Friday 26 August 2011

Someone Took the Money

Someone took the money,
That was supposed to buy the tools ,
To build the schools,
That would stop our youths from becoming fools.

Someone took the money,
That was supposed to pave the roads
To bring the jobs,
That would sate the mobs.

Someone took the money,
That was supposed to light our streets,
And ease the load,
Of investors wishing to turn cash to gold.

Someone took the money,
That was supposed to train the men,
To stop the bombs,
And terrorist guns.

Someone took the money,
Because they were too shortsighted,
To read the sign:

Wednesday 17 August 2011

Meet Jason Njoku of Nollywood Love

A returnee doing big things. How on earth a company can turn over 500,000 dollars from adverts on youtube in 6months baffles me. He saw a gaping chasm in the Nollywood distribution market and he is plugging it and making millions of Naira from it. This guy gets c. 2 million hits a day on youtube. As someone who has sampled his work via Blackberry Babes 1 and 2, [yeah sue me] I must say, more power to his elbows.

Moving Back

The exodus has begun. One by one, friends have begun to trickle back to the motherland, foreign degree in one hand, green passport in the other, in their back pocket a British or American accent to be pulled out wherever and whenever needed. Some hold dual citizenships. Should things not work out as they planned, should their salaries not be in the millions by their third year at home, they will pack their bags and return to their second motherland. For many though, going back home is burning a bridge. They may have lived in England for four, five, maybe seven years but once they move back to Nigeria, it will be like they never set foot here. The embassies give no special treatment to those who have spent a sizable chunk of their lives abroad. You are either one of them or you're not.

I think one of the bigger shocks for people who have made the move is returning to their old haunts on 'holiday.' For years, Nigeria has been the Christmas, spring break or summer spot. Suddenly it is England that becomes the vacation destination. When the returnees come back to visit, everything is familiar to them. They know exactly what bus will get them from Woodgreen to Clapham Junction. Yet, they look at things that were once familiar with puzzlement. One recent returnee told me during her 'holiday', "Nobody has a life in England. They just go to work and come home. In Lagos, nobody goes home after work. I don't understand how you guys do it."

Like most people, I am sceptical of sweeping statements that begin with 'nobody.' However, you do find that many of the returnees come back with vast judegments like: In Nigeria, people are so impatient. In Lagos, everybody forms. All Nigerian men are cheats. They are too English or American or Austrian not to be shocked by their new lives in Nigeria. Yet, by the time they return on 'holiday', they are too Nigerian not to be shocked by the old lives they once led abroad. It seems the plight of the cosmopolitan is forever to be shocked.

There is a myth that goes round the Nigerian undergraduate circles over here. Legend has it that once you return to the motherland clutching at least a 2.2 degree, a top job in the financial sector, the oil and gas sector or the telecommunications sector will be waiting for you. If you are a girl, added to this is the fact that at least 5 men will want to marry you no matter your age or level of beauty. At least two of these men will propose when you step off the plane at Murtala Mohammed airport.

I was speaking to a friend of mine about the first part of this myth. He did his National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) in Lagos and there were a lot of returnees from America, London, Johannesburg, Accra. According to him, they came expecting the best jobs but many were disappointed, for two reasons. First of all, the market is saturated. There are only so many jobs to go around, no matter how many overseas graduates descend on V.I looking for a start up annual salary of at least 2 million. Secondly, in his opinion, the foreign trained graduates were not such great employees anyway. They were arrogant, they spoke funny and many of them had not gone to first rate universities abroad.Thus, in employer's eyes, their 2.1 from a low ranking university in England, was no more valuable than a 2.1 from the University of Ibadan. My friend saw many of those who had come from abroad in search of Eldorado, returning to where they came from, their dreams dissolved to dust.

However, I hear stories which make me wonder how much of a lie the myth is. I have another friend in England, who has just finished a Masters here. She is currently looking for work but only halfheartedly because she has two job offers waiting for her in Nigeria. The first is from a large bank, one of the so-called 'new-generation' banks. The second is from an oil company. These are the kind of jobs that people fast and pray just to get an interview for. To give you an idea of how prized such jobs are, about a year ago, when a multinational oil company advertised a job opening in a national newspaper, over 90, 000 people applied. 90,000. I can't even get my head round such a number. Even if only a tenth of those that applied were eligible, that still means that whoever got it, would have beaten 9,000 others to get that job. I don't even think my friend had an interview. I know for a fact that she has no background in finance yet she has a banking job waiting for her in Nigeria. Is she an exception? I don't think so. I've heard too many stories like hers. Is she the norm? I don't know.

No-one is quite certain what Nigeria will hold for us returnees when we get back. I've heard amazing success stories. I've seen people who could barely afford to load their Oyster cards, come back to England on 'holiday' with more money than they had in all their years here put together (and no they are not doing 419). I've seen others who go back and make it by Nigerian standards. They have a job that pays well enough for them to afford a car with air conditioning (my humble reckoning of success) but still they are not content. They see their fellow returnees buying houses in Lekki and flying first class and they crave that lifestyle, they feel entitled to it by reason of their foreign education. And of course, there are a few who go back and don't make anything of it at all. Again, they are by no means starving but they always feel that things would have been better if they have stayed in England. No matter if they moved back last year of twenty years ago, they will always mention in conversation, "When I lived in England..." Some will spend their lives, looking for ways both legal and illegal to make a second exodus.

As my friends return, I wish them well. I pray they come back on holiday with more than they have left with. I pray they will be safe. I pray they will be strong. May they go with optimism. May they never stop believing that things can change. May they never say like our parents did, "We are managing." The exodus has begun in my generation. The children are coming home.

Sunday 14 August 2011

Pentecostal 101: Speaking in Tongues

There is no surer sign that we pentecostals are crazy than the fact that we speak in tongues. Gibberish, madness, delusion, I've heard it all and been offended by none. After all, I can understand why one would feel a bit uncomfortable watching people making unintelligible sounds for hours on end. And the worst part is that most of the people speaking this 'language' don't even understand what they are saying. Odder and odder. Truth of the matter is even Christians are divided on the issue of tongue speaking. Some say its hokey pokey mumbo jumbo and others say, completely legitimate. As a casual bystander, if you're going to fall on any side of the argument, surely it would be with the sane Christians who only pray in languages that everyone else understands. Surely.

The first instance of speaking in tongues that the Bible records is in Acts. Jesus had died, been resurrected, ascended (a class for another day) and now his followers were hanging around, feeling a little lost. Before Jesus ascended he said, "Do not leave Jerusalem until the Father sends you the gift He promised, as I told you before. John baptised with water, but in a few days you will be baptised with the Holy Spirit." [Acts 1:4-5 (NLT) ] Now, no-one had ever been baptised with the Holy Spirit before this. It was a big deal and I'm assuming a scary deal. So while they are waiting for the gift, the disciples prepare for the Holy Spirit by meeting and praying in a language that they all understood: Aramaic. Then one fine day, the gift comes. 'Everyone present was filled with the Holy Spirit and began speaking in other languages, as the Holy Spirit gave them this ability." [Acts 2:4 (NLT)] Or speaking in 'other tongues' as the King James Version puts it, hence the phrase speaking in tongues was coined.

Now, let it be made clear that the languages they were speaking were not unintelligible to the other people around them. "At that time there were devout Jews from every nation living in Jerusalem. When they heard the loud noise, everyone came running, and they were bewildered to hear their own languages beings spoken by the believers. They were completely amazed. "How can this be?" the exclaimed. "These people are all from Galilee and yet we hear them speaking in our native languages!"[Acts 2:5-12 (NLT)]

The disciples didn't understand what they were saying but the foreigners around them could. So how come today when people say they are speaking in tongues, a lot of the time, no-one understands them, foreigner or not? Well, as I said, this was the first instance of people speaking in tongues. After this first time, Paul witnessed many instances and it seems that as more and more people spoke under the influence of the Spirit, increasingly no-one understood what they were saying . "For if you have the ability to speak in tongues, you will be talking only to God, since people won’t be able to understand you. You will be speaking by the power of the Spirit, but it will all be mysterious." [1 Corinthians 14:2 (NLT)]

So what is the point of speaking a language that nobody but God understands, not even you? Well for one, it builds up your spirit man. As Paul puts it, 'A person who speaks in tongues is strengthened personally.' [1 Corinthians 14:4 (NLT)] But still you don't understand what you're saying. How do you cope with that? Well, the more you speak in tongues, the more you begin to wonder why understanding was so important in the first place. For example, there is a very popular 2face Idibia song called Implication. The only word I have ever understood in that song is implication. The chorus goes, (according to a lyrics website)

Olele, olele

Ole jelapooloo lele!
Ole wua olewua, ole jelu bu lewua


I have absolutely no idea what these words mean yet when I hear them sung, immediately I think Nigeria, party, dance, 2face. I don't understand them but I know they mean something and that means something to me. I may not understand but it means somethings. It may sound like gibberish but it means something. Yet, it's important not to forget: "Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal." [1 Corinthians 13:1 (KJV)] Sometimes, we pentecostals can get hung up on this speaking in tongues things and begin thinking that if you don't do it, you're not a real Christian. The real test of a Christian is in how much they've grown in love. As Paul would have put it if he'd lived in our times, it's all about the love.

Saturday 13 August 2011


I've been to only one Nigerian wedding this year. It was a lovely, beautiful wedding but it seems the wedding planners in Lagos are overtaking everything we have over here. I remember when I was younger, Lagos weddings used to be church, canopy, jollof rice. Now the business is a much more lavish affair. There is the ceremony, the reception and of course jollof rice. Some things don't change.

This wedding that CNN featured had over 1,000 guests. 1,000! What is even the meaning of that? The gate crashers brought grate crashers and they brought their friends and family. Of course the extra guests were catered for. There is no shame like a Nigerian wedding running out of food kind of shame. I was very impressed with the wedding planner. She did an excellent job. I don't even know where I would start planning a party for 1,500 people. The bride was surprisingly calm, at least on camera. The make up was flawlessly done by a lady called Banke Meshida Lawal. Usually Nigerian wedding makeup can look like it was applied with a mop but this was sufficiently light.

I miss Eko. Anyways, enough of my talking. Enjoy the videos.

Kudos to Christian Purefoy for his amazing dobale. To think that after all the work Lord Lugard did, one day a British man would still press his face to the floor in front of a Yoruba chief.

Friday 12 August 2011

Teju Cole and Nostalgia

I heart this guy. His next work is non fiction, set in Eko, describing my city. He reads from it in this clip. It is such a powerful and evocative extract I want to get on a plane and return to my country. He has made me so homesick.

Me I like my country,
My country very good o,
Everything dey for my country,
So let us join hands and make Nigeria greater.

It was a song we used to sing when I was younger. Do you remember this one?

O eba, O eba,
When shall I see dodo
Ireti give us food o,
When I think of Egusi and Iyan,
I will never forget pomo.

And this one

There are seven rivers in Africa,
Nile, Niger, Senegal, Congo, Orange, Limpopo, Zambezi,
Azikiwe, Mohammed, Tafawa Balewa
White man don take the crown from us.

Anyways, here is the reading that sparked off all this nostalgia.

Wednesday 3 August 2011

Boarding School: Contraband Wars 2

In a previous post, I mentioned that my secondary school in Nigeria did not allow provisions or tuck, as such snacks are called over here. No sweets, no chocolate, no garri, no powdered milk, no Milo, no sugar, no groundnuts, no nothing. The only food we were allowed, was the food served in the dining hall and even that one, you had to hustle for. If you were unfortunate enough to have a greedy senior on your table, you might end up eating half your daily calorie allowance for months at a time.

Of course, we did our best to break this law. Indomie used to enter our dormitories via people's underwear. The house mistresses' soon wised up and pat searches were introduced. Fortunately for me, my mother was a board member and so she visited my school often. On those visits she would bring perishables that had to be stuffed down quickly in the backseat of our car. I spent many a break time, swallowing meat pies, jollof rice and chicken. One time and I do think only once, she brought provisions for us. Perhaps they were not even for us. They were probably in the boot of the car and my sister and I, starved children that we were, jumped on them. A few packs of biscuit, some Caprisonne, some crisps, nothing much but in boarding school terms, we had hammered.

We sneaked our provisions back into our dormitory by an open window. Now we had got them in, the hardest part was stopping ourselves from getting caught. I used to wait till midnight to eat those biscuits and even then, I would crunch them very quietly to myself. This is not to say I was selfish. My close friends knew about my stash, I even gave them a few crumbs but we were very discreet. Every morning I would take my laundry bag and attach it to my dormitory window that overlooked an empty room. Then I would push the laundry bag into the empty room so the only part of it you could see from my room was the coloured strings attaching the bag to my window grill.

I thought I was safe. We all thought we were safe, myself and the others that had stuffed their goodies in their pillows and under their beds and behind wardrobes. But ladies and gentlemen, we did not know we had a spy in our midst. Perhaps, she never fell into any friendship group that had a contraband distributor in its circle. Perhaps she did but was dissatisfied with the few crumbs that were given her. Whatever her motive, she began to expose our hideouts.

The first person the school authorities took out was Ebun. It happened one Monday afternoon. Ebun came back from school, dropped her books in her wardrobe and went to lie on her bed. She did not hear the reassuring crinkle that usually told her that her packets of crisps were safe. She sat up and felt her pillow. She pulled out the foam. The pillow case was empty.

"Who stole my grub?"
Everyone looked up, including the spy.
"Ehn, Ebun your crisps are not there? Check well. Maybe you moved it somewhere else." We all said. She checked her pillow. She checked under her duvet. She checked in her cupboard. Still, no crisps. Ebun cried and we consoled her. The school authorities had struck.
"Don't worry Ebun. I'll give you a crisp when I open my packet."
After we finished commiserating, some of us went to change our hiding places. I left my laundry bag where it was. No-one could possibly look there...without information.

The next victim was Sumbo. She had hidden her contraband behind her locker. Chioma was next, her sweets were in her pant bag. At first, we thought it was a thief. But no thief would be so daring as to strike again and again in such quick succession. Then one day, I came back to my dormitory and found my laundry bag, neatly laid out on my bed, empty. This was the last straw. Something had to be done. Our room prefect, worried she might be next, staged a witch-hunt. We all lined up next to our lockers and she searched each one. No-one had the missing food. Our dormitory was not plagued with a thief but with a spy.

"Whoever casted about our grub will come last in class."
No-one really had the stomach to pronounce a curse any grimmer than that. After all, warped though our values had become due to sugar deprivation, we were not deranged enough to think the loss of a few biscuits were worth a life.

That night, all over the room, the remaining snacks were brought out of their hiding places and consumed. It was better to finish a month's supply of contraband in one night than not to eat it at all. Of course, no-one could finish their stock by themselves so we all enjoyed. Including the spy. We never found out who she was.

Monday 1 August 2011


In one sense, no-one can be comfortable in my country. We are all at the mercy of N.E.P.A, fuel crises and long traffic jams.Yet, despite this some are still more comfortable than others. My friend I was discussing with, took the viewpoint that skilled labourers such as plumbers and electricians cannot be described as comfortable in the same way you would describe the person of the same job description in the U.K. Over here, a plumber might not drive the flashiest car but he can pay his rent or mortgage, buy food, clothe his children.

I took the opposite view. In Nigeria, a plumber can also pay his rent, buy food and clothe his children, obviously not in the same style as his Western counterpart. But then how many in Nigeria, even those we would term the middle-classes, can do that? My point was that one could not look from an upper-middle class vantage and say that an average plumber cannot be comfortable.

While I was in Lagos this summer, I was shocked by the amount people were spending on lunch. 7,000 Naira for glorified Indomie and chicken. 7,000 Naira?! Some people can buy school uniforms, household things, throw in some text books and transport money as well. Therefore, for one to say that a plumber is not comfortable because he earns x-times less than you, seemed patronising. After all, if a Nigerian billionaire called my father uncomfortable, I would take offense. That the billionaire uses ten million Naira to buy a watch does not mean my father cannot be comfortable on that amount. Just because one uses 1,000 Naira to eat Kelloggs does not mean the person soaking ogi is uncomfortable with their breakfast.

For the duration of the argument, the minimum requirements for being comfortable were ability to pay rent, provide food, clothe your children and send them to school, university if need be. I knew pepper traders who had succeeded in doing the above. To argue that skilled workers could not do the same didn't make sense. My friend countered that the effort expended by the average plumber to do the above was too great for the result. She knew a plumber who worked as a watchman in the night. She knew that if he could not go to work for two days, it could make the difference between his children eating dinner and going hungry to bed.

Of course, we weren't using statistics. The discussion was based on personal experience. Yet, this last point she made struck me. I have always thought that skilled labour is a large part of the future of Nigeria. I think that everyone should have the opportunity to go to university. However, there are millions of unemployed youth between the ages of 18 and 25. Some are graduates, many are not. The graduate market as it is is saturated. Until the current industries are developed and new ones come in, what are those millions supposed to do? In my eyes, learning a trade seems a better option than armed robbery, prostitution, area boyism.

Micro-finance, where small amounts are loaned to skilled workers to start up a business, seems like an idea that could work in Nigeria. Yet, here was my friend arguing that being a skilled worker was little guarantee that you could meet our basic criteria for being comfortable without working 20 hours a day. Even with such long hours, comfort was not guaranteed. I have read of graduates who have become hawkers because of the job market in Nigeria.

I don't know who won our argument. I need statistics to decide.
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