Tag Archives: Nigeria

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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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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Black Gold of the Rainforest

Our land is a virgin, a maiden
Adorned with black gold of the rainforest
Surrounded by the wild of the coast
Shared in peace by her children
From the Cross stretching to the West.

That was then…

The maiden weeps, the maiden bewails
Her fecund laps stretched in disregard
And her hymen broken, her hymen
That conceals the differing ovaries within.
Now her soil is stained with blood
And her innocence sucked.

Her ovaries struggle within
To control the slimy fecund oily soil,
I mean of what is left,
While the imperialist jabbing heightens.

She’s pregnant…

Our soil is oily, our oily soil
Soiled by the oil of bourgeois machinery
Imperiling our land with imperialist outflow,
Milking adversely our bio-diversity.

Washed away are the resting abodes
Of our fore-gone sires through
The bird-foot region to the Atlantic,
Leaving their manhood bare-buttock.

And now we struggle within
Increasing her pains, spilling blood
And intensifying the imperialists imperiling
Of her innocence, our fecundity.

She writhes in pain…

Burnt within,
Suffering from the baton of abuse
From without,
Midwives are come to the rescue.

But will the confinement yield
And she be delivered of live births
That shall mock the imperialists
And restore her sanity, her resilience?
Or will her births be born still
Saying her gestation is not done?

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The Police is Indo-Nigerian

India and Nigeria are very much alike in several respects. There is sprawling poverty across the two countries vis-à-vis the wealth of a few. The two countries have a problem controlling their population meaningfully in the face of dilapidated social amenities. In the two countries, there is widespread mistrust in key government agencies, especially the police. Among the various similarities, I would like to focus on public policing. This is based on the recent incident in India involving the gang-raping of a young lady. The lady’s partner just spoke for the first time since the incident and recounted what happened (here). According to his report, he and his girlfriend were dumped on the street from the bus after the lady was mercilessly abused. However, upon arrival of the police, they delayed taking her to the hospital for about 30 minutes over disagreement about who had jurisdiction over the area the incident took place.

The above situation is exactly what happens in Nigeria. If it were Nigeria, the police men would come after a long while, and thereafter haggle over who had jurisdiction, which Divisional Police Station should document the incident. But that wouldn’t be the only thing they would argue over. They would tell whoever is around that there is no fuel in their car to take the victim to the hospital and therefore would require someone, possibly the victim, to provide some funding for such purposes. If there is no ready cash, they would insist on going on bike with whoever would volunteer to go to an ATM to get money. This would have followed lengthy exchanges about how the woman had invited the rape on herself by going out with a man or dressing in a particular fashion, as though one’s dressing is the molder of another person’s animal instinct.

According to the reports, the Police Authority in New Delhi immediately rebutted the young man’s accusation, claiming that they arrived the scene within three minutes of receiving the alert and left for the hospital twelve minutes later. This is typical of Nigeria’s Police Force. They are always quick to put the blame on the citizens, but hardly accepting responsibilities. In fact, if it were Nigeria, the Police would probably have announced how they had to airlift the victim due to terrible traffic congestion as a means of saving her life. Though also injured during the incident, the lady’s partner was not considered as being in need of medical care. But, he was considered fit for continued police investigation. So, rather than let him be taken to the hospital, the police kept him in their station for four days. A very typical Nigerian situation. In fact in Nigeria his family would have had to come and bail him out, except civil society groups cry out and the presidency intervene through the Inspector General of Police. If he were a girl in Nigeria, it is highly likely that she would have been kept as suspect in the police station and duly gang-raped while there.

Like in Nigeria, there was public apathy towards giving help to the victims after they were dumped. No one wanted to play the Good Samaritan because in the face of inability of Police Authority to make headway in a case, they are likely to drag innocent citizens into the web of lengthy legal cases. That is a commonplace experience in Nigeria where we have had experiences of illegal arrest and accidental discharges. If the Police don’t get the suspect, they are ready to lock up his aged parents, pregnant wife and even infant child. If they don’t get any of these, then the neighbours – far and near – are likely victims. In the face of such threats, people who would otherwise offer timely life-saving help are cowed and become apathetic in responding to situations of emergency. It takes more than a casual disposition or desire to help to provide adequate assistance during such critical moments.

I’ve experienced the corruption of the Indian Police at the Mumbai airport during the process of declaring foreign currency in my possession and I wasn’t surprised at all because I had a baggage of similar experiences by the Police in my own country. That was in 2009 and since then, I knew that India was no different from Nigeria. In fact, I have come to know that the police in both countries have dual nationality – Indo-Nigerian. Nigerians may be heading to India on medical tourism, but I have also realized that funding of some of the medical trips by public institutions have been characterized by corrupt practices involving Indian health consultancy firms and Nigerian agencies. No matter the level of technological development or economic growth, the people must remain central to every society. The recent rape incident in India juxtaposed against Nigeria’s widespread sex crimes is a reminder that we live in unsafe world and that women are being constantly abused and then blamed for the abuse in addition to inadequate justice system to protect those hurt.The culture of silence engendered by hostile male-dominated environment has made it even difficult for women who are abused to seek justice or even come out to talk about their experiences. Many of them choose to suffer the indignation with attendant trauma all life-long.

Just while the world vents its outrage against the sex crime that is common in India, the Child Protection Network (CPN) in Nigeria has released a Report that chronicled 95 child rape cases which have been recorded in five northern states of the country. Guess what? A police officer couldn’t miss being among those indicted. Unfortunately these cases involved mainly minors, some as young as 14 years. The incidence of women being gang-raped eats at the core of survival of a society and it is of such hurtful nature that were the women to push for castration of the male folk, they would have sympathizers. It is bestial to inflict such violence on others and also painful when this is perpetrated by young persons or those who have to been placed in positions of trust. We have a duty as individuals to watch and act, because those who perpetrate these sex crimes live in our midst. We must also support organizations, especially credible civil organizations that have taken over the fight to stop these abuses and seek justice for those affected. Beyond the actions of individuals and civil groups, this is the time for leaders to demonstrate their will and take actions that are necessary to give justice to those affected and promote the rights of the vulnerable, whether they are women, children or men. This is one way to guarantee the sanity and health of the society we live in.

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The Animal Instinct

It’s just one of those moments when my mind spins on its orbit and my heart traces and retraces varied paths my consciousness has travelled. Now, I’m wondering what constitutes the subsistent element of human life. Though I wonder about this, I let not myself wander much into the abyss. It’s because I love life and its potency in bringing forth beauty, growth and life. I’m not surprised that blood remains life’s precious fluid. It might not be subsistent, but blood is certainly elemental to life, whether it’s human or non-human. Looking back through history, blood has always been viewed as being coterminous with life, and rightly so. It is not surprising that blood is shed during the birthing process in order to bring forth life. This is in spite of the fact that recent statistics point to hemorrhaging as the commonest cause of death among pregnant women in Nigeria. Shedding one’s blood to give life to another is an altruistic act which has sustained the human population all through the ages.

On the flip side, however, so much blood has been shed in Nigeria, deliberately and carelessly. When we talk about the shedding of human blood, I’m referring to the senseless murders that have taken place across this country in the past one year? I don’t mean only acts of terrorists who bomb people dead or slit the throats of innocent citizens as though they were readied for suya meat. I also mean the murder that bad roads have committed, because those who have responsibilities to repair them have embezzled the money with impunity and got rewarded with juicier positions in government, leaving the pot-holed roads to the recklessness of drivers and siren-blaring public officials. It feels as if there is a god-goddess enthroned somewhere, whose delight is to feast upon gourmet blood. When I talk about blood-letting, I’m referring to the hospitals, where the voiceless and poor are legally murdered due to lack of adequate equipment and competences. I’m also referring to the extra-judicial killings by agents of the state and the attendant reprisal killings. I’m thinking if all the blood that has been shed in Nigeria this year were collected and contained in some form, they would sure sail a ship steadily from Lagos to Maiduguri.

The country is soaked in blood and this is not good for true development. When bloodletting is not curtailed, peace is endangered. Our search for solutions through political correctness and maneuvering will lead us along a path that is not sustainable. I’ve often wondered how people feel when they take human lives, directly or by proxy. Thinking about this now, I remember a discussion I had some years ago with a retired Colonel of the Israeli Army. He happened to have been one of those who, as a young officer, carried out the Operation Entebbe of 4 July, 1976 during the reign of Idi Amin of Uganda. Knowing him to be a veteran sniper and blunt too, I believed he would be sincere with me. We were discussing his various engagements in the military when I asked him, “Looking back, how do you feel recollecting those moments when you had to aim the gun at someone and then pull the trigger?” The retired colonel looked me intently in the eye and responded “Charles, I’ve never let my eyes look into a man’s eyes when I pull the trigger. No true human being does that. At the point you pull the trigger, you must submit yourself to the animal instinct.” I was subdued by his frankness, but I learnt something deep.

Recently, a colleague’s brother was coldly murdered in Bornu State and months ago a video of communal homicide was posted on the internet, of how four young men were murdered by a community in Rivers State. During the year, there was also the circulation of a video of children, mainly under six years, who were murdered by some terrorists. All through the year, we hear stories of deaths, of carnage across the land. Going by the bloodletting that has become pervasive in Nigeria, I truly believe that it takes becoming an animal to kill a human being. Respecting the preciousness of human life and its sanctity bestows some form of purity on the human soul. Our land needs healing, as the cries of the innocent resound across the space and those they have left behind bewail their suffering. The healing must start from our hearts, as we seek peace, breathe peace, speak peace and work for peace. Each positive action we take to stop a human life from being a victim of the animal instinct is a valid action that contributes to our collective and individual healing and sanity. We need this healing to grow, to overcome the hurdles politics, religion, greed, hate and egos have placed on our way.

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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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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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Mother-at-Work

The Widow:
Six times have I married and same been widowed.
I was sixteen when whisked away to the Savanna,
I was promised Eden, feasting on the Tuba.
On the threshing floor, my first I bore
After lousy cuddles and countless losses
Before the father was lost to the remnants of war.

So I moved from western Savanna to the Sahel
And whored myself for shelter to become a third.
His barns grew and in that plenty my second was born
And not long after, he died on top of his fourth.

Coming across the Montana belt to the confluence
I betrothed myself to another, not knowing my blood;
But the day the midwife helped me deliver,
The gods drowned him in the Niger.

Moving with the gait of variegated fecundity
I settled in the hilly east, accepting to be wooed;
It was a cold night when I conceived, but a hot one
When he was butchered for slaying another once.

Drinking fresh water of the western fringe, I spent the nights
Serving my fifth, who would beat and beg
Until one day after I’ve proved his manhood to his folks,
I let him drink his life away from a tainted gourd.

Fleeing to the creeks of the mangrove swamp,
I entered into my sixth, and beneath the moonlit sky
Midwifed my sixth, while the father fell victim
To the raging rout of the blaring blaze.

My identity I’ve lost, to times and reliefs;
My faith shaped by echoes from Holy Lands:
Palestine, Mecca, India, Elis, even Anansa*.
I beseech you, Old Sage, guide my offspring,
For I must depart, even though at fifty
My being still throbs with consuming desire.

The Sage:
Let not the noises you hear upset your hopes;
From the strength of your loins have emerged
A bonded mosaic of six great offspring,
Each from a region with graces bestowed.
In guided, conscious steps, would they build
A new world together, not minding their roots.

You must live for them as they for you
Or have you not heard the saying, my child:
“If upon a clime you set a foot,
Not finding a Nigerian there, flee
For such supports no human life”?
You’re truly a Mother-at-Work.

*Anansa is the water goddess of the Efik of southern Cross River State, Nigeria, who lives in the River Cross.

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