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.

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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!

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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.

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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?

 

 

 

With scrubs and rubs
and minty mud,
we preen, we cream
we peel and knead.

We layer and lather
with creams and potions,
determined I think
to soften the motions of time.

Remembering the mantra:
“hope in a bottle”,
our eyes stay clouded
with serums and scented valves
as we pursue in earnest this mirage of our mirrored selves.

All rights reserved- Colours of Crazy Poetry Collection- Oluwatoyin Sutton 2014

 

Despite having a democratic process which is hardly in its infancy, it would seem that political transparency, accountability and visionary leadership continues to be an elusive quality in the landscape of Nigeria`s political narrative.

However, browsing through pictures of Ikogosi  Warm Springs Resort, Ekiti State taken a few weeks ago, my reaction is almost celebratory. Here is a concrete metaphor of what is possible in Nigeria with the right leaders and  public administrators.

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Only a  few years ago, this place was a sorry sight.  The chalets smelt damp with moss and  mold. The swimming pool was a health hazard- with all manner of water insects happily swimming in its murky depths. The forest trail seemed a little precarious and exceedingly unkempt.

With an increasing sense of disappointment and resignation, I remembered  the hours of fun and  adventure  with my family right here as a child.  The warm springs appeared to have become another casualty. Another testament to the proverbial culture of neglect and poor maintenance which has become almost an insignia of our public institutions.

Not anymore though. 

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From the  chlorinated indoor pool to the meticulously restored colonial chalets , this resort set within 116-hectares of verdant, lush forest is truly a first class getaway.

Clearly the investment put in by the administration of Governor Fayemi of Ekiti State was not simply about restoration but also about upgrading.

And the  new facilities are impressive : a modern bar and outdoor restaurant, a 1000 capacity amphitheater, arts and crafts centre and an imaginatively conceived trek which takes you along the forest trail  to the paddling stream where the warm and cold currents meet.

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As I peruse these  pictures, I am overwhelmed by the potential that this place holds-potential unlocked by the vision of one good leader and his able cohorts of determined individuals.  As we spring forward into 2015, it is important to recognise and acknowledge the contributions of men and women who are not only willing to serve, but  determined to make a constructive difference.

What might Nigeria look like with a few more dedicated administrators and public servants?

If we are to see sustained  change in  the way public infrastructure is managed and maintained in our lifetime, then actions must speak louder than words. We must enthusiastically encourage and publicly support exemplary leaders and public servants who have succeeded in the challenge of governance and leadership regardless of political affiliations or allegiances.

Bashorun Gaa; the tragic hero of Yoruba mythology and one of the most formidable kings of the  old Oyo Empire conveyed in many ways, my childhood fascination for the mythical, almost unbelievable ancestry of the Yorubas.

Television heightened the hyperbole through superb productions of epic folkloric stories of a 14th century Yoruba kingdom which became so powerful that its tentacles stretched right across West Africa.  Words like Alaafin,  Ilari, Bashorun,  Eso, the powerful Oyo Mesi and the mysterious Ogboni took up immense amounts of space in my theatrical imagination.

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Today,  Oyo Atiba in  Southwestern Nigeria is the historical and cultural representation of the old Oyo empire  destroyed by Fulani conquerors in the 1800s. Truly one of the Yoruba heartlands, this is a  town seeped in  symbolism; both ancient and cultural. Yet, it is also a city alive with a dynamic identity of its own.

One of  its historical icons is the  Alaafin of Oyo, the traditional ruler and monarch of Oyo.  Even today, the Alaafin paints a flamboyant picture echoing the status, ceremonial  and cultural significance inherent in  the institution of monarchy among the Yoruba people.

The royal monarch of Oyo- The Alaafin-  with his wives and court  on ceremonial duties in Oyo town.

The royal monarch of Oyo- The Alaafin- with his wives and court on ceremonial duties in Oyo town.

Another icon is the bustling  Akesan market or Oja Oba (the king`s market) located only a few minutes away from the Aalafin`s palace.

Juxtaposing the old and new side by side, Akesan market embraces the visitor in an  atmosphere which is traditionally  energised and authentic yet  reminiscent of today`s society.

A mobile herberlist selling a whole collection of different potions and powerful concoctions.

Akesan Market Oyo – A mobile herbalist selling a whole collection of different potions and powerful concoctions.

Everything you need for your herbal remedies in this stall selling barks, roots and much more.

Akesan Market Oyo-Everything you need for your herbal remedies in this stall selling barks, roots and much more.

Oyo is also an important urban centre for the production of Garri, one of the cheapest staples in the Nigerian diet.

Garri- making industries in Oyo are vital both to the local farming economy and also in terms of the skilled and unskilled jobs provided for local people and Akesan market provides a lively trading outlet for local farmers in and around Oyo township.

Fresh Cssava tubers to be processed into Garri -n Oyo town

Fresh Cassava tubers to be processed into Garri -n Oyo town

Cottage Industry making Garri in Oyo town- small industries like this feed millions of Nigerians.

Cottage Industry making Garri in Oyo town- small industries like this feed millions of Nigerians.

His gallery was alive with colour, ethnic motifs and imagery rich in African themes delicately expressed in a collection of different artistic styles.

Gbolade Omidiran in his gallery showing me  his online gallery

Gbolade Omidiran  on his IPAD  showing me his online gallery

This was such  an awesome place to be.Here I was in Gbolade Omidiran`s art gallery, 5 mins from my home in Ile- Ife, Osun State Nigeria.

As my eyes darted in glee, adjusting to this fairground of colour and creativity, I literally didn’t know where to begin my visual feast. Every piece was unique, every piece drew me in and excited both the aesthetic  eye and the imaginative spirit.

Wall to wall colour- beautiful paintings by Gbolade Omidiran

Wall to wall colour- beautiful paintings by Gbolade Omidiran

Being a teacher, I am always so enthused when I get the chance to see young people engaged in learning and I can tell when young people are enjoying their learning.

All around me Gbolade`s students were clearly having a blast.

One of Gbolade`s many students avidly explaining the difference in styles between the variety of paintings.

One of Gbolade`s many students avidly explaining the difference in styles between the variety of paintings.

The bouncy ambiance and learning chatter  in the working studio which adjoined his gallery was vibrant.

Students (mostly undergraduates from the local university) were in various states of learning and experimentation; sharing and discussing ideas, actively discovering the balance between raw talent and self-discipline.

JAKES WEDDING 1642

Gbolade himself wistfully recalled his apprenticeship with the great teachers – Agbo Folarin and Baba Lamidi Fakeye of Obafemi Awolowo University.

The iconic mural outside the Department of Fine Arts at the Obafemi Awolowo University where Gbolade  completed his first degree in Fine Arts.

The iconic mural outside the Department of Fine Arts at the Obafemi Awolowo University where Gbolade completed his first degree in Fine Arts.

All in all, it was a great afternoon.

To have spent an afternoon inspired by this soft-spoken gentleman was truly satisfying and an eye-opener.

Despite what else may need fixing in Nigeria, people like Gbolade Omidiran and his contemporary Ibukun Ayoola were using their skills,  passions and individual agency to make their dreams a reality and inspire a future generation of artists.

It made me imagine how much more they could accomplish with support from the state government, you never know!

With Gbolade and his students at the end of a fabulous day.

With Gbolade and his students at the end of a fabulous day.

See more pictures of Gbolade here Gbolade Omidiran in Pictures

Click here to contact Gbolade and see more of his exquisite pieces of art online.

my mothers garden 50 omole estate

 

 

These morsels which line my memory
sit almost unobserved
in the  muscled grooves
of every step, of every waking day.

Just so, they stir and shake,
tremble like embroidered leaves
caught for eternity in the mellowing evening breeze.

Soft and tender in funny ways,
my memories tell stories of faces,
whisper of places I have been
the loves I’ve seen from within,
the coasting cares which surfed so deep.

Left happily,
we sit together
bundled in my tightly woven self,
merging seamlessly; my memories and me.

All rights reserved Colours Of Crazy- Poetry  Collection- Oluwatoyin Sutton 2014

 

As another year draws to an end, we buy presents, hook up with loved ones, feast on food and drink in lavish proportions and ultimately find ways to express the relief and gratitude of making it thus far.

However, that emotion becomes hyper-stimulated for me when I realise that for so many, in so many corners of the world, there is no relief from violence, no relief from threats, no relief from the fear of intimidation everyday.

And 2014 has been particularly flushed with acts on a grand scale of man`s inhumanity to man. Scores of men, women and children have been the victims of ghastly events and circumstances provoked by the very deliberate actions of individuals and groups disconnected from all notions of compassion. Chibok Girls.   MH17. Sewol.  Michael Brown.  Peshawer. Potiskum Bombings. And you know this list goes on.

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So what happened to our world? How come after millennia at living as a human race, in global communities fast evolving into techno capsules, we still seem vastly incapable of interacting with one another first and foremost as human beings. As these tragedies show, at one end, many people continue to use violence as an outward expression of dissatisfaction while others are fascinated by violence as a source of morbid stimulation.

As we welcome in the new year, what would happen I wonder, if we each actively took on compassion as an alternative religion; practicing acts of kindness as part of our everyday living, almost as frequently and as fervently as we pray.

Empathy and compassion everyday, not just at Christmas, birthdays or those special anniversaries. Everyday. Not just when we happen to be in the mood for it but consistently treating each other in a manner which shows that we care about what happens beyond the point of our immediate interaction.

It may seem utopian, it may even seem incredibly naive to think we can consciously interact with other people primarily through the lens of empathy and compassion. Well, When I consider where the alternative continues to lead us, I have no difficulty making compassion my abiding philosophy.

In truth, as human beings we have more in common than all the facades we choose to hide under.
This is wishing you all a safe and joyous season and a happy new year.

 

I come to you with my karmic pain 

bunched and bundled in tight little rolls

let it be said when this story be told

at least I burdened what’s left of me.

 

The noise in my head, the pulses I feel

come to me in quick pressing droves

I need you now like the air that I breathe

the air is you that is left in me.

 

Do not be afraid of this manic phase

this place that tears and brings up rage

let it be known that I came to you

to release me from all my feverish foes.

 

 

All rights reserved-KOS Poetry  Collection- Oluwatoyin Sutton 2014

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