TRAIN RIDES AND DOG BITES

Abroad people,

Oya come and see o!

It’s not only you people that have nice trains. See our own here. Kaduna to Abuja. We’re not easy. I entered it this morning. Life!! In fact, Federal government of Nigeria wanted to finish us today.

At Kaduna airport, there were free buses conveying people to Abuja. Many buses like that. Come and see people boarding. But me, I wanted to experience the train service as I never enter train for Naija before.

As I lingered at the exit, unsure of what to do, a man in uniform asked where I was going. When I said I wanted to take the train to Abuja, he said there were free buses conveying people to the station but it had already left with passengers. Another man approached me and said he was a cab driver. I asked him how far the station was. He said not too much. This was about 8.20am and ‘not too much’ could turn out to be a one hour ride. We argued back and forth, then I said, “Let’s go.” His name was Mohammed and his car was a small, black Golf car. He was speeding as though he was on a race track, while at the same time cussing other drivers for driving too fast. The road became very gravel-ly at a point and I feared he’d lose control of the steering. I kept exclaiming, “Take it easy o, take it easy o,” and he kept replying, “Don’t worry madam. I know the road very well.”

We arrived at the station in one piece. A man in a kaftan with a green apron over it [great fashion sense there!] grabbed my suitcase and we ran up the stairs. I thrust out my ticket, they waved me through and I ran into the coach that was reserved for passengers coming from the airport. At exactly 9.09 a.m. the train pulled off.

Clean, spacious coaches. Air conditioned. Television sets. Windows with nice blinds. Two ladies selling snacks [even though I was hungry and wanted food]. Nice scenery outside. But, sha, the train was slow. Two whole hours, same amount of time it would have taken to go by road. I forgot to mention the heavy presence of gun-toting security personnel – Mopol, Police, Army, Civil Defence, sniffing dogs. Every coach had about two security personnel manning it, all looking professional and non-threatening.

A lovely experience altogether but a sharp contrast to the Port Harcourt-Aba service which a friend had used in December, 2016. According to the account which she posted on her Facebook timeline, what would have been a comfortable ride was marred by over-crowded coaches and smelly toilets! There was also no first class coach. It had been moved to Enugu because there was more money to be made on that route.

We arrived Kubwa in Abuja at about 11.00 am.

But it won’t be Naija if there had been no drama to cap the day. No be us again? We no dey carry last naa. As we alighted at Kubwa, a scream rang out. Shouts. Loud voices. Hurried movements. A young woman was lying on the ground, un-speaking, eyes wide, one leg bleeding. It turns out that a dog owned by the Civil Defence had pushed her down and sunk its teeth into her leg. You could see the set of teeth marks against her flesh. The dog and its handler stood close by, with the handler looking surprised? shocked? afraid? I can’t give words to the look on his face. The dog – a black and brown mix whose breed I can’t put a name to – was…well…just being a dog – straining against its leash, tongue out, barking, perhaps angry that it wasn’t allowed to finish what it started. A girl of about five years old, who seemed to have witnessed the attack, was crying softly as she clutched her father’s hand. I heard somebody say, “This is the second time…” He didn’t continue but I put two and two together. Seems like the Civil Defence has very exuberant dogs. Or maybe, as my sister said when I narrated the incident to her, the dog hadn’t been fed!

A crowd had gathered around the young lady and in typical Naija way, advice about what she should do or not do was flying around for free. A day of freebies indeed. But that is one of the things I love about us – the way we rally round people in need even if they’re strangers. At such times, you can bet there’d be a pick pocket hovering around but there would be many other people offering help and comfort. Me sef, I follow put mouth. I approached a man who looked like the oga and told him they needed to take her to a hospital for anti-tetanus injection. But an elderly Hausa man, who was visibly upset at the incident, didn’t quite agree. “Not tetanus,” he said vehemently. “Let her take anti-rabid, if not, it will enter her head and she will start barking like a dog.” It wasn’t funny but I smiled.

Back to the lady, a Mobile Police man was massaging the bleeding leg. Then, he started to wipe the blood off with a dirty rag. I expected somebody to appear with a sachet of pure water, bite off the tip and give the lady to drink. You know us nau. When people have been involved in accidents or similar situations, somebody go just take small water wash their face, come pour the rest for their head. Sigh! Dear fellow Nigerians, water is not first aid. When people are going through trauma, please keep them warm so they don’t go into shock.

I fished out my almost-finished roll of tissue paper and gave the girl’s mother/aunt. [Thank God for the contents of a woman’s bag.] The Mopol asked for tissue to wipe the blood off his hands. I said, “No. You don’t need tissue. You need to wash your hands thoroughly.” He went away but not before looking at me one-kind. Soon, a woman in a green apron appeared with a first-aid kit and set to work. Oga-looking bros was appealing to the crowd for calm. People started to disperse. I picked up my luggage and waked away.

 

 

 

THE LANGUAGE OF LOVE

First Published February 14, 2016.

The language of love has changed in so many ways. In the past it was spoken with subtlety and something close to reverence. Now, it is loud and brash, and begs to be heard.

In the conservative society where I grew up in South Eastern Nigeria, public expressions of affection were uncommon. Hugs and kisses were private affairs, even among the married. Judging by their dedication and commitment to each other, there was no doubt in anybody’s mind that most couples loved each other. They just didn’t expressed those feelings openly. When I think back now, I remember only two couples who didn’t appear inhibited around each other, even in public. The first were the parents of my sister’s friend; the second, in-laws. I remember how, after I’d seen the later at a wedding, smiling and holding hands, I had regaled my sisters with the details of this unusual behaviour. These in-laws became a reference point for me for a long time afterwards.

In many homes, friendships were censored and friends of the opposite sex were not encouraged to visit.  Therefore, for most teenagers and young adults, even the most casual of such friendships involved a lot of ducking and dodging, cultivated via a number of ingenious ways such as letters smuggled through a younger sibling or coded cat calls bidding a girl to come to the back yard. This, of course, depended on the layout of your house and most of the ones in my neighbourhood were 60’s-style bungalows set in large compounds bordered by hedges of cherries, fruit trees and, sometimes, vegetable gardens. This provided the ideal cover for such outings.

Visits were planned with a lot of secrecy and executed with stealth. If your beau was a big boy – read: one of those allowed to drive their daddy’s Peugeot 404, 405, Passat or any of the models in vogue at the time – he’d be parked at a pre-arranged place, usually on a quiet street where the chances of being seen were slim. Before you got to the rendezvous, you’d make all kinds of detours, look over your shoulder a million times, your heart thumping with both the pain and sweetness of anxiety and excitement. You’d get in the car and sit down, praying that nobody would see you. There would be no holding of hands and no touching, just some bland conversations about school and your siblings and “are your parents at home?”

There were not as many entertainment centers in town as they are now and cinema halls, those ugly buildings whose walls were always a collage of peeling paint and posters of Indian films, were not the kind of places kids like us wanted to, or even dared to, be seen at. Besides there were no mobile phones, Facebook and other forms of social media – mediums that encourage and proliferate the expression of thoughts and feelings. So, apart from parties, holiday lessons and church, we teenagers had few virtual or real spaces where we could mingle and socialize. We were indeed stifled, but it wasn’t by choice.

Our world has evolved and every Valentine’s Day provides a new opportunity to wear our affections on our sleeves. The chocolates, cakes and flowers; the expensive and not-so-expensive gifts; the hugs and kisses in public places; the romantic get-aways; the man who fell on his knees at a shopping mall, as he presented his female companion with an engagement ring – these are all testimonies that the language of love now roars.

As the proud owner of a fresh flower business in the early 2000’s, I was naturally sucked into this social and cultural evolution in Nigeria, and Lagos in particular. I was a willing participant in the dramas that played out on the turf, doing most deliveries myself, an assistant in tow. So, every year, unfazed by the crazy traffic snarls that always almost marred the day, my team and I would deliver bouquets of gorgeous, long-stem roses to individuals and organisations.

It was risky business. I got my supply locally, from people who bought from farms in Jos, Kenya and South Africa. Sometimes the flights came late; sometimes not at all. And, because I would already have received orders from clients, I would be rushing all over town looking for somebody, anybody at all, who’d sell roses to me. In spite of the madness, I loved every minute of it.

It’s been a long time now and I’m no longer in that line of business, but a few memories from those days remain with me. I remember delivering a bouquet of flowers to a female student of the University of Lagos Medical School, courtesy of a young man who was wooing her. Very early that morning we stood in front of her door with the bouquet. Speechless, she stared at us while her roommates squealed and cheered. It was a novelty at the time – this gifting of flowers by a Naija man.

For many years, the Commissary of the American Embassy Recreation Association ordered our flowers. The day I delivered my first order, the manager – a woman called Lilian – was standing in front of the shop as we drove in, beaming. Days later, she’d tell me, “You made a lot of people happy.” That made me happy too.

We sold roses to La Scala Restaurant at the Muson Centre, Onikan. We supplied single stems to advertising agencies who, in those days, used to organise valentine gigs for their clients. Every lady at the show would receive a stem wrapped in red ribbon. One year, we had a stand at Frenchies on Akin Adesola Street, Victoria Island. Another year, we were at Big Treat on Opebi Road. Men bought flowers for their wives and girlfriends. A woman I know bought a few stems for her husband. I thought that was odd but hey! everybody has their unique language for the season.

These days, if the celebration falls on a week day, pupils and students wear a touch of red to school. They come with gifts for friends. Church sermons focus on love, marriage and sex. Radio stations play love songs the whole day. Boutiques and shops make brisk sales in clothes, underwear, shoes, perfumes, Teddy bears and all manner of gifts. Restaurants, bars and clubs woo prospective customers with juicy offers. Singles-Only parties give hope to the unattached. Celebrities spend the day with orphans and the less privileged. Hotels and Tour companies advertise romantic get-aways for two.

Last year, I hung out with two of my female friends at a bar that was bursting at the seams with people. We sat in a corner of its dim, but plush, interiors, watching couples – young and old, married and un-married – come and go. It was election period so we talked politics, ate chips and chicken, had some drinks and took selfies.

And all the time, I kept thinking of how much we’ve made the acts associated with love more important than love itself; how, in spite of all the efforts people make to keep marriages alive, recent sociological studies still claim that many do not survive the first ten years.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A CLOSE BRUSH WITH DEATH

No, it wasn’t my own death but it may as well have been because it shook me up badly.

On the 28th of October, 2016, around 3.00 pm, I was in my office on the second floor of an office complex near the Uthako Modern Market in Abuja, when I started to hear shouting. It sounded jubilant – with a rise and fall to it – the sort of noise men make when their favourite football club is winning a match. I was curious but I was busy. Twenty minutes later and the noise hadn’t died down. I got apprehensive and decided to go downstairs and explore.

A mob was in action and I had never seen one before. Made up mostly of traders from the nearby market and other small businesses in the vicinity, they were booing, jeering and pushing a young lady around. Some were beating her and attempting to tear off her clothes. Their grouse? She was wearing a short dress that had the extra audacity of being slit at the sides. They decided to shame her and may have done worse if luck wasn’t on her side.

In front of me, a man paced up and down as he ran a commentary about girls of nowadays. Other people stood in small groups, gesticulating wildly, talking and analysing the situation, but offering no help, in that way that is typical of Nigerian spectators. “It’s good for her. Next time she won’t wear that rubbish again,” someone said. “All these ashawo girls,” another person concluded.

For about three minutes I looked around helplessly, then I saw two policemen standing in front of the Zenith Bank located opposite the market. They were watching the spectacle, unperturbed. I walked over to them and, with my voice lowered, pleaded with them to go after the girl. Without hesitating, as though they were waiting for an order, they went after the mob which had, by then, surged down the road with the hapless girl in their midst. I followed behind the policemen, trying to look un-obtrusive. Somehow, the girl broke free of her captors and ran into Royal Tropicana Hotel, two blocks away. By the time we got there, the security men at the hotel said she was safely inside. I turned back, close to tears.

On my way back, I ran into one of the cleaners at my office complex. She had witnessed everything and this is what she told me: she’d been waiting to make a withdrawal from the ATM machine in front of Zenith Bank when the scantily-dressed lady joined the queue. Apparently offended by her dressing, a man started to abuse her verbally and threatened to beat her up. Other people at the ATM intervened but the noise had already attracted more people. The girl tried to escape to safety but she was out- numbered. As the crowd bore her away, the cleaner ran after the crowd and threw her scarf over the young lady.

Back in my office, I was filled with a mixture of anger, fear and sadness. I couldn’t concentrate any longer. I remembered a video I’d seen on Facebook two days previously. It had caught my attention because some of the men in it were speaking my Owerri dialect. The video showed a woman being paraded by a mob. She was completely naked and there was blood on her face and breasts. She also had a black eye which she kept touching. Somebody was trying to put a tyre over her head but she kept pushing it away. They pushed her down on her back, spread her legs and some of them brought out their phones. I couldn’t watch any longer. I started to imagine, again, how Madam Bridget was stoned to death by a mob of Muslim fanatics in Kano. I remembered the Aluu 4. Even though I’d refused to watch the video of their murder, I had heard that people were watching and recording while it went on.

It’s a shame that cultural and religious sentiments influence people’s understanding and demands for justice. It is also hypocritical that people compartmentalize morality; that traders, who usually sell fake products to customers [among other sharp practices] would bristle with moral indignation at what they consider inappropriate dressing. It is important to note that in markets in most parts of Nigeria, Christians start to pray by 12.00 pm. Muslims are also known to observe prayers several times a day. I hate to think that those supposedly “righteous” traders, who made up the bulk of that mob, would have maimed or killed that young lady, washed the blood off their hands and gone back to their businesses, justified that they’d done the right thing. I have since wondered if their reactions would be the same if a man walks down that same street, dressed in only shorts. I doubt that, except for some sneering and snide remarks, anybody would challenge him.

I hate what many Nigerians have become. Even animals show an abhorrence for certain behaviour towards their own kind.

It is sad that these barbaric incidents recounted here are not isolated cases. It’s a very sad commentary on Nigeria – a reflection of a people’s frustration at the inefficiency and nonchalance of those employed to protect them. Government’s claims at Police reforms have not translated to a Police force that is maximally trained and equipped to protect lives and property, and preserve the rights and dignities of Nigerian citizens. Most of all, they have not translated to a Police force that is well remunerated. Therefore, what Nigerians have to contend with is a corruption-ridden, ill-equipped, grossly underpaid, in-disciplined force, policing an angry, disenchanted people who consider jungle justice swifter and surer than traditional routes.

While it is futile, and even foolhardy, for an un-armed person to attempt to argue with an angry mob, we can decide to, collectively, step up agitation for Police reforms.

#StopTheMobs

#NoToJungleJustice

#ReformThePolice

#Re-orientateThePolice

#StopPoliceNonchalance

#SaveOurLives

You don get alert?

Yesterday evening, I entered a keke in front of Uthako market, Abuja and, emblazoned in gold letters on the operator’s white, long-sleeve top were the words, ‘I DONE GET ALERT.’ Immediately, I whipped out my phone and took a photograph because one doesn’t see these funny sights everyday.

It was a five minute ride to my stop but I smiled all the way, not just because of the  words printed on the fabric, but because the said fabric was padded and quilted and had a rubbery look to it and all I could think about at that moment was space suits!

For a moment, I wondered if the young man was literate and knew the meaning of those words, but I needn’t have worried because when I got down and saw the same words printed across his chest, I pointed and smiled. He beamed back and I knew that he knew. Which Nigerian wouldn’t, anyway?

Thanks to our dear Korede Bello, his song with the same title got the whole country dancing a couple of years ago. These same words must be the wish and prayer of many in Nigeria today, what with the current economic situation.

As uncomfortable as it is, there’s nothing like public transportation to expose you to the sights and sounds of a town. But then, who would have thought that tricycles would become so popular in Nigeria? When they made their debut on our roads, we scoffed at them and said they were too unsafe and how could we be caught dead in them, seeing as they were used by the very poor in India and other third-world countries. But guess what? They have almost completely displaced the okadas, those arrogant menaces that rule our roads. [If you haven’t had an encounter with an okada man before, you won’t understand this part, so just waka pass!]

However, the difference between the keke drivers and their okada counterparts, is that kekes are hampered by technology and so, are unable to exhibit the kind of speed and dare-devilry that is the trade mark of their okada brothers. Instead, they just lumber along on those three tiny tyres, looking as though they’ll topple over the next moment. Like okada riders, Keke operators range from the young to the middle-aged, from the uncouth to the gentle and well behaved, from the illiterate to the educated. They tell you the craziest, most out-of-the-world stories and when they’re in a good mood, you can actually have the most illuminating conversations with them.

So, you don get alert today? Me, I never get o.

keke napep 2

THE UN-ENDING DEBATES ABOUT WRITING

Vivian Ogbonna's Blog

Writing is scary, even if fulfilling, and many writers – emerging and established – will attest to this. To further burden this apprehension with do’s and dont’s about how and what writing should be seems like such a waste of time and energy. Is it possible that every writer will perceive the world the same way? And write about it in the same way? And what way would be the best way, anyway? That we don’t find a book enjoyable should not, in any way, detract from its literary merits.  This is what Chukwudi Peter Eboka has to say.

“We need to put to rest this tired literary debate about writing style and theme that continuously plagues African literature. In the first place what exactly is African literature? As far as I am concerned there is only literature. On the one hand Noviolet writes a book and it is poverty…

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THE UN-ENDING DEBATES ABOUT WRITING

Writing is scary, even if fulfilling, and many writers – emerging and established – will attest to this. To further burden this apprehension with do’s and dont’s about how and what writing should be seems like such a waste of time and energy. Is it possible that every writer will perceive the world the same way? And write about it in the same way? And what way would be the best way, anyway? That we don’t find a book enjoyable should not, in any way, detract from its literary merits.  This is what Chukwudi Peter Eboka has to say.

“We need to put to rest this tired literary debate about writing style and theme that continuously plagues African literature. In the first place what exactly is African literature? As far as I am concerned there is only literature. On the one hand Noviolet writes a book and it is poverty porn, they roll out the drums and say our stories have too many mud huts and bicycles and mention Harmattan once too often, do something else and they gong about calling it eurocentric prose, western mimicry. Biko please what is it that you people want. A writer writes spare they say it is uninspiring, another writes purple and they say if your grandmother cannot understand you are being false. You italicize they scream and they shout, and yet i’m reading Annie Proulxs’ Barkskins and its native Indian is heavily italicized. Sometimes a strange word is just a strange word, an italic merely hinting at that. It doesn’t have to be a socio-political statement, the decision to italicize or not.

Why do we burden creatives, African creatives in particular with these singular ideas of what good writing is. Why do we set them in this jig with our oftentimes rather contradictory opinions? How about we just let writers write. I just read Boyi, Gloria Minages’ writivism story with its heavily italicized vernacular and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I read Coetzee who rarely engages these devices just as pleasurably. Are these not two African writers, or is Coetzee two time Booker winner not African because he is white? Have they both not given me great joy with their art?

I’ve read Pnin and Lolita, Nabokovs densely written books at least twice each, delirious every time from his artful wield of the language. This takes nothing away from Chimamanda or Khaled Hosseini with their lighter airier styles.

Every writer has a history, a pool of experiences and reading backgrounds that has forged their craft and set their voices. It is a disservice to our collective enjoyment to insist that one must write as the other. Or to tag one as authentically african and the other as not.

Good writing announces itself just as loudly as bad writing does. Its usually quite easy to tell the difference. This should be the only distinction allowed, though in itself is rather subjective.

You can’t read all the books already written, and written only in your lifetime if you had two lifetimes.

If you don’t like an authors voice, theme, or style, please go back to the bookstore and buy another book.”

Juliane Okot Bitek: 100 Days of hell’s anomie

Ikhide

History matters. There are many ways to commemorate, to memorialize communal horror. All over the world, memorials and museums stand sentry to history, to various times when the darkness within seemed to overwhelm humanity and throw up the unmentionable like the holocaust, Biafra, Bosnia, and now Rwanda. Yes, over twenty years ago, in 1994, beginning in April, within a span of 100 horrible, blood-drenched days, the Hutu took machetes and other crude implements of savagery and hatred and hacked down approximately one million Tutsis (and moderate Hutus). Those who are strangely not familiar with this sordid aspect of world history should read this primer by the BBC on the genocide. The thinker Wandia Njoya (@wmnjoya on Twitter) also has an incisive piece that situates the genocide in its proper context and assigns appropriate responsibility to all the players in this horror of horrors.

 History matters. There are many ways…

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