Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Tradition can be fun; especially whenever I visited my maternal grandparents’ home. As a child of their daughter, (Nwadiala), I enjoyed a few perks; courtesy of tradition. My favourite was that anything that fell to the ground, in my presence, belonged to me. I reserved the right to either return it to the owner, or keep it.
However, I never mustered the courage to stretch that right to its limit; so I kept the avocado pears that fell off the tree in my presence, but returned the naira notes that I picked off the floor. Tradition also required that I reserve the right of first sampling of any food cooked, and the throat of any animal slaughtered there. And there were plenty of Xmas, Easter, New Year, New Yam festival goats.
Then my grandfather died; and I was assigned the task of digging the grave during his funeral, some months ago. My uncles and aunts explained that I was traditionally required to do so, by virtue of being his first grandchild from his first daughter.
I dug the grave; well, a few traditionally required shovelfuls and proceeded to supervise the three professional grave diggers I was allowed to hire for the task. They charged me N20, 000, three bottles of schnapps, and five packets of cigarettes. The alcohol, according to them, was required to ‘wet’ the hard earth in order to make for easier digging.
Then, my dad informed me that I was traditionally required to present the cow that he had been traditionally required to bring for the funeral. The cow, a big fellow, was in a nasty temper and seemed to have drank some cans of RedBull.
To my relief, I could present the raffia twisted twine favoured by shepherds for roping cattle. The rope served to, traditionally; signify that the cow was indeed within the premises, waiting for more competent handlers.
Then, my junior sister informed me that I was traditionally required to procure 15yards of Ankara which had to be draped over her shoulders, as she represented my late mum’s place in the traditional ‘Umuada’ (daughters of the land) dance.
Well, despite that the funeral left my wallet unexpectedly miserably thin; I still think tradition is fun. However, it could do with a few, financially-related, adjustments.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Bible Bashers

Having spent almost a year in Lagos, in a job that caused me to traverse the metropolis, I thought I had seen it all.
Until I boarded, one fateful Monday evening, the 50-seater National Unity Transport bus that I usually favour for the Obalende-Oshodi route.
As soon as the heavily laden bus clambered atop the third mainland bridge, and rumbled along at less than 10 miles per hour in the typical Monday night traffic, I whipped out my copy of NEXT and proceeded to console myself.
The drama started when the big fellow sitting next to me leaned over, rudely closed my paper, and said, “Let us pray.”
As he heaved himself to his feet, and addressed fellow passengers with the familiar - “Brothers and Sisters,” I resigned myself to having to endure an hour, or so, of preaching that I wasn’t exactly in the mood for.
A couple of minutes later, my resignation turned to outraged shock when another fellow stood up and promptly proceeded to bellow his own version of the ‘word of God.’ Two preachers in one bus!
This proved a little too much for the usually stoic commuters, and protests spewed forth. The driver, obviously incensed with the din, turned up the radio volume; and Dbanj entered the fray with ‘Gbono feli feli.’ A police officer standing near the open doors of the bus leaned farther out, as if preferring the cacophony of horns that characterize Lagos traffic.
Neither of them willing to stand down for the other, the two ‘pastors’ preached on, undeterred by the palpable rage of their audience. I dare say the good Lord would not have approved of the manner in which the supposed men of God went about the business of preaching His word.
As I climbed into bed two hours later, I couldn’t help marvel at how Lagos always manages to get on the nerves of even its most jaded citizens.

Friday, September 18, 2009

I want to be a millionaire too.

First, I must say I am a Nationalist; a deep rooted believer in the ‘wazobia’ spirit. I don’t care if my proverbial missing rib is found in the swamps of the Niger-Delta, or the dusty plains of Maiduguri.
But I confess I did feel a twinge of tribalism that the historic winner of the MTN sponsored Who Wants to Be a Millionaire television programme, Chimuanya Ufodike, is an Igbo man; a native of Nnewi at that!
Nnewi, the Taiwan of Africa! The commercial nerve centre of Nigeria’s motorcycle industry boasts an unenviable reputation of recording one of the highest illiteracy levels in Igboland.
Mr Ufodike, whose cute VW Passat bears customized licence plates that proudly declares him as an Nnewi son, was quick to rise to the disagree with this notion in the three-hour-long interview (more like banter) I had with him.
“Those rumours are unfounded,” he said a wee bit heatedly, betraying a slight chink in his otherwise unruffled demeanour. “Where is the first senate president from? My father was the second professor of Kinesiology in Africa. There are so many professors, and professionals in Nnewi. All members of my extended family are graduates and professionals in their respective careers.”
“I admit that Nnewi people are prone to excel in commerce, but that shouldn’t be a reason to forego education,” he added.
Coming days after this year’s World Literacy Day celebrations, and reports in NEXT that an estimated 30% of Nigerians are illiterate, Mr Ufodike’s exploits signal a rallying call to our millions of uneducated youth.
The master degree holder, who almost didn’t go to university, proves a role model to Nigerian youth on the values of education, even if self inflicted.
“It’s not just the inside the box kind of thing, you’ve got to also think outside the box,” he said. “I read a lot, especially those kinds of books that people don’t like reading.”
As I reluctantly extricated myself from his captivating presence, I made a mental note to dig out that dog-eared copy of Fyodor Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment that I had abandoned half read last year.
I also want to be a millionaire. Those naira notes don’t care if you are Igbo, or Yoruba, or Hausa; it flows into your pockets as a result of what your brain has ingested and recycled.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

All hail the Southpaws!

Six-year-old Tosin Omowunmi is engaged in a running battle; her instincts versus parental guidance.
Ms Omowunmi was born left-handed; and despite the hundreds of smacks received from her parents who are desperate to correct what, to them, is a perplexing development, she still finds herself unconsciously reaching out with her left hand to shake hands.
“I can’t understand why it is only her (out of four siblings) that is left-handed,” said Evelyn Omowunmi, Tosin’s mother. “Her father (Segun) and I are both right handed, and so are the other kids. Initially we thought it won’t be long before we correct it, but she has stubbornly refused to change it completely.”
Ms Omowunmi joins an estimated 10% of the world’s population who are left handed. Left-handed people possess the ability to use their left hands more dominantly, and with more versatility, than the right. This condition is usually noticed right from childhood. In Nigeria, because of the various negative myths surrounding it, most children who are discovered to be left handed are forced into right-handedness.
Peter Omoluabi, a Professor of Psychology at the University of Lagos and former President of the Nigeria Psychological Association, provides an insight into how the development occurs at birth.
“Left-handedness is a natural biological process,” he said. “It is as a result of the dominance of the right lobe of the brain. The brain is divided into two hemispheres, the right and the left. The right hemisphere of the brain controls the activities of the left side of the body. At any particular time, one of them is more dominant than the other.”
In a world dominated by right-handed people, and tools designed for them; left-handed people often find themselves up the creek without a paddle.
Dominic Ogbonna, an Ijesha based grocer said he had always struggled with the starter cord, positioned on the right side of his TG900 Tiger Generator.
“My left hand is stronger, so it was not easy pulling that cord with my right,” he said.
He eventually bought a bigger Honda generator, not because he needed the extra power, but because the starter cord is positioned on the left side of the engine.
Left-handed people, like Mr Ogbonna, have also had to battle the negative interpretations that the Nigerian culture makes on them.
Professor Omoluabi dismisses the negative cultural interpretations, and advices parents, whose children are left-handed not to interfere as it might lead to complications in the child’s psyche.
“The cultural factors are purely mythical and some of them are really nonsensical,” he said. “There is no scientific basis for these beliefs. The attempt to force the (left-handed) child to use his or her right hand often discourages, confuses, and disorients the child.”
“It is not their fault; therefore they should be left alone. By the time they grow up, they might even adapt to using both hands thus becoming ambidextrous, which is a rare advantage. (Film Actor) Desmond Elliot and (Former Vice President) Mike Akhigbe are examples of this. Some of the world’s greatest people, today, are left-handed,” added Professor Omoluabi.
The Omowunmi’s are urbane and quite agree with Professor Omoluabi’s views. They say they are gradually getting accustomed to the fact that they might be losing the battle; however, they couldn’t resist the stern looks they gave Tosin as she hurriedly exchanged her left hand for the right before shaking hands.

Some famous left-handed people.
· Barak Obama – President of the USA.
· Babatunde Fashola – Governor of Lagos State.
· Mike Akhigbe – Former Vice President.
· Desmond Elliot – Nollywood Actor.
· Tom Cruise – Hollywood Actor.
· Pele – Brazilian football legend.
· Bill Gates – Founder of Microsoft.
· George Bush Snr – Former US President.
· Colin Powel – Former US Secretary of State.
· Bill Clinton – Former US President.
· Prince Charles – Heir to the British Throne.
· Oprah Winfrey – US Media Personality.

Myths associated with left handed people.
Money handed over with the left hand will disappear.
It is rude to shake hands with an older person.
Left-handed people are likely to be dishonest.
Left-handed people are more intelligent.
Left-handed people are disadvantaged in hand-to-hand combat.
Left-handed people are clumsy.
Eating with the left hand is immoral.
A left handed toast amounts to a curse on the victim.

Facts about left handed people.

Due to the fact that the left hemisphere of the brain processes analytical information, right-handed people might be slightly advantaged in analysis.
Left-handed people are more prone to be ambidextrous than right handed people.
Left-handed people are better in one-on-one sports such as tennis, judo, and boxing.
Left-handed people are disadvantaged in using tools designed for right handed people.
Left-handed people lean heavily to using visual stimulus to process information.
Left-handed people have shorter life spans because they are more prone to accidents.

This piece was published in NEXT, and

"Welcome to Lagos!"

My back pocket felt noticeably lighter as soon as I succeeded in squeezing myself through the mass of humanity standing near the door of the bus.
I reached for my back pocket as soon as my feet touched ground, and my worst fears were confirmed. My wallet had disappeared. Welcome to Lagos!
A fellow commuter, a wizened old man that alighted from the same bus, solemnly patted me on the back, shook his head, and mumbled “Welcome to Lagos.”
Within seconds, 11 commuters surrounded me, offering their condolences and sharing similar experiences, apparently thinking it would make me feel better.
Their stories were diverse. One had his two mobile phones lifted from separate pockets at the same time; another had his lace Kaftan slashed with a razor so that the wily pickpockets could get to his wallet. Indeed, on the spot statistics revealed that almost 50% of regular commuters of the Obalende-Mile 2 route had fallen prey to the pick-pockets at one time or the other.
They were all generous with their advice; Divide your money amongst your various pockets! Do not carry a wallet! Don’t carry all your ATM cards except when you really need them! Hold your phones, and wallets, and other valuables while boarding or alighting from the bus! Buy your own car!
And each of them signed off his/her piece of advice with, “Welcome to Lagos.”
Reeling from the shock, dizzy with thoughts of how to handle the impromptu economic recession, and thirsty from my long trek home, I decided to console myself at a local watering hole.
A couple of beers later, and feeling slightly better, I reached for my wallet to settle the bill....Oh no!
What happened next? That’s another story.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Exam racketeering

Ekene Iroghuma, 19, dropped out of school because he wants to make straight As in his Senior Secondary School Certificate Examination next year.

Sounds bizarre?

Ekene says he is dropping out from school so as to concentrate on his film rental business and make enough money to pay for passing his o levels in flying colours.

Educational consultants, posing as organizers of extra mural lectures for secondary school student intending to write any of the external examinations are helping candidates cheat to pass their examinations in every manner possible so as to get good grades.

They advertise aggressively and their banners and hand bills compete for space with those of the numerous churches that abound in the metropolis, from the dirty walls of public buildings to the grimy sides of garbage bins.

Pinnacle Education Academy, located at the Obelle Primary School, Lawanson, Surulere, is one such agent. The academy conducts remedial lessons and online registration of examinations such as WASSCE, NECO, UME, POST UME, etc. Proprietor Damilola Adewara sums up the agency's real business; "Our real aim is making sure those candidates that pay special fees pass the exams", he says.

Cheating in examinations is what agencies like Pinnacle specialize in. They provide answers, hours before the candidates enter their examination halls, and even, in some cases, write for absentee candidates.
"We call it NA, which is for non available candidates. Though I advice all of them to try and attend lessons and be at the exam, so that they will see what we are doing for them", says Rotimi Aseye, a co proprietor at Pinnacle.

He goes on to give a vague definition of their mode of operation as, "We arrange with the JAMB and WAEC people... security is no problem. Once you have your money, everything is possible, we even do aptitude test (Post UME) for our people at UNILAG."

The agency charges N5, 000 for three months worth of lectures and N15, 000 for fixing the examinations. However, paying this N15, 000 does not guarantee automatic success at the examination.
"80% of our people get their results; the rest either gets theirs' seized or are just unlucky", says Damilola. He is quick to point out that there are no guarantees and sums it up by saying, "When I wrote mine 10years ago, there was no ‘runs' advice to my students is always to pray, for Man proposes; God disposes."

Hundreds of secondary school students have begun to neglect their studies due to the availability of such agents. Some, who apparently have limited parental supervision, are even going as far as dropping out of school because they know they can always contract the services of the likes of Pinnacle.

"An SS (Senior Secondary)2 student, who lives opposite my house has dropped out of school saying he wants to save for 'runs' by next year when his mates start writing WAEC (Senior Secondary Certificate Examination). Look at how education has fallen in this country", says Desmond Ngorube.

The problem is not limited to Lagos; it appears to have spread across the nation. Like a cancerous growth, it is eating deeper and deeper into the fabrics of Nigeria's educational system.

Texas Institute is another of such agencies located in Aba, the commercial nerve centre of Abia State. The proprietor, Ifeanyi Umeh provides detailed insights into the workings of this cabal.
"We buy serial numbered online cards from our contacts at WAEC, NECO or JAMB so that all our candidates get to be posted to a particular school of our choice. We have private schools, especially on the outskirts of the town, where the proprietors work hand in hand with us", he says.

The next stage varies, according to the agency.

Some of them induce officials of the various examination bodies to leak the question papers to them, days before the examination, which they solve and distribute to their candidates on exam day.

It will be recalled that WAEC cancelled and rewrote, some papers during the last May/June Senior Secondary Certificate Examinations because of widespread leakage of examination papers.

While some of them, especially the big ones like Texaco or Pinnacle decide not to gamble. They hire experts (especially undergraduates) majoring in the respective areas to solve the questions on examination day and pass on to the candidates, for example, an Accountancy undergraduate is hired to solve mathematical questions while an English undergrad does same for English Language.

The corrupt proprietors of these private schools collect bribes from these agents and look the other way.
"As for the WAEC people (examination invigilators), we leave them to the school owners to settle (bribe) them. We pay the school owners to make sure the school is conducive for our business, they have to make sure invigilators, security and other people involved get their own and comply", says Ifeanyi.

Teachers of public schools have also condemned the corrupt practices going on in some of these private schools and say it taints the image of the profession.
"Some of those private schools engage in sharp practices which give teachers generally a bad name. Government should look at those schools and investigate what some of them are doing", says Rashidat Balogun, who teaches at Anglican Girls Seminary, Lagos Island.

Ifeanyi scoffs at the possibility of being run out of business.
"When they introduced online registration, some people thought we will fold but we got around it. Whatever they come out with, we will sit down and fashion out how to address it. It is difficult to refuse the money we offer them", he says.

Ekene is working hard, and saving hard, to be able to afford the services of the likes of Pinnacle and Texaco come June next year.

He hopes to make grades good enough to enable him gain effortless admission to the university to study his dream course - Law.