Monthly Archives: November 2012

A Culture of Waste

It was Labour Day. His Excellency, the Deputy Governor, was hosting labour leaders in the State at Creek Haven to mark the day. It turned out to be a sumptuous evening with gregarious tastes as varied delicacies paraded the vast expanse of His Excellency’s dinner hall. It was a buffet and you could get as much helpings as your appetite inspired. Leading the roughly thirty labour leaders, His Excellency, accompanied by an assistant carrying a tray holding a flat plate, scooped a splash of rice, then added a piece of fish, a meal that would hardly satisfy a four-year old who is truly hungry. Among us, someone caught my attention. Someone always does. My eyes trailed him as he picked from virtually every bowl until his plate overflowed and then accompanied him to where he sat. My eyes were fixated upon “doing sociology.” He had actually taken more than he could consume, because when some of us were done with the appetizer, main course and dessert, he was still battling to level the single course he had settled for. When the dinner was done and we were ready to go, my eyes couldn’t help being awed by the mounts of food still sitting on bowls untouched, enough to feed two more of our numbers.

That was food. I’ve seen a lot more. I’ve been to a public officer’s house where I saw fleet of cars and wondered if each room was an estate housing a family of adults each driving a car, only to realize that there were no kids in the house as they were grown up and on their own. I’ve entered houses with over ten bedrooms with no one resident there, except that once in a long while people occupied a few of the rooms. I’ve walked into government offices, where there are so many empty spaces that you could run a school in them. I’ve seen government offices where spaces left unused could be rented out and the money used in paying salaries of their staff. I’ve seen public funds expended to train people to the highest levels of competence, but such people are hardly given opportunity to use the knowledge. I’ve seen events where public funds were used to rent rooms in luxury hotels far beyond the number of genuine participants expected and then the excess rooms converted to house commercial sex workers to service the participants.

Nigeria is a country of waste. This is stating the obvious. Government start projects they know they will never get around to use or see to conclusion. People award contracts for the sake of awarding contracts, not necessarily for the sake of completing a project. It is in Nigeria you hear that four companies are each awarded a contract to supply a model of generator to a particular address at the same time and these are processed and paid for. It is in Nigeria that public officers are given monetized cars they keep in their houses while using pool cars, and after four years new ones are brought in while the older ones given out to them virtually free, to resell at much higher amount. It is in Nigeria that someone would hire a commercial aircraft for over four million naira ($25,000) to attend a few hours meeting, even after knowing about the meeting days and weeks ahead. The unfortunate thing in Nigeria is that public and individual wastes are symmetrically bonded, one feeding the other. It’s this intricate relationship that entrenches the resilience of waste in our society.

The relationship between the culture of waste and corruption in Nigeria is too obvious. There is a psychotic rationale among many Nigerians which fuels the culture of waste. It’s the reasoning that waste, or ostentatious display of affluence, is a sign of material success. People steal public funds by committing all manner of fraud because they want to feed a particular life style. I’ve heard of a statement credited to a public official years ago, that Nigerians steal more than they need and that if they only stole what they needed, the resources would have been enough to go round. This is a pathetic comment on our collective psyche as a nation. Why should they even steal? My knowledge of how government works is that those who steal public funds most are the ones who should not steal at all – presidents, governors, senators, assembly members, ministers, commissioners and heads of government institutions. The legitimate perquisites of their offices are so enough for them, if they are not wasteful or avaricious. Sadly, I have also found out that public officers are in silent competition with each other on who can steal most and buy more assets. I know of public officers at both state and federal government levels who are in mad rush to build hotels because one of their kind has built one, or in mad rush to secure a plot of land at a particular location because one of their kind has secured one. They feed on collective financial hysteria, driven by shared wasteful dementia.

It’s the same demented reasoning that is given by people who claim to build a future for their children to the point of buying certificates for them. It’s the same reasoning that claims to secure children’s future by stealing government money. It’s the same reasoning that underlies claim by people who seek to secure their children’s future by building houses with rooms enough to house a community. It’s the mindset of waste, a mindset that feeds on one’s ego and personal appetites in disguise. Unfortunately, this mindset is pervasive among public officials as well as private citizens. While growing up, there was a story of a federal public official who stole so much money to keep in store for his children, and when the law was about catching up with him, he poisoned himself. What a distorted sense of altruistic legacy to leave behind! History has shown that whatever legacy we leave for our children, we deceive ourselves if such legacy does not comprise values of respect, love, hard work and integrity. These values will outlast the value of materialism or any other driven by culture of waste or avarice.

Recently, I had a chat with some friends on constructing personal homes. As the discussion progressed, I asked which of them was still living in the house their parents built. There was none. All had moved away, even within the same town with the parents, some preferring to live on rentage. I went further to ask why they thought that their children would live in the ones they are building. I even went ahead to share a story I’m very familiar with which is fitting to reproduce here. It’s the story of a retired professor from the South-west, an outstanding gentleman and academician, who owned a hotel I have stayed in a few times. It is always a delight to stay at his hotel, as he is often around for a lively chat about life and goings-on. During one of those chats, he mentioned that he was selling off the hotel so that he wouldn’t bother about running it as he was aging. Prompted to know why he wouldn’t leave it as a legacy to his children, he revealed that he had called each of the children to come and take over, but they were all settled abroad and none accepted his entreaties. He then added that the one he was most hopeful of taking the offer was the one that told him “Dad, sell the hotel while you are alive and enjoy the money or else, I will sell it when you’re gone.”

Well, you might shudder at the story of the professor, but it is the reality. I have followed the man’s life story and the hotel was painstakingly built through his sweat, without stealing any public funds. He is relieved to sell off his investment, without having any headache. But, would he have been relieved if he had stolen public funds to build the hotel with the hope that his children would inherit it? It’s our introspective response to this question that can give us a candid view of the culture of waste we are enmeshed in.

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Safer Onboard

It was a scorching afternoon as I stood there, at the lanai of the Accident and Emergency Unit of the hospital. Like an ambulatory patient, my eyes were taking in spectral glimpses of multiple faces interacting deeply with the atmosphere. Over there was a man being lifted out of a car onto a wheelchair. He was frail and elderly. There was another man by a pillar supporting the covered porch, seated on a stone on the ground. His head was bent in deep recollection, supported by his two palms. Closer by, was a woman on the phone. She was telling the other party that her son had gone to the bank to pay the required money and would thereafter bring the teller. Not far away a lady circled with a child dressed with only diaper in her arms, trying to pacify her to stop screaming. Close by was a group of four, three women and a man. They had questioning eyes that sought answers from each other. Just about where I stood, a young man was assisting another to offload cartons of Parazone® bleach being supplied to the hospital.

I stood and sipped the flurry of movements, people going in and out, with eyes and hearts ached by varied pains in search of unknown reliefs. It was in the midst of this thoughtful repose that a young man approached me. He, without asking to know if I was familiar with the environment, enquired where a bank was close by. I pointed to a microfinance bank I could see in sight, but he declined and said the hospital sent him specifically to a particular commercial bank. I pointed to a security operative some distance away, advising him to seek his answer there. I was left to return to my conscious engagement with my surrounding.

I had gone to the hospital to see a friend who was coming also to see a friend whose child was admitted at the hospital. We had agreed to meet at the hospital and I arrived earlier than her. It was while waiting for her arrival that I took in the above snippets of my environment. As I stood there, one thing that came so strongly to my senses was the hospital smell. I don’t know whether to call it a stench or a scent. Well, I don’t think it was a stench, though it had a choking sensation on me. But there is a strong impression the hospital environment leaves on the olfactory senses. Something uniquely hospital-like, though hardly hospitable. May be it was my mind, but I sensed it as a child, about thirty years ago. I grew up, without being taught, to identify it as the smell of death. Yes, the smell of death.

If you have been to Nigeria’s hospitals, you would have, no doubt, perceived the smell that distinguishes the hospitals, something that hovers between dearth and death. I’m referring to the dearth of healthy medical facilities, of committed and competent medical personnel whose primary drive is service over money, the dearth of needed equipment to forestall increasing deaths. Many Nigerians have lost family members and friends to the dearth of good medical facilities, lack of electricity, poor recruitment process, bureaucratic bottlenecks in hospitals among other causes. Unfortunately, the problem isn’t abating. With increasing polarization of socio-economic status and inequality, little commitment is shown towards empowering healthcare facilities in the country. Many medical personnel are recruited through personal contacts, sometimes with a history of doctored competences, rather than on merit.

As a child, there were two inviting professions that stood out as being at the service of the individual, with a twin commitment to salvage man disease of the body and the mind. They were the medical and teaching professions. Both existed to complement each other in treating the somatic and psychic ills of human existence. They delighted in helping you live healthy life and enjoy the delight of study in building the mind, the reservoir of human well-being. But the times have changed. Though I have met a few doctors who are driven with a commitment to save lives, I have met many who are presently brazen-faced in their drive for money over service.

The smell of death that enmeshes the hospital is so pervasive that you can visit the hospital healthy and return ill, either by just being in the hospital ward or using the toilet facilities. It is the vicious circle of medical care and it probably accounts for bouts of in-patient/out-patient interaction that characterizes the medical treatment process. I’ve been to tertiary hospitals, as well as private ones, where water does not run, and you have to use bucket to fetch water and flush the toilets. I’ve been to ones where medical personnel are lackadaisical in responding to patients, no matter how obvious the patient’s health condition might be. I’ve sat before a doctor who had to google symptoms and prescribe medication without running tests. I have lost family and friends because of the negligence of medical personnel.

I must admit, I have met wonderful doctors who are selfless in their practice, but they are getting fewer by the day. The work ethic of the medical professionals is dwindling by the day and no matter how much money is injected into the health sector in building hospitals, providing equipment and paying emoluments, if the work ethic is not addressed, death will always lurk in the atmosphere of the medical facilities. If truth must be told, I feel closer to death being at the hospitals than being onboard an aircraft in Nigeria.

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November Nineteen

I felt the twitch in my stomach and my lower abdomen swelling, prepping for a burst. I had been glued to my laptop, punching the keys to churn out a report that was almost past due. When my resilience began to waver in increasing intensity, I rushed out of my cubicled space, my steps quickened by escape from timed bomb seconds away from explosion. On my way, I waved away greetings of colleagues. My destination was to regain life. I shoved open the door, drawing my zippers in the heat. Then with a deep breath, I came close to embracing the urinal mounted on the wall. As I felt the drain of strain and weightlessness giving me back life, I noticed that I was not alone. A colleague was leaning to my right, almost done, drawing up his zipper. I didn’t say a word during those busiest seconds, somewhat recalling a funny myth that when you are busy in the restroom, don’t say a word lest the evil spirits come around. I chuckled to myself with the memory. My colleague spoke up. “O boy, the way you were rushing in, I thought someone was pursuing you.” I didn’t say a word, but smiled. Wasn’t I being pursued? As I pressed the liquid soap container and then the faucet, with my hands under the outpour, I noticed he just walked away, without washing his hands. A memory came alive: “You shook hands with that guy earlier in the day.”

The truth is I have often noticed such situation many times, where people use the restroom and then walk away as though they just came out of the bathroom, done with having their bath. I have seen it happen at various facilities, including my very exquisite office environment where the water flows ceaselessly. So, it’s not about water being unavailable. What then is it about? Certainly it has something to do with knowledge, behaviour and attitude. People just don’t care. I don’t know what happens in the ladies’ but I just know the restroom is the most central place in everyone’s life. Or, it should be, on a juxtaposed position with the kitchen. I still remember my basic Health Education class during my primary school, where we were taught to wash our hands so often that I was feeling incessantly in need of some form of cleansing. I have a friend who was probably taught same and who carries it on so fanatically to this day that she washes her hand at every touch until, I think, her hands tend to assume some igneous features.

One may wonder if it is all about washing the hands. Nay. Not all. It’s about toilet etiquette. It’s about the non-availability of toilet facilities in many houses built in Nigeria. It’s about the lip service paid to environment and public health in Nigeria. It’s about not caring about ourselves enough. Let me tell you a story. Years ago, a friend invited me over to his village somewhere in Eastern Nigeria. I was to spend about four days. I travelled the four hours to his home town from Calabar. The first day went pretty well and there was no incident, somewhat my body didn’t relax to the new environment easily. On the second day, after tasting the various local delicacies, I asked to be shown the restroom. He led me along a footpath meandering through low green vegetation until we were some distance from the house. Then, he began to explain, spreading his hands to show me the vast spaces opened for my use. As the reality sunk in, I laughed at myself. I was numb for a while, my mind racing back to the lovely house they called country home, being without a toilet. When I came around, I made a funny joke to ease my tension. “With the wind blowing, one can feel natural warmth as one squats.” I’m sure you want to know what happened thereafter. Nothing happened.

On November 19 each year, the United Nations marks a special day in the life of the individual. It’s called World Toilet Day (learn more here). I’m sure you are wondering what will the United Nations not mark. The UN arm that anchors the events of this special day is the World Toilet Organisation. You can read about them on the link above. As I reflect on the day, I am thinking about the poor water and sanitary situation in the country, the non-availability of public toilets and government’s corrupt interest in curative rather than preventive health care. According to the United Nations data for 2012, 34 million Nigerians still defecate in the open. This is an abysmal statistic and we must each dedicate our energies to reducing this unwholesome situation. Sanitation and toilet etiquette is at the centre of human wellbeing and it goes beyond the unserious monthly sanitation of cutting grass around our homes. It is about our knowledge, attitudes and behaviour. For a start, why not sign up (here) as a member of World Toilet Organisation and begin the process of learning something healthy!

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Profile of a Birthday

It’s a birth day. The previous night had gone to sleep, rolled away from our sight into the bosom of memory. The night, still enmeshed in the heat of longing, melts the anxiety of waiting. Now, in incremental space, we trek into the day, into its early seconds and minutes. Welcome, an excited greeting, seems to be the word in our hearts. I smile and wonder from keeping vigil, how lovely the day opens up to embrace the pollens of smiles, of goodwill, of warm wishes, of messages that seek for preeminence. And in keeping vigil, my weight lay beside on the bed, counting the hours, then the minutes and finally the seconds, thinking these thoughts, not wishing to ever let them be lost to the permanence of black ink on white sheet.
In a flash, the mind finds solace in yesterday, in the collection from Swatch and its crystals of glow. In my mind, there’s agitation, not of stress, but of soothing sensibilities that long to be part of the day in whatever measure the celebrant might choose. I must walk the day with a smile on my face, thankful that a trip, a chat, a wireless means of communication could conspire in a magical fashion to bring forth a day that distance cannot disparage, though work conspires to deny my presence.
I smile. Yes, a smile, one which I saw long ago and thought I could own and then took each step that leads towards her conquest. It’s a birth day. Though births do come in daily doses, we don’t celebrate births daily, nor do we embrace all births with same gleeful moods. Something about births defines our glee and I think it’s not the birth itself, but the person who’s born, whether into our homes or into our hearts. And this is one birth the heart embraces with smiles and love.
I’m awake to begin the day, arm in arm, to walk the day to its height of warmth. And when the day is done, I must look back, cuddled on my bed in sweet converse across the distance and declare “I miss you. I look forward to be back.” I love this, the simplicity, the genuineness, the inexplicable warmth that chastises my absence, making me miss the comfort of the celebrant. And then I see the portrait of you in my heart, a warm, glittering display, carved as a statue on a pedestal of gold for a pilgrimage of sort. It’s the portrait of an empress holding a flower and a chocolate cake, couriered and delivered promptly, a birthday memento. I’m now looking at it. The bright profile of a smile, scented upon a silhouette of sensual glow, smiling outright at me in poignant display and pageantry poise. Oh, the stare of the eye and the show of the dentist’s delights are complementary marks of beauty. I can feel my hand stretching out in prayerful openness to welcome the other’s and then clasps these, as two would kiss beneath the moonlit skyline. The happiness of the day empties itself into our hearts as we look forward to another November.

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Gone with the morning

It was a rushed evening as Marcus stepped out of the office and turned left towards the car park, struggling to calm his uneasy excitement. He loosened the tie from strangulating his emotions and hastened his pace so as to arrive the airport early against the evening traffic. The walk to the car park led his mind to that Sunday afternoon at the airport in Enugu, when the shuffling footsteps of a young lady briskly marched up against his.

“Good afternoon,” the silky, light-toned voice intoned. “Are you headed to Abuja, please?”

“Yeeeeeees,” he replied, dragging the response in congruence with his soaking look at the brown envelope she hugged, somewhat involuntarily sizing her up. Her height wasn’t exceptional, tending to fall slightly below the average percentile. Except for her face, which seemed to have recently undergone acne-treatment, she had a smooth skin, with a well-shaped face, round somewhat, with oblong smoothening around the edges. Her gown was neatly sewn and she walked smart. She wore a sterling smile, visible and invincible.

When she explained the need to assist in carrying a parcel for her, Marcus could see she noticed his hesitation and, in quite a psychical move, offered to open the envelope as a means of convincing him that it wasn’t a suspicious item. A smile hid its contours within his mouth. This girl looks smart, he thought to himself. He stared at her face, searching lines of sincerity. They were not difficult to find, or so he thought, even though he pondered why the lot to carry the parcel fell on him.

He turned his eyes to survey the environment, not knowing exactly what he was looking for. Was it the eyes of people who might think he was falling prey, because it was a woman? Or, was he looking for semblance of an accomplice? He refused to form conclusions, though stories of ladies and the East had made him wary and reclusive during the countable occasions his job took him to Enugu. The desperation on her face took the better part of him, or maybe something else he couldn’t fathom, such that when he agreed to assist, he struggled to resist the urge to follow her at a distance to see if she was working as part of a team. She explained that she served as a rapporteur for a workshop organized by a civil society group and the report, digitalized on CD with a signed hardcopy, was needed to be submitted at an office in Abuja before she could be paid. She requested his phone number with a promise to call and he gave without hesitation.

As she walked out to the canopy of the departure hall entrance, he let his instinct lead him after her from a distance, entertaining the brief cursory thought of their paths crossing again. Then, he watched her climb the black Toyota jeep and bang the door. A few minutes later, when he was sure she might have settled in on her way out of the airport, his phone beeped to signal a text message. “I’m very grateful,” it read. A second or two elapsed when the next came in. “I’m very grateful. Gwen.” The smile was obvious, and he chuckled at himself.

At the boarding gate, the agent pointed to the brown envelop he hugged so tightly, asking what it was. He stuttered, looked at the agent, the parcel and then freed his chest of the choking air, before answering “Oh, documents. Just documents.” The agent paced him up and down, his eyes sweeping the brown velvet jeans and multi-coloured shirt Marcus wore. Then he ran the metal detector around his frame, before pointing him towards the aircraft. His steps towards the cabin were steady, counted and edgy, his thoughts wondering how silly he was to trust a word of a girl from the blues and roll on it. Inside the cabin, he stowed away the parcel in the overhead locker, alongside his hand luggage, not sure what might become of the contents. The flight was far from calm for him as his mind roved up and down, from the overhead locker to his fastened seat.

Gwen called Marcus a few minutes after the flight touched down in Abuja. She was curt, concerned and grateful. She asked if someone was coming to pick him up from the airport, to which he replied that he had parked his car around and would only need to tip the security personnel at the airport and be on his way. Back at home that night, he called her to ask how she was doing and they exchanged pleasantries beyond the officiousness of the parcel. She told him she was a research fellow at a research institute in Enugu, travelled often for field work and would be in Abuja in about two weeks from then to attend a friend’s wedding.

In the two weeks that followed his delivery of her parcel, their calls became more frequent and longer such that he had to tell her his thoughts and edgy feelings on the day they met at the airport. She had a good laugh; one he enjoyed being the cause. Their chats were friendly and when his schedule at work allowed, he would send her a text, telling her what he was doing and asking about her moments. Her replies eased the tenseness of his IT service work. During lunch time, they began the habit of inviting the other over for lunch. Their responses were determined, but refreshing all the same. “Oh, what are you eating today?” “Please eat for two, thanks.” “Keep mine o. I’ll join you shortly.” “You need the food to get going with work.” Dinner times weren’t different. Somehow, two weeks seemed to run too slowly. As the day drew close, she sought to find out if he could pick her up from the airport. What a question, Marcus thought to himself. After all, wasn’t it the day he was waiting for, to see his terrorist friend again?

Earlier on the expected day, he called a hotel to make reservation for her. She had said she would be spending three days in town and he thought these should be one of her best days, so he planned a surprise for her. He also made arrangements with a colleague in order to be able to leave the office earlier than usual to make it to the airport before her arrival at 7.15pm. Neil Sedaka accompanied him on the journey to the airport that evening through his Song Cycle collections. The “Solitaire” elated his heart and he played “One more mountain to climb” in repeat mode. Sedaka seemed to give him a lift beyond the drudgery of the gridlock traffic he had to bear on his way to the airport.

The entrance of the arrival hall was crowded, many bidding for customers, others waiting for family members and friends. Among the lot, he could sense he wasn’t the only one who appeared love-struck while waiting patiently. The arrival gate emptied the passengers in incremental pace until he sighted her. She wore a long flowery and free-flowing skirt on high heels. She looked taller than when they first met. She also wore a cream-coloured halter cotton top showing off her smooth shoulders under the fluorescent lighting. Her satchel postured beneath her arm and her right hand held a mobile phone. He watched her advance towards the exit side by side a fellow passenger wearing French suit, with a luggage held by his finger strolling behind them. He called out to her when she was a few feet away. She smiled and bit her lips. Marcus held his calm, suppressing his excitment, to let her walk to where he stood. When she got to him, she paused and they exchanged pleasantries.

“Marcus, meet Chuks, my fiancé,” she addressed him, and turning to the other guy, said “Sweetheart, meet Marcus. I told you about him.” She was brief, somewhat professional.

Chuks brought out his hand and he and Marcus shook. The tension in latter’s heart was building up to find an outlet. He feigned a smile and asked how the flight was, half-expecting a response, half-wondering what he was doing at the airport. They responded, in unison, that the flight was normal as he led them towards the car.

The drive back to town was perfunctory. Chuks, in an attempt to chat Marcus up, had thrown himself into the passenger seat beside him while Gwen slouched on the backseat. Marcus let the music intersperse their dry chat about Abuja and the threats of insecurity as he hummed Sedaka’s tracks, singing aloud “Gone with the morning.” After about thirty minutes, they arrived Utako District and began another task of tracing an address Chuks had, that of his cousin. When they were finally at it, he deposited them with a promise to try and see them in the next two days, after the wedding, should his schedule become light.

When they were out of sight, he retraced his tyres, drove some distance, out of the area they were, veered off the road and parked under a tree. It was dark. His timepiece pointed to 9.13 pm. He adjusted the car seat, his back laid on his raging thoughts. He seemed to be in need of a breather at the moment and home was the last thought on his mind. Knowing the hotel reservation was still standing, he headed there straightaway. In the room, as he emptied himself of his clothing, he replayed the events of the last two hours, backtracked to the last two weeks. He smiled at himself, thinking how charitable he should have been, without the attachments of repayment. He knew no matter how real dreams are etched in one’s mind one must wake up from them. He stepped into the bathroom and let the shower drain away the hours. As he closed his tired eyes to the day, he knew with work in sight the following day, unwanted memories would be gone by the morning.

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Pregnant Dad 101

There are many fathers who might never have had the experience of getting pregnant. Yes, I mean being literarily pregnant, in some form. Well, before you cringe in your chair, read me out. I’ve been pregnant before. In a literal sense and, if I would borrow statistical assumptions, I would score my first pregnancy a seventy percent reality. The remaining thirty percent would be assigned to actual foetal carriage. But that was five years ago.

The news of expecting our daughter was exciting. I had a name for her long before getting married. She was to be named after me. So, when my wife called to tell me that she was confirmed pregnant, I was about two hundred miles away from her and would return only after two days. Both of us inhabited our modest apartment and the girl seemed to be growing within the following weeks and months in a regal manner. I remember having to buy a copy of Chicken Soup for the Expectant Mother’s Soul then and reading it alongside with my wife. It was a warm waiting, an exciting expectancy. Since we were living alone those early months, I’d wake up and heat the water as well as serve it at the bathroom for her. I would speak to the baby in the womb, pray upon her, pour kisses and tenderly rub my spouse’s back when it ached.

I can’t remember exactly when it started, but somewhat around the fifth month, I gradually became aware that I was caught up in incipient pregnancy. My wife was not spared the normal bout of morning sickness, but the pregnancy progressed without any noticeable stress upon her. However, around the the fifth month, I became aware that I was experiencing signs similar to those my wife was complaining about, especially signs such as indigestion, backache and eating at odd hours. She would desire to eat very early or late in the day, often igniting in me the urge to do same. I remember those nights, when we were about to retire after dinner for the day, she would complain of hunger and I would have to get up to fix something. I often found myself eating along in response to the hunger pangs. Somewhat I was practically woven into the meanders and detours of the birthing process. There noticeable, almost sustained, experiences of sleep disorder. My consciousness of similar experience like hers was incremental, but it grew to a point my anxiety made me to bury myself in the Internet where I searched for information about expectant fathers experience.

My research led me to learn of the term “couvade syndrome,” otherwise known as “sympathetic pregnancy” or “pregnant dad syndrome.” Couvade syndrome, according to the Free Online Medical Dictionary, refers to “a condition in which a father-to-be experiences some of the physical symptoms of pregnancy prior to the baby’s birth.” According to a BBC 2007 report (click), experts tend to relate the experience to anxiety over the pregnancy and Dr Arthur Brennan of St George’s University in London, who led a study of 282 fathers-to-be compared to similar number of controls, noted that “these men were so attuned to their partners, they started to develop the same symptoms.” Other researchers have identified both physical and psychological symptoms and the condition can be categorized as mild or serious, the latter often leading to medical treatment.

After finding out a name for what I was experiencing, I found it hard to accept it, especially as a medical condition. I didn’t think it was necessary to share my experience then with my spouse, until years later, since I felt it might be unsettling for her as it was for me. There were times I seemed to experience some form of insomnia, often staying awake and mindful of how she was feeling. We were virtually almost awake during the nights at about same times. As I struggled to come to terms with the increasing reality, I tried to find out from my friends who had walked the path of fatherhood before me if they had similar experiences, though without letting them imagine that I was by any means “pregnant.” I was disappointed to find myself being alone in my condition. Looking back I’d assume some of them who might have experienced the syndrome in some mild forms, accepted it as normal, didn’t bother to notice or were in denial of accepting the experience for what it was.

I remember sharing the experience with a female friend who was recently pregnant then and instead of sympathizing with me, she was quick to accept it as a worthwhile condition, on the assumption that what I was experiencing resulted from being well-bonded with my wife. Her response made me ponder the underlying causes of the experience. The theoretical explanations have mainly been classified as either psychological or physiological, though I could readily relate with the psychological one, given the sympathetic disposition I felt during the pregnancy. I still remember that night in the hospital, as I sat and tried to calm myself to await my daughter’s arrival. The hours seemed endless, yet when they ended and she let out her cry, my life took an entirely different turn. The symptoms receded but I was now caught up with being a father.

I’ve heard people say a woman forgets about the birthing experience and soon desires another. To tell the truth, my birthing experience is a conscious part of reality and might have also enriched my relationship with my daughter. Every true father has a story to tell, though would rather lock it away from consciousness. Being pregnant is not an experience you forget in a hurry. Over the years I’ve come to realise that couvade syndrome is more common than we can dare to admit, though many men don’t understand it as such nor do they want to accept it. There may be some instances where a man may even experience similar symptoms alongside a pregnant friend with whom there’s no spousal relationship.

A few weeks ago, Charlene and I had a private talk about life, during which one thing led to another and she asked “Daddy, when are you going to bring my brother?” She had this comely and innocent smile that lit her face. I couldn’t let her question pass unanswred, so I hugged her warmly, as if to make her understand something I couldn’t bring myself to explain, and assured her: “When Jesus brings him, you’ll see your brother.”

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Lessons on Leadership

I love airports, even Nigeria’s. On some days they have all the features of a motor park and on others, they shed off a little bit of these. I love it when I’m able to arrive in time to check in for my flight and then find a room to squeeze my tiny body, let my eyes sweep the varied personalities that litter the available space, and think. Yes, think! That seems to be all I can do when I’ve time to spare. I’m thinking of yesterday.

Yesterday, the world celebrated Barack Obama’s electoral victory and accompanying speech while his photograph dotted the cyber space. In Nigeria, virtually all my social media friends had something to say. It was either they cursed Nigeria’s Independent National Electoral Commission, the president, the politicians or they noted the marital bliss of the Barack-Michelle duo. In fact one admittedly posted “I wish I was American.” Yesterday, a colleague and friend told me “Charles, we contributed to Obama’s victory. We were there as part of the strategy team.” He was referring to a meeting he and I attended almost two months to November 5.

It was in October when Mohammed and I had the privilege of being invited to be part of America’s celebrated democratic process. The venue was the City Hall in Philadelphia and the meeting was a strategy session hosted by some members of one of The Mayor’s commissions. We arrived when the meeting had just begun and seats were made for us. It was a very communal meeting that had one major agenda, which was to get Barack Obama back to the White House. The means was to successfully mobilize against the voter identification brouhaha that the Pennsylvania Government was championing alongside other states as well as to also get people out to vote. At the meeting were diverse professionals with ancestral roots traceable to many countries of the world. Mohammed and I had a chance of being officially introduced and I was happy to hear them say “…from Nigeria.” After the meeting we got around to meet some of the attendees, including Nigerians, among who was an Efik woman, my “village woman.” Incidentally, she happened to have a cousin working in my organization. It was a lovely evening, after a hectic day of business meeting.

When I arrived New York from Philadelphia and sat down with my brother to discuss the American elections, he was nostalgic about Nigeria. He reminded me how, as children then, we were used to rig elections in favour of National Party of Nigeria (NPN). Since then he had never voted in any election, though he seemed inclined to vote in the coming one. When I asked him whom he would likely vote for between Obama and Romney, he admitted that he wished he didn’t have to make the choice, but that Obama stood greater chance of getting his vote. Later that day when I went to honour a dinner invitation from a friend, the discussion was entirely on Romney. My brother and the friend knew each other’s stand, in spite of the shared friendship. Both sides had their strong reasons and stance, but knew that their love for each other was deeper than politics.

As I look back to the zest that Nigerians expressed about the United States elections I feel a civic burden and share the anger of many who wished things were different in Nigeria. This morning, I expressed a deep-seated wish to a friend. “I wish we could exchange Jonathan for Obama,” I muttered. She quickly added, with undeniable seriousness “And bring Michelle too.” I nodded limply, with total agreement. But somewhere, beneath my consciousness, the proverb “as you make your bed, so you lie on it” was throbbing for breath. I shared with her my thoughts about the concept of the critical mass and the magnetic energy inherent in it. Then, I brought up the interest which Nigerians have shown in American elections. I pointed out to her a soft sell headline from a national newspaper that read “US Election tears PDP, ACN, Others Apart.” I told her I didn’t bother to read the story since fights among Nigeria’s politicians were commonplace, but added that my pondering was on our capacity to conceal our failure in the face of American success. She wanted to know what I was driving at. I told her that if only Nigeria would fix its presidential elections to coincide with that of the United States, same date and same year, perhaps there could be some form of transferred redemption as we could be caught by shared magnetic energy. She was quick to remind me of the plethora of obstacles that would attain such effort. I don’t want to list them here since I don’t believe human-created obstacles cannot be surmounted. After all, man has demonstrated such capacity on many fronts.

I believe in Nigeria, but I don’t believe in the present crop of Nigeria’s politicians as a collectivity. I don’t even want to believe in them, except in hindsight. Sometimes I think the bad ones, taken individually, are greater than the sum of the good ones. There is dearth of widespread self-consciousness that is needed to create the critical mass. There is abundant intellectual laziness, such as that which deprives people the capacity to adopt a systemic view at problem analysis and solution. Not that we don’t have the capacity for such self-consciousness, but we don’t consider it expedient to activate. Thus, we perish because of the non-use of knowledge, rather than its lack. After a few days, America will move on, the memory of the elections would have faded and we would willy-nilly prepare to fail the next test that comes our way. Whatever lessons we take from the United States, let us not forget the lesson of leadership. That, in my mind, is the strength we need. Leadership that is earned.

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Lessons on Leadership

I love airports, even Nigeria’s. On some days they have all the features of a motor park and on others, they shed off a little bit of these. I love it when I’m able to arrive in time to check in for my flight and then find a room to squeeze my tiny body, let my eyes sweep the varied personalities that litter the available space, and think. Yes, think! That seems to be all I can do when I’ve time to spare. I’m thinking of yesterday.

Yesterday, the world celebrated Barack Obama’s electoral victory and accompanying speech while his photograph dotted the cyber space. In Nigeria, virtually all my social media friends had something to say. It was either they cursed Nigeria’s Independent National Electoral Commission, the president, the politicians or they noted the marital bliss of the Barack-Michelle duo. In fact one admittedly posted “I wish I was American.” Yesterday, a colleague and friend told me “Charles, we contributed to Obama’s victory. We were there as part of the strategy team.” He was referring to a meeting he and I attended almost two months to November 5.

It was in October when Mohammed and I had the privilege of being invited to be part of America’s celebrated democratic process. The venue was the City Hall in Philadelphia and the meeting was a strategy session hosted by some members of one of The Mayor’s commissions. We arrived when the meeting had just begun and seats were made for us. It was a very communal meeting that had one major agenda, which was to get Barack Obama back to the White House. The means was to successfully mobilize against the voter identification brouhaha that the Pennsylvania Government was championing alongside other states as well as to also get people out to vote. At the meeting were diverse professionals with ancestral roots traceable to many countries of the world. Mohammed and I had a chance of being officially introduced and I was happy to hear them say “…from Nigeria.” After the meeting we got around to meet some of the attendees, including Nigerians, among who was an Efik woman, my “village woman.” Incidentally, she happened to have a cousin working in my organization. It was a lovely evening, after a hectic day of business meeting.

When I arrived New York from Philadelphia and sat down with my brother to discuss the American elections, he was nostalgic about Nigeria. He reminded me how, as children then, we were used to rig elections in favour of National Party of Nigeria (NPN). Since then he had never voted in any election, though he seemed inclined to vote in the coming one. When I asked him whom he would likely vote for between Obama and Romney, he admitted that he wished he didn’t have to make the choice, but that Obama stood greater chance of getting his vote. Later that day when I went to honour a dinner invitation from a friend, the discussion was entirely on Romney. My brother and the friend knew each other’s stand, in spite of the shared friendship. Both sides had their strong reasons and stance, but knew that their love for each other was deeper than politics.

As I look back to the zest that Nigerians expressed about the United States elections I feel a civic burden and share the anger of many who wished things were different in Nigeria. This morning, I expressed a deep-seated wish to a friend. “I wish we could exchange Jonathan for Obama,” I muttered. She quickly added, with undeniable seriousness “And bring Michelle too.” I nodded limply, with total agreement. But somewhere, beneath my consciousness, the proverb “as you make your bed, so you lie on it” was throbbing for breath. I shared with her my thoughts about the concept of the critical mass and the magnetic energy inherent in it. Then, I brought up the interest which Nigerians have shown in American elections. I pointed out to her a soft sell headline from a national newspaper that read “US Election tears PDP, ACN, Others Apart.” I told her I didn’t bother to read the story since fights among Nigeria’s politicians were commonplace, but added that my pondering was on our capacity to conceal our failure in the face of American success. She wanted to know what I was driving at. I told her that if only Nigeria would fix its presidential elections to coincide with that of the United States, same date and same year, perhaps there could be some form of transferred redemption as we could be caught by shared magnetic energy. She was quick to remind me of the plethora of obstacles that would attain such effort. I don’t want to list them here since I don’t believe human-created obstacles cannot be surmounted. After all, man has demonstrated such capacity on many fronts.

I believe in Nigeria, but I don’t believe in the present crop of Nigeria’s politicians as a collectivity. I don’t even want to believe in them, except in hindsight. Sometimes I think the bad ones, taken individually, are greater than the sum of the good ones. There is dearth of widespread self-consciousness that is needed to create the critical mass. There is abundant intellectual laziness, such as that which deprives people the capacity to adopt a systemic view at problem analysis and solution. Not that we don’t have the capacity for such self-consciousness, but we don’t consider it expedient to activate. Thus, we perish because of the non-use of knowledge, rather than its lack. After a few days, America will move on, the memory of the elections would have faded and we would willy-nilly prepare to fail the next test that comes our way. Whatever lessons we take from the United States, let us not forget the lesson of leadership. That, in my mind, is the strength we need. Leadership that is earned.

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The Hug

It’s been fifteen years since we last saw each other. In-between, we had settled into life’s exploratory encounters, hopeful that we would someday connect again, at least to find out how the years and their twists have treated us as we strove to cope with the bliss and blight of daily survival.

How do you hug an old friend? I mean one you both shared fraternal friendship with, and as the years passed, you drifted away, wondering what has happened to the other, sometimes looking back with nostalgia.

I sighted her walking towards the reception desk. She was her old self! Grown and mature, but her true self still, with same gait I’ve identified her with. I didn’t want her to start asking around, so I decided to meet her up. Our eyes met, gazelle-like. She, with her arms open in dancing dexterity and I, smiling with suppressed excitement to control the attention of standers-by, rushed an embrace, silently. Breathless! It might have been fifteen seconds since we hugged, each second bursting with life of a year of absence. Then, I looked into her eyes. There was that silent wish in her suddenly sullen eyes: I wish you could take me away. I wish I didn’t have to go back to him. The words were needless, too heavy to say, but I could feel each stroke through her heartbeat.

In letting go my hold of her, my mind raced through memory lane, to the years in the university. One scene emerged from the hazy memory. The scene was my living room. She had come to inform me of the release of our grade for a particular course. I had an A and she, a D. She had put in so much effort and the result didn’t reflect that at all. As she complained of the poor grade, droplet of tears sauntered down her cheeks, then a torrent. She became uncontrollable and as much as I tried to calm her down, she didn’t come around. Helpless in wiping her tears, I fell into a sudden siege and drained my back on the wall till I was on the tiled floor, my eyes letting out torrents that competed with hers. I can’t say if I cried out of sympathy or helplessness. Whatever it was, her tears dried up and I was now to be consoled. We were that emotional.

As the memory receded, I asked her to a seat at a quiet corner. I wanted to listen to her, not to recount the tales of pain she had undergone lately, but to tell me how she had survived it.

“I’m not happy and I know I wear it as a veil.” Her voice couldn’t betray the timidity and innocence of years ago.

“I know.” I’ve always known, anyway, even without saying a word about it.

“I feel trapped in this marriage; helpless. I don’t want to be seen as a failure.” Her pain was palpable. Her skin had grown tough, her beauty beaten by the pain. I let her reel out the highlights of her almost-a-decade-old endurance, starting from the short-lived joys of newly-weds through the seething moments of her undiagnosed ill-health and miraculous recovery to masculine insensitivity and abuse she had to live with. I’ve heard these before, only now I had to endure the pain of watching her tell it with so much stress and grace. She was broken, and I was too. I spoke little, almost nothing. I didn’t want us to spend the few minutes we had wailing. I wanted to remember the meeting, to make her laugh and remember the laughter. I ordered chapman for two and as we waited, I turned on the camera of my phone and clicked. I clicked again. She lightened up, her full-blown smile back to life. She seemed delighted to leave a part of her with me; as much as I wanted to take away a part of her too.

“It’s so good to see you. Really nice we could meet.”

“Yes o. I’m so happy we could see.” She was shy; it wasn’t a strange trait.

“I know life hasn’t been easy and with all you go through…” I nodded in disbelief. “I’m wondering where you got the grace to withstand all these. You, of all people.” It wasn’t that I felt she wasn’t strong, but that she was the least to trouble a man who’d love her.

“Hmmmm…Honestly, I’ve wondered too. But it could only have been God.”

“Good to hear that. That means God isn’t done with you.”

“I know,” her voice betraying her disbelief. “But for how long? I’ve reached the end of my strength”

Silence fell upon us. It was that trice one lets in the moment to allow its truth simmer through the pores of our thoughts. I reached for her palm and held it closely. She looked up to my eyes, with a questing that seeks some uncertain consolation. “Sometimes we assume our marriage is the worst or we’ve hit the wall.”

“I really don’t think any other case is worst than mine. Not knowing what my husband wants and his not expressive of his thoughts truly compound the strained relationship. I can’t say we’ve a marriage. It’s like a forced union.” Her voice had that lachrymal underlining, ridden by intensity of subconscious but debilitating pain.

“All we need is a little more faith; faith that lives not on grand hope, but one that takes us through each moment, each day. You’ve held on this long. You could hold on longer.”

I decided to share a story with her, for whatever it was worth. It was a story of a friend who had been married for almost twenty years before the husband died out of an accident. They had two children, a boy and a girl, and a marriage that was obviously an enviable one. Both were active members of their church, respectable couple. Sort of a model as seen by the outside world, yet somewhere did an unknown secret lurk. On the day of the burial, as the church called out the man’s children for blessing, three other children he had with another woman also stood up. It was the first time the wife was to ever become aware that her husband had other children after marrying her. She would later discover that her husband’s brothers knew about the out-of-wedlock children and kept it diligently from her knowledge as though they had sworn to an oath of secrecy.

Now my friend looked on with disbelief, but I managed to ask her “How do you think the wife felt when she discovered the truth and the deception? ”

“I don’t know what to think. I’d think I was never married, that the marriage never existed.”

“Now you can see that every marriage is like the waves of the sea. Each wave brings its own experience and you’ve to learn how to adjust the sails, steer your ship or be drown.”

She breathed in deep, then let out some air. “But at least she had her kids to console her.”

“And who says you won’t have yours? All you need to focus on is building a loving home that welcomes a child.”

“I’m only hoping on God. It’s not easy, but I guess I’ve no choice.”

These were the words I needed to hear, an agreement that she could take a step of faith each day, trusting God in the littlest of things. I could sense that a ray of hope seems to have tinseled through her consciousness. I reached out for her two hands and quietly took the role of the muezzin. Only that this was conducted silently, asking for strength for her and the courage to look up when dragged down. When we were done, she relaxed her back and took a whole look at me.

The tension in the air dissipated and we settled down to our drinks that had long stood there in lonely company. “You look quite good,” she said. “Your wife is taking good care of you.”

A smile gathered around my cheeks, causing a gaze of affection that drew a hearty, relieving smile from her. Our hearts seemed to have hugged again.

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Filed under Life, Writing

This Document Matter

I’ve looked at so many documents in my life, so many to make me a document analyst. Most times I look at them to determine when someone is lying or when misconduct has been committed. Whether for recruitment or intelligence gathering purposes, document analysis can be a very useful tool for explaining character and predicting future behaviour. Documents hardly lie, at least not as much as their owners do. I’ve seen all sorts of lies told in documents and in many cases it’s very easy to detect. Unfortunately, many of us gloss over documents, and by that means, fail to detect the red flags.

Sometime ago, I had the arduous task of poring through some documents of a corporate organisation to determine compliance with certain procedures. A member of staff had lost an organisational work tool and reported the matter so that it could be replaced at no cost to him. When I reviewed the documents, I looked at just one thing: signatures. I looked at the signature in the court affidavit he swore about the loss and the signature on his formal complaint. They were no-near match. Obviously, he had sent someone to get the affidavit for him and the person signed as the deponent. Unfortunately, he now signed his usual signature on the complaint memo. You want to know my view? Oh, I said he should have been made to bear the cost of replacing the lost item. What was obvious was that, even if there was a loss, there was a huge question mark about the truthfulness of the claim. Organisations don’t want to incur losses and therefore, if you must claim from them, leave no doubt.

A few months ago, the media reported how a man faked the documents of a medical doctor and got a job with the General Hospital, Calabar in Cross River State. I was irked by that incident, but certainly not by the man’s effrontery. My angst was towards the team that recruited the man. If I had the powers, I would sack them. Yes, I would, for not verifying the man’s claims. In addition to their sack, I would’ve prosecuted them for “vicarious homicide,” if there is a legal phrase like that, for the deaths caused by the fake doctor’s negligence. What would it have taken the hospital management board to run a background search?

I don’t want to talk about the forgeries which students get involved in. They fake result for admission and employment and go further to bribe someone in the issuing institution to confirm that the result is genuine. But there is always a way around this, if we really want to. If you need consultancy services to go about this, then get one. But I’ll let out a simple and often overlooked tip. If you’re recruiting for a graduate position and someone turns up with an age declaration certificate that dates later than the year the person started higher institution, there is a very high probability that the individual has faked his or her age. Often the reason for this forgery is that the organisation probably demanded a cut-off age that the majority of unemployed are above. If you asked such prospective employees about the dating on the document, their excuses are similar: they lost their documents to fire, accident, theft or Hurricane Jonathan which has overtaken much part of Nigeria recently. But a little effort on your part could unravel the mystery: checking with their past institutions or the court, hopeful that the court can even authenticate the age declaration document, much more have a file to search through.

I’ve heard of a case where a guy filled out an application for a job online and after about two years he was called for an interview where he was asked to bring his relevant documents. When he turned up for the interview, he tendered an age declaration and curriculum vitae that had no correlation with the data he had submitted earlier. It was later established that he had declared his age several times within the past two years and wasn’t sure which date he had submitted. Like the proverbial cat of many lives, he could not remember which life was the shortest or the longest. Truth doesn’t need a memory; it always is.

Corruption and laziness of members of staff have fortified the common rationalization that with the unemployment rate in Nigeria, we can let these things pass. That is circular fallacy. People who could forge documents for placement in jobs stand a chance of being emboldened to forge documents that could lead to financial losses for organisations. If the system must work, people must be judged on the integrity of the information we gather about them. So, next time someone throws a document at you, dare to look a little bit more closely. It always costs much less in the long run.

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