Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Telecoms: Nigeria lags behind..

Smaller African countries are leaping ahead of the Sleeping Giant when it comes to innovative telecoms developments. In Rwanda, Terracom has just implemented the first Passive Fibre Optical Network in Africa. Meanwhile, in Cameroon, Douala1.com has just launched a T-CDMA wireless broadband service, the first in Africa outside of South Africa. Meanwhile, the NCC in Nigeria still cannot solve the interconnect wahala between GSM operators and PTOs. Small is beautiful.


Sunday, February 26, 2006

At the Zoo

This morning, we drove to the zoo. Sister Yetunde and friend Ebun (up from Lagos for the weekend) wanted to see it. The Abuja Children's Park and Zoo sits in the lee of Aso Rock, the mighty sleeping elephant that guards Abuja.

We were the first to arrive, at 10:30 in the morning. A sticker at the entrance indicated there was a wifi hotspot in operation. I asked the women at the entrance if the wifi was working (every sinew of my being told me it would not be).
She said, "eh - you can bring your laptop and surf de net. It is working." I switched on the wifi on my pda, and lo and behold, I was connected. Blimey, things are changing.

We sat on some new concrete benches they have put up under the shade of a tree and admired a flock of wildebeest. I read bbc news online as one of them greeted us with an almighty honk that reverberated across the fields - a cross between a cow's moo and a rippling fart. I wondered why they would give the zoo free wireless internet - apart from oddbods with fancy phones like moi, there is nowhere to plug in your laptop, and scarcely enough shade even under a tree to see the screen. There must be a reason, but it escaped me to think of it. I hear there is wireless access now at Wuse market, which is even more of a mystery. Perhaps they are anticipating the market traders will all buy wifi-enabled tablets and start checking stock prices at lunch time..

We saw zebra in the distance, a tatty looking dromedary surrounded by goats, a bored cheetah in an enclosure far too small for its lithe musculature to sprint around and more everyday animals like horses, geese and ducks. A sign by the lake promised crocodiles as well as all manner of tropical birds, but all we could see was the flat blade of the water's surface, reflecting the foliage on the banks on the opposite side. The birdsong by the lake was lovely - a gentle operetta of sound - layers of love songs interlaced with one another in the air. The cafe by the lake was closed, and there were no boats, even though there is a jetty. If only the management could see the Serpentine in Hyde Park I thought to myself. Lovers would take a rowing boat out to a secluded corner of the lake, bookish types would come with the solitude of a book and sup endless espressos until its conclusion in the corner. Sunday papers (which would, in this imaginary scenario, be a joy to read) would be laboured over. What's that? Oops, I'm dreaming again.


Saturday, February 25, 2006

Devil's Advocate

finally comes out of the closet. Well, sort of. He now has his own blog. Feel free to visit his den of mischief. And leave lots of comments. Anonymously.


Severed head of bird, Usman Dam

Leaving the dam today, I saw this bird head on the middle of a rock. I was left wondering what force of nature had torn head from body in such a violent way.


On Ryszard Kapuscinski, The Shadow of the Sun

On Teju Cole’s recommendation, I am currently reading Kapuscinski’s The Shadow of the Sun – stories from his 40 years of journalism on Africa. The book begins with tales from the late 1950’s in Ghana on the cusp of Independence, then follows independence movements in Tanganyika, Zanzibar, Nigeria and elsewhere. The latter parts of the book delve into the Rwandan genocide, and troubles in Ethiopia and Eritrea. It’s interesting to note his analysis of what went wrong during Independence in various African countries: there was no deep structural or legal reform. A new African elite merely took over the mantle of power, occupied the former Government Residential Areas, carried on the plunder. This led in the mid to late 1960’s to simmering resentment against the new oppressors, coup after coup and finally long term military dictatorship as in the case of Nigeria.

Apart from his live-in-mid-scene reminiscences, what is remarkable about the book are his fresh and vivid descriptions of African daily life. My favourite is this portrayal of the African greeting ritual:

“The course and temperature of the first greeting are of utmost significance to the ultimate fate of a relationship, which is why people here set much store by the way they salute each other. It is essential to exhibit from the very beginning, from the very first second, enormous, primal joy and geniality. So, for starters, one extends one’s hand. But not in a formal manner, reticently, limply: just the opposite – a large, vigorous gesture, as if one’s intention were not so much to offer one’s hand as to tear the other’s off. If, however, the other manages to keep his hand, whole and in its proper place, it is because, understanding the ritual rules of the greeting, he has likewise executed the same broad, forceful gesture. Both of these extremities, bursting with tremendous energy, now meet halfway and, with a terrifying impact of collision, cancel out the two opposing forces. Simultaneously, as the hands are rushing toward each other, the two individuals share a prolonged cascade of loud laughter. It is meant to signify that each is happy to be meeting and warmly disposed to the other.

There ensues a long list of questions and answers, such as “How are you? Are you feeling well? How is your family? Are they all healthy? And your grandfather? And your grandmother? And your aunt? And your uncle? – and so forth and so on, for families here are large and with many branches. Custom dictates that each positive answer be offered with yet another torrent of loud and vigilant laughter, which in turn should elicit a similar or perhaps an even more Homeric cascade from the one posing the questions.

You often see two (or more) people standing in the street and dissolving with laughter. It does not mean that they are telling each other jokes. They are simply saying hello. And if the laughter dies down, then either the act of greeting has come to an end and they will now move on to the substance of the conversation, or, simply, the newly met have fallen silent to allow their tired vocal cords a moment’s respite.”


The best naija music video yet?

I caught a music video by a guy called Gino on Channel O yesterday, genre hip hop (what else?). The post-production was flawless - as good as it gets. The music was well produced as well - not the usual casio synth sound so many homegrown rap artists produce. There's hope..


Abujan serenities

In the end, nothing happened. The police and army came out in force, plain clothes security checked on the Imam's message, then nothing.. Abuja is not an easy city to riot in.

The big event in the afternoon was my servers arriving finally from Lagos, after an epic two day journey. The servers will be used for the IFEMIS project I am overseeing. I met up with the lorry on the outskirts of Abuja. We entered the city in convoy. The lorry was loaded up with servers so we travelled slowly. "A convoy carrying IT to the core of the Federal Govt" I was thinking. We passed by places so slowly I noticed things I hadnt before - like a lovely tropical garden bush bar called Little Havana in Wuse. It took till quite late into the evening to offload everything - the malaria giving me a bad headache.

Today, we trekked to Usman Dam and climbed one of the sculptured volcanic hills that overlook the reservoir. Later, I swam in the crystal pure water. It never fails to strike me as odd that more people don't visit the dam - its a little bit of Scotland/Switzerland right next to the capital.


Friday, February 24, 2006

Nigerian superstars

It struck me in my malarial haze this morning that it is a little odd that arguably the three most well-known and well-loved human exports from Nigeria in the twentieth century - Fela Kuti, Chinua Achebe and Wole Soyinka - are not part of the official culture in Nigeria. Fela seems to be buried deep inside the soul of many many Nigerians (as his music is with people around the world) - and yet there is no "Fela day", no street named after him (or is there?) no Fela museum where people can read about his life and times etc (perhaps the Kuti family should create one in Femi's shrine?). The same goes for Achebe and Soyinka. It seems to me that if this triumvirate were accepted into official culture (perhaps via special holidays, like Martin Luther King day in the States), it would do a lot to heal the growing rift between govt and the people.

Meanwhile, Abuja is tense today, with rumours circulating the city yesterday that there will be a riot today after lunchtime prayers. I hope the authorities are well prepared to clamp down - its the last thing Nigeria needs after such a turbulent week.. It's time to stay indoors and hope for the best.


Thursday, February 23, 2006


Bibi and I both have malaria, apparently. I'm not 100% convinced about the tests we took yesterday, but it feels like malaria - shakiness, head and stomach ache etc. This presents us with a dilemma: we both took a course of artemesin-based tablets last week, so should we take some more? The problem is that despite the good work of Dora at NAFDAC, Nigeria is still awash with fake anti-malaria drugs. My doctor reliably informs me that 80% of Cotecxin (the most effective treatment) in country is fake. Those making the fake drugs (mainly in China) are murderers - the diluted form of artemesin that comes over to Nigeria has begun to innoculate the virus against the drug! This means that artemesin-based drugs are rapidly losing their effectiveness. Many more will die, because of the cold callousness of those involved in the fake drug market.

Meanwhile, we're thinking of going the herbal route.. homemade agbo!


Your help please - my essay on the Agbada

Some readers of my blog have found my work-in-progress essay on the agbada. I would welcome any critical comments people might have. I need to do some more research in advance of delivering it at a conference later in the year. Click here to read.



We've not had running water for nearly three weeks. The people that came to drill our borehole a year ago pulled a fast one and didnt dig it deep enough (it happens a lot). You have to go at least 20 metres down to hit constant water, whereas our is about 5-10 metres. There was some rain last week, but not enough. Everyday I look at the sky for portents of precipitation, but the clouds remain impassive. The trouble is, once there's rain, the roof will start leaking again. Most houses in Abuja are jerry-built, and ours is no exception.

Meanwhile, the low-cost solar industry in Kenya grows apace - read this article on Timbuktu Chronicles. Why hasnt this happened in Nigeria yet? One thing that amazes me in Nigeria is that there is NO use of solar water heating. The houses of the rich and nearly rich always have electric-powered water heaters (most of the time, one for each bathroom). In a warm tropical climate this makes no sense at all. Why not have blackened radiator-like units on the roof linked in to the water supply? In the 30+ degrees environment of Abuja or Lagos this would provide constant hot water night and day.

Finally, all eyes should be watching the Ugandan elections. Is there going to be something resembling fair play, or has the pleasure of power secreted itself so deeply into Museveni's cranium that Besiege's supporters will not have a chance? There are obvious parallels with Nigeria - Uganda being up until recently a model African State thanks to its reform programme, then a returnee comes home, firing off dreams of eternal rule in the incumbent. We dont have the returnee bit (yet?), but we do have people dreaming of decades in power..


Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Callejón de Hamel in Havana

Flickering through flickr, I came across this image of the Hamel district in Havana, Cuba. It takes me back to when Bibi and I met up in Cuba in 1999 after 3 months absence (she coming from Jamaica where she was researching on Dancehall), me coming from the grey cold of London.

We met at the airport, and were driven in a 1950's chevvy with proudly upholstered bench seats. We wandered the city the day after and came across Hamel. There was a crowd gathered just near where this picture was taken, rhythms floating furiously on the air. Rumba was in full effect. I was mesmerised by the playful, erotic dancing. Moments later, the female dancer lured me into the circle. Perhaps two hundred cubanos roared me on. It was too late to back out. I gave her a rumbero imaginary kick and the crowd roared with approval. At that moment, the espirito de rumba entered my being..

Later, we get to know the dancer with the magical hips, Adeisy, and her dancing partner Jonny Nike. We also met the Hamel Babalawo, Omo Ogun (a huge cuban cigar permanently lodged in his mouth). After Bibi left, I found myself drinking moonshine rum with the local rumberos in an abandonned half-built house off of Crespo. The rumberos regard themselves as more Nigerian than Nigerians. Their music is full of incantations in Yoruba - even though they do not understand the language.

All this reminds me of the great project ahead: of mapping Yoruba culture as it permeated (and still permeates) the New World. Only last week I met someone from Trinidad who informs me that Yoruba (as Condomble) is becoming the unofficial religion of all Brazil (not just Bahians). Ah - there is so much work ahead!


VM in Nigeria..

Here is a flier for the Vagina Monologues event in Nigeria (sorry its so small, but I had to reduce the size - my upload speeds are snailish).


Interview full text

Here is the permanent link to the article. It is immediately below the posting with all the comments.


Monday, February 20, 2006

Album art

Originally uploaded by nobodaddy69.
CDs have been around for so many years now we have almost forgotten that buying music in the past was almost as much about the album art as it was about the music itself. The Golden Age of album art was surely the 1970s. King Sunny Ade's albums are collector's items in this regard.


flame tree pod

flame tree pod
Originally uploaded by nobodaddy69.
My fascination with Brachychiton acerifolius (the flame tree) continues. I snapped these two pods off a tree down our street on Sunday. When you shake them all the seeds rattle inside. Nature's maracas.


Sunday, February 19, 2006

African communications

This image (culled from Agodi News) shows how isolated Africa is in terms of subterranean/submarine communications links. Nigerians as with other Sub-Saharans have to rely on extortionately expensive, outmoded and unreliable VSAT equipment for internet access. Everyone here is hoping that the forthcoming NITEL sale will make the SAT-3 cable available much more widely (and competitively). Let's see.


Its 2006 abroad, but 1956 in Nigeria

In an interview published in today's This Day, a friend of Bibi's who is also a well known Nigerian is interviewed (she is helping to bring the play The Vagina Monologues to Nigeria). She is asked the question, "In the African culture, some men believe that wife battery is another way to make their wives submissive. Do you think the play can correct that?” She responds, "There are many ways that women can be submissive to their husbands but not by getting beaten...While there is a general belief that many of our cultures condone wife-beating, I doubt if there is any culture that condones the killing of a wife...There is nothing wrong for men to correct their wives but not through physical violence."

The general sense of her response as summarised above is therefore this: that women should be corrected by their husbands, but that killing women is going a little too far. Although the final sentence tries to clarify, the damage is already done in the sentence immediately before it in the quote above. The last part of the sentence, “I doubt if there is any culture that condones the killing of a wife,” although a non-sequitur, only serves to implicitly legitimate the first part, i.e. condoning wife-beating. But where is the evidence that battery of women is part of any specific African culture? What is the origin of the ‘general belief’ she alludes to? Might it not be the prevailing contemporary patriarchal prejudices, rather than any form of historical or socio-cultural precedent, that generates this attitude? She goes on to say a little later in the interview, “when I got married, I moved to Abuja where my husband is based. He said that now that I am his wife, I have to cook and do stuff like that.” Oh dear, we are back to the 1950’s, with the black and white television in the living room, Dad watching the cricket on a snowy screen, Mom doing the ironing by the kitchen door..

Anyone who attempts to highlight the widespread physical, psychological and sexual abuse of women in Nigeria by bringing Vagina Monologues here should be lauded and supported. However, it is important for public figures to be mindful of the power of words, especially when printed in the newspapers. For a woman to be anything less that completely unambiguous on their position on women’s rights within a relationship is extremely dangerous. To tacitly endorse the submission virus carried by the evangelical churches, a doctrine which leads many Nigerian women to suffer silently at the hands of their husbands, is to commit an unenviable act of complicity. Why should women have to submit to the man in the relationship? Is this supposed to be ‘traditional’ within, for example, Yoruba culture? Why not emphasise mutual submission (if the language of submission is to be used at all)?

In all this, one thought remains: that Nigerian women in the public realm are continuing to let down the society by betraying attitudes that should be locked behind a glass case in a museum somewhere.


Interview with Hafsat Abiola-Costello

“Vagina Monologue will address the wrong treatment of women…” Interview with Hafsat Abiola-Costello by Funke Olaode published in ThisDay feb 19 2006

What is the V-Monologues all about?

V-Day is a global movement to stop violence against women and girls and it is a vehicle that increases awareness of the fight to stop violence against women and girls, including rape, battery, incest, female genital mutilation and sexual slavery. So, V-Monologues is about men and women standing together to say no to violence against women. KIND has been fortunate to secure the right to perform this award winning play in Nigeria. It is the first time it would ever be performed in Nigeria and to ensure the success of the project, we have enlisted charismatic and renowned actresses like Mrs Joke Jacobs and others to work with us and make the project a success. The goal of V-Monologues is to raise awareness about the life that women all around the world are living. It is based on testimonials of about 200 women in all parts of the world and from all religious backgrounds. The play is based on interviews from these women about their memories and experiences of sexuality, and gives voice to women’s deepest fantasies and fears. It shares their experiences of violence in the form of female genital mutilation, domestic violence and things that happen in many of our cultures that are often not spoken about. I felt it was right and an appropriate time to do it. We still live in a strict, unforgiving society. So the goal is to bring these issues to the awareness of the public so that society can say this is not who we are as a people and we need to stop it. The Monologues will be shown in Abuja and Lagos in March.

FO:Considering the Nigerian mentality, how have you been able to break the sensitivity of people regarding the Monologues?

I think what we can say about the Nigerian mentality is reserved about things that are sexual. I was extremely close to my mum while I was growing up. You know my mum had nine children (with seven surviving) but I can remember one time that my mum talked to me about sex. Any issue that has to do with the vagina is not something we talk about openly in our culture. And because we don’t talk about it many abuses are able to occur in our society because young girls don’t know they are being violated. For instance, if they are too young, they don’t understand when they are raped. And even don’t understand when their uncles or any member of their family is touching them n the wrong way. We need to address this through the play.

FO: How you came about the V-Monologues

Well, it started in 1996. It is a play written by a renowned American playwright, Eve Ensler. They started performing it in the United States and right away, it had global appeal. Like I said earlier, it is based on testimonials of about 200 women from all parts of the world, including Africa. And very quickly, the play got translated into 35 different languages. It has been shown in 80 countries including South Africa, Kenya and some countries in the Middle East and North Africa. Another benefit of this play is that it is used to raise money to end violence against women. The money realised is used to provide shelter for battered women. We decided to bring it to Nigerian so that Nigerians also enjoy its benefits, to raise awareness in our society and to raise money. Because it is a stage play, we are going to sell tickets. Our goal is to be able to reach an audience of about 5000 people and that is going to be about 5000 tickets. Not only that, there is going to be varying costs to it. The proceeds from these events are going to be used to support anti-violence groups as well as provide shelter for battered women. Sometimes there are women who are facing violence in the family, women whose husbands beat to the extent that it is detrimental to their health. This shelter provides them protection until they can resolve whatever problems they have with their husbands.

In the African culture, some men believe that wife battery is another way to make their wives submissive. Do think the play can correct that?

There are many ways that women can be submissive to their husband but not by getting beaten. There is a publication that talks about violence against women. It shows how many women have been killed by their husbands and in some cases by their children. While there is a general belief that many of our cultures condone wife-beating, I doubt if there is any culture that condones the killing of a wife. Even from my religious understanding, a woman’s life is from God and you don’t have the right to take her life. But many men, all in the name of correcting their wives, end up causing them harm. There is nothing wrong for men to correct their wives but not through physical violence. This is wrong because women have a right to their own bodily integrity and any kind of violence to that bodily integrity is a violation of women’s right.

What is the link between KIND and V-Monologues?

KIND is an organisation which works to promote women and democracy in Africa. Our focus is really on young women because we found that young women and women generally in the Nigerian society go underground when they face any kind of violence. And when they face any kind of violence they become frightened. Because we want to empower women, we have to address some of the obstacles facing in the society. The major obstacle is violence and KIND has set out to address it. You know many NGOs hold rallies, lectures and so on which KIND does regularly. But we continue to look for instruments/vehicles that we can still use to pass the massage across more effectively. That is why we are bringing V-Monologues here. It is part of our culture in Nigeria to gather and listen to stories (tales by moonlight) in our villages. It is also part of our culture to gather and watch plays. It is interesting and beautiful when Africans are watching play. As the play is being performed, you can gauge their response with everyone singing, talking shouting at the same time. I realise that people get involved in plays and I felt that instead of organising a lecture where as many as half of the audience would fall asleep, it would be better to do something that is dynamic, engaging, interesting, and exciting. That is why we are bringing the play V-Monologues.

How did it strike you as a person, being a devout Moslem?

I thought it was wonderful topic being a devout Moslem. I am a student of Islam and in Islam, we are instructed to search for knowledge. Islam doesn’t say that you should block yourself from information. As a Moslem you should have access to information. And when you look at Islam, it means peace. Amnesty International just did a study of Lagos that was released. The report said two thirds of women in certain communities in Lagos experience violence within their family. Violence is the complete opposite of peace. So this kind of violence is against Islam. I believe as a Moslem, religious and spiritual person, we have to do something to ensure that our brothers and sisters are living in peace.

KIND was established after you mum’s death 10 years ago. Are the aims and objectives of setting up the organisation being achieved?

Well, 10 years is a good time to reflect and say how much KIND has done. I feel happy to say that KIND has achieved a lot in the last 10 years. We did a lot to immortalise my mother, Kudriat Abiola’s name; From the street-naming that we did in New York to efforts within Nigeria to promote young women’s leadership. This year, our leadership programme for young women is expanding because of the support from the European Union and COIDAID. CODIDAID is a Dutch foundation. The two of them are funding us to reach about 1,300 women over the next two years. We are really excited because it brings KIND programmes to a new level. And with this expansion, KIND as an NGO would be the largest trainer of young women in the country. It is wonderful and if my mum were alive, she would be happy to see us training young people in entrepreneurship, financial management, leadership skills, genital and women’s right.

You have the only visible face running KIND. What of your other siblings?

My mum gave birth to nine children but two died. And remember that the last two boys were 9 and 11 when she was killed in 1996. So they are in the university now. From the very beginning KIND was a decision that I took and my siblings supported it. June 2006 will make the 10th year anniversary of my mother. My two sisters will be coming down from the United States for all laid down programmes. Even in the past, I have always carried my brothers along in all the KIND activities we have had in Nigeria. Sometimes, my brothers would jokingly “Hafsat, is it a women-only event?” They would come with their wives and children. I have never carried KIND alone even though I may be its only visible face. Also KIND is an NGO and it is different from a family venture. It is an NGO established to honour a particular woman. I just happened to be the ED. Even if I am ED or not, I know that Kudriat Abiola’s children would always be 100% supportive of KIND activities because we the mother we had. My siblings would be behind anything that is done to honour her, to empower Nigerian women and ensure that the country remembers her.

Lets get personal. You got married to a British diplomat last year. Why did you prefer to marry a foreigner?

My husband just happens to be person I fell in love with. I never expected it. Nick and I were both shocked. You know I never thought in my mind that I would a European person. I was raised by my father who was very much a pan-Africanist. I never aspired to marry a white person. But there is something special about husband and that is why I married him.

How have you been coming with the difference in your background?

It’s been fascinating and because of socialisation, we women in Nigeria have certain ideas about rights in the family. We might even think that there are certain things that is our husband’s rights. But my husband doesn’t see it that way. In fact, my husband is more empowering about me than I am about myself. I remember when I was growing up, I was asthmatic and because of that, I was restricted doing certain home chores such as cooking, going to the market and so on. But when I got married, I move to Abuja where my husband is based. He said that now that I am his wife, I have to cook and do stuff like that (General laughter). I took money and went to the market with the cook. Initially, I was confused when I got to the market. But I still went around and bought the things needed. Though I was exhausted that first day, I realised that with understanding, one can work out a relationship that suits your husband and family.

How do you meet him and what was the attraction?

I met him Bristol when I went to make a presentation at the European Parliament. He was one of the diplomats from Nigeria. What attracted me to him is his gentleness.

What was the reaction of your family members and his, when you both decided to get married?

My family has been very supportive. They felt that in the absence of both our parents, they wouldn’t want to give Nick and I any wahala. So when I introduced him to the Adeyemis, my mum’s family, they were all very welcoming. And you know my mum’s older brother is a diplomat, so they had some rapport. My husband is the baby of his family and is much loved. And when he took me to his family I was taken as one of their own.

Any advice for the Nigerian women and Youth?

Nigeria is blessed with rich cultures. But I want Nigerian women to realise that our function as women is not only to transmit culture to children but to shape culture as a change agent. There are certain cultures that we need to preserve and there are other aspects of our culture that we need to reflect upon and ask if it is healthy for us as a people to still keep. If it is not healthy, then we need to change it. I feel that Nigeria’s youths need to engaged in the reengineering of the political scene. For instance, one of the things that traumatised me in Nigeria occurred last December 2005, when so many lives were lost including of children in that ill-fated plane crash. I wept because Nigeria could not afford to lose those people. And to see that those problems with Nigeria’s aviation industry are problems of the Nigerian political system. So I want young people to start thinking about how changes can be made.


Saturday, February 18, 2006

Chewing on the hand that feeds..

I've just finished reading Graceland - one of my favourite passages is when the King of the Beggars says this of the World Bank:
"Funds? What funds? Let me tell you, dere are no bigger tiefs dan dose World Bank people. Let me tell you how de World Bank helps us. Say dey offer us a ten-million dollar loan for creating potable and clean water supply to rural areas. If we accept, dis is how dey do us. First dey tell us dat we have to use de expertise of their consultants, so dey remove two million for salaries and expenses. Den dey tell us dat de consultants need equipment to work, like computer, jeeps or bulldozers, and for hotel and so on, so dey take another two million. Den dey say we cannot build new boreholes but must service existing one, so dey take another two million to buy spare parts. All dis money, six million of it, never leave de U.S. Den dey use two million for de project, but is not enough, so dey abandon it, and den army bosses take de remaining two million. Now we, you and I and all dese poor people, owe de World Bank ten million dollars for nothing. Dey are all tiefs and I despise dem - our people and de World Bank people!" the King ranted."

The question is, how much has changed since when the King of the Beggars made this fictional critique in the 1980s?

Graceland by the way is definitely worth reading - it shows just how far Lagos (and Nigeria) sank into the abyss during military rule, and therefore how deep the wounds that still need to heal. Although the change is not enough for anyone, Nigeria has come a long way since the dark days of the man with the Goggles and his predecessors.


Friday, February 17, 2006

Who's reading this blog and where they are..

This is a map of all the people reading my blog (click on the Site Meter link to get it). Interesting to know someone is reading this in Guam, and someone else in Nicaragua.


Thursday, February 16, 2006


I'm currently chomping through Chris Abani's Graceland, a vivid tale about a young chap called Elvis, set in Lagos late 1970's/early 1980's. Its a stark, tragicomic story and worth a try. However, I nearly put it down early on after reading this sentence,

"Lagos did have its fair share of rich people and their fancy neighbourhoods, though, and since arriving he had found that one-third of the city seemed transplanted from the rich suburbs of the west. There were beautiful brownstones set in well-landscaped yards, sprawling Spanish-style haciendas in brilliant white and ochre, elegant Frank Lloyd Wright-style buildings and cars that were new and foreign."

Quite how a young boy who comes from an Igbo village out East would know about Frank Lloyd Wright or Spanish-style haciendas I'm not sure. Perhaps its possible. A more egregious error however is the Brooklyn brownstone reference. Now I've been to many parts of Lagos, but I have never, ever, seen anything remotely resembling a brownstone. Haba, Mr Abani, is dat what dem call poetic licence?


Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Staying here

Funke asked me if I am going to stay in Nigeria. It's a difficult question to answer. But the opportunities combined with the speed the society is transforming make Ng an irresistible place to be right now. Give it a couple of years and the country will not be recognisable for people who have been away for a while. The negatives are well known: it is a high risk environment, there are security issues, the way people approach problems here can be infuriating (taking the line of most resistance). But the potential upsides are greater: a stabilised economy hitting double-digit growth (thanks to growth in the non-oil sector), increased globalisation merging with the strength and dynamism of the people leading to surprising results for business and culture alike. Consider this one fact alone: in 40 years, Ajaokuta Steel Mill did not produce one single bar of steel. Now, under the ownership of Mittal Steel, it looks set to produce 2.5 Million tons per year! A railway network for the whole country will be a consequence of this.

Although I adore London and other places in Europe, its far more interesting to live in places where the rate of social and economic transformation is much higher. Everyone talks about BRICs (Brazil, Russia, India and China). If things fall into place in Nigeria, there should soon be talk of BRINCs. To Nigerians thinking of moving back: this is the time to make your move.


Tuesday, February 14, 2006


something went wrong with my template and I've had to reset everything. Will be back up with all the links etc by tomorrow..


Flame tree sunset, Maitama Feb 2006

I love flame trees. In flowering season they turn a brilliant orange. During the dry season, their huge long pods dangle dolefully from the sky.


Lekki Expressway

Lekki Expressway
Originally uploaded by nobodaddy69.
The news that they are finally going to improve the Lekki Expressway is excellent news for the Westwards development of the city. But the planners are missing a trick: there is space in between the carriageways for a light railway/tram system. This would run alongside the cars as in various European cities and carry a lot of traffic off of the road. It would be easy to implement and relatively cheap. Lagos State are you listening?


Usman Dam, Abuja

Usman Dam, Abuja
Originally uploaded by nobodaddy69.
Took this pic a few weeks ago when Teju Cole was visiting. Usman Dam is just a few mins drive from Abuja. A beautiful unloved expanse of water.


Imagining the future...

Congratulations go to Access Bank for their fantastic new advert. It is easily the best tv ad I've seen in the 2 1/2 years I've lived here. The ad is a computer-based animation of passengers getting onto a high-speed bullet-train at Lagos. Electronic doors swish open like on the Jubilee line in London. The train whizzes to Abuja where smart people in suits and native alike get on and off, then onwards.

A simple idea, powerfully executed, doing much to energise one of the strongest up and coming banks. But more importantly, this ad shows how little Nigeria's future has been imagined. Everyone is caught up in the Goldfish bowl concerns of the present: to 3rd term or not to 3rd term, PDP or not to PDP etc etc. More than anything else (and I say it for the umpteenth time) what Nigeria needs now more than anything is people who relentlessly imagine and visualise the future and scenario-plan their way there. The brittle confidence that masks so much insecurity must give way to a collective storytelling of how we want the future to be here. Radical transformation begins with a convincing vision..


The death-knell of GSM...

Was sounded yesterday at the 3GSM World Congress in Barcelona yesterday. Nokia is the first major mobile phone manufacturer to announce a VOIP model. Whenever you find yourself within a wifi zone, the phone will switch to over-the-internet networking - a sort of Skype-on-the-go. With BT planning to give 7 UK cities complete wifi access, the need for GSM technology will surely wane. The same goes for 3G technology. Quite how the phone companies will make their money from now on is another question. The consumer response must surely be, "Who cares?"

With the news that Google is sponsoring a wireless MAN for Abuja (spotted by Gidi Blog), is it too much to imagine a city full of wifi phone users leapfrogging every other city on the planet?


Sunday, February 12, 2006

City People

One of the things those unfortunate not to live in Nigeria miss out on most is the pleasure of regular access to City People. This publication deserves to be studied and scrutinised in forensic detail, for all it reveals about contemporary Nigerian society. Although most people here would be too embarrassed to be seen with a copy under their arm, how many can refuse dipping in in the privacy of their own living room?


Saturday, February 11, 2006

Want to study at the University of Nigeria?

Click here to find out more.


Thursday, February 09, 2006

The new NCC building

The new NCC (Telecoms Regulator) building going up near the Nicon Hilton is easily the most interesting structure to be built yet in the capital. Built by Chinese company CCECC, it will certainly raise the architectural stakes in Abuja. Let's hope the work of the NCC going forwards matches the state of their new building..


More on avian flu

The Punch today informs us that an estimated 60,000 birds have died of the flu thus far. 35,000 of which were at Sambawa Farms, owned by the Minister of Sports, Alhaji Saidu Samaila Sambawa. The Federal Executive Council has approved the sum of N2billion as compensation to affected farms. Meanwhile, the price of chickens in Kano has dropped from N6-700 down to N300, as poultry farmers try to offload their stock before they are killed. The Minister of Sports, the paper continues, was not available for comment, being still in Egypt for the Africa Cup of Nations. Meanwhile, the Minister for Agriculture says, "There is no need for panic. There have been no human deaths. Infected birds pose no serious threat to human beings if well cooked." I beg to differ. From what I've read, the virus can be found both on the inside and on the outside of eggs and caught by handling raw chicken meat. If the disease has spread to Enugu as one of the comments to my last post suggests, there could be huge problems ahead.


Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Bird flu lands in Nigeria

The highly pathogenic H5N1 virus has been detected on a farm in Kaduna. Meanwhile, a virus amongst chickens has spread to Abuja and has made 40% of chicken farmers ill.


Conversation between Ulli Beier and Soyinka

Has this choice passage, which should serve as a message to anyone primed with evangelist intent:

Soyinka: ...That is why Yoruba religion has never waged a religious war, like the Jihad or the Crusades.
Beier: In fact they never make converts! It is the orisha himself who chooses his devotees ...
Soyinka: The person who needs to convert others is a creature of total insecurity.
Beier: There is this beautiful Yoruba proverb: "The effort one makes of forcing another to be like oneself, makes one an unpleasant person!"

Click here to read the full article.


Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Pele Eagles

The Super Eagles go out in the ACN semis yet again. I can't help thinking the superior height of the Ivorians had a part to play in the defeat - not just Drogba up front, but the huge defensive wall...

Meanwhile, my RSI is continuing, so I can hardly type. Time to read some more (currently reading Arthur & George by Julian Barnes).

Welcome to a new naija blogger. May your posts be fruitful!


Monday, February 06, 2006

RSI and oneiric meanderings

Repetitive Strain Injury (RSI) keeps me awake, with my right arm a tube of pain. I will have to be concise from now on. So I am doing Yoga to ease the inflammations, and reading John Berger still. I dream of living in a retreat centre on one of those mysterious igneous outcrops that rim Abuja, rising with the Sun like some kemitic worshipper three or four millenia ago. And I dream also of Latin America, and being there as the continent finds its feet (its neighbour to the north ebbing power like a heavyweight boxer on the cusp of retirement).

We went to our neighbour's christening at the Catholic Church yesterday. The sermon was on the book of Job and how to relate to the profundity of suffering. The service mixed Latin single-note monastic chants with lilting African melodious songs. One of the collections was for a local orphanage. Whatever misgivings one has about the Catholic church and its long and problematic history (the Inquisition, support for Hitler, anti-Semitism, stance on contraception etc), here in Nigeria, its focus is on good works and promoting an ethically based spiritual life. The same cannot be said for many of the evangelical fungi.


Saturday, February 04, 2006

Come on you Eagles

As the Nigerian goalie blocked the first penalty (during the game), I heard a barely repressed scream from the other side of the door. Augustina, our cleaner, had been secretly watching the match. There was no attempt in remonstrating - the whole of Nigeria stopped working to will the team on. What can stop in the way of Nigeria going all the way now? Go Eagles, Go Eagles...

I never used to like football in the UK. What's happening to me?


Friday, February 03, 2006

H2Oh Dear

It had to happen. It's getting hotter and hotter (average temperature must be around 40 degrees right now), we're months into the dry season and finally the borehole for the compound ran dry yesterday. So no running water for now, and the rainy season is at least another month away. With a huge reservoir (Usman Dam) nearby, its a mystery how some parts of Abuja dry up like this. Doubtless, someone chopped some money on a contract so the whole irrigation system doesnt work. We're reduced to buckets being fetched from wherever is the nearest source.

I cool myself by going swimming everyday. The pool I go to is quite long and serious looking, which puts off most paddle-only Nigerians. I power up and down like a madman doing my motorised breaststroke. I love the sensuosity of swimming: being immersed in blue, with tropical rays of light penetrating the water, creating an intense aquamarine play of light on the bottom of the pool: a 4-Dimensional Hockney space.


Thursday, February 02, 2006

Teju Cole

Teju Cole's travelogue is over, and we heave a collective sigh of loss. For a month, hundreds if not thousands poured over every word and parable of his recent trip home to Nigeria. The desire to give contemporary Lagos (and Nigeria) a voice is clearly insatiable. Too many stories remain untold, unrepresented, forgotten. There is a tacit collective recognition that Nigeria is at a turning point in its history right now - perhaps the most crucial point since Independence. There is a need criss-crossing the globe to hear whether the "giant" of Africa is going to wake up and transform the continent, or continue with its befuddled slumber.

Meanwhile, Iran starts to growl. The oil continues to run out (just as Bush concedes addiction). The planet continues to overheat.


On Berger

I'm reading John Berger at the moment - a short text entitled, "and our faces, my heart, brief as photos". The depth and fleshly poignancy of his prose and the process of his thought is extremely rare for an English man. The anglo-saxons, invaders, imperialists, marauders all, are usually weak at abstract thought, preferring the false safety of a world of facts and figures. Ask yourself this: when was there last a great British thinker? Bertrand Russell - 50 years ago? Is that all we can come up with? The English (and Anglo-Saxons elswhere across the Atlantic) are a nation of quizzers - in pubs, on telly etc. Abstract thought frightens them. Which is why it is so refreshing to read passages like this:

"The problem of time is like the darkness of the sky. Every event is inscribed in its own time. Events may cluster and their times overlap, but the time in common between events does not extend as law beyond the clustering.

A famine is a tragic cluster of events. To which the Great Plough is indifferent, existing as it does in another time."

Of course, Berger is an exceptional English man - a true European (he left the dark and dank island many years ago for a French life near the Swiss Alps).


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