Thursday, 29 July 2010
Monday, 26 July 2010
(In time, a sojourner becomes a native.)
I usually keep to myself when I take public transport in London. The usual drill would be to grab a copy of any of the free newspapers available. If I am lucky to get to the station before rush hour then I can get the Metro. With the Metro, although you may not get the full package, you are at least sure of getting a glimpse of what is in main stream newspapers.
In these days of gloomy economic forecasts and all you see on the economic segment of the 24 hour media at home are predictions of job losses, and the rise in the number of people queuing up for unemployment benefits, the inner fear is not if you are going to join them but when you are going to.
The thought of queuing up at job centres, facing that authoritarian customer service personnel to prove you are entitled for benefit is not an appealing one. Well I had better make do with what I have now, spend the whole day chasing that daily bread and making ends meet. The consolation is the reward that you can still be counted as one of the employed. My thoughts continued in my head.
I was to meet up with a long time friend from Nigeria. You can describe him as the Nigerian “Big Man”. He was on a return trip to Nigeria and had to spend 6 hours in transit. We had in e mail exchanges decided to meet up at Heathrow Airports Terminal Three - that way we could hang out for at least 4 hours within Heathrow and catch up on old times. I was particularly keen on meeting him as he was one who had always insisted on me returning home. Each time I visit Nigeria he would keep hammering in repetitive terms, “I wonder what you people are doing abroad, don’t you get bored? See we live well here, fresh fish, ‘asun’, brokoto. You can make it within a short time - all you need is luck and connection, and for you sef it won’t be a problem - you sabi people”.
It was my friend who insisted this particular meeting was important, so I took time off work. Taking one day off your paid holiday in the United Kingdom and I guess in any other part of the world to “chat” with a friend is no mean effort.
Grudgingly I decided to take the cheapest means of transportation available to me - the long winding blue line, Piccadilly from the Finsbury Park station. Anyone familiar with that line to Heathrow would understand how frustrating it is to travel to Heathrow in the restrictive underground for over an hour.
At Finsbury Park, I hopped on the Piccadilly line.
My usual routine is to scan through the coach to look for a comfortable seat. Comfort to me is making sure I seat beside people of middle-age on their way to work. They usually keep to themselves and would barely acknowledge your presence. I avoid groups of youths as you would in most cases be subject to chattering from the start of your journey to the end.
As the coach was almost full I did not have that luxury. I found myself a seat in between an elderly Caucasian lady and a glass panel – not too bad, I mused. As I sat down, I thought I heard her say hello but all I wanted to do was to close my eyes, take a quick nap and endure the ride until I got to Heathrow.
Instead, I felt a tap on my shoulder and she said “I just said hello” I apologised and said hello back, in my mind, cursing my seat choice. Now I was trapped with an elderly lady, probably would be fed with her life history - well so I thought, until she gave me that curious look and then “where are you originally from?” I felt like replying Haringey, (a north London borough). I have always found the use of “originally from” a bit funny. Why can’t Londoners just ask where you are from rather than “originally from”?
I am originally from Yoruba Land in Africa until the British merged my ancestors with our African neighbours and made me Nigerian. You see, I intended to confuse her and possibly make her feel guilty enough not to pursue the conversation - if I simply said I was from Nigeria, I knew she would start telling me about the 419 scam letters, or probably remind me of fraudsters, or ask if I had met Farouk AbdullMutalab the “under pant bomber” forgetting about the hard working Nigerians in the United Kingdom mostly in very respectable fields and some in other fields all contributing to the economy of the United Kingdom. “Oh you are Yoruba?” My new ‘friend’, almost screaming, facing me, she stretched her hands forward, offering a hand shake. “I am Yoruba too, you are my brother. My name is Wendy, Wendy Omotayo. “That was when she switched from English to Yoruba - not my kind of Yoruba, but what we refer to as the “Ijinle” Yoruba.
We conversed for almost 30 minutes in Yoruba. She had gone to “Biafra” (refusing to acknowledge South East Nigeria as being part of Nigeria) as a volunteer service person to help out Igbos during the Nigerian Civil war. She could only spend 4 weeks in Biafra but rather than return to the United Kingdom, took up a teaching appointment in Shaki, South West Nigeria (Shaki is located in the Northern part of present day Oyo State in Nigeria) Wendy had fallen in love with a native of Shaki who was also a teacher. Now back in the United Kingdom having lost her husband, she is teaching British children Yoruba. She is not only teaching them how to read but also to write.
Wendy insists the Yoruba language is one of the richest in the world. She told me she feels a sense of sadness that Children of Yoruba migrants in the United Kingdom do not speak Yoruba well enough. She is using her life savings to get materials together and pushing for a campaign that Yoruba should be included as a language that must be taught in boroughs with high populations of Yoruba Nigerians in the United Kingdom. I thereafter asked if I could interview her as I believed we needed to publicise what she was doing. She replied, “In life our works should speak for us”.
Taking time off work to meet a long time friend at Heathrow had turned out not to be waste after all. In fact, it ended up becoming one of my most fruitful outings till date. A message was being sent to me through an elderly Yoruba Caucasian lady, and that message was to pass on the language of my ancestors to my children , that if I fail to do that, I would have failed in passing on the bond between myself and my ancestors to my offspring.
By the time I got to the airport, the most important discussion I had with Dele Oladokun was for him to get me as many copies of “Alawiye” and other Yoruba texts as he possibly could. The books and many more have since arrived the UK and it is now a compulsory 2 hours per week lesson of Yoruba culture, ethics and tradition with God’s gifts to me.
Tuesday, 13 July 2010
Lions Standing Guard for the Kongi and other great African writers. Written by Kayode Ogundamisi
West African Verse had a compilation of African great poets; from Lenrie Peters’, "We Have Come Home", to “Africa my Africa” by David Diop. Diop’s poem stuck to my ‘medulla oblongata’ like no other poem - it kindled a great sense of pride of the continent. From my classroom in 3B I could stare at the cricket pitch of my school, look beyond the teachers quarters and go on a journey across Africa. I had not physically left Agege but could mentally picture Diop’s Africa and that of most writers in West African Verse. Who would not fall for Diop’s words “Africa, tell me Africa, Is this your back that is unbent, This back that never breaks under the weight of humiliation...” I could relate to those words.
Most of the women I saw at Agege Market carried heavy loads and still stood straight. I can remember mother making me carry heavy loads of hot rice as we made our way to Adebowale Electrical Company Isheri Road, Ikeja and each time I complained of the cooked rice being too heavy for my fragile weight, she would state words eeringly similar to those in Diop’s poem. “the back of a well brought up child should always be unbent”. My mum did not go past “standard 4” - whatever that was, and she never read Diop’s poem, but she knew from experience about the unbent back of Africans - even under the weight of heavy burdens, sometimes imposed by fellow Africans. Africans shuffle on, stand our ground and fight when we need to resist but keep hope alive, keeping our heads straight, chins up and make damn sure our backs remain unbent.
I still wonder why Mrs Oladipupo was fixated with poetry.
When it came to reading prose, the works of Shakespeare, Charles Dickens and others, she taught in a mechanical way, more like “I am teaching you this because it is in the syllabus” and to think she schooled in the United Kingdom, the home of Shakespeare but she treated Shakespeare with disdain. As soon as that yellow book “West African Verse” came out for the lesson, her humanity always blossomed. We each had a copy of the book provided by the State (O yes by the state government). You see, I was one of the lucky few who benefited from the programmes of the Unity Party of Nigeria led by Chief Obafemi Awolowo. The then Lagos State Governor Lateef Jakande had implemented the party policy of free and quality education and yes, it was truly free - we were supplied text books, mathematical sets, and every thing we needed for our education. I remember going for a debate in Oyo state, and my counterpart with whom I struck a friendship taught me a nonsensical poem coined from the ‘BIG Exercise book’ – a writing book (40, 60 and 80 leaves) issued for free to school children – Bola Ige Governor, Ede times (x) ede remi (c)koni iya segun elere Boolu odabo odabo kayode.
ln my class was Bolaji Ajimotokon - his father was the state commissioner for sports and he did not school abroad. In fact, in my school, a public school, we had the sons of three members of the Lagos state cabinet. I, the son of a soldier, later turned driver, seating in a public school with children of those who governed us. It was no big deal, we did not know any different and the quality was great. We had what was later described as “Jakande Poultry Schools” but I can bet the quality of education was way better than the Millennium space ship looking buildings of latter day governments. Then, teachers were teachers and were called so, and we believed almost every word that came out of their mouths.
It was a rainy day, Mrs Oladipupo had not turned up for the literature class and a bald headed man came in, speaking in a foreign accent. He announced he was going to take the place of Mrs Oladipupo and take our class for the week. He introduced himself as Mr Bonsu and that he was originally from Ghana. In military style, he asked if anyone of us had heard of Wole Soyinka, we all said no and he sort of barked “I will take you through two poems with the same title “ABIKU” one written by one of Africa’s greatest writers, Wole Soyinka and the other by another great writer John Pepper Clark. Mr Bonsu whom we later nicknamed Mr “Africa is in Trouble” (he got that name from his expression of frustration, if he his trying to get something across to you and you didn’t seem to get it, he retorted the words, “Charlie Africa is in trouble)
It was Mr Bonsu who brought me into the world of Wole Soyinka through his poem “Abiku”. The first few lines in Soyinka’s Abiku sounded like a voice of resistance, with Abiku rising in a strong controlled voice, screaming “In vain your bangles cast, Charmed circles at my feet ‘I am Abiku, calling for the first. And repeated time....” From then I never stopped reading Soyinka. From Soyinka, I knew about Chinua Achebe’s works and from Chinua Achebe, I got introduced to Ama Ata Aidoo, Ngugi wa Thiongo and an endless list of great African writers. I had a compilation of countless James Hardley Chase, but after reading the “The trial of brother Jero” and “Things fall Apart”. I set fire on all my collection of James Hardly Chase. I felt cheated-so all this while I had great unbent writers in Africa, and I was wasting my time reading about bank robbers in Europe.
From that classroom in that public school in Agege, I have grown into another world, a world of activism. In the course of that activism which is both a privilege and a duty, I have met many greats - Wole Soyinka stands tall amongst them. I would never have imagined, sitting behind my wooden desk , journeying into Africa in my mind, that I would one day stand side by side with the “mythical” Soyinka. Never imagined that in the year 2010, when he Soyinka is 76 and I 42, we would still both be talking about changing Nigeria. Wole Soyinka should know now that he is still alive that no matter what anyone may say, not minding his own faults, he remains one of the greatest Africa has ever produced and although himself, Chinua Achebe, J.P Clark may have inspired great writers, little did they know that they also inspired not so great writers who complement their shortcoming by standing on the side of the oppressed. May the Lions stand guard and always protect our Kongi. At 76, we say thank you.
Friday, 9 July 2010
Saturday, 3 July 2010
Oronto Douglas, Senior Special Assistant to President Goodluck Jonathan, offered insights into the Jonathan administration’s agenda priorities for the year ahead and the challenges he is likely to confront. Mr. Douglas is a prominent human rights advocate, Niger Delta activist, and co-founder of one of Africa’s foremost environmental movements, the Environmental Rights Action/Friends of the Earth Nigeria. He joined the Federal Government of Nigeria in 2007