18 February 2015

'& co' - A Distinctive Nigerian Dress Style

Calm down, the above title is not a programming error.

People have sought for my opinion on the Nigerian elections and its postponement. The expectation from some quarters  is that I should have written about it well before now. I suppose it is safe to assume that I have deliberately refrained from commenting, as I am not excited one bit about the elections. The manipulated postponement justifies my position. I hopefully may publish an opinion before the revised date of the elections. For now, I have chosen to publish a short article I wrote in January 2013 which I hope would give readers another perspective of the Nigerian experience.

There are many Nigerian slang that is difficult to explain to a non-native. One of these is the title of this article ‘And co’ or ‘& co’.

In Nigeria, when two or more people wear the same fabric, they are said to do ‘& co’. I think have a fair idea of how this concept came about, but I would leave that for now so that I can quickly get into the meat of my writing.

‘And co’ is slightly different from the more popular aso-ebi phenomenon which is when several people wear the same fabric for an event such as weddings, funerals and increasingly birthdays. ‘And co’ is typically between a husband and wife, or between siblings at Christmas and other celebrations.

I remember as a young boy doing ‘and co’ with my younger brother to celebrate the New Year. As I was totally dependent on my parents at the time, I did not have much choice over what I wore, how they were tailored, or whether I was interested in the concept of ‘and co’ with my younger brother in the first place. All these were the preserve of my parents and I either like it or lump it. On one occasion, my trousers were so long that I had to roll up the edges. Of course my parents’ strategy was to ensure that I could grow into the trousers and wear them for as long as possible. They are great people, my parents, and sacrificed much with little means, I must say.

Nowadays it is of the utmost interest to me to see people doing ‘& co’ particularly a husband and wife and on some occasions with their children. It leaves me wondering whose idea it was. Was it the wife’s? If so, is it a way of laying claim to the husband? If it were the husband’s idea, why? Was it a case of putting his label of ownership on the wife? Is she happy with it? Or as it was for me as a young boy, was it a like it or lump it situation? If I have the time, I look for tell-tale signs to prove or disprove my hypothesis. I have nothing against those who do ‘& co’ with their spouses, I have done so probably three times with my wife, once shortly before we got married, then on our wedding day and once shortly afterwards. 

I do admire couples that do, and I have come to acknowledge that in most cases, particularly when it is a monogamous relationship, it is a show of love, oneness and commitment to each other. This I believe should be celebrated.

Photo credit - The Ebeyes

09 August 2014

Last Sunday, I walked to church with my family

I walked to church with my family last Sunday. Why is this newsworthy? Simple. That was the very first time this has happened. As a little boy, I used to walk to church with my parents.  However, going and coming from church, then - a long stretch of more than two miles away - meant being desperately thirsty afterwards and often being short of breath. 

The experience of last Sunday was different. This was with my own family and it was a very short distance. We had elected to attend the nearest church, and as it happened, it was an Anglican Church. The walk was refreshing, it was peaceful and it provided another opportunity for family bonding. It took all of seven minutes to achieve this feat.

The service was short and simple. The vicar is female.  I went up for the Holy Communion; and the taste of real wine was different from the Ribena substitute to which I was accustomed. Thankfully, I didn't get drunk as I only dipped the wafer in the wine. I never knew dipping was possible until I saw someone use this style just before my turn. I thought it was cool and decided to adopt it. The vicar obliged without questioning. I hope no one would take offence at what may be considered my half-hearted approach to what is sacred. Well, I won’t pretend I am bothered. Jesus died for me.

At some point in the service, we were asked to write on a postcard some prayer points that would be attended to during the week. I wanted the containment of Ebola in Nigeria and West Africa, the end of Boko Haram and also an end to the war between Israel and Hamas.

The service was relaxed. Most of the congregants wore simple clothes. One of the deacons who also intermittently held a baby in her hand walked about performing her duties barefooted and without a care in this world. A little area was created in the main auditorium (this sounds Pentecostal) for little children, most of whom were less than four years in age. The adults ignored their constant chatter, and ‘distraction’. I suppose they took the position that children also have a right to be in the house of God and do their own thing.

At the end of the service, the customary tea and biscuits were served. We made for the door where the vicar was waiting to greet everyone. She told us she was going on holiday that same week with her husband and family. As we left, I began to hum one of the songs that had been sung in the church and immediately one of my daughters came with the line: “I don't like that song.” I persisted.

We stopped at a park a few steps from the church. Our children took the opportunity to do some running probably practicing the 100 metres dash for the Olympics sometimes in the next decade.

Some of my observations of the whole experience are:

1.     Before last Sunday, going to church with my family was a driving experience. I suppose for many Africans, and perhaps Pentecostal Christians, a 2 to 3-hour round-trip to attend church is not unusual. I can understand why people do it, but I am not sure if this is the right thing to do.

2.     For Nigerians and certainly many black people, Sunday is also the day to put on our most beautiful clothes and showcase the best car. Has this phenomenon turned worship on its head? Must the outward outweigh the important? I do not see any problem with going to church in a good attire, however when this overshadows everything else, it becomes questionable. And rightly so too!

3.     Further, many of our services are hardly ever relaxed. For a start the music is often too loud. I have the belief that there is a conspiracy to make everyone deaf by the ridiculous hair-splitting loudness to which congregants are subjected in many of our churches. This too must be questioned. Why for example, should microphones be connected to the drum set in a church that sits 10-20 people? Why is there a need for the microphone to be tuned to the highest volume even for those leading worship? The effect of this is that the voices, the drumming, and other musical instruments collude in an offering of painful uncoordinated noise. 

4.     I also noticed that no one attempted to outdo the other in prayer or testimony or worship. Absent too was the desire for power and control over others by church leadership. This, if truth must be told is one of the key issues for many of our churches in Nigeria and the pentecostal movement at large. We may employ many reasons to justify this stain, but the reality is that no one is more special, no one died for another human being, it is Jesus who died. Even God does not control or manipulate us. This is food for thought and for comtemplating digestion. 

5.  I suppose the most important thing for me was the conscious desire to accommodate every congregant including children. In many of our churches, children are often seen as a distraction and are told off or carted away to a children’s church where they can’t be seen or heard. I am a ardent believer in Sunday school for children, it's only that some parents are not bothered about what their children learn at Sunday school provided they can concentrate on their own worship uninhibited.

6.    I must reiterate that I am at home with the sheer exuberance of worship of the pentecostal church to which I belong, I will not trade this for anything. My only wish is that we take things easy a little bit, understand we are not the centre of attraction and allow compassion to rule everything we do. Then, we will probably be like Christ. 

Finally, I like the simplicity of walking to church. I like the simplicity of the service. I also like the fact that God is at home with all kinds of worship and none of us can claim ownership or knowledge of His preferred agenda.

I throughly enjoyed the walk to church last Sunday. It is different and it is beautiful and I wish this becomes the norm for me. The irony is that I probably will drive to church next Sunday. What about you? PostcardfromLagos

Photo courtesy of Yinka Oyelese

11 July 2014

Road Intersections Sacrifices & Poverty

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

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

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

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

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

What do you think?


31 May 2014

James - a special staff, a unique person

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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