Back from Gidi always with a humility about both the possibilities and challenges of life in Nigeria. it is difficult not to notice that unlike the cocoon or the matrix that we live in the Western world back in Nigeria everything seems constructed to test and demand the fullness of your essence both in the best as well as the worst way. A lot more on that much later. The picture I have scanned in is from BusinessDay newspaper of the 20th of December and captures the nature of the Liminal sate of not just Nigeria but also of the broader world in which we are living.
A Liminal State has been described as ' A realm of pure possibility where novel configurations of ideas and relations may arise'. Here 10 things for the new year that should give the wise inspiration for this emergent age.
1) China rising, is a trite fact but disturbing for the west. The Olympics will be a success and rebranding of China will be complete. Many in the West will continue to warn and their acolytes in Africa will criticize. China is not a friend or enemy of Africa but an ally whose interest will determine how it behaves. It is just business and it is time Africa gets beyond aid and friends to just doing business.
2) EU diminishing, is a fact that the recent Lisbon talks reveals but there are still enough African ass kissers who do not realise the power of competitiveness. It is time for a mature relationship based on requirements rather than handouts. Time to move beyond commodities to production of added value. Lets rock Divine chocolates y´all.
3) Growth polars are the new salvation. Yesterday the talk was of BRIC(Brazil, Russia, India, China). 2008 is the year of SANE , South Africa, Algeria,Nigeria, Egypt. Look out for the stock markets as well as phenomenal growth level. The African renaissance is about pure economics in 2008 and they will deliver.
4) Nuclear realignment is here. Forget the fight against proliferation, knowledge is now diffused and many will build plants and create their own capacity. Beyond Iran look again at Brazil, Nigeria and Saudi Arabia.
5)The dying dollar will become real. Bretton Wood fudge that has protected the greenback will not survive the year. South korea and China to be the first to break ranks then OPEC to follow or is it the other way round. Never mind buy other currencies dump the dollar.
6) Gulf of Guinea becomes the new Middle East back to its primacy in the 1800s no longer slave coast or palm oil now crude oil the new finds in Ghana to increase both volumes and competition. The days of 100 dollars and above a barrel is here.
7) Stock market is the new democracy in Africa with everyone rushing to buy into the returns of expanding shareholding. Check Kenya in spite of turmiol, Nigeria, Egypt to recapture eminence. 40% average returns too good to pass on compared to 4% and 7% in London and New York for 2007. Put your money where it feeds your future with profit.
8) The Al Jazeera jazz becomes the new wave as Africans now tell their stories to the world not just the amatuerish NTA news. Here comes the new wave fashioned by emerging confidence in the fact the stories interest the world and increasingly funded by a hungry Diaspora. The Africa Channel will rock.
9) Celtel roaming network will become zone for organising a new level of digitisation increasing pssibility of real trade between East and West coast in real volumes for the first time. Look out for Nigerians taking Sallah holidays in Zanzibar.
10) The backlash against Pentecostal churches start in 2008 in earnset. Only the truly committed will survive credibly . The days of Las Vegas churches touting tithes for earthly returns will be checkmate by increased prosperity through hard work and larger middle classes.
Never mind if any of these disturbs you . My track record on predictions are all on this blog. You can go back to last year and check how much came true. As for now the rum takes the edge of the impending recession in the UK. I plan my assault on Gidi (the sequel) with the best of my ideas and the burning passion for posterity. 2008 is the year for standing up for our children no more excuses, no more edging our bets let our children know they matter as we fight to build a legacy. My moment of 2007 is when my youngest Ami a year after visiting Nigeria for the first time asked me , Daddy I know you say we are descended from royalty but are you still a king? Why i asked. He goes, the way we were treated when we went to Nigeria is like everyone knew you and loved you. People looked after us all the time. I laugh and say of course we are royalty. Then he said why are we giving that up for England? For that there is no answer.
Sunday, December 23, 2007
Posted by Onibudo at 11:14 pm
Wednesday, December 12, 2007
Flags and Tomorrow
Our Fluttering Flag
Eyes mesmerised upwards
Doused in weeping rain
Drowned and limp in half-mast
Imprisoned by weight of burden past
Our Almond eyes
Shining in bronzed flourish
Nostril cast in flared pride
Scars etched like wrinkled smile
No outlets to release the bile
Deep sky painting
Captured in heavenly canvas
Stains of rain erased
Showcasing rainbows palette
Going to work with tomorrow’s machete
Posted by Onibudo at 4:56 pm
Picture by Rosanna Durruthy
I am on my way to Gidi. In fact today and as usual there is a lot to explore but too little time. As i usually say I come from a Islamic tradition and my family ie my wife and children are from the Christian tradition. Even though we are all now practising Christians but traditions and rituals have a strong hold on our psyche. Rituals are the vehicles that our ancestors use to remind us of the wisdom that they discovered. Depending on the ritual their always the journey, the pain , the triumph and then reflection. For many they are going through the Xmas ritual as a representation of the birth of Christ even though it is factually and historically incorrect. This year it coincides with the period of the Hajj to Mecca and Medina. This year is kind of special because my younger brother made Hajj . I imagine my parents will be truly proud of this. I wish him well.
I will be in Ibadan myself running a retreat for A3&O a telecoms content provider company in which I have a small interest. I will be there for the Ile Ya festivities that follow the Hajj. The ram, roasted, grilled and cooked. I have many stories to tell you much later. Especially recent trips with the Gliteratti and Cogniscenti, from St James Palace as one of the readers of the Queens Anniversary Award to innovative ; brief tea at the House of Lords and the piece de resistance launch of the new Aston Martin Design centre with my brother Oyedokun Lawson Oyekan as the artist in residence with his unique ceramics crowning this gorgeous cars. I will be back soon.
Posted by Onibudo at 7:52 am
Monday, December 10, 2007
Now Professor Watson of the Nobel Prized Eugenicist published his DNA recently and guess what? The man who views Africans with concern about their 'inferiority' apparently has 16% of his DNA from an African Great Grandfather. The most telling issue however is not the existence of a more recent African Ancestry but the addiction to the idea of measured intelligence as embodied in IQ test. Below is a brilliant article by Malcolm Gladwell who increasingly is the kind of public intellectual black or white that every nation needs. It is a must read for anyone who wants an informed position on this debate. For me the real point is that the only true response to racism is a life in pursuit of excellence and character evolution.
Sunday, December 09, 2007
The young lady above is Samina Malik whose poems supporting the so called Mujadhein warriors and writing about decapitations just got sentenced to probation and community work for this and downloading an alleged terrorist manual from the internet. For me this is a very scary development when you get punished by the state for what you think and write about. It is a world bent out of shape by fear and insecurity. It has blinded people to the possibility that the constant hysterical interplay always leads to escalation and dehumanising. Take the Teddy bear issue, when a group of school kids named a toy 'Mohammed' of course someone lodged a complaint very likely a person offended that this British woman had come to the Sudan to 'lord it over them' . If the British media had any sense they would have played it cool but this was too much of a chance to play the 'mad mullah' card that they went at it with the subtleness of the Sirocco in a deserted Sicilian village. As if by remote control the usual crowd of unemployed and underproductive turn out for their standard flag burning carnival. All stereotypes confirmed the Teacher gets back to UK is front page news for a few days and maybe longer if she can conjure up a 'toy boy' preferably from an ' exotic' location maybe Zanzibar. Then all players take their pills and go back to the dark room or in the case of the press a coffin in a cellar somewhere in Canary Wharf until the next opportunity to dust off the film of mildew that spans their intolerance.
Poor Samina how else can she rebel , dressed like a forlorn widow with many passions buried inside looking for legitimate outlet. Nothing in her profile suggests that what she expresses in her poetry is not something she would forget in a proper hormonal release. The problem is that she is a Muslim for how else does the Nihilistic lyrics and considerations of Goths, Dweebs and the many metal related obsessive who have visions of murder and mayhem as well as downloading more serious stuff gets ignored. I think the world is losing all sense of porportion.
Posted by Onibudo at 5:59 pm
Sunday, December 02, 2007
There are few times I have agreed with Dele Momodu the celebrated publisher of Ovation Magazine and an old friend from university. His success with Ovation magazine is very astute especially in using the Nigerian obsession for lavish consumption and showing off. He is also a very good serious journalist when he bothers to express that side of himself. I just finished reading his latest column in This Day newspaper on Ibadan and I agree entirely with his analysis and call to action. Ibadan as many have heard said is the Intellectual hub of Nigeria and should be its Research and Development Capital. Its proximity to Lagos and its tradition for churning out the best minds are only secondary to the fact that it has scores of Higher Education Colleges and nearly ten universities within 100km radius. Ibadan should be like Cambridge/ Boston axis in the United States.
I am an Ibadan man, I sweat Oluyole. My family goes back to before the Efunsetan that Dele Momodu talks about. My dream day starts with Alapa seeping palm oil or Ekuru with drops of salt as well , I would follow with a lunch of Amala supported with abula with Oro fruit as dessert. I perpetually search the web to add to my stock pile of Epo-Akara and Barrister CDs . I know my Itu taba from Foko. Ibadan is at the heart of what i represent. Oke Ibadan is the brand for the views I express. I have never fully addressed the role of Alhaji Adedibu, the strong man of Ibadan politics even though apparently my family has a long history with him. Without being bogged down in history recent events are also instructive which include my brother Saheed running against his Son for Senate in Ibadan. His Son was brought back belatedly to Nigeria a day before the primaries and 'pushed up the line' in an arranged exercise of democratic success. As a result I should not be a fan and i am not. However Alhaji Adedibu's so called Amala politics is actually a modern Robin Hood operation without the romance. Whilst the elite, modern politicians in the State do not want to 'dirty' their hands with the great unwashed of Bere, Molete, Agugu et al but would rather sup in Bodija with their Middle class supporters, they seek to use Alhaji as a bridge to the working classes. He demands his price with little scruples which he proceeds to share with many whose needs blind them to the longer term consequences of their actions. Ibadan has become his playground unfortunately without any checks and balances. It reminds me of the stories about the behaviour of Bashorun Ogunmola of old whose only restraint was my Great Great Great Grandfather Balogun Ibikunle. As such there is nothing new about an 'erratic' Ibadan 'Strongman '. Adedibu is not the problem but a symptom of broader old disease present in all of Ibadan. It is manifested by an exceptional acceptance of nuances, a studied ambivalence towards conflict, a romantic indulgence for rascals and a pragmatic amorality. It is a double edged sword that allows deviant geniuses to thrive but also cultivates despotic eccentrics. The latter is essentially true when inspirational leadership is totally absent as a true north for the people. This is the root of present predicament for in the absence of vision the people are perishing.
Many now accept the conventional wisdom, that Ibadan is in terminal decline. His young (yes he is male or how else would you describe the home of warriors) desert in droves for the accepting anonymity of Lagos. They run for dear life from the slow death offered by an older generation trapped in gossip, personal conflict and unproductive traditional rituals. They run from the early evening shut downs and the lazy hand of routine. Who can blame them?
I however hate to disappoint the lazy common sense that is now the song and dance of the nattering punditry in the Country as well as wider Diaspora. It is too early to sing the demise of Ibadan and its rusty roofs. It will be a costly thing not just for the city, the state, the country but for the whole of West Africa. Recently the Economist in a piece of inspired commentary raised the vexing issue of the death of the publishing industry in Nigeria and the attendant difficulties for the New breed publishers like Farafina and Cassava. It missed a critical point, the backbone of the entire Nigerian publishing industry which in turn is the centre for West Africa is on one street in Ibadan. As you drive from Sabo to Jehrico crossing over the railway lines you can see them on the left side in their varying states of decay and disuse former giants that carried the entire African Writers series which are classics in the same manner as any in the world. Shadows of a once great industry the churned out Achebe, Ngugi, Camara Laye, Soyinka amongst many others. This is a metaphor for Ibadan , a harbinger for Nigeria , an omen for West Africa and a tragedy for the continent South of the Sahara. If nothing is done it will be a true loss for the rest of the World. It is time for all and sundry who care for the power of ideas, the role of innovation and the genius of the African mind to participate in restoring Ibadan to its intellectual best. The alternative is the mourn another 'Timbuktu' this time watching it happen in real time.
Dele Momodu's article is linked below.
Sunday, November 25, 2007
Painting by Peju Alatise (Owned by Adewale Ajadi)
Nothing in this world can match hearing you say ‘I love you’. These three words that seem to open up the deepest of dreams as well as fears, the insecurities and aspirations of the world around us. When we say them, we wonder whether we will hear those words back and if we do, will it be true or even will it last? In that same moment of the deepest connection our most fearsome demon is exposed, the multi headed hydra that is insecurity. Not true for us, our love is so pure it gathers no residue. I promised myself I would do anything to help keep it so. So here I am capturing for you the wisdom that preserves the greatest organising principle and fountain of a life without limitation, Love.
For many years the teachers of this wisdom have been women whose own initiation have been scars tissues of experience nurtured in the womb of time, seared in the burning heat of the Equator. They preserved the wisdom over generations, from mother to daughter ensuring not only survival in predictable difficulties but prosperity in spite of them. This wisdom no longer speak to their daughters these days. This great heritage is now lost to modern exposure and indoctrination. Love has become a PowerPoint presentation with the predictability of a Hollywood blockbuster. Every woman seems to have the same expectation and dream of Cinderella or more accurately Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman. Women of my generation now see love like a consumer choice designed in the west, marketed through Oprah and returned if it does not deliver gratification. Like the little black dress every woman should own one preferably with a premium brand name. They choice to distance themselves from them their mother’s life of submission and subservience is long overdue. For this generation of our brightest and most exposed women who will rescue Africa from much heralded decline. I sometimes wonder whether the loss of the wisdom about the complexity of love is a price worth paying?
I hope I honour you with my directness. It is the least I can offer for the many damages inflicted by men. That there are many grown males but there are a lot fewer men is very trite. Manhood is now a rare art and it now seems the women are going the same way. I hope it is not too late.
I learnt of love from the best and the truest. My Grandmother always said in Yoruba ‘ Eni a fe la mo a ko mo eni to feni’ a literal meaning is, ‘I know who I love but can never know who loves me’. Many have misunderstood that to be a statement of distrust when it is quite simply embraces the true vulnerability of Love. Love is what you give. A choice you make irrespective of what you get in return. When you say ‘I love you’ it is a declaration that you are ready to, live rather than exist, to prosper rather than survive. Love is life in full bloom with all its risks and challenges it captures the significance of all things. Majesty of the blowing wind, spectrum of the dazzling rainbow even the devastation of a raging Tsunami. I however feel as a man, i am unworthy of the responsibility I have to share with you.
My teachers extend back three generations, yes as far back as my great grandmother and in your case double great. Each one of them followed love fearlessly and relentlessly. In most cases they married at least five times with one exception my mother, your grandmother. I say this to expose the complexity of who they were and how they lived. In fact my maternal great grandmother had nine children from eight husbands. Therein lies their first wisdom that seems to be lost to many. No two people experience or travel love’s journey in the same way. Find your first and enduring love is yourself. This is the core of this wisdom. It is about insight, understanding as well as embracing of you and your complexity. To love yourself you will need to embrace all within, the princess, mother and dare I say the bitch and courtesan. Love is life, a gift from your creator; live it like there is no tomorrow. Let no one define it any less or suggest in any way you are not worthy. I know the circumstances of your birth and the social hierarchy maintained by wagging tongues but define for yourself your kind of love. Without it life is simply a travesty.
The second is insight about who, what and how you love. For too many, love has to have particular qualities to dignify its name. It has to be exclusive, joyful, affectionate, romantic, wealthy sometimes even belong to a profession or be articulate. Certainly love is not blind but the qualities that many seek are themselves another form of blindness. My mother always said to love you have to become the child of your intuition. With insight into your love you educate your intuition and with foresight you express it. Express your love authentically as a discernable energy that connects with others on your frequency and projects to some as charisma. It is a myth that it is only for one person because as the world becomes smaller it increases the likelihood that you will meet many people who share your connection. How you express that is entirely up to you. It is not about negative or positive but about evolving and growth. Love is the fuel that propels your life never be afraid of using it even when the consequences are painful it will always pay off in growth.
The third and final wisdom of is around decision-making. Your choices shape your life. There is a quote attributed to Dr Mae Jemison first black woman in space, she says successful life is captured in the word lifestyle, Life is the gift from your creator and style is what you make of it. This style is dependent on the depth of insight, the length of foresight and finally the quality of decision-making. Please life is not a Teddy Pendergrass love song and it is never 50/50 balance for long. You will not be half of someone else nor can you own or be owned by another. Love just is. This is the basis of making effective love decisions. For example it is quite important to draw a distinction between intimacy which is a battery that recharges the connection of love and sex which is one of many acts that expends its energy. It is nurturing to find the intimacy of love with those you share the connection with but quite unwise to have sex with everyone of them.
In the person who you choose as your sustainable partner in this journey always look for your worthy adversary. Someone versed in the ancient battle that is timeless as well as complex. You both must win. If he/ she wins and you lose then you both lose as he/she will lose interest in an opponent that has no more to offer. If you win and he/she loses then you lose for he/she no longer is an adversary who brings out your deepest resolve. As you evolve and the butterfly in the stomach starts to fade make decisions that transmit the authentic energy without fear. Your adversary if evolved will still connect with the frequency eventually even if sometimes the signal seems lost.
I put my pen down to reconnect with our signal. I welcome you into the family, such a rarity it is to be a girl in the Ajadi family. I cannot wait till we can talk but for now I write down my thoughts so that whatever happens you retain the wisdom of our mothers to pass onto those who come after you.
A Letter to my niece whose first words to me is 'I Love you' and written for magazine publication in June.
It looks like the ANC is going to vote in Jacob Zuma as its President. It is a predictable triumph of populism over intellectual and reflective choices. It might seem to many in the West and majority of Mzansi an improvement on the incumbent Thabo Mbeki but I suspect it is a backward step. The Zeitgeist in South Africa amongst the majority black population and co-opted by the cynical media elite, is the worship of the activist. I will not dwell too much on the activocracy as I call them (read earlier posting on Mzansi) but suffice it to say that it is the foundation and catalyst for what appears to be a very poor choice. It also seems that it is part of the enduring view amongst many other ethnic groups in Mzansi that there is something called the 'Xhosa Nostra'. That is most of their black elite are Xhosa hence for the some time to give the Zulu the chance to rule. There are however too many challenges ahead for this beautiful country to fall into the trap of the laziness of Conventional wisdom. Mr Zuma might be the most personable and approachable salt of the earth but nothing he has done or said suggest that he is intellectually, emotionally or practically capable of leading the most successful African Economy. I do not think Mzansi can afford to make a petulant choice for its sake and for the possibility of an Africa that will be competitive in this new century. Some of the challenges that Zuma can worsen are:
1. The landless millions who have the potential to ride the wave of populism towards a hasty 'Zimbabwean' style land grab.
2. The effect of the increasing population and Urbanisation on the infrastructure already showing in the worsening power failure and rationing.
3. Increasing Xenophobia towards immigrants and intolerance of the other, even ethnic discrimination especially towards the much envied Xhosa
4. The abuse of women especially the rape which is already at a phenomenal level.
5. Breaking the stranglehold on the economy by a few conglomerates mostly white owned in a sustainable and productive manner.
6. Moving beyond the simplistic rhetoric of so called 'Black diamonds' towards a truly integrated market place that opens up for upward mobility rather than a poorly engineered Government quota system.
All these things need a sophisticated and nuanced decision as well as policy line that educates the people, sets standards and engages them towards possibilities rather than fears.
There are too many South Africans who view Mbeki with suspicion and too many in the West that will never forgive him for his position on Zimbabwe. I hope for their sake this choice proves right because if it is not they will look back on President Mbeki with Nostalgia but by that time the damage would be done.. I am sure in my instincts that this is what will happen but only time will be the judge.
Wednesday, November 21, 2007
It must be time of life or just being low with the British economy but i shed a tear from watching the death of Hector Williams MD in The Unit CBS TV series about US Special Forces. Strange but I love the Unit just like as a child I bought into Tarzan. This is even though I know the deal here. One thing US producers do very effectively is to create heroic myths about their institutions especially when they are at risk of disgrace. Follow this:
CSI is response to the disgrace of crime labs exposed in the OJ Simpson's murder Trial
NYPD Blue responded to the shot on Amhadu Diallo and Beatdown of Mr Louima
West Wing dealt with the scandal of Monica Lewinsky
24 is a platform for justification of War on Terror and Homeland Security
These are some illustration of how the nation renews its institutions and creates an heroic narrative that it not only feeds to its people but also sold to the world. Helped always by high production values, engaging stories and fun escapism. So even though The Unit shot and killed an unarmed Lebanese kid, i sympathised with Hector Williams shot in the neck after saving the life of his comrade. In retrospect I think of the Nigerian soldiers that died in Darfur recently or the hundreds that gave their lives for Sierra Leone and Liberia. I am sure there were no pictures in the newspapers, no heroic headlines, not even Nollywood footnotes. Their names barely uttered in public and known only to grieving family and friends. This the much maligned Nigerian Army, school of Coup Plotters and pillaging despots. What is more heroic than fighting to protect another nation from falling apart?
On a similar point this week the Nigerian government put forward to the House of Assembly a request to write off $14 million of Liberia's debt to Nigeria. It is proposed as our contribution towards helping the country get back on its feet. Is that is heroic or what!
Posted by Onibudo at 9:03 am
Sunday, November 18, 2007
You should read this article first if you can access it from the Washington Post.
There is no group that pisses me off than the westernised African. Here it is at last the statistics on Aids is highly exaggerated. It has been based on extrapolation of test on pregnant women and it is rarely admitted that the tests for this most destructive of diseases actually is not perfect. There has always been a unhealthy bandwagon around the whole HIV - AIDS thing. Anytime i have challenged those who are always in the mainstream of western thinking hey turn it personal either calling me irresponsible or suggesting I am ignorant. This figures is vindication of sorts. There is a lot more revelation to come out of the bag on this one. Africa has been reduced to AIDS central promoted by the United Nations, protected by the simplistic do-gooders and exploited by so called African NGOs awarded grants from all over to benefit their alarmist positions.
All the attacks on President Mbeki from those who claim to be scientists. They lack any curiosity neither do they truly have any interest in anything other than the laziness of orthodoxy. Now the estimates gets redressed down by 40% but the truth is apparently not fully out. In West Africa they say the AIDS figures are far less than projected and not nearly at the level of any region in sub-Sahara Africa. Honestly I wish those who just look for any stick from the west to just bash Africa on the head would just shut up. Yes there is Aids but there are many things that are still unknown about its dynamic, we need honest and open dialogue not brainwashing or propaganda. I have always thought that Conventional Wisdom is a facade for intellectual laziness.
For nearly one year in my Lekki, Lagos home, I have enjoyed the culinary delights of a great chef and extraordinary professional. A man whose pride, passion and confidence in his work is both high art and manifest competence. Mr Joseph, the man I speak of, is from the Republic of Benin, which probably explains both the vocational competence and the parity of esteem he shares with any other professional, be it a lawyer, doctor or engineer. In Nigeria, our obsession with paper qualification is legendary. Our resources to accommodate this are at best insignificant. The fact that most of the highly educated citizens that we produce suffer from practical incompetence and are notoriously , inefficient and ineffective in real world situations does not seem to encourage us to pause for thought.
We were at the threshold of a revolution the handmaidens of which were the recently replaced leadership of the Federal Ministry of Education in Abuja. For many years, I have wondered about the consequences of academic obsession and rejection of real world competences has been for Nigeria. The Federal Ministry of Education finally put some context and content to my concerns; for example, there are about 51.6 million Nigerians under 30 not accounted for in the school system post SS3. Only 1.5 million in tertiary education, which is about 1% of Nigerian population. From that 1.5 million, 60% come out unskilled and untrained in commercial or management competencies. Our universities can only accommodate less than 500,000 students at any given time.
We are in the time when, our economy will need double the nearly 3% population growth rate to create real expansion needed to reduce poverty. This will mean an average of 6% GDP growth in real terms for the near future. We will need to double individuals productivity and generate millions of jobs to be truly competitive not only in Africa but across the world.
The engine for our economic prosperity is not in Government, neither is it in the diminishing returns from extractive industries like oil. The truth be said, it is the creation of many Mr Josephs or Ms Josephines. It is our ability to arm the multitudes of our young people with the grease for their talent and empower them with a rainbow of possibilities. This will not come from elitist academic pretentions but giving esteem to productive activity. We need to certify what it takes to run a Bukka or mechanic shop so it becomes an engine room for expansion. We need to have skilled carpenters, bricklayers and farmers who are celebrated and certified with the same aplomb as any lawyer or PhD. We need vocational education regime that prepares capable Nigerians to apply their capacities through apprentice programmes and practical competence development. Where does one learn to be a plumber, electrician or mechanic and be able to guarantee that they meet world-class standards in their work? Many of the death traps that pass as public transport have been handled by dubious mechanics. I often wonder who services or maintains the aircrafts we fly on in that country and what level of certifiable competence do they have. Think of the many accidents caused by incompetent HGV drivers.
We need to be able to give the same level of esteem for practical capacity as well as intellectual competence. We need to set standards for all of the areas and educate to those standards. It will give competence and productivity for many who now live by their wits and occasionally by violence.
For me, high quality vocational education will lead us to a society that celebrates merit and hard work. A society in which the sweat of your brows is the seedlings for your status. A society in which there is equality of opportunity, where you will be respected for what you produce and not who you know. Vocational education is not a choice; it is an imperative if Nigeria will truly become the heart of Africa. We need the wisdom of the multitudes, not just the intelligence of the few.
Tuesday, November 13, 2007
How does one choose gritty Glasgow with its grimy cold veneer over pristine Abuja? How does a country which has hosted the Commonwealth Games about 3 times, win over one that has never done it before? How does 77 countries, mostly Africans and Caribbean countries vote 47 Glasgow 24 Abuja (something like that)? It is a result of the constant Public Relations fiasco that Nigerians generate by actions, words and in fact with ideas (or lack of). This is further compounded by Governments that are so incompetent at intangibles that their use of the media is worse than that of my local dramatic society. The failure to know how to act, speak and engage in a world where buzz is everything and substance an afterthought is going to continue to cost the country dearly. Check this figures from Pew Research Global Attitude Survey 2002-2007 comparing favourable view levels of Africans for two countries Nigeria and South Africa.
These are very telling figures and before you attack the other countries in their views, the most disturbing is that only 48% of Nigerians have a favourable view of their nationality.
These are the bountiful fruit of the Nigerian elite as we say in Ibadan ' Omo ale ti on fi owo osi juwo ile baba e’ it is only a bastard that chooses to describe his/her father’s house casually with his/her left hand. The left hand thing is a discussion for another time. Past government incompetence or share indifference perhaps even cynicism has contributed to South Africans amnesia and ignorance of the critical role Nigeria played against Apartheid (Chapter and verse later). Today’s Namibians are even less likely to remember that their independence owes a lot to Nigerian support for Nujoma and SWAPO. There is Zimbabwe who had millions in grants handed to them to make Rhodesia capitulate. How can anyone forget the intervention with Angola whose recognition depended entirely on the chutzpah of late General Murtala Rabat Mohammed who told President Gerald Ford of USA where to get off . He cast the tie breaking vote that lead to recognition by the OAU of the MPLA government.
There are more recent and blatant failures to get proper credit for foreign policy actions, for example, who gets celebrated for stopping Sierra Leone from collapse? It is Britain but guess who did all the donkey work throughout the war? Yes! Yours truly, Nigerians dying in hundreds to save Freetown yet did not even get a mention in the movies Blood diamonds or any serious analysis afterwards in the International Media. In fact 5,000 of the 7,000 ECOMOG troops were Nigerians. Then there is Liberia whose entire existence depended on this same much maligned Nigeria to fight and negotiate not once but many times to give the country a chance at a future. Their cousins in the United States wanted nothing to do with them after they had been used Liberians for generations as beach head of American arrogance and superiority in Africa. Guess who gets blamed for offering Charles Taylor refuge? The same Charles Taylor that sought and oversaw the killings of many Nigerians for no other reason but we stood tall when no one cared. Now the world celebrates rightly the new President but her feet was washed in our blood.
This is all about the brand building. Italian small businesses raised the fact that the Mafia generates 7 % of GDP becoming the largest single source of economic activity in the country. No one however associates Italy exclusively with organised crime or treats it like it is the threat that Nigerian crime can be. It is romanticised, its style celebrated, its cuisine sought after, history captures imagination and its aggressiveness turned into the stuff of films. Italy never ceases to tell its many stories, its elite clear that even though there are many things that are bad however there is also much to teach the world. It is how you treat you calabash others treat it. Who will buy a lifestyle or even a sporting event from a people who spend most of their time discussing their failings, propagating their worst problems and dwelling on that which they dislike most in their people? Our heroes’ herald their nation a failure at every opportunity and the dialogue of our elite vilify everyone and everything that stands in the public space. Nigeria is a country where very few are celebrated and most are criticised. Cynicism has become our Grundnorm. No matter how much Government adverts are put out there they will all be seen as contrived. It is what we say, do and live that is the advert for Nigeria. As the survey shows we ourselves would not buy Nigeria so why should others?
Posted by Onibudo at 6:26 am
Wednesday, November 07, 2007
Mwalimu Nyerere said something like there should be global principles but local standards. This is a blinding glimpse of the obvious because the modern world has bought into western standards and treated them as universal ones. We have quite lazily all bought into Romantic Love an exaggerated expression that is a child of French poets and nurtured by British Victorian prudes. The same is true about the concept of Childhood or the treatment of the suit and tie as formal business attire. It sometimes comedic and dangerous consequences in equal measure. Sometimes it gets more dangerous especially when you review the assumption that democracy is the only worthwhile form of Governance. We keep using it as a short hand for participation,accountability, representation and transparency. The latter are principles that are universally effective but the former is a western standard as well as process which might or sometimes does not deliver the principles.
It is with this in mind I link a few disparate issues and create my own Jambalaya of thoughts out of it. For many years the only hero I had was Mohammed Ali that is until I discovered Malcolm X , then Freud and after it all became quite tiresome to think in those terms. The genius of Ali I was later to realise was that this man who lived through his fist had a remarkable understanding of human psychology especially as to how to effectively compete. When he fought Sonny Liston as well as many subsequent opponents he always on one hand used his poetry or rap to frame his superiority and also predict what he would do and when. There are two dramatic things behind this seeming arrogance, the first was the power of attraction i.e. a manifest expression of his expectation to the universe and the second the is the power of suggestion i.e. his ability to frame his opponents expectation in a manner that if they are ambiguous in their own expectation his projection becomes their choice/ fear. This he did to devastating effect on Liston as well as many more opponents to follow. Of course this was not just a whimsical thing, he believed and executed accordingly.
Professor Watson who is a Nobel prize winner suggested that Africans in being different might be somehow inferior even though he later claims he was misrepresented. There was a beautiful piece on Naija blog which is quite an effective riposte to this view however those who responded might have missed a point. The power of suggestion has been the most effective way in which Africans have under-utilised their heritage, talent and capability . For most part the psychology of all our formal education and the epistemology it promotes is that Western standards are universal ones. So when professor Watson talks of intelligence his standard is IQ test (read western). It is always amusing that Africans seem to accept that these standards are value or culturally neutral. Even if they are not they are desirable to pursue hence he or she cannot spot the ineffectiveness and inefficiency of a suit and tie in a tropical weather whilst compensating with expensive air condition equipment all the time. Those who will defend Watson and see a political correct censorship are either ignorant about or avoiding the history of the Cold Spring Harbour Laboratory where he was Chairman. It was founded by C.B Davenport who is described in the book The Great Human Diasporas by Luigi Luca and Francesco Cavalli-Sforza as the eugenicists scientific leader. It is a measure of the power of Western standards that we still use the concept of Race in the dialogue of differences when it is quite established that it has no scientific validity, no descriptive value nor social redemption. It is a simplification and reduction like most Western standards. Guess what? When someone like Watson suggests inferiority of Africans whether unconscious or consciously it is part of a pattern of rendering us non-competitive through the power of suggestion since we are already indoctrinated into being ambivalent and incompetent about asking the universe for our dreams.
It is with this lens I look at the Jena 6 case. There is no doubt there is a systemic targeting of males of African descent or heritage in the criminal justice system not just in the United States also across the Western world . There is ample proof in the recent report by the American Bar Association also in my own recent work reviewing the performance of different Police forces in the UK on Diversity. It is perhaps most eloquently put in the recent book by Bill Cosby which has a beautiful title (but I cannot remember). So the Jena 6 are in a long tradition of prosecutorial excess like the young lad who was sent to Jail and served two years before being released on appeal for receiving a blow job from his 15 year old girl friend, he was only 17. I leave you to work out the so called 'races' of the boy and girlfriend. However no matter what the context is these boys exercised poor judgement by cowardly ganging up to beat one guy. Nevertheless the adults were even more cowardly by charging them for attempted murder. More depressing it led to a civil rights march. There is no doubt something had to be done to rescue these young men from the extreme threat to their young lives but is a civil rights march the only tactic there is? Everyone can see that coming from miles away and you imagine the establishment rolling their eyes, here we go again. Somehow A great people, African Americans who have risen above the greatest adversity known to humans with style and class have allowed others to narrow their identity to a few stereotypes. These are descendants of Frederick Douglas who risked his life for education who are now reduced in their identity towards some urban sketches of pimps, thugs and hoes. Those inheritors of the extraordinary creativity of Malcolm and MLK for facilitating social justice have now turned their innovations into predictable routine. These descendants of the brave multitude who fought of the yoke of victimhood have now institutionalised the expectation of discrimination. This is the power of suggestion embedded and turned into a standard operating procedure.
This is what Mr Cosby seeks to fight but unfortunately he has only one standard to judge progress that is a western tradition. While his passion is inspirational he misunderstands that some of the seemingly nihilistic tendencies he observes especially amongst the young is a yearning for new or different standards that are not so culturally stacked or loaded against their identity. They intuitively understand that they will need to either subvert these standards hence the choice of street standards or invent new ones. The same is true of the African continent and there is no better chance than now to start to evolve alternatives. It only then that comments like Professor Watson's truly become stick and stones until then we are at least guilty of serious underachievement.
Posted by Onibudo at 8:12 am
Saturday, November 03, 2007
A true African is a very rare thing these day. Many think it is down to skin pigmentation others simply claim it as a result of geography but very few ever truly capture the authenticity with which love, respect and a passion for what the continent represents and live to give their best to honour it. There are too many who lazily project their stereotypes and failures hiding their miserable existence in the regular excuse that anything goes in Africa. It is even rarer when this African eloquently and engagingly captures their efforts in an extraordinary story towards creating a trans-African enterprise. Mr Sardanis is that rare thing a true African , an eloquent son at that.
His book should be a compulsory reading. It is a compelling read and quite easy to follow. It captures his efforts across the continent to build a truly authentic multinational African business with such clarity and incisive prose. Each page is a tour de force combination of socio-economic analysis both educational and enjoyable. To my delight he is neither an Afro pessimist nor is he a romantic but a authentic observer who approached the continent with an openness and curiosity that she not only deserves but rarely ever experiences. His views on Nigerians, Americo Liberians, Rhodesians amongst many others are one of the most enlightening that i have read in my life. The most beautiful thing is that he is not a passive observer he has lived Africa and engaged her through good times and bad.
I am still in the middle of the book but i truly do not want it to end it. It is written in an effortless narrative packed with more information that a Harvard Business School Case study. This is a book that should be a bestseller if there is justice in this world.
Posted by Onibudo at 9:53 pm
Tuesday, October 30, 2007
For those who do not know Prophet Musa (Peace be upon him) is Moses of the Bible and even though I am not a muslim the story of his contact and interaction with the Al Khidr (Green man) is one of those parables that feed the wisdom of the times we live in. I participated in fasting during Ramadan to listen to my body as well as spirit. This story nourished and continues to nourish my focus on the power of emergence in the affairs of us humans. This is so relevant to what the former United States Federal Reserves Chairman calls the Age of Turbulence.
Moses was greatly beloved and this is shown in both the Bible and the Quran he is one of the few Prophets who had direct interaction with God regularly. He was also quite impatient. He had given a sermon that so moved those who listened that he agreed with their complement that there was no one on Earth as Learned as himself. God revealed to Moses that this was not true since no person could know all. In this case there was another who knew what Moses did not know. Moses wanted to know and meet this man who had been identified to him as a slave or servant of Allah. He wanted a sign of how to identify the person as he wanted to learn from him.
He followed the sign given to him, a live fish in a boat which would disappear at the location where this Learned person would be. He nearly blew it as he fell asleep at the very place where two rivers met. Nevertheless he met the Man, the Al Khidr whose face was partly hooded a sign of his Sainthood.
Moses asked the Al Khidr if he could follow him and learn from the knowledge that God had given him. The Al Khidr was sceptical since he believed Moses would not have patience to learn about something he did not know. I suppose you could say Moses reputation for impatience went before him. Of course Moses insisted that he could be a patient learner and restrain his questions until Al Khidr opened up discussion. So they agreed that he would only travel with the Al Khidr on condition that he would ask of anything that happened only when the Saint mentioned it himself .
They crossed the river in a ship which when they got to the other side the Al Khidr scuttled i.e. damaged. Moses immediately questioned the decision suggesting that the Saint had done an evil thing by damaging the boat and the interest of the poor people who owned it . The Al Khidr responded by confirming his earlier warning that Moses could not be patient to learn. Moses was defensive responding that he had forgotten and that it would not happen again. They continued on their journey till they met a a boy who the Al Khidr proceeded to kill. Moses was aghast at what we considered evil and dreadful which he once again said without restrain. Once again the Al Khidr said he had reconfirmed his earlier impression to which Moses now agreed that if this happened again they should part from each other.
They came to a town where they were not well received nor were they given any hospitality . As they left , they noticed a wall that was collapsing. The Al Khidr worked to straighten the wall and prevent if from collapsing. Moses could not resist commenting that this was not a people who deserved such an effort and he should have charged wages. This was the final straw for the Saint who enforced the agreement that they should part company after this last comment. As a parting gift he proceeded to explain each of the three actions that Moses was too impatient to let pass.
1) The damage to the ship that they crossed in was to make it defective so that the poor owners would not lose their source of livelihood to a King who was going to seize their source of income by force
2) The boy who was killed was going to turn his parents who were believers against God by his behaviour and pain he would cause them . God would send them children who would have mercy .
3) The wall was straightened for two orphan boys whose father has buried treasure underneath it. This will protect their inheritance until they reached maturity as their father had been a righteous man. This is as God willed it.
In the face of opportunity to learn and understand that which he found challenging Moses did what most of us do which is take a low hanging and easy explanation by focusing on what he knew already.
This is a paraphrase as I do not present this as a religious but a contemporary perspective. For those who want it can be found in Surah 18 60-82 of the Quran.
So what does this truly say to me? Well it differs from day to day but my current lessons are that:
- Leadership requires conscious incompetence that allows one to know, that you do not know, what you do not know. Essentially what you know is insignificant than what you do not know. I always address this to the mentality that leads those who have power or influence to reduce what they do not understand and judge it within the limits of what they know already. There is very little curiosity or openness. The media and journalist have become the avatars of instant judgement, impatience and speculation driving the frenzy for quick judgement as well as rash decision. Whether the fiasco on weapons of mass destruction in Iraq or the garden variety ignorance that constantly leads people to assume that nuclear technology can be a guarded secret of a few nations in a world where knowledge is dispersed. This is a form of abject laziness and intellectual cowardice. Life in its fulness is found in the unknown and a diminishing existence is the reward of repeating the known. Moses life was opened up and his assumptions challenged. As a leadership educator I constantly meet authority figures who do not have the vulnerability and openness to be leaders. They package what they know so tightly and spin it for the the brash notion that others will share their aversion to growth. A classic example to my mind in Hilary Clinton the Senator from New York and likely nominee of the Democratic party. That she will be in a nation where fear as trumped hope constantly.
- Celebrate the power of emergence and revelation in a world where people need instant gratification and simplistic explanation. This in itself is not just an issue of patience but a concern for effective decision making. A while ago a group of young girls in Sweden along with others across Western Europe were shouting themselves hoarse about the need to move the Miss World away from Nigeria. This had become a symbiotic hysteria started by a crude populist attempt at introducing Sharia Law, the usual media excitement generated by well placed incendiary remarks and the accompanying knee jerk reaction from hormonally challenged , sanctimonious self serving do gooders in the NGO world. The shame is that by intervening when they did they prevented the Sharia matter getting to the Supreme Court and leaving room for fire next time. As for the baying mob of protesters they have gone to the next cause celebre , yes! Darfur. Perfect excuse for the unscrupulous characters to use the guise of a do good NGO to kidnap children, you think. If only like Al Khidr suggested we can wait for fullness and ripeness so that answers from complicated things are allowed the space to emerge. There is no place where this is more glaring than amongst the forever complaining urban elites in Nigeria. They are too quick to follow their newspaper manipulators in a ignorant dance of seeking someone to blame. It means there is no institutional learning and eventually even the dialogue does not change.
- Moving beyond good and bad to just 'Mo Lo'. The Al Khidr shows that sometimes when we do what appears to be bad in a limited context it has potential to deliver an eloquent piece of good. The gross oversimplification of things is quite the basis of the comical hollywood separation of actions and sometimes people. When Senator Obama says he will talk to Iran there are those who call that naive. What is criminal is leaders who refuse to talk to their so called evil enemies and then do not hesitate to go to war killing thousands and losing many lives on their side too. Which is the more responsible, macho posturing that lose lives or naive engagement that leads at worst to PR success for enemies but potential greater understanding. We always want or villains and heroes so clear cut that we forget that most things in life are co-created. A week ago I had a pleasant evening with two of my great friends that I call the two Dokitas, Dr Funmilayo Olonisakin and Dr Kayode Fayemi both special people who I go back a long way with. Now Kayode who stepped to the plate and contested fro the Governorship of Ekiti state is the person who turned me on to Senator Obama long before he got to the Senate. Kayode himself is fighting a tribunal case on the recent election in Nigeria. Excuse my name drop my point is that my worry in the past was how Dr Fayemi would evolve into a politician from his NGO world. It is my privilege to say like the finest cognac he retains the moral essence and has blossomed into quite an Adaptive Leader. I pray that Ekiti State has the opportunity to experience such finely evolved leader.
For me this story connects with my core values. For example that there is nothing like convetional wisdom only failure to think deep enough. Also that nonsense is only so because of the lens you choose or the state of mind with which you are experiencing things. We will all do well to listen to the Al Khidr in the times ahead. In the meantime my sincere prayers for Dr Fayemi in his attempt to balance the scales of justice.
Posted by Onibudo at 10:08 pm
Sunday, October 21, 2007
I spent the whole of yesterday in the Best of Nigeria Exhibition at the EXCEL centre in the East End of London and little did I know in fact we had just lost one of the genuine and proven best of Nigeria. I woke up this morning to tears of loss and my own sense of despair. I suspect overnight or possibly earlier the Nigerian nation, the world of football and those dedicated to management excellence lost a great man Coach Yomi Tella. Coach Tella is the World beating coach of the Nigerian Under 17 Champions of the FIFA world cup. The coach in the face of lung cancer, discovered during his preparation for the Cup and whilst away in Korea put his health on the line. He oversaw this rare display of Nigerian group rather than individual excellence. What makes this a phenomenal achievement was that throughout the Cup his team was unbeaten, did not earn a single red card or even a high yellow card count. They were top scorers, to say they outperformed everyone with both style and outcomes is close to an understatement. Those who read my postings will also note I raised his attitude and body language throughout the games. His composure whether losing or winning was completely at odds with the usual Nigerian exuberance and loudness.
In any country in which people are truly dedicated to the power of ideas and learning there would be a book about Coach Tella. A book to explore and analyse his approach to management as well as his inspirational quality as a leader. In my humble opinion no country can need it more. Rather than rallying and focusing on examples of failure and corruption only we can also highlight and explore proven examples of world class success. In a country like Nigeria where heroes are scarce and cynicism has become the spread with which he eat our daily bread this man sacrificed his life to leave a legacy. The shame is that the Nigerian memory is very short. The usual gifts have been given, the National awards pinned on flowing agbada and the politicians with their bag carrying simpletons spread their ill earned largesse like confetti. The Coach went back to Lagos forgotten and his approach almost ignored. This was a man dismissed as a classroom coach by the press and commentators before the world cup. His team unfancied by those who could not recognise any of their names and of course they are not signed up to the British premiership, so who were they really? Even when they had won the Cup our usual self loathing drove a popular newspaper to encourage readers to question the age of the participating boys. To question whether their win was legitimate.
This man was not a manufactured hero , he was the real deal. We are no longer a discerning people whose eyes can see the woods from the trees so he passes without the kind of profound legacy that should meet his demise. I did have a moment of wishful thinking in which I planned to interview the coach as part of the book I am writing on Omoluwabi as a management approach. It seems it is too late.
For many football is only a sport. It is more than that. It is a metaphor for many things especially management and organisation. It is a way to explore evolution through competition and cooperation. I paraphrase a much quoted British coach , Some say football is a matter of life and death, we say it is much more than that.
Good Bye and God Speed Coach Tella
Posted by Onibudo at 6:19 am
Friday, October 19, 2007
Thursday, October 18, 2007
Watch this Please!
For Sherri and others who are blinded by Mrs Clinton's Gender what matters is her agenda. It is a cruel joke when the only way President Clinton can amend for his infidelity is to give his wife the Presidency. Shakespeare could not write a greater Tragedy.
Posted by Onibudo at 6:46 pm
Tuesday, October 16, 2007
Lelethu on Okada
First Time in Lagos Article Preview
written by Lelethu Lumkwana Features Writer for the True Love South Africa
To be Published January 2008 Issue
After flying six hours across the continent, where a strapping young man Femi, decided to play our personal in-flight host, plying us with copious amounts of Merlot and plates of jollof rice with chicken strips, our first glimpse of Lagos was through a curtain of rain, its corroded tin roofs swimming in pools of muddy water, spreading as far as the eyes could see. At an aerial glance, it seemed like a mixture of order and disorder, clusters of houses mixed with occasional grid avenues with a sprinkle of shacks across the city. Would it be the predicted nightmare or the ultimate adventure of my traveller fantasies? I didn’t know. Up until now, Nigeria had been a wild enigma, its speedy culture and robust personality almost an urban legend. Having decided to travel with two friends – Thando, who’s also a colleague and Adewale, who is from Nigeria and would be our host, I had no clue what to expect – from my friends or Lagos. If our visa debacle where our late application resulted in having to pay for an ‘emergency visa’ fee; the numerous tales we’d heard about paying entrance and exit fees in the country as well my body being racked with pain from a basketful of compulsory vaccinations (you can’t leave the country without a yellow fever card) were anything to go by, then we were in a bit of a pickle.
Our first encounter of the much-publicised Nigerian ‘sex in a dashiki charm,’ is when the immigrations officer threatens (read: promises) to lock my friend up in his room for filling in her immigrations forms incorrectly, much to our amusement and shock. Outside the airport gates, a gush of hot, humid heat greets us while a scrum of people offer all kinds of services - carrying our bags, opening the car door, hailing a taxi, you name it, they can do it. We soon learn however, that none of these are for free and under the auspices of Adewale’s suave Pidgin speak (‘Oga, I beg, we don’t need help’), we manage to escape spending our entire holiday budget getting from baggage claim to the car. Our driver, Mr Sanya is waiting patiently for us and our arrival hits a dramatic peak, when while taking in the scene and chatting away, a very heated Adewale starts barking: “Let’s go, let’s go,” sending us scurrying into the car, bags over heels. It later turns out that far from turning into an aggressive stranger, our host was hurrying us because we were parked in a clamping zone. As he puts it, in Lagos you either do business or you become the business.
Our first stop is in Ibadan, a bucolic city which lies about 100 kilometres outside of Lagos and our host’s hometown. Here, we attend a wedding, celebrated with no less than five ceremonies, which means conjuring up five different outfits, much to the fashionista me’s glee. Having heard about the notorious Lagos traffic, we’re fully prepared to spend the better part of the evening on the road but surprisingly we wade through the traffic easily, passing images of men and women wearing a mixture of traditional buba (top) and shokoto (pants) suits and corporate clothing walking home; while street businesses selling fruit, meat and fish rush to make closing sales or the transition into night trade. At every street corner, billboards advertising everything from cellphone networks to religion (‘Befriend Jesus Now’) adorn the city. On the road, every second or third car is either a Mercedes Benz G-wagon, a black BMW 3,5,7 series or a Hummer (we even spot one which operates as a taxi) and the über important are led by convoys of security cars while riding in bulletproofed cars. I can feel my heart thumping loudly in my throat and the airport that frazzled me a moment ago, seems a distant refuge. Spotting repeated religious messages is as irking as it is comforting (Never Fear God is Near); while our host’s constant reassurance and Mr Sanya’s skilful handling of the okadas (taxi scooters) snaking though the cars also brings relief. When we suddenly come to a complete standstill in Sagamu, a commercial centre that oil tankers have turned into a trailer park, we meet a veteran Nollywood actor who advises us on which detour route to take to Ibadan. This experience soaks up the last residues of travel tensions in the car and we return to our original camaraderie.
In Ibadan, we head straight to the after party for the traditional wedding, with no time to freshen up. To christen the city, our host decides to take us to a roadside suya (braai) where we have our first meal in Nigeria - heavily spiced meat that has been hung up to dry in sunlight and then braai’ed until it is crisp and brown. News of our arrival is the talk of the party where each of the guests, depending on whether they are friends and family of the bride or groom are dressed in colour coded Nigerian attire – the men wear grey and black buba and shokotos while the women look mesmerising in long A-line dresses with short puffy sleeves, complete with touch-the-sky, oleander shaped headwraps. Clad in jeans and vests, we’re obviously underdressed but it doesn’t seem to matter as everyone welcomes us with warmth and curiosity, liberally affirmed with an endless supply of wine and cognac. A live band whose signature style is juju - a fusion of African drumbeats and steel acoustics is our entertainment for the evening and on each song, the main singer playfully chants a guest’s name, cajoling them to dance on stage while being serenaded by the band. We spend the night at Davies Hotel, a boutique hotel with a distinctly contemporary African aesthetic: high walls, ethnic chic artefacts and a thatch roofed bar area outside where we enjoy a nightcap and some suya.
The next day, the church wedding is an explosion of carnival colours and Lagos personality, with guests wearing mostly matching but customised garb, all with a touch of pink. Just like in Mzansi, there is no such thing as a guest list at a black wedding so guests arrive in hoardes, filling the room to the brim. The reception is something of an indoor Mardi gras and we dance with strangers of all ages, the flirtatious currency being people randomly dancing up to you and sticking Naira bills on your clothing if they like your moves. From 18 year-olds to 80 year-olds, Nigerians are an exuberant, sensual and graceful people with a deep reverence for one another and an overflowing love for life and having fun. Everywhere we go, photographers take pictures of us and our vanity gets the most of us before we are told that we actually have to pay for the pictures. Thousands of Naira’s poorer, we set off for Lagos, the main course of our holiday, via a scenic route of farmlands, villages and a fish town.
LIVE IN LAGOS
Lekki, our home for the next week is a suburb is a microcosm of the rest of the Lagos– patches of Tuscan style houses and mansions immersed in shantytowns, street vendor structures and formal shops. As if to welcome us, the electricity goes off, something that will see us having many candlelit dinners during the week. The chef of the house, Mr Joseph has laid a spread that is guaranteed to pile on whatever excess kilos we’d tried to shed before the holiday.
Trying to cram Lagos into one week proves impossible but we do get a sumptuous taste of Lagos living, starting with cocktails at Churassco, a popular cylindrically shaped lounge bar, which sits on the lagoon. Today, the place is empty because of Ramadan month (in Lagos, 50% of all residents are Muslim). Nevertheless, the Lebanese bartender works his magic, keeping us entertained with his experimental cocktail mixes and party tricks, stripping me of all my jewellery, which he graciously returns as we leave.
Throughout the week, we travel through the city’s jam-packed roads to its lavish restaurants, guesthouses and exclusive clubs. Because Lagos’ structure is concrete skyscrapers on mire, almost like Sandton City plonked right in the middle of Alexander, going anywhere feels like going on a treasure hunt and finding some of its best-kept secrets. Like Yellow Chilli, a must-visit tourist eatery in one of the city’s business hubs, where we eat authentic Nigerian cuisine like Amala, which looks like brown pap with spicy ewedu and beef soup, which has a sticky texture because of the yam flour ingredient. Later on, after whinges of needing to eat real chocolate, our second host, Hakeem (who’s really an angel sans wings) takes us to Chocolat Royale, an ice-cream-cum-chocolate parlour that would put Häagen-Dazs to shame with its array of delectable French chocolate and ice cream. That night, we dine at Maroccaine, a Mongolian Barbecue restaurant where you choose your meal’s ingredients from a buffet of raw foods ranging from chicken to fish, turkey and beef as well as stir-fry veggies, made on a massive wok shaped stove while you wait. Although a classy joint, Maroccaine provides ‘eat as much as you can’ dining and customary in Lagos, you can buy an entire bottle of alcohol and take it home if you don’t finish it.
Our second last night in town proves to be full of surprises. After having lunch at Double 4, the city’s oldest restaurant, where we are served by its’ restaurant’s veteran waiter, who has been working there since it opened, we head off to a non-descript shebeen shack where Hakeem breaks his fast with grilled catfish while we sample some Guinness stout. Tonight’s party spot is none other than Fela Kuti’s shrine, built by his son Femi in a dilapidated warehouse in downtown Lagos. Every Thursday, Femi and his band perform for local fans, bringing alive an entire music economy where entrepreneurs and hustlers can sell everything from beer, palm wine, cigarettes, suya, t-shirts, as well as Femi and Fela Kuti’s CD’s. Standing next to Fela’s shrine is an ethereal experience and for a moment (or maybe because of the whiff of ‘lala’ all around me), I feel his spirit while an avid fan concurs by sprinkling water on his picture, which sits with his shirt hanging above it as well as other memorabilia from this iconic muso. The night comes to a climatic end, as Femi sings a sexually charged song, him and his dancers gyrating fiercely on stage, while he screams: “I dey come, o” (I’m coming).
Friday is a full day as everyone from new friends to people who’d like to meet ‘the girls from South Africa’ want an evening out on the town with us. First, we have sundowners at one of the most an invitation only club in Lagos – Club 288, where we bid a chic farewell to the city over bottles of Moët et Chandon. Mixing with some of the country’s most prominent businesspeople we are forced to take a stand on why exactly it is that Nigerians are treated so badly in South Africa, when in fact the country supported Mzansi during apartheid, even to the extent of taking in and paying for South African exiles’ expenses during those years. The only answer we can mumble is that perhaps not many people in South Africa know this. After the political soiree, we head to News Café at The Palms, an upmarket mall that boasts exclusive boutiques such as Tiffany Amber, indigenous bookstores and coffee spots and cyber cafes. Here, a live band doing classic cover songs like Yvonne Chaka Chaka’s Umqombothi gets us into the swing of things. In the wee hours of the morning (that’s when the real party begins) we go to La Casa, a nightclub whose bouncers’ snobbishness almost put us off, save for our friend flaunting that we’re from South Africa. Inside, party people get down to the DJ’s fusion of local and international hits (think Rihanna’s “Umbrella” mixed with Nigerian’s Faze’s “Loving You Everyday”). It’s not uncommon to see perfect strangers grinding as if they were in the boudoir and then casually parting ways after the song is finished. As the time nears Hakeem’s early morning Muslim prayer (3am), we decide to call it a night and head back home.
Our last day is perhaps the only time I ever feel the speediness of Lagos – up until now the Lagos flow is, well, the Lagos flow but for some reason, with only 12 hours left in the city, everything seems to be happening too fast. Before we know it, it’s mid-afternoon and we’re at the craft market, perusing through rows of art, jewellery, clothing, Nollywood DVD’s, African artefacts and other garb, trying to get last minute gifts for friends and family. As we drive to the airport, an air of melancholy hangs in the air. After spending nine days in Lagos, we’ve almost settled into city’s pattern of endless possibilities and excessive but endearing rawness; a cultural collision where everything and anything can happen; both the blessing and the curse of Lagos. We’re all trying to act as if this was just another holiday, something we’ll boast about at media do’s (“I’ve just done Lagos, darling) but deep in our hearts we know that things will never be the same again. That is until the customs officer at OR Tambo reminds us that the countrywide suspicion of our now favourite African metropole still exists: “Nigeria! You were on holiday in Nigeria?” he says making disapproving clucking sounds. Welcome back to Mzansi, girls.
Posted by Onibudo at 3:37 pm
Sunday, October 14, 2007
In September Prince a.k.a Roger Nelson, a.k.a the Symbol or even a.k.a His Royal bad Funk Self rocked London O 2 centre for 21 days. It was the thing of which Legends are made. You see growing up in the late 70s and early 80s there were two camps that mattered in the world, did you moon walk for Michael part of a raging, hollering teen mob with hysterical sensations and Jheri curls tangled nappy hair. The other side was were you an edgy raincoat wearing tough, with emergent broken voice reading naughty auntie Sylvia with Prince music in the background. Parents worried about the latter, whether they would ever get out of the funky, edgy material full of dense sexuality and freaky past times. I was always down for Prince like I was for Eleniyan, Omo Reverend Asa Igbo, Fela Kuti. You see I was a DJ and cupped the Dirty Mind album before most and there it was this young freak in raincoat and underwear on the album cover or was it being stylistically naked riding a winged horse. There was a lot of rumours in Right On Magazine (you know I read that religiously) that he was a recluse but it confirmed something almost unheard at that time for a man 19 or less he had played all the instruments on his debut album. Michael to me was soppy seconds a crooner without the funk but Prince was the real deal. Even when Rick James played himself with his coked out feud with him there were those of us who stood at crossroads around the world offering all manners of sacrifice for untold reconstruction of his anatomy. Then came Purple Rain the film and movie. I watched it somewhere in Ealing Broadway with a Black British girl, Cynthia who took my refusal to snog her as evidence of my Suegbe nature and lack of street smarts. This was in spite of my black zoot pants, the ever present trouser chain (And you thought it was invented last year) and my lavish crushed silk trench coat (of course in black). No Sh****ng . That was my summer style that also rocked University of Ife all year and was promptly rewarded with invitation to the senate to defend allegations of possible gang affilations. Thankfully the truth out and being stylishly black thankfully did not end up being labeled a criminal.
Fast forward to earlier this year I was in Las Vegas on business and missed out on Prince in residence in spite of my best efforts even willingness to pay up to $300. I thought that life had dealt me one of those cruel blows that you only wish on relatives who have been pain in the butt to your parents and you have grown up to inherit. You feel me?
Now we are in September fast forward to the O2 centre. I had purchased two tickets for my crazy cool middle son and myself but there was the Missus demanding Conjugal rights. At the risk of not catching nooky for a while, guess who stepped with me. The opening act was Beverly Knight and she was something special. Never truly rated her until that night then her energy and powerful voice cleaned away the Thai Food replacing with an hunger to be funked out of my skull. By the time Prince came on the crowd was baying. Now this crowd was an exquisite mix of nearly four generations, i saw a man not a day under 60 with a Symbol tattoed to his arm. I was in the rafters away from the stage and the is a story about the flat fee for all tickets but not for now. Unlike most concerts this was a true Diversity the only thing missing was Hijab wearing sisters and they were sorely missed even though the room was dotted with brothers whose beard rivaled Samson's. Prince took the crowd into a musical experience turning them into rainbow children. I went hoarse, over 40 and the last time i had so much fun there was a four poster bed and many party games. He rocked and Funkdafied everyone. Most stood for the next almost two hours doing the between chairs bop. There was Maceo Parker blowing up a storm like James Brown never died and Fela was still giving Yabis at the shrine. In the end I shook my head at two things, one was the Justice of Providence, life is not a 100 meter Race but a marathon. Here was Prince who became the butt of many Jokes as the symbol and Michael who spent most of that period the King of Pop. In this century Prince is actually the King of this turbulent times, a musical genius and virtuoso of the stage. If only Americans understood when he says ' People say I am rude, I wish there were no rules, I wish there was no black and white.....' The second was this was the power of passion and excellence that people really need for the 21st century not wars and rumors of impending conflicts.
I walked away from the concert I promising I would be back with my son. If he wanted to play bass he had to see the best and never mind the you must have degree bullshit that i propagate all the time. Excellence is not about school but about how you use your talent and opportunities. Watching the man opened up a world of possibilities that i knew but never truly appreciated. Missus Ajadi was equally ecstatic had it had nothing to do with asserted conjugal duties. This pint sized man brought the Funk to a new level and rocked all our worlds right out its middle class, middle age respectability. I had to be back.
Then with my middle rocker son in tow we did London and my edgy Soho jeans shops before the concert. Now here was a 40+ with 14 year old in tow trapezing through the back streets of London seeking the perfect T shirts. It was a blast and we got a few 'antique' ones. By the time we arrived at the concert we had journeyed through life. As it is usual with my kids he took the opportunity to tell me I was confrontational in the best way of course. He attested to the fact that I always disrupt complacency. A little hard but most likely true. This time the opening Act was an ex from one of the British Female Groups she was laughable and forgettable. I know i love stretch marks on my women but i also like waist to hip ratio and a certain feisty disposition. She reminded me of days working the doors at the Ritzy club in Cheltenham on 'granny night' with newly initiated single mums worse for wear and make up in the quarter to the after stage. Her Tattoos stood out like angry effort at rebellion living a life of their own in spite of the skin that gave them home. The Royal Purpleness came to the rescue and we were at the front row. My son had never really been keen on Prince but he came to my conclusions. This man he said' Can stop wars'. From the mouth of babes and the young eh! It was another complete sell out and once again we stood throughout with rendition after rendition of classics and new songs. Now my son sees himself as the only Black boy that cannot dance but there he was shoulder rolling with the best all inhibitions shed like our jackets . We even rocked to ballads that had my boysquarters bed singing the songs of delight. it was a night of very little memories and rocking to the sound of now. Time passed too quickly and after a couple of encores we needed to catch the train home. Now for our life and those who were present there will always be the question about whether you saw the 21 days of Prince in London. As we say Who no Know he go know , Who no Sabi he go Sabi. He rocked.
Posted by Onibudo at 1:13 am
Friday, October 12, 2007
Saturday, October 06, 2007
It has been quite sometime since I posted anything about the world around me. Sometime since last insights especially revealing my peculiar angle on things. In that time and space many things that I would like to open up to you has happened. First the Nigerian junior soccer team are World Champions in the under 17 World Cup without any loss throughout the competition. No Long thing as we say in Lagos. They were a team coached by a Nigerian coach whose stoic response was as un-Nigerian like as could be found in this world. In the same period the Female senior soccer team imploded in the World Cup in China despite being the perennial African champions. Like their male senior contemporaries in spite of individual talent and promise their organisational skills and ability to cooperate delivers so little. Is there something that is available to young Nigerians that gets lost in transition into adulthood? Consider this, the country has won the under 17 World Cup the third time. Yet there are those who question their achievement saying that they abused the age limit. Is it possible that they still have the belief in possibilities at their age while the older people are more likely to be cynical? Don't we reduce ourselves and our world to the charred remains of reality we associate with being Nigerians? Can we get onto that soon?
It is the Month of Ramadan and even though I do not practise Islam there is a lot in it that I hold onto from my childhood. The fasting and Zakat (giving to the poor) especially. It never ceases to amaze me how truly giving Muslims are. In the Nigeria where I grew up it was always stunning to watch what happens to the poor and needy when Muslims and Muslims came out of worshipping in mosques and churches. It is always the kindness and concern of Muslims that makes most mosques a place where beggars choose to sit. Of course that was a sign of how dirty Muslims were to the kids in my Catholic school. Anyways there is a passage in the Koran about the Prophet Musa or Moses and the Al Khidr in Sura Al- Kahf it is quite a story that reveals the power of emergent nature of Gods wisdom. A must read on leadership and one that will be explored before the end of Ramadan.
In the same space and time there was the story of the Jena 6 who were charged initially for second-degree murder for a schoolyard beat down of their white schoolmate. Their school had been the site of racial conflict between white and black pupils and there had been similar situations where black kids had been beaten by groups of whites. There was no permanent damage to the victim even though six against one especially unprovoked is quite much. It matters however because of the prosecutors aggressive charges. Bear this in mind Americans make up 5% of the world population but around 25% of people imprisoned of which nearly 40% are black. There is also abundant evidence that blacks do not commit more crimes than whites however they are more likely to face the police, more likely to be charged, more likely to attract serious charges and more likely to face hard time. Sure an angle on Race or Racism again but hopefully with a new twist. for example is it not time to move beyond marching as a strategy for highlighting inequities. How about voting for Barack? America will never be the same again.
I also travelled to three countries in the same period. Spain, Nigeria and South Africa there will be more on the latter two much later. As for Spain my brief visit to Madrid left a bitter taste in the mouth. It is quite a beautiful city with incredible sights as well as safety. Saw people lying on the grass in parks as late as 11pm. The city however seemed to be full of humourless people whose response to black people suggest a greater self loathing than many Europeans exhibit. Look out for my take on the final pelantheologist and genetic confirmation that all human beings that have ever lived, are living and will live are all Africans.
Then there were the concerts. I saw Prince twice that itself is a full posting. The two times I realised that there could never be a fuller exposition of human excellence at any art, craft or science than this man at his best. I needed to see it again so that I could confirm it was not a fluke. Anyone who can rock a British crowd on their feet, 20,000 strong from beginning till the end with their passion on the display is a sheer miracle worker. It seemed this happened in the full 21 days he rocked the O2 centre in London. I suppose this might seem a lower ranking in the order of spectacle but it was nevertheless a real pleasure to watch Olu Onabule the self styled Mayor of Soultown at the Stables in Milton Keynes. He was pure class and a true soul singer in the class of a Bobby Womack. He also deserves a posting of his own. Nigerians like him are increasingly rare, comfortable in his skin and expressing his power as well as skill with such respect and finesse not the brash in your face demeanour of the Lagos big boys. I like how he uses humour in self deprecating ways the big black mans survival strategy in the UK. He does it quite well though. He brought up memories of the 80s when we Nigerians were celebrated not vilified. The warm nights at Gulliver’s in Park Lane and parties across London no ill fame achieved we just brought the funk and a lot of money.
There was Mr Sarkozy’s speech in Senegal as a ‘friend of Africa’. Many online say with friends like him who needs enemies. Is he truly that bad? My views as usual will be given later. It looks like we are headed for another Clinton White House and somehow it does not feel right. How can two families rule a so-called democratic and open country for 20 years with the prospect of another 8 years? If this happened in Africa there would be calls for sanctions and isolation. More troubling is the character that quite a few US Internet users show in their commentary on contemporary issues online. It is scary to read their language for each other especially on the issue of Race. There is something extremely ugly in the US psyche that is exposed by the Internet and I sincerely hope it is not contagious. There is also the corporate decision to keep Senator Obama out even in a place like South Carolina, which has a healthy diversity that should play well for him. Is it possible that his African ancestry is so disconcerting to Black Americans? That would be such a shame but there are too many commentators from Black America who are decidedly against his candidacy.
Finally the Nigerian Government and its Attorney General is this man for real? The man is certainly going to be a massive burden on the government. I hope the President has people around him who know a little recent Nigerian history. He should review the Presidency of Alhaji Shehu Shagari an honest, humble and unassuming person like him whose preferred style is not too dissimilar. I hope by the time there is posting on this matter might have moved in a better direction. We will see. On an aside I had a little excursion to Funmi Iyanda’s blog to challenge her promotion of Ma Ramutswe books by Mr McCall Smith and she wondered whether I had read any of the books. I have actually done but a few years ago when I decided that I could not support the denigration or negative stereotype of Nigerians. I know in the archives of this very page I have written a piece on power of stereotypes so there will be no revisit. As usual Life has been kind, God has been forgiving and Love unrelenting.
Posted by Onibudo at 8:31 am
Sunday, September 23, 2007
A Response to the Speech of President Sarkozy of France at University in Dakar Senegal in July.
Dear Monsieur President,
Africa has been a platform for many European pronouncements over the years from your predecessor General DeGaulle, the now celebrated wind of change speech by British Prime Minister Harold Macmillan and even the pronouncements of the now disingenuous Tony Blair. History will judge whether your speech was one that set a new standard for sheer audacity. First let me say I am no fan of your politics or even yourself. In my own values anyone who would call other human being, Racaille or use immigration as a wedge issue is beyond the pale. Sir, no offence but it seemed that because you are a short man you over compensate in trying to act like an Alpha male. Maybe the idea is to bolster your credibility as well as your authority but is it working? Which brings us to your speech in Dakar during your recent African visit. Your comments has led to quite a firestorm and a much-celebrated source of polarization even a lightning rod for many racist views in blogosphere. Is that what you intended?
Let me summarise what I understood you as trying to say because most of the emotions generated by what you said comes from how people analysed your intention. On the other hand you appear to be a little clumsy or uncaring in your choice of words. Nevertheless I understand you as saying the following, colonialism as well as colonialist was an arrogant enterprise but mostly driven by good intention which delivered some benefits in infrastructure to the continent with some very painful psychological consequences. Africans you say most take responsibility for where they find themselves and use both traditions to fuel their future rather than analyse the past. Like I said the specific language you used was both exhilarating and stupid. People never remember what you said or even how you meant it but they never forget how what you said made them feel especially if it reduces rather than elevates them.
My take on what you said can wait a little whilst I address the indignation from your perceived patronising attitude. It galls many thinking Africans that even the most ill informed amongst Europeans in particular and the West in general feels qualified to analyse and intervene in African affairs. The only qualification they seem to require is good intention. Whether the designer scruffiness of Bob Geldof or the lost girl psychology of Angelina Jolie people are tired of self-appointed white saviours. The black ones are not doing any better whether Oprah or Will Smith their most egregious act to us include the wheeling in and out of Mr Mandela. In spite of his advance age their demand for photo opportunities has now become trite that it reduces the Mandela brand. We, Africans might be materially poor does that truly mean that we are worth less as human beings? So you have come in a long line of unsolicited advisers whose concerns are at least unsolicited and at best self serving, Most depressing is that no African no matter how well informed dare provide such advice or even commentary on your affairs.
Mr President what you had to say was deeply touching in parts. When you said
“ I have come to tell you that you should not be ashamed of the values of African civilisation, That these values do not drag you down but elevate you, that they are an antidote to the materialism and individualism that enslave the modern man, that they are the most precious of inheritances in the face of the dehumanisation and homogenisation of the world.”
I had tears in my eyes as I read it. It is a message that strikes at the heart of African underperformance and the core of our psychology of low expectations. It makes us reject the wisdom of our context as well that of our ancestors for pre-processed thinking from the west. We exchange them for borrowed ideas and approaches that never work because everything depends on context not just content for success. It seemed a masterstroke worthy of the best child of African. One whose memory of sucking from the milk of her humanity would never sees her in any other way than as the dignified mother of all.
If your speech had finished at that point then the ignorance you exhibited about colonialism would have been forgiven. I suppose as the President of France you could have researched King Leopold’s actions in the Congo. His brutality set standards that were to be followed by the RUF in Sierra Leone. If you bothered you could have found out the Concentration camp experiment on the Herrero people by the Germans and should have read about Samuel Wittboi. This also laid the foundation of what would happen in Auschwitz during Second World War. You maybe do not know that an entire generation of African leaders were exiled, killed or in other ways destroyed to enable the Colonial project. Leaders like Jaja of Opobo, Eshugbayi Eleko, Ashathene and his family, Overamen of Benin amongst many others who stood up for African institution as well as possibility. They would have been bulwarks against the total brainwashing that would follow. You could not have forgotten about the brutality of your own people in Algeria, surely not. Your comments about bridges, rail tracks et al forgets that these were exclusively from sources of commodity and crops directly to the coast. On this analysis you did a poor job, for if you must stand to lecture the youth of Africa you should do your homework.
Then you said,
“The tragedy of Africa is that the African man has never really entered history. The African peasant, who for centuries has lived according to the seasons, whose ideal is to be in harmony with nature, has known only the eternal renewal of time via the endless repetition of the same actions and the same words’.”
You gave with one hand and took away with another. Sir do you not count Egypt, Kush, Axum, Zimbabwe, Ghana, Shongay, Mali kingdoms as part of Africa? All at their height puts into shadow some of your best and brightest history. Do you see all these as works of aliens? Did you know in Timbuktu there are manuscripts that depict the universe and the position of the planets centuries before Copernicus or Galileo understood any of these? Where would Europe be if the Moors of Al Andalus or Andalusia did not give you script and sciences? These were African people who translated the thinking of the Greeks that you know depend on for intellectual legitimacy. Granted we are nowhere close to where we were in our estimation or that of the world. Your statement is a gross over simplification and the worst kind of stereotype of the peasant African. The are many egregious things you say afterwards including
“Africa's challenge is to stop forever repeating and going over things, and to free herself from the myth of the eternal renewal; it is to realise that the golden age that she always harks back to will never return for the simple reason that it never existed.”
The shame is most Africans do not bother enough about the past they therefore repeat the pattern not because of an understanding of what has gone before but for the opposite reason.
We, Africans of course are co- creators of the reality we live and sole benefactors of its consequences. We cannot therefore afford to blame others or wallow in self-pity. On the contrary the future you talk about in your final statement is ours to lose. We are now in a period of turbulence and discontinuity an age when the adaptiveness of mind and action is the foundation of success. The times no longer favour the rigidity of thinking, servitude to engineered solution or overdependence of efficiency of hardware. At the same time knowledge and information is freely available.
This Africa that is such a source of pity and disdain might be materially poorer and this might well continue for a while. She will however take her place as the source of solution and ideas in this complex times. I pray that you our ‘self styled’ friend will live to see that day. An Africa confident to dream outside the misshaped ‘reality’ others will use to imprison her mind. An Africa of productivity and dignity based on who we are rather than what we own. An Africa where the majesty of humanity is the celebrated value rather than its ability to replicate consumer opportunities. An Africa where all her children look to shining Equator and the glistening chocolate skin that it has toasted and they say , thank God I am born an African.
Posted by Onibudo at 4:21 pm