Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Democracy Day

Yesterday, Tuesday 29th May was Nigeria’s Democracy Day. The day earned its title in May 1999, the first time since 1979 when the country would witness a successful transition from military to civilian rule. For years, Nigerians had lived bereft of the gains of a democratic existence and had merely straggled along under a series of rather stringent military regimes. However, the military fortress officially began to crumble in June 1998 with General Sanni Abacha’s unexpected death – which event an American journalist summarily described as “a coup from heaven”. An interim government came on board and put together general elections which took place between December 1998 and February 1999. May 29 1999, General Olusegun Obasanjo was sworn in as the first civilian president to usher Nigeria into the era of her long-sought, new-found, and hard-won democracy. This legacy was expected to remain with us for generations to come, and so the day was symbolically, maybe somewhat prophetically (in my opinion), tagged ‘Democracy Day’.

Nigerians at the time were generally optimistic that the stage had finally been set for much-needed change to take place in various sectors of the economy. Surely, NEPA would now work better. This Baba, fresh from prison, would understand the plight of the teeming masses and work to make life better. Exactly eight years on, I personally am still unsure what democracy has done for me. But I am not writing to comment on the perceived failures and successes of the immediate past government; I rather seek to speculate on what the future might hold for our great nation.

This year’s Democracy Day, as if in defiance of my earlier prophecy that PHCN would withhold power in my area during NTA’s live broadcast of the swearing-in ceremony, the power came on just a short while before the programme was billed to start and lasted throughout its duration (It went off sometime afterward and hasn’t come on since then). I still don’t comprehend why I must be given electricity to watch the occasional national event but can’t count on it for my personal day-to-day activities. Or what do you think?

I was busy with other stuff so I missed the first part of the show which featured the obligatory parade and the outgoing President’s speech. Thankfully, however, I took my seat in front of the TV just in time for the incoming President’s address.

President Umar Musa Yar’adua started his inaugural speech to the nation by acknowledging that the process that threw him up as President-elect was indeed faulty. He was however quick to tip the scales back in his favour by adding that his administration will make total reform of the Nigerian electoral process top priority. I wondered to myself if that is justification enough for us to allow the bygones of last April’s elections really be bygones.

Some critics think the President’s acknowledgement is commendable, but others seem to think it might just be a gimmick to whitewash the obvious issues of electoral fraud at hand. Someone made the point that as far back as 1618, Alexander Pope warned leaders to guard against political corruption, for it is the root of all other forms of corruption. Let’s hope our new President can defy the cloud of suspicion and foul-play currently hanging over the nation’s political scene. Let’s hope against hope that he can successfully mould a respectable legacy out of the mire of political corruption from which he has emerged.

He went on to tell us about a good number of national problems he will steer his administration to solve, but it worries me that his proposals were anything but specific. For instance, I heard something like “power supply will improve dramatically under this administration”. How? Maybe it was not the time to prep us with details, but I don’t think extreme brevity to the point of being vague is the answer either. I wondered if I was alone in these thoughts until, listening to a commentary later on TV, an observer expressed concerns about the non-specificity of the new President’s manifesto. Well.

Another critic opined that the inaugural speech did not measure up to his expectation, and was certainly not what Nigeria needs at this time. For instance, he said, he fully expected the new President to comment on the sudden fuel price increase that took effect barely 48 hours before the swearing-in ceremony. Can it be that he is out of touch with what the masses are feeling? I say he’d better wake up and smell the coffee, or whatever it is we drink in Nigeria, because these are the issues at the end of the day that make the difference between a bad leader and a good one, or maybe even between a good leader and a great one.

All hope is not lost however. I am aware that Nigerians have mixed reactions to this ‘successful’ first transition from one civilian government to another. Still, like I said, hope remains. Some things the President mentioned in his speech are actually noteworthy. He optimistically welcomed all Nigerians to “The Age of Restoration”. The dictionary defines the word ‘restore’ as: to bring back to an original condition; to make new or as if new again; to impart renewed energy and strength. If, as a friend surmised, Nigeria’s future truly lies in her past, then maybe Mr. President is right in his assessment and restoration is really the summary of what we need.

He also promised to present himself a worthy servant leader and to rule with honesty, transparency, accountability and the fear of God. Let us not forget that he already set a precedent during his tenure as Katsina State governor by declaring his personal assets as separate from that of the state. Repeating that feat as the number one man in the Federation will certainly set him on the right foot as he undertakes this arduous journey through Aso Rock.

President Umar Musa Yar’adua rounded off his speech with this declaration: “The challenge is great, the goal is clear, and the time is now”. Inspiring. But of course the question on everyone’s mind is: will the President’s conduct in the next four (or eight) years match his assertions? Time will tell, my people. Time will tell.

God bless Nigeria.

Of cash and cash machines

A few days ago I hit the streets to conduct some business. Before then, I hadn’t been out of the house much, which meant no visits to the bank, among other places. As I’m sure you well know, staying at home does not necessarily translate into reduced spending. In my case I was practically doling money out by the minute, albeit not to flimsy ends. So it was that by the time I was ready to re-emerge from hibernate mode, I didn’t quite have enough cash to go on. Upon realising that, I did some quick mental work to rack up distant memories of anyone in my house who might just happen to owe me money. Unluckily for her, my mother turned up as the one to bear the brunt of my ‘cashlessness’ that day. I remembered paying for some stuff on her behalf for which she was yet to reimburse me. Ope o. I wasted no time in asking for my money, but it was my turn to feel unlucky because she didn’t have spare cash at hand either. After much insistence, she finally managed to part with a meagre five hundred bucks which I figured would at least get me to the bank so I could withdraw some much-needed cash. So, I said to myself, good to go!

My respite was short-lived however, because at my very first port of call (en-route to the bank) I met an old friend who needed some petty cash for transport. Without even realising what I was doing, I counted three one-hundred naira notes and gave them to her. It was after she had thanked me profusely that I realised I now had just over two hundred naira before the bank. That wouldn’t have been too much of a problem if I hadn’t urgently needed to print out a document from a business centre in Ilupeju (I live in Shomolu). And then obtain a signature on the document from an architect’s office at Anthony. And finally find my way to my bank’s Anthony branch to withdraw money. All of that to cost all of two hundred naira. Muttering a silent prayer of thanks that I at least had enough cash to get to the bank, I set out.

My planning was right on target, so by the time I left the architect’s office just after 4pm, my cash balance was zero. Well, no worries, since my bank is just a stone-throw from the architect’s. Thankful that the sun had already spent the better part of its energy that day, I began my trek to the bank. It was about that time that a sense of uncertainty began to creep in on me. Closing time at the bank is 4pm, and even if it weren’t, I wasn’t with my chequebook anyway. Who needs a chequebook when a cash machine can give me what I want in less than half the time? And I don’t even have to say hello! It was then I realised that if my esteemed cash machine for any reason failed to bring forth naira notes, I would automatically be sentenced to an impossibly long trek from Anthony to Shomolu. The other options available to me were even less attractive: beg, borrow or steal my way home. But I quickly banished those anxious thoughts from my mind; that was not my portion in Jesus’ name!

Soon enough I reached the bank and walked straight to the ATM machine. As I approached I caught the tail end of a fellow customer’s transaction – I watched him remove his card from the machine and walk away – with no money. No, I thought to myself, it can’t be what I think it is. The guy also, not quite wanting to accept what had - or rather, had not happened - hung around to see if I would have better luck with my transaction. It’s amazing, isn’t it, how badly we want to believe or disbelieve things just because we do or do not want them to be so. I mean, what exactly are the chances that one customer’s card or account will differ from another’s under the same set of circumstances? Anyway, that’s quite beside the point.

So I step up to the machine, insert my card, punch in my PIN, choose all the right options, and – “Sorry, unable to complete transaction”. What?! But the ATM at this particular branch of this particular bank almost always delivers! What to do now? My guy took the hint this time and strode off. I stood there for a while contemplating my next step. I actually had options. There were two other banks nearby – not that there was any guarantee they would work – but at least I could try. The only snag was that now I’d have to pay the obligatory 100 bucks to withdraw my money from another bank. I’ve never really seen any sense in that, so it’s a levy I always try to evade. This time, however, I didn’t have a choice – in fact, I was thankful that I at least hope remained somewhere, anywhere.

Walking to the next bank, my mind flashed back to the day I was going for an interview in Surrey, England. I lived in Nottingham, which is a good three-hour drive from London Victoria Station. I got on the 6a.m. coach (or bus) from Nottingham and got to Victoria right on schedule. I had carefully planned my itinerary that day to include a visit to the Czech Embassy in London to apply for a visa – you know, to practically kill two birds with one stone. So from Victoria I bought a Zones 1-6 day travel card and took the tube to Kensington Palace Gardens where the Czech Embassy is situated. The visa application process turned out to be a lot smoother and faster than I expected, and I was in and out of the embassy under one hour. With some time to kill before my onward journey to Surrey, I walked into the McDonald’s restaurant along the road. I had a motivational book in hand and decided to peruse it in the meantime. The origin of the book is another matter: my Naija housemate persuaded me to take it in for the interview to make an impression of serious-mindedness on my interviewers. Well, I can’t say it worked because I eventually didn’t get the job. But again, that’s just by the way.

I wasn’t really hungry plus I was trying to scrimp on cash, so I didn’t eat anything at the restaurant. I just sat there reading until I figured it was time to resume my journey. So off I went by tube to Waterloo Station, from where I boarded a final train to Surrey. The train had barely pulled out of Waterloo when I instinctively reached into my coat pocket for my phone, and – it wasn’t there! I felt all over my body and nearly spilled the contents of my bag as I searched frantically for the phone, but it was nowhere to be found. I quickly ran a mental trace to determine where I last glimpsed the phone, and it came to me – the restaurant! There was no way I could turn back to get the phone without being late for my interview, so I just tried to calm down and settle my nerves the rest of the way.

After travelling for about an hour, the train finally got to my stop. Relieved to be so close to the end of my very long journey, I strode purposefully to the barricades, produced my Zones 1-6 travel card with a flourish and inserted it into the slot. I was truly shocked to hear the beep that told me I had been refused entry. The black warden took a look at my ticket and pointed out to me that Zone 6 ended way back in Waterloo, and my travel card could take me no further. Well, I didn’t know that. So, how much would I need to cross the barrier? Two pound-something. No problem, I had some coins right in my wallet which I proceeded to fish out on the spot.
Now, you have to understand that the scene that followed is one of the most mortifying and truly humiliating moments of my life. To cut a very long story short, I searched for my purse in vain. What, my purse, too? This time I did turn my bag upside down, spilling its contents on the bare floor. All my money was in that purse, with all my bank cards! That meant I had no cash and no access to cash. The warden was now watching me intently, apparently trying to fathom what to believe about me. I was getting more and more bewildered by the minute, and subconsciously trying to avoid realisation of the full import of my predicament. On unfamiliar terrain with no phone and not a penny, I was surely doomed. But I could not afford to think of later; my impending interview was more important to me than anything else.

I shot a quick glance at the warden’s name badge, and there it was - just as I’d half-hoped. The guy was Nigerian, Yoruba. Mr. Ola-something. Still reeling from shock and disappointment, I launched into a narrative in fluent Yoruba, basically explaining the day’s events to him. I’m not sure he believed me, but by the time I finished I knew he would have no choice but to let me through on parapo grounds. He did. I had originally meant to take a cab from the Surrey station to the venue of the interview, but that would not be possible anymore because cab drivers don’t listen to stories. It took me about forty-five minutes to get to my interview venue on foot, mostly because I was wrongly directed twice by supposed locals. Thank God, I finally trudged into the lobby at a few minutes before 2p.m., in time for my interview.

While I sat there with a handful of other interviewees waiting for my turn, I struggled with unbidden thoughts of my predicament. The only thing that kept me sane – and that is where I’m going with this account – was the fact that I had my travel card on me. Remember, the one for Zones 1-6? I figured that I would somehow squirm my way back out of the Surrey station and get to Waterloo by begging or borrowing, but at least from there I could go almost anywhere in London with the travel card.

I’m not sure I want to bother you with the details of how I got to Waterloo after what I thought was a fantastic, or well, at least promising interview. Just know that between hitching a cab ride with a Chinese stranger, begging a British warden (the Nigerian guy had been relieved of duty) to allow me free passage at the station and convincing an Asian train ticket collector that I was anything but a lying, conniving fare-evader, I finally landed at Waterloo.

From Waterloo, the rest was easy, and that is the point of this story. My travel card absolutely saved me. I was still over two hours away from my lodge – an aunt’s house in Kent, but I had no cause to be alarmed. I could travel underground or overground or anywhere in between without paying a penny. It was all paid for in the travel card. I could make one or one hundred journeys in London that day with the same travel card and it wouldn’t make any difference to my pocket. That was the day I blessed the inventor of those precious paper tickets. I mean, how else in the world would I have survived that day’s ordeal? And as it were, my options weren’t limited to transportation. Under other circumstances I would have walked into a restaurant for a much-needed late lunch and paid by a swipe of my bank card on an electronic device – and my account would automatically be debited.

These were the nostalgic thoughts that hit me as I walked to the bank at Anthony in search of cash to get me lunch and get me home. Suppose that morning I had bought a travel card that could take me around Lagos for the whole day for about two hundred naira. Suppose I could walk into Sweet Sensation at Town Planning and buy food with my plastic bank card? My day would have actually been a whole lot more pleasant with fewer things to worry and/or pray about. I wouldn’t have to exert my faith in prophesying that I would not walk home, that I would get cash out of the very next ATM I visited.

Money, like many other things in our world has long since moved from paper or ‘hard’ state to electronic or ‘soft’ state. I think life would be a lot easier for the average Nigerian if this all-important global shift is allowed to reflect in citizens’ everyday activities – shopping, travelling, eating, etc. A popular slogan that was thrown around my office while I was a bank employee was “Nigeria is a cash economy”. In this now-flat world, that is not something any country should be proud of. I sincerely hope the relevant authorities are working hard; I seriously look forward to the time when I can relive the British experience in Nigeria!

Oh, and I did get my money out of the second ATM machine, so I can safely say my prayers were answered. On the bright side: At least the myriad adversities we face in these parts increase our appreciation of the divine. Hallelujah!

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

New site, New post.

Whoops! It's good to be back here after soooo long. And as they say, I'm Back, Bigger and Better! Found a new blog host (actually, it's not 'new' in the real sense of the word; it's just an old site newly discovered by me). As I imagine you can see, this page offers a refreshing break from the relatively drab and dour outlook of my original blog. Now, who says black can't be beautiful? Sure, there was a short-lived scuffle between aesthetics and loyalty, and guess who won? Well, again as they say, I found an offer I couldn't resist.

So here we are. I hope that, among other things, this new improved site of mine will have a positive effect on the regularity of my posts. I hope that passion and dedication will at last win over procrastination and delay, and that I can ultimately take this blog to its highest potential. So help me God.

And I met an okada rider... (2)

I prefer to take a straight bike from Gbagada to my house in Shomolu because it’s cheaper than a cab and faster than two or three buses. So the natural choice mode of transportation when I left my business partner’s house was an okada. (By the way, someone wisely advised me the other day to stop calling those machines ‘bikes’, because we’re in Nigeria and the only way I can communicate with the regular biker on the street is to call him an okada man.) So here goes.

I left my partner’s house in the company of a budding artist whom we employed to produce some paintings for the job we’re working on. In typical Nigerian fashion, the guy studied to get a degree in Public Administration, all the while burning with his passion for art. Fortunately for him, no one employed him upon graduation, so he turned to his first love. I probably need to paste a picture of his work on this page to describe the quality of his work to you. This guy is good, but as is to be expected, unsung and underpaid. Not surprisingly, the guy has serious plans to take his art outside the shores of this country at the very first opportunity he gets – he believes his talent will be more celebrated by strangers. Only time and experience will prove the validity or otherwise of his theory, but that is not the issue at hand now.

As we walked he intimated me about his challenges – people unwilling to pay, dwindling resources, rising responsibilities, etc, etc. I did my best to encourage him to forge ahead with his passion in spite of all the odds. I was so passionate about encouraging him that I pulled out my jotter to show him something I had scribbled from a magazine earlier in the day. The publication showcased 40 of the most accomplished African-American people in various categories; the likes of Dr. Benjamin Carson, the hunky Denzel Washington, Condoleza Rice, Oprah Winfrey, Colin Powell and many others I had never heard of before. One of such people was Maya Angelou, a writer. It was her piece of advice I had written down earlier in the day and now wanted to share with my artist friend: “Don’t make money your goal. Instead pursue the things you love doing, and do them so well that people can’t take their eyes off you. All other tangible rewards will come as a result.”

The reason I was so passionate about encouraging him is simple – I was not about to let yet another promising young Nigerian lose faith in himself and his potential. Too many brilliant minds have gone down that way, and something in me refused to stand by watching the numbers rise by this one person. Anyway, we talked until I waved down a bike and said to the rider, “Morocco Road”. To my surprise the artist let out an exclamation of, “Ah, it’s you!” and shook the okada rider vigorously – apparently they knew each other. For the next couple of minutes they exchanged pleasantries and asked after each other’s welfare. My first instinctive thought was, “What is this refined young man doing with this rough, illiterate okada man?” Well, not exactly in those words, but definitely along those lines. And then I answered my question myself: perhaps they happen to live in the same neighbourhood / area and have had to become friendly out of the necessity created by proximity.

Well, I bade my friend goodbye and climbed behind the okada rider – all I cared about was him getting me to my destination. We rode on in comfortable silence for a while, and I was startled when he suddenly asked me, ‘I hope you’re enjoying your ride.” Two things caught me off-guard. One was the fact that he bothered to ask me that question at all. In all my bike-riding history, and that must be at least 10 years now, no rider has ever bothered about the comfort of me, his passenger. They are just interested in whisking me off to my destination amidst bumps and traffic, and picking up the next faceless passenger as soon as they can. The second oddity of the situation was that the bike rider spoke impeccable English, Queens English if you like. Now, I know almost everyone in Nigeria speaks English in one form or the other, but this man’s brand of English was to English to be coming from a typical okada man, if you know what I mean.

In response to his question, I laughed and told him I was enjoying it as much as is possible with all the bumps and potholes. I really can’t remember what he said in response to that, but I was so taken aback by the guy’s speech and etiquette that I had to ask, “Please forgive my stepping out of line, but do you do anything else apart from this?” To which he replied, “Oh, yes – I work in a ministry during the day. I only ride this bike after office hours.” From then on, it seemed like I had opened a tap inside the guy. Before I could ask him what ministry that was, he said, “But apart from the work I do, I have a greater passion, something that is the real me.” As you can imagine, my surprise was growing in leaps and bounds. When I asked him what it was that he spoke of with such obvious conviction, his answer was straightforward: “Music.” He launched into a lengthy discourse of how people allow themselves to be intimated by present circumstances and the things life throws at them. “The only thing that cannot be taken away from you is your dream”, he said.

His dream is to become a celebrated musician, composing and singing inspirational songs. His goal is to reach out to the untapped potential in people through music, to sound the message that ‘a hero lies in you’, in the words of Mariah Carey. His brand of music, he says, is neither secular nor gospel. Not secular because there’s too much crap out there already that does not make sense, and not exactly gospel because he wants to produce something everyone can relate to. His mission is clear – no matter what you do or don’t believe in, you’re first and foremost a human being with potential that more often than not goes undiscovered and untapped. His mandate is to awaken those giants slumbering within the hearts and minds of Nigerians, young and old.

To this end, he has produced a demo – an abridged collection of some of his songs - but he hasn’t yet taken it to any recording company. Why? Well, according to him, he’s still in the process of preparation. Preparation plus opportunity, he said, is the secret of success. Now, that is the kind of stuff motivational speakers talk about. Much of what he said that evening was too profound for an ‘ordinary’ okada rider to even understand, let alone say. I was just thinking to myself that this guy might actually function better as a motivational speaker when he said, “Many people tell me I sound like a motivational speaker when I talk. But I’ve told God that whether it is true or not is not an issue with me; he should just establish me as a musician first. That’s the only thing I want to be.” Wow!

I can’t tell you how much I learned from that okada rider that night. I found myself wishing I had a tape recorder to capture all that was flowing from him. So much so that when we got to my house (remember he was carrying me from Gbagada to Shomolu), he alighted from his bike, parked it in one corner and continued speaking for the next forty or so minutes. We were there for so long that a nosy neighbour who apparently thought something had gone really wrong (why on earth should I be gisting with an okada man?) came to me and asked if everything was okay. I told her yes, I was just chatting with the okada rider who happened to be my friend. I’m not sure she was totally convinced by my answer, but she had little choice because I turned back to the guy to continue talking, or rather, listening. You see, I had to listen.

Here was a guy who had every cause to complain about his lot in life. Little money, nobody to help, frustrating environment, irresponsible government, the list could go on. But he refused to bow down to circumstances without, because he understood that what he carries within him is far greater than any external situation. In the course of our conversation he stated that while it is true that the Nigerian government is a major contributor to the country’s problems, it ultimately lies in the hand of every person to redeem his or her own destiny. He is doing that for himself by working two jobs, at least one of which most people would term undignified. But he doesn’t care, for that is the path he must tread to reach his destination. He was forced to drop out of university some time ago due to shortage of funds, but he is scrimping and saving from the proceeds of his jobs to enable him go back, and also to provide him with the capital he needs to produce his album. His is a journey on what I would describe as a road less travelled, especially by young Nigerians today.

Of course, all of us are not born to the same privileges in life; some definitely find the journey tougher than others. But while we cannot choose where we are born, we can choose what we become. I think we all have lessons to learn from the okada man. He has not let his present circumstances deter him from setting his sights on his goal and keeping his dream close to heart. And at the same time, he is realistic and unrelenting enough to take practical steps to help him overcome the obstacles on his way. Many people in his shoes would be bitter at someone or the other – for the typical Nigerian the target would be the government. But this guy does not even seem to be aware that the government exists. He is too wrapped up with what is happening inside of him to notice whatever is not happening around him. Government or no government, he won’t be stopped. I have a gut feeling that if he persists with his attitude and focus, someday soon you’ll be voting Godwin – that’s his name – onto the top of the music charts, and only a few of us will know the story of what he went through to overcome.

I know you may never have the privilege of meeting Godwin like I did. But I hope that by sharing with you my encounter with him you have learned something from him. I certainly have. In closing, I’d just like to give a piece of advice: Be nice to everyone you meet; there is always more to every human being than meets the eye, even though the person himself may not know it. Now I know that not every okada rider is an okada rider… the one that carried you this morning may just be your next President. Watch out!

And I met an okada rider...

This was originally meant to be my very first post, over ten months ago. It has been on my computer hard drive for precisely that length of time. At that time I felt I had finally found a cause strong enough to provoke my spirit and gush out the words after months of procrastinating and promising myself to ‘start a blog very soon’. Thankfully, at last, here goes.

The day was Thursday 9th March, 2006. I had an early start – woke up at 6a.m., had a quick prayer session, started cooking breakfast and dinner simultaneously, hurriedly got ready and finally dashed out of the house at 9a.m, by which time I was already 30 minutes late for my 8.30am appointment.

My first port of call for the day was Gbagada, where I was to meet my new-found business partner to do some field work – the field being Iponri Shopping Complex in Surulere. The shopping I thought would take no more than two hours actually took up the whole of the morning and part of the afternoon, so that I had to cancel my 12 noon appointment.

By the time it was 2p.m. we were just about rounding up shopping, and there was still a myriad of chores left unticked on our business to-do list. The next five hours saw us running around to get things done, until around 7.m. when we finally docked ship at our Gbagada starting point. You can imagine how tired and ready for home I was by that time. All I wanted to do was go home, curl up and sleep till the next morning. Ironically, however, the defining points of my day were just about to occur.

As I bade my business partner good night, a mutual acquaintance who was with her asked me a very relevant question: ‘So what are you doing now?’ Now, that question has been directed at me countless times since the beginning of this year, but his next words made all the difference: ‘Looking for a job, or looking for opportunities?’ That set me thinking instantly. He really didn’t listen to the answer I was struggling to put together before he said, ‘I advise you to look for opportunities… think about it.’

Wow! Do you wonder why I consider that brief encounter to be a highlight in my day? It’s simple… I have been pondering on that question myself in the past few weeks. Like the average Nigerian graduate, my first instinct after school was to ‘beg to apply’. And trust me, I didn’t start small at all. Yes, I applied to all the big corporate names in faith that I would soon be called for an interview. One week passed, two, three; one month, two… no call from anywhere. That was when I started getting uncomfortable. And that was when I started thinking. Why must I wait for another human being to dictate the pace of my life, and the direction in which I must head? It’s okay to apply for all the ‘appliables’, but when that doesn’t work, why don’t I step out on my own? You know, do my own thing. Work hard at something I love, regardless of whether I got a degree in it or not. It does not matter if Chevron has no position that requires those skills. In the words of the Okada rider who features in the title of this piece, ‘No matter how much money you earn working for somebody else, you will always be a slave to him.’

Ah ha! The Okada man. The person who is the sole inspiration for this piece. I think this is getting rather lengthy, so I’ll leave you at this point to reflect on crucial point number 1: Are you looking for a job or looking for an opportunity? The question may be more relevant to some put this way: Are you merely working at a job, or seizing opportunities?

Watch out for part two…

Who would've thought...

This was not meant to be my next post, but I can’t help it. The story is too big and explosive to keep to myself, so I must share it while it is still piping hot.

I just got back to Lagos from a trip to Ife. The event was my younger sister’s convocation ceremony. Venue: Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU) campus. My sister gained admission into OAU about 6 years ago, and the manner in which she did was quite dramatic. For the purpose of instruction, I will start from the very beginning.

Folashade (that’s her name) has always wanted to be a lawyer. Everyone in my house agreed with her mainly because we thought it was a profession that suited her confrontational tendencies. In her senior secondary school years, she excelled at and literally breathed the subjects everybody else in her art class hated most – Government, History and Literature. That was when I began to suspect that our speculations about her choice of career were accurate.

All went well until it was time for her to fill her first UME form. A certain friend of mine who was at the time studying International Relations at OAU managed to convince Folashade that there were more opportunities and career prospects in International Relations than she could ever dream of. To cut a long story short, my sister gave in to the persuasion and announced to us that she was now going to study a course that had the potential of making her Nigeria’s ambassador to the whole world. We were all shocked to say the least, but my father, true to type, let her go ahead with it. After all, it was her life. The only problem was that Mathematics was a core requirement for International Relations, and it was one of Folashade’s less popular subjects. So it was that when all the results were released, she could not get into the University because she didn’t ‘have’ Mathematics.

Very painful, but by then she had learnt her lesson: stick to what you’re best at. So she reverted to her original course and registered for that year’s UME: Law, Obafemi Awolowo University. She put in more hard work than I’d ever seen her do, and emerged with a score of 219. Not quite up to the cut-off mark, so she was ‘offered’ Political Science as consolation. ‘Political Science?’ was the question on my mind. ‘What does that have to do with anything?’ I saw that she was not happy with the way things turned out, but there was nothing we could do, was there? She set about the University screening and registration process rather mechanically, without any enthusiasm. The reality she perceived then was that her highest hopes and wildest dreams had been blown to pieces. I was at the time in my final year at the same school, so I was a first-hand witness to her pain and disappointment. It was all we could do to keep up appearances.

Then came a bolt out of the blue. My father showed up on one of those gloomy afternoons in school with a letter in hand. He kept a straight face, so that initially none of us could guess what he was up to. He then handed the letter to Folashade, and as she read, his face broke into a wide smile. His smile was nothing compared to the whoop of joy she raised a minute later. She had a second admission letter for Law that superseded the one for Political Science.Thankfully, registration was still in progress, so she switched to the Faculty of Law without further ado. That was when her success story swung into full gear. She just did what she knew how to do best – work hard, pray and leave the rest to God. She scaled through her semester examinations brilliantly, and by the end of her third year, she was on a first class! Wow! By this time, she had become a source of inspiration to many people who wanted to know how this ‘ordinary’ girl could do the extraordinary. Any doubts she had before about being able to finish with a first class vapourised, and she forged ahead with determination until, finally, she did finish with a first class and the best result in the faculty!

Now, that might sound like big news to you, but it’s not even the best part. At her convocation ceremony two days ago, she received 12 prizes - yes, 12 – from various departments within the faculty plus the all-encompassing University prize for the overall best student with the highest number of prizes! That makes 13 prizes in all. For just her. She was the star of the ceremony. Even parents that didn’t know her jumped for joy as she was receiving all the prizes; they were so happy for her. In another country I would have expected the news to make national newspaper headlines. I was so proud of her.

After the official ceremony, I had to wait a while for all who wanted photographs to finish with her, and then I went forward to the podium to give her a bear hug. I was so overwhelmed with joy that I started crying. Thoughts of the past flashed through my mind – how it all started, how discouragement set in, how it all looked so ordinary and even gloomy sometimes, how we survived together when the money was low, - and all of a sudden it was more than worth it. As we left the hall I expressed my thoughts to her, and ended with the question, “Who would’ve thought?” The answer is, “Nobody”. Not even her could have ever thought over 6 years ago that she could get to where she was on that day. I especially congratulate the Faculty of Law, for they would have forfeited a gem indeed if they had stood on their refusal to give her admission. They should know now that it was that little, insignificant girl who squeezed herself to enter in that is their hero today.

I don’t know if you get the purpose of my telling this story. By now you should have. Just try and read between the lines. There are many lessons to be drawn from Folashade’s experience, and the applicable ones will vary from person to person.
Personally, I have learnt the following:
1) It always pays to play in your area of strength. Leave your weak points for someone else to handle.
3) Know what you want from life, and stand for it. Don’t allow yourself to be blown about by every wave of doctrine, or other people’s opinion. That’s just what it is – their opinion, and they are entitled to it. You are responsible for your own life.
4) If at first you fail at something, try again. If you realise you got it wrong the first time, don’t be too proud to admit your mistake and change direction. It is never too late to change for the better.
5) It doesn’t matter what today looks like, you can mould a great future with it that will emerge tomorrow. Where you’ve been is not half as important as where you’re going.
6) Never underestimate yourself – you’re full of surprises even you don’t yet know.
7) There’s a hero and a star in everybody. In the words of Donnie McClurkin, ‘There’s a king inside of me, and he’s the man that you cannot see…’
8) It is never over until it’s all over. Never, never, never, give up!

First Post

Thursday 30th November, 2006. Wait… is there any magical ring to this date? I’m not sure, but it’s definitely the day I’m breaking through every barrier that has stood in the way of my joining the [prestigious ;-)] e-community of bloggers.

I really can’t remember for how long I’ve been meaning to start a blog. I mean, I signed up on a free blog site ages ago and even wrote a couple of initial posts (offline of course), but none of them have featured outside of my personal computer till date. I have friends whose blog sites I visit occasionally, and after each visit my resolve to post something, anything, on my own site is strengthened. Surprisingly however, that resolve is almost always instantly dissolved in any one of the myriad legitimate cares I have in this world, so that I soon forget all about blogging and all my attention is riveted on whatever issue is at hand.

That says a lot, I think, about the disparity between decisions and actions. The bridge that links the two is called discipline. In other words, without discipline it is near impossible to translate our decisions into actions.

Discipline is what makes us overcome the odds that stand in the way of our accomplishing anything. There will always be many things fighting for our attention, but it is the disciplined person that will be able to prioritise and organise tasks and goals into definite timelines, and then execute each task accordingly. Now, all this sounds perfectly logical and non-negotiable in theory, but it took me this whole blog experience to learn the lessons practically.

You’ll be surprised to know that it actually took God’s intervention to get me going. I was in a church service a few weeks ago where a friend preached about the time value of life for every human being. This guy was in the same high-level meeting with some of the victims of the Abuja-Sokoto ADC crash less than 24 hours before the disaster, so as you can imagine, he had a very good idea of what he was talking about. As he rounded up the sermon he instructed us to turn to someone next to us and tell them whatever it was we had been putting off doing, with a promise to start it before the end of this year. Well, quite naturally my long-standing issue with blogging surfaced, I made a promise ‘before God and man’ to start it, and here I am keeping that promise. You ever wondered about the guy that said, “God is in the details”? Well, he’s very right. I could never have done this without Him.

That said, I’d like to welcome you officially to my web log. It’s basically gonna be a collection of thoughts and personal reflections as they come, but my hope is that the reader will always be enriched as I share my experiences.

This is actually an introductory post, so it is immediately followed by what was supposed to be my first post eight months ago :)
Read on, and remember, even the best intentions are no good until they are acted out!