Change we need – Definitely NOT Omisore

Yesterday I came across a headline that says ‘Publicly declare your appreciation for someone.’ The first thing that pops into my head was the forthcoming election in our dear state, Osun. I thought I had publicly declared that I appreciate Aregbesola’s administration and his dedication and passion to lead by example, I really have done that. Then it occurred to me that I have not really said much about Dr/Senator Omisore and that is just because I tried to avoid distraction but now I guess one way to further show my appreciation to Ogbeni’s work in our state is to draw attention to more reasons why we as the state of Osun do not deserve to have a leader like Omisore. Here  are my reasons:

 

From web
From the web

 

omisore-corn-2
From the web

 

On Grassroots: I think Omisore went way too far mocking the people of Osun by eating on the road on his campaign trail, all in the name of being close to the grassroots. I am one of millions of people who are born and raised in the village here in our dear state, I have never seen any adult of Omisore’s age sitting on the rooftop of a very nice and expensive car eating on his own while other people around him watched on  – all in the name of being close to the grassroots, this attitude only further shows who Omisore is as a person –  someone who still lives in years past, today, people in Osun state have manners, when we eat in public, we do it in a way that is socially acceptable – with a group of friends, never like a loner. This is in no way a representative of anyone in Osun. Wearing mix and match ankara outfits was nothing any male adults wear except if you were Baba Sala whereby you were there for entertainment purposes, in which case you would come out with the brightest happy smile, Omisore obviously didn’t do that. To remotely think mix-match outfits is representing us is extreme and very insensitive way of portraying people. Maybe Omisore has being away from real people for too long and might have forgotten how we are. We are people with dreams, we know our limitations and are working hard in all our individual ways so we can live up to our full potentials – eating popcorn in the middle of a crowded road was not one thing we aspire to. He could have tried to recite thought-provoking poetry or two, we would have loved that and respected him for it, he could have tried to give a convincing and intelligent speech about how our cocoa/palm oil trees could be more efficiently managed, we would have appreciated that. Eating in the middle of the road? Omisore needs to try harder!

On Education: I have read all that I could gather about Omisore’s manifestos, there were simply none. For now, all that he said was his plans to waste our limited resources to reverse all that Ogbeni has done, why would anyone do that? Whatever Ogbeni has done can not be all that bad, I believe. As a child of Osun who has interest in the development of the state, when I was completely confused with the new education system, I spent sometime to understand by reading the documents on the state website and it was not too hard to grasp, why can’t Omisore do this rather than thinking the only way is to waste our money reversing projects?  On another note, I am so glad that Omisore finally made the blunder of ‘all the rices….’ I don’t care which language my governor speaks as long as it is comprehensible to the public of the state.  Omisore has done several interviews with journalists where he wasted time boasting of his PhD status, now with all ‘the rices…’ I hope that would keep him quiet for sometime. Now listen up, hundreds of Osun state sons and daughters have their PhDs, which they worked hard for, here is your time to go back to the professor who passed your thesis and demand money back (if you ever wrote one that is).

On religion: Belief it or not, we are unique people in Osun state, this is because for years the state lived in harmony for the most part. Let us continue to find ways in which all of us can live peacefully together. You will be hard pressed today to see a family that did not have people of different faiths in their family. Our children deserve to be educated in a fear-free environment whereby their talents can shine through and adults too, deserve to live their lives in peace with neighbours. Osun people deserves a leader who is ready to work hard and pull us all together so as to celebrate and rejoice in our unique differences. Our difference in faiths is our strength, let’s embrace it to our advantage.

On Modakeke: If you are a native of Modakeke, then read this as one, to non native of Modakeke, read this area with open mind. Kola Olabisi’s article ‘Osun 2014: Why Modakeke will never vote for Omisore’ prompted this piece. Ko si bi a se maa p’ori aja, ti a ko ni p’ori ikoko ti a fi se. This is our story, our struggle, it will be burying ones head under a heap of sound if anyone thinks Modakeke people forget, no one forgets a crisis that wiped their entire family away and took the livelihood away from most that are living, however, we do forgive and most people have moved on.

Being a native of Modakeke is starting to realise you are less of a person right from the day that you could mutter out a few words. It is watching your childhood friend died in front of your eyes from gunshot wounds – this was Adeolu in 1997. He was a good boy, the only son of his family, he lived at Old NEPA area of Modakeke. Why was he killed? He died for the sins he did not commit, he died because his great, great grand parents settled on the land. Ade was not alone, many young and old people’s lives were cut short just the same way and counting…believe me.

Before you say Modakeke are brave people, let me just remind you of our proverb, ile su omode s’ona, o l’oun l’aya, ti ko ba l’aya se yi o wole ni? This is the reality for us, although we have moved on but the wounds are still raw. The farmers from Ogudu, Osi, Ayeoba, Yekemi whose family have cultivated their farmlands for a very long time were driven away from their farms, these were the lucky ones, some were butchered in the early morning on their mats. This was not a story passed down to my generation, this story happens just over 10 years ago and the perpetual killings still go on. On top of it all, my local village Famia now has a Oba who shares no history whatsoever with us – yet we lived on. Are we really brave? Tell me what you would have done if you were in our shoe?

Egbon Kola Olabisi, you were right, Omisore could have used his wealth of knowledge in positive ways to show that the world is better for us all when we do not harbour hatred especially when the ‘sins’ were our forefather’s and none of the parties are alive today to reconcile whatever their issues were. Omisore’s family were tucked in safe haven of America, the freedom they enjoy was fought for with sweat and blood of African Americans. Omisore could have been the pioneer to shed lights, but he choose to compound our agony by adding salt to injury – still we moved on.

To those Modakekes who for some reasons think Omisore is a changed man, they need to re assess where their priority lies. Everyone is entitled to their opinions. The boreholes, the transformers he donated to a few people are not what we craved for. Nonetheless, the transformers that he gave to Parakin in Ife was quickly retrieved back from those communities shortly after he lost the last senatorial election to Omoworare – something to think about. And ultimately what we crave for as Modakeke is not any handouts, no, that is not enough, we just want to be treated as normal everyday people and most importantly to be represented as fairly as everyone within the state. This will take an intelligent leader, and never a copycat who thinks riding okada is synonymous to grassroots.

After reading Long Walk to Freedom, I felt free and when I stood by the Cape Town pier watching the boat heading towards Robben Island, I knew in my heart that I would never harbour any grudges against anyone because of their native town, not in the least Omisore – afterall no one chooses where they are from.

I just happen to belong to a generation that is tired of being told we are what our leaders are because we vote for them, so this time, I refuse to follow a mediocre, I refuse to follow a leader who makes mockery of his own people, I refuse to listen to a leader who spent so much time talking about his academic achievements but failed woefully to defend it. I deserve a better leader, I deserve a leader that is passionate about investing in people positively and has track records that I can point to, I deserve a leader that I am proud to associate with in public so I chose to show my appreciation to Aregbesola.

Palm oil production in Nigeria

If you’ve never visited other people’s farm, you’ll spend the rest of your life believing your father’s farm was the best – goes a Yoruba saying.

Everyday, presents itself with yet another opportunity to learn new things.

Growing up in the village, I naively thought Nigeria was the only place in the world that produces palm oil, even when I read years ago that palm trees grow in other tropical countries around the world, my imagination could not stretch enough to picture similarities and differences in the farming, harvesting and production of palm oil in other people’s land.

I recently learnt that Nigeria in the 1960s produces 43% of the world palm oil while Malaysia around the same time produced less than 10%. Today, Malaysia and Indonesia are the two main exporters of palm oil with Indonesia in the lead. Between both two countries, they produce yearly 90% of the world palm oil, now for us in Nigeria, although we were in the lead in the 1960s, we now produce less than 5%.

How could that be? I guess this is what I am trying to understand.

img_0251Farm produce especially palm trees always gets my attention, because once upon a time my livelihood and every one around me heavily depended on it. If mother moans about excessive rain during palm fruit harvesting period, I and siblings wouldn’t be too pleased because Akope (the man that climbs palm tree) would not do their job. Most of our palm oil trees were inherited, some have been bearing fruits for more than 60 years and still standing, some were so old and very dangerous to climb and very thin so they were left idle, occupying the space needlessly, waiting to fall if there were heavy winds. Some of the palm oil trees in my village and surrounding were very tall, as tall at 50 feet and Akope still climb them with rope around the waist and axe to cut off the bunches from the tree. Our Akope do not wear shoes so their feet, over long period of time had developed very think layers of dead skin to grip the bark of the tree. People die yearly from this especially elderly Akope, younger Akope have higher rate of survival but in some cases, could leave people with long life disability.  Well, growing up I thought the Akopes  were very brave climbing up so high with next to nothing protection gears – not anymore were they brave in my book. My uncle died on the job, climbing a 40 foot tall palm tree with one single rope around his waist, he was 66 years old. Raining season is a happy season as everyone is busy with lot of activities about mostly around palm oil processing.

Palm tree is one of my favourites ‘trees’ in the farm, everything about it is a piece of blessing, hardly any waste. The tree itself when fell, is used to build farm huts both for the structure and for the roof my father had one made like this for maize storage. The leaves when woven together neatly are used for the hut roofs, the leaves stalk when shredded are used to weave baskets, my cousins loved to do this for pocket-money, it is a serious day job for many keen adults.

Palm oil as I learned is the world biggest oil produced and 50% of the world products on supermarket shelves from food, soap to cosmetics contains palm oil. Now, there is minimum waste in palm fruit after the oil is extracted, the residue after water is extracted is locally called ogunso (fire starters, works like cow dung)

Content and design credits: Chester Zoo, UK
Content and design credits: Chester Zoo, UK

Palm kernel seed is what is left after red oil has been extracted, this produces a whole different type of oil known as palm kernel oil – looks pretty much like any vegetable oil. Left overs after kernel oil is extracted is used for animal feeds. Beyond the shore of Nigeria, there were a whole lot of usage for palm oil fruits which I find truly amazing.

My knowledge of palm trees and the processes of palm oil production was by large limited to my little village experience. This all changed a few years ago when I visited Thailand, I was there to wander round with no real expectations other than to enjoy meeting new people and appreciate my world. During my stay, I went to remote villages where tourist don’t usually visit, you get to meet people as they are, this has always appealed to me when a visiting a new place. One day on a motor cycle in the middle of nowhere in the south, I saw a huge heap of palm oil fruits, the scale that I have never seen before at home. I didn’t even know that these guys grow palm trees at all let alone produce palm oil, it was fascinating. The efficiency of the harvesting was amazing, also I noticed that lots of their trees were much shorter than what I am used to. It was such an eye-opening experience.

Beyond Thailand, I wanted to learn more about palm trees and its origin. I saw with my korokoro eyes why we have been less productive, our farms in Osun state for example is owned by individual subsistence farmers so no surprises that my mother and many like her in the country work year round producing palm oil and still live from hand to mouth.

What intrigues me more was the fact that this ‘tree of life’ originated here in our backyard, it was later in the 16th century introduced to South America then 19th century to parts of Asia – Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand (3rd largest producer) etc. Farmers in these Southeast Asia countries have been assisted substantially by their government for large-scale production with the exception of Thailand where production is mainly small farm holders, but still better run than ours in Nigeria.

Almost every household in Nigeria eats instant noodles but the company producing them based in Nigeria has to import palm oil from Malaysia and now I learnt many households especially in Lagos buy imported palm oil…heaven help me.

Presently PRESCO is doing great in palm oil industry in Benin which I think is fantastic. The government body National Institute for Oil Palm Research (NIFOR) are doing what they do best as well – lots of research and lecture presentations.

I am hoping that my state soon will pick up on this and provide funding for very much needed education for our farmers especially about felling the old trees and replanting. This will take time before profit kicks in but at least future will be bright. I also hope that the government will open up abandoned land so people can cultivate there, currently owners are faceless, but immediately anyone shows interest in doing anything with it, there will be strings of owners showing up making it impossible for anyone to afford.

Now at least I can dream of what palm oil industry can be.

Abortion in Nigeria

A few months ago, a niece called to share a story about her roommate at university to see if I could be of any help. Her roommate just had an abortion – very ill and bleeding more than you would for a normal period. Julie wanted to know what she could do to help. The only proof that Julie had was the pills that Tola had taken, a brief online search revealed it was meant for abortion.

I thought the best way was to be nice to Tola and try to see if she could to go home to her parents or to go to the hospital in town. Julie did all that she could, they were closer than they ever had been. Tola eventually went to the hospital, she felt better later on.

Did I mention that Tola was 18 years old and a born again Christian? She goes to a Pentecostal church, the ones that preaches prosperity 24/7.

Aduke and I and a couple of other girls were good friends when I was in secondary school. Aduke’s home was the place to be for after school run-around, her mother was pleasant and welcoming. She is a good girl.

We ended up at the same college, only that I was a year ahead of her so we didn’t see each other as much as we used to in secondary school days. One day as I was combing through Atakumosa Market, Ilesa looking for iru, (locust beans) I ran into one of our mutual friends, she could not talk much as Aduke was at the Wesley Teaching Hospital, Ilesa fighting for her life, Bola said to me.

Getting to Wesley hospital, Aduke was lying in bed helplessly as if waiting for her last breath, she laid face down because her bottom was sore from lying in one spot for over 2 weeks, the look on her face was of guilt, shame and all the horrible feelings of someone who felt she had let the whole universe down.

Her mother who I had not seen in a long time burst out crying seeing me, I cried with her and the poor woman was saying something to suggest another reasons Aduke had let her family down.

Aduke was a good girl and 22 at the time of the abortion. She didn’t want to be a mother yet. She had bought some abortion tablets from the ‘chemist,’ this was prior to Akunyili’s amazing work at NAFDAC. There was no reliable place for Aduke to go to for open and honest advice.

A nurse during one of my visits said to me that what happened to my friend was the reason they tell us youngsters to go to church/mosque and be good girls. I had to ignore her because she was just being provocative,  I knew that my friend was a good girl.

Nigeria parents’ world is the one where parents assume that their adolescent children do not feel any sexual attractions toward opposite sex, and even if they did, their religious leaders are the experts so the job is left for the church.

The pastors would do what they did best by yet another endless preachings about how to repel the most natural feelings in the world.

Aduke was later transferred to Ile Ife Teaching Hospital and stayed for a very long time at their Renal Ward,  she was blessed with a doctor that was less judgemental, Dr Kola took on her case and did all he could and saved Aduke’s life.

Aduke is fine and doing well now, not without permanent scars though, she lost her hearing on both ears, limping on her left leg  – most sadly, her womb was said to be perforated by the drugs so was removed.

Abortion is very controversial in Nigeria, actually everything is. It is illegal, well with a few clauses that really means the same thing, yet quack doctors are all over the place performing abortions, harmful abortion tablets are available in markets.

I wonder, wouln’t it be so much easier to just tell the truth and provide enough education to help youths through, also to make youths feel they can come home and ask their parents questions if ever they were stuck?

Maggots in the brain

Life in the village sometimes can deal more than you ever bargained for. Life can be slow-paced and interesting and at the same time whenever there was any drama, everyone feels the impact, whether or not you liked to be involved.

It was one summer school holidays, I was in the village from school just like many school children. Long holidays are always very eventful. Two weeks earlier, there were words going around that someone has been stealing yam and maize from the farm huts. A few farmers had huts in the farms for produce storage and also for livestock. My father had a few dozen chickens at the time, he fed them twice daily and with plenty of insects to snack on, these chickens grew very big, a few other farmers in my village kept chicken in their huts too. It is very rare for anyone to complain about missing stuff in my village because we were only about 350 people at a given time and everyone knows everyone else’s business. Most young adults have one thing or the other to do, the output may not be great, but enough to keep them out of trouble.

Akinbayo was a police officer, he had been at the job for a long time but unfortunately he came down with mental health problem. Mental health patients in Nigeria are not treated well, it is a taboo, especially in rural areas. I knew Akinbayo had a son who was about my age, he was doing well at school. Every mental health patient in Nigeria had a similar story, it is always about a witches casting spell of some sort on them. Akinbayo was let go from his police officer’s job when he could no longer cope. He lived in a neighbouring village to mine and I have seen him and his son passing by on many occasions.

In the village, he was lonely to put it mildly and struggled a lot, however, being in the village at the time was still his best bet as he could at least plant some food crops to survive on. However, after a few years, Akinbayo’s mental health got the best of him. As it turned out Akinbayo was the ‘thief’ that people have been complaining about. He stole all my father’s chicken and because the dried maize was right there neatly arranged still in cobs, it was easy for him to take them away in hundreds. My father was not alone, lots of other farmers were affected.

My father came home one evening to tell us that the thief raiding our farms had been caught in one neighbouring village, it was in the night, and that he was beating up really badly but managed to escape – Nigeria jungle justice.  The news that was sent around was to be on the lookout.

With all these warnings, life still goes on as normal. I had begged my sister that we’ll be better off starting work early at 7am so we can get a lot done before our Eku ( a designated place just outside of the village for carrying out certain farm work) got busy at 9am, the plan she agreed to. Our jobs was to peel cassava, there were lots of them, the payment is directly tied to daily outputs so worked well for me. For my sister, she was there to provide company, she was not as fast as I was in the cassava peeling business but the deal was for me to buy her a small gift afterwards.

Ope and I sat down at Eku, we were the only one there, 7am August in Nigeria was still quite dark,  we had kerosene lanterns with us mainly to be able to see our mountain of cassavas. People do this all the time and there were no real reason to fear. About half hour after we sat down, we heard intermittent heavy breathings, it was laboured as if someone was choking, this time, the day had broken and we could hear people chatting on the road on their way to the market. Ope wanted to shout for help, but I reminded her I needed to finish today at four 0’Clock so we can be home on time to help with dinner. We both agreed to stay quiet and not to shout so we moved our knives swiftly against the cassava peels will minimal sound.

By 8.30am a few older women joined us so we told them about the heavy breathings we’ve heard and showed the direction it was coming from. My sister and I got up with Mama Ade to see where the noise was coming from. How he managed to get here was not clear but it was Akinbayo lying helplessly beside a kolanut tree, his head rested on a rock, seeing us, he opened his mouth but no sound came out, his eyes were wide open, a third of his skull was gone, on top of his exposed brain were maggots, hundreds of them feasting, by this time we already had a crowd of about 10, all women, all with teary eyes – the pain on faces were much more than the one displayed by Akinbayo.

Noone knew what to do, no doctor to call. The only  nurse we had, Brother Mathew lived about 10 miles away and we didn’t even know if he was around or away in town. Older women ran to the village, I stayed behind with my sister to take it all in, we were unable to continue to work as I was too shaken up. Mama Ade came back with a gallon of an insecticide, this was the same spray she used to kill bugs eating into her kola nuts, the idea was that this should help Akinbayo as it will kill the maggots, I stood still, not that I had any better Idea but yelled loudly at Mama Ade that the insecticide would likely kill Akinbayo too. Ignoring people’s outburst, Mama Ade poured the mixture onto Akinbayo’s open skull, a few minutes later, he was turned to the other side, maggots poured out in what looked like grains of rice.

His eyes still opened without blinking, a few minutes later, he had his last breath in front of me, my sister and a few other older women – right there. This happened a couple of decades ago, just writing about it, it feels like it was only yesterday.

Coconut water usage in Nigeria

The more I learn about the world around me the more I want to know, some of the time at least.

At a recent event, a lady asks if I knew how to break a coconut, without hesitation I said  ‘oh yes.’ She was excited and said ‘thank you, w’ll need you at the tombola event’ she said excitedly. The excitement was a little too much for the offer that I thought I better explain myself just to be sure we were on the same page. In my mind, it wasn’t a big deal to break coconuts, we had about 10 coconut palm trees scattered around my parents’ farm. I had eating tens of them growing up, yes, I know a bit about coconut. Then I told Lisa all that would be needed was a hammer to crack it open and some blunt knives to take the fruit out. My friend was confused, this was relayed to me from the look on her face. We were both talking about the same fruit, coconut, but had completely different ideas about how to eat it or which part of it can be eaten raw.

Lisa was talking about coconut water, I on the other hand was thinking about coconut fruit – I mean the real coconut.

It wasn’t a rocket science to get access to coconut water I just have never done it before despite growing up with lots of them in my farm. These were matured coconuts, the husks have already been peeled off, so we get a small drill to poke a little hole, big enough for the straw and the job was done.

Next day was fun with people getting excited and drinking coconut water, and also with all the hype about the health benefits of coconut water in the media, within half hour, the whole lot was gone, fantastic activity for a charity event. I should have predicted what was to come after people were done with the water, but I didn’t have to do that but was faced with the reality head on. Everyone drank their water and left coconut fruit in the bin! 80 coconuts! Why would people do this? That is the ‘real thing’ I told someone beside me. ‘That’s food full of nutrition, you were throwing away.” This happened in the UK.

People heard about coconut milk, coconut water, coconut cooking oil and beauty products and all the nutritional benefits. Do they know that you can eat coconut raw as snacks or garnish on salad? Maybe they did but easier to stick to what one knows.

As I said earlier, I had eaten a fair amount of coconut growing up, mostly as snacks, this is done by just breaking the shell and used a blunt knife to get the fruit out and there you have your snack, tasty. Sometimes, we go a bit further by grating the fruit then grill it with a little bit of sugar solution, this helps to bind it together in small chunks, we conveniently called this kokonut. Coconut water in my region of Yorubaland is wasted, sad but true. Sometimes we collect the water and rub it on the back of coconut shell, I am told this helps soften the fruit in the pod so it is easy to peel off, it never worked! We believed so many things, that were neither true nor tested. The one big myth I grew up with as the reason why we don’t drink coconut water in my area was that drinking it causes eczema! We don’t drink coconut water and lots of people still have eczema, uhmn.

And of course life in the city is always a bit different, a friend who lived in Lagos said she has drank it before because she heard coconut water helps to lower blood pressure – this is Lagos, people say all kind of stuff to get their goods sold, at least it get people to stop wasting food.  My friend who is a lot older and lived in a not so big city has never tasted it, “so if I tell you that coconut water is cholesterol free meaning good for your heart and also has many other health benefits.” I said to Tola. She could not belief why we have been wasting perfectly good and nutritious water all along, she is now a convert at least until the food and nutrition experts tell us anything different from the information we currently have.

Hopefully, everyone in my village will stop wasting coconut water as is healthy for us and to the Oyinbos, hope they would stop wasting perfectly healthy fruit by eating it raw too or mixed up with some greens for healthy lunch.

Nigeria – world’s perfect education system

Nigerians are quite aware that education system in the country is broken but do we all know the extent of its broken (ness)? How do we fix a broken system if we focus only on the symptoms? When I talk about school disappointment in Nigeria system, I meant government-funded schools. I had to make this clear because sometimes people get it all mixed up and I really do not want to talk about the private schools that are well run and quality, to some extent comparable globally – these are way beyond what most Nigeria parents could ever afford.

“But everyone complains their country has failed them on education.” My new friend says. I thought she was joking so I asked for  specific countries whose education is at ground zero as Nigeria’s and with as much resources. She eagerly mentioned UK and the US. I felt like killing the conversation right there because it is heading downward slope especially when people think after Nigeria, the only other nations we can emulate must be UK and the US. Why these two countries alone? Why can’t we take realistic and persistent steps using the resources at our disposal and device realistic strategies. How about learning from Ghana, our neighbour? Why not South Africa or even many other African and Asian countries that have significantly better education system? They must be doing way better than us as we spent millions of dollars to send our children to their schools yearly.

A few minutes down the line, it was clear that Rebecca and I were talking about the same country that we were both passionate about but we have completely different knowledge of the profoundness of the problem. She was born and raised in the UK, all her education from primary to university were all in the UK, why was she so concerned about the state of education of Nigeria? Yes, Rebecca was, because that is what Nigeria does to everyone that has a hint of her blood in their veins. Both Rebecca’s parents are Nigerians meaning even though she did not travel once throughout her upbringing in the UK to Nigeria, she was blessed (or not) with parents who breathe Nigeria and its numerous headaches to her daily. Her passion was inspiring. What Rebecca didn’t realise though was the fact that although Londoners going to state schools might complain or moan about their failing school system and the fact that Education Secretary Michael Gove “failed to conduct his duties in a manner befitting the head of a national education system.” UK NUT. This is still by light years far away from Nigeria education system, way better.

Earlier on in the year, Ekiti State teachers were all in state of panic as they were hinted of possible competency test from their state governor. Although, Dr Fayemi did not conduct the test, he was still voted out in June because for some reason it appears people didn’t trust their governor enough not to pull the plug if he was re-elected. Their despair was valid because late last year incidence at Edo State whereby a school teacher was unable to read her school certificate was still very fresh in the mind of everyone particularly civil servants and teachers. Was Oshiomhole right to disgrace the teacher by asking her to read in public? No. Was Oshiomhole has the best intention at heart by being passionate about education reform in his state? A resounding yes. It has to be done systematically, our problem with education started over decades ago, so realistic and persistent approach is the only way out.

Sometimes, I wonder why especially our leaders react so surprised to just about anything in the country. Where have they been to not know that we have been in trouble for so long? I really admire Edo and Ekiti state governors for their bravery wanting to tackle Nigeria education system head-on. I have known for sometime now that you have to be at the edge of insanity to be able to make any meaningful progress in any sector in Nigeria.

Teachers training be it at the university or college of education is designed to fail both teachers and students. Here is my experience. Maybe if we all tell the truth about our experiences, it will help shape our policy makers’ decision-making process.

If studying Education in any Nigeria university, you will be required to do Teaching Practice twice during the four-year program, the same applies to those at College of Education. The program was fantastic as it gives you first hand experience of what to expect later when one graduates. When I went for my first teaching practice, it was for 7 weeks (usually six). Before this time I have never taught before however, I have learnt so much in theory. I had no idea what the system was like, I thought there would be some proper orientation, I was wrong, The micro teaching at college was not enough to prepare me. The teacher that I had to work with was very nice, I was at ease with her. As a student teacher, I had 3 classes daily and taught everyday, it was a great experience. I was thrown into teaching proper subject from the first day after a brief introduction from my mentor, she was one of the best teachers at this particular school because she showed up everyday and had other classes to teach, I was her only ST. A few other teachers who had two or more student teachers didn’t bother to show up at all for days and when they did, it’s only for a couple of hours  and most of which were to sell their merchandise. This is no kidding and barely secret, everyone knows that our schools especially primary and secondary schools have turned to Oshodi Market. Is this right? Should we let it continue? If we are serious about education reform, then let’s make head teachers accountable by given them responsibilities of making sure all teachers show up daily and be there for these very important teachers training exercises so as to show good examples for the incoming generation.

So back to school, for decades now, both universities and colleges of education thesis that is mandatory at the end of the program is fraud. Not for everyone I haste to add, but significant number of lecturers were something else. If we want to solve problem, then let’s not be ashamed to reveal the truth. Plagiarism is like breathing. Apart from the fact that some people outsourced their thesis for others to write in exchange for cash, also there are some supervising lecturers who would insist that they are the one to print and bind thesis for their students at steep price, if you really want to pass, you just have to do as others are doing. This is not secret neither.

More disturbingly is this one case that I just could not swallow without cursing under my breath. There was this lecturer at Ila Orangun College of Education, Osun State who has lost it completely. A few years ago, he was my friend’s project supervisor, during the last semester that everyone is gearing up to either research for their papers or burn their candles both ends to copy other people’s work, Mr Ajanaku (not his real name – I hope there is no Ajanaku at the school otherwise I will be forced to strip the lecturer of anonymity if I am sued :)). Dr Ajanaku (you bet, they are all PhD’s holders – sincere apologies to those who had their degrees by studying real hard for it) told all his students to go to the library, pick a topic that they liked from the thesis that were lined up neatly on the shelves. He instructed them to bring their desired topic and a thesis sample to him. They all did this, at a price of ₦5k per students, he copied word for word, changed the names, inserted new dedication and acknowledgement pages. The students in that particular year group will pay for the act of selfishness on the part of the lecturer for a very long time. They were denied the opportunity that most college graduates had – being able to research, put into coherent sentences ones own idea. The same lecturer, is likely to be at the same college today and I am sure his price tag would have gone way up now. His work was no secret, other lecturers knew about it and just left him to his devices. I am glad to say that I had a decent lecturer who spent half of her time preaching than teaching – I guess both go hand in hand for a very good educator. I did not plagiarise nor cheat for my thesis however, it was very sad that there were not many books for references so I ended up reading load of other people’s theses, in order to write something that was semi-decent. Talking about school libraries being stocked with real books rather than junk newspapers is a whole ‘nother can of worms.

If the government really wanted to help, here is one way they can, visit our universities and colleges of education and stop those dream-killers lecturers from their selfish acts.

Now, on the teachers that can’t read – One of my best friends got her teaching job in Ogun State. She started working shortly after graduating years ago.  Getting a teaching job in state schools was hot cake, still is, you need to know someone, who know someone, otherwise it’s a waste of time bothering to apply. Lola says that in the last few years, things have improved slightly because of the Millennium Development Goals (MDG) target and all other jargons that made perfect sense on papers but the implementation was really flawed. Lola now attended a week-long seminar that focuses on how teachers could better do their job, the program she thought has been really helpful in a lot of ways. Only that this happens every other year for her, the excuse she says was that the government have to rotate the seminar because there are too many teachers to cover, too many teachers in our schools.?

If we are really serious about improving our education system, the frequency of seminars and workshops for teachers should definitely be higher. Morale will go up for teachers and those who really wanted the job will make the extra effort to improve. It will cost a lot of money but as Derek Bok, an American educator said “If you think education is expensive, try ignorance.” Have we tried ignorance? I leave that to my fine readers to decide.

According to the Chairman, Committee of Pro-Chancellors of Nigerian Universities, Dr. Wale Babalakin, he stated that Nigeria spent over ₦160 billion to send 75,000 students to study in Ghana, this was in 2012 alone! Large proportion of this funding came directly from both state and federal government in form of scholarships. We have similar program like that all around the globe, in May just gone 125 students were sent to Northeastern University, Boston on full scholarship, by the federal government. I am all for scholarship for bright students to study abroad but with the scale that our government is operating, they have lost complete hope in the education system and instead of finding systematic way of reviving the system, it seems that we only sort for ‘quick fix’ It is not helping by sending selected few out of the nation yearly with the limited resources at our disposal to study oversees while others were left at home to rot.

Village advocate

I have spent a lot of time lately defending people who happens to work and live in the village. For some reasons, some folks have completely wrong impression of who the villagers are. I am not entirely sure why that is,  given that more than half of Nigeria population live in rural areas around the country and also that villages are not that far away from towns/cities.

In Southwest of Nigeria for example some villages are only 4 miles away from the next town. You know you were in a village when there were absence of electricity poles (not necessarily to facilitate constant power in towns/cities either), wells or boreholes and paved roads.

Villagers may be the ones that bear the brunt of the economic inequalities in Nigeria most but that does not mean they are always after cheap fix for their lives and certainly they are far from being stupid. Always around election time, the roads leading to my village would get rough makeovers from politicians seeking votes. The job done always received mix feelings because they cause more damages than repairs especially if the job were done just before the raining season.

One election year, my father got involved and volunteered to attend meetings. The idea was to persuade the state government that instead of doing rubbish road work in exchange for votes, to repair the primary school in the village. The primary school in my village serves about five other villages around us. My father talked about when the school was built in the 50s and how  much it really helped parents in my and surrounding villages as they have no excuses for sending their kids to school – the journey was manageable. However, due to lack of maintenance, it is only half of the building standing today.

Myself and siblings have left primary school at the time but my father was not pleased seeing kids missing schools just because it was going to rain so teachers whose morale had sunk to the lowest level would instruct kids not to come to school as there is no roof in their classes.

Village people make do with very little resources they have to provide for their family. They already have enough to deal with on daily basis, I don’t think it is fair making them the butts of senseless jokes.

Now that federal election is a couple of months away, I do hope that we get ‘quick fix’ to the village schools rather than another Stomach Infrastructure aka rice for votes.

Can physical abuse trigger mental health disorder?

The case of Tolani Ajayi who murdered his father at their Redemption Camp home in Lagos last week got me thinking. The young man’s life prior to the unfortunate incidence was a dream for many Nigerian youths. He attendend a Nigerian private university, father being a lawyer and active member of their church, little was known about her mother, but Tolani portrays his mother in positive lights, in the media at least. Tolani also talked about speaking to his sister and apologising to her for what he did to their father – a sign that they were somehow close-knit family.

What was not reported widely was the mysteries behind his apparent outburst of anger towards his father.

News had it that Tolani took drugs, he agreed to this but said his drugs had nothing to do with him murdering his father as he was not under the influence at the time he committed the murder. The young man insisted that the reason he killed his father was because the late Ajayi senior physically abused him to the point that he had to retaliate to stop his old man, and of course his anger got the best of him and overreacted which led to him butchering his father. He said “My father went to the kitchen and got a stick (wooden spoon) which he used on me repeatedly and I tried to defend myself. Then, he bit me on the shoulder and I got angry.”

To average Nigerian, corporal punishment is not enough to trigger such outrage as Tolani, but I beg to differ. The fact that most children are physically abused by adults in position of power does not mean that children were happy with being flogged, and in most cases in Nigeria, the severity of the punishment do not match the ‘crime’ committed. For example, I have seen a mother who commanded her 1o year old daughter to carry a flat corrugated sheet in the palm of her hands while on her knees, on top of the sheet were big, fist sized flamed coals, the poor girl’s crime was that she had wasted too much time before responding to her mother’s request to fetch drinking water for the family. The mother had lost her husband few months prior to auto accident, she was depressed to say the least but is it right to transfer all this burden to the poor girl?

A friend recently narrated an incidence about his neighbour whom I knew. Timothy, the father has 2 sons. The oldest of the sons was 17 years old and struggled with Mathematics at school, he was doing really well with other subjects. One day he asks his little brother who is two year his junior to explain certain math problems, the younger brother was pleased and helped his older brother, they were both having fun doing this until the father came in and wanted to know what they were doing. The older brother explained to their dad but to his horror, Timothy flipped and started hitting the older boy with all his might and later got out to get a stick, the poor boy was crying so much that neighbours had to intervene as the mother called on them so someone could reason with the father. Timothy later calmed down while his 17 years old son laid on the floor with stick marks all over his body.

The poor boy’s crime was that he asked his little brother for help with some maths problem. Timothy reasoning was that the older brother ‘should know.’ Timothy as it turned out had been suffering from emotional wreck for sometime now, business had not been what it used to be and his health had been a big challenge for him, he was stressed out in all fronts. These are adults problem that adults should find ways of dealing with, but in Nigeria, it is easier to transfer all angers to children in our care.

Tolani will have to face the consequences of his actions, I do hope that his mentioning of his father’s physical abuse is not discarded as immaterial points as there are so many Nigerians today in the same shoes as Tolani. Some are able to deal with it as they grow older but for many it is a real problem and society really do need to understand that corporal punishment goes beyond physical abuse alone, the mental torment afterwards is greater. Here is a piece I wrote on corporal punishment in Nigeria not long ago and this one too.

Drug and substance abuse in Nigeria

Not so long ago a Nigerian student studying in Malaysia was sentenced to death for drug trafficking. Lots of people blamed the guy for wanting to get rich quick and the case was left for the family to deal with. Nigerians at home actually don’t have much confidence in their government to protect them at home let alone when you got in trouble outside of the borders.

This incidence reminded me of a book I read a few years back written by a British author –  Sandra Gregory titled “Forget you had a Daughter.” The book detailed how Sandra got caught for drug trafficking in Thailand, subsequently given life sentence for the offence while the guy she allegedly helped was set free. What really got me interested was her reports of Nigerians she met while in Thai in prison. There was a particular name that stuck in my mind for a long time, it was a Yoruba name, something like Ronke, who was serving time in Thai prison for similar offence as Sandra’s and had little or no chance of ever seeing the lights of the day. Nigeria has enough of trouble at home so the more that get thrown in foreign prisons the better for the government as less people to worry about.

Sandra was lucky, she was eventually transferred to the UK prison to finish her sentence and was later given a royal pardon by the King of Thailand, this was due to her parents’ persistent campaign on her behalf and British government intervention. She afterwards went to study at Oxford University and did really well turning her life around in positive ways, now giving lectures and sharing her life experiences with school children.

In Nigeria we tend to shy away from dealing with some issues head-on. Issues such as drug abuse is one that got overlooked, parents for some reasons assumed that by going to religious gatherings, their young adults children would not know about hard *drugs. How wrong are they?

About a decade ago, I lost a relative to drug overdose. Wale was a very outgoing guy, he was one of those people who knew exactly what they wanted in life and went for it. He had primary school education, and his confidence and courage compensated for all that he lacked in formal education. By the time he was 18years old, he had graduated from bricklaying apprenticeship and knew the job well. At 20, went to Lagos to get more job experience and eventually settled there and started a family at 22. He was a delight to be around, always smiling and had lots of positive energies to fill a room. Whenever he came home for Christmas, he would tell us all about the wonders of Lagos – the planes flying in the sky and all, most of the stories were a bit stretched but I enjoyed them all anyways.

I haven’t heard from Wale in a few years but knew he had 2 boys, I knew his wife as well, she was a delightful woman. When I heard of Wale’s death, I was in total shock. His body was brought home for burial. His death in the first instance was blamed on the witches.

Several years after Wale’s death, I was chatting with a family member. So I asked again, “what really killed Wale?” Posing the question to the uncle I spoke to several years ago. He said “drugs.” Janet, Wale’s wife knew that Wale took drugs, the habit he only started when he moved to Lagos, not to say that drugs are not available in Osun, but it is more widely available in Lagos and if you happen to have lots of disposable income, you have got yourself a deal. Janet tried her best to encourage him to stop and even told the same uncle to talk to Wale but no one thought it was a big deal – he would get off it in time, they thought but the reality was for someone who had money flowing in daily, it proved to be difficult for Wale as he was hooked already. So the real story as narrated to me was that as Wale woke up that fateful morning beside his wife, reached for the needle by the bedside and injected a little bit too much for his system.

Wale is gone but we can safe so many lives if people are aware that drug abuse is a big problem in Nigeria today especially in the big cities, and parents to help educate their children on the danger. Many family members today still do not know the real cause of Wale’s death because like everything – it is a stigma.

Time to be honest so others can learn to avoid the same pitfalls?

Resent drug related case in Nigeria

Tolani Ajayi  and drug-related offence at his university prior to killing father.

* I am talking mainly about class A drugs, the ones that were meant to be illegal but still readily available at Obalende, Ikeja etc

Osun politics and the case of religious jingoism

“Religion is excellent stuff for keeping common people quiet. Religion is what keeps the poor from murdering the rich.”
― Napoleon

 

I have been thinking lately about Nigerians obsessions with religion, well, not just lately, but sometimes it is certain event that triggers the thought. Usually one just have to move along and leave people to their own ways of thinking. What beggars belief in Nigeria though was the fact that when we talk about issues in general we can all easily agree we desperately need better leadership in all levels of government. However, when it comes to debating on who the right person could be to lead us, somehow religious affiliations would slip in and before you know it people would be completely blinded by religion and will then refuse to engage in real debate about qualities that we should be looking for in our leaders.

In a country like Nigeria where government officials come from different religions mostly Christian/Muslim, I would think by now we should have learnt that it is in the best interest of everyone to separate religion from the state. Most of our leaders have ‘K legs’ regardless of their religious affiliations. Not to say that some are not diligent and humane in their offices, but these are very few indeed.

Sometimes I wonder how long would it take for average Nigerians to realise that using religious affiliations as a yardstick to vote for a public officials is just not the best idea? We have done this in the past and it has never yielded great results, our sitting president, is a Christian for example. Now since national issues eat deeply into every Nigerians, sometimes local politics get a little bit personal as the effect of choosing a wrong candidate to represent us would have profound negative effects on well-being of the people.

In about five weeks from now, Osun State would have to vote for a new governor to lead us for another four years. Our future in terms of education, health, infrastructures etc largely depend on the chosen leader.

I still remember when the state was created in 1991 and how much everyone was jubilating as we dreamt of better future. Now, a lot has happened since then, however, I have never seen so much improvement compounded in one term as the one we currently have which is led by Ogbeni Aregbesola. Am I absolutely over the moon with all his decisions? The answer is no, however, he has made a lot of improvement than any administration in the history of the state and all I could hope for is that this trend continues as we all benefit from it.

Now, there is a good reason for election, it allows people to chose who they think will represent their best interest. Sometimes, we have people with track records, in this case it is easier as we can go back in history to see what they have done in order to give us clear picture of what future holds. Sometimes not so much of track records but we vote based on manifestos presented and hope for the best.

Should religious bigotry be used in any way to determine who we vote for or should we keep our opinion to ourselves about religion and vote any of the aspirants based on the quality of their work and the way they relate to people?

I have read quite a handful of online articles that were just too daft to take seriously. How could you ever take anyone discrediting an aspirant simply because of his religion seriously? I find it really hard to follow given that in Osun, although the major religions were Christian and Muslim, however, we have loads of Animists and Atheists too. We have always lived and socialise together so why do we have to play religious card now that is crucial for all to unite so we can choose the best leader for us. Must we play religious card when there are no other valid reasons to discredit the opponent?

I was recently chatting with a friend who lamented how surprised he was when he first visited Dubai, he loved the sky scrappers, the big malls, the orderliness of the people, and all those nice infrastructures that were complete contrast to what you see in Nigeria, and he said to me ‘I could not belief it’s a Muslim country.’ The guy is a pastor at a well known RCCG church. It was not a surprise to me he said that because many people had been blinded by the issue of Boko Haram that we instinctively thought everyone who is not Christian must be devil.

Osun State is a multi faith state and we must keep it that way and in order for peace to reign we need to tolerate one another and be fair in our judgement with no reference to religious affiliations especially when choosing a public officials.

Who is AfriKa?

My nephew and I were recently chatting about the state of things in our tertiary institutions. He is a year one student at OAU (Obafemi Awolowo University), well, in a normal world he would have been in year 2. He had since beginning of his course of study spent 6 solid months at home courtesy of ASUU strike actions. When the last strike ended we all rejoiced but I was quick to warn him that another one is round the corner as that is the way the system has been operating for the best part of 20 years. Anyway this time, OAU is closed because students protested the high increase of tuition. If it wasn’t that, it sure will be something else, this time we don’t know yet how long OAU students will be at home. Well, since the state governorship election is round the corner, the word on the street was that OAU is unlikely to open its gates until the election is over, so give or take another six weeks at home.

I digress, but it’s hard not to talk about university closures when we all know what the implications are on the quality of our graduates.

During the chats with my nephew, one thing led to another and I made an example referencing the case of Afrika – George Iwilade and his mates murder case. I expected Ade, my nephew to join in, I didn’t find it funny when he asks ‘Who’s Afrika’ I thought he was joking but he said he could not remember the incidence. Yes, he was a lot younger when the horrendous murder happened but for some reason I was under the illusion that Afrika and his mates’ murder case should have being imprinted all over OAU buildings and indeed in all of Nigeria higher institutions to serve as constant reminders of why students cults have no place in our schools. More importantly of the facts that youths were the ones being brainwashed and then used as tools to instil fears in the minds of their mates.

Afrika

It was July 10 1999. I happened to be on campus this night. I had talked to George Iwilade a couple of times before, he was young with that ambitious mind of someone who really was determined to change the world starting from his school. You could see the piercing look in his eyes. I really did not have any business with him but he contacted me as he wanted to have a dialogue on issues that I had no control over.  Just like many change makers in history, sometimes they were grossly misunderstood. What is painful in our country though, is that over the years bad people have perfected their tactics in every aspects of our society that the easiest and fastest way of dealing with someone you disagreed with is to get rid of them, quicker as there is no fair justice system in place.

Like in any management, usually the boss is talked about but not often do we hear about the team that are working underground to make sure the boss’ work get the right recognition. It was Babatunde Oke that I knew quite a bit among the slain students. He was very energetic and positive guy. He was Afrika’s first hand man and very loyal man at that. If it wasn’t for his loyalty to Afrika, he wouldn’t have been killed that day. It was shortly after I saw him that he made his way to join Afrika where Tunde met his untimely death. Tunde Oke would have made an excellent leader as he was patience and worked hard to present Afrika in positive lights, to me at least.  Instead of them reaching their full potentials in life, they were mercilessly butchered, it was horrific to put it mildly. Their offence – Afrika and his team were exposing cultists on campus so the school authority could deal with them appropriately. Should this not be the job of school administrators to fetch out bad students so everyone can be safe and focus on their primary aims of being on campus?

I have never in my life felt so much hopeless and helpless as I could not for the life of me imagined why these students deserved to be butchered just because they raised their voices against cultism on campus. Days later was the biggest crowd I have ever witnessed on campus gathered on Sports Centre field chanting:

Oro nla le da, eh eh oro nla le da (great loss you’ve bestow on us)

eyin te pomo wa te je o dagba (those who killed our children, devoid of growing old)

oro nla le da (great loss you have caused)

Afrika and his mates murder were not the first case of unresolved murders in Nigeria and certainly hasn’t been the last, actually, it has since gotten worse. No one has been brought to justice for their murders. Sweeping all murder cases under the carpet and pretend as if nothing has happened is the most painful part of remembering this incidence fifteen years on.

I really hope OAU students will do more to remember Afrika and others and if there is one request to ask for their government is to make sure these guys’ murderers were made to pay for what they did.