Monday, October 10, 2005

Fulanis and football

Saturday was one of the most action-packed days since we moved to Nigeria two years ago. In the morning, we drove with friends to Katampe, a large mass of volcanic rock that is reputedly the geographical centre of Nigeria. It would be a lovely spot to climb and enjoy the tropical landscape, except that they put a radio station right at the top which ruins everything. I stood at the top surrounded by soldiers on some sort of duty, gazing into the distance and the beautiful ring of hills that surrounds the city, dreaming of building a retreat centre one day..

Our plan was to visit the Fulani village the other side of the hill – a clump of domes made of reeds that look like huge molehills from a distance. We heard the delighted screams of children from down below and could just make out a man on a horse riding through the village. It was Leo, the Greek chief diplomat for the European Union, on one of his weekend rides. We trekked down the steep hill through thick undergrowth, eventually reaching a field of three metre high maize. Emerging from the thick vegetation, we saw some Fulani women by a stream. It felt like a Livingston moment. We asked which way to the village and they pointed us down a rust red earth path.

The Fulani village is divided in two – a smaller compound which seems to be occupied by an old man and all his wives (each wife has a separate hut). Some of the women cradled small babies, indicating the old man had not finished taking his pleasure with his wives. I asked (with sign language) to two of the women if I could take some photos. They quickly fetched capes to cover themselves, and then stood in a pose.

After taking some more snaps, we moved on to the larger settlement. The place smelt of chicken shit. I entered one of the huts – two boys had just finished their prayers to Allah. The hut was at most 10 feet in diameter, with a rope bed and simple matting. To keep the rain out, plastic sheeting covered the walls underneath the dried reed exterior, held in place by a frame of bent reeds, a bit like a natural version of an igloo tent. The rest of the group had entered a larger hut which was full of wedding presents for a newly married couple – sets of cutlery and hundreds of plates. One of our party eyed up some decorated calabashes in a corner; another member from Senegal who speaks Fulfulde (the language of the Fulani) then began negotiating. It’s amazing to think the language of the Fulani extends all the way from Nigeria to Senegal.

It’s funny also to consider that just a couple of miles outside Abuja (which resembles Milton Keynes) there is a community whose way of life has not really changed that much for hundreds of years.

After scampering back up Katampe, I had just an hour to rest before heading off to the footie, seeing Nigeria take on Zimbabwe. Angola had to lose in another match against Rwanda for Nigeria to go through to the World Cup. Our party was made up of about ten people from the EU Delegation, including the Ambassador. We had to scramble underneath a fence by a stream to reach the National Stadium. Police were lifting the metal fence and taking bribes for access. It was odd to see the Ambassador crawling under the fence with hordes of young Nigerian boys. The walk up to the Stadium is a bit like the walk to Wembley; except there were no flags flying or any sense of a national occasion. A few police were arranged with belts and whips, ready to smack anyone who hinted at misbehaviour. Further on, at the turnstiles, a crowd of about 1000 or more people were pressed up against the fence, pushing to get in. No one it seemed had tickets, and as most of the police were taking bribes away from the ground, there was no one to ensure order. We started to queue but the crush was too intense; some women were screaming in pain. It was complete chaos.

I wonder whether Nigerians are ever taught to queue: I am often in situations where queuing systems break down into a scramble. At my local bank, there is always a crush around the tellers, with no sense of first come first serve. And so I inevitably intervene and try to order the person before me and the one after into some sense of ordered approach. I always leave wondering whether anyone in Nigeria ever received any kind of queuing discipline while at school.

The match itself was good, with several Nigerian players exhibiting class as the opposition was pummelled 5-1. We sat in a box behind the supporters club – a tribe of around 500 people all decked out, with drums and trumpets. But all the noise in the world could not help Angola from beating Rwanda and the Super Eagles missing out on the World Cup. We were told the Angolan coach had been given a bribe by some Nigerians; if so, it wasn’t enough.

Then in the evening we held a joint party with some friends which went on till late. The discussion veered with stale inevitability to yet another variant on the Hausa-Igbo-Yoruba issue which Nigerians never tire of discussing. To an outsider, it seems like vain navel-gazing and a complete avoidance of the real issue in Nigeria: a tiny super-elite stealing all the money at the expense of the masses who have nothing. It would be great if Nigerian conversations could at least be about West Africa, if not looking at International relations, but I fear that is too much to ask.


Chippla Vandu 11:07 pm  

Very nice post. I lived close to Katampe hill at one time but never knew there was a Fulani village nearby.

Sometimes I wonder why it is so clear to foreigners that the real problem in Nigeria is a tiny elite class stealing from an impoverished majority. Nigerians never seem to see it that way – to them the problem lies in their different religious ideologies or cultural/ethnic identities. These trivial issues continue to cloud the real problems on the ground.

afrofunkycool 12:32 pm  

Maybe it is because foreigners do not carry any colonial induced tribal baggage.

The crux of the matter now is that mismanagement of our resources and lack of vision have left the country in a state of mental moral and financial indiscipline.

Etiquette and manners are to be found in traditional society and not the modern. Intellectual pursuits are frowned upon .
Our so called role models are people of questionable wealth and character who blatantly invoke the name of God so much that I personally gave up on european and arab versions long ago. having grown up in lagos i find that up country in the local communities which have retained their character there is a nobility which is enviable and a source of strength.

it is ironic that in the face of all these when foreigners do come to nigeria most times they do not seem to meet intelligent,
respectable modern nigerians. is it that we do not exist or the outsider prefers the romantic classic version.

the flying monkeys 5:18 pm  

A dazzling Fulani village!

The challenge confronting us is so enormous and the current anti-corruption crusade would be a mere rhetoric as long as the so called impoverished majority continue to be ruled by selfish leaders who lack an inspiring vision, with ambitious but discontinuous (with breaks and irregularities) plans underpinned by a conflict of ideas and motives.

China is receiving a lot of press coverage these days for making examples of high-ranking officials who have engaged in corrupt practices. Other times, the crusades remain at the level of rhetoric and do not result in any significant changes.

For Nigeria, we owe a lot to future generations so they can look back upon with genuine pride in our heritage. Including the dazzling Fulani village at the bottom of Katampe hill who live with genuine pride in their heritage, half of all West Africans of different civilizations live across Nigeria as various tribes/communities.

What remains of our tribes need protecting jealously and, integrity and consistency should become a necessity in every aspect of life within these communities and above all in the process of cultivating and encouraging marvellous intellectual pursuit within.

This is what I see.

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