Sunday 30 August 2009

Childhood: Shocked into adolescence

Send the child to our roots

Some memories came flooding in the other day about my childhood or is it my adolescence. Now, whilst I have written extensively about my primary school days, I realise I have barely scratched the surface of the wealth of stories to tell, I believe I would eventually visit those times, nothing would be strictly chronological in presentation I dare say.

My parents even though we lived in the North of Nigeria in Kaduna felt it was necessary I go to secondary school near my ancestral roots in the South where I could learn my father’s mother tongue of Yoruba properly – I never made much academic headway with Yoruba, I barely passed any of the examinations, though I did end up learning something.

They also had this feeling that sending me to boarding school would toughen me up; I had always lived a life of some privilege, much of which has hardly withdrawn once I left the confines of the parent-sanctioned borstal.

Steering to secondary education

So, in January 1976, I was put on a flight to Lagos where an uncle collected me and ensured I was able to attend a number of common entrance examinations to secondary schools – thankfully, there was no socialist fervour about selection, if you did well you did get noticed and get offered a place.

I had also been booked to attend an examination in Ibadan, I cannot remember which school it was but as we drove to the home of my hosts the driver got engaged in some distracting activity with the other kids and I found myself handling the steering wheel of the car with a gorge to the side of the road, the realisation that my turning had dramatic effect must have been seared in my memory that I never touched a steering wheel for another 15 years.

I had to learn the difference between arithmetic which we did in the North and mathematics which was done in the South. Negative numbers? Whose idea was that? I had the services of an aunt who was studying Electrical Engineering at the University of Lagos.

Between a cemetery and a forest

Eventually, a number of offers came, the nearest to my ancestral home was Odogbolu Grammar School, the other was Remo Secondary School in Sagamu where I had very close family.

I had a very terrifying experience when I returned home after 4 months down South when my aunt and our houseboy was chatting about appearances of evil and to the mind of an impressionable 10-year old there was fertile land for imaginations that could produce untold realities.

That night as my parents entertained guests, our kitchen was detached from the main building and as I went to place the dishes out at the washing area, I saw what I believed to be the devil and my life changed completely from then on, I knew fear, I knew terror, I found out that having my parents present did not save me from what my imagination could conjure for my seeing.

Anyway, that meant Odogbolu Grammar School was completely out of the question, the grounds were literally shared with a cemetery, I would have lost my mind if I chose that school.

Preparing for school

When we settled for Remo Secondary School there was the frenzied activity of acquiring uniforms, linen and other essential goods. The instructions seemed muddled, I ended up with grey shorts rather than green ones, and my cutlass was completely unusable for the activity we were to engage in.

The indelible ink of choice was Kandahar, and this was used to label all my effects, the school and house uniforms, the linen, my sandals, my pail, my mattress, my pillow and my metal portmanteau which was acquired from Panteka, the metalworks market in Kaduna – it was black with red dots and it had a hinge link for a padlock.

The first day at school was without much event, we arrived a few days before the seniors apart from the room seniors, fresh students had their own dormitory well away from the seniors.

Eventually, we were allocated our house groups, I was put in Adedoyin House that excelled in coming last in my first 3 years at school, it was a slow start but as soon as we began to settle in the reality of it all began to dawn on all of us.

Monday 24 August 2009

Known unto God

Unknown to man but known to God

The grave stone read “A soldier in the 1939-1944 war” at the top, some had the rank, others did not and at the bottom was written “Known unto God”.

Of the 1680 graves of men who perished in Operation Market Garden [1] over a period of 6 days between the 19th of September 1994 and the 25th of September 1944, some 245 carried the epithet of the Unknown Soldier – buried with honour for their service but unknown for all sorts of reasons.

On one tombstone, the inscription started with “Believed to be” it made you wonder when doubt should be removed and the truth be known, but should the truth be known or the situation be left for believers to believe as they will?

Believing might well have been difficult too because one tombstone marked the grave of the chaplain; on such an evil day, where would man have found comfort and succour in their last minutes on earth? With whom would they have left the “Kismet” [2] messages to dearly loved ones back at home?

The root of goodness

We were there - Arnhem Oosterbeek War Cemetery [3] - to visit the grave of someone we never knew but from whom came friends, families and good fortune. The people who lived through the wars of old never talked about how it affected them but we saw the scars as they stoically went about their business without grumble or discontentment.

The lady married to this gallant soldier already had a son by him and her daughter was born the day her father was declared missing, her grandson is my dear friend and for the first time, I finally found opportunity to pay my respects and see why she visited Arnhem every year from 1969 during the memorials up 2005 after which she was too indisposed to visit again.

As we approached the cemetery, it was so unexpected, my friend just burst into tears, I was taken aback, but cemeteries bring a quiet contemplation of serenity and mortality, memories of things past along with things not known the palpable sense of pilgrimage that accompanies knowing that someone from whom you came is rested in a perpetual memorial in a foreign land.

The dear lady died last year and her ashes are scattered where her husband is laid, the only love she knew and it is with poignancy that one recognises that she never remarried but brought up two children on her own.

We must not forget

However, one must not forget that the ravages of war has taken away young men, many not even in their 30s, the register of graves showed the name of the soldier, who the soldier was a son of and if the soldier was married, to whom he was married. Nothing was said of the offspring of the fallen.

In 1951, the British Government signed an undertaking with the government of the Netherlands and therein was established a number of Commonwealth graves as a memorial to our fallen men.

The grounds are well tended and clean, the memorials stand as beacons of great men who gave their lives for king, country and the freedom of mankind in a very dark hour of tyranny and humanity.

As the memorial to the fallen stands, one remembers Laurence Binyon’s For the Fallen [4], for therein we find the lines

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old

Age shall not weary them, nor the years contemn.

At the going down of the sun and in the morning

We will remember them.

And so we would, we who are left to mourn and pay respects will remember them.


[1] Operation Market Garden - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

[2] Kiss me Hardy or Kismet Hardy

[3] Commonwealth War Graves Commission – Arnhem Oosterbeek War Cemetery

[4] First World - Prose & Poetry - Laurence Binyon:

Monday 10 August 2009

Nigeria: Iyabo Obasanjo-Bello makes list

Children of influence

In January 2008, I wrote about influence peddling by the brood of leaders of Africa who by reason of their parent’s office have amassed to themselves, wealth and the arrogance of power to topple any due process exacted against them. Brood of Vipers or Leaders? 18-Jan-2008 Nigeria: An Exposé on influence peddling 11-Jan-2008.

The Foreign Policy magazine ran two articles The World’s Worst Daughters and The World’s Worst Sons, I saw the former first and a sixth sense gave me the impression that I would find a familiar face amongst them.

I take this millstone round my neck

On the part of the daughters, their parents seemed to be tyrannical despots or populist leaders and the girls by congenital transference had taken on a ruthless, vindictive streak of impunity that extends well beyond the borders of their home countries but left them completely untouchable at home and abroad.

Anyone married to these ladies if that is the right word for them gets castrated, some have lost custody of their children through the ladies defying court orders and removing the kids from their lawful custodian and residence.

Men who built their businesses on the clout of daddy’s girl should expect an almighty fallout if the relationship goes sour, you can imagine one instance where the father forced a divorce on his son in-law and then had him executed, the lady involved opined that “all families have misunderstanding.”

That makes me think of a song by Prince had has the lines, Girl, I think you’re hot and sexy, sexy,sexy; Cold Blooded. These girls are cold blooded and they have balls only where men should have them.

The girls

The rogues gallery lists Gulnora Karimov [1] of Uzbekistan, Raghad Hussein [2], daughter of Saddam Hussein, now a guest of the Jordanian royal family, Sandar Win [3] of Burma, daughter of the late Prime Minister, Pinthongta Shinawatra [4] of Thailand, daughter of the deposed Prime Minister and Iyabo Obasanjo-Bello [5] of Nigeria, daughter of the erstwhile President.

Now, Iyabo Obasanjo-Bello is a senator of the Federal Republic of Nigeria but has a pending case of kidnapping her son from the United States and is on the Interpol watch list.

The article defines the family business as abuse of power and graft, which is quite apt, however, if there was a real investigation of her activities as to uncover the ones skirt the limits of legality, the charge sheet would paper over the Nigerian end of the River Niger.

This is however not the place to detail those issues, the most important part is she is in the top 5 of the world’s worst daughters as reviewed in the Foreign Policy magazine, that does take some doing. Congratulations!

As for The World’s Worst Sons, Former UK Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher’s son, Sir Mark Thatcher [6] has made a name for himself.


[1] The World’s Worst Daughters | Foreign Policy | Gulnora Karimov

[2] The World’s Worst Daughters | Foreign Policy | Raghad Hussein

[3] The World’s Worst Daughters | Foreign Policy | Sandar Win

[4] The World’s Worst Daughters | Foreign Policy | Pinthongta Shinawatra

[5] The World’s Worst Daughters | Foreign Policy | Iyabo Obasanjo-Bello

[6] The World’s Worst Sons | Foreign Policy | Mark Thatcher

Sunday 9 August 2009

Kwakoe - A multicultural festival in Amsterdam

A multicultural festival in Amsterdam

I first heard of it last year and that is because I have friends who really live in Amsterdam and have their fingers on the pulse of happenings in Amsterdam.

I live in Amsterdam but it is really not my city, I do not know what is happening in my city except when it appears in the water under my window, the gets on the international news usually as a past event or the Economist covers it as a long term exhibition.

Kwakoe [1] is a multicultural festival of the ethnic minorities from Africa, the Caribbean, the old Dutch colonies of Surinam and the Antilles and many other places where there is a kindred spirit of familiarity with minorities.

In fact, it started as a Surinamese festival in 1975, though it is no more so evidently so, there are strong influences everywhere.

Football, food, music and dance

I did not visit the Kwakoe Festival last year, but this year, I decided I would try and find out what it was all about. This yearly festival takes 6 consecutive weekends of July and August, this being the last weekend of activities.

I had arranged with a friend to visit the festival, me thinking it was not a daytime thing than a late afternoon to night time event, we drove up to a nearby station and then took an illegal cab called “snorder” to the festival sited at Bijmerpark in the notorious but mostly gentrified Amsterdam South East.

These festivals revolve around four main themes of football, food, music and dance, there was a lot of all of this, stalls with sellers and patrons catching up with nostalgia or experimenting with unfamiliar meals – a whole field of cows might have been corralled for the barbecues.

Where are the sponsors?

There were no expected sponsors for a demographic that spans more than half the globe, it was the usual transactional partners of mobile phone calling cards and services, money remittance services and the church.

For all the drink we consume, there was no Heineken nor Coca Cola, no blue chip companies nor banks, there were such humongous speakers but no Philips and for all the trainers we wear no Nike, Adidas, sportswear firm, fashion outlet or whatever else of note.

Basically, we are demographic well represented in those high street shops buying those things but not one to be considered for free sponsorship – it is probably indicative of how the “community” has not matured into a pressure group with clout that demands to be noticed, respected and catered to.

This also meant the setting was completely cash-based, no mobile cash dispensers or card reading facilities for electronic payments.

Tribes, clans and nations

Walking around the park, the layout on paper belies the fact that most stalls were not prefabricated spaces but slum-like hutches all seemingly held up solidly but could be blown over if the fox really had a good huff at it.

The place was alive, people made do with what they have and showed up to celebrated, the crowd was global in representation and decibels banged on decibels for the variety of music at play.

There were flags above stalls all around the place, the Surinam flag fluttered in the wind in many places, just as the Ghanaian, the Jamaican, the Zairean and even the Nigerian, in five different places.

Much as the festival was multicultural, the stall holders did not come as nations, they came as tribes and clans, Northern Niger was not represented, the Western Nigerians gave a Yoruba feel to their setup and there were two distinct clans from Eastern Nigeria.

All characters came out to play as the sun went down, the eccentric, the embarrassing, the entertaining and the nuisance, the funny and the downright outrageous; there was scope for much and a good police presence for a sense of safety and security.

Within these communities, I could not help but notice the powerful women who controlled the business in the stalls, where many of the male hands took their marching orders off the ladies, they, commendably are the backbone of many of these ethnic minority settings.

Settling down to the vibe

On a second loiter round the grounds there was a football tournament going on and for a split second I thought it was women’s soccer until I realised the chests were telling me something different from the amount of long braided hair on display, that is the way many men look nowadays, hours and hours at the hairdressers doing their hair. Phew!

We had food at the Zaire stand which belonged to an acquaintance of my friend’s lady, spicy spare ribs, fried plantain, fried rice and lots of salad – it was quite filling.

We then returned to the big Nigerian gathering where I was not too sure that the music was that representative apart from the fact that Nigerians were the performers, the language at times was parental advisory rather than just advisory and we were regaled with the provocative dancing of a rather well dressed lady of a certain age.

Everyone was doing what that dear Motown dance coach warned performers not to do, wiggling backsides in jerking motions that could call for radical hip replacement surgery, I was not ready to do my back in as I nodded my head at times and shook my shoulders a bit, the fanfare was exhilarating.

There would be Kwakoe again

The damning part for me was that in 9 years of living in Amsterdam my not being an ethnic minority community person meant I literally knew none of the people out there, whether that is a good or bad thing – well who knows?

I think I would do Kwakoe again, we left when it seemed the party was about to start and that was just gone 8 o’ clock, my friends insisted in getting me back home, it was a beautiful setting and wonderful evening of taste, colour and noise.


[1] Kwakoe Summer Festival - I amsterdam

Kwakoe Festival 2009 The official site in Dutch