Saturday, 18 June 2011


Everyone is a big man in Lagos. Even those you look down on are big men in waiting so be careful how you speak to them. One day, you might be insulting them, the next, they are driving past you in their convoy and splashing rain water on your new clothes. That's how it is in Lagos. Here today, there the next. I love the social mobility of this place. I hate that the most popular way to show that you have arrived is with a siren convoy.

You see, a big man cannot wait in traffic like the rest of us. Even when the most pressing matter on his plate is to go home and cut his finger nails, he still cannot wait in traffic like the rest of us. Come on, can't you see how demeaning that is. A whole big man, sit in his air conditioned car and actually wait to get somewhere. No. Abomination. Switch on that siren now! And it's funny, the Nigerian psyche has been so brutalised by decades of military rule that no-one questions what right this big man has to turn on his siren and force a way through traffic. It's amazing. Once people hear the siren, almost as if by magic, a way begins to be made in the most gridlocked traffic. It is like watching a modern parting of the Red Sea.

Last week, I was sitting on third mainland bridge when one of these big men decided to switch on his siren. The driver taking us home is a rather strong headed individual and he refused to stop or clear to the side for them to pass. That is, until the armed guards in the big man's convoy got out of their vans and began to bang people's cars, telling them to stop and move to the side. Of course the driver stopped after that. Who wan die? As the convoy drove past, I saw the number plate of the main vehicle. It said ADMIRAL 1. If I had a stone on me, I would have hurled it at that car and probably been arrested for attempted murder, like the unfortunate hawker who threw a sachet of Pure Water at a governor's convoy. Thankfully, there was no stone and so I am not typing this from Kiri Kiri maximum security.

As the convoy passed, the driver said, "They didn't born us properly. That's why we must sit in traffic." It's true. We were the one's that were born with one head while they were born with two. That's why a big man cannot queue in this country anymore. For goodness sakes, where are the dividends of democracy, those thieving politicians are always talking about. You mean after a dozen years of having the vote, I still have to clear road because an Admiral is passing? Are we at war with anybody? Is he rushing to command a fleet? If not, he'd better sit in traffic like the rest of us.

The Governor of Lagos State, Babatunde Raji Fashola, is famously known for not using a siren when he moves about Lagos. As I have heard him say in an interview, "Sirens are for emergencies. Using one when I move around implies that we are constantly in a state of emergency in Lagos. Which we are not." Unfortunately, B.R.F is leading by example and we all know how famously bad Nigerian leaders are at following good examples. It's about time someone started legislating against this big man syndrome that expresses itself in the unnecessary use of sirens.

I know out of all the problems that face Nigeria, you may think that sirens are the most insignificant but I beg to differ. They are the most visible sign of the culture of impunity that exists among our big men and leaders. A culture that says I am not subject to the same laws as everybody. That's why they steal, that's why they kill, that's why they inflate contract prices. When sirens start getting silenced, other illegal practices may soon follow the same fate.

Sunday, 12 June 2011

Literature is Not Dead

The prevalent view is that literature is only for the rich in Nigeria. Poor people don't read. If they do, its by accident and its nothing intellectual. Thus when my Aunt, Mrs. Mobolaji Adenubi, invited me to a meeting of the Association of Nigerian Authors (A.N.A), I had a very clear picture of what the meeting would be like. It would be on the island, because as we all know, nothing posh happens on the mainland. There would be a few expatriates.The people at the venue might be simply dressed but there would be many fancy cars in the parking lot. Now I must confess that I've never been to a literary event in Nigeria before but from looking at pictures and reading the news coverage, the vibe I've gotten has been that these events have swung more towards the aje botas.

So I was pleasantly surprised to find that most of the people who attended yesterday's meeting did not belong to the privileged class. Even though it rained terrifically, many of the people present took public transport to make that meeting. You cannot understand the full import of this until you have been caught in Lagos rain. The only umbrella I had was my England one: a sturdy thing that has served me well over there but was no match for the Eko rainy season. I came in a car to the meeting and only had to walk about ten metres to the venue. Yet by the time I reached the entrance, the rain had made a mockery of my umbrella and beaten me well well. Now, imagine coming to such a venue in a danfo or even worse on an okada. Even after sitting under a roof for four hours, there was one lady who still left the venue with damp clothes.

The meeting started about an hour late but that was due to the rain. The roads flood in Nigeria during the rainy season and thus traffic increases exponentially. Again, it wasn't a full house because of the rains but those that came, came with their works, ready to read them. Even I, first timer, was offered a chance at reading to the gathering. There were about five poetry readings and one prose piece. After each, the members would critique and advise. The two poems that caused the most debate were about Africa. One member protested about the blanket use of the 'black' to describe Africans. Another countered that majority of the people in Africa were black and even those in North Africa had dark skin. One member found one poem too optimistic about the state of Africa. In his view, the writer was 'deceiving herself.'

Perhaps it was because he was a man or perhaps because the woman who wrote the poem was a shy, the other women in the group took up her cause and after some close text analysis, dragged the rest of the group to the conclusion that the poem was neither overly optimistic or pessimistic but a good balance. There was one man who read so passionately that he could not remain on his seat. He read his poem twice and each time, he started sitting and by the end he was standing, pacing and declaiming his work.

Even I got my own few minutes. Though I had nothing of my own to read, when my Aunt told Dagga Tolar the Chairman of the Lagos branch that I had a book coming out next year (D.V), he put me next to the guest speaker who had come all the way from Ibadan and did a sort of joint interview with both of us. At the end, a small library of books was brought out for members to peruse. Some of the books were from members who had self published and left a copy of the book with the organisation but quite a few were international works. I spotted a copy of Isabel Allende's House of Spirits. All in all, I enjoyed my first meeting of A.N.A. It has shown me that high culture is for everyone.

Wednesday, 8 June 2011

Why I'm Not Afraid of Flying Anymore

When I was younger, I loved flying. In fact, I loved the journey more than the destination. Neither London now could live up to the joys I experienced getting there. I am perhaps the only person I know, who loved the steamed mushiness of plane food, the dry air, the glamorous hostesses. Once, we got a surprise up grade to business class on the Belgian airline Sabena. It was perhaps one of the most beautiful memories of my childhood. Then, individual television screens had not reached economy, so to have a personal entertainment system, where you could rewind, pause, and fast forward at will, with a choice of over 50 films, with seats that reclined almost horizontally, with air hostesses offering you extra without you having to ask! It was the life.

As time progressed, flying began to lose its lustre for me. It must have been a gradual deglamorisation but looking back, the change seems stark. One flight, I was wishing England was more than a paltry six hours away, the next, I was counting down the seconds to landing. One flight, the air hostesses were the most sophisticated men and women who had ever been born, the next I was noticing varicose veins and the layers of make up that cracked in the dry air of the plane. Yet, the most pointed marker that my attitude towards flying had changed was that I began to take note of this thing called turbulence.

Thinking logically, there must have been turbulence when I flew as a child. It cannot be that the air has suddenly gotten rougher in the past six years or so. However, I have no recollection of any plane I entered before c 17 shuddering in the air. Then suddenly, one day, I was sitting in my seat, the plane gave a small heave to the left and my heart was beating at a frequency that was abnormal. Half an hour later, the plane dipped a little and again my heart was beating wildly. I was afraid. In a plane, one of my favourite places to be, I was afraid.

Why this sudden change? The truth is simple. I, Imachibundu Onuzo had discovered that I was going to die. You might say that it took me a rather long time to come to this conclusion so let me explain myself before your jump to derision. At about 5 or 6, I found out that everybody was going to die. This did not concern me to much. At about 10/11, I realised that my parents were going to die. Death had become a little more personal. The thought filled me with terror. I calculated how many years my parents could possibly live. I generously gave them I think 90 years but still that meant I would only be about 50 when they left. My mother came home one day to find me sitting on a bed, very still.

"What's the matter?" she asked.
"You're going to die," I said, bursting into tears.
"But I'm not ill," she said, perhaps a little alarmed.
"Not now. But you're going to die one day."
She started laughing. "Is that why you're crying? Everyone is going to die one day."

Everyone is going to die one day, the universal truth I had known since I was six but now at c. 11, it was hitting home that everyone included my parents, daddy, mummy. Then finally the penny dropped. Everyone included me. True, it took about six years for this final penny to drop. In the interim, I got pimples, lost some, made friends, lost some, made more, did my first weavon and then suddenly one day, I realised that I, Chibundu Onuzo was going to die. The thought terrified me and it made things that had hitherto been easy, very difficult. I was afraid of entering the tube because I was scared I would be in the same carriage as a terrorist and he would blow himself up and I would die. I was scared of passing between two buses because the driver of one might not see me and he would crush me and I would die. And of course, I was scared of flying because the pilot might fall asleep, the wind might break the plane, the plane engine might explode, so many things could go wrong, then the plane would crash and I would die.

I was a Christian when I was having these crippling fears and after they had eaten up all of my mental peace and quiet, I prayed. Very simply, I wanted to stop being afraid of death. God answered. Very simply I had to start believing in eternal life. Not in the half hearted, lip service, there's a heaven way, but in a very real, practical, heaven is where God is. If you believe the claims of Jesus and follow His teachings, then you have a taste of heaven inside you. When you die, you get the full experience. Shikenna.

Sometime c 18/19 years of age, I started believing this completely again. It's made life a lot easier. I can get on the tube without having palpitations. I can enter a plane. I can eat spicy food. The way I see it, when death comes, however it comes, my spirit will be unzipped from its body suit and fly back to God.

I went to Houston and Atlanta while I was in America. Now I am back in the motherland. More on that later.
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