Archives for category: Naija Life and Politics

 

It`s 7.am.
The strains of music are close enough for me to make out the shrill voice of the soprano and the strident choir cutting through the greyness of dawn. Its Sunday morning . Read the rest of this entry »

As strains of the popular  gospel anthem: ” Jesus Na You Be Oga” filtered  from speakers all around the bus, I was determined to keep up.  I joined in, gyrating and singing along as loudly as  everybody else. Inside this luxurious bus meandering its way from Lagos to Accra, the atmosphere was electric; alive with loud, warm voices and many heads bobbing from side to side.


Soon, my attention was drawn  to something else. From the front of the bus came an tumult of voices. I  eased forward in my seat a little anxiously. Then I smiled.

I knew the heart and soul of these  voices well. Quite simply, I often described them as The Forum. If you have ever found yourself standing by a newspaper vendor on a busy junction or roadside in Nigeria, teasing the headlines and watching others gather to do the same, then you might begin to understand the intensity of a social phenomena  like The Forum.

Where two or three people are gathered  to discuss,  express their  unrestrained views on the latest political or celebrity scandal,  football scores or news headlines, you have a powerful mix of energies and ideas.

In Nigerian society, as with all societies, gatherings of this kind are in many ways an absolute necessity. They serve a great need. People have to express themselves especially when faced  with a future which seems to diminish everyday.  This spontaneous and unscripted outpouring in itself is a perfect way for the individual to let off steam. However, the forum is a bit more than this. When most things around you defy all logical reasoning, you crave the company of other people to affirm your own sanity. There is indeed empowerment in numbers.

As I listened to this group of young Nigerian students travelling back to university in Ghana debating with the more restrained voices of seasoned traders, it occurred to me that Nigerians are definitely the most energetic people I know.  Despite what seemed like diverse opinions and  generational differences, the need to speak out and expel strong emotions created an undeniable pull, drawing perfect strangers together . We are all Nigerians in various states of discontent but our passion for a better Nigeria united us even if only for a few restless hours.

It is is where you can test the strength of  your opinions, make other people’s opinions your own, test the depth, volume and timbre of  your voice and most importantly let off steam! For a great atmosphere though, you need a few  important ingredients: naturally gregarious people fermenting with many cantekerous issues and of course… time.

I have seen this before- an ad hoc collectionof voices seemlessly gather and merge into a  formidable vocal formation- on airplanes, airport lounges, in queues waiting for the bus and most especially at the impenetrable wall of people cramped together inside and outside the bank at the end of the month.

And now I wasn’t to be disappointed.  Here we were again.  Another gathering to keep us human on this long distance road trip from Lagos to Accra. I watched the group, further intrigued.

A few hours earlier  we all sat at Yaba  bus park, complete strangers. Now you wouldn’t know it. Eyes have brightened and faces widened with laughter.  Voices are  different too. Some are raised with that unmistakable swagger of a generation who feel connected to the promise of a vibrant future; one mostly fed by the images and stories  which pour forth from the oracles of Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and  YouTube.

As I strained to hear  snatches of conversation, I was reminded of many  other forums like this all over Nigeria and indeed in the diaspora. Nigerians like myself with many different voices, in  many different places mostly saying the same things.  Voices asking questions and trying  to proffer solutions  at the same time. Voices  bewildered and hurt, watching a country cascading with such beauty and brilliance continue to move astern without much hope of anything else.

Street food vending is a human phenomenon which dates back to Ancient Rome .  The urban poor purchased food  on the streets because they did not have kitchens in their homes. Today, from  New York to Hong Kong and from Delhi to the streets of  Lagos,  there is no question that  as people are on the move,  convenient access to meals is an important feature of  everyday living. Read the rest of this entry »

 

2011_0419_nigeria_elections_m

  On the 28th of March 2015,  Twitter became the cauldron of all things relevant and irrelevant, the melting pot for anyone and everyone caught in the  Nigeria Decides  mantra. It was a hodgepodge of fascinating characters waiting for one of the most important elections in Nigeria’s political history.

 

We were all thrown together: the keen observers with unspoken agendas;  the solemnly accomplished satirists and would-be bloggers;  the quick to comment contributors; the self-made champions  fueled by their fervent aficionados and  the reckless but certainly bloodied political lieutenants and their battle-ready Twitter lords.
It was in everyway a community of people  linked by a common denominator- a shared passion  for Nigeria’s future. This is one account of many.

 

Day 1: March 28th 2015
I  woke up anxious.
A curfew had been imposed from dusk to dusk across Nigeria and with the sort of trepidation which lingers under the skin, it felt as though everybody I spoke to reluctantly waited for news of disruption or polls postponed or an outbreak of significant violence.

However, by midday, it was evident that Nigerians were on the move. #Nigeriadecides rapidly began to swell with  “live” commentary and random images from across the country. Images  taken by mostly anonymous Nigerians, armed with smartphones,  determined to retain a  souvenir but also I suspect,  as a tool to record anything suspicious as votes were cast.

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As the 28th drifted to an end,  I scoured feverishly through the feeds- the realization hit first -then the relief. The unexpected had happened. The all-consuming, hurly-burly predicted by so many simply did not come to pass.

Millions of Nigerians had come out to vote  and by and large the first day had  been mostly free of violence and intimidation.

As Nigerians shared their thoughts on social media, many seemed pleasantly unprepared for this outcome; somewhat surprised that it was all going well.
It seemed to me that we had somehow underestimated the positives that were possible. We wished it, we desired it, we prayed for it but on the day, we simply assumed it would be impossible!

Was  the first day just the calm before the storm or something else? A good omen perhaps? An indication of the protracted change already taking place in Nigeria?

 

Day 2. March 29th – Voting continues.

Twitter was buzzing with an interesting cocktail of pride and surprise. The  four letter abbreviation featured in almost every other tweet. INEC.
Nigeria’s electoral college had promised an organized affair, it had promised practical efficiency , it had promised a thorough job; by all accounts, it had mostly delivered.

images (1)

However,  a greater victory was afoot.

On the ground, on the streets, in the towns and cities of Nigeria, Nigerians continued to deliver something quite spectacular. Pictures of voters of all ages, patiently waiting to cast their vote, some amid technical glitches and blackouts, images of  visibly exhausted but determined electoral officers and observers all plowing together to keep the process moving- come what may.

nigeria-elections-_3249444a

 

As the 29th dimmed, votes were counted, results verified, reported and shared via public and social media. Tweets were adrenaline- fueled,  oozing nervous energy and an unbelievable sense of pride and expectation. We could do it. Nigerians could show the world  that “your vote counts”!

 

Day 3 Monday 30th March- Gasps and groans galore
As the anouncement of results seesawed into  lunchtime, the margin that mattered narrowed perilously,  it was too close to call and Twitter was close to cyber meltdown. The tension was palpable. This was the sort of battle which forged heroes from ordinary men; the stuff of epic folklore with the battle lines drawn in numbers.
Day 4 Tuesday 31st March- The day of the newly converted.

The deciding votes dripped in from the last few states and  for most on Twitter, God was the focus. The prayer warriors were out and took over in the eleventh hour.

And then the news. It was over. Done.  A new president-elect. A time for new heroes. A chance to chart an alternative narrative in the telling of Nigeria`s great journey.

 

Presidential aspirant and former Nigerian military ruler Buhari speaks as he presents his manifesto at All Progressives Congress party convention in Lagos

Nigerians I hail thee.
We have overcome our own deepest fears, we have shown ourselves and the world that  change was here all the time; quietly waiting in the wings to make it`s grand entrance.  Change was in the heart and civil actions of every Nigerian who overwhelmingly refused to  be derailed amid the high tensions of these elections.

These elections have also shown that we must have greater faith in ourselves. Greater faith in our own institutions- some of which are capable of delivering results if manned and piloted by Nigerians of great integrity.

Through our voices and considered choices let us continue to demonstrate that faith again and again.

 

As I eased into the sweet lyrics of ” Jesus Na You Be Oga, the atmosphere was electric as the luxurious bus fizzed  with  that un-matchable  vibe. That vibe  which makes you smile at nothing in particular as you join  a bus full of strangers gyrating and singing loudly to the same  Nigerian gospel song; and let me tell you, “Jesus Na You Be Oga” is up there with the best of the best.

Undeniably, in Nigeria, music, song and dance does it all the time.  Nothing I know works quite as quickly and as miraculously, morphing total strangers into laughing cronies in the time it takes to wriggle in your seat and join the melee of voices. Nothing except perhaps  the familiar phenomenon of ”

Nothing except perhaps  the familiar phenomenon of “The Forum.”

 The forum is a social construct only possible under very specific conditions: naturally gregarious people; a shared state of fermenting frustration  with  everything political and  time to kill.

And, just as we are highly attuned to  group recitals of  popular gospel songs, Nigerians have mastered the art of striking up discussion forums quite seamlessly anywhere and at anytime.

I mean you would not believe it but just a few  hours earlier, as they made their way to Yaba to catch the Cross-country bus to Accra this group of shrill debaters  were complete strangers.

Now, voices rang out in animated tones as men and women spoke in varying degrees of volume and brash eloquence. Each  voice determined to contribute to the heated conversations on the continuing quandary that is the Nigerian State and of course who rules it come …. sometime in 2015!

 And as eyes brightened and voices mellowed with laughter, I could sense my camaraderie with these voices.  Regardless of where we all started our individual journeys, we are Nigerians-we are  connected by that wistful expectation of a different future and the forum is necessary wherever it might spring up.

It provides a social outlet blanketed  in anonymity and  the proverbial “safety in numbers” as we spew and proffer about our vision of a different Nigeria which continues to sit perfectly polished in our minds.

And as dates are moved and agendas rearranged,  many voices  are jostling to be heard; eager voices cloistered in different places in Nigeria and around the world, connected  powerfully  by the uniformity of our displeasure and uneasiness with the politics of Nigeria and the disjointed narrative which permeates it.

Like millions of Nigerians, I  want to see a  Nigeria dragged out of the doldrums; but like many I am struck by the tense juxtaposition of disparate ideologies, wishy-washy dialogue, monotonous  charades and what sometimes feels like the theatre of the absurd.

So I ask- as we watch the next few weeks unfold- Naija which way forward now?

 

I am reassured as I creep closer to the long awaited corner. Hopefully, the cause of this delay would become clear for all to see.

20140706-095845-35925118.jpg

I might just see the lone harassed immigration officer having to deal with all of us, perhaps his colleagues were taking a day off; that might explain this almost un-moving mass of tired, hungry and seemingly deflated Nigerians.

I am wrong.

There is a stable of immigration officers and it would appear that things liven up a bit as you get closer to the desk. People are marshaled here and there, questioned about this and that. The vigilance is commendable but does it all have to be painfully slow? As a proud Nigerian, it tires me to ask: is all this ever going to change?

When can Nigerians expect to be treated with some obvious compassion by those paid to serve them – by officials who represent something greater than the lone individual.

Don’t we deserve some conciliatory words after standing on tired feet for eons?
Don’t the mums rocking  tired, crying children deserve somewhere to sit and maybe an offer of some water?

Faced with these  scenarios , for me, the eternal paradox resurfaces again and again. On one hand is a real sense of confusion about why what appears like a straightforward organizational routine -checking and stamping a passport in an orderly and expedited way becomes a blinding, painful chore, takes hours to resolve and does not end quietly at all, as hungry, tired people will be heard one way or another!

On the other hand, I am home. My own inner sense of triumph is  real and palpable; indeed it  fuels my feet and my mind as I am determined to try and make it all make sense. And finally, as I stand in the baggage hall waiting to collect a trolley in another line, it all makes sense again- this line is orderly and happily swirling with conversation.

As I gyrate with bouncy feet with my mass of fellow Nigerians towards the exit, my relief is imminent and yes- I can taste the fresh fish pepper soup trapped in my imagination!

image

 

 

Despite the soothing green spaces, the powdery blue sky and the softly lit horizon,  I was completely unprepared for the flood of conviction which took shape in my mind.

Eking  out a living in Nigeria requires far more mental  and physical stamina than any other place I have had the opportunity to experience first hand. As I observe the world outside slowly merge with mine,  faces blur into a mist of life and the scope of  human enterprise is both energizing and challenging.

I am warmed by the ready smiles of the  roadside  hawkers, eager to sell their freshly farmed produce of corn, yams, tomatoes, peppers, garri, palm oil, plantain and a myriad of organically grown vegetables.

JAKES WEDDING 1979

 

The visual collage intensifies vividly as we pass through the iconic city of Ibadan; famously described by John Pepper Clark as: “scattered among seven hills like broken china in the sun”. In this metropolis of over 3 million Nigerians,  Ibadan is teeming with wide parades of people  seemingly on the move-engaged in an endless number of human activity.

All around me, in mobile stalls balanced on their heads, young boys, girls, men and women  have most of what you might need  on a hot humid afternoon and commuters stop here and there to stock up.

Lone bystanders look on intently, buried in their own universe of things to do and places to get to ; waiting for the next bus or vehicle to carry them along to someplace else;  moving or standing, humanity here is indeed in motion- man go chop-the hustle moves on.

ibadan 4

Despite  what for many  might seem like difficult odds and uncertain times, like anywhere else in the world, ordinary Nigerians continue to see to their established routines of work, family and enterprise.

Isn`t it  these immediate experiences and the  relentless energy to keep it moving which gives individual lives meaning and adds value to everyday stories?

 

 

 

 

 

As I gasp at images of federal lawmakers lumbering ungraciously up metal gates at the  National assembly in Abuja, many thoughts jostle for space in my mind. But  Fela Anikulapo`s 1986  song Beast of No Nation overwhelms me decidedly.

Animal in human skin
Animal I put u tie oh
Animal I wear agbada
Animal I put you suit oh

 I do not know these people and it is not my intention to  to be disparaging about them personally. However, I cannot escape the feeling that  as these images are beamed across the world, their behavior disparages all of us simply because ostensibly they have been elected to the National assembly to serve us.

And as the very  ordinary individuals that they are,  I imagine that they perform all the basic rituals of human necessity quite appropriately; wake, feed,  work, play and fume when provoked. But, must they be burdened with the business of law making?

 

HOUSE-OF-REPS-CLIMB-FENCE suit

Or indeed, must we all continue to be corralled into this political arena  where watching the  tomfoolery of our leaders- some elected and some bestowed – has become a daily feed. These people who demonstrate very readily their continued concern more  with petty squabbles  and less with dignity, decorum and a little bit of common sense.

Haba!

And all this as  Boko Haram continues to unlease mayhem unmanned. Thousands spend every waking moment in shuddering fear as bombs continue to go off in school playgrounds  whilst families remain displaced and flung in all directions of Northern Nigeria.

 All this as our law makers are busy soothing their fragile political egos and  displaying  laborious agility as they heave themselves -torso and all -over high metal gates  amid celebratory cheers in full view of the whole world.

 

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In my view, the quandary of political leadership in Nigeria will persist as long as  perfectly humdrum, simpleminded folk are asked to do jobs of extraordinary importance , asked to show intelligent foresight in their actions and utterances when in truth they are unsuited, untrained and uninterested in anything beyond an ideology of service; one dedicated only to self.

These people have no business being in the front row, cockpit or indeed at the bridge, steering Nigeria`s political future. Must we then continue to vote these  law makers into office simply because of ” stomach infrastructure”? Nigerians need to watch these  embarrassing  comedic spectacles and ponder what all this says about the people  who elect such leaders into office in the first place.

“Beasts of No Nation, egbe ke gbe Na bad society” might indeed for some be too strong an analogy here but  with 3 more months before new presidential and federal elections in Nigeria,  must the  ” egbe ke gbe” theme be the default setting when it comes to  choosing  our  political leaders ?

 

Watch video clip here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J6BBGJaiSoE

 

Fresh fish fetishism is delightfully a part of the psyche of  many Nigerians at home and abroad.

I cannot honestly think of a single Nigerian who would turn away the opportunity to eat some fresh fish done up in hot, spicy pepper soup.

 

 

 

 

Fresh Fish -Epe market

Fresh Fish -Epe market, Lagos

It was  early Saturday morning and Lagos was awake and bustling.

My friend was in the car and ready to roll.

We were off to waylay the ladies with their cache of fresh fish and unlike me- the alien in Lagos- she understood this ritual perfectly.

The earlier you leave home, the higher your chances of getting anything done in Lagos.

lagos ikeja
We hit the road

Whether like us you were cooking your fish at home or like many Nigerians who regularly found themselves with  fish pepper soup in hand, positioned in one of the many evening joints sipping a cold Gulder, Star or  Guinness , you paid a small premium.

Nonetheless, you found a way to hustle yourself some.

And trust me, with some money in your pocket, good haggling skills and an easy smile, you will find fresh fish just right for  your budget.

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We arrived at the stall to set up our ambush and unbelievably, there was already a small party of people waiting .

I was surprised at the mix of faces.

 

Fish sellers- Isheri Market, Lagos

Fish sellers- Isheri Market, Lagos

 

A young lady who worked in a bank and cooked fresh fish every Saturday as a treat for her husband, an older gentleman who was buying fresh fish for  his wife, a rather tense looking teenager and of course there was us-the two fresh fish disciples.

The atmosphere changed in an instant.

Voices were raised, miraculously,  a surge of bodies appeared from… everywhere.

They had arrived.

 Laden with blackened baskets  bulging with their treasure of golden gills, the fish ladies quite calmly took their places behind the stalls and laid out their wares.

 

 

Fish sellers Falomo Bridge Victoria Island , Lagos

Fish sellers Falomo Bridge Victoria Island , Lagos

 

My friend looked at me. We only had a thousand Naira between us.

Was there any real hope of outbidding the affluent looking madams who arrived in SUVs and big jeeps or the stern faced market women who had come to buy for further resale?

As I waved the naira note in my hand, I realised this was not going to be easy.

This was going to take some special  Lagos style haggling -I pushed my friend forward and prayed silently.
1 thousand naira

In the end, we didn`t  get the biggest fish of  the lot but  in typical Nigerian style, we did not leave empty handed.
We got  enough to make a truly satisfying pot of homemade fresh fish pepper soup –hot, spicy and just right !

 

fish peppersoup 1

 

Click here to for a video on how to make Nigerian Catfish Pepper Soup

 

Read more about Fish markets in Lagos here

If you don’t like something, change it.  If you can’t change it, change your attitude. Maya Angelou

 In typical ” Naija” fashion, many voices gyrated unceremoniously ( all at the same time, I might add) in passionate response to the question: if you could fix one thing and one thing only in Nigeria , what would it be?

We all mostly know how it works.

Everyone has an elaborate opinion as to what needs fixing in Nigeria- yet it’s never quite one which can be explained in a few clearly articulated sentences.

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Nonetheless, on this occasion, I was determinedly at odds with everyone else. My answer, unlike the group favorite, did not lie with executing a line of corrupt Nigerian leaders in a ” Rawlings-like” coup, or a French Revolution style rebirth in the cold light of day. The way forward  in my view, lies not with our leaders but with us- the general populace and Nigerians in the diaspora. We  who think so little of ourselves as agents of change that we cannot demand more from those  we have democratically elected to  serve and protect us.

Well, after spending most of the evening not really listening to each other but happily  spouting individual theories of change, the rhetoric exhausted, we moved on to other matters…as we do.

voters-registration-653x365

A few days later, quite unexpectedly, two things happened in quick succession  .

First I read Okey Ndibe’s typically scathing but deeply thoughtful article : ” Again, A Case of Uncounted Billions” (http://saharareporters.com/column/again-case-uncounted-billions-okey-ndibe)

Despite the wrenching weight of hyperbole which hit home in the first few lines, I had to shake my head in vigorous agreement – the truth of his assertions seemed completely undebatable.

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That Nigeria has been and continues to be mostly  blighted by a continuum of “small minded” political leaders who scuttle along in nonsensical but highly destructive self -gratifying labyrinths of darkly corrupt networks, nefarious wheeling and dealing and blatant cronyism is a truth well corroborated in Mr Ndibe’s article.

That these same leaders are propped up by a psyche completely disconnected from notions of service  is a view that many of us, in our collective social pods have come to accept and discuss. In strident voices  we writhe in what sometimes feels like a cauldron of  overwhelming frustration.

vanguard inec cartoon

However, what really got me gasping in total discomfort  was Mr Ndibe’s  statement that: ” many Nigerians, one suspects, are hostile to the deep thinking that is a precursor to remarkable transformation”. 

Many Nigerians”? Surely, the man could not be referring to me as part of  that dubious herd? Then, the second event .I clicked on a link which took me here: http://youtu.be/wUX6LP6H3Z8.

Egunje.com ke?

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There they were,  the well knitted, highly stimulating documentaries put up on Youtube by  Egunje.com  and Public Integrity Networks (PINS) in  2012  to promote the message of civil action against corruption.

Here was a civil organization proactively  instigating a platform  akin to  having a civilized debate about  conquering the culture of corruption in Nigeria.

Shockingly, out of an estimated 150 million potential  “Nigerian” viewers in this new age of an internet savvy audience, I was only among the first handful of people to view these videos almost two years after being posted online.

nigeria-internet-users

Why wasn’t this campaign being highlighted, talked about and debated back and forth by the Nigerian media to at least  begin a series of conversations which people could pick up and maybe run with?

Why hadn`t any of my 458 FB friends posted or shared any of these videos on their page in the last 2 years?

In fact, with all my self-acclaimed interest in a progressive Nigeria, why had I not heard about or come across these very engaging clips?

119460-117532 frustration
My mind churnedThe penny dropped.  

The picture of inertia which emerged had me brooding dis-quietly for days. Clearly, it’s not just  our  leaders who are really far gone. In all honesty, it appears to me that through a distinct lack of proactive acumen, we, the so called educated elite may be slipping down the abyss of “all words-no action” so steadily  that  we may become part of the problem of Nigeria.

Therefore, as we look to a future Nigeria we rhetorically  insist on being a part of, we must envision a country that we can all collectively  take responsibility for shaping and steering as much in actions as in words.

Less talk. More work.

Floating School-Maroko

Floating School-Maroko

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