Tuesday, December 29, 2015

It's Year's End Again

Happy New Year
Photo: Nevit Dilmen

December is here, harmattan is sweeping the land, and Christmas is upon us again. The year always crept up on us, moving surreptitiously one day at a time until Bam! January 1st became December 29th.

And what a year this has been for Nigeria. With the intractable Boko Haram insurgency in the north to the dollar going for 280 naira to endless queues at petrol stations, there’s no doubt 2015 has been rough sailing for most Nigerians. And the saddest part is the storm won’t be relenting in 2016, considering Nigeria’s late and weak attempt at divesting from its crude oil cash cow.

That said, this year has been interesting, if not exploratory one for me. Earlier this year, I ventured off on a solo trip to Senegal and The Gambia as recounted here and here. It was my first pleasure trip alone and a surprisingly empowering one. Not only was I alone, I didn’t know a single soul in those countries which thrust me out of my comfort zone, activated the Indiana Jones in me (Ok, I admit I wasn’t chased by a rock), and gave me free rein over when, what, where and how I wanted to spend my time without consulting a second opinion (the best part). Like meditation, solo travel is an exercise in self-discovery or rediscovery. In it, you find what interests you and doesn’t, who you are and aren’t, and what matters most to you without the burden of playing the accommodating travel companion.

Speaking of comfort zones, I started contributing to a radio station in March on account of a Journalism and News-writing course I enrolled in last year, and realized an hour of talking live for a consummate introvert can be daunting sometimes. My foray into radio broadcasting also reaffirmed what I already knew: that my chain of thoughts work better with a pen; that in the realm of communication writing will always be king, or in my case queen, for me.

Did I say writing? Yes, I’ve been working on a novel since March, but took long breaks away from it mid-year after coming down with writer’s block. Thankfully, by September my affliction had subsided, and I returned to working feverishly on it, week in week out—an effort that has yielded over 80,000 words and an equal measure of dread. When I started writing I worried about finding enough words for a novel. Now, I’m fretting over the brutal editing process and the fact I still have more to write.

Liposuction, I heard, is no simple procedure.

Anyone familiar with the novel writing process knows it’s a lonely journey with perseverance and doubt as constant companions. It’s like crawling into the dense forests of the mind, choosing the strongest twigs and coupling them in a manner that allows connection with another human mind. One of the curious things about this deliberate crusade is that second opinions is more harmful than helpful during those initial drafting stages, so the writer relies solely on their creative powers.

 In a way, writing a novel is like experimenting on a cure for a disease. The scientist slaves day and night away in the laboratory, not knowing if her sacrifices will reap any rewards. And yet she trudges on, because the thrill and the glory are in the process with the end result being the cherry at the top. And that’s the thought that keeps me writing, especially when those clouds of doubt loom large.

I don’t know if this novel will ever see the light of day or if it will remain in a folder, but what I do know is I’m going to finish it. And when I do, I’ll write another and another until my knees are sore from crawling and every strong twig has been used—even if for my eyes only. Why? Because there’s magic and glory in the process.

On that note, have yourself a gloriously magical 2016!

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Taxi Driver

Photo: europe.autonews.com

“Let’s go to Adanna’s house,” I said, still in my red check shirt and maroon pinafore.

            “Are you going in your school uniform?” my best friend Nkiru asked, smearing Vaseline on harmattan chapped lips and ashen elbows.

            “Yes, let’s go.”

           Outside, with no protection from the harsh sun from above and the heat rising from the baked concrete below, we desperately flagged the first taxi in sight—a rickety car with a cracked windscreen, rusty chassis and a missing side mirror. After haggling over the fare, the driver had a change of mind and agreed to take us to our destination for free.

            “I like students so I dey help dem anytime I fit,” he said, flashing kola-stained teeth at us in the rear view mirror.

            We smiled brightly at him in response, silently praying he would not make any strange detours. It was ten days to Christmas, and scary tales of taxi drivers hypnotizing and abducting passengers for juju were told with alarming frequency. A simple answer to an innocuous question was all it took for the spell to work.  

            “Una don close school?”

            I shook my head. Nkiru nodded hers. The man didn’t seem to bother about which was the right answer, jumping to his next question.

            “Which class you dey?” He was looking at me.

I lifted four fingers, using the other to indicate Nkiru and I were both in primary four.

            “Eeeh.” He seemed genuinely pleased with our scholarly progress and encouraged us. “Try eh. Try.”

            The driver’s attention then turned to the radio. He mumbled a curse in a foreign language whenever a clear signal failed to materialize. Finally, Mariah Carey’s ‘All I Want for Christmas Is You’ boomed through the speakers behind our heads. Satisfied with the sound clarity, he turned his glance back to the rear view mirror.

“I go take another road,” he said sternly.

The smile was gone. 

Sunday, November 15, 2015

View from a Window

And whatever happened to that monorail project?
PH City
  Photo: Shayera
Getting stuck in mid-day traffic was to witness a kaleidoscope of chaotic activities: Car horns blaring maniacally; sick exhausts coughing up black fumes into the blue sky; pedestrians maneuvering roads and non-existent sidewalks simultaneously; speakers blasting loud music without mercy courtesy of road-side music stores. A little Chadian refugee plastered his dirt-stained face and hands on Napoleon’s window, performing a ritual that comprised patting the back of his hand on his palm and pointing to his mouth.

            “Should I give him this?” Napoleon held out a flat, rectangular silver-foil.

“Chewing gum?” I arched a brow. “No.” Gesturing the boy to my window I dug into my bag, handed him five hundred naira.”

            Napoleon goggled in disbelief. “Hmm. That’s a lot of money,” he cried.

            “Not for someone who hasn’t had a meal. Besides, I would have probably spent it on snacks.”

The traffic began moving and we sped off towards Trans-Amadi for our 1pm meeting at Violet Oil.

It did not feel like it had three years since I left Port-Harcourt, because almost nothing had changed. If anything, the city looked worse than before, or maybe my imagination was blurry. Ticky-tacky storey buildings with shops selling items no different from the next, littered every free space. Brash, gaudy signboards defaced as many store fronts as possible. Hawkers peddling everything from boiled groundnuts to cell phones, glided between cars with the agility of a skateboarder. Potholes brimming with tea-colored water spilled their contents generously on the asphalt with each tire dip. In fact, they had become so ubiquitous that one could not drive twenty feet without encountering any. Gutters teemed proudly with nylon bags, pure water sachets, banana peels and every imaginable filth. And just as in Lagos, commercial motorcycles had been replaced with yellow gnats in the form of motorized tricycles locally christened keke napep. However, unlike their predecessors, they were prohibited from plying expressways—a decision that must have won a collective sigh of relief from motorists.

Clearly, PH, unlike Lagos, was experiencing a decline, a regression on the scales of development. And while Lagos was Tokyo, compared to PH Lagos was Tokyo.

Every time I spoke with Uncle Gogo, he inveighed against the new democratic government, saying PH was worse off than when the military regime was in power.

“The governor builds a single lane contraption, calls it a bridge then rings the president to come open it. This isn’t the democracy I signed up for. We need leaders with working brains if we’re serious about conquering the twenty-first century.”

Looking around, it was easy sympathizing with him. The self-professed Garden City had become a grotesque assemblage of concrete, filth and disorder.

Friday, November 6, 2015

The Black Widow

Black Widow
Photo: Wikimedia Commons
Ndubuisi and I argued over my tardiness. Sure, he had mentioned his colleague’s wedding last week and I had agreed to accompany him at the time, but this morning I felt differently. Thoughts of engaging in frivolous talks with snooty people I barely knew, or watching him brag about his latest court case left me feeling lethargic.

What eventually got the multi-colored covers off my body was Granma Adaeze’s saw about keeping promises: ‘The ability to keep and respect an unenforceable agreement was a measure of a person’s character.’

“But I told you the service was for 11am,” Ndubuisi whined after I let him in. “With the crazy traffic, it will be over before we get there.”

A large, fluffy towel wrapped my nakedness like a cocoon as I stood akimbo in front of the wardrobe, deciding on an outfit. “And you haven’t even chosen a dress. Unbelievable,” he murmured testily, marching off to the kitchen when I ignored his protestations. My choice narrowed to a simple black, tea-length dress with a plunging back and a short, metallic gold dress.

“You know it’s a wedding not a funeral, right?” Ndubuisi said as we walked to his car.

“Colors are blank slates we fill with our own subjective meanings,” I replied, slipping on the six-inch silver stilettoes I had just spared from scraping between misaligned interlocking stones. Two destroyed pumps were enough advice to not wear heels until I got in the car.

Not prepared to argue, Ndubusi sighed deeply and started the car. I applied pink lipstick, smacked my lips and peered out my window. No words were exchanged between us as we drove to the Muson centre on Lagos Island for the reception.

The parking lot was adorned with an assortment of SUVs, Mercedes, Hondas, BMWs and small groups of people laughing too generously and talking too loudly. A stench of pretentiousness—the kind Ndubuisi inhaled effortlessly—hung thickly in the hot, midday air like fog on a Harmattan morning.

No sooner had we stepped out of the car than a desperate and sweaty photographer ambushed us. “A beautiful photo for a beautiful couple,” he wheedled with naked flattery. I was going to decline his services but Ndubuisi threw his arm around my shoulder, pulling me closer to his side. We smiled and a tiny, red light blinked three times. Then Ndubuisi slid his hand to the small of my back, leading me towards the reception hall.

Because the wedding was a crème de la crème affair, admission into the hall was strictly by invitation. Two thick-necked, no-nonsense bouncers flanked its entrance, inspecting IVs and turning away professional gate-crashers with nothing better to do on a Saturday. One of such gate-crashers was bad-mouthing the bride to another uninvited guest on the steps.

Mtchew. Imagine this girl that used to beg for cabin biscuit in secondary school. Now she feels too big because her dad is a senator, eh?” she hissed bitterly.

“Don’t mind all these politicians’ children,” consoled her friend. “They forget their fathers are common criminals. The only difference between them and the ones in jail is that they have the blessings of pastors and the support of Nigerians.”

The hall was resplendent and vaguely fragrant. Thick clusters of real violets and lavenders enveloped the aisle arches from end to end, and sat regally in slender glass vases on each table. The ceiling was adorned with swoops of purple fabric and ornate chandeliers that sparkled brilliantly. Half the guests had arrived when we took our seats next to two couples Ndubuisi knew. The two women eyed me cautiously before one broached a question the other three were thinking, but dared not ask.

“Black. That’s a rather odd color to wear to a wedding,” said Christina, a heavily made-up, bleached-out-dark-knuckled woman in her late 20s. She was a visual assault of luridness in her ill-fitting, bright red bandage dress and matching lipstick.

 “What makes it odd?” I asked, feigning ignorance. Ndubuisi cleared his throat, a signal that I ignore the bait.

“Well, it’s a wedding,” she replied in a mutilated American accent. “And black is sombre and doesn’t portend well. It’s—,”

“Oh, I get it,” I cut in. “Black is morose and dirty. White is pure and virginal—as it’s expected of the bride, but not of the groom. And red… red is passionate and dangerous. But it also signifies sexual desire.” My words were punctuated with sarcasm. “Should I keep a close eye and a tight leash on Ndubuisi, then?”

Ndubusi winced, while the rest laughed uncomfortably at what they interpreted as crassness. Crass or not, it ended any further talk about my color of choice. Conversation turned to stories about the lives of high profile guests present, further devolving into football talk for the man and ‘which designer such-and-such was wearing’ and ‘how lucky this woman was to be married to that moneyed man’ chatter for the women. In a bid to relieve boredom, I whipped out my Blackberry and began typing away, knowing I would not be missed from their idle prattle.

Several minutes later, voices began whispering exuberantly, “They’re here. They’re here,” as heads turned towards the main door in anticipation of the bridal party’s entrance. Loudspeakers, which until now had been softly playing slow jams, blasted the remix of P-Square’s Chop My Money without any consideration for eardrums. It was the musical cue for the bride and groom’s triumphant entry. They danced energetically on the violet monogrammed aisle runner, raising their hands and swiftly sliding one palm over the other. Their entourage followed closely behind, mimicking the couple’s dance step.

The bride was a picture of feminine sophistication in an off-white, custom-made Monique Lhullier ball gown with a sweetheart neckline that exposed a whisper of cleavage. Her diamond earrings and decadent wedding ring sparkled seductively at the slightest of movements, complementing her bright smile.

As with the details of her dress, I also gleaned from women at my table that her shoes were Louboutin. Or as they insisted on calling them, ‘Loubs’—a contraction I suspected stemmed from fear of butchering the designer’s name. Meanwhile, the groom, not to be outdone, looked equally dashing in his Hugo Boss tux, lavender bow tie and black Louboutin shoes. His smile radiated warmth.

“Money is good o. Money is good,” chanted Christina, ogling the bride with her entire being.

“It is o,” concurred her bland-faced friend. “Spending 15 M on a wedding is not beans. But since both their fathers are senators, the money must have been chicken change.” Then in a whisper she continued, “Hmm, I hope to find my Mr. Right here.” 
 
They giggled like piglets.

“Ah, but Dorcas, what about…,” Christina’s eyes diverted to her friend’s date.

A sneer contorted Dorcas’ face. “Somebody is being serious, and you’re busy bringing that one up. Mtchew. Mind yasef o. I’m not here to play.”

They giggled some more. “I trained you well,” her friend said slyly as we rose for the opening prayers.

                                                                 ***

We were into the main course of spaghetti bolognaise when I got drawn into the table discussion. It had begun with Ndubuisi’s snarky remarks about his colleague not taking on her husband’s surname.

“I don’t see that as a problem,” I countered casually, my gaze focussing on twirling spaghetti round my fork.

“What do you mean it’s not a problem?” Samuel, Christina’s date, asked in a pseudo British accent. “The Bible says the man leaves his home to take a wife, and the two become one. How else would couples show they’re united if the wife doesn’t bear her husband’s name?”

“Taking on a spouse’s surname isn’t about marital unity.” I held up a finger to prevent Ndubuisi from interrupting me. “It’s about power. That’s why men don’t change theirs. This ritual, this change of surname business is a mark of control and ownership. It’s a stamp on the woman to say ‘she’s mine’, in the same way slave owners did with hot iron.”

Gasps of horror escaped from the ladies’ mouths, a normal reaction to what was deemed un-African, and therefore heretic.

“How can you say that?” grimaced Dorcas, offended. “I disagree.”

I shrugged off her remark. “I’m of the opinion that what is good for the lion should also be good for the lioness. If a man truly loves you, it shouldn’t be an affront to him that you want to preserve a piece of personal history.”

“First you wear black to a wedding, then you advocate that married women retain their maiden name,” Priye, Dorcas’ date, said in a dismissive tone. “What’s next, men doing housework?” Though his tortoise-shell rimmed glasses gave him a professorial mien, he sounded intellectually lazy and incapable of original thoughts. “And may I remind you,” he gestured with his fork, “that men are the head of the family, not women.”

“Only if he’s the more intelligent of the two, which isn’t always the case,” I argued. “And last I checked, testosterone didn’t confer intelligence. Brawns may have worked wonders in the bush, but brains,” I paused, tapping my temple with a finger, “rule the modern world.”

Ndubuisi rolled his eyes and shook his head like I had spoken a forbidden language. “Look, the idea that women take on their husband’s name is our culture. And even if it isn’t, the Bible prescribes it.”

The others nodded in agreement like Agama lizards. Like a game of basketball, the women had faded into the background of the conversation, animated only when they thought the men scored an argument point.

 “Can you quote the verse where it was prescribed, because I’m skeptical it exists. Also, you shouldn’t mention our culture and the Bible in one breath.”

Confusion flickered over the faces at the table.

“Christianity isn’t our culture, but we’ve grown to accept it. And that’s because culture mutates to suit the prevailing zeitgeist. If it didn’t, my twin cousins wouldn’t be alive today.” I took a sip of water from my glass. “Secondly, no one follows the Bible to the letter, or you men wouldn’t dare shave your side-burns.”

“Oh, please, that’s Old Testament stuff,” scoffed Samuel, exposing the reddish bolus in his mouth. “Christians are more attuned to the New Testament.”

Ndubuisi touched the air with a finger. “My sentiments exactly.”

“If those are your sentiments,” I said snidely, pinning Ndubuisi with my eyes, “then we shouldn’t be fucking.”

A tomb-like silence fell over the table, only to be swept away by nervous laughter. Ndubuisi and I did not laugh. Instead we smiled at each other from across the table: He with embarrassment and annoyance; I with self-satisfaction. Clearly, my remark had exposed his and everyone else’s hypocrisy.

                                                                ***


 “You’ve been acting strange lately. What’s with the attitude?” Ndubuisi said in an irritated tone, as he opened the door of his house. “Is it your period?” Normally, such a flippant comment would have riled me, but not today.

We walked past the grey foyer into the sun drenched living room—an oxymoronic contrast to the impending mood. Our relationship had become a festering boil, a parasite that needed to be purged before it sapped my essence and left behind nothing but a visible body; a soulless silhouette. Disenchantment had long eaten every rose petal of contentment, exposing the ugly, prickly stems of an onerous and unfulfilling partnership. The kind whose death surely promised life and clarity.

“I cheated on you.” It was a statement said with a calm defiance. Sex with Bode had been my penance for pretending to be someone else, for denying myself of the things I wanted and for apologizing for who I was. It heralded a new start on a blank slate. So this confession, or rather disclosure was not about fluffing pillows for my conscience at night, no, it was about ungagging the fat lady. And also, to a lesser degree, I wanted to experience schadenfreude; I wanted to draw blood—and that I achieved.

There was a lull after I spoke. It was a calculated move on Ndubuisi’s part to allow for a retraction of words; a pause to let me say I had been joking. When that did not happen, Ndubuisi spoke.

“You know, I always knew you were something of a whore,” His words were razor sharp, carrying with it undercurrents of righteous anger and bitterness. Ndubuisi’s ability to speak in a measured tone when angry was not his trademark. It was eerie watching him remain composed. “Good thing my mom convinced me last month not to propose to you.” 

His first comment was an admission of a lacerated ego. Cunt, bitch, whore and bossy were easy straws men—who could not tolerate the unafraid, unbounded, self-determined woman—grasped at to soothe their pride. The second one was a puerile remark, masking as a tit for tat suited for the woman whose sole existence depended on getting married. In his mind, I was the stray, hungry dog that had squandered its luck by biting the man who would have rescued it.

But his words meant nothing. In our three years together, never did I think we would survive eternity like comfort and joy. But I stuck with him for the semblance of stability our relationship provided, for the assurance that the ground would not cave in on me after Mom’s passing. The fear of losing love again drove me to find solace in an imitation of it. With Ndubuisi, I had pursued a safe venture with minimal risk.

            “I’m not a whore,” I said with the quiet confidence of a woman who had rediscovered herself. “And just so we’re clear, marriage was never in our future—your mom would have never allowed it. And eventually, you would have giving in to her.”

The truth must have jarred Ndubuisi’s nerves because he lunged at me, viciously caging my face with his fingers, slamming me against the wall. His fingers dug into my skin, his breathing was heavy and erratic. “You bitch,” he spat over and over again. Then as unexpectedly as he had pounced on me, he released his grip.

“Take your things and get out of my house.” His choked words bore the emotions of an army general forced to concede defeat. Head bowed, he pressed his clenched fists against the black, granite dining table, as if to stop himself from striking something or someone.


As I rolled my suitcase towards the waiting taxi, all I felt was his murderous glare clawing my back. 

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Eleventh Commandment: Thou Shall Not Conflate Issues

Man suffers from a disease called conflation—a common affliction characterized by merging seemingly related facts to buttress an opinion, deflect attention, destroy an opponent, or perhaps do all three. Essentially, conflation is a self-serving tactic employed by the craftiest of men to peddle partial truths for the purpose of creating confusing, justifying a bias or concealing a blind spot
The Thinker
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Recently, I visited a phone repair shop where I was told it would take a week to fix my phone. But since I was going to be away for a while, I decided to keep it until my return.

Several weeks later, I dropped the phone off, returning a week later to discover it hadn’t been repaired because the warranty had expired. Annoyed, I asked why I hadn’t been notified earlier, and demanded they give me back the phone.

They agreed, but said I had to pay a service charge. Baffled, I asked what service they had provided besides depriving me of my phone. “It was a new policy,” they said, adding that any phone released, whether or not it’s been fixed, will be charged. Bear in mind there was no notice—written or oral—informing the public of their “new policy”. When I mentioned the deliberate omission, calling it an extortion racket, they didn’t object because it was the truth.

What I found most exasperating about the situation was this:  Had the attendant verified the warranty status of my phone before I left (which is their policy), I wouldn’t have given it to them. The excuse given for the oversight was that I had been in a hurry when I came, which wasn’t true. As an excuse to shift blame, my standing was illogically misconstrued as impatience, when all it really was was a choice between sitting and standing. I chose to stand. And even if I was impatient, should that override their modus operandi?

We argued some more, then the customer service representative who had attended to me on my first visit said: “But I called you to bring your phone. We were trying to help you.”
Sure, she had called me, but by then I had traveled. And what was this thing about trying to help me? Bemused, I asked what my absence had to do with the fact that they wanted me to pay for their mistake. Naturally, she offered no answer, only repeating her previous line. So I shut her up by telling her to stop conflating issues.

Needless to say, I got my phone back without paying a single kobo.

Conflating issues is the favorite pastime of Nigerian politicians. Case in point, when Senate president Bukola Saraki was charged with false asset declaration by the Code of Conduct Tribunal, he claimed it was a witch-hunt instigated by disgruntled party members. He also questioned why it had taken the Code of Conduct Bureau 12 years to verify his assets, saying their findings should have been reported during his 8-year tenure as governor of Kwara State.
Senate President Bukola Saraki
Photo: Facebook.com/Wikimedia Commons
While his arguments may be valid, they should be regarded as red herrings and desultory from the real question, which is whether or not he lied about his assets.

Another example of the use of conflation in politics was in the justification of the US-led invasion of Iraq. During the war, Western media outlets beamed images of American soldiers as liberators, handing sweets and toys to children, while depicting Saddam as a sadistic dictator who had to be deposed. Granted, Saddam’s regime was brutal, but lest we forget the invasion wasn’t about saving the guy whose ears had been hacked off by Saddam’s henchmen.

Saddam Statue being toppled following US invasion
Photo: Wikimedia Commons
The invasion was about America getting its hand on Iraq’s oil. And after no WMDs were found in Iraq (which the US already knew didn’t exist), the official reason for the war changed from ending Saddam’s development of WMDs to freeing Iraqis from his dictatorship.

Notably, Martin Luther King Jr.’s legacy has also been subjected to conflation, as detractors have sought to tarnish his image as a human rights activist by highlighting his weakness for women. But what they’ve failed to understand is that his life’s work and personal flaws are mutually exclusive events, being that one did not inform the other. Now, if criticisms centered on his role as a pastor—not a civil rights advocate—they would be valid since preachers are expected to exemplify certain religious tenets.

Sometimes, conflations are crude and easy to spot as typified by Kenya’s parliament during the vetting of one its central bank governor nominees. Rather than quiz the nominee, Patrick Njoroge, solely on his professional antecedents and plans to improve the economy, lawmakers questioned his marital status, as if a wife and kids were a requirement for the job. Clearly, it was an attempt to discredit him, or perhaps portray the 54-year-old as gay or a weirdo incapable of running the affairs of the central bank.

That said, many Kenyans saw through the mud, taking to social media to mock the line of questioning.

Human thinking when left unchecked and unchallenged can be detrimental on a national scale and on a personal level. There’s more harm done with sugared lies since they’re premised on facts that lend credence to them, which is why guarding against the sin of conflation is vital. A simple way of doing that is to apply critical thinking alongside a simple Venn diagram to verify factual data. That way, mutually exclusive events and chaff can be separated from the wheat of an argument, and information can be held up to intellectual standards in lieu of irrational sentiments or flawed logic.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

What We Need To Do As Nigeria Turns 55

Zuma Rock
Photo: Jeff Attaway/Wikimedia Commons 
Last year, I published an Independence Day post criticizing the government for Nigeria’s deplorable state of affairs. However this year, because I’m an equal opportunist, I flipped the coin and decided to focus my attention on tails. In other words, I’m turning the mirror on us—the citizens of Nigeria—and the role we play in maintaining the status quo.

We Nigerians enjoy berating government officials, calling them corrupt and morally bankrupt, but lest we forget three fingers point right back at us. Over cold bottles of Star and fiery suya, discussions abound about how to remove the speck in the eyes of elected officials, but seldom is there talk of how to deal with the log in our eyes.

For instance, car owners in Nigeria can attest to the fact that leaving your car at a mechanic’s workshop is a risky undertaking. So to ensure nothing is stolen from the engine, or a damaged fuel filter with another damaged or old one, precious Saturdays are spent keeping an eye on the mechanic. But don’t get too cocky about guarding against cunning mechanics, because chances are you overpaid for that new fuel filter your mechanic just bought. In essence, he’s pocketed more money than he should have, and that, my friend, is corruption.

Another baneful phenomenon car owners can attest to are the wicked and ubiquitous potholes that pepper Nigerian roads. Granted, some—I mean most—of our roads are badly constructed that all it takes is one heavy rainfall to wreck them, but sometimes we hasten the destruction. Throwing trash out of car windows and dumping refuse indiscriminately clogs gutters, causing water to accumulate on the road. As a result, what started out as an innocuous, tiny pothole becomes the Grand Canyon by the end of the rainy season.

Corruption, the disease that has long been the preserve of the public sector, has also infiltrated the private sector. Consider the following scenarios: A private company deducts taxes and pension from employees’ salaries but doesn’t remit said funds into their respective accounts. In another company, an employee forges their hotel bill when completing their reimbursement slips. Excuses and justifications aside, the company and employee are guilty of thievery, and by definition both are corrupt.

Similarly, unscrupulous doctors have been known to purloin medical equipment and medication from government hospitals, for sale or use in their own private clinics. Not only does the misappropriation deprive the poor from accessing affordable healthcare, it cheapens the Hippocratic Oath.

Any country wishing to get ahead of the curve must prioritize education. Sadly, this is one area Nigeria continues to ignore at its own peril. Nigerian universities not only suffer from lack of funds, but also from cultism, examination malpractice, truancy and lazy lecturers that threaten students with failure if they don’t buy their poorly written handouts. How can we expect students to blaze new trails and think critically when their knowledge is limited to what’s in their lecturers’ handouts?

To be certain, Nigeria can’t create a brighter future when quality education is absent; when lecturers care more about lining their pockets than imparting knowledge and students care less about studying and more about cult membership and partying.

Nigeria is what it is today because of our collective actions and inaction. We risk sticking our heads in the sand when we blame the government for all our pain without acknowledging our role in aggravating it. Therefore, if we are serious about improving our lot, changing our negative behaviors is a step in the right direction, as it would go a long way to easing our lives and those of fellow Nigerians. Granted, countries require the rule of law and good governance to thrive, but let’s also remember that good people do not need laws to act responsibly.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Natural Hair: The Trend That Isn’t

‘Can I touch it? ...It’s a little soft,’ the young woman concluded after a brief inspection of my hair with her fingers. The inquisitive lady, by the way, was Nigerian.

When I chose to wean my hair and scalp off relaxers and heat almost three years ago, little did I know this little afro of mine would yield a barrage of questions, some curious glances and a truckload of admiration. The questions, though varied, followed a particular sequence: How long have you kept your hair this way? How do you manage it? Isn’t it stressful? Do you comb it?

Such questions are always met with a whiff of amusement, especially when the interrogator is female and happens to share the same hair characteristic as mine. The questions stem from a constant diet of relaxers and Brazilian weaves, which is why a woman spotting an afro is something of a curio; a rare specimen that warrants a visible reaction. As it is, black women’s memory of what their natural hair feels like is spotty, and their knowledge of how to care for it has long been cast off and forgotten in the darkest recesses of her mind.

Still going strong two and half years later
Photo: Shayera
Several months after chopping off my hair, I was accused of following the natural hair trend. Natural hair trend? The comment struck me as odd. How does letting my hair grow from my scalp undisturbed qualify as a trend? If it is, then what about unpainted nails and going make-up free?

Another interesting comment I heard was something about my hair not matching my personality.  I hadn’t dyed my hair or done anything remotely gaga to warrant such a remark.  All I had done was pin the sides of my hair. My interpretation of the comment was that afros are not suitable for reserved people, but rather are the preserve of artistes, attention seekers and extroverts.

Comments like these reveal the faulty attitudes and reservations black people have about black hair, which is partly the reason natural hair is uncommon in the corporate world.

Dreadlocks and haloed afros are aggressively frowned upon and branded unprofessional and unconventional for work. Yet, images of black women swinging their bleach-blonde wigs or sitting on their 28 inch bone-straight weaves qualify as natural enough to border on being blasé in corporate settings. That necks would suffer whiplash injuries from what is natural is a sad and strange reality.

Furthermore, the paucity of pictures of natural haired women on black hair products or even in adverts feeds the narrative that straight hair is desirable and kinky isn’t. Essentially, black women are constantly told—subtly and overtly—that sleek and straight are conventional; natural hair is outré. Black hair is unruly and untidy; non-black hair is reserved and in control—and being conventional and reserved is just how they intend for us to be.

While the discomfort aroused by black hair in America, though irrational, is explainable and rooted in her history, the same can’t be said for Africa. Here, we have learned and conditioned ourselves to become uncomfortable with our hair. Can we chalk our discomfort up to colonialism or an iteration of the Stockholm syndrome? Or could it a symptom of the copy and paste disease, characterized by replicating certain foreign habits without much thought—like the jarring sight of dark-skinned lawyers donning cream-colored wigs?

Indeed, we can’t claim to be enlightened when we don’t appreciate or take pride in our natural hair, but rather treat it as a burden to be quickly rid of. The excuse that managing natural hair is onerous has become tripe and feeble, especially in light of the smorgasbord of natural hair tips and coiffures the internet has to offer. Consequently, let’s acknowledge that the surge in black women embracing their natural hair isn’t a trend, because it’s not. For the decision to go natural over the ‘comfort’ of weaves and bone straight hair is a conscious one—one that represents an intimate journey towards accepting black hair for what it is.

Saturday, September 12, 2015

This Is What Fuels the Refugee Crisis

Syrian Refugees at Keleti Railway Station in Budapest, Hungary
Photo: Mstyslav Chernov/Wikimedia Commons
The recent mass exodus of refugees from the Middle East and Africa to the West is likely to continue until arms and armies become obsolete.

While some might argue that weapons of destruction don’t kill people—that people who do— there’s no ignoring the fact that life would be much better without them; that diplomacy and dialogue would be encouraged as solutions to differing views; and that Aylan Kurdi, the 3-year-old Syrian boy washed ashore, and others like him would probably still be alive and at home.

ISIS, the Taliban, Boko Haram and oppressive regimes like the Syrian government survive because they are continuously fed a steady diet of weapons made by countries that spend billions of dollars on their own defense industry. Case in point: The US and the former Soviet Union’s military interference in Afghanistan gave birth to the Taliban and a wave of Afghan refugees. Similarly, the power vacuum and sectarian violence created by the fiasco that was the Iraq war yielded ISIS. What’s more, the subsequent flood of displaced Iraqis would never have been if the US hadn’t been looking for an avenue to display and test its new weaponry.

To be sure, Syrian refugees would still be in Syria if Russia, the Gulf countries and the West didn’t exacerbate the civil war by interfering militarily.

Arguably, the last war in recent memory that may have made any sense to the staunchest pacifist was World War II, which historians claim could have been avoided. Since then, wars have been nothing short of senseless, ignoble military campaigns, and a means to satisfy the defense industry’s parasitic existence and insatiable appetite for conflict and death.

I like to think that kings in the Middle Ages exercised more caution and forethought than present-day leaders, as thoughts of losing their best soldiers—or worse, their very own lives in the battlefield—weighted heavily on their minds.

These days, however, presidents heedlessly charge into wars with no long term plan or contingencies to deal with surprises. Modern warfare has made it all too easy to settle old scores and personal vendettas with drones and faceless soldiers, without having to make personal sacrifices.

Perhaps if citizens demanded their president’s physical presence in every war their country wages, and by presence I mean riding a horse, lance in hand, at full speed towards the enemy, then the world would boast less conflicts, as leaders begin to ask themselves if the war is worth their life.

Another way to stop wars from yielding a stream of refugees would be for the UN to designate a mass of land, somewhere in Antarctica, as the world’s battlefield, where belligerents and mercenaries can fight to the death. That way, populations who want no part in the madness can live in peace.

But of course such suggestions are pie in the sky.

The closest thing to solving the refugee crisis would be to force countries that wage war to absorb refugees resulting from the fall-out, and also insist that countries aiding their ‘allies in distress’ through military means open their borders up for refugees.

Such an arrangement would make countries think long and hard about the economic consequences of fueling wars, by having them choose between profiting immensely from weapons sold and dealing with a horde of refugees.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Burials Are For Hyenas

I attended my very first burial about a week ago. It was that of grandparents, who had passed away within two weeks of each other. But this post isn’t about them, no, it’s about the indecorum, the false sense of entitlement and mind-boggling greed displayed at their funeral.

Shortly before the funeral service was over, tents began to fill in anticipation of what, in the minds of most guests, was the most interesting and important part of the ceremony. ‘Forget the requiem’ (not that they missed much, for the pastor droned on mostly about the negative effects of trousers on women), ‘we came to fill our stomachs and grab souvenirs’ was the disposition they bore.

After my grandparents were lowered six feet under, pandemonium ensued over food and drinks. An inexplicable frenzy swept through the crowd, transforming them into wild, ravenous beasts. Impatient hands shot up in the air, feverish arguments broke out, while some bottoms grew increasingly allergic to seats. The melee wouldn’t have looked incongruous in a refugee camp, but at a funeral it was abhorrent.

Hyena: Running to profit from death
Photo: Wikimedia Commons
The area where the enormous cooling fan was parked almost became a war zone. People kept trooping from their tents to the back of the van, even though drinks were being served at every tent to those seated. But of course, people weren’t satisfied with what they got—they wanted more. Some went as far as taking bottles of hot drinks that had been served to a table, and then returned to say they hadn’t been served.

The lies incensed the drinks coordinator, who yelled at them to return to their tents. Still, they remained standing like statues until a fight broke out between two thoughtless idiots, and the cooling van door was ordered shut. The recalcitrant crowd, on realizing drinks would no longer be served, left one after the other.

When the distribution of souvenirs began, all hell broke loose. Both the young and the elderly fell over one another just to get a piece of cheap, impersonal gift items. Urgings of ‘Sit down, you’ll get one,” fell on deaf ears, as they surrounded whoever took on the role of Father Christmas. When the most unruly ones began shoving their hands into the souvenir bags, I decided I had seen enough of the imbecility.

Armed with a wooden spatula, I began spanking random hands and snatching what they had stolen, but even that didn’t deter the tide of marauding fingers—not even close. Like zombies preoccupied with seeking human flesh, they continued shoving, yelling and burying their hands into the gift bags.

Nigerian burials, like aso-ebis and churches, have become a lucrative business. Ogbuefis, Umuadas, church societies and age grades all want a huge piece of cake regardless of the financial state of the bereaved. They make excessive demands for drinks (that they themselves can’t even afford) as their entitlement per tradition, only to turn around and sell them for profit. Some groups brazenly ask for money in lieu of drinks.

It seems the driving force of many at funerals are the freebies; even the caterer never returns leftover ingredients that were provided for the cooking—not that it surprises anyone anymore.

But what happens when the ‘survived bys’ aren’t wealthy to sponsor the community’s greed that’s disguised as burial customs? They go a-borrowing in an effort to appease and satisfy the vulture’s appetite, leaving their dead to darken and accrue more rent in the mortuary.

Burials, like weddings, need not be an expensive venture. Ideally, they should simple and a bit more reflective with a religious service at the burial site or crematorium followed by a private reception with close friends and family members at home.

Granted, my grandparents were advanced in age, therefore their funeral mood was expected to be of a celebratory nature. However, that doesn’t mean their ripe old age made the loss was any less painful for those closest to them. So the least the hyenas could have done was to acknowledge their pain with some reverence and civility.

Tradition is a beautiful thing when it’s not abused, oppressive or Machiavellian. And if we claim to be going by tradition, then let’s stick to palm wine, kai-kai and kola nuts and lay off the Johnnie Walkers, Bailey’s Irish Creams and Made in China souvenirs that have come to mark burial ceremonies. 

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Why I Won't Marry a Typical Nigerian

Choices: A dog or a child for security?
Photo: Wikimedia Commons
All too often, the guardians of tradition prescribe marriage as the next logical course of action to anyone who has a degree and/or a job. For them, marriage is that one giant leap everyone must take for mankind, as it is the ever so crucial cornerstone for baby making. Nothing more.

When it comes to marriage, Nigerians, for the most part, are monomaniacs. They rarely believe in being married for the sake of it, but think that marriage should be a means to an end—the end being children. Love, companionship, compatibility, reasons commonly attributed to marriage, have no meaning and don’t take root until a child is born. This is why bearing children, especially sons, is a major and important determinant of marital health and longevity—an all too familiar reality for the barren.

The common perception here is that marriage can’t be consummated without children.

A typical Nigerian man operates under the assumption that children are the marriage’s ultimate achievement. For this wild obsession, he is willing to cast the cloak of his religion aside and commit adultery. Case in point, if his wife is barren, more often than not, he and his family would seek another woman to bear his kids. Sometimes, this decision is made with her consent, other times it isn’t. But consent or not, no sane woman willingly allows her husband sleep with another woman. The only reason she brooks this aberration is to save her marriage.

But at what cost?

To be sure, if tables were turned, an impotent man would never, I repeat, never ask his wife to sleep with another man, and then adopt his kids. Rather than accept this travesty, he’d suggest adoption or demand a divorce—which usually comes with trumped up lies and allegations against his wife. The issue of his impotence never arises.

But should children really be the raison d’étre of a marriage? According to the religious, yes. Yes, because children are necessary to fulfill God’s desire for man to multiply and populate the earth, which is why churches and their congregation scream at God to bless barren women with the fruit of the womb.

While I understand their pleas, I find such entreaties superfluous and ironic since there is a huge population of orphans in need of a loving home and family. What’s more, as Nigeria’s population burgeons and exceeds available resources, shouldn’t adoption be the moral, pragmatic, humane and sensible choice to safeguarding our planet for future generations?

Perhaps God or Mother Nature, seeing the world for what it is, should impose a moratorium on childbirth.

Incidentally, there is an intrinsically dubious desire behind every reason for wanting kids. The motive ranges from the narcissistic need to indulge, admire and extol a mini version of ourselves to the security of having someone take care of us when we become infirm with age. No human, in other words, is altruistic enough to bear children for the sole pleasure of smothering them with love—that’s what dogs are for—and not expect something in return.

Accepting marriage as a sacred institution is difficult when its true legitimacy and purpose hinges on child-bearing. Every party to a marital contract deserves to know what they’re signing up for, so none is blindsided or disappointed in the inevitability of failing to meet their end of the bargain. For to pretend to love and cherish through life’s vicissitudes, when what is truly sought is to multiply and populate the earth, is to deceive and defraud another.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Nigerian Lawmakers and their Jumbo-Sized Allowances

Nigerian lawmakers are known to gorge off the fat of the land, so it came as a surprise that Nigerians were bewildered and disgusted by the 9 billion naira ($45,000,000) in allowances conferred by the Revenue Mobilization Allocation and Fiscal Commission (RMAFC) on the recently inaugurated 8th National Assembly lawmakers.

Following public backlash, lawmakers absolved themselves, claiming they had no involvement in setting their salaries and allowances as that responsibility lay solely with the RMAFC.

But that statement in itself is a weak excuse.

If lawmakers believe they are being paid exorbitantly, nothing stops them from passing laws to cap their remunerations. But then again, no sane person votes against their economic interest, and such a feat would require several Mother Teresas, who are obviously absent in the National Assembly.

While Nigerians are right to scream blue murder at the ridiculousness of the allowances, the pertinent question should be whether lawmakers, who are servants of the public, deserve the outrageous salary they earn.

Lest we forget, the last National Assembly spent the last four years passing only ten per cent of 1063 bills, and it’s been said some lawmakers, during their tenure, never sponsored any bills. So it begs the question: What are we paying lawmakers for? And why wasn’t their salary and allowances drastically slashed to mirror Nigeria’s current financial plight?

The simple, straight-forward answer? A typical lawmaker doesn’t care about laws or their constituency. All they truly care about are their pockets and ensuring they remain stuffed.

So anyone thinking the 8th National Assembly will be any different is delusional. 

Saturday, July 18, 2015

All Death Is a Release

Wikimedia Commons
Death is a shadow that follows us wherever we go, a cloud hanging over us that will someday birth what it must. It is the unpleasant thought that intrudes upon us like an unwelcome visitor, which remains consigned to the deepest recesses of the mind, only to have it re-emerge at a loss or a grave illness.

Regardless, constant reminders of the frailty and nothingness of life lurk at every corner, so much so that we have become unwittingly inured or rather conditioned to it. Grasses wilt, leaves yellow and fall, flowers fade and are swept away by the wind’s efficient hands. This phenomenon, we call, the circle of life, God’s fait accompli, nature’s metamorphosis.

And yet, we all fear what must be because the future in death remains an undefinable vagueness. This fear is the palpable uncertainty in the silent tears of the living and the unspoken words of the dying. In death’s seemingly cruel game, the lucky winners, it seems, are the dead.

However, the common notion of death as the snatcher of the last breath, or the ruthless angel waiting to catch us unawares, is flawed for its incompleteness.  

Death, sometimes, is the kind hand that lifts the heavy cross from sore shoulders, tired from the long endurance trek. Sometimes, it is the coup de grace presenting the first slither of sunshine after years of whirlwinds and sadness. Sometimes it is that which shields us from imminent agony and pain.

But the living, often blinded by their limited beliefs, automatically presume that anyone walking through death’s door is gone forever, especially those who escaped young. Our feelings are based on the assumption that life is where the party is, and death is a fate worse than life.

If we claim to believe in God or even in the continuity of life, then we must accede to the fact that death only robs us of the physical, and that what we believe to be a termination is merely a release from life’s entrapment, for the spirit never dies. It lives on in the memory of the living and in the legacy of dead.

And even when those memories fade or cease to exist, the spirit, like the wind, will go on and on.