COMMITTING LOOKERY

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I once dated a girl who was sweet and unique. She was a work of art like a Ben Enwonwu sculpture, with brown skin like Choco-milo and eyes that lit up like a kerosene lantern.  And her figure? Majestic and curvaceous like an Igbo Ukwu bronze pot. And do not get me started on her teeth – she had the most perfectly arranged set of 32 I had ever seen, which looked especially cute whenever she wore her metal braces. The juxtaposition of her teeth against metal reminded me of the most perfect corn cob resting on an iron grill. She had an impeccable personality to boot too – a trifecta of intelligence, quiet determination and an easy going aura. We really fancied each other, and I would drive to my cousin’s estate where she lived, park in front of her apartment block and hunk my car horn 4 times, and she would show up. That was our signal. Once her strict mum showed up with a garri pestle, but that’s another story for another day.

While she absolutely adored me, she could not stand something about my character – I had roving eyes like a Nigerian politician’s loyalty to ideology. You see, I was the type of fella many girls loathed for a boyfriend, in that I liked to glance at other females. It was usually a short peep, shorter than M.I.; Truth be told, it was not like I was interested in these other chicks. It was just tomfoolery. I never meant to disrespect my girl. It was just lookery.

And I never cheated on her with these other girls I was checking out – least not physically. A perfect analogy would be that I was like a Buhari supporter checking out GEJ’s manifesto, not because I planned to switch my allegiance, but because I wanted to see what GEJ was all about. There were just so many hot girls in Lagos.

My girl would usually catch me stealing quick glances at some female in a tight pair of leggings and she would give me a piece of her mind. The worst time was when I attended a Matriculation event with her at UNILAG. And when we went to Zenith Bank’s Customer Service Center on Ajose Adeogun in V.I. There were girls of every shape and color in those places. At the time, I felt like a Senator dulling at a cabal meeting sipping Fanta while other politicians were sharing Ghana-Must-Go bags of cash. I was like a greedy Nigerian at the NEXT annual Xmas sales on Oxford Street in London – I felt like grabbing it all.

I will admit, now that I am older and more mature, I realize that the grass is not always greener on the other side. I try to avoid situations that would make my missus feel some type of way. I also regret that my immaturity made my ex-girlfriend tear up like OBJ’s PDP membership card.

Sometimes we fellas do not realize how much we hurt our partners when we scope other females’ bakassi until we get a taste of our own alabokun. My friend Jide once went steady with a lass who loved to check other men out. It was just her thing – she had the spirit of Potiphar’s wife in her. Even while driving, she once nearly ran into an iron horse (okada) because she was staring at some dude jogging past without his top on. Another time Jide peeped her checking out a plantain seller pushing a huge wheel-barrow full of fruit in the market. She claimed it was the plantain for sale she was interested in. I’m in love with the dodo.

He broke up with her. Why was he so angry – many girls have to put up with this on a daily basis. For guys, our massive egos cannot take it.

Some people handle their “jealousy” in different ways. They are fine if their significant other looks, but does not touch the object of their crush. Their reasoning is that it is easier to control what hand caresses, than what your eyes see.

My friend Toyin is quite loony. She actually encourages her hubby to discuss his crushes or attractions to other females with her. When they are out together at a party or event, she would prod him and ask him who he thinks out of a bevy of ladies is hot, or who he fancied out of the lot. They would then “jokingly” dissect the girl’s qualities and quantities together. “That girl is not all that jor. She is not even pear shaped – she is agbalumon-shaped. You must be blind if you think she is as hot as me. Maybe it is aggro misdirecting you.” By the time Toyin was done, hubby lost some appetite for the crush anyway. Talk about crushing hopes.

There was a time her husband’s friends were planning a bachelor’s eve party for a friend of theirs who was getting married, and they were going to hire pole dancers and raunchy runs-girls as part of the entertainment. Toyin helped them with the booking of the venue. Reverse psychology or perverse psychology?

My missus is not that liberal. She simply does not negotiate with the enemy, so to speak. Just like our government tried to do with Boko Haram. My madam’s mantra is this: you do not fraternize with the opposition, you crush all rebellion. She reminds me of Fayose in that regard, though she has more refined diction.

I am not that stupid either. My madam does not care to know who the current object of my fantasy is. If I dared volunteer information like pointing out a girl I was crushing on, she would go haywire. Na who ask you?

Besides things like what Toyin does with her hubby make me quite uneasy sef.  Some things should stay in their lane like BRT Bus. Reminds me of the time that I made out with some chick, and then her twin brother started asking me how it was. I shook him off like a guguru and epa seller seller blows off the peanut shells. That’s how Clifford Orji type madness starts.

Some folks do not even allow their partners have friends of the opposite sex. Especially if that friend was hotter, more popular or more successful. Is it not ridiculous that in some ancient cultures, like Mongolia under the Khans, wives even went as far as selecting concubines for their husbands? Like a Nigerian wife would ever select a concubine for you. Dream on fellas or move to Mongolia. Or to Abuja. Ha ha.

That is even cool. My cousin Benbella and his fiancé  went for a wedding somewhere in Victoria Island. At the reception, he ran into 2 female ex school-mates from University. They were happy to see each other, so they hugged and decided to take a photo which they planned to upload onto their alumni Facebook page later. Benbella posed for picture in between the two ex-school mates, with his hands around their waists and asked his fiancée to take the photo with her I-phone.

After she took the photo, fiancée pulled Benbella aside and gave him an earful. And a mouthful.

She chided “I do not like the way your hand was resting on your ex-school mate’s ass. If it is hungrying you like that, touch my own butt instead.”

Benbella downed 3 shots of vodka after that, no chaser. His fiancée is a handful.

My wife is different – she doesn’t even play all that jazz. In fact the only female in the world she says I have a pass with is Scarlett Johansson, and my wife’s logic is “that is never going to happen anyway. She would never look at you even if you were both the last persons on earth” But I am not the last person on earth…

How do you handle yours? Are you fine with your partner looking? Or are you Mongolian in nature?

But what we have is so realistic/
There’s no forming girl, no film tricks/
I no go chop outside, no picnics/
Cause you and I above the statistics/
It don’t matter if I got ego/
We got something we can build on, Lego/

M.I., One Naira (2010)

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I WANT THE LOVE THAT I SEE IN THE MOVIES

From now on, you cease to exist to me

I am an incurable romantic. Like a valentine’s gift that keeps giving, it is all heart with me. All is well in the world with me, when I spend quality time with a lass I am really into, then I can make strong postulations of love, desire and passion. When I am into you, I am really into you, like a Biology practical dissection project.  Weird, abi?

I serenade you like a scene from Romeo and Juliet, except that I envision it between me Esco and my fair (or dark) Nigerian lady. I might hit a lady with some Shakespeare like this:

Esco: Then move not, while my prayer’s effect I take.
Thus from my lips, by yours, my sin is purged.

 

Nigerian Lass: Then have my lips the sin that they have took.

 

Esco: Sin from thy lips? O trespass sweetly urged!
Give me my sin again.

If she is not up on Shakespeare, I might throw this out instead:

Before I met you, I was like Nackson

But now your love dey do me like Michael Jackson

In the movies, lovers always live happily ever after, preserved for posterity by the frame shot of youthful vigor. Yep, romance in film and the creative arts is dynamic and spontaneous depending on the genre and industry the film originated from. Let me illustrate.

In Hollywood, the theme of most movies is clear – good looking actor defeats all odds and shoots down the bad guys with ripping muscles and big guns blazing, and scoops up the pretty girl in the daisy duke shorts at the bar, In the end everybody smiles, as the “actor” and his chick drive into the sunset, with beer cans tied to their back bumper, and the credits roll. Actor no dey die.

I once took a girl I liked to a dance club. When we got there, it was like a Satis beef sausage factory – more guys than girls were present, and the fellas there had their tongue out like wolf looking for lamb. I wanted to leave, but my date said she liked the music the DJ was blasting. We decided to dance, and we were about 20 minutes into the jig with me doing my Esco doo-wop while trying to convince said girl to be down with me, when disaster struck. Some imp decided that it was a nice time to make a sandwich – a human one. He started grinding into my girl from behind, like they were on a Molue queue. I shoved him, and we were both tossed out of the club. I and girl got into an argument, and never went steady after that. I want the love from the movies; just not the action ones. Make love, not war.

For Bollywood, the nerdy guy chats up the girl by dancing circles around her, and singing her into submission. Dus Numberi…When he gets into a position to steal a snog, something always comes up. Either a comet hit the earth for the first time in a billion years and decimates all of mankind, or Boko Haram decides to surpass its last gruesome act. They are sha somehow either interrupted by someone walking in- usually his mother or a mogbomoya friend. Or said actress dodges his lips and offers him a consolation price of her forehead with the big red dot on it to aim at.

It sounds like friend-zoning to me, so once again it is no to Bollywood love.

For Chinese martial arts movies, the sequence of events is simple. ‘A’ opens a kung fu school. ‘B’ comes along and beats ‘A’ to stupor.  After ‘A’ dies, his ward ‘C’ seeks revenge and kills ‘B’. Note how there are no girls involved at the beginning. Later C marries A’s daughter Chun Li. They share a rice noodle.

There are 2 things I do not share with anyone – my me-time, and my Indomie/Dangote Spaghetti, so I will pass on this one.

For Nollywood, the typical love script is more complicated if not absurd. ‘A’ is born in abject poverty in the village. He does either jazz or ‘419’ to make money and moves to Lagos where he lives it up extravagantly chasing promiscuous university ‘runs’ girls. Later on in the film, Jim Iyke slaps a girl, and Patience Uzokwo is an evil mother-in-law. Then Nonso Diobi spends 45 minutes out of the 3-hour movie propositioning Oge Okoye at the beach, where they whisper sweet nothings into each other’s ears, to the chagrin of you the watcher. Credits roll and you see the producer’s vote of thanks to the real owners of any mansions used in the movie. You are also told to watch out for Part 2 and 3 even though the story seemed concluded satisfactorily enough. Ah, the Naija glorified DVD box-set.

Love should have no Part 2, abeg.

The above are valid and absurd examples, so I do not want those. What about certain movies:

  1. In the movies, they sail into the sunset. In Grease, which is my favorite flick of all time, Danny Zucco and Sandy fly take off into the sky in Danny’s greased Cadillac Seville, as they wave to their mere mortal friends at the end of term school fair. In real life, after a good date, you call her a cab, especially after your 2nd hand Hyundai refuses to start. You also call her a cab, if you cannot be arsed to spend the next 300 minutes in Lagos traffic. And I prefer my car firmly on the road, thank you very much. Pot hole is better than turbulence.
  1. Love at first sight in movies is sweet and straight to the point. Boy sees girl, and girl sees boy and everything else is a blur and in slow motion. She flutters her eyes at him like she has contracted Apollo. He waves like Mopol has asked him to surrender. She twists her curls flirtatiously like she is trying to style “periwinkle”. He nods his head at her like a red neck lizard. She slides over in a hot summer dress, flirts and hands over phone number readily by writing her number on his palm. Eh, in real life that bic is likely to refuse to write Besides love at first sight hardly ever moves that first, does it. Shakara has to enter the equation somewhere, before see finish has a chance to take root.
  1. The hot cheerleader always later falls for the geek. Real life is different. The party/runs girls only ever spoke to the nerds whenever it was close to exam time, and they needed the nerd’s notes or coaching. Back in school, I was a jerk, not a jock. And for that I never bagged a hot party girl type. I never had the patience for long persistent chasing or competition with club-boys for her love and attention. I also never stood a chance, because I was a cheap-skate. No really, I was a cheap date.
  1. In Pretty Woman, Richard Gere falls for Julia Robert who plays an agbana. It will take magic for me to marry a runs girl.

Teacher No Teach Me Nonsense

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TEACHER NO TEACH ME NONSENSE

I love all teachers. Teaching is the most selfless profession in the world. Maybe, other than a night-soil man (agbekpo coordinator).

It is fair to say that I would not be the man I am if not for the wonderful teachers I have had at all stages of school life. Let me take you on an odyssey as I remember some of the teachers I have had.

In Primary school, Ghanaian teachers were the proudest with their mini-afros and Safari suits with the huge collars and boot cut pants, looking like they had just stepped out of a 70s discotheque. They also spoke a unique blend of English with some crazy pronunciations “Do yer werk” (They pronounced “work” like “twerk”)

They were also strict disciplinarians too. Mr. Kwame wielded the cane of life, which he garnished with tatatshe and suya pepper until it looked like our Senate President’s mace. By the early 90s, most of the Ghananian, Liberian and Sierra Leonean teachers had returned back to their countries, as economic conditions there prevailed over Nigeria’s. Ghana bread also disappeared from the streets, sadly for me.

There was Mrs. Nwama whose son was also in my class, so she was especially hard on him in other to diffuse any notions of partiality. She would ask a question, and if nobody volunteered the answer, she made him a scape goat. If he gave the wrong answer, she flogged him hard with a cane. If he gave the right one, she flogged him for not standing up to answer on time. I hear he is a psychologist now in Yankee.

Mr. Ganiyu our Primary 4 teacher loved to put the wiz-kids students in the front desks, and place the slower learners (whom he repeatedly called olodos) in the back desks – away from sight. Which has always been weird to me. Don’t the slower learners need more attention in the front? Me, I chilled in the middle rows playing footsie and biro game with my crush Ejiro. What’s up, ex?

Then there was my teacher in primary 3, Miss Otolo who seized snacks from pupils eating in class, and added the food to her lunch stash, a bit like our government did with the Abacha loot. She snatched my Nasco Wafers from me, but I did not bother to forewarn her that I had been licking the cream in the insides. Fufu flavour.

Then there was Mrs. Olaya (not real name) now deceased who was our primary school headmistress. That woman was the epitome of class and grace. She never raised her voice, or her hand. Even when she scolded a child, it was with language that the child could barely comprehend at that age, but that the child would recall years later and weep in remembrance.

Chiding two pupils who had been caught thieving someone’s Math-set, she said “there is no honor amongst thieves.” Oh yes there can be..

On the school assembly stage, she would make the reader of the address repeat the pronunciation of the word “theme” until they got the “th” sound. She could not stand any one pronouncing “theme” as “team.”

And I remember her also reprimanding our football team because they were yelling for penariti (instead of the word penalty). She boxed the goalkeeper in the ear for using the wrong word, and he ended up conceding goals like Rufai at France 98. We thought she was being pedantic at the time, but thanks Mrs. Olaiya.

Rest in peace, Matriarch. You were indeed a Fountain of knowledge, and I wore your school stripes with pride as a youngster.

Then there was Mr. Nnaba the music teacher with the buck-tooth scowl and the thick heavy ruler which he used to smack the heads of any student who did not master the music table or who clapped out of sync during rehearsals. His singing voice was like a rat’s squeal, but you dare not tell him.

Then there was Mr. Ogun who adorned the Father Xmas outfit at the annual Xmas concert which was always a blast and an annual fixture of the local social calendar, attended by pupils of other schools, parents and members of the Surulere community. I remember us chorusing that Yoruba Christmas tune, which feels nostalgic right now “keresimesi tu made o

Mr. Ogun, all 150 pounds of him was a lekpa. For the pageant however, he used stuffed pillows to create Father Xmas’s pot-belly and cotton wool for a beard. The nursery school kids were not that easily fooled as they recognized his toney-red shoes with the Boy Alinco-esque pivot heels, and shouted his name throughout drowning out the performance at the nativity play.

He tried placating the mischievous cretins with Jemka chewing gum and Gogo, but it was like trying to control ants with St. Louis Sugar. It was bribing little children, which is a bad precedent to set at a young age. Kids are the leaders of tomorrow, just not this election or the next or the one after that. Haha

In secondary school I remember Mallam Damisa the Commerce teacher who shelled repeatedly like a trigger happy Boko Haram commander. He pronounced English words like he was spewing bitter kola and mixed up male and female tenses. To compensate for his bad English, he used big words, but ended up brutalizing the sentence. Once he had caught a bunch of students tossing bangers (fireworks) at night. He made them “kneel down and hands-up” as punishement, before he rebuked them publically “How can you threw such an explosion, for the purpose of a joy.” Question for BH, too.

How could I forget Ma Ogunfe the Mathematics teacher who believed that boarders were the scum of the earth, but that day students could do no wrong. Someone had laid a massive ostrich sized egg at the back of the class which stunk the place out. Ma Ogunfe automatically blamed it on the boarders, and made them pack it up, while the day students watched in laughter. Not cool.

By the time I got the University, the game had changed to a whole new level. Teachers, now, lecturers were less involved, more aloof and had more power to hurt your short term future.

There was Professor X who we nicknamed such for his default propensity to fail students by playing tic-tac-toe when marking answer sheets. There were usually lots of x and zeros when he was done. Like Terrahawks.

Then there was Dr. Ajene, the proletariat, who loved to “humiliate” well-off students by picking on them in class, and sending them on errands to do menial tasks like buy his lunch of moi-moi and pap from the old Buka. You did not have much choice in the matter – you needed to take and pass Philosophy class. Man is born free, but everywhere he is in shackles.

Then there was Roscoe Pound, another lecturer who got off catching cheats during exams. He was a sneaky little so and so. He had probing eyes and was as prolific as a rat trap garnished with crayfish. He caught cheat after cheat after cheat – it was ridiculous.  When he pulled out “micro-chips” (a small piece of paper with carefully written answers) from one girl’s bra, she bit him hard in frustration like an ensnared catfish. He wore that bite mark like a badge of honor.

Despite the different characters and personalities of the teachers I have had from nursery school to university, all have played a part in my life and for that I am grateful. Shout-out to the biggest teacher of all, my mum who made me recite the times-table and master counting with table-tops. Look, I made it ma – I now use Excel spreadsheets and pivot tables!

A teacher’s reward is in heaven, but they deserve lots of naira and kobo here on earth too.

There were empires in Africa called Kush/

Timbuktu, where every race came to get books/

to learn from black teachers who taught Greeks and Romans/

Nas (I Can, 2002)

Is Growing Up A Trap?

Penguins

IS GROWING UP IS A TRAP?

When I was in my early teens, I could not wait to grow and discover if pots of gold were at the bottom of every rainbow. I felt trapped by the flower of youth, restricted by the thorns of adolescence. I rubbed all kinds of methylated spirits on my face as I willed my chin and cheeks to sprout side burns and beards till I looked like Oliver De Coque. I crashed my dad’s Datsun into a gutter trying to drive it before my feet could properly reach the clutch. For that, I received the beating of life; the beating of my life.

At age 15, I fretted because my voice did not break on time, and I sounded like Helen Paul when trying to chat up girls. Excuse me, can I get to know you…

I longed to be able to earn my own Naira so I could blow it on Playstation video games, sharwarma from Terri’s, rap music CDs and Timberland boots. I also wanted the independence of never answering to anyone. Or anything.

Now that I am older, sometimes I wish I could back-track like a PDP to APC defector.

You see adult life is not what it is all depicted to be. Apart from being caught in the cycles of bills, work and responsibilities, as well as the scary thought that I am eligible for jail time I commit a crime, rather than a juvenile warning, some other realities have hit me like a Prince 2000 chant.  I have discovered that the earth is round, but that the world is flat, so that what goes around, comes around, like an infectious strain of apollo. That all the power and wealth in the world is concentrated in the hands of a very privileged few, and that greed and lust for control of the world’s resources is the bane of human life. I have discovered that Nigeria cheated me off a bountiful childhood, and may also rob my grandparents off the peace of a pensioned old age.

I grew up when I turned 30 faster than at any stage during my life. My father got sick and passed within a space of 6 months, just after I had hit the big three-oh, putting me in a situation forcing me to be a man, just when I was learning to stand without a helping hand. I needed to mature fast enough to husband my mother and father my siblings. And be a twin to my own self.

And there are physical and emotional changes from age.

Now when I climb a flight of stairs, I feel the creak in my bones like a 3-wheeled Keke Napep negotiating a pot-hole filled with potopoto. I can no longer get away with an unhealthy lifestyle as it shows in my torso, so that is goodbye to eating suya burger or Indomie featuring fried plantain late at night. I am more at peace with myself these days– less keen to impress people I do not care for. Keener to caress those that I care for. I no longer shed  tears every birthday like I used to, as I see my life anniversaries as milestones on the journey to middle life.

My fashion choices are slightly more conservative these days – more age appropriate. I see garments as more of a shield to protect me from the elements and save strangers the humiliation of looking at my shriveled cock, than as accessories to show my affluence or comeuppance in the world. I realize that I look ridiculous in vest tops or basketball shirts, and am less likely to buy them, as I say no to looking like a market butcher. Heck I am less likely to buy or rock a football jersey. Nylon and polyester are the most unflattering fabrics ever especially those made by Puma. I also go past the torn or ripped jeans aisle these days, as I would rather not look like Milli Vanilli. I look more to quality classics rather than the quantity of fads clothing.  Corduroy pants do not look so bad now, and sandals were not the fashion suicide I thought they once were, once paired with good traditional brocades. I probably won’t wear a camouflage shirt, or overalls or an NY fitted face cap to cover my ogo. And I rock my Talab Abass gorimakpa with pride.

I am less critical of my parents and their generation – they had to revamp their lives several times – first, after British colonialism gave way to Pan-Igboism in the early 60s, then live through a civil war, then restart with 20 pounds in their pockets (no mule and no 40 acres). Heck my mum got married with a mango leaf branch for a bouquet, but she is the rose that grew from concrete, in my eyes.

Now that I am older, I admire my late father’s achievements, putting all his kids through school. No, we did not attend Eton or Harvard or Atlantic Hall or American International School, but nobody ever carried a desk on their heads to school. Fees were paid as and when due, and I was never called to the assembly ground for not wearing a clean pair of white socks. How the hell did he do that – manage all his responsibilities so remarkably well. Daddy, teacher, disciplinarian, financier, protector, parental advisory mechanism for inappropriate media content, provider, koboko dispenser, default setter etc. Judge, jury and executioner, if you flouted his house rules.

These days, I do not care to be right all time. Or beef and feud all the time. These days, I am more about peace, than winning arguments. Or building and maintaining friendships and relationships. Forgive me for my sins; forgive me for my lies.

I am more aware of my place in the world, and of the roles I am designed to play in the food chain of life. I have “opened eye”, and I saw one of the best philosophies etched on the back of an Ekenedilichukwu luxury bus: The downfall of a man is not the end of his life.

Was it all simpler when I was a young and wild and free? Maybe, and sometimes I do feel that my glory days were back in my youth – when I was 21 and all was well in the world, as I had that patriarchal umbrella and the mischievous swagger of a miscreant with a catapult and a pocket full of stones.

Yes, sometimes I do wish I could grow down. Not to reverse physical aging, as it is not vanity or insanity that drives me. Oh to see the world through the again through the innocence of a child’s eyes. Through my daughter’s eyes.

I drop my daughter at daycare on weekday mornings. What amazes me, is that she always says hi to the lady at the helpdesk, who I must admit usually wears a frown harder than an Argungu mask. But my daughter no send o. In her friendly and outgoing nature, she would walk up to the desk, and greet “Hi! How are you doing?” while beaming her dimpled smile at the grumpy woman. A typical adult would not bother with greetings after a while, if they noticed the receptionist liked to “carry face”. But not my daughter. She once offered the lady her sandwich. I later give my daughter a warning about giving food to strangers. Some people deserve a sand-winch instead. Haha

If you are also going through these motions, I recommend one of my favorite tunes “Not Nineteen Forever” by a band I like called The Courteeners. Check out some lyrics from that song:

You’re not nineteen forever, pull yourselves together
I know it seems strange but things they change
Older woman and a younger man
Both of them doing all they can

 

Suffering and Smiling – Everything Is Going To Be Alright

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I was 13 when my family fell upon hard times. My old man had invested his fortunes in a string of ventures which ending up hemorrhaging funds, akin to fetching water with a raffia basket.

The change in our family lifestyle started with the disappearance of certain perks we used to take for granted.

Holidays disappeared from our calendar. Christmas visits to the village stopped too. We had watery beans on Christmas day one year.  My father was a nervous wreck, and had an irritable temper whenever it was time to pay school fees.

My baby sister Kpomkwem, oblivious to our predicament, asked my pops as he sat on the bedroom floor sorting through piles of bills and financial statements in the red “Papa, when are we travelling for vacation. I want to go to see London Bridge”

Papa should have replied “The year 2000-and-never; besides have you finished helping to pick the beans in the kictchen?” but being the wonderful father that he was, he reassured her saying “Very soon, Kpom-Kpom, very soon…”

Very soon never came.

Now that I am older, I realize that what people classify as hardship is all relative. Your present lucrative lifestyle of champagne, luxury whips and a mega crib in Lekki Phase One, which you celebrate as having arrived, might be the worst nightmare of an Adenuga, Dangote or Warren Buffet. At that point in time, compared to the way of life I had been used to, the changes forced upon my family at 12 constituted economic sabotage.

You know how many people have a minted Uncle, who helps, pays school fees and gives them pocket money if their own folks cannot afford to? I never had one of those Uncles. My father was that Uncle, as he was the first and only one to escape the cycle of poverty my extended family had labored under for generations. I had palm-wine tappers and rural farmers for uncles/aunts, and the only freebie I ever enjoyed from them was a sack of boiled groundnuts, during their frequent visits to harangue my pops for money. My father was the support system for not only me, my mum, my siblings but also a whole multitude of relatives, hangers-on, in-laws, leeches. So when he crashed, the food chain burned. Until they found a new mugu.  Adebayor, I feel your pain bro.

Then one year there was a majestic drop in the family fortunes as steep as the sides of Olumo Rock. My father called a family meeting in his room, during which he read the riot act. Mum stood in the corner of the room sobbing, while my eldest sister took notes as the designated family secretary. Kpomkwem stood there, chewing the comb off a chicken head, with snot running down her nose.

“Going forward, there are going to be major changes to how we use resources in this house. Nobody should cook more than two cups of rice per mealtime. Mama Esco will monitor the quantity with a measuring cup. Do not use sugar for anything other than akamu. Do not use sugar to drink garri. In fact, no-one should drink garri at all, as it should only be utilized for eba. In fact, we are no longer buying sugar in this house – the Federal Ministry of Health warns that sugar causes diabetes and other health problems.” What about honey?

My old man was not finished: “No more big name brands for groceries. Dano, Nido, Pronto, Ovaltine are now non-grata in this family. All allowances have been discontinued. Elder siblings hand the younger ones your old clothes. Youngsters, if you outgrow your trousers, cut them into shorts.”

Esco was a younger one. Sigh. I need new baffs na.

We kids, looked fearfully at each other, as we pondered about this new economic order, just like some politicians are dreading Buhari’s reign. My mum was still sobbing into her handkerchief, like Mama Peace.

My dad adjusted his wrapper knot, and twisted his chewing stick, as he changed gear to a higher speed.

“Two slices of bread per person only. No more margarine, except Sunday morning breakfast before church. Moi moi is now a vanity project as it wastes beans. Try not to invite your friends over if you know they have longer throat…”

Things really got worse. We had sustained periods where NEPA disconnected us for owing. I frequently had to do the 0-1-0 involuntary diet plan because there was just enough money for one meal. Our home fell into a state of disrepair, with ceilings leaking water when someone had a bath. I became a video technician because I couldn’t let my VCR die on me. I and siblings became like crabs in the bucket, competing for food, benefits and comfort.

Pressure builds character. Hardship is life’s greatest onye-nkuzi. People handle strife in different ways. Some of my siblings struggled to adjust, while a few took to the change like a cattle egret to rubbish dumps.

My first sister, who used to be a fashionista discovered how to get bargains from bend-down clothing at Yaba Market and still look sharp. I learnt how to eat, be dissatisfied, but resist an Oliver Twist bang on the head from asking for seconds. I found ways to make the darkness from a NEPA outage my friend, by reaching deep into my thoughts to cool and entertain myself as I lay there in the blackness of still night with the intense heat. I learnt how to jump Danfos/Molues from one end of Lagos to another, with the dexterity of a California surfer. I rode the iron horse (okada) like the Biker Mice from Mars and became a connoisseur of street food. I nearly learnt the art of not paying the bus conductor, but the fear of lynching overcame me. Learnt how to be a have-not, and not be envious of those who had bastard money. How to feel dignified in lack, and not to cower in insecurity. Suffering and smiling is a delicate art.

I also became a mathematician, as I learnt to subtract fake fair weather friends (air-conditioned love) from those with unconditional love. And divide my resources so that it stretched like a catapult.

An ex-schoolmate’s pops went bankrupt in the mid-90s, when N55m deposit got swallowed up in a failed bank. They moved from their house in VI Extension to a 2 bedroom flat in Aguda. His children changed schools from St Saviors Ikoyi to a jakande school somewhere around there. I visited my friend once after his brother had survived a mishap, almost falling into the neighbourhood well, when trying to retrieve a fami. They were feeling sorry for themselves because they went from oil wells to water wells. Their dad used to fly first class, now he was flying Chisco night bus on the weekly. He never recovered his fortune, suffering a massive stroke from worry a few years later. Very few of their old friends from VI came to see him.

In Nigeria, success has many friends, but poverty and struggle are orphans and outcasts. Our country does not operate a safety-net system or a welfare initiative like certain western nations. So everyone, no matter how well-off presently, is just one miscalculation away from poverty. There’s no middle ground, a shrinking middle class, and no parachute support from government to save one from middling penury in your time of need.

The first pain of a child is seeing struggle etched on the face of its father. However everything I went through back then made me resilient, defiant and humble. I have endured two major tough periods in my short life. The first prepared me for the second. The first was as described above, and then the other was in my adult years – a 3 year funk, during which nothing seemed to work for me professionally or personally. I appeared to have a huge monkey on my back, the size of a Bagco Supersack. My blog was born in that period of difficulty.

If you are going through a tough time right now, believe that it is only for a moment. I hope I can encourage you somehow:

  • Keep on keeping on. When you are struggling, it seems easier to go into hiding. Nah, put yourself out there; stay striving and keep networking. Keep your head up, like a plantain seller balancing a tray. Distribute your resume, share your business proposal and continue shoving your business cards into people’s hands. It will bear fruit, as all seeds do. Except for an agbalumon seed ravaged by a local champion.
  • Resist acts of desperation. It is imperative that you get your mentality right, because there is no force more unclean than an act done in desperation. Life owes you nothing; you have to work hard for your success. Shun bad influences like an ill wind that blows 2nd hand smoke. I remember a philosophical gem scribbled on a bus: The downfall of a man is not the end of his life. You will soon rise again, like the rate of the dollar against the naira

Lord willing, you will be up and running in no time. One Love.

 

Some get a little and some get none/

Some catch a bad one, and some leave the job half done/

I was one who never had and always mad

Naughty By Nature “Everything’s gonna be alright” (1991