RAMMED

It so far looked like the best he’s seen his father bring in. White of hair, strong and sturdy, it had a confident look about it as it pranced royally in the pen. Yes, it’s the best ram his father had ever brought in for the Sallah celebration. Maybe dad has hit it big, Mukhtar thought. Or maybe it’s because Saheed, his elder brother was sponsored to the Hajj this time around by their Mosque. Last year’s celebration was low key, the ram was small and skinny and it couldn’t go round the people they wanted to share it with. This will surely be a good celebration, and Mukhtar was as excited as ever.

He loved watching the ram eat, as much as he loved feeding it. Mukhtar had just been promoted into his final year in secondary school so he was afforded a lot of free time. He sought every opportunity to go into the nearby field to fetch grass with his friends so they could pile the pen and watch the ram move its jaw from side to side as it ate. He even tried to eat like that once at dinner; his grandmother noticed and thought he was becoming epileptic. For three days the old woman kept staring at him whenever he was eating to be sure her grandson wasn’t manifesting signs of warapa and he couldn’t tell her the truth. Which was worse: having to explain why he was eating like a ruminant or being monitored for signs of epilepsy? He chose the latter.

Sometimes, Mukhtar wanted to untie the ram and walk it to the open field to graze but was scared he would lose control of the ram and it would run off. He had a small frame compared to some of his friends. Hamid was bigger and singlehandedly took two rams on a leash to the field every morning. All Mukhtar did was cut grass. Hamid was the brawn in his group of friends, and the only other Muslim. Their other friends in the neighbourhood practiced Christianity but always came over during Sallah, just as he went over during Christmas and Easter. Festive periods had a certain thrill about them and the boys didn’t care where they spent it as long as they were free to roam the streets, moving from one friend’s house to the other to eat and drink lots of soft drinks without restrictions.

It was during one of such feeding periods when he went to cut grass alongside Hamid who was as usual, holding his father’s rams by their leash that they overheard some other boys talk about going taking their rams to a fight in the evening. Up until then, Mukhtar always went to see fights but he never participated in one because the field where the fights took place was a far off and he wasn’t sure he could handle such a distance with a ram. So he asked Hamid,

“How far Mido, make we go see this fight?”

“Yes o, before nko. We fit even carry your
ram go.”

“Mad man, carry ram make my papa kill me abi? You no well.”

“You too dey fear sef. Your ram big naa. He go fit win fight well. You know say these two rams wey I hold for here no big reach your own.”

Mukhtar thought about it. Watching rams fight was exciting; having his ram in the fight would simply be awesome. The problem was sneaking the ram out of the house without his father’s knowledge. Mido would handle the ram but first he had to be sure his father wouldn’t be in.

“So how we go do am Mido? You know say na weekend we dey and Pop man go dey house.”

“No worry guy, dem dey go mosque for evening today. I hear when my papa dey talk say Imam get meeting with all the men. When dem don go mosque, we go carry your ram go field.

“Correct. Mido, you no sabi book but all this scammer sense full your head.”

“Sharrap there, you wey sabi book but you no fit handle common ram nko?”

They both laughed as they continued throwing jibes at each other, while they also strategized on the fights they would pick. As was the tradition, every fighting ram needed a name – something fierce and intimidating. They both had never named a fighting ram before but they knew of many names from the fights they’ve attended. There was Scarface, Hulk, Pepe Pepper, John Cena, Undertaker and a host of other badass names chosen from movies, sports, infamous criminals etc.

They settled for Shina Rambo.
********************

It was almost as if they’d walked into a trade fair for rams by the time they got to the field. There were different rings for rams to fight according to their size and estimated weight categories – lightweight, middleweight and heavyweight. Mukhtar’s ram fell into the heavyweight category and he was taken to pick an opponent. The opposing ram was called Hitler and for a minute, Mukhtar was scared Rambo would not make it through. Luckily for him, Mido had some fighting experience that belied his age. He had seen Hitler in a fight with three middleweights a day before and he knew that a fresh Rambo would scale through.

Rambo attacked like a ram possessed. Being set free for just one day in the company of other rams was like a shot of steroids. After taking three steps back and then clattering into Hitler, the opponent was already on its heels and the owner had to pull his ram out of the fight; victory.

Rambo was moved into the next round to fight one of the meanest rams in the competition. From where Mukhtar stood, he could hear spectators talk about the prowess of Awilo, the super ram. Awilo was said to be so mean that it would keep ramming an opponent even when it’s down. They said the ram was so insane that they feared for its opponent. Awilo had never been defeated and it would take something special to defeat it.

“Make the opponent better go buy SK from Sikiru if he wan win. If dem give the ram SK, he go charge well.”

SK. Cannabis. Indian hemp.

Mukhtar urgently motioned to Mido to come over. He was worried for Rambo but he also wanted to win desperately. When Mido got to him he expressed his fears and added what he overheard the spectators said. Mido agreed, a little SK would help Rambo attack without relenting. They went over to Sikiru who was surrounded by a crowd of ram owners who wanted to supercharge their champions for the next round. Mido paid N50 and got a parcel (small quantity) of SK. Sikiru advised that they only give their ram half a parcel so it doesn’t overcharged. However, Mukhtar reasoned that half a parcel wouldn’t do much considering what he’d heard about Awilo so he told Mido to feed Rambo the entire parcel.

Supercharged, they dragged Rambo into the ring to face Awilo. What happened afterwards would be on the lips of spectators for years to come. After five insane clashes of horns and heads, Awilo turned and ran. Everyone was surprised. Awilo, the champion of champions ran off, smashing into the crowd to clear a path. Mido was ecstatic, he carried Mukhtar on his shoulder and started singing.

Winner oh oh oh, winner
Winner oh oh oh, winner
Rambo you don win o, winner
Pata pata, you go win forever
Winner!

Mukhtar didn’t care about the crowd singing behind him. He didn’t care if his father would scold or flog him for taking the ram out to a fight. Rambo won. He did something daring and Rambo became a champion. It was while they were rejoicing that Rambo broke free from Mido’s loose grip and took off.

They chased.

But Rambo ran like hell.

By the time they rounded a corner into the next street, Rambo was a bloodied mess on the floor, rammed by a vehicle.

At that point, Mukhtar wished he was the one on the floor in place of Rambo.

THE CAPTIVE’S MUSE

On Sunday I just woke up with a deep burden in my heart for the abducted girls of Chibok, Bornu State, Nigeira, by the dreaded Boko Haram terrorist group. All i could think about was what those girls would have gone through, how many would even be alive, etc. It’s sad really that we’re getting weary in the struggle to demand the release of these girls. As Nigerians, we don’t really dwell much on one issue before moving to the next. But we owe these captive daughters of distraught parents a duty not to forget. We must never let them feel alone in this. This might not be much, I only hope it serves as a reminder. If that happens, maybe I’ll sleep happy. And no, it is not a happy poem, neither is it just about the Chibok girls or the Boko Haram or Nigeria alone.

Like my friend Mary Ajayi said, enforced disappearance is used as a strategy to spread terror within the society. It occurs when people are arrested, detained or abducted against their will and when governments refuse to disclose the whereabouts of these people. Enforced disappearance is a global problem and is not restricted to a specific region of the world. In our way, we must all do what we can to bring this issue to light and ensure it never dims till it’s addressed.

                                                                     *****************************************

I miss mother, father too
Even brother, I forgive his trouble too
I’d rather have him bully me
Than have these guns inspire nothing but terror in me

Mother, I’m sure she’s sick with grief
Father’s torment stoically hidden I feel
Left to wonder what has become of me
A daughter lost is worse than one dead

I wonder if they’ll come for us
If we’re left to our fates; captives without ransom
If our salvation is nothing but a myth
Before this place begins to feel like home

I’ve heard hell sucks but that I’ll rather have
Than the shrieks and screams that embrace us at night
A week ago a feisty Patty yanked away
In her place a cowering Patty shivers away

I miss school, the tolling bells and whooshing canes
Teachers chasing while we spring away
Fleet of foot like a gazelle in flight
Our fates now we know not in this lion’s den

I know not what day it is anymore
What month, what week, what date?
Ignorant of the time and seasons
Only known to me is the grey dawn, yellow noon and ashen dusk

I miss mother, father too
Even brother, I forgive his trouble too
I’d rather have him bully me
Than have these guns inspire nothing but terror in me

#BringBackOurGirls #ChibokGirls

Image from avidscribbler1.wordpress.com

RUBBER BAND VOWS

There I was on a lazy weekend when I saw the red blinking LED light on my phone, it was a Facebook notification. A writer friend of mine Tarfa ‘TJ’ Benson just sent me a message: “So here’s the thing, I find people’s trouble, here’s your turn..lol.” So here it is, I do hope you enjoy it. Plus I got my revenge a few days ago. Would publish that one next.

“You can’t break up with me…” he said, reclining in boxer-shorts on the sofa.

“I can.” she said, strutting half naked to where he sat, bending down to kiss him. Her lips moved over his, easy and familiar. When his hands reached for her waist, she sprung up and rubbed her forehead like she was suffering a migraine. “It’s been a blast.” She declared to the ceiling like it held a screen that replayed summer. “But the training and workshop is over so…”

“Well like I said, you can’t just break up with me.”

“Why?” She turned to the mirror and fixed her earrings. “Because you think you are a god in bed?”

He ran a hand into his scalp. “No, because we are married.” He held up his index finger which had a rubber band wound round it. She stopped packing, covered her mouth to stifle a laugh. “My God you’re still with that thing!”

“I did say till death do us part you know.”

She shook her head and smiled a sad smile at her reflection in the mirror as she drew an identical arc on the lips of each eyelid. “And what will you tell your pastor papa when you get back to Nigeria? That you have been living in sin?”

“No.” he stood up to his full height and her breath seized for some seconds as he loped to her with the calm grace of a tiger, his cross eyes dancing at her in her negligee. His eyes always gave her a delicious sense of suffocation, free from binocular vision they probed different parts of her at the same time. “I’ll tell him that he has a daughter in-law, the child of his best friend.” He pecked her cheek. “He’d be the happiest father in-law on earth.”

She zipped her traveling bag. “So we were-” he bit her earlobe “-okay ARE attracted to ourselves and we didn’t want to break our promises to God to keep ourselves till marriage, and so we did a phony exchange of vows as our clothes fell to the ground, I wonder if we even finished reciting them sef.”

“I remember reciting the most important part, till death do us part.”

“Jesus Christ Deoye! What if we are different people at the end of the day? What if we can’t stand each other, you know attraction is not enough to build a lasting relationship.”

“We’re just ordinary people…” he sang in a mock John Legend voice. “…Maybe we should take it slow…”

She shook her head and sighed. “I just knew coming for this summer training with you will land me into trouble, I knew it!”

“You knew it was long coming.”

“And i encouraged it.” she was pacing the room now, no more in amusement. “I told myself sharing a room with you will make us look good to the company, saving lodging costs and all that.” she stopped at the center of the room and regarded him on the bed, with a scowl. “You know the only reason MD let us share a room was because we grew up together, because we are family friends.”

“It was God at work.”

She ignored his opinion. “Now that we’ve made the mistake let’s correct ourselves before we offend God again, by divorcing.”

“We didn’t make any mistake.” Deoye corrected. “We are in love, we exchanged marital vows.”

“Yes, and rubber bands.” She pulled on a dress. Then she turned sideways at him on the bed, her hands pulling her braids into a bun on top of her head. “And who will you say officiated the matrimony? Who was the priest?”

He shrugged lazily on the bed. “Jesus Christ.”

“WHAT!”

“Hebrew  says Jesus is the everlasting High Priest, Hebrews 8 verse 1 says so…” she was stunned, there was something wrong about the guy who’d worked fireworks in her body lying half-naked and seriously quoting the Holy scriptures. “More so, Mathew 18 verses 18 and 19 tell us that whatever we agree on earth will be done in heaven.”

She just watched in awe as he said these things, she couldn’t move if it would save her life.

The door flew open.

“Oops, I’m sorry…” the African-American maid was embarrassed, her glances shuttling from her to Deoye on the bed. “Just that…your boss waits for you in the lobby.” The woman disappeared back into the hallway.

She picked up her travelling kit and pulled it out of the room, as quickly as she could, before Deoye could say something again.

“So you…” he said casually, not worried that the boss waited for them in the lobby.  “What will you do when you get back to Nigeria? Will you be able to just leave everything here and continue your life?”

She shrugged slightly at the door before shutting it behind her, “Well I’m catholic; I’ll just go for a Friday confession.”

TOBORE OVOURIE: JANET COOKE’S TRIBUTE ACT?

Most journalists or those who ever took a course in investigative journalism are familiar with Janet Cooke’s story, which is as the perfect example of investigative journalism gone wrong. Her story is used to teach aspiring journalists the ethical concerns associated with investigative reporting. For the benefit of those who aren’t familiar with her story, here’s a brief summary…

On September 29, 1980, the Washington Post published Cooke’s heartwrenching tale, Jimmy’s World. The story detailed the life of ‘Jimmy’, an 8 year old boy who had become a heroin addict after being introduced to it by her mother’s live-in boyfriend. At that time, the thriving heroin trade was devastating negihbourhoods in WashingtonDC. Cooke described Jimmy as a “third-generation heroin addict, a precocious little boy with sandy hair, velvety brown eyes and needle marks freckling the baby-smooth skin of his thin brown arms.”

As expected, the story generated a lot of controversy as concerned people and organisations demanded that Cooke reveal where the boy lived so he could be helped. City authorities launched an intensive widespread search for the boy. However, hiding behind the ethic of protecting her sources and her life from drug dealers, Cooke refused to provide the location. The outrage grew and suggestions surfaced that ‘Jimmy’ didn’t exist and Cooke had made the story up. The Washington Post stood by her and denied the rumours at first but when she won a Pulitzer on account of her story in 1981, they confronted her and demanded that she provide proof of Jimmy’s existence.

Under intense pressure, Cooke crumbled and confessed that she had never met Jimmy and much of the story was fictitious. Disgraced, she resigned and returned her Pulitzer prize. She later revealed that she invented Jimmy due to the high-pressure environment of the Washington Post, which was still riding high from the Journalistic achievement of exposing the Watergate Scandal in the ‘70s.

Sound familiar?

On January 23, 2014, Nigeria and the world at large were shocked beyond imagination by a report published by Premium Times about a human trafficking cartel and the many atrocities committed therein. The report titled: INVESTIGATION: Inside Nigeria’s Ruthless Human Trafficking Mafia. Was written by Tobore Ovuorie, who was said to have gone undercover in order to infiltrate the cartel and only escaped in BeninRepublic by the skin of her teeth. All manner of evil were exposed: prostitution, ritual killings for human body parts (two people were beheaded right in front of Ovuorie), organized theft under the watchful eyes of security agencies. As expected, most of the people who read the horrific story were enraged and a rally began for the unearthed issue to be thoroughly investigated by the authorities.

Now, it wasn’t as if we didn’t know human trafficking existed, we just never imagined it at the level described in the report. Horror is an understatement going by the details in the report. The report hinted at some people in power being involved and also implicated the Nigeria Police Force and the military. A group of pickpockets were described as being protected by a police officer and military officer. When crossing the border, the trafficking ring even exchanged pleasantries with custom officers and they were waved through without any checks. After the widespread praise for the reporter and Premium Times for undertaking such a risky venture to expose this magnitude of evil, it was only natural for Nigerians to want the issue followed through to the end by the appropriate authorities.

As expected, the story wasn’t swallowed in its entirety by most intellectuals home and abroad. While some tackled the shoddy style in which the report was written, others went straight for the jugular of the content. One Hassan Gimba was downright skeptical and made his points known on, poet Emman Shehu’s Facebook wall. Respected ‘noisy reader who writes’, Ikhide Ikheloa, after initially hailing the story and expressing genuine concern, took another look and was swift in pointing out the holes in the story which clearly showed some logical disconnect.

So far, the following fundamental questions still remain largely unanswered:

1: For such a sophisticated syndicate, she got in too easy. There would have been background checks. Just entering her name online would have even given her out. Why not?

2: Why is the Nigeria Police silent on the story? Why hasn’t an investigation been ordered already? Ovuorie mentioned one Babatunde Ajala as one of the officers present during the pickpocket exercise. Who is he, does he exist?

3: How can the girls keep their phones in such a situation as Ovuorie mentioned? If she took pictures without being detected, where are they?

4: Since her phone was later seized and she had no access to phone numbers as she rightly admitted, how was she able to get Reece’s number? If she had memorised it already, why did she say she was at a loss as to how to contact Reece when the phone was seized in the first place?

5: If an investigative report is meant to ‘expose’, why don’t we have names already? A governor from the Abacha era was mentioned, who is he? So many ‘notable’ people seem to be involved but who are they?

6: Why is there such relative silence in the mainstream media, considering the magnitude of the report?

I’ll stop at the above six questions. There have been attempts by people from Premium Times to answer most of these but it still doesn’t add up. Even the Editor-in-Chief, Dapo Olorunyomi’s reply to Ikhide didn’t help to dispel the doubts most people now have. A few days ago, texts on the operation surfaced from Premium Times but even those seem lame and their silence for so long has eroded most of the trust anyone has in them.  For an investigative report, why are there very few details that have a certain level of exactitude?

If they’re telling the truth, it’s sketchy. Truth is never sketchy.

In a way, Cooke’s story conveyed a certain (and reasonable) amount of truth on the reality prevalent in America’s inner cities back then. Ovuorie’s story has done the same and while we cannot conclude that it is utter fiction, the onus lies on her and Premium Times to tell us the truth about what really happened. Is it a case of colluding with international bodies abroad just to justify foreign grants at the expense of painting us so black? Is it an elaborate con? Yes, we know we need help – a lot – but if this is the sort of help on offer, then no thanks. We have enough problems as it is and it wouldn’t bode well for an already battered image of Nigerian journalism if these questions go unanswered. Curiously, I haven’t heard anything from the Nigerian Press Council on this matter, despite the level of noise already being made. Is it their way of washing their hands off this story? Either way, it’s not good for them.

We want to believe this story, wee really do. We are enthusiastic about exposing evil in all areas and doing something about it. But if this is the level we have to sink to in order to expose this ‘larger’ evil, is there any hope?

This is not to discredit Ovuorie and Premium Times. They deserve all the applause for this story if it is true but truth is provable and its facts don’t rest on shaky ground. However, what we currently have rests on a seismic carpet as it is. We simply want the truth. It will bode well for them to furnish us with conclusive proof.

Nigeria is waiting. The world is watching…

SMITHS FORGE

Part two of my field note series on Indigenous Communication Systems. We were asked to do some research in town using a method called ethnography, a technique used by anthropologists (and others) and there’s little or no data; it involves a lot of observation instead. The researcher then reports whatever he sees without drawing conclusions. Just thought it would be fun to post some here so you can get a glimpse into what you wouldn’t normally see or go close to. Remember I said I’d be back with mine after posting that of my friend’s visit to the masquerade clothier. Here’s more knowledge on indigenous history and traditional African crafts…

22 May, 2013; 11:23am.

We alight from the bus at the bus stop in Beere, Ibadan and cross to the other side of the road. In order to get the blacksmith we were looking for, we ask for directions from an old man calling for passengers to board his bus heading for Bodija. He wants to be sure we know who we’re looking for; blacksmith or welder? We assure him it’s a blacksmith we’re looking for. The old man directs us down the road from where we were coming from, saying the place is impossible for us to miss. We thank him and head down.

A hundred metres later, we arrive at the forge, almost obscured by a row of white buses also calling for passengers going to Bodija/Ojo, Ibadan. However, the array of cutlasses, axes, hoes and traps assure that we’re at the right place.

There’s a staircase leading down and we took it. In direct line of sight are three people cutting sticks – no, they were carving the sticks into handles. There’s a man relaxing with his back to a mud wall, maybe he’s resting or supervising. My partner, Raymond, greeted in English (he’s Ibo) but I greeted in Yoruba. The man responded in Yoruba, suggesting he’s more at ease with the language. I tell him what we’re there to do and he directs us to another man, pointing left. There’s a shed with a man sitting under it working a bellow.

We enter the shed and ask again, he nods and points to a small bench capable of seating three people. We sit. The shed is warm; I think it’s because of the heat emanating from the fire the man was stoking with the bellow. Piled against the wall in a corner of the shed are pieces of metal with levers and sharp ‘teeth’ – they look like hunting traps.

The fire interests me, there’s hardly any smoke, even when the bellow is being worked. There’s no wood either, only what appear to be small white pebbles. It looks like coal but spent coal burns out into ash; there’s no ash residue from the fire.

Another man comes out; he has tribal marks on his face and was wearing a well-worn baseball hat. He had a stern look on his face. He looks to be in his late 30s. The man looked at us, grunts and asks the man working the bellow who we were. The bellow man tells him and ‘baseball hat man’ simply walks away.

I look left from where I’m sitting, two yards away from me was a large rock; there’s a hammer on it. On the side of the rock is a red oily substance – palm oil. There’s sugarcane on the floor beside the rock, and a sprinkling of salt. I think it’s a shrine/altar of some sort. Farther down the left of the shrine/altar/rock there are a few more buildings, all built with mud but roofed with corrugated iron sheets. The shed is ‘roofed’ with wooden planks – a small gap here, a gaping hole there.

A bald old man of about 67 years with a white goatee comes to us and tells us to shift the bench to the side, closer to the rock/shrine/altar. He sits in the space created with a metal plate and begins to fashion out what looks like the blade of a hoe, placing a sharp chisel-like object on the plate and hitting it with a hammer, cutting the plate in the process. The bellow man sits there and watches, he’s holding a piece of cloth which he presses to a piece of iron before holding it to the sole of his feet- he appears to have a wound. I think he injured his foot by stepping on a sharp object – the floor is littered with small pieces of unused metal.  The iron he was heating up earlier is what he uses to heat the cloth and tend to his wound.

A younger looking man arrives; he’s wearing a white t-shirt and a pair of blue jeans. He appears to be in his mid 20s. He greets us in Yoruba, and we tell him what we were at their forge to do. He seems friendly. He tells us they are all masters of the trade but they have a superior who wasn’t around, but will be back soon.

The baseball hat-wearing man replaces bellow man at the bellow and puts a bar of iron into the fire. He works the bellow till the iron bar becomes red-hot and removes it from the fire with pliers – or something that looks like it. He then takes the bar to the altar/shrine, places it on the rock and starts hitting with a hammer. He’s singing in Yoruba but I don’t understand what he’s singing about – just to ease the work he’s doing or in praise of his god? I don’t know.

The younger wearing the white t-shirt man puts a sharp ended iron rod with a wood handle in the fire till it’s hot. He then brings one of the carved handles I earlier mentioned and sticks the hot sharp point into it; there’s a sizzling sound from the wood. The wood appears to be wet, cut from a tree not too long ago. When the iron lost its heat and the smoke clears, he repeats the process till the sharp point of the rod sticks out on the other end of the wooden handle. He appears to be making the hole where the hoe blade will fit. I remember the already done hoes put up for sale before we came in had the same handles.

Young t-shirt guy is done. He comes over, sits opposite us and asks if we have questions; we do. A man I hadn’t seen earlier joins him and sits beside the rock/altar. He’s wearing a pair of trousers but his torso is bare; his slightly rotund belly sticking out. Raymond hasn’t said much because of the language barrier. The blacksmiths appeared ill at ease with the language. I ask the questions in Yoruba, and translate in English.

I: What do you use for the fire, is it coal?

T-shirt man: No, we call it esan, from palm kernel. It’s the hard nut discarded after the palm kernel has been processed.

I: Those people over there doing the carving, is that all they do?

T-shirt man: They’re blacksmiths too, we all are. I can also carve and I do. We all cannot be at the fire so we find something else to keep busy before taking our turn at the forge.

I: I notice the wood is wet, is that on purpose? Where do you get the wood from, do you buy?

T-shirt man: Yes, we cannot use dry wood because it will snap if we work on it. Wet wood freshly cut from the tree is the best because it can endure what we use it for. We used to get wood supplies before for free but we don’t anymore so we go into the bush/forest to cut.

I: Do you have apprentices?

T-shirt man: Not often. This is our superior here (gestures to the bare chest man beside him) but we’re a family. People have little patience to learn and there’s not much money to be made so they leave before they’re ready. We here are all from the same family – all of us – and this is our family trade.

I: How do you get metal?

The superior joins in at this point. “We buy. There’s a market where we get all the iron we need”

I: How many of these things (hoes, axes, cutlasses) can you make per day.

T-shirt man: Close to 100. There are two types of hoes, small and large. The small ones are used the most by school children and are not used by serious farmers because it’s not too strong. The farmers use the big hoes; the difference is in the size of the blade.

I: So how do you sell?

Superior: Some people come to place orders; others just buy what we have already made. Sometimes, we produce more small hoes when school is in session because the students will always come. At other times, people will request for axes and that is what we will make. If we’re working on hoes, we will stop and make the axes or whatever is requested.

I: What’s the general process?

T-shirt man: We get the wood and carve into the required handle. We get the iron and cut into the intended shape: hoe/axe/cutlass/whatever, and forge it in the fire. Then we attach it to the appropriate handle. That’s all.

I: (Pointing to the rock/shrine/altar). Is that a shrine?

Superior: Yes it is. It’s the shrine of Ogun, the god of Iron in Yoruba land. We, smiths are iron workers and Ogun is our god. We worship him for protection and prosperity. Hunters worship Ogun too – even some drivers if they choose. But for blacksmiths, Ogun is the god to worship.

I: Your tools look like foreign-made ones, only a little different. Did you make them yourself?

Superior: Yes we did. We had to look at the foreign-made tools and copy them. This is a hammer we forged ourselves (points to a hammer near the fire). In the past, the hammer we used was called mataka. Then we took a look at the white-man’s pliers and made our own, we call it emu-agbede. Most of our tools are self-made; we only copied the white man’s tools and made ours.

It’s getting dark; a look at the clouds suggests it would rain soon. Not to be trapped in the shed when this happens, we thank t-shirt boy and his superior, and head back to school.

Please share your thoughts below…

A NIGERIAN CATHOLIC AND HIS LATIN

Credo in Deum Patrem omnipotentem, 

Creatorem caeli et terrae, et in Iesum Christum,

Filium Eius unicum,

Dominum nostrum, qui conceptus est de Spiritu Sancto, natus ex Maria Virgine…

Sigh…

I’ve struggled, really. For years, it’s been a battle oscillating between Latin and English during Mass and this time around, I give up – finally. Any last thoughts I had about persevering were crushed when I looked at the old woman beside me and realised she was having a harder time keeping up. I think she’s Ibo, guessing by the double wrapper she’s got tied around her waist and the blouse she’s wearing. She had a copy of the hymn book open with the Latin version of The Apostles Creed right before her eyes but she was having the same struggles as I was. Why can’t she just do it in English, or Ibo? I wondered. I didn’t have a hymn book; afterall, I should be smart enough to memorise and mouth off my profession of faith in Latin. Unfortunately, I’m not smart enough.

You see, the first Sunday of every month is an important one in most Nigerian churches. There are a lot of activities; thanksgiving, testimonies, tithe offering, etc. The Catholic church where I worship is no exception. It’s also a special Sunday when the most important aspects of the service are said in Latin, just like the excerpt from the Apostles Creed above which is be translated to mean:

I believe in God,

the Father almighty,

Creator of heaven and earth,

and in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord,

who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,

born of the Virgin Mary…

Just one wee problem: I suck at Latin. It’s a beautiful language and I love the rhythm of Latin songs and prayers the priest says. Still, I sucketh, like a tornado.

I understand the need to profess my faith in God in church, what I don’t understand is why, on any given day, and at any point in time, I have to do it in Latin. I’m Nigerian, I speak Yoruba, Pidgin English and English – the latter borne out of a colonial past and the need to be understood across dialectical boundaries in this country. So if I’m already laden with a language burden, albeit one I’m grateful for, why do I have to bother with another one just for the sake of religion? Is it because our prayers would be more effective? I don’t know. Anyway, on such occasions, I choose to simply say my prayers in English or Yoruba on such occasions; God isn’t deaf. And I do not need to speak some Latin in church to remember that I’m Roman Catholic.

I’m not complaining, I’m just thinking out loud, wondering if anyone else has had this thought cross their minds. And it’s not just for Catholics, I also wonder if it’s a crime for any Muslim to worship in any other tongue, since all prayers are said in Arabic. I’ve never really heard a Muslim say a ‘serious’ prayer except in Arabic. I do not know why, and since I do not boast an extensive knowledge in Islam, I’ll let it rest here in the hope that a Muslim (preferably a scholar) would be so gracious to educate me about this – soon (and just so that I wouldn’t be lynched for blasphemy, in case a member of the mosque a street away from home reads this).

Now to another small matter -yes I can be petty at times, and this is really petty. But if my pettiness will spin a wheel of thought in some heads, I’ll be a happy man-boy. Why do we bear ‘Christian’ names? I know a lot of people who bear Mary, Grace, Peter, John, etc. For Catholics, we get baptismal names from a list of biblical names and those of the saints. For other Christians, they get their Christian names during their christening (I guess).  That’s totally cool.The thing is these names, to the best of my knowledge, aren’t really ‘Christian’ names. Mary was a Jew before the birth of Jesus Christ. Her name didn’t change. Okay, Saul became Paul but Peter = Cephas = Rock. Now what’s possibly Christian about being named rock? A name is a name, primarily as a means of identification and in our culture, I understand a name is also symbolic. So if it is for symbolic reasons, okay. But if not, why?

Still, what is wrong in choosing ‘Oluwasegun’ as a Christian name, especially when it means ‘Our God has won the battle’? I’ll leave you to answer this. I know I’ve touched on a sensitive issue, or one that can be made sensitive. All I aim to do is to create a discussion.

Fire away…

UNTIL IT’S CLOSE TO HOME

Note: While homosexuality is an orientation I don’t just ‘get’, homosexuals are still human beings and I find it difficult to label people by their sexual orientations alone. I do not hate people (I don’t think I like people very much either) but I’ve learned to keep my nose out of people’s bedrooms, lest I be branded a voyeur. However, I’m wholly against this silly, haphazardly drafted anti-gay law as well. That won’t change.

I’m not keen on going through this gay debate wahala again. Unfortunately, a lot of people still stand firmly on a wobbly foundation of ignorance and hate. That’s what gets to me and it scares me shitless that people don’t realise that this new law has given fillip to the prevalent mob culture in Nigeria. I pity that straight girl who get’s wrongfully arrested for being a lesbian – or even a lesbian – and what the Nigerian police might do to her in the course of their ‘investigations’. Hate crimes just might be on the rise. I’ve even have to re-evaluate the stance of some of my Christian brothers and sisters on this, because they conveniently forget the phrase: “what would Jesus do?” Condemn yes, definitely not jail. But that’s not what this is about.

See, my world’s probably bigger so I tend to see things differently. But then again, I’ve seen a lot in my very short time on this planet – which the ‘majority’ thought was flat at a point in time (hope you get the point). In one of my arguments on social media, some people felt my thoughts had been clouded by ‘western’ logic. I found that funny, considering that I haven’t visited a foreign news website – minus ESPN – or watched cable television for the better part of three months now. I hardly ever base my views on what a white man says, except it makes sense. Much funnier is the fact that we blame everything on foreign influence now, but ignore the fact that these countries do their best to cater to the needs of the weakest as well as the strong in their society.

Almost two decades ago while I was in secondary school, a couple of students in the hostels then were caught engaging in homosexual acts. There was hardly any cable television back then or even private terrestrial TV, so I wonder where those kids got influenced from. Foreign influence? I’m not so sure.

A few years after I graduated, one of my closest friends came out and told me his sexual orientation – which differed entirely from mine. Up to that point, I thought he liked just girls, but he likes much more than that. I was a bit taken aback when he told me and I told him he was crazy. Still, I sat with him and enjoyed my ice cream. Did I hate him? No. I’ve known him for close to a decade and that this new information wouldn’t change our friendship. Even though I hope he changes and told him I believe it’s wrong, I love him like a brother. This dude has come through for me so much that I’d be crazy to now dismiss him. He’s tested my resolve – as per my sexual orientation – once but when he saw we were completely different, he didn’t push.

These days, if we’re making plans to hang out, I ask if he’s coming with a boyfriend or a girlfriend. He laughs and tells me I’m nuts.

Over the years, I found out that quite a number of his friends were also ‘gay’. Some are married now – to women – just to satisfy societal expectations but they still have their lovers. They will have children with their wives. Everyone will be kept in the dark, save for a few. But we’ll believe we have a law that’s working simply because gay people aren’t getting married. The truth is, they probably weren’t even thinking of getting married knowing the kind of society they’re in. Now I wonder if our attempt to preserve ‘societal’ norms isn’t worsening it.

Most times, we make pronouncements from our moral high horse, having never come in contact with a particular situation. I’ll ask these questions again: what if your brother/sister came out of the closet? Will you wish jail on him/her? What if the bestman – your best friend – at your wedding suddenly tells you he’s gay? Jail? I’ll wager on the opposite. As much as we’d disagree with their ‘abnormal’ orientation and want them to change or see the ‘light’, there’d be no takers if the slammer is ever presented as an option. It’s not about emotion or sentiment, but the understanding that what they do with their bodies in the privacy of their bedrooms is their business – so long as there is no underage or unwilling participant involved.

This is when it hits home. When we come in contact with someone ‘different’ – the difference in this case being their sexual orientation. That’s when our empathy should kick in – assuming you have a capacity for it. That’s the only thing we need in this case, nothing more. If you don’t have, get it small… it’s two for N5.