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We should all be Storytellers

Depending on the mindset or interest of the reader, the idea presented by the bulk of this article could be considered already so archaic that there hardly could be anything done to effect any change about it. However, I don’t by any means buy that.
There is a perennial debate on the use of language in the Nigerian classrooms. I do not want to dwell too much on this but i will quickly like to ask both sides of the divide a few questions. Since we don’t have basic texts translated into our own languages, how do we compete globally if we decide to relegate the English language? Also, what is the hope of our core cultures and traditions if children are only proficient in English language?
There are writers who write in their native language, a good example being the prominent Kenyan writer—Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o. I remember reading a comment of Achebe in one of his interviews. He made a submission that the difference between himself and Ngugi as writers was the fact that while Ngugi believes it has to be writing in English or one’s native language, He (Achebe) believed one could decide to write in both. Achebe mixed both English and his native language, Igbo in a very fascinating manner. He appropriated the use of English language so well that the reader could sometimes be lost in between the lines with a feel of reading in the Igbo language.
For Achebe, I think English language is a weapon he had to master so as to achieve his dreams of telling African stories in his own unique way. There was no other way.
I am with Achebe on this one. It doesn’t have to be one or the other, but a fine balance between the languages as one so desires. The children can learn both.
We find ourselves in an age in which globalization is driven by Science and Technology. English language is the fuel that drives this vehicle. This is a reality we must face.
In the past, there was the emergence of a crop of literary icons from Africa; such as Cyprian Ekwensi, Chinua Achebe, Amos Tutuola, Wole Soyinka, Jomo Kenyatta and some others, who decided to challenge a certain tradition of the British writers writing about a mythical Africa. These African writers rose up to tell their own stories with the aim of creating a balance, at the very least or going head to head with the European writers for our right to write our own stories. Achebe spoke extensively about this in his apt and engaging book titled “Home and Exile”. To draw some excerpts from the book;

This was said about Africans by Elspeth Huxley in his book white man’s country; Perhaps it may be, as some doctors have suggested, that his brain is different: that it has a shorter growing period and possesses less well formed, less cunningly arranged cells than that of the Europeans-in other words, that there is a fundamental disparity between the capabilities of his brain and ours.

As mentioned by Achebe in his book, a British writer, Mr. Pedler wrote, “When Europeans talk of Africans buying a wife”. This particular one by Pedler lacks veracity and is also misleading. We don’t buy wives and the hypocrisy in that statement is loud and clear.
The aforementioned excerpts are statements made decades ago, so you can imagine my amusement when I got to America less than 3 yrs ago and found that certain condescending questions about Africa still thrived.
To mention a few examples; my Chinese friend said he thought Africa was just a country in a bush with no roads. A Caucasian asked me where I learned how to use computers or the one who was stupefied on hearing there are “African writers”. A black American once asked me if I learned how to speak good English in America.
In the eyes of some of those who ask these questions, one can see the spectacular naivety masquerading as innocence. In some others, one can see the feigned innocence laced with bigotry so thick. It seems to me that this singular stories written of Africa by the old British griots built a mansion of false and misguided impressions in the minds of people outside Africa and these impressions are being passed to subsequent generations.
Some would argue that my claims are banal or obsolete or I am being too sensitive, but we need to ask ourselves if these issues have become really obsolete. Should we really not bother about these “banal” topics? Is it that the Achebes and the Tutuolas didn’t do enough? Why am I still being asked such condescending questions Achebe was asked in 1967? These men could only do so much, what about us?
Should we continue to blame the iniquitous British colony and western media for painting Africa in any light they see fit?
This is the 21st century, the age of a beast called the internet. The beast that allows one to go on a trip to anywhere in the world without moving an inch physically. Why are we not telling our own stories to the world? This is our job and we can’t leave it to “the others”. Writing is not the only weapon that can be used to achieve the results I/we desire. The African musical industry and the Nollywood have also done incredible jobs in telling African stories but their efforts alone are clearly insufficient to propagate the accuracy of our stories to all parts of the world.
While I quite agree you can only do so much, people will believe what they want to believe. Yet, I believe playing a part by telling these stories will go a long way in sowing a seed of truth even in the most obstinate of outsiders.
If I, in all the glory of my demureness, with but a few years in the west under my belt often come face to face with these experiences, I wonder how many times Africans abroad are being asked laughable questions about Africa on a daily basis.
A friend of mine, a fellow Yoruba man, the other day told an American that the Yoruba language is a dialect, I had to stop him right there, scowled at him and quickly corrected him, that Yoruba is a language and not a dialect. Many a time, this is how we create false impressions in the minds of highly impressionable people. How can you properly and accurately tell a story you know nothing about?
One of my favorite African proverbs goes thus; “until Lions learn to speak, the story of the hunt will always glorify the hunters”. In this article-‘the secret to a promising future’, I talked about the importance of having an identity, of knowing who you are and where you are coming from, the importance of telling your own story.
Shame tries to keep us mum, but we need to rise above shame and tell our stories. We can’t afford to leave it to “the others”, else, we should be ready to embrace the damaging distortions to our stories as well as the labels we face every day.
Continue to Rest in Peace Chinua Achebe – The master storyteller
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Are you even a Moses?

What good are you

If you abandon your scepter of probity?

With what will you swallow the corrupt

Snakes that feast on our yams?

How do you intend to part the Red Sea? ehn!!?

 

What good are you  

If water dries up

From the rocks of our economy

And you cannot bring forth prosperity?

 

What good are you

If you surround yourself with “lots” and Judases 

Who rape our future 

on the altar of politics,

sell integrity for few pieces of Silver;

and give up decorum for brown envelops? 

 

What good are you

If you keep going back to Egypt

With the swiftness of Hermes

to calumniate us

Instead of singing our encomium?

 

How will we get to the Promised Land 

If you keep going back to Egypt, 

Bowing down to every Pharaoh? 

 

Are you even a Moses? 

Or an Ajala masquerading as a Moses?

 

 

Ajala was a Nigerian globe-trotter, and freelance journalist who visited nearly hundred countries within 6 years.

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A Review: The Other Barack by Sally Jacobs

Kudos to the gutsy Sally Jacobs for her incredible biographical research on Barack Obama Snr. The book titled “The other Barack” is about the life of the father of the POTUS (Barack Obama Snr.). After I read “Dreams of a Father” written by POTUS himself, I knew that was just a sneak peek and a beast of curiosity awakened inside me, and the only thing that could put the beast back to slumber was to lay my hands on this book. The book was engaging, prepossessing and unputdownable.

Obama Snr. was brilliant, reckless, impatient, and jocular. He was many things, one cannot run out of adjectives trying to describe the man. He was vociferous, facile, and eccentric. In some chapters, his decorum was admirable, in others, I was chagrined for him.

In chapter 2, the first paragraph says “The tribal prophet Kimnyole arap Turukat foretold it’s coming long before the white man knew of it. It would rear from the vast lake to the east, a lethal iron snake belching smoke and fire and uncoil across tribal lands before at last quenching its thirst in the waters of the west. The beast would bear with it a kind of foreigner never seen before, a stranger who would one day rule the land”.

Sally had me there, I was thrilled reading that paragraph, I thought there had been a prophecy about the coming of POTUS, only for the second paragraph to imply something completely different—the Uganda railway built by the British colonies. I was so upset and disappointed but I garnered strength and character and managed to carry on with the book.

The Luos and the Kikuyus are amongst the major tribes in Kenya; Barack belonged to the former and Jomo Kenyatta who was the first Kenyan President belonged to the latter. After getting help from an American woman called Miss Mooney, Barack got an admission to the University of Hawaii in the United States. It was an amazing feat, as he was the first of his clan to go to college and also the first African to attend Hawaii University. He met Obama Jnr’s mother at the University of Hawaii and he later graduated with a B.A in Economics. They got married after he graduated; beating the odds by defying the popular racial barrier. He was black and she was white.

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He proceeded to Harvard for PhD Economics. His dream of getting a PhD in economics came to an abrupt end when the Oyinbos got tired of his womanizing attitude and misdemeanor and sent him back to Kenya even though he had completed all his coursework, but he was yet to defend his thesis.

His love for women was unparalleled as he betrayed a lot of them in his wake. He left no skirt unopened, as long as the skirt waved past him. His oratory prowess was enough to bewitch any woman. Just 3 months after he left the United States, his girlfriend in Boston bought a one way ticket to Kenya to visit Obama Snr., and of course, she did not return.

He was a living ghost to most of his children, he was consumed by his own ambitions and patriotism that he had little or no time for his children.

He got back to Kenya with big expectations for his country that had just gained independence and he certainly wanted to take part in the government, but he never got satisfied with any position he got and he seemed disappointed with the Kenyatta led government. He found solace in alcohol and started drinking heavily. His drinking habit got worse when his longtime mentor, Tom Mboya got assassinated right in front of him. He lost his job the same year due to his lack of discipline and recklessness.

He was an iconoclast, and he spared no word against the Kenyatta led government in the wake of Kenyan independence. He was fearless, and he gingerly challenged the corruption and nepotism openly practiced by the Kenyan government with his voice and his pen. He was later blacklisted by the Kenyatta led government and he couldn’t get any job.

The man was a paradox, it was difficult for me to comprehend why a man of his grandeur, well principled with integrity and bag of talents could lack dignity and humility. He was deluded by his precocity of going to Harvard.

I concluded that his life was cut short by his own hubris and his frustration with the churning state of Kenya. If anyone told him, his own seed would end up being the President of the United States of America, maybe he would have done some things differently.

In June 2015, President Obama visited Kenya and met with its present President—Uhuru Kenyatta, who is the son of Jomo Kenyatta. I remembered this event the night I finished reading the book, and I thought to myself-no one knows tomorrow. I felt inspired, challenged, and disappointed. I felt ambivalent. I turned the book around, placed the book in front of me, and stared at it until I slept off.

I also found out that while Obama Snr. was at Harvard, he had lots of Nigerians as friends and classmates. The only familiar name being Chukwuma Azikiwe, the son of the first Nigerian president. I breezed through lots of Nigerian names in the book and I couldn’t help but wonder where these men are or why I’ve never heard of them. Like our people say, they must have been swallowed by the west.

 

Manuscript: Education ~ the most Potent weapon (The roles of Nigerians in Diaspora) as delivered by Olusegun Tinubu

1) How many of us really care about Nigeria? For those who do not care, who do not consider Nigeria home anymore, it’s okay. I also believe Geography should not define or decide where a man calls his home. So if you have your whole family here and decide America is home, it is totally fine. Who even says one cannot have more than 1 home? Even if your green passport was replaced with a blue passport, your identity as a Nigerian is still there. What earns you the right to call Nigeria home? The traditions, the modus operandi, the experiences, your Nigerian-ness—cannot be taken away by the blue passport. Only if you lose them completely can you severe ties with Nigeria.

2) What is the essence of our education? The essence of education is not only to get jobs and create a better life solely for yourselves but also to impact lives and give back to the society that made you.

There’s no point going into the obvious quagmires that plague the educational system of Nigeria (as seen in the lack of equipment, corruption, poor educational standards, exploitation, overcrowding in classrooms, inadequate funding, poor parenting, examination malpractices and so on) or lament at the obliviousness of our rapacious leaders to these problems.

The purpose of this lecture is to challenge you and I (Nigerians in Diaspora) to give back to the Nigerian society—either from here or when we go back, by applying our western education.

According to The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), the literacy survey conducted by National Bureau of Statistics in Nigeria in 2010 estimates the literacy rate in Nigeria at 56.9%, While the Central intelligence agency (CIA) facts book in 2015, shows an estimate of 59.6% of literacy rate (15 and above that can read and write). I don’t need to stress how poorly educated we are as a nation as it is evident in these stats and the backwardness of our society today. I do not think the problem is from the inception. The education being offered at the primary school level is decent. The collapse, however, starts at the secondary level. It is also important to note that, out of the 59.6% literates in Nigeria, some passed through the public schools at the secondary school level which means their education is at best mediocre, at worst nonsensical. One could argue that, most of those who passed through the so called best schools cannot compete at the international level.

Taking a wild guess, I believe majority of the literates go to the public schools. It should also be noted that, it is the children of the rich who attend the private schools while the poor has no choice than to settle for public schools or no education at all. The gap between the rich and the poor is getting wider as years go by. So, putting all the aforementioned into perspectives, less than 20% of Nigerians can compete globally—sad! But it’s our reality.

Education is one of the most potent weapons that can be used to drive societal reform; an inadequacy of it would spell the doom of any nation sooner or later. You and I are the privileged ones who are able to get good education from developed nations and I believe we must wield this weapon (good education) and effectively use it to resuscitate our dying nation.

Now let’s take few steps into the past. There was a time when the children of both rich and poor got quality education to lay solid foundation for the life ahead and the story of our incumbent President, M. Buhari and late President Musa Yar’adua (RIP) is a testament to this fact. They both went to the same school, and while Buhari was the son of a peasant, Musa’s father was a minister, but they both got the same quality of education. Again, between 1954 and 1959 when Chief Awolowo was the western premiere, he gave free and quality primary education to people who were residing in the western part of Nigeria, who were interested in going to school, regardless of their background. Some were also able to get scholarships to further their educations thereafter. This is one of the reasons why some of us are here today because our parents were born in that generation and they enjoyed this benefits. In our present society, the rich and the poor no longer get the same kind of education.

Unfortunately, what was quality then is not quality now, the world is evolving but we are still lagging behind as we slowly find our way to extinction. We have decided not to invest in the educational sector.

What should we do or what can we do? How can we chip in our 2%?

  • Elucidate: This is the age of technology and we must use it to our advantage. (Internet-writing, and debates) Our social media accounts should not only be used to trumpet the supposed comfortable life we live in diaspora. We should try to educate people using our social media, let them understand the need to be politically informed and how their political decisions can increase their chances of a better life. Basic and clear explanations like this can stop someone from selling his or her vote.

I have read several articles where people were lamenting at the death of books and libraries and their cause for lamentation befuddles me. Like Pa Ikhide said, the death of libraries and books should not be mourned, what we should do is meet the African youths at the points of their availability—the internet. The internet is the book of choice for many Nigerian readers. We must elucidate by making things clear, engage in healthy debates-and everyone can learn from each other through this.

  • Fit in: This is also very important, especially for those who plan on moving back to Nigeria after some time. You must consciously strive not to lose your Nigerian-ness. Don’t go back speaking with your nose or playing the “do you know who I am” card at every chance you get. While I agree that integrity is an expensive virtue for people in Nigeria because of the hardship, we must not dump our integrity while attempting to fit in. The moment you left the shores of Nigeria, she moved on—for good or for bad. You have to be patient, to understand this new Nigeria, and only then can you make tangible difference.
  • Modified Solutions: We must present our western oriented solutions in a local context; a context which our people can understand. We tend to just go back to Nigeria to literally present western oriented solutions to African problems, forgetting they are two different societies, failing to account for the differential in human thinking. The problem with our leaders is that they want to transform the country overnight without putting the basics in place. There are some of these abracadabra we are not ready for, some levels we are yet to attain, some developments that won’t work in our context. They want to make Nigeria a mimicry of the west overnight without undergoing the required process and patience. An example is the Governors who claim to invest in the Airport business when they are yet to tackle roads and rail system issues. What percentage of the masses use to air? (bar our Benin people) Why embark on big things when you don’t have the basics in place?

I remember having a discussion about the ethnicity and religious card being played by the political parties during this past election with a friend. For example, APC chose a Muslim northerner and a Christian from the west as Presidential candidates to have a better chance at winning the election. My friend was quick to point out that Jeb Bush could leave Texas to be the governor of Florida. I told him, that cannot work in Nigeria, at least not now and that is our reality. While I also hope for a Nigeria where a southerner can vie for a prominent post in the north and vice-versa, I do not think we are there yet or the ethnicity disease has eaten so deep that we can’t recover from this disease. I believe Azikwe was the western premiere sometimes along the corridor of history.

Also, we need to encourage more women to go to school and reach the zenith of education if they wish to. We need to allow them to elevate to more prominent positions. I believe we are getting better in that regards albeit slowly. Babangida ran Nigeria for 7yrs without a single female minister in the 80s. But currently, we have 8 female senators out of 109 present senators. In the House of Representatives, only 18 of 360 representatives are women. Definitely not good enough in a nation where half of the population are women. [Source: Tolu Ogunlesi]

In conclusion, most or some of us here would be presented a chance to make changes in Nigeria in the nearest future. It is no secret that most of this prominent positions back home are reserved for people with western education. A number of these positions in the country are filled with people like ourselves who schooled in west but unfortunately, they are making little or no impact. It is not because they have no knowledge but because they are applying it wrongly. While the approach of elevating people with western education (people like you and I) into prominent positions is supposed to be productive, it could also be counterproductive if not properly harnessed. As Nigerians, when we go back home to make changes, we must understand that we can’t be a mimicry of the west overnight, we must understand that we need to crawl before we walk,  and we must walk before we dare to run. We cannot offset the law of nature. We need to keep in touch with Nigeria, we need to understand her basic needs so we just don’t go there to run around in circles making little or no impact.

I would like to thank those who have contributed to this work one way or the other; either directly or indirectly. I appreciate my friends- Tega Agbogidi, Dayo Anipole, Bisola Odebunmi, Jimi Buraimoh, and Oreoluwa Ayeni for all the healthy debates we had on this topic.

As delivered by Olusegun Tinubu at the Nigerian Independence Day Banquet; organized by Nigeria Student Organization,

Carrolton, Texas. 10-02-15

The secret to a promising future Part 2 (Nigeria)

In case you missed Part 1, (see here).

One of the factors that has contributed to the backwardness of Nigeria is our failure to learn from history. A nation known for her amnesic syndrome. It took Radio Biafra to remind us that the corpse we buried has a leg stuck outside.

Let’s take a stroll into the past of Nigeria. The tribal sentiments exploited by some of our past leaders for their selfish gains has brought us to this point as a nation. The present is the synthesis of the past, most of the things we experience now is the net result of the deeds of our past leaders. Some of our parents have passed on these grudges by telling us Nigeria is a “forced marriage” amongst her tribes, and we should avoid people from different tribes. It’s like telling your daughter to act like an idiot when she gets to her husband’s house or to develop a negative attitude towards her in-laws even though divorce is not an option.

Before I get shredded into pieces by historians, e-warriors et al; I also believe I probably don’t know enough just like most of us, to start pointing fingers or dishing out blames at the perpetrators of the Nigerian civil war. After all, history has been wiped off from our educational curriculum and all we have are half-truths and fragments of the event. With the little knowledge I have, the civil war which was an epoch in our history could have been avoided. Our leaders from various tribes were busy fighting each other for superiority instead of focusing on unity after independence. It was a war amongst egos and we are yet to recover from it. How do we move on or burgeon as a nation when most of us don’t understand the events and processes that formed our present society? Since the past and present governments have failed us in this regard, we can educate ourselves so we don’t fail the coming generations like they did us. We must educate ourselves about the historical happenings, and we must make sure the errors in the past are not repeated when nature presents us the chance to make a difference. Of course, it is a popular belief that the prosperity of a nation or individual solely depends on political and social reconstruction but what about the individual responsibilities of the inhabitants of the nation?

Dear readers, leaders, and parents; It’s high time we started repairing Nigeria from our abode. We need to stop passing hates and grudges down to subsequent generations by adding to the misery of this nation. The only thing that should matter is we are all Nigerians. We need to get rid of prejudice and dogmatism. Love, kindness, true judgement, and sympathy cannot exist with prejudice, all they bring is cruelty which is lucid in our nation today.

We cannot continue to ignore history or allow it fade into obscurity, and make the same mistakes our national folklores have made.

For anyone who is interested, (here) are some of the books written on the Biafra war. Also, I would recommend “There was a country by Chinua Achebe” and “Half of a yellow sun by Adichie Chimamanda”.

 

 

The Shame in your fears and failures will try to muzzle you into silence, but you must not allow it, you must tell those you love about them ~ Segun Tinubu

 

The secret to a promising future by Olusegun Tinubu (Part 1)

The secret to a promising future lies in unlocking the wisdom and insight the portals of the past hold. In essence, an adequate understanding of where you’re coming from is key to having a proper perspective of where you’re going.

Lately, I’ve come to a realization of the fact that a lot of us are totally ignorant of our background, culture and general history. We have turned our backs on the past. A sizable number of us having little or no idea about how we gained independence, the idiosyncrasies of the good and bad past leaders we’ve had, the events that shaped the leadership of our nation from inception till now, the names of those who fought for our independence, and a couple of other interesting bits of information. We have become spectacularly naive, shamefully ignorant of many of the things that shaped the country to what it is today.

The easy way out is to blame our parents and guardians for their failure to consciously hand these tales down to us, but who are we kidding? In the end, we owe it to ourselves to educate ourselves deliberately on our foundational stories, historical happenings along the corridors of time, as well as the standout ‘actors’ in the screenplay that our country’s formation can be regarded as. Some of our parents have told us about these histories, others have failed to, and that’s why some of us lack identity. Whether we like it or not, at some point in our lives, nature will give us a chance to effect a change; in our neighborhood or even the nation at large. Our decisions and choices in those moments would have an effect on the nation— minute or massive. The best decisions can only be made when one knows what worked or failed in the past and puts such knowledge into consideration when faced with decisions. Records are kept so that they can be referred to and learnt from, thus, it becomes imperative to calculatively pass necessary bits of our history to the forthcoming generations in order to prepare them for challenges ahead. Parents need to tell their children about their pasts; the good and bad decisions they made and the consequences. Sadly, we see today that all some parents tell their kids is how they blazed the trail in all places they found themselves, conveniently failing to cite instances of their inadequacies and failures. That approach to educating people is counterproductive as it has the tendency of making them fail to take risks, see mistakes as a necessary part of their making, and positions them to live too cautiously which reduces their chances of being truly productive and efficient at the things they do.

I am going to use the POTUS~ Barack Obama as a case study in this article. I read his book titled “Dreams from my Father” last week.

In my humble opinion, what Barack had to do – his purpose, became clearer after his first trip to Kenya to visit his known and unknown relatives.

When he was running about in Chicago as an activist, trying to “organize” the black community, his sister had visited him and brought news about their father, she was the first person who told him all he didn’t know about his father and after that visit, his perception of his father changed. He wrote: I wasn’t satisfied (with what had been achieved in Chicago), maybe it was connected to Auma’s (his sister) visit and the news she had brought of the old man (his father). Where once, I had felt the need to live up to his expectations, I now felt as if I had to make up for his mistakes. Only the nature of these mistakes still wasn’t clear in my mind; I still couldn’t read the signpost that might warn me away from the wrong turns he’d taken. That was one of the moments that fueled his desire to visit Kenya before leaving for law school. The conundrum of a curious man yearning to know about his roots, a man who knew he had to understand and make peace with a past he is willingly or unwillingly connected to, a past he had no control over, a past that was lived by his ancestors. He understood the importance of knowing the strengths and weaknesses of his harbingers, and the mistakes that must not be repeated. He knew he had to ferret this past to have a clearer vision of who he is and where he is going to.

Shortly before Barack left Kenya, having listened to every bit of history about his root, here is what he wrote: I felt a calmness wash over me, I felt the circle finally close. I realized that who I was, what I cared about, was no longer just a matter of intellect or obligation, no longer a construct of words. I saw that my life in America—the black life, the white life, the sense of abandonment I felt as a boy, the frustration and hope I’d witnessed in Chicago—all of it was connected to this small plot of earth on ocean away, connected by more than the accident of a name or the color of my skin. The pain I felt was my father’s pain. My questions were my brothers’ questions. Their struggle, my birthright.

He must have figured he wasn’t alone in the struggle; his identity became as clear as day.

I would take a few steps into the past of Nigeria in the second part of this article which would be posted in the next few days.

(Here is the link to part 2)