Thursday, April 20, 2017

I Am A Writer

All 25 Amplify Fellows
Photo: aKoma
So after six months as an Amplify fellow, I can finally call myself a writer with conviction. I can claim the profession not because I wrote fiction prior to the fellowship or that I published regularly on my blog and wrote opinion pieces for other online media outlets, but because in the past six months I was in the midst of other writers who, unbeknownst to them, validated my aspirations. In this community of twenty-five creatives hailing from Nigeria, Rwanda and Kenya, I felt safe and in communion with other exploratory souls forging their path in the amorphous world of writing, photography and videography.

I speak of validation and aspirations because three years ago, after the company I worked for went under—thanks to the steep plunge in global oil prices—I made a conscious decision to take a year off from corporate life to indulge a latent desire. With fervour, I sank my teeth into the Journalism and Newswriting course I had enrolled in three months prior, began drafting a business plan for an online media platform, became a contributor for a local radio station, started writing my debut novel and continued blogging. Read more here.

Saturday, April 1, 2017

All Hail King Mediocre

Photo: Shayera Dark
Mediocrity is worshipped in Nigeria, where it is rife and readily accepted. So pervasive its stench and so strong its wave that no corner of society—from government offices to corporate teams to classrooms—has been spared. The bar of excellence has been set so low that it doesn’t take much to be considered a genius.

Nigeria, with a population of 170 million minds, could become a great nation if it terminated its destructive affair with the soft bigotry of low expectations, the mental stance driving its citizens to eschew hard work and/or accept dismal performances. 

There’s no reason, for instance, why Nollywood is still producing sub-par movies despite its twenty-plus years of existence. Nigerian movies ought to be competing with Hollywood, if not in special effects and epic sets then at least in compelling storylines. But because the audience expects little from Nigerian producers, directors and actors—and hence, makes no demands, trashy Nollywood movies continue to thrive, obviating the quest for excellence. What’s the point of striving for perfection when someone’s willing to reward a shitty job well done? Read more here.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Liberals Behaving Badly: Views on Gender

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Photo: Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie stirred the hornet’s nest in a recent interview by opining that transwomen are transwomen because their experiences are dissimilar from women’s and having been male have benefitted from privileges that individuals born female aren’t accorded. As expected, in an age where exaggerated moral outrage is encouraged, groupthink (more like zombiethink) is worshipped and dissent severely rebuked, Adichie received a lot of flak for daring to express an individual thought, one that isn’t sanctioned by the liberal left.

For her trouble, she was called transphobic, instructed to check her privilege and told not to speak for transwomen even though she’d been asked a question about womanhood.

So intense were the criticisms that she had to clarify her remarks on her Facebook page. In it, she wrote that while transwomen may have experienced difficulties as boys, it couldn’t be said that those difficulties are similar to the kind girls underwent, which normally entailed learning to shrink themselves, accommodate men’s fragile egos and view their bodies as a sinful vessel. Read more here.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

A Lesson in Socratic Questioning

No one wants to be roped by social mores, certainly not girls.
Photo: Creative Commons
Quality education and inspiring teachers are two important ingredients Nigeria sorely lacks, so when one stumble upon either, it's as refreshing as a drink of water after a long afternoon trek.

Recently, I interviewed a teacher, Itodo Samuel Anthony, whose Facebook posts on gender equality garnered over 100 shares and likes. In it, he questions his male students' assumptions, one they'd absorbed from society no doubt, that paying the bride price gives men the right to control their wives. He also involves his female students in the debate, asking if they'd like to be controlled by boys. Of course they reply, with the exception of one girl, in the negative.

Interestingly, the exercise proves most people don't want to be subjugated and girls and women can hold patriarchal views.

If more teachers, like Anthony, critiqued faulty opinions that have been hardened by customs and religion and passed off as facts of life, there's little reason why our society wouldn't fare a lot better.

You can read my interview with Anthony here.


Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Telling History Through Art: Where Are the Female Nationalists?

The National Theatre
Photo: Shayera Dark
The National Theatre in Lagos is one of the most recognisable edifices in the city’s skyline. Built in 1976 for the Festival of Arts and Culture, the bowl-shaped structure was a symbol of national pride and Nigeria’s creative prowess.

Today, the National Theatre is a throwback to past glories and unfulfilled dreams, an emblem of the things Nigeria once strove for before losing interest in the game of innovation and excellence. Like the fate of most government buildings—pretty until neglected, the theatre is no different. Its faded, rain-stained walls and patchy, tired lawns are in need of some tender, loving care. Even the road leading to the theatre’s main gate is marred by potholes, a harbinger perhaps of what one was to expect on arrival. Read more here.

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Touring Rwanda in 24 Hours

King's traditional palace, Butare
Photo: Shayera Dark
The East African country of Rwanda truly lives up to its ‘Land of a thousand hills’ nickname. Enveloping Kigali, the nation’s capital, and beyond, are verdant, terraced hills standing, in juxtaposition with clear, blue skies, as proof of nature’s ethereal beauty. The general rule that nature invariably yields to human settlement and urban development doesn’t seem to hold true in Rwanda. On the hills and between them, concrete and nature co-exist like commensals with no apparent sign of a struggle.

One striking characteristic of Kigali is its spotless streets and roads. Public bins are present on street corners, and thanks to the 2008 ban on non-biodegradable plastic bags, gutters flow unobstructed. What’s more, the mandatory sanitation exercise, Umuganda, on the last Saturday of every month, has no doubt helped Kigali claim its spot as Africa’s cleanest city.   

Another distinguishing feature of the city is the absence of mammoth traffic jams common in large cities across Africa, making touring the city in a taxi or on one of the ubiquitous motorbikes a breeze.

As a relatively small country, Rwanda’s areas of interest are in close proximity to each other. So if you have less than 24 hours on your hands, why not take advantage and visit these places. Read more here.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Teju Cole's Every Day is for the Thief Resonates 10 Years On

Photo: Shayera Dark
“The window was one of many, the town was one. It was the only one, the one I left behind,” reads the epigraph in Teju Cole’s debut novel Every Day is for the Thief. Written like a travel diary, the story pieces together the unnamed narrator’s perception of Lagos after a long absence. A major character in the book, the city’s idiosyncratic traits are critiqued—and by extension those of Nigeria, too.

The novel opens in the Nigerian Consulate in New York, where the Nigerian-American narrator is applying for a passport. There, he quickly discovers that without the ‘expedition fee’ of fifty-five dollars passport processing takes four weeks instead of one as stated on the website. With his trip to Nigeria three weeks away, the narrator grudgingly pays the extra fee, a bribe, on the advice of another applicant.

Like Lagos, the consulate is a microcosm of Nigeria, a country notorious for corruption. And by registering the venality of consulate staff and the reluctant, if not, casual acceptance of graft by applicants, Cole captures the normalisation of corruption by the Nigerian psyche, even on foreign soil where it is uncommon and subtle. As the narrator observes on his arrival to Lagos: “For many Nigerians, the giving and receiving of bribes, tips, extortion money or alms—the categories are fluid—is not thought of in moral terms. It is seen either as a mild irritant or as an opportunity. It is a way of getting things done, neither more or less than what money is there for.” Read more here.

Sunday, February 5, 2017

About that #IStandWithNigeria Anti-Government Protest

Tuface aka 2Baba
Photo: 2Baba Idibia/Facebook
January, a financially sober month for most Nigerians thanks to Christmas spending, ended with a dire warning: Tighten your purse strings more. The naira took another massive tumble in the forex market, exchanging for 500 to a dollar at the parallel market, down from 485 naira in December 2016 and 270 naira in December 2015.

Crude oil sales make up 75 percent of Nigeria’s revenue, so when global prices plunged to 36 dollars a barrel in 2015, Nigerians held their collective breath. They watched inflation rise and their savings dwindle. They watched businesses shut their doors and uncles, friends and mothers lose their jobs. They also watched feckless lawmakers in the National Assembly propose millions of naira in lifetime pensions for themselves and merely grumbled as their president travelled to the UK to treat an ear infection at taxpayers’ expense.

In the two years since the start of the recession, Nigerians did nothing but register their displeasure on social media until earlier this week when Nigerian megastar and crooner Tuface announced he was done watching.  Read more here.

Friday, February 3, 2017

Ode to the Eternal Hustle

Rush Hour in Yaba, Lagos.
Photo: Shayera Dark
Lagos, a cauldron simmering with nascent hopes and trampled dreams is not for the faint-hearted.

Boys and girls, no matter their station in life, are slicker than your average.

Strangers are in abundance, camaraderie is scarce, familiarity unwelcome.

Yet, every day thousands make their way here.

They will join the eternal hustle, all with the intention of sneaking up on Lady Luck.

Some will find her. Most won't.

For the favoured ones, a smorgasbord of possibilities and bounties awaits them.

And the unfortunate ones? Read more here.

Friday, January 27, 2017

Mother Nature Doesn't Owe Us a Thing

Mother Nature in Pink, Blue, White and Green. Lac Rose, Senegal
Photo: Shayera Dark
In 2014, Conservation International, an environmental organisation focused on combating climate change, launched the Nature is Speaking Initiative, an admonition from the environment to humans to quit their deleterious activities or face the consequences of their actions.

The second of the seven Nature is Speaking videos released on YouTube featured Mother Nature in the voice of Julia Roberts. In an indifferent tone, she casually reminded humans she has existed for "over four and a half billion years, twenty-two thousand five hundred times longer than you", so doesn't need them to survive. She went on to add, "whether you regard or disregard me doesn't really matter to me [because] one way or the other your actions will determine your fate not mine."

While the campaign carried a weighted urgency, it's hard to say it swayed climate-change deniers--assuming they watched the videos or compelled errant governments to reconsider their climate policies. Read more here.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Nairobi: A Tourist's Observation

Photo: Shayera Dark
I arrived in Nairobi not knowing what to expect. Sure, I knew from research that it was going to be chillier than Lagos and had taken appropriate measures to keep warm. I also learned that Nairobi is the ancestral land of the Maasai and that Swahili, Kenya’s unifying language—which means ‘the coast’ in Arabic—is an enduring legacy of the trading relationship that existed between Arabs and the Swahili people of the African Great Lakes region.
My research had also turned up the word Nairobbery, the jocular nickname residents bestowed on the capital city at a time muggings were pervasive. For some, such a discovery would have warranted a change in itinerary, but not me. Read more here.