Thursday, August 31, 2006

Memories of Liege..

Medieval city of staircases and prince-bishops, ghosts of tapestries past, and post-industrial anomie. A city with many names: Liege (French), Luttich (German), Liuk (Flemish/Dutch). The city breathes out smoke, and sucks in history. Sizeable Arab and Italian populations give the city a cosmopolitan air, but nowhere is there glamour. I fall in love with the jazz on its streets (especially in the Carré), late into the night watching musicians enter, kiss each other and unzip saxophones, while I sip biere Trappiste with new friends I only half understand. An Italian guy with fat fingers bangs out standards on an electric piano with effortless grace, while a guy I will know later as Mimi plays guitar with such fluidity I lose my breath. Miles was here just before he died (last year).

In the afternoons, prostitutes stand in patent leather pleasure gear on the cobblestones behind the cathedral or lurk in lurid green windows in a slightly rancid corner of my memory. My Corsican philosophy professor meets his belle after class, smoking Lucky Strikes, a Woody Allen movie transferred to the continent. I am reading Derrida in French, Paul Auster in English, and becoming European. A man runs amok in the square by the Cathedral, holding a meaningless placard. He disappears into the Cathedral shouting. Here, the Church is still a place from which people come and to which people go. A fellow philosophy student has fallen in love with Rilke (ten years later, so will I). She is anxious, nervous, radiating energy and insight. She wears tiny spectacles. I cannot remember her name. She runs up a huge flight of steps four times (up the Montagne de Bueren) to exhaust herself. I fall in with a group living in a medieval house: Flo the philosopher (an Ingrid Bergman lookalike), George the edgy Greek (with a passion for the ancient Greek alphabet), Olivier, Flo’s beau. We drink wine round the table and eat winter food. Trips to Bruges, to see off the lover-that-was on her way back to the UK; trysts in the octagonal tower on her return. The nuns walk gracefully across lawns, swans float tragically in the river.

Jean-Marc would visit; another nervy chap with flowing ginger hair and a bawdy poetic imagination and a red plastic gadget that rolls perfect cigarettes. He spends most of his time smoking and drinking. I go to stay with him for a night; he lives in the suburbs with his grandmother. Underneath his bon-viveur image, a sadness lurks, a lack of orientation in the world and a sense of decaying spirit. I get stoned out of my skull playing blues duets with Phillippe, in some poor suburb a bus away, kissing everyone (all his male friends) hello and goodbye. Walking to the Outremeuse across the river Рstreets oozing character and secret cultures РTchantches the puppet and masonic meetings. The delight of discovering Tous A Zanzibar Рa factory where every evening is a warehouse party of many-roomed dimensions, with a fabulous cooperative restaurant (complete with papier-mach̩ divers splashing through the watery ceiling), where artisans and the bourgeois meet to eat lovingly prepared food. I hear about Soyinka for the first time, spending afternoons watching rugby and playing Trivial Pursuit with Professor James Gibbs, the Kongi scholar.

And, the most visual memory of all: living high above the city at the top of Thiers de la Fontaine, walking 200 steps down and 200 steps up every day past Atget-esque images of continental buildings coated in gloom, I have my own private eyrie down onto the citadel. Far below, a neon Nissan sign blinks on, then off.

Liege, city of memories, of battles, of love now gone, of things finished and unfinished. A magical grimy space that holds regions of my memories, locked up until I walk its streets again.


A couple of think-pieces here

One on changing returnee experiences from this week's The Nation (including a mini-review of Ekow Eshun's Black Gold of the Sun towards the end).

Another on globalisation and tribalism.
The interesting point in this second article is the idea of an emergent new global elite that outdates former dichotomies between Western/non-Western culture, creating fierce forms of localist cultural/religious resistance in their wake..

Both worth printing out and reading.

Thanks Prof LG for the links.


Trufesta 2006 - next Tuesday to Friday in Lagos

Meanwhile, could it be that contemporary dance in Mothership Nigeria is just about to undergo a renaissance? Trufesta takes off next week at the National Theatre Lagos. All details are here. Frank from Big Brother Nigeria will be strutting his stuff. If you live in Lagos and would usually not dream of venturing to the National Theatre, now's the time to push outside your comfort zone... Its all FREE as well.


Badejo Arts

The Nigerian dance company I used to chair in my London days has a new website. African dance has suffered from dwindling support in the UK, for which the Arts Council is almost entirely to blame. Badejo Arts is one of the few remaining companies left. Peter needs to come back home.


Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Lagos back in the day..

This pic comes from the diary of A. Margaret Jefferies - thanks to Aderemi's notebook for the link. Its not just the images from the early 1950's that are quaint - its also an intriguing historical document on the English colonial mindset towards Nigeria. Its also funny - containing jems such as this: "Coming back to Ibadan we stopped en route to look at the reservoir at Ogbomosho. Two fishermen told us they had just seen a crocodile there, but though we spent some time looking for him he was as elusive as the Loch Ness Monster and wouldn't appear to us. The fishermen, plus one wife, travelled back to Ibadan in our car. On the way we passed a man driving 4 ostriches along the road."



I've now also developed a very mild case of envy for Akin's views over old Amsterdam. I wonder Akin - do you have a lovely Dutch bicycle too? My all-time favourite design object is the classic sit-up-and-beg Dutch bicycle - the lovely curving frame and the way it makes the rider sit up straight and float around like a swan. Hmmmm - to live in Amsterdam, surrounded by bicycles and the ghost of Descartes..

Meanwhile, back in Abuja, yet another okada driver drove into a car I was in (3rd time this has happened). We were turning right into the Finance Ministry where I work when BAM! A Nanfang bike went flying past us on the right as did its rider, decapitating our wing mirror in the process. He ended up bruising his legs quite badly but could easily have died if his head had hit something hard. He hadn't noticed we were indicating and was hoping to overtake us on the right. The gate keepers wanted to know if we were going to demand compensation for the mirror. It shocked me to think that anyone would ask an injured poor okada driver to cough up (we taped it back on). Okada driving provides an employment opportunity, but the work needs to be more formalised: they must be forced to wear a helmet on pain of penalty (most don't) and to take a rigorous driving test. In Lagos I've seen several dead okada (one that rode straight into an upturned car on the Marina flyover). Instead, State governors chunter futilely on about banning them every six months or so.

A striking piece of theatre which I wish I could find a way of filming are some of the traffic conductors at some of the major junctions in town. While some do their job with a tired lackadaisical air (I'd be the same with such a monotonous monoxidous job), there are others who seem to think they're on stage with a heavy spotlight beaming down on them. The dramatic ways in which they make their gestures, taking full advantage of the opportunities for digital flourishes afforded by wearing pristine white gloves is quite something to behold. Definitely there are some frustrated actors out there on Abuja's roads who could show RMD a thing or two.. They seem to be consumed with passion for the moment - playing the role to its utmost by condensing their identity into it. It reminds me of Sartre's comments on the Rive Gauche waiter he observes (probably while smoking a Gitanes) in L'Etre et le Neant as he pranced around full of self-importance- how we often try to construct an authentic identity out of inauthentic role-playing. I remember doing exactly the same thing washing industrial-size kitchenware for weeks on end in Israel... Maybe I'll try and sneak at least a photograph one of these days.


Monday, August 28, 2006


We took a tour round a new friend's new place on the weekend. He lives high on the hill in Maitama, in a US40,000 per year apartment, with shared pool and a large balcony with a majestic view of the city. Hmmmmm.

As one of the deadly sins, I try to avoid envy at all times but just this once, I failed. Returning to our leaky jerry-built box down the hill later, I felt a mild sense of irritation. I like the proverb 'the rich buy death' and firmly believe that wealth surprisingly often tends to reduce, not increase, one's chances of happiness. There's always someone better off and with a better stuff around them than you - so if you take a step in that direction, you can all too easily get caught on a guinea-pig wheel, chasing rainbows. That said, who wouldnt want to live in a room with a view?


Accra Junk house

An article on Sammy Ansah featured on the Beeb's website last Friday. Sammy builds beauty out of junk in Accra - it should be replicated here.


Sunday, August 27, 2006

Feedback and discord

I have a theory that specific aesthetic conditions that are present within a society can indicate deeper social structures and the metaphysical principles that motivate these structures. In other words, the way in which certain forms of expressions appear or are reveals aspects of the mechanics of society itself. This is a difficult point, but perhaps two examples drawn from my experience here can flesh this idea out:

1. Feedback. We live in age of affordable highly proficient sound recording and production technology. Certainly, television studios and film production companies are fully able to afford the various components of the technology. The question that is begged is why is there still frequent feedback on television and for instance in nollywood films? (By feedback I mean when the sound levels peaks and starts to distort into a fuzz of noise). Is it a) production facilities are cash-starved, and even the basic equipment is not available? b) there isn't the technical know-how of equipment or production/post-production to flatten any possible feedback? c) There is no perception that there is anything wrong with feedback, and therefore a) and b) do not apply?

I toss and turn to decide which of these three responses applies, whenever I listen to an NTA news report rendered inaudible by feedback, or when some hammy actor in a nollywood flick starts shouting and the volume peaks into noise. Given that HD digital cameras are increasingly used here as elsewhere in the world, it may be the case that while a and b are factors, my suspicion is that c plays the domineering role. Feedback and excessive noise is not regarded as problematic here, whereas elsewhere it is. It is therefore only casually addressed. The point this aesthetic phenomenon reveals is that Nigerian society is a noisy society. I don't simply mean that people are loud on film, when using the phone etc. Rather, it is that excessive volume is part of the way in which life is lived and things are done. That volume expresses itself as feedback - where any significant content is transformed momentarily into the pure expression of white noise - is a spiritual value that structures the society. It indicates that sonic violence, as a mode of expression, is embraced within the rules of acceptable communication. There are similarities and differences with other cultures and societies here. Perhaps the main difference with western patterns (in Northern Europe) is that feedback and excessive volume is parcelled into compartments - youth culture, the demonstration etc - and expelled from many forms of collective gathering (the hushed office, the silent tube in the rush hour). One could say that noise is part of a restricted economy of sound in Northern Europe, whereas it forms part of a general economy here.

As has been observed, climate may play a role in all this. Warm places, where life has traditionally been lived outdoors tend to be more accepting of volume than cooler climes, where life has traditionally been lived indoors (has anyone ever accused Italians of being a quiet bunch?) That said, I'd like to argue for something specific about feedback levels in Nigerian social circumstances. Nigeria is a noisier society than for instance Ghana. Perhaps the highly complex political and ethnic backdrop plays a role in raising volume levels in this case.

2. Discord. One thing I've noticed in my time here that continues to puzzle - but first, a prefatory remark: I play jazz guitar, and have a reasonably advanced understanding of music theory after many years of classes and jam sessions. Just as spelling mistakes leap out at me without consciously looking for them after many years of professional writing/copywriting, so too, I find an out of tune instrument an offence to the ear.

What therefore puzzles is me is why every guitar I've heard played live in Nigeria has been out of tune. Again, a set of explanations arises. Is it a) guitarists here aren't trained on how to tune a guitar (matching against a piano, using harmonics, using a tuning fork/guitar tuner)? or is it b) They know how to tune a guitar but can't be bothered if the strings are just a little out? or c)(and a direct parallel with the c) of the feedback example) - there is no perception that a slightly out-of-tune guitar presents an issue?

Again, I am tempted towards c - for various reasons. First, all the out-of-tune guitars are not completely out of tune - they are just slightly (often a few microtones) out. This creates an unusual but not unattractive sound - a little like the first time one hears Thelonious Monk playing at the edge of the scale with flattened or sharpened thirteenths. It seems to me in fact that there is a stronger version of c at work - that the slight dissonance of an untuned guitar has a certain aesthetic quality to it. Untuned, the guitar creates microtones in the context of an ensemble which sound to me a bit like certain Saharan sounds. (As a caveat, I have to say that perhaps the two most famous Nigerian musicians in recent times who use guitarists - Fela and King Sunny Ade - do not use the technique).

Again, I suspect that the appreciation and culture of a slight dissonance within various music forms here - a dissonance that has parallels in other music forms such as flamenco or arabic forms - speaks of a larger social dynamic - that of an appreciation for the role of dissonance and discord within society itself. In general, forms of social harmony require disruptive elements as aspects of internal critique. It seems that this principle has long been maintained within various aesthetic traditions in Nigeria and relates back again to more fundamental spiritual values. One need only mention eshu-elegba, the orisha of disruption and communication within the Yoruba pantheon, as a case in point.

I'm sure some readers will find the above slightly self-indulgent pontification. All I would say in anticipation of this is that all societies are highly complex and multi-layered. Sometimes, analysing aspects of the aesthetic surface (the way people communicate, the forms of music and discourse they appreciate) can reveal aspects of the larger whole. Nigeria is a noisy and dissonant society. I think we see this in the joy of feedback and the appreciation of the discord created by an out-of-tune guitar.


Abuja bush bars

After over 2 years in Abuja, we had out first bush bar experience last night. Abuja is almost famed for these off-road shacks that come into their own at night time. I'm not sure how many there are in the city, but its the equivalent of the London pub - there's one on every road, or so it seems. Its quite an interesting space to study - most of the time they are hidden from the road in the shade of trees - you only know they are there from the cars parked on the kerb nearby in the evenings.

The one we went to (just down from Dunes), you walk down a tree lined path by a furiously gurgling small river and come upon tables and a bar and the fish grill after about a 50 metres walk down a narrow path. Phenomenologically, when you walk down a tree-line path, the body is given a sense of expectation of the scene of arrival - in this case, the expectation was not quite met. The tables were dirty and the fish (which everyone else except Bibi and I tucked into) took about an hour and a half to arrive. I kept thinking if I owned the joint how much lovelier it would be - I'd level the floor and cover it somehow (it is just uneven bare earth), add lanterns to hang from the trees (perhaps chinesey to create a rosy romantic vibe), get a decent sound system to pulse out some smooth Lagbaja in the background and generally tone up the experience.

As it is and from what I've seen, the fish/bush bar experience is a little underwhelming. I guess the shade makes it a good place to discuss that all important contractor kick-back outside of the bright day of watching eyes, or to take the mistress to profit from the discreetly tenebrous cover.. But maybe sans-tilapia, you cannot but miss the point of Abuja bush bars..


Saturday, August 26, 2006

The perversity of the African broom

A sight which never fails to shock me, driving round Abuja, is that of countless women bent over sweeping the city's roads. Picture this if you will: a woman bent double, hundreds of metres of highway before and ahead of her, sweeping dust onwards and onwards. Sisyphus incarnate. I'm sure almost everyone driving by her at speed (inches away from destroying her being) does not even spare a thought for the torture of this kind of labour, and its sheer needlessness.

The FCT administration could easily replace the intolerable cruelty of this prison-labour work with roadsweeping machines, which would do the job much more effectively and quickly. As for the employment opportunity lost - well there are enough filthy and badly maintained buildings in Abuja to keep all these women busy. But the issue isn't simply one of wrongful employment and the avoidance of using modern urban maintenance infrastructure and equipment; it is the fact that these women are forced to use the African broom - that two foot long switch of reeds that requires one's back to be parallel with the earth. The stress on the body of using this form of broom must be immense over time, leading to postural and back problems. Why a full length broom could at least be used, allowing a more vertical posture while sweeping, I cannot imagine - unless it is a combination of thoughtlessness, patriarchal control ("the sweeping woman must be bent double") and an unquestioned application of tradition.

Development, if it is to mean anything other than westerners living in secure compounds in African cities driving round in SUV's with big antenna sticking out the back and diplomatic plates, must come from the inside, and must surely begin with a question asked after tradition in the context of contemporary practice. The African broom is a cruel, outdated technology, especially when applied to keeping a city clean. Men and women alike should not support poor women being forced to slowly break their backs sweeping long empty roads..


Friday, August 25, 2006

Je deteste MTN

I hate MTN they're fucking crap. I hate MTN they're fucking crap. I hate MTN they're fucking crap. I hate MTN they're fucking crap. I hate MTN they're fucking crap. I hate MTN they're fucking crap. I hate MTN they're fucking crap. I hate MTN they're fucking crap. I hate MTN they're fucking crap. I hate MTN they're fucking crap. I hate MTN they're fucking crap. I hate MTN they're fucking crap. I hate MTN they're fucking crap. I hate MTN they're fucking crap. I hate MTN they're fucking crap. I hate MTN they're fucking crap. I hate MTN they're fucking crap. I hate MTN they're fucking crap. I hate MTN they're fucking crap. I hate MTN they're fucking crap. I hate MTN they're fucking crap. I hate MTN they're fucking crap....

Now I've got that Jack Nicholson moment off of my chest I can tell you why: they are a rent-seeking non-innovative non-customer friendly bunch of jokers. They can't even design a scratch card that doesn't snarl up so you lose the numbers (and get your finger nails dirty in the process); they have yet to implement a user-friendly GPRS service (you have to enter all kinds of bullshit codes into your phone to get the fucker to work) - let alone 3G. Their adverts are inane and thoughtless. And to upgrade to post-paid, you have to give them a photocopy of your passport. They are an utterly utterly useless company - in Nigeria at least.

Why are they this bad? I think its because when they started they were milking the market like oil barons - charging thousands of naira for sim cards, hiring repat Nigerians and paying them bucketloads and sticking them in expensive VI accommodation. So its a bit like asking the fat spoilt child to do well at athletics at his new school - its going to end in tears..


A dream..

Last night in dreamtime - I slept in an uncovered eyrie in some city. My big white fluffy cat from childhood Lucy (or a cat resembling her) came up to join me, and settled herself down on my chest and started purring and pawing and claw-needling. Then, Murakami-style, she started to speak, I can't remember what about. Meanwhile, someone had fallen from a roof nearby; there was an atmosphere of tragedy, as the big cat lay languorously.. what can it all mean?


Thursday, August 24, 2006

Abuja technology village

Had a chat with some of the people behind the revamped Abuja Technology Village project today. They have some interesting plans for a mixed use development (including residential) just close to the gates to the city (near the National Stadium). My first thought for reference sites was Dubai Internet City. Fortunately, they were well aware of this and are indeed using it as a benchmark. If they can create something similar in Abuja, it would utterly transform the prospects of the city..


The cruelties of youth..

"Imagine being given a matchbox and being asked to cut grass to the exact dimensions of the box, and not with a razor blade, but with our huge machetes.." Nkem (African Shirts) tells a human-lawnmower story from his boarding-school days. Read here.


Wednesday, August 23, 2006

The African Market And Showcase Summer Event

The African Market and Showcase in conjuction with WWT London Wetland Centre on the riverside in Barnes will be transformed on Friday 25 August for a Tropical Summer African evening. Sisi Oge will be co-ordinating the fashion show at this uniques event.

Guests will experience an evening of food, wine, music and African market stalls in the grounds of the 105 acre reserve.

The evening begins with a delicious three course meal which includes African specialises such as Bobotie, Boerewors and Efo Soup, as well as delicious seafood and salads.

There will be a barbeque and spit roast and vegetarian options will be available.
Food will be accompanied by African themed entertainment/Fashion show, which includes dancing. Guests can also buy traditional crafts from African showcase market stalls.

Tee Jay, Catering Manager at the WWT London Wetland Centre said: "This promises to be an amazing evening. I am particularly looking forward to it since I spent much of my childhood in Africa and can't wait to introduce people to the variety of food which the continent has to offer"!!!.....The London Wetland Centre provides a beautiful setting for this.

Guided Tours
During the day visitors to the WWT London Wetland Centre can take guided tours around the reserve, which includes visiting and learning about the centre's African birds.

Tickets to Tropical Summer Africa include a three course meal, a glass of wine and entry to the reserve.

Date : Friday 25 of August
Tickets cost £19.95 per person
The evening starts at 7.30pm.
To book tickets to Tropical Summer or to find out more please phone 020 8409 4400 and about the market phone 02089032631.

You can book with your credit or debit card.
The Event Will Be featured on BEN TV.


Tuesday, August 22, 2006

My favourite smoothie

Here's a lovely smoothie recipe - good for using up very ripe bananas. You can use soya milk or cow's milk (being vegan, I use the former):

To make for two people.

stick the following in a blender, then whizz away:

Two cups of milk
Some ice cubes
Two desert spoons of tahini
One or Two desert spoons of maple syrup
Three ripe bananas
Some cinnamon.

Go on, try it. Its lovely and packed full of vitamin c (thanks to the tahini).


creepy crawlies

I went into our bedroom at midday, only to be surprised by a scrabbling noise somewhere near our corner shrine. Behold, a lizard! I'm used to the small, almost-translucent house-lizards, but the larger more colourful ones that spend their life clinging to walls live and direct in the bedroom is another matter. Like the mama surprised by Jerry, I jumped onto the bed and called for Margaret, our cleaner. The lizard sought protection from my screams by jumping into my cupboard and nestling amongst the shoes. Margaret came with dustpan and brush and dispatched (without injury or death). Quite how the thing got into our bedroom I know not.

After nearly three years, I'm still always shocked by the sheer size of cockroaches - although I'm no longer too scared to chase and smash one over the head with a brush. Fear of the scale of African insects and lizardry is something I don't think I'll ever get used.


Lagos Rail Master Plan

Lagos Metropolitan Area Transport Authority (LAMATA) has developed a rail masterplan, which would create seven additional rail lines for the city of Lagos in order to meet the challenges in the projected rise in the population of Lagos to about 25 million by 2015. Its good to see the authorities thinking 25 years ahead - lets see if they can implement. More.


Come to Arochukwu - home of slavery!

The Nigerian Tourist Development Commission's website has a page on an hypothetical slave tour for Nigeria. They write that "Arochukwu has a distinguished reputation as a source for the supply of slaves." I wonder if the good people of this town would like to be considered in this way. I'm not sure its quite something to be that proud of.

But perhaps I'm being too simplistic in my understanding of this statement. Perhaps this phrase is actually a solemn acknowledgement of the reality of internal slavery and how various Nigerian ethnic groups/communities sold slaves to the colonialists. In which case, they are encouraging oyinbos and Nigerians alike to visit the town and acknowledge Arochukwu as one of the epi-centres of slavery (an epi-centre that still sold slaves long after Abolition - prompting an invasion by the British in the early twentieth century). I can imagine the NTDC sponsoring a colourful new signboard to be positioned on all the major roads into the town, "Welcome to Arochukwu, home of slavery" with perhaps a local painter mocking up an image of some poor sod smiling through a spiky iron neck-brace.

More seriously, more should be done on remembering historical sites/sights of slavery in Nigeria, as much for pedagogical reasons as for tourism. How much about slavery is taught in schools here? How much is known about which groups were involved on which side (the buying/selling, the being bought/sold)? The osu tradition of outcasts still continues in the East. It sometimes seems as if a Truth and Reconcilliation event still needs to happen for this deep historical wound to be acknowledged and a path towards healing motioned towards.


Monday, August 21, 2006

A National Museum in Abuja..

If you look at the original master-plan for Abuja, you'll see that there was a large space allotted for a National Museum, somewhere near to where the Hilton is today. Someone should start to push for this building project to be resurrected, to replace the slowly dying National Museum in Onikan, Lagos. At the moment, Abuja, a capital city of a country with a population well over 100 million, has nothing to show visitors in terms of culture. A National Museum in Abuja could also be the catalyst to regain stolen artefacts from colonial times, beginning with the Benin Bronzes, languishing in a basement in the British Museum..


Story story - tales from the market

BBC World Service's weekly tales from the market radio soap. Listen here.


This is not Nollywood..

Rag Tag, a lyrical film about love and friendship between a Nigerian guy and a British-Jamaican chap by Adaora Nwandu, will be showing in London next month:

BFM Film Festival
ICA Cinema: 10th Sept, 8:30pm
Institute of Contemporary Arts (ICA)
The Mall
London SW1Y 5AH (to book tickets online)
Box Office: 020 7930 3647
Tickets £8/ £7 Concessions (no cons weekends)
£6 ICA & bfm members
Tube: Charing Cross/Embankment/Piccadilly Circus

Cineworld Cinemas Shaftsbury Avenue - 14th Sept, 5pm
7-14 Coventry Street
Piccadilly Circus
London W1D 7DH
Advance Booking line: 0871 200 2000 (to book tickets online)
Tickets: £8.90
£5.80 Concessions & bfm members
Tube: Piccadilly Circus

Let's see when the Nigerian opening will be!!


Sunday, August 20, 2006


One of the most moving experiences I've had in Nigeria was a trip to Amaudo in Itumbauzo, Abia State nearly two years ago. Amaudo is a community which cares for the mentally ill, focused on rehabilitation and renewal in a Christian context. Amaudo is doing a supreme job at both caring for the uncared for as well as helping to change perceptions of mental illness, in one part of Nigeria at least.

If only there could be Amaudo's throughout the country. Most forms of mental illness can be cured, either through talking or the right pharmaceutical support, or both. The taboos and myths around mental illness in Nigeria, as elsewhere in Africa, need to be challenged and those heroes working in the field in places like Amaudo need all our support (sorry to sound like a vicar for once!). Many mentally ill people in Nigeria face hideous treatment and abuse, when what they need is a community of support..

Amaudo is supported by a UK charity (all details on the website linked above). Its a sobering thought that there are more Nigerian pyschiatrists in London than in the whole of Nigeria.

A British couple who worked at Amaudo until recently were interviewed on the Jeremy Vine show a while ago. Click here for more on this.


Cricket lovely cricket

As the almost forgotten Trinidadian social theorist and cricket fan C.L.R. James once remarked, "What do they know of cricket who only cricket know?" There was an incident in today's Test match (England vs. Pakistan) this afternoon, where the umpires accused the fielding Pakistan team of tampering with the ball. At tea, the visiting side refused to return to the field, prompting the umpires to declare England the winners.

Cricket has always been much more than a sport, interwoven as it is with the history of colonialism (football much more quickly lost any historical framework). The pure white outfit, the elegance of the occasion and the values imbued within the idea of the 'spirit of the game' have ensured that cricket has always carried a set of socio-historical resonances quite unlike any other sport. Cricket is laden with traces of other eras. It was only thirty years ago that there were two types of player in England, the 'players' and the 'gentlemen' - the latter being the officer class, the former being the rank corporals - in line with military hierarchy. Each class had his own entrance and separate changing facilities - an apartheid of class.

It will be interesting to see how this incident unravels itself in the next few days.. Click here for an interesting article on cricket's international context. The work of Mike Marqusee is also worth consulting.


Saturday, August 19, 2006

The footie is on!

DSTV is showing the English Premier League. How mysterious, given that the licence was taken away from them last week. Any guesses on what happened?


In today's Guardian..


Interesting photo in today's paper

There's a fascinating and revealing photo on page 3 of today's Nigeria Guardian (pronounced 'Gaydian'). Obasanjo (in agbada of course) is opening a new port terminal in Lagos. To his right is uber-banker Jim Ovia, standing behind the shoulder of some Italian guy who is now apparently the MD of the Nigeria Ports Authority. To Baba's immediate left is the Minister of Transport, Dr Abiye Sekibo, in Rivers State gear. The new Minister of Finance is two rows back, behind someone in uniform. Below the nose, she is smiling, but also wears a frown. The photo is a work of art, it reminds me of the subtle renaissance painters critiques of power and above all of Rembrandt. Once I've reloaded my camera application I'll snap and upload it.


bandwidth at last

A local ISP is launching a wireless play in Abuja: always-on 64kps dedicated for N8000 per month. Although this does not at all compete with international standards in terms of bandwidth or price, given the options currently available, its a bloody revolution. We're trialing the service at home, running wifi off of the connection (three laptops plus a pc). The bandwidth is enough for skype, listening to the radio (its beautiful having access to Radio 4 again) as well as downloading megabyte files and browsing in bed.

It should make blogging a little easier (although I'll miss those trips to Sheraton, and all the extravagantly attired people that wander about there). The only tech downside this week was the death of my main work laptop. Reformatting the hard drive meant losing data (my last major back up was in May). Lesson learned: back up critical data at least every Friday.


Friday, August 18, 2006

Tourism in Nigeria

A lot of fluff appears in the press about various attempts by the government to create a viable tourist industry in Nigeria. The problem is, tourism doesn't come naturally to most Nigerians. The idea of travelling for trade or shopping yes (or 'study trips' for civil servants), the idea of travelling to stare at things or simply do nothing and relax, no. One is tempted to think that internal tourism only takes off given a certain stage of socio-economic development (according to the Maslowian hierarchy of needs thesis), however, this argument falls flat when we consider the levels of internal tourism in places such as India and Morocco (most of those visiting the Taj Mahal at any one time are Indians).

Rather, the failure of internal tourism to get off the ground is, apart from a mercantile or functionalist attitude to travel, also a product of the inability to value what is here. It has been in the press that the magical sacred forest of Osun Grove in Osogbo has recently been made a UNESCO World Heritage site (whether this leads to a more organised Osun festival, we'll wait and see). However, how many Nigerians know that Osun Grove is actually the second World Heritage site in Nigeria?

In fact, the first such site is at Sukur, off the beaten track in the North East. Click here to find out about it from Unesco's site, or click here to go to Sukur's very own web page. Sukur is pictured above - it looks like a cross between Machu Picchu and a Balinese terrace, but it is above all a unique community in a unique landscape of the Mandara mountains. Adventurous travellers long to visit Papua New Guinea, walk among the Wodaabe or the Dogon and experience human communities from another more sacred era when humans knew how to revere and respect nature; or they long to visit pre-historic monuments or walk in pristine landscapes. Nigeria has all of these and more, including ancient cities that have yet to be explored by archeologists. Until the immense value of what is here is appreciated, its hard to see how internal tourism will get off the ground, apart from the odd trip to the beach or Obudu for those that can afford it.


Isheri abattoir

Two photos by Omonigho from his recent reportage trip to an abattoir in Lagos. He told me that after this assignment, he's never going to eat red meat again..


Isheri abattoir


Thursday, August 17, 2006

Numbers and grids

There's something I don't understand about Abuja which might speak of a larger issue, I'm not sure. Given that Abuja is a new city, I don't understand the rationale behind the urban plan. I'm hugely in favour of gridded cities along the New York/Latin American/Roman model. They are easy to navigate, easy to plan and build in, and easy to maintain and make good capitals if one begins from carte blanche.

However, Abuja is a fiendishly difficult city to get to know. Many of the streets are crescents that loop back on themselves, so travelling along one road, you come across the same intersecting road at different points (very confusing). On the larger roads, there are many flyovers which look identical - its difficult to know which turning to take - it reminds me of the new town near where I am from - Telford - which is hideously difficult to navigate, let alone love.

In general, Abuja's street loop and swirl all over the place. After a couple of years, I have a modicum of understanding of Maitama and Wuse II, but get lost very easily in Garki and Asokoro. As for places further out such as Nyanya and Karo, or the satellite towns of Kubwa etc - forget it. Matters are made worse by the bizarre unfathomable numbering system. There's Area 1, 2, 3, 4 all the way up to at least Area 11 (perhaps there's an Area 12?) These don't appear on any maps of Abuja, but there are signposts here and there. Some of these Areas appear contiguous, others not. Then there are various Zones (I think up to Zone 6). I think that the Area areas refer to the earliest parts of the city, built over ten years ago. And I suspect that the Zones refer to areas within Wuse (oh by the way, there's Wuse I and Wuse II, but I've never heard of Wuse III so perhaps it doesnt exist). Its all very confusing.

Lagos, in contrast, is a much easier city to navigate, even though it is many times bigger. Lagos has a different problem: there are often only single routes to take between A and B - for instance if you are travelling from Ikoyi to Festac, or VI down the Lekki Expressway - there is only one road to take.

My suspicion that logical numbering systems are not favoured in Nigeria is further confirmed by the national TV network NTA. Instead of having NTA1, NTA2, NTA3, or NTA Abuja, NTA Ibadan (ie numbers for national stations and names for local ones) - they have NTA Channel 2 Station 5 etc. Its impossible to know which channel is national, which local and so on. Can anyone explain the NTA channel numbering system? How did it come about?

All the above might sound over-fussy and not a little nerdy: the insights of a former trainspotter (I confess I was - from the age of 10 to 12 - there was little else to do in my village but cycle 5 miles with a picnic of sandwiches with my friends and watch the trains woosh by). But perhaps also it refers to a structural illogicality, a planning weakness at work here? Or perhaps I am completely off the ball, and for instance the Abuja urban system has another source - in the deliberate complexities of Muslim urban design?


Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Lastma online traffic reports

The dreaded Lastma (Lagos traffic cops) has gone on line with this 'hourly' traffic report:

As you can see, its so basic its useless. I cannot imagine why anyone would ever want to visit the site regularly. There's a looong way to go before RSS/text-based alerts become common here.

Using a website as a platform for communicating traffic updates in a bandwidth-starved non-wireless country like Nigeria is an exercise in non-thought. Why not have implemented a completely mobile solution? Lastma officials would use handsets (perhaps with a small app on to make it user-friendly), which would be sent by SMS direct to a central server, to be sent as text messages to registered users. Not only would this have been a user-friendly service, it could have made them some money too. One wonders the calibre of IT consultancy Lagos State is getting..


Poor Alams

Just received the following missive from a 19 boy (I do like the reference to money 'laundry' - its always good to put your currency through the washing machine (always use Persil rather than Omo). Apparently, Ribadu has chased many of the yahoo boys out of Nigeria - many have decamped to Burkina Faso..

Hello friend,

I am writing you this mail from my father's home at 247
Water Garden St. West
London believing that you will be of tremendous
help in my effort to
save the
last of my family legacy. I choose to
reach you through this medium because it
is the fastest and most
reliable way of communication, as I wish to solicit for
unflinching support and cooperation .

My name is Mr. West
Alamieyeseigha, the heir to the Alamieyeseigha's family.My
ordeal started sometime last year when my father,then the
Governor of
Bayelsa state in Southern Nigeria was at loggerhead with the Federal
following his campaign against the insensitivity of the
government to the plight
of the Niger delta region ,the region that
produces the country crude oil - the
major foreign exchange earner of
my country. Shortly before his arrest in London
UK, my father had
series of meeting with the federal authorities part
of which
aimed at getting him drop his campaign for true federalism and
but he turned down all the juicy promises that was
offered him
hence the plan to
get him set up. He was arrested and
detained in
London last year. Somewhere along
the line, he escaped to
his State
Bayelsa but not without the collaboration
of the
authorities who
claimed he jumped bail. My ill mother of 50,Mrs.
Alamieyeseigha was also humiliated in London and charged for
laundry offences.

I am certain you know much about this case ,
however, you can make further enquiries .

However, my reason for
contacting you is to solicit your support and collaboration
securing my family legacy. I am contacting you on the instructions of
my mother
who asked me to seek for a reliable foreigner who will help
us invest some of the
undetected fund belonging to my father kept in
private safes worth over $20,000,000.00.
I shall provide you with
details of how to access the money
if you provide me with investment
information in your country. For this i
and your
collaboration,30% of the entire money will be your reward for your

I shall detail you further when you indicate interest to
help us. Meanwhile you
may reach me on +447024038741 or +447024038744
or by email.


West Alamieyeseigha Jnr
247 Water Garden St.
West London


Tuesday, August 15, 2006


Click here for more info.


Oyinbo visiting PHC?

All you need to know is here.


Adieu Diana

Diana jetted off into the moonlight on Sunday night, leaving many admirers (both literary and otherwise) behind in Nigeria. Hopefully, she's seen a side to the country which will feed into her future work, and transform her relationship to the place (we'll see in future work). Sales are going well. We're now preparing for the next tour (with Abidemi Sanusi) in November, and taking stock of the lessons learned in the past few weeks..


Monday, August 14, 2006


I haven't had time to write about my overnight trip to Kano last week. Although I spent only a few hours in the city, I was impressed. There is a completely different vibe to this Northern city - much closer in feel to Morocco than the South. Old men ride gracefully on bicycles (there's a large bicycle factory nearby); long lines of gracefully trudging cattle block main roads; there are long neem lined boulevards and interesting mud walls. One sees an historical design culture everywhere (whereas it is almost entirely absent in Abuja and is non-existent in Lagos) - hausa motifs on walls, such as this. On this evidence, it seems the North, although largely impoverished, is more in touch with its cultural history than the South.


On the replication of values

One of the most serious problems a developing country like Nigeria faces is how to welcome talented people with a change agenda into positions of power and authority.
At present, the vast majority of Nigerians returning home do so under economic motives: they think they can make more money back home than they do overseas. Once landed, they either proceed to do exactly that, or they leave,
sooner or later. If one takes a glance around the Nigerian elite, one finds that it is populated solely by corporate types who work in banking or have senior
management roles within large corporate organisations.

There aren't any other types of elite at work (for instance, there isn't an intelligensia elite or a bourgoise chattering class). The more difficult trick therefore is how to lure back Nigerians who actually might improve the society with a
different set of values - interested in ideas, culture, research and challenging social norms with more contemporary attitudes. I suspect this is a general problem in developing countries - how to create ideological development and inject fresh thinking into conservative societies. The trouble is, those who are in power tend to select as advisors and thinkers those who share their values. So, in Nigeria, we have 'gender experts' appointed senior advisory roles who believe firmly in the evangelically motivated doctrine that women should be subservient to their husbands; or we have economists who hold that the way forward for Nigeria is to create sweat shops across the country. In other words, conservative, purely economically-motivated values attract their own. In societies such as this, people with fresh ideas will always be treated as outcasts and alienated, while mediocre talents with outdated views get rewarded.

People criticise Pat Utomi's candidature for the 2007 elections as a bit of a joke; as an outsider looking in, I only read interesting and innovative ideas in his interviews (for instance, the first thing he would do is kickstart two major rail projects - attacking infrastructure and job creation issues in one fell swoop). Which other candidate talks in such direct common-sense and practical terms?

At present, the Nigerian diaspora and its enormous reservoirs of creative capacity remains 99% untapped. The most valuable Nigerians out there are those who precisely would never dream of returning home. I'm not sure anyone anywhere has come up with a strategy to break this difficult logic (certainly, turning the Lagos Federal Secretariat into lodgings for returnees will do little to solve the problem).


Sunday, August 13, 2006

DSTV and information flows in Nigeria

The Ministry of Information last week banned South African company DSTV (owned by Multichoice, itself owned by South African media giant Naspers) from broadcasting Premier League football in Nigeria. The Ministry’s decision was based on the fact that DSTV had been granted continent-wide exclusive rights, which stifles local competition and contravenes Nigerian broadcasting law. The ban has therefore been imposed in order to break this monopoly and support local media players.

This decision should be celebrated, on one level at least, simply on the principle that governments anywhere in the world should try as hard as they can within their powers to encourage local media ownership and break up external monopolies (if only this were practised in the UK against Murdoch!) DSTV beams in South-Africa centric images into the homes of those that can afford it in Nigeria (even the odd advert is in Afrikaans - usually for some tacky sub-Val Doonican singer), which can only be construed as a form of insidious cultural imperialism, however subtle.

However, to Nigerian futebol fans (there are millions), this decision by fiat has denied them access to their favourite league, perhaps for the rest of the season. It is doubtful whether there is any serious local competition with sufficient current capacity to offer anything like the meagre choice offered up in DSTV’s bouquet (how many people who signed up are happy with Trumpet or FSTV’s rival output?) The government should have sorted these issues out well in advance of the start of the season. Imagine that an ownership-rights war erupted in the middle of the Premier League season in the UK, with no resolution in sight? Well, that’s exactly what is happening here.

As one commentator has pointed out, DSTV/Multichoice have only themselves to blame for the decision - access to the footie is one of the major reasons why people who can afford it fork out N9000 per month at present (around 35 UK pounds). Theirs has been a rent-seeking mentality, collecting cash for access to international content, with no clear interest in developing local content in Nigeria. They have no programme of sponsorship (such as local sports), no local studios and therefore no apparent interest in developing local culture. This was a strategic error, which is now returning to haunt them. For instance, we probably wouldn’t be at this point now if DSTV had made a major investment in promoting the Nigerian Football league..

Even if the decision to stop DSTV’s exclusive broadcasting rights to the Premier League was politically motivated, or the result of favoured lobbying to Information Minister Frank Nweke (which some are saying), and even though the decision is a case of bad timing from a fan’s perspective, the decision is I think one to be supported. However, there is much to be done in supporting the development of local media players interested in transmitting both local and international content – both for satellite/cable bouquet broadcasters and TV stations. The broadcast quality of local players is appalling (they are using antique broadcasting equipment in outdated studios with inferior production facilities), and the content is amateur. Serious local funding from the banks (who after all, are desperate to find good investment opportunities with their broadened shareholder base) is required to enable global-standard media services to emerge. The vision should be for Nigeria to enable an African competitor to CNN to appear: an Al-Jazeera for the continent.

At the same time, the question of whether a modern democratic nation-state should actually have a ‘Ministry of Information’ needs to be questioned (doesn’t this hark back to colonial times and the need for a state-controlled propaganda vehicle?), as the question also needs to be asked whether this ministry should have direct ownership of the largest local TV station, NTA. A transformation into a ‘Ministry of Culture’ function promoting local cultural events, the arts etc with increasing autonomy given to NTA, along the lines of the BBC, should surely be the more deeper programme of change. And as part of this, why not have an Arts Council of Nigeria structured alongside the Arts Council of Britain – supporting professionalisation in film, theatre, literature, dance etc? Perhaps the break-up of DSTV’s monopoly is the first stage of this change agenda. One would hope so.

The one hundred dollar computer – a good idea?
Meanwhile, the Nigerian government has agreed to buy one million of MIT Professor Negroponte’s one hundred dollar laptops. At the same time, the Indian government, which initially had allotted the same amount for its poorest students, has cancelled their order. One might ask why the Indians took the decision and Nigeria has not. Surely, the root of the issue is whether owning a laptop will actually help poor Nigerian students (and poor Nigerian workers). Well, it will enable them to learn to type, learn word-processing and spreadsheet packages, which are the essential basic skills of any student wishing to offer themselves to the national (if not international) job market. However, ownership of a cheap laptop does not provide anyone with access to information, surely a more fundamental requirement of a globalising world.

If only the Nigerian government would commit similar funds to building a national IT backbone for the country, including a gateway to the outside world via an alternative to the cartel-strangulated subterranean cable SAT-3. The consequence of this plan (cheap access to cross-country broadband) would arguably have a much more transformative effect on Nigeria’s citizenry than any amount of laptops shipped in to the country. The other downside of course is that bringing in so many laptops has the unintended side effect of depressing the local box-production market. No wonder Zinox et al are up in arms. The good news is that it does look like the IT backbone issue is being addressed, however, there is still no sign that a SAT-3 competitor is in sight (Globacom remains the only glint of light on the horizon).

One can’t help wondering whether the government continues to fear the liberalisation of information flows (witness the refusal in the past two administrations to sign a community-radio bill). Again, one can’t help wondering whether the stale argument of ‘defending African culture and values’ against international information flows (as witnessed in the DSTV decision and in countless press tirades against Channel O and MTV Base videos) is in part motivated by an elite power structure that all too readily is able to anticipate the erosion of its base should increasingly globalised flows of information be allowed to be pumped into the country. In this respect, a "China syndrome" haunts the government, which can only act as an impediment to increasing development and democratisation.

Until a Nigerian administration fully embraces globalisation (both in terms of informational inputs and outputs), the people will continue to be misinformed and locked within limited codes of understanding. Propagandist regimes need to learn the paradoxical and difficult lesson that letting go (of media control) can actually lead to increased empowerment, at least from the perspective of strengthening democratic processes. As Blair's infatuation with Murdoch has shown (he is rumoured to be taking a place on the Murdoch board when he steps down), this is not a lesson learnt easily in the West, let alone elsewhere.

This surely reflects a subconscious lack of confidence; it implies that globalised informational inputs will dilute or pervert local culture. Given the historical influence of various Nigerian cultures (perhaps most notably, Yoruba culture) on international cultural movements, it is doubtful whether this would in fact happen. Rather, it is more likely that globalised inputs would be quickly Nigerianised, and then reflectively expressed back to the world. One only fully appreciates the context which enabled one's identity when one travels outside. This principle writ large and when applied to increasing global inputs into Nigerian society, would probably engender a more reflective and expressively articulated set of cultural outputs.

But of course, it would mean that the government would have to give up its role as arbiter of cultural values, enabling a more distributed model of cultural re-interpretation to take place. At some point, this fear-factor has to be engaged and challenged, for young Nigerians to claim their place within a global culture.


Saturday, August 12, 2006


It was Diana's last night in FCT, so we went to Thai Chi then on to Blakes to mark the occasion. Its difficult to believe but we've been in Abuja over two years now and not once been to Blakes. Blakes is a semi-open air joint in Garki (pronounced Gariki), describing itself as an Entertainment and Leisure resort.

It was maximum entertainment - on stage four women in local prints and beads wiggling about and providing backing with a full group (drummer, bata drummer, three trumpet players, bass, guitar behind the lead singer). One of the female dancers was quite fat and pale and looked as if she was a bit out of it (she looked pale like the Delta soap billboard girls here); the other three enthusiastically strutted about, doing some quite amazing bum rotation manoevers at certain points. Its fascinating how independently motivated the derriere can be when under the control of a practiced African musculature..

We were taken through lilting gospelly dancy Igbo music, through to soul-funk classics, with a bit of Apala-style Yoruba singing later on. At one point, there was a technical problem so the local comedian BigMouth came on. His delivery was high-velocity pidgin so I could only just keep up. The humour was finely observed class pieces (the rich man and the poor man's differing reactions when their 'moto don jam') as well as more bawdy physical-theatre style pieces (the man who makes love to his woman in a pounding-yam position).

Members of the audience were so excited they got on stage to spray naira (and dollars) as well as to perform. Two men danced very close to each other, simulating sex and felatio (or so it seemed); anywhere else the dancing would have been construed as intensely homoerotic and a bit OTT. There were some queens in the audience - however I'm sure hardly anyone there would have been aware. A woman with a ruched ruby red short skirt perfectly moulded to her shapely ass got up on stage and started wiggling her butt at high speed - like a vibrator on the Thrill setting. The dancers stopped and stared in admiration. We left by around 1am, just before the Church service (the music stops and everyone praises the lord). Next time I'd like to stay to see the transformation - a clear indication that the erotic and the spiritual are not absolutely distinct as they are in many Western forms of Christianity.

In short, Blakes is a lot of fun, even on a cool night like last night. If you ever come to Abuja and stuck for a Friday night option, now you know where to go and enjoy yourself, for only N300.


Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Diana and Bibi in the British Council Gardens, Lagos


Tunde (on left) and friend


Savannah sings sweetly at The British Council


Kunle Tejuoso looks on


Diana reads at the Jazzhole event




At Jazzhole..


Sunday, August 06, 2006


We whisked Diana off to a party in her honour at a private residence in Ikoyi (lovely double height space, with video projector etc), after having spent the afternoon chilling and watching a documentary on the incomparable Marvin Gaye. The party was full of interesting people with vivid stories to tell, and champagne. I availed myself of both, copiously. The host left us to fly with his family to Dubai. There's something reassuringly lovely about enjoying someone else's hospitality when they're not there - a bond of human trust that more than makes up for all the hiccups along life's way..

Driving everyone home, I realised Lagos driving makes more sense when you are slightly sozzled. I know this is irresponsible and dangerous, but then so are potholes - so its a marriage of convenience. Tomorrow, Bibi and Diana are making tv appearances, then jetting up to Kano. Unfortunately I have to go back to my day-job in Abuja.


The new diasporic literature

In today's The Guardian (Nigeria), Toyin Akinosho makes an interesting distinction:

"In the old Diaspora literature, the central character is trying to make sense of his new environment. In the new Diaspora literature, the protagonists are masters of their surroundings.." He finishes the piece thus, "Evans and Oyeyemi are British writers, in terms of the environment and characters they create, but they can't leave Nigerian spirits alone, or the spirits won't leave them."

I think this may be a keen insight which encapsulates a pervasive theme in much contemporary Nigerian diasporic writing. It is certainly captured in the title and themes of the forthcoming text The Return by Teju Cole. Ten to fifteen years ago, Nigerian writers abroad were dealing with the strangeness of being in other worlds. The sons and daughters of this generation are now ready to return, literally and in terms of themes. Nigeria is re-acquiring some kind of gravity again; the myriad muses and expressive spirits at work on this land have awoken.

Incidentally, the Arts page on page 54 of today's Guardian is excellent, with a review of 26a by Molara Wood as well as the Akinosho article. I've criticised the paper in the past (it still deserves all the criticism it can get), but they did well on that page today. They also mention that Fela Day will be celebrated on August 23rd at the National Theatre (it was the ninth anniversary of his death last week).


Lagos changes

AT 8:30 yesterday morning, I went hunting for French bread and baked beans and other breakfast fare on Awolowo. Goodies was not yet open, so I decided to flip over to The Palms. On the way over Falomo bridge, amidst the flowing traffic, was the oddest sight, and a telltale sign that things are changing dramatically in this city: a tallish Chinese guy, upper body slightly bent forward in the manner of a speed skater, on roller blades. He had an ipod on, and specs. Lagos truly is becoming New York without the electricity.

The day's Diana Evans events went fabulously well. The reading at the British Council suffered a little from the formal setting (and the Rottweiler guards at the gate), but the event itself was lovely. The veteran journalist and our good friend Tunji Lardner was compere, making quips aplenty. The first performer was a young woman called Savannah. She sang so sweetly and melifluously one could hear the backing music (the violin, the bass, the sax). She has a star-in-the-making quality about her. Then a performance poet called Sage Hassan took us through two of his poems, WhoMan and The Revolution Will be Televised.

Then Diana read three passages from her book, from early on, from just before the trip to Nigeria, then the story Baba tells about the twins when in Nigeria. She reminded me what a brilliant work it is, exploring the subtle emotional dynamics of family life with a fresh approach to language, but above all, exploring the strange form of identity of being part of a twin (and being no longer part). After the event, people mingled in the lovely garden at the back of the British Council. Bibi and I enjoyed our tofu-suya sticks, prepared by Mama Ghana at the Hari Krishna place in Apapa.

The evening's event was in the warmer, more informal setting of Jazzhole, one of the cultural epicentre's of Lagos. Kunle Tejuoso is a hero of Nigerian letters, his Jazzhole/Glendora empire flying the flag for Nigerian writings through some dark times. Again, our collaborator Funke Martin Luther's Beat Cellar Productions provided yet more highly talented upcoming artistes; a guy accompanying himself on piano singing his heart out with a couple of slow soulful ballads. Diana read a longer section of the book, at the time the twins meet the two non-Watley boys and prepare for the Michael Jackson concert.

In the schmoozing afterwards, I finally met another naijablogger, Ore from Ore's Notes and another guy who told me he moved back home partly because of my blog (aw shucks - I'm glad your back my friend!). Its lovely to meet physically people who have been doing good things online Then we took Diana for dinner at Saipan, followed by grooving till the early morning at Casa Habana with all the beautiful people (including yet more recent returnees). A couple danced virtuouso salsa/meringue on the dancefloor, mesmerising all around, until the lights were dimmed and hiphop saved us all from eternal inferiority. Again, another arresting sight outside as we were leaving, we walked past a car that was pure-California in the yard: a two seater shimmering red open top spaceship-marvel, sleek yet bulgy, with chrome wheels and the oddest looking front bumper - two separate eyebrows jutting forward from the chassis. Quite how this machine navigates the craters of Lagos one cannot imagine..

Today is a bit of a rest-day for Diana, but tomorrow the show rumbles on to Kano and then up to Katsina..


Saturday, August 05, 2006

Mainland driving

I spent the day driving round Lagos yesterday. I feel a year older today. The morning was spent driving a sum total of around 3 miles around Ikoyi, VI etc at crawl speed. We Abujans find heavy traffic so...distasteful. Then at around 5pm we realised we had given ourselves only an hour and a half to get to the airport to go and pick Diana up. As there was no driver around, we set off with me driving. The thought of driving on the mainland fills me with trepidation. We hit a wall of pre-3rd Mainland Bridge traffic so decided to cut round Marina and go up Western Avenue. The Marina flyover was empty; I silently congratulated our decision, until we saw in the distance at the end of the section the tell tale signs of danfos and toilet-seat sellers milling around Go-Very-Slow. As the road curved round and down into the midst of the market, the child poverty was as bad as it gets. So sad. We had to call cousin-friend Dele in Gbagada to get to the airport ahead of us.

Eventually we got to Ikeja and picked Diana up. Only now it was dark. Dele drove ahead with Bibi, I with Diana. And then we lost them and I was on my own in the dark mainland (a signpostless wilderness). The next moment, we were on the Badagry Road. Oh dear.

We were eventually rescued by Dele and shepherded back to Ikoyi. Everything will be well sha.


Thursday, August 03, 2006


A whole heap of budding photographers have joined Shutterchance's platform in the past few months, including the taker of this image. She says, 'I do like a nice fag.'


This is Lagos

Arrived in the rain in Lagos, after a bumpy and misty Bellview flight (my first time on Bellview since..) The woman next to me clutched her fists and prayed, a booklet from Pastor Chris on her lap. The airport seemed unusually busy - until the new terminal is finished, bringing luggage into the local airport is un petit couchmare - one small room, one conveyor belt and planes arriving from all over the country every 20 minutes or so. As I was bringing in 400 books and a suitcase, it was a little stressful. Then the space in front of arrivals was crammed with taxi drivers ardently striving for business. Various unfortunates begged for money; a man followed me offering a bootleg Da Vinci Code and other Hollywood bubblegum. When I continued my disinterest he changed tack: "You like local jiggy jiggy? Let me go and fetch.." Eventually we found our way to Ikoyi, with the campaign posters for Funsho Williams a solemn reminder of what once was.


Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Diana soon arrives..

The past few days have witnessed frantic activity to make sure everything glides along for Diana Evans' Nigeria tour with Cassava Republic. We're at that last minute stage where we're sure we've forgotten to do something, but can't remember what it is. There's been the inevitable curve balls in the past few days - the scariest being not able to buy Diana's airticket. British Airways in their wisdom don't allow 3rd parties to buy tickets to Nigeria; quite why is beyond me, given that one is using a British bank to pay. It just seems like blatant prejudice against Nigeria. Thankfully, we sorted out that little problem another way. Then there's the issue of making sure no one is forgotten on the invite list. Hopefully we've got all bases covered, but doubtless some incredibly important culturati type will emerge out of nowhere and demand to know why we forgot to invite them.

So now we look forward to welcoming her back to another kind of home and introducing her powerfully written book to a Nigerian readership at large. The tour should go really well - at least as well as the original tour we put on for Chimamanda Adichie Purple Hibiscus tour a couple of years ago - with upcoming local poets and musicians adding flavour to each event.


On weatism..

Lying in bed last night, my philosophical muse started plucking on her harp. I decided to go back to basics and define the human condition from first principles. There are three fundamentally human responses to the pre-existing world:
First: desire
Second: reason (rationality, conceptuality, intellect - call it what you will)
Third: spirituality

Each of these responses comes from the body - not thought of as a purely physical entity, but rather in the sense of embodied being. This is a vital point that has been lost in western philosophy for the most part post-Descartes. Spirituality is of the body, as is reason. Another significant point is that each of these modes of being-in-the-world are not privileged or set in any hierarchical order. We do not begin with desire and hope to end up with spirit along the lines of some kind of linear eschatology. Desire inhabits reason, as spirit must always be conceptualised, or at least held in relation to concepts. We love, we pray, we consider; each action has its space and its moment, none should be viewed as more significant than the other.

Of course, there's much more to say on this alone. But being a blog, I'll keep it at that.

The second insight I had was that these three responses to the world are themselves components of a more fundamental relation: the ethical. Desire, reason and spirit must always be articulated in terms of an ethical response to the world. Without the underlying ethical relationship, all three spin off into autonomous circuits and various forms of dysfunction. Ethics is therefore a fundamental ontology - the very form of being and becoming.

So what I mean by ethics does not refer to any particular act - of doing, giving etc. Rather, it is that relation which enables all particular acts to take place. From a pyschological perspective, it is an attitude; but then it should not be reduced to pyschology.

I hope you are following me. The final insight I had was that this fundamental ethical relationship to the world is itself fundamentally a question of time. In simple terms, our ethical stance to the world is a question of a present, a before and an after. It is through an understanding of causation that we become ethical. Without a sense of consequences, we are locked into the guinea-pig-wheel of the moment, without any sense of pathways, ramifications, aftermaths.

So, we have the beginnings of Weatism:
1. Desire/reason/spirit as embodied and non-hierarchical responses to the world which exists before us
2. Ethics as the more fundamental form of the worldly response
3. Ethics is always expressed as temporality.

This philosophy (a collage of the hundreds of philosophers I have read in the past 15 years) allows us to love the body as much as the spirit. It stresses the importance of ethics and how the ethical response requires a strong sense of causal processes. It is perhaps above all a philosophy that is sensitive to the world that comes before us and carries on after us, and pushes to the surface the twinned questions: how are we to arrive in the world? How are we to leave it?

Calling this chain of thoughts Weatism is partly tongue-in-cheek. We do not control the way our names enter into worldly circulation, or rather, any concerted attempt at doing so risks hubris. But the obverse thought is this: should not all of us attempt in our time to work out a philosophy that fits the way we respond to the world? If we don't attempt to construct our Weatisms, our Deleisms, our Cassandraisms, are we not just material in circulation by dint of other forces?


Tuesday, August 01, 2006

and the rains fell..and the mosquitoes came and bit

There was heavy thunder and lightning last night, which was good. So far, Damina season has been relatively dry, causing some to wonder whether climate change is affecting this part of the world too. It was lovely to lie in bed and hear the rain beating down noisly on the metal roof, with the occasional flash of light flaring through the curtains. It reminds me of camping on lovely, wet days in some verdant English countryside. Luckily, we didnt flood this time either.

The rainfall of the past few days seems to have given many people malaria. Its odd how quickly malaria can spread after just a few days of rain. It shows how rapidly mosquitoes can thrive if puddles of water form all around.

One of the mysteries of all the talk of solving the problem of malaria in developing countries is that no one seems to look at the underlying cause of the problem - inadequate sanitation/drainage systems. As someone who always sleeps under a bednet/uses spray etc, and yet who regularly gets malaria, its clear that the usual 'solutions' to malaria are just band aid.


Tech good news..

Glo Mobile continues to be the most innovative GSM telco in Nigeria. I'm not talking about the new 0807 numbers - no, this week Glo will launch its new Blackberry service. O2 users from the UK have been able to use their Blackberries in Nigeria for the past few months; now Glo have launched their own service. I don't have the full details (and Glo's site appears to be down just now) but its a welcome move to have email on the go - especially in a bandwidth-starved environment like Nigeria.


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