The Spoken Word Album “I AM” – A Literary Review

Speech is an expression of mental acuity, used as a tool to build communal understanding; and so is poetry in many ways. While the former may be commonplace the vehicle of poetry as a thought-process elevates speech to an almost-divine status. This is the gift and uniqueness of spoken word as a genre of literary expression and it is this unique gift that has emerged from the temperate ambience of Jos city through the recently launched spoken word album of Andrew Patience (AP) entitled I AM. The album I AM, is an experimental exploration of the human condition in search of the beyond, interrogating human existence and self-consciousness. It is packed with 14 creative works, dramatic in tone, laced by musical rhythm that aids their melodious expression.

In one of the works, “Africa’s Rape,” the artiste attempts to invoke the ghost of the celebrated African economic historian Walter Rodney, for a conversation about Africa’s historical deprivation and the complicity of Africans in the continent’s continued underdevelopment. The work “Goodbye Depression” draws attention to depression and insomnia, questioning related misconceptions that tend to foster a culture of silence and undermine mental health concerns. This is a beautifully rendered work of art, crafted with beats that tell the tick-tock of the clock as the writer counts the dark phase of the day “…1 am; 2 am; 3 am; 4 am…with no sleep.” While the emphasis was on depression, the crescendo built to a point of introducing insomnia, but this was not developed further, raising possible conflict about what theme was really being addressed.

The album is replete with diverse titles, such as “Who murdered me?” “The Conversation,” “Without Words, “Woman in Me,” “God?” “Annabel” among others. In “Tomorrow Never Came” AP debuts as a social crusader, angry at the plight of the children and women exposed to the vagaries of abuse and abnegation of life. AP’s maiden spoken word poetry is a three-course literary cuisine, creatively served with love to inspire and satiate relationships at the levels of the individual, societal interaction and encounter with the divine. It shows that spoken word is not just about entertaining the senses, but could also be an activist tool for challenging long-held beliefs about the human condition by bringing issues of societal concern such as child labour, global inequality and collective inertia and neglect to public attention.

The title track of the album, “I AM” stands out on its own as a piece on self-discovery and consciousness. It is a tale of affirmation of conscious experience, but like every seeker of the Truth, the discovery is never complete. The “I AM” track reminds me of the painstaking journey of self-discovery that Anthony de Mello invites us to embark upon in his The Song of the Bird. So, let us listen to AP affirming…

… I’m a living spirit…

Seeking light, preying on wisdom

… I am a strong, feisty goddess

With knees that bend

Eyes that cry

But self conscious in the

I am

… I am the universe and more

Because, simply

I am.

There are areas that the album could have improved upon to enhance its poignancy. The speed and rhythm of the performances could benefit from more distinctive pronunciation of words as well as editorial assistance to bring the listener to the state that the performer’s work desires. No writer writes for herself alone, much less a performance poet, whose aspiration is to reach the heart of the audience through the ear.

On the whole, the album I AM is a highly creative and imaginative collection of works by one of Nigeria’s upcoming performance poets with so much promise to stand on the world stage. In the words of Ellen Bryant Voigt, “the making of a poem is not a performance but an adventure, an act of discovery.” AP’s work clearly epitomizes this, inviting us to question our belief systems, explore our sense of consciousness and embrace the best in us while also accepting our sense of humanity. This is an invitation for you to set forth on this journey with the album and be rest assured that, if you pay attention enough, you will find a message that resonates with your person.

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The Massage

Drunk with tiredness
I slouched into the bathtub,
Submerged beneath its currents;
The banks overflow, engulfing me
To ease my thoughts and with it
My stressed body’s tenseness;
Laidback, I lay my back in calm
On its bottom, my bottom rested
As though embalmed by the elements;
Bathed beneath the bath,
I’m cleansed As a lamb prepped for slaughter;
Massaged in this temporary spa
My legs emerged from its depth
And the white towel throws its arms
Around my watery body to caress.
I feel refreshed. I’m fresh, in a breath.
I sow a smile, singing a song
Waiting…

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Parenting As A Child – Welcoming Charles III

I recently had a child, a second and a boy. He came almost five years after the first, in spite of my dodging tactics. Now that he has come, I have been quite excited, the kind of tearful excitement you feel but cannot fully express. Somehow, the excitement is entirely different from what the majority of people might think. Several of my friends and associates decided to display their chauvinistic worldview with handshakes laced by “you’re now a man,” in reference to the male child. It was to spurn this chauvinism that I decided to name the first, a girl, after myself. Unfortunately, I am not excited – only thankful – that he is a boy. I’m thankful because I now have comparative basis to understand how male and female children act and I can do experimental parenting in some respects, trying to test some ideas I have nursed. My excitement about Charles III is entirely based on the reaction of his elder one, Charlene. Like true soul mates, she and I waited for the arrival of the newborn and when he finally arrived, those who had the grace to watch us reported that we acted as school children.

I approached parenting with trepidation. No matter how much fun lovers may feel towards each other, I think parenting should be approached with a great sense of reflection and responsibility. Deciding to get married didn’t come to me as a life mission. In fact, it was one aspect of human consciousness I never gave much thought about. I still remember vividly having to make arrangements to get married after the initial traditional requirements – paying for the wedding gown, the cake, ordering souvenirs, booking the reception venue and taking care of all other logistics. Then few weeks to the time, I called the prospective bride and told her I wasn’t sure I was meant to get through with the marriage. Maybe if I have the luxury of ever writing a memoir sometime in the future, I would tell the whole story; but suffice it to say that I walked away and didn’t look back, even amidst the tears she shed. I still remember a friend who hadn’t heard the wedding was called off going to the church and sitting through a wedding ceremony on the assumption that it was mine, until she heard different names of the couple being called out. I have been a misfit most of my life in many aspects, but this tag has helped me to know the things that matter. I can talk about it now because I ended up marrying the same woman I walked away from, though three years after. As part of the twist, I’ve been married to her at four different ceremonies. I must admit that experience has been a most binding force of our lives together than any other. So, it was not difficult to give in to her pestering desire for a second child.

I have been asked several times why I walked away then. My answer has been simple: I walked away because I didn’t know why I should stay. Over the past six years of being married, I have tried to pore through my subconscious to understand why I walked away. The closest reason I came up with has been fear of parenting. Getting married is the littlest of my concerns. Marriage is about companionship; same thing as partnership. My background in sociology has been helpful in making me see that when two people are involved in a harmonious relationship they form symmetric bonding and human energies, when well harnessed, can bring about healthier interaction. However, when you throw in a third party, things turn somewhat asymmetric. Now, you have people playing different roles, viz. the man plays husband and father in addition to plethora of other roles outside the relationship and the woman plays wife and mother in addition to several others too. The likelihood of role strain is very much near.

I decided to look too deeply into the decision to marry and focused, not so much on the marriage itself, but on the resultant condition of becoming a father at some point. I was brought up to believe, though erroneously, that having a child is a natural consequence of marriage. This erroneous content of our upbringing has robbed many marriages the joy of each other’s companionship as the society put so much pressure on the couple to deliver on their marriage mandate. Having watched marriages hit the rock and children grow up without bearing, I have been concerned about the task of taking care of a child in today’s morally tasking world in the face of pursuing a career. The crave of materialism has not also helped matters. I believe no child should be brought into this world without being given a good moral compass to navigate the poisonous waters of human choices and consequences. In addition to this moral compass, children must be provided for but never to be made to crave for money or wealth. The greatest wealth anyone can attain is containment. In fact, in these increasingly expensive educational times, having an insurance arrangements that would take care of one’s child in the future when your income or continued employment may not be guaranteed is wisdom. With life expectancy as low as 51 years in Nigeria, it is even more pertinent that our planned parenting be imbued with wisdom each step of the way.

I have been busy watching my daughter play the role of big sister. There is so much attention paid to the newborn and I have decided to let mine focus on the older child. I still remember holding her hands in the maternity section of the hospital that Sunday afternoon to offer prayer of agreement for safe delivery. Through my relationship with the young one, I have come to realize that we actively collaborate with God to bring forth children for a purpose, a process that builds our faith and teaches us so many things. I have adopted the approach that the best way to be a parent is to approach parenting as a child, freeing oneself of the adultness baggage we carry about. Children should be allowed to be children, given healthy worldview and opportunities to be fully that. Parenting as a child is adopting the worldview of the child to look at what the adult sees. For me, freedom of expression has been my primary commitment. I want to offer the children opportunity to say whatever it is that may be on their mind, without hushing them. It is only when I know these expressions that I can understand their thought processes and provide necessary guidance. In approaching this too, I am mindful that many adults need guidance and sometimes a child might provide a glimpse of a direction not thought of. So, I am choosing to be free-spirited, exemplary and loving in encountering the experiential learning process called parenting.

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I’m a mother too

Mma Tata’s dark glittering skin had seen tough days, and that morning, it was clothed by the dust which spread as cars drove through St Bonaventure’s dual-passage gate under the dry weather. Beaten by the sun through days of sitting at odd and strategic roadsides, she was sweating through her pores, even at 9 o’clock in the morning. She felt sticky, yet wouldn’t care. It was a long walk from home; and everyday confronted her with the challenge to survive. “Why can’t I survive with ease?” she often wondered and asked herself. She had arrived the church gate quite early, in time to welcome the earliest comers. She wore a round-neck faded turquoise polyester blouse upon multi-coloured wrapper that had seen times and seasons. Her head was covered with a scarf of a different fabric. She was seated where she couldn’t be overlooked. Beside her, to her left, was a black polythene bag containing a few bread rolls, two litres of water and some naira notes, of higher and lower denominations. To her right was an enamel bowel, her offertory receptacle, inside which were one twenty and one fifty naira notes.
“Please, help us. God bless you,” she chorused, stretching out her beggarly hand repeatedly.
On her laps lay her six-year old son, face-down. She had her legs stretched out in yoga form. The boy wore no shirt, his upper backside covered with burns that seemed to have affected the dermis, darkened by some form of healing balm. There seem to be visible swelling, with the boy lying calmly, as one numbed by an excruciating and helpless pain.
“God bless you,” she prayed, as cars stopped, windows wound down and naira notes squeezed and thrown at her. Same was repeated as passers-by stooped to drop their alms into her enamel bowel. One could hear her sharp, coarse voice and see her left eye affected by cataract. She was visibly a woman in need. Periodically, her little boy writhed in pain, making tiny harrowing sounds. Passers-by could not help sympathizing with the little one who looked so helpless on the mother’s laps. She would draw the dark dirty blanket over his buttocks, using her left hand to drive off flies that sought to feast on the boy’s freshly dressed wounded back.
St Bonaventure Catholic Church was a highbrow parish, with parishioners comprising key politicians and high-flying corporate individuals. Even visiting businessmen and women to Abuja staying over the weekend would find St. Bonaventure homely to worship in. They would always see someone they want to meet, their business partners, top public servants, ministers and parliamentarians. The parish pastor even had a younger brother who was then the Chairman of Senate Committee on Public Accounts. The first Mass had just ended and the second one was about to commence. The entrance, which doubled as exit, was busy with people coming in and going out of the church premises.
An army green Audi, driving out of the church compound, slowed down close to Mma Tata, the glass wound down slowly and a lady, Mrs. Leeya Ekondo, a member of St. Bonaventure’s St. Vincent de Paul Association and the Parish Action Committee on HIV/AIDS (PACA), folded a one thousand naira note neatly and aimed at the woman’s bowel. She missed it, the note falling by the side. Mma Tata bowed her head in appreciation, chorused her blessing, stretched out to pick the alms, drawing the blanket off the boy’s backside. As Mrs. Ekondo adjusted her break from neutral to drive and the car rolled away gently, she thought to herself: Maybe I could help this woman. Today is first Sunday of Lent. It could be my work of charity. She turned off slowly on the main road, let the car roll some distance, and then stopped. She wound down the glass of the passenger side, picked her black handbag and turned to her thirteen year-old daughter who was seated with her younger brother at the back seat.
“Thelma, stay inside the car with your brother. I’ll be back soon. I want to help that woman sitting by the gate.”
“Alright, mum.”
“Mummy, are you bringing her home?” It was Cally, her six-year old.
“I don’t know, dear,” she said, as she stepped out of the car. “Maybe.”
She went to the back of the car, opened its booth, dropped her handbag and took out a first aid box that was inside the booth. Over her years of practice as a medical doctor, she has seen the first aid box as part of dressing code, never to go out without. As she banged the booth to lock, Cally was hanging from the inside, looking through the rear glass, then turned to Thelma, who was watching as their mother walked towards the gate.
“Sister, is mummy going to give the woman injection?”
“No. She’s going to dress her son’s wound.”
“What happened to him?”
“I don’t know; maybe he was jumping up and down playing, and when his mother told him to stop, he refused. So, when he fell down, he wounded himself.”
Cally, who was actually jumping up and down on the seat, stopped when Thelma told him what might have caused the boy’s injury.
At the time Mrs. Ekondo reached the gate, Mma Tata was stretching her hand to her, with her chorus “Help me, please. God bless you. Help me, please. God bless you.” Her enamel bowel now had a single fifty naira note with a few twenty naira notes. She couldn’t remember Mrs. Ekondo, it appeared. Leeya dropped her first aid box on the ground and brought out a set of gloves.
“What happened to your son?” She asked.
“Aunty,” Mma Tata began. “I went out to sell by the roadside one evening, as I usually do. I left my two children at home. Ukpa and his younger brother; I don’t know what happened o. I was just sitting down there at the roadside, when I heard screams…” She paused, sobbing and breathing in fast-paced manner. “I don’t know. This life; my sister, my son was burnt to death. Yes. Emma. His younger brother,” pointing to the boy on her laps. She drew the blanket to cover his wounds. She shook her head, faced down, grief-stricken, “When I reached the house, I was told Ukpa wanted to use the pit latrine and so, tried to light the lantern. It was the lantern o…,” her sobbing voice in a crescendo. “It was the lantern. Yes. Yes. My son, Emma; Emma died. In trying to save my family, my little property, I lost one eye. Now, I can only see with one. Ukpa is dying o. Help me, Ma. God bless you.” Her entire composure was sobbing.
Leeya spoke, “Calm down, madam. It’s alright. Have you taken him to see a doctor or to any medical centre?”
“Ah ah, madam. Where will I get the money? A neighbour helped dress his wounds.”
“But he needs to see a doctor. The wound could lead to swelling and decreased blood flow in his tissue resulting in destruction of structures in his system. The earlier he is treated well, the better. You need to see a doctor.”
“That’s why I’m here, Madam. To raise money and see how to survive.”
“I’m a doctor. Let me see the wound,” she said, as she bent down, touching the hem of the blanket with her gloved hands.
The woman became agitated, shoving Leeya’s hand away, her face stale and withdrawn, as though talking to a doctor was abominable.
“Madam, don’t touch him,’ she said coarsely. “He might infect you.”
“I can see he hasn’t infected you yet.”
“I’m his mother,” she said, drawing her polythene bag close to herself. She pinched the boy beneath the blanket and he sat up, with the blanket wrapped around him.
“I’m a mother too.”
The boy let out writhing screams, gaining the attention of Leeya. She moved closer to him and pulled the blanket. She peered to examine the wound, just when the boy stood up in a flash, with a shout of “Run! Run!” from the mother. In an instant, there was commotion around the gate. The little boy ran off, gleefully across the main road to the other lane and disappeared into an undeveloped plot of land. By the time those around could make sense of what seemed to be happening, Mma Tata was seen running down the walkway towards the direction of her son, so swiftly. She had packed her belongings in quite a well-rehearsed manner. Leeya stood perplexed, as some parishioners who had observed the incident gathered around. For a while, Leeya was spellbound.

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The Mystical Dad

The memory of that numinously dated 12/12/12 can hardly be erased from my consciousness, memory of an aged man, gaunt and wrinkled by the years, hobbling into the cafeteria at Tinubu Square shortly after me who, by a twist of divine circumstance, found no other place to sit, than to share a table with me as I, observing him so intently, wondered about my dad long gone, how wonderful it would have been to share a table with him outside his cozy mansion submerged in chat about the insecurity that has plagued our country, foibles of self-discipline, indecisiveness of national leadership and entrenchment of materialism, listening to him tell of his life journey; but alas, my memory was brought back to the reality of the aged man, struggling shakily to lift a jar of water and pour it into a bowl to wash his hands before settling to enjoy his meal in silence (all before I could reach out to offer a helping hand) while I, wondering what I could do, decided, upon finishing my meal, to call the waitress aside and whisper to her that I wanted to take the man’s bill, only to be told that he had paid his as well as mine shortly after we placed our separate orders and I – with a deep sense of responsibility – turned to him to express my gratitude, but he gazed at me, his eyes strained by painful years, to speak beneath his breath slowly, yet with the gentlest voice I’ve heard in years, “my child, I’m grateful, for it has always been my desire to feed a son.”

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Drums of Distance

Even in the midst of a crowd,
When the noise is loudest,
We can still hear resonant voice of depth.

Even in the midst of mist,
When the cloud is dulled by dimness
We can still let our eyes see.

Even in the midst of distant spaces
Shredded by the exigencies of life
Thoughtful moments are near.

Even in the midst of passing years
Interspersed by silence and chats
You leave a smile in your trail.

Even in the midst of abundance
Of gracious blessings received
You’re poised to welcome many more.

Even in the midst of letting today
Remind us of long ago
You’re blessed to look to tomorrows with love.

Even in the midst of these words
Born of warmth and tenderness
I’m sending you their gracious lift.

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Let Us Pray

A friend once shared an experience she had years back in Texas. She narrated how she attended a church, dominated by blacks, and I could bet by many Nigerians too, and the prayer point kept focusing on immigration issues. The pastor would call for prayer for those who needed their papers regularized, those who had overstayed their visa or smuggled themselves into the United States. She noted that it was a spiritually challenging situation for her, since she had valid papers and couldn’t quite fit into the community’s religious worldview. Her tale was reminiscent of when a family member came into the country and while sitting in a meeting where an event was being planned, he heard another family member interjecting the discussion intermittently with “I pray there will be light.” He couldn’t help asking, “What don’t you guys pray for in Nigeria?” And talking about light, the Hurricane Sandy which affected part of New York State affected a friend such that her house was left without light for a few hours and the land telephone line was out for a day. When I called her cellphone to sympathize with her, she sounded very worried as I laughed it off and told her to calm down, since it was a situation I was used to in Nigeria. When she responded that she could imagine what we experience in Nigeria, I advised her against deceiving herself, by asking her if she prayed for the light to come after it went out. The answer was obvious. She didn’t need to. She knew it would come on and sure, it did.

So, as I reflect on the above anecdotes, I’m moved to ask the question “What don’t Nigerians pray for?” As a pointer, I will briefly proceed to highlight a few of the things Nigerians pray for. Oh, you are already thinking Nigerians pray for electricity. Of course, we do. Why shouldn’t we? When we pray for electricity, we don’t pray that the lights should come on and stay all day and keep us company through the night. We pray for it when we want to iron our shirts or heat water to bathe in the morning, when we want to watch football match or our favourite soap opera on tv. We pray for light to cool our refrigerators or freezer, not so much to drink cold water under the scorching sun, but to preserve our food when we are too tired to pour the leftovers into the pot and rehash using firewood in the middle of the night. When we pray for electricity, we are mindful that we need it so that those who are better-off could pump water for us to buy and store for use, since the tap in the house hardly flows.

Oh, we pray for so many other things in Nigeria. We pray for the traffic to clear by some magical wand, and let us go home in peace. We drive through traffic lights without stopping, praying that there is no police officer around to arrest us. I was on-board a flight a few years ago from Lagos to Kano and somewhat close to descent, the flight experienced turbulence and landing was visibly difficult. It was a violent weather and though outwardly I was struggling to maintain my calm, my heart did actually beat faster than normal mainly because of the uproar from fellow passengers who were praying in different tongues. I could bet I heard Moslems calling on Jesus Christ, Christians invoking African deities and some others beseeching Krishna. Amid the din, the prayer of the young lady seated beside me was the most troubling. She was praying fervently, “God, please, I’m yet to be married o.” Yes, that was her prayer. Caught in the seriousness of the helpless reality and the humour of her prayer, I burst out with “Is it inside this plane you want to marry?” That is the kind of prayer some Nigerians offer. There is no doubt that praying for a life partner is a specialist spiritual activity in Nigeria. People fast for days, months and years in prayer pose for a life partner. I know many friends who have attended annual religious activities to “hear” from God about a life partner. Many have heard, and some are still trying to clean their ears to hear properly.

If you have watched public functions organized by Government such as inauguration of the President or swearing-in of Governors and listened to the kinds of prayers offered by the Imams, Babalawos and Pastors, you will hear them praying to God to make the leaders good, to prevent them from stealing money, to prevent them from being seen by their enemies, to give children to those in need. Even when the leader might have rigged election, you will hear some Nigerians thanking God for the person’s election and praying for the public office holder to be re-elected. Nigerians are so religious that it is not uncommon to hear someone praying that God should touch the heart of public officers to provide good roads, schools and hospitals in their communities. In fact, I have seen students praying to pass an examination even after they might have come out of the examination hall, in denial of the feelings their intellect tells them. Everywhere you go, there are prayers of all kinds: for a contractor to finish airport renovation on time, for Boko Haram not to detonate their bomb until one would have safely passed a spot, for the president or his wife to remain permanently quarantined inside their Aso Rock Presidential Villa so that the roads in Abuja would not become impassable due to closure. Last year, during the floods that overtook much of Nigeria, there were so many prayers for the rains to stop, for the drainage systems to work and all sorts. It is difficult to document the plethora of things Nigerians pray for because I will need to undergo months of prayer to be able to attain such aspiration.

Meanwhile, you might be thinking that so far, I have not focused on how Nigerians pray for money. Let me tell you how some of those prayers actually go. If you are working in Nigerian Customs Service, for instance, you are likely to wake your wife and children up around 3.00 am and cast and bind any spiritual forces that might be preventing your being posted to some specific national border spots or sea ports – rather than be in the office – so that you can make more money from fraudulent deals. If you are working with the Nigeria Police, you are likely to pray (while working to use all contacts at the Force Headquarters) to be posted to a state where the governor is engaging in shady deals so you can protect him at a price. If you are a female banker or financial services advisor in relationship management, you are likely to be waking up early in the morning and praying that God will lead you to a male prospect who would not ask for sexual favours before doing business with you. It is not beyond some Nigerians to pray that they will land a job they are not qualified for, or be blessed with a car they don’t need. There are some Nigerians who pray that the contract they have paid kick-back for and obtained would not be cancelled. Some pray that the contract they have executed and paid bribes for would be paid when they submit their bills for payment. Nigerians pray that when they fake academic qualifications to apply for job or some corporate documents to apply for a contract, the person evaluating the documents would not see that they are not genuine.

Prayer is a living art of communion which validates and reinforces our existence as spirit beings and focusing on the externalities of human existence makes the process of praying bereft of its essence. Most of the things I have heard people pray for have no bearing on their existence as spirit beings. Having observed the wide continuum of prayerfulness among Nigerians and the motley of themes and concerns that inform the prayer life of many, I think there is a valid need to be worried about the increasing abnegation of personal responsibilities. People should be held responsible for failures of the state or institutions, rather than just “pray” them out of existence. We will not need to pray for electricity if those given responsibilities and paid to provide this service are held accountable for the trust reposed in them. We would not need to pray for doctors to be dedicated to their duties in hospitals if those who have responsibility to hold them accountable do their jobs. I have often mocked the proliferation of places of worship across Nigeria because they have become physical spaces of human communion, denuding the individual of the grace of cultivating his or her heart and inward being for penetration of the redemptive light. The externalization and proliferation of prayerfulness in the form we know it in Nigeria tends to underline the systemic rot in the country. Ironically, it is a rot we cannot successfully remove with the kind of praying the country has gone berserk with. The prayer we need is one that redeems and renews the inward being; that nurtures love, dispels hate and engenders genuine smiles and trust.

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Dilemma

Freewill, I emerge from her womb
With rarest gift nature bestows
And took as companions faith and reason
As first free deed of my will.

Into philosophy I plunged with faith,
Crossed the line of aesthetics
To hold a rare date with logic
And there I lost my faith.

Retracing my limbs, I leaped
Into theology with reason
And saw guilt littered all round
And there too my reason was gone.

Reversing the network at will,
Into the other I plunged the other.
And still was left with something gone
Only now it was my freewill

One of two things it seems I must do
Choose between my will and others
But whichever way I dare turn
My humanity is there at stake

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Kitchen Recruitment

In the days and weeks following disengagement leave granted former Comptroller General of Nigeria Immigration Service (NIS), Mrs. Rosemary Uzoma, there has been a media buzz about corruption in recruitment process into many government establishments in the country. The Minister of Interior added to the news when he informed the public that the CG had to be sacked over allegations of recruitment fraud, poor management of promotion procedures among other misdeeds in the NIS. I can imagine how the Minister for Interior would have called and offered her opportunity to voluntarily retire or be embarrassingly kicked out. In Nigeria, many people don’t get kicked out of responsibilities for corruption, except the person has done something “substantially” offensive to the powers that be or is too powerless within the social circles that matter. Given my experience with how government institutions work, the Immigration boss did not recruit people who had no one to back their applications. She probably recruited people recommended from the National Assembly, the Presidency, Heads of sister establishments and related institutions. For this singular reason, she deserves the fate that befell her, because I’m sure in handling such recruitment she would have bypassed a graduate from poor and non-influential background, but without any political patronage. So, I will not mourn her exit. I only wish same decisions would have been extended to all other heads of government agencies because they are very much in same boat. In fact, the retirement of the CG as against dismissal could have been made possible by those whose children and relatives she favoured. So, to that extent, she is still a beneficiary.

Following the sack of the CG, there have been allegations by many who complain that they had been asked to pay the sum of N500,000 to secure jobs in Immigration and other government establishments. These accusations are not false. Last year, during the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps recruitment, a family member who had applied for placement was asked to pay N200,000 or obtain a letter from a National Assembly member representing us. Since I couldn’t settle for paying the required sum, I tried to secure appointment with the National Assembly member but it proved quite cumbersome. The aides to the parliamentarian clearly asked me to pay to obtain the letter. Needless to say, I drove away and informed the family member to forget about the job. Before then, I had another experience with the Federal Civil Service Commission concerning their issuance of forms for prospective employees to fill out and return for possible placement. The procedure for obtaining the form was punitive as one was expected to queue outside the gate under the scorching sun for hours before being called in. If you didn’t want to do that, you needed to pay a retinue of people from the security men to the office clerks to get the form, and it was no guarantee that you will ever get called for test. People have filled out the forms for up to ten years without being called, yet the Commission keeps issuing appointment letters to others on some criteria, mainly through patronage. In fact, when I succeeded in seeing one of the commissioners to get the form, I was asked to backdate the date of reception since the form was not for public issuance as of the time I was being given one. By that experience, I knew chances of the family member being called for a test was highly unlikely.

I once asked a friend whose aunt was well-placed in Government why she hadn’t secured a good -paying job using the aunt’s connection. She revealed that the aunt actually do help people from their community to get employment, but demands and collects a fraction of their salary for the first one to two years as reward. She revealed that she had done it to her brother and she wasn’t ready to submit to such slavery. Such cases are not uncommon. There is another which involved a family member who was rounding off her Masters degree in the UK. She flew into the country upon being shortlisted for an aptitude test into a government agency. After successfully scaling through the two stages of test and oral interview, she was asked to get a member of the corporation’s Board of Directors to support her application. That was after spending non-reimbursable expenses on flight to come to Nigeria. Needless to say, she lost the job and though it was in the public domain that the recruitment process in the organization was fraudulent, the head of the institution is still serving.

The corruption which has characterized recruitment into public service is endemic and is the seed that breeds the future of the country. Unfortunately, I can say without mincing words that the future is bleak, except people resent the system and revolt against it. I don’t believe getting a job should be seen as a miracle if merit is allowed to work. Sadly, it has become a miracle, especially for those from low socio-economic background. I have seen Nigerians pay several amounts or use unwholesome means to secure a job and the next Sunday, they are jumping up in the church to give testimony of a miracle. They are no different from those who cheat in exams and thereafter boast about their academic credentials. I have seen situations where ministers, parliamentarians and well-placed public officers use their influence to get placement for their wards and these wards come into the organization and display arrogance. In fact, some have been placed on positions they do not have requisite qualifications and experience to handle, thereby dragging competence in the mud.

There are numerous tales of recruitment corruption in Nigeria perpetrated by heads of public corporations. It is going to continue because the parliamentarians have failed to do their jobs of oversight function and rather settle to use their political clout to garner those positions for their cronies. They sell these slots through their cronies to third parties. I know of recruitments into watchdog organisations, including the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, which were done mainly through political patronage, thereby making it impossible for total allegiance to the mandate of the respective organizations. When I talk about recruitment, I am not referring to executive positions only, but lower cadre and mid-level grades. There has been talk about slots for the President and First Lady in many government institutions. I know people who have utilized these slots and from the way it has been arranged, they have been slots controlled by the aides of these public officers, from the special advisers, special assistants, “personal assistants to special assistants to the special advisers,” etc. The slots range from recruitment to scholarship awards, whether it is direct Federal Government Scholarship or those awarded by Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) or Petroleum Technology Development Fund (PTDF).

Over the years, I have come to accept the valid reasoning that the process of recruitment into an organization determines the organization’s resilience and ethical culture. I have told friends and relatives who care to listen that when you notice that the process of recruitment into an organization is fraudulent, know that in the course of working for such organization you will be faced with ethical dilemmas. Being prepared for such moments helps one in making choices and taking responsibility for those choices. I have interacted with many organizations and people and I’m yet to be proven wrong. Organizations that have had established history of ethical resilience have fallen in standards because a chief executive officer, along the history of the organization, greatly compromised in the recruitment process, and entrenched a culture of issuing letters of appointment to people in the kitchen based on expected benefits or political, ethnic or religious affiliations, without test or interview. In fact many are done without any meaningful background profiling to determine suitability for employment on certain positions of trust or claims of credentials. The change in culture has remarkably been validated by incidence of fraud and drop in work standards in many organizations in Nigeria. We should express worry about this state of affairs. If the people who hold the country’s future are being subjected to riding on the back of fraudulent recruitment process or, put more nicely, on political or socio-economic patronage, we cannot expect their future decisions to be free of ethical flaws. It will be a real miracle if it happens otherwise.

Viewed from a vantage point I want to assume that most of the best hands may be drifting into the private sector, where there is more appreciable level of merit-based competitiveness and diverse skill sets are recognized and encouraged. This leaves the public sector to be incrementally dominated by children of the powerfully connected, who happen to be indolent at best since they have hardly worked hard to get to where they are. Unfortunately, these are the people the future demand for development and growth would saddle with the responsibility of championing government reforms. It is clear that with the increasing entrenchment of oligarchic-aristocracy in public sector recruitment, the future of this country has been mortgaged as the circle is bound to continue. Change has often been successfully driven most times by those who have become fed up with the system on the throes of exclusivity, which beneficiaries of the fraudulent process clearly lack. This is not a task to be left to the corrupt and clueless leadership of modern day bureaucracy. People must put pressure at every point on institutions to be open in their processes. We must use every means available to bring attention of this problem to public knowledge and develop a social conscience, voice and engagement platforms that would wage war against this impending danger.

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The Dawn

Everyday I rise
To a fresh
Good morning
Of newness
Behind the whistling
Of the pine
Seeing
Your miracle
Aglow with
A sparkle of hope

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Filed under Poetry