Lives of great men all remind us
We can make our lives sublime
And, departing leave behind us
Footprints on the sands of time.
A psalm of Life- Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
I was back in Nigeria for NYSC, had completed required procedures at the headquarters in Abuja and collected my call-up letter; I wasn’t elated just felt more comfortable than others who had been posted to the north. I had no options though; it is mandatory service.
Tunde, registration will close after three days, Daddy said while I was making sure I had no excess luggage. I hadn’t seen Daddy in 18 years before he picked me up at the airport, tears in his eyes we hugged then he said My son, my dreams have come true. He introduced me to Enite, my kid sister, she had the trade mark big nose and oval face. Mummy had passed on, a year after my abduction. Her cancer had intensified and she had slowly withered away right in front of him. Fully packed; Nike Total 90 bag containing white Nikes, 3 colored clothes for Sunday services, 2 bed sheets, a mosquito net and a duvet (very important), 15 white inner shirts, 7 white shorts, 1 flashlight, 12 boxer shorts and an Ndi Charles novel.
Daddy drove me to the orientation camp in Umunna, Bende LGA, Abia State. Getting through the gate, I was welcomed by camp officials who commented on my bushy eyebrows while inspecting my luggage hoping to confiscate contraband. Registration was tedious, I moved through stages which included presentation of credentials, submission of photographs, and collection of NYSC kits, on to hostel allocation with a meal ticket issuance, finally bed space allocation.
I got hostel B and immediately proceeded to get space. Getting to the room, I saw clusters of males conversing in Yoruba, three beds away; a male was taking off his shoes as I got bottom bunk on the opposite side of the door. I scanned radio frequencies on my Nokia and came upon Radio Kudirat;
The Bill and Melinda gates foundation says there are 3 myths that block progress for the poor;
- Poor countries are doomed to stay poor.
- Foreign aid is a big waste.
- Saving lives leads to overpopulation.
Whatever is delivered as aid is hijacked and channeled to friends of government, the guy taking off his shoes stated aloud.
I tweaked the dial and selected another frequency. The jarring din from mandelamania has urged comparisons and contrasts, the unanimous conclusion; born small, raised obscure, he died a colossus of clout. Recipient of the nobel peace prize, the us presidential medal of freedom, last recipient of the soviet union’s lenin peace prize and the first living person to be made a honorary Canadian citizen; his statue stands at parliament in London, just because it represents freedom, justice and equality.
It must be said that the work of liberating South Africa was not Madiba’s alone. He belonged to a distinguished class that included Oliver Tambo, Walter Sisulu, Andrew Mlangeni, Ahmed Kathrada, Raymond Mhiaba and Govan Mbeki. They were second generation ordained by the founders of the ANC which included Albert Luthuli, John Dube, and Sol plaatje.
Our challenge is not to produce a messianic leader but to create a tradition of patriotic leadership.
I can remember the first time I personally experienced the aura of Tata, I and Mummy Elise took a trip to Cape Town on my 18th birthday. We visited the Robben Island prison where prisoner 46664 Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela spent 18 years of his 27 year jail term. The inscriptions on the walls of the docking area: The human spirit cannot be manacled, the triumph of the human spirit; are bold testaments to the anti- apartheid struggle. The guide told us the prisoners agitated for television viewing and inmate preparation and serving of rations. According to him, both causes were worth fighting for; the reason they wanted to serve as cooks was because only cooks had access to all areas including Madiba’s cell in B block which was out of bounds except to a special class of warders. The first agitation succeeded when inmates staged a hunger strike days before UN and Red Cross officials had scheduled a visit. Sensing the back lash, the authorities gave in to demands which included watching a feature film once a week and an ease of punishment on SWAPO (South West Africa People’s Organisation) who were kept separately in D block. Madiba spent 18 years there, and was transferred to Polis moor prison, lastly Victor vester prison. He had a straw mat and studied Islam and Afrikaans whilst trying to complete his truncated LLB degrees which took over 20 years. His life taught me to forgive, always negotiate a reconciliation and believe that indeed good triumphs over evil.
I decided to take a tour of the expansive compound dressed in stipulated whites and walked past the registration hall, down to the pavilion, redeployment offices, clinic, OBS (orientation broadcasting service), and housing units for camp officials. On to new hostel blocks just after the football field, past makeshift buildings housing the Christian Corpers Fellowship, the Catholic association and a mosque for Muslims which was adjacent the volleyball courts.
Tired, I walked back to the hostel, BRaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa– the beagle sounded followed by an announcement to head to the field. Passing by hostel A, a fair complexioned male running down the stairs, joined me as a military officer jostled us to jog till we reached the field and identified our platoons. Platoon 1 was the beginning of a U- shaped formation that ended in platoon 10. In the front of the U was a raised dais capable of seating 20-30 persons. The fair complexioned male with small cat eyes, pointed nose and long neck is Oke, suddenly we were made to frog jump by a female officer for conversing during parade (it’s been rumored female officers are more ruthless than males however I am not ready to find this out). After frog jumping to the volleyball courts and back, we rejoined our platoon, were welcomed to camp, then asked to be of good behavior by officials. Camp instructions and code of conduct followed, then a notification on different beagle sounds and corresponding meaning.
A certain melodious sound at 6am preceded the raising of the flag to full mast. (EVERYONE must standstill while this is going on).
Another sound at 6pm preceded the lowering of the flag to half-mast. (EVERYONE must standstill while this is going on).
Another sound signified FOOD is READY (Proceed to the kitchen with your meal tickets).
Another sound was the FIRE alarm (Get down to the field IMMEDIATELY, dressed or not).
Another sound heralded Lights out/Bedtime. (10:30pm)
After another set of instructions and introduction to platoon officers, we were dismissed for the evening.
Destination: Mammy Market where stalls offered services ranging from food to books, charging stations and mobile bathrooms, I halted on seeing the new Steve Harvey ; Think Like a Man, copyright edition. I purchased it and continued past the chemist, stalls filled with otondos eating Indomie noodles accompanied with bottles of Malta Guinness. On past tables of Alomo, McDowells, the ever present Gulder, Heineken and Star on to the last stall were we sat down. Oke had Malt, while I had a Guinness and Coca Cola. Passing time saw bottles doubling, and then tripling, as Oke jumped on board the Heineken train. Suddenly Burna boy, Run my race came up and everyone sprang to life with gyrations appearing at impossible angles when this was immediately followed by Kcee’s Limpopo. I got up to use the loo as Olamide’s ‘first of all’ came on, paid the fee and proceeded to do my job. Even the fee charging ones are not DISEASE FREE, Oke had said telling me to be prepared for ‘Slinging’ (code for going to the ‘White House’). Walking back to mammy, I saw Alomo talking to a female otondo, after a few minutes, he stormed back to the table, sat down and blurted;
All this girls too de form, after introductions and you know we are in the same platoon , share schools attended and places of residence, I ask for your number and all you can say is ‘I hardly give my number out.
Hahaha, maybe she wants you to try harder?
Turning to me frowning, Try harder for what? What would I go through to convince her to go on a date with me? Or even a relationship? Oh boy these girls can act crazy sometimes.
The blast of the beagle signaling LIGHTS OUT caused everyone to hurriedly depart for the hostels. On getting to my room, an argument was in full swing; the speaker shielded by darkness- According to community groups in Kaduna, Plateau, Benue, Nassarawa and Taraba states; Fulani herdsmen have killed more people in the north than Boko Haram. The Fulani complain that their cattle are harmed or stolen or they are denied grazing rights by hostile communities, even assaulted by locals. They claim losses of over 3.5 million cattle in 10 years up to 2011. The Yewa of Ogun, Attakar of Kaduna and Tiv of Benue are hostile to the Fulani for grazing cattle on their farms whilst wreaking havoc on harvest and sources of water.
So what is the solution? I asked. A distinct cough, then a voice- Vigorous effort must be made to stop migratory herding; it fosters violence as grazing grounds recede, with 13.9 million cattle, 22.1 million sheep and 34.5 million goats, we still import dairy products rather than export. With 90% of cattle, 70% of sheep and goats in the north, programs should be initiated for large scale ranching, irrigation and creation of grazing reserves in their territory. Support should follow in the form of credit facilities, favorable tariff as well as extension and research services. The bill to establish grazing reserves and routes in all 36 states may be well intentioned, but it is misguided.
The Naija book was a way to get over these convos which would be my lot for the next 3 weeks. Like all books it was boring but Mummy Elise always says information is a Key. So I turned on the powerful torchlight and read;
NIGERIA is in West Africa; its landmass extends from the Gulf of Guinea in the south to the Sahel (the shore of the Sahara desert) in the north, with a total area of 923,768 sq km (356,376 square miles). It’s slightly more than twice the size of California or the size of California, Nevada and Arizona; same as five times the size of England and Scotland. Abuja the capital city, replaced Lagos in Dec 91’. Lagos remains the commercial capital; other major cities include Ibadan, Kano, Port Harcourt, Kaduna, Calabar, Warri, Aba and Yenagoa.
The population was estimated at 123,337,822 in 2000; an increase of 39.36% over the 91’ census figure of 88.5 million. The birth rate was estimated at 40.12 per 1000 and death rate was 13.72 per 1000. With a projected annual population growth rate of 2.67% between 2000 and 2015, population is expected to increase to156,269,020 in 2015 consisting of mainly Christians and Muslims. According to the estimate of age structure, the largest segment of the population (53%) comprised individuals between 15 and 64 years old; 33,475,794 males and 32,337,193 females. The second largest segment, (44%) were between 0 and 14 years; 27,181,020 males and 26,872,317 females. The smallest segment (3%) were individuals 65 and above; 1,729,149 males and 1,722,349 females. The estimated sex ratio of the population was 1.02 males to 1 female while life expectancy at birth was 51.56 years: 51.58 years for males and 51.55 years for females. Excess mortality due to AIDS, lower life expectancy, higher infant mortality and death rates might reduce projections.
The climate varies from equatorial in the south, to tropical in the center and in the north. The country terrain ranges from plains in the north which merge into central hills and plateaus; mountains in the south east leading to southern lowlands, down to the coasts and swamps of the delta. Nigeria is a plural state with over 250 ethnicities, the most populous include; the Hausa (29%) in the north, the Yoruba (21%) in the southwest, the Igbo (18%) in the southeast, The Ijaw (10%), the Urhobo’s and Isoko’s (4%), the Itsekiri (1%), the bini (2%) the ukwuani (1%) amidst a host of others. Inland waterways totaling 8,575 kilometers consisting of River Niger, Benue, smaller rivers and creeks provide a transportation network in riverine areas. Ports include Lagos which handles majority of cargo, Port Harcourt, Calabar, and the Delta ports duo of Sapele and Koko. There are also two specialized tanker terminals at Bonny and Burutu that handle crude oil exports.
The oil industry dominates, producing 2.3 million barrels of crude oil daily as at 2000. It contributes 3% to global production and ensures sixth place on global exporter lists. During oil exploration, vast reserves of natural gas- estimated at 100 billion standard cubic feet- were discovered. In 2000, exportation of Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) began; it already surpasses the oil sector as the major source of revenue.
Emphasis on the oil industry has resulted in the neglect of other sectors of the mining industry which include coal, tin, iron, columbine, gold, uranium, tantalum, marble and phosphates. Main exports are petroleum products, cocoa, rubber, lumber and groundnuts which have created a large trading surplus. Chief imports are machinery, chemicals, transport and electronic equipment, manufactured goods, food and live animals.
Top ten tourist attractions include;
- Cross river State: Agbokim Waterfalls, Afi Mountain Wildlife Sanctuary, Cable car view of the Obudu cattle ranch, Cross River National park, Calabar Museum, Calabar Carnival, Ikom monoliths, Tinapa business resort.
- Kaduna State: Arewa House, Emir of Zazzau’s palace, Jakaranda Pottery, Kaduna National Museum, Kagoro Hills, Kamuku National Park, Lord Lugard Hall, Queen Amina’s Kingdom, Zaria city walls.
- Plateau State: Assop Waterfalls, Jos Museum, Jos zoo & wildlife park, Museum of Traditional architecture, Panyam Fish Farm, Pandam game reserve, Riyom Rock, Shere hills.
- Akwa Ibom State: Almagamation House, Azumini Blue river, Lord Lugard Residence, Mary Slessor Tomb, National museum of colonial History, Oron museum, Royal Niger Company Boat yard, Slave masters lodge.
- Borno State: Borno State Museum, Durbar festival, Gwoza hills, Lake chad, Rabeh’s Fort, Sambisa game reserve, Shehu’s palace.
- Lagos state: Afropolitan Vibes, Black heritage museum, Eyo festival, Felabration Carnival, Freedom Park, Murtala Mohammed botanical gardens, National Museum, National Theatre, Relics of Slavery, La Campagne Tropicana resort.
- Enugu State: Ani Ozalla Lake & Shrine, Awhum Waterfalls & Monastery, Iheneke Lake, Milken hills, Museum of National Unity, Mwanwu Masquerade Festival, Ugwueme & Udi Hills.
- Kano State: Dawakin Tofa pottery, Durbar festival, Falgore Game Reserve, Kano City Gate & walls, kofar Mata Dyeing pits, Kano State History Museum, Minjibir Weaving Center.
- Anambra State: Egbe Cham dane guns, Igbo- Ukwu Bronzes, Obuofo Nri Museum, Ogba- Ukwu caves, Ogelube Lake, Okpu Ana Natural Spring.
- Ekiti State; Arinta Waterfalls, Erin Ayonigba sacred Fish River, Ero Dam & Lake, Esa Cave, Ikogosi warm Springs, Orole & Olosunta hills.
BRaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa, I had slept off, in page 3. The beagle sounded at 5am every morning, as soldiers invaded the hostels with shrill whistling. I had no choice than to get out of bed, fetch water and find a way to take my bath outside, under the cover of dawn or wait to use the bathroom as queues had already formed. Most times I slid my bunk inwards then opened the door at the head of my bed. On this veranda I had my bath, slinging, and did my laundry (when I didn’t want to use mammy market Laundromats).
Everyone please head for the Lecture hall, blared the OBS speakers.
Getting there we were informed that a select few (20) were needed to be part of the kitchen crew starting today with platoon 1. Participation in food preparation and involvement in washing plates and pots, fetching water and firewood were listed work conditions. I joined, immediately curious about how food for 2500 people was prepared, Oke joined as Alomo scoffed mockingly. 5 males comprising me, Oke, Bona, Kelly and a dude who was eventually runner up for Mr NYSC, plus 15 females.
A tour of the kitchen was conducted by the Supervisor who informed us performance would be graded and 3 people recommended for a prize. We fetched water to wash plates and pots, firewood from behind the kitchen, then designed a check out. We purchased cardboard, inscribed food is ready in 10 different languages on one, another read Please queue up as defaulters will be prosecuted while the last read Platoon 1- Your satisfaction is our Responsibility (Lol, you sure can’t eat to your satisfaction ‘enough’ is the key word in serving). Breakfast was bread and Tea and meal tickets were marked before rations were issued.
They started arriving at the blast of the beagle, we worked briskly – males marked cards while females served. After breakfast, registration continued, so did drills, culminating in introduction of camp officials by the state coordinator while we were hard at work preparing lunch (Eba and Egusi soup). Again the queue appeared from nowhere with otondos brandishing flasks. Process was Oke marked meal tickets; I slapped a chunk of Eba on plates, on towards Julie for some soup. The occasional smart Alecs tried to jump the queue but were promptly rebuffed. Standing by the taps; Kenny checking his Twitter account said; The financial times say GDP has increased by 7% over the past decade but poverty rates have declined from 64.2% to 62.6%. The unemployment level is higher with a world ranking of 153 out of 186 according to the UNHDI.
Julie spoke up; up north 70% are unemployed; not in training nor educated. With rural poverty close to 51 million, majority are on a self-destructive trajectory, yet we remain deluded in our little corners, convinced that unless one puts a begging bowl in hand, he/she does not really experience hardship.
Oke: In evaluating quality of leadership with the utilitarian standard of the greatest happiness for the greatest number, the clear outcome is negative. In one state, an ultra-modern market has been completed on the very ground where an old market was. Victims of the fire which burnt down the old market claim government agents burnt it so that the governor would build a better one for the rich. A spurious claim, you would instantly say, however when a popular market is destroyed, government in conjunction with banks and private investors rebuild the markets. Instead of preferential allocation of shops and stalls to previous owners before the incident, wives and cronies of government officials and business tycoons buy them up, and resell at exorbitant rates. This occurs also in provision of low income housing schemes, bed space allocation in public universities and daily facets of public life.
Bona; the one that gives me worries is the culture of alms giving under the guise of observing religious injunction. My dad told me about the western house of assembly’s day of mayhem in May 62’, where honorables broke the mace, assaulted colleagues and disrupted proceedings; a script rehashed by recent affrays. Our constitution proclaims that any person who belongs to any of the tribes within our borders since October 1st 1960 is accorded rights of citizenship, yet these assumptions have been challenged by deportation from different states. No modern state can lend support to prejudice against strangers without undermining its own progress. That is why to most of us citizens the concept of ‘state’ is distant; it does not mean much that a public official stole 70 billion from government coffers. Its government that’s losing, we say, as there is no form of civic obligation even when we encounter vandalisation of public property. We just want to survive each day, make some money and hope for the best. It will not be scandalous to compare our politicians to prostitutes. They both clamor for public attention, yet cringe when the lights are on.
You guys should end that meeting and get on with dinner. The pots are at the tap, yelled the supervisor.
Only Nigerians, not politicians, can solve leadership problems. In as much as the politicians and elected officials must be blamed for bad governance, the demobilized citizenry, including unions, civil society groups and religious organizations should take greater responsibilities for the leadership problems in Nigeria and the rest of Africa.- Thabo Mbeki
I was stuck in traffic on third mainland bridge on my way to Ikeja, I twiddled the radio dial until it came to– Radio Kudirat: The Nigerian national anthem played out;
The UNESCO Education for all Global Monitoring report says that Nigeria has 10.5 Million out of school children which accounts for 47 percent of the global out-of-school population.
If UNESCO puts it at that, know the real figure is several times above that, I said to myself gazing at the bare chested lad that was indicating he wanted to wash my windows. If smiles were Naira notes, he would have had millions. So much has changed; I remember when mummy cooked without Maggi, now we boil cellophane whilst wrapping Moi-moi or Ekpa. Now capital expenditure outweighs recurrent expenditure.
It puzzled me that Nene did not mourn all the dreams we had; how quickly a loved one could become a stranger. I had to call Oke; strange how I felt with every major event, he was the only one who would understand. I had to tell him that Nene, was now married. Traffic eased and I sped up till the turn off, Victor Uwaifo’s guitar boy alerted me, that my cell was ringing, inserting earphones.
Bros Megwo (I am on my knees).
Vrendo, o ma gare? (Stand up, How body?) The typical urhobo greeting lasts 10 seconds, more in the range of 6-8. On the receiving end, it can seem to go on for hours.
Werrin de happen for warri?
Bros, nothing ooo, I go soon enter Abia sha for Nysc.
Oh boy try come Lagos, make we just de.
When you go get chance make I ball in?
Mi casa, Su casa,
Okay bruv, will let you know when am coming.
We caught up on other small stuff as I turned off Allen Avenue into a connecting street, and parked opposite an internet cafe. I crossed the street, watching as a group of boys crowded around a laptop groaned and sighed as a male in the center called out different email address designations. I started my career as a mugu for one of Warri’s hk; Bright could tell a potential maga from his email address. Mani was excellent, and for good reason, he’d been trained by Bright same as me. They were all gathered around Mani as he scanned email leads and checked them on Facebook to view pictures.
The mugus looked up to Mani for pointers yet were hopeful for their lucky streak. The cafe operator looked uninterested as I studied them from my position. Simple con that guaranteed money if you knew how to get an email’s password from sending a virus via a url link, then changing the reply to in the email settings and messaging all the contacts with a stranded email.
With four quick strides shrieking police, police, I landed in the midst of Mani with shifty eyes and a pair of nimble hands that had clamped the laptop shut as the boys scurried about. My 6 feet 4 frame with bearded face and broad shoulders, dressed in a hoodie, jeans and Fila shoes were taken in by Mani’s eyes which widened as I slipped off my cap. Ojukwu?
Manito what are you doing with these mugus?
Times are tough, and the mugus are a little green. Pretty risky, Mani scolded mildly,
If you have enough balls, people assume. Are you interested in some real money?
The last time you said that, we had to leave town for a while.
We had to because you got greedy.
Whats the deal? Mani asked
I’ll tell you after we run a short. I need bills for the long.
A long con? Who does that anymore?
Na when i de school all this short con de make sense, remember the last time outside that parastatal? i deliver vegetables there.
Okay, am in, what now?
We’re leaving for Abuja in a few days.
Getting back to my apartment building on the island; I was greeted at the lobby by Shuaibu, who informed me Madam was around. Madam could only be Frances; she was the only one with my spare key. I let myself in and was taking my shoes off just opposite The last days of Christ; Bruce Onobrakpeya’s Plastocast, when the aroma filtered in. The first time we met, back in campus she was standing across me in the arms of her sugar daddy. He was leaning on the bonnet of his Range Rover, whilst I and Oke chewed groundnuts by the Coca cola stand, in front of Ethiope hall. My friends laughed at me for wanting a bourgeois’ girl. I felt her watching me; I looked quickly at them, our eyes met: then we became aware of him watching us. It took months before I saw her again; we met at the bus station and were going in different directions. We both knew in our hearts it would only take time, before we were together. We had been together five years now, but our relationship lacked fidelity; it’s only failing on both sides.
My prince, welcome, how you de? She drew me in for a hug.
Am fine B, how bodi?
Bodi de cloth, I wanted to surprise you, I have missed you.
What are you cooking? E never ready?
Egusi pepper soup with snails, perewinkles and smoked fish. Your favourite; you want garri or semovita?
Semovita, oo. Thanks b.
You welcome, you know I’ll do anything for you.
I know you want something, let me eat first.
Okay my oga, I’ve got something for you too.
There is nothing more dangerous that sincere ignorance or conscientious stupidity (Martin Luther King), except probably corruption. That is why education is essential for our people. – Fela.
Our system of education is hinged on certification which never translated into practicals, I told OJ the evening I arrived, poring over an SMS from a job website, Jobberman.
Unemployment cannot be reduced without technical education you know; the informal technical sector through apprenticeship has produced automobile mechanics and carpenters agreed, however the absence of structural training has lowered the standard.
OJ chipped in; Surprisingly Governors go for infrastructure in schools whilst neglecting funding, curriculum content development and teacher training. Parents do not even complement efforts by buying books or moral guidance obvious in students coming in unbelted shirts or without stockings. Overcrowding is another matter altogether. The problems lie with all of us.
The next day we took a 45 minute drive from the Lekki toll to the Murtala Mohammed Botanical Gardens in Epe. 60 hectares of savannah grassland; the peace and quiet were all OJ was after, he said as his phone rang; we were driving through the gates: It’s me; I know this is crazy but I love you. I just do, and am sorry. Let’s put all this stupid stuff behind us and get together. I am coming back tomorrow; will you pick me up at the airport?
Who was that?
Nene ooo, she said she’s coming back tomorrow.
First stop was to devour sausage sandwiches that appeared from Shoprite bags on the still useable picnic roundavel under the shade of a cassia tree. While OJ was sketching a Jimmy Choo that Halle Berry wore to an academy award, I spent hours identifying flora and fauna then captured rare bird species on my Nikon.
I missed Grandpa; especially his history lectures, at last count, he had 13 wives, six score children and eight score grandchildren. A veritable army, nevertheless there was disunity ‘the gate syndrome’; mothers warned about eating the other wives food despite Mummy telling Grandma; family is loyalty.
He was a tall, gangling, potbellied political soldier; and drilled the difference between a political and a career soldier into my head. My first history class occurred on my fifth birthday; he had presented me with a gun; a toy one but you wouldn’t believe so from Mummy’s hysterics down the hall as he talked about Christopher Columbus discovering the new world which brought about a demand for slaves to work in the plantations. Then on to William Wilberforce, Granville Sharp and Thomas Clarkson who fought against slavery.
Daddy is Yoruba and misled mummy into assuming he was Nigerian until after his masters degree when he told her he had to go back to Cotonou. He managed an upstairs stall at the park in Cotonou amidst 300 French, Nigerian, German, and Indian families offering the same services: cars at cheap prices. Daddy gave me a picture book; turning the pages I was introduced to Mungo Park; the first European to set foot on Nigerian soil, on to Hugh Clapperton, Richard and John Lander, Macgregor Laird, William and Bird Allen and finally Dr William Balfor Baike.
On my tenth birthday, Grandpa took me on a trip to the national museum; as we meandered through the seven sections of the museum I sub consciously filed out names in my head. The tour guide reeled out information on John Beecroft, George Taubman Goldie, Nana Olomu, Jaja King of Opobo and Oba Nogbaisi Ovoramwen. An argument ensued between him and Grandpa when he insinuated that the Oba was not progressive minded.
I ran my hands in wonder around the body of MM’s Mercedes Benz 230.6 – in which he was assassinated on Friday the 13th Feb 1976; its 18 bullet holes had me in awe. We left the museum and headed to see Daddy. Occasional sightings of the Mercedes Amg ‘sevoked deep sighs from Grandpa as we clambered the wooden stairs to Daddy’s office which was all wood painted white inside with the TV on Al Jazeera. From the window, he looked down on his constituency.
That day, Jeremy a French dealer didn’t have a particular brand a customer wanted but had quoted a larger sum and wanted Daddy to corroborate same. He hadn’t disclosed this to Daddy who allowed the buyer inspect the car. The buyer was eager to conclude business, so Daddy asked for his money, the dealer moved closer whispering about the arrangement. Daddy refused, the dealer asked for the car to be taken to his lot, and he would refund later. Daddy refused again, citing his number 2 rule which was; no car leaves the lot without being paid for.
He bellowed Ahmed, Ahmed inverse que Toyota et le garer ici (reverse that Toyota and park it here), Grandpa smothered a laugh. Jeremy left furious, mumbling expletives in French.
I would have cut a deal, I thought at my age. Daddy just told me, I wouldn’t understand, and Grandpa said it was part of a spiral effect, resulting in a habit.
Daddy took us to the Vlekete slave market in Badagry; a market town where traders bargained slave prices during the slave trade. Since 1502 till march 1852 when a treaty was signed by England and 8 badagry chiefs, every two days, an auction of 1000 slaves in exchange for umbrellas, cannons, dry gin, mirrors, gunpowder, ceramic dishes amongst others occurred here, Daddy said. When we got back to the car, he presented me with a Lego box. Before I left back to warri, Grandpa gave me a picture book on 15 Heroes- The Queen on her historic visit to Nigeria, Mary Slessor, then Jaja Wachukwu who was immediately followed by Obafemi Awolowo. There I got to see for the first time Funmilayo Ransome Kuti, Vincent Adedoyin, Benjamin Nnamdi Azikiwe and Ahmadu Bello. Sir James Robertson’s picture holding court in parliament was closely followed by Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, on to Festus Okotie Eboh during the Queen’s reception in Lagos. Herbert Macaulay was followed by Adebayo Alakija, Margaret Ekpo and Michael Imoudu.
On my fifteenth birthday, Grandpa had one salient emotion about my never ending curiosity, he had his valet pull down the heavy encyclopedias in his library. French, Latin, I was on my own with the books. Daddy called offering me a job while Mummy’s gift to me was the truth about Grandpa. It started with a history lecture: The northern region had more geographical mass and population and there were rumors that the north had been aided to enter power. There was no unity amongst the Midwest people; the Yorubas were rioting and a state of emergency had been declared; the politicians were corrupt; so grandpa and his friends plotted to overthrow the government using the commonwealth conference as a distraction attacks occurred in Lagos, Ibadan and Kaduna. The first indigenous GOC was able to outmaneuver them in Lagos and the surviving members of the cabinet handed power over to him. He detained coup plotters but somehow Grandpa escaped: they always said he excelled in intelligence back in Sandhurst. One of his friends also escaped arrest linked up with his ethnic brothers and overthrew government by a countercoup. They arrested grandpa; they wanted to secede, they shot the GOC; the white man came and advised them against secession; then they appointed a Christian from the Plateau. By this time the North had been killing Easterners; they thought the earlier coup was ethnic oriented; this precipitated the flight of Igbos back to their ancestral lands where Grandpa was imprisoned. Their governor demanded to meet the plateau man on neutral soil for talks and they went to Aburi, Ghana where everyone agreed to his proposals. Weeks later the government created 12 states, the eastern governor interpreted it as curbing his powers because Port Harcourt was annexed emasculating the Igbo; he declared secession. It resulted in a war that lasted 30 months during which we bribed Grandpa’s warders with bags of garri and salt and they released him to us. He was incoherent and didn’t recognize us, since then we have had several coups, no improved change. Don’t take Grandpa too seriously; he’s a rabble rouser.
In secondary school I and some friends rioted against school authorities and brought down the gate; we were suspended. Daddy was on our side because low food rations and corporal punishments were top on our agenda but when he heard about the gate, he refused to intercede. Ring leaders were I and Temisan, who came to live with him for the duration of our suspension; we came most importantly because my PlayStation 3 was left there; to avoid distraction in school, the adults claimed. We played one game; Fifa soccer. Overtime, my parents knew well enough to just buy the discs with yearly variations. There were days when we stayed indoors from dawn till dusk using Brazil- Brazil for maximum effect. Food was secondary, and we had to be literally dragged to consume it. My favourite team was Real Madrid, however when Temisan selected Nigeria, you were in for a mauling; he had a saved feature of the 4-4-2 formation; Kanu always with Yekini. In midfield, Oliseh, Okocha, Amokachi and Odemwengie , ending in a defence marshalled by Eguavoen, Shittu, Taiye Taiwo, and Yobo captained by Peter Rufai. Substitutes in Awoniyi, West and Odegbami always sprang surprises highlighted by tactical nous from his pad. After weeks at home, we were called back to school, dismissed of prefect ranks and graduated gleefully.
Mummy wanted me to go to a private university, but Daddy and Grandpa would have none of it. You are a man and need to experience both worlds, they said when mummy raised issues of strikes and other depressing factors. I wanted to go international but mummy objected. My only child? Ahh Ahh, you cannot go.
Results from JAMB came and I was accepted to read history. Daddy said I was going to live in the university hostel, which I didn’t think too much about till I got there. Solid buildings with corridors running alongside room entrances, living conditions were worsened by population explosion. As a Jambito I was assured bed space but landlords had cornered bed spaces and sold at exorbitant rates to other students. Cooking took place in rooms partitioned by curtains high up to the ceilings marking different corners. The landlord happened to be the most senior or graduating student and all Jambitos were at their beck and call. After unpacking my stuff into the slim suitcase sized wardrobe, I climbed a top bunk, hastily spread a bed sheet and laid down to rest. With the smells wafting in, sleep wasn’t easy so I plugged in my earphones; Diagnosis on Radio Kudirat: The United Nations committee on the rights of the child has accused the Vatican of failure to live up to pledges to deal with clergy suspected of child abuse whilst ensuring preservation of church reputation over protection of child victims.
After tossing and turning several times, I woke up to noises of dragging feet. The general procession was to the bathrooms which turned out to be psychological nightmares. 100 level was fraught with oppression, being a Jambito meant you didn’t know anything and anywhere so the girls didn’t talk or get friendly with you. I reconnected with OJ; he was two years my senior but the coolest dude in town from his numerous awards. The cultists pestered me to join them, however I didn’t believe in working without getting paid, so except a confraternity could be like the movie skulls, I wasn’t interested.
One evening coming back from a swim in the River Ethiope with friends, we were accosted by gun totting police men along river road who asked that we halt and raise up our shirts. I protested but was given a dirty slap that made me cooperate immediately. To my surprise, I found that my friends had marks on their backs and legs that prompted the police men to load them up in their van, save for me; they had blended and I didn’t know.
I met Chioma on Feb 13, in a bus on my way home from lectures. She said she lived in Ethiope hall and wanted to get carpets for her corner. I offered to go with her and eventually bought her a rug. The next day, she paid me a visit, so we went to McCarthy beach. Walking back to her hostel we ran into a group of boys who constantly eyeballed me. Chioma’s boyfriend and 5 others confronted me; I had the nerve to tell him: If you can’t control your girl, please leave her to do whatever she wants; I got the beating of my life.
School surroundings bore semblance of learning spaces during exams, as lecture theatres were full of reading students day and night (sometimes not without vigilante lashes if coming from afar). Mum came visiting fortnightly with coolers of food and pocket money that were dearly appreciated. I didn’t buy the GST handout so wasn’t surprised when I failed; irresponsible child, mummy would have concluded.
200 level I moved to OJ’s flat; a gas cylinder exploded in the female hostel killing 3- I used this as an excuse when mummy asked. Living with OJ, I had to develop smartness in eating food right from the pot on the stove and pressing the toothpaste from the end. One weekend, I got a text message advertising Badoo chat. If you accept this request, reply with a YES. A chat invite from female folk is hard to come by so i punched in a YES. Hi my name is Olivia, a 300 level student. I replied with gusto, Hello, Oke here, 200 level student. My number is 080; I didn’t have to wait for long because she flashed immediately.
I called back and she informed me she lived on Ivie road, and was more than happy to make my acquaintance. That should have sounded me off, but my senses were numbed by pictures of luscious mangoes and prominent backsides.
What are you doing this weekend? Can i come spend time with you? I promise to be good.
What would that cost me?
When I saw her, she didn’t strike me as the beautiful girl I imagined and the excitement she exuded on the phone was in absence. At night, I touched her and she shrieked; File’ don’t touch, I hate cheating on my boyfriend.
I tried petting, I need 40,000, my rent is due and the landlord threatened me.
That is too much I reasoned, it is little by little that a bird builds its nest. I’ll give you 10k.
no make it 25
10,000, funds are low right now. We’ll use the ATM in the morning, another time I will make it up to you.
You’ll touch me only once then, and can have free access in the morning after I get the money.
The next morning we hitched a bike to the nearest ATM. As I slid in my card, I glanced over my shoulder and saw her studying my hand movement, I blocked her view, punched in the digits, made the withdrawal then handed the money over to her. I headed for blue plank to buy food then headed home. Passing the bus station, I saw paying the okada man at the gate of the bus station. I immediately called her;
Where are you going?
Off to see a friend in Obiaruku, she answered distantly
Are you coming back today?
No she replied cheekily,
What about my free access?
Well it’s a game, You used me, I used you.
Used? I immediately reached for my wallet and found my atm card was in absence. Immediately, I dialed her back.
Are you with my ATM card?
Yes, and I know your PIN number. I want to teach you a lesson.
Jesus….. That card was linked to an account with my school fees, and today was Sunday. I begged and begged until she hung up and switched off the phone. I called OJ who informed me about a code to deactivate bank cards; I jumped at the offer.
300 level brought an increasing level of violence, Fulani herdsmen were attacked by cult members, after seeing large clips of money on them. Resultant attacks left several students dead, so the school was shut down. I went home to Grandpa and Mummy arguing about Nigeria.
What? Grandpa screamed reading the papers, we had all been sitting waiting the commencement of Diagnosis on Radio Kudirat. NIMASA had blocked the bonny channel to compel the NLNG to pay a disputed levy defying a court injunction, the papers reported.
Haba Papa, Mummy said; This is one in a list of many which includes private persons, government agencies and private establishments. Words can’t explain self-help videos (ALUU 4, ejigbo women and recently the chibok girls) that have gone viral.
I proceeded to the fridge, to get some Dansa juice; Cheers to fela, he propounded the theory of silence- suffering and smiling which manifests in the Follow-Follow instinct. Grandpa remember your act of self-help for the nation; You and your friends are behind the six coup attempts we have experienced; from the July 75’ coup that brought MM to power, to the one that killed him. His death seemed a traffic bump in the road, when power was handed over to civilians. Alas, peace was short-lived; the head of the third Armored division took over in a Saturday coup; after 20 months he was toppled by Maradona. In Five years of his rule we were treated to his legendary leg overs before he was almost toppled, but escaped through the back gate of his residence. He continued for the next three, consequently doing the famed leg over with June 12 until the Gestapo ruler took over from his installed puppets. He in turn was overthrown by his own whims and caprices though we believe the official version which is a heart attack.
I have heard all your bla bla bla about federating states being vested with constitutional powers, freedom and resources to promote socio- economic development whilst expanding opportunities to citizens. A federation in which the FG has the power and resources to defend us, moderate relations between states, and speak internationally is what you all claim to seek. Instead of all that, we have watched as your friends accumulate power and resources, controlling everything important; while states wait like beggars for monthly subventions, our senators constantly decrying our feeding bottle federalism.
Grandpa’s face turned ghastly white; he picked up the newspapers and headed upstairs despite pleas that Diagnosis was indeed starting soon.
Diagnosis on Radio Kudirat; Una welcome, today na education we de face oooo. We have lost our kids to instagram and bbm, as millions of students sit at home idle, interrupted by another strike. At first a healthy number lamented this often repeated event; a few weeks passed, many filed it under one of those things and carried on downloading Iyanya’s album whilst surfing linda ikeji’s blog.
Our leaders deserve opprobrium; however criticism for not providing basic facilities is misplaced because of misappropriation of funds by academicians. Any university that cannot provide good classrooms, decent toilet facilities, functional libraries and basic equipment like Bunsen burners ought not to have been licensed by the NUC. Transparent accountability with respect to funds for capital projects and money derived from internally generated revenue is sadly lacking. Feedback from university tours report that computers provided are not used in compiling student information; students are still required to produce original files for any request as student files from decades ago litter exams and record offices across campuses.
A university’s mission is pursuit of knowledge; this implies that merit, excellence and proven record of performance must be decisive factors in the selection of a VC. For a sizeable percentage of lecturers, the important factor is ethnic origin; the question of merit and competence is secondary. In recruitment, promotion of staff, relationships between students and lecturers there are constant sacrifices on altars of ethnicity. Once upon a time in lalaland when universities were true ivory towers, the vice chancellors of Universities of Ibadan, Lagos and Nigeria (nsukka) all hailed from the same ethnic group.
Academic and administrative appointments should be the outcome of a competitive search where applications are screened by representatives from a cross section of the university community and external business leaders and supporters. Although institutions should have internal dynamics that could lead to politicization of searches for administrators, it should never be along the lines of political parties, nepotism or cronyism.
The major issue to address is just how many universities (and programs) can be run at acceptable standards. Even if the FG commits its entire 4 trillion budgets to its 40 universities translating into 100 billion per university; it will still be ½ of Imperial college’s budget. The federal allocation to education has since 2001 oscillated between 5% and 10% falling short of a UNESCO recommended minimum of 26%.
Would it be a taboo, if students; the mangled grass on which the elephants of ASUU and the FG are fighting, be the voice of reason, strike up conversations, forums for a solution, and prove to all that they are not mere statistics?
After weeks at home, the Universities embarked on a strike by which time I had started working for Daddy. I compiled reports and always had a deadline; Daddy made sure I had my driver’s license every time I got into any of his cars. As a hard taskmaster; Money is not easy seemed to be his favorite slogan. After 5 months the strike was called off; final year was rushed from start to finish as the authorities wanted to make up for lost time. Now I had been mobilized to Abia state for my one year of national service where skill acquisition classes took place every noon; varieties included Engineering/Computer related works, Bead/Costume making, Fish pond/Farming, and Foodcraft/Baking which I joined. I chose the latter as I aimed to eat what I wanted throughout service year. Getting back to the hostel after one of these sessions, I noticed my bag had been tampered with. Having placed it at the head of the bed horizontally, I found it lying sideways and closer observation showed the zip had been slit. No assessment was needed as I didn’t bring valuables to camp, to beat thieves when leaving the room I always placed my bags on the bed, spread the duvet over the bags and tucked in with the mosquito net, between the mattress and the iron bunk. This greatly limited the time any culprit could have access, though majorly dependent on corner mates being around.
Food craft classes were held at the makeshift NCCF building. Tunde opted for this class also and we found majority were females. I encountered the female I met at the gate when I first arrived.
What’s your name?
Bola, So you are from Warri that jaguda town?
You’ve never been there so it’s just what you hear.
The gist everywhere is that Warri boys are rough, she made a point of looking critically over my slim lithe figure.
Whatever you say, am kinda rough, but come spend a weekend. I’ll show you the soft spots.
Young man, are you having your own lecture there?
Everyone turned, as I profusely apologized and fell silent. Attendance was passed round while the instructor continued lecturing on croissant making. However my gaze kept wandering; that cluster that you can tell are private university bred from looks and behavior (always speaking britico and contributing money for one thing or the other), one can hardly overlook thick tribal marks like diagram labels on fair complexioned chicks who acted as though they owned the world, not leaving out those who wore sunglasses from sun-up to sun-down.
After the class, we headed for mammy market and encountered the food craft instructor as the canteen owner of the sixth stall. Bola promptly ordered food, then proceeded to inform us on her Queen Bee status and our inability to dislodge her till the end of camp. She was in Band and had rehearsals frequently.
My archbishop, was kidnapped, my mum called me this morning to tell me.
Tunde chipped in: Not so long ago, there were lines we did not cross but now value for money far outweighs value for people as kidnapping has become a business. Kings, chiefs, the poor, rich and elderly have all been victims. We shrug it off, ‘our families were not involved.’ They must have done something to attract attention, we say in our minds. We have failed to be our brother’s keeper, and are one dimensional.
Let’s eat before you wax philosophical ‘oga’, I have my rehearsals soon, bola quipped as strains of Prince Nico Mbarga’s sweet mother indicated my cell was ringing.
Vrendo my son how are you?
I am fine, can i call you back? Am eating right now.
Okay, the connection cut.
You told your mother a lie? Why?
Wow, you said i should stop talking and start eating; now you want me to take the call?
That’s how you will lie to me too, she retorted.
After food, she paid saying she had to hurry back for rehearsals (first time we encountered a girl paying for herself, not to talk of paying for us).
Listening to the transistor radio in Tunde’s room; the Inspector general of police, and a state governor stated that: The kidnap came to them as a shock, and they wondered the offence of God’s servant.
Greed and lawlessness shouted Alomo, Greed, because you openly challenged the president and have not done much with the funds at your disposal, yet aspire for higher office. Lawlessness because the environment is morally bankrupt and breeds calibers of misfits who chose dubious means of livelihood.