Tag Archives: Nigeria

Mr Ken Saro-Wiwa: 21 years on

I’d been following the story of nine activists who were days away from death over what seemed to be the duration of one week; I was ten years old. Before the days when the Internet was widely available, the News and my parents’ conversations were my sole sources of information fuelling my hungry, little mind.

I will never forget watching the live coverage, 21 years ago this month, knowing that within just a few minutes one man and his fellow activists were to be hanged. I wept and shouted at the TV whilst my mum sat static with horror.

This news story played out in my conscience repeatedly for days, months, years later in a way like no other had. At the time, I couldn’t fully articulate the depths of what I felt, but in retrospect, it was significant because it was one my earliest recollections of evil operating at an institutional ( global ) level.

With baited breath my family and I watched the News that evening hopeful of a last minute reprieve. It didn’t come. Despite outrage from the ‘international’ community, the Nigerian government remained defiant; death by hanging, an effective deterrent to any potential ‘upstarts’ seeking to challenge the status quo.

The murdered activists were known as the Ogoni nine; the leader, Mr Ken Saro-Wiwa.

His death had a profound personal impact for a number of reasons beyond the obvious injustice. It was the first time I had publicly witnessed, in my own lifetime, someone (previously alive) possess an ideal for which they were literally prepared to die and did. It also resonated due to its proximity; despite being geographically thousands of miles away from our London home, my mother’s family originate from the very region it all happened – the Niger Delta.

Weeks after the execution, I had to write a piece at primary school about my hero. I had no hesitation in writing about Mr Saro-Wiwa. I remember passionately scribbling down my thoughts, raw emotion, etched on paper. I have no recollection of what I wrote except that it resonated with my peers and my teacher. Today, 21 years later, he still remains one of my ‘heroes’ –  a term I do not use lightly. And like then, today I write this piece in remembrance of him.

For years the oil company, Royal Dutch Shell, had been extracting oil from the Niger Delta – profiting millions if not billions of pounds to the detriment of local communities.

Spillages were commonplace causing irreversible damage to the local environment and ecosystems. Rivers were poisoned for profit – destroying the main source of livelihood for many of the Ogoni people. Thousands have been harmed both directly and indirectly; death, a common consequence of their operations.

The full extent of the damage caused will never be fully known but there is sufficient evidence to show serious human rights abuses occurred.

Mr Saro-Wiwa was one of, if not, the most prominent voice drawing the world’s attention to the environmental crisis in his native Ogoniland. And clearly to great effect; such that he, along with members of the Ogoni leadership (Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People) and many other ordinary citizens, were subjected to a horrific campaign of harassment, murder and intimidation.

Last year Shell promised to pay out £55million pounds in an out-of- court settlement to communities affected by the oil spills in the Delta region. They have also since publicly acknowledged the human right abuses caused… its a sort of ‘progress’ I suppose.

The story is far from finished but there are encouraging developments demonstrating Mr Saro-Wiwa’s sacrifice was not in vain, nor the countless other victims, whose blood cries out from the Niger Delta soil.

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Welcome to the weird and wonderful world of Nigerian party gifts

We Nigerians are a generous bunch; whether it is a wedding or a funeral, we enjoy giving gifts to our guests. Our generosity is legendary simply because the range of commemorative goodies given at parties range from the sublime to the utterly ridiculous.

My uncle and I recently spoke about the most memorable random gifts we have received, some of which are featured in the list below. So in this vein, welcome to the weird, wonderful and sometimes, extravagant world of Nigerian party favours! How many items on the list have you been given?

Commemorative Tupperware– I have countless childhood memories of stumbling across new Tupperware in the kitchen. It usually had the face of some random Aunty or Uncle emblazoned on it along with a message ‘In loving memory of ‘ or ‘Happy 50th Birthday’. These gifts are usually given to be practical- you can take food away with you from a party, but are also useful much later on.

A mug– complete with a mug-shot (get it) of the celebrant.
A Calendar– As much as I love people, I can’t help thinking – ‘why would I want to stare at your face, everyday, for the whole year?!’
A keyring– cheap, cheerful and useful- #YesPlease.
A watch– this is more likely to be given at an  ‘upmarket affair’. I once went to a party where I was accidentally given this, but had to be returned unfortunately as it was gift for the men.
A bubble bath set– this was a gift for all the women at the same party. Some might call it sexist / gender stereotyping but I quite liked it. #smellinglikeroses
A box of salt– I know, I know but on the plus side salt has many uses like cooking, cleaning, preserving etc.
A bottle of washing up liquid– Again, don’t judge this is a very practical gift and probably one appreciated by the older women- my grandma included.
A mini clothes rack complete with pegs– again, interesting choice of gift, wrong demographic (another one for the aunties methinks).
A pen– this has to be one of my favourite gifts. Why? Because the last time I received this as a present (which was a few years ago), it was no ordinary pen; it was a GIANT one which I still use! Practical, cool and quirky, this has to be one of my favs.
Packets of noodles– You hit the jackpot if you got Indomie.
A tray– this is one of the most common and traditional gifts you will receive- again very useful.
A bottle opener– practical for popping open those bottles of Supermalt or Nigerian Guinness.
A Fridge magnet– everyone loves a fridge magnet right?
Perfume –Oh yes please.

It is customary for families and friends of the celebrant to donate gifts and put their name on it where possible. Some might consider this egotistical – (why couldn’t it have been anonymously?) but that is not how Nigerians work. We want you to know, in no uncertain terms, who is responsible for this public gesture of generosity.

What has been the most ridiculous gift you have ever received?

 

 

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SIR MIX A PLOT (Sorry I just LOVE books!)

‘I love my books and I cannot lie- my mother got it oh so right’… Yes I remixed the song and I am not ashamed. I can’t help it. I love books.  As a child, there was no greater pleasure than losing myself in stories or filling my mind with facts.

Recently my mum was clearing out her home and getting rid of lots of old things including books. We had so many- literally suitcases full to dispose of, of all genres.

My bibliophilia is inherited- (it comes from my mum) as she was and is still a voracious reader who read to me often as infant. I have early memories of my mum taking me to the local library, which is now a posh set of flats (the joys of gentrification) and even at that young age I just adored the variety, the smell and comfort of being surrounded by books.

In my teens, the library continued to be my favourite place to be and on almost a weekly basis, without fail, I would take out the maximum number of books -eagerly walking home to begin my reading marathon. Such was my love, that when I misbehaved my mum would threaten to take my library card away as punishment! I even dreamed of being a Librarian when I grew up (yes, it is a cool profession- didn’t cha know?)

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My two loves: music and a good book.

During the clearout I found many old books, some to keep and some to give away. Books from my youth, time at university and perhaps my favourite- gems from my childhood. Amongst the goodies were the Beatrix Potter collection, Disney Classics and my all-time favourite children’s book ‘Bimwli and the Zimwi’. Even though it is threadbare, fallen apart and with no front cover, twenty odd years later this Swahili inspired tale still makes me smile. It is the story of a little black girl called Bimwli who is left behind by her two older sisters whilst at the beach. Due to her beautiful singing, Bimwli attracts the attention of a magician called Zimwi who kidnaps her and places her in his big drum. He then travels around the local villages tricking the locals into thinking he has a ‘singing’ drum but is soon caught! It sounds sinister but it is incredibly funny and entertaining.

Being naturally sentimental I have decided to keep hold of some of these books to pass on to my own children (when I have them!) who I hope will inherit the same love of books as I do.

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All time favourite: Swahili inspired tale, Bimwli and the Zimwi.

I also kept several boxes of books I’d planned to donate overseas to create a mobile library ‘back home’ or in another country where I felt ‘led’. And it is still pretty much something I definitely intend to do in the future.  However as God would have it, my eldest sister was over from Nigeria and just so happens to be the head teacher of her own primary school. She told me how expensive it is purchase books out there and was absolutely delighted to take them back to her school- Result!

Box of goodies: childhood gems, now residing in Nigeria!

It feels so good to know that they will be going to a ‘good home’ where they will be well used and loved. What hidden treasures have you got lying around that could be a blessing to somebody?

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‘What’s going on?’ 5 situations on the continent which break my heart

As an Afropolitan I cannot ignore recent events happening on the continent; some of which have been afforded the privilege of mainstream media attention and high profile political engagement, others not so. Admittedly there are moments when I have become increasingly desensitised to yet another story pertaining to disease, conflict, death and famine in Africa. This is just one of many narratives (albeit a dominant one favoured by mainstream media) which seem to strengthen the misrepresentation of Africa as a hopeless, perpetually conflicted, ‘dark’ continent-one that I am loathe to endorse. That’s when I have to remind myself that Africa’s story is as rich, varied, colourful and multifaceted as the countries which dwell within her borders. However I do want to raise awareness of five situations in five countries on the continent, which are pretty devastating and has been laid on my heart to share. Some you will be very familiar with and others not so but all deserve recognition.

1.South Sudan- Conflict, Famine and Water Lilies

The world’s newest nation has had a turbulent genesis since it’s emergence in 2011, due to internal conflict between the Government and opposition forces. Thousands have died, millions have been left displaced and the country is on the brink of famine. And although it is no longer on the mainstream news agenda it is still happening. I saw this photo a few months ago which both mesmerises and horrifies me – leaving a lingering sadness that won’t go away. A beautiful little girl reduced to eating water lilies – which I am certain has no nutritional value- because it is the only root that is edible and available in the region.

Young Sudanese girl eating water lilies  Photo credit (c) BBC

Young Sudanese girl eating water lilies Photo credit (c) BBC

2. Sierra Leone and the Ebola Effect

Every week I speak with a gentleman who works in the local supermarket and is of Sierra Leonean descent. Most times our conversations are light-hearted and brief but this one was different. He shared that he had been working 6 days a week- 16 hours each day (2 jobs), for the past year in order to save money to reinvest ‘back home’ and to provide for his family. However, his plans to travel home have been left in tatters because of the restrictions on travelling to the country. A gentleman normally so calm and composed was clearly distressed when relaying the situation:

“I have been building back home, I have my family back home but I can’t go and it hurts me. Every time I get a phone call, I am fearful of bad news.  My family were telling me of people being afraid to leave their homes and if they are sick, they are afraid to go to the hospital because they feel they will be wrongly judged to have Ebola. Schools have closed down, hospitals left abandoned because some workers are not wanting to come in and risk being infected.  People are languishing like prisoners in their homes- not able to work and their children not able to go to school. Even communities where neighbours who related well to one another no longer communicate, everyone keeps to themselves.  I don’t know what is happening to my country.”

3. Nigeria- 2,000 reasons and counting

This can pretty much be summed up by the following hashtags #JesuisNigerian #Nigeria2000 #BringBackourGirls and I propose another ahead of the General Elections next month #GetGoodluckOut.  There is so much I could say but here is an article which comes very closes to articulating my exact thoughts on the matter.

No introduction needed

No introduction needed

4. Malawi- the Floods

Malawi is not one of those countries you hear of often-whether in the news or in daily conversation (unless of course you are from there or have connections to it). I have long been intrigued by this relatively peaceful, small, landlocked nation since I had a primary school friend who was of Asian Malawian descent. However the country is now back on the news agenda due to the recent flooding which at last count has killed almost 200 people and left over 200,000 people homeless. There is great concern re. ensuring clean water, proper sanitation and food can be distributed to those who need it. This is further compounded by the fact Malawi is one of the poorest countries in the world. Next door neighbours, Mozambique have also been affected by the floods.

5.Congo- Panzi Hospital

In the words of Tatiana Giraud- a Congolese Activist ‘How can it be right that a public general hospital that has helped 30,000 rape victims and continuously helps the local community even by providing meals for the poor is taxed?’  The Panzi hospital recently had their bank accounts seized by the Congolese Government. This means it cannot pay staff, buy medical equipment and is in a state of deadlock. Congo was once dubbed the rape capital of the world by a UN Official because of the extensive use of rape as a weapon of warfare in the conflict-ridden eastern part of the country. This makes the work of the hospital even more vital as it is based in Bukavu in the same region. This vital, life giving, service could now be at risk unless action is taken.

Created by award-winning copywriter and blogger Magnus Shaw

Created by award-winning copywriter and blogger Magnus Shaw

How can you get involved?

Sign the petition here 

Join in the social media campaign by: tweeting foreign secretary, William Hague @WilliamJHague and include the following hashtags  #Panzi #FreePanzi

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5 things I love about Nigerians (in honour of Nigerian ‘Independence’)

Nigeria is no stranger to negative publicity; from the corruption in Government, a reputation for fraud (419), the on-going oil crisis in the Delta Region, Boko Haram’s merciless slaying of Christians to the unresolved abduction of the 200+ Muslim girls, the list is endless. However I want to celebrate some of the fantastic things about the nation affectionately dubbed the ‘Sleeping Giant of West Africa’; so to celebrate 54 years of ‘independence’ I want to share with you five reasons why I am proud to be an Afropolitan of Nigerian descent.  (Disclaimer:  Nigeria is a culturally diverse nation with a rich heritage and numerous languages and ethnic groups so excuse the generalisation as I know not all Nigerians are the same! However this is based on my observation as a Nigerian from two tribal groups with Sierra Leonean heritage.)

  1. The Hustle- Entrepreneurialism is in our DNA. My younger brother who has never stepped foot on Nigerian soil, was selling the latest gadgets to his peers in school from day dot- it’s as if he possessed an innate ability to sniff out where the money was and find a way to go get it! From London to Lagos, we are passionate about business whether it is our main area of work or our side hustle. When I visited Nigeria almost every street corner was occupied by someone selling something and likewise in the UK every other Nigerian I know is setting up a new venture, often alongside their full time employment.  Industrious, ambitious and driven – Nigerians entrepreneurial spirit is a cut above the rest.

    The Hustle: Not just a programme on the BBC- its in Nigeria's DNA.

    The Hustle: Not just a programme on the BBC- its in Nigeria’s DNA.

  2. Our bold, fearless nature– Nigeria is known as the ‘Sleeping Giant of West Africa’ but that couldn’t be more far from the truth- I think it is well and truly awake! My dad always use to say ‘fear no man but your maker’ and this to me sums up Nigerians- we are not afraid to express ourselves and make our presence known wherever we are. I mean Nigerians are the only Black people I know that will go to places like Russia and Poland to live because they see potential to make money- often in the face of racism and hostility.

    Fearless and bold: How I see Nigerians- perhaps I am bit bias?

    Fearless and bold: How I see Nigerians- perhaps I am bit bias?

  3. Our vibrant faith– Nigeria is known for its vibrant Christian faith and  according to research has the highest population of Christians in Africa. Similarly,irrespective of whether we believe in Jesus or Allah or in the Yoruba deities – our faith is deep rooted and is an integral part of our lives. I will never forget when I visited Nigeria being awoken by the early morning prayers of an Imam at 5am or being impacted by the commitment and passion of Christians attending an epic church service which seemed to go on for the best part of the day!

    Nigerian christianity

    Our faith: Whatever it is we believe, our faith is a deeply important part of our daily lives.

  4. Our love of education and personal advancement– ‘Education, education, education’ is something that is of upmost importance to Nigerians. I will never forget when I told my dad that I was planning to take a ‘Gap Year’- (which was almost unheard of from a person of African descent 10 years ago); I just remember my dad- who is one of the most liberal, loving, open-minded people on the planet -repeatedly saying ‘so you are not going to University?’ He couldn’t take it in and I think it took him at least a month for him to speak to me without complete disdain. For Nigerians, as for many, education is seen as the key way to advancing yourself and your family.

    Gap Year? This is not in an African parents vocabulary! You better go and read your books my friend!

    Gap Year? This is not in an African parents vocabulary- you better go and find yourself at University!

  5. Our hospitality– If you have never been to a Nigerian party I urge you to take yourself to one! Whether its a wedding, a funeral, christening or an anniversary we know how to throw a good party. We love to be extravagant often leading to excessive amounts of food (Jollof rice, coleslaw fried fish, moi moi etc) and drinks (Supermalt and Nigerian Guinness are standard) being on offer. Not only that, depending on the party, you might even find yourself taking away some goodies like Tupperware, a commemorative calendar or salt (that’s another blog post altogether), We know how to have a good time and make almost anyone feel welcome and this isn’t just limited to big occasions!
Nigerian party time

Nigerian party time: We know how to have a good time- Go Grandma!!

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