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

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