Wednesday 31 December 2014

A Blogger's Year - 2014 in selected blogs

Blogging highlights of 2014
This is what the year 2014 was on my blog, with a blog or blogs from each month of the year.
In January, I completed the celebration of a decade of blogging with the publication of 35 blogs written by friends from the 8th of December 2013.

In February, I continued my concerns about the alleged human-trafficking exclusive apparently investigated by Tobore Mit Ovuorie and published by the Premium Times, my conclusion; the human trafficking stories were true, but none of them were Ms Ovuorie's personal story or experience.

In March, I wrote about many life topics but one was inspired by William Shatner, popular for being the captain of Starship Enterprise in the Star Trek series and yet declined a real opportunity to travel to space.

In April, Why? Was the question and the answers were unacceptable. Why are so many young ethnic minority LGBT persons homeless?
Also, it was when I wrote a series of Save The Children blogs (Part I, Part II, Part III), one of which was related to the abducted Chibok Girls. The plight of the Chibok girls became the global social media campaign to #BringBackOurGirls, sadly, the girls have not yet returned.

In May, I wrote a few personal blogs, some on my work life, however, I cannot make the case enough to separate the religion and state, consequently the need to remove the criminalisation of religious opinion, especially apostasy and blasphemy.

In June, I donned the orange colour of the Netherlands for the World Cup, in my view they had the best chance from the choice of England, Nigeria and well my adopted country of the Netherlands where I lived from almost 13 years.
I was also in Berlin for my annual summer visit which usually falls during the Christopher Street Day parades, the name for the gay prides in German speaking countries of Europe. Yet, we must never forget the persecution and the disease.
Street prostitution, homelessness and Nigerians were some of my Berlin topics.

In July, I was in Dublin for a wedding; I never really got to write about my sightseeing, I guess it calls for another visit.
I guess the coming out of Ian Thorpe was most significant, and then came Apple’s CEO Tim Cook in October with his article for Bloomberg Business Week. I really should have written about that too.

In August, it was a different kind of coming out, Kellie Palace Maloney who we once knew as Frank Maloney, the boxing promoter.
Yet, there was a personal story too, when suicide did cross my mind. I took a well-deserved holiday with my friend of 30 years.

In September, many holiday stories, just 11 days because my friend thought two weeks was too long to be away, that was the compromise, and for me, it was too short. Phew!
If only we all had parent who were as perceptive and understanding as those of Gareth Thomas, not only on the issue of sexuality, but other issues that present difficulty, trivial to many, yet quite serious to us as individuals.

In October, as a blogger, I could not stand by and watch as the most popular blogger in Nigeria was accused of plagiarism. Much as I am happy to share material I have written, the simple courtesy of asking rather than stealing is all that matters.
Unfortunately, as with many issues that are blatantly wrong in other societies but acquiesced to, accepted and celebrated in Nigeria, the outrage was short-lived, the gossip reincarnated as more sophisticated player at thievery. C’est la vie.
Despite the drama, in my view it was still about plagiarism and it should be fought and defeated everywhere including in Nigeria regardless of who is involved.

In November, I co-hosted with Dr. Jibrin Ibrahim a conversation with Boko Haram knowledge expert and journalist, Ahmad Salkida with the hashtag #WhatDoesBHWant, a very insightful discussion that attracted extensive global interaction, in days, it generated over 3,000 tweets, it was probably the most discussed topic of that week.

In December, the race to ensure I publish more blogs than I did in 2012, I have not prospect of catching up with 2013.
I look forward to many dates in December; I always try to write something for World AIDS Day, then one for the anniversary of my blogging, it was the 11th one, this time. My birthday came on the 21st with Bisi Alimi hosting a party in my honour, Tokunbo Koiki, Kola Akinola, Babatunde Rosanwo and Olushola Ajayi came with friends, drinks, food and gaiety to make it a wonderful day to remember.

A summary of 2014
The year 2014 was a rotten year for girls and women [Boko Haram abducting the Chibok girls and the judicial travesties of Oscar Pistorius and Shrien Dewani trials in South Africa].
Terrorists created a state of anarchy, caliphates, they said, a state nonetheless within sovereign states with little consequence [Boko Haram and ISIS doing well in North-Eastern Nigeria and Iraq/Syria respectively.]
Incompetence and impunity set up stall in Nigeria, ministers and advisers making it up on international television, lying through their teeth about vaccinations for Ebola and the Nigeria Army in pursuit of well-armed terrorists, the army was equipped with the equivalent of cudgels. When the soldiers protested, they were numbered for execution.
Vladimir Putin became the Napoleon Bonaparte of the 21st Century, vertically challenged and challenging order bringing ruin to Ukraine and by extension the shooting down of MH17, the despots of Africa still sit on their thrones dispensing suffering to the people in the name of leadership.
A church guesthouse collapsed on over 80 South Africans in Nigeria and the prophet of doom has stood in the way of justice, we may never know why.
Just an increasing sense of injustice and carnage with every criminal getting away with it, including the gangster bankers or Banksters to be more exact, they have been paying fines and resigning rather than going to jail.
Yet, some celebrated release and freedom by accepting who they are, coming out and encouraging others. Selfless healthcare workers went to the Ebola stricken countries to help out; there is still faith in our humanity.
Let us hope for a better 2015, elections in many countries the results of which might spell doom rather than hope, yet since God is not a democrat, people have to get out to vote for posterity rather than for a perishable morsel for their bellies.
I hope to continue blogging, probably be more prolific than this year.
Friends, readers, far and near, I wish you a very happy and prosperous New Year.
Thank you.

Thought Picnic: Writing and the virtue of self-forgiveness

Forgiving ourselves as we write
"The more important virtue for a writer, I believe, is self-forgiveness." Elizabeth Gilbert
I cannot agree more, as each time I write I feel like I am undressing myself, looking deep into myself sometimes to the greatest discomfort and discomfiture.
Yet, between licence, liberty and limitation, one must assess what must be written and what must only be thought of. For without balance the risk is to publish and from there comes damnation. You cannot be wiser after the fact once the horses have bolted.
A writer possesses a mirror to the soul, whether the soul is full of light or darkness is for that person to honestly admit to themselves or ignore at their peril, but whatever they see inside, the writer must observe and learn or be blind and suffer. Though some for the lack of conscience do write only for their bellies; unprincipled, dishonest and well, reprehensible.
Using it well
We constantly face our frailties and foibles, our weaknesses and worse still the things that we with difficulty admit is our foolishness and stupidity, and there are many instances of such.
As we write, we hope to learn, we hope to improve and maybe express that which is downright silly with wit or even humour, and dare we even try a bit of smartness.
With introspection comes a lot of self-flagellation, sorrowful regret, sometimes shame or even guilt, it is at that time that one should be ready to accept one's fault, forgive oneself and move on.

Thought Picnic: Pushing beyond the difficult things

For the third time
In the weekend, I was out to my third viewing of the Imitation Game. There is something about that story which even if it somewhat deviates from the reality has come core lessons, at least for me.
Much as I knew how the story developed, it still felt like I was watching it for the first time and I really had no time to explain to my friend why I had a notepad and was taking notes during the film.
However, as the plot thickened, I found myself taking notes quite different from the notes I took at the second viewing of the film.
The making of men
As the film depicts, Alan Turing had an uphill task getting his ideas across, beyond bureaucracy and officialdom to realisation. His tenacity where many would have been frustrated and have given up is something that led to a number of questions I scribbled into my notepad in the dimly lit cinema theatre.
  • When you are up against it, how do you retain the confidence that what you believe is right and true?
  • What gives a man the courage of his convictions?
  • What gives a man the will to fight against the odds no matter how they are stacked against him?
  • What does it take to rethink a strategy when much has been invested in a solution that does not appear to work?
Challenges we face
These are questions we have probably never asked ourselves but we have lived and experienced through striving, determination, faith and much else, to come out on the side of the good answers and success.
For the many challenges I have faced in my life, probably the cancer diagnosis of just over 5 years ago with the possibility that I only had 5 long weeks to live if the treatment did not take, was the hardest.
Yet, having celebrated my 6 birthday after this episode in my life, I feel that something in my personality, my character, my beliefs, my persuasion and my relationships took me from the toughest and seemingly insurmountable issues of life and death to a new lease of life.
A necessity for hope
Most important to our journey of life is the necessity of hope, that ability to see beyond the clouds and know that in the daytime it is always sunny, even if the sun is obscured by the clouds. We must know as nature teaches us that no matter how long the night might be, the day will surely come.
Our hope must be measured with a clear perspective too, an understanding of where we are, what our priorities are, what our goals are and what we need to do to retain purpose and expectation.
We need a grounding, a foundation, something that gives substance to our expectations through work we have done before in study, in vocation, in experience, in knowledge or some broader development of our human nature.
In other words, we should be wary of the draw of vacuous optimism founded on myths and delusions like building castles in the air. Be taught, be mentored, read, learn and be open to things well outside your comfort zone, so that when the going gets tough, you are tough enough to get going.

Tuesday 30 December 2014

Nigeria: My last flight from the motherland

Last view of Nigeria
We arrived almost 6 hours behind schedule, that was my last direct experience of Nigeria after our flight to London Heathrow was delayed for just about the length of time it would have taken for our flight to be entering the French airspace and for each hour of delay no one could clearly state when we were going to depart.
The Murtala Muhammed International Airport was probably a different place, and Nigeria Airways was probably one of the safest airlines in the world, though from the vantage point of my residence; just a wall separated us from the runway in Shasha-Akowonjo, Lagos we could very well have our finger on the pulse of the country.
A lull in air traffic almost definitely meant there was a military putsch in process, whether it would fail or succeed was another thing. At other times that would bring water to one’s eyes, there was nights of power cuts to the airport, that then was redolent of the systemic malfunctioning environment that Nigeria had become.
Factored in the end
In my somewhat successful professional life as a company director, a desktop publishing expert and trainer, it was rent seekers who always thought they deserved a share of my invoices even though they were well paid for doing their jobs.
A few days before my departure, I was sat in a police station for almost 6 hours trying to get my staff out on bail because my bumbling business partner felt he had the power to wield with impunity whilst lacking the courtesy to inform me of why my staff had been corralled with others on the false accusation of theft.
When I finally gained the release of my staff, I had parted with 500 Naira and signed a legal document that said nothing of the sort had happened.
A changed Nigeria
The promise of Nigeria of my youth was no longer looking like the dreams we once had, it had become nightmarish and ghoulish, a caricature of itself as it was being mismanaged by yet another military junta that once appeared to be a salvation to Nigerians but was in fact the demise of everything that was good and lovely of our dear motherland.
Other little things I could handle, the lack of attention to detail, poor timekeeping, sometimes supercilious buffoons who had come into money and power, not to talk of the pretences that were exhibited in hedonism and ostentation, but that is typically Nigerian.
An alien to many
However, one thing always stood out in my almost 19 year Nigerian experience, I was never really accepted as one of the many, even though my accent which had a West Midlands sound had softened to a non-descript mishmash of experiences in England and Northern Nigeria, it still betrayed an otherness that people immediately picked up on and used to either castigate or excuse me.
To many, even close relations, I was always going to be the boy born abroad, no matter how adapted to Nigeria I was, though on the matter of integration, there were just some customs I was never going to absorb.
Maybe we had a brashness, a boldness, a precociousness, a forwardness, a sometimes lack of reverence, definitely an absence of obsequiousness and much else that annoyed a few as it won recognition from others, something set us apart.
Honesty still the best policy
Having visited England just over a month before after an interesting visa interview that left the consulate officer quite surprised that I was not driven to abscond, but return to what I enjoyed doing in Nigeria, our discussion became one of sharing experiences of the penchant of certain Nigerians to lie at interviews and lie again to cover other lies that the interviewer is literally embarrassed for both the Nigerian and themselves.
Yet, it was an eye-opener that showed that there was a place where I could belong, feel at ease and even thrive without the inconveniences that were the Nigerian narrative.
When I returned to the embassy a month later, it was a breeze to get the Entitlement to the Right of Abode because the queue for getting a British passport in Nigeria was a good 18 months long - I had no time for that.
Disillusioned at home
However, this amongst many other things became how along with many of my generation, we left Nigeria disillusioned young people to build our lives elsewhere - the sad thing is that of the many that left, probably most have never returned.
That was 24 years ago today for me, but it has not diminished my desire for Nigeria to be a better place, to be better run, for the people to have better opportunities and a great pride in a Nigeria we once knew worked, in a fashion.
Long live Nigeria and may it be liberated from the grip of an unconscionable kakistocracy that has no desire for a great future beyond what it does for their bellies.

Sunday 28 December 2014

Opinion: Thankfully comfortable in our own skins

She changed herself
I came across a video on Facebook where a married and successful Cameroonian model appeared on television to talk about her experience and pride with skin lightening.
There is probably a global discussion on colour politically referred to as ‘Colorism’, I am not particularly interested in taking sides. However, reading through the Facebook comments that were posted, I could see the excoriation and the condemnation expressed by many and could very well understand their views on the matter.
Here was a heretofore stunningly beautiful woman who for whatever reasons that could not be fully expressed in that interview or any other forum, who had transmogrified into something that might be beautiful to her but less so to others.
My comment
I posted a comment to that discussion where I took a broader view of the issue along the lines below:
At which point I wonder what my skin will look like blue and my hair green.
Much as I can agree with the views expressed we should be careful not to see this matter superficially.
When I was recuperating from chemotherapy I channel-hopped to the E! Channel and saw Dr. 90210 where beautiful people had gotten into their minds they were not so beautiful that they needed cosmetic or radical change.
We link appearance with confidence down to some adverts suggesting tampons, I'm sorry, make all the difference.
The question then is whether mind, society or some other pressure led to the 'desecration' of the original beauty.
Let us be thankful we are comfortable in our own skins.
Is this harmful?
Watching the interview, I could not help but notice the look of incredulity on the face of the other lady interviewing, as if she wondered of the apparent caricature, and I use that word advisedly, was for real.
And whilst the lady might have been convinced of the change she had wrought upon herself, I was more scared of the message and the example she might represent to others less successfully or privileged that they resort to changes to their bodies that can bring lasting harm.
At a point in that interview she referenced the use of the bleaching agent hydroquinone which even in topic applications of 2% concentration is banned in the EU, at 4%, it should be prescribed and to hear of her 16% concentrations, one can only imagine the damage done to her once beautifully natural skin.
Looks quite harmful
The FDA already considers hydroquinone a potential carcinogen and according the Wikipedia reference or hydroquinone, this line is best lifted verbatim. “This conclusion was reached based on the extent of absorption in humans and the incidence of neoplasms in rats in several studies where adult rats were found to have increased rates of tumours, including thyroid follicular cell hyperplasias, anisokaryosis, mononuclear cell leukaemia, hepatocellular adenomas and renal tubule cell adenomas. The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics has also highlighted concerns.” [Wikipedia] [Campaign For Safe Cosmetics - Hydroquinone]
It goes without saying much as I am not an active supporter of vivisection that the results from animal testing might well indicate hydroquinone as an agent for skin bleaching is not healthy and almost conclusively very harmful, all in the quest for a form of superficial beauty or the destruction of original beauty.
Yet, for whatever reasons this lady has taken radical measures to dispense of the tone of her original skin colouration, disfigurement is too strong a word, we that have either lacked the opportunity to do so or have decided we have no need to do so should be thankful that for now, we are comfortable in our own skins.

Saturday 27 December 2014

Thought Picnic: Cultivating the art of conversation

Begin the talk
There are so many places I have been to, diverse and strange, all of which if the opportunity comes I will strike up a conversation starting with subjects from the mundane to the serious.
The English usually start with the weather and before you know it, the conversation wends and weaves, in and out, around and about anything, no preconception governs the direction and exchanges as the chat ebbs and flows.
On trains and on planes, I have had uncanny moments with people I could not have chosen to sit in proximity to me, the distance of randomness closed down by experiences intertwined into the fabric of the varied human story.
Converse to art
There are times I have resisted the self-absorption of social media distractions to interact, genuflect, and exercise a broader range of expression that comes with the physical presence of another human being who by interest or sense of adventure is doing the same as myself, it is a wonderful thing.
The art of conversation needs greater utility and honing, even conversation for the mere sake of it alone can be enriching and fulfilling bringing with it humour and mirth, knowledge and wisdom, insight and direction, advice and opportunity, there is really no telling what can result, but one cannot doubt its usefulness.
Do not fear
The worst that can happen is that some people will remain glum, but the tongue-tied are not necessarily dumb, they just need to be eased into a comfortable place to be engaged.
We must be careful that modernity and technology does not rob us of this experience as we bury our heads in concentrated engagement with devices and tools, completely oblivious of our surrounds to appreciate the beauty of nature, the natural and the native means of interaction amongst our nearest human neighbours.
Civility with awareness
In doing so, we begin to lose the ability to observe as our sense of awareness wanes giving way to less civilised and uncultured tendencies, like ignoring when we are being addressed, mindlessly walking in public places at risk of bumping into others or walking into the path of danger or even just the simple act of asking for directions.
We surely have not advanced in civilisation to lose the essential utility of civility. We need to give ourselves breaks from these distractions to enrich ourselves with useful sensory communication that comes from deploying the art of conversation as every opportunity we can find.
Start with the familiar, the common and the easy and that could well lead to the intricately complex. We are bundles of experiences too diverse to be constrained to silence, let us break the ice and talk.

Friday 26 December 2014

Thought Picnic: What parents rarely learn

Home calling
It was one of those innocuous Christmas moments when we remember to call home and chat to our parents, and this I witnessed.
He had called to chat to the matriarch who happened to be with his brother for Christmas as the conversation developed she was informed that she would definitely know me as his brother quipped that I was one of those friends of his brother that she had chased away from their home almost 30 years before.
I did not get her response, but it appeared contrite in some way, yet quite interesting to me because it revealed two very particular points about parents, children, relationships and friendships.
Give the kids some credit
The first being, children are more perceptive than we give them credit for, besides the fact that they have memories of events and experiences we never realise they have perceptively and cognitively retained.
The idea that parents think they can shield a child from tension, attitude, behaviour, event, crisis, success, circumstance, grief or any perceptible human experience where the child has all faculties is silly, children are not stupid, even if they have no voice, decision-making or participation in that setting.
Memory is memory
Yet, in shielding children from some of the essential parts of life in their development, the result can be scarring as it can be emotionally damaging. There are events I witnessed in my home as far back as the age of 3 that I have had playback in my consciousness like I am watching a film, it is like total recall.
This is what my friend’s brother had hidden in the recesses of his memory almost 30 years ago, a single event he witnessed that came out of the annals of his memory bank because conversation and opportunity met, facilitated the need for that information to be shared of what he saw then.
If you do not want your children to recall events you’ll rather not be reminded of, moderate your temperament or extricate them completely from that environment, the former is easier than the latter.
Too good, she said
Secondly, it is the matter of friends and I have had a few in my younger days that my mother had in a very English phrase had said were too good for her liking. I will agree that she was perceptive enough to see through some of those friends.
It so happens that I have come to understand why those people were probably not the best people to develop lasting relationships with.
Beyond their views
Then again, there are other friends our parents frowned upon then who have through time have remained friends and developed into closer productive rewarding relationships beyond the preconceptions and prejudices of our parents.
Generally, I am persuaded that despite whatever influences, adverse or helpful, we will cultivate friendships based on our own terms eventually and everyone else including our parents and other influential people will just have to accept that.

Sunday 21 December 2014

Thought Picnic: The expanding capacity of relationships

London inspires
Looking out this morning at an amazing view of London from the sixth floor of an apartment presented a panoramic view from the Tower Bridge to Vauxhall which took in iconic features of London as the Gherkin, St. Paul’s Cathedral, Tate Modern and the London Eye.
The beauty of London from a height cannot be denied, to wake up to that view daily can be a source of inspiration quite different from living London on the ground level. That is not to talk of how London is lit up at night from the Shard to other tall and significant buildings.
Relationship hooks
Yet the subtle and unspoken message is in relationships that bring with them new experiences and knowledge that become part of us by communication, interaction and fellowship.
For instance, the view I appreciated this morning came as a result of a relationship, that it is a residence of my host might leave this fact uncherished and somewhat made light of.
Then I look back at my love for history, for architecture, for travel and for adventure and realise my various relationships brought with them opportunities that expanded my horizons to new revelatory things about my partner first and then about other perspectives I would never have seen if I were not in that relationship.
Strive for profitable companionship
This is why it becomes needful to seek companionships and relationships that stretch us, taking us out of our preconceptions, prejudices and comfort zones to view and inculcate the different, the diverse and the other.
If I were to go out on a limb, I will say relationships extend our capacity, whether those relationships are good or bad, what matters is the lessons we learn from information and knowledge that comes with those interactions.
When we look back at our relationships with that in mind, it is very possible that we will learn to cherish each and every one of them better and if we are to explore opportunities for new relationships we will have the mindset of always taking the positives regardless of the uncomfortable negatives.