darkening the horizon. I refer here to the power we all have conceded to tech companies to use our data as they wish. The recent case of the British company, Cambridge Analytica has exposed how tech companies use personal data to profile people illegally. The company unlawfully gained access to the data of 50 million Facebook users through a deceitful personality test conducted for 270,000 of their friends. The question is how many more companies did Facebook authorise to have the same access to your data? How are these data currently being used? The answers are scary to think about. Yet many people, daily churn out details of their lives on social media and gullibly consent to their data being used by app makers they know nothing about. The truth is everything you click online, everything you watch, every website you visit collects data about you and that data will be used to profile you for gain or even for harm. No one could have predicted these problems 20 years ago. The only way to be safe therefore is by deliberately being vigilant. 

Apart from the vulnerability of personal data, social media also allows people's life to be tracked. People know when you are online and when you are not. If you have the location option on, your phone contacts can see where you are in the world. We are the first generation that lives almost all of its life entirely online, and the responsibility is on each person to be vigilant about their personal safety. 

Going back to the issue of smartphone addiction, what concerns me the most is the long-term effect of social media use on the mental health of young people. For example, apps like Instagram and Snapchat present an unrealistic image of life to young people and many of them are losing their sense of self-worth because of heavily edited photos of other people to which they feel they cannot compare. Alongside this is the rising reports of online bullying often with the sinister motive of luring teenagers and even pre-teens to send compromising personal pictures which are then used to blackmail them. 

I have found that this phenomenon is not limited to young people alone. Social media has democratised misbehaviour and mild stupidity even amongst people in their forties and fifties. Although we have rules that prohibit such messages on the platform, the most trafficked messages on my old school WhatsApp group, are those with sexual content, and meaningless jokes. This I am sad to say is the pattern in the wider Nigeria context. Far too many recycled jokes, motivational gibberish and irrelevant discussions. It's almost as if WhatsApp was made for Nigeria. Each day, a dozen 'good morning' messages and prayers would flood my phone. On Mondays, it is 'happy new week,’ and at weekends - you guessed right. It is near impossible to read them all, let alone respond. Some perpetrators feel they are doing a lot of good even when they are blatantly a nuisance. All around me, I see people losing control of the use of their time, and it makes me wonder whether they are actually in control of their brains any longer. 

I am not suggesting that social media is entirely useless. I have a Facebook account which I use mainly for business, and to publish my articles. Although I have a Twitter account, unlike Donald Trump, I hardly tweet and I don't read Twitter messages. But of all the social media platforms, WhatsApp seems to be the most functional and also the most baneful. While it has facilitated better communication, it has also made it too easy to be in perpetual contact, allowing for an unprecedented degree of vacuous and time-wasting exchanges. 

I realised a while ago that I simply couldn't cope with the Tsunami of messages that come my way daily. If I had to respond to the greetings only, I probably would need to employ a full time PA whose remit would include typing 'amen' to the retinue of preachers and prayer peddlers who feel I need a daily nourishment of their business. Although I am not going to completely deactivate my social media apps, I have decided to put stricter controls on usage. Considering that I have never been an avid user of social media, this new regime would further limit my engagement, and it is a clear fightback to taking control. 

So here are some of the actions I have taken to limit my engagement with smartphones and social media, particularly WhatsApp. You too may find them useful. 

1. Although I read all personal messages sent to me, I have indiscriminately stopped reading most group chats. Instead, I read the plain old, and enduring Bible. See! I am not lost after all. I would also rather read books, journals and articles.

2. I never read daily motivational or spiritual messages from anyone. Neither do I respond to them. So, if you have ever sent me one, don't be deceived. The fact it shows 'read' does not mean I have read the message. Every so often I tap on the most unread messages just to clear them from my sight. 

3. I generally do not do social media in the mornings or when I am most productive. 

4. To avoid distractions, I switched off notifications on my smartphone years ago. I only find out what's on my phone when I pick it up.

5. I removed the 'last seen' feature as soon as I found out it existed. I don't need to monitor when someone was last online and I can't be monitored either.

6. We also have a no phone policy in the bedroom at night.

7. I have never had Facebook on my phone. I only access it on a computer which means I must go through the motions of logging in. I also do not post my family's photo on Facebook or other social media.

So, What about you? What do you want to do?

If you really want to take back control of your life, I would advise a complete deletion of certain apps from your phones. Also, do you really have to show the whole world you are currently on holiday in Tenerife? And why should your children's photos be available to everyone? The message here is be careful about personal data you publish online. If you think your addiction is serious, perhaps you may need to replace your smartphone with an ordinary phone. 

Finally, my hunch is that apart from allowing your life to be monitored even by people you don't know, social media is worse than TV in serving junk and ensuring that people squander their time. The immediacy of apps like WhatsApp also places undue social pressure on people and its long-term health effect could only be anyone's guess. I am in no doubt that many people have yielded control of their lives or have in fact been hacked by their smartphones. For many of us, it is in fact our smartphones that log in to us, and not the other way. Perhaps we may not realise it now; in my view, social media is a clear and present danger to the lives of most millennials. It has effectively taken control of the lives of most young adults. And it is fast becoming an existential threat to people in their middle age. PostcardfromLagos


Photocredits:
1.thecriticalspace.wordpress.com/2017/02/19/brain-hacking-in-social-media 
2. Adam Dachis, lifehacker.com/ 5747213/how-to-hack-your-brain