Thursday, December 13, 2012

The Beautiful Ones Have Been Born


On my way to the market on the other side of town, I contemplated how best to give out the pile of clothes I had in the house to kids living around there without embarrassing them, their parents or myself. At the end of my internal deliberations, I decided to drop the idea because I did not want to put myself in an uncomfortable position.

After so much price haggling and exchanging cash for products, I completed what I wanted to do at the market and was heading back home when I was stopped by a young lady who asked if I would like to make a donation to an orphanage. Looking at the signature sheet in her hand, I could see that she already had two donors, N500 from the first and N50 from the second. I was ready to let go of the last N50 on me which would mean not being able to board a Keke/Marwa (tricycle) when I heard her say they also collect materials such as clothes. I immediately answered that I had children’s clothes I wanted to give out and asked for the donation process. She said she could follow me home to get them and I replied that I was okay with it.

She then beckoned on her partner and we started the approximately 400m walk to my house.. On the way, they both helped carry my shopping bags and I tried to engage them to find out more about what they were doing.
Rebecca Obadiah, 21 and Florence Omowunmi, 22 told me they just completed their Secondary school education and their church leader, Pastor Most Senior Apostle Prophet M.O. Abraham mobilized about forty of them to help raise funds and receive collections on behalf of an orphanage close to their church in Ushafa, Abuja.

This Pastor grouped the youths in twos and allocated them to different parts of the Abuja metropolis wearing the T-shirts bearing the name of the church, C&S Movement, Ushafa, Abuja and holding signature sheet for donors and a copy of the orphanage’s registration certificate.

Glorious Future for the Less Privileged Children Foundation is owned by Pastor Chinyere Eberechukuwu, Mr. Ikechukwu Mbakwe and Mrs. Uzoamaka Anigala and I don’t think they are members of the C&S Movement. This synergy of a C&S Pastor, forty Secondary School graduates awaiting University admission and four owners of an orphanage tells me the beautiful ones have been born and we only await their showing.

Monday, December 03, 2012

My Friend Lives Here

We were set to attend the weekly Wednesday church service. My husband was rightly seated behind the wheels, I was rightly positioned to give him both necessary and un-called for verbal support in the passenger seat and the baby rested calmly in his car seat behind. The drive was altogether uneventful until we reached the junction leading to the popular Gimbiya Street on Area Eleven, Garki, Abuja. The road had been blocked by police and FRSC vehicles and we were asked to take another route. That would mean going back to join traffic and do another five minute drive when we were just one minute away from our destination. Thinking the reason for this diversion was the presence of a government official in the area, my husband and I shouted, touted, screamed at the top of our voices and honked to register our displeasure using all the Aluta spirit we were privileged to have ‘received’ from our days in Obafemi Awolowo University.

When we refused to move, a kind officer came to explain to us that a house had collapsed in the area and the rescue efforts required they closed the road. At such news, we had no choice but to appropriately apologize for our initial outrage and willingly follow the diversion. As we drove on, I was kind of intrigued that I would have the opportunity to be around a news scene. As a young child, my mum tried to take my siblings and I to wherever it was ‘happening’ in Lagos and I think this flamed my love for being in the middle of events.

As soon as the car parked, I announced that I was going to the site of the collapse. Without looking back lest the matter became another round of marital dispute, I headed for the direction where I could see a crowd gathered. I crossed the street, walked past one house, went through a bend, passed another house; at this point  I began to realize that I was familiar with the sequence I was covering and by the time I noticed the last step to get to the scene was to cross, I went hysterical.

I dashed through the crowd shouting, my friend lives here! My friend lives here! As I got to the entrance of the building and meaning to move on in the direction of the truck clearing the rubble, I was held back by some strong arms and as I struggled to get free, I just kept shouting my friend lives here…

Now, a crowd had formed around me and some were shouting, have you tried her phone? I quickly reached for my phone and called her line. I only got the depressing response ‘the number you have called is not available at the moment, please try again later’. I announced to the crowd, her number is not going through. Another person shouted, wetin be her name? I said Mummy Isaac’. In church, we refer to most mothers as Mummy this, Mummy that just to avoid disrespect. Noticing they showed signs of unfamiliarity, I tried other means to describe her. I said, ‘she has a small child called Isaac’, no positive sign still. Then I remembered that the last time I went with some other people from church to visit her, she had showed us her husband’s dry cleaning business. I quickly looked towards the gate but didn’t see the reception area she had humbly taken us round. I then pointed in the direction of the gate and said amid my grueling fears; her husband runs a dry cleaning business. Hearing this, they all went quiet but I could hear a lone voice saying ‘she dey there, she don die’.

I shouted back, God forbid and broke down into tears. The health workers at the site quickly rushed to my side and asked if I came with anyone. I nodded, dialed my husband’s number and in shaken voice announced, the collapsed building is Mummy Isaac’s house. He rushed to scene, held me and we tried to get further information on what actually transpired.

The house, an uncompleted, ill-plastered building with four floors served as shelter to over fifty people who had run to it for refuge from the shackles of unavailable and unaffordable housing in Abuja.

In the very early hours of the morning of that fateful day, some of the occupants on the topmost floor heard creaking sounds from the building and quickly ran down the stairs in order to get out of the building. As they reached the door of Mummy Isaac’s apartment on the ground floor, they racked their door with knocks. The knock alerted her husband who stepped out through the backdoor from their bedroom to see what was happening and luckily escaped death. Mummy Isaac also got up, but ran out through the front door so she could wake the people sleeping in the living room including Isaac. However, the building came crashing down on her before she could make it into the open space ahead of her. Isaac was alive until noon but died when he could no longer breathe under the rubble alongside his aunties and uncles who had lain for a good night sleep the night before.

Before this incident, collapsed buildings were to me, just another news item. Just another hot topic to keep our mouths busy while we keep our hearts out and refer to issues in the country in the third person he, she or they but hardly in the first person I and we.

Now, when I hear unpleasant, tragic news, it is no longer news, it is people. It is adorable Mummy Isaac, charming and utterly pleasant Isaac, his aunties, uncles and my other friends who could be there.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Business Insight from a Rare Source


In the days of El-Rufai, the former Minister of the Federal Capital Territory, no mallam* dared start a roadside business in any of the residential or business areas of Abuja metropolis. However, with his exit came a steady decline in environmental standards and services and the mallams took advantage of this and sprang back to business. 

Known for their wide range of services such as shoe repairs, mobile tailoring, local manicure and pedicure and sale of household items, mallams actually play an essential role in middle class and high brow residential areas. In my opinion, those who sell household items do the most good. They are saviours to the neighbour who mistakenly leaves out an important item from his/her shopping list or runs out of it. Their N20 groundnut has not and might never lose its glorious position as the best accompaniment for sour Ijebu gari on days when you seek to treat yourself to a delightful gari soaking experience.

Luckily enough for me, one mallam was bold enough to open shop on the adjacent street and he enjoyed patronage from all and sundry in the area. His customers included big men who stop by in the 4x4s and housewives who stroll down to pick their house needs and also catch up on the latest area gist. He served the area from his trodden down black umbrella, a wobbly table and another wobbly bench but he served diligently and faithfully.

I remember one day, many months into my first pregnancy, I walked down to his stall to buy eggs but he didn’t have and instead of closing the transaction there, he asked me to sit so he could go help me buy the eggs from elsewhere. I tried to settle down on the bench but realised I was on my way to the floor. With the help of God, I was able to lift myself up, look for the pivot position on the bench and balance there. The mallam went for a long time but he did return with my eggs. That was how nice he was and how diligently he served.

Three years later, a new provision and toiletries store opened two houses next to the mallam. The shop was nicely decorated, well arranged and pleasant to the shopping eye. I tried, I really tried not to defect to the new shop but the array of wares displayed and the intellectual parley I enjoyed with the owner overrode my determination.

Following the time proven trend of business competition, the mallam kept losing market share as the new elegant shop enjoyed increased patronage. At a point, he stopped putting up his umbrella and no longer needed to rest his table against any support because the items on it had dwindled. Sadly, as time went on, he became a regular among the other mallams working as gatemen but waste most of their lives away in idle chit chat.

However, six months ago I noticed a dramatic turnaround in his outlook and his stall. The wobbly bench was gone and had been replaced with a less wobbly iron wrought three seater chair. He also had a cooking stove close to the wall and had reset the position of his table to face the new chair. Empty wrappers of indomie noodles and egg shells could be seen scattered around the floor. And as I walked past on another day, I saw one of the other mallams enjoying a meal of indomie and eggs. When he was done, he pushed his plate aside, rose up, removed money from his pocket and placed it on the table. Now, I got the new picture, the mallam had started a new business!

It also dawned on me that this was his response to the business threat he encountered. He roused himself up and stopped his business from dying an imminent natural death. He must have resolved within himself that it was no use trying to beat a better competitor so he went for a new strategy. He must have put in hours of meditation to arrive at his new business strategy and those hours served him well since he arrived at an excellent decision to change his target market. The market he formerly serviced, the elite in the neighbourhood ditched him when they saw their own and now he chose to ditch us too to go serve his own class.

Today, the mallam’s business is thriving and he has employed two additional hands but the new store didn’t survive. The shop was under lock for about two months and when it reopened, it evolved into a boutique run by a new owner.

*- Most Nigerians living in the western part of the country refer to low income class Hausa men as 'mallam'.

Monday, October 08, 2012

The Other Side of Town

The mother led her daughter to bend down that she may conduct her private business by the roadside. When the girl was done, she rose up as her tattered dress which had been raised to enable her do what she had to do took a free fall to her bum level. Not minding what she just concluded, she ran excitedly to rejoin her friends. And ignoring what ought to properly conclude such business, her mother casually followed after her which sent a wave of shock, shame and ache sweep all over me. The poor girl, not minding the remains of solid human waste rubbing against her thighs played away like there was no tomorrow.

Before you ask me if I just returned from a visit to the village to see my grand relatives, I will like to disappoint myself and you that the above event played out in Nigeria’s Federal Capital Territory, Abuja. My mind was set for the market as I walked out of our gated compound, walked past the gate of our fenced estate and continued through the abode of our less financially endowed neighbour when I witnessed this unwholesome scene.

As a child, I always thought every child lived my kind of life. Had a mommy and daddy, got dropped off at school every weekday, played with friends all evening and wore beautiful clothes to parties on Saturdays. When I could not rationalize the lifestyle of house helps, I believed there was a rotation system where all children in the world had to work as a house help for a certain period and I anguishly awaited when it would be my turn.

Many more years on earth awakened me to the reality of inequality and I till date battle with how we would allow such an unjust system thrive. To anyone who reasons, the vast disparity in living conditions of the different sides of town will be best described as heartless.

On my side of town, we enjoy the luxury of running water, walk on tarred streets, houses are well spaced, the kids speak Queen’s English, garbage collector rarely miss their stipulated work days and we worry when we bash our posh cars. However, on the other side of town, the taps (if at all there are any) are always dry, the feet befriend bare soil, depend on Nasco cornflakes packet-sized window for ventilation, the kids attend ill-furnished schools and 
they live with their dirt.

Little or no power lies in my hands as at now for had they, the people on the other side of town would never live as such but more like or better than me.

Thursday, September 06, 2012

Is Babangida Worthy of Honour?

Source: Photonews

I watched with solemn gloom when I noticed the evident presence of eminent government personalities at the 71st birthday celebration of the gap- toothed, past Military Dictator of Nigeria, Ibrahim Badamosi Babangida. The current Vice President, Arc. Namadi Sambo did not hold back words of adulation as he was quoted to have said -

“As a statesman, we are proud to say that you have played and still playing your role to ensure peace, progress and prosperity in our country. We wish you many more years, many more years, many more years and many more years.” – (

In my own opinion, it was him Babangida who tore away the last thread on our fabric of integrity as a nation. His Structural Adjustment Programme sent inflation spiraling from 5.4% in 1986 to 40.9% in 1989) and by the time prices had skyrocketed and poverty had eaten deep into pockets and pots of families, men and women who would never have stolen a dime from anyone did not mind changing figures as civil servants in order to make ends meet. Teachers lost interest in their passion to transform younger generations and concentrated on buying and selling.

Those who could have held on the reins of truth were thrown overboard with constant lashing of information on the flashy lifestyles their colleagues enjoyed as a result of their ill gotten wealth. Who would have wanted to be left out anyway?

It was in the days of the Babangida that white elephant projects became the order of the day in government circles. Government agencies would award projects, release money to contractors, commence work on a small portion of the project, maintain media hype, share the rest of the money between the contractors and agency officials and never complete the project. Successive governments noted how this strategy perfectly worked on Nigerians and did not fail to adopt it. Typical examples are the modernized railway project by the Obasanjo administration in 2006, the 6,000 megawatts promise by Yar-adua administration in 2009.

Babangida prided himself at so adept in swaying Nigerians that he named himself the Evil Genius. The annulment of the 1993 polls remains fresh on the minds of those who witnessed it and though he may have accepted responsibility for the act, I don’t think posterity will ever forget and leave out justice from being served.

As at 1993 when he was eventually hauled out of Aso Rock, Nigerians had been schooled in being’ smart’ and ‘knowing your way’ which empowered us to know how to excellently initiate and execute illicitly without getting caught.
Thank God that history, once etched cannot be erased. We may look away or feign dementia but the day truth would be recalled, then the Honour Rolls will be rewritten and those that belong to the Hall of Shame will take their rightful positions.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Is God angry with Nigeria?

My mum used to watch all Nigerian football matches and in my weirdness, I never wanted her to be alone; I would sit with her through all the matches even if we didn’t know what tournament it was.

I remember someone asking at an event I attended if anyone could remember where they were when Samuel Okparaji died, my hand shut up proudly, I vividly remember where I was, I was watching him die on TV. I was sitting beside my mum as usual and she wore a stunned look which transformed to utter sadness as he was carried away on the stretcher, she asked me to look at how his hand dangled and said he was not going to make it.

When Nigeria roared from a 4-0 defeat to eventually level the scores with 4 goals in less than 30minutes and went on to beat USSR on penalties ( i.e. the Daman Miracle) in  1989,  I was with my mum listening to the car stereo so we could have a live experience of the match. This was before the days of live transmission of overseas matches, when TV sets in homes never woke up until 4p.m and returned to sleep at 12midnight.

I also recall another experience, this time with the whole family. We were watching a live Nigerian game (Tunisia 94) , and we were losing. During half time, my dad asked us to stand up, join our hands together and we prayed really hard for Nigeria to win the match. When the game returned, Nigeria gained the upper hand and played to a victorious win. Back at home, we were hysterically jubilant as was the whole street under us and my dad bought us a crate of minerals (soft drinks) to celebrate.

That seems to be the Nigeria of old. Luck always shined us, favour was never far off. This made Nigerian matches and progress in tournaments very dramatic. A current example is how we qualified for the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.

Today, our story seems to have changed. The hand over us seems to have turned. Our fatal fall off from the Africa Nations Cup qualifiers cannot be explained. Although we were refreshed with the Falcons towering over fellow African countries in South Africa, but when they met with their Goliaths in Germany, their Davidic weapon did not bring victory. And as if crashing out of the Olympics football game qualifications was not enough, we returned from the London Olympics without any medal of any colour whatsoever.

I no longer see the lucks and favours. Is God angry with Nigeria?