State of our village life

So I read this story the other day about Mamu village in Gbongan area of Osun state. The narrator is a student of Obafemi Awolowo University. He seems shocked that there is a place in such a state of disrepair in Osun. From what I gathered from the story, here are what the author found unacceptable:

  • the village has no working borehole, villagers rely on nearby stream/river for drinking water
  • Primary/middle school in the village was founded in 1955, now has no trace of recent maintenance and number of students dwindles daily
  • Health care centre in the village opened 21 years ago now closed due to lack of funding/medical staff.

The narrator was clearly amazed by the level of underdevelopment.

One can not be any patriot than this, being able to share their experiences with other people on the uncomfortable reality of living standards that our own people are reduced to live in the village.

Mamu village is a mirror image of most of our villages in Yorubaland – remember the old man with Prof Osinbajo in one Ogun state village during his campaign?

During elections, politicians will crawl to all the villages for supports but they rarely look back to fix roads or schools.

Mamu school was built around the same time as my village school, 1955. It is safe to say our leaders pre independence worked closely with the colonial administrators and strategically placed schools in key villages so people within three to 5 miles radius can have education close to their homes.

It is easy to blame the decay on the present or immediate past government of the state/nation but with a bit of reflection, we can see that many villages in the state have not seen any substantial development even before the Osun state was created 25 years ago – this is largely due to our very weak institutions nationwide, state level aren’t any different.

No template for future development. Osun state was created out of Oyo so it is easier to manage because some areas were lagging behind seriously in terms of simple basics of life i.e schools, health centres etc. For close to 20 years, all these villages were out of any infrastructural budgets – focus was only on the towns.

To be fair our towns especially the inner parts are not any better, this is no secret, we can all see.

 

Beyond government intervention is the issue with the way we prefer to see village people. We are superstitious people, sometimes to the point of insanity. Life is often seen as black and white. Good and bad. Our village is synonymous to poverty, dark stuff, witchcraft and all kinds of rituals.

So many people who didn’t grow up in the village find it hard to have bright picture of village live in their minds – many parents go out of their way to create scary pictures of begging relatives, daylight flying grandma (aka witches) and the scornful relatives who are there to poison them. As silly as these sound, they are few of the many reasons people stay away from our villages, let alone think of giving back.

The Elders, the royal families have a lot to answer for. Have you ever heard of a royal family who boasts of any knowledge of his own area and openly fight for quality education for rural areas around his domain? I don’t remember any instead we get treated to our Obas exchanging heated argument on their perceived importance, their wealth, and their rankings.  The only exception here was Oba Oladele Olashore of Iloko Ijesa who used his wealth to lift his village through quality schools.

Things are changing now because slowly people are seeing that one of the biggest factors that sets our village apart from the town/city is the complete neglect of basic facilities such as decent public schools in rural areas.

What to do? Timing could not have been more perfect than now. Everyone talks about ‘grow Nigeria, buy Nigeria’ products, they want youths to go back to farming. One way of encouraging this is to extend funding meant for rural development to these areas to make it easier for youths that are contemplating the idea of returning to farm make up their minds. If their kids can get good education similar to town’s,  say access to healthcare, more people might consider the option of rural living.

Good luck to Mamu village folks. I hope that this revelation might encourage the state government to have solid plan to refurbish village schools across the state.

Federal project: Osun state cashew plantation

The news about government empowering farmers is a welcome one, after all most of our people are farmers; land and beautiful weather is what we have a plenty.

Reading the recent news about government plan to invest in cashew plantation as well as factory in Osun state is a fantastic news as this means job creation for our people.

Now, the proposed site for this cashew project in Ife is situated in Ògùdù.

Ògùdù is a village in Ile Ife, most of the farmers in this village for a very long time (am talking over a century) have been the Oyos, significantly people from Modakeke. During the last bloody clash between 1997 and 2000, this is one of the villages that we have the most casualties as the only way for Modakeke people to get in and out of Ogudu and surrounding villages is via Ile Ife.

Many people who made it out of Ogudu village alive are still in town today – 19 years is still not enough to get back what they have lost as this is one of the villages people have been prevented to return to.

While I understand that whatever the agreement that our great grandparents had before investing so much of their time and energy to nurture cocoa and kola nuts on this land had broken down, I also understand that because of the geographical location of this land, elders are probably doing their best to minimise future chance of clash.

Most of the people that are particularly affected have no other means, they remain quiet hoping that one day, just maybe someone would see the injustice in this and help them back into their fathers’ land. We are all aware that for many of us, land – even when most is worth a few kobo is what our parents have to leave behind as inheritance – these people have nothing now.

We all know what ‘federal project’ means, we know that it is local people who suggest this disputed land to be the perfect place. If this is the case, it means dashed hopes for the victim of Ogudu clash.

Since we are all for peace, what do we say to people chased away from Ogudu get some compensation from the government? This is only fair as they can have a closure and it will be forever brought to book.

Here is a message exchange received from a 76 years man whose father’s farm is at Ogudu:

“Ogudu village with surrounding Farmlands, Aba Abe and Aba Oba, two adjoining villages, were all inhabited almost 100% by Oyo-speaking people, mostly from Modakeke. The  ”      ” had farmlands, mainly at Ogudu, and at Aba Abe. 

We lost 3 ”    ” members at Ogudu village when the Ifes ambushed them on the way from the farms. Unfortunately for our people, to get to Ogudu from Modakeke, we had to go through Ife town itself: Ogbon Oya, Aiyetoro, etc., then through Ife villages of Ita Marun and Abiri. This made Ogudu, etc. unsafe for us at the time. And now, I have no idea who farm the lands of our villages, but they won’t be Modakeke people who moved to other safer areas, in the direction of Famia and beyond.”

“Have just spoken to lawyer ”  ” who confirms the cashew project for Ogudu. He says it is a ‘Federal Project’ which will involve big cashew plantation and processing plants. I ask him whose lands have been seized to plant on. He says he does not yet have any details. Of course, it is now clear Modakeke has lost that part of its possession for ever – we cannot dislodge the Federal Government. However good the new Ooni, and everyone says he is good, he is unlikely to have/use the power to return the village farms to us. Unfortunately, we have no one to fight our case, even for compensation!”

“I called a junior brother who told me the area marked out for the cashew plantation/processing project stretches from Ogudu, all the way to Aba Abe, about three miles away. It is really a very expansive undertaking. But, like many of our government projects, there is a loud noise, and then nothing happens, and the project is quietly abandoned. But if the project goes ahead, no Modakeke person will feel safe to work there, as an employee of whichever company will run the project. Sadly, no one is talking compensation, because it is already accepted, by the Ifes and the Osun state government, that we don’t have legitimate rights to the village, and the farmlands, anyway. Very painful, yes. What can we do? My father and the other ”   ” were simply unlucky. We could have established more firmly at Ode-Omu.”

**Family name taken as this is not just about one family, it affects a few others.

Why is someone like me calling the attention of the state governor, Ogbeni Aregbesola, the new Ooni, Oba Enitan Ogunwusi and indeed our VP Professor Osinbajo to this?

Because people don’t just forget injustice and walk away forever, not without some sort of compensation. If we go back to Reverent Samuel Johnson’s book from 1920, reading the chapters of Modakeke and Ife seem like it was written yesterday because one day someone will rise up to question how this rift was settled.

The honourable things to do is to compensate those affected now – it is only fair.

By the way, no one close to me have farmland in this area, even the elderly man whose message is above is not my family – he is an elderly friend.

Making sense of 70% of rural Nigeria

Positive change need not be expensive nor drastic. How about small gradual solutions all around?

Tweaking perception the seventy percent Nigerians living in rural areas could be all it takes to effect positive change that will be felt by all.

Agbopa Village, Ibadan
Agbopa Village, Ibadan

I took the above photo a while ago during a visit to Agbopa, a village in the outskirt of Ibadan. As a fellow villager, this photo is not out-of-place, I only turned my attention to the woman when I realised she has been standing on the same spot for about two minutes chatting happily with her friend – she was on her way to ẹkù (a designated place for palm oil processing).

The woman above could have been from any of our villages in the south where daily activities revolves around farm work. Most people work day in day out but very little to show for it.

Most of the village folks especially in the south tend to have a few common aspirations educating their children is usually at the top of the list, this is after primary needs have been taken care of.

Getting insight to the state of Nigeria today need not be tedious. There are lots of document produced by lots of trusted organisations i.e UN on the state of Nigeria rural areas. Some of these documents were very thorough, highlighting lifestyle challenges of the seventy percent Nigerians in rural areas.

If we can afford to spend so much money on data collection, why aren’t we implementing recommendation, especially when it need not be expensive?

In the last few years, lots of focus groups and plenty of conferences held by several government bodies, most of which have glamorous themes – paid VIPs and speakers invited to give endless talks on how to improve our country on all fronts.

At the end of these meetings, one thing that I have noticed is preparation for yet another talk/conference when little/nothing is done with the outcome of the previous gatherings, so it feels like endless cycle of Owambe. 

How to best help pull along Nigeria seventy percent?

Repair school buildings so family can stay together in one place –  Not too  surprising the seventy percent especially in the south understood the benefit of education and would go the extra mile so their children could have what the parents lacked.

According to the UN, Nigeria as it stands today is only using half of its estimated 71 million hectares of land suitable for growing crops – great asset left untapped.

One of the key contributing factors to the endless civil unrest in Nigeria is fight over land ownership especially farmlands. Population growth means more people depending on the same piece of land for survival given one group exercising superiority over the other – hence tension and needless loss of lives.

Why are we not opening up more new areas for people even if the government have to foot the bill for the initial clearing of the land?

Well, no single answer to solve our many problems or to help seventy percent of Nigerians living in rural areas but what I know to be true is that we need to change the way we perceive villagers and help where it’s most needed – revamp existing village schools is a very good place to start.

Memory of Christmas Eve

My village celebrates the best Christmas Eve ever. It is the day that everyone in the village come together to celebrate in the open place – primary school field.

December 24th is the day youths who work and lived in cities and towns across the country are in the village for the holidays.

Over the years, we have saved enough money to acquire a generator to use for the night and when not in use, it is rented out to the neighbouring villages.

A month prior each household is levied to contribute towards the evening party – Club Party. Well off  families contribute above what was asked of them and some even donate drinks and other useful items for the night.

Mama Ige is an elderly woman in her 60s when she returned to the village, she had horrible wound to her shin, I don’t know more to the story than that the sore has been there for a long time and is incurable (illness is incurable in Nigeria when no money to take to hospital). The wound smells really bad so Mama Ige is pretty much isolated most of the time.

On December 24th, she belonged so is everyone.

I remember her once contributing fire woods to help with the cooking and later on showed up in the field for a couple of hours – Everyone celebrate the gift of life

The evening is all about eating, drinking (mostly soft drinks) dancing and singing. One of the guys a bit older than me who was a Radionic/DJ (Electrician) would bring all his equipment for the night, and take the lead – we were all proud of Samuel, as he always introduces new town’s slangs and new releases at the party.

The night started at 8pm with parents sat in front row and a group doing traditional dancing in the front to entertain followed by a selected elder to speak on behalf of everyone to thank the lord that we all together again by grace.

From 9pm most elders are back in their homes leaving the youths to dance the night away. Music is all secular pop songs.

My father and a few others don’t go to sleep, they’d hung around in front of their houses to safe guard us. My parents house is directly opposite the field where the party is taking place so my old man sees it all.

For about a week, my village is filled up, lots of visiting and greetings and news from across the country – very lively atmosphere.

By December 30th, it all started to quiet down, folks leaving for town preparing for New Year parties in town – different towns mostly less than ten miles away. I have stayed back with my dad a few times – my village is mostly empty around this time, about one ninth inhabitants gone to celebrate new year but the good news is that my father tends to have big ‘catch’ of bush meat this time – not bad.

Sometimes I wished everyone stayed back but I can’t really blame people for wanting a bit of luxury of electricity and paved roads, not when I am now far away myself.

Sonia Shah on malaria

I have over the years accumulated lots of many interesting talks from TED. Massive thanks to the group for sharing this wealth of information with the world freely.

Here is one of my favourites by Sonia Shah on malaria and how the least bothered people about finding solutions to rid of malaria are the people who are most affected. That is sad but true. See here.

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SF242mxtZN8

 

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.