Sunday, 13 January 2019

The look of love is crazy

We concluded on one basic fact,
We found love in a hopeless place,
Yet, love is rarely a creature of tact,
What it needs for expression is space.
Tall, light, handsome and imposing,
A wary eye caught the body and the frame,
To which one concluded whilst supposing,
One is not anywhere in his game.
Fate works in mysterious ways,
Occupied by thoughts in one corner,
This masterful creature strays,
It was a bit dark, but he was a stunner.
I dared to dream that he was interested,
Yet, I could not hope that in the slightest,
As he sat beside me quite invested,
His plan to have me in arrest.
He was not a baby for he could walk,
Seconds and minutes passed on,
Then with some courage, to me did he talk,
From then the look of love did come.

Monday, 7 January 2019

Thought Picnic: How hubris leaves essential cornerstones off buildings

Stones and bones
“The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone.” Psalms 118:22 (New International Version)
“The cornerstone (or foundation stone or setting stone) is the first stone set in the construction of a masonry foundation, important since all other stones will be set in reference to this stone, thus determining the position of the entire structure.” [Wikipedia]
The biblical reference to the cornerstone though indicating lifeless stones pertains to people, the stones are set in place by builders, yet, in the art of masonry, there has to be a stone in the construction of the building that becomes the reference point of the other stones, without which the building risks looking like a work of amateurs and consequently it might collapse upon the occupants who eventually occupy it.
Hubris guides rejection
The cornerstone as a metaphor in many contexts in relation to people could in organisations refer to who runs the organisation or who manages projects, in institutions, it might be the experts whose knowledge is necessary for processes or operations to work.
There are cornerstones everywhere in different guises, the people who teach, the people who mentor, those who provide guidance, those who must be consulted on ideas, issues, events, circumstances, plans or status before major decisions are made.
Yet, as history shows from even the early biblical times, there are linchpin people who have not been recognised for who they are when decisions or actions are taken by those who have position, power, authority or influence and during implementation it dawns on those who were somewhat wise in their own conceits that the consultation and arbitration should have included the people they had heretofore ignored.
Rejection is myriad
Ignoring such people is exemplified in overconfidence, hubris, narcissism, the abuse of power, the denigration of personalities, the belittlement of persons and their abilities, patronising attitudes to contemn expertise, the removal of protection of rights and privileges, discourtesy, rudeness, racism, discrimination, patriarchy, violence, prohibitions, and so on.
Many of these, readers would recognise at work, at play and at home. The question then becomes how the cornerstone gets recognised at the get-go without experiencing an initial or repeated rejection by those who matter.
It is a challenge I have met in a recent family situation that is calling on all inflexions and projections of language, semantics and diplomacy. It is never an easy task, but one that must be tackled.
Notice your cornerstones
For instance, in a professional situation, where essential input to facilitate change is missing, the project would fail. Unilateralism in an environment that depends on relationships, teamworking and systems presages disaster. That concept is more universal than we dare to acknowledge.
Buildings would crumble when builders reject stones that are the inherent cornerstones, not using the requisite cornerstone entertains the risk of an unstable building. You wonder what informs the decision to reject that important stone. You can extrapolate this to any situation, ignored pertinent data and your research is flawed, anything utilising the conclusions in that research would put lives, property and capital at great risk, some of which would be unquantifiable.
By extension, it also relates to the power of persuasion when the argument, idea, concept or intention is not persuasive. Without a strong basis in fact and evidence, the whole premise of any enterprise can be taken apart with sound reasoning and good questions for which answers are unconvincing. In the UK, Brexit is a good example of the Prime Minister miserably failing to persuade the majority of her grand plan.
Invariably, courtesy must be accorded to people who are needed to assume responsibility in certain matters to engage and contribute for them to feel involved and take ownership with a higher call of duty to ensure what they are called to do succeeds, else the activity harbours every indication towards failure.

Wednesday, 2 January 2019

Thought Picnic: My perception made me choose South Africa

Probably the blog I wanted to write
When I began to write the blog about the 28 years since I last left Nigeria, I had another blog in mind, but as blogs go in my world, the narrative takes on a life of its own as each idea and construct begins to find attribute and reference to other ideas, events or people, by which time I have digressed to the point of writing an entirely different story.
Even as I have a concept I want to write about here, I am beginning to see deviations from the main topic, yet, I would rather let a blog take a freeform than shoehorning it into the strictures of an academic paper, which it is not.
Indeed, I like South Africa
I have just returned to Johannesburg from spending the New Year in Cape Town. It was my intention to visit South Africa for about 3 months, but a number of events concerning my health meant I could not plan so far ahead due to restrictions and advice regarding my medication and a procedure I had in November.
I got quite perturbed about the thoughts of South Africa to the point of self-flagellation, I was already regretting that I had let myself down in realising what had become an earnest desire. Then, whilst I was yet in Germany on a business trip, just 11 days to when I had planned to travel, I made the decision, booked my flights and hotel accommodation, and that was done.
Normally, I would have gone to Gran Canaria for some winter sun, though the last time I had winter warmth and sunshine was when I was out in India in 2011. I spent the Christmas Day visiting the Taj Mahal for the second time and what an experience it was.
No fuss consular services
The choice of South Africa was simple for me, I had been twice before, three years ago and I had a general idea of how to get around. When I travel, holding a British passport confers many privileges to certain countries, I do not have to apply for a visa, fill in odious forms and join incessant queues at consulates or embassies to visit the country, time is precious.
My visit to India for a month-long course was fraught with all sorts of officialdom and difficulty, I had to visit the visa office thrice, paid the higher price because my parents were Nigerian, even though I had lived 21 years without break in Europe, but I was in the Netherlands. Basically, I was not being treated as a European once I was resident outside my home country.
If I were in the UK, the visa would have been issued within 2 days, but living in the Netherlands could have my passport with the Indian visa processors any time from 5 days to 8 weeks. I was beside myself in anxious contemplation, unsure of what would be the case, it was eventually issued within 5 days.
Colonial hangovers that endure
India like Nigeria has a colonial carry-over of an unwieldy civil service, the sector is a leviathan, untamed, unreformed and completely inscrutable. Every requirement from the government institution is laden with red tape and unnecessary paperwork that exacerbates inefficiencies and inconveniences. The system serves prebendalism, neopatrimonialism, corruption, graft and malfeasance with no consequence or recourse for redress.
Though I would like for the need to visit countries to be hassle-free, if not visa-free, I appreciate that the UK and Europe do not necessarily grant the privileges to many of the countries I desire to have easy access to.
I remember when leaving Nigeria, my passport was seized by a heavily pregnant lady for no reason than to attempt to extort money from me. I cannot say I was street-wise enough to appreciate what she required of me as she walked away with my passport with probably the view of distressing me until I came to the kind of senses, she expected me to have.
Thankfully, there was a friend with me who knew how to work the system, and some 30 minutes later I was reunited with my passport after I believe a bribe had been extracted from my friend.
People doing their jobs
When I travel, I have expectations and requirements, I hate the fuss, I like officials to be honest, diligent and forthright, doing their jobs as opposed to doing their bellies and that is why I carefully choose where I want to visit and sadly Nigeria has not appeared on my itinerary because I probably would have cause to turn back at the airport and board a plane back to my home in the UK.
When visiting South Africa, I am not accosted by touts or dealers, there is usually someone to pick me up from the airport to my hotel. No one is trying to inveigle their way into my confidences and burden me with life stories that are no concern of mine.
For good service, I would tip generously and be on my way without getting badgered.
Nigeria is not South Africa
Despite the concerns about xenophobia that have arisen in recent times in South Africa, I have carefully chosen where to stay. In Johannesburg and in Cape Town, these places are conveniently exclusive and offer good quality safety. I am smart enough not to venture out to strange places without escorts and I would use the Gautrain in Gauteng for the major stations and to the airport. Uber always comes to the rescue, to take you anywhere and extricate you from strange places.
I am not of the opinion that Nigeria works that way, you read too much of egregious abuse by officials ready to take advantage of you at every turn from when you access the consular services abroad, through passport control, the customs and the journey to your overpriced hotel which is priced for access rather than for quality.
There is no doubt I have lived too long in Europe to begin the consider the prospect of inconveniences, especially with travel. Yet, I doubt Nigeria would be fixed enough to suit the standard of customer service I have grown accustomed to for almost 30 years.
Nigeria really is not South Africa
Furthermore, it goes without dispute that South Africa on the surface is a more emancipated and organised society, the institutions appear to work, the checks and balances are robust and when tested, they endure. I have my rights, the freedom of will, of beliefs and the kinds of engagement I choose, are protected.
In the months that I was about to leave Nigeria, I was being blackmailed, I refused to pay up and told the blackmailer to do his worst. I guess him having to explain how he came upon the information he planned to use against me kept him guarded. Unusually, I was also ready to have him rumbled if he attempted to besmirch my name. I probably would not have been able to sustain this for a long time, but it worked then.
There are other anxieties that bother me about Nigeria, it comes with a sense of foreboding like that feeling I used to had when I saw our house from the top of our street. A sickening and debilitating gut feeling, almost paralysing in function. I just faced it when it would have been more comforting to flee. I have promised myself, I would never put myself in a situation that appeared to overwhelm my rationality out of purpose, duty, commission or omission.
Yet, on any planned visit to Nigeria, I guess one would have to dare to be a Daniel and just do it. For since my father got on Facebook, each publication of my travel exploits has had him comment asking when I would include Nigeria in my itinerary. If only Nigeria were another place, it just is not and that, I am sorry, is a shame. Perceptions matter always, it would take a lot to change my perception that visiting Nigeria is just as easy as planning to visit South Africa.
Your comments on a postcard. Thank you.

Sunday, 30 December 2018

My last 4 weeks in Nigeria, 28 years ago (The business angle)

My departure boarding pass issued on the 30th of December 1990.
Taking the next step
Twenty-eight years ago today, I left Nigeria to return to the UK, I had only returned from the UK 4 weeks earlier, having been on a business trip for a firm in which I was part owner with a 30% stake, we called it NextStep Limited and it specialised in desktop publishing, offloading the burden of typesetting and printing from traditional methods to technologies provided by personal computers running Xerox Ventura Publisher.
NextStep Limited probably would have gone far if the majority partner was not too full of himself expecting subservience and obeisance, but two events in the 4 weeks of my return put paid to that relationship. The first was during a conversation when he dipped his hand in his pocket and threw money at me across the table. I picked up the wad and put it back in front of him saying, my parents have never thrown money at me, neither can you.
Maybe not a good step
The second event resulted in me saying to him, “You don’t give a 24-year old 30% of a company and think that is the end of his life, I will throw it away and start over again somewhere else.” It wasn’t that I was not full of gratitude, I just could not stand being treated with disrespect just because I was younger.
Whilst I was beginning to give more of my time to NextStep Limited, I had 4 other contractual engagements going. The most important was with Deji Sasegbon Limited, a legal publishing outfit that had just finished publishing the Nigerian Supreme Court Cases in 40 volumes and it was this that brought me into the purview of my patron and majority partner at NextStep Limited who was also a lawyer and a director at the United Bank of Africa.
On an earlier step
He was a Nigerian bigwig and I was an atypical young ‘Nigerian’, well, Deji Sasegbon who gave me my big break saw me differently, he had the wealth, influence and authority to employ me outright to work for him. Instead, he offered me a deal, he said, “Akin, I want you to consult for me, teach my staff to know the workings of desktop publishing, take on the complex stuff and for that, I will give you a monthly stipend and your flight ticket whenever you are ready to leave for the UK is paid for.
Deji Sasegbon, unfortunately, passed away two years ago, to him I owe a great debt of gratitude, more importantly, he treated me with dignity and respect, it was always a pleasure to work for him. When I told him I was leaving for the UK, whilst he was saddened, he understood and bid me Godspeed.
Definite the worst step
At NextStep Limited, one of the jack-of-all-trades businesses my partner was involved in was selling Christmas cards. Some staff in that other business had stolen some of those cards and my partner corralled every employee including my own staff at NextStep Limited and had them banged up in a police cell without the courtesy of informing me. I spent a whole day negotiating bail conditions for my staff, or at least my staff did the negotiating because I did not speak with the language or accent the police understood. I got them out, but that was the very last straw for me.
Whilst, there was a kind of youthful exuberance in the way I decided to break that NextStep Limited relationship. In the circumstances, that was my only option. There was no other engagement where I had been treated as disdainfully as I was with that man. I divested myself of my other engagements and handed over to my able assistant and threw away NextStep Limited.
After my departure, my ex-business partner attempted to besmirch my name to my family and other contacts I made on my business visit to the UK, suggesting I had made off with material and some other stuff. The only thing I took from NextStep Limited was my participation. It was his desperate attempt to assuage his ego when he had been dealt the same hand of discourtesy he had dealt me.
My good friend later wrote to me saying, when you left NextStep, there were no other steps to take.
On an airline step
This was a man who got his sister a job for in the foreign exchange department of the Central Bank of Nigeria, on arranging the foreign exchange for our business travel, she pilfered a full 20% of that transaction. He had more leeches and hangers-on around him filching, dissembling, needing and stealing, everyone was coming to him with business deals and scams, he probably invested in more scams than viable businesses.
He came to me with a proposition that I accepted because I thought it was a good idea, with hindsight, I should have taken some advice and I would have gotten the best legal advice money could buy for free from Deji Sasegbon or any of his partners and lawyers, all of whom I had a good relationship with.
On the 30th of December 1990, I left Nigeria, on Nigeria Airways flight WT808 running almost 3 hours behind schedule. I had £15 in my pocket and a future ahead of me. That is another story.

Monday, 24 December 2018

The journey to identity goes further than the many destinations you travel to

The journey to identity is personal
I have just watched the documentary Black Sheep that has been shortlisted for an Academy Award in the short film category, about the quest for identity of a young black man in England of mixed African parentage, the actions the parents took, and the journey travelled by one of the children who followed.
The blog I have written is not a review of the film, rather it illustrates how journeys to destinations to live are different from journeys to a settled identity.
We as children embarked on many journeys with our parents to many places to live, to adapt, to school and by that been influenced by situations and circumstances in the home and our wider communities.
However, much as we have followed, it is unlikely that our parents have followed us in the journey of knowing who we really are. In my own case, my father has always had the presumption that we have the same identity and are would eventually be driven by the same passions, nothing could be further from the truth.
Marked as different
He never embarked on my own personal journey of discovery, for the idea that Nigeria is my home bears no reality to my circumstances. Despite the accident of fortune that had me born in England and spending much of my childhood into adulthood in Nigeria, I was never accepted as a Nigerian.
It was not in the way I looked, for in that, I was no different from any other Nigerian, but the moment I began to speak, my accent betrayed a foreignness that cast me as another, from somewhere else and that changed the way people interacted with me.
To those who knew me, they knew I was born abroad, not steeped in the customs and essentials of our tribal and societal strictures, so, I was excused, forgiven and may be excluded because I was not one of them. I was caught in a flux of identity between where I was born and defined by it and where my parents were born and alien to it. In that, my mother tongue was English and that was different from my mother’s tongue which is Yoruba.
Environments and influences
Parents have great determination, in terms of the provisions and opportunities they, if they have the means, put in the way of their children. Mine was of privilege in my primary education and the ease that was put into my life, but it did not spare me from other issues that attempted to cripple the joys of childhood, our once nuclear family infused with characters and characteristics that created negative experiences that leave a black spot in the childhood story.
For secondary school, they determined, I needed to be toughened up, whilst experiencing some cultural affinity with our clan. I was sent away for months to live with relations and then to boarding school. My first term was horrific and a terrible experience for my mates who were woken every night by my recitation of Psalm 23 because I thought and believed I was seeing ghosts.
As a bedwetter too, that was seen as weakness rather than what we now know as having psychological underpinnings that we eventually work through either by grace or good fortune.
I got resilience
Then, rather than recognise some of the turmoil I was going through, I was considered too slow by my father and my mother thought I gave away my things to curry favour. Everything or situation had a pearl of wisdom they are conceived in their minds was the cause to which they made what they thought was adequate provision.
Yet, somewhere in our lives, we had gathered tools and coping mechanisms that have given us resilience and strength to overcome crises after crises.
The question, “What is the matter with you?” was rarely asked in genuine concern for welfare or wellbeing, rather it was spat out in disdain, criticism and condemnation because one was not measuring up to an expected standard. It is possible that my memory fails me, but if I can recall outright praise, it had little impact.
How do you talk about clinical depression?
It all came crashing down after I left secondary school. The first two schools I attended after for a total of 4 years yielded nothing, I was asked to withdraw twice, and it was not because I was a dunce, I just did not know why I was in a class on certain days. With hindsight, these were times of clinical depression, the signs my mother in her religiosity would have thought required more prayer and ritual and the patriarch just saw as a weakling in his firstborn.
No, parents can never embark on that journey of personal discovery of their children, they can only facilitate, provide opportunities and paths. Most importantly, have an ear to listen to a cry, because children still cry, cry for help, cry to be heard, cry to be lifted, cry to be accepted. I fear parents lose that listening ear sometimes much too early for the benefit of the child.
I had no one to talk to about what I was going through, I needed professional help, but I was failing son fit to be taught a lesson of life so that I would sit up and begin to take responsibility. I smile today because I have been given the good fortune to make stories of the dark times of my life.
I love who I am
I was never on a quest to get an identity, that journey was always one of discovery, realisation and acceptance. Too many influences have interacted with my personality towards understanding and loving who I am. I embody many characteristics of my parents’ personalities and some that are uniquely mine.
I love who I am now, I accept who I am and live who I am for who I am, and all this would be radically different from who or what my parents would have expected me to be. I am a product of influences, circumstances and environments of fate, fortune and force, none of which I choose to repudiate.
When asked, I am an Englishman of Nigerian parentage, that is a settled matter. There is a long story to tell, because, in one conversation with my father, he said, “You have always thought like a westerner.” I am still deconstructing that platitude, for it is deep.
I recognise that this might read like an unfinished blog, this is because as I was writing I realised there are many strands to the story, too long for a blog and better put in the context of a book, whenever I get to write it. I have also written on this in other blogs from other perspectives.