Going Nowhere At The Speed Of Light

“Have You Eaten? Have you had lunch?”

“No, I haven’t even had breakfast.”

“Why is that? What’s wrong?”

“I have no appetite.”

“Why now?”

“Existential angst. I feel nihilistic.”

“Wetin happen?”

“Brussels. Ankara. Paris. NYC. London. Abuja. Maiduguri. Gombe. Agatu. Zaria. Grand Bassam. Donald Trump!”

“Brussels? What happened in Brussels?”

“You mean you haven’t heard?”

“No.”

“Three explosions. 34 deaths. 140 injured. Blood and suffering every where. Where you been?”

“Ah. Don’t let these things stress you out o. Go and eat now. In short I am calling you back in ten minutes to ensure you have eaten.”

“Eat? I how can I eat? How can you think of food? And who made you my mother anyway?”

“All you oyibo children sef.”

“Wetin dat one mean?”

“Only overfed children that grew up in plenty talk like that. In Africa you concern yourself with a loved ones stomach before a strangers death.”

“Is that what you tell yourself when you sell your brethren into suffering?”

“Perhaps. I’ll call you back. Go start fixing something now.”

“I….hello? Hello?!”

One hour later…..

“What did you eat?”

“I ate the flesh of my brethren and drank the blood of innocents.”

“Hian. Are you alright? Do you need a shrink?”

“No. I don’t but I think you do. How can you be calm? This planet you call a rock is nothing more than a dust mite in the vastness of a Universe hurtling through space going nowhere at the speed of light. All we people have is each other and people go around blowing other people up and struggling for dominion. Its all meaningless vanity. How can you even have an appetite?”

“What did you eat?”

“Be serious…”

“What did you eat?”

“Bread and wine!”

“There. Don’t you feel better? You certainly have more energy. The battle between good and evil has no end. Its a daily battle and there are no rewards. Not even in heaven. There are only small victories. Small daily victories. And you’re going to need to keep your strength up Angel. You cannot take off your wings, you cannot drop your torch, you cannot tire. You have chosen the Road Less Travelled. You have chosen to be a Warrior of the Light. You can’t go back now. You cannot stop.”

*sobs*

“There there. Let it all out.”

“It all just seems so pointlessless. Life is meaningless. We might as well not exist.”

“Are you feeling suicidal?”

“No. I’m more inclined to homicide right now. Sometimes I feel so angry. Can’t they see? Are they blind? Are they deaf? Are they stupid?”

“That’s why they need you. That’s why we need you Angel. Because the World can be a harsh cold place and your Light and Love make it just a little bit more bearable. And I hope my love makes it a bit more bearable for you.”

 

*sobs*

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Sexual Harassment in Nigeria’s Girls Secondary Schools

 

Let’s be real people, this has been a problem since 19kiridim. if we were to start a hash tag and tell all the stories of sexual harassment we experienced in school the archive might sink the world wide web.

I remember secondary school. I remember my final year Math teacher. Can’t remember his name but he was a lot like this Olaseni fellow. Smart but creepy. Always making inappropriate sexual comments about students. I was a particular target. I avoided him and his classes like the plague. Then there was the Chemistry teacher too. And the French teacher. The first french phrase he taught us was ‘Avec la langue je base’ which meant you use your tongue to kiss. French kiss I guess. I squirmed. Some of the students laughed.

I heard some of the students agreed to have sex with them. Then again this was all a long time ago, when a lot of female secondary school students were above the age of 16 or 18 and legally could consent. I heard they may have had sex with younger students too but they never really insisted. They created an atmosphere of hyper sexuality and sat back to wait for the ones that took their bait so there was never any real evidence and the students that did certainly didn’t want to say anything.

We didn’t have the tools or the language to report or confront them. Maybe some students felt they had to give in. Maybe some thought they could get better grades. Maybe some like me just avoided them (and flunked their classes). Did our principal know or suspect anything? She must have. She always seemed to know when nkpokopi was going on. She gave us a many an assembly lecture on the evils of nkpokopi or same sex relationships among students but we never were warned or armed to defend or resist or report the male teachers.

Did we think it was over when we left school? Did we really think so? Could we have been just a tiny bit in denial all these years? This is after all uber patriarchal Nigeria. Girls and young women are vulnerable, did we really think they would be safe in the care of male teachers?

There were of course the male teachers with integrity that never would even dream to take advantage of a student. There were very clear personality differences between the two types of male teachers – the predators were smooth. I can imagine them smooth talking the principal even and mine was an Iron Lady.

I’m really glad we are talking about these things. We need to set and enforce standards in our schools and we need to equip our girls with the tools to resist or mitigate the bullying that we all know goes on in schools in Nigeria. Time to get our heads out of the sand as enlightened mothers unafraid to talk about sex and do something.

I had sons and never really had to confront this issue. Our issues were different – cults, bullies and hazing being the top three. My sons did Taekwondo. It helped but the day I went to their school they kneel down beg me make I no come again because they expected a back lash for my presence. Rumors of rape of boys were less frequent though not unheard of. One reason why I never sent my sons to boarding school sha.

Of course this is not a ‘Nigerian’ problem, its a global problem. Its a global rape culture that is just a bit more pernicious and acceptable in some places than others. Remember the Saville scandal in the UK? And increasingly we are hearing of female teachers in some countries abusing male students. I wonder if any male student in Nigeria will ever complain if his female teacher took him and shagged his brains out. He would be a hero in the school sef.

Sexual assault and abuse of children, male and female – is a problem. We need to see the Queens’ College incident in a broader context and look for systemic solutions to a growing problem. Unless teachers know that they are being watched and they will be held accountable they will not have incentive to stop predatory sexual behaviour. And we need to let our children know that we will protect them, believe them and fight for them when their right to be children is infringed.

Living Under the Patriarchy: Burying A Husband

My best friends husband died recently. He was from Oginibo in Delta state, an Urhobo. She is from Eket in Akwa Ibom state, an Ibibio with a Russian mother. It is easier to get from one to the other by boat through the creeks. We had planned a regatta for her traditional wedding. I guess thats never going happen now.

He died. Just like that. He was 52. Kidney failure they said. Most of us didn’t even know he was sick. I haven’t seen my best friend in awhile. Life. You know how it is. I only heard he was in the hospital a week before he died. When I heard I felt a worm of fear. He wasn’t the type that went to the hospital. If he had a headache he took paracetamol. If it persisted more than a week he took something for malaria. He was a big hardy stoic kinda guy.

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Daniel Mowoe Opuama (17 September 1963 –  23 February  2016)

According to Urhobo tradition he had to be brought back to his ancestral village for burial even though he never lived there. Even though his wife and children had only visited the place once in the 16 years they were together. Even though he told his wife during one of those conversations he wanted to be buried wherever he lived. Even though she is the next -of-kin. Even though this is the 21st century.

So off on a 448km journey to Oginibo we went last Friday. Oginibo is 17 km SE of Warri somewhere in the Delta near the Forcados River. A google search isn’t very helpful. There are no population figures for the place and it isn’t actually named on google maps. One site said it has a ‘small population’. I came across a picture of their town square. Real native country.

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Oginibo Town Square (Source Oginibo Community Facebook Page)

When Delita, The Duchess, heard the burial was to be in Urhobo land and not in Abuja as previously proposed she went into a panic.

“Maya, I heard all sorts of horror stories. I heard they will lock you up in a room for 3 months and make you shave your hair!”

Many other friends warned that the natives would use the opportunity to milk the bereaved family. They told horror stories of their own. Stories of shake downs, blackmail and child napping. It cost a lot to bury a man. (Every where in Africa it costs less to bury a woman.) Apparently the Urhobo have a taste for expensive burials.

“They will ask you how your husband died.” Maya’s mother-in-law tried to reassure us. We didn’t know what to think but it seemed easier to let it go and bury him where ever his kinsmen wanted.

It was like planning a invasion. Money is tight so we decided we weren’t going to feed or water the natives. None of our business. We did some research on Urhobo and tribal jurisprudence. A ray of hope emerged – Maya and Dan never had a wedding under tribal laws! They got married in the registry. If the natives tried to impose any repugnant widowhood practices we would remind them of that.

While Maya’s kinsmen could not formally attend her brother would come to represent and protect her. Max our brother from another mother was also coming. A woman’s greatest protection in her husbands house is her own kinsmen. Thats why no one wants their daughter to marry far away. How else could they keep an eye on her and ensure her husband didn’t sell her into slavery or abuse her. Or something.

We also called in some favours with a brother in law for some heavy calvary. Just in case.

The drive down to Warri was pretty uneventful. We spent the night in Warri and ate bang soup for dinner. The Jubilee Conference Centre where we stayed was built two years ago. The Catholic Bishops of Nigeria decided they wanted to hold their conference in Warri but there was no hotel good enough for them so they just built their own.

The drive from Warri to Oginibo was like a time warp. The jungle just got thicker and thicker and the roads narrower and narrower with each kilometre. Our men were late joining us and we had to leave the morgue without them.

I called Max.

“Max, where are you? We’re on our way to Oginibo.”

“Still waiting for our car.”

“Max. You people can’t do this to us. You have left three women and two children to go into the jungle to face the natives. You guys need to catch up. NOW. please.” I sounded calmer than I felt.

“Where’s the calvary? Weren’t they supposed to meet us along the way? Where are we sef?” Maya asked.

Compulsively I reeled off the names of each community we passed – Ovwian, Ukpedi, Jeremi, Ayagha, Imode. And invoked all the deities I knew – OkwaraAgu, Ezenwanyi, Amadioha, Jesus, God. Angel Gabriel, and Michael.

We arrived Oginibo and the deceased’s homestead escorted and surrounded by natives speaking in Urhobo. Then they said we should come in for a family meeting. We sat down in the hall while the natives argued. Ever so often they gestured towards Maya. It was pretty obvious what they were arguing about. I chided myself. Why didn’t I think of bringing along an interpreter!

“Please we are educated.” one elderly woman said to the squabbling men in English.

“Hian.” I thought to myself.

Then the call came.

“Madam, this is Captain So So and So with the Nigerian Army. What is your location please?”

Our calvary had arrived! Within minutes three Hilux trucks arrived with over 30 soldiers and took up strategic positions around the compound. We sat in the hall, relieved but still pensive and waiting. Their arrival seemed to bring out a couple more natives who walked in authoritatively, greeted us ever so briefly and said something to the squabblers that seemed to escalate the discord briefly before walking out again. Later we learnt they came and stopped what was indeed an attempt to make Maya undergo some sort of trial by ordeal.

Then I looked up and there was Max and Yuri standing in the doorway! Our men had arrived. They must have broken all speed limits to get there so quick. Sometimes relief is spelled M-E-N. The mood changed. Drinks, kola and money were brought out and presented in welcome. Women do not deserve a formal welcome.

It was smooth sailing after that and the burial proceeded without further ado. No repugnant demands, no strange and demeaning widowhood practices. They invited us back to the homestead for entertainment but we declined. The Army escorted us all the way  back to Warri and we high tailed it to Benin City to spend the night before departing for Abuja the next morning.

Mission accomplished. Thank you father. We are grateful.

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