The Researcher

| 14 March 2014
It started as a curious thought. 
Wondering, what made a person insane, at what point was a person declared to be mad? 
Was it a gradual descent or perhaps an ascent, like it is, when one gained weight, one day, you are slim, and it seems like the next, you are no longer able to zip up your jeans? 
I wondered if it was like that. 

The whole thing began when Father declared that his sister had gone mad and had to be sectioned and kept in an institution. I remember Aunty Bola, she had always been the eccentric aunty. Well, when I was young, I thought she was fun, she didn't treat us like all the other adults did. She always encouraged us to play and talk to her and ask her random questions. Yes, her answers to some of the questions were also different. I remember when I asked her what it was about bread that made us eat it every morning for breakfast, and she said that it had to do with the colonial masters and the food they made us used to, and she went on to talk about how her grandmother used to only eat vegetables and drink herbs, 'agbo', she had called it. And then she went on to an explanation on the benefits of agbo, why it was no longer commonly used, and proceeded to serve me slices of bread with egg and baked beans.

I was slightly confused. Ofcourse, but it was better to be given long-winded explanations than the usual "I don't know" "You ask too many questions" that my parents and other aunties had replied to, when I asked them questions.

Aunt Bola was so cool. But then, our visits to her house in Ikeja became rarer until we only went once a year at Christmas, daddy made us visit her on Boxing day, after we had celebrated the 'normal' Christmas with the rest of the family.

I only noticed that she was less bothered about things that had to do with tidiness. You know, she still ate well, but she didn't really clean her house. Not like mum always ensured that ours was spick and span, to be ready for daddy and any of his many friends who came to have a drink most Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays and Mondays.

But then one day, daddy said she was going to the United Kingdom, to be taken care of, and then not long after that, he said, she was to be sectioned and put in a home. I tried to ask questions as usual, but I didn't get any satisfactory answers.

I guess, you could say, that was the beginning of my curiousity into insanity. Or what humans term insanity. Isn't it funny that there are no insane cats, or dogs, or horses or cows or sheep. And they were only termed insane when they had diseases, but then aunty Bola didn't have a disease. So why was she mad? She wasn't foaming in her mouth or stomping her feet everywhere. She was just unconstrained by the environment. She didn't see the need to clean, didn't see the need to dress all the time, she was always hot, and she sometimes started to laugh by herself. The joke was in her head. Sometimes, she danced by herself, to music she alone could hear. I found it fascinating.

So when it was time to go to university, I wanted to study psychiatry. I thought it would be interesting to know more about the minds of people we termed to be insane.

Daddy didn't want me to study psychiatry. He always thought I should be an Engineer. Mum wanted me to be a Doctor, so I got mum on my side, by explaianing to her how I could upgrade to medicine, following my first degree in psychiatry. She seemed pleased with that explanation.

After my studies, I started to work in a research institute on mental health in Africa, wanting to find out more and to see how and why these people, especially in Nigeria were treated as substandard, simply because they didn't feel like combing their hair, they walked about naked, they were just free. Then I started to wonder if we were the restricted ones, with our boxes for houses, always locked in, as though in jail, boxes for cars, again with doors, locked in, boxes for offices, boxes for worship, boxes for everything. Yet the animals roamed wild and free in the jungle, they didn't have to move from box to box to box like humans, who are boxed everywhere, until we die and we are put in our final box.

I tried to have conversations along these lines with some of my friends, but the funny stares and the uncomfortable silences made me stop. Well, I didn't stop, it just became that I wasn't heard, I think. So I started to write furiously. All my thoughts, I wrote. I became the best researcher in the institute based on my productivity. My brain delighted in knowing more about this phenomenon. And then I started visiting aunty Bola in the institution. She was still alive and although she didn't fully recognise me, she always welcomed me, and in the beginning, I could just about string some meaning from the things she was saying. But after a few months, she started making perfect sense to me.

I guess she wasn't violent to me. She wasn't threatened by me, because I accepted her and always brought her fresh flowers. She really liked the flowers. Then one day, she sang. And it was beautiful, so I asked for her to have a radio with a cd player, and I bought her some cds. And she played them, but then she scratched the cds and broke the radio, because it was a box. She wanted to be free. No boxes. Just sound. 
From her inner being.

Then one day, I remember it clearly, only because I felt it so strongly, I started to dislike 'society', what with our rules, and rules and rules and more rules. I felt choked. And I wanted to dance in the rain, in the day time, on the streets, I wanted to speak, so I spoke to myself sometimes, and I still wrote furiously. And then gradually I felt less 'boxed in'. I felt free. I felt like I just wanted to see the world easily. But I didn't know how to communicate this clearly. So I started going for long walks, having conversations with strangers, sometimes with the trees, sometimes with myself.

Then after that, it became more and more normal to be less and less normal.

Until one day, while walking on the grounds of the institution, it occurred to me that these were my friends.  I had no other friends. No one else invited me to their soirees. No more invites to weddings, or picnics or to the parks.

And so, I walked in, and asked for a room with my family. 

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Here we are in heaven
Our heaven

The people around us don't matter
Even we, do not matter
This is a higher calling
This inexplicable pull that somehow seems to draw us near
Even when we try to tear ourselves apart
How strong the magnet
Yet we are not opposites
Or are we?

We are in heaven
We are in love
The world does not matter
No one matters
Nothing anyone says matters
All that matters is that you love me and I love you

Can this love last throughout eternity?
Can our love constantly regenerate itself?
Will it morph into hate or even worse, indifference?
It will not. It must not.
You smile, the spell is cast.
We are in love.

In heaven
At last.
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Leadership Lessons from Barack Obama

| 20 February 2014
“One of the things that I’ve learned to appreciate more as President is you are essentially a relay swimmer in a river full of rapids, and that river is history,” he later told me. “You don’t start with a clean slate, and the things you start may not come to full fruition on your timetable. But you can move things forward. And sometimes the things that start small may turn out to be fairly significant. I suspect that Ronald Reagan, if you’d asked him, would not have considered the earned-income-tax-credit provision in tax reform to be at the top of his list of accomplishments. On the other hand, what the E.I.T.C. has done, starting with him, being added to by Clinton, being used by me during the Recovery Act, has probably kept more people out of poverty than a whole lot of other government programs that are currently in place.”

“I have strengths and I have weaknesses, like every President, like every person,” Obama said. “I do think one of my strengths is temperament. I am comfortable with complexity, and I think I’m pretty good at keeping my moral compass while recognizing that I am a product of original sin. And every morning and every night I’m taking measure of my actions against the options and possibilities available to me, understanding that there are going to be mistakes that I make and my team makes and that America makes; understanding that there are going to be limits to the good we can do and the bad that we can prevent, and that there’s going to be tragedy out there and, by occupying this office, I am part of that tragedy occasionally, but that if I am doing my very best and basing my decisions on the core values and ideals that I was brought up with and that I think are pretty consistent with those of most Americans, that at the end of the day things will be better rather than worse.”

“I think we are born into this world and inherit all the grudges and rivalries and hatreds and sins of the past,” he said. “But we also inherit the beauty and the joy and goodness of our forebears. And we’re on this planet a pretty short time, so that we cannot remake the world entirely during this little stretch that we have.” The long view again. “But I think our decisions matter,” he went on. “And I think America was very lucky that Abraham Lincoln was President when he was President. If he hadn’t been, the course of history would be very different. But I also think that, despite being the greatest President, in my mind, in our history, it took another hundred and fifty years before African-Americans had anything approaching formal equality, much less real equality. I think that doesn’t diminish Lincoln’s achievements, but it acknowledges that at the end of the day we’re part of a long-running story. We just try to get our paragraph right.”

excerpts from
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How can I be there for others?

| 15 February 2014
Today marks the third anniversary of the day that changed my life. Yes, really.

And everyday, while I am reminded of my limitations, I am also reminded of my abilities, and for these I remain truly thankful.

I am also thankful for the limitations, as they helped to make me realise I'm human, and also brought me closer to understanding the unique human body, and the mystery that is life and the experience made me learn how difficult it must be for people to be there for those who are sick or ill or sad.

Now, I remember that even my little cousins who I used to play with, were terrified of me, seeing me in such unfamiliar surroundings and conditions. And I know that many people cared but couldn't show it, through shock, fear, and just not knowing the appropriate thing to say or do.

I learnt the importance of compassion. I learnt that life really is transient. Health is GOLD and the attitude of those around us can be a healing balm. I learnt, from the people around me, that sometimes, all you need is to just be there. And I also learnt the importance of not shying away from asking 
'how are you?' 

And even if the answer is 'I'm fine', know that of course they are not, but they are hoping you can ask more questions, and also perhaps, hoping you continue to think of them, and send happy thoughts, praying that they will be fine. 

So I guess trying to be normal WITHOUT ignoring the issue - be it illness, death - helps. Ignoring the issue and trying to be a clown is  like trying to ignore the presence of a huge multi-coloured elephant in the room - hard and a bit silly. So accept the issue, deal with it and be there, if you can.

If you can't be there, then you can send texts, encouraging ones, emails, flowers, or even movies and links to random and interesting sites, to help with the boredom.

And all in all, always know, there is a time for everything, a time to be sad, a time to be happy, time to dance, time to mourn, and in all these moments, the people around us are immensely important. They help us to grow.

And that is the key, life is a continuous growth process, and we must embrace this. 
And in all things, we continue to thank God for all.
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| 13 February 2014
The music came on, she took to the dance floor and as each song was played,and she stripped herself one by one, one stanza after the other, of the labels "mother", "lawyer", "wife", "employer, "friend", "daughter", until she simply was Olufemi. By then, the music had ended. And it was time to go and join her family at the table. Yet she was glad, for the fifteen minutes of escapism she had enjoyed. She was thankful. It was the little things that made the most difference.
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On Empathy

| 29 January 2014
I’ve always valued a woman’s ability to empathize with others- from the people she knows, mankind in general, to all living beings in general. The wider this sphere expands, the more empathy she has, and I don’t mean “empathy” is some kind of hypocritical liberal hippie dippy way. I mean she’s genuinely able to feel how others feel and give sympathy and support when she can.
I personally value this quality more than anything else and consider it a key determinant whether someone is relationship material or not.
In a way, empathy is the other side of the same coin as seeing one’s own flaws and dealing with them well. Women who empathize are perceptive and easy to connect with. The prerequisite for these attributes is that they’re in touch and honest with their own emotions. Empathy for others also take a lot of compassion. I believe a person would not be able to give compassion unless she is capable of self-compassion. Someone who is in touch with her emotions and can be compassionate to herself is someone who can see her own flaws and deal with them well.
The opposite of empathy is solipsism. A solipsist generally exhibit narcissism, sense of entitlement, and isolation. They have a way of rationalizing away guilt, and use other people as a means to an end. Needless to say, solipsist women should be avoided at all costs. Unfortunately they are quite easy to find everywhere. Empathy is a rare quality.
I read Charles' comment on and I agree with it. The ability to see things from another's perspective is very important.

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Water Baby

| 7 January 2014
Anita walked slowly back home from the train station. It had been a very long and hard Tuesday. 
"Why was the Tuesday after Monday a working day?" She wondered.

Well, Monday, you had the entire weekend to prepare for Monday, and on Monday, you worked through the tasks that were left unfinished on Friday, this meant that Mondays were very productive, but  by the end of the day, after repeated exaggerations of how exciting and adventure-packed your weekend was to your clearly disinterested colleagues, one is left feeling rather drained, with a desperate need for another weekend to re-energise. Surely it would make more sense to have a rest-day after Monday, and then two days of consecutive work, followed by two days of rest, and then one final day of work/rest or an official work-from-home for all. That cannot be too difficult It appears that no sooner has Monday lunch-time ended, than is Tuesday upon us. 

This particular Tuesday was a unique one. No, it was not different in the sense that Anita still had to commute by overground train into London and then take the tube to her office at Embankment. You have to blame the exorbitant house prices in London for this. Anita, had rented a nice apartment in Battersea for eight years, but decided to get on the property ladder, as all her friends had done, and she was not one to feel out of place now. So she had bought a house.

"My property is my property, wherever it is located" Anita always thought proudly to herself.

No, it did not even have to do with the fact that she knew, as she shut her front door and stepped into the rain, falling softly, slowly but steadily and made her way, the twenty minutes walk down to the station, that she was not wearing the right outfit for  this rainy Tuesday.

It wasn't that. That could be remedied. She was now on first-name terms with her dry cleaner. He had taken to teaching her how to care for her garments by herself, to save some money. That was how often she went. But with a pressured job, who had time to read through the care labels? Really?

No, it wasn't the rain, it wasn't the outfit, it wasn't even the fact that it was Tuesday.

Even as she went about her work, attending all her scheduled meetings, she knew she was not fully present. Well, it would have been hard for anyone else to notice, she had been working at the firm for over a decade, she knew how these Tuesday catch-up meetings went. 

Clever idea, it was, to have the meetings on Tuesdays instead of Mondays as this way, staff had realised that the weekend was over, and come to grips with the demands of the week, at least then, the editor knew how productive her team would be, and could form a clearer picture of the deadlines that were most likely not be met.

No, it was not the meetings. The meetings went well. Although as she recounted how full and exciting her weekend was to a colleague she had not seen on Monday, she realised that she still had to have a few telephone meetings, they were to be interviews with members of the House of Lords. She anticipated that the conversations were going to be along the same lines as the usual verbose nature of her interviews with members of the peerage. And it was like that for the first interview with Lord Campbell, but she was pleasantly surprised as she was drawing her conclusions from a tough conversation with Lord Bakings-Hall on why fox-hunting was good for the community, when he commented that he had enjoyed this interview, even better than their first interview a couple of years ago, and how he had followed her work in the papers.  

That went well. By lunchtime however, there was a certain restlessness. Her vision was blurred. Her body was telling her that something was missing. No, it was not hunger. She had had a late breakfast, as per usual. No it most certainly was not hunger, she thought again to herself

So why was her stomach churning in and around itself? Why was it that as she looked through her glasses, all she saw were streams of water in front of her?

Why was it so hard to focus on her laptop screen, and why was a mirage of an oasis in the desert appearing constantly and slowing down her work? She had seen that mirage before, once when she was very ill, about seven years ago. She remembered it, but then she discounted the thought, it was just her body trying to control her.

She ploughed on. Anita, she is a tough one. 

And as she continued to work so hard, we looked at ourselves and wondered why humans were so stubborn and so reluctant to accept their true selves?

I spoke to the others, pleading with them to give her a few more hours, just until her day was over.

Why? They asked? Why must we always bend the rules? Why can't they obey the rules?

I reasoned that the time was not right. The time had not come. Not in Embankment. I begged and I pleaded. 

You see, I was the goddess Anita's mum begged for a child, thirty-six years ago. Anita was given, on the proviso that by the age of thirty-five, she would have a child and that child will be dedicated to us by the time she was thirty-five. But Anita's mum died a few years beforehand, and had failed to tell Anita this.

Well, she had hinted at it in her will, - I wish she had put it more bluntly, but I suppose she did not want to scare her child who had been brought up as a Christian. To go into this new realm would have been an uncomfortable conversation.

Anita thought the hint, written in the will was her mother's final plea to ensure her daughter was not a n older mother. And she thought, "no, I'm certainly not ready for a child. Who am I going to have the child with? Where does this fit into my plan? No. No child till 40." And that was the end of that. Anita, she is a tough one.

As Anita made her way home from work, the rain was falling harder. You see, the others were getting restless. They kept saying "We have waited for more than a year. This is not fair. We have to keep to our agreements. If not people will never honour our contracts, and they will come to disrespect us."

I could see their point of view. Yet, my heart was not ready. Not just yet. There was lightening, and thunderstorms, and it was so fierce that a fellow commuter commented to Anita on the train ride home "goodness, it's relentless isn't it? Lucky the trains are not yet cancelled", to which she merely nodded, and continued reading her copy of the evening's Standard.

And as she walked home, she did not mind the rain. She had never minded the rain. Although this Tuesday, she was looking forward to getting back to her abode, and having a glass of the Barolo her date last Friday had brought her, she planned to light some with candles and perhaps watch the latest episode of Community.

But as she opened her front door. She knew something was different. She felt lighter, and with a keen sense of realisation, she saw that the water from the streams that she had seen through her glasses at work appeared to now be  in her house. "What was all this about?" She wondered, now slightly frightened. Her feet appeared to be sinking and she was waist-deep in the water. And then she realised she couldn't feel her legs. And then she saw that her torso was dissolving also. Becoming one with the water. Slowly her life flashed before her. But before she had time to process it, she was gone. One with the water.

It would be said later in the news that House no 20, Raleigh Street in Guildford was the only flooded one from the rains, that day in April.

And me? I cried.

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London: April 2013

| 6 January 2014
April is always the month of growing, expectations of the new, as we say goodbye to the dark, winter months. This April, I would like to see The Winslow Boy by Terrence Rattigan. The late Rattigan was a reknowned dramatist and his plays come up time after time. I went to see Cause Célèbre sometime in 2011 and I liked the way he was able to dramatize social relationships. So because of that, Winslow Boy is in.

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Sailing Ships

| 4 January 2014
Experience after experience
We become hardened
Yet we do not protest
We become quite adept at biting our tongues
We keep quiet
"It is maturity" they tell us
As though it is the way nature intended for humans,
Lost in our unabashed greed, to excuse errant behaviour
And so, bit by bit,
Experience after experience,
We lose every bit of our humanity
Until undoubtedly very mature, and quite shrivelled
Weary and worn
We become microcosms of ourselves

And the cycle continues
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| 17 December 2013
We move around, in tandem
We humans seeking desperately for our almaz
Our utopia.
Not stopping to ask if it exists
It must, we tell ourselves.
We give ourselves that elixir that purports to heal us of any ailments
Whatever it is, will be cured
Wherever we want to, we can go
However we want to, we will be able to.
And so it is, we run and skip and jump and walk and crawl and cry on the treadmill of life
Never stopping, never pausing to ask
"Why this?"
"Is this all there is?"
"Is this the best way for me to live my life"

No, we don't do this
To do so would be too painful
And too costly we tell ourselves,
In man-hours not worked,
In risks that if taken might not yield rewards
Too painful in the number of coffees, dinners, lunches, travels
We can buy with our money
Who cares about happiness?
When you have a salary
Who cares about job fulfilment?
That is the worry for 1st-world people
Our parents did not have the luxury of job-fulfilment,
They worked at the jobs they had because they had to
So how dare we ask for job fulfilment and satisfaction?
We ingrates, we.

But then I ask,
Do we have to tread the same paths our parents tread?
Can we not think for ourselves?
Choose for ourselves?
Live for ourselves?
Can we not own our own ambitions and aspirations?
Can we not overcome our own fears?
Should we not?
Why should we always flow along the same river?
Why can't we break away and form our own streams
To water different lands?

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| 10 December 2013
I have known her all my life
At some point, I thought she was my mother's sister
She was that young at heart, so approachable
She still is.

In her eyes, I see wisdom, passion, love, warmth
Her voice alone is enough to remove any chill I feel
In my spirit.

As I write this, tears are streaming down my face
Tears of love.
Yes, to her I can be completely vulnerable
With her, I can share my innermost fears
I can ask her any question
I cry, not because of regret, but because in her spirit
I continue to be reminded of the beauty in human nature
I pray that she has many more years on earth.

This woman,
To whom life initially dealt a harsh and painful blow
Has risen from the ashes
Greater than a phoenix
Higher than any clouds in the sky
She has transformed herself and has done so
Whilst loving the people around her.

Some were not happy with her success
But even them, she did not hate
She cannot hate.
It is not possible for her to do so
All she has, she has worked for
Her philosophy in life is love, warmth, and a simple life
A simple, well-ordered, practical, independent life.

She is a burden to no one
She is a blessing to all
She is generous
She is humble
She is giving
She is cheerful.

She is ALIVE.

She is of a curious mind
Her eyes sparkle with intelligence and love
Her hugs are the warmest ever and her voice
Oh her voice
I need only to think of speaking with her, to feel better
In my darkest moments, I yearn for her voice.

She is my mentor
My role model
My confidant
My calm in the storm
My voice of peace, of love, of warmth.

If I seek to be a warm person
It is only because I know how it feels to receive warmth
A person who wakes me up with a smile
With singing and dancing in her heart.

No, I have not met anyone else like her yet
If I do, I'll be sure to be best of friends
And if the heavens are kind enough to me
And allow me to meet such a person in the male version
Then you can be sure you will find me by his side.

My grandmother is indeed
my grand mother

I thank the heavens for blessing me with her
And I hope I have been a blessing to her.


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Accept me please….Leave me, I don't accept you

| 1 December 2013
I saw this quote recently and it really resonated with me. This whole thing of acceptance…. 

I have substituted men and women for people,...

How far have you walked for people who’ve never held your feet in their laps?
How often have you bartered with bone, only to sell yourself short?
Why do you find the unavailable so alluring?
Where did it begin? 
What went wrong? and who made you feel so worthless?

If they wanted you, wouldn’t they have chosen you?
All this time, you were begging for love silently, thinking they couldn’t hear you, but they smelt it on you, 
You must have known that they could taste the desperate on your skin?
And what about the others that would do anything for you, 
Why did you make them love you until you could not stand it?
How are you both of these people, both flighty and needful?
Where did you learn this, to want what does not want you?
Where did you learn this, to leave those that want to stay?”

Warsan Shire

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I left my soul out

| 25 November 2013
I forgot
I left my soul outside
And my heart too with it

It wasn't a conscious decision.
More to do with being trusting.
Believing I lived in the friendly village of humanity.

Ah well, what happened was surprising, but when I think about it, not entirely unexpected.
One only has to leaf through the historical pages of fiction
to know that there is no friendly village of humanity
No utopia as such.
It cannot exist.

So, back to my heart and soul,
That foolishly were left out to dry.
Well, the rains came,
And the sun
And the winds
And the dust
And the heart tried to protect the soul

But then, the heart itself got burnt.
It had to develop a thick skin
And as each of the seasons came
The skin became thicker still

And now, it has become like rubber
Well maybe more like steel
But not quite

I must not let that happen
So I've brought my heart and soul indoors
They must be protected from the elements
They cannot be allowed to turn to steel
Because then, my heart, it would not be a heart anymore
My soul, it would not be a soul anymore
It won't be human anymore.

It would be steel.
And we can't have that.
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Teaching for change?

| 1 October 2013
Imagine for a moment that you are in a class, with about twenty to twenty-five other classmates, listening to a teacher. This teacher is middle-aged, but her entire disposition is one of a person who is young-at-heart. The subject matter is Economics, and even though to some people, it is not the most engaging of subjects, your teacher is able to bring the subject to life, invite everyone in class to give examples of how the basic economic principles apply in their lives. Even better, the teacher encourages her students to dream, to dream beyond what the four walls of their classroom permits them to. 

You look around class, and you see the paint peeling from the walls, you see desks that are not in very good condition. You look around and see students from different strata of society, those that belong to well-to-do families, and those whose families are barely able to make ends-meet. Perhaps, some of your classmates are the first children in their families to attend university. You look around, and see faces that are marked with something quite sad. Faces that are devoid of hope, faces that are coming to university because they have nowhere else to go, or they have been told that  their lives would never change without a university degree. Yet, they know that there are no jobs after university, but it is a case of 'attending, just in case there is a job and I would not want to be denied one, because I did not go to school', a state-of-mind not dissimilar to that of some proponents of religion, who believe in it, not because they want to, but as a case of double-negative being positive ' I don't want to not believe, in case it is all true'. How, you might ask, is this lack of faith but adherence to religion different from the agnostic who throws up his hands in the air and honestly says 'I just don't know', I don't know. 

So now, the task at hand is how the teacher is able to get her students to dream. Yes, I know teachers in Nigeria are not well-paid, yes I know, as some have told me, after I shared my ambition to lecture in some capacity in public Nigerian universities, that many people teach as a last resort, and to that end, how then can they be expected to be excited and passionate about their subjects?

Yet, I also know that it is unfair to be in such a position and fail to shape minds, to be in a position of responsibility, I mean, when I look back to how my lecturers influenced me, academically, but also psychologically and socially, I think of how different, and less-developed my life might have been. These people made my subjects alive, they allowed me to dream, and they allowed me to express myself. Now, if I can go to the class described in the first paragraph, and inject some colour into the lives of those students, surely, that is a reward in itself? 

Now imagine, if 10 of us did that, 20 of us, 50 of us, 100 of us....the ripple from our interactions having a multiplier effect, and changing the value-system in the Nigerian education. Imagine that, giving an entire generation the freedom to dream. The freedom to choose their own paths, the freedom to be confident in their interests and the freedom to learn the skills they want to learn. Now imagine how those students in turn can go out into the world and then become ambassadors of creative thinking, philosophical thinking, innovative ways to solve problems....just the thought of the possibilities is enough to make me think "Why on earth would I not want to teach for change?"

And you can do the same too. You can volunteer to take a class, a module, be a guest speaker, in any field in which you find yourself, you can impart some of that knowledge onto others in Nigeria, and teach....for change.
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ThisDay Article: Part 3: Nigeria's Road to Better Leadership

| 1 August 2013
This is the final part of the leadership write-up. 

The history of Nigeria is painted, in most parts by our political leadership. From the time of our independence, the history of Nigeria has usually been recounted according to its political experiences, with particular reference to the political leader at the time.  Political leadership is of course very important. For the simple reason that it has been covered exhaustively in my opinion, I would not dwell on it, except to mention that political leadership while being a key component in the growth of an economy should realize that it's main purpose is to serve the populace. To work with the sectors of the economy to formulate policies and strengthen institutional frameworks that will allow for growth to occur. Sustainable growth.

Political leadership should come from a position of "How can we best instrumentalise all the parameters of government to work effectively with different sectors of the economy?" It requires an attitude of humility, servitude and commitment to the general good of the population.

While political leadership is important, the concept of leadership extends very widely to include business leadership, spiritual leadership, social leadership, and familial leadership, to name a few parameters. Thus, it is key to understand its wide applicability when prescribing effective leadership as a key component in the pathway for sustainable development.

This is because a thriving Nigeria depends on effective leadership that is demonstrated in different situations, the chairman of the boardroom, the teacher in the classroom, the family, the community councilor, non-governmental organizations, the unions, the decision on health policies, town planning activities and the sports arena.

At the various junctures in our daily lives, we come across complexities and issues that require decisions to be made. The pastor deciding on how best to lead the congregation and choosing to exemplify this by humility, the Imam demonstrating the tenets that Islam is a faith of love and acceptance, the business director choosing to empower staff by training them and rewarding them appropriately, there are many examples of the need for leadership.

It is not possible to cover all the aspects and issues regarding leadership in one article alone. But if the principles mentioned above are followed, principles of viewing Nigeria as a nation with many inter-related complexities that need to be broken down and tackled with the right attitude, then in every situation, choosing to understand the inter-relationships (please note that these inter-relationships also include the “others” points of views), and the focus is to find sustainable resolution to the complexities, then we will be on the right path. This is because there will be a detailed thinking-through of issues before action. And then there will be action. Responsible action.

An essay on leadership will be incomplete without mention of followership. While the word "followership" has several negative connotations including one of ruler/servant relationship or even more drastic, a master/slave relationship, leadership and followership are not in fact a binary relationship, where leadership is distinct from followership. I reiterate, the 2 are not a dichotomy, where there is a distinct "leader" and distinct "follower", rather, one must view followership as important as leadership. Given that leadership is the ability to influence others, the ability for effective leadership to happen is the ability to influence others, meaning that the "others" must be able and willing to be influenced, or better put, must be in the position to be effectively influenced.
In this regard, we have leaders, and followers, working together as co-creators in growth: economic, political, social, spiritual or at the basic or, community.

Leadership is not an easy task. Rather it is a continuous process of decision making to tackle complexities, but also to think ahead, look into the future and prepare strategies to deal with any challenges that might occur in the future. It involves adapting, shaping and modifying. It is like a farmer who knows he must till the farm to yield a good harvest. Yet he also knows that after a few years, the ground must lie fallow to recover (adapting). While the ground is lying fallow, he prepares and plans for the course of planting that will take place after the fallow period is over, to ensure that the ground is used effectively and efficiently (modifying and shaping). Leadership learns from the past, is involved in the present and is prepared for the future.

I conclude by restating what I wrote in the beginning paragraphs to this piece. There is no problem with Nigeria. Nigeria is a complex country, and will continue to be so. However, these complexities are inter-related and can be broken down into simpler components. Once they are deconstructed into more manageable chunks, the issues can be tackled more effectively, and can be resolved concurrently, different parts being tackled by different teams.

The development process requires leadership. Leadership that thinks, and leadership that acts.

This was printed in ThisDay Newspaper August 1, 2013
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Part 2: ThisDay Newspaper Article : Distinct Leadership

| 31 July 2013
Definitions aside, you might be wondering how easy it must be to sit down and write about the complexities in the country and suggest ways to chart them down, but how does this translate into actively tackling the complexities within Nigeria? Please bear with me. The first step in every task is to understand it, identify the challenges, and identify their causes, the effects and the linkages between the challenges, if there are any. There usually are. This identification process is a time-consuming and arduous process. However it is necessary. Otherwise one takes the risk of attempting to solve the wrong issue and no matter how creatively the attempt at resolving these issues is, the original issue remains unresolved.

How then does this relate to "leadership”, the title of this article? How does this relate to moving “from thought, to action?” Once the complexities are identified, decisions have to be made on the best course of action to take to resolve the issues. Some issues can be resolved immediately. Others can take about 3-5 years, and some others are more long-term and can take anything from 5 years to 20 years. This means that the complexities need to be understood and sustainable strategies decided upon to ensure that issues are satisfactorily resolved, as best as they can be.

What this means is that there is a need for clear and distinct leadership. Leadership that is able to decide on the right strategy to take, leadership that is able to correctly prioritize the courses of actions to take. Note that I use the phrase “able to decide on the right strategy to take”. It does not mean that leaders know it all, rather, it means that they are able to maximize the resources available to them, so as to ensure that the right information about the complexities are gathered. Then the leaders decide.

It is perhaps useful at this point to define what is meant by leadership. Leadership means, at the most basic level the ability to influence other people. “Other people” here include any number of persons. So, an individual can influence one person, or a person can have a position of influence over others in their family, in their place of worship, at work, school, community and club.

Initially leadership was assumed to be a factor of trait alone, where the tall, fit and well-spoken man was assumed to be a proprietor of good leadership. This concept of leadership has its obvious shortcomings, with particular attention based to the superficial qualities of a person and the significant gender bias. More recently, leadership is considered to be a recipe of intelligence, traits, manners, empathy, analytical skills, creativity, spirituality, morality and social intelligence.

The word leadership has been bashed around so many times that it has become nebulous. Yet, the same popular use of the word in every conversation that relates to developing economies highlights its importance, and dare I say, our folly if we choose to ignore what it is, what it stands for and what it can achieve, when utilized effectively. Effective leadership means being able to influence other people to undertake a course of action that will result in a positive outcome.

Being in a senior position alone does not automatically mean that one is an effective leader, although it can point to the responsibilities for leadership that the position might have. Effective leadership is one that exhibits characteristics of strategic thinking and the ability to strategically appraise complex situations while working with others, motivating them, encouraging them and criticizing them when and if the need arises.

The key point here is that leadership is important, and its importance cannot be over-emphasized. However, the concept of leadership needs to be understood contextually.

What then does leadership mean for Nigeria?

As mentioned earlier, leadership is effective if it is able to influence people towards a positive outcome that is the attainment of goals. In the case of Nigeria, this goal is development. Development is not strictly economic. Economic development is important, however development comprises of political, social, cultural and legal aspects too. If development is not tackled with an understanding of the different aspects that comprise it, then while the country might report a high level of economic growth, there would remain a high level of inequality and social under-development, as is the case between rural and urban China. The point here is that development has to be seen more holistically, where the sum of its parts is greater than the whole. Appraising development through economic lenses alone will not result in a sustainably developed nation.

If the goal is development, the questions are development for whom? Development for what? Development, how? All these questions point to the need for leadership. Leadership that is able to think through the various strands of developmental issues, leadership that is able to analyze, prioritize and act.

For this to happen, there is an imperative need to ensure the right information is gathered. That is, the issues are accurately and comprehensively charted. It involves the collective and contributory working together of different government parastatals, non-governmental organizations, private councils, and private business and industry groups to ensure results for the collective good of the nation. This might sound like utopia, but leadership cannot happen in a vacuum. Rather it is an iterative process that involves the decision makers as well as other people within the organization, be it a public or private organization.

It also means that the solutions proposed to issues are directly applicable to the issues at hand. An approach that was successfully used to resolve an issue in the past might also not be applicable anymore. That is to say, there can be no “one size fits all” approach to resolving complexities. What has worked in the United States might not work in Nigeria, even though the United States like Nigeria is a Federalist country. What has worked in Brazil might not work in Nigeria. What has worked for India might not work for Nigeria. Even closer to home, what has worked in Ghana, might not work in Nigeria. It does not mean that we cannot learn from the developmental processes in these countries, it simply means that we should be aware of the uniqueness of the complexities within Nigeria and strategies to resolve them should be context-specific.

The courses of action that are to be taken at any point in time need to be continually revised, redrafted, widely communicated to relevant parties and cohesively done. Now this is a challenge! The challenge is how to identify the complexities and also how to resolve them effectively.

This takes me back to the beginning of this essay. At this point I concede that there is a problem in Nigeria. Not with Nigeria, but in Nigeria. The problem in Nigeria is the disjointed, randomized and ill-planned approaches that are taken in an attempt to resolve issues. There does not appear to be a thought-out process; rather it is very akin to learning to swim while drowning. We have also focused on political leadership as the only path to development. 
This was published in ThisDay Newspaper on 31 July 2013.
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ThisDay Newspaper Article - On Leadership: From Thought to Action (part I)

This polemic article is to be published in 3 parts. The first of which was published yesterday (30 July 2013) in ThisDay Newspaper Nigeria.

The problems with Nigeria we are told, are manifold. There is endemic corruption, nothing works, there is no electricity, the people are mercenaries, oil is a curse, there is poverty, there is failure, there is no government, and the entire country is at the brink of collapse.

Everywhere, through every medium possible, this picture is painted for us, be it at a meeting, at the bar, whilst catching up with friends, at the church, mosque, community center or on the airline seat next to you, where the air hostesses repeatedly announce that mobile phones be switched off and seat belts fastened, and there is at least one person that chooses to ignore the announcements, and the person next to you says “this is the problem with Nigeria”. It appears that nowhere is exempt from this conversation, even as one goes to use the lavatory facilities provided at a wedding ceremony.  It is the same with the old, and with the young. The “problems with Nigeria” confront you from the moment you wake up and all day until you go back home to rest and revive yourself for next day. However, writing until you go back home, is not entirely accurate as NEPA, the noise of generators and the wasting of food stored in the refrigerator are constant at-home reminders of the “problems with Nigeria”, all requiring a significant amount of fortitude to plough through every day of the week, month and years of human life. The young are excepted until they are about 12 years old, and then they start to overhear the conversations that their parents, their friends’ parents and teachers are having. I know because it happened the same way for me.

I was idealistic enough to assume that by the time it was the turn of my generation, all the problems that have marred Nigeria would have dissolved, miraculously and mysteriously. One of “the problems with Nigeria” to me appeared very simple. It was one of greed. If only the greedy people would be less greedy, then the country would be a better place. Oh the idealism of youth.

Now attaining some semblance of reality is my identification of the major issue with Nigeria. It is this:  we are too keen to talk about “the problem with Nigeria”. Keen in the sense that there is always conversation about the many problems that the country faces, and many-a-times, one has been thrown aback by the strategies that have been employed to describe Nigeria and the reasons for its under-development. If only the same strategies were employed with the mindset to resolve and reinvest in Nigeria’s growth, then perhaps this article might have started with a different angle.

Nigeria has become a monster that everyone complains about, but no one wishes to tackle. But Nigeria is not a monster. Yes it is big. Yes it is sometimes ugly, and yes, sometimes it is its own enemy. But it is not a monster.

Without sounding too simplistic, there is no “problem with Nigeria”. Yes, Nigeria faces many challenges, and there are many complexities within our nation, from religion, culture, tribe, age, rapid urbanization, oil revenue dependency, federalism, population, infrastructural development but perhaps we should view these complexities, not as problems, but as different strands that comprise to form a thick, intertwined rope called Nigeria. Yes some of the strands are complex, but that does not make them insurmountable. The complex strands need to be broken down, unraveled and charted to result in a deeper understanding of the different inter-relationships inherent in complexities. These inter-relationships might be obvious and therefore the connections can be easily made, and sometimes they might not be so straightforward. Obtaining detailed understanding of the different components of the country is a daunting task. Daunting, but achievable.

An example may be the relationship between the strands of federalism and revenue generation by states. Nigeria is a federalist nation and the arguments for revenue generation and law enforcement. The argument for nationwide public provision of electricity and a Federal police force, in addition to the state police force again provide several inter-relationships between the “federalist” strand and “state autonomy” strand. However inherent in this example is the fact that there will be other factors at play, social and economic factors.

Rapid urbanization also poses its own set of challenges. Migration from the villages to the cities is happening very quickly. The agricultural sector suffers as the villages become sparsely populated as the cities become densely populated, the cost of living in the cities increase, and wages do not increase at the same rate, if they increase at all. There is increased demand on the limited public provisions for healthcare, education and electricity, and these provisions collapse under the strain. Businesses are not able to function effectively, families breakdown. Communities collapse, crime increases. This example has shown that urbanization is related to agriculture, to town-planning, wage-level determination, infrastructural provision of housing, electricity and roads; provision of healthcare, provision of good quality education, provision of jobs, and also family planning. A not-so-obvious inter-relationship is the effect that rapid urbanization has on literacy and consequently, the potential for employment. Urbanization is not bad. But rapid urbanization involves many strands that pose challenges. Complexities that need to be understood. Complexities that can be understood. If  only we take a step back to try to understand them.

Now, you might say, how are these not problems? What is the difference between classifying something as a problem as opposed to a complexity? A basic definition search defines a problem as a matter or situation regarded as unwelcome or harmful and needing to be dealt with and overcome. A thing difficult to achieve or accomplish. On the other hand, a complexity is defined as containing intricately combined or involved parts. The difference between the two is a matter of mindset. While problems sound pessimistic, viewing issues as complex is seen as optimistic, the challenge being to resolve the issue(s) at hand. This might sound simplistic; however, try to think of an issue as a problem. Now try to think of the same issue as a complexity or a challenge. One way weighs heavily on you, the other makes you determined to overcome it.

Adun Okupe is a PhD Candidate at the University of Surrey, and a 2010 NLI Associate
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My Plan

| 10 April 2013

I don't know if anyone will ever be able to read this. I mean, only an extremely knowledgeable person with an intense ability to communicate with others will be able to understand and interpret this. But if you are reading this, then you know that it has been done. There indeed are special genes in some species, and I only hope this does not lead humans to start a type of war, but more on that later. 

So I have been listening to some conversations about the end of the world, some say it is due to the Christian rapture and others think it might be global warming, and some say the two are linked but I do not know and I do not wish to comment on that. The last conversation I overheard was on how the whole global warming problem might lead to the end of life for humans, just like how dinosaurs are now extinct. Now I don't claim to know much about all of that, my concerns in my four years on earth have been food, walks and play. That has been all. But as I slept last night, and only for a few moments because I have not been able to sleep for as long as humans are able to, ever in my life, I decided to write my plan.

If you transcribed this, then you must know it has been fraught with spelling mistakes and is over many pieces of paper. I saw all the other kids writing and thought I should write too, but I didn't know how to do it best, so maybe these sheets of paper are useless. Oh I don't know.

You see, if humans left the earth, I wonder what would happen to those like me? Would I also die? I mean, after being domesticated, I wonder what it must be like to fend for one's food? Also, will there be anyone for me to jump at? Can we even organise ourselves as a species? I mean, if humans became extinct, what would happen to dogs like me?

We live for more than 15years, at a stretch, so does this mean we have to have leaders and elections too? Will we have to fight with ourselves as we try to eat all that the humans have left behind? Who will take me for my daily walk? Will the alsatians be kind to the chihuahuas and daschunds? What would happen if we had no more vets? Will I catch rabies?

Oh my. Would there be gross overpopulation of dogs, if none of us is neutered? Or will we struggle so much that one by one, pack by pack, dog species by dog species, we become extinct too? My plan is this: to get man to teach other dogs how to read and write. How to become more intelligent. I mean, we are already thought to be as smart as toddlers, so why can't we learn more so we can organize our own lives?*

Thank you for reading and transcribing this. If you are interested, please start the revolution to educate more dogs, so we can take over when humans are gone, as a form of intelligent succession planning. I only have to apologize for the sticky and wet manner in which I have tried to put this on paper. Writing with one's tongue isn't easy, and there's no dog school for doggywriting. Maybe this is something that Harrods can start to offer sometime in the future?

* If you don't believe me, check out :

**I (being Adun) was driving the other day, and wondered what would happen to earth if/when humans become extinct. Then I thought, what would happen to dogs and other animals (especially the domestic ones)? Then I thought, how would this look from the point of view of a dog, assuming dogs outlive humans. 

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The Orgy

| 4 April 2013

I got the invite. It said "come with an open mind and be prepared to try new things, taste different flavours from countries far away."

I am a tried and tested traveller and party-goer and I know that sometimes, people have a tendency to exaggerate in their invitations, to make it grander than it is, akin to the candlelight club, but then again, perhaps anticipation is the best drug as it induces excitement and the need to present oneself in one of two ways, either the best possible light, and there you work with what you have in your wardrobe-going-out repertoire, or an opportunity to reinvent yourself, cue a visit to, where you shop through the millions of internet pages to find the character you want to channel for the occasion.

Well, the invite said it was an orgy, and that there would be a medley to choose from, so I thought it best to go looking demurely sexy. Thankfully, Google is that best friend that you can tell everything to, and it doesn't share your secrets with others, well, excepting the media agencies and third party companies who can trail your internet activity with the funny techie geek thing known as a cookie. Now why would you create a stalker ware and call it something as harmless as "cookie"? Why! Especially as I'm on my weight loss mission and ticking that I accept this "cookie" every time I go on a random website does very little for my hunger pangs and my anger management. I have been known to scream at the laptop. Poor Macbook, at least it was named apple, which sends waves of healthy-eating negative calories-calm through my body, calming and attaining a technology-state-of-zen.

I asked google "what to wear to an orgy?" She, google that is, my best friend, came up with several helpful things, and gave me guidelines, linking me to pages that said "what to wear to your first sex party", "tips on how to make an impression at an orgy-party". What impression! I thought. It is an orgy. Everybody is expecting to get some, no impression necessary, this is not a speed-dating event, although, whether one wants to make an impression at a speed-dating event is debatable. Í mean who goes to a speed-dating party?

Yes, yes, I know, you might ask, who goes to an orgy party too. That is not the point. This IS MY story and I can tell you what I want to. Anyways, I asked google some questions and she said that I shouldn't wear expensive heels. I should not wear any dress too expensive and I should definitely not take any condoms, since orgies were for sharing. You see this is the thing with google, she starts by giving me helpful advice and then rapidly descends into some sort of weird Dr-Ozzy type aunt, and I'm not sure if she's joking or playing and sometimes I even think I want to terminate our friendship but I can't because Jeeves was not so good and BING is totally rubbish and all the other engines just don't seem to think the way I do, AND they judge me!

So, after several conversations over drinks, with google, I decided to wear a burgundy dress, fitted with slits at the back, so that way, from the front I look like an angel, but from the back, it is a bit more risqué. You catch my drift?

I wore flat converses, I mean, yes I trust my friend to invite no-crazies, but who turns up to an orgy unless they have some sort of extreme open-mindedness, which in some situations can be read as craziness. The flat converse shoes would be a good talking point (con-versation - corny, I know) but also provide me with a quick getaway if things become too "risqué".

I thanked google and compensated her by clicking on a few links to buy my dress. Purchase over, the anticipation began and I was doubly excited when my dress came. It looked nothing like what it was advertised as, but hey, this is what I get for buying "orgy-clothing" but it had to do.

The day came, I had a milk-bath, to channel my inner Cleopatra, and put on angelic-demon make-up. I don't know what that means, but I'm happy for you to speak to my best-friend, the fountain of all knowledge, the owner of the secrets of man, woman, and beast, the keeper of all plagiarisms and the defender of free-living.

I took strawberries covered in chocolates, from god-diva and sauntered into my cab to my destination. I had kept my plans for the  evening a secret cos I didn't want my friends to judge me, although I'm aware that is what all friends do. I pressed the door-bell, took in a deep breath and waited.

Door opened and I scanned, to see a few people I knew, and some I didn't know, but hey all is cool. I thought the whole set-up looked too normal, but then I thought, maybe that was the aim, like the movie, "The Last Supper"*

My poor over-active imagination.

The night continued, people had brought foods from different parts of the world. Starters led to mains which led to desserts. Frankly I like my food to be simple, too many different things to taste from massively confuses my stomach which confuses my brain, which is over-active on the best of days. The confused brain led to my incessant twitching and delivery of random lies, saying "oh, yum, this is so nice, I've always wondered what they ate in Uzbekistan". No I've not, but now, maybe I do, okay I don't but in a way, I do wonder what Uzbeks eat at dinner parties. And the night descends into more nose-extending actions and I try not to drink too much so I'm sober-like for the main party. Desserts came and I proffered my strawberries in chocolates as a nod to french delicate dessert-making. I know, the things I come up with!

Then after desserts, we had tea and coffee and then people started to leave. At this point, I started to think that maybe only a select-few of us had been invited to the orgy, and so our invites were different, and no one was saying anything about it, and so I didn't say anything too. I waited and continued to endure boring conversation on the brain formation of rabbits and why even though we think fruits do not have any brains, research is showing that they in fact, do. Except that our conceptualisation of brain-matter is limited and doesn't extend to include other thinking-feeling-reactive abilities that fruits definitely have, which enables them to respond to the environment. BLA BLA BLA Drone.

But I endured it because he was hot. Good-looking, tall and had the perfect skin. He turned out to be gay. I only know this cos I googled him after the party which was not an orgy mind you. It was a food-festival that my silly friends decided to name as  "the orgy" to sound exciting in a bid to spice up our unremarkable and  simple lives.

So only you, my readers, here, know what I was expecting. Shhhh. Well, you and google.  I mean who comes up with orgy as a name for food parties! Why don't you just call it a food fest or food party! Although if new followerisms are anything to go by, expect to be invited to "The Orgy", be warned. It is just a food party. Don't go expecting anything more.

Anyways, I was only attending the party as scientific research for my new book, so it doesn't matter what you think.
The Last Supper:

PS the above account is entirely fictional. You have to take my word for it.
PPS if you do get invited to a party billed as an orgy, don't assume it is purely a food party. It might very well be the real thing, in which case, attend at your own discretion.

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