Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Baracking A Father


Happy Father's Day! Thank you for everything you have done for us, and everything you are doing now. I speak for all of us when I say that you are our role model and our hero. You make our days brighter with your advice and your voice and your aura, and we know that we can come to you for anything, and that knowledge has made my life so much brighter. Thank you for being so open and caring, and showing us the way to be true to ourselves and our family. You have taught us so much, from how to appreciate good music to how to appreciate life in general. We know you are working hard to provide for us, and we appreciate that so much. For that and everything else, we are deeply grateful.

We love you.

From Tari, Ola and Ami.”

Dedicated to my three teachers who have thought my soul the dignity of manhood.

That was my fathers day gift from my boys, personal, vulnerable, open and powerful. It came about the same time as I read Senator Obama’s speech on absent fathers. I have resisted writing about the good Senator for a while because as he closed in on the nomination I thought it was time to get on the ‘balcony’ and observe the broader patterns at work. It was time to move away from the skirmishes and horse race to see how the forest behaves different fro the trees. There are certainly differences such as Senator Obama is culturally as American as Chino’s for casual wear. He is mainstream in ways only the rest of the world can see and only his fellow citizens can ignore. His speech at AIPAC signified that he intends to position himself to the centre for the General election. However one should expect no less from him if he wants to win. One area where the voters in the United States have not been given credit that they deserve is in their commitment to seek renewal. The coalition of higher income, higher education, Younger people, significant minority identity groups that delivered him the nomination are a powerful representation of a potential 21st century renewal. The nomination is a victory for their commitment to renew American leadership in the world by re-engaging the only thing that matters its enthusiasm and commitment to opportunities over the fear and insecurity of the past 8 years. I wish them well.

On Friday, here in Lagos I closed for the day at 12 noon to hang out with one of my boys. We had decided that we would go to a spa , get a massage, manicure, pedicure, drink and go to a concert. It was totally unlike him and it is nearly not me as often as I would like. I have the great fortune of being honoured by my friends as a source of counsel in troubled times. It was troubled times for both of us whose wives are our contemporaries, who found life’s purpose in honouring duty, who are the go too for many people but had really nobody to go to. In my case and like my father before me i am trained to be a provider and no one expects less across my vast family in at least three continents. I feel honoured and elevated by it, wanted and centre of attention. It also means that there are few places where I can be

vulnerable or needy. No one want to see the person is their backbone, their person of last resort without the fortitude or even the courage that they rely upon. In the same token my boy was hurting, sad as he confronted the fact that in his attempt to be the father, husband and son that Senator Obama so eloquently seeks amongst African Americans he had buried a critical part of himself. The part of him that seeks adventure, that discovers possibilities and explores alternatives. Now in his 40’s that part of him awakens with a vengeance and will not be denied. He is angry and also confused but where he goes from here? Who does he speak too? What can this mean for his family? Where can he cry openly?

Here in Nigeria I suppose men don’t cry without a physical reason. They just drink hard and live hard hiding behind the ‘big man’ mask. We end up using sex, drink and work as the drugs to deaden the trap that the ‘stereotype’ of the good man has turned our lives into. We had a ball by the way. The spa thing was a blast and the concert afterwards well Haruna Ishola is the blues cure for wounded soul. I will be back for a massage this Friday.

Senator Obama like many other domesticated males over-simplifies the challenge of manhood in the 21st century. He ignores the natural disposition, reducing the social complexity and seeking part solution. No one can ever absolve any man from the responsibility and obligation of being the best father they can to the children that life, choices and sometimes circumstances have delivered their way. Nobody ever said it would be easy. The email I got from my 15 year old son also shows it is a privilege when the souls put in your custody flower to full and sweet smelling bloom there is no greater love. The Senator however is obliged to understand that the sociology of his country and increasingly the rest of the world portends a crisis of manhood which leads different men to make very difficult and sometimes destructive choices. They range from the increasingly bitter and dishonourable battle between the sexes that neither will win but when two elephants fight the grass always suffer and this are our children. It also includes the feminisation of family law and jurisprudence that institutionalises the simplistic split of the sexes into primary carer and resource provider. All these in a world where working class men have seen the workplace flourish to women’s emotional intelligence and stereotyped competencies. At the same time as their manufacturing domains disappear almost comletely.In the African American communities these issues are further polarised by an history of Slavery as well as a tradition for racial fear of black alpha males and their competitive potential. If one doubts the global crisis of manhood, explore the despair of increased suicide, murder, antisocial lifestylles and even extremism amongst young men in the western world. In the UK, it is street killings, in Scandinavia its suicides, in South Africa and Jamaica its guns, in US well take your pick, Middle East its extremist politics.

There are no excuses but the reasons are still there and must be understood for there to be sustainable solutions. The Senator has good intentions and disrupts the elevation of victimhood into a standard of pride. Nevertheless he is a much more nuanced person and far more aware of complexity than to stumble into this critical minefield without bringing in the best of himself. For some this is a great Sister Souljah moment for him for those of us who are fathers of boys whose entire lives are constructed by the question of how we restore a dialogue of mutual respect and curiosity amongst the sexes his speech only raises questions. The same questions I felt on Saturday as Asa serenaded her mother from the stage and I pronounce the formidable legacy of love from my mother on these . I suppose the Yoruba saying that ‘Iya ni wura, Baba ni digi’ which translates into Mother is the gold and father is the mirror comes to mind. Go figure.

Friday, June 13, 2008


Their names read like ancient chieftains , OLOLU, ATIPAKO, ALAPASHANPA, AFIDI-ELEGE. They are prominent Ibadan masquerades whose role is critical to the divinities of the right. They are the embodiment of the lessons our ancestors want to impart and they play a key role in entrenching the body of theatre that carries historical memory. So when the ancients say ‘Ki a se bi won tin se, ki ole ba ri bi oti ri’ i.e. it reads, lets do it as it is done so we can get the results that we have always had. It has nothing to do with a slavish repeat of tradition. On the contrary it is a challenge that if you want the same results you should continue to do the same things. So it is with the death of Alhaji Lamidi Ariyibi Adedibu. Lets open this evolving parable.

You see to my engorged brain the only book a Nigerian must read is Africa in Ebullition by Right Honourable Adegoke Adelabu the subtitle is “A handbook of Freedom for a Nigerian Nationalist”. It captures the root cause of the life and times of Late Lamidi Adedibu and holds our feet to the fire for the errant intellectual and spiritual fast food that has become the norm of our society. In Chapter Three titled Self Government ( it was first published in 1952) there is an analysis that makes the hair on the back of my neck stand up and sends a chill through my spine in its incredible certitude and logical eloquence. He divides up the Nationalist front into three different camps of which only two have survived, they are:

The one which he believes gets most prominence but he wrongly asserts is the most vulnerable, the Materialistic camp. He describes them as a ‘motley crew of self seeking careerists’. They will be the primary focus in this post.
The camp he regards as most influential being the Intellectual camp. They still stand today as he saw them crying foul on the touchline, rarely risking limb and bone or if so incapable of understanding or accepting the self-serving, self-justifying nature of human beings they continue in their basic assumption. This wrong assumption he says (and I agree with every ounce of my being) “ .. is that the white man who wrote his book will be much impressed by arguments you lift from their pages. .......” I agree that this is the assumption behind our blind and pathetic penchant for borrowing western ways. Like the late and dear Alhaji I accept that the same white man whose, “... passion for domination has blinded and biased his judgement. His vested interest in your continued slavery has choked and suffocated his conscience.” So many things have changed and fundamentally are the same. We wave western standards in the face of a uniquely African hunger for improvements which should be fit for purpose and sustainable in our own environment. Now we have many prisoners of Phds and masters degrees throwing their discipline signs in no better ways than the Bloods and Crips gangs of Los Angeles with little or no transformative intervention.
The Camp he regards as the higher order which i will argue is now wiped in the Nigerian project are the spiritualistic segment. They are the People I call the warriors of light (term borrowed from Paulo Coehlo) . In Hon Adelabu’s words they are seers and prophets , heroes and saints. He reasons “ They abjure leisure, they embrace poverty, they quit castles, they adorn jailyards, they scorn the transient, they are loving. They are sublime, divine and immortal. His praise of this camp is unreserved and romantic but mine is not probably because i know of only one , the late Abami Eda , Eleniyan, Baba 70, Fela Anikulapo Kuti.

If you are bored and tired by this introduction take a break, make a cup of tea and put on some music but come back to this because I suspect you will want a dose of my madness having bothered to read this far.

You see the same late Adegoke Adelabu ‘ Penkelemese’ is often put forward as a role model for Adedibu or even Busari Adelakun before him . In some way associating him with the stereotype of career thuggery and unprincipled politics that the latter two have been bound in the public imagination. In fact their mentor who is treated as a deity and has won the public lottery of iconised leadership as well as standard of the best we can do was the Late Chief Obafemi Awolowo. He is rarely mentioned in the reduction and deduction that these individuals are an entirely Ibadan creation. In a piece of genius postulations the late Penkelemese who if he had lived would have given Awo a much needed run for his money foretold the coming of the type of person that Chief Adedibu had come to represent. On page 18 he puts to the sword what we have now come to call ‘amala politicts’ he says

“These heterogenous crowds confuse material comfort with political freedom.They demand freedom only because they hope it will bring increased prosperity in its train.In freedom for its own sake they are not interested. They are ever ready to sell out, being offered big chunks of booty. Commonplace careerists that they are, they are pleased with their own cunning, cleverness and shrewdness when they have successfully bargained for a higher rung in a doomed hierarchy. They mistake contemptible positions of profit for the height of noble ambition. They are just as wise as beasts and birds who foray daily bread, take care of their young, and die vegetatively in their due season, unsung and unwept.They flower for a while and fade away at the appointed hour because they lack the stamina of moral rectitude.”

In my humble opinion so it was with the late Ashipa of Ibadan Chief Adedibu but who could blame him? His political mentors in the Action Group of Old had iconised and rewarded the crossing of carpets by members of the Ibadan Peoples Party rewarding political treachery and cowardice as well as institutionalised tribalism and errant regionalism of Egbe Omo Oduduwa. Unfortunately the passing of Penkelemese meant there never was any real competition for the worst of the excesses of the Action Group in the South West. It entrenched the cult of personality into the standard of Nigerian politics to the extent that today here is still none of the Political parties that have the three attributes that the late Adelabu ‘Penkelemese’ uses to define a true political party. They are idea, ideal and ideology. It is this that gave rise Alhaji Adelakun and Adedibu’s style of poltics. They who genuinely mastered the politics of those times and were amply rewarded for it and in due course applied with skill of artisans from their period of apprenticeship.

Adedibu was a father, Grandfather and possibly a great grandfather. He extended his largesse to many and Nigerians being who we are complicit in everything we blame him for doing. This true not just in Ibadan but across the nation. I thank God that he has now gone to the Ancestral home to explain his choices. My people reason that ‘ Oba mewa , igba mewa , nile Aiye’ that life is like ten kings, with ten reigns . The Ashipa of Ibadan’s time has come and gone, dwelling on the Abacha for life campaign, the Ladoja impeachment, Election machine kidnapping or the many lives lost to political violence and just sheer lawlessness we will find in him a perfect scapegoat. It does not absolve us of our roles in co-creating the society that we live in within the hills of Ibadan ‘mesiogo’ , ile Oluyole or this great human adventure that is Nigeria. Our complicity does not stop at passive observance but active experimentation with the same pursuit of power, reckless competitiveness and absence of principles in our choices.

I predicted two weeks before the death of the Late Sani Abacha to my friends in the democracy movement of the time that he would soon pass but then we will be confronting the fact that he is not the problem. Our problem was and still is the Abacha in each and everyone of us. I predicted similarly that Alhaji Lamidi Adedibu will vacate the scene to the greater stage but then what role will we play going forward. What happens when we perfect a similar role for someone else because we assign this roles by but omission and commission. ‘Awa ni a nda, awa na ni a npa’ we are the ones that create and also the ones that kills our creation. So like the lesser masquerades that in Ibadan are called Tombolo we are participants in this drama.

It is time to take responsibility and make new choices. It is time to take seriously the challenge of turning this great land into the beacon of possibilities that it can become. It is time for everyone who stands by the sidelines commenting and criticising to take risks for their dreams. It is time to start movements and fight for dreams that we cannot afford to let past. It is once again time for the warriors of light who would defer their gratification for the coming generation. It is time for a majestic dawn for my generation and those to follow. Oke Ibadan a gbe wa O.

I play myself out of this post with first reciting a little of the Oriki of Ibadan , Mesiogo nile Oluyole, omo a je igbin , je ikaraun omo afi ikiaraun fo ori mu. Ibadan maja, maja bi ose ko ara iwaju leru. Singing my new anthem , Ojumo ti mo, Ojumo ti mo mi nile yi O, ojumo ti mo , mo rire O! sing along if you know Asa’s exquisite tearjerker. Ire O!

Monday, June 09, 2008


I suppose the Yoruba have a saying for every situation , they say 'Iya ni wura , Baba ni digi'. Your mother is gold and your father is a mirror.

24 years ago yesterday my mother died at age 38. At that time I assumed a life that I live till today , open , difficult, challenging, dutiful , disruptive, intellectual all to honour her. She was quite a difficult person for me to get along with . She was truly a natural force whose humble beginnings led her to an arranged marriage with my father, one which blossomed into an unexpected love on her side and a certain one on his. My mother started her working life as a trader in the tradition of Muslim women in Ibadan. She always dreamed of being a doctor but getting married unexpectedly at 18 was not a good preparation and having myself just a year after compounded any such thoughts. She parlayed her start in the open market stalls of Gbagi to being a expert of all locations for lace in Austria, gold in Beirut amongst many other international travels. By the early 70s she was lifting oil out of Nigeria for sale in Korea ( saw a bill of laden/ invoice amongst her papers) an incredible rarity in those days. She started a road haulage company with over 300 trailer trucks carrying motorcycles, rice, generators across the country she still managed to be distributor for Lever Brothers amongst others. She never gave up her medical fantasy poring over medical books and throwing dinner parties with eminent surgeons and doctors at the head of the table so she could argue into the night about different medical procedures. The amazing thing is that she did most of these things in her late twenties, early thirties. Now that I am well over forty I can marvel about how quick and phenomenal her achievements were.

She was for quite a time secretary of market women's association but that was not a feminist position it was in the footsteps of extraordinary women many of them muslim but by no means exclusively so. The great and terrifying Efusetan Aniwura the famous Iyalode of Ibadan, Iyalode Abimbola, Iyalode Abeo or others like her contemporaries and mentors, Late Alhaja Simbiat Adedeji or ever present Alhaja Humani Alaga. I met a friend of my mum by a few years ago and she proceeded to tell me the story of how they met. She had been rear-ended by a Danfo driver (local bus) who are notorious as thugs and vagrants . She was completely intimidated by the drivers aggressive behaviour in spite of his culpability so she locked herself in her car as chaos rained around her then there was a sudden lull. My mother had apparently got out of her car and proceeded to slap the danfo driver who reacted by prostrating himself immediately and asking for forgiveness. she proceeded to bang on the window of this poor woman's car and berated her for letting herself down and women to boot. She told her this was a result of too much westernisation. My mother made an habit of extraordinary acts of kindness as such there were never less than 30 people in the house at any given time and sometimes up to 50 depending on how many poor people she chose to pick up for looking after. When many people see your mother as a saint you quite unconsciously rebel against it all.

For me the loss of my mother was the beginning of my manhood and it was the realisation that something unique had left my life that shaped it. Somehow I have moved from a depression about the loss to a rationalisation that includes a true abiding disrespect for death. Also as I saw other people's mothers grow into melodramatic and self absorbed 'nuisances' i imagined my powerhouse of a mother in a similar role and grudgingly said it must all have been for the best having married a woman with a similar temperament. I could not imagine the fight for primacy that would have occurred. I also love the man I had become because of her absence in my life. Yesterday it was different, I woke up and I missed her and my eyes have not stopped stinging with tears that are reluctant to step out or settle down to their home in the ducts. I am now older than she ever was but Apeke was more in many ways larger than life itself . I still strive to be the shadow of the person she was no matter how much we fought.

Sun re O! Apeke iti gbongbo Iyekan Isepe.

Hate that Love Bred Part 2

I was in South Africa or Mzansi as the locals call it in February this year to participate and facilitate a workshop. As is usual with my trips there the seeming emotional detachment of the black people there is often a disconcerting experience. I suppose being a Nigerian with penchant for drama and diatribes it figures. The one thing we share with Jamaicans, Greeks and Italians is that we amplify and broadcast our passions with little or no permission. In all my visits to Mzansi I have always felt that there was something straining to lose control under this tight emotional leash.

My driver from Oliver Tambo unlike my usual Avis rental decided to engage me in long discourse especially when he realised I was Nigerian. It especially concerned him that ‘we took their women away’ and on the other hand that ‘ Nigerian women never dated none Nigerians’. His opinions included his fantasy about their libido ever since seeing them dance which he thought Nigerian women are unrivalled in sexual possibilities and their beauty unsurpassed but their prejudices are legendary. He complained about the Nigerian Hillbrow dominance, crime, prostitution, commerce that is unbridled but it seemed there was also envy and respect fighting for place in his perspective. I was too tired to do anything other than scold the errant Nigerian and distinguish them from the middle class professionals as if that would quell envy and diminish the jealousy. Unfortunately we were in the grip of a Lagos Island, Monday morning style traffic. It emerged that ‘load shedding’ i.e. electricity blackouts were the order of the day and something in me smiled. Here was t Disdainful from Mzansi sharing the infra-structure challenges that makes the rest of Africa submit to throbbing machines and foul fumes. I slept in his car with a wicked and satisfied smile on my face.

Few days after I attended a British Council dinner and I sat with a group of Mzansi men. It is very rare for me since I get a sense that I rub them off the wrong way with notable exception especially my adopted brother Siphiwe Mpye and a few others . Often time there is usually a quick visual assessment of me and an attempt at rudeness. I however never respond ever since I had learnt a very hard lesson about being an outsider. At age 19 I had the Italian Carabinieri hold a gun to my head in a dark corner of Da Vinci airport for arguing and swearing at a errant airline clerk. I have since known to pick my fights carefully in any foreign land. I settled down with my best non-threatening smile, something i never stooped doing in some of the more racist places I have visited.

My experience brightened somewhat when one of the men started engaging me with barely concealed excitement about Lagos. He had visited , loved the energy, in love with the people. He confessed the place makes him feel so completely alive. I opened up to him, sharing stories about our favourite parts of Lagos, swapping experiences and challenging urban tales. One of the others a completely empty suit, whose almost entirely malformed smile was covered in attempts at badly frayed second hand British etiquette like a badly sewn seersucker suit was weighed in. He and been noticeable all evening with attempts at sickening ass kissing of any European within sight. He had to have misconstrued a ‘cockney’ accent for a grand elevation of status as he used it with liberal disdain for its efficacy. He challenged my new friend in very disrespectful and disparaging terms. What could he have seen in the chaos, smell and rot that is Lagos? His tone so full of derision and disgust all the time looking directly at me. It occurred to me that any attempt to confront his bigotry would only serve to fan the flames.

In my little time hanging in Jozi I had made too many friends to let such a ‘Jerk’ ( technical word) adulterate the experience. However as I left the event it occurred to me that this was not something to do with personal relationships but a psycho-social phenomenon . I told my friend Leeza that i was worried there will be an explosion (I have raised such spectre on this pages in the past). When it is acceptable for the chattering classes to trade openly in bigotry then it is license for those at the bottom of the pyramid to act.

It is no surprise that over 50 fellow Africans were killed, property lost and many more wounded. Jozi was to be the ‘New African Jerusalem’, the only place were the continent met and you could run into anyone from Cape to Cairo, Zanzibar to Cape Verde they all worked their magic and all pursued a dream. It was to be the truly African city a citadel of many hues and shades all from across this great and patient continent whose kindness to human folly seems to know no bounds. Jozi who seen the pain of bigotry and the humiliation of the other who had acted in Soweto, Alexandra, Sophia Town to rebel against the dehumanisation of the other. Surely she knew better than anyone the ridicule that is bigotry. In Jozi they all came and found the infrastructure lacking at home bringing their best and worst. They sought to direct your car into rare parking slots, they patched up the shooter and shot in the hospital, they hustled dodgy crafts on street corners all on the streets where violence spoke in even and balanced tones. Never the raised voices like in Gidi.

How is it possible that this is where the baying demonic face of Xenophobia, Intolerance and hatred would turned up next? What is the real benefit to the perpetrators, their society and future relations with fellow Africans? What happens if this is just the tip of a bloody iceberg? It agonises but we need to dig deeper. Why did this happen ? Of course the intellectually lazy media have the ready made excuses and scapegoats. Mbeki and his ‘friend ‘ Mugabe their quiet diplomacy brought in millions of refugees and put pressure on scarce resources they said. The poor and dispossessed are fighting for their own crumbs of platinum from the post apartheid mining shafts. So if all these were true what of Kenya with millions of Somali’s for many years living as refugees . Why with their own political violence did they not target this millions of strangers who put more pressure on their resources? Why if this was about poverty is Kenya not a worse place considering they are poorer than the people of Mzansi? There is too much to say but this event cannot be a footnote for why if this was about visitors did they not attack the millions of white tourists in the land?

This is a posting that will be continued...........